Yay! It’s time for another bonus epilogue and I hope you enjoy!
Something was wrong. I knew it. And I hated this sense of dread curling in my stomach as I waited for Oliver to tell me this had all been a mistake. That we were a mistake.
For the past few weeks he’d been distant and that wasn’t like Oliver. We’d always enjoyed every moment we could spend together with our crazy schedules. Between his busy architecture firm and my insane hours at the café, we’d never spent a night apart. We’d always had supper together, even if it was at ten pm.
I couldn’t imagine this life without him.
But, I feared things had changed for Oliver. He hadn’t been home for supper the past two nights and had slipped into bed after I’d tumbled into a fitful sleep. What the hell was going on?
The old me would have confronted him. I’d have used my sass to hide my hurt and demanded answers. But a few months with Oliver and I wasn’t nearly as tough as I’d been. I slipped from bed while he still slept, afraid to know the answer. Clinging to the illusion I still had a man who loved me to distraction.
Now, at the bakery I shared with my sister, it was mid-morning, and I was exhausted. Stifling a yawn, I smiled at a customer as I filled a box of Christmas cookies and Mella’s signature brownies, wishing I had more than feigned interest in her stories about her grandchildren. I was too tired to be social today.
When my sister, Mella, glared at me, again, I pasted on a brighter smile and vowed to have another cup of coffee. At the small lull in customers, Mella approached and spoke in a low voice. “What’s going on, Sof? This is the fourth day in a row you’re absentminded and uninterested in our customers.” She gave me a scolding look. “You know the rule.”
I winced and nodded. “Yeah. Leave it at the door.” It had been the mantra of one of our mentors in Seattle. He’d insisted we focus on our craft as bakers, and on our professionalism as businesswomen, and that our personal lives had no place in the bakery. I’d been successful following that rule because I’d had no personal life then. “Not so easy now,” I muttered.
“You have no reason to doubt, Sof.”
I flinched at her disapproving stare before she turned to help the next customer. At her wave encouraging me to move as far away from the counter as possible, I walked to the back of the kitchen to work on decorating cookies, rather than serving customers.
Although the mind-numbing task of decorating hundreds of Christmas cookies for special orders helped ease my mounting anxiety, I finally set my pastry bag filled with green frosting down when my hands cramped. I could only avoid my problems for so long. I had to confront Oliver. I had to find my courage.
My heart raced and a shaky breath burst out as I tried to swallow a sob. Now that he was part of my life, I couldn’t imagine my life without him. What had I done wrong? How had we gone wrong so fast?
I sat on our couch for what felt like hours, waiting for Oliver to come home. Mediation didn’t help. Cheerful Christmas music made me want to scream so I shut it off. The silence in the house left me to my own thoughts, which was almost worse than how homicidal the Christmas music made me. God, what was wrong with me?
Curling up on my side, I hugged a pillow to my chest, counting my breaths as the minutes ticked by. When the back door clicked and footsteps entered the kitchen, I sat up uncaring that my hair was a mess and I wore ratty leggings and an oversized sweatshirt.
Watching as Oliver sighed and dropped his keys with a clatter on the countertop, my heart dropped as he leaned forward, resting his weight on his arms as his head fell toward his chest in a sign of exhaustion or failure. What was going on? Why didn’t I know what he struggled with?
“Ol?” I called out, my voice croakier than I liked. When his head jerked toward me and his eyes widened with panic at the sight of me, I blinked so tears wouldn’t pour down my cheeks.
He didn’t want me here. In our home.
“What are you doing here, Sof?” He didn’t walk toward me. Didn’t attempt to soothe me or pull me into his arms. Looking around and then at is watch, he rubbed at his brow. “I thought it was girl’s night at Bev’s.”
Swallowing down a sob, I nodded. “It is. But I decided I needed to be here more.”
“Damnit, why?” he snapped. “It’ll…” He bit his lip and let out a huff of breath that sounded like a baby growl.
Giving up any pretense of holding back my tears, I let them fall freely down my cheeks. “Why don’t you want me here? This is our home.” I forced myself to stay where I was rather than back away. “Or do you want me to move out?”
He jerked at my question and lurched toward me so fast I thought he’d become superman and had the ability to fly. “Out? Leave?” He cupped my face, his fingers swiping away tears before he bent forward to kiss them away. “Hell no.”
He bent his knees, so he was eye level with me and frowned. “Baby, what the hell’s going on?” Shaking his head, he held onto me when I tried to back away from him. “No, stay with me. Don’t run. Our running is over.”
