Ellie shrugged. “I like him. I do. I just don’t want Jo to get hurt.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. “Since when did you get so . . . normal?”
“Normal?” she glared at me. “You mean unromantic? I do realize there are times when romance needs to take a back burner to reality. Jo’s had it tough. As much as I think Cam’s great and as much as I’m rooting for them, I hope he really is going to be there for her. Taking her home to meet his parents this weekend? He’s telling her he’s serious. I hope he means it.”
Although Ellie’s caution surprised me, I understood where she was coming from. Our friend Jo had been messed around by too many guys because she’d chosen them for the wrong reason. Struggling to look after her little brother and her alcoholic mother, Jo always chose men who had financial security. Cam wasn’t one of those guys. He was a struggling graphic designer who’d gotten a job as a bartender alongside me and Jo at Club 39, this swanky little basement bar on George Street. The sparks had started flying as soon as they met, though, and Jo had finally set aside all her silly little dating rules to take a chance on a man who seemed to want her for her.
Despite understanding Ellie’s reservations, I didn’t share them and finally I found myself being distracted from my own boyfriend as I tried to convince Ellie. “I think he’s serious. I think they have a connection. There’s no way to slow that down when you just fit with someone like that. If I hadn’t been so stubborn with Braden, we probably would have been a done deal within a few weeks of meeting each other.”
A mysterious, secretive smile flirted with Ellie’s lips.
What the . . . ?
“What? Am I missing something? Did I say something funny?”
“No,” she answered hurriedly, eyes drifting up over the old Evangelical church. Abruptly she stopped. “We’re here.”
“Where is here?” I looked around. There were no vintage shoes in sight.
Ellie glanced at her watch and then out at the traffic on the cross junction, then back at her watch, then back at the road . . .
“Ellie?” My heart started to thump as the day’s events began to fall into place, like pieces of a puzzle. “What is going on?”
Her eyes were wide when they hit mine.
“Jesus C, Ellie, what is it? You’re freaking me out.”
For once, however, her lips were tightly sealed. Literally. They were pinched closed so tightly the color was bleeding from them. Her eyes swung back out to the road and as I watched her shoulders deflate with relief, I followed her gaze.
She was smiling at an approaching black cab.
That excited, eyes-twinkling-bright-with-utter-joy smile swung my way. “I’m going to go now.”
Uh . . .
I whirled around as she strode past me, heading back the way we’d just come.
Baffled, I threw my hands up. “Ellie?”
She was still grinning as she looked back at me over her shoulder. She pointed behind me and I turned back to see the black cab had pulled up to the curb beside me.
The door swung open and I was greeted by a surprising but always very welcome sight.
“Braden?” I gave him a quizzical smile as he leaned toward me. He was wearing one of his fitted, expensive three-piece suits I loved. This one was a dark gray and was molded perfectly to his broad shoulders and fit physique. The sight of him sitting in the cab in that suit on this spot where we first met—
My heartbeat skittered to a stop as I finally processed the intensity in his gaze and the fact that the floor of the cab he was sitting in was strewn with dark red rose petals. Fuckity, fuckity, shit, fuck. His distraction this morning, his shooing me out of our room . . . it all added up and the breath just whooshed right out of me at the realization of what this meant.
“Get in,” he said, his voice low, brokering no argument.
Limbs trembling, I took his offered hand, ducked my head, and let him settle me close to him on the cab bench. “Braden, what is . . .” My words trailed off as he held up a gray suede ring box.
Everything around me stopped.
There was no cab, no rose petals, no nosy cabdriver grinning at us in the rearview mirror, no traffic going by . . . nothing but Braden and a ring box that symbolized so much to me.
Years ago I’d lost everything that meant anything to me.
Losing that left me lost.
I’d given him the fight of his life when he’d tried to convince me that loving him was the best thing for the both of us, but when he won, when I eventually realized the truth in that, I knew our path wouldn’t always be smooth. I’d thought if this moment ever came, I’d be searching for a brown paper bag to stem my panic attack. To my utter surprise, I felt no such thing. Yes, the fear was there. The fear of giving in . . . only to lose him to life’s unpredictability. However, greater than the fear was my excitement. My excitement that this impossible, too-perceptive-for-his-own-good, arrogant, stubborn, kind, caring, sexy man was about to ask me to spend the rest of my life with him.
Braden’s pale blue eyes shone with emotion as he flipped open the ring box to reveal an elegantly simple platinum band with a princess-cut diamond perched upon a raised prong with a small diamond nestled on either side of it.
