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But of course it wasn’t that easy. I loved him. I couldn’t just turn that off. And there were the boys to think about, too, sweet Tucker and Luke, and heaven knew Jaxon could use a positive role model. I hated the idea of just disappearing from their lives.

Two long and hard days had passed since Knox told me. And now that I knew the full extent of his past, the decision was mine. Either forgive him and let it go, and move forward with our future, or let it destroy everything we’d built.

Through my work at the teen center, I’d counseled woman and girls who were codependent, who felt worthless and rejected without a man in their lives. Women who were depressed and even suicidal over their relationship status. I never in my wildest dreams thought I could be like those women. I had listened to their troubles, asked all the right questions, probed gently and offered the advice I’d learned to give them in my training, yet I felt emotionless and detached from their problems. I was just doing my job.

It was only now that I finally understood. Only since Knox had invaded my life and taken over my every waking thought. Sex and love had the ability to consume you, and it terrified me. I felt desperate and needy and wanted him to love me, to draw me into his arms and never let me go. I didn’t know how I could ever look those sad women in the eye again and tell them to move on. There was no moving on. Not once you’d met your true match. Something told me Knox had left an imprint on my heart, in my psyche, that would forever be there.

There was no choice. I had to find a way to move past this. Not that I wasn’t furious at him for hiding the truth from me for all these months—I was. It was going to take some time for me to adjust to that. But I knew I would forgive him. How could I not? My love for him was too desperate, too all-consuming for us to be apart. Despite all his mistakes and dark secrets, I loved that man with my whole being. It wasn’t a choice.

Gathering up my courage, I texted Knox and asked him to come over and talk. I felt safer having this conversation in my own space. Plus when Amanda had called earlier and asked if I wanted to come over and help out with the baby, Brian had volunteered to go in my place, leaving me alone in the apartment.

Knox confirmed he would be here as soon as he’d fed the boys dinner. I used the time to tidy up my room, too restless and on edge to sit and relax.

When the doorbell to my apartment buzzed a short time later, I nearly jumped out of my skin with the anticipation of seeing him again. I knew that no matter what happened, tonight would be big for me. I had worked on forgiving myself, moving past my parents’ tragic deaths, and now it seemed that God had a sense of humor because I was being tested for a final time with forgiving Knox.

His somber expression greeted me when I opened the door. Dark circles lined his eyes as if he hadn’t slept, and his hair was messy, standing up in several directions.

“Come inside.” I motioned him forward into the foyer, thankful that Brian was gone to help out with Amanda yet again. He’d been so helpful over the last few days, driving her and the baby to their doctors’ checkups and to the store for more diapers.

I led Knox into the living room, but we were both too tense to sit down. The mood surrounding us was sobering. I’d never seen Knox look so broken and defeated. Not even when Jaxon had been beaten and threatened by that gang.

Knox shoved his hands into his pockets and looked up at me through dark lashes. “There’s no excuse for what I did. And not telling you earlier was—”

“I know,” I offered. I could see the sincerity and regret written all over him.

“I’m sorry,” he said simply.

“I know,” I said again. His features were twisted in agony, and even though I’d decided to forgive him and move past it, he didn’t know that yet. I decided to use that to my advantage. “Where did you see this headed? You and me?”

Pressing his fingertips to his temples, he briefly closed his eyes and then opened them again, fixing me with a desperate stare. “I love you like I’ve never loved anyone. I wanted you to move in, to be with me forever. I wanted to marry you, angel.”

His admission completely stunned me, and I stood there motionless trying to process his words. I knew Knox wanted me to move in with him, something we hadn’t even fully discussed, but now he was telling me that he wanted to marry me, too. My heart swelled three times its normal size in my chest and I briefly closed my eyes.

I struggled to put into words all the emotions I was feeling. But I knew I couldn’t answer him now. “I need time to think, Knox.”

He nodded. “I get that. Completely.” He stepped closer, closing the distance between us, and tipped my chin up to his. “But don’t forget that you’re the one who taught me about vulnerability and letting others in. I know I’m damaged goods, angel, and that this is a huge leap of faith for you…but please believe me when I tell you I love you. All of you. And I always will.”

I nodded. I did believe that. Knox was a changed man, inside and out. He was my everything. He and his family had become my whole world, and I loved each and every one of them. I just needed some time to clear the thoughts swirling in my head and do this my way.

“We’ll talk soon,” was all I said.

I knew Knox would be mad that Brian was the one taking me to get my first car, but I also knew he’d understand. As long as I got something safe and reliable and wasn’t depending on public transit anymore, he’d let it go. Besides, I wanted to do this for myself, and inviting my oldest friend along felt like the right thing to do. Especially since I needed to tell him something big, something that would forever change the dynamic of our relationship.

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