The front door squeaks softly as I open it, my steps careful as I tiptoe into the dark apartment, entranced by a faint glow coming from the direction of our bedroom.
I told Gabriel I’d be home around nine-thirty from the engagement party I was coordinating tonight, but it’s a little after eleven now. I had to pull double duty as a personal therapist after the couple got in a disagreement and nearly called off the whole thing. It was worth the extra time it took to smooth things over between them, despite having to stay late. I’m not losing out on my potential commission as their wedding planner.
I’d asked Gabriel to hold down the fort at our office this afternoon in case any walk-ins showed up as I’d left to go help set up for the party, but now I wish he’d come. He always knows the right thing to say to people.
I take my heels off as I approach our bedroom door, discovering the glow is actually a multitude of lit candles in votives trailing across our room, the effect incredibly romantic as it highlights the man lying on the bed. The only problem is… he’s sleeping. Passed out on top of the covers from the looks of it, like he drifted off without meaning to.
I study my boyfriend from the doorway, his face relaxed in sleep, so unbelievably handsome my stomach flutters for a moment, struck anew with how lucky I am to have him in my life.
Blowing out a few of the candles as I make my way across the room, I perch on the edge of the bed next to him, brushing his dark hair back with my palm. He stirs, shifting toward me, and I cup his face as he lets out a sleepy sigh.
“I’m sorry I’m home so late,” I whisper, unsure if he’s actually awake.
He makes a soft mmm sound, burrowing into my touch, but his eyes never open.
It appears he had something romantic planned for us judging by the lit votives, but we’ll have to postpone whatever it was for tomorrow night. I pull the covers down on the bed and he instinctively gets under them as I kiss him gently on the forehead, not wanting to wake him.
I slip my dress off and get ready for bed, blowing out the candles throughout the room, loving that he took the time to create such a romantic atmosphere. That’s just the kind of guy he is, though. Always thinking of me, surprising me with little gestures. The past year with him has been the best of my life. Someone to make me laugh, to look out for me, to love me unconditionally. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here with him. When I think sometimes about how I almost foolishly gave all that up… no, better not to dwell on that.
The last candle is on his nightstand, and as I near it, I’m momentarily struck dumb. Sitting there is… a ring box.
Was Gabriel going to propose? Suddenly, the lighted candles make a lot more sense.
I look over at him, his eyes still closed, and creep over to pick up the box, turning my back to him so he won’t discover what I’m up to. I flip the lid to peek inside, covering my mouth to contain the gasp that immediately escapes. This ring is gorgeous. Easily over three carats, the diamond catches the single source of light in the room to sparkle brilliantly, the thin gold band polished to a shine.
How in the world did he afford it? Trust me, I’ve been around wedding rings enough to know their value, and something like this did not come cheap.
I glance over my shoulder one more time to make sure he’s still sleeping before slipping it on my finger, my eyes glued to how perfect it looks there. Seriously, I’m in love.
I spend a moment admiring it, reluctant to take it off, but it’s not as if I can keep it on forever. He didn’t actually propose. How embarrassing would that be for him to discover me like this, sneaking around in the middle of the night wearing a ring I can’t even be one hundred percent positive is meant for me?
Who else would it be for, though?
I return it to its cushioned box, setting it back exactly where it was sitting, then lean down to blow out the candle, plunging the room into darkness. I make my way over to my side of the bed and slip under the covers, but sleep is a long time coming as I lay there, giddy with excitement.
The smell of fresh brewed coffee teases my nose, my eyes fluttering open to find Gabriel’s spot empty next to me. I lean up on an elbow, peering over at his nightstand, but the object of my desire from last night is mysteriously missing.
I didn’t dream it, did I? Too many weddings lately haven’t addled my brain, causing delusions of my own wedding on the horizon?
I flip off the comforter, heading out to the kitchen to find my boyfriend gloriously shirtless, muscles on display as he flips pancakes at the stove. Yum.
His plaid pajama pants ride low on his hips, showcasing those vee things on his lower abdomen he knows I’m weak against.
“Morning, beautiful.” He smiles, my gaze shifting up when I realize I’m just standing here ogling him.
“Good morning.” I reach out to take the mug of coffee he hands me and take a seat at the breakfast bar, getting caught up for a second in the long kiss he gives me, leaving me slightly breathless.
He plates two pancakes for me and places the butter and honey I like to slather on top next to me. “How was the party? Sorry I fell asleep before you got home.”
“I need to start billing an hourly rate for mediation or something.” I tell him about the events that kept me away last night, watching him closely for any signs of nervousness, any impending signal that a proposal is on the horizon, but he’s as attentive as he always is listening to me, nodding along in the right spots, focused on my story. It would be easier to read him if he wasn’t so self-assured.
I’m probably the one who seems neurotic, half my mind on where that ring could be now. Should I have checked his nightstand drawer before I left the bedroom? No, that’s snooping. I respect his privacy… but I also need to know its whereabouts.
“Are you all right? You seem distracted.”
“Who, me?” Damn how squeaky my voice sounds. I stuff a bite of pancake in my mouth, quickly washing it down with coffee when I nearly choke from swallowing it too fast. “I’m fine. What, um, did you have planned for last night?”
“What do you mean?”
Is he really going to make me say it? “Well, you had candles lit. I’m sorry if I spoiled any romantic plans you had.”
