AN: We've reached the conclusion of another story! Thanks so much for the reviews and the support. Next story is coming soon... Love, Kricket...

Chapter 5

Derek watched Penelope storm out the door of the cabin before he gave a heavy sigh and let his head fall back onto the couch. He put his fist on his aching forehead that matched the throb in his groin.

Shit. He was an asshole.

He had a lot of explaining to do, and he knew that none of it would make a hint of difference to Penelope. Yeah, he was tired. Yeah, it had been a rough day. Yeah, he had family issues going on. None of that excused his behavior.

The fact was, he was wrong, and he owned her an apology. He'd let his feelings he felt for her, the ones that had lain only partially dormant for years, take over his common sense. He'd glanced down at her, had seen her beautiful, familiar face—the face that haunted his dreams—between his legs, and he couldn't distance himself. He'd let himself think far too much today about their relationship and what might have been.

He had even tried closing his eyes, but it hadn't helped. Her soft fingers touching him… God! He still ached even now for her.

Before he could stop himself, he'd reached forward for her, touched her, wanting to lift her to him so that she could straddle his lap. He'd reached for her like he'd reach for a lover…and she'd drawn away like the friend that she was.

And he'd snapped.

Disgusted with himself, he shook his head and rose to his feet. He loved her, far more than his rather neglected libido, and she deserved better. He needed to apologize, and pronto, before he lost the best thing that ever happened to him…

Her friendship.

Penelope stood, leaning against the rental car under the light of the cheesy motel sign. She wiped away a frustrated tear and then growled at her own stupidity. He did not deserve her tears, not the way he was acting.

She sniffled. Yeah. He did. Derek really was wonderful, even when he was an ass. He deserved everything, and so much more.

Besides, if she were being honest with herself—and most of the time, she was—her frustration wasn't just because of him. She had an active roll in the way she felt. She'd let her mind drift too much today, thinking fanciful, romantic thoughts that she had no business thinking. Touching him had only magnified those feelings. When he'd reached for her, she'd panicked, afraid she'd given too much away…

And then he'd pushed her toward Kevin again, like he always did.

"Fool!" her heart yelled at her. "He doesn't want you like that! He teases, but that's all it is—one big, long, uber-painful tease."

"I know," she whispered to herself, hanging her head.

A hand reached for hers and made her jump, and she turned to see Derek. She snapped, "You scared me half to death!"

"Come with me," he asked softly, tugging her hand. He was wearing his jeans again, thank goodness, and leaning a little more heavily on his left knee.

"Why should I?" She stood stock still and put her chin up childishly. She was hurt; she didn't feel like moving.

"Please," he begged, gently rubbing her palm. "I want to show you something."

She thought about saying no, but then curiosity got the better of her.

"Fine." Frowning, Penelope followed his lead, muttering, " It's not like I have anything better to do."

The rustle of old, fallen leaves sounded under their feet as he walked her behind the building. The moon was full and huge, lighting the backyard of the cabin in a silvery glow. Some dampness accumulated on the ground and the trees, sparkling like tiny diamonds in the light. It also made her feet and her arms wet, as she trod through the grass and brushed the branches. She shivered in the cold.

He paused as he reached the edge of the yard that was lined in cattails and tugged her so that she stood in front of him. There was the small stream he'd talked about in the car. It made a happy, gurgling sound as it ran over little rocks in its bed. It was truly beautiful, in a serene sense, like a Monet painting come to life.

"Wow," she said in honest wonderment. She felt him wrap his arms around her, moving her closer to his perpetually warm body. He simply held her there, and they watched the stream together.

"When I was younger," he murmured, his voice a low purr behind her ear, "I would come here with my family. We'd fish, wade in the stream, do all the things that kids did."

"Sounds wonderful."

"It was." He paused for a second, before he continued, "But that first time—when my dad was with—was special."

He took a breath, as if he were letting the memories wash over him, and then said, "My parents put us to bed in the bedroom—all three of us little kids—and they'd taken the living room pull-out sofa. I woke in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and they weren't there."

She waiting, not saying a word, wanting to hear the rest of the story.

