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The idea hit me and before I could chicken out, I went to his cargoes, pulled out his wallet and then pulled out the photo. I returned the wallet, dropped the cargoes and unfolded the photo.

Sophie really was adorable. An unbelievably beautiful child. And Simone was stunning. Looking at her it was clear Hawk didn’t have a type because she looked nothing like me. She had a hint of exotic ethnicity to her and I was as WASP as they came.

I folded the photo back into quarters and palmed it then walked down the stairs.

Hawk was at the stove but he turned to me when I hit the seating area and I kept on going until I collided with his big, hard body, put my arms around his waist and my cheek to his chest.

His arm curved around my shoulders.

“Sleep well, baby?” he asked into my hair.

“Yeah, baby, you?” I asked back.

“Yeah,” he answered.

I gave him a squeeze and he returned it. Then I focused on the skillet on the stove. In it was an egg whites only omelet that had yet to be folded over but had mushrooms and various green bits on one side.

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Tack appreciated food and consumed it in a way that I suspected he lived his life. Not safe and controlled, but with pleasure and abandon. Tack had a mountain hideaway with a fabulous view. Tack was a great kisser. Tack didn’t pin me to the bed in a way that demanded closeness and promised safety but he expected closeness all the same, just not the same way.

That was all good but I still wouldn’t be anywhere but where I was right then.

Even so, I wondered if Lawson was a cuddler.

I watched Hawk expertly flip one side of the omelet over, drop the spatula, turn off the stove and grab the skillet to slide the omelet on a waiting plate. He did this all one-handed, not letting me go.

“You left out the yolks,” I informed him.

“Babe,” he replied, then he shuffled me a few feet in order to get to a drawer, he opened it, grabbed a fork and shuffled me back to his plate. I watched him cut into the omelet and then I watched the fork as he lifted a piece to his mouth. I kept watching as he chewed and swallowed, his eyes on me. “You want one?” he asked.

I fought back a lip curl by pressing them together and shook my head.

He chuckled, deep and manly. Then he went back to his omelet.

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I slid out from under his arm and walked to the fridge. There was a big, rectangular magnet on the side, printed on it a tiny calendar (and, incidentally, this calendar was two years old). On top of the calendar it said, “Zip’s Gun Emporium” and under that in italics “For all your gun and ammo needs”. It was my only choice, Hawk didn’t decorate his fridge with cute magnets and photos and stupid shit like I did.

I resolved to buy a good magnet, one of those clear, plastic picture frame ones or maybe one that had a nice edging and before I could lose my nerve, I unfolded the photo and stuck it to the fridge with Zip’s calendar magnet.

Then I slowly turned to face Hawk and braced.

My eyes hit his, his eyes were on the photo and his face was that blank mask.

“Drop the mask, Cabe,” I ordered gently and his eyes sliced to me.

“I appreciate what you’re tryin’ to do, Gwen, but not ready for that shit,” he replied.

“You carry them in your wallet,” I pointed out, still speaking gently.

“Not ready for that shit, Gwen,” he repeated.

“Then you need to get ready,” I returned quietly, “because, see, last night, when you forgave me, I entered Badass World but you entered Cosmo Girl World and in Cosmo Girl World, there are rules. You don’t live a narrow life that includes nothing but work and work-related leisure activities. You don’t wipe your environment clean of personality. And you don’t keep your emotions in a stranglehold. You go to movies. You go out to nice restaurants. You go out to not-so-nice restaurants if they have fantastic food. You sit around with friends doing nothing but drinking, eating, laughing and bonding. You inject your personality and taste in your surroundings so when people who care about you visit you, they can be surrounded by you. We’re starting with that,” I pointed at the picture, “by bringing Simone and Sophie into the light because there are people in your life who miss them, not as much as you do but they do. And you miss them and they don’t belong folded up and hidden in your wallet, they belong out in the open.” I paused, sucked in breath and finished. “We’ll graduate to the air hockey table.”

The mask cracked when his lips twitched and his eyebrows went up.

“Air hockey table?”

“I vote that first, pool table next and then ping pong. Along the back wall. That is, after you put in a downstairs bathroom, maybe a sauna and also a hot tub,” I added extras as they came to me.

He lost his fight with his smile and ordered softly, “Come here, Sweet Pea.”

I walked to him and he folded me in his arms.

I tipped my head back just in time for his mouth to touch mine.

When he lifted his head he whispered, “All right, they can come into the light.”

“Thanks, baby,” I whispered back. “But they already are, aren’t they?”

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His brows drew together. “Come again?”

“That chair, rug, table and lamp,” I replied. “That’s from your life with them.”

His arms got tight, super tight and I held him close as he battled then he relaxed and nodded.

“Her parents were nightmares so she pretty much grew up with her grandparents. Those are from their house. They were movin’ to Florida when we were startin’ out so they gave them to us and Simone liked havin’ them around so even when we started gettin’ our own shit, she never got rid of them. When she was nursing Sophie, she always sat in that chair and if I was feedin’ her, I always took my girl and did it in that chair. We didn’t live in Denver, we lived in South Carolina but when they died, I got out of the Army first chance I could get and moved back to Denver. Before that, I sold everything, everything from our life, except that chair and everything around it.”

I closed my eyes, planted my face in his chest and sighed.

Well, I guess if he was going to keep something, he picked the right things. The things Simone treasured and the things that surrounded him with memories of his wife and himself nurturing their baby daughter.

God.

“I can’t imagine carrying the weight of your loss, baby,” I whispered into his chest and his hand came to the back of my neck and gave it a squeeze.

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