The Proposal – Part Two

Following on directly from part one …

 

He was true to his word and even managed to remain in good humor when I had to lead him down the steps from the jet to the waiting limousine, telling me that I should have taken out life insurance for him before we left. The chauffeur took us directly to our hotel, Le Royal Monceau in the center of Paris, just meters away from the Arc de Triomphe, my stomach nervously churning the whole way. By the time I stepped out of the limo in front of the hotel, I had again convinced myself that it was a bad idea. Reasoning that it was too late and that I just had to hope his reaction wouldn’t be as bad as I was imagining, I took Lucas’ hand as he blindly stepped out, turned him to face the building, and told him to open his eyes.

He blinked several times to clear his vision, although darkness had now fallen as it was after midnight local time, before his gaze swept over the impressive façade of the hotel that was illuminated elegantly. As he did so, the butterflies in my stomach took hold of my intestines and tied them in knots. By the time he turned to me, I found I was holding my breath.

“You remembered,” he whispered so quietly I could barely hear him, and I could have been mistaken, but he appeared to be fighting back tears.

I nodded mutely, not trusting my ability to speak. I’d hoped that visiting Paris, the city his mother had longed to visit but hadn’t got chance to before her untimely death, would be a fitting tribute to her on the anniversary of her death and another step on Lucas’ healing journey—and a well-earned break for him on his birthday. But the potential consequences if I’d got it wrong were unthinkable. My lungs began to burn slightly but I still couldn’t breathe. That was quickly sorted when Lucas pulled me into a huge bear hug, crushing my lungs and expelling the breath that I’d been unable to exhale.

We stood there, molded to each other for several minutes, Lucas’ arms feeling like bands of iron around me, and I knew that he was fighting a myriad of emotions and memories. I just hoped that Joseph and I had got it right and that we weren’t expecting too much of him too soon. I felt him begin to relax and before long he was almost sagging against me. I began to feel relieved that my plan wouldn’t be a total disaster but then he exhaled heavily—the longest, most heart-wrenching sigh that I’ve ever heard and I knew he was being pushed completely out of his comfort zone.

A polite cough alerted us to the fact that the chauffeur and the doorman were both waiting patiently, having taken our bags from the limo. We pulled apart and I told the chauffeur that I’d call him when we needed him before we followed the doorman into the luxurious hotel. I felt anxious as we checked in and followed the porter up to Le Royal Monceau Suite and not even the expansive, exquisitely decadent suite with its extravagant custom made furniture and the beautiful array of artwork adorning the walls could distract me. I needed to know how Lucas was coping. I began to silently curse myself for pushing him too far, thinking that a trip to Paris would have been enough for him at any time, but just too much on the anniversary of his mother’s death.

As Lucas generously tipped the porter, I grasped our overnight bags and took them from the almost palatial living/dining room through into a spacious walk-in closet.

“Hey, I’ll do that,” said Lucas as he joined me. He was smiling but he still looked far from relaxed and I knew it was far too soon for jet lag from the eight-hour flight to have kicked in. After all, it may be after midnight in Paris but it was only evening in New York.

I returned his smile. “That’s okay. I’m going to hang up our clothes and there’s not much to unpack really. The beauty of staying in a place like this is that room service is available at any hour. You must be hungry.”

He placed his hands on my hips and pulled me into him. “Oh I am. Very hungry. It would be a shame to waste any time we have in this beautiful suite . . . in this beautiful bed . . .”

I raised an eyebrow. “So no more of this delayed gratification business then?”

His glossy, dark eyes twinkled in the bright halogen lights. “There’s only one way to find out, missy.”

Before I could react, he swept me up and threw me over his shoulder. He marched to the bed with me playfully giggling and squealing. I was so happy and relieved that he wasn’t upset with me, I didn’t care what we did. And after all, time spent in bed with Lucas was the stuff that dreams were made of . . . and I’m not talking about sleeping!

