Destiny, Roses & Romance
Part II: Chapter 40

With a sigh, Rafe shook his head. “Alison-”

“No, no, no, Rafe Kovich. Don’t even say it!” Raising an eyebrow, she surveyed her friends and ex-boyfriend, and quickly decided that they’d all live through the surprise. Livvie maybe sooner than the other two considering she looked just a little bit happy about the entire thing. When the other woman caught her eyes, the smile she gave her was clearly a sign for her to continue, and Alison did just that. Turning back to her angel, she pulled away and crossed her arms in front of her. “You mean to tell me that we could be on our honeymoon right now if you didn’t assume that even though I asked you to marry me that I’m not ready to do that, Rafe?”

“Assume, Alison Barrington?” Blinking in surprise, Rafe didn’t bother to stop the teasing note from entering his tone and took a tiny step closer to her. “Honey, I thought it was made perfectly clear yesterday that I know you… A whole hell of a lot better than you seem to think I do even. You aren’t ready to become anyone’s wife, Alison, let alone mine. Us married-”

“I asked you to marry me,” Alison repeated, saying the words slowly as if she was trying to get her point across to a child. “Don’t you think that I know what I am and am not ready for, Rafe? I mean, come on, even you had to admit that I know how I feel better than you do! You’re changing that now? Now you’re choosing to decide how I feel?”

“Us getting married would hurt you, Alison. No matter how well you think that you could take it, it would hurt you.” Reaching out, he stroked the curve of her jaw with this thumb, his tongue swept across his bottom lip before he continued. “I can’t say it enough times, Alison. Hurting you isn’t an option. I won’t do it, and I won’t put you in situations that we both know will end with you crying or heartbroken. You shouldn’t ever have to cry again, honey, and if I can prevent it then you can damn well bet that I will.”

Clasping his hand in hers, Alison stepped forward at the same time he did, leaving them to meet in the middle. His free hand settled on her waist, and she latched her fingers around his elbow just in case he decided to try and slip away. “See what I mean about you striking me as the overprotective type? Rafe, I’m a big girl. I know what I’m doing.”

“I don’t doubt that you do, Alison,” he murmured, his fingers finding a rhythm of caressing her hip that threatened to hypnotize them both. His eyes raked over her, taking in each inch of her slowly before returning his gaze to hers. “I don’t doubt that at all. But you can’t be too protective of someone that you love.”

“Yes you can.”

Smiling, he brought her hand up to brush kisses across her knuckles. “No, you can’t. Trust me, Alison. Please? Will you just trust me on this? Will you please, please just let me try and keep from hurting you even more, honey? Please, Alison? Because the thought of hurting you, of causing you pain, it rips at my soul. Let me protect you.”

“Why do you want to protect me from you though, Rafe? I told you… I knew what I was getting into, I mean, just because I went ahead and fell head over heels in love with you doesn’t mean that I ever expected things to change. Why do you have to keep trying to protect me from you? I told you, I knew it was going to hurt getting into it…”

His shoulders rose and fell on a sigh as he pulled her closer to him and pressed a kiss against her forehead. “I don’t think either of us realized how much it would hurt though.”

Alison dropped her eyes, locking her gaze on their entwined hands as she felt the tears prick the back of her eyes at the truth in his words. “But I want to be your wife.”

Putting a hand under her chin, he forced her to look him in the eye. The tears he saw were almost enough to bring him to his knees as he stared—transfixed—unable to break away from the breathtaking honesty of her words. Simple words that he never thought could mean this much to him, left him torn between laughing and crying with her.

“We may as well not even be here,” Jamal muttered under his breath, shaking his head and watching them with what could only be morbid curiosity.

Livvie sighed, a smile playing on her lips as she leaned against the table next to her boyfriend. “I know,” she said, her voice just a little too dreamy for the liking of the two people in the room that could hear her. “It’s like the entire world just melts away when they’re together. Like the only thing that matters to either of them is the other one.”

Placing his hand on her knee, Jack squeeze lightly to catch her attention. A frown cross his face when even then it took her a moment to pull her eyes away from the couple far to wrapped up in each other to notice. “Should I be jealous here, Livvie?”

“No, just thankful I love you so much,” she answered dryly. Once again she turned her head to watch Rafe and Alison as they seemed to stand still, hanging onto a moment and the sound of her heartfelt admission as both hung in the air around them. “You know, you guys, just a little tip, but every girl does dream of being looked at that way.”

“I repeat, should I be jealous?”

“I think maybe I should be jealous of Ally.” Shaking her head, Livvie nodded toward Jamal. “You both screwed up. Deal with it, get over it, just shove it, whatever. I don’t care. Just don’t give Ally anymore grief for Rafe than she’s already having to deal with because she’s in love with him and he’s in love with her. Just let them be happy while they can, if either of you were ever really her friends, just let her be happy right now because Rafe has to leave soon and it’s going to tear her in two.”

