A soft caress trailing from the tip of my shoulder towards the arch of my back woke me up. I groaned and slowly turned on my backside, but halted as warm hand wrapped around my naked torso. His bulging bicep tighten when I tried to wiggle out of his hold. I chuckled at the poor attempt.
“You can’t escape from me that easily,” Julian whispered huskily by my ear. His warm breath made me shudder with delight.
“Who said I’m making an escape?” I challenged and nudged his arm so that I could turn and finally look at him.
His ruffled hair and blue eyes made him ungodly beautiful in the morning. And from the growing grin on his face, I hope I looked manageable for I’m sure my wild hair was all over the place. To answer my unspoken remark, Julian reached out and tucked a stray hair away from my face.
“Good morning, gorgeous.” He sweetly greeted and lightly planted a kiss on my bare arm.
“Good morning to you too, handsome,” I beamed. “Are you not ready to get out of bed?” I asked when he still continued to lock me in his embrace.
He shook his head and childishly buried his face on my chest. I held my breath for a moment at his close proximity to my raging heart. But he only found it amusing.
“I’m not ready to share you to the world yet. Can we have a few minutes? Or an hour or two?” His words were a bit muffled.
I smiled but kept my voice stern. It's a good thing he wasn’t looking at me right now. My expression might have gave me away. “No. You already have your extra hours last night.”
Julian laughed, making me more aware of our position. I’m not sure if I could take another round. He’s insatiable last night. It might have something to do about the month we’ve worked overtime and came back to the apartment exhausted. At one point, Julian tried to seduce me, but he ended up embarrassing himself. He got knocked out before he could take off his pants. It was difficult not to tease him about it, so I kept it to a minimum. However, now, things had died down a bit as the planning neared its final stage. The groundbreaking for the new hotel resort was months away. So we both took off early from work yesterday and emptied this weekend for ourselves. Yet not completely empty - to his dismay.
“Julian, we can’t stay here in bed all morning. Though we have the weekend off, I couldn’t move that charity gala we’re supposed to attend this afternoon. We’ve been guest listed on it before we planned to take this weekend off,” I informed.
His answering groaned was uncharacteristic of him. But it was another part of him I’ve yet to know. Even if we’ve been dating for nearly a year now, I still find new things about Julian that I’ve never seen. One of it was his childish sounds and expression he makes around me whenever I nagged him. Though I know it was a playful reaction to amuse me, but it had become a new habit of his instead.
I chuckled at his response and nudge him again to move. “Come on, Julian. If we’ll miss this, I promise you’ll be sleeping in the guest room. If not, I will.” I nonchalantly threaten.
“Don’t even think about sleeping somewhere else without me,” He muttered in defeat and finally let go. “Fine. Let’s go. But after that, for the rest of the evening you’re mine, understood?” He firmly ordered.
I grinned coyly and playfully gave him a salute. “Sir, yes, sir!”
Julian rolled his eyes and got out of the bed stark naked. I got an eyeful before gasping like a school girl. “Put some clothes on Julian!” I yelled in disbelief before throwing a shirt in his direction.
But he wasn’t ashamed at all of his nakedness. His boisterous laughter echoed in the room. “I know you like seeing me naked.” He teased between chortled and exited towards the bathroom.
He left me speechless and flushed. Sometimes the man I love can be childish and a handful. Yet I won’t have him any other way.
Approaching the charity gala in the afternoon, Julian and I looked nowhere near as carefree as we were this morning. We were more clothed, poised and elegant with attires that used to make my jaw dropped when I checked the price tag. Nevertheless, I still haven’t gotten used to it. But I learned not to look at the price and appreciate Julian for the time and money he spent to make me feel beautiful.
“Though you look gorgeous with anything you wear, you’re beside me now, so I want to make you even more beautiful for my own selfish vanity,” he once remarked when I refused to take a designer dress for a previous event.
After that, I allow him to buy me expensive dresses as long as he had personally picked it himself. He taught it was a fair deal.
Now as I stood by the mirror, fixing my over the shoulder, red, chiffon evening gown, I was still in awe of myself. Dressed up with my hair immaculately curled in waves, my lips matching my dress color, and shoes, I looked nothing like the woman this morning. But the eyes that stared right back at me were the same shade of hazel brown. It was still me, but someone different and elegant.
