A/N: Every once in a while, I like to show up here and see if I can still remember how to upload a chapter. As always, this one is for my Super Cool Party People, to whom I will never bid adieu. For over a decade we have kept our love for our show and each other alive, and I am ever grateful to have you in my life. It's also for new friends who pop up every once in a while and ask about these stories. It makes my heart full to know people are still reading and loving them. I would never publish a single word either here or in my books if it weren't for my Comma Queen, Jewels. Full stop.
This is my first foray into the new world with these two, and I wasn't sure if it should be a Slip or a stand-alone, but I'm putting it here because I am too lazy to set up a new story. When I was watching this episode of AYitL I remember thinking it would have been nice to get an ILY or two. Or ten…. But I know ASP doesn't like to give those freely, so I wrote them. Thank you all for reading! Xoxo Mags
"Luke's," the man himself barked, picking up the receiver on the fourth ring.
The place had been packed all day, thanks to the stupid laptoppers and their stupid wi-fi-mooching, coffee-sipping, bagel-splitting habits. But busy was necessary. Busy made it so he didn't have the energy to think too hard about all the reasons Lorelai had left. Which was good, because he'd been slowly going crazy since Lorelai brought that ridiculous backpack home and announced that she was going wild.
Sheesh. Did she seriously think he was buying that whole hike the whatever-she-called-it-trail thing? Lorelai hated nature. No, the truth was plain and simple. She was leaving him, damn it, and he didn't have the first idea how to stop her.
"Hey, it's me."
He froze, a towel and a stack of dirty plates in one hand. He used the other to press the blue cap she'd given him for Christmas the year before firmly to the top of his head. The mere sound of her voice made his heart slam up against his sternum. He pressed down on the hat, holding it in place on the off chance it was powerful enough to make his head explode.
"Hey." The single syllable rushed out on an exhale. He swallowed hard, but a hot knot of relief and love was tangled up with a fear so pungent he could taste it. "Hang on," he croaked as he slid the dishes onto pass-through.
Tossing the towel aside, he avoided all eye contact with his patrons, which wasn't hard. He was pretty sure the mooches were avoiding eye contact with him too. Heaven forbid he ask them to place an actual order.
Closing the storeroom door behind him, he dropped down onto a stack of boxes he hadn't unpacked yet. "Hey."
"Hi, stranger," she replied, her tone cool but amused. "I've been trying to call you."
He squeezed his eyes shut as the voicemail she'd left for him the night before played back in his brain. He hadn't called her back, because…because he didn't want to hear it. He didn't think he could handle being regaled with tales of her escape from him and her life with him.
"Yeah, uh—" He dropped his chin to his chest and gripped the back of his neck, willing himself to keep it together. He only needed a little longer to work out how to fix this. "Time zones."
"They'll get you every time," she said with exaggerated understanding.
"How's it going?" The moment the inane question came out, his head popped up and he got that weird tingly feeling in his fingers. Something was wrong. She was supposed to leave today. Why wasn't she hiking? "Are you okay? Why aren't you out in the wilderness?"
He cringed when the last bit slipped out. It came awfully close to admitting he'd avoided returning her pre-trail call. He thought if he could get her to start on that hike without breaking up with him, he could buy a little time.
"Weather warning on the trail. They said we could start today, but it would be really rough, so most of us waited."
A flood of relief washed through him. "Ah. Yeah. That's good." Confused and conflicted, he snapped his mouth shut and gave his head a shake. "I mean, not good, but good that they keep an eye on that. Weather and stuff. And that you waited," he added, his tone softening from a ramble to a mumble.
And what if she got out there and something happened to her? Seriously. This was Lorelai. She couldn't catch fish in a baby pool, and called it too hot to move when the temperature topped seventy-five. Sure, she had the hiking lingo down, but did she realize that once she left that black light nightmare of a motel room, her skills as an official ice monitor would be useless?
"We'll try again in the morning."
Silence stretched between them, thick and awkward. He grimaced as he fixed his gaze on the jars of pickles. He didn't know how many more of these long silences they could survive. He had to come up with the right thing to say. And quick. Maybe, if he could come up with the right words, she'd forget about tromping through the woods and eating bits of pine trees—like that was gonna happen. Maybe if he could tell her, she'd come home and they'd—
"So, yeah. It looks like a pretty cool group," she said, breaking into his thoughts. "Maybe I'll go talk to some of them…You know, on my way to getting ice. Or I can trip them when they come by to get their ice," she mused. "Force them to talk to me."
She was babbling. Babbling on and on and on. He loved it when she did that. Loved her. He needed to talk to her. Needed to tell her.
