The perfect neighbor, p.17
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       The Perfect Neighbor, p.17

         Part #9 of The MacGregors series by Nora Roberts
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  “Miracles. I hurt you. I’ve no excuse for it.” He spoke quickly, terrified she would tell him it no longer mattered, that it was too late. “I attacked when I thought you might be pregnant because I was angry at myself. Angry that part of me was thinking that having a baby with you would be a way I could keep you.”

  When her head whipped around, her eyes wide with shock, he dragged his hands through his hair. “I knew you didn’t want marriage, but if you’d been … I could have pushed you into it. And my only defense against that kind of thinking, against using something like that, was to turn on you.”

  “Pushed me into marriage?” was all she could say. Staggered, she rose, walked a few feet away to stare blindly down into the thrashing waves. How was she supposed to keep up with this? she wondered. How had it all changed so fast?

  “It’s no excuse, but you have a right to know I never thought you’d planned it or tricked me. I’ve never known anyone less calculating than you. Cybil, you’re a warm, generous woman, with a capacity for joy unlike anyone else I’ve ever known. Having you in my life … you made me happy, and I think I’d forgotten how to be.”

  “Preston.” She turned back, her vision blurry with tears.

  “Please, let me finish. Just hear me out.” He grabbed her hands now, gripping hard. “I love you. Everything about you staggers me. You said you loved me. You don’t lie.”

  “No.” She saw him clearly now. The exhaustion in his eyes, the tension in his face. If he hadn’t been holding her hands so tightly she would have tried to smooth it all away. “I don’t lie.”

  “I need you, so much more than you need me. I know you can get over me and move on. You’re too resilient, too open to life, not to. Nothing would stop you from being what you are. You can tell me to go. You’ll forget me. Whatever part I played in your life won’t keep you from being happy.”

  He kept his eyes on her face, surrendering everything to the desperate whirl of emotion inside him. “And I’ll never in my life get over you. I’ll never stop loving you or stop regretting everything I did to push you away from me. You can tell me to go,” he said in a voice strained taut with emotion. “And I will. Please God.” Helpless, he lowered his brow to hers. “Please don’t tell me to go.”

  “Do you believe that?” she said quietly. “Do you really believe I could forget you?” Amazed at how steady her voice, and her heart were, she waited until he lifted his head and looked down at her. “Maybe I could get over you and be happy. But why should I risk it? Why should I tell you to go when I want you to stay?”

  He let out the air clogging his lungs. Even as her lips began to curve, he pulled her against him, kept her there, swaying with relief. She felt him shudder once as he pressed his face to her shoulder.

  “You didn’t let me ruin it.” His voice was raw, and his heart seemed to batter against hers until it moved inside her.

  “No, I didn’t.” She held on, rocked with the knowledge that he had so much feeling for her in him. This strong, stubborn, serious man was weak for love of her. “I couldn’t. I need you, too.”

  He held her away from him, his heart in his eyes as he skimmed his thumbs over her cheeks. “I love this face. I thought I lost it.” He brushed his lips over her brow, her eyelids. “I thought I lost you. Cybil. I can’t …”

  His mouth covered hers. He meant to be gentle, to show her she would be cherished, but emotion raged through him, wild and strong as the sea below them. All of it poured into the kiss.

  When he drew back, her eyes were wet. “Don’t cry.”

  “You’re going to have to get used to it. We Campbells are an emotional lot.”

  “I figured that out. Your father wants to break me into very small pieces.”

  “When he sees you make me happy, he’ll let you live.” She grinned, and laughter bubbled out. “He’ll love you, Preston, and so will my mother. First because I do, then because of who you are.”

  “Moody, rude, short-tempered?”

  “Yes.” She laughed again when he winced. “I could deny it, but I’m such a lousy liar.” She took his hand in hers and began to walk. “I love it here. This is where my parents met and fell in love. He lived in the lighthouse then, like a hermit, guarding his work, irritated that a woman had come along to distract him.”

  She shot him a sidelong look. “He’s moody, rude, short-tempered.”

  The similarity had him grinning. “Sounds like a very sensible man.” He brought their joined hands to his lips. “Cybil, will you go to Newport with me and meet my family?”

  “I’d like that.” She glanced up, her head angling when she saw that familiar intense expression in his eyes. “What?”

  He stopped, turned to her in the shadow of the great light with the water warring against the rocks below. “I know you don’t want marriage or a house in the country. You like living in New York in the center of things, and I don’t expect—you’d like the house,” he said, interrupting his own thoughts. “It’s a great old place, near the coast like this. Anyway,” he continued, shaking his head as she remained silent, just looking at him, “I don’t expect you to change your lifestyle. But if you decide, later on, that you want to marry me, make a home and a family with me, will you tell me?”

  Her heart did three wonderful and stylish handsprings, but she only nodded. “You’ll be the first to know.”

  Telling himself to be content with that, he gave her hand a quick squeeze. “Okay.”

  He started to walk again, surprised when she stopped, pulling back so that both their arms were extended, linked only by warm fingers. “Preston?”

  “Yeah?”

  “I want to marry you, make a home and a family with you.” The smile lit up her face as he gaped at her. “See, you’re the first to know.”

  Hope spun cheerfully into bliss. “Sure.” He brought her stumbling into him with one quick jerk. “But did you have to keep me dangling for so long?”

  Then she was laughing as he swung her off her feet, spinning her in dizzy circles.

 
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