Studying silently behind me, Julian walked right up and made me turn to greet him. My breath was caught in my throat when I saw his attire. The feeling was like that first time I’ve met him. His neat black tuxedo made him look more beddable when he was walking naked in our bedroom this morning. I had to clear my throat to regain some of my sanity.
“Zoey, you look so beautiful.” He was the first to break the heavy tension in the air. “I made the right choice with that dress. I’m glad Kyla was there with me.” He admitted, hinting me on one of his shopping partners. I’m sure he was clueless about picking dresses before I actually challenged him to do it himself.
“Well, I’m glad Kyla made the right choice,” I teased and gave a twirl so he’ll see the low back as well.
From his sharp intake of breath, he hadn’t missed it. “Goodness, I thought that wasn’t too low. Now I have to keep you with me at all times.”
“So you like it that much, huh?” I asked with a coy grin.
Julian shorten the distance between us until he wrapped me around his embrace, his cool fingers trailed my bare back as he did this morning. It sends a shiver down my spine, making me grip his arm.
“I like it. But it’s going to be a problem,” he whispered close to my ear as he continued caressing up and down my back. His finger edging near towards dangerous territory. “How should I manage this?” He asked.
I let out a ragged breath and tightened my grip on Julian’s arm as his finger finally rested on the nape of my behind. He leaned back and with his free hand, caressed my cheeks before planting a soft kiss on my lips. I close my eyes at the sensual feeling. For once, I was grateful for the inventions of long-lasting lipstick – no matter how much it cost. Because without it after this kiss, the evidence would be clear. We haven’t even left the apartment yet and Julian had already pounced on me. Then so help me god, I hope I’m going to last for the rest of the day.
After prying Julian away, we finally managed to head down the lobby where Jeffrey was already outside waiting in the car. Our drive to the venue was quiet, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. There just no words to say at the moment and our linked hands did most of the talking. Julian’s gentle massage on the back of my hand with his thumb was soothing. It was one of the things he’d done whenever we were on our way to a public event with paparazzi and reporters are present. A year of being around all of that hadn’t lightened my nerves yet. And Julian had been kind, considerate, and patient with me. He always made sure I was comfortable and safe. But I knew in my heart, as long as he was there, I will be fine.
When we arrived, we were greeted with flashing cameras. Since it was still bright out, the intrusive lights were manageable. Per usual, I gripped Julian’s hand an allowed him to guide me towards the long red carpet while I stood straight with a fixed smile on my face. There was nothing new about the expression. I’ve always had my business smile on whenever I faced Julian’s peers at the office before escorting them to the conference room or Julian’s office.
And beside me, Julian was Julian, in the public eye. But to me, I knew he was also hiding behind a face. Right now, he was Julian Hawksley, CEO of Hawksley Holding Inc. in the Chicago branch. Even like this, he was still the man I love. And this Julian was someone I admired and respected. Standing beside him before was difficult. Since a year ago when Rufus Fletcher – Julian’s previous secretary – hired me, I never knew what I was getting myself into. After that, he kept reminding me and showed me that I did have a right to stand o n his side. My confidence hadn't wavered since then.
The other reason I had a right to stand beside him in public was I’m also his lover. After that ever controversial article his ex, Grace, printed on the news, and then Kyla’s counter-attack with another article, it was such a modern way of announcing to the world we were official and exclusively dating. Though everyone important in our lives already knows, to have it plainly print out in the paper for the everyone to read was near maddening. I didn’t know if it would die down. But it did after a few months. Then it faded some more when they saw our relationship wasn’t for show. People just lost interest generally, though they still wonder from time to time. And most recently, more had been wondering if we were in it for the long run.
I snapped out of my stupor and concentrated on the current on-goings of the charity gala. I was made aware some more when Julian kept his arm tightly wrapped around my back. He hid as much of my bare skin as he can, while talking to one of the reports in the venue. After the reporter had gotten most of his business question out of Julian, with me standing mostly silent beside him, the person couldn’t help it.
“So, should we expect wedding bells in the near future? You and Ms. Curtis have been dating for a while now,” the reporter asked with interest.
I stiffly smiled at the man. Not really in the mood of answering any personal questions, even if it’s the only one directly asked of me.
But Julian was in a streak and answered him. “Maybe. I don’t see why not.” He vaguely replied.
I peered at him in the corner of my eyes, begging him to stop talking. But he hadn’t caught my stare and continued his conversation with the reporter.
“Oh! So, you have already proposed to Ms. Curtis?” the reported look at me in surprise as his eyes scanned my bare finger. “I see no ring.” He sadly pointed.
