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EXHAUSTED, SCARLETT PULLED HERSELF up the pool’s ladder and crossed the deck to where she’d left her towel.
“Good work today, Scarlett,” the swimming coach called out. “See you next week.”
She smiled and waved at the young woman, then made her way to the changing rooms. Over the past three years, she’d made up for lost time on essential life skills—with Archer’s help. It had started with him insisting that she should learn how to ride a bike, followed by some terrifying and exhilarating moments on a bicycle. Then she’d moved on to swimming.
She learned that she loved being in the water. The feeling of weightlessness coupled with the exertion of pushing her body to move through the water was something she’d never expected to enjoy so much. Now, it was a hobby she didn’t see herself giving up anytime soon.
Once she was showered and changed, Scarlett made her way to her purple Bug and drove home. She found Archer in the living room, packing up a box of books. He had a Sharpie in his back pocket, which he used to write the contents of the box on its flap.
At the sound of her entrance, he turned around and smiled. “How’d it go?”
“Haley and I started on the butterfly, and I felt like an uncoordinated seal splashing my way across the pool. It was great.”
Archer laughed, then crossed the space to wrap her in his arms. “You ready for tonight?”
Scarlett rested her forearms on his shoulders and glanced around the room. “I think so.”
“End of an era.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “But change is good.”
Archer’s hand shifted to rest on her abdomen, where a new life was growing. “Change is good,” he echoed.
A deep, calm sort of happiness lapped at Scarlett’s consciousness. Their lives were expanding. A few years ago, she would have been terrified of the risk of collapse. She would have been waiting for the moment Archer up and left.
Now she knew they were in it together—for good. Archer would stand by her side as she would stand by his. And in a few short months, they’d have a new baby to look after together.
Leaning forward, Archer kissed her forehead before they disengaged from each other. Scarlett left him to finish up the boxes of books while she went to the bedroom to pack up the last of her clothing.
After seven years in her Cape Cod cottage, it was finally time to say goodbye to the home she’d built here. Their family was growing, and they’d need more room.
They’d put evenings and weekends into redecorating Archer’s place. Scarlett didn’t want to see a paint roller for at least a decade, but the results were worth it. They’d transformed his run-down shell into a home they could both enjoy as their family grew.
Now, with the sale of her cottage closing within a few days, it was time to close the book on this particular chapter of her life.
She touched the brushed brass knob on her closet door, feeling the cool metal beneath her fingertips. “Thank you,” she whispered to the house.
It had been a place of healing, a home she could retreat to at a time when she’d had to rebuild herself from the ground up. But it was time to move on.
She rolled her suitcase from the bedroom and met Archer by the front door. They’d moved the essentials over earlier in the day, and they’d come back tomorrow for the last of the boxes and the few pieces of furniture that were left here. Then all that would be left to do was a final clean, and she’d be able to close the door and give the keys to the new owner.
“How are you feeling?” Archer asked as he lifted her suitcase into the bed of his truck. He’d done dozens of runs between the houses, and Scarlett could tell exhaustion was pulling at his edges. But his eyes were bright as he met her gaze.
“I’m good,” she replied, smiling. “I’ll follow you home.”
His lips curled. “I like the sound of that,” he said quietly. “Home.”
She tilted her head to accept a peck on the lips, then got in her car. They wound through the quiet, leafy streets and pulled up outside their newly refurbished home. When Archer held the door open for Scarlett, she stepped across the threshold and that deep, quiet feeling of peace and happiness became stronger.
“Here,” she said, turning to where Archer carried her suitcase inside. “Let me grab that.”
“I’ll bring it up.”
“Archer, I’m a pregnant lady, not an invalid.”
He flashed her a grin. “But you’re my pregnant lady, so I’ll carry your bag up the stairs.”
She pursed her lips—mostly to hide her smile. As she followed him up the stairs, she used the opportunity to shamelessly stare at his butt, and then laughed when he said, “Are you staring at my ass?”
He made it to the top of the stairs and set her bag aside, then turned around and scooped her up into his arms. Scarlett laughed as she clung to his neck.
“Where are you taking me?”
“To bed. We need to have ceremonial sex in this place to mark the start of our new life.”
“We’ve had sex in this house plenty of times.”
It was true. The evenings and weekends they’d spent renovating could have been completed much more quickly if they hadn’t gotten distracted every time one of them glanced at the other with a twinkle in their eye.
“But this time we’re moving in,” he explained, laying her down on the bed.
She pursed her lips and arched her brows. He was being extra gentle with her, which was ridiculous.
He unbuckled his belt and met her gaze straight-on. “My pregnant lady,” he repeated. “I’m not tossing you around at least until after the baby is born.”
“Fine,” Scarlett replied, then jumped off the bed and pushed Archer down onto the mattress. She straddled his hips and pinned him down by the shoulders, her hair falling down on either side of her face in thick curtains. “I’ll just have to toss you around instead.”
Archer arched a brow and braided his fingers behind his head. “I’d like to see you try.”
Her lips curled. Challenge accepted. Sliding down his body, Scarlett tugged his bottoms off. The moment her lips touched his tip, his abs clenched and his hands reached for her. She hummed as she took him in her mouth, enjoying the bitten-off curses she heard falling from his lips.
“Scarlett,” he groaned. “I want to fuck you.”
“You can,” she replied, grinning. “But you’ll have to get me to stop doing this first.”
She sucked him into her mouth and relished the tightening of his fist in her hair. Then he growled in frustration, grabbing her by her armpits to shunt her onto the pillows.
“You’ll pay for this,” he said, clawing at her clothing.
She laughed, happiness and desire bubbling through her. “Good.”
He tore off her leggings and spent some time making her bite off her own curses. By the time he propped his body above hers, her limbs were deliciously heavy. She slid her fingers through his hair and pulled him down for a kiss.
He entered her, and Scarlett arched to take him deeper. Arms wrapped around each other, lips dropping kisses on every available inch of skin, they let their bodies do the talking to show just how much this new home—and new life—meant.
Later, much later, they ordered pizza and ate it on the couch in front of a movie. Scarlett laid her legs across his lap as she munched on a piece of crust, her gaze shifting from the screen to study Archer’s profile.
Sensing her gaze, he glanced over. “What?”
In that quiet moment, Scarlett knew she was no longer alone. Now, life wasn’t an exercise in surviving. She wouldn’t have to constantly brace herself for the next disaster, the next heartbreak, the next abandonment. She could set down roots and finally bloom.
“I love you,” she told him.
His eyes betrayed a deep contentment that mirrored her own. “I love you too, Scarlett.”
They finished their dinner, cuddled on the couch, then went to bed. The evening wasn’t a flashy declaration of love, but Scarlett knew it for what it was: the start of something wonderful.