She moved close, blinking back tears. “I’m so happy for you, Carter. You deserve to follow your dreams now. Where are you going next?”
“Nowhere. I bought a house in Cape May.”
The shock barreled through her, and the ground shifted underneath her feet. She must’ve heard wrong. “You’re kidding me.”
He shook his head. “Nope. Also got a new job in Atlantic City. Never thought about working for the casinos before, but it’s good money and a new challenge I desperately needed.”
“Wait—you moved here permanently?”
“Yep. I knew words wouldn’t be enough. Neither would intentions. Action was the only way I’d have even a chance of convincing you to take me back.” He stood from the stool and walked over to her. Gently taking her hands in his, he stared into her face. “See, I happen to be in love with you, Avery Sunshine. And I’m tired of denying it and running away. I want the chance to gain back your trust. Be part of your family. And even if you say no, I understand, but I won’t give up. I’ll be here every damn day, to convince you I’m not only ready to love you, but I’ll give you everything you ask for.”
As she stared back into his beloved face, she saw the truth.
He loved her. It was in his eyes, in his smile, in the tender way he touched her. But more than that, there was no barrier any longer.
And then he sealed the deal: “I’m just a guy, standing by a girl, asking her to marry me.”
Holy crap, he’d quoted Notting Hill. Well, kind of. He was ready to give her the gift of a rom-com in epic form, proving he was all in, offering her love and—
Wait, what had he just said?
She blinked through blurred vision as he dropped to one knee, took out a small box, and slowly opened it. The square-cut diamond ring sparkled and shone with spectacular glory. Shock barreled through her, tangled with a hungry need that made her entire body begin to shake.
Oh. My. God.
“Avery Alyssa Sunshine, will you marry me?”
She stared back at him helplessly. “You swore you’d never repeat a line from a rom-com. Not even for a million dollars.”
His smile was gentle. “I’d do anything for you, Avery. I know that now.”
She choked back a sob and put out a trembling hand to touch the ring.
“You still didn’t answer my question.”
She didn’t need another second to think. Avery flew into his embrace and kissed him. She had to give him credit—he didn’t even fall back under her joyous enthusiasm. When he finally lifted his head, she smiled. “Yes.”
He laughed, and then he kissed her again.
Avery took a sip of her coffee and laid out her chocolate croissant in front of her. Flipping open her laptop, she glanced around the conference table and launched into her morning-meeting ritual. “Good morning, ladies and gentleman! Are we ready to have a great day?”
Taylor shot her a look and deliberately yawned. “No.”
Nothing could dim her happiness today, though—not even her youngest sister’s attitude. She could tell Bella would love to utter a snarky comment, but refused to destroy her yogic aspirations. “We’ll certainly try,” she said calmly. “I’ll be able to take on a few more hours to fill in the gaps for the upcoming holiday weddings.”
Gabe attacked his keyboard with his usual efficiency. “We’re in good shape, Bella. No holes in the schedule for now, unless Avery wants to throw us another of her famous curveballs.”
Taylor grunted. “I think she’s learned her lesson. Now that she found her Prince Charming, maybe she’ll actually start saying no to last-minute weddings.”
Hmm, Gabe’s and Taylor’s comments seemed like a perfect segue to her announcement.
Savoring each moment, she took her time with the first bite of her croissant. The flaky, buttery crust melted in her mouth, replaced with the rich chocolate that sang in her blood. Sheer heaven. She blotted her mouth with a napkin and smiled. “Funny, it’s like you’re both mind readers. Something did pop up, and it was impossible to say no.”
The three of them stared back at her. “What are you talking about?” Taylor asked in a threatening voice.
She refused to be bullied. Not today. “We need to add a wedding for September twentieth to next year’s schedule. The groom was desperate and refused to wait any longer, so the bride agreed. Nine months should be doable.”
Bella sighed, already flipping through her planner. “Avery, I wish you’d speak with us first before agreeing to cram in another wedding during high season. That was the only weekend we were keeping open for Mom and Dad to visit to celebrate their anniversary. Don’t you remember?”
