My hand rests on her knee, left bare by the casual gray sweater dress that covers the gorgeous contours of her fuck-hot curves. I squeeze the muscle just above her knee—making her jump. “I said it was a surprise. Stop fishing for hints, you’re not good at it.”
Kate’s brilliant and strong-minded, but her expressive eyes, tendency to blush, and complete inability to lie convincingly undermine any hope of a successful interrogation. Unless a striptease were being exchanged for information. If that were the case, the prisoners at GTMO would happily spill their guts.
“You seem kind of nervous.” She peers at me. “I’m wondering why.”
We’ve been over this, but it bears repeating: I don’t get nervous. Anxiety is for incapable chumps. When the world’s at your fingertips, there’s no room—no reason—for worry. Just because I’m about to ask Kate the most important question of our lives, just because I’m going to practically put my balls in her hands—giving her the power to crush them with a single word . . . Christ, that hurts to even think about.
Just because I’ve planned this day down to the finest detail, waited for it, frigging prayed about it, doesn’t mean I’m nervous.
The ring feels like a lead weight in my back pocket. I’ve wanted to give it to her a dozen times—but I’ve held out. Because this will be the grandest of all gestures, the kind of romantic fantasy that plays out in those terrible mommy porn books my sister reads, but that you rarely see in real life. After this, there’s no way Kate will say no.
Except . . . she still fucking could.
And that’s the rub. The risk.
It’s infinitesimally small, but it’s there. She might not be ready. She may think I’m not ready. She might think things between us are fantastic—and she’d be right—so why change anything? She might say, “If it’s not broke, don’t screw with it.”
My stomach twists and turns at all the thoughts. I swallow hard and grip the steering wheel tighter, with suddenly slick palms.
Okay, I’m nervous. There, I fucking said it. Happy now?
But I do a good job of covering it as I answer her. “Work has me tense. If you’d like to relieve my tension,” I glance at my crotch meaningfully, “I’m more than willing to pull over. Or—even more fun—keep driving while you do what you do so well.”
She chuckles. “No, don’t want any possible delays—or you crashing into a tree. I want to see my surprise.”
The second the car comes to a stop, Kate climbs out, stands between the open door and the car, hand on the roof, transfixed by the scene in the grassy valley below. Five huge hot-air balloons—each more colorful than the next. It’s an impressive sight. Vibrant, like a bowl full of candy from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
“No way!” Kate squeals. “This is the surprise? I’ve never been on a hot-air balloon ride!”
Giving Kate new, memorable experiences has kind of become a fetish for me. The joy in her voice, the sparkle in her eyes, the astoundingly physical way she expresses her gratitude—it’s a rush. Like an adrenaline junkie searching for the next cliff to dive off of—I’m always looking for another fix.
My smile mirrors Kate’s expression and her exuberance withers the nervous tentacles that wind their way into my brain. I take her hand and together we walk down the lush hill to the boarding platform, toward Mark Jonas.
Mark is the owner of Tri-State Ballooning, a company that offers hot-air balloon rides and courses in ballooning certification. After my fifty-five hours of training, Mark and I are well acquainted.
Kate stares up at the massive air-filled bulbs while I shake Mark’s hand. “How ya doing, Drew?” he says.
“Good to see you, Mark.” I gesture to my dark-haired temptress. “This is Kate.”
Kate tears her eyes away from the balloons and shakes Mark’s offered hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Good to meet you, Kate. Drew’s talked so much about you, I feel like I know you already.”
Kate’s eyes narrow with confusion, until I gesture toward one of the baskets and ask Mark, “She all set to go?”
He nods. “She is. And the other arrangements are ready, too.” With a wink he wishes me good luck.
I smack Mark’s shoulder and slip him a fifty-dollar tip. I open the wicker-basket door and step aboard. Then I hold out my hand to Kate.
Her mouth is slightly ajar. “You’re going to fly this?”
With a smirk I explain. “You know how much I adore your body—and my own, for that matter. Do you honestly think I’d trust anyone else to make sure we don’t splatter all over the Hudson Valley?”
Mark passes Kate a folded jacket with his company logo. “In case it gets chilly up there.”
She accepts the jacket with a chuckle and steps into the basket with me. “Okay, then. Is there anything you can’t do, Drew?”