The Keys to Jericho

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Chapter 30

“Because from the way you look, you’re already in hell.”

“I am.”

“Good. You’ve finally hit rock bottom. Welcome, Jared. I’m your angel of mercy. Where would you like to start?”

“I know exactly where.”

“Perfect. Let’s do this.”

“If I let you help me, anything I tell you doesn’t leave your mouth. Understand? Not even to your boyfriend.”

“I promise.”

“What’s your favorite jewelry store?”

“Good idea! Something sparkly always makes me feel better and more open-minded. Necklace? Bracelet? Earrings? How about a watch?”

“A ring.”

“Uh, what kind of ring?” When I didn’t answer, her eyes grew large. “Jared…”

“We met in high school. It’s long overdue.”

“But proposing marriage? You aren’t even dating! It’s so sudden!”

“Not sudden, but like you said, I’ve hit rock bottom. I can only go up from there.”

“But that’s a big climb.”

“Are you with me or not?”

“You really love her?” Answering her with only a dead stare, she muttered, “I’m blown away.”

“This stays between us. I can’t stress that enough.”

“Why don’t you want River to know?”

“I just don’t yet.”

Through her shock, she eventually smiled. “Okay, then. Let’s get you and Kat engaged.”

Watching Kat say nothing makes me even more anxious. As her swift breathing causes her chest to rapidly rise and fall, I can’t help but think of how perfect her tits feel in my hands. I want them to be all mine, along with the rest of her, but she won’t even give me a goddamn answer.

When Kat finally does speak, she falters, “I-I don’t… How could… Jared, you…” Her right hand goes to her forehead, dangling the key from her fingers. “Five minutes ago, you wanted nothing to do with marriage. Two minutes ago, you didn’t even want me to move to Philadelphia.”

“I still don’t want you to move there.”

She looks to the gazebo. “Is this just another game for you? To get me to stay in Annapolis?”

When she pulls her hand out of mine, stepping back, I panic. “Kat?”

“I can’t believe you’re using my ambitions against me.”

“I’m not.”

Turning to pace, Kat gives no indication she’s giving me an answer, which leaves me thunderstruck. I thought she’d be all over this.

“That’s what you did when you said you’d… inseminate me,” she says, borrowing the term I used and wrinkling her nose. “To impregnate me. Jesus. It’s like some sort of business deal.”

“It’s not. I’ve been—”

“Now, this?” Kat asks, waving her hand at me with surprising disdain in the middle of my proposal. “Are you so… desperate… for sex that you’ll marry me to ensure you’ll have a routine lay?”

I scowl at her. “If I only wanted to get laid, I’d go to a bar every weekend.”

“Then you should do that.” She turns from me, and I watch in astonishment as her wavy, coffee-brown hair lightly swishes against her upper back.

Hearing her sniff, I incredulously grumble, “What the fuck?”

Standing, I snap the box shut and shove it into my pocket. “Are you fucking serious right now?”

“Are you?” She twists to look at me, crossing her arms. “You can’t just change your mind that fast without some kind of miracle or epiphany, and you don’t do those, Jared.”

“That’s exactly what happened.” We warily glare at each other, but she eventually blinks and turns away. Going to her, I grasp her chin, tilting her face, so she looks at me. “Kat, I just made some major confessions to you. Can’t you give me some credit?”

Her eyes shine with tears. “You said that since I had been married—”

“Why’d you get married the first time?”

“To get over you. A Band-Aid.”

“Is that the truth?” She nods. “Then, fuck what I told you. I’m here. No more Band-Aids.”

“How can you just change your mind so fast?”

“How did you? You got a PA license. Why?”

“Because… Because I want to be with you. Fuck. I’ll move to Philadelphia. I’m kidding myself if I think I can move on without you again. I can’t. None of it is important without you.”

“I guess you could call that your epiphany, wouldn’t you say?” Kat gawks at me. “I don’t want anyone else. It’s always been you. At first, I sought out your look-a-likes, but that was rough for me, so I had to purposely stay away from anyone who resembled you. Finding you again was something I never thought would happen. Then you said you’re leaving Annapolis, so I ran to Philly. When I was there, I realized I can’t do it. I can’t lose you again. I won’t lose you again. That was my epiphany.”

Kat steps further back from me. “How can we be married if you don’t want me in Philadelphia? I can’t live with you, but I can’t take the job in Virginia, either!”

