Rex stood in front of the mirror, adjusting his tie. He had never cared so much about his appearance before. Tonight, he wanted everything to be completely, utterly perfect.
Because tonight’s the night. The big night.
He let his confident, cocky look drop away as his deeper feelings bubbled to the surface. He was nervous as hell. There was no denying it. His stomach was caught in knots, his palms were sweaty, and if he adjusted his tie one more time, the thing might actually disintegrate.
He stepped back from the mirror, smoothing his coat. Rex took a deep breath, held it, and glared at himself. The tiger lurking deep inside him flashed through him, just for a moment, gifting his eyes with lingering amber fire.
This is it. Go, get ’em, Tiger.
He let out his deep breath like a long, almost painful sigh. He turned away from the mirror and headed down the hall. He wasn’t ready to go, but he would be late if he didn’t leave now.
Can’t be late.
The limo was waiting in the drive. He got in, nodding to the driver, who grinned and tipped his hat. Rex knew he wasn’t going to be up to idle conversation, and it looked like the driver knew it too.
“You nervous, son?” the old fellow chuckled. Rex nodded. He knew his voice would be strangled in his throat, so he did not reply.
“That’s the mark of a real man, in my opinion. To hold your lady in such high esteem that you’re always wanting to please her, just for the simple pleasure of seeing her truly happy.”
Rex grinned, shaking his head. Obviously, all the house staff knew what he was up to that night.
“Thank you,” Rex said, feeling his chest loosening up. “You’re married then?”
“For over forty years, son. The night I proposed, goddamn. You could have gone water skiing on my forehead, I was sweating so much.”
Rex shook his head. “Well, thank you. I was worried I was overreacting.”
“Not at all. If you’re that worked up, then you know she’s the one. Wanting to impress your girl and make her happy is the greatest act of love a man can give.”
Rex smiled, feeling much better. They talked a little more before they arrived at the hotel. Gianna was waiting out front, as planned. Even though she had been staying at the manor a lot, for his big “date night,” she had decided to get ready at the hotel so she could surprise him.
He wasn’t surprised. He was utterly gob smacked.
The limo pulled up and stopped in front of her; Rex got out of the car, staring at Gianna with his mouth hanging open. She was wearing a red dress with a tight bodice and a long flowing skirt.
A light breeze wafted, making the crimson clouds sweep around her legs. The tight, heart-shaped gown framed her breasts perfectly.
He looked up into her face, as blown away by her beauty now as he had been the first time he saw her. The cascading black curls framing her face contrasted sharply against the pale white of her skin, the blush on her cheeks, and the deep red of her dress. Her lips were painted in the exact same shade and looked so sweet and succulent that it made his mouth water.
“You look amazing,” he whispered. She reached out and ruffled his hair a little.
“You look pretty good yourself.”
Rex was suddenly very aware of the ring in his pocket. His throat was crowded with words he wanted to say, but he was held back by doubt.
What if she doesn’t want to stay with me … Her career is too important? What do I really have that I can offer this amazing woman?
“Will you … ah … accompany me?” he asked awkwardly, gesturing at the limo. She giggled.
“I most certainly will,” she answered, taking his arm as they got into the wide back seat. The driver tipped his cap again before he put up the privacy window.
“So, where are we going?” she asked.
“It’s a surprise.”
“How far is it?”
Gianna turned to look at him, and he was shocked to find himself utterly speechless. She looked so beautiful that he was constantly noticing new details about her. The exquisite point at the center of her top lip …the way her eyes glittered as they passed under streetlights … the rise of her big, beautiful breasts in the tight gown …
As the car slowed, he realized they had arrived, and Gianna had been talking, but he’d missed almost every word while he was contemplating her beauty. When his brain finally caught up, he understood she had been talking about her story being received by the network and her nomination for the Pulitzer.
“My mom is so proud,” she gushed as Rex helped her out of the car. “The story is really, really good. She said I didn’t even need the explosive content. My reporting was just that on point. It made the whole thing come together.”
“I’m in awe of you,” he said, holding her arm as they headed up the dock. Gianna stopped, looking up … way up.
“Are we going up there?” she squeaked, her voice high with excitement. Rex grinned.
“Yes. This is my biggest yacht, the Sea Storm. She’s all decked out for our special night.”
Rex led Gianna up the gangway, his confidence rising as he saw the way she looked at the yacht. He had arranged everything very carefully to ensure that the night was perfect.
As he guided her onto the main deck, the live band he had hired began to play a soft, soothing tune. They could cover modern songs as well as classical music. He had wanted to have all the bases covered.
“Wow,” Gianna said as he settled her at the table. “This is amazing, Rex.”
The table was set with champagne already chilled and a plate of appetizers. Gianna helped herself to a crispbread with creamy dip, and he saw her eyes light up with wonder as the yacht began to slowly pull out into the bay.
“Where are we going?” she asked.
