Garrett's voice cracked with emotion as he took another step closer to Parker, bringing himself near enough to feel the heat from her body and see the speckles of gold in her green eyes.
"I had everything I ever wanted right in the palm of my hand, and I thought it was too good to be true. Suddenly, I didn't deserve that girl. I didn't deserve the way she looked at me, the way she touched me, and the way she loved me. The bad stuff is always easier to believe. So I walked away before I could get hurt. Before I could find out if the words she said were true and she'd really chosen me."
Parker struggled to see Garrett's face through her tears. They were both crying now, standing a breath apart, and it suddenly felt like a weight was lifted from her shoulders. She'd been alone for so long trying to get passed what happened to her in that basement and trying to come to terms with the things she'd done. She'd been so focused on getting rid of the nightmares that she'd lost sight of her dreams. Every word Garrett spoke reminded her that he was her dream. Her father's last request was that she be happy and not take anything for granted.
Garrett was her happiness. She'd always known that but there, in her father's living room with ghosts and memories surrounding her, Parker finally let her anger go and took hold of her future. Garrett was the man she was meant to love, the man to lean on, and the man to lose herself in for the rest of her life.
Like she'd told him only moments ago, it was always him.
"The words were true. And I still choose you," Parker told him as she stared into his eyes through her tears. She reached up and wiped away one of his own tears from his cheek, resting her palm against the side of his face.
Garrett let out a sigh of relief when he felt her touch.
"I don't deserve you," he whispered, bringing his own hand up to cup her cheek. "I've let you down so much."
Parker shook her head in disagreement as Garrett inched even closer to her so he could finally feel her against him. He slid his arm around her waist and pulled her close so he could feel her heart beating against his chest.
"It's a good thing we have our whole lives ahead of us then so you can make it up to me," Parker told him with a smile.
"I love you so much, Parker," Garrett told her.
"I love you too, Garrett. I always have."
They both moved at the same time, closing the final gap between them and pressing their lips against each other's. They both sighed into each other's mouths as they clung tightly to each other and deepened the kiss, neither one ever wanting to let the other go.
In the blink of an eye, their clothes were strewn across the floor of the living room, and Garrett was sinking down onto his knees in front of Parker, his gaze zeroed in on the angry, red scar three inches above her hip bone. He gently ran his fingertips over the mark, his eyes welling with tears as he remembered holding her in his arms, his hands covered with her blood. Garrett leaned forward and pressed a light kiss to the area that would always remind him how close he'd come to losing her.
Parker stood above him, slowly running her fingers through his hair as he studied her scar. She knew his memories were threatening to intrude on this moment so she moved her hand under his chin and lifted his face so she could see his eyes.
"I'm okay," she reassured him softly.
"I almost lost you," Garrett said as he stared up at her.
"But you found me again. And I'm not going anywhere."
Parker dropped down onto her knees, not wanting to be so far away from him anymore.
"I love you," Garrett told her again before he wrapped his arms around her back and brought their lips back together.
He couldn't stop saying the words. He couldn't stop reassuring Parker how much she meant to him. He put his endearments on hold and concentrated on the feel of Parker's warm, naked body against his own. He'd forgotten how soft and smooth her skin felt against his, how the curve of her neck made him want to sink his teeth into her, and how her moans that echoed in his ear made him weak in the knees.
Garrett touched every inch of the body that haunted his dreams for too many weeks to count. When he dipped his fingers between Parker's legs and the wet heat from her arousal coated him, he wasn't sure if he could hold off much longer. He ached to be inside of her, to feel every inch of her wrapped around him, and to know that she was his. That she would always be his.
Parker arched her back and cried out softly when Garrett pushed his fingers inside of her and began moving them gently. She'd forgotten just how talented he was at knowing how to touch her. She'd missed the smell of his skin and the feel of his hands driving her to the edge.
Without moving his fingers from the depth of her heat, Garrett guided Parker to the floor in front of the fireplace, positioning himself above her as he moved between her legs, and she wrapped her thighs around his hips. He continued to work his fingers inside of her, pulling in and out with slow, dragging movements until Parker thought she would shatter from the pleasure that coursed through her.
"I need you," Parker whispered softly as she wrapped her hands around the back of his head and pulled him down for a kiss. "Help me forget," she whispered against his lips. "I don't want to think about anything right now but you and me."
"I love you," Garrett told her one more time before moving his hand up to place his palm over her heart, and then plunging himself fully inside of her in one swift motion.
They both gasped together and held perfectly still. Garrett squeezed his eyes closed and buried his head in the crook of Parker's neck trying not to explode immediately from how good it felt to finally be home.
Parker let her body get used to feel of having Garrett inside of her and slid her hands down his back, clutching onto him and pulling him in deeper. Garrett couldn't hold still any longer and Parker was grateful for that. She needed more.
Parker tightened her thighs around Garrett's hips as he began to thrust in and out of her. Garrett let his lips and tongue taste every inch of Parker's skin that he could reach without breaking their connection. He couldn't get enough of her and he never wanted this feeling to end. Too soon though, Parker's fingernails were scoring his back and her movements against him became erratic. He sunk deep inside and ground his hips against her over and over until he felt Parker's internal muscles gripping him and her orgasm throbbing out of her.
Garrett swallowed Parker's cries with his mouth, pushing his tongue through her mouth in the same rhythm as he pushed himself in and out of her, pulling every last bit of pleasure out of her release that he could. The heat of her mouth and the way her body hugged him like a glove as he slid in and out of her had him coming within seconds. With their arms wrapped tightly around each other and Parker's ankles locked behind Garrett's back, he gave one last deep thrust before his orgasm exploded.