“You got the job?”

She sighs. “Yes, but I haven’t accepted it.”

“Take it.”

Kat swings her head to me, her gaze horrified. “No!”

“Where is this job? What city?”

“Tuckahoe. Roughly ten miles or so outside of Richmond.”

“That’s fucking perfect. I can work—”

“No! You’re not quitting your brand-new job to take a demotion!”

“It won’t be that much of a difference.”

“Richmond isn’t nearly the size of Philadelphia!”

“It’s just cost of living. I can work out a deal, I know it. I’m not a millionaire, and I don’t see myself becoming one, but I’ll still make enough money for us—”

“Holy hell! That’s not what I’m worried about! I won’t allow you to quit!”

Allow me?”

“If you won’t allow me to move to Philadelphia, then no. You cannot quit your job to move to Virginia.”

I cuttingly inhale, looking around the gazebo as I grasp what she’s saying. Returning my glare to her, I ask, “Is that your fucking answer? Are you turning down my proposal?”

She answers me with more tears and covering her mouth with her hand. “I won’t be the source of your bitterness, having to take a lesser-paying position.”

“It’s just a fucking job.”

Kat throws her hand out. “It’s your career! You talked about doing this in high school, being an engineer, and designing skyscrapers in a big city!”

“I wanted to be with you more!” Burrowing my hand into my hair, despair rips me, but I don’t want Kat to see it. I won’t lose it in front of her.

I can’t.

Therefore, I go on the offensive. “You can’t even give me a no? Do you keep coming up with reasons why this can’t work? I think you’re the one playing fucking games! I was stupid to open myself up to this level of rejection. I won’t fucking beg you to be my wife.”

Turning away from Kat, I storm to the steps, hearing her gasp behind me. “Jared!”

Reaching the top step, I grit my teeth and angrily rub the heel of my hand over my eyes. Impulsively, I spin around, and we both stalk back to each other. Grabbing her face, I look into her tear-filled brown eyes with my own wet gaze. “Yes, I will beg.” Before she can object, I gruffly say, “Screw the goddamned details. I’ll give up anything for you, Kat Merrick. So, don’t fucking argue about me moving to Virginia. I want to.”

“I… How will this work? I still have a school year left here. I don’t want you quitting your job to take two more jobs. It won’t look good on your résumé.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of long-distance relationships?” I ask the same question she had thrown at me.

“For a year? We’d only be together on the weekends.” Just like my sister and Finn. My big mouth, lecturing Finn… Fucking karma.

“I know, but look what we’ve already gone through. At least we’ll be together this time with an actual future ahead of us.”

“I don’t want you going against what you believe, just to make me happy.”

“I’m not. This is exactly what I want. Only we matter. Our happiness.”

I reach into my pocket, and in another effort, I risk my pride and my heart, dropping to my knee.

“I love you, Kit Kat. I had no clue what love was until we met, but I fell for you so hard, and I never got back up. I loved you for two years in high school, teasing you, touching you, and aching for you. I loved you, singing karaoke with you. I loved you, teaching you how to drive, laughing with you, yelling at you, and encouraging you. I loved you on the stupid paddleboats. I loved you when you played with the Mystery Machine and listening to that mouse song in my car. I loved you every time we had sex, and all the times we didn’t. I loved you during our fight in your apartment when you said you loved me. I loved you when I was watching you walk over here. I loved you when I got down on my knee, proposing marriage. Twice. I love you right this second and every second left of my life. We’ll make this work. Just trust me. I’m begging you. Marry me, Katriona. Please, be my wife.”

Kat takes a shuddering breath. “I trust you. Yes, Jared. I’ll marry you. Make me yours.”

Even though I had hoped she’d say yes, my fingers still shake, and I skeptically ask, “You will?”

Kat enthusiastically nods and laughs through her tears. “Yes!”

I promptly stand, and Kat throws her arms around my neck as I hug her. “Fuck. I thought I’d never propose, let alone twice.”

Her hands go into my hair, gently brushing through it while moving her head to catch my lips. We kiss as if I hadn’t been stupid. As if we haven’t been apart.

Abruptly leaning away, I say, “Shit. I forgot.” Still in my hand, I pull the ring out of the box, careful not to drop it. Kat removes the silver flower ring she’s wearing on her left ring finger, putting it and the key into her pocket. I shakily slide on the diamond ring, and we both stare at how surreal this moment is.

