“I love her.”
“I know you do. I think you’re the only idiot who didn’t know it until now.”
“I can’t believe what I almost did,” Cam said painfully. “I tried to deny her. I tried to deny my own son. How do you ever get over something like that?”
“The key word is almost,” Devon said. “Tell her you’re a dumb ass and then swear you’ll wise up and never be a dumb ass again.”
Cam sighed. “I just hope she’ll listen.”
“You make her listen. If she means enough to you, then you won’t give up so easily.”
Mean enough? She was his damn world. Her and their son. It was time to take a chance. The biggest chance of his life. It could end badly. They could be taken from him just like Elise and Colton had been.
But it could also end wonderfully. A long life filled with love and laughter. More children. Pippa’s love and her smile. Wasn’t that worth the risk?
“Pippa, darling, Cam is here to see you, and I should warn you that he’s vowed to sleep outside our door until you agree to talk with him.”
Pippa stared back at Gloria Copeland, her mouth dropping open in astonishment.
“Are you serious?”
Gloria nodded. “I’m afraid so. He does seem quite determined. I would have thought it an empty threat but he’s carrying an overnight bag with him.”
“He doesn’t give up,” Pippa muttered.
In the past two days, Cam had haunted Pippa’s existence. He’d called. He’d come by the Copelands’ apartment. He’d gone by her bakery. He’d made it a point to show up in every conceivable place she could possibly be.
When none of that appeared to work, he’d resorted to text messages. I love you. Flowers. Tons of flowers. Every card signed I love you. The few times she’d actually come face-to-face with him, he’s just stood there, looking so haunted and determined, his eyes never leaving her face.
She felt hunted but not threatened. She was baffled by his persistence, confused by the messages.
After hanging on to desperate hope for so long, she’d made the painful, difficult decision to sever her ties to Cam. And now he was storming back, demanding her attention. Wanting things he’d vowed he’d never want from her.
It made no sense and she was at her wits’ end.
She nibbled at her bottom lip and stared nervously over the back of the couch toward the door. She had no doubt he’d be stubborn. The past two days had proven that much.
“What should I do?” she asked anxiously. The very last thing she wanted was to cause trouble for the Copelands when they’d been nothing but kind and generous to her.
Gloria smiled indulgently and then came to sit beside her on the couch. She pulled her into a tight hug and patted her comfortingly on the back.
“My dear, you do whatever you wish. If you want to talk to him, I’ll be happy to show him in and give you some privacy. Or if you don’t want to be alone I’ll stand guard like a mama lion. If you prefer not to see him, I’ll simply have security remove him from the premises.”
“I do love you, Mrs. C. If only…”
She broke off with a sigh and looked down.
“If only what, dear?”
Pippa raised her gaze and smiled. “If only my mother was like you.”
Gloria smiled back and then leaned forward to enfold her in another of her glorious hugs. “You know you’re like a daughter to me, and Miranda loves you as much as Miranda is capable of loving anyone.”
Pippa sucked in a breath. “You know what? I’m not ready to see him. Not yet. He’d just run over me. When or if I decide to talk to him, it’ll be on my terms. Not his.”
“That’s my girl. Okay, let me go make a call to the building security. Now don’t go looking like that. It’ll be quiet and discreet.”
Pippa frowned unhappily all the same and hunched her knees toward her chest as Gloria got off the couch to go make the call.
She wasn’t being vindictive. She wasn’t being anything at all. She’d said what she’d wanted to say to Cam. There was nothing else.
But even as she reassured herself, doubt nagged at her, because somehow she knew this time Cam wouldn’t walk away as he’d done in the past.
* * *
Go big or go home.
The past few days had been the most frustrating days of his life. Hell, he’d tried everything he knew to get Pippa to talk to him. Or just acknowledge him in some way. Getting thrown out of the apartment building where the Copelands lived had certainly capped off an already crappy day and earned him a warning from Devon.