Half an hour later, I was face up on the bed—naked, bound and ready to change my mind. I hadn’t even known he’d brought any of his ‘toolkit’ with him. My breasts were roped in an intricate design that looked like a cupless bra and made them even firmer to the touch. They stood out from my body as large globe-shaped nerve centers . . . well that’s how they felt. The slightest touch of his fingers was magnified a thousand times. My nipples were permanently peaked to perfection, the areolas had darkened to a dusky pink and even his breath across them made me shiver.

My wrists were roped individually to the ends of a length of silky rope, the center of which was passed around the headboard so I had a little room to move my arms but not much. The same fate was bestowed on my ankles. Lucas then showed me a pretty looking piece of hair jewelry—or so I thought. It was a silver clip with a diamond encrusted heart charm that dangled from it, catching the light and dazzling my eyes, although it was only quite tiny. I soon found that it was indeed a clip but it wasn’t for my hair! I felt his fingers parting my labia and I reveled in his gentle touch for a few seconds as he lightly stroked my clitoris. I lifted my hips off the bed slightly as a sigh escaped my lips, only to be followed by a shriek as I experienced a sharp pinch. I tried to press my thighs together but the rope pulled tight on my ankles after I’d only moved them a few inches.

I heard Lucas chuckle as he rose to lean over my torso. I glared at him and demanded to know why he’d pinched me so meanly. He chuckled again before saying, “I didn’t pinch you. I simply placed a clitoris clip on you. Now don’t overreact, I’ll bet you can’t even feel it now.”

A clitoris clip? So that’s what that is! Oh! I didn’t even know such things existed. “I can feel it—it’s not so sharp a pain now but I can bloody well still feel it, Lucas.”

He bent and took a nipple in his mouth. He sucked. Hard. And then, as he released, he allowed it to slip through the narrow space between his teeth so they grazed it firmly. I hissed in a breath as another sharp pain flew from my breast to my vagina. I opened my mouth to berate him some more but he put his finger over my parted lips and said, “How does your clitoris feel now?”

I closed my eyes, ignored the sharp tingling of my nipple and concentrated on my pussy. It felt warm. Swollen. Ready. Needy. And wet. Oh! My clit was no longer stinging, it felt as though it was throbbing gently, just as it did when he rubbed or tongued it. Oh my!

I flicked my eyes open to tell him but, infuriatingly, he was smiling his cocky, smirky grin. Oh yeah, he knew exactly how it was feeling. “Now would you just trust me, Issy?”

I rolled my eyes. “Lucas, I’m lying naked on a hotel bed, trussed up and restrained with you wreaking havoc on my body. And I’m doing so willingly, so don’t question my trust in you. You’re more experienced in these matters than I am, you just have to give me time to adjust to new things, that’s all.”

I saw the corner of his mouth twitch. “Oh, I have to give you time, do I? Since when do you dictate the pace? It looks like you need reminding who’s in charge.”

My eyes widened involuntarily. Oh God. If Lucas decided to teach me a lesson, it was always mind blowing and physically demanding . . . and I mean, really demanding, pushing me past my limits although never exceeding his rule of safe, sane and consensual.

“I wasn’t challenging your authority, Sir,” I purred in an effort to placate him, but I saw from the twitch of his brow that he’d seen straight through it.

“No, you know better than to try to top from the bottom, don’t you?”

I’d learned that lesson early on. I briefly recalled not being able to sit down the following day. It was not a lesson I’d care to soon repeat.

“I do. I’m sorry, Sir. I agree to let You dictate the pace, as always.”

He nodded slightly. “Good. Hopefully I won’t have to gag you then.”

I hated the ball-gag. I was too vocal a person to be gagged—especially during sex. It was a useful threat to get me to be quiet. I’d begun to submit to him very quickly but I’d felt distracted with all of the anxiety of the trip and couldn’t quite switch off and let myself go. I closed my eyes and tried to force all thoughts from my mind.

