“Blue or black?” The love of my life presents me with two cocktail dresses, her doubt-ridden gaze flickering between the two for long seconds.
The dresses are nearly identical.
They’re the exact same cut, length, and fabric. The only difference is the color, and maybe that’s just me being a sucker for her, but she could show up to the event in her pj’s, and she’d still be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.
“What’s wrong with the one you’re wearing?” I sit up on our bed, my lips twitching into a smirk as I admire the dress fitting her body like a second skin. “I mean… aside from the obvious.”
Hadley’s brow furrows, concern spreading across her face as she glances down at the dress in question. “What’s wrong with it? Does it not look good?”
“No, it looks good.” I push to my feet, stalking across our bedroom to meet her. I wrap my arm around her waist the moment I reach her, jerking her body to mine and making her smile. “I’m just saying it would look better on the floor.”
She catches my drift immediately, a deep blush creeping into her cheeks, and swats at my chest. “Get your mind out of the gutter, Wilder.”
I press my lips to the corner of her mouth, lingering for a few seconds before saying, “How can I when my girl looks this fucking good?”
“So… you think I should wear this one?” she teases, her finger tracing down my chest.
“Hell fucking yes.”
“See for yourself.”
My hand drops downward, curving around Hadley’s perky ass and squeezing. I press her body to mine, her stomach flush with my hard-on. Her eyes widen in realization when she notices my desire for her.
That’s how sure I am.
“Stop giving me that look,” she scolds, sticking her finger in my face.
I play dumb. “What look?”
“The ‘let’s make babies’ look.”
I fake gasp. “Me? I would never.”
She rolls her eyes, grinning from ear to ear.
She knows damn well that if it were up to me, our house would be filled with mini Hadleys by now. But she’s not ready yet. She wants to focus on her career before she dedicates her life to her family, a decision I understand and support.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t have fun while we wait.
“How much time before we have to leave?” I ask.
She pushes me away with a chuckle. “Could your timing be any worse? I just finished doing my hair.”
She is right about the shitty timing part.
Now is the worst time to be fantasizing about ripping off her dress. We have to be at the art gallery in forty-five minutes, and as much as I would love to watch my girl come on my cock, I refuse to let anything ruin this night for her.
This will be her first-ever gallery opening.
After running a successful business and selling her art online for years, Hadley is finally showcasing her work to a live audience. At one of the most prestigious art galleries in LA at that.
She’s been a nervous wreck all week. I’ve tried everything I could think of to calm her nerves, but she’s one of those people who put themselves through things twice by driving themselves mad with anticipation.
All our friends and family are coming out for her big night, and I’m starting to think she’s nervous they won’t like her work.
Pretty damn ironic that she’s scared she won’t measure up to her peers’ expectations when you can find her work in nearly every mansion in California.
My girl has become what you’d call Hollywood’s go-to artist in the last few years. It all started when Anaya commissioned a handful of paintings from Hadley’s store for her Beverly Hills house.
It was just a little while after Anaya’s album had come out, and her fans had gone absolutely insane over the cover art.
Other artists and Anaya’s friends started taking notice of how good the art in her house looked. Anyone who stepped foot inside would eventually ask her where she’d gotten those sick paintings from.
Word of mouth and social media did their thing, and Hadley’s career took off faster than a speeding bullet.
If you’d told me a few years ago that my girlfriend would be the one in the spotlight while I worked behind the scenes, I would’ve pointed you to the nearest drugstore so you could get some good painkillers for tomorrow’s hangover.
There was a time where I thought I’d be a front man for the rest of my life, but it turns out setting my own career on fire was the best thing to ever happen to me.
Aside from Hadley, obviously.
After the news came out that I was involved in Gray’s murder, my entire world stopped turning. I was sure working in the industry was no longer an option for me.
Little did I know the world didn’t hate me as much as I hated myself.
Quite the opposite, actually.
My fans stood by me, supported me, and sure, there were a few haters, and I’d still get the occasional death threat every now and then, but most of my supporters saluted me for taking a few pedophiles and Gray’s murderer down.
Both Josh and Brody wound up in jail in the end.
Josh got put away for life, while Brody only got fifteen years.
Hadley and her mom were devastated about the relatively short sentence, but in time, more and more cases got linked to Brody through his fingerprints and DNA testing.