She says, “I still can’t believe this. Forget boyfriend. You’re my fiancé.”

I look at her face. “I’ve always wanted this with you. Just you, Kit Kat. No one else.”

Kat grins and clutching my tie, she says, “Kiss me, damn it.”

Before my lips touch hers, I whisper, “Fucking definitely, my fiancée.”

From behind me, Dash asks, “Is it okay to be here now?” We both swiftly look to see him standing on the stairs but then back to each other as I shove the box into my pocket. “I see everything is better now, Jericho and Merrick.”

Blinking away my tears, I lean to whisper in her ear. “Our secret for now.”

She nods against my head, and Dash says, “I was walking the path after I ate my sandwich, and I noticed it got quiet in here. I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or scared.”

I take Kat’s hand, holding her close to me to obscure the ring. However, I can’t hide my huge grin. “Yeah. We’re okay.”

“I knew everything would be,” Dash says, smiling. “So, did you get everything out in the open?”

Kat giggles, and I look at her, grinning as she says to Dash, “Yes. We… talked.”

Dash laughs. “You two are sickening now. Who knew that three words could make all the difference?” Only three words. Right. “Aren’t you glad we came here, Merrick?”

“Yes, Dash. Thank you.”

Dash looks at our joined hands. “You are together now, right? Or am I totally off, and you’re only weirdly close friends?”

Glancing at Kat with still a huge smile, I answer, “Yeah. We’re together.” We always were.

She smiles back at me, and I want to kiss her, but I don’t want to do that in front of Dash again, though I’ll eventually have to, I guess.

Dash says, “Hey! We should all go to the club tonight. Celebrate your togetherness.”

Kat squeezes my hand, and I say, “Tomorrow night.”

Dash nods, grinning like a jackass. “Oh. I get it. You want to be alone. Okay. I’ll let Duquesne know, and we’ll meet at Oceanic. Why don’t you ask Hadley to come?”

“Yeah. I will.” My sister. A complication I didn’t consider, but one that I can’t avoid.

Dash asks Kat, “Don’t you want your sandwich?”

“You can have it.”

I pull Kat with me as I head for the stairs. “Thanks, Calder. I’ll talk to you tomorrow about what time to meet you.”

As we walk past, Kat reaches over with her free arm, pulling Dash to her for a hug, making him laugh.

We practically run to my car over at the next parking lot. Her ring cuts into my hand, but it’s an appreciated hurt, reminding me she said yes.

When we get to my car, I stop Kat from getting in by pushing her against the side and kissing her neck. She sighs. “Jared, I want you.”

“I could fuck you right here, but since we’d get arrested, let’s go back to your apartment.”

She giggles. “Our apartment. You’ll need a place to live on weekends.”

I smile. “I guess so. If you don’t mind?”

“Oh, I don’t mind.” She laughs again, pulling me back to her lips. A buzzing phone interrupts us, and she reaches into her pocket to check hers as I check mine. Kat says, “My mom wants me to bring Dash over for pie.” She rolls her eyes. “We need to tell our parents before we tell our friends.”

I scowl. “Can’t we do that tomorrow?”

“She’ll see your car in my driveway overnight. She’s bound to ask.”

“So?”

“Jared. Let’s get it over with. I’ll have her ask your dad over, too. My dad is out of town, so I’ll call him later. You’ll have to meet him.”

“Great,” I say, brushing my hand through my hair.

“He’ll like you.”

My dad barely likes me. Fucking pie and telling our parents? Let’s get this over with, so we can do dirty things to each other. The only thing I want you wearing is this ring and me.”

Laughing, her eyes sparkle in the late sun. Receiving a response from Brenda, Kat then looks at her phone. “Your dad is already coming over. Mom had invited him.”

Lifting the door handle, I smile. “Perfect. My dad doesn’t know I’m here early. I wasn’t supposed to be back until tomorrow.” Kat gets into the car and shutting the door, I head over to the driver’s side.

When I start the car, she asks, “You picked out the ring on your own? I’m impressed.”

“Uh, no. Well, yes.” I groan as I back out of the space. “It’s half and half. I knew what I wanted when I saw it, but I wasn’t alone.”

“Hadley?”

“Not her.”

“Dash doesn’t know. Rio?”

I cringe as we head out of the park. “You won’t believe it if I told you.” Rolling my eyes, I avoid hers as I choke out, “Liberty.”

