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Last resort, p.30
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       Last Resort, p.30

           Jill Sanders
Cassey’s head was spinning. She’d slowed her breathing down but still felt too lightheaded to open her eyes. What had Luke done to her?

  “You okay?” Even just the richness of his voice sent waves of desire through her body.

  Realizing she didn’t trust her voice, she nodded and squeezed her eyes shut tighter. When she finally opened them, it was to see Luke smiling down at her.

  “What?” she asked, trying to sit up. He held her in place and shook his head.

  “You can’t avoid it, you know.”

  “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She tried to push him away, but he just laughed and plopped his full weight on her, pinning her to the mattress.

  “Ugh! You weigh a ton.” She tried to shove him off as he laughed. “Get off.”

  He was laughing harder now. “Not until you promise me you won’t avoid it.”

  “Stop,” she squealed as he buried his nose in her neck and started nibbling on her. By the time he pulled back and looked at her, she was laughing too hard to say anything.

  “Do you promise?” he asked and before she knew what she was doing, she’d nodded in agreement.

  “Perfect.” He jumped off the bed and pulled her up with him. “I’m starved,” he said as he started tugging her towards the kitchen.

  “Luke,” she squealed, “clothes first!” He just laughed even more.

  After making some quick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, they retreated back to the warmth of the bed and talked. She was avoiding having the conversation and did everything she could to distract Luke from talking about the three words he’d mentioned less than an hour ago.

  “You’re stalling,” he said, setting his plate aside. “You’re talking about everything but what needs to be said.”

  He was right. She couldn’t deny her emotions any more. But then she found something that took his mind off the conversation completely.

  “Oh,” she said, taking the last bite of her sandwich. “I’d almost forgotten. I’m supposed to invite you to Spring Haven for Thanksgiving this Thursday.” She smiled when she noticed his eyes go blank. “My Aunt Julie is the best cook in the county.”

  “Thanksgiving?” He got a funny look on his face and she wondered if she’d made a mistake asking him.

  “Yes, you don’t have to—”

  “I’d love to.” His smile grew and he reached for her. Setting her plate aside, he slid them down until they fit tight together.

  “You’ve mentioned your aunt and father, but haven’t spoken much of your mother. Mrs. Grayton?”

  She sighed and was thankful the conversation had turned. “Elizabeth Grayton was the strongest woman I’ve ever known.” She rested her head back against his shoulder and enjoyed the feeling of his fingers combing her long hair away from her face. “When I first met her, her cancer was in remission. It took several years for it to come back and for her to pass from it.” She smiled slightly. “Never once in all that time did I see that woman complain or frown. She didn’t shed a tear or get angry at her circumstances.”

  “I’m sorry,” he said, lightly.

  She nodded. “That woman taught us more about suffering and patience than any other could. One of the reasons the Graytons took us all in was because of Elizabeth’s and Mark’s own childhoods. It’s the reason all of us devote as much as we can into the home that Roman has built, the reason he has continued on with our family’s dream.”

  “Everyone sounds wonderful. Since I’ve already met Marcus and Cole, I can’t wait to meet everyone else.”

  She laughed. “You’ll regret those words.”

  Less than a week later, she was sitting around the large maple dining table, surrounded by a bunch of crazy people, and laughing harder than she had in a long time. Her brothers were a constant source of entertainment. She could hardly remember a time that the three of them had been together that they hadn’t had her smiling like a loon.

  Of course, Luke was right there in the middle of it all. Not only did he look like he fit in, but he sounded and acted a lot like her brothers as they joked with her Aunt Julie and her father about one thing or another.

  “You really didn’t do that, did you?” he asked, looking over at her. She’d lost track of their conversation minutes before when she’d been transfixed by the way Luke was smiling. He looked like he was really enjoying himself.

  “What?” She felt her breathing quicken and quickly took a sip of her wine to cover the anxiety.

  He leaned closer to her, his smile getting bigger. “Run from here to the middle of town, wearing nothing but a hula skirt and coconuts.”

  She glared at her brothers then closed her eyes, remembering. “Yes, but it wasn’t my fault,” she said as everyone burst into laughter. “They locked me out of the house and bet me that they would do all my chores and be my own personal slaves for a whole month if I did it.” She tried not to laugh. She’d been thirteen and had just enough pride to not want to lose a bet. She smiled, remembering seeing her brothers do her every bidding. They’d been great sports about it, and since they and Marissa had followed her the entire way, they had a wonderful picture of the five of them standing in front of town hall, her brothers’ arms around her shoulders as she wore the hula skirt and coconuts from her school play.

  The rest of the evening went very well. She tried not to stare at Luke and kept her heart hidden from her family, as usual.

  As they were sitting around the fire in the living room, watching a football game, Luke’s cell phone rang. She watched him flip it out and frown down at it, and then he stood and excused himself.

  She tried not to watch him pace on the front porch as he talked, most likely to someone from his family. When he came in, she could see the spark had left his eyes.

  It took a few minutes before they were finally alone, and she immediately asked if everything was all right.

  “Yes. I knew they’d be upset that I was spending the holiday with your family, but I didn’t know how much.” He took her hand and they stepped outside onto the front porch. The night breeze was cool as the wind whipped through her hair. He pulled off his jacket and put it over the light sweater she was wearing. Then he walked to the railing and leaned on it. “I like it here. I can just imagine you and your brothers growing up here. Chasing each other in the yard, running through the house.” He turned and smiled at her. “Makes me a little envious.”

  She walked over to him and placed a hand on his knee. Looking up into his eyes. “I’m sorry they were upset.”

  He shrugged his shoulders and turned to look off into the dark night.

  Even though fall along the Gulf Coast wasn’t very cold, they still had chilly nights. Even the bugs had decreased during the small cold front they were having now. The grass was still green, and most of the trees still had leaves, but the chill in the wind guaranteed they were in for some rain later that night.

  “It’s not like we spend holidays together. It’s been years since we’ve had a Thanksgiving meal together. Even then, it was nothing like that.” He nodded to the large windows, where they could see her brothers yelling at the football game. They were cheering and most likely taking bets as to which team would score next.

  “I’m sorry,” she said, pulling his face towards hers. “I know how it feels. I wish it was different for you.”

  He smiled and ran his fingers through her hair. “I’m so lucky to have you. To be here with you.” He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on her lips. “I know you don’t want to hear it, but I love you. I love being here with your family, with you.”

  She smiled. “I think I’m getting used to hearing it.” It was true. Since that night almost a week ago when he’d first uttered those words, he’d made a point to say them to her as often as he could. She still didn’t know if there would be a day when she would easily be able to say it back to him. After all, she’d never said it to any man before.

  “I’d like your permission to move in to your place. You know,

  She thought about it for a moment. He was already practically living at her place. His clothes hung in the spare bedroom closet, and several items were in her medicine cabinet.

  Just then, there was a loud shout from inside the house. They both looked over to see Marcus jumping up and down. Cole still had his arm in a sling, but he was pumping his other fist in the air and the two of them fist-bumped over Roman’s head.

  “Looks like Roman lost the bet,” she said, smiling at the scene her family made. Her aunt and father were shaking their heads as they laughed at the three of them. “It’s rare that he loses,” she said, turning back towards Luke.

  “I like them a lot,” he said.

  “That’s nice. I can tell they like you, too.”

  “Shall we head back in? I’m dying to know the score.” She smiled.

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