“But you found Clyde,” she said, pointing out the truth. “Found a way for it all to happen.” Taking a single step forward, she whispered, “I’m counting on you to help me with other things, too, Scooter.”
He was shaking his head and had retreated all the way across the room. Grasping the table behind him with both hands, he said, “So you were mad at me for asking you to marry me.”
She bit her lip to disguise the smile that fought to gain control of her lips. “Not hardly,” she said. “I was mad because you said it was all over. It’s not. I want to keep helping girls on the docks. Even though Francine’s been arrested, there are still girls working there who don’t know they have another choice. I know passing out condoms isn’t enough. I want to buy a house in Duluth, where those girls can live while looking for other work, or going to school, or whatever they need.”
Taking another step, she nodded. “Yes, I do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have something else that I want.”
Stepping up, right in front of him, she rested both hands on his bare chest. “You.”
She nodded. “There may be times we both come to regret it, considering we’re both too stubborn to readily admit what’s good for us, but...what do you say we get married?”
He caught her beneath the chin. “What?”
“You heard me,” she said. “But don’t say yes if you expect me to stop making trips to Duluth. I love you, Scooter, but helping those girls is something I have to do. Just like Norma Rose has to be in charge, and Twyla has to wear the latest fashion, and Ginger has to have cherry-flavored lipstick. It’s who I am.” He was frowning, deeply, as if he didn’t understand what she was saying. “I could have stopped making those trips at any time. One word to my father and it all would have ended, but I didn’t want it to end. I’d found something I was good at.”
“You’re good at a lot of things, Josie.”
The undercurrent of his tone told her what he was thinking of. She grinned, but asked, “Will you help me, Scooter? Help me help other girls?”
“I’d help you build a bridge to the moon if that’s what you want, Josie Nightingale.”
“Yes.” A smile curled up the corners of his mouth. “I love you, Josie,” he said. “More than I love motorcycles and monkey wrenches.”
She giggled. “That much?”
He grasped her waist and pulled her close. “Yes, that much. I bailed you out of the hoosegow, didn’t I?”
“Yes, you did,” she agreed.
“I have a confession to make, too,” he whispered, barely kissing the tip of her nose.
He nodded, “Your call from Duluth was exactly what I’d needed. All of you Nightingale girls were off-limits. Completely. Everyone knew that. But then, Norma Rose started dating Ty, and next thing I knew, Twyla and Forrest were off flying together. When I heard about Ginger and Brock, I knew I had to do something before someone else snatched you up.”
Elated, she wiggled a bit closer to him. The sigh that escaped moments before their lips met was the most wonderful exhale. The kiss that followed was pretty spectacular, too. Downright amazing. It may have stopped raining for a time, while they’d been talking and kissing, she couldn’t say for sure, but the crack of thunder and the flash of lightning that brightened the room beyond the lightbulbs said the heavens were opening up again.
The tension he’d emitted earlier, when she’d first stepped out of the bathroom, was completely gone. It had been replaced with a heady, sensual feeling that filled the air between them. It tickled her, inside and out, and made her remember why she was standing before him in nothing but her underclothes. After licking her lips, she asked, “So, should we get married or not?”
He chuckled and kissed her briefly. “Why not? I sure don’t want anyone else marrying you.”
That sounded exactly like the teasing Scooter she’d known years ago, back in school, when they’d both been free of the burdens placed on them after the deaths of her mother and his father. Embracing the playfulness, feeling rather carefree herself, she said, “Well, I don’t want anyone else marrying you, either. Especially none of the women who stop by here regularly.”
“The ones who don’t need gas or air in their tires, the one who just want to watch you wash their windows.”
“Oh, yes they do,” she insisted. “I’ve heard them whispering about it.”