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AJ was shocked by Sam’s second kiss and as much as he wanted to keep things going, he forced himself to pull back from her embrace. She looked disappointed but he needed to make sure that this was truly what Sam wanted before he went any further. A few stray tears slipped down her face and he wiped them off with a soft brush of his finger.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way Sam...”

“It’s ok.” she said as she dipped her head and started to walk away. “You don’t have to explain.”

“No it’s not ok.” he replied as he gently tugged her his way again; once he had her attention, he continued. “I want this, probably more than you know, but I just want to make sure that you really want this and you’re truly ready. I made the mistake of putting too much pressure on you before and I absolutely don’t want to make that mistake again.”

“I’m sure.” she answered quietly. “I wasn’t ready before but I am now.”

“Then I think we should tell Nick and Lauren to take a hike so we can talk.”

Sam laughed and her smile made AJ grin; he would do anything in his power to keep that beautiful smile on her face. He took her hand in his and they made their way upstairs to find Nick and Lauren in the kitchen waiting for them. Nick noticed their intertwined fingers and he gave a subtle nod to AJ. His brother returned the nod and Nick nudged Lauren.

“I think I’ve had my fair share of excitement for tonight.” Nick said and grabbed Lauren’s purse from the chair. “Let us know if you guys want to do something this week.”

The couple dashed out as fast as they could because they understood that something happened in the basement and whatever that was, AJ and Sam needed some time by themselves to figure it out. Once AJ made sure the door and alarm were secure, he flopped down on the sofa and pulled Sam down beside him.

“So I think we need to talk.”

“Me first.” Sam said as she nodded in agreement.

“You win.” AJ winked.

Sam was quiet for a few minutes because she knew what she wanted to say but she needed to make sure he understood where her head and heart were at.

“I’ve spent most of my adult life either in a horrendous relationship or running from it. Ryan destroyed me while we were married and in some ways, I let him…”

“You did not!”

Sam rested her hand on AJ’s before she continued. “I let him win AJ. I gave up everything and everyone I loved and I didn’t even realize it until it happened. Then I let him win again when I went on the run and I let him win every day that I spend in fear of him or what will happen. I’m tired of living my life for him even when he’s not here. I want to enjoy my life, my new friends, my freedom and, most of all, I want to enjoy a healthy relationship with you.”

AJ didn’t say anything but he was surprised by how deep she was getting.

“I couldn’t handle it when you kissed me before and instead of just telling you that, I pushed you away and put up my walls again. I hurt you…”

“It’s ok…”

“No.” she said with certainty. “It’s not ok because that’s not who I used to be. Ryan made me that way and I want to go back. I want to be the strong woman I was, not the little girl that wants to run and hide.”

She paused for a minute before she explained how she was feeling at the moment.

“I’m scared of starting something with you because part of me is still broken and needs to heal. I don’t know exactly what I’m ready for but I know with complete certainty that I’m ready to try with you.”

It was a lot for AJ to absorb and it took him a few minutes to get across how he felt.

“Are you positive that this is something you want? I have to be honest with you and tell you that if we try to make something work with us and you keep pulling back from me, it’s going to make it rough.” He paused for a minute. “When we had a relationship in the past, when you were Max, I developed real feelings for you and it broke my heart when you left. My feelings are already invested in this and it will kill me if you decide you can’t handle this and you leave again. Are you sure about this?”

Sam stared directly into his eyes. “I’m positive.”

He gently leaned in and kissed her; she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close. Not wanting to rush things, he tried to make the situation a little less serious.

“Can we get rid of the great wall of pillows?”

“Definitely!” Sam said with a laugh.


AJ woke up in the middle of the night and looked down at his side. Sam’s head was nestled under his and he could feel her breath on his chest. Her arms were wrapped tightly around his waist and he could see her chest rising slowly and evenly, a sign that there was no nightmare coming tonight. He never thought that the day would come that he and Sam would find the feelings they had before and make something new out of them.