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“‘AMMA!” LIAM SCREECHES, his chubby little two-year-old arms thrust in the air. Taking off at a sprint, my son darts around my legs and makes his way to the front door, where my mother is standing ready to catch him.
Her arms wrap around him and she hauls him into her chest, covering his cheeks and neck with kisses and raspberries. Liam giggles and screeches, wiggling in his grandma’s arms until she puts him down.
“We’re going to have fun, aren’t we, Liam?”
“Seeper,” Liam says, pointing to the bag I packed earlier.
“Yes, we’re having a sleepover,” my mother says, running her hands through his hair. The shock of dark, dark-brown hair he was born with fell out to reveal light, nearly white-blond hair. It surprised us all, except for my mother. She took great delight in pulling out old photos of us to show that the same thing happened when we were born, before our hair darkened with age to the natural mousy-brown my sisters and I all choose to dye regularly.
“Bye!” Liam yells at me, squeezing his hand into a fist in that way toddlers have of waving goodbye.
I laugh, hauling him up over my shoulder. “Not yet, monkey. Your grandma is going to have a cup of coffee with me first.” Liam giggles, going soft in my arms. It still surprises me when I can lift him so easily. I’ve been working out and getting stronger, and I’m so grateful for all the things my body can do. Even a year ago, I didn’t know if I’d ever feel like myself again.
Putting Liam back down, the three of us head to the kitchen. I pour my mom and myself a cup of coffee each before giving Liam a sippy cup of apple juice.
My mother smiles at him, then shifts her gaze to me. “Blood test come back all good?”
I nod. “Still in remission.”
Her shoulders soften a fraction of an inch. “Good.”
I shift my gaze to Liam. “He had a bit of a sniffle yesterday, but it looks like he’s all better. Just keep an eye on him, yeah? He might need an extra nap or something.”
Age-softened hands slide over my cheeks as my mother tilts my head back to face her. “We’ll be fine, Lily. You enjoy your weekend with Rudy.”
I huff. “You’re right. I just… It’s hard to be apart from him.”
“I know, honey,” my mother says. “But you’ll survive.”
The front door opens, and Rudy calls out from the entrance. “Hello! Lottie?”
“In the kitchen,” my mother yells back. She pats her pixie cut and straightens her shirt, and I hide my grin behind my mug. Rudy has that effect on women, I’ve noticed. It’s impossible not to feel the power of his masculinity.
“Lottie,” Rudy says, that charming smile deployed to full effect. He wraps my mother in a hug. “Looking gorgeous as usual.”
“Oh, stop it.” She swats at his arm. “You’re going to spoil Lily now, aren’t you?”
“Always,” he replies, eyes darting to mine.
“We’re only going to Edgeville, so if anything happens with Liam, just call and we’ll be right back,” I say, trying to keep the worry from my voice.
My mother just rolls her eyes, not even deigning to tell me that she’ll be fine.
“What have you got planned for your weekend?” my mother asks, picking up the sippy cup Liam threw across the room with a stern look at my son.
“Booked a whale-watching tour for tomorrow,” Rudy says. “It’s a three-hour thing, and it’s the right time of year to see orcas.”
“How exciting,” my mother says before kneeling in front of Liam. “Now, no throwing your drink, Liam, otherwise you won’t get to finish it.”
Liam ducks his chin in a cowed nod. He takes the cup from his grandmother, then lifts it above his head with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, apparently ready to launch it across the room again. But all it takes is for my mother to arch a single eyebrow before he drops the cup to his lips and drinks from it instead.
Yeah, they’ll be fine without me.
After a bit of bustling and double-checking bags, I strap Liam into his car seat and watch him drive away with my mother.
Rudy’s hands slide over my hips as he presses his chest to my back, his chin hooked over my shoulder. “You okay?”
“We’ve never spent the night away from him,” I say. “I feel…nervous.”
Turning in his arms, I tilt my head from side to side. “Maybe a little excited.”
Rudy smiles and drops his lips to mine. “Good. Follow me.” He tugs me up to the bedroom, where he reaches into the closet to pull out a garment bag. “Trina helped me,” he explains, unzipping the bag to reveal a gorgeous, diaphanous gown in rich, royal blue.
I gasp, touching the fabric. “What’s this for?”
“We’re having a nice dinner tonight,” he informs me. “But first…” He spins me around, sliding his palm up under the hem of my shirt to rest on my lower back. “First, I’m taking advantage of the empty house.”
Curling my hands around his shoulders, I arch a brow. “Works for me.”
That’s all it takes for Rudy to tear my shirt off over my head, his hands running up my sides to cup my breasts. Even now, a bit of tension steals over me.
Over a year ago, I had the final operation to swap my breast expander for a permanent implant. The scars crisscrossing my breast are clear evidence of my operations, though, not to mention the scar below my navel from my caesarian. Rudy runs his fingers over the soft material of my bra, backing me up until I’m up against the wall. He starts with my natural breast, shaping it with his hands and tugging the cup of my bra down before taking it in his mouth.
I gasp, fingers burrowing into the golden silk of his hair, arching into his touch. His free hand cups my other breast, exposing it to the air and cupping it with a broad, male palm. I lost my nipple and most of the feeling in that breast, but having his hands on me still makes me feel quintessentially female. It helps that he laves his tongue over my surviving nipple, scraping his teeth over the swollen peak, loving every inch of me with his hands and mouth.
This is me. This is my body, scars and all.
