This takes place immediately following the end of Worth It.
I bent to kiss him, because he demanded it, then jerked back as a realization struck. I peered down into his bright blue eyes—they were still a bit wet—watching as confusion marred his brow.
I shook my head. “Nothing. I just—I just realized that this is our first Christmas together.”
There was a second of silence, then Ryan started to smile even as he rolled his eyes. “That’s because you were an idiot and broke up with me on Christmas Eve.”
I scowled and pulled back a little. “I didn’t break up with you!” I protested, a bit indignant. “I let you go to make your dreams come true. And it worked, didn’t it? It was the right thing to do.”
“Jack—“ Ryan tried to interrupt, but I was on a roll.
“You think it was easy for me to let you go? Because it sure as fuck wasn’t! It felt like I was ripping out my own heart. But I knew it was the only way so I let you go but that didn’t mean I didn’t die a little bit each day you were gone.”
“Jack—“ he tried again. Except after years of keeping this all bottled up, it was finally spilling free and I couldn’t stop.
“It killed me, Ryan. Killed. Me. I was barely existing. Just holding on to the hope that you would come back to me even though I never expected that you would. What the hell, Ryan? I never wanted to say good-bye to you. I just wanted you to have what you wanted!”
“Jackson!” he shouted and I finally looked him square in the eye. I could see the pain there and I immediately wanted to soothe it. My words had hurt him. I never meant for that to happen. But when I reached for him, he took a step back. Now he didn’t want me to touch him? Fuck! I had fucked this up so badly. I should have just kept silent.
“I love you,” he said quietly after a moment.
My breath whooshed out in relief. “I love you too.”
He nodded. “I know you do. I knew it then. I knew you had to love me completely. Because you were letting me go to chase my dreams. I’m just sad that you thought I wasn’t coming back. I was always coming back, Jack. And, I’m not going to lie, it hurts a little that you didn’t have faith in me.”
I grabbed him before he could get any further away from me and hauled him into my arms, squeezing him so tightly I could hear him struggle to draw breath. That didn’t make me release my hold. I buried my face down in the side of his neck and just soaked in his scent. God, I had missed that.
The touch calmed us both. Finally, I was able to pull back to look at him. “I’m sorry that I didn’t trust that you knew what you wanted. You were nineteen. And you were going to be amazing. I wouldn’t have faulted you for making a life without me.”
He scowled and it was still damn adorable. “You’re an idiot. How could I have any kind of life without you in it?”
The words were said with such conviction that I had no choice but to believe them whole heartedly. Something in the back of my mind eased. I had always known that we were meant to be together, to make a life together. There was always a part of me that held on to the hope that he would return. Even when I was telling myself that he’d found something better in his new life across the country, there had always been hope that he would come back to me. As long as he stayed right here with me, I would have no trouble believing we were meant to be.
I kissed him, pulling his smaller body tight against mine. He melted into me, his body surrendering to my control, little happy noises sneaking out of him. I reveled in it. In his taste and the feel of him against me. It’s how I knew my world was whole again.
He pulled back and sucked in a big breath. His eyes shone with lust and I couldn’t help but return his grin. “I propose we start a new Christmas tradition. Start the way you aim to go, you know?”
“Oh yeah?” I asked breathily. “What’s that?”
“Let’s start every Christmas morning with coffee and kisses,” he paused, then waggled his eyebrows. “Followed immediately by you fucking me stupid on the floor by the tree.”
My grin grew as I pointedly looked at our empty coffee mugs and then dropped my gaze to his kiss swollen lips. Ryan took a step back. Then slowly, he took another. His smile turned positively sinful as he whipped off his shirt, threw it at me, then raced into the living room. I was hot on his heels. This was one Christmas tradition I fully supported.