Ryan set his duffel bag on the tile floor. He craned his neck to look around the resort lobby. He had hoped to see Charity as soon as he walked through the doors. He had wanted to see her eyes light up the way always did when she saw him. He wanted to see her lips twitch with barely contained amusement. Most of all he wanted to feel her slim firm figure in his arms.
“Ryan” Charity’s voice asked behind him.
Turning slowly he waved self-consciously at her. “Surprise” he announced as she jumped into his arms.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” she laughed as he twirled her around.
“It wouldn’t have been a surprise if I told you” he reluctantly set her down. His eyes drank in every nuance of her appearance. “You look different” he said breathing in the fresh mango scent of her shampoo.
A slight frown creased her brow “different how?” she gazed up at him.
“Where’s your hat?” he asked after a moment of silently gazing into each others eyes
“It’s too hot” she shrugged as if that was sufficient.
“I miss the hat” he teased running his fingers through her soft tresses.
Pulling away from him she said “I can go get it if you’d like.” She giggled as he pulled her to him. This time he brought his mouth down on hers, smothering any reply she might have made.
“Zane” Graham put a restraining hand on his husband’s shoulder. Zane turned towards him a baffled bewildered look in his eyes. Graham smiled shaking his head “she’s not a little girl anymore.”
Zane growled deep in his throat. “She’s my little girl” he took a step forward.
Clutching at his arm Graham guided Zane away from the happy oblivious couple. “She’s a grown woman in love.” He watched as his words sank into his husband’s conscience.
“But I….” he glanced over his shoulder “I’m not ready” he mumbled sounding defeated.
“Whether it’s now or twenty years from now” Graham chuckled a little “we’d never be ready.” He nodded towards Charity who was unaware of her parent’s distress. “She’s happy. Ryan’s a good boy. We’ve known him since he was a little kid. We couldn’t ask for anyone better for our daughter.”
Zane let out a strangled sigh “I still don’t like it.”
Shaking his head Graham at a loss at what else to say. “You don’t have to like it. You just have to tolerate it.” He brought his hands up to hold Zane’s face still. “Whether you like it or not Charity is in love. That boy is in love with our daughter. I will not have you spoiling this for them.” Graham still had memories of his father’s displeasure in the face of any small triumph he had. It was either not good enough. Not appropriate. He was too young. His father didn’t approve. He would not have that for his daughter.
“I’ll be nice” Zane conceded like a small child being made to apologize.
“Promise?” Graham prompted.
Nodding Zane mumbled “I promise.”
“Good” Graham smiled kissing his husband lightly on the lips “I knew I could count on you to do the right thing.”
“Yeah sure” Zane smirked “I still don’t like it.”
Two weeks later Ryan and Charity were strolling along the beach towards sunset. He held her hand marveling at how right it felt inside his. He turned to smile down at her when he found her gazing up at him. “What?” he asked reaching over to tuck a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
Shaking her head slightly she leaned her cheek into his palm. “I don’t want you to go home” she murmured.
“It’s only for a little while” he stroked her cheek “we’ll see each other again. Classes will be starting in a few weeks.”
“I know…it’s just” she sighed turning away from him. She hugged her arms around herself staring into the setting sun. The ocean slapped against her ankles. “Will you….” she turned around her words lost as she put a hand to her mouth a wordless cry escaping.
“Marry me” Ryan finished her question a huge earnest expectant grin on his face. He held up a ring, the last of the sun’s rays glinting off the heart-shaped pink diamond.
Tears gushed from her eyes as she nodded in response to his question unable to formulate coherent words. She held her hand out to him. He took her trembling hand, kissing the top of it with his firm soft lips. “Charity Hollis I love you. I’ve loved you since the moment we met. You let me be your protector when you didn’t need to be protected. You are one of the strongest women I know. I love that strength.” He slipped the ring onto her finger. Caressing her hand between both of his. “I love the moments when you let that strength slip and show me the vulnerable little girl you keep hidden inside. The moments when you look to me for answers you could find yourself. The times when you let me be your hero.” He stood up still clasping her hand “I want to live the rest of my life with you by my side.”
