“What about your ankle?” Austin hesitated.
“My ankle’s fine. There’s no swelling or bruising. And I want to dance.” Sara’s tone reminded him of when she laid down the law with the kids.
As much as Austin wanted nothing more than to take Sara in his arms and sway to the music with her, he was worried she hadn’t rested enough. Since he’d spent the entire day with Brielle, he knew that she’d probably been on her feet all day.
After getting Brielle and Anaya in the car and headed to the airport he’d barely made it to the community center in time to watch Charlotte and Trevor perform in the talent show. Thankfully the older kids went first because they didn’t want to follow the younger ones. As soon as it was over they walked out and saw that the end of festival street dance was in full swing. Charlotte and her “sister” were dancing beside them. And Trevor was down by the lake throwing the ball with Ali’s nephew KJ. The teen was pretty impressed with Trev’s arm and Austin didn’t blame him. He was already thinking about trying to get him down to Wishing Well to his cousin JJ’s complex.
Next summer. It should be odd or feel strange that he was planning things with the kids over a year away, but it wasn’t. It might be unwise since he had no idea where Sara stood, but not strange.
It was still crazy to him how much had changed in such a short amount of time. For so long, all he’d had to worry about was himself. Even when he’d been engaged, he’d never really worried about Brielle. She had a good job, good friends, and a good family. When he was gone, he’d known she had a support system.
But now he didn’t just have Sara, he had Charlotte and Trevor too. He loved every second he spent with them. Not that it was all fun and games. Charlotte got really cranky around four o’clock if she didn’t get a nap, and Trevor hated sharing any of his toys with his little sister, which led to several fights a day. If they had too much junk food, there were serious tummy aches, and if Charlotte saw anything in a movie even remotely scary, it was almost a guarantee there’d be a nightmare to follow. It was difficult to have any kind of an adult conversation while they were awake, and as much as a day was planned out, surprises always came up and you had to adjust. And he loved it. He loved all of it.
Before he’d met Sara, he didn’t know what he was missing. But now that he did, he had no plans to let it go.
“Seriously, I’m fine, and I want to dance,” she insisted. “But if you don’t want to dance with me, I’m sure I can find someon—”
“You’re a brat,” he growled and pulled Sara up into his arms and spun her onto the dance area. Her head fell back and she laughed. He loved seeing her so happy. So carefree.
When “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You” started playing, he lowered her to the ground and they began swaying back and forth.
She looked up at him and scrunched her face in his favorite way. “Does Marvin Gaye sing this?”
“Oh my gosh.” She chuckled. “Shelby would love this.”
“Your sister is a big Marvin Gaye fan?”
“No.” A blush rose on Sara’s cheeks and she shook her head. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Okay.” He was very interested to find out the backstory behind the sudden blush, but that could wait. What he needed to tell her couldn’t.
“How did things go…back at the B&B?” There was a mix of concern and maybe a little nervousness in Sara’s eyes.
Austin tightened his grip around her waist. The fact that she’d waited this long to ask him, was proof she was a one of a kind. She hadn’t been upset when he’d had to bail on her at dinner. And instead of being mad that he’d abandoned her on her last day together to talk to his ex, her face had lit up when she’d seen him walk into the auditorium and she’d told him that she was so glad he made it.
“It was good. Sort of. She had a lot to say. Some of it wasn’t easy to hear, but I’m glad I listened. There’s always two sides to every story, and I’m glad I know hers now. It was closure. Just like you said.”
Sara grinned. “I have to admit, I was a little nervous that she wanted you back.”
“Oh she did. At first. But I don’t think it was about me. Steve, my best friend, left her for some girl at his gym.”
Sara hissed through her teeth.
“Yeah. She’s scared because she has Anaya and she’s alone. But I told her that she doesn’t need anyone. She’s strong and a great mom. She doesn’t need a man.”
“Especially the wrong one.” Sara sighed. “So she’s okay?”
“Yeah. She’s going to go stay with her mom and go back to school.”
“I’m glad you talked to her.” Sara smiled, looking genuinely happy for his ex.
He was done talking about his past. He needed to talk about his future. Especially since his future planned on getting in a car and driving away from him in the morning.
“I need to talk to you about something.” He could hear his tone grow serious, but he was unable to stop it. This was serious.
Her shoulders stiffened and alarm flashed on her face. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s wrong, I just…” He knew he was blowing this. “I spoke to Karen and Sly, and they want to continue on as the caretakers of the B&B.”
The worry that had shadowed Sara’s features instantly morphed into happiness. “Oh good. I’m so glad. I was hoping you’d let them stay on if they wanted to. I wanted to ask you about it but…”
Her left shoulder lifted in a shrug. “It wasn’t my place.”
“That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about. It is your place. My life is your place, your business, and I want your life and the kids’ lives to be my place. My business. We may have only known each other for a week, but that doesn’t change the truth. And the truth is that me, you, the kids, we’re an us. We belong together.
