Taylor shook his head, confused. “What does that mean?”

“I can’t have any more kids.”

His eyes fell to the floor as he thought about my words.

“I left my parents because I was surrounded by the things they’d promised, and I didn’t want it … any of it. I realized that anything I took from them was tarnished. It was all something I’d traded my own child for.”

Taylor reached out for me, but I pulled away.

“I just wanted to see her,” I said. “I can’t raise her. I accept that. But I can still be in at least one of her memories. Some days, I think that’s the only place where I want to exist.”

“No wonder what?” I said, wiping my cheeks with my sleeve.

“Why you hate your parents so much.”

“I hate myself more,” I said, only just realizing this as I said the words aloud.

He clenched his jaw. “I can’t imagine someone making me feel so alone that I would feel like I had to give up my child.”

My eyes stared at nothing as I became lost in the memory. “I held her for just a few precious moments. Her entire body fit in my hands,” I said, showing Taylor how tiny she was. “I cried more than she did. I already loved her, and I knew I would never see her again. William wouldn’t come into the room. Blaire called him, but he stayed in the hall. He refused to even look at his grandchild, the thing threatening his entire campaign.”

I laughed once. “A baby. She was just a baby. Blaire whispered in my ear as I held Olive, as I cried over her, careful not to let the nurses hear. She said, ‘It’s called sacrifice. It’s the most loving thing you can do for her.’ And maybe she was right. Olive has a good life with Shane and Liza.”

“I’ve made it on my own—from nothing. I could have taken care of her. It would have been hard, but she was mine, and I was hers.” I sniffed. “I would have been a good mom.”

I looked up at him, seeing him with a new perspective and seeing myself through his eyes. It was almost easy not to hate the woman he saw. He’d glued a few of my broken pieces back together in a few weeks. I’d been trying to do that for more than five years.

“You need to stop,” I said.

“I’m—” I bit my lip hard, punishing myself for my next words. “I’m a mess. I’m nothing, and I’m going nowhere.”

Half of his mouth curled up into a smile. “You’re with me, right? That’s not nowhere.”

“You don’t want me. I’m a coward,” I whispered. “I was more worried about material things than keeping my child.”

“You’re wrong. I want you more than anything I’ve ever wanted in my life.”

I leaned my head into his chest. He pulled me against him, holding me, while my entire body rattled with overwhelming sobs. The harder I cried, the tighter he held me. He kissed my hair while whispering words of comfort, trying anything to make the pain stop.

“We’re here, in Eakins. Somehow, we’re going to fix this,” he said as I quieted down.

I finally took a deep breath, letting my body melt into his embrace.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that I don’t just want you.” He laughed once, nervous. “I can’t stay away from you. That qualifies as need.”

I looked up at him, managing a small smile. “You’re just trying to be the hero again.”

He wiped away a tear from under my eye with his thumb, and then he gently cupped my cheeks in both of his hands. “It’s more than that.” A line formed between his brows. “I have an idea what it is, but it scares the shit out of me to say it out loud.”

I pressed my lips together, seeing the desperation in his eyes. “So, don’t say it. Show me.”

He slowly shook his head and looked down at my mouth. He inched closer, his breath skipping as he anticipated what was about to happen.

The air between us electrified. Every beat of my heart was banging so loud that I was sure he could hear it. I wanted nothing more than for him to hold me tighter, for us to be closer.

His fingers pressed into my skin as his lips barely grazed mine, but we both startled when someone knocked on the door.

“Falyn?” Abby called from the other side. “You okay? It sounded like you were crying.”

Taylor’s shoulders sagged, and he took a few steps to turn the doorknob.

Abby’s concern was replaced by anger the instant she saw my face. “What the hell is going on?”

Abby glared at him with accusing eyes. “She’s bawling. She’s not okay.”

Taylor’s eyebrows lifted, and he looked at everyone around him. “But it’s not because of me. I’d let Travis beat the shit out of me before I made her cry like that.”

“I’m okay,” I said with an appreciative smile. “We’re not fighting.”

Travis made his presence known, stepping into the doorway next to his wife. “Since when does a Maddox not fight with his girl?”

Abby tried not to smile, and she nudged him in the ribs with her elbow.

“It’s not like I trashed the room or anything,” Taylor said.

I wasn’t sure what he’d meant, but the mention wiped the smug grin off Travis’s face.

Unable to let Taylor take the heat any longer, I spoke up, “We’re talking about something else, something that happened a long time ago.”

“Oh,” Travis said, suddenly enlightened. “Past shit. We know all about past shit.”

Abby narrowed her eyes at Taylor. “What did you say to her?”

Abby pointed at him. “You’d better not have brought her here just to make her cry, Taylor Dean!”

“That I love her! Kind of.” He paused and then turned to me.

My breath caught. “You … what? I’m pretty sure you didn’t say anything close to that.”

“Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to say for a while,” Taylor grumbled.

Abby’s mouth fell open, and then she smiled.

Taylor ignored our audience and took a few steps until he was just inches away from me. He scanned my face with such adoration in his eyes that I began to tear up again.

“Pussy,” Travis said, hooking his arm around his wife.

Taylor took an offensive step toward his taller, younger brother, and Travis leaped back with an amused smile. I stood and gripped Taylor’s T-shirt, holding him back. He didn’t put up much of a fight.

Abby rolled her eyes. “Just let me know if you need back-up, Falyn. I will kick his ass from here to Sunday.”

“Aw, c’mon, Abby,” Taylor said. “I just told the girl I love her, and you’re makin’ me sound like a bag full of dicks.”

“You are a bag full of dicks,” Abby said. “Stop making her cry.”

Taylor’s mouth fell open, and then he slammed the door in their faces.

I wiped my eyes and sat on the end of the bed. “Was that for them?”