Megan never wanted to look at another cardboard box again. She decided right then and there that she would not purchase anything in a box for the rest of her life. Not shoes, or cereal, or furniture. She hated boxes. They were the bane of her existence and were clearly out to ruin her life.
Such was her antipathy toward boxes when she and Caleb collapsed onto the floor of their new house after an endless day of moving. They still had a number of boxes to unpack, but Megan couldn’t find the strength to care. Who needed towels? Or socks? Or a colander?
“I feel like I’m going to die,” she groaned. “Why did we do this again?”
Caleb gave her a wry look. “Because you were tired of me sleeping over.”
“I mean, I wasn’t that tired of it. It was more that my bed wasn’t big enough for the two of us, and you hog the blankets.”
“I do not.” He sounded genuinely offended.
She patted his arm. “Yes, you do, but I will overlook that because I love you.”
He growled, which only sent shivers down Megan’s spine. His hand palmed her ass as he kissed her. Wiggling closer to him, she forgot all about her hatred of boxes for the time being.
It was the first night in their new house. After Megan had suggested they move in together, Caleb had gone to a realtor the following Monday, on the hunt for the perfect house. Megan hadn’t really been in any hurry, if she were being honest. Besides, it meant that both she and Caleb would have to sell their houses (neither of which were big enough for two people, and they wanted to start afresh anyway), and then they’d have to pack and then move. Which was the worst thing in existence.
Now they were finally moved in, although the majority of their things were still in boxes. They’d bought a pretty little three-bedroom not too far from where Harrison lived. Megan had fallen in love with it the moment she’d seen it, with its wrap-around porch, blue shutters, and huge windows that let in lots of natural light.
Right now, though, their adorable house was just filled with boxes. Boxes upon boxes upon boxes. The only creature who didn’t mind the maze of boxes was Gary. He’d found one partially open and curled up in it, content as a newborn kitten. He’d protested the move during the fifteen-minute car ride, meowing in distress in his carrier set upon suitcases and boxes in Megan’s backseat, but the second Megan had let him out of his carrier after the movers had left, he had forgotten all about the traumatic car ride. Asleep like he’d been working all day instead of meowing and whining, he slept the sleep of a job well done.
Megan’s stomach rumbled. Caleb grinned and said, “Takeout?”
“Yes, God, please.”
They ate Chinese on their living room floor, Gary having woken up long enough to bat around some fortune cookie wrappers. It was, Megan reflected, the happiest she’d felt in a long time.
Gazing at Caleb, who was wearing an old t-shirt and jeans, his hair rumpled, his face tired from moving, he was the most handsome man she’d ever seen. She still had to pinch herself to believe they were really together. How many years had she fantasized about being with Caleb Thornton? Too many years to count.
And now here they were. In their house. Together. Even with the boxes and the mess and the fact that Megan had no idea where her soap was to take a shower, she was happy.
Caleb caught her looking, and he raised an eyebrow. “Yes?”
“I was just wondering if you were going to share the cashew chicken or keep it all to yourself.”
He narrowed his eyes at her before allowing her to have some chicken. Plucking a few pieces out with her chopsticks, she sent him a sunny smile.
“Be glad I like you enough to share my chicken,” he said.
“You’re basically Mother Teresa of Chinese food.”
As the evening waned on, they attempted to unpack a few boxes, but they were both so tired that it seemed pointless. After finding the few necessities for the night, including blankets and pillows, towels and soap, Megan decided to take a bath and go to bed early.
“You want to join me?” she asked Caleb when she got ready for her bath.
To her surprise, he shook his head. “Not tonight,” he said, and then he got up to go finish unpacking one of his boxes.
Megan stared at his back, nonplussed. It wasn’t that she thought she was so irresistible that Caleb could never turn her down but…that had kind of been the case ever since they’d gotten together. The few times they hadn’t ended up sleeping together, they still cuddled. Or kissed. Or something.
She’d never had Caleb give her the cold shoulder.
She felt deflated. It was stupid, and it was probably because she was just exhausted, but she wanted to cry. Oh my God, I’m so dramatic. I need to go to bed already.
Gary curled around her ankles right then, and she reached down to pick him up. “You love me, don’t you?” she asked as she went into the bathroom and turned on the water.
Gary just hopped down from her arms and started batting at the water coming out of the faucet. He was a strange cat who loved playing with water, although he hated getting wet. Go figure.
Megan took a long bath, soaking her aching muscles. Gary sat on the edge of the tub, batting at bubbles as they passed him by and trying to bite Megan’s toes. She hardly noticed. Closing her eyes, she wished that Caleb would join her, but after over an hour passed, she knew he wasn’t going to.
