She knew before she rose to her tip toes and looked through the peephole who would be on the other side. She opened the door. “Hey.”
Carlos stood on the dimly lit front porch, his hands stuffed into the pockets of the thick canvas jacket she’d helped him pick out. “Can I come in?”
“The kids are asleep,” she whispered, holding the door open as he walked past her. Her body tingled with an awareness that, if she were honest, had always been there. She followed him into the living room where he prowled around the tiny perimeter, pausing to glance at pictures he’d seen dozens of times. His energy was contagious. She didn’t want to sit, but join him in pacing. She wished, for the first time, that the kids weren’t at home so she could suggest a walk, a way to distract them from the conversation she knew they were about to have.
He stopped to pat Santiago absently on the head. The dog stretched and rolled to his back, the demand obvious. Carlos knelt next to the couch and rubbed the rangy mutt’s stomach.
“Do you want something to drink?” Sami asked, wishing she could snag her glass from where it sat, inches from the man and dog.
Carlos shook his head. “I’d better not.” He gave Santiago one last scratch and stood. “Look, Sami. You’re right. We need to talk.”
Sami crossed her arms in front of her, bracing herself for the emotional onslaught. She knew how these talks went. Hadn’t Franklin had the same one with her? With a world shattering variation?
“I like you, Sami. A lot.”
Sami nodded her head, not trusting herself to speak. She waited for the but.
Carlos stepped towards her and set his hands on her arms, rubbing them gently. “Don’t freak out on me.”
“I’m not.” Sami wanted to cringe at her tone.
“You are. Look. I can wait. It doesn’t have to be now, but the thing is, I need to know if I even have a shot or if I’m wasting my time on something that isn’t going to ever happen.”
Sami closed her eyes. Silence blanketed the room, as she struggled with fears and old pain. Carlos’s hands continued rubbing her arms, soft, soothing strokes anchoring her to the present. She opened her mouth, whispering the words her heart wanted her to speak. “I like you too. A lot.”
“Tell me that with your eyes open.”
Sami lifted her lids and looked into Carlos’s warm brown eyes. “I like you too.”
Carlos raised his eyebrows expectantly.
“A lot,” she finished.
His face split into a smile, relaxing the lines of worry and stress she hadn’t even realized were there. He pulled her too him, gripping her in a hug tight enough to make her ribs ache.
“But,” she whispered into his neck, “I’m scared.”
Carlos pulled back, unlocking her stiff arms and running his hands down her arm to grip her fingers. “I’m scared, too.”
Sami snorted. “You’re young and hot,” she flushed, “and I’m, well…” she pulled their hands to the side, exposing her body. “I’m not.”
Carlos stepped closer until his chest touched hers and the air seemed to leave her lungs. He stared at her steadily. “I could kill that man for making you doubt yourself. Trust me. You are sexy as hell and I’m trying really hard not to kiss you senseless and drag you off to bed.”
Sami’s stomach dropped somewhere below where the butterflies were fluttering. “The kids,” she said, not caring that she sounded breathless.
“I know I can’t do the second thing, but I think we’re long overdue for the first.” Leisurely, as if he was giving her time to back away if she wanted, he lowered his head. Sami closed her eyes and leaned toward him, giving in to the feelings she’d been trying to deny.
His lips were gentle on hers, moving across them with aching slowness. She felt tears prick her eyes at the love she felt behind the kiss. His lips eased her insecurities and dimmed the years of begging for a crumb of affection into the past. His thumbs rubbed her palm, the shaking of his arms telling her more than words that he wanted her. He pulled his head back and looked at her. “Okay?” he asked, his eyes scanning her face.
Sami took a breath, her heart hammering. “Oh, yeah,” she said with a smile. She tugged on his hands, bringing him back down for another kiss. This one wasn’t so gentle. He released her hands and wrapped his arms around her body, the muscles in his biceps flexing under her hands as she lifted her arms around his neck and let go of the past to hold tight to the future.
Santiago stretched and yawned as the two humans kissed in front of the Christmas tree. He climbed off the couch and walked down the hallway toward the smell of sugar and children. He nuzzled the youngest one’s face, cleaning his cheek with a quick lick. The little boy opened his eyes and with a sleepy smile moved over so Santiago could climb onto the bed. The youngest humans are my favorite, he told the angel checking on the children.
Don’t discount the older ones, dog. They’re all my favorites.
Santiago sighed as a little arm landed across his body. His eyes closed to the vision of cream puffs as the angel disappeared. He knew there was more work to be done. After his nap.