Chapter Seven

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Neither said a word as they were lifted into the sky. Occasionally the pilot would announce through their headsets something about the flight path or the estimated time of arrival, but Beckett and Danielle were quietly tucked into their own bubble. And because neither of them were known for their tendency to drift off into quiet places, the otherwise silent change in tenor let off a sonic boom that only they could hear.

Outside the window, thick patches of green in varying shades drifted by beneath them. Collections of towns, the long, black ribbony roadways, the charming assemblies of homes that made up neighborhoods, it all looked so peaceful, so content from up above. And so removed, Danielle thought, in a way that added another layer to that new perspective. But instead of making the world look smaller, as one might assume, it only added to the overwhelming need to feel purposeful, to feel like a contributing part of everyday life. Not as a student, as she had been her entire life, but as a businessperson. A citizen. A woman.

The need to be purposeful had always driven her to some extent, but since she'd graduated from Yale, the engine had revved higher, the stakes grinding harder. Only now, with Beckett beside her, hearing that he loved her, she didn't know which way to turn the wheel, which direction to drive in.

But being above the earth, sweeping through the endless blue at the hands of the pilot, gave her time to think without pressure. Almost as if by being in the sky, they were above the bounds of ticking time.

The only problem was that she couldn't formulate or identify a single thought that pointed in any direction. It was like her brain had gone quiet at the crossroads. Thoughts fell as if sprinkled onto the New England towns as they continued across Massachusetts toward New Hampshire. Her lists—the pros, the cons—all drifted down like torn confetti dropping silently from the sky.

There was only one dominant feeling she was aware of, and that was the tight, heated hold Beckett had of her hand, and the heated hold the simple link had on her heart. It quieted questions, it calmed the commotion inside of her, it warmed her entire body like a slow, concentrated burn that soothed the shivers she fought to hide.

So, instead of searching to find thought and reason, she let the simple touch be enough for the moments spent in the sky.

As they dipped in altitude and began passing over scraggly slivers of dark blue lakes and deep green thickets of woods that made up New Hampshire, she took a deep breath to reorient herself. She was going to spend the evening—a holiday—watching fireworks with Beckett's family. His family that had grown in number over the past couple of years, his family that had welcomed her as an employee, then welcomed her as... as what, she wondered? Did they know how Beckett felt about her?

She'd been so focused on school, on graduating, on preparing for and attending job fairs on campus, she hadn't considered what Beckett's family thought of her as.

From her perspective, they'd gone from being her employers to her friends. She'd come to rely on their camaraderie, their company.

Beckett, Ben, and Abigail were a special kind of family—they'd been through and survived a lot of life's stings together and because of that, they had a strong bond between them. They bantered, they teased, and they loved each other like no other family she'd ever known.

Not that there wasn't love in her family, because there was, certainly. But she'd been the only child of two people who worked a solid six to seven days a week at their little deli. And when they arrived home, the conversation was minimal, the focus always on what had been accomplished that day—in both the sales at the family business, and in Danielle's education. They all loved each other, of course, but it was a simple, gentle love.

Beckett, Ben, and Abigail had needed each other to survive and there was a toughened thickness between them that Danielle considered herself lucky to have witnessed, otherwise she wouldn't have believed it existed in real life—that dramatic need and powerful love for another. Nothing about their love was simple or gentle.

What would it be like, she wondered, to truly be part of that? Not as a casual friend-with-benefits on the side, but as family? What would it feel like to truly be part of that strength as a unit, that depth as a family bound by need?

And that was the kicker, wasn't it? She'd been welcomed, she'd been part of the mix, but always on the outside of the invisible inner circle that fascinated her, always kept at a distance by Beckett. Would it be that way if they were actually together with strings and promises and ties that bound them as a couple?

As her thoughts wandered into places she hadn't allowed before today, a massive spread of a gray stone castle came into view and she felt Beckett's hand hold even tighter to hers. She quickly glanced over to him and got caught in the many facets of gold that took her in—there was a different emotion with every gilded shade, every spear of light in his eyes.

There was a castle outside the window—one that looked, at first glance, like it was transported through time and space from medieval Europe—and yet she couldn't take her eyes off the man beside her. He was beautiful in a raw kind of way. But there was a roughness to him now, almost as if he were fresh from a fistfight. And she yearned deeply for him—an unreasonable, impractical yearning—even as he sat beside her, even as he held her hand.

The pilot announced their arrival as the helicopter settled on the landing pad. Then another person appeared out of nowhere and helped them out, led them away from the whipping blades, then disappeared once again.

A little boy wearing a burgundy cape and holding a hammer came running over to greet them. "I'm Thor!" he announced over the whining sound of the helicopter powering down. "Welcome to Camp!"

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