And together they could do anything.

It almost made him think that forty might not be such an impossible dream.

“You don’t have to get past it,” she said again, her words blowing softly between them. “To be honest, I don’t see how you could get completely past it until you turn thirty-nine. But what you can do”—she gave his hand a squeeze, and Anthony somehow felt even stronger than he had just moments before—“is refuse to allow it to rule your life.”

“I realized that this morning,” he whispered, “when I knew I had to tell you I loved you. But somehow now—now I know it.”

She nodded, and he saw that her eyes were filling with tears. “You have to live each hour as if it’s your last,” she said, “and each day as if you were immortal. When my father grew ill, he had so many regrets. There were so many things he wished he’d done, he told me. He’d always assumed he had more time. That’s something I’ve always carried with me. Why on earth do you think I decided to attempt the flute at such an advanced age? Everyone told me I was too old, that to be truly good at it I had to have started as a child. But that’s not the point, really. I don’t need to be truly good. I just need to enjoy it for myself. And I need to know I tried.”

Anthony smiled. She was a terrible flutist. Even Newton couldn’t bear to listen.

“But the opposite is true as well,” Kate added softly. “You can’t shun new challenges or hide yourself from love just because you think you might not be here to carry your dreams to completion. In the end, you’ll have just as many regrets as did my father.”

“I didn’t want to love you,” Anthony whispered. “It was the one thing I feared above all. I’d grown rather used to my rather odd little outlook on life. Almost comfortable, actually. But love—” His voice caught; the choking sound seemed unmanly, it made him vulnerable. But he didn’t care, because this was Kate.

And it didn’t matter if she saw his deepest fears, because he knew she’d love him no matter what. It was a sublimely freeing feeling.

“I’ve seen true love,” he continued. “I wasn’t the cynical jade society made me out to be. I knew love existed. My mother—my father—” He stopped, sucking in a ragged breath. This was the hardest thing he’d ever done. And yet he knew the words had to be said. He knew, no matter how difficult it was to get them out, that in the end, his heart would soar.

“I was so sure that it was the one thing that could make this…this…I don’t really know what to call it—this knowledge of my own mortality…” He raked his hand through his hair, fighting for words. “Love was the only thing that was going to make that unbearable. How could I love someone, truly and deeply, knowing that it was doomed?”

“But it’s not doomed,” Kate said, squeezing his hand.

“I know. I fell in love with you, and then I knew. Even if I am right, even if I’m fated to live only as long as my father did before me, I’m not doomed.” He leaned forward and brushed a feather-light kiss on her lips. “I have you,” he whispered, “and I’m not going to waste a single moment we have together.”

Kate’s lips spread into a smile. “What does that mean?”

“It means that love isn’t about being afraid that it will all be snatched away. Love’s about finding the one person who makes your heart complete, who makes you a better person than you ever dreamed you could be. It’s about looking in the eyes of your wife and knowing, all the way to your bones, that she’s simply the best person you’ve ever known.”

“Oh, Anthony,” Kate whispered, tears streaming down her cheeks. “That’s how I feel about you.”

“When I thought you’d died—”

“Don’t say it,” she choked out. “You don’t have to relive that.”

“No,” he said. “I do. I have to tell you. It was the first time—even after all these years of expecting my own death—that I truly knew what it meant to die. Because with you gone…there was nothing left for me to live for. I don’t know how my mother did it.”

“She had her children,” Kate said. “She couldn’t leave you.”

“I know,” he whispered, “but the pain she must have endured…”

“I think the human heart must be stronger than we could ever imagine.”

Anthony stared at her for a long moment, his eyes locking with hers until he felt they must be one person. Then, with a shaking hand, he cupped the back of her head and leaned down to kiss her. His lips worshiped hers, offering her every ounce of love and devotion and reverence and prayer that he felt in his soul.

“I love you, Kate,” he whispered, his lips brushing the words against her mouth. “I love you so much.”

She nodded, unable to make a sound.

“And right now I wish…I wish…”

And then the strangest thing happened. Laughter bubbled up inside of him. He was overtaken by the pure joy of the moment, and it was all he could do not to pick her up and twirl her grandly through the air.

“Anthony?” she asked, sounding equal parts confused and amused.

“Do you know what else love means?” he murmured, planting his hands on either side of her body and letting his nose rest against hers.

She shook her head. “I couldn’t possibly even hazard a guess.”

“It means,” he grumbled, “that I’m finding this broken leg of yours a damned nuisance.”

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