Page 20 of Black Lies

I smiled, relief washing through me. I didn’t know what I expected, what the tight grip of my back muscles had anticipated, but the tension left when I saw him. I made my way through the bar, my pajamas out of place, a few women giving me looks that deserved a sharp word, but I continued. Fished his phone out of my pocket as I moved, powering it on. I’d give him his phone, kiss him goodnight, and then make my way back upstairs. I didn’t need to stay down there; I wanted to go back to our bed, would have my cell if he got drunk and needed help finding his way back to the room. I smiled at the absurd thought of a drunk Brant and moved closer.

A few steps away. Bodies moved aside, gave me a better view of him.

Closer. My slippers caught on the tile and I tripped slightly. Caught myself, my face heating.

Heard the murmur of his voice. Reached out. Placed my hand on his shoulder and pulled gently.

The smooth rotation of his torso, the over the shoulder glance that came full circle and looked down at me…

In the next few minutes, everything about our relationship changed.

I had fallen for him. Planned our future, already mentally accepted his proposal.

It turned out I didn’t even know him.

Chapter 19

2 YEARS, 3 MONTHS AGO

Brant

I had intended to propose in Belize. Cancelled that plan when the jet was nixed. Reestablished that plan when Lana bullied us into commercial. Then our trip had a hiccup; she got sick and the moment never happened.

Tonight. The second attempt. I shake a pill out, place it under my tongue and try to relax. Swig ice water and stare at the back wall of my office, a stainless steel surface broken by glass views of the hills.

Everything exact. Everything perfect. She deserves nothing less. This will be the moment that solidifies our future. A story we will tell our children’s children. She is already a loose cannon, will no doubt foil tonight’s plans in some impulsive way, and everything is in place to minimize the impact. All that matters, at the end of the night, is that I have the ring and can articulate a question. The rest will sort itself out.

She will say yes. It is a given. We love each other, crossed that hurdle months ago. The bond between us is unquestionable. My personality had needed a quantitative analysis to make my decision; she won’t need anything other than her emotions. The fire that makes her throw her arms around me and kiss my neck. The grins I watch stretch across her face. The smolder that sits in her eyes when we make contact across a crowded room. She is committed. We are in love. Marriage is the next step to forever. I pocket the ring and stand, striding out of the office, my eyes catching the clock and reaffirming that I am on schedule. Three hours to forever.

Two hours to forever. I watch her fasten her earrings, the stance before the mirror one of casual elegance, yet sexual all the same. Slightly spread legs, her hip cocked, head tilted, all of her curves present before me. I step closer, settling in behind her, our eyes meeting in the mirror as I pull her an inch back, the press of her fitting into me perfectly.

She is nervous. I can see a darkness in her eyes, a tremor in her hand as she pushes the diamond stud through her earlobe. Something is off—from the deep inhale of her breath to the smile she gives me. Tighter, less free. It’s not the false front she serves out to others, but it isn’t the smile I know. It is a distracted mix of the two. Something is on her mind. Something her eyes say she isn’t ready to talk about. I bend forward, inhale the rich scent of her as I place a soft kiss on her collarbone. “Would you rather stay in? We don’t have to go out.” A question whose answer can ruin tonight’s plans but I don’t want a reluctant companion. Not tonight, at the official start of our life together as one.

Another smile that is not her smile. “No. We should go. I want to.” Her breathing is off. Quicker than usual. I suddenly want to pull her into the bedroom. Slide up her dress and connect with her. Lose both of our senses in the hard press of our bodies. Put our center back, reassure me that she is mine and she is here and she is happy.

I don’t. Instead, I hold open her coat, let it fall over her shoulders and open the front door for my future wife. Pull it shut and pray to God that she says yes. Suddenly, everything I know seems up in the air.

Maybe not tonight. Maybe I wait until this funk passes. Until she smiles and the light reaches her eyes. I watch her move down the steps and follow.

One hour to forever. She doesn’t question the helicopter, or that night’s unorthodox use of the Rolls and my driver. Tucked under my arm, her head turns to the window, the lights of San Francisco tiny against the shoreline as the chopper moves steadily through the sky. She doesn’t ask questions. Just settles into my arm and watches the reflection of a low sun as it shines off the peaks of rocky waves.

“I love you,” she says softly.

My arm tightens around her, embracing the feel of her. She loves to be held, a part of her anxious for the physical confirmation of our bond. “I love you too.”

She tilts her chin up and meets my eyes. “Forever,” she says firmly.

“Forever,” I repeat, leaning down and pressing a kiss against her exposed forehead. The copter shifts and I tighten my grip. “Buckle up. We’re landing.”

Forever. It had sounded ominous on her lips.

Chapter 20

Despite the strong wind, the helicopter sets down easily on Farallon Island. We open the door to two tuxedos, waiting with outstretched arms to help us out of the chopper and along the irregular ground. We duck and run, Lana’s bare feet nimble on the uneven surface, her heels in her hand, a true laugh spilling from her lips as she grips my arm tightly and climbs over the small hill of rocks before us, the slick surface of my dress shoes making the journey treacherous. Just what I need. I can picture the headline: COUPLE STUMBLES TO UNTIMELY DEATH JUST MOMENTS BEFORE PROPOSAL. Not that there has ever been a timely death.

It is all worth it when her head clears the rocks and I hear the catch in her voice. Her eyes had found the table set on a flat rock, white linen, candles, and champagne present. The height elevates us on a ledge with nothing but rock and ocean and sunset on all sides, the jagged skyline of San Francisco twenty-seven miles to the east. The suit to our right holds out a floor-length coat that I help her into before shrugging into my own, the buffering wind giving the evening a chill. Sitting, we accept flutes of champagne as the setting sun paints a landscape of beauty on all sides. It is perfect. Just as I imagined, the small island a private sanctuary for this moment.

“You went all out.” She meets my eyes over the table. Direct. Nothing else between us right now.

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