Rafferty watched the red Jeep speed out of the parking lot away from him. Turning to Ruth, he yelled, “What did you say to her? Why can’t you just leave her alone?”
“What did she mean secret wife?” she yelled right back at him, not answering any of his questions.
“It doesn’t matter to you. You want nothing to do with me. Well, the feeling is mutual. I’m done with trying to be nice to you, trying to be a family with you. Mia is my family now, and she’s what’s important.” He rushed off toward his pickup to follow her. As he started the engine, he realized how much better he felt telling Ruth off. She was practically the only family he had, but she had just driven off the most important member of his family. His wife.
By the time he made it down Main Street, he had already lost her. He realized she could be anywhere. For a second, he thought about going back to the church to see if everyone would help look for her, but thought better of it. At this point, she wasn’t getting along with any of them. So he would look alone.
Six hours later, he was no closer to finding her than he had been two minutes after she had left. Just like in January, he had looked everywhere: her parents’, Math’s place, Math’s parents. He had even knocked on Mandy’s door because that was where she had been in January. But this time, she wasn’t there. Mandy had told him she hadn’t heard from her and would keep an eye on Main Street for him, call him if she saw something. No call came in.
It was late when he finally decided he had to give up. She was gone. When she wanted to be found, she would be found. That was how Mia was.
Walking into his house, he heard the TV and wondered why he had left it on. Going over, he shut it off and turned and saw her. She was sound asleep on his couch. She must have turned on the TV before she had fallen asleep. Had she been here the entire time? At that point, he realized he hadn’t even checked here, but why would he? She was mad at him.
Picking her up off the couch, he carried her to bed like he always did. While he had been in the bathroom getting ready for bed, he saw she had stripped out of her clothes like she usually did. Pulling her into his arms, he hoped she wouldn’t be able to sneak out in the early morning hours before he woke up. But he didn’t want to wake her in case that would mean she would leave now.
Someone staring at him was what woke him in the night. Hazel eyes were staring at him. Mia’s hazel eyes.
“Hi,” she whispered into the mostly dark room.
“Hi,” he whispered back.
“Why don’t I have clothes on?”
“Because you took them off.” He grinned.
“You didn’t? I always assumed you took them off somehow.”
“No, it’s always been you. You’re pretty good at stripping.” He smiled at her shocked face.
“I’m sorry, Rafferty.” She bit her l!p.
“For stripping?” he asked in confusion.
“For everything. I want you to know I’m sorry before you leave. That I messed up everything.” Her chin quivered as she said it.
“Not everything, Mia. I want you to come with me. I think we can make it work somewhere elsee, not in Landstad. Somewhere else, where we can just be Mia and Rafferty.” He tucked a hair behind her ear.
“But I can’t leave. I’ve tried and tried, but I can’t. I’m a Tiger.” She grinned, even as she held back her tears.
“We’ll make it work. You and me, together.” He ran his fingers over her cheek.
“But we can’t leave; we’re both Tigers, and tigers don’t leave.”
“They do when there’s nothing for them here. We can’t get over the past and who people think we are here. Our future is elsewhere, where we can be the couple we want to be.” It was why he knew they had to leave here.
“But what about when you get tired of me and start flirting with everyone? What do I do then if I’m not here?” A tear slipped from her eye and soaked into the pillow below her head.
“I haven’t gotten tired of you ever, Mia. I regret that I didn’t call you after the transplant. At the time, I was a scared kid who had no idea what I was losing by losing you. I’d spent months watching you at the café before I got enough courage up to talk to you. Then I’d go on to blow it so bad I couldn’t really talk to you for another fourteen years.” He k!ssed her nose.
“You didn’t see me back then,” she stated.
“Of course, I did. You used to have the tables one, two, five, six, ten, and eleven. Those were the only tables I would sit at. Your hair used to be really long, and you always had it in a ponytail. When I came back, you were coloring it I missed the chestnut color it used to be, but it’s back now.” Sitting up, he touched her hair, loving it was back to that chestnut color again.
“It’s just plain brown,” she stated.
“Not to me,” he said. “Why did you come here?”
“I always come here, to you. This is our home. No matter how bad my day gets, I always feel better when I’m here. With you.”
“I love it when you’re here, but I love you, so it doesn’t matter where we are.” He k!ssed her forehead.
“You love me?” she asked in surprise.
He just chuckled. “Mia, I bought you this house.”
“I thought you fell in love with it and had to have it?” She sat up a little and looked down at him.
Shaking his head, he admitted, “I wanted to give you the house you wanted—then maybe you would want me.”
“Rafferty Brooks, you bought this house for me?” she asked again, sitting all the way up. Holding the sheet to her bare chest, she looked around the dark bedroom as if for the first time.