It was so me.
Shit, he knew me so well. Do not cry, do not cry!
“Jocelyn,” his voice was rough, like he was struggling to get the words out. “You’re my best friend. My everything. I love you and I want to be with you always. Marry me. I promise to try not to fuck it up if you promise to try not to fuck it up.”
I burst out laughing, tears falling without my say-so as I nodded, completely unable to speak. Braden grinned huge and I reached for him, needing to feel his mouth on mine. My tears mingled with our heated kiss and when he finally let me go, we were both a little out of breath. He took hold of my trembling hand and slipped the ring on my finger. We both stared at the diamond glittering on my left hand. My stomach and heart were jumping all over the place.
Threading my fingers through his, I clasped his hand tight and stared into his beloved face.
“I love you,” I whispered hoarsely. “You’re my favorite person.” The tears blurred in my eyes again. “And if you ever tell anyone I cried during this moment I will withhold sex for a year.”
His warm, husky laughter spread through me as he wrapped his arms around me, hauling me close. I tightened my own arms around his shoulders, shivering with delicious anticipation as he murmured against my mouth, “I’d like to see you try.”
Cocky, arrogant caveman. “Marriage will drive the cockiness right out of you,” I murmured back.
“The only thing that’ll drive the cockiness out of me is you faking an orgasm. And I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
“Hmm.” I nuzzled my nose against his, the tingling between my legs growing more insistent. “You’ve got a point there, Mr. Carmichael.”
“Mr. Carmichael, I do believe I’m tipsy,” I threw him a wonky smile over my shoulder as I turned the key in our door.
We’d just returned from having celebratory drinks with Ellie and Adam. Honestly, I think Braden and I would have preferred a quiet night in together on the night of our engagement, but Ellie was having none of that, and Alistair, my colleague at Club 39, had given us two bottles of champagne on discount, so I wasn’t complaining. It had been a fun night.
As I pushed the door open, I felt Braden’s strong hands on my hips and his warm breath on my ear as he asked softly, “Tipsy or drunk?”
I grinned, stepping into our flat with him close at my back. “Tipsy.”
It was true. I was feeling a little giddy and more talkative than usual, but my vision was clear and my coordination was intact.
Turning around, I reached past him and shoved our door shut, leaning my breasts into his chest as I turned the lock. I was still grinning as I tipped my head back to meet his heated gaze. “If you’re wondering if I’m sober enough to fuck but drunk enough for it to be especially hot, the answer is yes.”
Braden fought a smile. “Have I ever told you how much I love that filthy mouth of yours?”
Yes, on many occasions. “Well, I hope so,” I teased, “because it’s going to be your filthy mouth for a long time to come.” I smoothed my hand up over his hard chest. “Speaking of coming . . .”
His hand on my hip tightened, drawing my eyes back to his. To my surprise he’d gone from teasing to intense. I knew that look well. My fiancé was in the mood to play “caveman.” I shivered, feeling my breasts swell with arousal. “Strip,” he uttered quietly, deadly serious.
The tingles started. “Here?”
He nodded to the space in front of him, smack-bang in the middle of our hallway. “There.”
“Okay,” I agreed. “But I get to be bossy tomorrow.”
The intensity in his eyes lightened for a second as he gave me a little nod of acquiescence. Of course he would acquiesce to that. My version of sexually bossy was insisting on being on top and although it wasn’t Braden’s favorite sexual position, he certainly enjoyed it and the view.
Eyes locked, I took a few careful steps backward until there was enough distance between us for him to enjoy the show. I shrugged out of my light blazer first, letting it pool at my feet, and then I reached for the first button on my black sleeveless silk shirt.
“Everything but the ring,” Braden murmured, his expression all smoldering as he leaned back against our front door, crossing his arms over his chest, and one ankle over the other. His pose said casual, possibly even bored. His eyes, however, were burning my not-even-naked-yet skin.
I shivered at his command, my own gaze dropping to the glitter on the fourth finger of my left hand. Braden had a possessive streak. He hadn’t even known he had one until he met me. The thought of me with someone else cut him, just like the thought of him with someone else cut me. It was part of the undeniable connection between us. More than that, I’d made it hard for him to win me over. That had not been intentional, believe me. I got the impression, however, that winning me over not only brought Braden peace, but it made him feel a bit like a conqueror. Not that he would ever admit it, but I knew my fiancé, and he definitely had caveman mentality.