Her sharp words were so at odds with the warm and friendly thoughts he’d been having that it took him a second to switch gears. “Me?”

She planted her hands on her hips. “You. If we’re going to fight, we’re going to fight fair. No name-calling and no walking out. We stay here until it’s settled. No matter how long it takes.”

She was right, he thought. “Fine. I’m sorry I called you a liar. I was stunned and wounded and I lashed out, but it’s not an excuse. It won’t happen again.”

She didn’t looked convinced, but she nodded. “I’m sorry I walked out. I should have stayed and fought with you, no matter how upset I was. And just to make things clear, I didn’t keep the information from you just to entertain myself. I found out about the baby right before the Fourth of July. I didn’t want to tell you then because I didn’t believe it myself. Then I learned about my brother and there was all that. Then there were problems with Kelly. I wanted to give you time.”

“You shouldn’t have made that decision for me. It wasn’t yours to make.”

“I know that. I was wrong and I apologize.” She sucked in a breath. “But that’s not the only reason I didn’t tell you. I knew you’d get upset, and I didn’t want things between us to change.”

What? “We’re having a baby. Of course they’re going to change.” He couldn’t believe that he loved her and wanted to yell at her in equal measures. “How could things not change?”

“I knew they would be different,” she said, her voice rising. “That’s the point. I liked being with you. I liked what we had. I was starting to care about you, which not only broke the rules, but scared the crap out of me. So I hid the truth. And I felt really guilty.”

He matched her volume with volume. “You should have trusted me.”

“Don’t yell at me.”

“You started it.”

She stomped her foot. “Dammit, Sam, I am a calm, rational person. Not a screamer.”

“You seem to be a screamer with me.”

Her gaze narrowed. “Don’t you dare bring up sex right now.”

“I meant when we fight. You yell.”

“I do not.”

“You’re yelling right now.”

“I’m-” She pressed her lips together, then dropped her voice. “You bring out the worst in me.”

Color stained her cheeks. She was breathing hard and standing her ground. In that second, he knew she would always go toe-to-toe with him. If she thought he was wrong, she would tell him. Whether it was about Kelly, their baby, or any other part of their lives.

He circled around the large table and walked toward her. “I love you, Francesca Marcelli.”

In the silence that followed, he heard not only her gasp, but a sigh from outside.

She shook her head. “You can’t. I lied. I knew how much you hated deception, and I did it anyway.”

He walked closer and took her hands. “Tell me why.”

“Because.” She blinked back tears. “I didn’t want to lose you and I thought I might. I… I love you, Sam.”

His heart did a double beat. “Yeah?”

She nodded. “Even when you make me crazy. You don’t treat me like I’m stupid. With you I’m an equal. You listen to me, you trust me. At least you did.”

He leaned forward and kissed her. “I still do. How could I not? You do the right thing, even when it hurts. No matter what happens, you keep showing up.”

She sniffed. “You do, too. Having Kelly appear without warning really messed with your world. But even when you were angry and frustrated and backed into a corner, you kept trying.”

He glanced at the door behind them, then lowered his voice. “I said some things I regret. About being sorry she was around.”

Francesca nodded. “But you said them to me. In private. It’s okay to have doubts. We’re judged by what we do with those doubts. You kept on trying. Working the program. Falling for her.”

He smiled. “I love her.” He pulled her close. “I love you, too. I want us to be a family, Francesca. I’m still in shock about the baby, but I’m excited, too. I want you to marry me. Not because it’s the right thing to do or because of pressures outside this room, but because you want to. Because you can’t imagine life without me.”

Francesca kissed him. If she’d had any doubts about her feelings for Sam, the last twenty-four hours had destroyed them. She’d been more than miserable: she’d been lost.

“I need you,” she whispered.

He chuckled. “Not half so much as I need you. Say you’ll marry me. Promise to love me forever, which is almost as long as I’m going to love you.”

She held him and sighed. “I do love you, Sam. With my whole heart. And yes, I’ll marry you.”

There was a loud cheer from the hallway.

“So we don’t have to make a formal announcement,” he murmured.

“My family doesn’t exactly stand on ceremony.”

“Neither do I,” he said and kissed her.


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