No Regrets Page 42

’’Are you saying that you love me?’’

’’No. I can\'t say that.’’ And he couldn\'t. He couldn\'t admit to loving her and give anyone who might be listening a weapon to use against him a reason to hurt her.

’’I see. Well, I have no such problem.’’ Her voice softened, though whether from emotion or fatigue, he couldn\'t tell.

’’I love you, David. I want to be with you regardless of the risk.’’

The words sang to his soul and made what was left of his heart ache in desperation to hear them again. She loved him. How could a man like him be so lucky? He didn\'t deserve her love. But, oh, how he wanted it. ’’Don\'t be stupid.

Being with me is not worth that kind of risk. I\'m not worth that kind of risk.’’

’’You\'re wrong. Even knowing what I do now knowing what would happen, if someone gave me the choice of whether or not to go back and do it all again the time with you and the torture at the end, or no time with you at all

I\'d gladly do everything the same way again. No regrets.’’

She wasn\'t lying. David could see that in her eyes. She meant every word she said.

It made his gut clench. It made him want to howl like an animal in the face of the bittersweet pain hef words caused. How could she love him that much? Him, a violent man who had made so many mistakes? ’’You can\'t mean that.’’

’’I do mean it. Those days we had together were worth every single cut and bruise, every single speck of fear that I suffered. And I only had a few days with you. Mary had years. If she loved you as much as I do and I\'m sure she did she would have gladly accepted her fate as the price for the time she had with you. Maybe you\'re too dumb to realize it, but you\'re a good man. You\'re worth every bit of suffering.’’

’’There\'s been enough suffering because of having me in your life. Don\'t say you\'re willing to take that kind of risk again.’’

She reached for his hand, and it was only then that he realized that he was by her side, as close to her as he could get without climbing up on the bed with her. Her fingers were cold and he automatically wrapped them inside his hands to warm them.

Her voice was soft, but no less demanding. ’’Why? Because then you\'ll no longer have an excuse to run? Because you\'ll have to face the fact that I love you and am willing to be with you even if it means I die?’’

’’I won\'t let you die.’’ It was a promise, a vow his soul forced him to give her.

’’It\'s not your choice. It never was.’’

Could she be right? Could it be true that he never had control over life and death? He\'d killed. He\'d protected people from harm. Didn\'t that give him control? ’’God, Noelle. Don\'t do this to me.’’

’’I\'m not doing anything but showing you that your life doesn\'t have to be about guilt and trying to make up for a crime you didn\'t commit. You can have a second chance at happiness if you want it. All you have to do is take it.’’

The tiny part of him that was still human, haunted and hopeful wanted that more than anything. He craved a second chance, but did he deserve it? ’’I don\'t know if I can. What if it happens all over again? What if you die like Mary did?’’

Her fingers slid over his palm, soothing him. The fire in her voice was gone, but her words burned all the same.

’’What if I don\'t? What if you let yourself love me and in forty years from now we\'re sitting on our front porch watching our grandkids play in the yard?’’

’’Oh, God,’’ he groaned, nearly doubling over with longing. She was offering him everything he wanted. Love. A family. How could he turn it away? ’’Noelle, please.’’

Her voice was thin with weariness. ’’It\'s up to you, David. You can shut down and disappear, or you can let yourself live. Whatever you choose, I\'ll still love you. I\'ll never regret loving you.’’

He closed his eyes, willing away the hot tears that gathered behind his lids. He didn\'t want to cry. He hadn\'t cried since Mary died. He\'d wanted to stay locked in his safe, emotionless box, but Noelle wasn\'t going to let that happen.

She was tearing away every one of his barriers and forcing him to give his soul room to breathe. To grow.

Did Noelle really have no regrets? Could Mary have felt the same way as well? Would she have been willing to sacrifice herself for the love they\'d shared?

It didn\'t seem possible. He wasn\'t worthy of that kind of love, but Mary had always given more of herself than he deserved. Just like Noelle.

He wished he could talk to Mary one more time and tell her how sorry he was that he\'d failed her. There were so many things he wanted her to know selfish things that would ease his guilt while doing nothing to bring her back.

But Mary had always been able to read his mind. Maybe she already knew.

Maybe she knew that he\'d done everything he could to get to her and it still wasn\'t enough. Maybe she knew that: he would have traded his life for her a thousand times over if necessary. He would have gladly taken her place been tortured, frightened, helpless. He would have done anything. Anything.

