A/N: My love for the Gilmore Girls has given me so much more than just a few laughs and a million heartfelt sighs. It's given me inspiration, comfort and courage. I'm always a little awed when I consider the fact that it's been over half a decade since the show has ended, but the love endures. I still get a thrill when I get a message from someone discovering my stories for the first time.

It seems silly to say a television show helped me find my voice, but it's true. It's also given me friendships that will last a lifetime and hours of free therapy. The fact is, it has been kind of a rough year for me. I've been wrestling with some pretty severe writer's block on some publishing commitments and I just haven't been able to break through. As a matter of fact, I was moaning to my lovely friends Jewels12 and deepfriendcake when inspiration struck.

Maybe a trip back to Stars Hollow would get the words flowing again.

Being all hip and cool, Jewels and Cake nodded and smiled. They patiently consulted on the episodes, storylines, and settings I'd smexied up and which hadn't sullied (I didn't have Chants' spreadsheet handy). They encouraged me to text Lulu for an episode check. Then they sat back and zipped their lips (for the most part) until I worked myself up to tackling Lorelai and Luke again.

So here's a little Slip of the Tongue for you, my friends. I hope you like it. Thank you ever so much for all you have done for me. As always, I can't eat, sleep, breathe, or write without having Jewels on my team. That's why I keep her supplied with official Team Mags uniforms.

P.S. I don't want to mojo it or anything, but I wrote more words in the past 24 hours than I have in the last three months. Cross your fingers for me, because I can't cross mine and type at the same time!

When Nick Met Nancy

If there was one thing seventeen years of single parenthood had taught her, it was to grab her moments as they came. This was one of those moments.

Biting her lip in anticipation, Lorelai kept an eagle eye on the microwave timer. The rat-tat-tat of bursting bits of corn almost drowned out the insistent beep-beep-beep that signaled the final countdown. Jerking the handle, she cut it off before the machine could bleat its completion. She cast a guilty glance at Rory's bedroom door and pulled the bag from the microwave.

Luke was right, even if he deserved a face full of cream pie for saying so. She got lucky with Rory. But lucky or not, like every woman, she still needed a little time to just be herself.

Lorelai was more than willing to risk unpopped kernels for the sake of these scant few moments. Her moments. Those precious few minutes of the day when she didn't have to be the mom or the boss. For the next fifteen minutes or so, she would just…be.

Pinching the edge of the steaming popcorn bag, she tiptoed straight out the back door. Autumn air cooled her cheeks. A plume of steam rose as she tore into her treat. The rush of moist heat smoothed the worry lines from her forehead. Waving the bag to disperse the steam, she leaned against the rail and peered out into the darkness.

The confrontation she'd had with Jess still played in her mind. Indignation burned in her chest. Lack of caffeine wasn't the only thing that kept her on edge all day, and anger wasn't the only thing that kept her from stepping foot in the diner. The things Luke said hurt. They hurt more than she wanted to admit. Far more than she would have imagined. From the day she packed Rory's diaper bag and left her parents' home, Lorelai was sure to be very careful about the people she allowed into their lives. How did she not notice that Luke Danes had somehow burrowed past her defenses and planted himself in her world?

Sure, they were friends. Of a sort. The sort that consisted primarily of razzing, nagging, and harassing each other until one caved (usually him) and gave in to the other's will (usually hers). But more than that, she cared about Luke and genuinely wanted to help him with his thug of a nephew. That was probably why it hurt so much when Luke stepped over the line.

The things he said the night before were wrong. Flat out wrong. Yes, Rory was a great kid, but she didn't just hatch that way. No one knew better than Lorelai a parent's impact on her child. For better or worse.

That was why she thought she might be able to help Luke with Jess. What was she thinking? A grim smile curved her lips as she returned her attention to the bag in hand. Those two hot heads deserved each other.

Lorelai grabbed a handful of crisp golden popcorn and shoved it into her mouth, determined to enjoy her brief time alone with her thoughts. The Danes/Mariano men and their boatload of issues were not welcome. Not when she had a bag of microwave goodness all to herself. It was possible Rory could poke her head out of her room and demand her share of the take. She never should have taught the kid how to work the locks. Oh well. She wasn't about to spoil her moment by worrying about losing the moment. Not when she had the whole bag to snarf all alone.

