(Okay, here it is, the end of the story. I'm so sorry that it took so long, but it couldn't be helped. Thanks again for all the reviews on this story and for letting me know you've enjoyed it. I've had such a good time with this one. I hope this little epilogue finishes it all up to your satisfaction. Enjoy!)
Don't Take Me for Granted
Epilogue (Chapter 9)
April 9th, 11:11 p.m.
"So, which movie are we watching next, Mama?" Derek asked, sauntering easily back into her living room with a large bowl of extra buttery popcorn in one hand, a huge bag of Reese's Pieces in the other, and an expectant, happy smile on his face. He was padding barefoot across the carpet, loose sweatpants riding low on his hips and six-pack abs; she could tell even with the saggy, white T-shirt he had on as well. The sight of him there, the way he moved – so comfortable, powerful, and self-assured – made her forget for just a second what her answer to his question was.
"Here ya are, as requested," he added, plopping down beside her on the couch and plunking the candy in her lap. He chuckled as she immediately curled her cold feet up against his thigh and plunged her hand into the bag, grinning around the handful of sweet candy that was soon stuffed in her mouth.
She in turn couldn't help simply munching on the pure sugar comfort for a moment, marveling at the fact that Derek Morgan was here in her living room, kicked back in his sweats, looking very cozy indeed, even if he was watching sappy romantic movies with her. It was almost too good to be true.
"Call me crazy, Baby Girl," he joked, laughing at the picture she made with her mouth full of candy and eyes twinkling happily as he'd feared they wouldn't be able to do after what she'd been through, "but I don't think I heard your answer around that half bag of Reese's Pieces you just inhaled."
She reached into the bowl of popcorn to throw some at him and bumped her hand into his that was already in the bowl, instantaneously causing sparks to shoot off inside her, her cheeks reddening as she started to stammer instead of delivering the clever comeback she'd intended to give him.
"Yes?" he pressed, maddening calm as he waited for her answer, eyes full of tempting glee as he popped his handful of popcorn into his mouth. He was playing it cool, just to see her flustered – which he loved even more than he ever had – even though in truth his heart was fluttering as nervously as hers at the brief contact. It was just different now.
This was the first time he'd had her alone since she'd been taken from them, and they had gotten her back, and he had finally admitted his true feelings to her. And now he was wondering just how he had never wanted this with her before.
The hospital had kept her overnight to monitor her and make sure she didn't have a concussion from the blow she'd taken to the back of the head. And there had been no question in his mind that he would spend the night there at the hospital with her; she shouldn't have to be there alone, and with the nightmares he knew were bound to reoccur for him – this time with the woman he loved in them – he wanted to be where he could see for himself that she was safe and well when they'd undoubtedly jerk him awake in the middle of the night.
But this morning, when he had awoken to find her watching him sleep, with a peaceful, satisfied little smile on her cherubic face, he'd decided that today would truly be a brand new day. If she could face this new morning seeming that okay, so soon after the ordeal she'd just weathered, then she was gonna be fine. They were going to be okay, and maybe – just maybe – the wake-up call he'd received by almost losing her, might end up making things better than he'd ever known they could be.
There hadn't been a lot the doctors could do for the fractured cheekbone. They'd tried their best to reset it and had butterfly stitched and bandaged up where Baker's fist had broken the skin. But it still made that side of her face purple and tender-looking, while it was so puffy and swelled up that she looked a bit like a chipmunk storing something in her cheek. Even if she was smiling, it physically hurt him to see her braving an injury that had to be causing her a good bit of pain still.
"Are you sure you don't want an ice pack for that while we watch?" he asked, for the third time, reaching out to cup her injured cheek with care in his large hand. He couldn't seem to help it; he wanted to make it better, to soothe and comfort.
And she leaned into the caress, a pleased sort of hum, almost a purr, rising softly from her throat. They stayed that way, unmoving, for some time, both drawing immense solace from the other's presence and touch. Finally, she pulled back just slightly, pinning his gaze with her wide, expressive eyes, once again framed by her beloved quirky glasses. "Thank you, Derek," she whispered, placing her hand over his where it rested on her face.
"For what, Sweetness?" he asked, touched by the tone of her voice, but truly not sure what he had done to deserve her gratitude. He'd been too late, she'd been terrified and badly hurt before he'd gotten there, and he'd caused her even more hurt before, by not understanding how much he cared about her.
