Authors: Toni Aleo
“I love you,” she says softly, stepping in closer to me. “I love saying that.”
“Me too,” I admit, holding her close and kissing her nose. “Are you ready to go home?”
“I am,” she agrees.
I want to take her to my home, but I know that is out of the question. I hope that Mr. and Mrs. Maclaster don’t mind my hanging out because I have to make sure she is okay.
Or I’ll drive myself mad.
Once we are back to the Maclaster home, Mrs. Maclaster fusses over Amberlyn, leaving me to stand off to the side, awkwardly unsure what to do. Mr. Maclaster stands beside me, and he hasn’t talked to me since the shooting. He doesn’t even look me in the eye, and I know it’s because he feels the same I do.
That this is my fault.
Even Mrs. Maclaster isn’t looking at me like she used to. She used to admire my family, obsess a bit, but now I think she thinks I’m as good as shite. It upsets me since they are the closest thing to parents that Amberlyn has. I want them to like me, but then again, do I even deserve their blessing?
When I see Amberlyn cringe from how tight Mrs. Maclaster is tucking her in, I ask, “Are you all right like that?”
I receive a look from Mrs. Maclaster as she says, “Now, Declan, I’ve been tucking babies into bed for years. I’m sure I’ve got it.”
“Mom, she looks in pain,” Fiona points out, thank God. She is the only one who doesn’t look at me like I was the one who fired the gun.
She gives me a small smile as Amberlyn says, “I’m fine. Honestly, no reason to fuss over me.”
“It’s our jobs. I promised your ma and da, so hush, let me fuss if I please,” she says, and I can see her choking back her tears. “I already failed them a bit.”
Amberlyn gives her a loving smile as she slowly shakes her head. “No, you didn’t, and don’t think that. I made my own decision. I couldn’t let anything happen to him.”
“Yeah, sure, but in the process of protecting him, we failed to protect you,” she says sternly, shaking her head. “It’s over. Let me wallow in my guilt and pray you get better.”
Amberlyn reaches out, squeezing her aunt’s hand, setting her with a look. “I am going to be fine. I already feel so much better just being home. Don’t worry. You’ve done everything you’re supposed to. If I weren’t so loved by you guys, then I wouldn’t have had the instinct to jump in front of Declan to protect him. You’ve helped mold me into a woman my mom and dad would be proud of. Remember that.”
Looking at the floor, I close my eyes as the room falls silent.
“No one is at fault here.”
“That wanker is,” Fiona says with a vengeance, and I couldn’t agree more.
“Yes, he is, but we have to forgive him because he is lost and isn’t loved like we are.”
“I’ll never forgive him,” Fiona promises, and again, I agree.
“No, you have to because we should pity him, not hate him. It takes so much out of a person to hate someone; don’t let him have that power over you. I’ve forgiven him, I’m moving on, I am going to make this life the best one yet. I only have one.”
Tears sting my eyes as I think that she almost lost that life for me. She is so uplifting, so positive, and I wish I could be an ounce like her. I can’t forgive him, I want to kill him, and it worries me. Does that mean I’m not the man she deserves? Because I want to be the man she wanted to die for. But what if I’m not?
“You are a beautiful soul, Amberlyn. I love you so,” Mrs. Maclaster says, kissing her cheek softly before cupping her face.
“I love you too, all of you. Everything is going to be fine. From here we can only go up,” she says with a bright grin.
“I’ll let you rest,” Mrs. Maclaster says before lightly touching her shoulder and heading toward the door, only giving me a sideways look.
“Call if you need us,” Mr. Maclaster says, sending her a grin. He then looks at me and says, “Are you staying in here with her?”
“If that’s okay.”
I can see in his eyes that he wants nothing more than to tell me to fuck off, but he nods. “That’s fine. Let her rest.”
“Of course,” I agree as I turn to see Fiona kiss Amberlyn’s cheek.
“I’m right next door.”
“I know, I’m fine.”
She nods before squeezing her hand and then heading for the door. Clasping my shoulder, she smiles and says, “Hang in there, big guy.”
I scoff. “Trying.”
When the door shuts, I look over at my love and smile. Pulling the blanket back, she beckons me to her. “Come lie with me.”
I don’t hesitate. Kicking my shoes off, I head to the bed, crawling in slowly, making sure not to shake her too much as I settle in beside her. Wrapping my arms around her as softly as I can manage, I kiss her temple and close my eyes. “Get some rest.”
She smiles against my jaw. “I’ve been resting for two weeks.”
“Being shot is a big deal, sweetheart. Ya need your rest.”
“I feel fine.”
“Please just rest,” I practically beg.
“But I miss just being us.”
“We never stop being us, my love,” I reassure her. “I never stop loving you.”
“As do I, but I mean, we haven’t just laughed in forever.”
“Amberlyn, there really isn’t anything to laugh about right now. It’s all still so fresh and new. I could have lost you.”
Bringing her head up, she looks at me and cups my face, her eyes searching mine. “But you didn’t. I’m fine and you are fine. Our lives are about to change forever, and I don’t want to wallow in the past. I want to move forward.”
“And we will, slowly. I don’t want to rush you.”
“Um, you only have three months before you lose your distillery. We don’t have time
I shake my head before she finishes talking. “Don’t worry your head about that right now. I’ll worry about it. Now, I want you to recover.”
