“Rise and shine, lover.” Regan’s soft, husky drawl tickles me in my sleep. Her warm, lube slick hand wraps around my dick and I come awake in a rush of arousal and confusion. I sit up and wrap my hand around her delicate wrist to still the up and down motion of her fist.
“Why is Stone always trying to spoil our fun, huh Mars?” She gives my hardening length a long, tight, toe curling tug and then, releases her hold on me.
“I wasn’t stopping you, just waking up.” I murmur. When I reach for her, I grab nothing but air. I peer into the inky dark of our bedroom, willing my eyes to adjust and cursing these black out shades we draw on the weekends so that Regan can sleep in.
“Oh, well in that case,” she murmurs.
The rustle of the sheets and the brush of her hair on my thighs is the only warning I have before her hot mouth closes over the swelling crown of my erection.
My back and hips arch up in shock and one hand automatically cups her head as she suckles the sensitive tip, flicking her tongue into the slit just the way I like before she lowers her mouth to take me in deep.
“Venus, holy fuck,” I groan and clutch at the sheets with my free hand.
Regan’s mouth is the sweetest place I’ve ever been. Whether she’s using it to kiss me, talk to me or suck me off - it’s a conduit to love, knowledge, and pleasure. And it’s mine, for as long as I draw breath.
A rush of possessive need courses through me and I’m gripped by the need to see her. I call out a gruff voice command and a tiny motor whirs to life.
The massive shade covering my moon window, as Regan calls it, begins it slow retreat and the early morning light spills in from overhead as more of the window is revealed.
First her toned legs, bent at the knee and crossed at the ankles, come into view. Then the backs of her supple thighs glow a soft bronze under the sun's worshipping gaze. I want to linger on those luscious legs and fantasize about how they’ll look hooked over my shoulder, but the light’s revelations draw my eye up...over the sweet curve of her pert ass to the small of her back.
As always, my heart skips a beat when I see the linked symbols of Mars and Venus tattooed below her Jezebel.
She got that for her birthday last month. The shade draws back and in the full light of day, the undertones of gold and caramel in her dark brown hair are visible.
I gather the long fall of coils and curls that shroud my thighs into my fist and lift it away so I can see her face. I lean back on the headboard and close my eyes, settling in to enjoy the outrageously intense pleasure of fucking my woman's mouth until I come.
It’s a very rude awakening when her mouth pulls off me suddenly. My eyes pop open and I growl in frustration when I see Regan is already off the bed and reaching into the small bathroom to grab a robe.
“Where are you going?”
“Matty’s here. She’s just dropping something off. Don’t move. I’ll be back before you know it,” she calls breathlessly, her robe only half way on, as she tears down the stairs.
“I know it already,” I call after her, but get no response. I check my phone. It’s only 8 am. Matty should be working the intake desk at Venus Rising this morning. What would she be doing here? I slide off the bed, step into my hastily discarded pajama bottoms, intent on ignoring her directive to wait. As I pass the second floor, where the kid’s bedrooms and our offices are, an opportunity I’ve been waiting for presents itself. I’m going to propose to Regan tomorrow and I haven’t had a minute alone to look at the ring. She’s been working from home all week. She hears everything and she’s nosy as hell, so I haven’t risked letting her catch me in the little storage closet without a good reason. I can hear Regan's voice, and what sounds like at least two other people, downstairs. Whatever she’s doing, it’ll take her longer than the minute I need to check on the ring.
I rush into my office, my attention focused on Regan’s voice as I reach into my desk drawer and fumble around for the small black velvet box I’ve had tucked away there all week. When I can’t feel it, I lean down and peer into the drawer and see the silhouette of it in the back corner, out of my hand’s reach.
I pull the drawer out fully, dump the meager contents out onto my desk and pluck the small box out of the pile of pens caps and paperclips. “There you are,” I whisper, and scoop it up. I open it up and my heart comes to a screaming stop when all I see is an empty pillow where the ring I bought for Regan should be.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” I groan to no one in particular. My eyes, and all the horror in them, remain fixed on the empty platter where the meticulously constructed tower of scones - the one on top with a three carat, emerald cut diamond engagement ring baked into the center - should have been.
“Regan, on what planet did you think stealing your own engagement ring and staging a coup proposal was a good idea? It was bound to go wrong.” Tyson slaps my shoulder and gazes down at me with pity.