“It’s not your fault. I know work comes first.”
I blink, taken aback at his choice of words. Yes, I pride myself on my work, but he knows my priorities have shifted ever since we got together. I’m not the workaholic I once was, spending endless hours focused on generating business. My life is more balanced, leaving the office at an appropriate hour when I can, rekindling neglected friendships now that I have more free time. Gabriel has taught me to give myself permission not to worry about work when I’m not there. And true to my word, I’ve even visited my former boss and friend Denise, showering her one year old daughter with enough toys to last till she’s five.
“Hey, I didn’t mean it like that.” He takes the skillet off the burner and shuts it off, walking around the counter to hug me from behind. His chest is warm against my back, his scent enveloping me until the sudden tension in my body melts away. “I meant I know when you’re on a job, you do everything within your power to make it a success. You go the extra mile for everyone and it’s one of the things I love most about you. How dedicated you always are.”
My ruffled feathers smooth at his praise, my lips quirking up. “Did you have that speech prepared or something?”
“No,” he murmurs huskily in my ear, trailing kisses down my neck. “But you inspire me.”
Okay, that feels amazing, but I’m on a mission here. What’s going on with the ring?
“So, um, there was nothing special planned for last night? With the candles and all?”
He pauses in his kissing to chuckle low against my skin. “You saw it, didn’t you?”
He moves to my side, studying me, and while I normally have an excellent poker face, I’m too damn excited to keep neutral, my lips lifting again of their own accord. “Okay, maybe I saw something,” I admit.
“And did you like what you saw?”
I nod, grinning with abandon.
He laughs. “You really want to do this now? I don’t even have a shirt on.” He motions to his bare chest, calling attention to his physique I love so much.
“That’s how I like you best.” I lean forward, capturing his smiling lips briefly in a kiss full of promise.
“I meant for this to be a little more special.”
“Every day with you is special.”
He squints at me. “Laying it on thick, aren’t ya?”
“No.” I laugh despite myself. “I’m serious.” I take his hand, stroking his knuckles softly. “Everything about my life is so much better since you came in it. You support me. Appreciate me. Believe in me. I never quite understood what unconditional love meant until I met you.”
“I’m the one who’s supposed to be saying the meaningful stuff,” he murmurs, swallowing heavily.
He slips his arms around my waist, my eyes closing briefly in delight at all his strength surrounding me. “No, don’t be sorry. Everything you said is true. And I feel the same way. You trusted me when I needed it most. We build each other up. Make each other stronger.”
He presses a gentle kiss to my lips and reaches into his pocket, pulling out the ring box. My stomach fills with butterflies as he bends down on one knee, his eyes shining with love as he opens it to reveal that gorgeous ring.
“You make me happier than I ever thought possible. Like you said, every day with you is special. And I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?”
I hop off the barstool to join him, peppering his face with kisses, whispering, “Yes, yes,” over and over, my heart overflowing with delight.
He takes the ring and slides it on my finger, the weight of it comforting. Right.
“This was my mom’s,” he says solemnly. “She would have loved you.”
Tears fill my eyes. Well, that at least explains why it’s so big.
“Is it okay for me to have this? Maybe your brothers—”
“They want you to have it too.”
I grip his fingers tightly, loving that he has a close relationship with not just Connor, but Archer now too. A lot has changed in the last year, but some things, like our love for one another, are the same.
I glance at the clock over the stove. “I wish we didn’t have that new client meeting this morning. Otherwise, we—”
“They were happy to reschedule.” He grins, mischief flirting along his lips. “I figured you and I would be busy.”
He stands, scooping me up in his arms, those biceps I love flexing as he carries me bridal style into our bedroom and lays me on top of the covers.
“Morning sex?” I ask, watching him slide his pants and boxers off. We need to start our days like this more often.
“Engagement sex,” he clarifies, quickly divesting me of my clothes, his big frame coming to rest over me.
He kisses me soundly, one hand cupping the back of my neck as the other travels down my body, his touch exciting me. How is it that even after a year together, he still kindles this level of need for him?
I wrap my arms over his shoulders, sighing as he delves a finger in me to gently stroke my clit, my belly dipping low with desire. As he continues, my thighs tense, anticipation rising within me, but he purposely backs off, letting me recover before starting again, building me to greater heights. Before I can get there, though, he retreats, my body flooded with arousal, desperately wanting more.
“I want you to come when I’m inside you,” he whispers in my ear, leaving me briefly to roll on a condom. And as he enters me slowly, a welcome intrusion, I relax around him, letting him have his way with me, trusting instinctively he’ll get me there.
He works steadily, each pump rousing me once more, my nails digging into him, legs quivering as I try to steady myself on that edge, waiting for him.
His breathing becomes harsher, heavier, as he grasps my hip with one hand, using it as leverage to fuck me harder, all control gone as he lets himself go, and I follow him over, panting, our chests heaving as we regain our breath.
“I love you,” he murmurs, kissing me again with abandon, his hands roaming my body like he can’t get enough of me. They finally come to rest on my left hand, caressing the new ring there. “I can’t wait to marry you.”
The tears that threatened earlier spill over, emotion high within me. “I can’t wait to marry you too,” I choke out.
Planning so many special days for people, a part of me wondered if my day would ever come. And now, finally, with this perfect man, it will.
Forever can’t come soon enough.