"So, I'll call when I can."
The promise sounded like a goodbye. Well, it was a goodbye, but was it a goodbye goodbye? He jumped to his feet, desperate to spring into action, trying to force his jumbled thoughts into words. Forget the right words; at this point he'd settle for any words. He blurted the first thing that came to mind. "Be careful out there."
"I will. I'll talk to you soon."
She was hanging up. The realization that this might be the last time he spoke to her for who knows how long seized him by the throat. "Okay," he managed at last.
Turning in a slow circle, he came to a stop in front of a fifty-pound bag of flour. Swallowing his fear and his pride, he said, "Hey, Lorelai? Come home, okay? I…I love you. I know I don't say it often enough, but I do. I love you."
When she didn't answer, he pulled the phone from his ear and glanced at the receiver. She'd already hung up.
Frustration boiled up inside him like lava pushing to the surface. His head felt full and fuzzy again, but this time, instead of trying to clamp the lid on, he let it rip. With a low growl, he lashed out. His booted foot made contact with the bag of flour and poof! The damn thing exploded on him.
"Luke? Seriously, Luke?"
Someone was calling for him, but he couldn't answer. Maybe Lorelai wasn't the one he needed to worry about. He was the one who was going crazy.
A cloud of white enveloped him. Flour went in his eyes, up his nose, and clogged his throat. Maybe he'd keel over right there in his storeroom. For a split second, he wished he would. That way, he could leave her before she had the chance to leave him.
"Luke? You back there?"
Jess. Jess was calling for him. There was something he needed to do. Some kind of vegetable intervention with Liz and TJ. Growling, he brushed the flour from his shirt as he whirled and stumbled back out into the diner. Into his life. The life that was falling apart, and he didn't have the first clue how to fix it.
But he did know one thing—if Lorelai came home, when Lorelai came home, he was going to tell her everything he needed her to know.
He'd be damned if he let her leave him. No one was leaving anyone. Not again.
Lorelai stepped out of the car and gave a wave to the driver as she pulled her phone from her pocket. She'd almost called Luke a dozen times in the last thirty-six hours, but she couldn't. Wouldn't. All the things they needed to say to one another had to be said in person. She needed to see his face, watch his eyes, try to read his mood. She needed to know if he was as ready to step forward into the future as she was.
The hell of it was, she should know by now.
But she didn't.
Well, she did and she didn't. Not really.
For the last two days, all she could do was replay that moment on the porch of the Dragonfly.
Would you stand still?
She did. She had. She'd been standing still for so long. Too long. But that wasn't Luke's fault. Not entirely. After all, she'd asked him to stand still too.
Then they kissed.
And that kiss. Thinking about it had the power to make her knees wobbly, which was ridiculous. She'd kissed him hundreds of times, probably thousands, in the last decade or so. It was silly to let one kiss—or one simple request—hold such power.
Her phone chimed as the car pulled out of the drive. Her heart gave a hard thud. Wetting her lips, she glanced nervously at the screen. It was the payment confirmation email. Squelching her nervousness, she gave herself a shake as she swiped to open the message. Her driver, Joe, deserved more than the standard twenty percent tip for getting her this far.
Transaction completed, she tucked her phone into the back pocket of her jeans and lifted her gaze to the house. A few hearty leaves clung to the drying wisteria vines. Leaves gathered in the nooks and crannies of the porch. Luke's truck was parked behind her Jeep. All was right in her world.
A distant yellow glow spilled through the darkened front window. The kitchen light was on. He was home. The time had finally come to do something wild. She was going to tell the man she'd loved for more than ten years exactly how she felt about him, and what she wanted for them.
All she had to do was put one foot in front of the other.
Hoisting her carry-on bag, she slipped around the side of the house to the back porch. A smile tugged at her lips as she climbed the porch steps. She smelled steak. Her mouth watered, even as she placed a trembling hand on the doorknob. Like how the most direct way to her heart was through her stomach, the most direct route to Luke Danes was through the kitchen. She hadn't been wrong about them all those years ago. They were a perfect match.
Steeling her spine, she twisted the knob and practically fell through the door.
Luke looked up and tossed the fork he'd been holding into the skillet on the stove. "Lorelai. What are you doing home?"
Panic welled up inside her as she realized that this wasn't exactly how she wanted to tell him…everything. "Don't come near me."
He stopped, his expression growing even more bewildered. "Why?"
She rushed to the other side of the table and dropped her bag onto a chair. "Because I smell. Every part of me smells. I... I didn't even hike and I smell. I showered and I took the plane back home. I haven't been near a cactus in the last twenty-four hours. And apparently all you have to do is think about hiking and you smell," she babbled.