Pelting him on the chest, I cried, “No it’s not! You’re running away from me! You haven’t been home for dinner. You don’t cuddle with me at night. You…” I broke down in sobs and fell into his arms, as I gasped out, “You don’t want me anymore.”
“Sof, baby, no.” Kissing my head, he ran his hands up and down my back, pulling me close and never letting me go as I cried. When I’d finally cried myself out, he eased away. “Sit with me?” At my nod, we moved to the couch, and he pulled me down so I sat on his lap with my head resting against his heart.
After a long time, he murmured, “Why?” At my mumble of confusion, he kissed my brow. “Why would you ever doubt?”
He pushed me back so he could look into my eyes, and I knew I looked a mess with my red rimmed eyes and blotchy skin. “You changed.”
“Baby, I missed a few dinners.” He winced. “And I’m sorry.” He huffed out a breath. “I suck at surprises.”
My eyes widened. “Surprises?”
Palming my cheek again, he smiled tenderly at me, his brown eyes lit with that special look that was only ever for me. Like I was his personal sun and he couldn’t live without it. “Yeah. Caleb warned me I was being an ass. That no surprise was worth a second of doubt.”
“What doesn’t that man know?” Oliver chuckled, his fingers never stopping in caressing me. “I’ve been a fool. Forgive me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I’m so proud of you. And I know how busy you are. I wanted to do something special for us. Before the you become even busier with holiday madness and our families want us to spend time with them.” He kissed me. “I wanted something special.”
“Any time with you is special.” I frowned as I saw his eyes fill with tears before he smiled. “Ol?”
“That’s what I forgot in my stupid idea to do a big gesture. Any second with you is precious.”
I gasped as he swooped forward and kissed me, long and hard. We were both panting when he broke the kiss.
“Marry me, Sof.” His soft, gentle voice broke through ever layer of insecurity still piercing my heart. “Marry me and build a family with me.” When I gaped at him, his hold on me tightened as though he feared I’d run again. “I was going to decorate the house and have roses and candles and treats Mella was going to sneak over along with hot chocolate for when you got home from girl’s night tonight…” He broke off his ramble, staring at me in growing horror as I continued to gape at him.
Clearing his throat, he whispered. “I’ve been away the past few nights, because I was afraid I’d ruin the surprise. I was so excited to ask you to marry me. I knew I’d blurt it out too soon.” He paled as I raised a hand to my mouth, covering my gasps of shock.
“Sof, baby, I want this life with you. I want this house to always be a home. I want children with you. I want to grow old together.” At my persistent silence, he breathed, “Please, baby.”
Throwing myself forward and wrapping my arms around his neck, I knocked the air out of him and squeezed him as hard as I could. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!” I cried, barely able to say the word at the end. “I’ve been so afraid you didn’t want me anymore.”
He groaned and rocked me side to side. “Oh, Sof, I’m sorry. Never. I’ll always want you. always need you.” He kissed me again and swiped down my hair. “A damn surprise should never cause such trouble.
I gazed at him, desperate to lighten the mood as we should be celebrating our upcoming marriage. “I am sorry about missing out on the hot chocolate…” I bit my lip as his eyes lit with mischief as we shared the memory of the last time I’d made a hot chocolate fudge sauce and all of the inventive ways we’d used it.
“Rain check,” he murmured as he kissed me again.
“The benefits of marrying a baker,” I teased and he squeezed me tight.
He chuckled, easing out from under me. I frowned and then bit my lip as I saw him drop to his knee. Cupping my cheek, his fingers caressed over my skin in the way he knew I loved, and we stared into each other’s eyes.
“I’ve already said yes, Ol.” My breathy voice whispered over his cheek as I leaned forward to kiss him.
“I know, baby, but I need to ask again.” He cleared his throat and pulled a box from his pocket. Flipping the lid, I gasped at the round diamond flanked by two smaller diamonds. Although beautiful, their sparkle would never match the love glowing in Oliver’s eyes. “I want you to never doubt I love you. That I’m committed to you and the life we’re building. I’m lost without you, Sof.”
He paused, as I stared at him, ignoring the beautiful ring in the box. All I wanted was Oliver. My brilliant, brave, handsome man. “I’ll marry you a hundred times, Oliver. I can’t imagine this life without you.”
Laughing, he plucked the ring out of the box and slipped it on my finger, pausing for a second to whisper, “Once will be enough, Sof. Although a hundred lifetimes with you would never be enough,” before kissing me senseless.