Grabbing life by the short and curlies is usually my deal. It’s not the deal of the man kneeling at my feet, a black velvet box in his hand with the platinum ring inside almost as bright as the diamond it holds. He’s the cool, calm, and collected one. The ‘take it easy so Gaby doesn’t freak out’ one. He’s not a man I thought would ever do this.
“What are you doing?” I whisper.
He looks up from where he kneels, his sly grin making my heart stop. “Living in the moment, Gabs.”
Bruno is a one-of-a-kind guy, a once-in-a-lifetime chance any woman shouldn’t—and wouldn’t—give up. But I’m not any woman and in this one move he’s taking the poker hand that is me, disregarding the odds, doubling down, and going all in.
Three hours ago, I was comfortable. I had nothing to worry about beyond the orgasm I was chasing.
Looking into his gorgeous eyes, the ones that are normally both soft and intense, they’re now fierce, tinged with a sliver of uncertainty. His jaw is tense; his body is wired.
How did I get to this point, and how did I not see it coming? Things have been good—fucking brilliant, actually—but this development was never on the cards. Why did he have to go and ruin a good thing?
“Bruno…” I say, my voice a hushed whisper. I don’t want to do this here. In fact, I don’t want do this at all. I got close once and vowed never to again. Not just with Bruno, but with anyone.
“Gaby, this is me telling you I wanna be the last man you’ll ever want and need. This is me telling the world that I love you and want my ring on your finger and yours on mine.”
I look up, scanning the room for Kenzie who’s standing off to the side. Her eyes are glued on me, her hand covering her mouth. I silently plead with her, hoping she’ll save me from making this into a scene no one wants to see—one where I break a man’s heart and cut him off at the knees with a rejection we can never come back from.
She shakes her head ever so slightly. I read it straight away. My heart pounds, my lungs seize, and my throat tightens until it’s damn near shut. I can’t do this here. I can’t do this anywhere, but definitely not in front of all of my family and friends.
My entire body is shaking and to anyone else, I’m sure it looks like I’m simply overcome with emotion. I am, just not the right one for this moment.
Reaching out, Bruno takes my right hand and laces his fingers with mine, his pleading eyes boring into me.
It must seem inevitable.
Surprise party? Check.
Family, friends—everyone close to us? Check.
The man I’m living with? Check.
The man I love pledging his life to me? Apparently so.
But despite the deafening silence in the room, every cell in my body is screaming at me to run and hide.
Then, as if in a moment of clarity, I hatch an escape plan, a way to save face and shield Bruno from the humiliation of a no when the only answer he wants to hear is a yes.
I’ll explain later, when we’re at home and alone and I can make him understand that everything is fine between us without that.
With one last glance at Kenz, I look down at Bruno.
I swallow hard, suffocating on the word threatening to catch in my throat. I hope he forgives me for this. He has to.
“Yes.” My voice is a rough whisper. His expression morphs into one of pure, unadulterated joy.
Amongst a roar of cheers and applause, he launches to his feet. He wraps his arms around me and lifts me up, swinging my body from side to side before crashing his lips to mine and kissing the living shit out of me. I kiss him back, holding on tight and pouring everything I have into it. It’s all I can do in the moment—give him whatever I can so that when all is said and done, after I’ve ripped his heart out and stomped all over it, there’ll be a slim chance he’ll still believe me when I say I love him.
When I tell him I can’t possibly marry him, but still want to be with him.
Stranger things have happened, right?
He lowers me down to my feet, grabbing hold of my hand and sliding the diamond ring onto my finger. It’s stunning, and despite resenting the institution of marriage, there’s no way I can deny the beauty of his gift.
It’s just not for me.
My eyes burn with unshed tears as he puts his thumb under my chin and gently tilts my gaze to meet his. I register an unrecognizable female voice behind me. “I’m looking for Bruno Duncan.”
Bruno goes impossibly still, his attention locked over my shoulder.
I try to turn around to see what’s going on but his arms shoot out, his hands framing my shoulders. “Gaby, whatever’s about to happen, promise me you’ll let me explain,” he says roughly, his voice laced with a desperation I’ve never heard from him—or anyone—before.
“No! I’m not going until I speak to him,” the woman shouts.
I step out of Bruno’s reach and spin around just as the man himself moves past me and walks over to the front door and a stunning blonde woman. She’s not anyone I’ve seen before. She’s dressed nicely, her gold hair tied up in a high ponytail, her face perfectly made up. But she’s definitely not someone invited to the party. Not going by the way she’s dressed anyway. One hand is on her hip, and the other is gesticulating in the air to Millen, whose lips are moving but his words are not registering with me.
Bruno stops in front of them, his shoulders pulled back, and even from twenty feet away I can see he’s on alert. The blonde waves her arm toward me, and as much as I’d love to walk towards them, my lead feet would make that impossible right now.
Kenzie moves to my side and wraps an arm around my waist, having my back, side, and front, as always. “Who’s that?”
“You tell me and we’ll both know,” I mutter.
“You have to leave, Tate. This is a private event,” Bruno says, his voice of the ‘don’t fuck with me’ variety.
I still when I realize he called her by her name. He knows her.
“We need to talk, Bruno.”
“Not. Fucking. Here. And not tonight. Actually, not. fucking. ever, Tate.”
She looks over his shoulder to me, narrowing her eyes as they drop from my face to my ring finger. With a pale face she looks back at Bruno. The room goes deathly quiet, and I stand there, waiting with bated breath for whatever is about to happen next. “Well, isn’t that a nice way to speak to your wife and the mother of your child?”
And for the second time in my entire thirty-two years of life, my world stops spinning.