Page 12 of Hardline (Hacker 3)

His eyes held me steady, serious in their depth. The humor in my words faded away when I thought about what a gift he was to me. I took a breath, suddenly overwhelmed by that truth. What had I done to deserve such an amazing man to call my own?

“You know there’s no way I can thank you for everything you do for me. I kid, but seriously, how can I ever repay you for all the wonderful things you’ve done?”

“I’m sure I’ll think of something.” He nodded to my glass. “Drink up.”

I sighed and took a long sip. I nearly spit the liquid out when something hard fell against my lips. I swallowed quickly and looked inside the glass.

Oh my God.

I straightened, planting my feet on the ground, though nothing could ground me for what I was seeing. I stared stupidly into the glass, frozen and vaguely aware that Blake had moved to kneel at my feet. His palms brushed along the sides of my bare thighs up to my shorts.

“Breathe, baby.”

I inhaled on command, my eyes unable to shift from the shiny diamond-studded ring that rested in the empty well of my glass. I couldn’t think. I could barely breathe.

“This hasn’t been a one-way street. You’ve given me just as much as I’ve given you. You’ve loved me at times when I haven’t made it so easy for you to... Erica, honey, look at me.”

I swallowed over the tight prickle in my throat. Tears burned my eyes as I met his warm gaze. “This is crazy,” I whispered.

“This might be crazy, but this is our life, and I want to spend it with you, as your husband. I want to come home to you and know you’ll always be there. I want to make love to you every night and wake up with you every morning for the rest of my life.”

I shook my head in disbelief, tears falling. I searched for words, but none came.

He brushed away the wetness on my cheeks and reached for my glass. Tipping it, he retrieved the ring and set the glass away. He grasped my hand gently and looked up at me.

“Erica, will you marry me?”

I stared into his eyes, now green and bright in the fading daylight. Time stood still as the question echoed in my mind, as the enormity of what he was asking me sank in. Could this be real? Could he really mean it?

“Are you sure?”

He smiled. Somehow he’d never looked so gorgeous. “Yes, I’m sure.”

“Are we rushing into this? That’s what everyone’s going to say.”

His eyes widened a fraction. “We’ve been through enough to fill a lifetime. I don’t need any more time to know you’re the one I want to be with. And I seriously don’t give a damn what anyone else has to say about it. Neither should you.”

I looked past him to the steady ebb and flow of the ocean. Our little paradise had become that much more surreal. To be Blake’s wife, to tie our lives together, irrevocably. I’d thought of it, of course. I’d tried not to read into his insinuations about a future of forever. Deep down that was what I wanted too, though. As much as the prospect terrified me when I thought about what it really meant, I did want forever with Blake. He brushed his thumb over the skin above my knuckle, sending a rush to my heart. I loved this man, and I couldn’t believe anything would ever change that.

“Okay,” I said quietly.

He cocked an eyebrow. “Okay?”

I smiled. “Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

I laughed softly. “Yes, I’m sure. I—I want to marry you. I love you, Blake. How could I say anything but yes?”

His face split with a smile. He slipped the sparkling band over my knuckle and into place, pressing a kiss where it sat. He stood, bringing me with him and into his arms. We were wrapped together so tightly, I could scarcely take a breath.

“I love you, Erica. You’ll never understand how much, but I’m going to try like hell to show you.”

I held him back and the reality of our promise settled over me, warming me from limb to limb. Our love filled me, until I thought my heart might explode with it.

In that moment, I knew I could never love anyone the way I loved Blake.


The rest of the weekend flew by. Blake took us out on the water, jetting us to outlying islands where we basked in the sun and listened to the steady rush of the ocean water until we were too tired or hungry to stay longer. We explored every quiet corner of the island. We ate and drank and made love. We talked and made promises. Every minute was like its own little paradise.

This commitment between us still felt new, like a dream. But so was being on the island, isolated from our real world. Every time my eyes lit on the sparkle of the band on my finger, my heart leapt. It was a brilliant and overwhelming reminder of Blake’s love. Both thrilled and apprehensive of what it meant for our future, I couldn’t help but fantasize about our happily ever after.

“Do you like the ring?”

I looked up at Blake, who’d caught me admiring it as our plane approached Boston’s dusky skyline. “I love it. It’s simple.”

“We can pick out something bigger if you want. I took a risk with it. I wasn’t sure what you’d want.”

“No, I want this. It’s perfect.”

“Good.” He grinned and squeezed my hand gently. “We’ll put another one next to it, and then I’ll know I have you for good.”

I envisioned its companion, and the meaning struck me.

“Like the bracelets.”

He nodded.

“You’ll have me cuffed and bound to you forever, Blake. You sure you want that?”

He leaned in, taking my lips in a gentle kiss. “That’s the idea.”

My heart twisted. A tiny flutter of nerves hit my belly at the thought of being Blake’s forever. His wife.

As our plane floated toward Logan Airport, I regretted that we were returning so soon. The break had been amazing but short-lived. I was still high on it, but less pleasant realities waited for both of us. Whatever trouble came our way, we’d face it together. I’d made Blake a promise that we always would. No more running and no more trying to be strong on my own. Fighting my own independent nature wasn’t easy, but sharing my life, the good and the bad, was more important now than ever.

When we stepped into the apartment, Alli met me with a squeal and tight hug. I laughed and hugged her back. The happiness of having my best friend so close compounded with this news, warming me.

Heath’s hand slapped Blake’s in a shake. “Congrats, man.”

A small smile spread across Blake’s face. “Thanks.”