“You mean to tell me,” Jamal growled, clenching his hands into fists as he forced himself to stay seated. “That bastard stole her from me only to leave her and break her heart?”

“He doesn’t get a choice in the matter, Jamal.”

All eyes turned to Alison, who barely spared them a glance before looking back at the man in front of her. “Of course he has a choice,” her ex spat, anger pumping through his veins in an effort to ignore the hurt that once again hit full force. “Does he need to go save someone else, Ally? Is that what it’s about, Rafe? You need to go be someone else’s angel now that you’ve got my girl in love with you and where you wanted her?”

“He doesn’t get a choice in the matter, Jamal,” Alison repeated on sigh. “He has to go, and that’s all there is to it. I know that if he could stay that he would. It’s not his fault. That’s what I keep trying to tell him. Just drop the subject, Jamal, because it really doesn’t concern you at all. It’s between me and Rafe, and if everyone else would stay out of it then it would be easier. Don’t make assumptions when you don’t know the story.”

“Yeah,” Jack muttered unhappily. “Maybe she asked him to leave.”

“That was uncalled for,” Rafe said, his words edged with an unspoken threat that he may as well have just shouted across the room in anger. His hand didn’t release Alison’s, and the second it became clear his meaning had gotten across to both of the other men, his eyes returned to her as well.

A stray piece of hair fell into her face from behind her ear, tickling her cheek as she examined her friends as closely as possibly with the feeling of his eyes taking her in surrounding her. Sucking in a deep breath, Alison felt the tip of her tongue dart out to wet her lips as he brushed her hair away from her, in that same gentle gesture they’d both grown far too used to in the past few days. She looked at him from the corner of her eye, resisting the urge to look at him once more and get lost in his eyes until time for him to leave her. “Did you guys want something?” Alison asked instead, pulling herself from the daze of him that she yearned to fall into again and again.

“Well, the plan was dinner,” Jamal grumbled just loud enough for everyone to hear. “But after that I don’t know if my stomach can actually handle food.”

“Shut up, Jamal,” Livvie hissed, smiling apologetically to Alison and then Rafe. “Lucy called and told me that Rafe was back so I just assumed that you wouldn’t be working. In fact, she said something about hoping you weren’t? But since you are, and it’s like beyond slow here, why don’t you let me take over the rest of your shift?”

“Oh, Livvie, no! I can’t-”

“Hey,” she interrupted with a sly smile. “You can. I think I may have a little bit of pull with the owners… They’ll let you, don’t worry about it.”

“But, it’s such a mess and-”

“Ally! Just go! Have fun! It’s slow around here anyway, and it’s only for a few hours.” Livvie inhaled sharply at the quick look exchanged between the two lovebirds, and the corners of her mouth pulled up into a smile despite her best efforts. Sliding off the table, she took a step away from the other two and lowered her voice just a little. “And a few hours aren’t really going to make a difference in my life right now.”

Alison bit her thumb and looked at Rafe in question. He shrugged, leaving the choice up to her. Smiling at her friend, she released his hand to untie the apron around her waist. “Thank you, Livvie,” she whispered, passing the apron on to the other woman and ignoring the unhappy looks being shot her way. Walking behind the counter, she grabbed her purse and shouted a quick goodbye to Victor through the door. Hearing his response, she nodded and walked back to her angel. “I owe you one,” she whispered as she passed her friend.

“I don’t think we’re even close to even, Ally.”

“Yes, we are.” Embracing Livvie quickly, she couldn’t fight the grin as she pulled back and whispered, “I’ll let you know if I need a bridesmaid.”

“I heard that, you know,” he said, trying his best to sound disappointed as he fought the smile from forming at the once again raised subject.

“Good.” Looking over her shoulder at Rafe, Alison grinned even brighter than before. “I meant for you to. You do know that I can be very stubborn don’t you, Rafe?”

“It’s something I’ve noticed about you, yes.” Finally his smile met hers full force as she crossed back to him and nestled her hand inside of his. “Doesn’t mean I’m not going to try and protect you everytime I get the chance, Alison.” She started to walk away, still hold onto his hand, but he pulled her back, the strength of the tug surprised her and sent her flying back against his chest. Rafe leaned down to whisper in her ear, “And that doesn’t mean that I don’t like… love the idea of you being my wife.”

Alison nodded, shaking off the shock before he could get the better of her with that line. Once again she started walking toward the entrance, pulling him with her all the way, pausing only to grab their coats. “Do you think we can at least try and make Destiny happen?” she asked him as he helped her into hers.

The sound of Livvie choking on her suppressed laughter was all she heard as Rafe was once again left speechless.

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