We later found out that it wasn’t the first time Brody had robbed a store and held the employees at gunpoint.
The extra charges added another ten years to his sentence. As for Brody’s accomplice, Dean, I was surprised to hear that he and Axel, the other guy who was in the van that day, both OD’d on weed laced with fentanyl just a few months before I came clean to the police.
In the end, they died alone in Axel’s parents’ basement.
Some might say they got off easy. That their accidental deaths allowed them to avoid punishment. But then again, people could say the same thing about Scar and me.
After Josh’s lawsuit against me was dismissed, Scar and I got sentenced to a thousand hours of community service.
We put in twenty-hours a week for a little over a year.
Then that was it.
We were free.
The first thing I did was put my house up for sale and move away from downtown LA. Hadley and I found this gorgeous house in a quiet gated community and moved in together a week later.
I’ll admit I didn’t know what to do with my life after I served my sentence. Sure, I was set for life, and I had enough to support my family and myself until the day I died, but I had no intention of sitting on my ass and doing nothing until I retired.
Hadley had to talk me into it, but I eventually picked up the phone and made a few calls to some of the music producers I’d worked with during my short career.
Which brings us to now and what I do for a living.
I’m a songwriter.
I spend my days holed up in the studio, writing songs for others.
Songs I’m actually proud of.
Some do incredibly well; some don’t. I don’t have any expectations. As long as I get to do what I love.
I’m able to work with amazing artists without feeling the pressure of being scrutinized and treated like a zoo animal for the public’s entertainment.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss singing, though. I put out a few more songs over the years, but I paid to produce them instead of selling my soul to a label. People can stream them online, but I’m not doing tours or interviews. I’m an independent artist now.
I do what I want, write whatever I want, and fuck, I’ve never been happier.
Now, that’s not to say my career is the only reason I’m over-the-moon happy.
The main reason is her.
“Where’d you go?” Her voice brings me back, and I shake my head, snapping out of it.
“Sorry, I was just thinking.”
She laughs. “Well, can you do that while we’re getting in the car? We’re going to be late.”
I nod. “Lead the way.”
My girlfriend smiles, checks her outfit and makeup in the mirror one last time, and walks out of our bedroom.
What she doesn’t know is by the time we come back tonight…
I’m hoping she’ll be my fiancée.
I can’t believe I’m having my first gallery opening.
You hear that, me?
You did it.
Nausea crawls up my throat as I run around the gallery, triple-checking each painting to make sure they are properly labeled.
I have no idea what to expect from tonight. Will I sell out? God, what if I don’t sell anything? What if I have to go home with all of these paintings at the end of the night?
What if nobody comes?
“They’ll be here,” Kane says, and I inhale a sharp breath, grabbing a glass of champagne off a waiter’s tray.
It freaks me out when he does that. Mostly because it makes me wonder if he’s a mind reader. It’s bad enough that my heart and soul belong to him. Now, you’re telling me my thoughts do, too?
I feel his presence behind me, and my shoulders release all tension when he wraps his arms around me and rests his chin on my shoulder. “Breathe. You’re going to kill it.”
I sure hope he’s right.
It’s weird that I still get the jitters, considering how far I’ve come in the past four years. But I don’t think I’ll ever see the day where I’m so cocky I just assume everything I do is going to be a hit.
I could be a multimillionaire and still pray that people will show up to my event.
The gallery staff notifies me that they’ll be opening the door in a few minutes, and I tense in Kane’s embrace. He responds by taking my hand from behind and lacing our fingers together.
“Ready?” Kane whispers in my ear when the clock strikes seven.
This is it.
“Let’s do it.” I give a small nod, squeezing his hand before releasing it.
The next thing I know, the large wooden doors of the gallery are flying open, letting in a steady influx of people I realize were waiting in line.
As in people are lining up to see my work.
Kane and I stand by the doors, greeting every attendee with a smile and polite chitchat.
I lose count of the guests once we hit a hundred.
My heart swells with joy when I spot Evie and my mom in the distance. I wave at them, and Mom immediately notices us. She grabs her partner Walter’s hand, dragging him over to us in no time. Evie follows suit, a few steps behind the lovebirds. The guy she’s seeing couldn’t make it.