“You won’t,” I whispered, wanting more than anything to please him.

He caressed the side of my face lovingly and I snuggled my face against his touch. I knew it was a gesture of approval from him and warmth spread through me. Instantly, my mental block lifted and it was just me and Him. I felt calm and at peace. I was ready.

I opened my eyes and found him carefully studying me. He gave an almost imperceptible nod and I knew that he’d recognized the transition too. He slipped a blindfold over my head and then I felt something trail across my midriff. It felt soft and made me twitch in a ticklish way. Up, in between my breasts, over the rope it went. Across my collar bone and around my jawline. And then another one was running up the front of my thigh. Feathers!

He knew how ticklish I was, and so how hard I’d have to strive to remain immobile. Then each breast was caressed with the feathers. Then a pause. Then another feathery onslaught. Then a pause. Then . . . Slap! He’d slapped my breasts! My eyes flew open under the blindfold as my nipples smarted, and the lightning bolt that shot between my legs made me want to squirm. Then the feathers were back, soothing and caressing—no longer feeling tickly. Then they stopped and I braced myself mentally, but then the feathers resumed. Then another pause before they resumed. I relaxed into it, and at the next pause—slap! Slap! He’d brought his hand across my nipples and then reversed it, slapping them on the backstroke too. I felt my pussy clench in reflex.

I waited for the feathers to resume but instead I felt sharp pinches on both of my nipples. Insistent pinches that I’d learned belonged to nipple clamps. Oh how I loved the flood of sensation when they were removed and the blood flow resumed. That made me think of the clitoris clip. I wondered whether that would have the same effect. God only knew how that would feel.

I felt a flick on my clitoris and, for a second, thought I’d imagined it thinking about the clip, but then I felt the little nub being massaged gently. A low moan escaped my lips and the rubbing increased slightly in tempo and intensity. I felt his teeth, nipping gently along my inner thigh, getting slowly higher and higher. A burning intensity began to grow inside me. I felt pressure building in my lower abdomen and in my thighs, just as his mouth was running out of thigh. My thighs and buttocks tensed as my orgasm built and then . . .

“Don’t come,” he instructed.

What? Oh hell! I fought to control my impending release, breathing deeply and focusing all of my attention away from my clitoris. And still he massaged it. I found myself pulling against my restraints with all four limbs and I knew my face was contorted with the effort of controlling the near uncontrollable.

“Don’t come,” he repeated firmly.

I opened my mouth to retort that I was doing my best but I couldn’t risk losing focus. I breathed deeply, sounding like a Derby winning racehorse as it crossed the line. My whole body was fighting against me, demanding release and, just as I thought I’d lose the battle, he stilled. Relief that I wasn’t going to fail him washed over me but then I felt pressure on my clit and I had to recommence my breathing exercises as my orgasm once more fought to conquer me. I managed to keep it at bay but then the most indescribable sensation gripped my clitoris, followed by an incredible throbbing and I knew he’d released the clip.

Breathe! Breathe, dammit! My lungs burned as I forced down a lungful of air. My hips wanted to buck off the bed but I forced them down.

“Don’t you dare come until I tell you,” Lucas warned.

A string of expletives and insults threatened to pass through my lips but I gritted my teeth and concentrated on dragging air into my lungs. Every muscle and sinew was stretched to breaking point. Every inch of my body was on fire. Then I felt his hand on my breast. Don’t you dare release those clamps! I knew I couldn’t take any more.

I felt his breath on my neck. “Good girl,” he whispered, his tone filled with pride. And it was somehow easier to get myself under control. I lay, feeling like I’d been washed up, shipwrecked on an island somewhere, my skin soaking wet and my muscles aching. I felt spent and I hadn’t even come. Wordlessly, he began to gently massage the muscles of each of my aching limbs but he didn’t unfasten the restraints.

“Is that better?” he murmured, his lips against my neck.

