Bad Boy Rancher(99)

By: Karen Rock


“I haven’t heard. I’m just relieved you’re awake. I was so worried you might not…” She stopped, unable to finish the thought.

“I’m tough.” His fingers skimmed over the bandages covering his head as his eyes flitted down to his cast leg. “How do I look?” Despite everything, a glimmer of amusement lightened his eyes, only making her cry harder.

“Invincible.”

“No, that’s you.”

Was that how he saw her, despite her fears, her hiding, her avoidances? Crazy. “Want some water?”

He nodded, wincing at the small motion, then gently but firmly took the cup she held and brought it to his mouth. After a long sip through the straw, he passed it back.

“We have to stop meeting like this,” he said, his voice stronger, clearer. He slid farther up the pillow to peer at her more directly.

She recalled the first time she’d seen him, inert on the highway, semiconscious and injured, and she smiled, despite everything.

“I thought you were dead,” she whispered.

“Heard the nurses talking this morning. Seems some amazing woman who shouldn’t have been in the arena slowed my blood loss.”

Her face contorted as she strove to stop the steady drip of tears. “Some amazing woman, huh?”

“Yes, she is.” He extended his free arm out to the side and crooked his fingers. “Come here.”

It was all the invitation she needed. Gingerly, she stretched out on the bed beside him. She closed her eyes, feeling the warmth of his skin against her cheek. Underneath the chemical disinfectant smell emanating from his body, she breathed in Justin, the warm spicy scent assuring her he was alive. That he was here with her.

She didn’t think about anything. She just let herself exist in the moment, the deep, deep pleasure of being there next to him, of feeling the weight of him beside her, the space he took up in her world.

She shifted her head and kissed the firm skin on the inside of his arm and felt his fingers trace their way gently through her hair.

“You wished me good luck.”

“Yes.” She let out a long, shaky breath. “I wanted to see you ride, but I never should have distracted you. You got hurt because of me.”

“My pride and ego are to blame, not you. I shouldn’t have done it with a bum wrist. It was reckless and stupid. I could have died. Triggered your PTSD.”

“You did it for Fresh Start, for Jesse and yourself. Besides, I was too worried about you to fear anything else.” Her voice was so calm, she almost laughed.

Then she did.

Justin stiffened, taken aback at her reaction. It might have been leftover shock. But she wanted to think it was because she suddenly understood she wasn’t afraid of anything anymore.

“You saved my life…twice,” he murmured, his warm breath rushing over her temple.

She shook her head. “No. You saved me. It took me a while to see it, but I understand now.”

“Understand what?”

“That you were heaven-sent the night we crashed, to rescue me.”

“No. You were my angel.”

She slid her arms around his neck, careful not to jostle him, reveling in the feel of his body close to hers. “And you were mine.”

“I recall you said something else in the arena.”

Her heartbeat thudded so hard it practically shook her entire body. “I did. I love you, Justin,” she breathed and laid her head against his muscular chest, unafraid of what it meant, how he’d react, what he’d say.

Oh. Please say you love me, too…

By living in the dark, hiding from pain, she’d closed herself off from joy. From now on, she’d only live in the light. In the truth.

He looked at her then, as if he were drinking her in, and something inside her weakened with relief. “I love you, too, darlin’. With everything I am, which might not seem like much right now,” he admitted with a rueful twist of his lips.

“You’re everything,” she said, crying and laughing, almost unable to take in what he was saying, her heart pounded so hard. “Everything to me.”

“I’m not perfect, even at a hundred percent, but you saw past that and loved me anyway. Any time I needed you, you’ve been there.”

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