A week later, and the paperwork is signed for Payne to take on the lease for the land.
“We’ll need a good name for when we launch,” he says, driving down the long driveway to get to the cottage on the grounds. He hasn’t stopped smiling, and while I wish I was paying for the place outright so he didn’t have to lease it, I’m not going to say anything when he looks as happy as he does right now.
On the way along, he’s been pointing out where he wants to put things and brainstorming what everything might look like once it’s finished. We clear the tree line and take the dirt road between the two main fields and pull up at the front of the house.
“Maybe I need to get some horses and a cowboy hat,” Payne says, jumping out of the car as soon as it’s off.
“Calm down there, Boston. The country air is going to your head.”
He grins and rattles the keys. “Should we see how bad it is inside? Trent said he stays here on the weekends he tends to the place, so it can’t be too bad, right?”
“We’re about to find out.” Secretly, I hope it’s a total shithole so Payne has no choice but to continue staying with me. Logically, I know he needs his own space if we want this thing between us to work. We need the chance to date properly before jumping into a full-blown relationship. That doesn’t mean it will be any easier when I have to go home to an empty apartment again though.
I follow Payne inside, and it’s … well, cute is the only word for it. There’s a wooden kitchen on one side, a small living area on the other, and doors leading to what I’m assuming are the bedroom and bathroom on the other side. It’s painted a happy blue color, with whitewashed hardwood floors and large windows letting in pools of sunlight.
“Damn …” I whisper.
Payne turns to me with a questioning look on his face.
I try for a smile. “I’m going to miss you. This place actually looks great.”
“I know.” He crosses back to me and wraps me in his arms. “It will be strange at first, and I know it’s hard to take someone at their word, but this isn’t going to change how I feel about you.”
I quickly nod. “I get that.” But I don’t really. What if this whole thing between us is some kind of friendly version of Stockholm syndrome? Or falling for his hero complex? What if all it takes is Payne finding his own place to realize everything he thinks he feels for me is a misconstrued rebound.
I don’t mention any of that though because I don’t want to put ideas in his head.
It’s just so hard to believe that after so long I could be getting exactly what I’ve always wanted.
“Come here.” Payne takes my hand and drags me over to the two doors. The first one opens to reveal a generous bedroom, and the second one that I assumed was a bathroom is … another bedroom? It’s much smaller than the first, but Payne strides inside and throws his arms out.
“What do you think?”
My eyebrows creep up. “Umm, it’s a nice, ah, space.”
He laughs, then walks to the wall closest to me. “I’m picturing a huge bookcase here—maybe I can try my hand at building one, and then there, by the window—” He walks to the place he’s pointing at. “—we can put your desk.”
“But the best part?” Payne shoves aside the curtains to reveal an enormous window overlooking a pond, a part of the forest, and a huge clearing behind it. “No more feeling claustrophobic while you work.”
I stare at him with my mouth hanging open. “You want me to set up in here?”
“Well, I mean …” He rubs the back of his neck. “You don’t have to. I saw it on the plans and thought it would make the perfect office, but I know you didn’t like using your spare room, and if you’d prefer to only work at home …” He shakes his head. “Wow, I’m killing this. I only mean that I’d like you to be able to stay over whenever you like and then not have to rush home to work the next day. I know how anxious being away from your work for too long makes you.”
“You want me to stay over?”
“And set up my own space here?”
He shifts his weight to the other foot. “It would be nice to have. If I’m doing this whole business thing, I’ll probably need to throw a desk in here for me too.”
I’m hit with the most vivid image of me and Payne working in silence side by side, and I ache for that. For us to have that future. “Holy shit, yes, that would be so freaking perfect.”
Payne crosses the room and hauls me into a kiss. I have no idea how long it lasts for; all I know is the shivers rattling through my body are making me light-headed.
After writing a list of repairs needed for the cabin, we go for a walk around the grounds. We’ll spend time out here drawing up plans and spray-painting to-scale sizing in the grass another time, but for right now, we just want to enjoy it.
The smell of the trees, the bugs darting over the grass in the field, the hot sun beating down on us. I can see Payne here.
I can see him walking kids through obstacle courses and strapping others into a harness on the zipline he wants to install. He’s talking about a boot camp in the afternoons and a large meeting space for companies to come up from Boston and hire the place for the week. His ideas are big and exciting.
And dammit, he’s going to make them work. I’ll do whatever I have to in order to support him, but I’m trying to stay hands-off for now. This is Payne’s thing, and I’ll be involved as much or as little as he likes.
We approach the larger pond at the front of the house, and the heat is making my glasses slide down my nose. I’m about to suggest we head back inside when Payne turns me to face him.
“Is this okay? I don’t want to push or move too fast, but I can see a future here. With you.”
Lucky my man is pretty. “I’ve edged myself for twenty years. We could get married tomorrow and it wouldn’t be fast enough.”
His face falls. “Ah, about that. I’m not, umm … I don’t want that again. After everything that happened, the word ‘husband’ means nothing to me but heartbreak and broken promises. I don’t want to think of that when I look at you.”
“Fair.” I struggle to talk around my enormous smile. “And I don’t need that. I told you I only need you. That wasn’t me exaggerating.”
Payne lets out a long exhale. “Thank fuck. You deserve the world, but I think that’s the one thing I can’t promise.”
“My love doesn’t come with stipulations.”
His lips part, and for a whole second, I can’t understand the wide-eyed look he’s giving me. Then, “Love, huh?”
I could deny it and pretend like it’s nothing and this is all so totally casual, but … my heart won’t let me. “Are you surprised? I haven’t exactly been relaxed with how I feel about you. I’ve loved you for a really, really long time.”
“And here I was stressing it was too soon to say anything. Fuck, Beau, I love you too. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life.”
I don’t know why, but that’s what helps me stop doubting things. Marty was right—Payne doesn’t mess around with people’s feelings, and once he sets his mind to something, he commits completely.
It might have taken twenty years for me to get to this point, but nothing has ever been more worth it.