Kat laughs. “You’re right. There’s no way in hell! Come on. Who?”

I groan again. “I’m telling you the truth. Liberty. Rio set us up for dinner to work out our differences. That bastard.”

“You two sound like a superhero and supervillain, forced to work together.”

“I’d better be the fucking superhero.”

She laughs. “You’re always my hero.” Kat reaches over to pat my leg, and I grab it, holding it there. “You told her you want to marry me?”

I nod, looking at her again. “Yes.” Peering ahead, I lift her hand, kissing it as I toy with her ring. “You’ll have to get this sized.”

“Not yet. I don’t want to give it up, but yeah. I don’t want to lose it, either.”

That would be a reason to break up.” I laugh at her frown, and move our joined hands to her thigh, sliding them between her legs. Letting go of her hand, I graze my fingers over the crotch of her shorts, although I can’t feel anything other than denim.

She sighs. “What’re you doing? We’re here.”

Deciding to pull into Kat’s driveway instead of Brenda’s, I have to move my hand to park the car. Turning to her, I lick my lips. “Just warming you up, Kit Kat.”

“No need to. I’m already preheated.”

“Fuck. Really?”

“Yep. Just for you.”

“It’d better be only for me.”

“Just you, Jared. You don’t even have to touch me.” She takes my hand, returning it between her legs and pushes my fingers firmly against her. “But I love it when you do.”

I groan. “Shit. You can’t do that and expect me to hang out with our parents.”

“I know. I want to forget about pie.”

“I want to eat but not pie.” Kat gapes at me, and I laugh. “We’re in and out of there. Promise?”

“I promise.” Kat leans to my ear. “I want you in and out of me.” She again pushes on my fingers as my other hand skates over her ribs and then to her breast, palming her nipple through her shirt. “I can’t wait for you to fuck your fiancée.”

Her mouth travels to mine, and she kisses me, but I have to turn my head and sit back, sighing. “I need a couple of minutes before going in there. All of this is not helping.”

“Sorry.”

I grin. “Don’t be.” Pulling my hand away, my smile fades. “Kat, during our argument at your apartment, I wasn’t kidding. I’m committed to you. I’ve always been.” Glancing from her to the windshield and then to the console, I say, “I need to know you’ll be faithful to me. My dad was dumped, and he never fully recovered. My sister was cheated on, and even though it was high school, it fucking hurt her. I can’t go through that shit. I’m not as strong as them. I will never stray. I will be forever faithful to you. I’m trusting you like I’ve never trusted anyone. I need to have your word. Promise me you won’t break my trust or my heart.”

With tears springing to her eyes, she says, “Jared, you have my promise. You’re the one I held everyone up to in comparison. I’ll never be unfaithful to you. You can trust me with your heart because I’ll protect it with extra care. There’ll never be any other man for me.”

I lean over and put my hand on her cheek. I pull her to me for a kiss, wanting to do more. But knowing I can’t right now, I sit back.

Kat asks, “Do you remember your mother?” No more hard-on.

I scoff, “Why do you throw these questions at me without any kind of warning?”

“I don’t know. They come to me, and I ask.”

I shrug as I stare at the steering wheel. “Not much, but I’ve seen her in pictures. Why?”

“I just wondered about what kind of person could leave her children.”

Tracing the steering wheel with my fingers, I say, “From what my dad has told me, she was an aspiring singer. He was nineteen, a freshman in college, working in a deli when he met her. She was twenty-six, I think, and worked as a librarian. Her name was Melinda Hadley, which is unfortunate for my sister.”

“Oh.”

“While my dad was still in college, she got pregnant with Hadley, and they were married before my sister was born. My grandparents didn’t like my mother much. My grandmother said there was something about her. Well, she was right. Apparently, my mother got some kind of singing gig she couldn’t pass up, and she took off, leaving me alone in my crib while Hadley was at school. My dad came home a short time later to find me screaming. After that, he ended up moving us all in with my grandparents until he graduated. My mother never came back or contacted my dad directly, only by her lawyer with divorce papers.”

“That’s revolting. I’m sorry I asked.”

Turning to look at her, I reply, “It’s okay. We’re supposed to tell each other everything, no matter how fucked-up, right?”

Kat nods. “Right. And I’ll always be here for you, Sonic.”

I smile. “I needed to hear that, Kit Kat.”

Lifting her hand, gazing at the ring, she frowns. “It’s probably better if I take this off. My mom will see it right away. We should ease into it.”

