“Ugh, you and your annoying need to be secretive,” I grumble as we make our way into the heart of New York City. Aaron and I sit side by side in the subway that takes us to an at least to me unknown destination. I throw him a sideways glare and cross my arms over my chest.
Aaron places his arm around my shoulder with a chuckle. Pulling me into him, he plants a soft kiss on the top of my head. “I just love that look on your face when you realize what an amazing man I am to come up with the best ideas.”
I snort. “Amazing? Conceited is more like it.” But because I can’t be annoyed with him for long, I snuggle up to him and wrap my arms around his torso.
Our little moment is cut short, though, by an attention-seeking wail. Of course, Aaron lets go of me at once to take our fellow traveler out of her stroller.
“What’s wrong, baby girl?” he asks with a frown, and our daughter, Paisley, doesn’t hesitate to throw her little arms around his neck.
The sight of the two of them always makes my heart flutter. I never thought I could feel that much love just by looking at two people. Well, not any two people—the two most important people in my life. I already fell hard for Aaron right after we met five years ago, but ever since our daughter was born, I’ve been falling in love with both of them every day anew, and harder every day. It doesn’t even matter that we are at Paisley’s bidding. She is only seven months old but undeniably the boss—at least of her dad.
I raise my eyebrows at them. “You do know that she’s got you wrapped around her little finger, don’t you?”
Aaron barks out a laugh. “She does not!” He gives me a look that shows exactly how preposterous he thinks my remark is before he turns back to Paisley. “You do not. Right, baby girl? Tell your momma she’s being ridiculous.”
As if on cue, Paisley gives Aaron her widest grin and babbles some unintelligible words, which, in turn, makes him release a contented sigh.
I chuckle. “Yeah, sorry, I was wrong.”
Who would have thought that this former bad boy would one day be such a goner for a baby? Watching them interact awakens my hormones and makes my ovaries scream for some alone time with my boyfriend, but that has to wait until tonight when our daughter is tucked up in her bed. Even though Aaron might act like the biggest softie around Paisley, at least in the bedroom, he’s still all hot alpha male. The thought alone sends intense shivers up and down my spine.
“What’s that look on your face?” Aaron tears me out of my steamy daydream.
“Um, uh...” I clear my throat and smile at them. “Nothing. I just love you guys.”
He chuckles as if he knew exactly what’s going through my head. He probably does because he can read me like no other. “We love you too, Sunshine,” he tells me, leaning in to brush his lips over mine.
“Oh, excuse me,” another voice cuts my next daydream short. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but are you Kaitlyn Anderson?”
I look up into the face of a young woman with her lips stretched in a beaming smile. I nod, smiling back at her. “Yes, I am.”
She lets out a tiny squeal. “Oh my gosh, I’m a huge fan! I love all of your books!”
My smile widens. It’s still surreal when something like that happens. It’s not often that someone approaches me to tell me how much they love my work—authors are not like your usual celebrity after all. But with the help of social media, some people know my face too, and every once in a while, one of them will come up to me and say hi.
It’s been four and a half years since I published my first novel. It took a little time, but at some point after I published the second book, they became more popular, and in a couple of months, my fourth book in the series I’m writing will be put in print. I’m no Agatha Christie, and I still do some tutoring on the side to earn extra money, but I feel like I achieved my goal in becoming a published writer. With Aaron being the owner of the Kingston Bar—Howard sold the place to him after everything had been resolved with Jackson and his gang—we get by pretty well.
“Thanks so much,” I tell the girl standing in front of me.
“Would you sign my copy of your latest book?” She rummages through her backpack and hands me my novel and a pen.
“What’s your name?” I ask her.
I sign the first page with a small dedication and pass the book back to her.
“Okay, I hate to disrupt this little get-together,” Aaron says, standing up from his seat, “but this is our stop.”
“Thank you!” the girl says, still with the biggest grin on her face.
I get up from my seat as well. “You’re very welcome. Thank you for reading my books. That means the world to me!”
