Chip emerged from the crowd that had gathered, beaming at the two of us, still wrapped up in each other’s arms. “Looks like you two had a happy ending,” he sang out. “All’s well that ends well, and it looks like everyone here tonight is a winner.”
The crowd cheered. We could hear the roar, even backstage.
“Commercial break,” an assistant yelled, and Chip immediately lost interest and wandered away. The cameramen departed and the gaffe swung the microphone away from us. To my surprise, the crowd departed, leaving only a smiling Jim Matlock behind.
He approached us with his hands wide open. “Before you two go back on stage and finish the finale, I just wanted to say thank you for making some entertaining TV this season.” Jim beamed at both of us. “You made this season worth watching, and the ratings prove it.”
Dean took my hand in his, as if unwilling to let go of me for a second, and it gave me a warm feeling. “Thanks, Jim, but I think both Abby and I would have preferred a less exciting season.” He flashed a warm smile down at me.
I returned it, my heart brimming. “I wouldn’t mind some quiet time at this point.”
“Well now,” Jim said, clasping his hands. “It’s interesting that you say that, because I have a proposition for you two. How about the two of you hook up as a team for my show The World Race?”
Dean groaned at the same time I did.
“If you’re not interested in that, how about a reality show—”
“No thank you,” I said hastily, squeezing Dean’s hand.
He pulled me away from Jim, shaking his head. “I want to spend the next six months with Abby… without a camera in our faces.” Before the producer could come up with another argument, Dean steered me away from him, back toward the stage that we were contractually obligated to reenter.
“Is that true?” I said to him as we walked back out. “Do you want to spend the next six months with me?”
Dean grinned down at me and pulled me close, not caring that we were in view of the crowd and they had started to cheer again. “Six months is just the start of the game. If we work well as a team, I’d like for us to make it to the merge.”
I tilted my head and looked up at him with a rueful smile. “I don’t do so well at merges, remember?”
“You will with me at your side,” Dean said and leaned down and gave me a long, satisfying kiss.
The audience roared their approval.
Sometime after midnight, the after parties were coming to an end. As soon as we had a free moment, Dean grabbed me and hauled me out to a cab. “Are you staying at the Four Seasons?” he asked me, even as he began to nibble on my ear.
“Second floor,” I breathed, my nails digging into his arms as his teeth grazed my sensitive earlobe. I liked that far too much. “You?”
“Fifth floor,” he said. “Wanna stay with me tonight? I have a suite.”
“Sounds good to me.”
It really, really did.
We raced through the lobby and into the elevator, ignoring the few partiers that tried to get our attention. We were done with Endurance Island and now it was time for our own personal reunion.
As soon as the door shut, Dean’s mouth was on mine and my fingers were ripping apart the buttons of his shirt. He hastily shrugged off his jacket and began to work the dress ties at the back of my neck.
“God, you looked amazing tonight. I couldn’t take my eyes off you,” he said, between fervent kisses that he pressed to my bare shoulders. “I thought you were sexy on the island but you’re totally blowing my mind in this dress.”
“Then I should keep it on,” I teased, pushing his shirt off him and displaying the tanned, ripped chest that I’d dreamed about for the last six months. I gave a sigh of pleasure at the sight and skimmed my hands over his abs. “You’re so beautiful. I can’t imagine what you see in me.”
“You should be asking what I ever saw in other girls,” he said, sliding the dress down my front and exposing my bra. He unclasped the front hook, exposing my br**sts and nuzzling the pink nipple of one. “Though I do have to say these are amazing.”
I gave a moan of delight, my fingers clenching against his ultra-short hair. “So you like me just for my boobs? Typical man.”
He looked up, his arms locked around my waist, surprised. “Is that what you think of me?”
As he straightened, I felt flustered. Had I messed this up already? “Well, no. I just—”
Dean’s hands cupped my face. “Abby, I like you because I respect you. You’re one of the strongest girls I’ve ever met, and the funniest. I started to fall for you the moment you pushed me aside and made the fire for us. That’s when I realized you were someone different than usual.”
My mind focused on one part of that sweet speech. “You’re falling for me?”
He kissed me again, his mouth gentle against mine. “I am. It seems silly to think you’re in love after three weeks but…”
I knew exactly what he meant. “But those three weeks felt like plenty of time,” I replied, smiling. It was true. I knew more about Dean and what he was like than I did anyone else. I knew the frown he got on his face when he was unhappy, I knew his playful side. I knew how much he loved to be in the water and how quickly he lost his temper at puzzles. I knew that he liked to put his hand on my belly when we slept, and that he liked to wake up early. I knew that he never wanted to eat another coconut in his life. Being only with each other for those three weeks had taught me that. And most of all, I knew that we were good together.
So I wrapped my arms around him again and gave him another long, exquisite kiss.
“What was that for?” He said.
I smiled at him and leaned in. “Time for the merger.”
Six months later, Dean and I were married on the beach in the Cook Islands. Wearing nothing but tans and sarongs and beaming smiles, we held hands at sunset and stood ankle deep in the surf as one of the locals married the two of us.
The network was not invited.