“It would have been fine if you hadn’t been here to scare the hell out of Dina.” He shakes his head, a cagey frown pulling his lips down. “I locked myself out of my place. I was just crashing until I could call a locksmith in the morning. And if your friend hadn’t lost her shit and thrown that entire tray at me and made this mess, you wouldn’t even have known I’d been here.”
I turn to Dina, who’s on the floor picking up the fragments of scone. “And why are you here? Matty was making the delivery,” I ask her.
“Matty had to work and she called me because she didn’t want to bother you. I’m sorry I messed up your proposal and lost the ring. I didn’t expect to see anyone when I came in--I freaked.” She tosses a handful of crumbs on the plate with a disgusted grunt.
“It’s okay.” I cast my horrified glance at the spectacular mess the projectile scones made. God, why was I so obsessed with making them so uniform? They all look exactly the same, and I have no idea which one had the ring in it.
“This was a dumb ass plan, Regan. You should have let him propose when he was ready. No man wants a woman getting down on her damn knee. Stone has let all this feminist shit go too far.” Tyson remarks. I glare at him. "And that's why you're single."
He picks up a chunk of scone from the counter and pops into his mouth and smiles with surprised appreciation. “These are good as hell, though. I can see how you got him so whipped,” he chuckles to himself.
“Oh look, Tyson’s being completely unhelpful. It must be “Show your true colors day.” Dina taunts over her shoulder.
Tyson chuckles and strolls to stand in front of her. “Oh look, Dina’s on her knees in front of me, It must be an “act out your favorite fantasy” day.
“You are a child,” Dina snaps, but rises to her feet. She’s so much smaller than him, the top of her head doesn’t reach his chin, but her ferocious glare knocks Tyson back a step.
I step between them before he can compose himself enough to return her fire.
My disbelieving glare darts between them. “Can you please do this later? Stone is upstairs waiting for me and everything is fucked.”
Dina curls her lip at Tyson before meeting my gaze. Her smile is apologetic and placating. “Don’t worry. We’ll find the ring. He’ll love the proposal just as much as he would have if you’d carried it in on a pyramid of scones.” She pats my hand and then crouches to continue sifting through the mess.
I join her, holding back tears as I destroy the scones to feel for the delicate ring. I cling to the rope of optimism Dina tossed my way. She’s right - Stone won’t know this happened. At least, not until he comes into the kitchen that I don’t have time to clean. If the rest of the morning goes according to plan, neither Stone or I will be coming anywhere near this kitchen until Tyson and Dina have had time to clean up after themselves.
By then, all of this will be nothing more than a funny story to tell our kids and grandkids.
“Aha!” Dina crows and hops to her feet, her hand extended toward me.
“You found it.” My voice is half groan, half sigh and I pull Dina into a quick hug before I pluck the ring from her hand.
“Thank you,” I press it to my lips and lick off the residue of crumbs left behind while I rush to the sink and run it under the water, relieved to be holding it again.
The creak of the floorboard interrupts my respite and I whirl to face Tyson and Dina. “Shit, I’m not ready. I wanted to look pretty and be clever. Ughhhh” I growl my fists balling so tightly my nails dig into my palms.
“Venus?” The agitation in Stone’s voice is palpable and I can’t imagine what could have put it there in the few minutes I’ve been gone. Then I remember what he told me last night. One of his patients had a stroke a few hours after giving birth, and when his shift was over she was still in the ICU. I forget the ring, and a new worry blooms. “I have to go. I don’t want him to see all this. Will you leave by the back door? After you’re done cleaning up,” I give Tyson a pointed look.
Then, I rush out into the large foyer that separates the kitchen area from the rest of the house. I smooth my hands over my robe and drop the ring into my pocket. Tyson was right. It was an idiotic idea. Thank goodness, I’ll have time to slip it back into the box before he notices it’s gone.
I get to the foot of the stairs just as he’s rounding the last landing. I force myself to relax my posture and smile. “I told you to wait for me upstairs, Mr. River--” The bleak expression in his eyes stills my tongue and my stomach fall to my toes.
“Is it your patient? Is she…” I ask, my dread only intensifying when he shakes his head and closes his eyes.
“Venus...I don’t know how this happened.” He pulls me into a tight embrace and presses his cheek the top of my head and starts rocking me.
“Stone, you’re scaring me,” My lips are squished by his hug, but he understands my muffled words and loosens his hold, if only a little. It’s enough to let me breathe a little easier. I wrap my arms around his waist. “Please tell me,” I plead when he just sighs deeply.
