I pull at the collar of my shirt, the damn thing way too tight, but it has to be like that for the tie to stay in place. “Remind me why I’m here again,” I mutter, giving up and returning my hands to my sides.
“Because you’re amazing.” Samantha grins, looping her arm through mine.
I look over at her, getting caught up anew in how fucking gorgeous she looks. She shines in a golden gown, her hair cascading down her back like a waterfall, longer than I’ve ever seen it. She’s turned more than one head tonight, despite the famous people surrounding us, and I bring her closer into my side as we make our way to our seats.
“And Aaron and the record label strongly suggested it. We’re at the freaking Grammys,” she continues, gazing in awe around her. “And you’re nominated for not one, but two songs. You could win Song of the Year.”
“God, I hope not.” I don’t know why I let them talk me into this. Even if I do win, there’s no way I’m going up on that stage. There have to be thousands of attendees here.
She smiles at me, the familiar action soothing the rising apprehension away. “Regardless, you know I’m so proud of you, right? Your songs mean so much to so many people. And to me.”
I nod, quickly swallowing the lump that forms in my throat. More than anyone else on this Earth, Samantha’s admiration will always be the one I value most.
The tension in my shoulders eases, and I’m just about to fully relax when we come across a gauntlet of reporters, armed with recorders and microphones.
Oh, hell no.
Her grip on my arm tightens, forcing me to walk forward at a normal pace. “It’s fine. They don’t even know who you are.”
I’ve fought hard to keep my anonymity over the last nearly two years since Under My Skin became the breakout hit of the summer, followed by the other singles released that year. And Velvet Swan’s third album, Stronger Together, which I ended up writing exclusively, was an even bigger hit. People were calling me the silent member of the group, a designation I still don’t believe Aaron truly tried that hard to dispel.
“Some of them might.” My picture’s been posted online, though who knows how in the hell they got it. I don’t have any social media profiles for a reason. Though they did do that stupid feature on me in The Suncoast Sentinel last year. Both Samantha and I were pictured.
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll be back in our hotel in a few hours. And I can’t wait to peel that suit off you,” she murmurs slyly.
I groan, not sure if she’s serious or just wants me to get out of my own head, but the effect is the same, my mind no longer on dealing with the press, but solely on her. She strides confidently next to me, chin held high, deflecting all attention off me and onto her. Her dress shimmers as she moves, a goddess among mortals, and I thank God she agreed to come here with me, despite having to miss a few days of classes.
“You can’t talk to me right now about that hotel bed.” Everyone knows hotel sex is automatically hotter.
“Okay, then let’s talk about what I have planned for tomorrow. There’s the La Brea Tar Pits and Griffith Observatory – those two are must-dos in L.A. apparently. Or we could drive down to Anaheim and do Disneyland. Doesn’t that sound fun?”
Standing around in lines all day surrounded by whiny children? Yeah, sounds like a blast. But I’ll wear the mouse ears if she wants me to. Anything that makes her happy. “We can do whatever you want,” I tell her sincerely, only half paying attention as we walk past other attendees being interviewed.
Maybe Samantha’s right. I’m not a household name, no one should recognize—
“Levi Crawford!” A brunette calls out, waving her recorder in the air to get my attention. “Do you have a moment to talk?”
My mouth is like sand as all the moisture leaves, having to swallow several times before I manage to choke out, “Sure.”
Aaron said I only had to do one interview and other news outlets could just reference that one if they wanted to mention me at all.
“Melinda Weston, Associated Press,” she says, reaching out to shake my hand, then flashes me some kind of I.D. card, too quick for me to really see what’s on it. “Levi, you’ve exploded on the scene in the last two years. First with Velvet Swan, and now writing for Shawn Varsi and B.S. City. How does it feel to be nominated for two songs tonight?”
“Good.” I glance over at Samantha, who makes a rolling motion with her hand, encouraging me to elaborate. “Their popularity tells me other people relate, that the words and music mean something to them.”
“And do they mean something to you?”
“Yeah, of course. Everything I write has personal meaning to me.”
“So what would you say is the meaning behind your songs tonight?”
I take a moment to consider her question. “Well, Stronger Together is about how we shouldn’t face everything alone. Relying on others doesn’t make us weak, it gives us strength. And the one I wrote for Shawn, Forever Yours, that’s just a love song. Not much hidden meaning, but it seems to have connected with a lot of people. Giving yourself over to another, trusting in them.”
“Do you have any specific inspiration for your songs?” Her eyes flick up to Samantha, over six feet tall in her heels tonight, towering over the petite woman.
“My girlfriend, Samantha.” I wrap my arm around her waist, borrowing strength from her. “She inspires me every day. It’s easy to write about love when you have your soulmate by your side.”
The reporter places a hand over her heart, appearing touched at my words, but it’s not like I said it for effect. It’s just the truth.