Clawing at his shoulders, I shudder and gasp when he drops a hand between my legs. Then he’s tearing my jeans off, unclipping my bra, and tossing me unceremoniously across the bed. Tugging me roughly to the edge, Rudy kneels on the floor and drapes my legs over his shoulders. He gives me a wicked, wicked grin.
“You’re still dressed,” I manage to gasp. “That’s not fair.”
“Quiet,” he says, spreading my thighs as he licks his lips. “I’m busy.”
And when his mouth touches all my most sensitive places, I find I don’t care that he’s still clothed. Not one bit.
A LONG WHILE LATER, after we’ve trailed lazy fingers over each other’s bodies and let our breath and heartbeats return to normal, Rudy gives my bare bottom a squeeze. “Time for a shower. We need to get to dinner.”
Mock-grumbling, I peel myself off the bed and make my way to the bathroom. But when I hear the door open behind me and watch Rudy’s beautiful naked body join me in the shower stall, washing is the last thing on my mind. All it takes is for me to drop to my knees in front of him, and Rudy lets out a low groan that tells me he’s more than happy to put off the practical parts of the shower for a few minutes.
Finally, we both manage to clean up and get dressed, and I feel flushed and sated as I brush on some subtle makeup. Looking at myself in the mirror, I once again appreciate the fact that Trina is a genius at what she does. She has an eye for fashion, and she understands how to clothe a body. I run my hands over my breasts, where the gauzy fabric drapes and cinches to show everything off.
I feel womanly and beautiful and whole.
“You look hot,” Rudy says, meeting my eyes in the mirror.
“Stop right there, mister,” I say, giving him a hard stare. “Hands off, otherwise we’ll never make it to dinner.”
Laughter in his eyes, he throws his hands up in surrender. We do, finally, make it to the car, our overnight bags safely placed in the back seat, and I relax as he takes us out of town and over to Edgeville.
When he takes the turn toward the yacht club, I make a surprised noise. “That’s where we’re going for dinner?”
“Yep,” he says, refusing to elaborate, no matter how many questions I pose.
When we finally pull up outside and the valet takes the keys, I give Rudy a funny stare. “This isn’t what I was expecting.”
He just winks, then extends his elbow toward me. Huffing, I slip my hand into the crook of his arm, doing my best to hide the twitch in my lips. He’s spoiling me in every possible way, and I can’t help but feel special.
What follows is a beautiful, romantic dinner on the balcony of the yacht club. Expensive boats bob in the bay in front of us while fairy lights and stars twinkle above. We’re alone in our section of the restaurant, with intimate candles and a delicate arrangement of flowers separating us on the table.
After the main course, Rudy lets out a sigh, his eyes growing serious. “Lily, you know I love you.”
I smile. I can’t help it—those words always make my lips curl. “I love you too, babe.”
Suddenly, Rudy looks nervous. He wipes his hands on his thighs, glances out at the water, and finally turns his gaze to me. “These past two years have been the best of my life. You and Liam have brought me so much joy that I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve it.”
Heart thumping, I swallow past a lump in my throat. “What are you saying, Rudy?”
Sucking in a hard breath, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a little velvet box. Rudy slips out of his chair and kneels beside the table as my eyes immediately fill with tears.
The box proves to be difficult for a moment, as Rudy fumbles to flip it open. Finally managing it, he turns it to reveal a delicate white-gold band topped with a bright blue sapphire ringed with sparkling diamonds. I inhale sharply, my hand flying to the pendant that I now wear every single day.
“I had it designed to match the necklace,” he says, voice thick. Then, after another breath: “Marry me, Iliana.”
A distant, irreverent part of my brain wants me to protest at the command. Instead, I blink and let tears fall down my face, then nod like an idiot while a sob wracks my chest. “Yes,” I croak. “I’ll marry you.”
He slides the ring onto the third finger of my left hand, then pulls me into his arms and kisses me like the world is ending.
And that’s when I hear the cheers. Over Rudy’s shoulder, I see my mother with Liam in her arms, my sisters with tears in their eyes, and every single friend and acquaintance from Heart’s Cove crowding behind them. I see Jared and his new girlfriend, looking genuinely happy for us, as well as Rudy’s grandmother and great aunt and uncle.
“Rudy…” My eyes widen as he laughs, hooking an arm around my waist.
“Let’s go celebrate,” he whispers in my ear, his breath making a curl of heat tighten between my thighs.
“You planned this.” It sounds like an accusation, because it is.
Rudy just catches my hand and kisses it gently. “Yep. I even organized a champagne tower.”
I blink, following his gaze to the windows, through which I see two staff members wheeling a large platform carrying a tower of champagne coupes into a position of prominence in the main room of the restaurant.
“Jared promised to behave,” he adds, and I can’t help it. I laugh, then turn to wrap my arms around his neck, pulling him in for a hard kiss.
Cheers sound behind us as Rudy dips me so far I have to cling onto him to stop myself from falling. We straighten up, and with flushed cheeks and joy in my heart, I turn to the gathered crowd and let a smile split my face.
Then, we celebrate.
Finally, when Liam is cranky and everyone is worn out, I let Rudy take me to the hotel, and we love each other until we’re flushed and sated, drowsy in each other’s arms.
“Love you,” I mumble against his chest, inhaling the scent of his skin as he responds by squeezing me close—exactly where I belong.
Oops! Nora just knocked over a bunch of motorcycles like a horrible game of dominoes. But what happens when Mac proposes an arrangement so she can pay for the damage?
Check out Book Seven: DIRTY LITTLE MIDLIFE DILEMMA!