Luke stared at her, wariness and disbelief etched into his features. "You didn't hike?"
She'd put those lines there. She'd made him worry. But she couldn't think about that now. She needed to get clean, so she could come clean. A person didn't lay her entire life on the line smelling like dirt and sweat and backpack. Not when the man standing in front of her smelled like steak.
"I tried but they wouldn't let me."
Impatient, she dismissed all those weeks of planning with a wave. "Because I forgot things. I taped dried stew to my pack. Anyway, I didn't hike. But, see, I didn't actually go to hike." His brows shot up and her mouth shifted into overdrive. "I mean, I went to hike, but I only wanted to figure something out. I figured it out without hiking, which was great, 'cause the thru-hiker looked like Christian Bale in The Machinist. She knew how to get all that crap in her pack." She muttered the last under her breath, still disgusted with herself.
She shook her head and plowed on. She couldn't let him derail her. Not now. Not until she said all the things she needed to say. Shower or no shower.
"I was getting coffee. I should've known it would have something to do with coffee. Everything in my life has something to do with coffee. I believe, in a former life, I was coffee." She paused for a breath, because if anyone in the world knew her coffee blood cell count, it was Luke. "But the place was closed. And I had to wait, and I walked around the back and there was this hill. And I don't know why, but I walked up the hill and there was this vista, and suddenly something became completely clear to me." She sighed, her shoulders dropping as she prepared to offload everything that had been plaguing her for months. "Luke—"
He stepped forward, holding his hand up like the traffic cop. "Stop! I know what you're doing," he said, his tone so brisk it took her breath away.
He gave a short, sharp nod. "You're getting ready to leave me, and I have to tell you it's a big mistake."
He gestured broadly, refusing to let her edge in. "I've seen the signs. I've seen them coming for months."
His assertion took her back. She blinked. "What signs?"
"Your bolting signs."
She opened her mouth, prepared to be offended, but he barreled ahead.
"You know, the distance, the therapy, then suddenly you know you're gonna do Wild? Really? You're gonna go hiking alone, with nothing else involved? No music festival or Hello Kitty booth? Just you and nature?"
She grimaced. "I admit it sounded weird."
But Luke wasn't waiting around for any explanations. "I don't care what anybody says. Needing space is never a good thing. Ever. I needed space before. I needed space with Nicole and we got divorced. I mean, that's what 'needing space' means. It means, 'I need space and the number of a good attorney.'"
He waved her off like the baseball referee at home plate. She squeezed her eyes shut, and she could almost hear him correcting her. Ump. Umpire. But he wasn't fixing her mixed metaphors for her. He was talking. Earnestly. Fast and loud and insistent. All things which came naturally to her, but not to Luke. Guilt twisted in her gut as she realized how far out of his comfort zone she'd led him.
"We have been through too much here, you and me, okay? I mean, I know things aren't perfect and there's been some issues, alright. You've kept things from me and I've kept things from you. You wanted me to sleep with all those women."
She wanted to laugh, but the look on his face convinced her to swallow it. "We've got to clarify how this surrogate thing works," she muttered.
He curled both hands to his chest. "I am not unhappy, okay? I am not unsatisfied. You think I'm unhappy and unsatisfied, and I can't convince you that I am not!"
And just like that, he was off and running, hands moving as fast as his mouth. Her heart lurched and lodged in her throat. Tears prickled her eyes as she stood there–stood still–and let him have his say.
"I mean," he waved an all-encompassing hand, "this right here is all I will ever need. I never thought that it would happen. That you and me, that we would happen. But we did." He took another small step closer. "Listen, I know I am not the easiest guy in the world to build a life with and to share a house with, but there is no one who will be more here for you than me. I will never leave. I will never think about leaving. I will do whatever it takes to fix what's wrong. I'll go to your nutty therapist. I'll open up a franchise if that's who you want me to be. I'll run the kitchen at your inn. I'll give you back the entire closet. I only took that half because you insisted I do it. I just figured you would take it back eventually, anyhow—"
"I already started. I didn't know if you noticed."
He shrugged. "It started to look pink."
She nodded, keeping her expression carefully neutral. "There were sparkles."
"It's yours. Take it."
"I don't want it."
"Please take it," he begged.
"I don't need it."
"Yes, you do! You need it. You need the space, and I need you. I love you."
He enunciated each word so carefully, she couldn't help but realize how unpracticed the phrase was. Not only for him, but for her as well. Another thing that needed to change. It was crazy. She never had a hard time saying the words to Rory, but with Luke…
When she didn't respond, he ramped up a notch, yanking her attention away from her thoughts and to his clenched hands. The hands that had loved her so well so many times shook with pent up emotion.
