His eyes were dark, and the evidence of how much he wanted me strained against his slacks. “I hate to be the voice of reason, but we should probably go. I wouldn’t want you to get all dressed up only to have me strip you bare and fuck you mindless before we leave the hotel.”

My breath rushed out at his threat. His tongue traveled over his bottom lip, a sensual promise of things to come.

“You can rest assured that will be happening when we get back though. I haven’t nearly had my fill of you for the day.”

“Are you trying to break a record for the amount of times I can come in a single day?”

A wry smile twisted up his lips. “What can I say? I have a thing for birthday girls.”

Already the day had been the best birthday I could remember. Nothing came close to being spoiled and loved well by the man I was about to marry. I pushed him back a little farther and hurried to get ready before we started something we absolutely had to finish.

Blake had chosen a renowned steakhouse in the city. The waiter seated us in a quiet corner of the restaurant. We ordered, and the server poured a bottle of wine into our two glasses. The sun had gone down, leaving a pastel glow over the endless horizon of the lake. I barely heard Blake’s voice in the background.

“What are you thinking about?”

I broke out of my trance and picked up my glass. “Let’s toast.”

“What should we toast to?”

Not the past. The opposite of the past, in fact. “Let’s toast to the future.”

He touched his glass to mine, the faint clink the only sound between us for the next few minutes.

“Are you happy we came here?”

I thought about his question, my focus traveling back to the shimmering water. “In a way. I don’t know. It’s been a lot to take in.”

He sat back in his seat as I contemplated everything. 

“My family—my mom’s family—has a beach house over there.” I pointed to the window, to an invisible place across the lake where I’d lived another part of my life. “Across the lake, in Michigan.”

Blake’s gaze returned to me after a moment. “I didn’t know that. When was the last time you were there?”

I took a careful sip of my wine. The robust flavor rolled over my tongue, the aroma coming through my nostrils. I swallowed it, grateful for yet another decadent experience I’d been afforded simply by being in Blake’s life. I wasn’t sure I would ever get used to being so completely spoiled, but I loved the man and I wasn’t about to argue with the things that made him happy. My thoughts skipped back to the lake house and the last time we’d been there as a family.

“A long time ago,” I finally said, “before I left for boarding school, we took our yearly vacation there. It was the last summer my mom was alive, actually—the last time I remember feeling like a kid. She wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t keep up. I had a lot of energy. Elliot’s girls reminded me of that. We always had so much fun together, but that summer my mom wasn’t up for much. She was always tired. I didn’t know it at the time that she was already sick. It’s one of those things you don’t piece together until you’re older.”

I closed my eyes, pushing down the emotions that resurfaced with her memory. My mother. The one person who I could always count on to take care of me, to see me through the hard times. God, I still missed her. Her laugh and the way she would hold me tight, with every last ounce of her waning energy. I let out a breath, determined to hold it together.

“After a while, I’d go back in my mind and try to grab my last memories of her. It all made sense one day.” I shook my head. “Anyway, her family was always distant. I never had play dates with cousins or visits with Grandma and Grandpa like normal kids. Even then, knowing that she was dying, they didn’t change the way they interacted with us. My aunts and uncles would be in town, and they never had room for us there. If the cousins ever bickered, somehow the blame fell on me. After a while I just started to withdraw, do things on my own. Being an only child, that wasn’t so hard. Mom, Elliot, and I would go swimming or drive to town. We made our own memories, the three of us.”

Blake reached out, feathering a soft touch over the back of my hand. “Why do you think they treated you that way?”

“I used to think it was because of me, that my mom getting pregnant with me disappointed them so much that things were never the same after. But Elliot told me something last night…”

Blake stilled. “What did he say?”

“He told me they had wanted my mom to force Daniel into a marriage. They wanted her to tell his family and make Daniel do the honorable thing. I guess even after he’d broken things off with her, she refused to push him. She wanted me, and I guess she loved him enough to let him live the life that had been planned for him.”

Blake was silent a moment. “She made the right choice. Imagine what your life would have been like growing up in his family.”

I traced circles over my glass, fixated on the light reflecting off it. “I don’t know. Sometimes I think about it, and I wonder if she could have made him a better person. Or if she’d have ended up like Margo. The perfect wife at the side of her politician husband, consumed with achieving success and looking the part.”

Blake laughed softly. “If you’re anything like your mother, I’m guessing no.”

I smirked. “Are you saying I’m not first lady material?”

“No, you’re Madam President material.”

I laughed, entertaining that ridiculous thought for a moment. Entrepreneurship was well and good, but I had no political aspirations. I couldn’t imagine Blake did either. “And what would that make you?”

He leaned back and lifted his eyebrows suddenly. “Your chief advisor.”

I laughed. “Sounds about right.” 

* * *

We stepped out of the restaurant and into the cool night air. A few minutes later, we’d wandered to the beach that had darkened now. Lake Michigan stretched out before us like an ocean. We took off our shoes and walked along where the waves lapped up softly on the sand. We wandered for a long time with only the moonlight and the lamps of the promenade lighting our way. I shivered, the cool night seeping into my skin.

“Are you cold?”

“I’m fine.”

I started to feel the weight of the day and slowed down. We sat down, and I leaned against Blake’s warmth, letting the rhythm of the waves lull me. A little light from a speedboat traveled silently across the horizon. 

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