“Mmm, much,” I managed, feeling that I could drift off to sleep.

“Good,” he replied. Belatedly, I noted his wicked tone and, just as it registered, felt him plunge his finger inside me.

The abrupt invasion sent shockwaves through my body, making me gasp. My eyes flew open and my brain was forming its protest but before my mouth could verbalize it, I heard him say, “It would be pointless to object, my love. Not when I can feel those muscles clenching around my finger. Clamping it. Wanting it. Needing it.”

To illustrate the point, he began to move the tip of his finger, flicking it against the most sensitive of places. Instantly, my vaginal muscles seized his finger in a vice-like grip, my ass pressing down into the soft mattress.

I heard his sharp intake of breath and lifted my head in response. He looked from his stilled hand to my face, an expression of what could only be described as awe on his face. “Fuck! I love how firmly you can grip my finger . . . or my cock,” he whispered, sending a thrill of delight through me from head to toe.

He began to softly stroke my g-spot again but leaned forward so that his face was inches from mine and growled, “That is one beautifully tight pussy. And what I love most of all is that it’s mine. All mine.”

I whimpered as his lips came crashing down on mine. His devouring kiss was hard and possessive yet it left me feeling all warm and gooey inside. I belonged to this man. I was his. Blissfully his.

His talented finger was joined by another and they began to stroke more rapidly. The soft warmth I’d felt inside became a raging inferno as I writhed against my restraints. “Mine,” he hissed as his gaze bored into mine. “Yours,” I panted as my orgasm strove for release.

I felt his teeth on my earlobe then, through my moans and cries as I teetered on the brink, I heard him say, “You do not have permission to come.”

What? Nooooooo! Not again!

My lungs burned as I attempted to breathe deeply and control my impending orgasm. I forced my mind to picture a waterfall and then imagined huge stone blocks being stacked on the edge, forming a dam to block the flow of water. Gradually, as I pictured the flow being stemmed, my body stopped bucking and writhing and I was able to take deep, calming breaths more easily. I began to think of the sights in Paris that I’d like to take in during our fleeting visit—a good distraction from what that man was doing to my body. I barely felt his lips on my ear but I heard what he whispered loud and clear. “Come for me, Issy. Give it up for me, now.”

Confusion fogged my brain for a second or two then I opened my mouth to protest, to inform him that I couldn’t come now because I’d just fought hard to prevent release but before I could summon the words, I felt my vaginal muscles clench around his fingers and instantly my body convulsed. What followed was beyond anything I’d ever experienced. My mind, as well as my body, felt that it would explode. Pressure and intense sensations that were indescribable grew rapidly until I thought that I could take no more. Every muscle, no—every fiber—of my being felt that it was at breaking point. It must only have been for seconds but it felt like an age . . . and it felt that it would never end. Blood pounded in my ears as I pulled against my restraints, desperately trying to escape the torture that was being inflicted on my very being. I was no longer aware of what Lucas was doing—indeed, whether he was still present. But then suddenly, and blissfully, I found release.

My mind soared into an ecstatic state that I could never describe with any degree of accuracy. I just wouldn’t be able to find the words. I imagine it must be somewhat alike to being high on drugs. For what might have been seconds or even minutes, I simply felt wonderful. Warm, carefree and relaxed—as if I was sunbathing on a tropical paradise. Yes, I was on a natural high and I had no wish to come back down. But gradually, I floated back to reality and found myself in Lucas’ arms. I kept my eyes closed but I could feel his muscular frame and the rise and fall of his chest. Then I could smell his cologne . . . no more than that—I could smell his unique scent that nowadays I’d come to think of as the smell of being home.

I realized how tired I was when I tried to open my eyes. My lids were incredibly heavy, as if I was waking from an anesthetic. “Hey, beautiful. Are you okay?” Lucas whispered as I felt his lips on my forehead.

“Mmmm,” was all I managed. Then I slept.