"God damn it, Lorelai! We have been through so much. I mean, we've watched each other go from person to person. I mean, there was Rachel, and Max, and Christopher! I had to watch you marry that guy! It was awful. But we made it here. We made it through all of that. I mean, you can't leave. You just…you just can't leave."
His voice cracked, and every one of the walls she'd erected around her heart crumbled. He was everything. He said everything. And it didn't matter in the least that neither of them had moved much. All of a sudden, the world was spinning again and she was no longer standing still.
"Luke!" He froze, every muscle in his body tensed and ready for action. And knowing he was on guard for them made it easier for her to let hers down. Heaving a tired sigh, she laid her needs bare at his feet. "I think we should get married."
He blinked. The sweep of long, dark, totally unfair eyelashes curtaining his gorgeous blue eyes for a moment. "What?"
She shrugged. "We've waited way too long."
"But I…" He gaped at her. "I thought..."
She knew what he thought, and it about killed her to know they were still in this place where what they meant to each other was so easy to doubt. They needed to put all those doubts to rest once and for all. It had been eight years since they found their way back to each other. More than ten ridiculously long years of being too afraid of losing each other that they never truly went all in even though they said they were.
"I love you, Luke."
She watched as all the sadness and uncertainty melted away, leaving only a befuddled sort of wonder in its place.
"You do." It wasn't a question, but a statement. Something they both knew, but she really needed to know he knew.
"I love you too," he whispered only a beat later. Like he'd forgotten that he'd said it first. Which was fine. Either way worked. Wetting her lips, she nodded, edging closer to the table because she needed to get closer to him, but she'd been stupid enough to think the stupid table was a good idea.
"I already picked a date. It's this month. It's on a Sunday because you close early Sunday, anyhow."
He waved her concerns away. "Doesn't matter, really."
"It's all set," she assured him with an uncertain shrug.
Lorelai chuckled, happy to triple confirm if that was what it took. "It's all set."
Luke turned and walked to the living room. Lorelai gaped at his retreating back. "Exactly the reaction I was looking for," she muttered, falling back on snark as a last defense.
He came back a moment later with a ring box. The ring box. "I should probably get a... a better one or a newer one," he stammered as he opened the box and took out the engagement ring he'd slid on her finger a lifetime ago.
Suddenly, she craved a Zima. Shaking her head, she smiled, delighted by his uncharacteristic sentimentality. He'd kept the ring—her ring—all this time. "Don't you dare."
Rounding the table, she met him halfway. He took her hand in his, an irrepressible smile curving his lips. Her hand shook a little as he slid the ring home.
"Just gotta tell ya before this thing goes on, you got to realize the only way out is in a body bag."
Warmth flooded through her, awakening her senses and making her toes tingle in her hiking boots. She almost purred as he slid his arm around her back and drew her close. This was the best reason of all to stand still. "Now we don't have to write our vows," she teased a moment before his lips touched hers.
The kiss was sweet at first. Sweet and tentative and tender. All the things they'd been to each other in the years since he'd organized that party for Rory in the town square. She loved this kiss. Loved the man giving it to her. But most of all, she loved knowing there was more. They were more.
As if reading her mind, Luke wrapped both arms around her and let his actions speak. His mouth was warm and soft, his hold on her firm and unyielding. He angled his head and took it deeper. She melted into him, letting him take the lead. At least for a little bit. She needed him to hold onto her. His tongue traced the seam of her lips and she opened with a groan. How long had it been since he'd done that? Her head swirled.
This was not the rote, perfunctory kiss of a couple who'd been together for so long…too long. No, this was the kiss of a man who dropped charcoal at a woman's feet, and carried ancient slips of newsprint around in his wallet. Lorelai twirled her tongue around his, inviting him in, wanting him to taste how much she needed him. Luke was a man who gave his whole heart, but she'd been looking for it in the obvious ways. Word ways. Un-Luke-like ways.
She loved it when he popped off on a good rant.
She was startled from her musings by the scrape of chair legs on the tile floor. She started to pull back, but Luke didn't let her. He kissed her deeper, sweeping his tongue into her mouth, threading his long fingers into her hair. Her hat fell off. The rush of cool air on her crown was refreshing. Her butt hit the edge of the table and her brain clicked into gear.
The table? Really?
She broke the kiss, gasping for air as he pressed her back. "Whoa. Hey there," she said, sliding her hands down to his chest in a halfhearted attempt to slow his progress.