“Come on, you celebrity.” Aaron grabs my hand and pulls me after him while pushing the stroller. With a smile, I wave to the girl and exit the subway without even checking my surroundings.
“Wow, that was something!” I laugh as we make our way to the elevator. Only now do I register where we are. My eyes widen, and I gape at Aaron. “Battery Park?” I squeal. “Is this a repeat of our first date?”
He grins at me, obviously happy with my reaction to his surprise. “Yes.”
By this point, it’s impossible to wipe the huge grin off of my face. We make our way to the ferry terminal, where we pick up the tickets for our trip. I don’t even question why he needs my ID, I’m so excited to go to Liberty Island. It’s only when we approach the entrance of the Statue of Liberty that I spot a few familiar faces and wonder what the heck is going on.
“Is that your brother over there? Oh, and there’s the rest of the family!” I stop in my tracks and look at Aaron with furrowed brows, but he just grins at me.
“I might have another surprise for you,” he informs me.
Before I can give this any more thought, Bella spots us and comes running over. Damn, she’s fast for a six-year-old; she loses her little brother, who dashes after her, in no time. “Hey, guys!” Bella says once she stands in front of us with a wide grin, presenting her missing teeth.
“Not fair!” her four-year-old brother, Joshua, scolds as soon as he catches up with Bella. “You’re supposed to wait for me.”
Bella completely ignores him. “Are you guys excited?”
With narrow eyes, I look back and forth between her and Aaron. “About what?”
“About going up to the crown, of course!” Bella says.
A fluttering feeling takes hold of me when I let that piece of information sink in. That is one of the things left on my bucket list. “We’re going up to the crown?” I blink at Aaron.
“Surprise!” He laughs, pulling me into a hug and placing a soft kiss on my lips. “I owed you a trip to the crown; I know it’s been on your list forever. Ben and Amy are here to watch Paisley while we do; we can’t take her up with us.”
“Hey, everyone,” Amy greets us when she and Ben join us. “How are you doing?”
I beam at her, still trying to process everything. “Ah, I’m so excited right now!”
After saying our hellos, Aaron checks the time. “Come on, Sunshine. We’ve got places to be.” He takes my hand and pulls me after him to the security check-point, where we receive the bracelets that grant us entry to the crown.
With a wildly beating heart, I take everything in on our way through the main lobby to the elevator that brings us to the pedestal level of the statue, where we stop first before our ascent to the crown.
Once we arrive, we step outside, and I take in the overwhelming view of New York City. After taking some pictures, Aaron steps behind me, rests his hands on my waist, and whispers in my ear, “Are you ready to go up?”
I nod, the grin on my face widening again. Still holding on to my hand, Aaron leads the way to the stairs that will take us to the crown.
Aaron motions for me to go first, and we start our way up the many narrow steps of the spiral staircase with the low ceiling. Aaron has to duck his head to prevent some major injury.
“Gosh, those steps are tiny,” I pant as we walk up through the semi-darkness. “And damn, I’m already out of breath.” I pause for a moment, bending over at the waist. “I need to work on my cardio.”
Aaron comes to a stop behind me. “Yeah, unfortunately, riding dick is not considered cardio.”
I turn around with a gasp. “You are seriously unbelievable!”
He chuckles as he nudges me forward. “Come on, we’re almost there.”
After about one hundred more steps, we finally reach the top. I smile at the two National Park Service Rangers, who ensure everyone’s safety, before I look around. It’s so tiny up here. All there is is a small platform from where you can enjoy the view from a row of windows.
“Whoa, look at that,” I say as I take in the sight. I look left and right when Aaron stands behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist and resting his chin on my shoulder. I let out a happy sigh. “Thanks so much for this,” I tell him as I place my hands on his arms, tightening our embrace.
“Do you know what day it is today?” Aaron breathes in my ear.
I turn my head to meet his gaze. “Hm, not entirely sure, to be honest.”
“You asked earlier if this was a repeat of our first date. It is,” he declares, looking deep into my eyes. “And it was this exact day five years ago that I took you here.”