“The reason I spoke to the Carpenters is because I wanted to make sure the B&B would be taken care of when I move to California.”
Sara stopped mid sway. “You’re moving to California?”
“Yes. I am. I’m sorry about last night. I know it was unfair of me to ask you to stay here with me when you have the kids and family in Hope Falls.” While he was talking to Brielle it hit him what the unsettled feeling he’d had about their talk was. He’d been selfish. She shouldn’t have to change her plans for him. He needed to change his plans for her. He just hoped she was okay with it.
As he stared into her eyes, he grinned at the stunned expression on her face. Brushing a stray hair from her forehead, he tucked it behind her ear as he explained, “So instead of asking you to stay, I’m asking to go where you are. Because you’re my home, Sara. You and the kids. I love you. I think I’ve loved you from the second I saw you. We can take things as slow as you want. If it was up to me I would marry you tonight, move in together, and start building our life with the kids. But I know that might sound crazy to you. We can date, or just get to know each other better. If you don’t want me in Hope Falls because you think it will confuse the kids, I can move to Lake Ta—”
“I’m not moving to Hope Falls,” she blurted out.
“What?” Austin wasn’t sure he’d heard her right.
A smile slowly spread on her beautiful face. “I’m not moving to Hope Falls.”
“Oh, okay, well then I’ll move to Arizona. I’ll go wherever I have to go to be with you.”
“Well, that might be easier than you think.” Her grin grew wider, and he saw tears filling her bottom lids. “I called the movers this morning and told them there was a change of plans and they needed to come to Illinois instead of California.”
“You did?” Austin asked in disbelief.
She nodded. “I did.”
“You don’t have to do that. I can move—”
She lifted her hand and rested it on his chest. “I want to. Trevor and Charlotte love it here. And I do too. I didn’t know it until my very wise sister pointed it out, but I do. She told me I had fallen in love with two things. You and Whisper Lake. And she was right. I have.”
“You love me?” He needed to hear her say the words.
“Yes, I love you.” Sara let out a forced laugh. “And I think we shouldn’t take it slow. I like your plan. Getting married, building our life together.”
“Are you sure?” He asked the same thing she’d asked him all week.
“As much as it terrifies me, yes. I’m sure.”
He lifted her in his arms and hugged her firmly against him as he buried his face in her neck. Happiness like he’d never experienced rushed through him, and he inhaled the sweet strawberry scent of her soft, silky hair. He whispered in her ear as he tightened his hold around her, “You don’t have to be scared. I’ll drive.”
He could feel her head nodding against his shoulder when he heard Trevor calling for her and saw him running toward them. He lowered her down, and before her feet even touched the ground, Trevor was in front of them.
“Mom…can I…go…to…Cassidy and…Kimber’s for….dinner?” he managed to get out between pants. “They’re making their own pizzas and Mrs. Caldwell said the more the harrier.”
“Merrier,” Sara corrected with a grin.
“Mommy, I want to go to dinner,” Charlotte, who’d been dancing beside them with Sally, chimed in when she heard her brother ask.
“Oh…um…well…” Sara looked uncertain of how to answer Charlotte.
Before she got the chance Trevor’s face dropped. “Oh no! What about the castle?! It’s our last night!”
“Actually.” Sara wiped the tears from under her eyes. “This isn’t our last night. I told the movers to bring our stuff here. I was thinking, we should stay in Whisper Lake instead of going to Hope Falls.”
Both kids just stared up at their mom, faces blank. For a second, Austin started thinking maybe they weren’t happy about the news.
“For serious?” Trevor asked, his eyes wide.
“For serious,” Sara said, then realized she’d made yet another decision without even checking to see what they thought. “Unless, you guys don’t want—”
“We do! We do!”
“We want to stay!”
The kids jumped up and down and cheered.
“Good, then it’s settled.” Sara leaned against Austin’s chest, and he wrapped his arm around her and kissed her on the top of her head.
As fast as the celebration had started, it ended.
“Can I go to Mrs. Caldwell’s?” Trevor asked.
“I guess so.” Sara agreed.
“They had to go to a store but she said she could come back and pick me up if you said yes.”
“I have to go potty.” Charlotte tugged on Sara’s arm.
Sara’s gaze met his, and he could see that, like him, she’d wanted to bask in the excitement for just a little longer. But thankfully, they’d have plenty of time for that. They’d have forever.
“I’ll take him. You take her?” he offered.
“Perfect.” She smiled.
As he watched the two women in his life walk to the bathroom, he knew he was the luckiest man in the world. He hadn’t just found and fallen in love with the sweetest, funniest, sexiest, smartest, most incredible woman that had ever existed, he’d also gotten two amazing kids in the deal.
“Can I call Mrs. Caldwell?” Trevor asked with an urgency that would normally be reserved for 911 calls.
Austin ruffled his hair. “It’s okay. I’ll drive.”