Love Her or Lose Her

Page 21

Rosie gasped. “I never said that.”

“I added the ‘asshole’ part. You said the rest.” He chanced another step closer, and the awareness between them grew to ten times the size of the forest. “I got angry, too. Remember?”

“Of course I remember.” She stared off over his shoulder for a moment, then covered her face with her hands. “I think I said, ‘If you loved me, you’d understand what I’m going through.’”

“And I said, ‘I do love you, Rosie. That’s why I want to go through it with you.’”

The intensity between them was building so much, Dominic was barely aware of their surroundings. There was only Rosie. They gravitated closer, but she caught herself at the last moment, before their bodies could touch, stooping down and starting the process of sliding tent poles through their nylon sleeves.

“We were pretty dramatic back then, weren’t we?”

“We’ve still got some drama, honey girl,” Dominic said gruffly, joining her in a crouch. They worked in silence for a few minutes, and normally that would have been fine for Dominic. Silence was where he lived. In studying Rosie surreptitiously, he could see she wasn’t as comfortable with the lack of talking. Words. She needs words. “Tell me something about your day.”

“I’m missing a Just Us League meeting tonight, and I’m a little itchy thinking of them eating soggy takeout tacos instead of something I made.” Her head came up fast, before ducking back down. “Or did you mean something, like, work related?”


She blew out a breath, seeming uncertain. “I don’t know how to talk to you anymore.”

Without thinking, he reached over and took her hand, holding it tightly within his own. God. God, this situation had gotten so fucking far away from him. “You can tell me anything.”

“I’ve been hiding Martha’s Hot Pockets.” Her expression was grave. “They explode all over the break-room microwave and she never cleans it up.”

Dominic swallowed a laugh. “Where have you been hiding them?”

Her eyes widened. “In the trash.”

He choked trying to keep his amusement buried, but it didn’t work. Dominic’s laugh boomed in the forest, sending birds flying out of the trees.

“She’s going to find out,” Rosie said, battling her own smile. “I’m going to be sampling Le Squirt Bon Bon for the rest of my life.”

“What the hell is Le Squirt Bon Bon?”

“It’s the nastiest perfume on the planet and it only exists so Martha has a power move.” Rosie signaled him to stand up the tent and Dominic glanced down, realizing they were done stuffing it with poles. “What about you?” Looking kind of nervous, she rolled her lips inward. “Tell me something about your day.”

Dominic handed her the stakes for two of the tent corners and they went about securing the shelter in place. Something about his day? Probably not the best idea to inform Rosie of how much time he’d spent lately staring at her clothes in the closet or sniffing her girlie soaps in the bathroom. “I’ve been doing some work in the basement at night. When I can’t sleep.” They traded a fleeting look and he wanted to kiss the guilt out of her eyes, but words were more important right now. “Found my framed commendations from the marines. The few pictures I took while overseas.”

He raised his head to find Rosie looking at him.

“You should hang them up,” she said.

“No, I . . .” Dominic left the tent area and moved to the nearby ring of rocks, squatting down to arrange them closer together. “I thought about it once, but I figured our house is already so small. Maybe one day if we had more room or a bigger place, I’d hang them up. They’re not a big deal.”

“Yes, they are,” she breathed. “A bigger place. We haven’t talked about that in a while.”

Goddammit. Why had he brought up the house? Until now, it had been the silent secret between them, but with her innocent comment came a deceptive evasion—and he hated it. Lying to his wife was a sin, in his eyes. But when he opened his mouth to come clean, the truth only dug down deeper, further out of sight inside of him. “I’ve been thinking about it lately. Have you? Thought about a bigger place at all?”

She joined him at the stone circle, helping him move the rocks into a perfect ring. For the campfire their hippie therapist had requested, because that was normal. “I’ve thought of us moving to somewhere newer, with more space. Sure,” she rasped.

“Would you . . . like that?”

