A/N: Thanks for the reviews, Leya, Mrs. Frank, Jackie and Kenna! And now...the last chapter. Thanks for sticking with it to the end. LOL And I really appreciate everyone who took the time to leave feedback and review! I loved reading them! Thanks again!
"Okay, a little more this way." Joe had a tight grip on Emily's hand.
Emily, her eyes closed and a smile on her face, followed him willingly along the stone path. "Are we almost there?"
Joe turned back to look at her. "No peeking," he ordered. "And, yes, we're just about there." He stopped and let go of Emily's hand.
"Can I look now?"
Emily felt Joe come up behind her and slip his arms around her waist, pulling her back against him.
"Okay, open your eyes."
She blinked as she took in the scene in front of her. They were standing in front of a private cabana with a thatch-covered roof surrounded by the most densely green foliage she had ever seen. Hibiscus and Bird of Paradise bloomed all around, injecting vivid, brilliant color into the landscape, while a man-made stream gurgled alongside the entire area.
Emily stepped into the cabana, glanced down at the chaise lounge for two, covered with white linens, then looked up at the strands of tiny white lights illuminating the ceiling. She turned to Joe who was watching her reaction with a hopeful smile on his face.
"Joe, this is so beautiful," she said in a hushed tone. She fingered the gauzy netting, tied around the four pillars at each corner of the structure, then turned to the rattan cart that was poised next to the chaise. It held several silver dome-covered trays, as well as an ice bucket containing a bottle of champagne. "Is all of this for us?"
"No," he said, taking her in his arms. "All of this is for you."
Emily looked at him quizzically. She hoped he still wasn't worrying about everything that had happened with Dirk the day before. It had taken her a long time to calm him down after they'd left police headquarters. She hated that he felt guilty for what went wrong and that he'd completely blamed himself for all of it.
She sighed inwardly. She and Nancy were going to have a tough road ahead of them if they wanted to curb the Hardy overprotective streak that ran through both Frank and Joe, but she felt up to the challenge. Much to her surprise, she was starting to love what Joe did for a living, especially when it melded with what she loved, and the danger aspect didn't frighten her nearly as much as it used to. Art detectives…hmm, she'd probably better put that suggestion on hold for awhile.
Joe kissed her forehead and smiled down at her.
"This was how I had originally planned on telling you that I am totally and completely in love with you." He sighed. "Then I messed it all up when our room got ransacked."
Emily giggled and touched the tip of his nose teasingly. "You did not mess it up. I thought the way you told me was perfect." She tilted her head to one side. "Although I am not opposed to any of this, mind you."
She took Joe by the hand, and with a teasing look, led him to the chaise lounge. "Get comfy," she instructed, as she peeked under the lids of the silver trays.
He leaned back on the pillows, stacking his hands beneath his head. "I'm liking this." he said with a grin. "But, I'm supposed to be the one doing the spoiling, you know."
She slid onto the chaise lounge next to him. "You can, in a little while." Close your eyes," she said with a seductive smile.
He obeyed, and Emily placed a double dipped chocolate strawberry up to his lips.
"Mmmm..." Joe took a big bite, then grabbed her and pulled her into him for a fruity kiss.
Emily giggled and pulled away, licking her lips. "Juicy." She giggled again. "Want some more?"
"Yeah, I want some more." He raised his eyebrows suggestively at her.
"Joe," she warned as he leaned over and took the strawberry from her. He tossed it to one side, and swept her into a dramatic embrace, laying her down on the soft cushions and kissing her passionately.
"I love you, Joe," Emily whispered. "I love you so much."
He groaned, and pulled her into him more tightly. His lips covered her hers, kissing her longingly and deeply. "Emily," he breathed. "Mmmm, I love you." His kisses trailed from her neck over to her throat. "Love you" he whispered, letting his lips wander down the deep, v-neck of her sundress. His breath was warm against her soft skin, and she shivered at the sensation. "Love you."
"Hmmm?" He kissed her tenderly at the v-neck of her dress, then let his lips travel back up slowly and languorously to her neck.
She ran her fingers through his hair. "Joe?"
"What is it, baby?" he murmured against her neck.
"Is that a gun in your pocket?"
Joe dissolved into laughter and lifted his head to look at her smiling face. He kissed her soundly on the lips. "No. But thanks for reminding me." He sat up and reached into the front pocket of his khaki shorts and smiled as he pulled out a black velvet jewelry box.
Emily's eyes widened and she leaned up on her elbows. "What's that?"
"A present." He helped her to sit, then handed it to her with a kiss on the cheek. "Open it, baby."
