Her throat tightened. “You can’t afford me,” she whispered.
“Sure I can. I’ll pay you in ’cue and loving. How can you pass that up?”
She glanced at him quickly. He was smiling, but there was something behind it. Hell, what do I do now?
She licked her lips. “’Cue and loving? Sounds like a plan.”
“I’m not kidding, Darcy,” he said slowly. “Which is rare, believe me. But this time it’s true. I’m not kidding.”
She exhaled a long, shuddering breath. “I don’t… What does that mean?”
“It means I love you, toots. What did you think it meant?” His hand closed more firmly on hers.
She took another deep breath. Suddenly her chest felt way too tight. For a scary moment she thought she might pass out. Terrific. Love means being unconscious.
“Darce?” He sounded concerned. “I didn’t mean to give you a panic attack. Just relax, okay?”
“How can I relax?” she said through gritted teeth. “You said you love me. Nobody has ever said that before. Hell, I’ve never said that before.”
He paused. “Are you saying it now?”
Oh god, oh god, oh god. “Yeah. Okay. Yes. I’m saying it now.”
There was another long pause. “It might be nice if you actually said it, you know.”
She took another deep breath, then blew it out. “I love you.”
He narrowed his eyes. “That sounds like you’re in pain.”
“I am in pain,” she muttered. “I’m scared to death.”
“Come here.” He held out his arms to her. After a moment, she pushed herself to her feet, then dropped onto the lounge chair with him, feeling his arms close tight around her shoulders.
“No reason to be scared, Darce,” he murmured. “It won’t hurt. I promise.”
It already hurts. But she didn’t say it. Instead, she sank deeper into his arms, closing her eyes tight. If this was a dream, maybe she’d wake up happy.