He looked wounded. “Not me!”

“Shhh—we’re missing the movie,” I whispered laughingly, and snuggled close to him, pulling a soft fleece blanket over my body. Brad pressed a button on the remote, dimming the lights, and we settled in, forgetting for a brief moment the danger hanging over my head.

Forty-Five

Brad sat across from the two girls, his expression pained.

“Let me get this right,” the brunette said, her intelligent eyes peering at him with distrust. “You are proposing to Julia tonight. You haven’t bought a ring, you don’t have anything romantic planned and you have dated her for a grand total of, what, three weeks?”

“It’s been almost two months—”

“No, no, no,” she interrupted him, waving her hand. “I’m not counting all the time where you were chasing her, and you were both single, and you were probably f**king half the town at the same time. I’m talking about committed relationship time.”

Three weeks was probably overstating that qualifier, but Brad wasn’t going to bother pointing that out.

The other one, a petite beauty with breast implants, a nose job and, in Brad’s opinion, entirely too much makeup, slapped the girl’s arm, interjecting herself into the conversation. “Well, I think this is the most romantic thing ever! Do you have any friends—single friends? I need to find a guy like you, one who is ready to settle down.”

“Becca, he is not ready to settle down. That’s the whole problem!” The aggressive one, who he thought was named Olivia, whipped out a finger, pointing it at Brad. “Why? Why propose now? Why not wait, get to know her a bit?”

He wanted to leave, to say “screw this” to the two spoiled brats in front of him, get up and continue on his way. But these were Julia’s friends, her best friends, and he needed to stack the deck with every card he had if he wanted Julia to accept. He weighed how to communicate his intentions without bringing up the predicament they had found themselves in. The attorney in him looked at the angles available, the weaknesses of the jury. Reason might work with the pit bull; emotion would win the Barbie’s heart. The problem was, all he had was emotion. A foreign tool in his belt. He spread his hands in a helpless gesture and tried his best pitiful look. “Because I love her. And I don’t want to wait. I know, unequivocally, that she is the one for me.” The word love rolled off his tongue, convincing and believable, so smoothly that he almost missed its significance and weight. Love. A concept he had avoided for so long, and which now felt so right in his heart. Expanding, pushy, it took up unnecessary space, crowding out so many hostile emotions—anger at his mother’s abandonment, at his family’s business, at his own stubborn independence—he had harbored for so long.

The tiny one practically came in her seat, dissolving into a sea of emotion and grabbing his arm in support. The brunette simply snorted, the word bullshit stamped clearly across her features.

It took fifteen minutes, every iota of debate experience he possessed, Becca chiming in her support at every opportunity, but Olivia finally cracked. And, after their crab cakes, fruit plates and a bottle of champagne were finished, the two girls and Brad walked across the street and entered the jewel-encrusted, chandelier-lit elegance of Lorenzi Jewelers, in search of the perfect ring.

Forty-Six

Brad already regretted his decision to involve the girls in this process. They had fully settled in at Lorenzi, taking charge as soon as the manager had gleefully greeted Brad and shown them to a private lounge. They now sat on velvet chairs, fresh champagne in hand, and critically surveyed the options. Every five minutes, a new black velvet tray with five carefully chosen rings was presented, and they would pick apart each ring one by one. It had now been over an hour, and they were no closer to a decision than when they first walked in.

Brad paced in the small room, occasionally taking calls, drinking sodas and trying to quell the nervous ball in his stomach. Nervousness was a foreign concept and he hated every ounce of it.

He already knew the ring, had it pictured perfectly in his mind, but hadn’t seen anything close to it in the ten or fifteen trays that had paraded by. Julia was unique, different. He didn’t want to take a normal setting and stick a huge stone in and be done with it. He wanted something exceptional, something that, when she saw it, she wouldn’t be able to say no. Something that, if he wasn’t enough, the ring would push her over. He was confident in his sexual prowess, but his relationship skills were rusty at best. He didn’t have the option of f**king her into an engagement. Tonight, all he would have was himself and the ring. And he wasn’t sure if he, alone, was enough.

He ground his teeth in frustration. The jewelry associates didn’t seem to understand what he wanted or weren’t listening to him. He tilted his head at the manager, and they moved into a side room.

“You aren’t listening to what I am asking for.”

The man practically quaked in front of Brad, perspiration running down his face, his hands nervously clasping and reclasping in front of him.

“I am, Mr. De Luca! You want an elegant, refined setting—something antique, with a large stone.”

“Then what the hell is this?” He gestured to the velvet boxes, stacked to the side of the girls. “There isn’t a ring in that bunch that I haven’t seen a thousand times before! They are all the same, just slightly tweaked! Is there anything else in this store—something you have set aside that you haven’t brought out?”

“Did you see the marquis setting we brought out, it has—”

Brad cut off the man’s pitch with one smoldering look. “I saw it all. How long would it take for you to design one?”

“Design, sir?” The man acted as if it were a foreign concept.

Brad clenched his jaw and tried to maintain his cool. “I assume you do custom pieces?”

“Well, yes, Mr. De Luca, of course. But I thought you wanted to propose tonight.”

“I do. It’s four. Five hours is enough time. I’ll give you until nine.”

“But, Mr. De Luca, it’s Saturday.”

“Money never seems to have trouble getting over that hurdle. Give me twenty minutes and a pad of paper—then tell me if my expectations are unreasonable.”

He had the manager bring out all of their available large, loose diamonds, and the last three years of catalogs. He flipped through the catalogs, tagging certain settings, then sketched out a rough drawing of what he wanted. He called everyone back in and showed them the sketch and the stone that he had chosen.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com