UNHACKABLE HEART: Cole -- Bold as Brass

Cole held the wriggling woman on his lap still. “Tess, I can’t think nevertheless work when you do that.” He picked up the walkie-talkie. “It’s in the basement, Glenn. In a tiny room behind the furnace like it’s hiding.”

Paul the demonologist, not Glenn, replied, “Excellent. Daylight. Power shift.”

The next bleep of the walkie-talkie and Glenn replied, “Woohoo! Let’s finish this.”

Dudes in the house, sounding like warriors instead of exhausted men, descended into the basement. One man toted a camera along and pushed it in a crawlspace behind the furnace before he climbed in after it. Paul entered next, swinging the decanter of burning incense as his Latin chant took on more force.

Glenn bleeped back to Cole. “We’ve got it now, bro. Take Tessa back to the hotel before you see something that will keep the hair lifted off the back of your neck for the next month. Get some sleep.”

Thank God,” Cole breathed. Into the walkie-talkie, he said, “Copy that.”

This time, Cole dropped the walkie-talkie and wrapped his arms around the woman nibbling his neck. “Let’s go, babe.”

She lifted her lips in a lopsided grin. “Will you have nightmares about this night?”

“I’m sure.” He escorted her to his motorcycle. “On the other hand, you were doing wickedly sweet things to me at the same time. Hope this stuff doesn’t turn you on, Tess, cause I honestly can’t handle it. Freaks me out!”

After she climbed on behind him on his motorcycle, she lifted her lips to his ear. “You are what turns me on, Cole.”

Cole exhaled hard as he pulled away from the house. “Tessa, don’t make me wreck.” Multitasking, she was coming on strong. He was tempted to stop in the woods even if there was an old forgotten cemetery there. Now it would be just him and her; if they could make it through this, who knew what they could do? Save the world, he decided as he opened the throttle on the highway.

Once he finally shut the door of her hotel room, Cole leaned back against it to see where this woman would go now with her hunt. . . now that he was somewhere other than a haunted location. She had snagged something out of a laptop bag. She held it up where he could see it as she pushed a little pill out of the back and popped it into her mouth. She did not say a word, but those were birth control pills! Green steamy eyes suggested her blood was running hot, but not from temper. Cole decided he was the one in trouble now.

She grabbed one of his hands, pulling him away from the door. “Come here.” She pushed him back on the bed. She pounced and landed on her knees next to him. “I’m hot for you.” Her tongue slid up his neck, a slick wet trail, before she sunk her teeth in a cord in his neck.

He groaned and wrapped his arms around her. “You’re dangerous,” he chuckled as he rolled her under him. The huntress became the hunted. “Don’t get shy. I like your boldness. And you are way overdressed.”

Cole slid her shirt up, exposing her navel ring. He grinned and slid it up a bit more, his fingers trailing up the USBs, up the metal chain, up to pink lace. When he lowered his head to follow the same trail with his mouth, she moaned.

“Hurry,” she suggested, pulling at his shirt.

Cole straightened his arms to lean above her. Wow. Tessa in real-time. He inhaled, taking her female scent deeply into his lungs where it curled around his heart. “No, babe. No hurry.”

Her fingers though worked on unfastening his belt, then the button of his jeans. He reached down and caught her hands in one of his. “Slow down. I’ve waited a long time for this. I want to give you too much, before it gets too fast to control.”

Next to her bed, the hotel phone rang.

Cole shook his head once. “No. That may be divine intervention calling, but I don’t much feel like stopping. Don’t answer that.”

“Good,” she murmured. “Me either.”

“Tell me,” he urged her. He needed to hear it. “Tell me not that creepy shadowman.”

“I love you.”

“Good. It’s about time.” He kissed her, hoping he would heat her blood a bit more before he said it back to her. Tessa had believed love was a dirty word for a long time. The thought stopped him and he lifted his face to stare at her. She’d been coming on strong and had said several dirty things to him. Was she making love to him or having hot sex with him? Surely she’d meant it as an endearment? “Tell me again, Tessa.”

She slid her arms around his neck, holding him with her green gaze. “Hurry, Cole.” She told him exactly what she wanted from him but love was not the four-letter word she used. Then she groaned. “What do I need to say to make you hurry!”

The strain against his jeans pulsed harder, but he said, “That wasn’t it.” Just the same, hearing it was enough to push him past the point of no return. To hell with the consequences, nudged across his brain before he could not think at all.