I awoke early the next morning—well, it felt very early as my head was still on NY time but, when I managed to sneak a look at my wristwatch without disturbing Lucas, I was shocked to find that it was actually approaching mid-morning local time. I was torn—not knowing whether I should wake him or let him sleep. Then I remembered—it was his birthday! He needed to be awoken in style so I crept under the covers, opened my mouth and . . .

“What do you think you’re doing? Hmm?” I could hear the amusement in his voice and I cursed silently for not realizing that he was awake.

“I was about to wish you happy birthday. I thought you were still sleeping,” I murmured as I prepared to take him into my mouth but I was frustrated when he slid his hips a few inches to the side, taking him away from me.

“So you thought you’d help yourself?”

“No. I simply couldn’t help myself.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because you’re irresistible, Lucas Hunter. And because I thought you’d enjoy being awakened with my mouth around you. It’s your birthday and I wanted it to be special from start to finish.”

I felt arms around my midriff and then I was lifted onto his chest. “Oh Issy, today will be special from start to finish. It’s special already. Because you’re here with me, making it my best birthday ever regardless of whether it rains all day or we sleep all day. Whether we’re in Paris, New York or in the middle of nowhere. If you’re by my side, it will be like no birthday I’ve ever had and more than I could ever have dreamed of.”

I felt tears threatening to erupt from my eyes. I knew that he’d never had a birthday like most children do. That he’d spent his adult birthdays alone, torturing himself with blame for the loss of his mother. I was so choked with emotion at his words that I couldn’t speak so I simply hugged him tighter.

“I have so much to thank you for, Issy. Today I feel that I can celebrate my birthday. I can feel glad to be alive. I can think of the mother who gave birth to me, yet I didn’t get to meet. I never had the chance to make her proud of me. I didn’t get to feel her love and protection. And I never felt I had the right to mourn her loss either because I hadn’t known her or because I felt at fault. Both probably.

“But because of you forcing me to confront my demons instead of wallowing in pity and lies, I’m here in Paris where my mother always wanted to be and I feel that I can honor her memory—even if my own memories are non-existent—I can pay tribute to the woman who I knew chose not to end my life to save her own, showing what a fiercely protective mother she was . . . and what a feisty, determined character she had. I can thank her for the love she showed me as I grew inside her. And I can promise to make her proud of me by being the person I think she’d want her son to be. And I can do that now. And I will do it. I’ll do it with you by my side, every step of the way because you are my strength and my courage. You are the light to my dark. The calm to my storm. My safe harbor. And I love you more than you’ll ever know.”

“I love you too,” I whispered, finding I couldn’t stem the tears any longer and they flowed down my cheeks and onto his chest until he lifted my chin and kissed them away. What followed was the gentlest, sweetest lovemaking that I’d never believed possible and left me floating on air with a warmth in my heart as we eventually sauntered down to breakfast, hand in hand and still wrapped up in each other. Although technically it was lunch as it was well past midday by then.

After the most mouth-wateringly gorgeous lunch of truite arc-en-ciel, légumes de saison et gnocchi à la parisienne au beurre d’herbes (rainbow trout, seasonal vegetables and Parisian gnocchi with herb butter) we set off to see some of the famous sights of Paris. I had a secret mission that I wished to complete but it turned out that it didn’t go as I’d planned. Not at all.

We began our tour on foot along the Champs-Elysées to see the iconic Arc de Triomphe. Next we were picked up by our chauffeur and taken to the Paris Fashion Museum—these were all attractions that had been on his mother’s list, according to his maid. I marveled that he was able to remember them after all this time but then I imagined that he had clung on to every little detail that he’d learned about her. Lucas was prepared to be bored rigid as we entered, but wanted to look around in honor of his mother. However, he was soon as caught up in the seemingly endless creations from the eighteenth century to the present day as I was. He was fascinated by the structure of some garments and when I enquired why, he just grinned wickedly and said he was always on the lookout for creative bondage ideas.