As he looked into Noelle\'s eyes and saw her boundless potential for love, so much like Mary\'s, he knew that it was true. The Mary that he loved would never have accused him of failing. She would have wanted him to be happy. To be loved. To keep living even though she was gone.

Suddenly, a quiet sort of peace settled over him. From one heartbeat to the next, David felt free. Noelle made him see that he\'d been looking for what he needed in the wrong place. He\' needed forgiveness, but not from Noelle or Mary. He needed to forgive himself.

So he did. He let go of all the should haves and would haves and what ifs and gave himself the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe he hadn\'t done everything right in his life, but he always worked to get the important stuff right. He knew without a doubt that when Mary had died, she\'d known that he loved her. He always made sure that she knew through both word and deed.

Mary\'s death was in the past, and he was finally ready to let go of all the pain and guilt and anger he\'d kept bottled up inside for so long. As he released all those feelings, be began to remember the good times with Mary the happy times that he hadn\'t been able to recall amid all the guilt and shame.

They had loved and laughed and lived, and he would keep those thoughts in his mind in remembrance of the woman she had been.

He would five the life that Mary would have wanted him to live. He\'d let himself have the happiness he\'d found with Noelle. He only prayed that she would still have him after he\'d been foolish enough to think he should walk away from what they had.

David covered Noelle\'s hand with his, willing her to understand what he couldn\'t figure out how to say. ’’I\'m not good enough for you. I\'ll never be good enough for you. But I want you anyway. I can\'t walk away from you. I want you to marry me. Not in a few years. Right now. I\'ll go into hiding with you. I\'ll give up my work. Compared to you, it means nothing to me.’’

Her eyes widened and he felt her hand shake harder against his palm. ’’Marry you? Now?’’

’’Don\'t say no. Give me a chance to make you happy. Let me keep you safe.’’

’’Is that why you want to marry me? To protect me? I don\'t want to be a duty or a burden to anyone, especially not you.’’

’’I do want to protect you, but that\'s not all.’’

’’Then why? Why do you want to marry me?’’

She was going to make him say it. He didn\'t want to. He didn\'t want to put his heart out there like thai, all open and vulnerable for her to see. He wanted to keep that part of him safe. As long as he didn\'t say the words, if she refused him, he could walk away with at least his pride intact.

But as he looked into her eyes, he knew that if he didn\'t take the chance, he might lose her.

F*k his pride. He wanted Noelle.

David took a deep breath, closed his eyes and took a : chance. ’’Because I love you. I don\'t want to be without you.

I want to go to bed with you at night and wake up by your side in the morning. I want to buy a little house somewhere and have a few kids. I want to sit on that porch with you in forty years and watch our grandkids play. I want it all, but only with you.’’

She was silent for a long moment, as if trying to decipher what he\'d just said.

Her silence was making him worry, and like a babbling idiot, he kept babbling. ’’I don\'t care where we live. If you want to try to go back into teaching, I\'ll figure out a way for you to do it safely. I\'m not sure exactly how, but I\'ll figure something out. If you want, we can ’’

She grabbed hold of his shirt and yanked him down toward her, cutting him off. She kept pulling until his mouth met hers, and she kissed him like she had back at the cabin so sweet and full of love that there was no way that even an idiot like him could miss it.

He pulled away, his pulse racing, his breathing faster from just a few soft kisses. Man, this woman went straight to his head.

’’In case you were wondering’’ she said in a husky voice. ’’That was a yes.’’

’’Yes? As in yes you\'ll marry me?’’

’’Yes. I\'ll marry you. And the rest of it, too. The kids, the grandkids. All of it.’’

David\'s heart swelled, forcing out all the guilt and insecurity of the past. He had all he needed right here in front of him. Noelle.

He bent down and kissed her gently, careful of her bruised face. She sighed and settled deeper into the pillow. He could tell she was tired, so he pulled away to give her a chance to rest.

’’I\'m going to go tell Grant and Caleb, but I\'ll be back in fifteen minutes to climb up on that bed with you and hold you. I\'m not letting you get away.’’

She gave him an indulgent, tired smile. ’’I\'m not going anywhere.’’

’’You\'re one hell of a woman, Noelle.’’

’’And you\'re one hell of a man, David.’’

David kissed her again, marveling at his good fortune in having her in his life. If Noelle thought he deserved a second chance, who was he to argue? After all, she was the smart one.

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