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|Beat of the Heart(Runaway Train #2) by Katie Ashley|
He shook his head. “It’s not about you being pregnant. It’s a customary thing here in Mexico.” When I opened my mouth to protest, he replied, “Get your feminist panties out of a twist, Mia, and let me do something chivalrous, okay?”
“Fine,” I grumbled, before handing over the bags.
We were on our way out when AJ stopped at a barrel of jewelry. He fished something out and paid the lady. He then took my hand in his and slid a black, metal bracelet on my arm. I glanced down at it before shooting him a look. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“What? It’s a Saint’s bracelet.”
“Duh, I know what it is. I’m Catholic too, remember?”
“Then what’s the problem?”
I shrugged. “They’re kinda hokey now because Bella wears one of them in the Twilight movie.”
“I don’t give a shit what they wore in some sparkly vampire movie. They’re for protection.” AJ brought his hand to my stomach. “I pray for the saints to watch over you and Bella. If anything, wear it to humor me, okay?”
I fought to catch my breath at his words. Even though we were in a crowded market, I’d never felt more connected to AJ in my life. “Okay, I will,” I whispered.
“Ready to head back?”
I nodded in reply. As we started back to the car, I stared down at my bracelet. From time to time, I let my fingers graze over the saint’s pictures.
“Wait just a sec, okay?”
Before I could ask him what he was doing, AJ had crossed the parking lot to where a woman and her son sat. Shielding my eyes from the blazing sun, I saw the sign in her hand. Although it was in Spanish, I knew it must be asking for help. AJ reached in his pocket and took out a wad of money. She smiled and ducked her head at his gesture. The boy, who couldn’t have been more than seven, pointed at AJ’s head. I saw AJ grin before he took off the Braves baseball cap he’d been sporting since we left Atlanta. He placed it on the boy’s head, which caused him to beam with pleasure.
And in that moment of AJ’s kindness—when there was no paparazzi or fans to impress—I knew what a truly decent and honorable man he was. But more than anything, I knew how much I truly loved him and wanted to be with him. In that moment any doubt I had about him or about us instantly evaporated.
As he walked up to me, his smiled faded, and concern lined his brow. “Amorcito mio, why are you crying?”
“What you just did…” I said between my hiccupping cries.
“Oh that. Yeah, I—” I silenced him by throwing my arms around his neck and pressing myself tight against him. “Hey, hey, what’s this?”
I pulled away to stare into his eyes. “I love what you just did—for the mother and for the boy. I love that you pray for me and Bella. I love that you won’t give up on me, and you keep pushing me to see beyond my past. I love that as hard as I try to make you just like all the other men out there, you keep proving me wrong. I love that you wanted to bring me here to meet your family…” My lip quivered harder. “I even love that you got me fatty American food to eat.”
AJ smiled. “You’re welcome.” With his thumb, he brushed away some of the tears streaming down my cheeks. “I do all those things because I love you. You know that right?”
“I do.” I leaned over and brought my lips to his. When he tried to deepen the kiss, I eased back. “I love you, too,” I murmured against his lips.
AJ’s closed eyes popped open. “What did you say?”
I laughed. “I said, I love you, too.” At his expression of disbelief, I cupped his face in my hands. “I know without a shadow of a doubt that I love you.” Tears continued to spill from my eyes onto his shirt. “You’re my anema e core.”
AJ’s lips were warm and tender against mine. When he pulled away, he tugged my bottom lip between his teeth for a second. “You make me really happy, you know that?”
He sank down to where he was on eye-level with my belly. “You hear that, Bella? Your stubborn-ass mom finally told your old man she loves him.”
“We gotta work on your mouth before she gets here.”
He grinned up at me before pressing a tender kiss on my stomach. I brought my hands up to cup his cheeks. As the beads on my Saint’s bracelet caught the sunlight, I knew I was truly blessed.
“Oh my God, that was amazing!” Mia exclaimed as we excited the Degollado Theater. Since I begged to differ, I kept my lips pinched shut. I’d almost dozed off twice. Okay, so maybe I did fall asleep since Mia elbowed me because I was snoring. I’d even drooled a little on her arm. Thankfully, she was so fucking stoked to be seeing her favorite opera, La Bohème, that she could have cared less about what I was doing.
But I still felt like an ass because tonight was all part of a very strategic romantic plan. It had started off this morning with a Mariachi band serenade. When she and Abby had staggered out onto the rooftop at six am to find a full ensemble of musicians and singers belting our anthem of Guadalajara, she had stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed at me like I had totally lost my mind. To me, the Mariachi band was an obvious choice. I mean, Guadalajara is where Mariachi originated. But I guess Mia felt a little ridiculous in her pajama pants and bed hair in front of a bunch of strange men in glittering suits.
But that all changed when I led her out to the chair waiting for her in the center of the roof. Then I took my place among the singers. I’d been practicing secretly for days while she was spending time with my family. In perfect Spanish, I began singing Aneme e Core to her. As the sun began to rise over the city, tears glistened in her eyes as I knelt before her and took her hands in mine.