Taylor threw up her hands, gearing up for bitch mode. “No. I don’t care how bad the groom wants to wed her. They can wait another damn six months when we have a decent opening.”
“Too late,” Avery practically sang. “I said yes and it’s booked. I don’t think Mom and Dad will mind at all.”
Gabe used to remain quiet and let the sisters battle it out, but as a full partner now, he seemed ready to jump into the fray. “I agree with the majority. We say no. Call the bride and groom back and get us out of it.”
“I can’t. He’s too damn stubborn.”
“You live with a stubborn man!” Taylor growled. “Use your experience with your new fiancé and stand up for your family. We don’t want another client.”
“Even if it’s me?” she asked softly.
Silence fell. Avery studied the people she loved and pegged the exact moment understanding dawned.
“That’s your wedding date?” Bella breathed out in wonder.
Damned if silly tears didn’t fill her eyes, but she was too happy to be embarrassed. “Yes. We finally picked the day, and Mom and Dad were thrilled we’ll be sharing their wedding date.”
Taylor grinned. “You got us good, babe. I was ready to blow.”
Gabe slammed a fist on the table in celebration. “Carter didn’t even tell me, and I got him pretty drunk last weekend. I’m so happy for you guys. That’s a wedding I’ll be happy to squeeze into our schedules.”
They got up from their seats and gave her big hugs, and for the next twenty minutes, they spoke nonstop about the wedding in all its detail. When she glanced at the time, she realized they only had a little while left to talk business. “Okay, guys, I do have a few things to go over before we break. Unfortunately, we did get a cancellation for the Neeleys’ New Year festivities. Seems like they decided to call the whole thing off.”
“That’s so sad,” Bella murmured. “But I never liked him, so is it wrong to be glad?”
Gabe turned to her. “I never knew you didn’t like him. How come?”
Bella’s cheeks turned a slight shade of pink. “Well, he kind of liked to flirt with me. It made me uncomfortable.”
Gabe scowled, and his voice iced. “You should have told me. I would have taken care of that immediately.”
Avery glanced at him in surprise. Gabe was always laid-back and charming, and rarely lost his temper. Kind of like Bella. But she caught a swirling anger beneath the surface that told her if someone messed with one of his people, he’d get mean.
“I handled it myself,” Bella said dismissively. “There was no need to tell you.”
His entire body stiffened, as if he were trying to hold back his temper. “I respect you can handle it. I’m just pointing out that I’m here to support you.”
“Thank you,” she responded. But Avery could tell she had no intention of leaning on anyone, especially Gabe. The glimmers of frustration shooting from his aura told Avery he wasn’t too happy about it, either.
Avery cleared her throat. “Well, no one get too excited over the cancellation, because I had Eloise Royal on the waiting list for a postholiday wedding, so she took their place. The bride and groom love Christmas so much they want to do it all over again.”
“Yay,” Taylor grunted.
“It’s definitely a ‘yay’ for you, T, because I have you down as away that weekend to attend the wedding expo in Atlantic City. We get a ton of business from that, and Mom and Dad have had a booth there forever, so you need to cover it.”
“I won’t argue with that assignment.”
Gabe laughed. “Gambling, alcohol, and hot men figuring out they just want to be single after all? We’ll never get you back.”
Taylor stuck out her tongue.
“Bella, Gabe, I need you both to work that wedding. Carter and I are flying out to Texas to visit Ally that weekend, so I won’t be around.”
Her sisters gasped. Gabe’s jaw dropped.
“What?” Avery asked.
“You’re taking an entire weekend off during holiday-wedding season?” Bella asked.
It struck her full force how much her life had changed since the summer. As much as she loved work, she didn’t want to live for it any longer. She wanted to enjoy Carter and Ally and Lucy. And she realized the world wouldn’t fall apart if she took a few days off.
“That’s right,” she said. “If you’re okay to cover me.”