The more he didn't say, the worse this would make the situation. WHen she admitted again that her confession had not just been a mirage of his imagination, he still looked like a wide-eyed deer. He cleared his throat to speak, but everything just got stuck.
And when she looked like she might walk away, he readched for her hand so she at least knew he wasn't trying to push her overboard. He was touched, and at the same time shocked and scared all at once. This was serious now! Like really serious! Worse was he had no idea how to respond! He had known where his feelings were for a long time, but now, suddenly they made him mute!
How did he say it? Did he say he loved her too? Wasn't that kind of cliche? Wasn't he supposed to be smug and a complete charmer? "I---" and he felt that frog in his throat jump upward. This was supposed to be a romantic moment, and he was ruining it because she'd frozen him in fear. "I didn't think I'd ever hear you say that---" he finally said it! Well, he hadn't admitted to her he loved her, but he'd thought that had been pretty obvious for some time. "I thought, well, it's quite obvious what I feel for you...."