Buttery, salty goodness tingled on her tongue. A moan of appreciation tangled in her throat. Hiking the waistband of her most comfortable, most stretched out, most Emily-Gilmore-would-be-mortified-to-know-her-daugh ter-wore-these pajama bottoms, she turned her back on the inky yard and padded toward the front of the house.

The porch swing groaned under her weight. The rafters above her head creaked. Crickets chirped, her daughter was snug in her room, and Luke Danes had spent the evening eating crow. Falling back against the swing's all-weather cushions, Lorelai heaved a contented sigh.

All was right in her world once more.

She made it more than a third of the way through the bag before a rustling at the side of the house made her freeze in place.

"Huuuuunnnh." Lorelai unlocked her jaw and tried to chew, but the popcorn she'd been enjoying turned to Styrofoam on her tongue. Pressing her toes to the chipped paint on the porch, she struggled to silence the groans of aged wood and untreated metal. The seat of the swing wobbled to a stop beneath her, but her mind raced ahead.

Raccoons in the trash cans again? Apricot out for an evening prowl?

She'd run over just after Rory got back from buying her folder to get an update on Pierpont's disappearance, but all she got was an eyeful of a breathless and disheveled Babette and an earful of how Morey believed rigorous sex to be the best treatment for stress and worry. Mortified, horrified, and a bit of every other –ified she could muster, Lorelai beat a hasty path back to the safety of her home.

What? Are you sleeping with him or something?

Her breath caught as the words Jess sneered at her the previous night came back in a rush. The question stirred a shock of arousal and the heat of embarrassment soon followed. She curled her toes against the floorboards and closed her eyes, willing the blush to recede.

Sleeping with Luke. As if.

Lorelai snorted at the thought, but she couldn't quite work up the scorn it deserved. Exhaling slowly, she set her jaw and ignored the hammering of her heart. She blamed the cold for the tightening of her nipples. Impatient tugs at the hoodie she'd slipped on over her Hello Kitty t-shirt hid the evidence but failed to eradicate it. Still, she shoved the thought down deep in the trash compactor in her mind. No way she was going to go there. And even if she wanted to, there was no way she'd let a chip-on-his-shoulder punk like Jess goad her into it.

The hiss of moving shrubbery yanked her back from the brink. Lorelai shook off all thoughts of Luke Danes, his obnoxious nephew, and blue, blue eyes filled with panic and desperation. She blocked out the memory of a husky promise of a non-danish-day danish and forced herself to search the darkness for the nocturnal creature who dared to invade her moment. The swing's weathered chains squeaked a protest as she leaned forward, craning her neck to peer in the direction of the Dell residence. Something she'd studiously avoided doing for the past few hours. Dimly, her brain registered darkened windows and a distinct lack of cries of ecstasy. Thank God. A shudder of relief raced down her spine.

The crickets picked up their song where they'd left off. The rumble of kernels shifting snared her attention. Lorelai righted the bag before she scattered her snack to the four winds and sank back on the swing, grateful for the reprieve. The last thing she wanted to do was call Luke with a request for rodent patrol.

Of course, if there were a creature lurking out there, Luke would be her go-to guy. He had been for longer than she cared to admit. And if she ever felt guilty about leaning on Luke too much, this afternoon gave her some vindication. This friendship was a two-way street, whether he wanted to admit it or not. He ran to her after he attempted to drown Jess. That felt good. Too bad his apology for the hurtful things he'd said smacked of desperation.

Danish or no danish, she wanted a real one.

Another rustle followed by a muffled curse catapulted her from the swing. Popcorn scattered at her feet. "Who's out there?" she blurted before fear clogged her throat.

Lorelai clamped a hand to her mouth. The invectives she usually hurled at horror movie heroines streamed through her mind. She gauged the distance from the swing to the front door, her thumb twitching to dial Luke and the police. In that order. Her muddled brain issued the command to move her feet just as the answer floated back to her on the crisp fall breeze.

"Lorelai?"

Her head swiveled. She squinted into the darkness between her house and Babette's. Seconds later, a tall shadow stepped into the circle of light cast by her living room lamp. The outline of a backwards baseball cap provided positive identification.

