He reached out and grasped her hand, ignoring the slight pain in his wrist and focusing solely on Micki. On keeping her right here with him and convincing her that this was where she belonged.

'What exactly are you afraid of?' he asked. 'Because God knows if anyone has experience in avoiding commitment and relationships and being afraid of putting himself out there, it's me.'

She gave him her bravest smile. 'But you have a lifetime's experience of going out there every day in front of a crowd and facing possible defeat. It may have taken a pregnancy scare to show you what you really wanted in life, but once you realized, you went after it the same way you went after your career. With your whole heart. And I broke it in return.' She glanced away.

'Hey.' He turned her face towards him. 'Something tells me you're not finished.'

She shook her head. 'It's just not easy, baring your soul.'

'Not easy but worth it in the end, I hope.'

'This whole girlie thing.' She lifted the edge of her skirt and let it flutter around her thighs. 'It's all new to me. And I look at the women you dated and I look at myself and I think, how can I even hope to hang on to you?'

Listening to her gut-wrenching honesty nearly took Damian's breath away. He understood how she was raised and the influence her uncle had had upon her and yet that's what made her unique. 'Honey, when I look at you, you're right, I don't see anything similar to those other women.'

She tried to pull her hand away but he held on tight.

'But don't you see? That's what makes you so special. That's why I love you. That's why until you, I never once thought about spending the rest of my life with anyone I'd been with. They never captured my interest the way you do. I'd never had to worry about being distracted during a game because of anything a woman did or said to me. Then you showed up and I couldn't stop thinking about you. In the field, at bat, when I was facing the possibility of having fathered Carole's baby, all I could think about was you.'

Micki swallowed hard but the lump in her throat was too large and the tears she'd been holding back began to trickle down her cheeks. As if admitting her inferiority complex wasn't embarrassing enough, now she had to turn into a crybaby.

She swiped at the tears with the back of her hand. 'You're not going to get bored one day?' she asked.

He shook his head and laughed. 'Not in a million years. Unfortunately you're going to have to take my word for it.' He cupped his hand around her cheek. 'Can you do that?'

'If you can have patience. I'm actually not used to this insecure part of me. It seems to rear its ugly head only around you.'

His other hand followed the first, so he cradled her face, making her feel warm, secure and completely needed. In his gaze, she viewed a depth of feeling she'd never seen before.

'Around me you're not going to have any reason to think or feel insecure.'

She bit down on her lower lip. 'I was hoping you'd say that. Because I decided if you're still interested, I'm ready to go after what I want'

'And I was hoping you'd say that,' he echoed with a grin.

Micki decided then and there to shed her insecurities and keep them at bay. She knew that she'd slip at times. She also knew she'd have Damian there to catch her if she fell.

She rose to her feet, straddling the bench as she stood. 'I love you, Damian.'

'I love you, too. But you said that before and you sent me away, so what's different this time?'

'I am. I'm ready to give not just my heart but my trust, too.' She meant it but she didn't know what he wanted any longer. 'You said you imagined having my baby.' For weeks she'd tried not to remember those words because she'd been running from her fear.

His dark eyes raked over her in an invisible caress. Her body trembled and her nipples puckered beneath her clothes. He noticed and she saw a shudder run through him as well.

'Do you still feel that way?' she asked.

'You know I do,' he said in a voice rough with desire.

'Well, I thought maybe I'd give you a present to remember this locker room by.' As she spoke, she pulled her T-shirt up and over her head. Her tank came next, followed by her barely there strapless bra.

In the time it took her to blink, he'd tossed his shirt aside and pulled her against him. Her aching breasts pressed against his hair-roughened chest, sensations of warmth rushing through her. Liquid heat trickled between her legs, a welcome feeling after ignoring her desire for Damian for so long.

And then his lips came down hard on hers and Micki knew this was meant to last forever. His tongue swirled inside her mouth as she feverishly worked at the button on his jeans. Her heart pounded hard in her chest, pure joy and ecstasy bubbling inside her.

He lifted his head, staring into her eyes for a long, sweet time. 'I definitely don't have protection here.'

Micki swallowed hard. 'I definitely don't want you to use any.'

With a low growl, he stepped back long enough to unbutton and pull off his jeans himself, while she, too,undressed. He made love to her standing up, no condom. The sensation of Damian, every hard, smooth velvety ridge of him was like nothing she'd experienced before.

So real, so honest, so very very emotional, Micki thought, as her imminent climax built higher and higher, his pace ever more frenzied until he came inside her. He thrust upward one last time, taking her along with him, calling her name on a low groan that vibrated through her entire body.

'I love you,' he said, his arms still wrapped tightly around her.

She smiled. 'I love you, too.'

He looked into her eyes and she knew she, saw his soul there. 'Marry me,' Damian said, his body still touching hers, their skin still damp from making love.

Micki could only nod and then she laid her head against his chest, listening to his heart beat, knowing how lucky she was.

How lucky they both were.


DAMIAN'S NORMALLY QUIET island home was filled with guests. His parents, his sisters, their husbands and all their children, Sophie, Annabelle and Vaughn, Yank and Lola, and all Annabelle's and Yank's animals gathered in his house for a long weekend. And a wedding.

Lola and Yank had eloped the week before. Yank had refused to be a spectacle, walking down the aisle with his poor excuse for a Seeing Eye dog leading the way, stopping to sniff every flower and person. Lola hadn't wanted a wedding, she only wanted Yank, and so they'd sprung the news on the girls at the first formal staff meeting of the still-unnamed merged firms of Atkins Associates and the Hot Zone. As usual, the men couldn't agree on whose name or initial should go first on the letterhead.

With business and her uncle's personal life settled, Micki and Damian had set their own date, one they'd decided to push up after discovering that their locker room rendezvous had actually resulted in Micki getting pregnant.

'Are you ready?' Sophie entered the room where Micki had just finished changing into her ivory dress.

She smoothed the long train behind her and nodded. 'Nervous but ready.'

Sophie, the picture of perfection in her soft pink gown and French braid, walked over and kissed Micki's cheek. 'You can't be nervous about marrying Damian.'

'Of course not!' Micki had never been more certain of anything in her life. 'But I am nervous about facing Uncle Yank for the first time since he discovered I'm pregnant and unwed.'

Sophie laughed. 'Oh, Lola will keep him calm.'

'Want to bet?' Annabelle asked, joining them.

Like Sophie, she was also dressed in light pink, except hers was maternity wear and she was very pregnant. 'He's downstairs threatening to nail Damian to the backstop by his… Well you get the drift.'

Micki cringed. 'Let's get this wedding over with before he neuters the groom.'

'Good idea, especially if you two are really looking to load the field with your own baseball team.'

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