He had always been proud of her determination and her accomplishments, but the day she passed the Bar Exam and officially became a real lawyer, his pride in her was multiplied a hundredfold.
Marti Perkins was going to change the world. He believed that wholeheartedly.
She'd certainly changed his world, and that of his daughter, too.
"Dad, where is she?" Nicky complained for the third time, never one to like being kept waiting, especially when a celebration was on the calendar.
"She'll be here," Julian answered mildly, stretching his legs out under the restaurant table. "She's just running late."
But in the back of his mind he was concerned about her absence too. What if she got in a wreck on her way to the restaurant?
He pulled out his cell phone and started to call her.
"Finally!" Nicky exclaimed suddenly, spotting Marti winding between tables to approach theirs.
Julian stood, slipping his phone into his pocket and pulling out Marti's chair.
"I'm sorry — traffic was terrible," Marti apologized with a kiss for him. She also dropped a kiss on the top of the child's head before sitting in her seat.
"I think Nicky was about ready to eat the tablecloth," Julian teased his daughter with a smile, returning to his own seat.
"I was not," the girl wrinkled her nose at her father, not entirely appreciative of his odd sense of humor.
"Have you ordered?" Marti asked, reaching for Julian's menu.
"We didn't want to start without you," he answered.
"I just want dessert," Nicky stated matter-of-factly. She had a tendency to speak her mind — a trait she'd inherited from her father and learned even more from being around Marti.
"Dessert sounds good," Marti agreed pleasantly.
So Julian flagged down a waiter. They ordered dessert in lieu of a meal, plus wine for the two adults and a sparkling cider for Nicky.
Julian raised his glass of wine. "To the newest member of the Tennessee Bar Association," he toasted, gazing warmly into his girlfriend's eyes.
Marti smiled widely, lifting her glass to clink gently against his.
Not one to be left out, Nicky grabbed her flute of sparkling cider and quickly clinked it with the other two.
"Have you decided which job you're going to take?" Julian asked, referring to the two top law offices in the area that Marti had received offers from.
She sighed. "I can't make up my mind. They're both really good; I almost wish I could have both of them."
"In that case," he replied. "I have a third option to put on the table."
"Okay, let's hear it," Marti responded readily.
Julian reached across the surface of the restaurant table to take one of her hands in his. "Alright, well…I had this crazy little idea," he began a bit hesitantly. "I was thinking of taking on a new law partner."
Marti's eyes lit up. "Oh, like 'Parrish-and-Perkins, Attorneys at Law'?"
"Actually…" he gave her a little smile and a significant raise of one eyebrow. "I was thinking more along the lines of 'Parrish-and-Parrish…Attorneys at Law'."
Surprised, Marti stammered out, "As in… — ?"
Still holding her hand, Julian looked her full in the eyes and continued softly, "As in…will you marry me?"
Her heart skipped a beat. (Two or three, in fact.) Wow, she hadn't expected this!
Marti shot a glance at Nicky's grinning little face. Apparently the child wasn't surprised, and was one-hundred-percent on board with it.
Marti turned tear-bright, love-filled eyes back to Julian. "Yes," she whispered with a nod, swallowing the lump in her throat and gripping his hand. "Yes, I will marry you."
A mixture of joy and relief sprang to Julian's face, and he leaned over for a kiss.
"Yuck," Nicky covered her eyes, her childish innocence grossed out by the display. She waited for the kissing to end, but it didn't look like it was going to any time soon.
"Dad," Nicky interrupted, poking her father's arm with a little black box. "Hey! Here."
But Julian wasn't quite done yet. Three more little smooches on Marti's lips, and he finally pulled back.
He took the box from his daughter and picked up Marti's left hand. He slid the ring onto her finger and then slipped his fingers intimately between hers.
Marti looked at the ring sparkling on her hand, then back up at the affectionate look on Julian's handsome face. She gave his hand a gentle tug and leaned in for one more kiss.
Julian complied easily, more than happy to indulge her.