It was the kiss that undid her.
So tender, it was breaking her heart. She could feel the emotion behind it. The love that Leo had to give but had locked away so that he could keep himself safe from a connection that meant risking everything. Could he not feel how much he was giving up for that safety?
It was Maia who broke that kiss and her heart broke a little bit more.
‘Did you and Sophia say traditional vows at your wedding?’ Her words seemed to come from nowhere. ‘The “till death us do part” ones?’
Maia was a bit shocked by what she was saying but it was nothing compared to the expression on Leo’s face. He let go of her and stepped back, staring at her as if she’d slapped him.
‘It’s just that I think your nonna is a very wise woman,’ Maia continued. ‘I know you think you’re keeping the memory of someone you loved so much alive by not letting anyone else into that space, but you know what?’
Leo was still staring at her, horrified. Maia knew she’d hurt him and she hated that. She could feel tears gathering and she needed to get into her car and go somewhere nobody could see her before she let them out. She also had to finish what she needed to say. Sometimes something had to hurt before you could heal.
‘What you’re really doing is stopping yourself from being properly alive, Leo.’ Maia swallowed hard. ‘You deserve so much more than that and…and I really hope you can find it one day.’
It took more courage than Maia knew she had, to find a smile and then walk to her car and drive off into her future. She knew she wouldn’t have had that kind of courage a few days ago but she had it now.
It was another gift that Leo had given her.
It wasn’t supposed to feel like this.
Leo had fully expected that saying goodbye to Maia would be like seeing Cassidy taken out of his life, with any sadness far outweighed by the knowledge that this was how it had to be. That this was the best for everyone concerned.
Except…it didn’t have to be this way, did it?
He tidied up the breakfast dishes, knowing that he would never cook anything for Maia again. He’d never again feel that pleasure in watching her enjoy the food he’d prepared and the warmth of caring for someone else.
He straightened his bed before leaving for the medical centre, knowing that he would never again experience anything like the physical connection he’d found with Maia.
He heard the laughter of children on their way to school and could feel echoes of how it had made him feel to hear Maia laugh and he saw a dog being walked and remembered the love she’d offered to Colin the collie. In hindsight, when he remembered the way she’d kissed him this morning and said that she’d never forget him, maybe her love might have been on offer to him as well. He been too blind to see it. Or perhaps he just refused to see it.
By the time Leo got to work, he was missing Maia enough for the world to feel…empty.
She was right.
He felt less alive.
He also felt as if he was standing at the most significant crossroads in his life. He had the choice of a completely new direction he could take. One that he’d never expected or wanted to find but there it was. Leo could see it so clearly. He could feel it. He wanted it.
But did he have the courage to take that first step? To risk…everything…?
‘Here it is…’ The hotel manager opened the door with a flourish. ‘The honeymoon suite.’
‘Wow…’ Maia walked towards floor-to-ceiling windows with a panoramic view of Coogee Bay curving between craggy headlands. She could see acres of white sand, turquoise water that merged with the dark blue of deeper water that, in turn, merged with a cloudless sky. ‘It’s perfect…’
It was. There was a balcony to soak in the view and the sunsets, the biggest, most comfortable bed Maia had ever bounced on, the most luxurious bathroom ever and an in-house menu that offered whatever her heart could desire.
The only problem there was that what her heart desired most wasn’t here and that was creating a hole big enough to fall into. Enough to make this perfection feel pointless. A glitzy wrapper around a gift that was only an empty box.
Maia was not going to let herself sink into that feeling. She had so much to look forward to. It was warm enough to swim. She knew there was a gorgeous walk from this beach around to Bondi and shops and restaurants to explore. She was going to make the most of this.
The sun was setting by the time Leo got out of his car at the end of his day and he had to pause for a moment. He’d never been to Coogee Beach before and this was absolutely stunning with the glow of the sun lighting a path across a glimmering sea. It was like a spotlight on the hotel across the road. He looked up automatically even though he knew it would be impossible to recognise someone, even if they were at the top where the penthouse would be. Even if they were hanging over the balcony watching the sunset.
But he could recognise Maia.
It felt like he’d always know she was nearby because he could feel it with some kind of inexplicable biological reaction that was centred in his chest.
In his heart.
It took too long to get to the top floor of this hotel but, when he saw the open door, he knew that he hadn’t been the only one to feel the presence of a person that mattered more than anyone else on earth.
Maia was waiting for him on the balcony, with the sunset lighting up the flickers of flames in her hair. With her eyes sparkling as much as the champagne that was already poured.
‘Two glasses?’ Leo stepped close enough to touch Maia but he didn’t. Not yet. He wanted to feel this. This certainty that this was where he was meant to be. Where he wanted to be for the rest of his life. ‘How did you know?’
‘I didn’t.’ Maia’s voice was a whisper. ‘I just wanted to dream a little. I was missing you, Leo. I… I love you. Or did you know that already?’
‘Maybe…’ Leo tried to smile but the moment was too big. ‘What I didn’t know was that I love you, too. It’s not a question of keeping my heart safe because you already have it. For as long as you want it.’
Maia was in his arms as he finished speaking, lifting her face for his kiss. ‘How `bout forever?’ she murmured. ‘I’m pretty sure that’s how long I want you.’
‘Just as well.’ With the sunset behind them making the whole world glow, Leo could give in to the need to kiss Maia. ‘But it might not be quite long enough for me.’
He dipped his head, his lips hovering just about Maia’s. ‘I called in a favour at work,’ he said softly. ‘I’ve got another few days off. Would it be okay if we have a honeymoon before we get married?’
Maia was smiling but her lips were wobbly. ‘I think it would rude not to.’
That first kiss wasn’t quite long enough, either.
Leo and Maia held each other’s gaze for a heartbeat and then kissed again. They had all the time in the world, after all.
Because they had forever.
If you loved this book, then don’t miss the latest warm and emotional medical romance, The Vets Unexpected Family.by Alison Roberts
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