10 Years Later Epilogue

CAMMIE

If Dalton could have, he would have moved in that afternoon and never left my side. Unfortunately for us, work called him back to New York the very next day. I was thankful we had the chance to work out our issues—okay, my issues—before we were once again separated by nine or so states and a three-hour time difference.

The distance didn’t bother me at first, but then a week had turned into three and before we knew it, Dalton had been back on the East Coast for six months. Him being gone like that made me question how I ever survived the past ten years without ever seeing him, let alone talking to him. I must have been slightly insane, because not seeing him now was the worst kind of torture, utterly painful and excruciatingly slow.

He was pulled off his case pretty soon after his informant was killed, and things started to fall apart on the law enforcement end. Actually, he said that everyone previously assigned to that case was being reassigned, and the case itself was on hold. It took the office weeks to officially debrief the team, and in the meantime, I’d flown back and forth a few times and had fallen madly in love with Manhattan.

I decided that if they didn’t approve Dalton’s request to transfer to California that I’d gladly pack up my things and move there to be with him. I knew that I would miss my best friend, Kristy, but I missed Dalton more. Plus, Kristy claimed she’d do the same thing for the right guy.

New York was exciting in ways that Los Angeles wasn’t. The energy alone was something I wished I could bottle up and bring with me everywhere. The only problem was my job, but I was convinced that with my résumé and recommendations, I’d be able to get some sort of position at a radio station in the city.

Speaking of work, there was never another word spoken from my boss, Scott, about my so-called “tired” appearance, or my dedication. He actually apologized for being out of line and told me he was concerned that I’d lose focus and quit, and I was too good to let go without a fight. So I forgave him, and we moved on as if the conversation at the elevator had never happened, which I preferred, to be honest. Workplace drama was the last thing I wanted in my life.

• • •

My potential New York job search and move never came to fruition, however, because Dalton called me a week later to tell me that both he and Tucker got transferred. He was Los Angeles-bound once and for all. And this time, he did move in the next day.

“Don’t you think we’re rushing things?” I teased him.

“How many times do we have to go over this? Ten years isn’t rushing.” He shook his head at me, frowning slightly as if he were annoyed.

My mood turned serious as the reality of it all hit me. “But what if we hate living together?”

Dalton smirked at me. “Then it’s going to be a long, torturous life filled with you being miserable, and baking me cookies anyway.”

• • •

That was almost a year ago. And it had been anything but torturous; living with Dalton was effortless. The connection between us only strengthened, and I worked on communicating my fears and any issues the moment they arose. Okay, he might have had to pry things out of me every once in a while, but at least I eventually talked it all out with him. He was nothing but patient with me.

His job kept him busy and he was still doing undercover work, but it was a little less scary than the stuff he was doing in New York. There was risk, of course, and I still worried, but I hadn’t had another panic attack, which I considered major progress on my end.

“Are you done yet?”

I turned my head to see my handsome boyfriend looking at me from the doorway. “I’m almost done,” I said with a smile, chewing on my lip as I tried to figure out how to cram one more pair of shoes into my suitcase.

Dalton walked over to the bed, surveying the two suitcases I had spread out, filled to overflowing. “We’re only going to be there for three days, Cammie. You don’t have to pack your entire closet.”

“Don’t tell a girl how to pack!” I stuck out my tongue, and he grabbed my arm and pulled me against him.

“I’ll tell you whatever I want. I’m the boss of you,” he teased before covering my mouth with his.

I kissed him back with enthusiasm, wondering if kissing him would ever get old, or if I’d ever not want to melt against him every time we did.

“Okay, okay, I’m done packing,” I said, conceding a little too easily after that toe-curling kiss. I zipped up the last suitcase and he reached for it, not allowing me to carry anything but my purse as we loaded our things into his truck.

I stared at Dalton as he drove us to the airport, my gaze roaming the broadness of his shoulders, finally traveling down the length of his muscular arms. God, he was sexy. And he was mine. This little trip to New York was his idea, to celebrate the one-year anniversary of our moving in together. Dalton was always doing romantic things like that—celebrating the date of our ten-year high school reunion, the date of our official first non-dramatic date, the date I decided to work through things and not be a coward, and now we apparently celebrated the date we moved in together too.

The girly-girl in me couldn’t complain, even if she wanted to. I chalked it up to just another reason why Dalton was perfect for me. He seemed to know what I needed even when I didn’t, somehow doing it without overstepping.

And he proved it even more during our trip to Manhattan. He had booked the entire extended weekend. I wasn’t allowed to help with any of it, which to be honest, was an immense relief. Have you ever had someone plan out an entire getaway for you? I hadn’t either, and it was all sorts of blissful not being the one to choose the hotel, book the flights, or plan the extracurricular activities.

I might have him handle all of our travel from here on out. That’s what he gets for being so damned good at it.

Once we checked into the Plaza Hotel—the Plaza!—Dalton informed me that we had dinner reservations at Tavern on the Green. I’d heard all about the restaurant from Tom and John, but in my visits in the past, we’d never ventured there. We were always too busy, and there never seemed to be enough time to do all the things I wanted to do, or see all the sights I wanted to see.

Once we’d settled into the room, I changed into a blue dress and strapped on my black heels before walking out of the bathroom.