“That’s beautiful. How did you two meet?”
“We were friends first and fell in love with each other. She’s my light in the darkness.” Light in the darkness. The phrase sparks something within me, a song there somewhere, and I try to hold the feeling close, hoping it doesn’t slip away before I’m able to write it down later.
“How long have you been together?”
“Two and a half years.” The best years of my life.
“Any wedding bells in the future?” she asks coyly.
I immediately stiffen. How could she know about what I have planned?
My mouth dries again, my hesitation to answer obvious the longer I’m silent.
“We’re very happy together,” Samantha smoothly answers, squeezing my arm tight. Thank God for her.
“I love your dress, by the way,” Melinda says, looking her up and down. “Who are you wearing?”
“Uh…” Samantha looks down at herself. “I got it at Macy’s.”
The woman blinks a few times, then asks, “That’s off the rack?”
Samantha laughs. “I guess.”
I admit, I don’t understand much about fashion, but she outshines every person here in that dress. It looks phenomenal on her, tailor-made for her curves. But she would outshine everyone here regardless of what she’s wearing.
“Are you with an agency?”
That’s the third time she’s been asked that tonight. One man even gave her his business card when she said she wasn’t signed with anyone.
“No, I’m a college student. And I work with the children of our city’s homeless population, making sure they have access to the educational resources they need.”
Melinda blinks again, obviously not expecting that answer.
She gets back to the task at hand then, asking about new songs I have in the works and upcoming collaborations. I respond to her questions on autopilot, still sweating about her wedding bells comment.
Of course I want to marry Samantha, but I don’t want to tip her off just yet. I don’t have everything I need with me.
I just hope I didn’t ruin everything.
I follow Levi into our hotel suite, immediately taking off my heels. I wiggle my toes into the plush carpet, my feet thanking me.
He pulls at his necktie, loosening it enough to undo the top button. His shoulders are tight with tension, straining his suit jacket, and I frown at him. I didn’t think he cared that much about not winning, but apparently it got to him more than he admitted.
I walk over and grab his hand, leading him to sit on the edge of the bed, and crawl behind him to rub at his shoulders, a deep groan issuing forth from his throat.
“I’m still really proud of you,” I tell him softly, working at the knots in his upper back. “You deserved to win.”
He lets out a sigh, leaning forward to strip his jacket off. “I don’t care about that,” he mumbles.
“What’s wrong then? You’re obviously distracted.”
I switch to scratching his back lightly and he preens under my touch, reaching his hands behind him to skim along my thighs.
“It’s nothing,” he claims.
Yeah, right. “Was it the reporter?”
His back immediately tenses again. Ah, that’s it. I mentally run through our conversation with her for what could have upset him. I know he didn’t want to be interviewed to begin with, but Aaron had insisted he talk to at least one news outlet. Levi fiercely guards his privacy, preferring to remain as anonymous as possible.
“Was it her question about wedding bells? It seemed like a standard thing to ask. She probably asked it of all the unmarried couples there.”
He’s silent for a few moments, then turns around until he’s half facing me. “I don’t want you to think I was avoiding the question. It just caught me off guard is all.”
“It’s fine.” I continue to stroke his back, the tension gradually lessening. “I love our life together.”
He stops me, taking my hands in his, expression serious. My stomach drops, unsure what’s happening. “I didn’t know how much to say in front of you. But I am thinking about that stuff. I have been for a while now.” The bowling ball in my belly rises, floating around hesitantly. “I went with Audrey to look at rings, but I had no idea what to buy. I wanted something perfect for you…” He trails off, studying my face. “What is it?”
It takes me a few tries to get out, “You went to look for a ring? For me?”
His brow furrows, the gray of his eyes darkening. “Why do you seem surprised? You know I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
I mean, theoretically, I do. But in reality, I still sometimes see myself as the trailer trash girl. And surrounded by all those glamorous people tonight, a lot of those memories came up again, feeling like I didn’t fit in, despite acting confident. But that’s the amazing thing about being with Levi — I know I always belong. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you too,” I whisper.
He lightly caresses the ring finger of my left hand, saying, “I thought we could go shopping sometime. Maybe even while we’re here in L.A. So you can pick out something you love. I want to make sure you love it.”
“I’ll love anything, I promise.”
He smiles, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “And then once we have that, maybe I could ask…”
“You can ask.” I nod frantically. “I want to be your wife,” I blurt out, unable to hold it in.
“I want that too,” he whispers, moving in closer. “You already know I’m yours. Forever yours,” he says, referencing one of his songs that was nominated tonight. “Come here.”
I gladly crawl in his arms, soaking up his strength, the safety of his embrace, the rightness of it. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than with this man.
He strokes my back, the mood shifting the longer he touches me, until there’s an unspoken tension in the air, filled with the promise of what’s to come.