"I looked out the back window and saw them standing in the moonlight…just like this," he murmured softly. "Then and there, I told myself that someday, I would come back here and do the same thing with someone I loved." He turned her in his arms and said, "Baby Girl, I can't think of anyone better to stand here with than you."

The tears sprung to her eyes, and she shoved at his chest, still smiling. "Don't do that to me. I was mad at you."

He tugged her back into his arms. "I know, angel, and I am sorry. You didn't deserve that. I let my jealousy and my foolishness get in the way of our friendship, and—"

"Jealousy?" she interrupted, looking up at him and stopping him from saying any more.

"Yeah," he said, and then shook his head. "Put it this way: sometimes I'm the one who shouldn't drink that third glass of wine. I forget the good thing I already have with you and dream of more."

Penelope's heart skipped a beat and felt a tingling sensation take over her whole body. "More?"

Derek sighed and shuffled uncomfortably. He let her go and rubbed the back of his neck. "Sweetheart, I'm sorry. I know you are with Lynch, and—"

"No, I'm not."

Derek's brows shot down immediately. "What did you just say?"

She smiled at him. "I'm not with Kevin. He was rather upset that I took off in the middle of the night to fly by my best friend's side."

He swallowed, as if he was digesting this news. "He wasn't…"

"Nope," she said happily. "I told him that he didn't understand our friendship, and he said that he didn't want to understand it—not anymore."

Derek chucked softly. "It is hard to understand."

That struck her deeply, and suddenly, she needed to know…right that second.

Penelope stepped closer and put her hands on his shoulders. "What is it to you, Derek? What is our friendship to you?"

He paused for a second, as if he were studying her, drinking her and the moment in. A soft smile curved his mouth, and he brought his hand up to cup her face.

"It's everything to me," he said honestly, his heart shining in his dark eyes. "When I am with you, I smile more, I laugh more, I feel more. Everything is more intense, like seeing the world in color instead of black and white. You make it all better, Baby Girl…"

He folded her into his embrace and brushed his lips against her forehead. "When I am with you, I can fly, and when I hold you, it's the closest to heaven I will ever get."

"Oh, Derek," she whispered, her heart overflowing.

"I love you, Penelope. You give me solace and hope, and I never want to let you go."

Penelope couldn't hold back her smile. She felt the exact same way about him. Wherever he went, she'd be right there waiting for him.

"I love you, too," she answered, looking up at him through misty eyes. "Please keep holding on."

"Always," he whispered, before lowering his mouth to hers.

Even though she'd been prepared for the kiss—she felt she'd been waiting seven years for this—her breath hitched in her throat and her heart sped up in anticipation. As he brushed his warm, soft lips against her hers, her entire body tingled, and a rush of heat and excitement flushed over her like a breeze in the desert. She was acutely aware of him, the light pressure of his hands on her lower back, guiding rather than directing.

Then slowly, there was a little more pressure, a little more touching, and she felt a languorous warmth sluice through her body, like her blood was molten lava. Raising her arms, she looped them around his neck and the urge to stretch, to press herself against him like a cat needing stroking, became unstoppable.

At the same time, he played his lips on hers, coaxing them to open. She felt the teasing flit of his tongue, and she couldn't stop a moan that seemed to come from nowhere.

Lord, could this man kiss!

She needed more, had to get closer, and yet, she couldn't move that crucial inch. When she thought she would die from want, he lowered his hands, cupping her bottom, lifting her until she was on her tiptoes. Her body was firmly placed against his, her breasts meshed against the hard wall of his chest, her thighs intermingled with his. She could feel the rapid beat of his heart that matched her own. She felt like his perfect match; even the breaths they took were in unison.

She continued to meet him kiss for kiss, stroke for stroke, until finally, they broke apart, breathless and still clinging to one another. He continued to rain soft kisses on her cheeks, temples, and the bridge of her nose, until they were both on steady feet.

"That," he murmured softly, "was everything I'd always hoped it would be."

"Mmm hmm."

He kissed her quickly again and grinned at her. "My parents were on to something…"

She answered his grin. "Smart parents."

He laughed and then folded her close to his chest again. They held each other, soaking in the warmth of the moment, before she shivered with the chill in the air.

He asked, "Are you ready to go in?"

She nodded and then he draped his arm around her shoulder as they walked back to the cabin to their happily ever after.