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Dr. Daddy's Perfect Christmas Jules Bennett 2022/8/5 16:55:37

“I’ve always loved this spot the most,” she told him, looking down at the water, outlined by snow.

Eli leaned down, wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her against his side. “I know. You told me you wanted to get married in this park, right here on the bridge.”

Shocked, Nora turned her head to look up at him. “You remember that?”

That had always been her idea of a dream wedding, but dreams obviously change.

“I assumed you and Todd would marry here.”

Nora shook her head. “I would’ve, but he was being deployed soon so we just went to the courthouse.”

The muscle in Eli’s jaw ticked and Nora looked back down to the water.

“You’ve had to give up so much,” he murmured. “And you still find the positive outcome in everything.”

“I learned long ago there’s always someone with bigger problems than me. In the grand scheme of things, I don’t have many problems. I’m healthy, my baby is healthy.”

Eli’s hand on her waist slid slightly around to rest on the side of her belly. The warmth from his touch reached through all the layers and she loved the strength he possessed.

“Sometimes I wish I’d never left you.”

Nora froze, turning her body and resting her bottom on the bridge railing. Looking down to her brown gloves, she stared at the creases in the leather, focusing on anything other than his admission.

“When I first left I questioned myself every single day,” he went on, still staring out across the creek. “My first deployment helped keep my mind off you, but then Todd started talking about you and I knew the two of you had started something. I tried to tell myself that was for the best, that you’d moved on and you deserved to be happy. I knew after he got out he planned on living in Stonerock.”

Nora bit her lip, saddened by the pain lacing his voice.

“But I hated every time he would mention your name as if you belonged to him. Because in my mind, you were still mine.”

Nora’s heart literally ached. “We’ll always share a bond, Eli. You were my first love.”

He turned his face toward hers, shifted his body and braced a hand on either side of her hips. “You were my first love, too, Nora. A love I’m finding may have never left me.”

Before she could react or question his bombshell, his cool lips slid over hers gently, slowly, as if getting to know her all over again, as if they weren’t familiar.

Nora held on to his thick arms, trying to steady herself as his gentleness overtook her. Had he just declared his love?

Pressing her hands against his chest, she eased back. “Eli, you can’t spring things like that on me.”

His eyes met hers. “I know, but I can’t keep it inside, either, Nora. It is what it is.”

“That’s it?” She waited until another young couple walked by. “You kiss me, you say you love me, but you do nothing about it.”

“Because this point in our lives isn’t good for me to act on my feelings. I’m only here for a short time. What good would come of moving forward?”

Nora closed her eyes, drew in a deep breath and prayed for courage, prayed for surviving the heartache that would inevitably come. “Please, don’t say things to me that will only hurt. I can’t handle them.”

When Eli’s hands framed her face, Nora opened her eyes and took in his tortured look. Didn’t they both have broken hearts brought on by no one other than themselves?

“I don’t say things to hurt you. I say them because I know you feel this, too.”

Why lie? There was no getting away from this discussion or these emotions.

“I do,” she whispered. “I’ve tried to ignore the fact that every time I’m around you I’m happier. I don’t want to depend on anyone again. I can’t.”

Because in the end they all leave.

“I’m not asking you to depend on me,” he told her. “Maybe…maybe I’m asking if I can lean on you while I’m here. I need you in my life, Nora.”

“As what, Eli? Your friend…or more?”

It was naive of her to hold out hope. She swallowed.

“Are you staying?” she asked, almost afraid of the answer.