I twist in his arms. “Really? Wow. This makes it even more special.” I go up on tiptoe to find his lips in a lingering kiss. “I love you,” I whisper as I pull back.
“I love you too,” he returns with a smile and a gleam in his eyes that makes my heart skip a beat. “In fact, I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone, and I will never love anyone as much as I love you.”
I chuckle. “That’s a lot of love.”
“It is. Actually,” he goes on with a deep breath, “there’s another reason I took you up here today.”
My heart skips a couple more beats when his expression changes. The way he bites his lip and scrunches up his nose, or how he holds on to me tight—he’s nervous. The last time I saw him like this was when my water broke right before Paisley’s birth.
Even though I have a vague idea about where he’s going with this, I gently shake him so that he goes on; my hammering heart can’t stand the tension.
He chuckles before he says, “You have the cutest impatient frown.” His smile widens when I glare at him, but he finally continues, “You and me, that’s forever. Of that, I am sure. You made me the greatest gift with our beautiful baby girl, and words cannot express how much I love you for that. I love all your sweet quirks; I love your determination to go after what you want. I love how much love you give everyone around you; I love how talented you are in the kitchen—and other rooms around the house.”
Lucky for him, he added that last part in a whisper because there actually are other people with us up here, all of which are curiously watching us. But I’m not paying them much attention because Aaron carries on, “I love you, Kaitlyn, with all of my heart and with everything I am. I want the world to know and see that you are mine and I am yours—for the rest of our lives.” He takes a small step back, and although I knew what to expect, I gasp when he goes down on one knee, pulling a ring out of the pocket of his short. “Marry me, Sunshine.”
I cover my mouth with my hand and blink away the tears that form in my eyes. We’ve talked about getting married in the past, especially since Paisley was born, but Aaron never seemed to be in a rush, and to be honest, neither was I. I take in a deep breath before I chuckle. “Was that a demand?”
“Yes, because it’s about time we seal the deal and make it final.”
“We don’t need to get married for that.”
“I know. But I want to.”
My face already hurts from the wide grin that’s plastered there. “Good, because I want to as well.”
His eyes widen as if me saying no was an actual option. “Is that a yes? Will you marry me?”
“Of course I’ll marry you.”
Aaron lets out a huge breath when he gets up and slips the ring on my finger before he wraps me up in a tight embrace, finding my lips in a passionate kiss, and we only stop when one of the Service Rangers clears their throat.
Everything past this point happens in more of a blur. I hardly register how the other tourists congratulate us before we make our way back down. I need to watch my step because I feel like I’m in a blissful daze, and when I look at Aaron, I know he’s there with me. In the elevator that takes us down to the exit, we smile at each other like two crazy people. We don’t talk, we only communicate nonverbally.
When we step outside to find Ben, Amy, and the kids, I spot them right away. I blink a few times before I stop in my tracks and gasp. It’s not only Ben and Amy awaiting us—no, all of our friends are here. My eyes scan the group of people that are gathered around. There’s Emma and Jack with their two kids, as are Paul and Tessa with their three little ones and their dog. I see Henry, Lauren, and their son, and last but not least, Jannie and Philip (who finally moved in together two years ago).
“Oh my goodness,” I mumble. “Are you serious?” I glance at Aaron. “They are all here! What if I had said no?”
He laughs. “Well, that would have been awkward. Luckily, you didn’t.”
I return my gaze to our friends. As soon as they notice us, all eyes are on Aaron and me, and they erupt in cheers when I hold up my hand to show off my beautiful new ring.
“Come on, let’s face the mob.” Aaron pulls me after him toward our friends, and I gladly oblige. With him by my side, I know I can face anything. He’s my anchor, and for the rest of my life, I want to be where he is.
Of course, I still miss my family back in North Carolina, but I have a new family here, which is growing continuously. I am happier than ever with everything I’ve done and achieved, and I’m glad I made that decision five years ago to follow my dreams. With the support of my family and friends and lots of hard work, I am where I always wanted to be—surrounded by the ones I hold dear doing what I love.
Next step—marrying the love of my life.