“Oh.” Larry looked between the two of them with a sudden frown. Looking terribly uncomfortable, he backed away from them. “Sure. Okay. Great.” He closed the door with a click behind him.
Mary’s mouth trembled as she stared at the cut on Jack’s eyebrow. “Oh God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“I am hurting,” he told her as he took both of her hands in his, “but not because you threw the ring at me. What hurts more than anything is that you’ve doubted for even one second that the love I feel for you is real.”
She took a shaky breath. “I need to know why you didn’t wait until the product was launched to ask me to marry you.”
“I had to ask you because I couldn’t wait one more second to know that you’d be mine. Forever. I know the timing was bad, that there’s so much going on already—”
“Wait,” she said, interrupting him, “don’t you mean the timing was perfect?” She gestured toward the other room. “That way we could do this photo shoot and interviews today to sell your invention as a couple.”
Awareness dawned with the suddenness of a hammer knocking him on the head. Even though Jack loved her more than he had—or would—ever love anyone else, he wanted to shake her. “You think I was using you like Romain did.”
Her beautiful eyes flashed with an array of emotions. Fear. Hope. And something that looked a little like shame. “Everyone was so happy for us today, and that was lovely, but then I started putting the pieces together. Allen already had the champagne. How easily you stepped in front of the camera. And then I heard Howie and Larry talking about how perfect the timing was, and how the news of the fairy-tale engagement between the model and the engineer was going to get even more press and sell even more units than I would have representing it alone. What else was I supposed to think?”
“That I love you. And that I will never hurt you like that spineless scumbag did.”
Mary had made her living with her expressive, beautiful face for over a decade. She knew how to change her look from happy to sad to pensive between one frame and the next. But she’d never hidden her emotions from Jack, which was why he could easily read the hope on her face along with the continued fear.
“But the first time you saw me, the first time you spoke to me, you wanted me for your business.”
“That day I saw you in Union Square, I felt as if a lightning bolt had stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew you’d be perfect to represent the Pocket Planner, but more important, I knew you’d be perfect for me.” He held her gaze, forcing her to recognize the truth in his. “I know I fumbled in the diner and said everything wrong, but business never came first. Never. And I always wanted you for you.”
“But you didn’t even know me that first day.”
“Yes, I did. I’ve always known you, Mary.”
“How?” she asked in a whisper, as if she still couldn’t possibly believe that he loved her.
Last night after he’d proposed and she’d accepted, she’d said, “I can’t believe you love me. I can’t believe this is real.” Caught up in her kisses, in the heat between them, he hadn’t wanted to read too much into it, hadn’t wanted to admit that there was anything wrong.
But now he knew. She’d still doubted his love.
“I know you, Angel, because every time you smile I see the honest warmth in your eyes. And that first day in Union Square, when you picked up that little girl who ran onto the set and laughed with her, I saw that your beauty ran much, much deeper than the surface. Every moment I’ve spent with you since then has made me love you more.”
“But I just accused you of hurting me and then I threw your ring at you, and I hurt you.” She looked up again at the nick on his eyebrow with deep regret. “How can you forgive me?”
“Because I love you.”
“I thought my mother loved me, too, but she never forgave me for the way I behaved. For the things I said.”
Everything became clear in an instant. Mary had been told she was loved and had loved back with an open and honest heart, first with her mother, and then with Romain…only to have her love thrown away as if it were worthless.
“I don’t care how much you yell,” he told her. “I don’t care how many things you throw at me. I’m not going anywhere, Mary. Not now. Not ever. I loved you from the first moment, and I will love you until the last.”
She reached for his face, held it in her hands. “That’s why it hurt so badly to think that what you felt for me might not be real…because I knew it would never change what was in my heart. Because I knew I would still keep on loving you. And while I can’t promise not to yell sometimes, or lose my temper, or to make assumptions that are completely wrong because I’m frightened, I can promise to never take your ring off again. Please,” she said softly, “will you put it back on my finger?”
Not wanting to let each other go, they moved together so that he could still hold her hand while reaching for the ring on the floor.
He looked deep into her eyes as he slid the ring back into place. “Forever.”
She echoed the word against his lips. It would have been easier to just keep kissing her, to lose himself in her warmth, her softness, and save everything else for later. But he had always been honest with her, and he always would be.
“You need to know why Allen knew I was going to ask you to marry me.” Jack had never worried much about pride, but for the second time in twenty-four hours, he found himself swallowing it. “The moment I saw the ring, I knew I wanted you to have it, and I wanted you to wear it as a symbol of our love for each other.”