“Excuse me, everyone. I have an announcement.” Jean’s voice echoes through the speakers, and I can hear security trying to stop her. “My step-daughter is a whore; if you all didn’t know that, already.” She pauses for effect and then starts up again as Lia and I make our way to the bathrooms. “Lia is pregnant by her boss—our boss, Beck Huntsworth. She’s only twenty-two. He’s literally old enough to be her father.

“If that isn’t sick enough, he’s someone we thought was a family friend. Beck came to dinners, birthdays, holidays, and he even went vacationing with the family when Lia was younger. How could he be so sick? Oh, Paul. Where are you Paul?”

Lia and I reach the party, and we stop in our tracks. Jean is up on one of the tables, a microphone in one hand, a new drink in the other, and she’s kicking at a security guard who is trying to coax her down. Lia’s father stands to the side, mortified by the scene.

“There you are, baby,” Jean purrs. “You must be so upset to hear about your money-grubbing failure of a daughter banging your friend, her boss. I mean, I don’t blame her. He’s so fucking hot. I would have taken that fox for a ride if he let me, but he turned me down because he was already fucking my step-daughter.” Paul is embarrassed and angry, and I doubt their marriage is going to survive this bonus reveal.

I’m shocked, too angry to feel anything else. I cling to Lia to avoid doing something I’ll regret. My legal team will destroy Jean for me, if I let them have her. Lia’s face is red with anger and humiliation. This isn’t good for her or our baby. I need to neutralize the situation. I must make sure that Lia doesn’t have to pay for our being in love.

Pointing to one of the guards, I motion for the microphone. They snap it out of Jean’s hands and offer it to me after making a show of wiping it off with a napkin. “Can I have everyone’s attention please?” Given the angry and drunken ranting of Jean before me, my words carry a calm weight that silences the room. “This isn’t how I wanted you to find out about Lia and me, about me and the woman I love.” I squeeze her hand, bringing it up to my lips for a kiss. “We’ve been together a while now and are very much in love. We hope you can be happy for us.” I direct the last words toward Paul. This is a lot for a father to take in, and I am hopeful that we can salvage our friendship despite the shock he’s undergoing.

“Jean had been blackmailing Lia into staying away from me.” I look down at our clasped hands, raising them a bit so everyone can see. “You see how well that worked out for Jean.” That gets a few chuckles from the guards who have gotten her off the table. “She is fired, by the way. Wait just a moment before you take her down and call the police, please.” Jean deserves to witness this.

“While I hate dealing with gossips, let alone confirming their claims, it is true that Lia and I are having a baby. Not only that, but…” I drop to one knee, still holding Lia’s hand. “Can you hold the microphone for me, love?” I hand it to her and reach into my pocket. The ring was not originally for tonight; I was going to wait on it, but the time is as right as it ever will be. And maybe, just maybe, I can salvage this night in Lia’s memories. I only have it with me because the jeweler finished cleaning it and checking the stone’s setting this morning.

“Lia, I love you. I didn’t expect you. I know this is right, though, and I want to do this with you. You are such an amazing woman, and I love you more than I ever thought I could love anyone.” I pull out the velvet box and open it to reveal the white gold band with diamond. “This ring is one you picked out when you were just a little girl. I don’t know if you even remember it.” I had never forgotten.

When our families went to the beach together on an escape from winter, Lia had rushed into a jewelry store after seeing their shop cat in the windowsill. She wanted to pet the cat. We all followed in after her, laughing and amused that she was more interested in the kitten than the sparkling gems. Tasha and her mother had picked out fancier rings with multiple stones. I’ll have to see if Tasha still has hers. It would be great to see them side by side.

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