It had been a whole month since I’d moved back home and accepted the fact that I was officially in love with my husband. I couldn’t remember a happier month. As if I had conjured him up, Jack walked into the coffee shop, and just at the sight of him, my heart picked up speed. It was as if the bell rang a little differently when he was the one walking through. It was as if it knew. This is the man you’re in love with, look here, it said. His face set, not a smile in sight, he was talking on his phone, one arm filled with my roses as he continued toward the cash register. He frowned when someone walked in front of him to get to my little bookcase without an apology. He glared at my customer and, shaking his head, continued with his phone call as I watched him with the biggest grin on my face.
After a few seconds, when he was done with whoever was on the other end of the line, he put away his phone and finally, finally looked up. I was still grinning when his searching gaze found me standing in the doorway watching him. He maintained eye contact the entire time as he ignored everyone else around and made his way toward me. I straightened up off the doorframe and, as soon as he was within touching distance, rose up on my tippy toes, grabbed his suit jacket, and threw my arms around his neck.
“I love that frown on your face.”
My little grin turned into a big smile when I felt his lips curve up against my neck then he skillfully pressed a lingering kiss to the exact spot. Jack Hawthorne was the first man to short-circuit my brain with a simple smile against my skin and what looked like an innocent kiss.
The coffee shop was somewhat empty, the morning rush having ended only half an hour earlier, and almost all the customers we had currently were regulars, many of them on their tablets or laptops and a few favorites of mine lost in their reads.
Untangling my arms from his neck, I ran my hand down his shoulder and fixed his tie. Just the simple act of being able to do that hit me almost every single time. I had a husband, and a real one at that.
“Hi,” I whispered.
“Hello, my Rose.” He leaned down and kissed my cheek.
Closing my eyes, I hummed. “These tactics won’t help you.”
“We’ll see,” he murmured, tucking away a long piece of my bangs behind my ear.
“Hi, Jack!” Sally yelled from just a few steps away, waving with one hand while the other worked the espresso machine.
I heard Owen mutter something from the kitchen as his head poked out from the doorway behind me. “Sally? Did you say something?”
My perky and sweet employee didn’t even look away from the espresso machine. “No.”
“Oh, hey Jack,” Owen said distractedly when he noticed my husband standing next to me. As they greeted each other—Jack had finally started using his name—I rescued the roses from Jack’s grip, gently touching the white and beige petals with my fingertips.
“If you’re going to the back, I’ll stay in front with Sally,” Owen offered.
I glanced at her and watched as she laughed and gave the to-go cup and the little pastry bag to the girl waiting for her order. “It’s pretty slow. I’m good up here on my own.”
I looked back at Owen and saw his mouth tighten. “Then I’ll get to my work.”
Sally welcomed the last customer waiting in line.
“We need more lemon muffins up here,” I said quietly before he could disappear to the back, and before I got a response from Owen, I felt Jack’s hand lace with mine. My toes curled from all the happiness. Owen gave me a quick nod, shot Sally a pointed look, and walked away.
“What am I missing?” Jack asked.
I sighed. “You’re missing young love—passion, tension.”
“Young love? As opposed to our old love?”
I grinned up at him. “You’re thirty-one years old and I’m twenty-six, so you’re pretty much an old dude for me. People usually find the age gap thing really sexy, especially if the guy looks anywhere near as good as you do.”
He sighed and shook his head, which made me smile even more. “Okay, Mrs. Hawthorne, are you ready for our ten-thirty meeting? I have meetings back to back today so I’d like to get this done as quickly as possible.”
“Yeah, you keep thinking that. It’ll last as long as it needs to last. This was your idea anyway, so don’t even try to be rude about it.”
“I’m not being rude. I didn’t think you’d take it this seriously.”
“You never think you’re being rude, but you are, and marriage is a serious business, Mr. Hawthorne.” Making sure I had my serious face on, I took a step back from my husband and held up the flowers. “I’m going to leave these in the kitchen—”
Now done with the last of the customers, Sally joined us. “Want me to take those for you, Rose?” she asked, already reaching for my roses.
I turned my body, just slightly, nothing too obvious. “Oh, that’s okay. I’ll just get them back there and handle them myself after Jack leaves.” To say I was a little territorial about my weekly roses was putting it lightly. “Jack? Why don’t you pick a seat and I’ll be right there in a second then we’ll start our meeting.”
He shook his head as if I was a lost cause. “Right. I’ll go do that.”
“Would you like a coffee, Mr. Hawthorne?” I asked, kissing him on the cheek.
“Yes, I would love one, Mrs. Hawthorne.”
As he turned around and left, Sally snorted next to me. “I’m not sure if coffee is an innuendo for sex or you were just talking about real coffee.”
“Unfortunately that was about real coffee.” As I went into the kitchen and placed the roses next to the sink, Sally followed me.
“What’s with the diplomacy?” When I gave her a confused look, she explained. “Mr. Hawthorne, Mrs. Hawthorne…”
I laughed. “Oh, he wants to work on our five-year-marriage plan so we’re gonna have a meeting about that.”
Sally looked at me for a long moment then nodded. “Makes sense.”