She toweled off vigorously, like she could take out her irritation on her damp body. She really needed to go to bed. Brushing her teeth and glaring at her reflection in the mirror, she told herself to stop being an idiot and get some sleep. Caleb didn’t hate her. He was just tired. That was it.
Yet that didn’t stop her belly from clenching in anxiety.
Caleb wasn’t in bed still, and she heard him unpacking boxes in the living room. Hadn’t he said he wanted to turn in, too? She collapsed onto the bed and turned on the TV, yawning widely. But she couldn’t sleep. She was too wired from the day they’d had and from her spinning thoughts.
By midnight, she got up to tell Caleb to get some damn sleep already.
“Caleb, what are you doing?” she asked as she found him still in the living room. “It’s nearly midnight.”
He made a sound in the back of his throat. He didn’t look at her as he dug through another box. She realized with a start that he hadn’t been unpacking so much as dumping. Items were scattered across the floor, and nothing was actually put away.
“Caleb Matthew Thornton, what the hell is going on with you?”
He winced, and then winced again when he stood up. “Go back to sleep,” he said as he took a box cutter to another box. “I’ll be there soon.”
“Cool story, but that doesn’t mean anything to me.” She took his hand to stop him from digging through another box. “What are you looking for?”
She eyed the stuff everywhere. “Well, if you are, you suck at it.”
His jaw clenched, and she wondered if he were going to admit what was going on. Caleb was better about being honest with his feelings, but he wasn’t perfect at it, either. Having to keep the secret of Daniel’s death for so long had forced him to bite his tongue and swallow anything that made him angry or sad. He’d conditioned himself to grin and bear it. Except no person could grin and bear it forever. Megan knew that as well as anyone.
“Caleb,” she said softly. She drew him away from the box. “What is it?”
He muttered underneath his breath. He was stiff, like he was trying to resist her plea, but when she pressed his fingers, he deflated. The fight went out of him.
“I’m looking for something,” he finally said.
“Yeah, I figured that. Wanna tell me about it?”
“No, but I will anyway because I know you won’t stop bothering me until you know what it is, and I’m exhausted.”
“You’re too kind.”
He pushed his fingers through his dark hair, rumpling it further. “I can’t find the ring. I thought I put it in that small box, but it’s not in there.”
“Yeah. The ring I bought to propose to you.” His eyes flashed green fire.
Her heart stuttered. She let out a little gasp and grabbed his arm. “Are you serious?”
“Yeah, and I’m pissed because I was going to propose tonight and now I can’t—“
“Oh my God, Caleb! Wait, we have to find it! What does it look like? Where did you last see it?”
He raised his eyebrows at her response, but after a moment, he replied, “It’s in a gray velvet box.”
They worked into the night. Megan didn’t need a ring (but that didn’t mean she didn’t want one), but she wanted to find it for Caleb. She also really, really wanted him to propose like he’d planned. It seemed silly that the ring mattered in the grand scheme of things, but she knew Caleb. He wouldn’t stop looking for it until he found the ring or collapsed trying.
Stubborn, stupid, amazing man. Megan smiled as she opened another box.
It was hedging toward three-thirty AM when she found it. A gray velvet box mixed in with shoeboxes and purses. She was about to open it, but Caleb snagged it from her grip.
“Hey! Isn’t that mine?”
His expression turned from frustrated to devilish in an instant. “Not yet it isn’t.” He pocketed the ring without another word.
“What—are you not proposing now?”
He grinned. “Nope. Let’s go to bed.”
He went to the bathroom, and she heard the water turn on. She blinked, incredulous. Then she let out a frustrated noise that he answered with laughter.
“You suck, Caleb Thornton!” she called out as she went to their bedroom.
“I love you, too!” he replied.
Megan was close to falling asleep when Caleb joined her. When he kissed the back of her neck, she couldn’t stop herself from stretching against him. He spooned with her, kissing her shoulder, and as her body heated, he touched her breasts. Her belly. The wet curls between her thighs. She forgot all about that ring when he touched her like that, and when he pushed inside of her, his cock hard and pulsing, she didn’t give a single damn about rings, lonely baths, or villainous boxes.
Megan almost forgot about the ring, except not really. Who could? Now she knew Caleb planned to propose. He just hadn’t done it yet.
What the hell was taking so long? He had the ring! What else did he need? She didn’t exactly see him planning some elaborate proposal. Then again, she hadn’t thought he’d take his sweet time to ask the question he already knew the answer to. Hadn’t he been planning to ask her that first night anyway?