He shook his head, his jaw set and his eyes aflame. But this time, the fervor wasn't fired by indignation. He wanted her. He wanted her here and now. On the kitchen table.
A shiver skated down her spine. She blinked up at him, both aroused and amused. After all, neither of them was as bendy as they used to be. He dropped his head and pressed his lips to the pulse throbbing in her throat. She closed her eyes and gave in to the delicious pull of pure desire. How long had it been since they'd done it anywhere but in a bed? Memories flashed behind her eyes. Table, couch, couch-es, that is. Diner. Storeroom. Ah, the limousine. That was a good night. His apartment. Her old room. Their room mid-renovation. Shower. Oh! She needed a shower.
The thought of how badly she stank doused her mood like a bucket of mountain spring water over the head. "Luke?" she gasped his name as her head jerked up.
He pushed off and accidentally punched her in the gut.
"Oof!" she cried.
He stumbled back in a panicked daze. "Oh, crap Lorelai, I'm sorry."
From her prone position on the kitchen table, she saw that his belt was hanging half open. She blinked at the thick strip of leather, then glanced down at the many, many layers of clothing between them. "Uh, well," she drawled, fixing his hiked up flannel with a pointed stare. "I appreciate the enthusiasm."
He glanced down, a look of mortification crawling across his face as he knocked his ballcap off in his desperation to run a hand over his hair. The tips of his ears turned bright red, and he bit down on his lower lip.
Sliding off the table, she reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. "No, really, I do," she said, softening her tone. "And I feel the same way about you."
He blinked, his face clearing, then lighting with hope. "You do?"
"I do," she whispered.
The two words hung in the air for a moment, then his lips curved into a sheepish smile that crinkled his eyes and sketched deep grooves into his cheeks. "Well, I am happy to see you."
Lorelai grinned, giving the front of his shirt a playful tug. "Good, because for a minute there, I was worried you had a pistol in your pocket."
"Magnum," he corrected without missing a beat.
"Right. Right." She grinned as she leaned in and pressed her mouth to his bobbing Adam's apple. "Definitely a magnum."
She gave the loose end of his belt a tug and planted another firm kiss on his lips. He moved to gather her up again, but this time she kept her head. She needed a shower. Then she needed him. Naked. Completely and totally naked.
"Holster that for a minute, will ya, partner?" she asked, slipping out of his reach. "I need a shower." Before he could protest, she held up hand, then gestured gracefully to her attire. "Cactus, remember?"
He took a half-step toward her. "I couldn't care less," he growled.
Her smile widened. She truly did appreciate his level of commitment. "Let me shower, okay? I'll feel better." Scooting around him, she snagged her bag off the chair and headed for the stairs. "Five minutes. Ten, tops," she promised.
"It'll be twenty," he complained, reaching for her, beckoning her to him.
And she wanted to. She wanted to jump him. But she wanted to wash this whole stupid hiking fiasco off of her first. She sniffed, then gave the cast iron skillet on the stove a meaningful glance. "That'll give you more time to convince Paul Anka to share that steak with me."
With that, she spun on her heel and dashed for the stairs. "Fifteen minutes," she promised.
"It'll be twenty," he countered. "And there's no way he'll share this steak," he shouted after her.
Twenty minutes later, she gave her still damp hair another hurried blast with the blow dryer and called it good enough. Tinted moisturizer, a swipe of gloss on her lips, and a few swipes of a shimmer stick had definitely helped, but she wasn't willing to waste another moment.
Opening the door to their bedroom, she stepped out with a flourish. "Ta-da!"
But the room was empty.
She blinked, then grimaced. Had her need to put the ponderosa behind her been asking too much? Had he turned on some baseball game and fallen asleep cradling the remote again? Could he really lose all interest in twenty minutes?
Suddenly nervous, she adjusted the strap on the pink camisole nightgown she'd unearthed from the back of the closet. The nightie was an old favorite of hers and of Luke's. She'd bought it because it reminded her of a nightgown she'd worn in a dream. And the first time she'd worn it for him, Luke insisted she keep it on. Then, he'd proceeded to rumple it in all the best ways.
Tipping her head to the side, she padded toward the bedroom door. "Luke?"
And like that, the man himself appeared, plate in hand. "Hey. Sorry," he answered breathlessly.
She took a startled step back. Not only was there a delicious-looking burger on the plate, but the plate was being held by a delicious-looking man. His hair was damp too. Fresh comb marks showed his attempts at taming. He wore a pair of grey sweats and a navy blue T-shirt that molded to his biceps and did unfair things to his eyes.
