AT THE FIRST STOPLIGHT AWAY FROM HER PLACE, RACHEL reached over for her phone to text London that she was on her way. As she dug through her purse, she remembered leaving it on the kitchen counter to charge. With a sigh, she made a U-turn as soon as the light changed to green, then headed back to her house to grab it—just in case Decker called. Yes, he’d said he’d be back after lunch. She hoped he meant it because she wasn’t ready to be without him.

Gosh, she sounded awfully attached . . . and maybe a bit in love.

Wrestling with the realization, Rachel let herself in absently and headed to the kitchen, pulling her phone from the power cord.

Suddenly, Val hissed low and loud, then let loose a cantankerous meow, snagging her attention. When she turned to find out what was troubling her high-strung feline, Rachel discovered a man of average height and build standing in her foyer with grease under his fingernails, a determined look in his eyes . . .

And a gun pointed at her head.

She froze with terror. Her brain told her to scream, but the moment was like a bad dream. She felt pinned, immobile. Useless.

Her assailant trekked closer, keeping both hands on the pistol and the barrel trained right between her eyes.

“No. Please.” She hated whining pitifully, but it was instinct. “Don’t.”

Who was he? What did he want? How could she get out of this mess? A thousand thoughts flew through her brain.

“Shut up,” he snarled, his dark, unkempt hair falling limply into his face. He wore mechanics’ coveralls that proclaimed his name was Chris and an icy expression full of murder.

“M-my wallet is out in my car. You can have—”

“I don’t want your money, bitch. I want you dead.” He spotted the phone in her hand, then nodded at it. “Put that down and step away.”

She shook so hard that as she reached toward the counter, the phone rattled out of her hand and skittered across the slick tile, plopping into the sink with a thunk that jolted her nerves. Though he wanted her to, Rachel couldn’t bring herself to actually come closer to the violent stranger in her house. He stood between her and the front door. He’d get multiple unobstructed shots off if she tried to dart down the hall or toward the patio. He blocked her path to the front. The only place to step was deeper into the kitchen.

Rachel trembled as she veered two deep lunges into the narrow galley, near the sink and cutting boards.

And the knives.

Mercy, could she be brave enough to grab one and defend herself?

If it means the difference between life and death . . .

Good point.

“W-what do you want with me? Why kill me?”

He crept closer, still aiming that gun at her. “You’re in the way of my sister’s future, slut. She and her fianc? can’t be happy because of you.”

“I don’t know who you mean.” She shook her head. “You have me confused with someone else. I’m not involved with anyone—” Except Decker. Was he secretly engaged?

The man rubbed a greasy hand across his cheek. “Maybe you’re not involved with him anymore, but Carly called off the wedding because she was sure that the professor was still hung up on you. My sister has been through a hell of a lot, losing our parents in the last year. If your sniveling ex-husband makes her happy, I’m going to make sure she gets him. That means you’re going to die.”

Understanding dawned with terrible clarity. Rachel’s heart stuttered, and she shook her head frantically. “You’re wrong. Owen isn’t hung up on me. He loves your sister. He came to see me yesterday and told me how much he wants to make Carly happy. I don’t want him back, and he doesn’t want me either, I swear! You don’t have to shoot me.”

“My sister was worried enough a few weeks ago to call off their wedding. If you’re not around . . . problem solved.”

“Owen wants to marry Carly,” she insisted. “And I’m in love with someone else.”

Her attacker sent her a snide grin. “That slick guy with the sunglasses and the leather jacket? The one who’s been in your bed since Saturday night?” He snorted. “You really are a dumb bitch. I hired him to kill you.”

This time, Rachel’s heart stopped altogether. “What?”

No way could she have heard that right.

Chris nodded. “I gave him twenty-five grand on Saturday to have you dead quick. But I’ve been watching. I guess he wanted to fuck you before he killed you. I can’t wait on him anymore. If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

Rachel almost couldn’t process his words. Patient, passionate Decker was a contract killer? His rough-around-the-edges demeanor didn’t hide a tender heart, but a brutal one? He’d intended all along to watch her gasp her last breath?

Her first instinct was to refuse to believe it. No way. Decker wasn’t violent. He was protective and would never hurt her. He had feelings for her, didn’t he? She would have sworn that he did.

Why was he so persistent about picking you up in the bar Saturday night? Other women were looking at him. Younger, prettier ones. More experienced ones. You wondered at the time why he focused on you. This would explain it . . .

But she’d believed that whatever he felt was real. She would have bet her life on it.