Rosie’s gaze flashed to meet his, danced away. “Maybe we should focus on the present right now and not the future, you know?” When Dominic made a grudging sound of agreement, she dusted her hands off on her jeans and stood, shifting in the crackle of forest-floor debris. “Um . . . what was the third thing? A hammock?”

He cleared his throat. “Yeah.”

The tension remained between them as Dominic gathered wood for the campfire. When he returned, he helped Rosie hang the hammock between two trees. Despite the lurking strain in the air, working in tandem with Rosie felt natural . . . and long overdue. It had never been more obvious to Dominic that they’d been avoiding each other, except for their Tuesday-night sex marathons. Even the simple task of hanging the hammock felt intimate. In a way that wasn’t physical. Like they were working in a partnership. He absorbed the feeling like a sponge.

“Okay,” Rosie said, wiping her hands on her thighs. “What’s next?”

“He said something about hanging a wind chime,” Dominic responded drily. “Got to have those positive vibes, man.”

“He’s a free spirit.” Rosie wrinkled her nose at him. “I think it’s kind of sweet.”

“Come on, honey girl. You would have rolled your eyes so hard at him back in the day.”

She thought about that. “Probably. But I would have felt guilty about it afterward.”

Something tugged in his middle over the accuracy of that. “So what has . . . changed about you? That you’d no longer roll your eyes at a stoned hippie who decorates with stuffed animals?”

Rosie’s gaze traveled over him, as if she was startled that he’d asked something that deep. “Well, for one, last-ditch therapy was my idea and my pride is in the way of me admitting I went a little extreme.” They traded a knowing smile. “But I wouldn’t change the decision now. Lately I’ve learned that letting something feel crazy, not rejecting the unfamiliarity of a situation . . . can lead to something amazing.”

“You’re talking about the club?”

“Partly,” she hedged. “Did you know me, Bethany, and Georgie formed the league because we all showed up for Zumba early? Really, it’s Kristin’s fault for being late.” She smiled to herself. “Now, Zumba. That gets an eye roll. Who wants to watch themselves dance in a mirror?”

Dominic rolled a shoulder. “I could never mind watching you dance.” They traded a ripple of heated eye contact, but he was enjoying talking to her too much to push it further. He didn’t want to credit Armie, but something about being removed from their usual setting—being out there in nature—made him appreciate being with her, hearing her voice, even more than he normally did. “How the hell are we supposed to rig up this wind chime?”

“Oh.” Rosie shook herself, obviously having forgotten their task. “I brought some string. Do you have your pocketknife?”

“Always.” He slipped the smooth object out of his back pocket and flipped open the narrowest cutting tool with his thumb. “What’s your plan? Put holes in some sticks and hang them?”

“Yes. Maybe attach some pennies to the bottom so they clang?”

“Not bad.”

Rosie laughed. “Not exactly good, either, but we’ll get away with it.” She pressed her lips together. “I think it goes against the hippie-cratic oath to give bad grades.”

He slow-clapped. “Nicely done.”

They spent a few minutes collecting sticks, Rosie retrieving them and Dominic whittling holes in the top.

“So . . . not rejecting something that feels crazy,” Dominic said, calling back her earlier words while twisting metal into wood. “Does that also apply to the restaurant?”

“Yeah,” she breathed, furrowing her brow. “Somewhere along the line, it did start to feel crazy. Taking that leap.”

Regret slithered in Dominic’s gut, knowing he’d been part of the reason opening her restaurant had become an unreachable goal. He could turn the tide now, though, couldn’t he? Here they were, talking—trying—so it couldn’t be too late.

“Sometimes when I was active duty,” he said, “home seemed like a dream. Like it wasn’t real and I’d never get back here again.” He nudged her with his elbow. “I almost always thought of you frowning over a recipe or dancing from the stove to the sink. And I knew home had to be real. You cooking is not a leap. You . . . doing anything you set your mind to is not a leap.”

“Thank you,” she murmured, sounding almost surprised. “I wish you’d do that more. Not . . . not encourage me, although that was really, really nice. But I mean talk about your time overseas. You’ve never talked to me about it.”

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