Thump! Thump! From the hotel door, a female voice called, “Housekeeping.” The lock clicked and the door crashed open to bang against a housekeeping cart.

Tessa yanked the sheet up and over them, her face burning hot. She stared at Cole’s wet lips as he heaved breaths in and out too. She panted and brushed the hair back from her face. “Come back later,” she huffed. “Or not at all today please,” she qualified.

“Sorry,” the hotel employee gasped, her face blazing red too. She turned her face away, but lifted a vase from the cart. “I’ll just leave this here,” she sat the flowers on the dresser and walked back to her cart. “They were waiting on you at the front desk.” The lady reached back around the door and grabbed the Do Not Disturb sign. “Put this on the door,” she muttered and the door lock clicked closed.

Tessa kicked the sheet down and leaned over Cole. “Where were we?” she chuckled and started to resume; they had not even completely undressed. The satisfaction factor still awaited them both.

Cole, however, frowned at her. “I think,” he stated quietly, “we are just about to find out who sent you roses, Tessa.”

“Don’t growl,” she said against his neck. “Ignore them.”

“Afraid I can’t do that.” He sat up and pointed at the two dozen white long-stemmed roses. “Someone sends you flowers enough that you ignore them?”

She caught his arm on his way to snag the card. “Yori,” she said quietly. “He must have tracked me down. I’ll set them in the hall and—“

“Korskovf has tracked you down,” he growled longer this time. “The Russian mafia boss sends you roses on a regular basis, woman!”

It didn’t sound like a question, so she didn’t answer. Instead, Tessa pulled her shirt back on and walked to the dresser. She dropped the beautiful bouquet in a trashcan, but even then white petals stood above the can. She scooted the can around the corner and turned back to Cole.

He had his shirt on, his jeans and belt fastened.

She sighed. “Damn you, Yori,” she muttered. “He’s no one important to me. A headhunter.” She stepped closer to the man who looked more outlaw now than rebel. “How did you know his last name or about the Russian mob?”

“He’s pretty much the enemy where I work.”

“Oh yeah?” Don’t ask, her heart urged her. Her mental encryption tightened. “Where do you work?”

“Dammit, Tessa. I’d rather make love to you before I tell you. I’d rather bind you to me with the next five days and nights of hot sex first.”

His cell phone rang and he snagged it to his ear. He cussed again after he hung up. “Haven has been attacked. Glenn’s servers are locked up like cement. Another little present from your headhunter?”

She sighed. “Yes.” She had used a computer from Haven to help battle and to keep the senator’s heart from being hacked. There was no doubt in her mind even at the time it was happening that Yori was behind it. Had she bothered to check security on Haven’s servers first? No. “I’ll go up to Haven and fix it. I hope it didn’t extend to hardware. Glenn has to be wiped out after last night.”

Cole slapped one hand over his forehead. “You had me so hot and bothered that we waltzed into the hotel without hats, without trying to hide your face at all! He locked onto you here with facial recognition software from the security cameras.”

Grabbing her laptop bags, stuffing anything out back in, he muttered. “No tracking devices in her car. Except the bleeping passport! Her cell still turned on.”

“I feel bad enough about it.” she said. “You don’t need to remind me of all the ways I left open for him to find me after he hacked the senator’s heart. I’ll take care of Yori after I fix things for Glenn.”

Cole held out his hand. “Give me a key to your car so I can collect the rest of your things. I will take care of Glenn and then I will take care of you.”

“I’m coming along,” she announced since he did not seem to understand.

“You can, but he’s not very happy with you right now.”

With all six laptops tucked away on either side of his motorcycle, Tessa swung off the back of his bike and followed him into Haven. Fury fumed off him like smoke from an extinguished candle. Guess they wouldn’t be going back to bed anytime soon. “Focus,” she said aloud as if the verbal reminder would be stronger than the mental reminder.

Right away, Glenn pointed at awaiting cups of hot coffee for them. Silver eyes stared at her and Glenn uttered, “Thanks a whole heap, Pixie, for bringing the Russian mob down on my place of business while I’m out hunting your ghosts!”

Cole lifted one hand in the air. “Easy, bro. She’s sorry.”

Once they had all three entered the server room, Glenn shook his head again. “They won’t reboot. Corporate America let you handle their security, Tess?”

“Damn it, Glenn, I apologize. Why don’t you get some sleep while I take care of this? Then I want to thank you for hunting out my ghosts.”