“Well, no, I haven’t. But hearing your disappointment, you made me feel bad that I hadn’t put any ring on my lovely girlfriend yet,” Julian said with a chuckle.
I scoffed and finally nudge him. “Stop saying nonsense, Julian. Or you’ll regret whatever you said here.” I muttered and glared at the reporter.
The man took a step back as a sign of apology, but he hadn’t hinted he was going anywhere just yet.
Julian leaned close to my ears and whispered, “I won’t regret it.”
I inclined to see his expression. But he already had his poker face on as he finally addressed the reporter. “Would that be all of your questions, sir? Because my date and I would love to enjoy the gala now as long as we can.” Julian asked.
The reporter nodded in defeat, seeing Julian's firm expression, and allowed Julian and I to get away from his clutches. If he had the guts, he should have grilled Julian and me for juicier gossip. But I didn’t have much time to contemplate when I noticed that Julian had guided us towards a corridor leading away from the event.
In confusion, I finally bothered to ask. “Where are we going? The party is over there.”
“We’re leaving now.” He briefly replied.
“Leaving? But we just got here! You can’t be serious, Julian. I didn’t put on this dress, wear make-up, do my hair just so I could attend a high class charity gala for only fifteen minutes or so,” I rumbled on as he continued guiding me further and further away from the party.
When he didn’t reply, I asked again. But this time with more authority. “Julian, where are you taking me?”
Finally, I got through him. Though he wasn’t happy. “Just allow me to take charge for tonight. Just this once.”
“How could I when you suddenly dragged me away like a kidnapper?” I argued.
“If I was going to kidnap you, I would have done this…” he trailed off as he suddenly ducked down and wrapped his arm around the back of my knee then hoisted me up on his shoulder.
I yelped in surprise and covered my mouth in fear someone, especially a reporter with a camera, might see us in such a scandalous state. I lightly slapped his arm in annoyance. “Julian put me down. Don't you dare man-handle me! What the heck has gotten into you?”
Julian sighed heavily yet didn’t show any signs of letting me go. I peered around the empty hallways, both relieved and curious as to why there were no people around. At least a staff would be walking around this hall towards the event. But no soul was in sight.
When we reached the back of the hotel venue, he finally let me down for me. I didn't have time to scold him some more when I saw the view in front of me. I covered my mouth and gasped at the Michigan river over the horizon. The sun was just setting, giving a silhouette of the city across the river.
“Julian, this is beautiful. You don’t have to drag me here without a word. You could have said something…” I muttered, my voice soft as I was still mesmerized by the view.
Behind me, I hadn’t noticed Julian was already on his knees. He cleared his throat so that I turned and faced him.
If I thought the view would bring me to tears, but the sight of Julian on his knees with a ring made my eyes watery. The warm droplets dampen my cheeks. So I lightly tapped them away to make sure my mascara won’t run. God forbid I’ll look like a witch when I’m being proposed to.
Julian chuckled, smiling from ear to ear like he had won the most important price that no one else could achieve in the world.
“Zoey, I have planned this moment many times, over and over my head. I thought of ways on how to ask you. I even considered it when we had gone away to the Bahamas. But I thought it wasn’t the right moment yet. But today, though I hate to say how the reporter said it, he was right. I shouldn’t be thinking. I should have listened to my heart. Maybe that’s why I always kept this ring with me at all times. Because I know I had been ready. And there is no such thing as the right time. I’m yours for the rest of my life." He paused to open the content of the box.
"Will you marry me?”
I choked back my tears, trying not to ruin the moment with my cries. But the continuous stream on my cheeks betrayed me. So before I start wailing with tears of joy, I replied, “Yes.”
Without a second thought, Julian envelop me in his embrace. Letting me cry and stain his expensive suit. But it didn’t matter to him. For this moment, all the mattered is our love. And I love him with all my heart.
Thank you so much, everyone, for reading and supporting this book, and the series. You all had been such a patient and charming group of people. All of your comments really does warm my heart, especially reading how you enjoyed these characters. Again, thank you.
Also, for those asking and wondering, yes, this book is part of a series. And I'm already working on the next book. Both the title, cover, and plot reveal will be posted soon on my social media accounts: link in bio. If you want to know who will be the main characters of the next book, I will post it soon. Possibly within the week.
Until then, Happy reading! Have a lovely day everyone!