"What do you mean?"

I'm pretty sure I didn't stutter. "Exactly what I said—she stayed in the States."

"I don't understand. I thought things were going well with the two of you."

"They were—they are—but her career really took off and now she's a big country superstar. Her fans love her and her music. She's worked really hard to get where she is and she just isn't ready to leave it behind yet."

I see her disappointment. "You're telling me she chose her career over you?"

"Don't think poorly of her over this, Mum. I'm doing the same thing to her."

She looks shocked. "But I was so certain she'd give up all of that for you—especially after spending the whole month together."

"I'm confident she will in time, but Laurelyn needs a little longer so she can figure that out on her own. I won't have her hating or blaming me for a life she thinks she missed out on. She needs to experience it all so she can be certain of what she really wants."

"But what if she never wants to leave that life? Glitz and glamour can be very deceiving. You know that from experience." I do, and Laurelyn isn't going to love it for long because she's not that kind of person.

"Trust me, Mum…I know Laurelyn and what she really wants. Right now, she may think it's a dazzling career, but that life won't keep her satisfied. She wants a husband…and babies. Those are things she can't have if she's constantly traveling."

"So, you're going to sit around and wait on her and your life together until God only knows when?"

Yes. That's exactly what I'm going to do. "I don't really have much of a choice at this point, but I'm not worried. It isn't going to take long for her to get enough of that life because it's not all glitz and glamour. Traveling on a tour bus from city to city and sleeping in a different hotel every night isn't going to make her happy. I did it with her for a little while, and I got sick of it pretty fast, so I'm not concerned. She'll be here with me before the holidays. I'm certain of it."

"How can you be so sure?" I can see that she needs further convincing.

This returns the smile to my mum's face. "You asked her to marry you?"

There goes the smile. "What did you say when you gave it to her?"

"I told her she needed time to experience everything that life could hold for her and when she felt like she'd had all she needed, I wanted her to come to me and I'd ask her to be my wife. I asked her to wear the ring as a reminder that I was waiting for her."

She looks a little more hopeful. "Was she surprised?"

"Surprised is probably a good word to describe what she was feeling—among others. I waited too long and panicked, so I did the only thing I could. I gave it to her about two minutes before I boarded my plane."

She looks disgusted with me. "Oh, Jack Henry! Why did you do it that way? That's so unromantic."

"I was waiting for the perfect moment but it never came. I just wanted it to be special—something she'd remember. But then I ran out of time." I try to defend my actions but it's in vain.

"Well, that's one she's never going to forget. Have you spoken to her since you dropped it on her like a bomb?"

Like a bomb—that's the perfect description. "I spoke with her during my stopover in Los Angeles. She was pretty pissed off but I could hear her smiling."

"You can hear Laurelyn's smile over the phone?" I don't think she believes me.

"Of course, I can. Her voice sounds different when she's smiling. It almost sounds like a giggle when she's talking." I think my mum is laughing at me. "What?"

"You. You're so in love with that girl. I can see it on your face and hear it in your voice. It makes me happy to see you this way. And I agree with you. I think she'll come soon because she loves you too."

"I hope so. I'm going to do everything I can to persuade her from afar."

One week apart and I'm surviving—but not well. Laurelyn and I talk every day. It gets me by but that's about all I can say for our conversations. She's so obscure, giving me no indication of where her head is where we're concerned.

I've thrown myself into work as a distraction, much like I did after she left in March. It's very early in the season but things are looking great at all the vineyards. My right-hand men have proven themselves worthy in my absence.

I moved from my apartment in Sydney back to Avalon because it's where I feel closest to her. I pulled one of her little tricks and stole some of her clothes so I could have her smell with me. I might have even stolen some of her knickers as well. I wonder what she'd say about that if she knew. I imagine her calling me a dirty bastard. That's what she usually does when I'm inappropriate—but she loved every filthy thing I did to her. And she will again. I hope soon.

It's time for our daily call so I text to let her know I want to video chat. I want to see and hear her. I'm waiting in my office to give her time to get set up and I take out the undies I've been keeping in the top drawer of my desk. I have a pair for here and another pair I keep in my nightstand. These are the black lace knickers. I bring them to my nose and inhale deeply. They still smell just like her.

I hope she gets her arse down here before these lose her scent or I'll be going back for more.

When I feel like she's had long enough to get ready, I contact her. When I see her beautiful face, I'm ruined all over again. I want to drop everything here and run back to her so I can throw her over my shoulder and haul her down here like the caveman she calls me.

"Hey, baby. It's so good to see you."

"I miss you too. How was work today?" I ask this every time we speak so I can hopefully get some indication on what her plan is, but she's always so vague.

"Same ol' thing as always. We practiced all day in the studio to get ready for the tour."

That's the first time she's mentioned going back on the road. I shouldn't be surprised she's planning to do it since she hasn't mentioned coming here. For a moment, I'm disappointed but then I remember that traveling on that bus and sleeping in hotels is exactly what Laurelyn needs to make her realize she should be here with me.

"Will you try to get a little time off for the holidays to visit? My family really wants to see you again. Mum is having a fit for you to come back, and you might as well know that she wasn't incredibly enthused by the way I left things with you."

She's already told me she'll be busy during the holidays, but I ask again anyway—it's a good way to point out how her job with the band is going to keep us from being together at Christmas.

"Has she given you a hard time?" Such a Laurelyn reply—her way of avoiding answering my question.

"She hasn't been easy on me. I have my orders to have you here for the holidays so the whole family can be together."

She's a part of the McLachlan clan, even if she doesn't realize it yet. "You're part of this family whether you're here or there."

"How is Emma this week?" Why does she do that—switch to a different subject just when I think I'm going to get something out of her?

"She started having contractions yesterday after we spoke, so she had to be admitted to the hospital last night to get the medicine to stop them."

She looks alarmed. "Is it serious?"

"It is, but it happens every time, so we don't get excited like we did when it happened with Celia. Her doctor wants to keep her pregnant another month, but I don't know if that's going to happen. It started a lot earlier this time. The baby would be fine if he was born now. He'd just be small and have to grow in the hospital for a while."

It's my turn to change the subject, and I'm not holding back. "We haven't talked about what kind of wedding you'd want." I think talking about these things will make her more inclined to accept sooner.

"I don't know. What kind do you want?"

Men don't care about those things. "The kind that would make me your husband. That's my only requirement. Big or small?"

"Something small. It would only be your family and friends attending." She looks sad.

"Why do you say that?"

"My mom told me she wouldn't come to Australia. I assume that would include seeing me get married."

That bitch. It's a ploy to get Laurelyn to stay so she won't leave her or her career.

I see the pain in Laurelyn's eyes and I want nothing more than to hold her. But I can't, and it's frustrating as hell. "I would marry you in the States if you want her to be there. I'll come tomorrow if you want me to and my family would drop everything to be there."

"I love you for your willingness to do anything to make me happy, but I couldn't ask that of you or your family. It wouldn't be right to have all of them come here."

That seems promising. "It sounds like you're saying yes."

It's a yes, even if she won't come out and say it. "A non-no. I can live with that for now, but it won't get you by forever."

There is something she can do to get me by. "Would you be willing to do something for me?"

"You know I will."

She's going to think I'm a filthy bastard for sure when I ask her but I can't help it; I'm so hard up for her. It's terrible going from sex every day to nothing at all. "I really need to get off and I'd love to see you naked while I do it."

She thought I was kidding when I mentioned it before I left. I wasn't. "Come on, baby. Do a striptease for me. Please."