“Yes” she cried throwing herself into his arms. “Yes I’ll marry you.” She peppered his face with light feathery kisses. She brought her hands up to hold his face while he held her securely in his arms. “Ryan Milton you used to infuriate me when we were kids. Always trying to protect me. I thought I didn’t need protecting. We grew up and I came to rely on your steady loyal support. I never knew how much until it was gone. I was lost without it. I was lonely.” She pressed her lips to his before adding “I wanted nothing more than to run into your arms and beg you to take me back. I’m sorry I ever believed anything that woman said about you. It was never your fault.”
“That’s all in the past” he carefully guided her down to the cool damp sand as he wrapped his arms around her. “From this moment on is what’s important. I’m yours. Your mine.”
She leaned into him “I like the sound of that.”
“Good because that’s the way it’s going to be from this moment on.”
“Your dad doesn’t like me” Donovan whispered in Hannah’s ear.
She giggled looking across the room where her parents were comfortably snuggling in each other’s arms. “Of course he does” she contradicted him.
“Then why does he keep glaring at me?” Donovan asked his nose nuzzling into her sensitive skin beneath his ear.
She closed her eyes enjoying the sensual way his warm breath caressed her skin. “He’s not glaring” she moved in his arms before either of them could get carried away “that’s his over protective daddy look.”
Donovan glanced over her shoulder. “He has that look every time he looks at me.”
Shrugging she kissed his cheek oblivious to the glare her dad was giving them. “Relax his bark is worse than his bite,” she nodded towards her dads on the nearby couch. “They like you; otherwise they would have us sitting in between them.”
Donovan looked across at Rory’s serious no-nonsense face before replying, his voice losing all of his former playfulness. “I don’t like that look at all.”
“Don’t worry” Hannah giggled as she took his hand “daddy won’t let him hurt you.”
Donovan relaxed a little reassured by her words. “Maybe we should just watch the movie” he suggested trying to move away from her when Hannah put a restraining hand on his shoulder.
“We don’t have to do that” she shook her head “give them time.” She indicated her dad’s with a nod “they’ll get used to it eventually.”
He gave her an uncertain look before settling back into her arms. “I feel like I’m taking my life in my hands.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic” she chided “if dad wanted you dead he could have left you under your car.”
He shivered a little remembering how helpless he felt pinned beneath his car. The thought that still haunted his dreams was whether he was the type to do whatever it took to survive or whether he’d give up and wait for death. Thankfully he hadn’t had to find out.
Rory grunted rubbing his side where Eddie’s elbow made contact. “What was that for?” he demanded looking down at his husband.
“You know why” Eddie retorted his eyes on the TV despite having seen the movie a hundred times before.
“I honestly don’t know what you mean” Rory protested shooting the young couple a glare as the boy nuzzled his daughter’s neck. A low growl built up inside him.
“Down boy” Eddie squeezed Rory’s knee.
“I’m not a dog” Rory grumbled.
Chuckling a little Eddie crawled into his husband’s lap. “I can’t see the TV” Rory complained.
“You’re not watching” Eddie said reasonably as he put his hands on either side of Rory’s face to keep him from watching their daughter. “Leave them be” he instructed firmly.
Rory resisted the urge to break the tenuous hold Eddie had on him. He heard the firmness in Eddie’s voice. “I’m sorry” he mumbled “I miss being the center of her universe.”
“I know” Eddie agreed “I miss that too.”
The sadness in his husband’s voice made Rory want to wrap Eddie up in a protective cocoon. “I haven’t been very helpful have I?” he asked contritely after realizing how difficult this must be for his husband.
“No not really” he shook his head slightly “but you’re forgiven.” Eddie leaned forward placing a kiss on Rory’s nose “you’ve been distracted.”
