Craving the Cowboy(67)

By: Liz Isaacson

Heather had assured him it was the most romantic thing he could possibly do—providing a place for her to live until they got married. Putting all the pieces in place so that all she had to do was work with horses and show up on their wedding day. But Dwayne wondered if everything he’d done to make her life as easy as possible would make her feel caged instead. Forced into the life he wanted her to have, not the one she wanted for herself.

After all, he’d promised her they’d talk about everything, make every decision together.

On his next pass through the kitchen, his eyes caught on the black ring box sitting on the single sheet of paper. He’d labored over both, spending long hours at the jewelry store here in Grape Seed Falls, and then driving to Austin to look in the bigger ring shops there. It had taken every ounce of his willpower to stay on the right highway and not head out to Marysville and ask Felicity what kind of diamond she liked.

Again, Heather had assured him that he’d done fine with the marquis cut, the thick gold band, the row of extra diamonds along the top of the ring.

Still, Dwayne couldn’t help feeling a little sick to his stomach. He picked up the ring box and cracked the lid, the sight of the diamond slightly soothing. He set the ring down and picked up the list he’d been working on. With every phone call Felicity made, he learned more and more about what kind of chores she liked, and which ones she’d probably rather have him do. He’d redone the list at least half a dozen times, but he was starting to feeling like he was getting pretty close to something he could present to her.

His mind raced, his emotions spiraled, and he picked up his phone. After it went to his sister’s voicemail, he said, “Tell me again why I can’t propose while I’m in Marysville for Christmas.”

Heather didn’t call him back once school ended. Oh, no. She appeared out at the ranch, darkening the doorway of the barn where he was putting away Stockton, the horse he’d been breaking since he’d finished with Payday.

“Proposing to her at Christmas is a bad idea, because it’ll forever pollute the holiday.”

Dwayne frowned and unlatched the cinch. “Pollute? Getting engaged is a good thing.” He was practically salivating to do it. “That makes it sound dirty.”

“Have you two discussed an engagement?” She took a step into the barn and held up one finger as if checking off a list. “No. Have you told her you’ve already bought a ring?” Another finger went up. “No. Have you so much as mentioned that you have The Loft reserved for September?”

Dwayne flinched and lifted his eyes from the saddle. “How did you find out about The Loft?”

“Please,” she said. “I work in an all-female building. When The Loft gets reserved, we all know about it.”

“Too presumptuous?”

“Definitely.” Heather grinned at him and crossed her arms. “Just talk to her already. You can discuss an engagement over the phone. Or in a text. You’re not breaking up with her.”

Dwayne shook his head. For some reason, he wanted the proposal to be a surprise. Probably because then Felicity couldn’t freak out, back out, and break his heart.

Christmas came, and Dwayne drove to Marysville, the ring box in his glove compartment. His nerves felt like someone had put them through a tree shredder—one he’d just used a couple of days ago to get rid of some debris around the ranch.

Heather had warned him not to propose at Christmas, but Dwayne wanted to bring the ring just in case. In case of what, he wasn’t sure.

He wiped his palms down his thighs as he walked toward the front door, and when Felicity opened the door and stepped onto the front porch, all his fears and doubts disappeared. “You’re more beautiful than I remember.” He swept her into his arms and lifted her right off her feet. “It’s so good to see you.”

She held onto his shoulders, tipped her head back, and laughed. “I’m so glad you made it.”

“How’s your mom feeling?”

“So much better,” Felicity said. “She’s got some sores in her mouth and nose, but that’s normal.” She leaned in closer. “She complains about the sour candy, but we all know she loves it.” The teasing sparkle in her dark eyes sent heat right through Dwayne.