"Paul Anka didn't want to share, so I, uh—" He lifted the plate into her line of vision. "Then I worried…I probably smelled like meat—"
"My favorite cologne," she interrupted, taking the plate with a greedy grab. "Thank you."
He chuckled as he followed her to the edge of the bed. She took an enormous bite and sighed with unadulterated satisfaction as she sank down. "I missed you," she mumbled through stuffed cheeks.
The bed dipped as Luke sat beside her. "Me or the burger?"
She cast him a sidelong glance, but waited until she'd swallowed to answer. "Both."
His gaze dropped to her hand as she lifted the burger again. "Why did we wait so long?" he asked so softly she wasn't sure he was talking to her or to himself.
Lorelai shook her head, then picked a bite of burger off with her fingers, watching the diamond flash in the soft lamplight. She used to love to catch those glimpses of sparkle. She'd thought about the ring Luke had chosen for her more times than she cared to admit over the years, but never found the nerve to ask about it. "Scared, I guess," she murmured, popping the morsel into her mouth.
Luke bit down on his lower lip and gave his head a slow shake. "Stupid."
She couldn't disagree with that assessment. Smiling, she took a huge bite of the sandwich he'd so lovingly prepared for her, then rose to set the plate on the dresser. Pressing a hand to her overstuffed mouth, she turned back to him, holding up a finger to indicate that she needed a moment.
Luke sputtered a laugh. "You can eat, Lorelai. Another five minutes won't kill me."
She chewed diligently, her finger still spearing the air, then gulped the food down with enough effort to make the man grimace. He started to get up, and she planted a hand on his shoulder to push him back down.
"I was going to get you some water."
Clamping her mouth shut, she gave her head a slow, sad shake. "It's almost like you've forgotten who I am." She pushed into the heel of her hand, propelling him onto his back. "I've been living off dried meat and handfuls of granola for the better part of a week. I'm a professional eater. I'll let you know when I need something to drink."
"Right. Right," he murmured, his gaze locked on her face as she loomed over him. "I don't know what I was thinking."
She caught the hem of his shirt and worked it up over his stomach, giving a soft hum of approval when her knuckles brushed the soft line of hair that disappeared into his waistband. "You showered too."
He nodded. "I used the guest toothbrush in Rory's bathroom."
"Cheater," she admonished. "Now you'll be all minty fresh, and I'll taste like a burger."
"So what else is new?" he murmured, winding her long hair around his hand and pulling her down to him. "I missed you."
"I missed you too." She stared into his eyes. "I'm sorry."
He shook his head. "No. None of that."
"But I am. I keep doubting us, Luke. I need you to know, it's because I doubt myself, not you. Never you."
"I love you."
Hearing him say it again, so soon, made her heart flip. "Luke—"
"I don't say it enough," he said gruffly. "I haven't said it enough. But that changes now." He captured her left hand and rubbed his thumb over the diamond he'd placed there. "Everything changes now."
"It's all set," she whispered. "We only have to make it there this time."
His quiet assurance was all she needed. Leaning down, she trapped their clasped hands between their bodies and kissed him long and lush.
When their lips parted, she pressed her forehead to his. "We will."
Wriggling his hand free, he gently pushed her up and away. Confused by the change in direction, her gaze flew to his. "What?"
He chuckled. "Sorry about the kitchen table thing."
Her smile stretched as the montage that played in her head earlier cued up on repeat. "Wouldn't be the first time."
"I was a little…you know," he smirked up at her.
"I know," she answered solemnly. "I was too."
"Were you?" he asked, a note of cockiness creeping into his tone.
"Uh-huh." Shifting her weight, she rolled up onto her feet.
Luke pushed up onto his elbows. "Where—"
His questioning gaze clouded when she crossed her arms over her body and inched the hem of her gown up her thighs. "I'm going right here."
In one smooth move, she pulled the gown over her head, tossing her hair back as she flung the fabric aside. She saw his throat work, but he seemed to be frozen in place.
"Yeah?" he answered automatically.
She fluttered a hand at him. "Lose the clothes."
The command was direct enough to be effective. His shirt flew across the room. She smiled, loving the way his hair stood on end as he rolled up to shuck his sweats.
He wore no underwear.
God, she loved this man.
"God, I love you."
The words were out before she'd fully processed the thought. But for once in her life, she didn't feel the need to shift away from them. Instead, she leaned into them. Into him. Standing chest to chest, she ran her hands over his ribs, feeling his deep inhalation filling his whole body.
His lips twisted into a wry smile, but his color was high and his eyes shone bright. "We might be getting carried away with that now."
Lorelai laughed, tossing her hair back as she pressed up against him, trapping the proof that he was ready to get carried away between their bellies. "Maybe we're all pent up. Maybe we need to get it all out of our systems."