“He’ll immediately hammer Haven again. It’s not just any cracker you’ve ticked off, Tessa Kendall. He heads up the cyberwar!”

Furious with herself, Tessa exhaled a deep breath to keep a lid on her cool. “I said I’ll fix it, Glenn, even if I have to hunt down Yori to get him to back off.”

“Okay, God,” Glenn said with his face tilted up. “I acknowledge I shouldn’t remind her that she told me to back off with her gun pointed at my heart. You better leave Yori to Cole. It’s his job to hunt ghosts like that.”

“Enough, little brother,” Cole growled.

Tessa swung her finger from Glenn to Cole. “You two are brothers?”

“Same mom,” Cole confirmed.

Tessa grumbled under her breath while she typed on the console. “Brothers. Humph. A bet going between brothers a decade ago.”

Cole and Tessa worked together, closed the security hole, locked and bolted down the hatches before bringing Haven back up. Tessa smiled at Cole. “You’re really fast, really good. Who do you work for? I thought you were into medical implant security now. Who pays you to hunt ghosts like Yori?”

“I don’t want to tell you, Tessa.”

Before she could so much as sputter, Cole marched into the office where Glenn laid on the couch. “You’re good to go.” He hitched his thumb back at Tessa. “She has to stay with you, bud. Korskovf sent her roses at the hotel.” Cole slapped one hand against his chest. “My fault. I was running so hot for her, I completely forgot about the security cameras outside and in the hall.”

Glenn glared at her. “What have you done to my brother?”

Not nearly as much as she had wanted to. Tessa didn’t say that though. “I’m afraid I may have poisoned the honeypot.”

Cole snorted. “Is that what you call it?”

Tessa pointed at Glenn but looked directly at Cole. “No offense, but I don’t want to stay with your brother.”

Glenn raked one hand down his face. “I’m in the room, kids.”

Cole ignored him too, staring at Tessa. “If you think you can safely waltz into DC for tryouts now, lady, you are sadly mistaken. Stay in safety with Glenn, at his house, while I go after Korskovf.”

He pointed toward the room of computers. “I’m not going after cyber Yori, I’m hunting down the evil man in real-time.” He pointed at Glenn, but spoke his warning to Tessa. “Don’t hack any hearts while I’m gone.”

She followed him out of Haven to his motorcycle.

He held up one hand to stop her. “No.”

Tessa reached into her shirt and then held up a purple USB. “I have the perfect weapon.”

“Well I don’t want you near him!” His eyes seemed to pause for a second too long on her exposed navel ring, but then he blinked and nodded toward the USB. “What’s that?”

“A worm to reprogram his insulin pump.” When his hand lifted like he wanted it, she said. “No. My code. My program patched his medical vulnerability and my program will exploit it.”

Cole growled. “He’s waiting for you in DC . . . I guarantee it. You crossed him with the senator; he wants your head all right . . . on a platter. You’re not a killer, Tessa. You may have the code but you can’t assassinate someone. You’re an idealist. It’s too far removed from what you believe in.”

“To save my life? You bet your ass I can. I’m not the same woman from a journal ten years ago.”

He studied her like she was a newly encrypted algorithm. “If you come with me, then we do it my way, what I believe in. We will go forward on my code. Deal?”

She swung on behind him. “Deal.” She slid her arms around his waist, wondering what he believed in or what code she had agreed to. She needed to stop and collect her clothes, needed to wait for her car to be repaired, but there was no way she would do nothing while Cole Stone rode out of her life.

At the last red light before he pulled onto the interstate, Cole looked at her and winced. “I work for DHS.”

“No way!” Although he opened the throttle, Tessa growled in his ear. “Not the Department of Homeland Security.”

“Yep,” and then he turned up the speed higher so talking would be impossible.

From there to Virginia, Tessa’s temper ticked like a nuclear bomb. Privacy stealing Patriot Act and DHS? Thank God she hadn’t had sex with the man! They clearly didn’t share any of the same beliefs. Too bad she’d never been so attracted to any dude. She’d agreed to a deal with the devil when she hopped on the back of his Harley.

Cole stopped for gas once it was dark. The beautiful female behind him hopped off the back of his bike before he had the wheels to a complete standstill. No, he thought, too much to think her temper had cooled over the last several hundred miles. The green of her eyes in the rearview mirror had the look of a vampire again, only not one hungry to sink her fangs into a male. More like a stake in his heart.

