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He set down his fork, a serious crease between his brows. “What’s the point, Knox? We can’t afford it.”

I squeezed my fists at my sides. “Get your damn applications filled out and turned in. I told you I’d worry about the expenses.” Luke needed to do his part and I would figure out a way to do mine, damn it. I was tired of them all doubting me.

McKenna stared down at her plate, looking deep in thought.

Shit. I was being selfish. McKenna had the money—she wanted to help—and my own insecurities were holding Luke back. This wasn’t about me and my damn ego. Besides, I knew I had bigger things to worry about. My future with McKenna still hung in the balance, if I was being honest with myself. Pushing my plate away, I realized it was time to open up.

After we’d finished dinner and cleaned up, McKenna followed Tucker upstairs, promising to play superheroes with him before it was time for lights out. It gave me a chance to think about how to put into words what I needed to tell her.

Luke sat at the table with Jaxon’s new laptop, unhappy but filling out his college applications. Jaxon had left, saying he was going out for a couple of hours. It was a school night but he was eighteen now; it wasn’t like there was a lot I could do. As long as he was going to school and getting good grades, I didn’t really care.

I found McKenna perched beside Tucker’s bed. The bedside lamp glowed softly, illuminating a beautiful sight—a peacefully sleeping little boy, and a woman I adored tucking the blankets securely around him. My heart swelled watching her. Tucker might not know a mother’s love, but I was thankful he had McKenna.

Sensing my presence, she glanced back at the doorway and spotted me. I crossed the room toward them and kissed Tucker’s forehead. “’Night, buddy,” I whispered. I reached for McKenna’s hand and pressed a kiss to the back of it before pulling her up to stand.

Without releasing my hold on her hand, I led her up the stairs to my bedroom. “How many books did he make you read him this time?” I asked.

“None, actually. He just wanted to talk.”

That was interesting. What could my eight-year-old brother want to talk to her about? I followed her to the edge of the bed and sat down beside her. “What about?”

“He asked if you and I were going to get married and if I’d be his mommy.”

Holy shit. “What did you say?”

Her gaze met mine. “I told him the truth. That I didn’t know, but I would always be there if he needed me.”

I nodded thoughtfully and released a sigh.

“What else could I have said? We haven’t talked about us since I’ve been back.”

It had only been a few days, but she was right. It was an overdue conversation. Still, she was putting me on the spot and she knew it. Her hands were clasped together and her knee was bouncing up and down with nerves. McKenna putting me on the spot took guts; I’d give her that. And I wanted to talk about all this, I really did, I just thought I’d have more time to plan out what I wanted to say. I still had no f**king clue how she’d react to my drunk-driving conviction.

“I’ve told you how I felt,” she continued. “I’ve been very open with you.”

Taking a deep breath, I settled my nerves. I laced her fingers between mine and kissed her temple. “I know. And I shouldn’t have let you leave last time without telling you how I felt. There are things I want to tell you, things I need to say… Fuck.” I tore my hands through my hair, fighting for the right words. Why was this so damn hard for me? It was just as hard telling her about my arrest as it had been telling her about my past with sex. I didn’t want to lose her. Couldn’t.

McKenna rose from the bed and paced the room, seeming to draw strength and determination with each step she took. “When I met you, I figured you were some sex-loving player, a guy always on the prowl, just looking to hook up with whatever willing girl crossed your path.”

I winced; she wasn’t far off the mark.

Stopping at the end of the room to turn around, she continued marching past me. “But then I got to know you—and the boys—and I realized that you weren’t that guy. I discovered you were this broken man looking for love and affection, but going about it entirely the wrong way.”

She turned again on her heel, looking deep in thought.

Where was she going with all this? I wanted to tell her that loving part of me died. I wouldn’t even know how to get him back, but I knew she was right.

“McKenna, let me say a few things.” I rose to my feet, facing her.

“No. You can’t control everything all the time, Knox. Love is f**king scary. It’s an unstoppable wave that has the power to pull you under and drown you completely. You don’t always choose it, it develops, slowly at first or sometimes all at once. And other times it’s ripped from your life way too soon. Like with your mom. My parents. But that doesn’t mean we can give up. Love is the most beautiful thing in the world. We all deserve it. And when we lose it, we deserve a second chance. And a third. Give it a chance.”

A slow smile uncurled on my lips. “You just swore. That was your first curse word. We need to celebrate.” I grinned at her and she swatted my chest, giving it a playful smack. “I love you, McKenna. With every part of my heart. And you’re wrong, it doesn’t just scare me, it f**king terrifies me. The thought of losing you…” I shuddered involuntarily, knowing that was a very real possibility once I told her the truth. “I love everything about you—your giving nature, your outlook on life, the way you are with my brothers. Your heart’s too damn big and you’re way too good for someone like me, but as long as you want me, I’m never letting you go.”

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