Epilogue (on the best night of the best year)
One year on
She stands by the railing at the edge of the balcony. Her face is turned up to the sky, watching the Labour Day fireworks light up the sky. He can almost imagine, even from a distance, the way colours are reflecting and bouncing off the ring on her left hand, where it rests against the railing.
It makes him grin like a fool.
She is clad in an intoxicating mix of luxurious cream silk and the softest navy blue lace he's ever touched, and he doesn't think she's ever looked more beautiful. Her hair is tumbling over her shoulders in luscious waves that scream of a day spent in his bed, igniting a fierce desire that curls through his body. Her sheer robe barely hits the back of her thighs, and does more than hint at the lingerie he can see underneath.
They're only here for the Labour Day weekend this year, not a patch on the three weeks they ended up spending out here last year, but if he didn't think he could fall in love with her any more than last year he knows he's proven himself spectacularly wrong in only one day.
The tears on her cheeks when she answered him quite literally took his breath away.
"The fireworks are beautiful from out here," she murmurs softly, turning to face him with a beautiful grin that tells him she knows exactly how long he's been watching her for. He steps out onto the balcony, and she turns to face him just as his hands find purchase on her waist, thumbs running along the delicate lace of her underwear. Her muscles bunch and shiver beneath his hands, and she nips a kiss against his jaw as her lips curl into a smile.
"The view certainly is beautiful," he murmurs, grinning as she actually giggles against his jaw, her eyes wide and soft and laughing at him as she studies him.
Fireworks be damned, he'd rather watch her any day.
"You're not scared this year," he whispers a second later, the realisation hitting him like a train as she lets out a soft, calm breath against his skin. Shaking her head, she stretches on her tiptoes to brush her lips against his. She doesn't linger long, but she's still smiling at him when she drops back down to her normal height.
"I'm not scared this year," she agrees softly, her eyes shining as she slides her hands up his arms, curling her fingers delicately over his shoulders. She's accepted over the course of the year that her shoulder will probably never heal completely, but they've discovered that there are plenty of ways to adapt. Curling her fingers over his shoulders or around his neck if she keeps her arms low doesn't cause her any pain, and they've learnt to make it feel just as intimate as hooking her arms around his neck might do. They never really got to do that in the first place, which he thinks actually makes it easier, in a way. You can't miss what you've never had, so they say.
The diamond sparkling delicately on her finger catches the corner of his gaze, and he watches for a moment as the colour changes slightly with every explosion of fireworks, his heart feeling like it might burst.
She's not scared. And she can't stop staring at the ring, either.
Her cheeks are slightly flushed when she finally moves her gaze back to his, and she flashes him a grin that makes him want to drag her right back to bed when she's only just convinced him to let her out.
"So," he murmurs eventually, letting his fingers slide along the lace of her underwear and delighting in the shiver he feels as he flattens his palm against her stomach. "Fan of fireworks?" he asks, laughing as she takes a moment to focus on his question. He's not the only one who spaces out in conversations now, although he does have to resort to slightly underhand tactics to even the playing field.
"Fan of you," she whispers, and he knows she's deflecting the question but she's humming softly as she presses her lips beneath his ear and he can't quite bring himself to care. He also can't stop the groan that escapes his lips, and she laughs softly against his ear. "So… easy," she whispers slowly, her lips pressing into a grin against her skin that almost undoes him all over again.
"I'll show you easy," he all but growls, pinning her back against the railing behind her and catching her lips in a searing kiss that leaves them both breathless when she finally drags her lips from his and lets out a soft whimper. He cards his fingers lightly through her hair as she catches her breath, gentling his touch as she eases her weight against him.
"We're spending more than two minutes out of bed," she warns, a hint of breathlessness in the back of her voice that drags him back to her lips for more. "Rick!" she laughs softly, pushing gently on his chest. "I'm serious," she murmurs, laughing. And she does sort of have a point.
