October 31, 2005, Washington, D.C.
Most people at my friends’ Halloween party thought Ryan’s tactical FBI uniform, complete with the loaded gun in its holster, was a costume. After a stream of drunken comments ranging from, “Are you here to arrest me for bad behavior?” to “Girl, I want your date!” followed by one woman’s unsuccessful attempt to grab his gun, Ryan took my hand and headed to the door.
I’d had a few vodka-based cocktails the hosts called “phantom potions,” so climbing into his SUV proved a challenge. It also didn’t help that I kept tripping over my long Aphrodite gown and cracking myself up to all the cheesy variations of what was becoming an old joke.
“I might be allergic to vodka…” I whimpered, gasping for air and once again failing to put my foot on the step. “I think I might break out in handcuffs… and all that—”
“Try this.” Ryan hiked up my gown to give me ease of movement.
His fingers traveled up my thigh, warm and firm. Abruptly, he stopped. “Do you think you might sober up…soon?”
I giggled. “A gentleman?”
“I suppose—” He shrugged, oddly ill at ease. “Given what I’m about to do.”
I studied his face, brought up short by a hint of uncertainty in his voice. “What are you about to do?”
He brushed a hand over his pants cargo pocket, eyes trained on me. “I never thought I’d fall so hard. Or at all. I love you.”
My breath hitched through the vanishing alcoholic haze. He’d never said it quite like this—low, almost tortured.
“What do you have in your pocket, Ryan?”
Jaw clenched, he started the ignition. “Let’s just… get home, okay?”
I was completely sober by the time we entered his large bachelor’s pad in strained silence. Then I stood still, taking in the drastic change. We’d been dating for six months, and I’d never seen the place so clean and neat.
Ryan turned to me, every muscle in his face strained. “Hey, I know you’re… a little young for this maybe, but I… I can’t wait…” He carved a rigid hand through his sandy hair. “Shit, I’m butchering this.”
Heart thudding, I glanced at his bulky cargo-pants pocket. It was hard to tell if it contained what I thought it did.
He reached into it, keeping his hand inside. The vein on his neck pulsed like mad. “Are you still a little drunk, Sie? I kind of need you sober.”
I shook my head so vigorously, the room span. “No, no, I’m not drunk. At all.”
Ryan took out a navy-blue box with the recognizable gold monogram—small in his large hand. He seemed lost as he briefly considered getting on one knee, then popped the lid open, the question frozen on his lips.
“Holy crap,” I murmured at the sight of the princess-cut heirloom diamond that had to be worth a down payment on a house. “Did you take out a loan?”
He seemed to hold his breath as he stared at me, unblinking. “I’ll tell you after you answer.”
I bit into my lip, fighting back a sudden torrent of tears. “Remember when, on our first date, you said you’d marry me?”
He stood motionless, hand with the box suspended in the air.
“It was a yes even then. I think it’s been a yes since before I met you.”
He blew out his breath and slid the ring on my finger. It fit perfectly, sparkling brighter than the sun.
“You’ve chosen well, beautiful.” He brought my hand to his lips, eyes twinkling. “Not only did I not take out a loan, but also—”
He reached behind me and pulled down my zipper. The silky fabric slid down my shoulders and fell to my waist.
He tipped my chin with his forefinger. “But also, I’m about to make love to you as your fiancé, which will be even less gentlemanly than as your boyfriend.”
“You’d had me worried there a little,” I breathed into his mouth, tingling all over. “I can’t wait to discover what it’ll be like when you’re my husband.”
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