Yet Pippa’s continued resistance just strengthened his resolve. He wasn’t going to give up no matter how long it took.
Which is how he found himself standing in the reception area of an exclusive salon. A very girlie salon filled with women of all shapes, sizes and ages waiting to be pampered.
Somewhere in one of those back rooms was his woman, and come hell or high water, today was the day she was going to listen to reason. If he had to lay bare his soul in front of countless strangers, then so be it. But Pippa was going to listen this time.
But first he had to get past the dour-faced dragon lady who stood guard over the doorway leading from the reception area.
He’d simply be honest. Weren’t all women softies when it came to groveling men and the grand gestures they made for the women they love? If that didn’t work, he’d get on his knees and he damn well knew no woman would turn down that kind of an opportunity.
He started toward Dragon Lady only to see her cross her arms and scowl directly at him. He sighed. This was so going to suck.
* * *
Pippa was covered in some sort of muddy goo—or at least her face and belly were—but she couldn’t find it in herself to complain. Besides, it felt good. She was relaxed.
Somewhere down there someone was massaging her feet. She closed her eyes in bliss just as someone else put nice, cool cucumber circles over her eyes.
She almost laughed at how ridiculous she must look, but then it occurred to her that she was in heaven, and really, did it matter if she looked like a cream puff in a bikini with cucumber eyes?
The hands left her insteps and she grumbled her protest but then a new set of hands—firmer, larger, not nearly as smooth as the others—closed around her heel and began massaging.
Warmth spread up her legs and her lips parted as a sigh escaped where moments before she’d protested.
She liked these hands better. They weren’t as practiced or smooth. But they hit all the right spots.
The hands moved up her leg, tenderly applying just enough pressure. Rubbing, kneading, leaving no spot untouched as they ventured higher.
It occurred to her to be alarmed at the familiarity of this person’s touch, but it felt too wonderful to end just yet.
The hands left for the briefest of moments and then a warm cloth wiped gently at her belly, cleaning away the fluffy mixture of God only knew what.
Then those wonderful hands palmed the bulge of her belly and she sighed again. But when lips pressed to her firm abdomen, she reared up, cucumber slices flying from her eyes.
To her complete surprise it was Cam who stood there, his hands molded to her belly. And it was his lips that had pressed to her skin.
She tried to scramble up, but it was difficult and Cam put a hand to her shoulder, gently pressing her back down to a lying position.
“Why are you here?” she squeaked. “And what are you doing? Where’s my attendant? How long have you been here?”
Cam spread his hands out, palms up. “I’m it. I’m yours. Completely and utterly at your service to fulfill your every whim and desire.”
Her eyes rounded and her mouth flapped open and shut like she was a senseless twit.
He looked…broken. Hopeful and yet hopeless all at the same time. He looked tired. Worn. Worried. But more than anything he looked determined. There was a glint in his eyes that told her he wasn’t backing down this time.
“I’m not having a conversation with you with all this crap on my face and wearing nothing more than a bikini,” she muttered.
He bent down, captured her face in his hands and proceeded to kiss her breathless. When he finally released her, there was as much fluffy goo on his face as there was on hers. He looked…ridiculous.
She couldn’t help but smile. Then she laughed.
“I don’t care what you look like,” he said hoarsely. “You’re still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known in my life.”
She sighed, ignoring the flutter in her chest. “What are you doing here, Cam? I mean, really. What is it you want? We’ve said all that needs to be said. There’s nothing left to do but get upset all over again.”
His eyes became fierce blue orbs that burned a trail over her face. “No. Not even close. I have plenty to say and I want you to listen, Pippa. Really listen to me.”
She blinked at his vehemence. Well, she wasn’t having this conversation lying down. The very last thing she wanted was to feel at a disadvantage.
She struggled for a moment and finally reached her hand out to Cam. “Help me, please. If we’re going to talk, I don’t want to do it with us both looking like cream puffs.”