She didn't know what to think as she lifted the lid of the rectangular-shaped box. "Oh, Joe," she breathed. A small, white gold, heart shaped pendant, its center filled with diamonds, sparkled on a velvet cushion. It was the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen. And he was giving it to her. She swallowed hard. He was the most amazing man she'd ever met and she couldn't believe how lucky she was to have him in her life.
"Do you like it?" he asked, his voice hopeful.
She looked up at him, her eyes filled with tears. "It's beautiful."
"Oh honey, don't cry." Joe hugged her to him, then took the box from her. "I want to see it on you." He slipped it around her neck, fastening it, while Emily held her hair out of the way. He dropped a kiss on the nape of her neck then said, "Let me see."
She turned to him, unshed tears still brimming in her eyes. She touched the heart, with a trembling hand, then reached for him. "Thank you. I love it."
He held her close, then laid back down, taking her with him. "And I love you."
Emily giggled. "Did you pick this out yourself?"
"Of course," he said with a smile. "Actually, the saleslady helped me." He traced his finger along her cheek, brushing away a tear. "But I told her I wanted something that would show the woman I love how she's captured my heart."
Tears sprang to Emily's eyes again. "Oh, Joe." Wordlessly she pulled him close to her and kissed him deeply.
Frank and Nancy were strolling along the beach, arms wrapped around each other's waist, the surf occasionally lapping at their ankles and foaming around their bare feet.
"Oh, Frank, this is so beautiful," Nancy said, gazing at the pink and orange hues beginning to color the sky, as the sun started its descent into the horizon.
"Yes, it is," he agreed, admiring her vivid blue eyes and the soft curl of her strawberry-blonde hair as it rested on her shoulders.
She blushed. "I don't mean me."
"I do." He stopped and pulled her into him. "I have loved being here with you."
"Me, too." She closed her eyes and rested her head against Frank's bare chest. His strong, muscular chest. Nancy let herself relax and marveled over how much she enjoyed the feeling of safety and protection his strength gave her. "In spite of all the nastiness that went on."
He chuckled and dropped a kiss on top of her head. "Yeah, in spite of all that. But hey, the Feds gave us an extra four days here on the house. That makes up for some of it." He leaned back and took her hand. "Come on."
He led her to a secluded stretch of beach around the bend, where a picnic basket and large blanket spread on the sand were waiting for them.
"Frank," Nancy breathed. It was beautiful. Two champagne glasses were arranged next to an ice-filled bucket on the edge of the blanket, and the basket was overflowing with good things to eat. She smiled up at him. "Frank Hardy, behind all of your efficiency and pragmatism, beats the heart of a true romantic."
"Shh." He grinned at her. "Don't tell anyone. You'll ruin my reputation."
Nancy stood on her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. "I love it." She took his hand and led him to the blanket, kneeling down. "Are you hungry?"
Frank looked at her slyly as he joined her. "Yes, but not for food. That can wait." He reached over and took her into his arms, then fell backwards, pulling her down on top of him.
She bent her head forward and Frank met her mouth with his. Nancy ran her hands over his chest and up into his hair as he deepened the kiss.
She moaned softly as he slipped his hands underneath her cover-up, resting them on her bare back, between her bikini top and bottom. Sensation exploded within her at his touch. His fingertips caressed her tenderly and Nancy pressed herself into him, wanting more. She had started this case more than a little intimidated by him. But now she knew that she wanted nothing more than to spend every waking moment with Frank Hardy. And even the moments when she wasn't awake. Sleeping next to him was heavenly. She smiled as the kiss ended.
"Why do you always have this effect on me?"
"What effect?" Frank grinned.
"You make me weak in the knees. You always have. It's not fair, Hardy."
"What are you talking about?" He reached his hand around her neck and pulled her back down for another passionate kiss.
Nancy sighed reluctantly as they broke apart. "Ever since we met in Transylvania. When I saw you standing in my hotel room, I could hardly say anything to you."
He laid his head back on the blanket. "Well, as I recall it, you flipped me over and threw me down to the ground on my back." He leaned up on his elbows. "Not very romantic, Drew. Plus, you scared the hell out of Joe."
She rolled her eyes. "I didn't want to be taken advantage of. And I thought that's what you were trying to do."
"Oh, yeah?" Frank grinned at her. "Are you getting that same feeling now?" He pulled her against him, bringing his lips close to hers. "Because that's exactly what I'm trying to do at the moment." He kissed her longingly.
"Oh, you are, are you?" she whispered, her lips close to his.
"I most definitely am." Frank's lips met hers in another hot, open-mouth kiss, as he held her tightly and rolled so that he was now on top of her. He broke away and looked down at her. "So what do you think of that?"
Nancy reached up and traced his cheek and jaw with her finger. "I think I'm the luckiest girl on the face of the earth."