He kissed her slow and deep, his tongue moving with leisurely assurance against hers. "I love you," he murmured when they came up for air.
Lorelai slid her hands down to his butt and groped. "Sweet talker."
He ducked his head and kissed his way along her jaw. "It's your turn," he murmured.
Running a hand over his hip, she slid it between them to claim the hard, hot length of him. His breath hitched and she smiled, reveling in her power and letting her head fall back. "I love you," she said obligingly, her voice husky with power.
"Wanna get in the bed?" he asked, his palm skimming the side of her breast.
He didn't have to ask twice, but the fact that he did made her smile. They might be beyond the frantic tumbles and dark corner groping, but not because they didn't feel that way about each other. Now they had a big, comfy bed with pillows. Her side and his. The dip in the middle of the mattress their bodies had wallowed out over the years. Proof that their bodies were as entwined as them and their future.
She smirked when he took the time to carefully set the decorative throw pillows. He must have been placing them there every morning, even though she'd been gone and he thought they were ridiculous.
He peeled back the covers and slid into the bed, looking up at her, his expression open and expectant. "You comin'?"
Lorelai bit back a dirty double entendre in favor of a small test. "What are the magic words?"
He smirked. Over the years they'd played this game a million times with the answer always changing to reflect their latest debate. The latest answer had been, 'Chris Hemsworth is the hottest Chris,' delivered in his patient monotone. This time, she was hoping to hear those three little words again, but, as always, he played by his own rules.
Holding out his hand palm up, a creak of impatient emotion broke his voice. "Come to bed."
Shoving all impulse to tease aside, she grasped his hand and slid in beside him. They met in the middle, love and gravity combining forces to mold them together.
"Hey," he whispered, combing his fingers through her tousled hair.
She turned her face to press a kiss to the palm of his hand. "Hey." She closed her eyes when he stilled, and smiled against his tender skin. "I love you."
"Lorelai," he exhaled. "I was so scared it was happening again. I couldn't lose you again."
The raw, vulnerable confession tore into her. "No. Never. Never again." She wagged her head to emphasize the point. "I want you to know I'm okay with this. Us. This is enough. I don't need a baby. I only need me and you. Forever."
"Me and you and Rory and April," he said gruffly.
Her smile was tremulous. "Exactly."
"Good, because I really didn't want to have sex with all those other women," he said gravely.
She looked up, rolling her eyes before she caught the gleam in his. He was teasing her. Now, when she was laying here naked, exposing her innermost thoughts, and he was goading her. She bit back her standard reply about how surrogacy actually worked, then fell back, pulling him along until he hovered above her. "Okay. You had your chance."
This time, he grinned as he nuzzled into the crook of her neck. His warm breath raised goosebumps, but it was the scrape of his teeth that made her quiver.
"I love you."
And that. Why had she ever thought she wouldn't want to hear it every minute of every day? What in the world ever made her believe it would lose its magic? How could it?
He drew gently on her neck, and her body bowed against his. The feel of rough, curling hair against her breasts made her ache. She rubbed against him like a cat, suddenly anxious to speed things up. Maybe she should have given in on the table. Now that they were here, he'd take his own sweet time.
"No, I'm not hurrying," he answered, kissing his way along her collarbone.
"You had your chance," he retorted, echoing her earlier taunt.
He ran his hand down her side, tracing her waist and stroking her hip. She sighed her happiness and ran a lazy hand down his back. "You're right, I did."
Luke kissed her then, capturing her mouth with a ferocity that never failed to startle and arouse her. This was her Luke—flashes of heat fueled by coals that burned steady and bright. She opened to him, letting him control the kiss. Damn, she loved him fired up. His fingers tangled in her hair, tugging at her scalp. He tipped her head to the exact angle he wanted, and she let him because she wanted it too. Deeper thrusts of his tongue. Swirling, dancing, coaxing her into waltzing with him again.
He cupped her breast and she moaned into his mouth. He ran the tender center of his palm over her tight nipple and the moan turned into a groan of ache. Grasping the rounded muscle of his ass, she pulled him closer, wriggling until she had him positioned right where she needed him.
His cock throbbed between them thick and hot, pressing against her sensitized flesh, and ratcheting up her need with each instinctive thrust. With a growl of mixed pleasure and pain, he tore his mouth from hers and began to work his way down her body, each caress of his lips fervent but reverent.
Lorelai writhed, desperate for any bit of him she could reach. She landed a kiss on his temple before he slid low enough to capture the nipple he'd teased with his warm mouth. He drew deeply, rolling his tongue over the pebbled flesh.
