out in the fields with my father. He’d given me half his tasks, and we’d still managed to have more than enough work for both of us.
More than ever, I understood his need to be busy. When I was checking fences and moving cattle from one field to another, I didn’t have time to think about the life I was missing.
The man I was missing.
Dad headed back to the barn, but I wasn’t quite ready to be around the rest of my family, so I rode Athena to our favorite spot by the stream and let her graze while I dipped my feet in the water. The cold ripples around my tired legs were heavenly. I stood there, my face tipped to the endless sky, and closed my eyes.
I loved it here, but I could never live here. The peacefulness of wide-open spaces made for a beautiful place to retreat to, but the city was where I belonged.
A few more days, and I’d go back. I’d said in the letter I’d left for Luca I’d be gone for two weeks, but I was hoping he’d be open to speaking before then.
I wondered if he missed me the way I missed him.
Was he thinking about me, or was he relieved I was gone? The possibility of the latter was a punch to the gut.
Either way, I had to face what was to come. Being at the ranch was a much-needed respite, but I needed answers more than anything.
The sound of grunting and cursing brought me out of my reverie. I opened my eyes, surprised to see someone riding in my direction. Well…lumbering was a more apt description. Barney didn’t go faster than a turtle these days.
Who the hell was riding Barney?
Another curse, and the rider in all black listed to the side until he tumbled in slow motion all the way off. Barney came to a halt, nudging the man with his nose.
Alarmed, I scampered out of the stream and hurried over to them. “Are you okay?” I called.
The man in black sat up, shoving his hair out of his face, giving me my first clear view of him. My feet stopped moving, and my jaw dropped.
“That wasn’t exactly the entrance I’d planned on making.” Luca got to his feet and brushed himself off, then he started toward me.
“Are you hurt?”
The corner of his mouth hitched. “Nothing but my pride.”
I hadn’t moved. My mind was still trying to reconcile that the man I’d just been thinking about was right here in person, with a pink bow in his hair, no less. He must have run into Hannah.
“You’re here.” I whispered it, not really even meaning to say it aloud, but Luca heard me.
“I’m here. I’m beginning to think Lock was fucking with me with that saddle and that damn horse, but I can’t be mad. He got me here.” He stopped a foot away from me, scanning me from head to toe. I was dirty and a little sweaty, with a trucker hat on my head and Elena’s boots on my feet. “You look like a cowgirl.”
“You look like a dream.” I squeezed my eyes shut, then cracked them open, finding him right where he was. “But you’re really here. What are you doing here?”
His brows drew together in a straight line. “Did you really think I’d wait two weeks to talk to you?” He shook his head, huffing, and spread his arms wide. “You wanted space. You have it. Look at all the space around you. The thing is, I’m going to be joining you in your space.”
“That’s not how space works.”
“That’s how it’s going to work for us.” He reached out, taking my hand in his. “Come sit with me so we can talk.”
“I tried doing that with you, but you weren’t interested.”
His hold on my hand tightened, and his thumb moved to my ring finger like a magnet.
“Where are your rings?” An echo of the last time we did this, but his tone held no accusation now.
I wiggled my fingers in his. “It’s not smart to wear rings when I’m working around the ranch. They’re in a little pouch beside my bed, safe and sound.”
His eyes were soft on mine. “Are you going to put them on later?”
My breath caught at his loaded question. “Do you want me to?”
He exhaled through his nose. “Let’s sit down.”
Trying not to panic, I let him lead me to the grass by the stream. We sat down side by side. Luca’s long legs were stretched out in front of him. Mine were tucked against my chest, my arms around them.
He stroked his fingers along my ponytail, then ghosted his hand down the length of my spine.
“You need to know I’m so fucking sorry for how I treated you.”
I turned to him, my chin on my arms. “Okay.”
“I could offer excuses like stress, the circumstances, but you already know what was going on because you were standing by my side the whole way. As you have been from the beginning.”
“You’ve been standing with me too,” I said.
“I’ve tried, pretty girl, but I know I let you down this time.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. He wasn’t wrong.
Luca sighed. “I thought I could do this arrangement with you. But I messed up and fell in love with you, despite my efforts to avoid it. We never should have done this.”
Oh, that hurt too badly to reply. He watched me with sorrowful eyes, but I couldn’t bring myself to argue or tell him he was wrong. He’d driven all the way here, so clearly, his mind was made up.
“When you walked out in your pink dress on our wedding day, I could barely look at you. And then you had this ring for me, a ring I would have chosen for myself if I’d had the opportunity, and acknowledging it had felt too big. That whole day had felt too fucking big. How’d it feel to you?”
I sucked in a shaky breath. “I asked you what you thought of my dress, and you said, ‘I suspect you know exactly how you look.’ I can still hear you saying that. But then you gave me roses and kissed me like you meant it.” I shrugged. “It was confusing.”
“Saoirse.” He nudged me beneath my chin. “I could barely look at you in that dress because you looked like my wife. I was trying to distance myself from you, the ceremony, the entire event, but it was impossible. All of it felt real to me. The orchid in your hair, our kiss, the fucking pictures I’ve stared at every single day since. Every time I pushed you away, it was to protect myself because I have been falling in love with you since we met. And I have always believed you when you said marriage wasn’t for you. I respect that.”
I pulled away from him. “But you didn’t. You made demands of me that weren’t fair.”