“I thought so too.”
Owen walked out of the stock room with a box full of our to-go cups in his arms, and Sally quickly walked back out.
I leaned back against the counter and eyed Owen. “What did you do now?”
He rolled his eyes. “What makes you think I did something? I didn’t do shit. She’ll be back to normal in an hour, don’t worry.”
Since I believed he was right, because Sally was the last person on earth to hold a grudge against Owen, I let it go and left him alone. Grabbing a plate on my way out, I picked up the last two lemon muffins and started on Jack’s coffee.
He had chosen the table nearest to the window and was following my every move over the newspaper he had in his hands. Feeling heat rush to my cheeks under his gaze, I hurried and took my seat across from him as he folded the paper and placed it on the table.
“They’re dating now,” I explained, answering his earlier question just in case I hadn’t been clear before.
“I gathered that much. I’m not sure that’s a great idea. When something goes wrong, it’ll affect your business.”
“I love it when you’re being positive. And I know, but so far it hasn’t affected their work, and they promised.”
He gave me an exasperated look as if I was a fool for taking their word for it.
“Plus, it’s not like I would fire them for being in love. It’s fun listening to them bicker. Owen is a lot like you, actually, so it’s extra fun because of that. Suddenly I’m surrounded by grumpy men.”
“I’m not grumpy, Rose. I’m serious.”
Laughing, I got up, leaned over the table, and quickly kissed his lips before taking my seat again. “And I love you just like that.” He was wearing my favorite navy blue suit. “Using everything you have in your arsenal for the negotiations, I see,” I commented lightly right before sipping from my tea.
Jack’s brows drew together in confusion. “What?”
“Your suit—you know that’s my favorite one.”
His eyes sparkled with mischief. “And you wore the dress I told you I’d prefer if you only wore when I was standing next to you, holding your hand.”
I feigned shock and glanced down at my dress. “This old thing?” It truly was a pretty basic black wrap dress with long sleeves, but I knew he liked it for some reason. He couldn’t keep his hands off of me whenever I wore it.
He arched one perfect eyebrow that basically said I know your game and leaned back in his seat.
“Would you like to start?”
I pushed the muffins in front of him. Lemon week was just for him, tart and sweet, just like someone I knew. “Would you like to taste these? I baked them.”
“You can’t trick me with pastries, Rose. I’ll take them with me when I leave.”
I smiled. “I would never, Mr. Hawthorne. I’m appalled that you’d even think I’d do something like that. Please go on then. I was just trying to be nice to my husband.”
“Right. So, tell me, what kind of marriage do you want for the next five years?”
“Only five? I get the boot after that?”
“I thought it would be healthier to sit down every five years and plan for the next five years.”
God, it was a struggle not to get up and pull him to the back. He looked so devastatingly handsome and serious that I was having trouble keeping a straight face.
“How do you know I won’t divorce you in the next five years?
“You’re not going to divorce me,” he said, dismissing the idea.
“I do. If you didn’t divorce me after everything that happened, you’re not gonna get rid of me for something small and stupid I’ll most likely end up doing at some point.”
“I’ll divorce you in a heartbeat if you cheat on me.”
“Since that’s not a possibility, let’s talk about our five-year plans.”
“No to leaving socks around the house. As small as that sounds, it’d drive me crazy, and that’s how the beginning of the end starts. No clothes on the floor, and no chewing your food with your mouth open.”
“Can you take this more seriously?”
I frowned at him. “I am,” I stressed.
“Have you ever seen me leave my socks around? My clothes?”
“No. I’m just telling you so you won’t start.”
“Can we get back to the plan?”
“Are you not listening to me? Those things are part of the plan. You can’t cheat, you can’t start leaving your socks or clothes around, and you can’t chew your food with your mouth open. The sound drives me insane.”
“Those are your relationship plans for the next five years?”
“We’re just getting started. Also, why does it have to be just my plans? You tell me what you want for the next five years, too.”
“I just need you to stay with me, so that means I need to learn what you want.”
“I’m flattered, but no. That’s not how a marriage works. I’m pretty easygoing. I want love and loyalty, and for you to talk to me.”
“Rose, you’re going to have to be more specific. I told you, you have a million things to say about our marriage all the time. Start with one of them. Tell me about the marriage you wanted to have.”
“Fine.” I nodded carefully. “I want a date night every week. If we’re swamped with work, we can do it at home, but I need those few hours of just you and me without anything else getting in the way.
“Okay. I can do that.”
“Aren’t you supposed to take notes?” I asked, reaching for my tea again.
He tapped a finger to his head, his lips smiling.
“Okay. We’ll see. Your turn.”
“I want you to come over for lunch.”
“To the office?”
“For sex? Are we allowed to have office sex?”
He let out a big breath. “Rose.”
I made a face. “What? It’s a legit question.”
Obviously, he didn’t think so from the way he shook his head at me.
He was in the process of drinking his coffee, but he stopped and put the mug back down on the table.
I smiled. So he was thinking about it, too.
“Maybe not in the office since it’s all glass, but I’ll take care of it.”
I was sure he would find a way. I laughed. “Doing it at the office isn’t essential, but I’d love to come over for lunch. Can I ask why?”