We were then taken via the Eiffel Tower to the Notre Dame, something I wasn’t too bothered about seeing, but I knew his mother had been, and it was very near to the secret location I’d planned to be the end of the day’s tour. I’d scheduled the art museums, including the Louvre and the d’Orsay, until the following morning before we returned home. They were the venues that Lucas and I really wanted to see but, on his birthday it was all about his mother. Well, almost.

As the still warm sun began to descend, we managed to tick off the last item from his mother’s Paris itinerary. We sat outside a pavement café and ordered a traditional rustic French dinner with plenty of good French wine. As our food was delivered, Lucas raised his glass and proposed a toast to the memory of his mother. We drank to her memory, feeling proud that we’d managed to do something positive and enjoyable on the anniversary of her death.

As Lucas replaced his glass on the table, his eyes were on mine. I smiled but his face clouded over for an instant and then he quickly averted his gaze. He looked distinctly uncomfortable, anxious even. I began to panic that the day had been more difficult for him than I’d realized. That perhaps I’d pushed him too far after all. I scrutinized his face as he appeared to be staring into the distance, looking for any sign of his state of mind. Abruptly, his eyes flicked to mine and, for some reason, I felt embarrassed to be caught looking at him. I quickly looked away, almost knocking over my wine as I grabbed blindly for it. I felt unsettled as I drained my glass. I’d thought it was all going so well. Maybe I should have known better.

Ever the gentleman, he refilled my glass then charged his own and raised it once again. “Thank you, my darling. This has been the best birthday present that I could ever have imagined. I’ve been able to celebrate it in one of the most beautiful cities in the world with the most beautiful lady in the world whilst honoring the memory of another beautiful lady. The one who gave me life. But you’re the one who gave me the will to live, really live. So here’s to you, Issy. And to us. And to many, many blissfully happy years together.”

I raised my glass and felt my cheeks color. I happily drank to our happy future but I still hadn’t got used to receiving compliments from the man I loved—it was still a very unfamiliar concept and was taking some getting used to.

As we ate our meal, I felt more relaxed than I’d done in days. Since I first proposed the idea of the secret Parisian break to Joseph a few weeks before, I’d been tempted to cancel it more often than not. Sitting there just chilling, at the end of a wonderful day that had been very much in honor of his mother was a very satisfying feeling for me. Heaven only knew how it felt for Lucas. Barring his momentary lapse at the beginning of the meal, he’d seemed to enjoy the day. I hoped it marked the dawn of a new era for Lucas and that he’d be able to celebrate his birthday every year, although they would always be tinged with melancholy caused by the absence of his mother.

It was time to turn the focus to Lucas’ birthday properly but, as I stood, I realized that I’d drunk more than I probably should have. Grasping the table to steady myself, I cursed inwardly because I really needed to be sober for what I was about to do.

“Whoops,” chuckled Lucas, looking so relaxed and, if it were possible, even more gorgeous than usual. “I think it must be time to return to the hotel. Where’s the limo? Do we need to call the driver?”

“Let’s have a little walk along the Seine first,” I suggested, tilting my head to one side and smiling seductively, knowing that my plans depended upon him saying yes. I’d arranged for the limo to be waiting for us on the other side of the river.

“You’ll be lucky not to fall in, Little Miss Had-Too-Much-Vino.”

“Ah well, it’s a good job that my amazing man has strong arms and can save me then, isn’t it?” I giggled.

“Come on, you flatterer,” he chuckled. But he held out his arm for me to slip mine through his—I don’t think he’d ever take chances where my wellbeing was concerned.

We lazily made our way to a pretty arched bridge, officially called Pont de l’Archevêché but commonly referred to as Lovelock Bridge, which crossed the river. I’d managed to avoid making our short journey seem premeditated but it was far from it.