"You!" Snatching a faded cushion from the swing, she winged it at Luke's head. He ducked and the pillow sailed past. It wasn't until he straightened and she advanced a few steps that she caught sight of the gnome nestled into the crook of his arm. She blinked away her disbelief. "Is that Pierpont?"

Luke ran his hand over his face, tugging at his cheeks before he let go with a tired shake of his head. "I assume so. We haven't exactly been introduced."

Popcorn crunched under her feet as she rushed for the porch steps. The grass was crisp and cool between her toes. Dew dampened the cuffs of her pajama pants and her nipples tightened to painful points. Because of the cold. Luke Danes did not make her nipples hard. That was her story and she was sticking to it. Lifting her chin, she wrapped her arms around her middle to hold the hoodie closed and resisted the urge to flatten her palms to her aching boobs.

She gazed up at him, expecting to find the begrudging warmth she knew he reserved just for her. But his expression was closed-off and grim. The pale glow of lamplight did little to blur the lines of worry creasing his handsome face. He looked anywhere but directly into her eyes, and that wasn't business as usual for Luke.

Then again, he'd had very little business as usual in his life lately.

Shifting her attention to the statue tucked under his arm, she tapped the wizened elf on his button nose. "Jess?"

Pierpont sank three inches when Luke's shoulders slumped. "He did it all." The break in his voice cracked the shell of her lingering anger like the candy coating on an M&M. "All of it. The bridge money, the fights, the smoking…I don't know what to do."

She gave his bicep a reassuring squeeze but released him when he tensed. As an act of contrition for crossing yet another of their invisible boundaries, she scarcely allowed herself a second to ponder how hard and strong the muscles he kept hidden beneath his flannel exterior might be. That alone was quite a sacrifice. Speculating about all things Luke Danes was one of her favorite pastimes.

"Just keep doing what you're doing." The words rolled out of her without much thought, but no one knew better than Lorelai how much easier they were to say than to do. Still, she plunged ahead. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to this kid."

Instead of comforting him, her assertion seemed to have the opposite effect. Luke pivoted on his heel, his boot kicking up a clod of grass as he took off across the pitch black lawn at a ground-eating stalk. "That's not sayin' much."

He tossed the bitter words back over his shoulder like a handful of salt. And like the snack-deprived glutton for punishment she was, Lorelai chased after him. "That might be true, but it doesn't make what you're doing for him anything less than incredible, Luke."

"What I'm doing for him," he grumbled in a derisive tone. Footsteps slowed as they approached the heavily mulched flowerbeds that encircled Babette's modified barn of a house. "I bought a blow-up bed and some sheets."

"And Frosted Flakes," she couldn't resist adding. "Don't forget the Frosted Flakes."

Luke didn't return her smile. Not even with one of those tiny smirky ones that are supposed to tell her that he's not amused by her antics even though he really is. He stared down at her for one long moment, letting the giant fist that clutched her heart get a good squeeze in before he answered. "Yeah. The Frosted Flakes are exactly what makes me so grrrrreat," he deadpanned.

"They are great." When he tried to turn away, she grabbed his arm again. This time, she didn't let go. Standing toe-to-toe in darkness that ate everything more than six inches from their noses, she stared straight into his startled eyes. "You are great. You're one of the greatest guys I've ever known."

"Ranking right up there with Rory's dad?"

Lorelai registered the crack of her palm against his cheek mere seconds before the jolt sailed up her arm. The bright blue ball cap she'd placed on his head the previous Christmas landed on a freshly mulched shrub. Her mouth opened in surprise then snapped shut again. She took a staggering step back and so did Luke.

Then, to her eternal shock, he dropped to his knees. The palm of her hand burned with the sting of the slap. Pins and needles of sensation danced up her arm, but somehow she found it hard to believe she could bring someone as solid as Luke down with a single blow. Heat rose to the surface of her skin. She stared at the pinkened skin of her palm and whispered the only word that came to mind.

"Whoa."

Luke clung to the clay dwarf like the stupid pipe puffing gnome was the only thing real in his life. Dampness seeped through the knees of his jeans. He swallowed the lump of revulsion lodged in his throat, his gaze fixed on Lorelai's trembling hand. The hand that just slapped a little sense back into him.

