With a wistful sigh, I stroked her hair some more. “If only I took advantage of sick chicks.”
“That bruise around your eye is sexy too.”
Leaning in close until my nose touched hers, I grinned. “Then I’ll keep it perpetually black and blue, just for you.”
“Are you guys going to kiss goodbye already?” Colton complained. “I want to go back to sleep now.”
“We already did, punk.” I nudged the back of his head. “Now quit being a Peeping Tom and let me say goodbye properly.”
He snorted, and Caroline and I grinned at each other. “I don’t want to leave,” I admitted on a whisper.
“I don’t want you to either.” She reached out and touched my jaw. But her eyes were growing drowsy.
“Get some sleep,” I told her and kissed her hair.
Her eyes were already closed by the time I pulled back. “‘Kay,” she mumbled.
“Okay,” I said right back as I stood. “Love you.”
“You too,” she slurred.
I stood there a moment, watching her and her brother curled up together and falling fast asleep against one another. I glanced at the window but knew I couldn’t leave that way; no one would be able to close it behind me, so I held my breath and tiptoed to the door. I peered into the hall as I cracked it open. It was fairly dark still, so I stepped into the shadows and darted toward the opening that led to the kitchen. I half expected to find Gamble there, sitting at the table and drinking coffee, just waiting for me, but the room was empty. I escaped out the back door, and hiked to my truck.
After I made it home, I crawled into my own bed, but I couldn’t sleep. Everything felt wrong without Caroline next to me. I was tossing and turning when a sudden thought struck me. “Holy shit.” I bolted upright, my eyes widening.
I’d told her I loved her. It hadn’t even occurred to me what I was saying when I said it. It’d just come out as natural as breathing.
I’d never told any female, besides my mother and sister, that I loved her.
I have no idea why I was so panicked by the idea. I’d known it was true for a while, but still, I didn’t have to go just blurting that shit out to everyone.
Maybe she hadn’t really heard me. She’d been half asleep and had mumbled back her answer as if she was talking to her brother, or something.
Wait, shit. She’d said she loved me back. I wondered if she’d remember that?
God, all this thinking about it was giving me a headache.
I crawled out of bed and ran to the nearest fast food-restaurant. After buying enough to feed me and my roommates, I jogged back to my apartment. Zwinn was surprised by my generosity when they finally woke up, but they ate and hung out with me, distracting me from my swirling thoughts for a good hour. But then they went their own way, and I fidgeted around the house most of the day. I sent off a few more applications and tried to watch some television. Then I received a return call from one of the places I’d applied to electronically. But mostly I just watched the clock.
I spent a while texting my woman and flirting with her. She’d ended up taking my advice and calling in sick to work and she mentioned nothing of the l-word I’d dropped earlier, so I assumed she didn’t remember. Needing to see her anyway, I showed up at her place in the early evening just after I knew they’d had their supper.
Gamble’s woman answered the door.
“Ten,” she said in surprise. “Uh…Noel’s not here this evening. He’s working—”
“I know.” Rolling my eyes, I muttered, “I’m here for the kid. The littlest one.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Colton?”
“Yep. That one. He wants to play…” I sighed heavily, “catch.”
“O…kay.” Opening the door, she stepped aside. “Come on in then...I guess. I’ll go get him.”
I stepped inside and she disappeared from the room to find the kid. Shoving my hands into my pockets, I glanced around the front room as I waited for—
“Took you long enough to get here,” a voice hissed. I spun to find Caroline in a baggy T-shirt and sweatpants hobbling toward me. She looked tired and had bags under her eyes, but she was still so beautiful; I can’t even describe how it felt knowing she was going to be close enough to touch again.
My fingers actually tingled when they made contact with her cheek. “What’re you doing out of bed? How do you feel?”
She leaned against me, and I gave her a warm hug. “My stomach’s still giving me twinges, but I feel a million times better than last night. Your black eye looks really dark. Do you feel okay?”