Birdie dropped Ivy off in the driveway. Ivy thanked her, scooped up the wedding dress box and went in. As sweet as Hank’s aunt was, it was a relief to be away from the constant wedding chatter.
Hank met Ivy at the door with a smile, but his eyes held an endearing amount of concern. “Did she wear you out?”
A little, but Ivy wasn’t about to disparage the woman who’d just gifted her with a wedding dress. “No. Your aunt is lovely.”
He snorted as he stepped out of the way to let her inside.
“Really, she is.”
“Looks like you did some shopping.”
“We did.” If only he knew what was in that box.
“So did I.”
She frowned at him. “You went shopping?”
He dug a little velvet box out of the pocket of his jeans and handed it to her. “See for yourself.”
She set down the box she was carrying and opened the one he’d given her, even though she already knew what was in it. The ring. She sucked in a breath when she saw how wrong she’d been. It was a ring all right, but not the little one she’d picked out. It was the expensive one she’d loved but known was too much. “You crazy man. You bought the big one.”
He nodded. “You like it?”
She swallowed and swiped at her eyes, feeling the heat of building tears. “It’s beautiful. But it’s not the one I pointed to.”
He took the ring from the box and slipped it on her finger. “It’s the one I thought you should have. You seemed to like it best.”
She had, but it had been so expensive she hadn’t dared let him know. Apparently, she’d failed at that. She glanced at the ring, but her gaze came up to stare at his handsome face a second later. “You’re really something, you know that?”
He smiled. “So are you.”
She leaned in and kissed him. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight.
“I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“I’m so glad you caught those guys.” She leaned her head on his shoulder. There was so much pleasure in being in his arms, safe and protected. It was such a rare feeling in her life that she almost started weeping for real.
Reluctantly, she broke the embrace and picked up the wedding dress box. “I’m just going to run upstairs and put this away, then I’ll be back down and I want to hear all about how you took down the Jenkins brothers.”
“You want a beer?”
He really was the man of her dreams. “More than words can say.”
With a grin, she jogged up the stairs to her bedroom and shut the door. She put the box on the bed and freed the dress from the wrappings, her heart fluttering a bit as she shook it out. Up until Hank had given her the ring, it had been the most beautiful thing she’d ever owned.
She hoped neither one became the symbol of a horrible day. The ring could be returned, but the dress, she wasn’t so sure about. She sat on the bed and clutched the gown to her, the lace soft and perfect in her hands.
Hank was amazing. So much more than she’d dreamed of. Maybe…more than she deserved, although after life with her father, maybe Hank was her reward for not killing Clemens.
Whether or not Hank loved her, Ivy knew she loved him. How could she not? For all his gruff exterior, he’d warmed up fast and shown her a side of himself that was caring and concerned and fiercely protective.
One thing after another and he’d proved what kind of man he was.
When she’d almost died at the hands of the Jenkins brothers, Hank had gone after them and taken them out of the picture.
She’d told him about Charlie and he hadn’t blinked an eye. She could only imagine what kind of amazing father he would be. Someday.
He was a generous lover. He’d made her breakfast. Bought her flowers. And then there was the ring he’d picked out. The ring he’d thought she should have. She stuck her hand out and splayed her fingers, not quite able to enjoy the glitter of the diamond now seated there.
All that when she’d expected him to judge her for her last name and treat her like something to be endured.
He did not deserve the trap Clemens was setting for him. Nor did the Merrow pack deserve the war that would follow if Hank refused to marry her, which would be perfectly within his rights if he found out the truth before they were married.
Her cell phone rang, snapping her out of her head. She let the dress fall limp over her lap as she checked the screen. Her mother’s number. Which meant Charlie. Her heart leaped. She swiped to answer. “Hey, baby! It’s so good to hear your voice.”
Sobs answered her. “Mom, you gotta come home.”
Pain stabbed her in the heart. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
The crying increased, and all her son could manage was, “Grandpa.”
Rage rose up in Ivy. A lifetime’s worth. But it was her mother’s instinct that drove her to her feet. The dress fell to the floor, forgotten. Enough was enough. Whatever the consequences, she was done abiding by her father’s rule at her son’s expense.
She stared out the window, seeing nothing but her own, golden-eyed reflection. “I’m coming, baby. I’m coming.”
Hank popped the top off Ivy’s beer, set it next to his, then leaned against the counter while he waited on her. He’d changed into a fresh shirt and tossed the old one out as soon as he’d gotten home. He might have healed from Wade’s nails slicing him, but his T-shirt was a lost cause.