“It’s lovely,” she said, smiling.
“I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this, but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time,” he said quietly, and she peered up at him curiously.
“What do you mean?”
“I removed a small portion of Zach’s ashes from his urn the night before we scattered them and had this pendant made for you. I thought that maybe after you’ve had time to think about it, you’d like the idea of carrying part of him close to your heart at all times.”
“Are you saying the ashes are in here?” she asked in disbelief. The heart looked boxy but absolutely seamless except for the small holes running through the top for the chain. As she inspected it, she noticed the curling script on the back of the pendant.
“They, uh . . . they seal it after they place the ashes inside. There’s a little indentation close to the bottom of the heart where they inserted the ashes.”
“Oh, Dante!” she cried, not really hearing his nervous words, as she read the script. “It’s beautiful.”
Zach, remembered forever.
“You don’t mind?” he asked, and she flung her arms around his waist and hugged him close.
“No, I don’t mind,” she said as she put the beautiful pendant on, turning slightly for him to fasten it for her. “It means so much. Just so much.”
“I have one too.” He tugged on a leather cord around his neck and dragged out an infinitely more masculine silver hoop. It wasn’t very big, and again she couldn’t see how it could possibly contain the ashes, but it was beautiful and had the same sentiment engraved on the outer loop.
“And the . . . the second thing.” He sounded really nervous, and she leaned back, her joy at the gift momentarily forgotten as she stared at him in fascination. He fumbled around in his jacket pockets again and this time produced a square box.
“So, I’m going to ask you again. I’ve asked you a million times already, Cleo, and I’m probably not asking again after this. Probably. So you’d better consider my question carefully.” He was rambling, and Cleo could only stare at him with what she knew was a besotted grin on her face. She had never really seen him this nervous before, and it was absolutely adorable. A word she wouldn’t previously have associated with Dante Damaso. He smoothed down his hair, straightened his tie, and then, quite unexpectedly, dropped to one knee in front of her.
“So, Cleopatra Pandora Knight . . .” She winced at the use of her full name. “Will you marry me? Because like I said before, my life is shit without you, and I love the hell out of you.”
“You going to show me the ring, champ?” she asked pointedly. “My answer may well hinge on the size of the rock you got me.”
“Mercenary woman,” he said without heat. He flipped open the box, and Cleo gasped.
“It’s beautiful,” she said reverently. It was a deep square-cut emerald bordered by smaller diamonds.
“It matches your eyes almost exactly,” he said, removing the ring from its velvet cushion.
“I love you so much,” she said, feeling completely overwhelmed by the depth of her feeling for him.
“So you’ll marry me?”
“If I must,” she said, striving for casual even though her eyes were heavy with tears. She held out her hand, and he kissed her ring finger before sliding the ring onto it.
“No more running away from me, Cleo,” he warned. “Talk to me next time.”
“I left because I loved you so much,” she said seriously, and he cupped her face in the palms of his hands.
“Next time stay because I love you so much.”
“There won’t be a next time, Dante.”
“That’s all I ask for.” He kissed her deeply, and by the time he ended the kiss, she was straddling his lap, his tie was undone, and his shirt was unbuttoned halfway down his chest.
“I’ve missed you,” she said, and leaned in for another drugging kiss, which he happily reciprocated, his hands cupping her butt. “I’m sorry I left. The first time you proposed, I thought you wanted to marry me because of Zach, and I never wanted you to feel trapped or obligated to marry. After he died, I thought we were just helping each other cope with the grief.”
“No more talk. I’ve missed more than your weird sense of humor and your appalling taste in movies, you know,” he said seriously.
“Yep, I’ve missed tasting this mouth,” he growled, before leaning up to do just that. It wasn’t nearly long enough or satisfying enough. “And I’ve missed this highly cuppable little bum.” Again, action to match his words. Cleo squirmed with excitement and wondered where he was going next. “Oh God, and these sensitive little beauties have haunted my dreams.” Her breath quickened in anticipation, and she wriggled on his lap, excited for what was to come. “My mouth has been empty without them to . . .”
“Well, hello.” The masculine voice coming from such close proximity shocked the hell out of both of them. Cleo squealed and tried to jump off Dante’s lap, but his palms flattened against her hips and kept her in place.
“You stay right there. At least until after I’ve managed to lose the hard-on,” he warned under his breath, and she collapsed against his chest in a fit of giggles, hiding her face from Cal, whom neither of them had heard come home.
“Nice to see you again, Mr. D,” Cal said in a voice that sounded wholly insincere.