“You look beautiful,” Dalton said, his eyes a bit hungry as he inspected me from head to toe.

“Thank you. You look quite handsome yourself,” I said as I took in his dark gray dress shirt and black slacks. “You clean up nice, Mr. Thomas.” I raised up on tiptoe and planted a soft kiss against his lips as he reached for my hand and pulled us both out of the room, still lip-locked as the door slammed behind us.

“In a hurry?” I asked as I pulled away.

He muttered something I didn’t quite hear before saying, “I’m just starving. Aren’t you hungry?”

The elevator doors opened and we stepped inside.

I shrugged before answering with a smile, “I guess I could eat.”

He turned toward me, a predatory look in his eyes that sent shivers down my spine before he moved in and pressed my body with his against the elevator wall.

“You guess you could eat? It’s Tavern on the Green, Cammie, you’d better get your hungry on,” he demanded before bringing his lips against mine in a hungry kiss that ruined my damn lipstick.

I wanted to laugh at his statement, but as weak as my knees were at that moment, I was too focused on trying to stand upright as he kissed me like that. Shoving hard against his chest, I grumbled, “Stop kissing me like that or we’re going right back upstairs to finish what you started.”

“Later,” he said gruffly, which didn’t exactly sound teasing, and I was tempted to ask him what was wrong, but didn’t.

Once outside, as Dalton led us toward the entrance to the park, I asked, “Are we walking there?”

He glanced down at my strappy high-heeled sandals. “Shit, I forgot. Can you walk in those, or should we grab a cab?”

I thought about risking it, but decided to be honest. “I think we should cab it there, but walk back. That way we can walk off our dinner before working off our dinner.” I waggled my eyebrows at the insinuation of sex later, and he laughed.

After a quick word to the man in uniform out front, a sharp whistle blew and a cab raced to a screeching halt in front of us. “Here you are,” the doorman directed, practically shoving us both inside the cab before blowing his whistle again.

My eyes refused to stop taking in the surroundings as we raced past the entrance to Central Park. New York’s green seemed even greener than the green in Los Angeles. All the shades appeared a bit bolder, a smidge brighter. I couldn’t get enough of it, wanted to absorb every bit of it and sear it into my memory bank for all time.

We arrived at the restaurant quicker than I had expected. I realized that I might have been able to manage the walk, but was thankful we didn’t risk it. Dalton gave the driver a twenty before sliding out of the cab and reaching for my hand to help me out.

“You want change?” the driver asked with a thick accent.

“Nah, you keep it.”

“Thanks, buddy. Enjoy your dinner,” he shouted before speeding off.

“That was nice of you,” I said, leaning against Dalton as we walked.

“I’m a nice guy.”

I laughed and agreed, of course, as we made our way toward the famous restaurant, a New York City landmark. Once we were seated inside, Dalton’s demeanor changed, and I wondered if maybe he had bad news about work.

Reaching a hand across the table for his, I asked, “Are you okay?”

His eyes locked onto mine and instantly softened. “Of course. Are you okay?”

I smiled. “Yes. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“I don’t know. You’re the one who asked me, and why wouldn’t I be?”

He was definitely being weird. I should have seen it coming from a mile away, but I didn’t. Not even when he moved out of his seat and knelt next to me on the floor. I honestly thought he was tying his shoes . . . which didn’t have any laces, mind you. I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, hyperaware of the people around us who had shifted in their seats to turn and stare.

Dalton looked up at me, his eyes shining. “Cammie, my dear, sweet, beautiful Cammie. I had so many things I wanted to tell you, but I can’t remember a single one of them right now. Which is really embarrassing, since I’m supposed to be great at giving speeches.”

He looked around at the other patrons who were watching us with hopeful eyes. “Class president,” he informed the small crowd before turning back to me.

“I’ve been in love with you since we were teenagers. Just kids, really, who didn’t have a clue what real life was like. But we know now. We know it’s hard, it’s painful, and there are things we’re forced to go through that we should never have to go through alone. But I never want to go through anything without you, not anymore. I love you, and not just for the cookies. Marry me? Be my wife. Bake cookies only for me.”

My eyes instantly welled up as the weight of his words, all of them, hit me with full force. I wished so much that my father was still around to know the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. Dad would have loved him, probably more than my mom does, and that was saying a lot.

Dalton cleared his throat, his hand still extended with the open ring box in full view. “Cammie? I need an answer. Please.”

Lost in my head, I’d forgotten to respond. He seemed so vulnerable sitting down there, his heart on his sleeve while strangers looked on. “Yes! Of course yes!” I practically shouted through my tears.

He moved the ring from the box and onto my finger before standing up and pulling me into his strong arms, the only arms in the world that made me feel safe. The arms I never wanted to be without as long as I lived.

The entire restaurant exploded with clapping and cheers, but I was too overwhelmed with emotion to be embarrassed at being the center of attention. Dalton’s lips found mine and claimed me with all that was between us—our past, our present, and our future.

I glanced down at the beautiful ring on my finger and admired the way the cut made it sparkle unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I guess I’d been right all those months ago.

If you happen to show up to our twenty-year high school reunion, Dalton and I will definitely be there together. And this ring will still be on my finger.
 
THE END