"I'm sorry. That was wrong. So wrong." Wetting his lips, he fell back to sit on his heels. His grip on the statue loosened. He shoved the little troll into a vacant spot between two evergreens and held his hands up in surrender. Unable to meet Lorelai's eyes, he shook his head in disbelief. "I don't know why I said that."

She made a noise. A tiny huff or grunt that sounded like he was the one who'd done the hitting. His head jerked up as if pulled by an invisible string. He searched her stricken expression, hoping for a hint of the fire that fueled her strike. Finding none, he made a desperate grab for her hand.

"You know I don't think that," he said in a rush. "I mean, Lorelai…."

Their eyes met, and the resulting jolt seemed to yank the words out of her. "I hit you."

Wrapping her cool fingers in his, he gave them a gentle squeeze. "I deserved it."

"I've never hit anyone before in my life."

"Lorelai, you know I—"

"I've wanted to—"

"I think you're an incredible mom—"

"There are lots of people I've thought about smacking—"

"Not just a mom," he hastened to add. "I think you're incredible. You—"

"The occasional crappy customer at the inn—"

"You as a mom, but you as a person too…Incredible—"

"Michel on Monday mornings—"

"I need a different word—"

"Taylor could certainly use a whack or two—"

"You're smart and funny and you always know what to say—"

"There have been times when I wanted to punch Christopher—"

He flinched at the mention of Rory's dad's name. A wince so powerful he tugged on the hand he held snug in his grasp. "I'm sorry I said that. I had absolutely no right. And the stuff I said last night…I'm an idiot. You're the best mom I know. Rory's the best kid—"

Lorelai stared at him without seeing him at all. Then her legs buckled and she dropped to her knees facing him. "I came so close to hitting Rory once," she admitted in a horrified whisper.

"No." The denial came fast and fierce, and apparently he said it with enough force to startle her from her trance.

"I didn't."

"I know."

"But Luke, I almost did."

"But you didn't." His assertion seem to put a little steel in her backbone again. Hoping to keep it there, he pressed her hand between both of his. "You never would."

"Never." Their eyes met and held for an endless moment. His heart kicked when her tongue popped out to wet her lower lip. "But I reserve the right to push her into the lake if I need to."

Her lame attempt at a joke pricked a hole in his defenses. The relief of forgiveness pulsed through his veins. Overcome, he pulled their clasped hands to his mouth and pressed a fervent kiss to her knuckles. "Go ahead. I'll fish her out if I have to."

Lorelai blinked, a slow sweep of dark lashes shielding her vivid blue eyes. "I know you would."

Unable to resist touching her some more, he brushed her hair back from her cheek. "I don't know what's wrong with me lately."

"Your whole world is upside down."

Her words struck home. A wry smile twitched his lips, but he couldn't tear his gaze from hers. "Haven't felt right-side-up in a while."

Cool fingertips soothed the heat burning in his cheek. He leaned into the caress. "I can't believe I hit you."

"I can't believe I hurt you." Lorelai let her hand fall to her lap. He looked down to discover he still held the other captive in his. He stared at it, trying to control the impulse to kiss her soft skin again. "You know you're the last person I'd ever want to hurt."

"Luke—"

He failed. Her fingers curled around his as he pressed his mouth to the back of her hand. He dared a glance from under his lashes and found her staring at him in wide-eyed wonder. The devil made him do it. Or maybe it was her scent. All he knew was he needed to taste her. He kissed her hand again, but this time he ran his tongue over her impossibly smooth skin.

"Luke!"

He instantly recoiled as if her sharp gasp of his name were another slap. Lifting his head, he didn't bother to conceal his wariness as he met her steady blue gaze. Another apology tumbled from his lips before he could stop it. "I'm sorry."

"You keep kissing my hand."

The simple statement should have snapped him back into place, but when he looked into her eyes he saw no censure. Only curiosity and confusion. And the truth. She liked it when he kissed her hand. Frustrated and aching in every possible way, it took only a split second for Luke to decide it was time to go for broke. "I'd rather kiss your mouth."