“Just for a little sail,” he said mysteriously. He wanted to propose to her on the back deck where it was cool and quiet, with no land in sight. He had a perfect moment in mind, where the ocean reflected the sky, making it seem as if they were alone inside a perfect sphere of glittering stars.
“Nice band,” she said. “But it’s a bit slow.”
He clapped his hands, gesturing to the lead singer. Immediately, they changed it up, starting to play newer songs with a faster tempo.
It had been six months since that fateful day at Voren’s compound. The first week after it had happened had left them both in chaos. There were so many questions to answer, so many different law and government agencies they had to contend with. Gianna’s story had helped them because the evidence was clear, and it had gone out to the public immediately.
Since then, Gianna had written a formal version of the story for an official release, and she had been nominated for the Pulitzer. She had been very surprised to find out she was also nominated for awards for bravery and protecting the public.
Rex had stayed out of it as much as possible, but eventually, it had been leaked that he was integral to bringing down the entire operation. The people of the island had offered official documents to thank him. In return, he had the entire place preserved as a heritage site, meaning it could not be developed or changed in any way.
Rex thought over the last six months as he watched Gianna. The waiter had delivered the main course, delicately cooked roasted chicken in a nest of finely cut vegetables covered in thin, exquisite gravy. Watching her raise a fork to her mouth so she could take a dainty bite gave him a warm and fuzzy feeling.
He knew that roast chicken was one of her favorite foods. Just like chocolate lava cake was her favorite dessert. She couldn’t decide on a favorite song, and she didn’t like books much unless they were documentaries.
He knew she looked beautiful first thing in the morning and liked to cuddle late at night.
I’m more than ready to spend my life with her, but is she ready to marry me?
As they finished the main course and dessert was brought out, he thought again about her ambitions, life, and career. She could go anywhere now, work on any story she wanted. Her career was going to skyrocket.
Will she agree to marry me? I’d follow her anywhere. Surely, she knows that.
He ate his own dessert slowly, drawing out the moment. He’d waited so long to do this, but as the moment came upon him, he found himself delaying it.
She finished her lava cake with an expression of complete pleasure on her face. He thought his heart might stop when she looked up at him and batted her lashes.
“Okay, Rex. Out with it. You’ve taken me on fancy dates before, but this is different. Literally, every detail has been perfect. The band knows all my favorite songs. Every course of the meal has been my favorite food. You look as nervous as if you had snakes in your pants. What’s going on?”
“There’s only one snake in my pants,” he said, winking. She laughed.
“And I know it well. But come on. It’s not like you to be nervous like this.”
He sighed, feeling as if the ring box in his pocket was on fire. He stood and held out a hand.
“Will you accompany me to the back deck?” he asked. He hoped the boat was in position. He wanted the stars above them with no light pollution.
“Of course,” she said, smiling. They walked together along the side rail, hearing the soft, comforting sounds of gentle waves on the hull. Even though they had moved away from the band, they could still hear the beautiful strains of music leaving a haunting echo in the air.
They reached the back of the boat, and Gianna stepped up to the rail, looking out over the sea.
“Oh, it’s so beautiful,” she cried. Rex breathed a sigh of relief. They were in position. “It’s like being in a grotto studded with glowing crystal,” she said, holding up her hands. “But even more gorgeous.”
“Yes,” he murmured, watching her. “Beautiful.”
She was silhouetted against the soft glow of moonlight that reflected off the water. He let his eyes linger on her hourglass shape, wondering how he had gotten so lucky. When she turned back to him, fixing him with her big, deep eyes, he was sure his heart stopped.
“This is amazing, Rex,” she laughed. “You’ve truly outdone yourself.”
Glad to hear it.
He was relieved she was having a good time, and everything had come together as planned. He just wasn’t done yet. One final moment was all he needed.
And it needs to be perfect.
“Gianna,” he said softly. “I want you to know that you are the strongest, most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. From the first moment I saw you, I knew you were full of passion, independence, and fire. You blew me away with the force of your ambition, your talent, and your keen sense of justice.”
Gianna turned slowly until she was facing him. He took both her hands in his.
“Rex … What are you saying?”
He tried to take a deep breath but couldn’t. His chest was caught in a steel vice. He could stand here for eons and describe her beauty and how he worshiped her grace. He knew he had to get to the point, though.
If he didn’t ask the question soon, he might pass out from anticipation.
He took a step back, slowly bending down on one knee. Gianna gasped and put her hands over her mouth. He reached into his pocket, fumbling for a second with the velvet box. As he opened it, he closed his eyes and held it up.
Gianna made a strangled noise, and he heard her shoes knock on the wood of the deck as she took a step back. When he opened his eyes, he couldn’t tell if the look on her face was happy, excited shock, just-got-kicked-in-the-chest shock, or no-way-no-how shock.
His heart pounded so hard blood rushed in his ears. He shook away all his fears, all his worries. He was here now, and that meant there was only one thing to do.
Go for it!
“Gianna, will you marry me?”