I sigh. “Yeah. I guess you’re right.”

With a pout, Kat pulls the ring off her finger. “Here. You hold it. I’ll be too tempted to put it back on.”

Grinning, I take it and push it into my pocket. Leaning over, I kiss her cheek. “It’ll be back on your finger before we leave, baby.” I wince as a thought pops into my head. “I didn’t know what your… first one… looked like, so I hope it’s not too similar.”

Shaking her head, she softly smiles. “This is my only engagement ring. We had just decided to do it. No proposal. No ring. No engagement.”

Loving that I’m her first and only fiancé, I grin. “This time, it’s meant to be.” I give her another quick kiss before opening the car door. Since I parked in Kat’s driveway, it’s a good chance they already saw my car, so my arrival won’t be such a surprise. We walk over to Brenda’s and knock on the door. When she answers, seeing me with Kat, she smiles, asking, “Jared?”

Brenda steps aside, and Kat says, “I ran into Jared at the park when I was with Dash.”

I follow Kat into the living room, and my dad gives us a confused smile but comes over to hug me. “I thought you weren’t coming back until tomorrow?”

“Changed my mind.” About a lot of things.

Kat walks over to the couch, and I trail her, keeping a friendly distance. My dad is watching us with a knowing look, having seen us kiss, and now being aware Kat and I have slept together. And knowing I was in love with her the whole time. Jesus.

Brenda brings Kat and me chocolate pie, but we both set the plates down on the coffee table. She asks, “What do you want to drink?”

We both answer, “Nothing, thanks.” Laughing, we glance at each other but not for too long.

With his trademark scratchy voice, my dad asks, “How was your meeting?”

“Boring. I met my coworkers, supervisors, and I think the cafeteria staff. Exciting.”

Brenda returns to the room, handing Dad a plate. “It’s nice to see you dressed up. I thought you would have to wear a hard hat and steel-toed boots.”

I shrug. “I do but only for site inspections. Other than meetings, it’s casual work attire since I’m at a computer most of the day.”

Kat says, “Some days, I need a hard hat and steel-toed boots.”

I laugh. “Your job sounds rough, too.”

She grins, resting her cheek against her hand. “It can be.”

Smiling, I catch my dad staring at us, and I know we can’t hide it for much longer before he asks damned questions.

Brenda takes the seat next to my dad, giving Kat a probing look as she cuts into her piece of pie.

Kat takes a deep breath. “I got the job.”

Brenda peers up from her pie, in shock. “You did? When? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Calm down. I just found out yesterday.”

“You’re taking it, right?”

Kat takes another deep breath. “Yes. I’m moving to Virginia.”

Dad’s face falls for a split second before forcing a smile. “Congratulations, Kat.”

I bite back a huge smile as I turn to her. “Congratulations.”

Her gaze quickly shifts from me to the coffee table. “Thank you. I’m excited.”

Brenda says, “It’ll be such a change for you. Are you living with Liberty?”

Kat replies, “No. Rio is moving down there.”

Brenda appears confused. “Oh. Well, you’ll still be near her? Won’t you?”

“Yeah. Probably. It depends on where my roommate wants to live.”

“You have a roommate already? How?”

Kat glances at me for help. I turn to Dad and Brenda. “Me.”

My dad’s mouth nearly lands in his pie. “Huh? You’re quitting your job before you even started?”

“No. I’ll stay there until next summer.”

“You’re moving to Virginia?” He looks to Kat, and then to me. “With Kat?”

“Yeah.”

Even though he knows the answer, he still asks the ultimate question. “Why?”

Kat says, “Something happened between Jared and me.” When our parents don’t make a comment, Kat reaches over, grabbing my hand. Looking at her, I squeeze her hand as she admits, “We fell in love.”

Brenda’s fork clatters against her plate. “You what?”

Turning to her, I lick my lip as I nod. “I met Kat when I was sixteen, so it’s been since then.”

Kat pulls on my hand, adding, “I was fifteen when I fell for Jared. Since we reconnected, it’s like we were brought together again for a reason.” I smile at her, knowing my dad is staring.

Brenda’s fork rattles on her plate, and she sets it down on the table. I say, “I know it may seem sudden to everyone since we’ve only been spending time together for just about two months, but she’s the only one I’ve ever wanted to spend my life with.”

