“I submitted the paperwork to the judge.” I grasped Daniel’s fingers in mine as we listened to his lawyer on the speakerphone in his study. “He dismissed the case. You’re a free man, Elliott.”
I shrieked. Daniel sat frozen, staring at the phone in disbelief. It had taken less than a day.
“Elliott? You okay?”
“Fine. Where does that leave Donato?” he asked, all business.
“Cleared, too. Alvarez closed the case. Open and shut suicide,” Zegas said.
Daniel’s shoulders relaxed. “I’m giving your fee to Vivian.”
“Was that a joke?”
“She figured out how to get us out of this, but yeah, it was a joke,” Daniel said, squeezing my hand.
“Twenty years I’ve known you. That’s a first,” his attorney said in bewilderment.
“Keep it up and it’ll be the last.”
“Was that another one?”
“If you have to ask, probably not.” Daniel ended the call and pulled me out of my chair so that I stood between his legs.
“It’s over,” I said, cupping his cheeks. Mine hurt from the smile on my face.
“It’s not over. Not for us, Princess.”
I bent and smashed my mouth to his. “I knew it wasn’t,” I said against his lips.
“Thank you,” he said softly. “You saved me. Again.”
“No one will ever take you away from me. Not even you.”
He stood and set me on his desk. His eyes glittered as he looked down. “Not even me.”
Daniel caressed my jaw, looking at me in wonder. His thumb traced my cheekbones, my forehead, my mouth. He lowered his head and brushed his lips with mine.
Heat wound through my body, but quickly cooled. “We’d better go tell M. It’s time for dinner anyway.” I glanced down between us, stuffing down a flutter of nerves. “It’s weird we have to ask to come over now.”
“She took the news about my impending incarceration worse than I imagined.” He rested his chin on top of my head and held me close. "I thought lying would protect her, but it did just the opposite. I completely failed at the one thing I promised her I would always do—protect her."
I couldn't deny what he was saying. “You cut her deep. I knew our separation was hurting her, but this silent treatment? I’m not sure how to act around her. I’m afraid I’ll make everything worse.”
“I deserve it. I broke our trust, but I hate that it’s affecting your relationship with her too.” He clasped my hands in his.
“I just want everything back the way it was.”
“She slapped me,” he said, still in disbelief. I could hardly accept it myself, even though I’d witnessed it. “Think she can forgive me?” My heart clenched at the vulnerability in his voice.
“In time. I hope,” I amended uncertainly. “But she’s mad. Like I’ve never seen her this mad.”
“I don’t know how to give her time.”
“You don’t have a choice.”
My hand was on the handle to Muriella’s door when Daniel stopped me. He pulled me flush against him. “This is not going to be easy.” I kissed him for luck, and we went in.
“Well he is to me!” His face fell at the sound of Muriella’s raised voice. We rushed toward the kitchen. “Those people came in here and could’ve killed us all. If we’d had even a clue about them, that wouldn’t have happened.”
“You’re right.” Daniel stiffened beside me as we entered the room.
Muriella and Stone snapped their heads toward us, though neither looked apologetic.
“Are we interrupting the second date?” I asked, trying to inject a little levity.
“Nah. This doesn’t count as one. Muriella’s getting a bonus,” Stone said, going along with me, much to my relief. He pushed off the counter to greet us, shaking Daniel’s hand and clapping his shoulder. He kissed my cheek while Muriella ignored the whole thing. “Want a beer?” he asked as if we were in his home, and I stifled a smile.
“We’re having champagne,” I informed him. Stone made a face just to aggravate me. “You’re drinking some too. We have things to celebrate.”
“I’m all for it,” he returned good-naturedly, heading to the refrigerator to pull out the good stuff.
“Have you heard anything?” M demanded, without looking up from the saucepan on the burner.
I started to speak, but Daniel beat me to it, so I moved to the cabinets to retrieve four glasses. “Free and clear on all charges.”
Muriella froze, her expression blank. Daniel gripped the edge of the counter. “That’s good news.” Her voice was as flat as her face. I looked to Stone for help, but he gave me a noncommittal shrug.
“You sound like you’d rather I wasn’t going to be around.” Daniel gave her a tentative smile. She didn’t return it.
“You know that’s not true.”
“Muriella, I didn’t mean to hurt you, I just…” he trailed off.
“Well, you did, but you don’t need me to tell you that.”