He clasped her hand and helped her forward until she swung her legs over the side of the reclining chair. She slid off and went to the sink to wash the remainder of the cream from her face. Then she dampened a cloth and returned to dab at Cam’s face.
He stood, completely still, while she wiped at his cheek. His eyes never left her, though. When the last bit of goo was gone, she took a step back, suddenly feeling the need to cover herself so she didn’t feel quite so vulnerable.
She grabbed a robe off one of the hooks and wrapped it around herself, tying the ends tightly over her swollen belly.
And still Cam was staring at her, unshakable. She was sure there was a message in his unshakable gaze, but it wasn’t one she could discern.
Then it was as if he couldn’t stand it a moment longer. He crossed the distance, dragged her into his arms and kissed her like there was no tomorrow.
He wrapped his arms tightly around her body, holding her so close to him that she couldn’t breathe. He shuddered against her. His lips moved over hers, devouring, hungry, desperate.
When he finally pulled away, she was shocked by the emotion so prevalent in his gaze. He had the look of a tortured man, someone who’d lost everything.
“I can’t live without you, Pippa,” he said in a low voice. “Don’t make me live without you and our son. I love you both so damn much. It’s eating me alive. I wake up thinking about you. I worry for you all day. I go to bed at night aching to hold you. Being without you is gnawing away at my soul. You are everything to me. Everything.”
She swallowed, her nostrils flaring as she tried to control her own emotions. She wanted to lash out but knew it solved nothing. But his words—words he couldn’t take back—still hurt. They cut deeply, a wound that was still open and raw.
“It’s awfully cliché to realize you can’t live without me and that you’ve seen the light after something life-threatening happens,” she said in a low voice.
“You’re wrong,” he said fiercely. “I already knew it. I fought it. But I knew. I already loved you. I never said I didn’t love you, Pippa. Never. What I said was that I didn’t want to love you. I didn’t just figure this out because of some damn fire. Did that scare me? Hell, yes. I haven’t been able to sleep at night for imagining you in that apartment and the unbelievable fear you must have experienced. I was coming for you that night. Ask me how I knew you were in the hospital, Pippa. Ask me, damn it!”
Her fingers trembled as she stared back at him. “H-how?”
“Because I drove like a bat out of hell to get to you after you left. I knew I’d just made the biggest mistake of my life letting you walk away. I was gutted. But I knew if I could just get to you that I could make everything all right. And then when I got to your street, all I saw were those lights and the flames and smoke and I wanted to die because I thought it had happened all over again but this time I could have prevented it. Just by telling you what was in my heart. Just by not being so damn afraid.”
Her eyes widened and her mouth popped open in shock at the vehemence in his voice.
“Hell yes I was terrified that I’d lost you. But that’s not why I’m here. It’s not why I’m putting myself at your feet and hoping to hell you’ll give me another chance. I love you, Pippa. I’ve loved you for so damn long and I didn’t want to. I fought it. But some things just are and one of those things is my love for you and our son.”
She opened her mouth to respond, but he came in close again and put a gentle finger to her lips.
“Don’t talk. Just listen to me. Please. I have so much to say. So much to make up for.”
Mutely she nodded.
He framed her face in his hands and stared down at her with such torment in his eyes that it made her chest ache.
“I’m tired of fighting myself. I want a life with you and our son. I’m tired of always expecting the worst, of trying to forget the pain of losing someone and protecting myself from the worst sort of agony. If I only have a year with you, I’d take it and treasure it for the rest of my life and I’d die a happy man having that time with you even if it meant living the rest of my life alone.”
The words, so heartfelt, so bleak and raw and powerful, shook her to the core. There was no mistaking the sincerity. The truth was there in his eyes to see.
His thumbs caressed a line over her cheeks. His hands were gentle on her face, and he stared down at her with so much love that her throat knotted and tears burned her eyelids.