“I know.” His rejected hand curved around my jaw, refusing to break contact with me. “I’m not ashamed to admit I got scared. I’m only ashamed of how I handled it. You have been my constant, pretty girl. With Clara’s world crumbling, I saw how easy it was to lose everything, and I panicked. I made demands I had no right to make. Now that I’m on the other side of it, I know I was wrong, one hundred percent.”
“I know something about fear,” I told him.
His jaw rippled with tension. “I know you do, and I’m sorry for that. I never want you to be afraid of me.”
“I’m not.” I held his gaze, ensuring he was listening. No matter how this day ended, I needed him to know he didn’t scare me. “Even when you were yelling, I knew you wouldn’t hurt me. I understood what was going on. If you’d given me time to think, to talk instead of giving ultimatums, things could have worked out differently.”
His nod was beaten down and sorry. “Right. I’d go back and do a lot differently if I could.”
“Like never marrying me,” I supplied.
He heaved a great breath. “I can’t regret getting to be your husband, Saoirse, but yes. If I could change things, we never would have gotten married.”
Tears sprung to my eyes before I could blink. “So, what do we do now? How do we move forward?”
“I want you to come back to Denver with me.” Luca’s words were shaky and low, like he was struggling to get them out. “On Monday, we can start the divorce process.”
There was no stopping the choking sob that fell from my lips. “Well, I guess it’s a good thing I never gave up that apartment, huh?”
“Saoirse. You mistake me.” Luca was on his knees, both hands cupping my face. “You’re not going anywhere. I’m keeping you forever.”
I clutched his wrists but didn’t push him away. The strength to do so had fled long ago. “But you want a divorce.”
His brows furrowed. “You don’t want to be married. I’m giving you what you want, pretty girl, but that doesn’t mean we’re through. You’re always going to be mine.”
“Luca,” I whispered. My tears were flowing freely now and gathering my thoughts was difficult when I felt like I was being jerked left and right.
“After our wedding ceremony, I took my ring off and noticed the inscription. ‘Partners in crime.’” His thumb swiped one tear after another as he looked at me like I was precious. “That’s what we are, Saoirse. We committed a crime and got away with it. I can’t have you going off on your own, living your life without me, when you could tell our secret to anyone you please. No, I’m going to need to be by your side, making sure you keep your pretty little mouth shut. You’re not leaving me.”
I thought I’d been cute getting his ring inscribed that way. But he’d never said a word about it. I’d never known he’d even noticed it. Yet, now he was telling me…
I pushed up to my knees so we were face to face and braced my hands on his chest.
“I don’t believe in marriage as an institution. A contract is only as good as the promises behind it.” My fingers curled, grasping his shirt in my fists. “The thing is, now, I mean the promises I made to you on your balcony. I want to be your partner in this crime until we see our last sunset.”
With a growl, he wrapped my ponytail around his fingers and tipped my face to his. “That sounds like almost long enough.”
I shoved at his chest, but he had a tight hold of me and didn’t go anywhere. Not that I really wanted him to. “If you ever suggest divorce again, I’m not going to be happy. I’m your wife, Luca. I won’t be downgraded.”
His head cocked. “But you don’t want to be married.”
“I didn’t want to be forced into an answer when everything was up in the air. I’ve had days to think about everything now and Elena to explain to me how stupid I was being.”
“Thank god for Elena,” he uttered. I tried to shove him again, but he caught my hand and brought it to his lips. “I love you deeply, Saoirse Rossi. I’ll take you any way I can have you, but I’d really fucking prefer to keep you as my wife forevermore. No time limits. No arrangements. Just you and me, making promises and keeping them. Choosing each other again and again.”
“I love you too, Luca. And I choose you.” I reached up, slid the bow from his hair, and showed it to him.
With a grunt, he snagged it and tossed it behind him, then pulled me flush to his chest. “I can’t believe I just declared my undying love to you with a pink bow in my hair.”
I grinned even as he lowered his mouth to mine. “That made me forgive you before you even said a word.”
“I’ll thank Hannah later.”
I laughed into his kiss, which curled my toes and dried up the last of my tears. He held me gently, kissing me thoroughly, for all the days we’d missed each other. It went on and on while the stream trickled by and my heart beat more surely than it ever had.
Once he’d kissed me breathless, he drew back, his eyes sliding back and forth between mine.
“You haven’t said yes.”
I raised a brow. “What was the question again?”
“To staying married without contracts or end dates. Just you and me, partners in crime and our crazy, wonderful life. What do you think, pretty girl—are you in?”
I bit down on my bottom lip and let my gaze drift over him. There were very few yeses I regretted. I always found something of value in my experiences. But the day I said yes to Luca Rossi for the first time stood apart from all the rest. Over the past few months, I’d gotten more from that yes than any other.
Luca had given me passion. Art. Beauty. Family. Oh, had he given me family. I already knew the Rossis would always be my favorite people.
Through Luca, I’d found stability. Freedom to pursue my passions. Understanding and support when I needed them, and a push when I needed that more.
With Luca’s arms around me and his body aligned with mine, I’d discovered a level of pleasure I’d never known existed.
At Luca’s side, we’d adopted a cat. The cat of my dreams. My Clementine.
In Luca, I’d found a friend unlike any I’d ever had. He made me laugh and think. His adventurous spirit matched my own. His tender heart made him so very easy to love.
The crazy thing was, we were only just beginning. This yes had already given me so much, yet there was so much more to come.
I nodded first, then I said the word. “Yes.”
His eyes flared. “Yes? You’re in?”
I took his face in my hands and rubbed my nose along his. “I’m so very in.”
It was the easiest yes I’d ever said.