He stood fast too before she could take off. “Where do you think you are going?”

She had a black ball cap pulled low on her forehead, hiding her facial features as long as she didn’t lift up her lovely yet angry face. “To use the restroom. Did I miss the memo from Homeland Security? I don’t think you’ve stolen that piece of privacy from the people yet.”

“You gave me your word, Tessa. You can’t have changed enough to not still honor it.”

“A deal’s a deal, Stone.”

“Good.” He held up one finger. “Rule one—“

“Dream on,” she scoffed and walked away.

After exiting the restroom, she grabbed a couple sodas and approached a cash register.

Cole stepped in front of her. “No.”

She growled and lifted her face. “DHS likes to say no.”

He stood between her and the security camera. Man, she was steamed. “Don’t look up.”

She slicked her tongue over her teeth and then pasted on a fake but bright smile. “Maybe I want him to see me, Stone. Yori needs to know I’m close, so I can draw him out. I don’t have handy access to facial recognition software to scan for him.”

“I do.” He tossed some money on the counter and then escorted her out of the building. When she hopped on behind him, she shot him a glare in the mirror like he was Satan’s spawn. Cole sighed and revved the motor, waiting for her to grab hold of him.

She leaned close to his ear. “It’s people like you that make people like me unite in a cyberwar to fight for privacy.” When he kicked it in gear, she placed her hands lightly at his waist. “Please take me to a hotel somewhere in DC.”

“Dream on,” he said and hit the highway.

Cole had a plan to catch Korskovf, so his mind went over a plan to catch the woman on the back of his bike. He could toss her in his pool to cool off her temper and dive in after her. Not a good plan if he expected her to honor his code. He wasn’t sure he could handle playing with fire in the water.

“Okay, God, I’m sorry I ignored the phone at the hotel and still intended to seduce Tessa. I was wrong to decide to hell with the consequences and now I need some help,” he prayed.

Tessa leaned forward, leaned her mouth near his ear. “What did you say?”

“You heard me.”

She looked pole-axed in the mirror. “Way too intimate.” She leaned back behind him.

Cole could feel her thinking so hard, his head hurt trying to think of all the things she was thinking. “God, I need some help with this woman.”

“Stop it,” she leaned up to growl in his ear this time.

He grinned and flicked a remote to shut off his security and open his garage door. Maybe it wasn’t as hopeless as it seemed at face value if she believed enough in God to believe He would help Cole. She did not hop off the back immediately once the garage door slid shut and sealed them off from the rest of the world. He stood and held one hand her way. “Welcome to my home.”

She still sat there like maybe if she blinked again she’d be in front of a hotel.

Cole laughed and opened the door to his house for her. “You can come inside if you want. I won’t bite you too hard.” He left the door hanging wide open and walked through his house.

He needed a hot shower and some caffeine. When Tessa walked into his house, he amended maybe cold, not hot. “Gonna grab a shower,” he told her. “Make yourself at home.”

When he came back out, she had unloaded her laptops. “Good deal.”

“I don’t know it was such a good deal,” she countered. She pointed toward a room at the side of his house. “Sweet command center though. Let’s do this, slick.”

Just like that, she wanted to come in and conquer. “How about some caffeine first?”

“Sounds good,” she agreed.

Before the coffee had perked, she blew out a deep breath. Was she getting ready to hammer on his job again? He spoke up first. “You don’t actually believe you wouldn’t have been taken in for questioning by now if it wasn’t for people like me watching out for your rights, do you?”

She frowned. “You don’t actually believe God is going to answer your prayers, do you?”

“Yes,” he answered simply.

“Not another no?” she queried.

“I don’t write the laws of the land, Tessa. If people who believe in freedom and privacy as much as me did not work at DHS, what shape do you think this country would be in? If people like me didn’t protect your right to at least some privacy, how much right to privacy do you think you’d have left? You think you could keep going around slamming that hacktivist hammer and stay out of jail? If people like me quit working for DHS, all hope to hang onto any of our freedom is lost, and people like you and me in the cyberwar would be in prison.”

“Hmm.” Her green eyes stared at him hard like she would be able to read the fine print on his heart. She clearly had not ever thought of it that way. She rubbed the center of her forehead. “You’re making my head hurt.”

“Good. Try this one. What department do you think the newest cyber counterterrorism for medical implants would work for?”

She groaned. “God help me.”

“He is.”