Apparently she had . . . and she’d lost.

Betrayal gashed open her chest. She felt so damn alone and frightened. Decker had seduced her, intending all along to off her? For a brief second, she closed her eyes, but when she tried to imagine him hurting her in any way, she only saw his face, his understanding, his encouragement, his blue eyes filled with caring.

It didn’t add up. He’d had a hundred opportunities to kill her. He could have done it in her sleep. He could have poisoned her when he brought her breakfast. And why would he have introduced her to his friends or let her go to lunch with London if he just wanted her six feet under? Granted, she didn’t really know everything about Decker, but she’d been sure that she had felt his heart. It had been big and kind and caring. It had called to her own.

The click, the connection, the depth of her feelings . . . She refused to believe it was all a lie. He’d shown her pleasure and consideration. Affection even. Why do that, only to kill her? Before Decker she would have never believed that she was sexy enough or special enough for him, but he’d made her see something different in herself, in her heart.

Rachel refused to doubt her feelings for another minute. Maybe this psycho had mistaken Decker’s identity. Maybe he’d been watching her and lied about Decker’s intentions to throw her off her game. Heck, maybe ol’ Chris was just insane. Whatever the problem, it was on him. Decker wouldn’t kill her.

But he also wasn’t here, so if she was going to make it through this encounter, it was up to her now. She had to talk this guy off the crazy train and fend for herself somehow, because she wasn’t ready to die.

“I-I’ll cut off all contact with Owen. I’ll change my number. I’ll move and not leave a forwarding address, if you want.”

But the gunman was already shaking his head. “You moved out once. That didn’t pry you from his mind. In fact, not being able to find you might only make him obsess more. But knowing that you’re totally beyond his reach . . . Then he’ll have to move on. And my sister will be there for him. They can finally get married and she can be fucking happy. But Carly and Owen are flying home tonight.” He glanced at the clock on the oven wall. “In fact, I’ve got to be back at my place to take them to the airport in less than an hour. By the time they land, I want her to know that she has Owen all to herself.”

And he intended to leave her lying lifeless in a pool of her own blood, staining the white tile of her kitchen floor. No way was she going to let that happen.

Rachel swallowed, gathering her courage. Then she jumped him with a growl, shoving him back toward the foyer with all her might.

He went careening back, flailing and trying to catch his balance. He reached out to brace for his inevitable fall. The pistol fell from his grip, clattering to the hardwood floor beneath him and sliding all the way to the front door as he landed on his butt with a thud.

She didn’t wait for him to get his bearings, but darted back into the kitchen and grabbed her biggest knife—a huge, serrated sucker. For insurance, she grabbed the paring knife, too, and held it down by her thigh.

When he jumped to his feet and charged toward her with murder narrowing his menacing eyes and his large hands outstretched like he meant to strangle her, she was ready. Rachel knew that once he got his hands around her neck, he was too strong, and she’d be done for. She’d never see her family or friends again. Mercy, her mother . . . She’d miss Thanksgiving, Christmas, Shonda’s wedding. She’d never know her future, her children, or see old age. She would never be able to tell Decker that she loved him.

Oh hell no!

As the criminal came closer, she raced toward him again, big knife stretched over her head. Rachel didn’t think she could kill him. She wasn’t sure she would be able to live with that, no matter how terrible he was. The idea of sinking this into his chest made her wince inwardly—but he didn’t need to know that.

She darted closer, and as she expected, her assailant grabbed her wrist and tried to wrest the knife from her grip. She only had seconds and one chance to surprise him. No way was she going to screw this up.

While he clamped down on her wrist, trying to make her release the wicked blade, Rachel drove the paring knife into his thigh, seriously close to his groin. She hoped she at least nicked something vital.

He screamed and dropped his grip from the wrist above her head, cupping his leg protectively. “Bitch! I won’t give you an opportunity to cut me again.”

Blood dripped from the little knife and onto her fingers, onto the floor. Rachel watched in horror as he managed to hobble away and went after his gun. She was either going to have to chase him and finish him off . . . or let him shoot her dead.

She swallowed. Her heart thrummed, and fear laced her veins with ice. Her skin felt tight. Her thoughts raced. Why couldn’t he just leave this alone? She could try to pick up her phone and call the police, but she’d barely finish giving the 911 operator her address before he’d be back with his gun to shoot her. Same if she tried to dart out the back door to freedom.

No choice. She was going to have to hunt him down and snuff him out before he did the same to her.

