Brian looks directly at Sam and holds out his hand. It’s a look filled with so much love and resolution that Sam’s heart expands to soar beyond the confines of the gym. She steps up beside him.
He doesn’t let go of her hand as he turns back to the crowd.
“This is not an Oscar acceptance speech, but there are some people I have to thank. My attorney, Karen Sandler, for sticking with me even though I’m the greatest screw-up there is.”
Karen raises a champagne glass toast to him. A curl of a smile graces her lips. Sam knows that Karen has been intimate with Brian, but then who hasn’t? That was the past. This is the present, and Brian is a different man – a different soul with the hardship of bitter experiences behind him. He would do anything for her, Sam knows.
Just as she would do anything for him.
They both know that now about each other. They may do stupid things. Things that don’t totally make sense to anyone else, including the law. But their intentions and hearts are in the right place.
With each other’s.
Brian continues, holding on tightly to her, “I want to thank my best friend, Caleb, who bailed me out of jail. It wasn’t the first time he had to do this, and I assure you it won’t be the last.”
“To my colleagues in ‘Shape’, who took over and shook up the place like they own it. Great job, Thor, for managing this joint when we were shacking it up at the courthouse. We hear you’ve been shacking up plenty over here too. But that’s a good thing. For the females.”
Thor pumps a triumphant fist into the air as several women cheer. He doesn’t hold her any ill will, Sam knows. She’s glad she didn’t sleep with him after all.
Brian hugs Sam to his body.
“And finally, most of all, I want to thank my partner, Sam, for everything. For putting up with me. For being there when I needed her, and even when I didn’t know I needed her. She’s my partner in every way I can think of.” His voice chokes a little at this. “As I am hers. And it’s time to make it public.”
In front of everyone, he tips Sam’s waist back and kisses her long, hard and deep. All the breath whooshes out of her as his tongue probes the landscape of her mouth. Her knees buckle and her entire body goes limp with overwhelming emotion.
Their audience of friends, colleagues, and a single family member cheers. If any of the women in the ranks have any regrets that Brian is kissing Sam and not her (and yes, Sam is thinking Lydia and Karen), they are buttoning up their envy nice and proper.
The entrance is suddenly darkened by a tall man. Jefferson Morton stands there, his eyes twinkling as he watches his nephew kissing the love of his life. Brian and Sam finally come up for air amid applause. Brian notices his uncle and goes over, dragging Sam.
They pump hands vigorously.
“I’m sorry for every doubting you, son,” Jefferson says, clapping Brian on the back.
“Hey, no skin off my nose. I had me doubting myself. Uncle Jeff, I want to introduce you to my girlfriend, Samantha.”
Sam smiles shyly at Jefferson. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
Jefferson gives her a slow grin. “I never thought I’d live to see the day my nephew here would commit himself to someone. In every meaning of the word.”
Brian blushes. Sam is delighted. She has rarely seen Brian blush.
“So what do you say, Brian?” Jefferson says. “Your old job is yours if you want it back. Vanguard hasn’t been the same without you.”
Brian contemplates this for a long time before saying, “Thanks, but no thanks, Uncle Jeff. Sam and I have a good thing going here in this gym, and I think I’ll make my own way from now on.”
“Don’t close your options, my boy. You never know when you’re going to need them.”
“Maybe,” Brian says, laughing. He squeezes Sam’s shoulders. “But I’m pretty much set for now. I’ve got everything I need.”
A prickly feeling runs through Sam. Her cheeks ache from smiling.
Looking up at her tall, phenomenally gorgeous boyfriend, she’s pretty much got all that she needs too.