Brenda sniffs. “Oh, my God. I knew you were in love with her, Jared. I was hoping you’d see it, too.” Christ Almighty.

“I did.”

Dad’s grin makes me roll my eyes but match his smile. “What, Dad? I know you’re dying to say it.”

“Nothing at all. I’m just so happy for you.”

I glance at Brenda, and she eagerly nods in agreement.

Smiling, I say, “Well, I hope this doesn’t disappoint you.” Reaching into my pocket, I pull out the ring but keep it hidden in my hand. Angling towards Kat, I take her hand. “You said yes. Didn’t you?”

She grins. “I did.” I slide the ring onto her finger and Brenda yelps. Kat moves closer to me, and I kiss her, not caring that we’re in front of our parents.

Brenda shouts, “No fucking way!” Suddenly, she jumps up, heading over to us. “I can’t believe this! Let me see it!” Brenda grabs Kat’s hand, ogling her ring and giggling among her tears. “It’s gorgeous! Look at this sucker!”

Dad asks, “How did…? You…? You’re getting married?”

I nod. “Yeah. We are.”

Kat stands as Brenda pulls her up for a hug, nearly knocking Kat over. “I’m so excited! Oh, my God! You’re marrying Jared Beckett!”

She laughs, and as I get up from the couch, I ask, “Is that a bad thing?”

Brenda wipes her cheeks and attacks me next. “Congratulations, Jared. I knew you were the one. I just knew it the second you saw Kat that you two belonged together.”

Dad yanks on my arm, grabbing me away from Brenda into a tight hug. “Congratulations, son. You make me proud to be your dad.”

I clear my throat. “Thanks, Dad.”

Brenda asks, “When’re you getting married? Are you waiting until after the school year?”

“Mom, we just got engaged. We’ll have to talk about it. It’d be hard to plan a wedding so soon, and it’ll be colder weather. Don’t worry. You’ll be the first to know when we set a date.”

Brenda squeals, “I’m still shocked! I saw Dash’s car overnight at your apartment, and I thought…”

“What the hell?” I ask, turning to Kat.

“No! Not what you think. I got drunk, and he stayed with me. He slept in my bed.”

“Are you kidding me?” Even though I accused Dash of sleeping with Kat, I know he wouldn’t do that to me. Neither one would. I have to admit that along with Duquesne, I trust them like no one else.

Still, I’m enjoying Kat’s flustering.

Kat’s hands go out to her sides. “No! I mean, yes!” She sighs. “I slept on the couch. He slept in my bed. Just friends!”

“So were we.”

“We were never just friends.”

I slowly smile. “I guess not.”

Kat puts her arms around my waist. “I would never do that to you, and with him, especially. I know what he means to you. To both of us.”

I kiss her cheek, whispering, “I know.”

Brenda says, “Shit. I didn’t mean to start something. I’m sorry. My big mouth.”

Kat shakes her head. “Dash? Really, Mom?”

She contritely smiles. “Yeah. I thought it was weird, too.”

Dad says, “It’s a poorly kept secret that he’s always liked Hadley. Since they were kids. Speaking of her, will you be near Richmond?”

Kat says, “Yes. Right outside of it.”

“Hadley lives in Montrose but works in Richmond. You’ll be neighbors, practically.”

I apprehensively lick my lip. “Uh, I guess so.”

Kat smiles and nudges me. “Looks like you’ll get to reconnect with your sister.”

“Yeah.” Shit.

Dad asks, “You’ll stay with this job until next year?”

“Yeah. I’m sure I’ll be able to get a job in Richmond after this one.”

Kat asks, “Are you sure? I told you I’ll move to Philadelphia.”

Holding her to me, I say, “I’m positive. Baby, don’t worry about it.”

Brenda shrieks, “Jared just called you baby! This is too much!” Jesus Christ. She starts crying again, and Kat leaves my arms to hug her mother.

Brenda pushes Kat away, inspecting her. “Oh, shit. Are you pregnant?”

Kat rolls her eyes. “No.”

She looks back and forth at us. “Are you two giving Adam and me grandbabies?”

“Mother! Let us get married! Again, you’ll be the first to hear any announcement from us. Damn.”

“Sorry!” Brenda says, covering her mouth. “I’m getting way ahead of myself.” No shit.

“I’m still astounded that my baby boy is getting married,” Dad says with a laugh. I roll my eyes but laugh with him.

Brenda says, “Eat your pie! It’s getting all mushy.”