“I’m sorry” he repeated berating himself for not seeing the pain Eddie had been in. “I’ll do better. I promise.”
The corners of Eddie’s lips turned upwards, “thank you” he murmured. “That means a lot to me. Hannah will appreciate it too.”
“She better” he grumbled “I just want her to be happy.”
“Then trust her” Eddie advised “Donovan loves her. He’s as protective of her as you are of me.”
Rory glanced over his daughter. This time without the glare of distaste. He sighed sadly “I miss our little girl coming to us to solve her problems.” He squeezed Eddie tightly in his arms “I don’t want to share her.”
“If you refuse to share we’ll lose her forever” Eddie said gently “don’t force her to choose. It’s not fair and we’ll lose.”
“I know” he leaned his head forward resting it on Eddie’s forehead “I wouldn’t do that to her. I love her too much.”
“Come on” Eddie climbed off of Rory’s lap. He held his hand out silently waiting for Rory to take it and follow him from the room.
“Where are they going?” Donovan asked his brows knitting together in concern.
“They’re giving us some alone time” she said with satisfaction. “It’s a good thing.” She moved into his lap. Smiling she ran her fingers through his red hair “now I know why daddy prefers sitting in dad’s lap.”
“Why’s that?” he asked unable to read the glint in her green eyes.
“It’s so much easier to do this” she leaned forward laying claim to his lips.
He jerked away from her “what if they come back?”
Don’t worry they won’t” she grinned grabbing his face between her hands “now hold still.”
He let her draw him close covering his mouth with hers. All he could think about was they way she felt grinding against him. He wanted to give in to his animal instincts. Fear that her parents would walk in on them held him back along with something else. Respect. Respect for the girl who was driving him crazy. Respect for her parents. In the past he wouldn’t have cared but he hadn’t loved any of them.
As her kisses became more passionate and insistent he pushed her from his lap. “You don’t know what you’re doing to me” he panted in apology.
“If you wanted me to stop all you had to do was ask” she complained as her cheeks flared a brilliant shade of red.
“I didn’t want you to stop” Donovan explained “I wanted so much more but I ….” He bit his lip “what you and I have. I want it to be more than just a fling. I want…”
She snuggled into him taking his hand “yes” she asked expectantly “you want what?”
He turned towards her “I want forever. I can’t imagine my life without you. I don’t want to imagine life without you.”
Her eyes looked troubled “what are you saying? You’re not leaving are you?”
“No” he hastily assured her “I’ll never leave you voluntarily. I’ll go kicking and screaming if anyone tried to make me leave you.”
“I’ll protect you” she said her voice solemn.
He smiled at her comment “I know you would.” He gently wrapped a strand of her long blonde hair around his finger. “I love you. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I hope one day to prove to you that I’m good enough for you.”
She shook her head than took the hand that had her hair wrapped around uts finger. “There’s nothing to prove. You’re the one I want now and always. You’re a good kind-hearted person who would do anything for his friends. I love that about you.” She smiled at him “I may wish your methods were a little more orthodox but I can’t fault you for your motives.”
“Do you really mean that?” he asked eagerly almost bouncing on the couch cushion beside her.
“Yes I do” nodding her head vigorously. “You don’t know how happy that makes me to hear that.” He threw her arms around her “it almost makes me want to ask…”
Pulling away to look into his face she repeated “almost makes you what?” She watched the almost embarrassed way he looked at his hands.
“I have nothing to offer you” he hung his head.
“I wouldn’t say nothing” she said gently tilting his chin up “you have all I’ll ever need.”
“What?” he asked giving her a miserable look.
“Love” she said simply “that’s all I need.”
“It’s not” he contradicted her his tone a little more up beat.
“It’s a place to start” she asserted “I don’t need much. Just you. That’s all that really matters isn’t?”
“Put like that” he grinned leaning in close “how can I say no?”
“You can’t” she smirked knowing she had won the battle.