I deliberately unwrap my arms from around him, moving my fingers to toy with the buttons of his shirt.
His eyes flare in excitement, his gaze dropping to my lips as he takes my mouth in a claiming kiss, full of reverence and heat. “You ready to put this bed to use?” he murmurs as he breaks away, pulling the bottom of his shirt up from where it’s tucked into his pants.
“I thought you’d never ask.”
I squeal as he lifts me up, tossing me to the head of the bed, and catch my breath as I watch him slowly stalk toward me, a predator seeking his prey. A wave of goosebumps rushes over me as he covers me with his big body, pressing me into the mattress. God, his weight feels good.
He carefully brings down the straps of my dress, revealing the lace bra I bought specially for tonight.
“Christ, your cleavage looks insane in this,” he murmurs, his gaze glued to my chest. From anyone else, I’d be offended. But coming from him, the words rev up my desire. My body strains toward him, desperately hoping he’ll do something about it.
I don’t have to wait long, though, as he lowers himself, peeling down the cups of my bra to lick me leisurely, drawing it out until I’m panting.
I run my fingers through his hair, tugging at the strands, urging him on, which he gladly does, sucking now, making me squirm with delight.
He builds me up, my legs wrapped around his waist, his hard dick nudging me right where I want it most. “Do you have a condom?” I ask, needing him right this second. To fill me up, tp connect with him.
“Yeah.” He briefly leaves me to rummage in his suitcase, and I watch as he finishes unbuttoning his shirt, revealing that body I love so much. Those defined abs. Those hard pecs. Those broad shoulders. I bite my lip to contain a moan.
As he unzips his pants and pulls his boxers down to roll the condom on, I think about how far we’ve come. And yet, some things haven’t changed. I still can’t get enough of him, every time together explosive. The way he turns me on, the way my love for him has grown, bringing a richness, a deeper undercurrent to everything we do.
And he’s mine. Forever. He said so himself. Regardless if there’s a ring on my finger yet or not. This is the man I’ll be spending the rest of my life with.
I scoot off the bed and make my way over to him, turning to face away. “Can you unzip me?”
He does, the gold material falling to pool around my ankles, the kisses he presses on the nape of my neck like heaven. He crowds behind me, settling his palms on my hips, digging his fingers in to keep me in place as he rubs his cock against my ass. Slowly. Purposefully.
I let out a whimper, my knees faltering, but he’s there to hold me up, his sandalwood scent surrounding me, as comforting as it is inciting.
“I want you,” he whispers in my ear. “It never stops. The wanting.”
He guides me over to the bed again, laying me down gently, holding his body over me as he teases two fingers over my seam, finding me deliciously wet. He works me up, pumping his fingers in and out until he finally replaces them with his cock, slowly edging his way in.
I bring my legs up, taking all of him, loving being with him like this. There’s no memory anymore of other guys — only him. Levi. My soulmate.
He withdraws and pushes back in, gradually speeding up, the friction between us exquisite. I trail my fingers up his biceps, flexed as he holds himself atop me, reveling in his strength, until I reach his shoulders and wrap my arms around him.
“I want you every night like this,” I tell him. “Buried deep inside me. A part of me. Don’t ever leave.”
“I’m never leaving,” he vows. “We’re in this together. Stronger together. Forever.”
I nod, letting the sensation of him wash over me, bringing me higher, higher. All I know is him. Levi.
I throw my head back, a guttural sound escaping my throat as I come, his hips pistoning faster until he’s pouring into me too, both of us unable to speak for long moments as we catch our breath.
He rolls onto his side, still connected to me, and brings me in close, nuzzling my neck. “I did win tonight,” he murmurs. “The only thing that matters. You.”
I smooth a palm down his back, his skin warm and slightly perspiring from his efforts. “You already had me.”
He shakes his head. “I’m playing for forever.” He fumbles around until he finds my left hand, stroking my ring finger again. “We can go tomorrow to look for a ring. Or, you know, to a tar pit or whatever,” he teases.
I smile. “The ring, please.”
“And when I ask…” The slightest bit of vulnerability enters his voice, endearing me to him further.
“You know what I’ll say. My answer will always be yes.” I snuggle in close, loving this connection. “Why don’t you just ask now?”
“I wrote you a song. A special one for the occasion. But I don’t have my guitar with me.”
My stomach dips in delight. Despite the number of songs he’s written for me, it never gets old to hear another. “Will you sing it to me anyway?”
He brushes my hair back from my face, gazing at me with such tenderness, it nearly hurts to look at. “Of course.”
He croons to me then, the words filled with those things he shows me every day. Love. Promise. Devotion.
My eyes drift shut, listening to his perfect voice, the one that he won’t share with anyone else — only me. Something private for the two of us.
And when he’s finished, he whispers those magic words. “Will you marry me, Samantha?”
My heart overflows with love, spilling out until it fills every inch of me.