He was the one pulling back in surprise this time. “It is?”

“You taught me to trust. To have faith and hope. How to laugh again.” She ran the pad of her thumb over his bottom lip. “And when I’m safe and warm in your arms, just like this, I know the true meaning of peace.”

Just as he’d been unable to wait so many times before, he had to take the kiss he wanted, devouring her lips with the hunger of a man who’d gone without for far too long. Heather kissed him back with the kind of passion that belonged between tangled sheets in dark bedrooms, not suburban sidewalks.

He never wanted to stop kissing her, not when he had an entire week of lost kisses to make up for. Unfortunately, his family’s clapping and cheering couldn’t be ignored forever.


Heather looked over her shoulder and her eyes went wide. “Have they been watching the whole time?”

His brothers and sisters and mother and baby niece were all out on the front lawn now. “Through the windows for most of it, but I’m guessing they couldn’t stand not hearing every word, or at least trying to read our lips. Which is a good thing, because I know how much they’d hate to miss this.”

He dropped to one knee and her mouth fell open. “Zach? What are you doing?”

The dogs both nosed his hand as he pulled the black velvet box out of his pocket and opened it up. “Asking you for forever.”

Her eyes lit up even as her mouth wobbled at the corners. He knew he wasn’t playing fair by offering her the ring so soon after they’d made up. But from that first moment he’d set eyes on Heather, he’d pulled out all the stops to make her his. He wouldn’t stop now, wouldn’t ever stop loving her with every piece of his heart and his soul.

“My father gave my mother this ring.”

She looked down at the ring, then back up at him. “It’s beautiful, Zach.”

“Will you be mine, Heather?”

“I’ve always been yours.”

He loved the sound of it.


And then she said something he liked even more.



Ryan Sullivan sprawled out on the lounger under the big oak tree in his mother’s backyard, enjoying his beer.


Everyone was ecstatic that Zach had convinced Heather to take him back, but none more than Lori, who had been crowing about her victory on the bet they’d made to anyone who would listen, while the two dogs—one huge, one tiny—chased each other in circles on the lawn. Emma gurgled with happiness whenever the dogs came near.

It had been a heck of a year for his siblings. Weddings. Babies. Engagements. Even dogs.

Ryan didn’t have anything against people falling in love, and he was glad it had worked out so well for everyone...but the whole thing looked like a heck of a lot of trouble. The sex part, he was game for, of course. But all the breaking up and getting back together, the anguish he’d seen on his siblings’ faces when things went wrong?

No, thanks.

He was perfectly happy with the status quo. He liked his job on the pitcher’s mound, enjoyed spending time with his family, friends, and the pretty women who understood not to expect too much from a guy like him.

When his phone buzzed in his pocket, he was almost too relaxed to bother to pull it out. When it buzzed again a few seconds later, he reached into his back jeans pocket to shut it off. Before he could, he saw the text:

I need your help.


She’d been one of his closest friends in high school, but he hadn’t seen her, or heard from her, in a long time. Too long.

Was she in trouble?

He quickly texted her back.

Where are you?

He was gripping his phone hard enough to crack it as he waited for her answer.

San Francisco. Pacific Union Club.

What was she doing back in the city? And at the exclusive, old-money cocktail lounge?

Ryan was out of the chair and heading for the front door when her next text buzzed through to his cell.

Come quick.

Gone was the relaxed Sullivan the world thought they knew. Because if anyone so much as touched a hair on Vicki’s head, Ryan would kill them.


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