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Mac nudged her elbow. “I’m impressed.”

She placed a hand on her belly. “I hadn’t eaten all day. I was hungry.”

“You must have been.” He took their empty plates and carried them to the kitchen. Everyone helped clear the table. Nan brought two blueberry pies and a container of vanilla ice cream to the table.

“Pie!” Carson folded his feet under his butt to get closer.

Faith thumped her fists on the tray of her high chair.

“I hope you’re not too full,” Mac said.

“There’s always room for pie.” But Stella couldn’t manage the ice cream.

When the coffee and pie were finished, Mac tugged her from her chair. “Let’s take a walk.” Outside, he inhaled as if he couldn’t get enough fresh air.

Mac took Stella’s hand and pulled her toward the side yard. The simple, old-fashioned gesture sent a jolt of warmth through her. He made her feel more than heat, whether he was making passionate love to her or simply looking at her.

“How many biology lessons have you given your nephew?” she asked.

“Every visit turns into a thousand questions. The kid remembers everything.” His face beamed with pride.

“Do you spend a lot of time with him?”

“Not as much as I should.” Mac frowned. “The travel gets in the way, and I was afraid the kids would get too attached and then if something happened to me . . .”

“It would devastate him. He clearly loves you very much.” Stella’s heart hiccupped. So did she.

“I know. I’ve been rethinking my career.”

“You’re not going back to the DEA?” Stopping, she tugged on his hand until he faced her. The thought of another drug trafficker’s bullet finding him, of him dying in a far-away jungle, sent a wave of fear careening through her. She didn’t want him to leave again. “Carson wouldn’t be the only one devastated if anything happened to you.”

“Good to know.” Pleasure lit his eyes. “In the beginning, it felt like I was doing my share to fight the drug trade. Grant was off fighting the war. I wanted to contribute something.”

She squeezed his hand. “There’s more than one way to contribute to society. I can think of dozens. Most of them don’t even require getting shot at or having people try to lop off your limbs with a machete.”

“I’m not going back to Brazil. I’m leaving the DEA.”

“Really?” She threw her arms around his neck.

His arms closed around her, holding tight, as if he didn’t want to let her go. He whispered into her hair, “Really. I gave them all the information I had on Freddie’s gang. The raid went off without a hitch yesterday.”

“What about the contract he put on you?” Stella asked. “Can’t he still orchestrate that from prison?” Criminals did it all the time.

“There’s nothing I can do about that.” Mac looked away. “Freddie and Rafe were both taken into custody. Their assets were seized. Hopefully they won’t have any funds to pay a would-be assassin. Killers don’t work for free.”

“That’s not the tidy answer I was hoping for.”

“Sorry. I promised you no more secrets.”

“I know.” She held him tighter. “And I appreciate that. I always want the truth, even if it’s not the best news.”

“I don’t expect Freddie to be a problem from prison. He’s hardly Al Capone.” Mac let his hands slide down her body then wrapped them around her waist. “Your boss called me.”

“Horner?” Stella’s boss was full of surprises lately.

“Yes. The local search and rescue team needs volunteers. He thinks I’d be an asset.”

“There’s no doubt you would be. It’s a perfect fit for you.”

“I think so, too.” He linked his arm “And I touched base with the university. They have an opening for a biology professor.”

“That’s very sexy in an Indiana Jones way.”

He laughed. “I’m glad you think so.” Mac’s face went serious. “I’ve never loved anyone like I love you.”

“I know what you mean.” Stella flattened her hands on the hard planes of his chest.

“I worry about you, and I will never get used to you going off to fight crime without me. You bring out the primitive instincts in me. I want to stand in front of you with a knife and kill anyone who so much as looks at you funny. But I also know that you’re a cop at heart, and you’d never be happy doing anything else. So I’ll deal with it because I not only love you, I respect you, and I want you to be happy.”

“You’re really staying?” Stella couldn’t believe it.

“Yes. I’m going to be there for my family. I’m going to be a part of their lives.” He kissed her gently on the lips. He tasted like pie. “I’d like to be a part of your life, too, if you want me.”

“I do. I really do. I love you.” She wrapped her arms around his neck.

Mac kissed her temple. “That’s all I need, for now and forever.”


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