***unedited, subjet to change***
It was late in the evening when Stephen drove through downtown Carson City and noticed the lights on in Izzy's. There weren't that many cars lining the sides of the streets since mostly everything had shut down for the day.
Curiosity got the better of him and he found himself, pulling to a stop in front of her building. That and the fact that he'd found himself missing her a little bit.
He stepped out of the car, grabbed his bag and went to the door. He tried the handle and found it locked. He peeked in and noticed how everything looked in place. The story totally screamed Izzy. In the best way possible.
Figuring she must have just forgotten to turn the lights off, he turned to head for his car.
He turned back around and came face to face with Isabella.
"Hey," he said, stepping toward her.
"Hi," she said, clearly shocked. "What are you doing here?"
"I saw the lights on," he said. "Figured you were here and thought I stop by since it's been a while since we saw each other. I wanted to let you know how the meeting went."
"Oh. I talked to Isaiah. He said it went well."
"Well," he said, reaching into his bag. "Has he shown you one of these?"
He pulled out a bottle and held it out to her and she gasped.
"They've already started?" she asked, grabbing the bottle.
"Yep," he chuckled, her excitement infectious. "You know how your brother is. He got the ball rolling immediately."
She stepped into the boutique to get a better look at it in the light and he caught the door and followed her inside. He took a look around, impressed with how everything was coming together.
"I've had my head stuck in the sand, focused on finishing this wedding dress in enough time to do any necessary alterations for Tessa that I hadn't really spoken to my family too much." She opened the bottle, which was one of the new lotions that Giselle and Ian had created together, sniffed it and then squeezed a small amount into her hands. "Oh my goodness. Giselle and Ian did an amazing job. Feel this! I can't wait to try...the rest of...their products."
Her words had grown choppy when he'd taken her hand in his and grazed his thumb back and forth over her palm. Her skin was still as soft as it used to be. For weeks, he'd been aching to touch her. Really touch her. Not the accidental brushes when they were both reaching for something. His thumb slid to her wrist and he could feel the rapid speed of her pulse.
She slowly pulled away and held the bottle up again.
"Do you mind if I keep this?"
"Consider it yours," Stephen said. "You did a really good job creating the new look for the products."
She smiled and nodded her thanks.
"I hear Giselle's baby shower is this weekend," he said, watching her intently.
"Are you ready to be an aunt?"
He saw her smile as she fiddled with the hem of her top. "It's still surreal to me that Ian is about to be a father. Hell, it's surreal that he's even married."
"Yeah, that was quite a shock to everyone," Stephen said. He ambled around checking out her store. He absently pushed around some hangers on a rack. "It's looking good in here."
"Grand opening is in two weeks."
"You must be excited."
"I am," Isabella said.
"Did my invitation get lost in the mail?"
Isabella's mouth gaped open at his words, before she looked away.
"I didn't think to send you one. I assumed you wouldn't want to come."
"Why would you assume that?"
Isabella rolled her eyes slightly. "Well, I left because of..." She stretched her arms out wide. "...all of this. I didn't think you'd want to be around the reason why I screwed up our relationship."
"Izzy," Stephen said, turning to face her. "From the moment we met in college, I knew this was your dream. I always supported you. And after you left, when I found out about your accomplishments, a part of me was proud of you even then. I'm happy for and proud of you now."
He watched as her eyes well with tears, before she turned away from him. He'd always hated to see her cry. Now was no different.
He took a step toward her. "Iz–"
"I would have stayed," she whispered.
She turned and looked up at him. "If you'd have asked me to stay back then. I would have."
He moved closer to her, put his finger to her chin and lifted it. "I would never have asked you to give up on your dream. If you'd have given me the chance, I would have gladly went with you anywhere."
They stood there, staring at each other and it felt like they were at an impasse.
Suddenly, she lifted on her toes and pressed her lips to his.
What are you doing?!