Steeling herself, she gripped both knives and rounded the corner from the kitchen, into the long walkway to the foyer.

The thug stood there, frozen and bleeding.

In front of him, Decker stood, legs akimbo, arms outstretched, a gun in each hand. “Don’t move a muscle, motherfucker. If you even twitch, it will give me a lot of pleasure to put a bullet in your miserable brain.”

•   •   •

WELL AFTER THE police had taken Christian Adams away in handcuffs for a trip to the hospital to get some stitches, Rachel sat, drinking a cup of coffee for warmth. She was fully covered, but she felt chilled to the bone. An EMT had wrapped a blanket around her after he’d checked her out and doctored a cut on her finger. He’d cautioned her about some bruising and given her something for her headache.

She had stabbed a man. In self-defense, yes. In her spinning thoughts, the moments slowed and replayed in an endless loop. More than once since, she’d tried to wash the blood from her hands, but she swore she could feel it seeping into her pores. Christian Adams hadn’t given her a choice. He would have killed her if she hadn’t fought back. That knowledge gave her peace of a sort. She’d finish reconciling it all later.

In the interim, the police had taken her statement. They’d taken Decker to the back of the house to get his separately, and she hadn’t seen him for hours. Carly and Owen had come. Who’d called them or why, she had no clue. But her ex-husband’s fianc?e had been absolutely horrified at what her brother had attempted. The woman’s pleading apologies ran through Rachel’s brain. But nothing sank in. Vaguely, she recognized that Owen had stepped up for Carly and now seemed like the man she needed. He promised her they’d get through this together and have a big wedding whenever she was ready. The way Owen had looked at Carly, like she was his moon and stars, had made her really happy for the couple. She wished them well. It wasn’t Carly’s fault that Christian had taken it upon himself to think killing his sister’s man’s ex-wife was a good idea. Rachel hoped that Owen and his fianc?e could live happily ever after now, despite the jail time Christian had coming. Someone should be happy.

The hope that it might be her looked increasingly dim.

The police told her that Christian had, in fact, hired Decker to kill her. They found the twenty-five thousand dollars and the number of a disposable phone Christian had purchased when they searched Decker’s belongings. In her head, she knew that must mean everything between them had been a lie. He had likely conned her, and she’d eaten up every morsel of the bait. She would just need time to recover, get over her anger, grieve. Maybe a decade or two would be long enough to forget him.

The problem was, her own stupid heart insisted that what they’d shared was real. Even if Decker hadn’t been completely honest, somewhere in the midst of his ruse, she’d seen his heart, how good and kind and genuine he could be.

“You all right?” a woman’s gentle voice asked behind her. Rachel turned to find London standing at her back, her pale hair loose over her slender shoulders. London draped an arm around her with a face full of soft empathy.

Rachel wanted to crawl into a corner and lick her wounds, even as the thought pissed her off. Where the hell was Decker so she could at least have a good scream at him? How dare he lie to her and hurt her?

“I’ll be fine,” Rachel murmured, hoping that her fibbing wasn’t too obvious. “You don’t need to be concerned about Decker’s sham. I’m sure you had nothing to do with it.”

“It’s not what you think,” Xander insisted a moment later, hovering protectively beside his wife. “He never had any intention of hurting you.”

Rachel ached to believe him. But her head kept telling her heart to stop being so damn na?ve. “With all the evidence to the contrary, that’s hard to buy.”

Yet somehow, she sat there, waiting for Decker to emerge from his interrogation so she could catch a glimpse of him, wait for him to say something to her. She yearned to believe that she’d know the truth by seeing it on his face, but . . . that was another foolish notion.

Or she’d settle for someone delivering the punch line to this really awful joke. Everything seemed surreal.

“Honey . . .” London moved closer to hug her, and Rachel felt the smallest swell of the other woman’s baby bump. A little jolt of envy pierced her.

She’d probably never feel a child growing in her body. Quickly on her way to thirty, divorced once, and then deceived by the man she’d probably always regard as the love of her life, she didn’t see motherhood in her future. And she didn’t want to swing a third strike. Maybe she was just meant to be alone. Or she should try devoting the rest of her days to a cause she could be passionate about and get lost in.

Of course nothing would ever give her the kind of mind-bending passion Decker had. Or would make her feel as special. She’d always want to believe all the wonderful words he’d spoken to her, all the pleasure he’d heaped on her, but Rachel feared nothing and no one would ever fill the void he was leaving behind in her life.

