Before Samina could offer an explanation for her tears, Ezekiel was by her side. Karen inhaled sharply as he grabbing Samina’s hand and tugged her toward the door.
“Hey, where—” Karen’s protest was shut off when the door closed behind them.
Tears streamed down her face and as Ezekiel steered her to the porch, she tugged her hand from his hold and put it behind her, head bowed to hide her tears.
Not even the warmth of Ezekiel’s hands cupping her shoulder, pulling her into his strength could comfort her. Instead, his embrace only unsettled her. With her face pressed to his chest, she could hear his heart thumping hard and fast against her ear.
Samina leaned back and stared up at him. With the porch light beaming a soft halo around his head, half of his angular features was shadowed but she could clearly see the emotions etched on the other half. Worry. Concern. She blinked and started to shift from his arms.
His fingers tightened around her, holding her close. “Are you okay?”
She averted her gaze to his shoulder and nodded mutely.
A thumb caressed the nape of her neck and she shivered. He paused. “You’re cold?” he pulled her even closer.
Samina swallowed hard, trying not to imagine the aloof expression in Topher’s eyes from earlier that night. Tears welled up again, her throat tightening up. Don’t you dare. Samina. Not for him.
Ezekiel inclined his head, his face only inches from hers. Samina stiffened under his silent perusal. His hand swept the back of her head, smoothing her hair back. “Where were you tonight?” he asked gently, his warm breath caressing her face.
“I called you but it seems you left your phone at home.”
Samina peered up at him, trying to gauge annoyance or anger in his face since it was absent from his tone.
His thumb brushed her ear, sending warm shivers down her spine. One corner of his lips quirked upwards. “You look like Beulah caught doing something wrong.”
Heat spread to her cheeks and she blinked at him.
Ezekiel chuckled, thumb grazing her chin. “Relax… I’m not here to reprimand you.”
Her eyes swept over his face, unconvinced. “Then why are you here?”
He paused and then choked a laugh, dropping his hand. “Why am I here?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. Was he stalling?
“Well…” he finally released her, dragging one hand down the back of his head. “Uh…” Ezekiel moved to the corner of the porch and folded his arms across his chest. Now he was cloaked in shadows, his lean but strong frame a silhouette framed between the porch stands.
Samina wrapped her arms around herself and stared at him, waiting.
“I wanted to know if you’d made your decision.”
She frowned. “About what?”
He chuckled, pushing away from the shadows. There was mirth in his expression but also a resolve she’d never seen before. “About us.” He moved closer.
Samina took a step back.
Ezekiel paused in step, his brow furrowed slightly. “What’s wrong?”
She bit her lip, surprised by her reaction. Wasn’t this what she’d prayed for almost ten years? She’d dreamed this up time and time again; Ezekiel confessing his love for her, pursuing her to be his one and only. So why was she anxious and unsettled now that it was before her?
He closed the gap between them, his arms coming around her again. “I don’t want to rush you.”
The very same words Topher had said to her earlier that month. His voice was so clear in her thoughts, juxtaposed against Ezekiel’s now. Immediately, she thought of the birthday cupcake he presented her at the tea shop and the way his eyes danced with mirth when he teased her…
Ezekiel’s hand rested on the nape of her neck, his thumb pressed lightly on her chin, directing her attention back to him.
Samina blinked at him, rendered speechless by the tenderness in his gaze.
“I’ve been incredibly blind, Sam, and stubborn.” His breath caressed her face, his merely inches from hers.
Her breath caught as he leaned in closer, her pulse jumping with every inch he closed between them.
“All this time, I couldn’t see…” His gaze lowered to her parted lips. “But now I know and I won’t miss it again.” His gaze lifted to her eyes. “Sam, say you’ll give me a chance? Give us a chance?”
Samina couldn’t think clearly with him standing so close, his mouth barely inches from hers, her pulse racing against his hand. “I…”
Then he kissed her. His lips pressed lightly against hers, tentative as if seeking consent. When she gasped lightly against his, Ezekiel inclined his head and deepened the kiss.
At first, Samina stood stiff as a rod until he tilted his mouth against hers, then her eyes fluttered close and she relaxed against him as his arms gathered her close.
Karen and Obadiah were waiting for her as she trudged into the house, lips still tingling from Ezekiel’s fervent kiss. Dazed, she dragged her eyes to the disapproving glare in Karen’s face and the bemused expression on Obadiah’s.
“You okay Sis?” Obadiah drawled, looking pointedly at her.
Karen scowled darker.
Samina’s hands flew to her hair, imagining the tangled mess it was from Ezekiel’s roving fingers. Her face heated.
Karen folded her arms. “What was that?”
“Uh…” Samina was still tongue-tied.
“It’s called a kiss,” Obadiah replied.
Karen glared at him before turning it to Samina. “Why would you kiss Ezekiel?”
Pulling in her bottom lip, Samina started for her room.
“Nu-uh.” Karen hurried to block her path. “Not when we have much to discuss.”
Samina slanted a warning glare to her younger sister. “No we don’t. Move.”
Karen’s jaw tightened, eyes narrowed. “No.”
Brows lifted. “No?” Samina moved one step closer, almost nose to nose with Karen.
Karen didn’t back down. “You heard me.”
“What’s the big deal? Sam’s a grown person and can date whoever she wants.”
Samina dipped her head in acknowledgment, offering a smile to her ally of a brother.
“How ridiculous!” Karen scoffed, stepping away. “Why would she date him?”
“Why not?” Obadiah tossed back.
Samina frowned, disturbed by Karen’s disdain. “…Why not?”
“You mean besides the fact that he’s a widower and a father of two…?”
Obadiah rolled his eyes. “So because he was married before, he’s off limits? Is he a monk?”
Samina’s lips twitched a smile. Maybe having Obadiah around wasn’t such a bad idea.
Karen waved him off and looked pointedly at Samina. “Then what about Topher?”
Karen heaved an exasperated sigh. “You don’t know anything. Topher’s this really handsome, tall guy who likes Sam.”
Obadiah shrugged. “Big deal. He wasn’t the one snogging her on the porch.”
Face heated, Samina coughed against her shoulder.
Karen scowled. “Obviously, she was confused.”
“Who confuses kissing someone?” Obadiah shook his head. “Obviously, she doesn’t like this Topher guy so—”
“I do like him!”
Both siblings turned at Samina’s outburst and her face burst into flames.
“Wait a minute…” Obadiah frowned. “You like both guys?”
Samina grimaced at the censure in his tone. Her teenage brother who’d been caught fooling around in the backseat of their father’s car was now judging her. Unbelievable!
“Well duh,” Karen tossed back, a strange smile on her face.
Mortified, Samina spun on her heels, hurrying to her bedroom. “This conversation is over. Goodnight!”
“No it’s not, Samina.” Karen’s stern reply slowed her steps. “Wanna tell us why St. Jude’s hospital called you about a post-operation check in?”
Dread slithered down her spine and Samina froze at the door. She’d been caught.