"Now that I have you alone, what happened today?"
Caught off guard, I stared stupidly. "Excuse me?"
Roberto widened his stance and crossed his arms of his chest, causing his muscles to bulge. Right then he appeared as large and immovable as the massive oak tree in my front yard. "This morning when I called wanting to discuss a relationship between the two of us, you blew me off. Then at three-thirty, not even nine hours later, you call with a dinner invitation. Something had to have happened to change your mind. What was it?"
Feeling small and hunted, I settled more firmly against the car, increasing the space between us and defensively hugged myself. "I didn't blow you off," I muttered, looking everywhere but at him.
"Nina, look at me." When I didn't, he moved even closer, so that his feet were positioned on the outside of mine and used a large, calloused finger to lift my chin, gently forcing me to meet his gaze. "I need to know what brought about this sudden change of heart."
Start off as you mean to continue. The words floated through my mind. If I wanted openness and honesty between us, it had to begin with me now, in this moment. My gazed drifted from Roberto's intent brown eyes to his salt-and-pepper hair styled short, visually tracing the nicely trimmed sideburns leading to the well maintained moustache and goatee he sported as I gathered my words.
"A few years back, there was a man I was engaged to that hurt me very badly. Part of it was my fault. I made mistakes with him that led him to believe he could treat me any kind of way and I'd take it." I sighed, uncrossed my arms and planted them on the car behind me.
"Are you still in love with him?"
"No!" The answer burst out of me. "It just took me awhile to forgive him, and even longer to forgive myself for allowing the relationship to continue for so long," I continued in a much softer tone.
He took one of my hands and held it in his, playing with my fingers. "I can understand that. So what changed?"
"He sent an email apologizing for the things he did while we were together." Despite the seriousness of our conversation, every cell in my body was focused on where our hands joined.
"He wants you back." His eyes drilled into mine.
I shrugged. "That's not an option."
"But if you've forgiven him..."
I was already shaking my head before his words trailed off. "Forgiven, but not forgotten. I don't think I could go back even if God commanded me to, which He won't." Of that, I was sure. I'd spent a lot of time on my knees -- before, during, and especially after the disastrous relationship that almost destroyed me.
"You said 'think.' So, I'm insurance that you won't be tempted to give him another chance?" Roberto dropped my hand and stepped back.
I caught his hand between my own and tugged him close so that the heat of his body engulfed me again. "I honestly don't know what this," I motioned between the two of us, "is, except for an attempt not to let fear rule my life. You are a good man, or at least you seem to be. I've been fooled before, enough that I no longer trust my judgment where men are concerned."
My gaze dropped to his hand cradled between mine, absently noting their contrasting colors as I confessed, "In the deepest part of my heart, I want love, marriage, someone to call my own. I can't have that if I spend all of my time pushing men -- you -- away out of fear of being hurt."
He brought his free hand up to cup my cheek. "I'm not going to hurt you."
I met his stare. "You can't promise that. Love hurts. The deeper the love, the greater the hurt." And I had a feeling that Roberto had the power to do great damage to my heart. If he were everything he was presenting himself to be, I would fall and fall hard.