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him and kissed him back.

Only once she’d completely relaxed, did he step back. “Better?” he asked.

She drew a deep breath. “That’s playing dirty,” she said, her lips stinging wonderfully from the assault.

“Its only playing dirty if I’m not playing for keeps.” His gaze never left hers.

Her heart skipped a beat. She was sure she’d heard him wrong or she was misunderstanding him somehow. “Derek?”

He grasped both her hands in his. “I’m not telling you I don’t believe in curses. I’m not saying my family hasn’t been proof of the Corwin Curse for the past who knows how many generations.”

Her heart beat fast in her chest. “Then what are you telling me?”

“That I can’t go on living without you anymore. Not one more day. Not even another minute.” His eyes were as dark and as serious as she’d ever seen them. “Whether it’s a curse or Fate, we’ll just have to fight it together, because without you, I’m lost.”

Her head spun with the impact of his words. It was everything she’d ever wanted, everything she’d ever dreamed of. Everything he’d sworn he couldn’t give her.

“How? Why?”

She needed to hear what had finally changed his mind before she could let herself believe.

“Would you believe it was my ex-wife who convinced me?”

“At this point, I’d believe anything.” She covered her eyes from the glare of the sun as she glanced up at him. “What did she say?”

“Nothing that you hadn’t already told me, except for one thing. The same thing she apparently told you. That you’ve always been a part of me and you always will be. Then she asked me what I was willing to do about it.” He shrugged, but Gabrielle knew nothing about this was easy for him.

He’d been fighting the curse for a lifetime. His family had been fighting it even longer.

“What are you willing to do about it?” she asked softly.

He cupped her face in his hands and her heart felt like bursting. “I love you, Gabrielle Donovan. I loved you when I was eighteen, I loved you in between and I love you now.”

Tears flowed unchecked from her eyes at the words she’d longed to hear for so long. “Aren’t you afraid of what will happen now?”

They both knew she meant the curse.

He shook his head. “No. Well, maybe a little,” he said, laughing. “Old habits die hard. But I feel pretty sure we can overcome anything life throws at us together.”

She grinned and Derek swore to himself he’d make it his mission to keep her smiling for the rest of their lives, the curse be damned.

He loved her. He’d told her. And the earth hadn’t opened up and swallowed him whole.

“You really believe our love can overcome anything?” she asked.

He nodded. “I do. Want to know why? Because I have you by my side.”

The look on her face filled him with everything he needed.

“I love you, too,” she said, her gaze never leaving his.

“So what do you say we go give Holly her birthday present?” Derek suggested, taking Gabrielle’s hand.

She tipped her head to one side. “Which present is that?”

“News of our engagement…if you’ll marry me,” he said, pulling a ring from his front pocket.

He’d purchased it the day Holly had asked him to invite Gabrielle for her birthday. Derek had asked his daughter how she’d feel to have Gabrielle as her stepmother. Lucky for him, Holly had loved Gabrielle as much as he did.

“I’m stunned.”

He grinned. “I do think we’ve waited long enough, don’t you? Gabrielle, will you marry me?” he asked.

“Yes!” She wrapped her arms around his neck.

He knew, together, they’d make it. After all, he had his very own lucky charm.

CARLY PHILLIPS

***
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