I force myself into the shower, perking up considerably once I stand beneath the hot spray of water for a solid ten minutes. I emerge from the bathroom a little over twenty minutes later to find the smell of coffee calling to me.
Dang. I should ask Ivy to move in with me.
We sip coffee and talk, Ivy telling me about Archer wanting to take her to Hawaii before the baby is born and how she really doesn’t want to go. I tell her she’s crazy, they need to savor all the alone time they can get before that baby comes and totally changes their lives.
We’re finally on the road in Ivy’s car, ready to head to the spa resort when she turns toward St. Helena, a neutral expression on her face.
“Where are you going?” I ask her, my voice quiet, my thoughts a jumbled-up mess.
I miss Gage. My mom is thrilled we’re finished and wants to talk about what a jerk he is, but I told her any discussion about Gage is off limits. Dad leaves me alone because he knows I’m heartbroken and Mom gave him the same talk I gave her.
No talk of Gage in the house. Ever.
But I want to talk about Gage. How happy he made me. How passionate we were together, both in bed and out of it. He made me think, he made me want to achieve something. Anything. He made me strong.
And now I feel weak and lonely without him.
“I needed to pick up something first,” she says vaguely, waving her hand.
Huh. I don’t like where this is going. I remain calm, though, and notice the colorful bunches of balloons hanging in front of . . . the bakery.
A giant crowd of people are waiting outside, and I see my familiar chalkboard easel, the words GRAND REOPENING written in bold script across the front of it.
No way. I had no clue the bakery was being reopened. Gage sure did move fast.
And doesn’t that leave a bitter taste in my mouth.
Ivy drives by the bakery slowly, coming almost to a complete stop so I can see everything. God, she’s obvious. “I wonder what’s going on in there?” she asks innocently.
I don’t know how she can keep a straight face. “Gee, I don’t know, Ivy. Maybe we should go inside and see what’s going on.”
“That’s perfect!” She claps her hands together and then parks the car. She’s practically leading me by the hand toward the café, and my feet are dragging. I so don’t want to go in there. I don’t want to see the new owners, though I have my suspicions the only owner is Gage.
Still. I don’t want to deal with this. Deal with him.
Not only is the outside of the café and bakery overflowing with people waiting in line to get in, but the inside of the café is packed too. Somehow, the determined pregnant lady gets us inside and I’m immediately shocked by all the changes.
The entire interior has been repainted, and Gage ordered all new tables and chairs, giving the location a cleaner, simpler feel. A new glass case has been installed, as well as new countertops, and I can’t help but gape at everything, too stunned to study any of it for too long for fear it’ll up and disappear.
“The kitchen is revamped too,” Ivy says close to my ear so I can hear her. The chattering crowd is absolutely deafening. “You should go check it out. There’s all state-of-the-art appliances. Your aunt is in seventh heaven.”
“Wait a minute. Gina is working here?”
“How do you think they’re able to have the open house if they have no one here to bake all the goodies? Yes, she still works here. And she’s loving every minute of it, despite Archer wanting to steal her away. Not that I can talk about it.” She clamps her lips shut and does the universal sign for lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key. “Archer will kill me if he finds out I told you he’s desperate to take Gina.”
Yeah right. Like Archer would ever lay a hand on Ivy. “Take me to the kitchen,” I tell her, needing her with me so I won’t have to confront any of my fears—as in Gage—alone.
She escorts me back there, and the closer we get to that swinging door, the more heavily I lean on her. My heart is racing double time, my feet feeling like they have lead weights on top of them, and I stop just before we go through the door so I can look at her.
“There’s no spa day planned, is there?”
“This is it.” She throws her arms out, a silly smile on her face for a moment before it slowly starts to fade. “I hate nothing more than seeing my two favorite people in the entire world, besides the man I’m going to marry, so miserable without each other.”
I hang my head, breathing deep. I hate that we’re so miserable too.
“You two need to talk and listen to each other. He never meant to hurt you, Marina. I hope you’ve finally realized that.”
Slowly I nod, not wanting her to see me. I feel weak and blink back the tears that are threatening to spill.
Ivy moves in closer so she can whisper in my ear. “Let him spoil you. He’s so in love with you it’s disgusting. He would do anything to make you happy.” With a gentle shove, she pushes me through the swinging door, and I lose my footing, sending me nearly sprawling as I tumble inside the kitchen.
My gaze goes wide as I drink everything in. The layout is the same, but the appliances are all brand new. Big, gorgeous, stainless steel—and all top of the line.
That had to have cost a pretty penny.
“You like it?”
I whirl around with a gasp to find Gage standing before me, clad in an Autumn Harvest T-shirt, much like the one I used to wear, and a pair of jeans. He looks delicious, tired, happy, sad, and worried.