Good gravy, she sounded maudlin and woe-is-me. Because she loved Decker and knew that no other man would do. Somehow in the span of a few golden hours, she’d ended up surrendering her heart to him.

“I’ll be all right.” She stood and hugged London. “It’ll just take time.”

The pity in the woman’s blue eyes made her heart lurch. Xander hovered nearby, his face grim.

“Don’t give up on him yet. He’s really a good guy,” London murmured.

“He cares a lot about you,” Xander swore.

Maybe. Maybe not. She didn’t know what to think anymore.

With another hug and a squeeze of her hand, London left, clinging to Xander’s arm and promising to call next week. She waved them out with a wan smile, then sat staring at the wall.

As they departed, sunlight slanted through her back windows, illuminating her house in a gorgeous glow. And yet for her, the world felt as if it were coming to an end.

Seriously, she was going to have to pull herself up by her bootstraps and stop crying in her beer.

Suddenly, the EMTs came by and took the blanket. They inquired after her again, and she sent them away. There was nothing wrong with her that first aid or a trip to the ER could fix.

Shonda texted that her brother was being discharged from the hospital. Rachel sent her a smiley face back, too exhausted and dazed to manage more. She didn’t know whether thirty minutes or an eternity passed.

Finally, there was a flurry of activity at the back of her house. Men yelled. Doors shut. Someone laughed. Then a pair of uniformed officers and a detective made their way toward the front door, sparing a smile for her.

“We’ll call you if we have any other questions, but otherwise you’re free,” the detective said. “Rest up. We’ll leave a few uniforms outside so you feel safe.”

“Thank you,” she murmured.

“Thanks, guys. I’ve got it from here.”


Rachel whipped around at the sound of his voice. He stood at the opening to the hallway, still wearing yesterday’s clothes. He hadn’t shaved. He really hadn’t slept much. And he still looked not just sexy as all get out, but so familiar and beloved that she felt her eyes tear up.

The detective nodded and shut the door behind him, closing her in the house alone with Decker.

“Why are you still here?” she asked. She didn’t want the question to come out like an accusation, but it probably did.

“Because we’re not done, you and I.” He prowled closer, closer, until he stopped right before her. “Rachel, I don’t know what Christian told you or what you believe, but if I had really wanted to kill you, beautiful, you’d be dead. I learned a thousand different ways with Delta Force and the CIA. I’ve used a fair number of them. I’m not a Boy Scout. But I would never, ever, for any reason hurt you.”

She wanted to believe him so badly . . . “So was it some sort of sting operation and you seduced me to catch a bad guy?”

“No, I really do work for Xander and Javier now. Nothing I told you was a lie. I just didn’t confess that I sought you out because, earlier on Saturday, Christian Adams approached me in a bar and mistook me for someone he’d connected with online to do a kill-for-hire job. The other guy apparently backed out, but didn’t tell Christian. When he hit me up, I thought he was joking. By the time I realized he was serious, the guy was slapping down money, your picture, and giving me a few days to finish you off. I went straight to the police. I swear it, baby. They told me I didn’t have enough evidence. So I decided to keep you safe myself. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to scare the hell out of you.” He grimaced. “And I didn’t stay out of your bed because resisting you was beyond me.”

Her first instinct was to protect herself and toss his explanation back in his face. But she took a deep breath and started turning it over in her head. She could picture Decker thinking that some guy’s “job opportunity” was a joke. If he’d actually done anything illegal, the police would have taken him into custody, so they must have absolved him of any wrongdoing. That meant . . . he probably had approached and seduced her because he’d ultimately meant to protect her. Was it that hard to believe that he’d wanted her, too?

After years of neglect at Owen’s hands? Sadly, yes.

“How much of what we shared was pretend?” Her voice was small, and she hated asking the question, but for her peace of mind, she had to know.

“Between us in bed naked, with me deep inside you?” He crouched in front of her. “Not a damn thing.”

Rachel slid her eyes shut. Her heart leapt at his words, and her mind pushed back. She hated this turmoil.

“Was I just a fling for you?” His question cut through her confusion. He sounded uncertain.

Wait. Was he actually worried that he hadn’t been meaningful to her?

She opened her eyes, falling into his blue stare, wanting to stay there forever. “No.”

“Thank fucking God.”

Before she could respond, Decker settled his arms under her knees and behind her back, then lifted her against his chest. He began to cart her down the hall.

“Wha . . . what are you doing?” she sputtered.

“Putting an end to this bullshit.”