“I need some sleep before going after Yori. My brain is about to explode! Please just drop me off at a hotel somewhere.”

“Sorry, babe. Take the bed here. Even in my dreams, at your most acquaintance moment you might say Yes Cole but then you’d warrior up and go hunt for Yori the second I turn my back. You’d dive right into trouble. Still think I don’t know who you are now?”

She boldly marched toward his bedroom. “I hope the couch is lumpy.”

He rubbed a hand over his eyes. Tessa Kendall in real-time in his bedroom. Wow. “Give me strength, Jesus.”

She walked back out after a few short minutes. “Your bed smells.”

“Like me maybe.” He grinned. “Is that a problem for you?”

“If I plan to sleep!” She huffed and dropped back on the sofa. “I hope it’s not lumpy.”

“You make me crazy too, Tess.”

“What am I going to do about you?” she asked, voice low but full of distress.

He couldn’t seem to stop his legs from moving forward, pretty sure this was not wisdom. He bent his knees and leaned down to her face. “Ask me now.”

She opened her eyes, but swallowed hard. “Would you please stop smiling? This isn’t funny, Cole. It’s mean. Get your sexy face out of mine. I’m in love with you!”

“That would be the end of your world?” When she did not reply, he sighed. “Get some sleep so your subconscious can play over all that has happened since you last slept. We’ll see if tomorrow doesn’t seem brighter by the light of day.”

She reached into her laptop bag and pulled out her music. She plugged in the earbuds and cranked up the sound. She grabbed a throw pillow and curled on the couch. “Four more days until tryouts. Our deal ends at midnight that day.” Green eyes opened again and stared at his face. “And then we say bye.”

“Don’t bet on it,” he muttered on his way to get her a blanket. He unfurled it over her. “That doesn’t make you invisible, woman, even if you think it does.” He walked back over to drink his coffee and waited until her breathing evened out. “Keep her sleeping, Lord.”

Cole refilled his coffee and headed into his home command center. Time to find Korskovf, he decided and logged remotely into a server at work. He set the program to search facial patterns in DC, tweaked the power of crunch time, and stretched. When the picture finally bleeped a match and an address of a hotel where an image was captured, Cole shook his head. “You were a fool to chase her on U.S. soil.”

He triggered the fire alarm on Korskovf’s floor and waited until the sprinklers kicked on. Doors slammed open and people in night clothes ran toward the stairs. More water poured out, puddles forming everywhere on the top floor of the hotel. He zoomed the camera on Yori’s door when it flew open and the Russian mobster stumbled sleepy-eyed into the hall. Cole cued the elevator to ding open. “Come on,” he urged the other man to take the bait.

When Korskovf disappeared into his hotel room again, Cole sighed. But the hotel door swung back open, laptop tucked under Korskovf’s arm and he stepped into the elevator.

Cole slid the elevator door shut and toggled to that camera. The elevator did not move, did not open, did not respond to anything Yori tried. “That’s the thing about trying to take a shortcut in an emergency,” Cole said into his mic to broadcast on the elevator speakerphone. “Better pray now.” He waited a couple ticks of the second hand, but Yori just dropped his laptop and banged his fists on the elevator door.

Cole typed fast, and in under a minute, disabled power to the elevator as well as emergency backup.

The elevator car dropped with no brakes to the bottom floor.

Cole backed out of the system and covered his tracks. He might have immunity, however this would not point to the government but to an unlucky coincidence of one faulty system failure after another. He placed one call to mainstream media, suggesting Yori Korskovf had been in DC and had a fatal accident. “Almost too easy. Guess working for DHS should have some perks.”

He headed into his bedroom and fell back on the bed. He could have done it from Haven, but now he had Tessa with him in Virginia, in his home. He closed his eyes. People died waging war everyday. Korskovf had been leading the cyberwar revolution. “Tomorrow will be a better day.” He left the positive suggestion on his mind and then fell asleep.

Tessa awoke in the afternoon of the next day. She poked around in his refrigerator and then whipped up some breakfast. She waited for the scent of food to awaken Cole. She walked to the doorway of his command center, fingers itching. She walked back to the kitchen and fetched a plate of food. She walked quietly to his bedroom, hoping to draw him out faster.

An empty bed greeted her. “Hmm.” Plate in hand, she returned to the front door and checked if the security alarm was still engaged. It was. “Hmm.” She checked room to room of his house, even his garage, but found no sign of Cole.

