Page 36 of Baby Bonanza

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“Nick—” She swallowed hard and a single tear rolled down her cheek. He caught it with the pad of his thumb.

“It would have been much easier on me,” he admitted, “if you’d accepted that half-assed, marriage-of-convenience proposal. Then I wouldn’t have had to acknowledge what I feel for you. Wouldn’t have to take the chance that you’ll throw this back in my face.”

“I wouldn’t do that—”

“Wouldn’t blame you if you did,” he told her. “But since you didn’t go along with my original plan, then I have to tell you everything. I love you, Jenna. Madly. Completely. Desperately.”

Fresh tears welled, making her eyes shine, and everything in him began to melt. What power she had over him. Over his heart. And yet he didn’t care anymore about protecting himself.

All that mattered was her.

“You walk into a room and everything else fades away,” he said softly. “You gave me my sons. You gave me a glimpse into a world that I want to be a part of.”

Another tear joined the first and then another and another. In her arms, Jacob hiccupped, screwed up his little face and started to cry in earnest. Quickly, Nick took the boy from her and cradled him in his free arm. Looking down at his boys, then to her, he said, “Just so you know, I’m not prepared to lose, here. Nick Falco doesn’t quit when he wants something as badly as I want you. I won’t let you go. Not any of you.”

He glanced behind him at the sprawling house, then shifted his gaze back to her again as he outlined his master plan. “We’ll live here. You can do your gift baskets in the house instead of the garage. There’s a great room upstairs that looks over the ocean. Lots of space. Lots of direct light. It’d be perfect for you and all of your supplies.”

She opened her mouth to speak, but Nick kept going before she could.

“I figure until the boys are in school, we can live half the year here, half on board ship. It’ll be good for ’em. And if they like the dog I bought them, we’ll take her along on the ship, too.”

“You bought a d—”

“Golden retriever puppy,” Nick said. “She’s little now, but she’ll grow.”

“I can’t believe—”

The words kept coming, tumbling one after the other from his mouth as he fought to convince her, battled to show her how their lives could be if she’d only take a chance on him.

“Once they’re in school, we can cruise during the summers. I can run the line from here and I have Teresa. I’ll promote her,” he said fiercely. “She can do the onboard stuff and stay in touch via fax.”

“But Nick—”

“And I want more kids,” he said, and had the pleasure of seeing her mouth snap shut. “I want to be there from the beginning. I want to see our child growing within you. I want to be in the delivery room to watch him—or her—take that first breath. I want in on all of it, Jenna. I want to be with you. With them,” he said, glancing at the twins he held cradled against him.

The boys were starting to squirm and he knew how they felt. Nick’s world was balanced on a razor’s edge, and he figured that he had only one more thing to say. “I’m not going to let you say no, Jenna. We belong together, you and me. I know you love me. And damn it, I love you, too. If you don’t believe me, I’ll find a way to convince you. But you’re not getting away from me. Not again. I won’t be without you, Jenna. I can’t do it. I won’t go back to that empty life.”

The only sound then was the snuffling noises the twins were making and the roar of the sea rushing into the cliffs behind them. Nick waited what felt like a lifetime as he watched her eyes.

Then finally she smiled, moved in close to him and wrapped both arms around him and their sons. “You really are an idiot if you think I’d ever let you get away from me again.”

Nick laughed, loud and long, and felt a thousand pounds of dread and worry slide from his shoulders. “You’ll marry me.”

“I will.”

“And have more babies.”

“Yes.” She smiled up at him, and her eyes shone with a happiness so rich, so full, it stole Nick’s breath. “A dozen if you want.”

“And sail the world with me,” he said, dipping his head to claim a kiss.

“Always,” she said, still smiling, still shining with an inner light that warmed Nick through. “I love you, Nick. I always have. We’ll be happy here, in this wonderful house.”

“We will,” he assured her, stealing another kiss.

“But you’re going to be housetraining that puppy,” she teased.

“For you, my love,” Nick whispered, feeling his heart become whole for the first time in his life, “anything.”

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