Rachel gaped at him, her thoughts a muddle. What did he mean?

She didn’t have to wonder long.

Decker carried her into her bedroom and tossed her on the bed. On her way down, she saw his suitcase in the corner of the room, wide open. Half the contents were on the floor, as if the police really had conducted a search of his stuff.

He grabbed a few things from the little duffel and scooped them into his hand, enclosing whatever he held in his fist. She didn’t even have time to sit up and confront him about what in the heck he was doing. No, he lowered himself on top of her, tying her wrists to the slats in her headboard with two mismatched athletic socks he’d held.

“What the devil . . .” she demanded. “Decker!”

“The problem we’re having now is trust. You don’t really trust that I was protecting you from Christian. You sure as hell don’t believe I fell for you. Both are the absolute truth. Beautiful, you changed something for me.” He cupped her face. “No, you changed everything for me. If I’m not just a fling for you, and you’re mad that I lied, that has to mean that you care about me, too. Right?”

Good gravy, how could he figure her out so easily? “Bite me.”

“Love to. Where?” he grinned.

Teasing wasn’t going to work. She wasn’t going to fall for his sense of humor all over again, even if his warm body pinned her to the mattress, reminding her just how hard and built he was all over. How good he could make her feel.

Rachel just glared at him. “That is not funny.”

“No? How about this . . .” He kissed his way up her neck and murmured in her ear. “They should suspend your driver’s license because you drive me crazy.”

“Ha ha.” She was mad, damn it. And she wanted to stay mad until she decided otherwise. After the day she’d had, she deserved it.

“Still not moved? I’ll try again.” He caressed her cheek. “You must be the sun and I must be Earth, ’cause the closer we get, the hotter you get. Or maybe I should say that everything about you pulls me in.”

How was she supposed to reply to that? It was part offhand joke, part compliment. The truth was, everything about him pulled her in, too.

“You cannot give me more pick-up lines and think that’s going to make everything all better.”

“Not even a little?” He nipped at her lobe, then started unbuttoning her blouse. “Wanna fuck? Breathe for yes; lick your elbow for no.”

Seriously? With a growl, she tugged at her bonds, but Decker was good at bondage, like he was good at everything else. She wasn’t going anywhere until he decided to let her go.

“Stop it!”

But he didn’t. Once her blouse was open, he parted the sides and ran his hands down her lace-clad breasts, then up and under her back. He opened the clasp with a twist of his fingers, and the bra sagged away from her body. He pulled it loose and cupped her, thumbing her sensitive nipples.

Rachel bit back a moan. “Decker, I didn’t say yes.”

“You’re breathing, aren’t you?” He winked, then pulled a switchblade from his pocket. “Sorry. I’ll buy you a new one.”

Before she could wonder what that meant, he cut up through the straps of her bra and tossed the useless garment across the room.

“Hey!” she protested.

The only response Decker gave was to work his way down her body, pausing to kiss her nipples and stroke them with his tongue. She wanted to stay angry—really. But the way he delved into her gaze, so attentive and in tune with her, the way he touched her, like she was his everything . . .

Rachel wasn’t listening to his explanation. She’d made excuses for Owen for years, and didn’t want to be the same sort of stupid twice. On the other hand, could she let the best thing that ever happened to her walk out because she refused to have a conversation? No.

Then again, he didn’t seem to want to talk that much . . .

Suddenly, he crouched at the end of the bed and pulled her shoes off, then nipped at her toes. “I’m having a party at your feet, beautiful. I think I should invite your pants down to join.”

Despite herself, she laughed. “What if my pants are not in the mood for a party?”

Decker sent a sexy smirk her direction. “I can fix that. Wanna see?”

“What if my pants are busy?” she challenged.

“They aren’t yet, but give me ten minutes.”

“Incorrigible.” And impossible to stay mad at. “That’s what you are.”

“Yep.” He sent her a sly glare as he unfastened her pants, tugged at her zipper, then yanked the jeans down her thighs. Naturally, her panties followed, leaving her bare from the ankles up. “Is that what you’re going to tell your mama when I meet her?”

Rachel opened her mouth to answer, but he rubbed the heel of his palm right over her sweet spot. Her breath caught. Sparks and tingles zoomed right behind her clit, and she struggled to find her brain. “Why would you be meeting my mother?”

“If I’m going to stick around, I’ve got to.” He smiled softly at her . . . even as his hand played between her legs. “And believe me, I plan to be with you for a long time.”

“It’s really hard to think when you’re doing that.” She squeezed her eyes shut.