His unrehearsed confession stunned them both long enough for Lorelai to slip her hand from his. A fresh wave of humiliation roiled inside him as she stared at him, eyes round with astonishment. He reached for her before she could scramble to her feet, framing her beautiful face in both hands, and falling headlong into her eyes.

"I mean it, Lorelai. Every word of it. I think you're amazing. You are without a doubt the most annoying, exasperating woman I've ever known, and I just can't help myself. That's why I fix your sink and feed you crap. I just want to be near you."

"Luke—"

She whispered his name in a voice soft with wonder. The breathiness of it fanned the tiny flame of hope that sprang to life the day she first walked through his diner door. Running the pad of his thumb across her lips, he shook his head in dazed wonder. "I think about you day and night. I can't not think about you."

"Luke—""

This time impatience sharpened her enunciation, but he was too far gone to care.

"I know you haven't really thought about me that way—"

"I—"

"And I know the thing with Max is still fresh—"

"I'm not…This isn't about Max."

"Damn right it's not," he growled.

"Are you going to or not?"

The demand burst from her, startling them both into stillness. Luke narrowed his eyes, his mind whirring in an effort to catch up. "Going to what?"

"Kiss me."

His eyes widened as her meaning tickled the edges of his consciousness. "You want me to kiss you?"

Her breath came in short, sharp pants, but her eyes never wavered. She wet her lips and gave a jerky nod. "On the mouth."

No need to ask him twice. Rising on his knees, Luke held her gaze as his fingers slid into her hair, telegraphing his intent well enough to give her time to pull back.

She didn't.

He'd imagined kissing Lorelai Gilmore hundreds of times, but the moment his lips touched hers he knew he'd gotten it all wrong. After years of dishing up pancakes and danishes and ice cream sundaes big enough to make a competitive eater blanch, he never imagined she'd be anything but sugary sweet. Not only was he wrong. He'd missed it by a mile.

Her soft, supple lips carried the tang of salt. Intrigued, he deepened the kiss. A savory hint of butter reduced him to a puddle of molten hot need. Popcorn. She'd been eating popcorn. He loved popcorn.

Luke ran the tip of his tongue along the seam of her lips, hungry for more than a taste. She released a little hum as she parted her lips and he swallowed the sexy sound whole. Pulling her closer, he angled his head and took the kiss deeper still, devouring her with hot, ravenous twists of his tongue. Blood rushed in his ears, each beat of his heart driving it to points further south. Lorelai ran her hands over his chest and down his arms, making his head spin.

"Lorelai," he gasped when they came up for air. She answered with a trail of messy kisses strung along his jaw and a two-handed grope of his ass. "Lorelai!"

"There's not a woman in Stars Hollow who hasn't thought about doing that."

Planting both hands on his chest, she gave him a shockingly strong shove. Luke held his ground for a split second, but the determined gleam in her eye showed him there was valor in surrender. Her momentum carried them both onto the lawn. He unfolded his legs as he stretched out beneath her. His eyes rolled back in his head when she braced her hands on his shoulders and pushed back to straddle him.

He fit his hands to the gentle flare of her hips. Swallowing hard, he gazed up at her from under his lashes. "Do your worst."

She quirked an eyebrow and leaned in close. The ends of her hair tickled his throat. Soft puffs of breath warmed his cheeks and chin. "I want you to keep doing your best."

In a flash he had her flat on her back. Lacing his fingers through hers, he pushed them high above her head as he lowered his weight onto her. "I think you're amazing."

"So you said."

She wiggled beneath him, sending arrows of lust hurtling straight for his crotch. Luke closed his eyes, reveling in the feel of her stretched out under him.

"Luke?"

"Hmm?"

"My mouth," she whispered.

A smile curved his lips as he lowered his head. He kissed her slow and deep, his tongue circling hers as if his blood wasn't threatening to burst from his veins. Unwilling and unable to pretend any longer, he pressed his raging hard-on to the sweet spot between her legs. Lorelai moaned low and deep. Thrusting against the thin barrier of her pajama pants, he trailed kisses across her cheek to her jaw to her throat. "I want you, Lorelai," he whispered into the shell of her ear. A delicate shiver raced through her body. He smothered it with another soul-searing kiss. "I want you so bad I can't think straight."

