Annalise paced her square living room, phone glued to her ear. “But Libby, what am I supposed to think? Colton’s been gone for a week, and I still haven’t heard from him.”
She twirled the diamond solitaire around her ring finger and sent up another prayer for him and their future. At least, she hoped they still had a future.
Always the optimist, Libby steamed ahead. “Maybe there was a work emergency he had to sort out back in Santa Fe. You know how startup business can be. When it rains, it pours.”
“Yeah, or maybe he’s having second thoughts about the whole wedding. We’ve already pushed back the date once, Libs. What if he doesn’t want to go through with it this time?”
Outside, the Sonoran rain beat against her bungalow’s tin roof much like Annalise’s fear battered against her heart. She and Colton were supposed to get married next month. Her grandmother’s warnings about spinster brides flooded her mind like an unwelcome houseguest.
“Don’t be crazy, you know how much he loves you. And while this company may take up a lot of his time, he’s still the same guy who wants to marry you. They don’t say love is patient for no reason. Just give him time.”
“Haven’t I waited long enough?” Maybe Libby was right, but sometimes it felt like her life was never going to start until she and Colton were married.
Three loud knocks startled Annalise out of her self-pity, and she nearly dropped the phone onto the terracotta tile floor. “Hey, Libby, I gotta go.”
“Okay. Just be patient. It’ll all work out.”
A weight lifted from her shoulders at Libby’s encouragement, and she slid her phone across the coffee table before another knock echoed through the house.
“Coming.” Annalise smoothed a frizzy curl behind her ear and stepped into the foyer.
Easing the door open, she peered out into the rainy evening. A tall shadow blocked her view, and she flicked on the porch light.
The incandescent beam illuminated a tall figure, and Annalise froze. “Colton?”
“Hi, Anna.” He shoved his hands into damp pockets and stared back at her with eyes that matched the indigo clouds behind him. Damp curls were plastered to his face, obscuring its shadowed planes.
“Would you like to come inside?” Annalise propped the door a little wider, bathing them both in a golden glow. “Or we can sit out here? The porch is still mostly dry.” She fumbled for words and indicated the bench seat sheltered from the rain.
He shifted and cupped the back of his neck as if debating his answer. Annalise held her breath until he nodded.
They sat next to each other in silence, their feet pushing the porch swing with a gentle cadence. Rain drummed on the rooftop and echoed through the aluminum soffit while the wind chased a few oaken shadows over the desert garden.
“Anna, I—” His voice hitched and faltered. His foot tapped a drummer’s march into the wooden planks, and he tried again. “I’m sorry I left.” He folded his large hands across his lap, and the tapping slowed to a stop. “I made such a mess of things in New Mexico.”
Her own feet stilled.
“I didn’t want to worry you, and I thought I could fix it this last time. But…”
“Colton, whatever it is, we can get through it.” She touched his knee, and he jerked.
“Anna,” he sighed and took a fortifying breath.
Whatever it was, they could handle it, right? Images of another woman or a broken engagement flitted through her mind but she shoved them aside.
Colton’s hand wrapped around hers, but his shoulders slumped. “I lost the business. Everything.” His jaw ticked under the lamplight, and he raked a hand through wet hair. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to marry me anymore.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Didn’t you hear me? The firm is gone, the bank is seizing all my assets, including the condo, and you don’t think I’m serious?” Shaky breaths did little to control his emotions.
“Colton.” Annalise slid closer until their knees touched.
“The money’s gone, Anna. All of it. I don’t have a job, and who’s going to hire the man who lost his own business?”
“We’ll make it work, no matter what.” She bumped her shoulder against his. “And I don’t need the condo.”
“What do you need then?” His eyes locked with hers, and for the first time since he’d turned up on her doorstep, they sparked hope.
The shadows lifted from his face. He reached out and swept his fingers through her hair, gathering it at the nape, and drew her close. Their noses brushed, his warm breath skimming her lips.
“Are you sure?” His guarded question hovered between them, and she could feel his heart pounding beneath her palm against his chest. “You deserve the world, and I don’t have anything to offer except myself.”
“I don’t care about any of those fancy things. I’ve waited my whole life to fall in love. Marry me, and we’ll figure it out together.”
His mouth curved into a smile. “I’m already yours.” His lips found hers and conveyed all his love in a single kiss.
After a few moments of rain-serenaded bliss, he broke their connection. “I know I’ve been gone a lot lately,” he said between breaths.
“Yes, you have.” She played with the collar of his shirt.
“And my input on this wedding has been sparse, to say the least.”
“As rare as rain in the desert.”
Colton laughed, the rich sound echoing across the patio. “And what would you call this? Liquid sunshine?” A low rumble proceeded to roll over the McDowell Mountains.
She smiled at the ill-timed sound effects. “Your point, being?”
“My point is,” his husky voice grew quiet, “unlike these monsoon rains, this time, I’m here to stay.”
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