She lifted a piece of bacon off the plate and nibbled on it, walking to open the drapes over a glass back door.

She growled and slid the door open with her one free hand. Cole swam another length of the pool. “What are you doing?” she demanded, happy to find him, not so happy about his state of undress.

He wiped the water from his face and jumped out of the pool. Water droplets streamed over a luscious male body and she groaned.

He smiled at her and accepted the plate of food. “That’s sweet, babe. Thanks.”

Tessa turned on her toe as he said Grace aloud, and she disappeared back into the house. She came back from the bathroom holding a towel before tossing it at his half naked and wet body. It landed on his lap, but he had turned his full attention on the food.

He smiled at her, blue eyes twinkling, and dimples winking on both sides of his bright smile. “Thanks again.”

Her stomach flipped over. “You’re welcome.” She forgot why she was standing there. She forgot what the hurry had been to find Cole. She forgot what she wanted to accomplish today.

“Tessa?” he asked when she continued to stand there and stare at him. He swiped one big hand in front of her face. “Hello?”

She blinked, but her mental encryption still lagged. She blinked again. He didn’t get any less appetizing. She groaned and sat in a chair across the shaded table from him.

“You okay?” he asked as concern etched lines around his blue eyes.

Her brain rebooted. She remembered and almost laughed her relief. “Let’s get to work on finding Yori!”

Cole shook his head. “He won’t be sending you roses again. What else would you like to do today? How about swim?”

She gaped at him and he grinned.

“Haven’t you seen the news?”

“Like I would believe anything I saw on the news.”

“Go turn on a TV, a radio, a podcast.”

“What did you do!”

“This is not the way it’s supposed to go down, babe. Go see what is happening in the world and then we’ll start again.”

“You can be brilliant without being malicious. I know you’re not like that anymore. What did you do, Cole?” she asked much more quietly.

He sighed and grabbed her hand. “Made the world a little bit better place. Korskovf is dead.”

She leaned forward and squeezed his hand. “Do you have a passport? We’ll go where the U.S. can’t extradite. Let’s pick someplace warm. Where would you like to start over?”

He leaned forward and brushed his lips over hers once. “You’re sweet, Tessa.”

“Come on, Cole! We need to vanish like ghosts. I couldn’t stand it if something bad happened to you.”

Blue eyes closed for a full minute. His lips moved imperceptibly. Was he praying?

“Do I need to fetch my gun from my laptop case to get you to move?”

“Tessa,” his eyes opened. “Stop sweeping me off my feet. I fell for you a long time ago.”

“Please, Cole, I’ll show you how to be invisible.”

“God, please help me with this woman!”

She stood up and paced inside, turned on the TV, and listened. Yori Korskovf was dead! When Cole walked inside, she burst into tears. “You’re gonna go to hell.”

He wrapped his arms around her. “I am not.”

Surely he wasn’t laughing at her when she was falling to pieces?

“Guess you do still believe in God, huh?” His baritone rumbled under her ear, his chest warm, the steady beat of his heart and strong arms around her comforted her. His hand stroked up and down her back.

In answer, she said aloud, “Jesus, I’d do about anything if you’ll just keep him safe. Yori was a truly evil man. Surely you won’t hold it against, Cole.”

“He doesn’t.”

“Please put on some clothes, dude, so I can think.”

Cole groaned. “Don’t freak out, babe,” he pulled back from her and wiped her tears. He’d sounded a little desperate. “I love you, Tessa.”

“I love you too, silly man.”

He grunted. “Life is good.” He slid one finger under her chin until she was snared in his steady blue regard. “Do you think you could work for DHS? We could use anther privacy activist powerhouse. No one knows ICD security like you, brilliant and beautiful. You can have immunity and invisibility.”

“Think we could actually make a difference?”

“We could conquer the world together. At the very least, save some of the people in it.”

“Yeah?” She tipped up on her toes and spoke against his mouth. “I think so too. Can I hack a heart at tryouts?”

“I’d like to meet the man who tries to stop you.”

“Is that a compliment, Cole?”

“Most definitely, my little handful of trouble. I’ll work on making sure you hear enough compliments to recognize one. Can you believe in happy ever after again? Would you consider being my wife?”

“Would we make love then?”

“I’m serious, Tessa.”

“Me, too!”

He smiled against her mouth. “I love you.”

“Prove it,” she teased against his lips and put her all into starting them off on the right path. Yeah, they were both on the path to heaven.

Happily Ever After!