Kat gives me a rueful smile as she sits down and picks up her plate. I sit closer to her this time, relieved to have this part over with. But I still have to meet her dad. Fuck me.

Brenda pats Dad on the back. “Looks like we’re going to be in-laws.”

“Yeah. Go figure.” He shakes his head before taking a drink of his iced tea.

Brenda asks us, “Do you know where you want to get married?”

Kat answers, “In the gazebo at Quiet Waters.”

She bounces on the loveseat, nearly knocking my dad off it and spilling his drink. “That’s perfect! You can have your reception at the Blue Heron Center here. You’d better reserve them both now.”

“We will, after we figure out a date. Settle, Mom.”

Dad asks me, “When’re you telling your sister?”

“Tomorrow. We’re getting together with Rio and Dash, so I’ll ask her if she wants to come up for the night.”

“She’ll be happy for you.”

I shrug, wondering if she’ll bring Finn with her, who might have something to say about my reversal on marriage.

Brenda pulls the thick stack of paint chips from the table. “Katydid, help me pick out some colors. I’m stuck on three rooms.”

“We’d like to go home.” Home. That sounds nice.

“I won’t keep you long. I just wanted to pick through three different colors for the upstairs hallway bathroom.”

“Can’t we do it tomorrow?”

Brenda looks from Kat to me and then back to Kat. “Why?”

Kat clears her throat. “We’d like to be alone.”

“You’re blowing me off? Weren’t you just alone?”

“No. We were at the park with Dash.”

My dad perceptively nods with a huge grin. “Go. Have a good night.”

Brenda’s eyes widen. “Oh! Of course! Celebrate without your pants! Go practice!” She laughs as she waves us to the door. “I mean, have a good night!”

Kat shakes her head. “So subtle of you.”

We eagerly stand, and my dad hugs me again, whispering, “Saved you. Huh?”

“I owe you.”

Looking at me, his hazel eyes shine as he holds onto my shoulders, fighting a breakdown. “Just be happy. That’s all I want in return.”

I smile at him. “I will be. I promise.”

When Brenda hugs me, she says, “You’ll have to come to my house for Thanksgiving now.”

“I’ll be there.”

She whispers, “Thank you for saving my daughter.”

I whisper back, “She saved me.”

Brenda lets go, and I grab Kat’s hand, impatient to get to her apartment. Brenda asks more questions even as we rush outside, but we don’t stop to answer.

I follow Kat up the stairs, grabbing her ass and making her giggle. As soon as she has the door open, she yanks me through the doorway by my tie, and I kick the door closed behind me. Kat starts undoing my tie while I tear my shirt out of my pants and work on the buttons. She slides off my tie, whipping it over her head as her hands go to the top of my shirt, unbuttoning and meeting me in the middle.

Unbuckling my belt, I say, “I want you so goddamn much, Kit Kat.”

One of her hands goes to my fly while the other strokes me through my pants. “It’s hard to miss.”

I step on the heels of my shoes to take them off as Kat pushes my pants down, leaving me in my underwear. I go to the hem of her T-shirt, lifting it over her head. I then speedily unhook her bra before going to her jean shorts, tearing open the button and zipper. Kat kicks off her shoes and wriggles out of her shorts.

Leaving our clothes strewn on the living room floor, I take her hand and lead her to the bedroom. Next to the bed, I spin around and kiss Kat, my tongue overpowering hers. I’ve missed her so much. As her hand goes to my cock, feeling me through my underwear, I groan and pull her closer to me.

Guiding her to the bed as we kiss, we hit the side, and I move my mouth to her cheek. “Get on the bed.”

Kat climbs onto it, lying on her side, and I follow her, pushing her onto her back. I overwhelm her mouth as her legs cradle me. Kat’s hands go to my face and then into my hair, holding me to her as her tongue dominates my mouth this time. I throb more for her.

When Kat turns her head, I go to her neck, hungrily kissing down to her collarbone. She asks, “You’ll really be my husband?”

I lift my head to gaze down at her. “Yes.”

Her brown eyes are uncertain. “Only if you’re one hundred percent sure you want that label, Jared.”

“I’m so sure that on Monday, let’s get our license.”

“What?”

“We have a two-day waiting period. We can get married at the courthouse Wednesday.”

“You heard what my mom said. She wants to be there.”

“She can be.”

“I’m not doing the courthouse again. I want the real thing with you.”