They lay on the floor together, panting heavily and covered in a thin sheen of sweat for several minutes
. The ticking of the clock on the fireplace mantle was the only other sound in the room.
When Garrett could finally speak, he pulled his face away from Parker's neck and smoothed a damp strand of hair off of her forehead.
"Have I told you lately that I love you?" Garrett asked.
Parker smiled as she looked up into the eyes of her best friend, the man she'd loved for as long as she could remember.
"Yes, but I don't mind hearing it again," she told him as she ran a hand down the side of his face.
"I love you," Garrett whispered softly. "Always."
In that moment, with Garrett speaking the same words her father had in his letter, Parker knew without a doubt that wherever he was right now, he approved.
And in time she knew all of her wounds would heal as long as she had Garrett to love her.
One year later
Garrett carefully walked down the rickety wooden steps nestled between the wild grass and glanced at his watch before stepping off the bottom step into the sand. He looked across the beach and the sight before him made Garrett realize he didn't care if they were late. He could spend all night watching her work and be completely happy.
Parker sat Indian-style right at the water's edge with her camera up to her eyes focusing in on the setting sun as it reflected across the water. She was so lost in her work she didn't notice the waves softly lapping up around her, soaking her skirt.
Garrett kicked off his shoes and walked across the sand, his feet sinking into its softness, still warm from the sun. He thought back to an evening almost like this a year and a half ago. He remembered walking across the sand towards Parker on her birthday, wondering how many more of her birthdays of hers he'd spend wishing for something he'd never have.
He stood silently behind Parker and watched her hair move softly around her face with the gentle breeze that came in off of the ocean. The sun setting in the distance caught the reflection of the blue sapphire ring on the fourth finger of Parker's left hand and the glint from the sparkle caught Garrett's eye and made him smile. Right before Parker was wheeled into surgery for the gunshot wound, the nurse handed Garrett the ring he'd put on her finger for their pretend marriage for the mission. Garrett once again had found himself carrying that ring around in his pocket, pulling it out and staring at it day after day, wondering when and if he would ever get the chance to slip it onto Parker's finger, this time, without the pretense of a mission.
The night they'd reconnected in her childhood home, Garrett slipped it on Parker's finger while she slept peacefully in his arms. He knew their problems were far from over. He knew they had a long road to go before all would be forgiven and mistakes would be forgotten. But Garrett knew without a doubt that he would do whatever it took to spend the rest of his life with Parker. Putting that ring back on her finger symbolized more than just a promise that Garrett wanted Parker to marry him. It symbolized their past, present, and future. It represented the fact that through it all, the love they shared could heal even the most severe wounds. It served as a reminder that no matter where she went, no matter what she did, no one would ever know Parker or love her like Garrett did.
Parker smiled to herself as she adjusted the shutter speed on her camera and took three more pictures, finishing up this month's assignment for Travel Magazine. Even over the sounds of the ocean waves breaking and cresting, Parker heard Garrett walk up behind her and felt him watching her work. Even now, after everything they'd been through, his nearness still gave her goose bumps and made butterflies flap around in her stomach. She pulled the camera away from her eye and snapped the lens cap on before pushing herself up from the wet sand and turning around.
Parker and Garrett stood inches apart, staring into each other's eyes as the last sliver of sun disappeared into the horizon. A small noise broke the moment and they both looked down into Garrett's arms.
Joanna Lacie McCarthy, Annie for short, slept peacefully in her father's arms. Every so often a soft sigh or a little squeak would pass her perfect pink lips making her parents smile.
"You let her nap in your arms this entire time, didn't you?" Parker asked Garrett with a smile as she ran her fingertips gently over her daughter's cheeks.
Garrett shrugged sheepishly and leaned over to kiss the top of Parker's head.
"I tried to put her down, I swear. But she was sleeping so well I didn't want to wake her."
Annie had come into the world three months prior, on her mother's birthday, letting everyone within a mile radius know how well her lungs worked, her tiny fists flailing at the doctor and nurses, her feet kicking out in anger. She had reminded Garrett so much of Parker he couldn't help but laugh through his tears when he saw her. He also couldn't help falling absolutely in love with his daughter right at that moment.
This beautiful, tiny addition to their life wasn't planned, but the fact that she was conceived in love, in her mother's childhood home on the night her parents found each other again, meant she was the most important and most wanted accident any two people could have ever hoped for.
Before Parker found out she was pregnant, she already came to terms with the fact that she would never again be an agent for the CIA. Aside from the physical restrictions the bullet wound and trauma put on her body, Parker realized she no longer had the heart for it. She knew one of the main reasons she enjoyed her job for so many years was that it allowed her to be another person, to run away from things in her life she didn't want to deal with. Parker had no desire to run anymore, no need to be anyone than who she really was. The day before she took the pregnancy test, she had handed over her badge and her gun and said goodbye to that chapter of her life.
She had spent her pregnancy and the three months since the birth of her daughter taking on freelance photography assignments. Taking pictures provided Parker with the kind of therapy you couldn't pay someone enough for. It gave her time to think about everything she'd gone through and to come to terms with the grief that weighed her down. Each picture she took was a step towards healing and feeling whole again. At night when she'd develop her pictures in her darkroom, she'd ask Garrett to come inside with her, something she'd never let anyone do before. Parker's darkroom was her sanctuary. A place where she alone could make beauty come to life. In that room, day after day, week after week, Parker and Garrett talked. There was something about the small, confined space with its dim red light that made it easier to pour out all of your hurt and all of your fears and talk to the person you loved about pain and forgiveness. In that dark room they remembered what made them friends and they shared the memories that made them fall in love.