As began to cross, my feet slowed and I put my hand in my jacket pocket to check that my precious items hadn’t been lost during the day. I smiled as I saw Lucas studying the numerous padlocks that had been attached to the bridge’s railings by couples in a gesture of their undying love. I was just pulling the white gold, diamond encrusted, engraved heart shaped padlocks that I’d bought for that very purpose from my pocket when Lucas said, “Isn’t it a shame that these will all get removed at some point, probably sooner rather than later as I understand it.”

What?

“What do you mean?” I demanded, trying to remain calm.

He straightened and faced me. “Many locals don’t like them—they think they deface the bridge, and the other Parisian lovelock bridge, the Pont des Arts. There’s also the issue of damage to the structure caused by the weight of all the padlocks. I believe this bridge had the padlocks removed under mysterious circumstances overnight and without warning a few years ago but I’ve read that the issue is once again under consideration by the Parisian authorities because of the sheer volume of padlocks that now adorn it.”

“Oh,” was all I could manage.

Lucas reached out for my hand and, without thinking, I responded. Instantly, the padlocks fell from my open hand onto the bridge. He bent to pick them up and I saw his shoulders stiffen. He’d clearly realized what I’d been about to do. He gently picked them up but remained on his haunches and I guessed that he was regretting opening his mouth about the padlocks being removed. I raised my face up to the heavens, feeling awkward. I closed my eyes and cursed under my breath that something should go wrong after we’d had a fabulous day. I was about to tell him that it didn’t matter because it was a silly immature gesture anyway, and that he couldn’t have known what I’d planned but as I looked down, I found myself frozen to the spot.

Lucas was kneeling at my feet, well he was on one knee and he was holding the padlocks in his outstretched palm.

“My beloved, Issy. Declaring our undying love by attaching personalized padlocks to this bridge was a very beautiful and romantic gesture. I’m sorry I’ve gone and tainted it. You deserve better. Much better. Please forgive my tactlessness. I’d be honored if you’d proceed with your original plan and attach them to the railings. For all I know, they’ll still be here long after we’ve departed the planet—which, I hasten to add, will be in a very, very long time.”

He paused and shook his head, looking sheepish and uncertain. “I truly am sorry, Issy. I’m rubbish at this type of thing. Look, attach them there.” He pointed to a tiny space, next to where he was kneeling and when I hesitated, he said, “Please, Issy, or I’ll always remember this trip as the one where I spoiled your plans and let you down. Badly.”

“Oh Lucas, you haven’t let me down at all,” I whispered as I knelt beside him and paused to kiss him on the cheek. “You weren’t to know my plans. Let’s face it, it’s very unlike me to be so soppy and romantic. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

He shook his head slightly and smiled. “I’ll never know what I did to deserve you. I’m just hoping that it isn’t a mistake and that the cosmos doesn’t discover it and decide to take you away from me.”

Then he placed the padlocks in my hands, murmuring, “Please, Issy.”

I smiled, turned to the railings and attached the first of the heart-shaped locks that were engraved with our names and the date.

“You know, I’m not sure I should be doing this. I’d hate it if they were removed although, hopefully, if they are taken away in our lifetime, we’ll not hear of it. If they’re to represent our everlasting love then they should be everlasting,” I mused as I attached the second lock to the railing.

“Well, I can’t promise you that. But I can promise you that this will be.”

I frowned and turned my head to see what he meant. I gasped when I saw he was holding out a velvet-lined ring box, his eyes locking onto mine the second my eyes flicked from the elegant diamond solitaire on a plain white gold band to his face.

“Lucas . . . but . . . oh my God.”