“We’ll be married. That’s all that matters.”

She slides her thumb over my bottom lip. “It matters to me, though. Let’s plan something great for us. I want to celebrate marrying you. How about the Fourth of July? When we first dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s.”

I sigh. “That long?” Now, I’m the one wanting to get married yesterday.

“It’ll give us some time to be engaged before we take the plunge, and we’ll have to reserve the gazebo and hall now. I want this to be special. In front of all of our family and friends.”

“We can still elope and keep it a secret.”

She briefly closes her eyes. “You know how tempting that is? I won’t be able to keep it a secret, though. I’d want to tell everyone you’re my husband.”

I groan in defeat. “You’re right. That’s one secret I wouldn’t be able to keep.” Bending, I kiss down her chest, licking around her silky tit. I feel her heart racing beneath it.

Kat sighs as I lightly clamp my teeth onto her nipple. “Does this mean you’ve also changed your mind about… other things?”

Raising my head again, I say, “Jesus Christ. Did you lie to your mother? Are you pregnant?”

Shaking her head, she says, “I’m not. I was just wondering.”

I breathe a sigh of relief. “I hope you don’t plan on ever messing with me like that.”

Smiling, Kat asks, “I guess renting a billboard would be out of the question?”

“Hilarious.” I rub my dick against her underwear, and she moans. Smiling at my small retaliation, I swallow. “I meant what I said, Kit Kat. I will be the only man donating to that cause. I’ve never wanted kids before, but with you… I want to give you children. Whenever you want to go off birth control, we can try for a baby. I just would like to have some time to ourselves. Maybe wait until after we get settled into our jobs and buy a house. I’ll eventually knock you up. Not because I’m giving in or feel railroaded. It’ll be because I want a baby with you.”

She smiles as her eyes shine. “That’s perfect.” I return to her nipple, and she whispers, “You’ve changed your mind about so much. I can’t believe this is all happening.” I bite her just so she knows it is happening. Her hands go into my hair as I trail my tongue to the center of her chest, and then along her stomach, licking and sucking on her skin, the closer my mouth gets to her waistband.

“Jared, I fucking want you.”

I smile at her as my fingers dig into the top of her underwear, pulling down, but I don’t take them off yet. Instead, I lick her skin, making her pant when my tongue dips close to her hairline. Her legs fall open, and she raises her hips, all but begging me to slide my tongue into her.

Pulling her underwear down some more, I lick into her hair, tasting how wet she is. Sitting up to slide them off her legs, she peers over at mine. “Get rid of yours, too.”

“Why would I do that?” I tease, slipping my fingers into my waistband and yanking on it but not going any further.

“Because I need you inside me. Stop teasing.” Without her underwear, my gaze falls, teasing quickly forgotten. Pushing her legs open further, I bend, taking her pussy into my mouth.

“Jared. Fuck.”

On an upward stroke of my tongue, I tell her, “Your pussy is mine. Only my cock will be inside you. I’ve made my official claim, Kit Kat.”

She pants, “Just yours.”

“Good, because I fucking own every inch of you.”

As I flick my tongue into her, she struggles to speak. “Don’t you ever put your cock into another pussy. It belongs in mine.”

“I would never do that to you. I promise.”

I dip my head as I ravenously eat her. Kat moves her hips, countering my licks. Fuck. I’ll lose it like I did last time with her.

When I taste more of her cream, I abruptly sit back, us both panting, and I shove down my underwear, taking them off as fast as I can. Crawling over Kat, I kiss her neck as I grab my dick and guide it into her.

Her hands stroke my back as we slowly move. “Fuck me, Kat. Goddamn, your pussy feels so good on my dick.”

Kat moans, “You feel unbelievable inside me.”

“What else do you feel?”

She smiles. “How much you love me.”

“You’ve been paying attention.”

Her hands go to my head, forcing me to look at her. “I own you, Jared. I’m staking my claim on every inch of you, including this rock-hard cock of yours. It’s mine, as is your heart.”

“I’m all yours. Forever. Marry me, baby.”

“Don’t stop! Oh, God!” she yells as she comes. “Yes! Yes, I’ll marry you! I love you, Jared.”

Riding her faster to my end, I pant, “I love you, Kit Kat. Oh, fuck, I do.” I burst into her and gruffly whisper, “So damn much. I always have.”

It only took nearly losing her for the second time to tell her that.

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