Her nails bit into the backs of his hands. "Don't think straight."

He chuckled. Hot, breathless mirth erupted from somewhere so deep inside of him he couldn't have stopped it if he tried. Burying his face in the crook of her neck, he let each tremor rumble through his body.

"I mean it," she whispered, urgency rasping her voice as she fought against his hold on her.

"I'm not going to do this here."

He issued the statement in his sternest, most no-nonsense tone. Unfortunately, he'd never had to try to keep his word with Lorelai Gilmore pinned to the cool, damp grass beneath him. Despite the layers of clothing between them, he felt every inch of her from the tight points of her nipples to the mind-melting heat between her legs.

"Here. Now."

Her urging fueled the fire raging inside of him, but not enough to incinerate his brain. "I can't."

Luke kissed his way down the side of her neck, drawing the silky skin against his tongue but stopping just short of marking her. He wanted to. He wanted to suck hard and deep. A part of him wanted to mark her indelibly, so everyone around would know on sight that this dazzlingly bright and sexy woman was his and his alone. She writhed beneath him and there was no suppressing his groan.

"I won't."

He whispered the vow more to himself than to her. Nipping at the collar of her shirt, he shifted lower.

"Luke—"

"But I want to."

The gruff reassurance made her squeeze his fingers. Hard. Shifting his weight onto his knees, he nuzzled her jacket aside then smothered the cartoon cat stretched tight across her chest in wet, open-mouthed kisses.

"God, I want to."

His mouth closed over the tight bud of her nipple and pulled. Lorelai arched her back, surging against him as he suckled her through her shirt. Fired by her response, he tongued the hardened tip. When he used his teeth, Lorelai's gasp echoed through the night and embedded in his brain.

Crazed by the instinctive come hither of her undulating hips, he retreated further, dragging their joined hands down to rest on her chest. There, he released his hold on her to claim her breasts, a gratified groan rolling through him as she threaded her fingers through his hair. He caught the drawstring on her pants between his teeth and gave it a playful tug. Lorelai moaned and writhed beneath him, her frenzied movements the equivalent of tossing a match on a puddle of rocket fuel.

Pushing back, he pressed his mouth to her flannel-covered mound. A low hum of satisfaction rippled from his chest when she raised her hips, offering herself up to him. Grasping her ass, he held her there, his eyes locked on her face as he waited for the protest that was sure to come. But when Lorelai opened her mouth, the word he heard sounded suspiciously like, "Please."

The scent of arousal seeped through the thin layer of her pants. His hands convulsed on her ass. The fact that she wasn't wearing any panties beneath the bottoms hit him like a mule kick to the head. Hercules wouldn't have been strong enough to resist.

Luke nuzzled her, groaning long and deep when the damp musk of her flooded his senses. His tongue lashed out, lapping at the brushed cotton and greedily drawing every ounce of her excitement from the fibers. Then he dove in.

Relentless in his quest to make her as crazy as she made him, he used the wet flannel to drive her up. His head popped up when Lorelai cried out, but she instantly covered her mouth with her own hand. He smiled and tugged the drawstring until the knot unfurled.

"I want you, Lorelai, but not here on the grass."

She used the hand that had muffled her cry to shield her eyes. "Please, Luke."

He yanked her pajama pants over her hips but left them just above her knees. Pushing his hands under her ass, his mouth grazed her inner thigh. His breath stirred the dark curls between her legs. A tremor ran through her.

"Look at me." He held his breath. The moment stretched endlessly but at last she lowered her hand. When their eyes met and held, he dipped his head and pressed a chaste kiss to those downy, damp curls. "I don't know how we're going to make this happen, but somehow, some way, we will."

"How?"

The ragged edge of need in her question made his gut ache. The only thing he could do was promise to try his best. But words, the right words, were never his thing. He'd proven that over and over in the last couple of days. Knowing he had to find another way, he lowered his head once more and put his mouth to much better use.

His head spun at the first heady taste of her. His body hummed with electricity. He held her just where he wanted her, licking and kissing and teasing her damp folds. "Let me. I just want to love you."