Instantly his face clouded over. “Just hear me out. I know we’ve never talked about it and I, for one, never thought I’d find anyone I’d want to marry, but then I found you. You who came into my life and knocked the stuffing out of me, making me feel things that I’d never known possible. Making me face up to the fact that I was existing and not living. And making me seek help for the train wreck that was my formative years. I know the past few months haven’t exactly been easy for either of us but we got through it. We got through it because we were meant to. Please don’t look so scared. I need you, Issy, and I want to spend every single moment that I can with you. I know we don’t need rings or certificates to do that but, for some unfathomable reason, you becoming Mrs. Hunter, matters to me. Or you could be Mrs. Prince-Hunter—”

I laughed and shook my head. “I don’t need to be Mrs. Prince-Hunter. I’ve found my prince.”

His earnest expression almost melted my heart when he said, “But you’ll consider it? Please, Issy. God, I’ve never been as nervous as I feel now, and considering that a few months ago someone had a gun pressed to my head, that’s saying something. I was going to ask you over dinner but I was too afraid that you’d say no, or worse, that I’d frighten you off.”

So that’s what was wrong with him! It wasn’t that the day was too much for him, it was nerves about proposing!

I felt such a rush of affection for him. My dominant alpha had been afraid to ask me to marry him because he was worried that I’d turn him down. I shook my head in disbelief of that fact but then I saw a hurt expression cross his face and realized that he’d misinterpreted the gesture.

I let go of the padlock and cupped his face with my hands. “You don’t have to explain. I know how you feel and I know how I feel. Of course I’ll marry you, Lucas. I’d be honored to be Mrs. Isobella Hunter—” I saw his eyebrows almost hit his hairline so I explained. “You’ve helped to heal my own mental wounds, Lucas. I’ve been thinking about how you’re facing up to your past and that I should do the same. My parents named me Isobella because that’s what they wanted me to be called and I finally feel mature enough for such a grown up name. More importantly, thanks to you, I’ve healed enough to be able to realize that I can’t allow negative things from my childhood to spoil my present or my future. I have to let it go and move on, just as you’re doing. You gave me the strength to do that and there’s no way I’m letting go of you. Together we’re stronger.”

He nodded and wiped away the tear escaping down my cheek. “We are indeed. And when we’re joined together as man and wife, we’ll be unbreakable. So name the date, beautiful. For me, the sooner, the better.”

I laughed. “But these things take time.” I saw his eyebrows take flight again and put my finger across his lips to prevent him from protesting. “Lucas, if you want it done properly, it will take time to arrange. Lately, your every move is featured in a gossip column somewhere. You have to do it right because it will be splashed all over the celebrity pages.”

He grunted. “I don’t give a toss about what others think. You’ll have exactly what you want. I’ll wait a little . . . but not too long. I want a ring on your finger as soon as it can be arranged.”

I grinned. “Speaking of which, do you want to put that beauty on my finger now? I’m sure you can be satisfied with that for a while. I’ve never considered getting married so I have no idea what it is that I want but I want it to be special. Something that we’ll never forget.”

“Issy, we could be wearing rags, standing in the middle of nowhere and it would be unforgettable for me. But we’ll do whatever makes you happy.”

He kissed me gently as he slipped the solitaire on my ring finger. It fitted perfectly, but then it would—I wouldn’t put it past him to have measured my finger as I slept.

When our lips finally slipped apart, I looked down at my left hand and almost gasped at the beauty of the expertly cut diamond that glinted elegantly, even though the evening light was now fading fast.

He might have been joking about being in the middle of nowhere but I quite liked the idea of a secluded setting for our wedding. Goodness only knew where. Perhaps a tropical beach on a tiny island. Or an ancient stone castle on a wee Scottish island. Oh, but New York was so beautiful and I could think of so many perfect places to tie the knot. As we continued hand in hand over the bridge to meet the chauffeur, my mind went into overdrive. I’d never had a party thrown in my honor, and neither had Lucas. We’d both been denied lavish birthday parties, even for our significant birthdays, I hid a smile when I realized that he might have to wait a little longer than he’d planned. Marrying this man was going to be the biggest day of my life and I wanted everything to be perfect. I just didn’t know what perfect consisted of yet. And so he’d just have to wait . . .