Men were such weird creatures.
A week after they’d moved in together, she and Caleb went to the Fainting Goat for dinner. They ate and enjoyed each other’s company, and Megan put the ring out of her mind. She didn’t need to get married any time soon anyway. She had The Rise and Shine to think of, and settling into their new house, and getting used to being with Caleb in general. He’d been like a hurricane, storming into her life like he had. Some days it was all she could do to hang onto something or risk getting blown away.
He looked especially yummy tonight: black sweater, dark jeans, his hair a little too long and curling near the collar of his sweater. His eyelashes were dusky and every time he smiled at her, Megan couldn’t stop her stomach from doing a flip-flop. She wanted to bury her nose in the crook of his neck and shoulder and inhale his scent. She wanted to trail her hands up under his sweater, feel the lines of his muscles, the delineations of his abdomen.
“You ready to go?” he asked after they’d indulged in a piece of chocolate cake.
She hummed. She was definitely ready to take him home and jump him. “Sure.”
As they walked outside, though, Caleb had them stop. He turned her toward him, and when she opened her mouth to ask him what was wrong, he shook his head.
She fell silent. Her heart started to pound. Had something happened? Did he have an issue with her? Her mind tried to go through every terrible scenario, but she forced the disastrous thoughts aside.
He held her hand in his, stroking her palm. “Do you remember when we kissed here?”
That hadn’t been what she’d expected him to say. Giving him an incredulous smile, she replied, “Of course I do. And then I told you to buzz off.”
He chuckled. “Yes, I remember that distinctly.” He moved so she stood in the circle of his arms, warm and solid. “You were so gorgeous even though you hated me. I wanted to kiss you until you forgot that you hated me.”
“Really. But you weren’t going to be that easy, were you?”
She grinned. “Nope. You needed to be taken down a peg, anyway.”
“But there’s something else you didn’t know.”
“Oh geez, do I want to know? Wait, you’re actually adopted? No, you were kidnapped by pirates at age ten and sailed the ocean blue—“
He placed a finger on her lips. “That was the night I fell in love with you for real.”
Yes, Caleb Thornton was definitely a hurricane: he made her feel like she couldn’t find solid ground, like the waves would swallow her whole. Like she’d been tossed about until she was reborn. He was dangerous in the best possible way.
“You did? You were?”
“I didn’t know it then, though. You just pissed me off, but when I kissed you…” He touched her cheek. “It was like everything aligned in that moment.”
She nodded because words failed her now. Her heart was full to bursting, and she felt her throat clog with tears. Damn, would she never stop crying over this guy?
Maybe in a hundred years, when her heart didn’t feel so soft, or when she was no longer amazed that he loved her at all.
But the tears decided they weren’t going to disappear when he slowly knelt down in front of her. She watched as he pulled the gray velvet box from his jeans pocket and opened it. A bright sapphire ring shone within.
“Megan Genevieve Flannigan,” he intoned, his green eyes brimming with emotion, “I fell in love with you in this spot over a year ago. You drive me insane, but you’ve loved me despite everything. You are my center. You keep me from losing myself amidst the storm. Megan, you saved me and I know you’ll keep saving me.”
He took her hand, but he didn’t place the ring on her finger. Not yet.
She waited to hear the words she hadn’t realized she was so desperate to hear.
“Will you marry me, Megan?”
It wasn’t like she didn’t know her answer. But words failed her, and she could only nod, her mouth trembling. Tears spilled over as he placed the ring on her finger, and it felt warm on her skin. Her heart burst with joy.
“Goddammit, Caleb, why do you always have to make me cry?” She wiped at her tears. She wished he would warn a girl so she could make sure to wear waterproof mascara, damn him.
He smiled. Rising, he kissed her, murmuring words of love against her lips.
Then she smiled, too, remembering what else had happened that night a year ago. “‘So I will eat them in a box./And I will eat them with a fox./And I will eat them in a house,’” she recited.
He laughed, and it was a sound that created butterflies in Megan’s stomach. “‘And I will eat them with a mouse./And I will eat them here and there./Say! I will eat them anywhere!’” His voice was low, like it had been that night. The words themselves silly and amusing, but the underlying tone only filled with longing and heat.
Gazing into his eyes, her ring sparkling under the street lamps, she said, “‘I do so like/Green eggs and ham!’” She caressed his cheek, his bottom lip. “‘Thank you!/Thank you,/Sam-I-am.’”
His gaze was fathomless and full of love. He curled a finger around a tendril of her hair. “Thank you, Megan.”
She smiled through her tears. “You’re welcome, Caleb.”