“I think maybe it was the cleaning service...they’re the only ones who could have. But, I don’t understand. I’m sorry, but I need to call...shit.”
“Stone, you’re not making sense.” I pull out of his hold and cup his face in my hands and turn it down so I can look into his eyes. Pure misery flashes in his eyes, but whatever he’s opening his mouth to say is cut off by the clatter of pots in the kitchen draws his attention and he frowns.
“Who’s here? Did you say Matty was dropping something off?” He starts to move beyond me
"It was Dina and she's gone." I tug his face back to look at mine, and search his eyes. "Tell me why you look like someone died.”
He sighs heavily again, his shoulder falls with resignation and he takes my left hand in his, toying with it the way he does when he’s nervous.. “I was going to ask you to marry me tonight.”
All the breath leaves my lungs. “You...were?” I ask, my voice a breathless squeak, my heart rioting with joy.
“I was waiting for the kids to get back so I could ask them, too. At the same time...well, after you said yes. Assuming you’ll say yes, that is.” His eyes meet mine and there’s a glimmer of doubt in them that would be endearing if it wasn’t so misplaced.
I slide my hand into my pocket and curse my impulsivity and impatience. “Yes is all my heart knows when it comes to you, babe. You know that.” I tell him and finger the ring.
He smiles, a sweet relieved smile that makes me feel even worse. “I wanted to get down on one knee, to lay my heart at your feet and ask you to do the same. But the ring is gone. I don’t know--”
“I took it,” I say the words as quickly as I can and slap a hand over my mouth and watch him, wide eyed and waiting.
He steps back like I pushed him and blinks. “You did what?”
I can't look at him.“I thought...I found it...Not on purpose, I was looking for batteries…. And The Breakfast Klub called to confirm your order for tomorrow morning...all my favorite things were on there… so I figured that was when you were going to do it then...And I figured I’d beat you to it.”
“You found it? You were going to ask me?” he says, his monotone not giving any indication of how he feels about my confession. Maybe Tyson was right. Tears blur my vision and I stare at our still joined hands.
I swallow the lump in my throat and nod. “You know...turn convention on its head. Be the one to make a grand gesture this time. I thought you wouldn’t look for it until at least tonight. I had Sweet make this stupid scone tower thing and the ring was baked into the one sitting on top. Dina dropped it off, but Tyson messed it up. I’m sorry. It’s not missing. It’s here.”
I take his limp hand in mine and drop the ring into his palm.
The silence that follows my confession is terrible and I apologize more to fill it. “I’m sorry that I caused you a moment of distress and that I ruined what should have been a wonderful moment for us.” I brave a glance up at his face and sob in relief at the smile he’s wearing. “You’re not mad?”
He cups my cheek, strokes my jaw with his thumb and presses a soft kiss to my lips. “My goddess...just as everything else that’s ever happened to us, your timing couldn’t be more perfect.” and then this god whose love for me blazes so hot that nothing could ever stand in its way gets down on one knee and pledges me his troth.
“Regan Naomi Wilde, you are my universe. The place where I was born, the place where long after my body fails me, my spirit will dwell. Us together is the natural order of things. If I could cut my heart out of my chest and lay it at your feet, I would. I hope you’ll accept this ring as a tiny token of my esteem. And if you allow me to slip it onto your finger, I promise that I will love your children as fiercely as you do. I will be your castle, your throne, your crown. Yours, and yours alone for as long as I live.”
A typhoon of emotion swirling around in my heart. I didn’t realize until just now how much I wanted this. I never thought to have it - and so I convinced myself that it wasn’t important. I can’t believe I almost robbed us both of this moment. I cup his dear, beautiful face.
“You are my wildest dream come true, Stone. And for as long as I’ve known you, I’ve loved you. I accept your ring. I’ll wear it so the world will know what our hearts told us a very long time ago...that we’re each other’s. And only each other’s.”
When he slips his ring onto my finger, I feel the tug of inevitability and the comforting weight of certainty’s anchor. From that night in the bakery almost twenty years ago, until now, we’ve been moving toward this.
When I look back on our journey, I often wish we’d found our way to this soon. But there’s a part of me that knows what an impeccable timekeeper destiny is - and so, I wouldn’t give back a second of it - not even the pain. Because...what to be loved forever by a man like Stone is a hell of an upside.