He sat up and hugged her to him, k!ssing her bare shoulder. “Yes, Mrs. Brooks, I knew I had to when we got back from getting married. I had a small hold on you then, but I needed it to be bigger.”
“Do you remember getting married?”
“No, but I know why I married you. For the same reason I would marry you again tomorrow.” He k!ssed her shoulder again. “I love you.”
“Me too,” she admitted. “Because I’ve loved you for so long but only let myself act on it when I was drunk.”
Cupping her bre*st, he felt her inhale sharply. He loved how her body always responded to his. “Me too, though I would’ve preferred to marry you sober.”
“Let’s get married,” she said with a giggle.
Pulling her body close, he nuzzled her neck. “We’re already married, silly.”
She sighed. “Let’s get married here. In Landstad. Sober and in front of everyone.”
“When?” he asked, because he would do it anytime, any day.
“It doesn’t matter. We’re already married.” She turned in his arms.
“Before or after we move?” he asked, hoping for sooner rather than later. But he also knew that she would probably want a big wedding, and those took time.
“Either, I guess.” She shrugged, and her smile slipped off her face when she admitted, “I don’t want to move, but I can’t stay here with Ruth.”
“I told her off after you left. I told her I’m no longer interested in being family. And it’s true. After watching her treat you so badly these last few months, I realized I didn’t want to have a relationship with her if she could treat my wife like that.” He hugged her close to him, protecting her now when he couldn’t before.
“That’s how I feel about her treating you. I just couldn’t take it anymore,” Mia said into his ch3st.
K!ssing her hair, he said, “That’s why I love you. You’re my defender.”
Pushing herself up on her arm, she told him, “Do you realize that we could have an eight-month-old baby now if I had gotten pregnant the night we hooked up after the bar?”
“No, we couldn’t have. We never had s*x that night.” He smirked.
“What? No, we did. I know we did.”
“Nope. We didn’t have s*x before the day you helped me move in, either. Although I remember giving you a fantastic org*sm before you passed out, though. The rest was staged. You were too drunk to do anything. I don’t take advantage of drunk women, even super s*xy Mia Lawson Brooks,” he admitted, though he had mostly forgotten about how he had staged her apartment back then. Now he wished he hadn’t.
“How dare you!” she yelled. “I thought I was pregnant!”
“Didn’t you take the test?”
“Of course, but they are not accurate and I couldn’t just go into the drug store and buy another one. Jackie and my mom are friends you know.”
“Sorry, love. I did it because you’re so cute when you’re mad. Like now.” Quickly, he rolled her onto her back and pinned her to the bed.
“Don’t do it again,” she pinched his side in anger. “What about the wedding night?”
“That I don’t know. I don’t remember that one.” He k!ssed her, though he was sure they hadn’t since he always remembered making love to Mia. Those were his happiest memories.
“Me neither.” She smirked and wiggled under him, reminding him how naked she was and how long it had been since he had made love to her. “But I really like to remember making love to you.”
“Let’s make some more memories, Mrs. Brooks.” He k!ssed her once on the l!ps, then made a trail down her body.
“Can we make them without a condom this time?” she asked as she wrapped her legs around him.
His heart stopped. Was she saying she wanted to start a family with him? Forever was one thing, but a baby was another. Not that he didn’t want her to carry his babies, all of them, but he had wanted to be married for a while before that. Except he had been married a while already.
Looking up at her from her bre*sts to her eyes, he grinned. “But I have like a hundred condoms.”
“Think again, Brooks. I think you’re well below fifty.” She pulled open the drawer and took out a packet. After all their times together, it was almost always her who pulled out the package and usually make some type of comment about it. Even if getting that many had been a blessing.
Stopping and resting his chin on her stomach, he asked, “Are you ready to have our baby?”
She blinked twice and blushed. “I, um, was just thinking. I mean, no pressure. There are still a lot of condoms, and I know where to get more. Not the drug store of course, online. No big—”
Her words were stopped as his tongue slid through her folds. As usual, it didn’t take long before she was writhing in his arms. With her words of encouragement, he slipped his demanding c*ck into her, making her gasp.
It was only after they were sated and cuddling did he find the unused condom in the bed. Holding it up, he asked, “Do you really want to have my baby?”
Her eyes went to the package and then to him in shock. “I thought you used it.”
Smirking, he k!ssed her nose, “My wife wants a family, so who am I to say no?”
“Are you sure?” she asked, because she needed his assurance he hadn’t made a mistake. That he wouldn’t regret this in morning.
“I’m sure of everything with you, Mia Lawson Brooks. From now until forever,” he promised.