“Then don’t. Just look at me.”

The way his command caressed her, like supple velvet, had her complying. She focused on him. “What?”

“I’m not joking, and this isn’t a line. I’m your Mr. Right. I want you. I love you, Rachel. Marry me.”

She blinked up at him and sucked in a breath. Not a hint of a smile creased his face as he pulled off the last of her jeans and panties, then tore off his own clothing, donning a condom and crawling between her legs. He probed at her opening gently, then eased deep inside her in one long stroke that made her shudder with pleasure.

Of her own volition, her thighs parted. Her back arched. She moaned in welcome.

“Home is where the heart is, and mine is right here. Trust me. Believe me. Marry me.”

Rachel moved with him, tilting to take him deeper and melting into him when he wrapped his arms around her and snagged her gaze, seized her mouth, and captured her heart for good.

He took his time, working her body with unhurried strokes and questing fingers, caressing her all over, making her feel like the most beautiful, most beloved woman in the world.

“Why?” she whispered, her stare clinging to him.

“Because I’ve needed you my whole life. Roots and home and love. You’re all that for me and more. I know it’s fast, and you don’t know me well . . .” He paused to seat himself deeper and send her senses reeling with leisurely thrusts designed to steal her breath. “But I can make you love me if you’ll give me time. I’ll be your shelter, your protector, your . . . whatever you need.”

The last of her anger and fear bled out. Only Decker and his earnest gaze remained. He’d never be easy to live with. He’d probably be really unpredictable, but she needed some of that in her life.

“I do.” Rachel laid her lips across his. “Love you, that is. You made me realize how good I could feel, how sexy the right man would find me . . . the kind of caring about my feelings and my pleasure that a partner should give.” She grinned at him suddenly. “Hey, are you affiliated with Google?”

He laughed and pushed into her again, the pleasure surging, rising, about to crest. “No, I just swiped a few pick-up lines from them.”

“I don’t know, Decker . . . You have everything I’ve been searching for.”

Somehow, he smiled at her through a groan. “Is that a yes?”

Rachel rotated her hips beneath him, and felt ecstasy begin to tingle through her body. “Yes!”

The bliss exploded, and as she pulsed around Decker, he slammed into her, then let go of his restraint with a cry.

Her heart beat furiously, and she struggled for her breath. Decker barely let her drag in some air before he jumped off her, tossed away the used condom, and dragged her to her feet. “Let’s go.”

She looked at him as if he’d lost his mind. “Where?”

“Vegas. I don’t want to wait until even tomorrow. We’ll find a nice chapel and get married by Elvis and have something to laugh about with our grandkids.”

Rachel would have giggled . . . except that he looked dead serious.

“What about your parents?”

He shrugged. “They’ve got a big shindig for my younger sister and her fianc? coming up in a few months. We’ll send them pictures. Bet our wedding will be more fun.”

“Well, my parents . . .” What? They had seen her get married in the big white gown once. Did she really want to do all that again? No. This time was just for her and Decker. “They’ll enjoy the pictures, too.”

Decker pulled her in tight for a hug. “That’s the spirit! It’s either that or I’ll call the police and report you for stealing my heart.”

Would she ever get used to his crazy sense of humor? A whole bunch of protective male covered it and roared when she was threatened. But she loved this side of him, too. She’d thank him later for picking her up on false pretenses and lying to her to keep her safe. Let him sweat a little. In the meantime, she couldn’t wait to be his.

“Um . . .” She started giggling uncontrollably. “This is crazy! What will my last name be?”

“You still don’t know, do you? That’s awesome!”

“It’s a little irresponsible, so put me out of my misery and cough it up, Decker.”

He peered at her playfully. “Would you believe Papadopoulos?”

“Papa-doodie . . . what?” She smacked his arm. “No!”


“No Pavlov’s dogs or whatever in this house.” She rolled her eyes. “Try again.”

“You got me. It’s Blaszczykowski.”

Rachel wrapped her arms around him and laughed. “I’m going to call the police and have you arrested for stealing my sanity.”

He gave her a juicy smack across the lips. “It’s McConnell, honest truth.”

“Much better. Do you know how difficult it would be for a bunch of fifth graders to spell Blaszczykowski?”

“I’d bet you’d get a laugh or two out of it.”

She pressed her lips together to hold in a grin. “True. I’m grabbing a suitcase, I guess. I’ll be Mrs. McConnell by tonight.”

“Yes, you will. But I’d rather just call you mine.”


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