This second chance was worth the wait . . .
As a SEAL, Gabriel Donovan did the toughest jobs imaginable without blinking an eye. But three years after his wife's death, the idea of dating still makes him sick to his stomach. His daughter desperately needs a mother, though, and there's nothing Gabe won't do for his little girl.
Stephanie Mason doesn't run from anything. Not even coming face to face with the "one that got away" on a blind date. Steph's body vividly remembers every single thing about Gabe and while some things have changed, the way he makes her feel sure as hell hasn't.
Gabe and Steph know that love comes with risks, but if they're brave enough, this second chance might just bring them the love of a lifetime.
He folded his hands on the table. “You asked earlier if this was a date. I suppose I should be honest with you. I’m not looking for anything permanent.”
She looked up, brows raised in surprise. A beat later she sobered, offering him a soft smile. “Relax, Gabe. No pressure. Tell me about your daughter.”
He scooped another bite of the curry and stuffed it in his mouth, using the task to try to cool his jets. He didn’t want to talk about Char. All he could think about was Steph, about how badly she made his cock ache.
It was time to distract her or he’d lose his mind.
“Your turn. Why the need for a dating service?” He darted a glance at her as he scooped another forkful of the curry. “Sorry, but I just can’t see it. The Stephanie Mason I knew was an incorrigible flirt.”
Her fork paused halfway to her mouth. She held it there for a moment before setting it down on her plate. “You want the truth or the fluff version?”
He gave a half-hearted shrug. Hell, let’s go for broke. “The truth.”
Her gaze locked on his, bold and unapologetic, but her throat bobbed.
“I’ve done the whole one-night fling thing for too long now. I want…something different. I want someone who’ll remember my name, who wants more than just a night of great sex.” Just as quickly as her boldness had come, she dropped her gaze to her plate, pushing her food around but never really accomplishing anything. “Someone worth waking up to.”
The hurt she couldn’t quite hide seeped into her tone. Irritation punched him hard in the stomach and bristled along his nerve endings. He’d always hoped she was happy and settled. Obviously, there was a wound in there somewhere, and he had the sudden urge to deck the asshole responsible for it.
“And you haven’t.”
Like someone had drawn the shades over her, the look disappeared. Steph straightened in her seat and forked a bite of noodles but wouldn’t look at him. “Not yet. Truth is, I haven’t allowed myself to.”
He followed her lead for the moment and concentrated on his plate. If she wasn’t comfortable sharing, he wouldn’t push. They ate in unbearable silence, and the knowledge slowly drove him insane. He hated the thought of someone hurting her to the degree that she’d closed herself off. It was a lonely way to live.
Unable to stand it, he set down his fork and looked up at her. “Why haven’t you?”
She stared at him for a beat, then made a show of pouring herself another cup of tea, stirring in a teaspoon of sugar, then taking a sip. Finally, she shrugged.
“I made a fool of myself for a man once. For a while I was determined never to make that mistake again. But it’s lonely, and I hate sleeping alone. Hate waking up to a stranger even more.” She set down her tea and pinned him with a direct, focused stare. “Your turn. What did you hope to get out of this date?”
“I wanted…something in the middle. A first step. I’m not sure I’m ready for something permanent again yet, but I’d like something more than a one-night stand. I’m human. I don’t like being alone, either.” He huffed a laugh. “Sex might be nice. You know, with someone besides myself.”
For the second time that night, the words left his mouth unbidden, and Gabe’s gut clenched. He dragged a hand through his hair. Christ. Eleven years might have passed, but apparently she still had it, that certain something he’d never been able to resist that had him telling her all his damn secrets.
A slow grin curled across Steph’s face, lightening the heavy emotion in her eyes. “There’s that painfully blunt guy I used to know.”
His cheeks blazed, but he couldn’t help his echoing grin. “What? I thought we were being honest.”
She laughed, so long and hard she sagged back against her seat. Gabe sat stunned, watching her. Her whole face lit up. The warmth radiating from her like the freakin’ sun drew him in like a bee to a bright yellow flower.
Steph’s giggling died away. She dropped her gaze to her plate, a soft pink flush suffusing her cheeks. “You’re staring.”
He jerked his gaze to his plate, pushing the food around. “Sorry. I forgot how beautiful you are when you laugh like that.”
He’d forgotten a lot of things about her. Like how much he enjoyed the simple act of sitting in the same room with her. For a few minutes she made him forget the lonely ache in his chest. Here, with her, he was simply a man out for a night with a beautiful woman. He didn’t know a lot of things these days. Like where this date ought to go, or even where he wanted it to go.
What he did know was he didn’t want to be sitting here, holed up in this crowded, noisy restaurant, when he could be doing a thousand other things with her.
Running with the thought, he set down his fork and met her gaze. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Steph blinked. Then she furrowed her brow and shook her head. “Where to?”
“Beats the hell out of me. I’m not even sure I care, but I have a sore need to get lost for a while.” He reached into his back pocket for his wallet, pulled out his debit card, and raised his hand, flagging down their waitress. When she smiled in acknowledgment, he turned back to Steph, holding his hand out, palm up, on the table. “Get lost with me.”