Heath’s focus shifted to me and he pulled me into a tight hug. “Erica, future sister-in-law. You have no idea what you’re getting into with this one, but more power to you.”
I laughed and pushed him back playfully. The two men wandered into the living room and talked while Alli all but dragged me toward the kitchen so she could inspect the ring. She studied it for several seconds as the light danced off the diamonds. I smiled, thrilled all over again that he’d asked, that I’d agreed. Without even having had the chance to fantasize about what that moment between us might be like, I’d known immediately it was what I wanted.
Alli ran a thumb over the band, one eyebrow raised. “This is different.”
I shrugged, not quite sure what to say. I wasn’t about to tell her that the bracelets he’d given me months ago doubled as handcuffs, and this ring held a similar symbolism. “Different, but it’s us. I love it. Plus, how am I supposed to work on a computer all day with some huge rock on my finger?”
She leaned back against the counter, her gaze lifting from the ring to my eyes for the first time in several minutes. She studied me then, with almost as much intrigue as she’d studied my diamonds.
“So if I know you, your mind must be going a million miles an hour with all this.”
I laughed. “A little. I’m just...”
I sighed. “I don’t know. I think I’m still in shock that he wants this, you know, to make things permanent.”
“Blake is crazy about you. You know that.”
“It was an easy decision to make. Obviously I’m head over heels for him too. Not like he would have taken no for an answer anyway.” I laughed to myself, trying to imagine what lengths he would have gone to get the answer he wanted.
While my thoughts ran away from me, Alli smiled broadly and bounced a little. “I’m so happy for you, Erica! I’ve been freaking out all weekend. Heath told me after you left, and I’ve been dying to see you again.”
“I had no idea,” I said, admiring Blake’s gift, his promise.
“This can’t have been the first time you’ve talked about marriage.”
My eyebrows shot up. “Why, have you?”
A flush reddened her cheeks. “I’m not talking about me. I’m talking about you. Usually people talk about marriage before proposing. Test the waters and what not.”
“He mentioned it once, kind of in jest I think, but I told him he was crazy. And I meant it. I still think this is all kind of crazy. I’m scared to death, but I want to be with him. If this is what he wants and it needs to be now, so be it.”
The whole prospect was overwhelming and unexpected. I loved Blake without condition, but solidifying our relationship with marriage was something I wasn’t considering as a possibility for years more.
Marriage, to me, implied stability, something sure and reliable. Happily ever after and all good things. Conversely, very little in my life felt stable right now except my love for Blake. Despite his reassurances, the future of the business would worry me deeply until I knew it was safe along with everyone’s jobs.
Clozpin was so much more than a job, and seeing it successful was more than a short-term goal. I needed it to work, for so many reasons. If it didn’t, I’d be even more dependent on Blake’s wealth and security. While I appreciated that he would be that for me and never make me feel less for it, the idea of being completely dependent on someone else was unsettling.
“So have you thought of a date? A venue?”
I laughed at Alli’s enthusiasm but also fought a wave of anxiety at sorting out all those details. When on earth would I have time for that? Did his family expect something big? I’d been so overwhelmed with the proposal, I hadn’t even thought to ask Blake what his thoughts were on the matter. I was still trying to wrap my head around the basic concept of marriage.
“I seriously have no idea what we’re going to do or when.”
Alli’s big brown eyes were wide and expectant.
“But of course I could use your help,” I added quickly.
She smiled and bounced again. I laughed at her boundless enthusiasm. She was going to be an invaluable resource on all things wedding. If anyone could pull it off, Alli could.
“You’re the one who should be getting married. You probably have the whole thing planned out already.” My voice was hushed, and I looked behind my shoulder quickly to make sure Heath hadn’t heard me.
“I might, but I’ll settle for planning yours for now. Who knows when or if we’ll ever get around to it.”
“Sounds like you two have actually talked about it though?”
She shrugged and leaned her hip against the counter. “A little, but that’s a huge step. We know we’re not quite ready for that. I do have some more good news for you though.”
“Oh?” My eyebrows lifted with curiosity.
“Heath and I found a new place. It’s pretty close, but I’m sure Blake will be psyched to have his apartment back. We’re going to start moving things over this week, so Mr. Broody won’t need to share you with me anymore.” She smiled and poked my shoulder.
I smiled, happy for her and for us. “You must be excited.”
“I am. It’s the first time we’ll be getting a place together, that’s ours. It’s already vacant, so we should be moved over completely in a few days.”
“That’s awesome. Let me know if I can help.”
“Don’t worry about it. You focus on work. I know you have plenty to catch up on at the office, but pencil me in for dinner next week. Heath wants to invite the family over to see the new place. Plus I’m sure everyone will want to talk wedding details, so that will be fun.”
“Okay,” I agreed weakly.
The knot in my stomach grew at the mention of Blake’s family. I loved them, but they were a little overwhelming sometimes. Was there such a thing as being too nice, caring too much? Maybe by comparison to my family. The thought of inviting the Hathaways into my life to celebrate this occasion was unsettling at best. They’d done little more than shun my mother since the day she told them she was pregnant with me. Would they shun me now too, or feign interest and attend as if they’d cared at all my whole life? Either scenario seemed stressful, but I didn’t want to deprive Blake’s family of an occasion that might mean the world to them. Heaven help me, our two families could not be more different.