Their relationship has only got more physical as the year has passed, if he's honest. There was a part of him that had expected that initial heady desire to just be a honeymoon period, figuring that would eventually fizzle out and settle into something a little more normal (not that he's ever really been a fan of normal). If anything though, he wants her more than before.
And it's electric. Every time.
"I know you're avoiding the question, by the way," he murmurs softly, clearing his brain and pressing a softer kiss to her lips.
"Avoiding? Me?" she hums softly, amusement in her voice as her eyes dance a little. He can't help himself laughing, sliding one hand up to cup the back of her skull gently. She tilts her head back a little and he watches her consider his question. "I don't think I'll ever really be a fan of fireworks, not after last year," she offers gently, her fingers moving from his shoulder to drag lightly against his jaw, graze over his bottom lip and linger there as she speaks. "This is a pretty spectacular memory to start replacing those with, though," she whispers.
In this relationship, he's meant to be the one with the words. He's the writer. He knows how to talk her down after a panic attack. How to talk her to sleep. How to talk her up into a frenzy of arousal.
She talks more with touch. Simple, intimate little gestures that tell him she loves him better than her words ever could. But sometimes, just sometimes, she manages to talk him speechless.
This would be one of those times.
"You know, this is the point where I'd usually take you back to bed," he murmurs eventually, his voice a little raw as his fingers graze seductively over the sensitive skin of her hips. She shivers and bats his hands away, eyes darkening into the best glare she can muster when she's as well and truly undone as she is tonight.
"Shut up," she murmurs, brushing her lips to his and completely contradicting her words. "We were having a moment."
"I don't think anything could ruin this moment," he whispers against her lips.
He's known since that night a year ago that this is where he would propose, but it took him until they arrived last night and he came out of the (still amazing) bathroom to find her curled up in his bed to figure out how he would actually do it.
Suddenly, there had seemed like no other option.
"And if you use the phrase 'I proposed in bed' to anyone tomorrow," she's warning him suddenly, reading his mind like she's getting so very, very good at. Her tone is menacing, but the heat is absolutely missing from her eyes. He chuckles, pressing a kiss to her lips.
"Are you asking me to lie to our family and friends?"
"Yes," she laughs, cutting her eyes to the ring on her finger. "Yes, I'm asking you to lie, because I swear to God if those words leave your lips you'll have more than my father and your daughter's reactions to worry about." He shudders at the mention of his daughter, and she raises an eyebrow in a silent challenge because yeah, his daughter and the implication of sex in the same sentence still gives him the creeps and she knows it.
"Well, I did wake you up with a ring," he murmurs, a smile crossing his face as her expression softens completely and she brushes a kiss against his jaw. Despite her heavy detective schedule, he's learnt that she's notoriously hard to wake up whenever they're in the Hamptons, and so he woke her up this morning with his fingers curling gently around her ear and an open ring box in his other hand.
"It was pretty special," she whispers, dropping a lingering kiss to his lips before continuing, "but there's a difference between that and suggesting that we were having sex at the time."
"So I can say that?" he grins, lips hovering over hers as she laughs at the look on his face, "I can tell them I woke you up with a ring?"
"Yeah, you can say that," she agrees on a whisper, taking the kiss he offers as he all but lifts her off her feet. Her laughter rings out as he spins her around, leaving her clutching onto his arms as he sets her back on her feet. He's leaning against the railing now, and she tucks herself into his arms, fingers playing gently over his bare chest as he skims a palm along her spine, where he knows she's most sensitive. "Play fair," she murmurs, arching into his touch a little and nipping at his jaw in warning. He laughs softly, stilling his hand when he reaches the small of her back. "Mm," she hums softly, stretching up to brush a kiss against his lips. "Love you."
He slides his arms round her properly at that, all but crushing her against his chest. She lets out a sharp huff of air but only moves to free her arms from where they're trapped between them.
It's overwhelming how much he loves her, sometimes.