When Isabella heard that voice in her head scream at her, she tore her lips from Stephen's. His words had done something to her, and she just had to kiss him. But then she realized how big of mistake that probably was. Just because she and Stephen were getting along, didn't mean he'd appreciate her just hauling off and throwing herself at him.
She looked up at him and noticed the way his chest was heaving. She couldn't read his face though.
Thoroughly embarrassed, she began to step out of his arms.
"Stephen, I'm so sor–"
Her words were lost when he yanked her against his hard body and his mouth came crashing down on hers. His arms snaked around her waist and locked her in place, while his tongue dove into her mouth.
He tasted familiar and new all at the same time. He'd always been an amazing kisser, but now...sweet mercy...she didn't want him to ever stop. Not even for air. She'd die a happy woman if he kept kissing her the way he was.
If he liked what was happening, then she loved it. Even though she couldn't believe it was happening. She'd been in the boutique, just taking some last minute inventory, when she heard someone pulling on the door. She most definitely didn't expect it to be Stephen, but she wasn't complaining.
Her arms went up to his neck, and she cupped the back of his head, the hairs from his low-cut scraping her palm.
Eventually, they really did need to breathe. Stephen slowed the kiss down to deliciously little pecks against her lips before finally pulling his face away from hers, but keeping his arms around her body.
"What..." Isabella shook her head. She was so dazed by his kiss. "What just happened here?"
Her heart skipped a beat when he gave a smile. A genuine, full-on smile, showing off his teeth. Brushing a strand of her out of her face, he said, "I think, you kissed me...and then I kissed you...and now we're just standing here."
Isabella nodded her head and bit her lip. "So, what happens next?"
His eyebrows pulled together as if he were in deep thought. Finally he asked, "Have you had dinner tonight?"
Ten minutes later, they were sitting in a twenty-four hour diner down the street from her boutique. She'd locked up and they decided to walk the short distance to the restaurant.
How is it possible that he's even more gorgeous now? she found herself thinking.
His perfectly trimmed, low-cut beard gave him an extra air of maturity. He'd always been serious, even when he was young. She was too. But when they were together, it was like they didn't have to be so serious. They'd understood each other and the pressure of having to always be on top of everything.
Isabella continued her perusal of Stephen as he looked over his menu. She'd done it plenty of times since she'd returned home, but she just couldn't help herself.
His tie was loose around his neck, the top buttons were undone, giving her a peek at his chest that she could imagine was broad. He clearly kept in shape, judging by the size of his biceps that were hugged by the sleeves of his shirt, which were also undone and pushed up, showing off his toned forearms.
Those same forearms that had gripped her waist as he ravished her mouth not even an hour ago.
Stephen looked up and locked eyes with Isabella and she quickly averted her gaze, grabbing her water the waitress and brought out to them when they first arrived.
"What?" he asked, grinning at her.
Isabella shook her head and grinned as well.
"I just...I never expected us to–"
"Be able to sit down and have a dinner together like this again?" he asked.
"Among other things," she said, her cheeks heating.
"What happened earlier," he said, referring to their kiss. "It caught me off guard."
"Me too," she said.
"But..." He reached over and took her hand. "It felt...right."
She smiled at his words.
"It felt right to me too." She looked down at their interlocked hands. "Where do we go from here? We have so much history, Stephen."
Stephen was quiet for so long, that she started to grow nervous about his answer. Just because it might have felt right kissing each other, didn't particularly mean that he wanted to be with her again.
"I don't know. Like you said, we have a lot of history," he finally said. She respected his honestly and nodded her head. She began to pull her hand away, but he tightened his grip to keep her from breaking the connection. "But I'm willing to leave the past in the past and see where moving forward takes us, if you are."
Never in all her wildest dreams had she imagined getting a second chance with Stephen, but she'd always known if she ever got it, she would grab on to it with both hands. And she'd fight for them with all she had the second time around.
She'd never stopped loving him, and she didn't think she ever would.
"I'd like that," she said, smiling.
He squeezed her hand again, and then released it just as the waitress came to take their orders.