"I want…" she panted.
He released her, a knowing smile curving his lips. "I know."
And he did. He covered her stomach in kisses, knowing it both tickled and turned her on. He stroked her thighs, gently urging her to spread them wider. She did. She sprawled across the bed they shared, giving herself up to him.
He nuzzled the dark curls between her legs, inhaling deeply, and humming his approval as he let the breath go in a warm gush that seemed to ripple through her blood.
When he brushed a spate of tender kisses to her sex, she bent her knees and lifted off the bed, shamelessly asking for his mouth on her. He croaked her name.
That particular magic word always did the trick for Luke, and she damn well knew it. She convulsed at the first bold swipe of his tongue. Her hands flew to his head. She was careful not to tug on the thinning strands at his crown. Instead, she stroked. He was sensitive about his hair, but she loved it. It was soft and downy, the loose waves and curls slippery between her fingers. His tongue slid through her folds and she arched off the bed, offering herself up to him. He cradled her bottom in both hands and set to work driving her out of her mind.
Each kiss, lick, nuzzle, and stroke hit exactly the right spot. The man knew precisely how to play her. As he should by now. Just as she knew exactly how to push the button to make him go nuclear. But she wouldn't. Not yet.
Lifting her head to watch him, she rode each wave of pleasure he stirred, reveling in the build-up. He'd get her where she wanted to go.
Sure enough, he settled into an insistent rhythm designed to send her to the edge. He slid a finger into her, matching each thrust to the lash of his talented tongue. Her body tensed and trembled. Her breaths came in short, sharp pants. She closed her eyes and hung on for as long as she could. She didn't want him to stop. Never. Ever. But, oh…
"Luke," she gasped. "Now. Inside me now."
He left her with one last kiss, then pushed himself up with a groan. She was trying to gather her wits enough to tease him about it when he settled against her and all coherent thought scattered.
"Okay?" His voice was rough with desire, but laced with loving concern.
She reached up to smooth the lines of strain that etched lines into his brow. "I love you."
He closed his eyes and his expression relaxed into wonderous relief as he sank into her welcoming heat. He dropped his forehead to hers, bracing his weight on one elbow as he grasped her hand and held it tight, pushing until they fit together tight.
They both stilled, content to feel their hearts beating in sync again. When she started to worry he'd fallen asleep, he lifted his head. He met her gaze directly, then cleared his throat before speaking. "If you really want a baby, I'll do anything, but I have to tell you, this is still my favorite option."
"Noted," she croaked, her eyes filling with tears.
He began to move inside her, and for the first time in a long time, Lorelai believed it was truly possible. Paris could keep her batteries of tests and myriad of opinions. If she and Luke were meant to have a baby, it would happen.
And she'd be damned if she'd let him even think about sleeping with another woman.
Smoothing his hair back, she toyed with the little whorl of a curl behind his ear. A tear escaped and slid down her temple. He stilled, and she shook her head violently. "No. No. I'm okay," she assured him. She lifted up to kiss his lips, sweet and lingering, then fell back against the pillows with a laugh. "Okay, mister. A little less talk, a little more action."
Luke snorted a laugh, then shook his head as he picked up the pace again. "So wrong hearing you say that."
She smirked, then gave his ass a playful swat. "Let your actions speak, Luke. Isn't that what the book said?"
"Don't make fun of the book," he growled as he shifted higher.
She gasped and groaned her approval of the change of angle. "Love the book."
They lapsed into silence at last, only their gasps, groans, and grunts filling the room. Every muscle in her body contracted, pleasure coiling tight and low in her belly, waiting to bust loose.
"Lorelai," he rasped.
The ragged edge of his voice was all it took to unravel her. She felt him let loose deep inside her and clutched him tighter to her as she found her way to the edge and allowed the momentum to tip her over it.
Moments later, his movements slowed though their breaths still came hard and fast. His lips brushed her ear as he collapsed face-down into the pillow beside her.
"I love you, Lorelai," he mumbled, his voice muffled by the pillow.
She smiled into the darkness behind her eyelids. "Let's not wear it out, now."
He turned his head and she glanced over to find him grinning at her crookedly. "Nope." He rolled onto his side and gathered her close. He nuzzled her hair and sighed contentedly. "From here on out, I'm gonna do my best to wear those words into a groove."
In that moment, Lorelai Gilmore fell in love with Luke Danes all over again. "Then I guess it's all set."
"It's all set," he confirmed
Snuggling in, she smiled as she drifted, wondering what he'd do to make her fall for him a little more the next day. She couldn't wait to find out.