The last year has been nothing short of incredible, even as they worked through the aftermath of what was undeniably one of the worst years of their lives. Tightening his arms around her a little more, he rests his chin against her shoulder and takes a deep breath filled with the ocean, the sea breeze and her.
That one hasn't quite sunk in yet.
"God, I love you too," he breathes eventually, when he feels like he can get the words out steady. He feels her smile against his neck, squeezing at his shoulders with gentle fingers.
"Enough to let me breathe?" she murmurs, her voice lighter as she bumps a hip lightly against his to get a little space. "Where'd you go there?" she asks softly, bringing her fingers up to cup his cheek.
"Just… good places," he reassures her, catching her lips gently with his. She smiles into the kiss, bumping her hip into his again as she tries to see the look on this face. Her soft laughter confirms his suspicions about what she must find. "Just remember, you cried more than me today," he whispers against her cheek, making her laugh a little more.
"Doesn't change the fact that you're still the girl in this relationship," she shoots back instantly, kissing his cheek before nudging his hip a bit more firmly, twisting a little in his arms as the fireworks start up again. Rubbing her arms gently as a shiver slips through her body, her brushes his lips against her ear.
"You're my fiancée," he murmurs eventually, chuckling as she shivers for something entirely unrelated to the breeze swirling around them. "That's where I went."
"…how did that happen?" she whispers after a second, her voice as soft and incredulous as his thoughts had been. He chuckles softly, and really, she's just set him up too good to pass up.
"Well, I woke you up with a ring," he murmurs, laughing as she swats at him, "asked you a question and you said yes. He catches both of her wrists easily, so she can't get him again. "You never make it that easy," he offers in explanation.
"Smartass," she mutters, managing to elbow him gently anyway.
"So are you looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow?" he asks softly, quitting while he's ahead. Letting go of her hands as she nods, he slides his fingers around her hips to hold her a little tighter.
"Wait a minute," she murmurs eventually, realisation in her eyes as she turns properly to look at him. "Are they all going to be expecting a ring? I knew it was too convenient that they all couldn't come out until tomorrow!" He laughs at that, curling his fingers around her left hand as her eyes sparkle in what he knows is an attempt at indignation.
"I can't believe you didn't figure it out until now to be honest," he murmurs, grinning as he leans down to kiss the skin beneath her ring.
"Some of those excuses were pretty contrived," she murmurs, flicking at his fingers lightly, "but you were promising me a weekend of sun and sex, which, I know, you delivered on," she interrupts herself, smirking at him, "so I guess I didn't think about it too much. That doesn't answer my question, though," she continues instantly, her voice demanding. "Are they all going to be expecting a ring?" He laughs, brushing his thumb across said ring as he considers her question.
"Family, yes," he murmurs without hesitation. "Friends? Probably suspicious. They are de-tec-tives after all," he adds, enunciating the word like they so often do when they want to mock him. "And Lanie's just plain nosy," he risks, laughing at the fire in her eyes. "I bet she's like a magpie with jewellery." She goes for his ear then, pretending to tweak it.
"You realise best friends are as good as in-laws, right?" she murmurs, flicking his ear lightly before curling her fingers against the sensitive skin.
"How is that going to differ from normal?" he murmurs cheekily, laughing as she moves to flick his ear again. There's no power in the gesture, and she raises an eyebrow at him in challenge. "I already find her in my bed after the odd poker game, how much closer could we get?"
"Isn't that every man's fantasy?" she shoots back slyly, her voice low and seductive, "two women in his bed?"
"What I find you two doing in my bed is hardly the stuff of fantasies, babe," he returns, chuckling softly and dipping his head to whisper in her ear as she moves to try to hurt him again, for the name and the comment. "Besides, there's only ever one woman in my fantasies."
"Good save," she murmurs after a long moment, catching his lips in a kiss that's deep and full of promise. When she pulls away she's panting slightly, her lips red and parted. "I'm surprised you didn't talk to Lanie actually," she murmurs, her eyes sliding back down to her hand. "About the ring, I mean. You got it so right."
