“Are you ready for this?” Leo’s quiet voice startles me, making me pivot on my foot to face him.
“Of course. I’ve been ready for months.”
His knowing smile doesn’t affect me. He’s been in my shoes, not all that long ago in fact when he proposed to Serena. Slapping me on the shoulder, he gestures down the trail. “Then go get your girl. I’ll disappear as soon as I hear you guys coming.”
I give him a nod and head off toward the parking lot where I asked Heidi to meet me. Figuring out how to propose to Heidi was a hell of a lot harder than I expected it to be. But, I managed, and I think – I hope – she’s gonna love it.
Convincing her to meet me for a hike to the hot springs that hold so many memories for us was easy. Coming up with an excuse for why I had to meet her here as opposed to driving together, not so easy.
But here I am, a ring in my pocket and a settled sense of peace in my soul. Heidi is my future, and it starts today.
I get to the trailhead just as Heidi’s car pulls into the parking lot. She cuts the engine and climbs out, giving me that beautiful smile I’m addicted to. “Hey handsome.”
A few strides and I’m pulling her into my arms, unable to hold back the rush of love I’m filled with. I’m seized with the desire to just drop to my knees and ask her to marry me right here, right now, but everything I wanted is set up already.
“Hi baby. Let’s go.” I lift her hand up to kiss her knuckles, then lead her to the trail. We walk for a short while before Heidi’s curiosity wins out.
“It’s silly we’ve got two cars here. Why didn’t we drive together?”
I shrug noncommittally. “I had to run some errands first. Sorry.” Actually, Leo came with me to help set up, and he’s taking my car home so that Heidi and I can leave together. After all once she agrees to marry me, I’m sure as fuck not going to want her out of my sight for a while.
As we turn off on the small trail that leads to the secluded pool that is our destination, I feel my phone vibrate, indicating to me that Leo heard our approach and has made his hopefully secret exit. I owe him a drink next time we’re together.
“Max!” Heidi’s delighted gasp makes me cheer inwardly. I stand back and watch her take in the candles I set up on the rocks surrounding the pool, the music playing softly, and the chilled bottle of wine resting in a bucket. She turns to me slowly, a loving smile etched across her perfect features. Walking over to me, she drapes her arms around my neck and kisses me sweetly. “This is amazing.”
My hands go to the hem of her shirt, and I lift it off her, revealing her delicate curves covered in a bathing suit. “C’mon,” I say gruffly, suddenly overcome with emotion. I’m about to ask the love of my life, to commit to me forever. The weight of this moment is comforting, but no less intense.
Minutes later we both sink down in the warm water. I reach over and pour the wine, Heidi’s favourite from La Lune Rouge winery, into the two metal tumblers I brought. Handing her one, I use my free hand to pull her over to sit on my lap. I lift the tumbler, and clink it gently with hers.
“To you, my love. The best pediatrician Westport General has ever had.”
“I thought that was you,” she teases, taking a sip of her wine.
“It’s a title I’m willing to share.” I set my wine down, licking my lips with a sudden bout of nerves. “After all, if we’re both Doctor Donnelly, then we can both be the best.”
The words hold a hint of our earlier teasing, but my emotion laden voice makes it clear I’m not joking anymore. It takes her a second to catch on, then Heidi’s hand is on my cheek. “Max,” she murmurs.
I capture her hand, bringing it to my mouth to kiss. “I had this whole speech thought out, but having you here with me I’ve forgotten everything.” I suck in a deep breath, and speak straight from my heart. “You’re the center of my world, the beginning and end of everything that matters. You healed me from wounds I thought would last a lifetime, and you showed me more happiness than I ever thought possible. There were so many things that stood in our way, that could have kept you from me, but somehow our love made it through. I love you and if you’ll let me, I’ll love you until the day I die. And if there’s another life for us after that, I’ll find you and love you for that entire lifetime as well.”
Heidi’s eyes are shining with tears, and her lip is trembling. I lean in and kiss it gently. Then, reaching to the side, I lift the small black box up and open it. “Heidi Morgan, I never want to let you go. Will you do me the absolute honour of being my wife?”
She’s already nodding before I even finish speaking, her hands making a grabbing gesture as I lift the ring out of the box. “Oh my god, yes Max. Yes, a thousand million times yes.” I slide it on and then we’re kissing, her tears mingling with the dampness I suddenly feel on my own face.
I’ll remember this moment forever.
It’s the moment my life truly began.
My all-star hockey career is over. All because of a busted leg from one too many hits into the boards. Coming home to Dogwood Cove to heal and figure out my next steps feels like the best option I’ve got.
Then somehow the first step I take is to wind up in a fake relationship with my physical therapist, who also happens to be my little sister’s best friend.
It starts out simple enough. Lily needs a date to a family wedding, one that promises to be more torture than celebration. Now, thanks to an overbooked hotel with only one bed, two gossiping bridesmaids, and a three minute slow dance… the entire town, including our families, thinks we’re dating.
To save face we decide to keep the ruse going.
There’s just one problem: What I’m feeling for Lily is anything but pretend.
Falling for her wasn’t part of the plan, but she’s a ray of light that pierces through the dark clouds surrounding me.
She thinks my future is still in hockey, but I know differently.
My future is with her.