"Don't you know?" she whispered, her voice wavering suspiciously with emotion. She laid a hand on his forearm, feeling the need to touch him to drive her point home. "You really have to ask?" her eyes glittered a little with unshed tears. "For coming to my rescue, silly," here she winked just a little at him, trying to lighten things up again. "My hero." She couldn't understand why he didn't see – to her, he was her hero, coming to save her from the clutches of a madman. He'd burst through that door, taken down an armed criminal, and all just to get her back. The fact that he'd admitted to sharing her romantic feelings just suddenly made him all that much more amazing to her.
He chuckled and pulled her closer, looking deep into her eyes. "Don't thank me for that, there was nothing else I would have done. Besides…I was too late. You still got hurt. If I'd done my job…if I'd acted when I should have…he would have never been able to get to you. I was blind in so many different ways yesterday…that I can't believe you're thanking me, and letting me hold you, today."
"Derek, stop," she said firmly, her voice taking on the no-nonsense tone she got sometimes, when her computers weren't finding the information she needed fast enough, and she was ordering them to speed up. "You did exactly what you had to do. I'm right here, and I'm going to be fine. You're not allowed to keep beating yourself up over this."
She very nearly gave into giggles while issuing her mock order. "Is that so?" he questioned.
"Yes," she nodded emphatically. Then, her voice took on a gentler tone, one he didn't think he'd ever heard before, that seemed to set his blood on fire. It was a loving, almost seductive sort of a lilt as she asked, "If you won't take a thank you for your rescue heroics, can I thank you for loving me back?"
His grin broadened, lighting even his eyes, which had been dark and troubled from thinking again on what he saw as the many ways he'd failed her, and from studying her bruised and swelling face. "Only if you realize that you're totally worthy of it, and completely more than I deserve. I should have told you I loved you ages ago. How could I not know?"
Their conversation suddenly sobered. Their eyes locked, and Derek felt himself lick his lips as both of them succumbed to the force that was drawing them closer and they were pulled in towards their first real kiss. He was ready to test the waters, but afraid too. What if he disappointed her? She wasn't just some fling; there was a lot of pressure, because this mattered. He'd never had any trouble in this department before, but he'd also never cared so much about making it wonderful.
But then, their lips touched, and it was like nothing he had ever experienced before – he was flooded with emotions and sensations on contact with her – pulling a guttural, masculine groan of pleasure from deep in his chest.
He felt her smile at that, could feel her lips move against his own, soft as rose petals, and beautifully healing to his soul. He'd needed this for so long, and she had been right there waiting for him to finally see. Reaching out, he pulled her in until she was half on his lap and they couldn't get much closer, continuing to kiss her all the while, thinking that he might never stop, it felt so right.
She whimpered slightly, and he pulled away, not sure if he'd hurt her somehow, "You okay, Gorgeous?" he whispered.
Penelope nodded her blonde head, her curls bouncing in a way that he found suddenly mesmerized him, but then he saw a single tear trek down her face. "What?" he asked softly, "What's the matter?"
"I just…I can't believe…I convinced myself you couldn't look at me the way I wanted you to…I never thought you'd really kiss me like that someday…And then, I thought I was going to die out there in that cabin, and never have even told you…how…how much I love you," she whispered, looking both awed and scared, as if she thought this was all a dream that she was going to suddenly wake up from and make it disappear.
"Pen, honey," Derek said, tilting her chin up, "Look at me. You don't know just how beautiful you look to me right now. I'm going to see that from now on whenever I look at you. You're amazing…and…I love you too."
She blinked more rapidly then, other tears joining the first one that had fallen, but he wiped them all away without comment, knowing that these were happy tears. Looking up at him with a smile, studying the sincerity on his face and seemingly finally deciding that all he said really was true, she surprised him when she spoke. "Let's watch The Bodyguard next," she said, answering his much, much earlier question.
"That seems fitting," he teased, rising to find the movie and put it in the player. When he returned to his seat, she snuggled up against him, certain at last of the unspoken invitation and her place there. As the movie began, he couldn't help stroking his hand over her shoulders, and then, idly running his fingers through her hair.
He looked down a few minutes later to find her asleep with her head on his chest. With a satisfied smile, he leaned back into the arm of the couch, making himself comfortable for the night, and effectively making it so she was still cradled in his arms, but lying more comfortably as well. He propped his feet up on the coffee table, and watched the movie for just a while longer, before he too fell asleep peacefully, holding the woman he loved.