He grins at that, allowing himself a little moment of pride. The ring is delicate and elegant. A single princess cut diamond in a sleek platinum setting, it's all smooth lines and sparkle, fitting snugly against her finger. It's practical and understated, but somehow you can't keep your eyes off it.
He didn't quite do it alone, though.
"Alexis helped me," he confesses eventually, brushing his thumb over the ring and watching as she blinks a couple of times, realisation dawning.
"I thought that conversation was about her and Matt," she splutters, laughing. He doesn't like thinking about his daughter and marriage either, but he lets that one go at the look of wonder in her eyes. "Are you sure she doesn't want to become a detective?"
"Positive," he mutters without hesitation, voice teasing but serious. She raises an eyebrow in a silent challenge and he grins at her in defeat. That's a battle he knows he won't win. "And don't talk about my daughter and marriage in the same sentence."
"You brought it up first," she counters, laughing against his lips as she kisses him.
"What, by proposing?" he asks, grinning. He feels like he hasn't stopped smiling since he slid the ring on her finger, even during the downright un-repeatable things she did to him earlier that day that left him with absolutely no control over his body.
"Get your mind out of the gutter," she whispers, but she's kissing him in a way that tells him to do the exact opposite, and where's the fun in that anyway?
"How about you and that sinfully sexy lingerie get back in my bed instead," he all but growls against her ear, delighting in the shiver that runs through her body.
He knew they wouldn't last long out here.
"Our bed," she whispers, her voice hoarse and her teeth nipping at his earlobe as she pushes him back towards the door. "I believe it's your go," she murmurs, eyes sparkling in anticipation.
"Oh it most certainly is," he murmurs, catching her hands in his as they step through the sheer, gauzy curtains that flutter around their over-sensitive skin. They're one of her additions to the room, and he had absolutely no idea how seductive they would turn out to be. Pushing the doors shut behind her and crowding her back against the curtains and the glass, he almost feels her stomach drop. "And I intend to pin you to our bed," he tells her, deliberately emphasising the ownership as he lets his fingers trail down over her bare stomach to catch her lace clad hips and pull her snugly against him. She shivers sharply, grazing her teeth against his neck on a hum as she all but falls into him. "And do so many unspeakable things to you that you'll be begging me to stop," he murmurs, feeling more than hearing her moan against his neck.
"Never gonna happen," she whispers, but her voice is shaky and he knows she's not talking about the sex. Smiling softly, he brushes his fingers against her cheek.
"Happy?" he asks softly, catching her hands and leading her into the room. Her smile is wide and dazzling and aroused, and spectacularly just for him as she nods. She crowds into his back when he turns round to avoid backing into the bed, her laughter soft against his shoulder as she smiles a little more.
"Smooth moves," she whispers, the knowing smirk on her lips as she hooks her fingers into the waistband of his boxers telling him that she's knowingly referencing a conversation they had in this very room a year ago. "And to answer your question, ridiculously, stupidly happy," she whispers, peeking out from behind his shoulder to get a look at their proximity to the bed. "Champagne?" she asks softly.
"This time we really are celebrating something, baby," he murmurs, grinning widely with the cheesy line and the memory as she tugs on his arm and flips him easily onto his back on the bed.
"Don't call me baby," she all but growls, crawling over to straddle his hips and shrugging the robe off her shoulders in one smooth move before her lips meet his in a searing kiss.
"Champagne?" he gasps eventually, even though he's flipped her onto her back and is well and truly in the middle of ridding her of her senses and not really that keen to stop.
As it turns out, neither is she.
"Champagne can wait," she murmurs into his ear, voice low and seductive and just about perfect. "I can think of other ways to celebrate."
And as it turns out? The best night of the best year can only get better.
Author's Note: well, this is the end. Thank you so much to everyone who has read and reviewed and enjoyed. I've loved hearing what you think, and the story has been a lot of fun to write. I really would love to hear what you think of the epilogue!