“Naw, I’m a Dodge man. Charli has the Ford.”

“I’ll see your truck after the festivities,” Dexter said, placing his arm around Monique. “Now it’s time to toast the prettiest girl in the room.”


“You’ve got that right,” Niko said.

“Besides my wife,” Dexter added.

The four of them entered the private dining room. Warren and Dexter stepped aside as the room stood and applauded the night’s special guests. Niko and Monique walked to the front, center table occupied by their parents. They hugged Ike and Jennifer before turning to Monique’s parents, Caroline and George.

“You look stunning,” Caroline said, her eyes tearing up as she hugged her daughter. “Silver is a perfect complement to your skin tone. It’s different, but I think your wedding colors of silver with shades of pink are going to be stunning.” She turned to Niko, who’d just shaken hands with George. “Hello, handsome,” she said, hugging her future son-in-law. “My daughter is simply beaming,” she whispered. “And it’s all because of you.”

“Excuse me—may I have your attention please?” Everyone turned to see Ike Jr. at the microphone. “Please help me welcome Niko Drake, the mayor of Paradise Cove, and Monique Slater, the beautiful first lady who raced him into office!”

“Now he’s racing her to the altar!” someone shouted.

The festivities were under way.

For the next hour, Niko and Monique made their way around the room. After talking to her brother and his wife, they greeted the rest of the one hundred and fifty guests that included Niko’s extended family from Southern California and New Orleans, Monique’s good friend Emma and her husband, their colleagues from the legal world and the citizens of Paradise Cove who’d known Niko a lifetime and had warmly welcomed his fiancée. When they reached Margo, both Monique and Niko gave her a special hug. It was her prodding to keep a promise that had brought Monique to Paradise Cove.

“I’m so happy for you, darling,” Margo said. “Happy for you both. Do you have a designer for your wedding gown?”

“Not yet. We’re looking.”

“Call me next week. I know someone in Los Angeles who could design a masterpiece.”

“Will do.”

Having circled the room, they arrived back at the table they’d share with their parents and married siblings. Ike immediately stood to offer a toast.

“We’d like to thank all of you for coming to celebrate the engagement of my son Nicodemus to his lovely fiancée, Monique. Niko has always been adventurous, some might even say a hellion.” Laughter caused him to pause. “At times the wife and I wondered whether there would ever be someone to tame him. But in Monique, he’s met his match both intellectually and academically, in mind, body and spirit. She comes from a great family, one which we are proud to align with.” He turned to Monique. “Welcome to the family, dear.” Raising his glass, he ended, “to Niko and Monique!”

“Hear, hear!”

After a couple more toasts, Emma stood. “Monique, from the time we met in college, I knew you were special. And I knew it would take a special man to win your heart. You are a great professional, a great career woman. But I think you will be an even greater wife and mother.”

At the sound of the M word, Monique feigned coughing, which elicited a big laugh from the crowd. The serving began and lively conversation filled the room. Beneath their table, Niko squeezed Monique’s thigh. Months later his touch, his scent, his smile, his presence still caused her muscles to constrict and kitty to moisten. Tonight was no different.

“Behave,” she gritted out between a smile.

“Not a chance,” he replied, giving her thigh another squeeze followed by a kiss on her temple. “In fact, when I get you back to my house…there’s going to be a whole lot of misbehaving.”

Monique felt the heat rise from her chest to her ears. She dared not raise her eyes, sure that anyone looking at her would be able to tell what was on her mind. Niko was insatiable and his comment had brought to mind what had occurred that very morning. Until now, her lovemaking experience had been fairly standard, pretty routine. But with Niko, lovemaking was an adventure. Just this morning he’d come to bed with warm caramel. Remembering that sticky substance on her thighs and Niko licking it off caused her to shudder.

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