“I like spending time with you, and I like the idea of you coming to my office to have lunch. I like it when people see me with you.”
I dragged my seat a little closer to him, my heart happy.
“Done. My turn: I want spooning. If every night isn’t possible, I want it most nights.”
“This isn’t something you need to mention, Rose.”
“I’m sure there will be nights where hugging me in bed will be the last thing on your mind, especially after a long and draining day of work, so I’m just putting it out there. If we start to have those kinds of nights too much, you need to make an effort not to make it a permanent thing. Even if we argue—and I know I told you this before, but it bears repeating—I want to be the kind of couple who wipes the slate clean when they go to bed. Your turn.”
This time it was him bringing his chair right next to mine. He reached for my hand and kissed the back of it. Instead of letting it go after, he held it against his thigh, our fingers locked.
“I want you to tell me when I’m doing something wrong,” he started, his voice low, his piercing blue eyes on mine. “I want you to let me know when I’m acting distant or distracted, because I can already assure you that it’s not you. It can’t be you. It’ll never be you.”
I nodded. “I’ll tell you. I want to grow old with you.”
He cupped my cheek and rested his forehead against mine. “Yes.” His voice had been low and it was just one simple word, but the emotion I could see in his eyes, the emotion I could feel behind the word—I knew it was a promise he intended to keep.
“Remind me why we didn’t do these negotiations at home?” I asked with a sigh when we had to separate.
“Okay. Fine. What else do you want from me?”
“Everything you’re willing to give me.”
I cleared my throat and his hand tightened around mine. “We’re not going to lie to each other. No matter how hard the truth is, we’re not going to do it. Promise me.”
“I won’t risk losing you. We will not lie to each other,” he agreed easily.
“We are going to make a conscious effort to work on our marriage no matter what’s going on in our lives. We will keep working on it, always. I want to make you happy, and you have to talk to me.”
“You won’t ever find someone who’ll try as hard as I will to make you happy. Every time you need to get an MRI, I’ll always come in with you. I will always make sure you know I’m there. I will watch every movie you want me to watch, no matter how cheesy or how horrible—”
I raised my hand and stopped him before he could go on with his sentence. “Wait a minute, if you’re telling me you think Titanic or You’ve Got Mail was cheesy, we have a problem.”
“Just listen. I’ll always let you steal my French fries whenever you finish the ones on your own plate. I’ll always let you have a bite of my dessert. I’ll cook for you when you’re sick and when you’re too hungry to do anything but glower. I’ll feed you from my own plate and kiss you after each bite. I’ll make sacrifices for you just like I know you’ll make sacrifices for me along the way. I’ll never be rude to the people you love and care about. I’ll never take your smile for granted, and I’ll make you smile every day, even on the days when you’re the most annoyed with me. I’ll talk for hours, telling you everything you want to know about me, about anything, if that’s what you want from me.”
“Jack,” I whispered, my hands trembling. “Jack, I know your heart. You don’t need to speak all the time. Even your quiet I love.”
He leaned forward and gently pressed a kiss on my lips then kept talking.
“I will kiss you every time you start to worry about your health and get lost in your own fears. I will kiss you every morning, every night and whenever I can in between. I will always text you back whenever you text me, even if I’m only one room away from you. But on the days I want to hear your voice, I’ll call you back instead of texting you. I’ll always help you when you ask for it. I’ll help you even when you don’t ask for my help because I’ll always be there. I’ll eat and drink whatever you put in front of me simply because your hands cooked it, baked it, or made it. I’ll try to learn to understand when you want me to make love to you but are too embarrassed to ask for it. I’ll work hard to make you happy, to make this the marriage you always wanted to have, and I will never—I promise you, Rose, I will never make you feel unloved. I will never take you for granted. You will always have someone to lean on whenever you need it. I’ll always be there even when you don’t need me to be, but more importantly…”
He reached out and brushed a tear off of my cheek before lifting my hand up and kissing it again. When had I even started crying?
“I will always love you.” he continued before I could catch my breath. “Even when you’re annoyed with me, even when I do something you don’t like and you have no idea why you decided to keep me, I will always love you.”
“You don’t talk. For days and weeks, I do everything to make you talk, and then you go and do this to me.” I got up from my seat, my eyes never leaving his beautiful blues, and I sat down on his lap sideways. I cupped his face with my hands and just stared at him.
This man I had fallen for, eyes wide open.
This man who was nothing like what I had wanted for myself.
This fierce man who was the only one for me.
“You make my heart go pitty-pat. Did you know that?
“Hmmm. I do?”
I leaned down and kissed his lips once, slowly, sweetly.
One of my hands resting on his neck, I spoke my next words into his ear. “I am in love with you, madly, desperately, irrevocably.” Biting my lip, I caressed his cheek and moved my eyes over every beautiful inch of his face, memorizing the look in his eyes, the shape of his lips. “I will make you happy too, Jack Hawthorne,” I whispered, and I rested my forehead against his as we looked into each other’s eyes. “I will do everything to make you happy for the rest of our days. I will never let you go. I will never give up on you, on us.”