Setting me with a look that says she means business, she says, “I will worry because it deals with me. I want you to be happy, and that means us getting married. Me becoming the Whiskey Princess. So we need to get started on that.”
I look away, biting my lip as my hand comes up to run through my curls. Ugh, she’s gonna stress me the hell out.
“What is it? Do you not want to marry me anymore?
I look back at her quickly and shake my head. “No, Amberlyn, I’ve dreamed of making you my wife since I met you.”
Smiling, she asks, “Really?”
A true smile pulls at my lips as I nod. “Yes, I always knew you were it.”
Still grinning at me, she asks, “Then what is the problem?”
Clearing my throat, I look up at the ceiling and take in a deep breath before saying, “I just don’t think I’m the man you deserve.”
When she doesn’t say anything, I meet her gaze to find her brows pulled in. “And why is that?”
“I should be the one with the gunshot wound, not you. I failed ya.”
She rolls her eyes, obviously completely annoyed with me. “Declan, you’ve done no such thing. And if you weren’t the man for me, then why did I step in front of that bullet? I did it because I know you are, because I love you and I want you to have everything you ever wanted.”
“But I couldn’t have it without you.”
She smiles, cupping my face, her thumb slowly moving along my lip. “You’re completely right. I’m here, so let’s figure everything out.”
She is too damn headstrong, and I know that if she had her way, she’d plan everything now. She is such a planner and always ahead of the game. I know she just wants to ignore what happened and move on, but we all need to heal from this. We need time.
I’m a little worried we don’t have it though.
She’s right; it does need to be planned, but she needs to let me worry about it. One look in her eyes though, tells me that isn’t gonna happen.
“One week. Rest for one more week, and then we’ll figure everything out.”
She eyes me. “But we are getting married?”
I smile, covering her hands with mine. “If you’ll have me, yes.”
“I’ve already said yes.”
“I was a bit worried it was the drugs,” I tease and she smiles.
“Nope, I know what I want, and I want you. So damn much,” she says before pressing her lips to mine. Instantly my eyes fall shut as our mouths move together and a euphoric feeling washes over me. Her tongue moves with mine, her body molding against mine, catching me completely on fire. This is the first time since the shooting that we’ve actually kissed like this. Probably because we’ve never been alone. It’s always been soft, sweet kisses, not toe-curling ones like the one she is giving me now. My heart is pounding in my chest, my cock is growing, and I want more. But this can’t be good for her. No, it can’t, but my God, I want her. I want her so badly, I can’t see straight.
But not yet.
Pulling away, I meet her heated gaze and shake my head. “You are supposed to be resting.”
Her sparkling eyes lock with mine, her breathing is erratic, her breasts pressing into my chest with each breath she sucks in. As I search her eyes, waiting for her answer, I can see that her eyes are slowly starting to fill with tears. Shite! Did I hurt her?
“Amberlyn, my love, what’s wrong?”
Tears run down her face as she shakes her head. “I want to forget, Declan. I want to forget that any of it happened. I want to start our life together, I want to be happy, I don’t want to rest and feel sad that my chest hurts, I want to feel whole again. I don’t want him to own anything on me, and the more time we allow me to rest and lie around, the more he is winning. I want to get on with everything. I want to start our life. I want to feel alive.”
Clearing my throat free of the sob that is threatening to come out, I say, “Amberlyn, I want all that too, but I also don’t want to rush you into this.”
“You’re not. I want this. I want you.”
As I cuddle her in my arms, her face presses into my neck and I close my eyes. “I want you too,
, but please, give me one week. I just want to make sure you are okay. Please give me that.”
Pulling away a bit, she looks deep into my eyes and says, “Only if you stop blaming yourself.”
Looking away, I suck in a deep breath. She sees right through me, doesn’t she? “It isn’t your fault. I’ve told you this so many times, and I can see in your eyes that you are blaming yourself. That has to stop or we can’t move forward. I made the choice; I had to protect you—”
“But it isn’t your job to protect me, yeah?” I point out.
“You protect the ones you love, and I did that. I know you’d do the same for me.”
“But I didn’t.”
“Declan, he was shooting at you.”
“I should have known he wasn’t playing around.”
“Maybe so, but whatever. It’s over. It’s time to move forward. In no way, shape, or form do I think this is your fault. I hold no one responsible but him. I love you.”
I move my fingers along her jaw as I focus on her lips. I don’t know how to let go of my guilt, but I know I need to try. I have to, or this beautiful woman who has taken me as hers will plan a wedding within a week with not a care in the world for the wound on her chest. Since that wouldn’t be protecting her, I have to push all the guilt aside and focus on her. Meeting her gaze, I say, “Fine, I won’t blame myself anymore. It’s all that gobshite’s fault.”
Still holding my gaze, she says, “You have to forgive him.”
“Over my dead body,” I spit back. “I can forgive myself, but I hope he rots.”
She shakes her head as she slowly shrugs her shoulders. “Fine, but please try.”
“Sure,” I say, but we both know I won’t.
“We have better things to do.”
I smile. “Oh?”
“Yup, wedding to plan ’cause I want a huge one. I’m becoming a princess for goodness’ sakes,” she says with a wink, and I smile.
“I’ll give you the biggest damn wedding ever as long as you keep smiling like that.”
Her smile doesn’t move as she wraps her arms around my neck. “Good, but we do have one other thing to worry about.”
“Yup, the small matter of my virginity.”