She attempted to part her thighs for him, but the waistband of her pants restricted her movement. Thankfully she was open enough for his tongue to slip in. Like a starving man, he buried his face in her, his tongue circling her swollen clit then dipping lower to press into her. Lorelai bucked and moaned, grinding against his tongue with each pass over the sensitive bundle.

He drove her up fast and furious, determined to blow her mind before she had a chance to change it. His fingers traced the crevice of her ass. He sucked her clit, drawing it into his mouth as he imagined her doing the same to his dick. She gasped his name, her grip on his hair tightening to the edge of pain. Thrusting his tongue into her wet heat, he moaned into her as her body contracted. His fingertips bit into the soft flesh of her ass as her movements became wild and jerky. He fucked her with his tongue, determined to drink in every bit of this moment, petrified that, despite his brave words, it might never happen again.

At last, her muscles grew soft and lax. Her wispy pants and whimpers chased the roar of blood from his ears. He didn't want to miss a second of this stolen time. Pressing his damp chin to her thigh, he looked up at her, watching warily as she came back down to earth.

Luke bit back a sigh when he felt the shift in her awareness. He quickly covered her, tying the drawstring at her waist with a neat bow and avoiding her eyes as deftly as she avoided his. "I meant it all, Lorelai. Everything I said tonight."

"How? I have Rory, you have Jess." She circled her hand in a gesture of futility then let it fall back to the ground.

He sighed and looked away, a part of him glad to know he wouldn't have to worry about hobbling home. There was nothing like a cold rush of reality to kill an erection. He turned back to Lorelai and found her blinking up at the moonless sky as if it had all the answers.

"Do I set aside a room at the inn for naughty nooners, or do we wait until the coast is clear and hang a sock on the door? Do we sneak around, or are we a thing?"

"We're a thing." She jumped as if startled by his answer, but her eyes locked on his. Unnerved by her unblinking blue stare, he tried to shrug off his uncharacteristic enthusiasm. "I mean, you're my thing…uh, you're a thing for me…Geez!" He threw up his hands in frustration and pinned her with a glare. "I want more than sex, okay?"

A surprised laugh burst from her lips. "Okay! Gotcha! More than just sex."

If he hadn't been so mesmerized by the way her nose crinkled and her eyes sparkled, he might have thought she was mocking him, but looking down into her happy face, he couldn't make himself care. Shaking his head at them both, he rolled to his feet. Lorelai stared up at him as if she'd never seen him before. For his part, the picture of her sprawled on the grass with her dark hair fanned behind her head and her cheeks flushed with pleasure was better than any fantasy he'd ever been able to conjure. Her t-shirt and pajama pants showed spots dark with dampness. The jacket she'd tried to use as a shield lay spread open wide.

He offered her his hand and she took it, simple as that.

She threaded her fingers through his as they tugged their rumpled, wet clothing back into place. Lorelai was unusually quiet as they crossed the lawn, but it wasn't an uncomfortable quiet. And she didn't let go of his hand. At the foot of the steps, he drew to a halt and turned to face her. "When I said what I said before, about meaning what I said, I meant the other stuff."

Her forehead creased as she peered up at him. "Other stuff?"

"You know, the other stuff." Huffing an impatient breath, he tugged her closer. "The part about you being incredible and amazing and me needing new words."

"I'm pretty sure Rory has a thesaurus in there—"

He cut her off with a hard, possessive kiss, unwilling to be derailed now that they'd set things in motion. When he let her go, Lorelai looked gratifyingly stunned. "I don't need a thesaurus."

"What do you need?"

"You." Her sharp inhalation told him he'd struck home. "I need to be near you. I need you to keep me from screwing everything up. Or, at least, I need you to tell me when I am," he added with a wry smile.

"I can do that."

The smile grew to goofy proportions, but Luke couldn't stop it if he wanted to. "Good." He pressed one last kiss to the back of her hand then took a step back as he let go. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."

"Just for the record, are you against the naughty nooner idea?"

"Not in the least," he answered without missing a beat.

Lorelai fixed him with a dazzling smile then gave her head a bewildered shake as she climbed the porch steps. "I'm taking you up on that danish, you know."

"I consider myself warned."

She paused at the door, her hand wrapped around the handle. "And Luke?"

"Yeah?"

"You're doing great," she said with a sly smile. "Just keep doing what you're doing."