Eight months later
“See, I don’t get why that British vampire guy keeps trying.” Hunter tossed a piece of popcorn to Buddy, who was sprawled on the sofa beside him. The dog had grown so huge, his legs dangled over the edge of the seat cushions. “I mean, it’s clear the woman doesn’t like him.”
“You’re such a newb,” Juliette said from the armchair near the TV. “Buffy and Spike are meant to be. Anyone can see they’re crazy about each other.”
Emma turned from stoking the fire and felt a rush of warmth at the sight of everyone in her living room. Juliette, Hunter, and her dog, watching old Buffy reruns on a Friday night. These were her people.
Hunter gently nudged the massive dog aside to make room for Emma. He wore a rumpled T-shirt, needed a shave, and was still the most gorgeous man she had ever seen.
She settled next to him with a contented sigh. It was hard to believe he was a permanent fixture in her life now. In the past several months, so much had changed. He had moved in with her and hired managers to oversee his businesses in Seattle. The house had a new roof, a new front porch, and fresh paint. Emma had renovated her shop and was now successfully selling her creations at both Fairy Cakes and Haven. She had even created a new recipe for dog biscuits, “Bon Bones,” which tickled Mrs. Mooney to no end.
And her house and business weren’t the only things that had changed. All the shops on Front Street had benefited from Hunter’s ownership. New upgrades were being made, the merchants were reporting higher sales because of the increase in tourist traffic, and Hunter was now a member of the chamber of commerce alongside Sam. They were already planning a community park near the wharf for the upcoming summer.
Hunter slung an arm around Emma and placed a kiss on top of her head. He gestured to the TV as the Buffy theme song ended. “But I thought she liked that other guy. The angel without the wings.”
Juliette let out an exasperated groan and stood, stretching. “He’s not an angel.”
“His name is Angel,” Emma explained. “But he’s not an actual angel. He’s more of a demon.”
Hunter propped his feet on the coffee table with a sigh. “And you guys wonder why I’m confused.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Juliette said through a yawn. “It takes time to ramp up. You’ll get there.” She gathered her patchwork bag and headed to the front entrance.
Buddy heaved himself off the couch and padded after her. The big dog’s tail whipped back and forth as she bent to scratch behind his ears.
“Come visit me at the flower shop tomorrow,” Juliette called, slipping her bare feet into a pair of shearling boots. “Romeo’s serving mulled cider and I’m going to spike it when he’s not looking.”
Juliette managed Romeo’s Florist Shop, and with her knowledge of plants and garden charms, business was booming. There was even a shelf in the store devoted to her handmade soaps and bath products.
She gave Buddy one last pat on the head, waved good-bye, and disappeared into the night. The house shut the door behind her, but not before an icy blast of February wind billowed into the foyer.
“I’ll put another log on the fire,” Hunter said.
Emma gathered the empty popcorn bowls and walked down the hall into the kitchen. She cocked her head when she heard him speaking in the other room. “What was that?”
“Nothing,” he called. “I was talking to the house.”
She smiled and placed the bowls in the sink. Lately, Hunter had been having a lot of covert conversations with the house. Once, she caught him muttering to it while he fixed the floor in the attic. Another time, she heard him scolding it in the kitchen, his voice lowered to a whisper. Whatever the issue was, she was grateful for how accepting they both were of each other. When Hunter moved in at the end of the summer, the house had welcomed him with open doors, like he belonged there. And now he talked to the house like it was no big deal; like they were family. The ease with which he had slipped into her life brought her more happiness than she had dared to hope for.
“You know,” Emma said, walking back into the living room, “you’re beginning to sound like a Holloway. People are going to start calling you eccentric.”
Hunter threw her a guilty glance and shoved his hand behind his back.
She stepped closer to the sofa, avoiding Buddy, who was now dozing on the floor. “What’s going on?”
He dropped his head back and sighed up at the ceiling.
The window curtains billowed out in a huff.
“I had a plan,” he said. “But clearly, the house has a different opinion.”
“It can be very stubborn like that.” She settled beside him on the sofa. “What’s the plan?”
He hesitated, then drew a small velvet box from behind his back. With a tentative smile, he opened it to reveal a sparkling engagement ring.
Emma’s heart thumped once. Twice. A warm, giddy feeling began unfurling inside her. “It’s beautiful,” she whispered.
“Do you like it?” He seemed almost nervous as he held it up. “It’s okay if you don’t. You can pick something else, if you want.”
“No.” She stared down at the brilliant diamond, bracketed by two crescent-shaped sapphires. The ring was beautiful, but it signified something so precious, it wouldn’t have mattered if it were a loop of string. A flood of emotion swept over her and she gave him a tremulous smile. “It’s perfect.”
He glanced at the ring, then back at her. “I’ve had it for a couple of weeks, but I was planning to take you someplace special so I could do it right. I hid it in my desk drawer, but it kept appearing in front of me, wherever I went. When I was in the attic fixing the floors last week, I pulled up a floorboard and there it was. Yesterday, I found it in the kitchen cupboard when I went to make coffee. And just now, it showed up here on the sofa. Apparently, the house thinks it’s time.”
The clock on the mantel chimed once, and Hunter laughed. “To hell with my plans. The house is right, anyway. I don’t want to wait any longer.” He took the ring from the box and fixed his emerald gaze on hers.
“Emma, will you—”
She kissed him, because she couldn’t help it.
She kissed him again, because her happiness was too much to contain.
He pulled her into his arms and murmured, “I’m really hoping that’s a ‘yes.’”
She laughed and wiped her eyes. “Of course, yes.”
When he slid the ring on her finger, a sudden breeze swirled into the room. It caressed the hair on their temples and brushed over their lips and eyelashes. Emma felt as though they were being blessed, and a fierce sense of joy rocketed through her at the rightness of it. There was powerful magic in the air, and this time she knew it was just for them. She whispered softly in Hunter’s ear and he grinned, then chased her up the stairs.
The lights in the room dimmed, then winked out.
The curtains drew quietly closed.
The dog sighed happily in his sleep.
And the house settled in a satisfied hmph.