I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to my mom dating. She was single for so long I never stopped to think that one day she’d want to be in love, too.
I’m glad she met Walter. He’s nice. He’s our landlord and the building’s handyman. He’d keep coming around to ask if she needed anything fixed for the first year we lived there.
He and Mom hit it off instantly. They started dating a little over three years ago.
“Oh, sweetie, I’m so proud of you.” Mom throws her arms around me, holding me so tight she cuts off my airways.
I don’t complain, enjoying every second of her hug. “Thanks, Mom.”
We separate a few seconds later. I barely have time to greet Walter before Evie is pulling Kane and me into a group hug. I notice the tears in her eyes the second she withdraws.
“Evie, are you okay?” I worry.
She wipes her cheeks, a sob climbing up her throat. “Of course. I’m just… I’m so happy for you. You two are meant for each other. I wish you so much—”
“Um, Mom?” Kane interjects, seemingly uncomfortable.
What am I missing here?
“Can I talk to you in private?” he asks, offering her a tight-lipped smile.
Her eyes grow. “Oh, have you not… But I thought you said…”
“I’ll be right back.” Kane smacks a loud kiss on my cheek before taking his mom’s hand and ushering her to a quiet spot.
Well, that wasn’t weird at all.
I don’t have time to overthink the awkward interaction I just witnessed, continuing to greet every attendee. I must thank a dozen people for coming before a familiar voice startles me.
I whisk my head to the right, emotions clawing their way through my chest when I see Jamie beelining for me.
“Oh my God!” I match my best friend’s energy. “You made it!”
I pull Jamie into my arms, hugging the breath out of her as though I haven’t seen her in ages when really, we vacation in Golden Cove together every summer.
Shay slows down next to her wife a short moment later. “Are you kidding? You could’ve dropped a whole damn building on top of her, and she still would’ve found a way to come.”
“She’s not lying. Our flight was delayed, and honest to God, I considered swimming here,” Jamie deadpans, and I laugh, squeezing her tighter.
A part of me was afraid she’d have to cancel on me last minute. She and Shay are so busy raising their daughters, an RSVP doesn’t always guarantee that they’ll be able to swing by.
That’s adulthood for you.
I wasn’t nearly naïve enough to think everyone from my past would make the trip to LA. For example, Vince and Maggie sent us the biggest bouquet I’ve ever seen to apologize for not being able to come. I knew Cal also reached out to let us know he and his girlfriend couldn’t get off work.
I don’t hold it against them.
No matter where life takes us, I’ll know we’ll all be back in Golden Cove come summertime.
“Where’s Drea?” Jamie asks the moment we move away.
I quickly scan the gallery, looking for Drea’s dark hair somewhere in the crowd.
I push to the tip of my toes to see above the crowd. “I don’t know. She said she was coming.”
“Is she bringing Lucifer?” Jamie grumbles, causing Shay to elbow her. “I’m sorry, I meant Lucian.”
I snort at the disdain in her voice. “Yes, she’s bringing Lucian.”
Jamie hates Drea’s new fiancé. Hates him with a passion. To be fair, he’s not exactly a pleasant person. Not only does he brag… a lot… but he’s also extremely self-centered.
It’s a special talent he has. It’s become a bit of an inside joke between all of us. Whenever he and Drea come to the beach house, we bet on how long it’ll take him to make the conversation about him.
So far, his record is seven seconds.
I don’t know what Drea sees in him, but hey, she clearly likes him, otherwise she wouldn’t be marrying the guy.
“What about Scar? Did he RSVP?” Shay asks, the elephant in the room becoming impossible to ignore.
“Kane said he wasn’t. I don’t blame him. Drea and Lucian did just announce their engagement.”
“Shit, that’s right. How do you think he’s taking it?” Jamie questions, and I wish I had a solid answer to give her.
The truth is, Scar is a closed book when it comes to Drea. He and Kane are still close, but Scar has strictly refused to tell him anything about why he and Drea broke up.
It never made any sense to me. Especially considering how head over heels in love these two were. One day, they were eloping, making plans for the future, and the next…
He was leaving her at the altar.
Drea spent the next year picking herself up. Scar moved back to LA two months ago. And he still won’t tell anyone where the hell he went for three years.