I can relate to him on every single thing except the delicious part. I’m not feeling very delicious.
“It’s beautiful, Gage,” I whisper, bracing myself when he approaches me.
“I did it for you.” He reaches for my hands and holds them loosely in his. “I did it all for you. The revamp of everything, the grand reopening, all the new advertising materials, all for my girl. The local paper is going to do a write-up about you too. You’ll be famous.”
I’m only stuck on a few choice words he mentioned in that pretty speech. God, I missed him so much. Having him in front of me, so handsome but looking so unsure, makes my heart swell with overwhelming emotion for him. “Your girl?”
Slowly he nods, his fingers tightening around mine. “You’re mine. Whether we’re together or apart, I know it. I think you know it too.” He takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. “I’ve been miserable without you in my life. I need you, Marina. I need you by my side, working with me, laughing with me. Loving me.” His eyes glow as he steps closer, and I hold my breath, waiting for him to say something more. “Tell me you still feel the same.”
I WAIT WITH near unbearable anticipation to hear what she has to say. Ivy bringing her here to see the bakery and me is a good sign. If she hated me, she wouldn’t have come in.
At the moment, I’m looking for any sort of positive sign—I’m that desperate.
“What you’ve done here is so beautiful.” She smiles at me, her eyes shiny with unshed tears. “Thank you. I don’t deserve this.”
Ah, that’s where she’s wrong. She deserves all of this and more. So much more. “I know we’ve gone through our ups and downs. We’ve both made some dumb choices. But I don’t ever, ever regret meeting you. Arguing with you. Having angry sex with you.” My voice lowers. “Falling in love with you.”
Her lips part, a shaky exhalation leaving her, and I pull her in, slipping my arms around her waist so I can crush her to me. I never want to let her go.
“Oh, Gage.” She presses her face against my chest and begins to cry, leaving me feeling helpless by her tears.
“Don’t cry,” I whisper against her hair as I stroke it with my fingers. “I love you.”
“I love you too,” she sobs into my shirt.
I smile despite her tears. What she just said is a good thing. A very, very good thing. “I want you to marry me,” I whisper close to her ear.
She withdraws from my embrace but I don’t let her go too far. “What did you say?”
“I want you to marry me. We’ll live here in St. Helena in the little house I’m having renovated and we’ll keep the San Francisco house for all the cars. They all can’t fit here. We’ll only have a single-car garage,” I say, earning a smile.
“Only if you promise to build a garage so we can keep a few of your cars here. I’d want to take them out for a test drive.” She nibbles on her bottom lip, driving me wild just watching at her. “You know. Just for . . . fun.”
Ah, damn this woman. She is just perfect for me in every way. “You’ve got it. Whatever you want,” I vow.
“What about your real estate business?”
“I can do that from here.” I have been for almost two months and everything’s worked out fine. “We’re not too far from the city so I can drive in when needed. It’ll all work out. As long as we have each other, we can make it work.”
She smiles up at me, her pretty eyes sparkling at me. “What about that proposal you mentioned.”
I frown. “Proposal?”
Marina frowns back. “Yes, you know. The one where you mentioned marriage?”
“Ahh.” I’m a complete bonehead. Reaching inside my front pocket, I pull out a small box and hand it to her. “Here you go.”
She opens the box with shaking fingers, a small gasp escaping her when she sees the glittering two-carat diamond nestled inside. “It’s too big,” she immediately protests, glaring at me.
“It’s perfect.” Taking the box from her, I withdraw the ring and grab her left hand, sliding the solitaire onto her ring finger. It fits. “You’re perfect.” I kiss the tip of her nose.
“Hmm. I think you’re the one who’s perfect.” Leaning up on tiptoe, she kisses me, turning it instantly deep and hot. She sways against me, I grab hold of her h*ps and let myself become acquainted with her delicious, persistent lips and tongue when I hear a voice clearing nearby.
Popping my eyes open, I find Gina starting at us, her expression irritable. “You two kids made up then?”
Marina turns within my embrace, her back to my front as I wrap my arms around her waist. She settles her arms over mine, our fingers interlaced, her head resting against my chest. I’ve never felt this content. “We have,” she admits dreamily. “Gage asked me to marry him.”
“And you said yes.”
She nods her confirmation.
“What about your parents?”
I feel her stiffen and squeeze her closer, willing her to relax. She finally does. “I think I can convince them to come around. Dad is more agreeable then Mom,” Marina says.
“Well, you have your work cut out for you then, don’t you, Pretty Boy?”
I inwardly groan at her choice of nickname. “So we’re back to Pretty Boy?”
“Well, you sure are pretty with that shit-eating grin on your face now that you’ve got your woman back in your arms.” Gina smiles and tilts her head toward the café. “You two need to get out there. Everyone wants to talk to you.”