This was a side of Muriella I definitely wasn’t used to. Daniel looked at me helplessly. I didn’t know how to fix this. I couldn’t stand to see the two people I loved most so distanced from each other.
So I opted to try to lighten things up again. “You sneak!” I said as I retrieved a serving platter for the beef tenderloin I’d spied roasting in the oven. “Look what she’s been hiding from us.” I held up a half-empty bag of Mars bars and tossed Daniel a piece and then one to Stone before digging in myself.
“It’s been crisis mode around here,” she justified, swiping for the bag. I held it out of her reach, and Daniel snatched it. Muriella went after it, but he held it above her head. She was too petite to even have a shot at getting it, which didn’t mean she didn’t try. Daniel tossed the bag to Stone, who hid it behind his back. She charged him and held out her hand. “I just want one piece.”
“How bad, darlin’?” he asked, cocking his head, one of those dark brows lifting.
Muriella let out a little growl before moving back to the beef tenderloin. I brought the serving platter over to her and bumped her hip with mine.
Daniel held out his hand, a piece of candy in the center of his palm. She appeared uncertain before plucking the peace offering. He gave her a hopeful smile. She didn’t return it, shoving the candy in her mouth.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Stone put the bag of candy in a cabinet M wouldn’t be able to reach without a stepladder. I made a mental note to hide the ladder so she’d have to beg him for the chocolate. And she would. Mission temporarily accomplished. The mood in here wasn’t quite so stifling anymore.
“I think it’s time to do some celebrating,” Stone said, pouring champagne and handing each of us a glass.
“I’ll drink to that,” I said, accepting the champagne flute with a meaningful nod. “To health, happiness, love, and family.”
We clinked glasses and tossed the bubbles down our throats.
“Um, Vivian. I don’t know how I missed it, but what the hell is that on your finger?” Stone said, gawking at my diamond.
“Exactly what it looks like.” I held out my left hand, feeling giddy as I watched the black diamond sparkle in the light. All eyes were on the ring, admiring it. Muriella and I hadn’t even had a chance to be girls about it.
“I’ve agreed to be her husband,” Daniel said, eyes bright with mischief.
“I thought I agreed to be your wife,” I argued.
“When’s the big day? Why haven’t I been invited yet?” Stone asked, doing his best to sound put out.
I swatted Daniel in the arm. “I thought we were supposed to get married today?”
Daniel glazed right over me. “Actually, I haven’t discussed this with Vivian—”
“Were you going to?” I asked, giving him a pointed look.
“Probably not,” Daniel said easily. “But I was thinking the four of us could leave on Sunday. I’m not waiting any longer for V to be officially mine. My patience has run out, but we’re not doing it in a courthouse.”
“Where are we going?”
“Want to know or be surprised?”
“We’re going to my mountain, aren’t we?” I guessed, and Daniel faked frustration.
“Too fucking smart for your own good.” He tucked my hair behind my ear. “You didn’t want a big wedding, did you?” he asked as an afterthought, looking slightly panicked.
“You know me better than that. I want you in a three-piece suit, but I might not even wear a dress,” I said, and Daniel beamed at me.
“You’re wearing a dress,” he insisted, leaning close to my ear. “Because I want to fuck you in it, and then rip it off you and do it again.” He bit my earlobe, and I flushed all over. “Need the air conditioning on, Princess?”
Stone and Muriella cleared their throats at the same time, and I flashed them a grin. “So you’ll both come?”
“I think I could manage a few days off,” Stone said, and Muriella went rigid. I couldn’t tell if she didn’t want to go or didn’t want to take the trip with him. “Where is your mountain?” Stone asked.
“New Zealand,” I answered casually, taking a sip of champagne.
Stone nearly choked on the swallow he’d just taken, and then started to laugh. “Should have known it wouldn’t be in the Rockies.”
“Still think you can manage? We want you there, Stone,” Daniel said earnestly.
“Wouldn’t miss it. I haven’t been around as much over the last few years, but that doesn’t change that y’all are family to me.” Stone’s words couldn’t have been more perfect.
Daniel gave him a satisfied smile. “Good.”
“Why aren’t we going tomorrow?” I asked, holding out my glass to Stone for a refill.
Daniel looked pleased with himself. “Can’t wait to marry me?”
He slayed me with that sparkle in his eyes. Daniel had put us through hell, yet somehow things were better between us than they’d ever been, and that was really saying something. With no more hidden secrets, he was like a freer version of himself.
The vault doors were completely gone, and I finally had what I’d always wanted from him…everything .