Not that it matters. When I asked her how she felt about it, she said she was happy with Lucian, and she couldn’t give a rat’s ass about Scar.
“Holy shit.” Jamie’s gasp captures my attention, and I track her gaze to the front door, where a tall, dark-haired blast from the past stands.
I’ll be damned.
Looks like Scar changed his mind after all.
We sold out.
Every single painting sold.
My gaze darts around the now empty gallery, and tears prick at my eyelids. To say my first gallery opening was a smashing success would be the understatement of the year.
All the guests left a half hour ago—with the exception of Jamie, Shay, Drea, Lucian, my mom, and Kane’s.
We got started on the cleanup as soon as the place cleared out. We have to be out of here before eleven. As amazing as this experience has been, I can’t wait to get home and sleep for at least a week.
My poor body’s been dealing with so much stress lately it needs a reset.
From the look on Drea’s face, I’m not the only one who’s eager to call it a day. For someone who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Scar, she sure didn’t look like she didn’t care when she saw him come in earlier.
She didn’t have it in her to pretend like this was no big deal and booked it to the back door leading to the alley the second they made eye contact across the room.
I expected her fiancé to chase after her. But Lucian was in the middle of telling his life story to an uninterested stranger and didn’t notice. Scar, however, didn’t miss a beat, immediately following after her.
She came back inside a half hour later, but Scar was nowhere in sight. I didn’t see him again for the rest of the night.
“There’s my girl.” A large hand wraps around my wrist and spins me around.
I come face-to-face with Kane, my lips automatically curling into a smile when he brings my knuckles to his mouth and kisses them.
“How are you feeling?” He uses his grip on my hand to tug me to his chest.
“Like I’m on top of the world.”
His sexy smirk sends shivers down my spine. “Speaking of being on top…” He moves closer to whisper against my mouth, “You need to see the rooftop of this place.”
Not where I thought this was going.
Next thing I know, he’s pulling on my hand and guiding me to the stairwell by the back door.
“Now?” I chuckle, even though I know I’d follow this man to the ends of the earth if he asked me to.
“Yes, now. The view is fucking amazing.” His enthusiasm is as adorable as it is confusing. He seems in a rush to get to that rooftop.
I don’t protest, shadowing Kane up the stairs and asking myself if I’ve officially peaked.
This just might be the happiest I’ve ever been.
It doesn’t get any better than this, I’m sure of it.
“Ladies first.” Kane gestures to lead the way, and I comply without a second thought, rounding him.
That’s when he pushes the door open.
And I realize I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It does get better.
The first thing I notice are the city lights twinkling in the distance. My focus falls to the sea of candles spread out on the rooftop and the trail of white rose petals on the ground.
At the end of the path is a gorgeous flower arch—that’s also adorned with roses—and a canvas propped up on an easel.
Four words are engraved on the canvas.
Four words I’ll never forget.
Will you marry me?
I attempt to hold back my tears in order to keep them from blinding me and committing this moment to memory.
But there’s no point.
I’m already bawling my eyes out.
I spin to face Kane, searching for his gorgeous face until I realize he’s down on one knee, holding a velvet box open.
The ring inside takes my breath away.
Kane’s bloodshot eyes make me cry twice as hard, and I have to cover my mouth with my palm to muffle my sobs.
“Hadley… my first supporter… my inspiration. You told me once that you’ve loved me almost as long as you’ve been alive…” His voice is low, dripping with emotions and adoration. “I should’ve told you then that I intended to love you for as long as my beat-up heart would allow me to. I want you to call me out on my shit when we’re old and wrinkly and I’m too stubborn to admit that I need a walker. I want to wake up every day and see your beautiful face staring back at me. I want forever and everything after that. I want it all. Please marry me.”
I know he wants an answer, but I find myself throwing myself into his arms and catching his lips in an all-consuming kiss. He kisses me back with so much ardor I have to grip the collar of his shirt to keep steady.
“Tell me you’ll be my wife, Hadley.”
I can’t breathe, choking on my tears.
He sounds like he’s begging me.
As though he’s afraid that I might say no.
But what he doesn’t realize… is that there was never a moment in my life where I wasn’t his.
“Tell me you’ll always be mine,” he whispers.
The words are out of my mouth in a heartbeat.
“I’ll always be yours.”