Melanie’s eyes widened. Leah Ambrose had never smiled like that at her, not once.
A flash of lime green caught her attention. In a corner booth sat her best friend with a big smile on her face. Louis sat beside her, a big glass of iced water on the table in front of him. He looked like he was going to cry.
Carter cleared his throat and she focused on him once more. “I had this big speech planned, but now that you’re here standing in front of me, I can’t think of a damn word,” he said, his cheeks heating a little. “So I’ll just come right out and say it: I love you, Melanie Anne Smith.”
Knees threatening to give out on her, she collapsed in the nearest chair. “You do?”
He kneeled in front of her, handing her the roses. “That’s not all.”
“I don’t need anything more.” She really didn’t. The words she’d never thought she would hear from him were being said in front of everyone and then some. So this couldn’t be a dream or a joke. “I love you, too, Carter. Ever since you picked me to be on your team when the other kids wouldn’t.”
Leaning forward, he kissed her quickly, then handed her the blue box he’d been holding and she opened it. A slim band with a emerald-cut diamond winked at her. Breathing became hard to do, as did seeing when black dots danced in front of her eyes. “Good God, that’s huge.”
“Now I know why you love her so much,” Jake shouted from the back and everyone burst out laughing.
Melanie’s cheeks heated and she pressed her palms against them. “Sorry,” she whispered.
“Don’t be. I like your sassy mouth,” he whispered back, then raised his voice. “It seems like my entire life has been touched by you, and I just can’t see the next sixty years without having you by my side. I’m not Prince Charming and you don’t need rescuing. But I am yours and I’ve got a Mustang sitting out front that I’d love to drive off into the sunset with you in it. Marry me, Melanie, and make me the happiest man in the world.”
She blinked, clearing away the dancing dots and gazed into his eyes. “Yes, and I’ll go anywhere in the world with you.”
The entire dining room erupted into applause and cheers.
Carter tugged her to a standing position and slipped the ring on her finger. She kissed him, putting every ounce of love she had for him in that kiss. He returned her kisses, hands cupping her face. It was the sweetest kiss of her life.
“Damn, but I love you, woman.”
“Say it again,” she whispered.
“Love you.” He kissed her again. “Love you, love you.” Then he swept her off of her feet and she grabbed his hat, putting it on her head. “This what you had in mind? I watched a dozen You Tube clips before I found a movie that even remotely resembled what you were talking about,” he said.
As he strode out of the restaurant, she kissed his cheek and said, “It’s perfect.”You’re perfect and best of all: You’re mine, Carter Ambrose.”
Setting her down by the car, he grinned at her and fiddled with the brim of his cap. “I have a couple more surprise for you, soon-to-be Mrs. Ambrose.” He opened the passenger side door. “Get in.”
“I don’t think I can take any more surprises.”
“Trust me, baby.”
He drove to the house on Persimmon Drive and her heart sunk at the sight of a Sold Sign in the yard. As they pulled into the driveway, she saw someone had hung a flag with a roses and hummingbirds from the front porch.
“What’s going on?”
Carter cut the engine and helped her out of the car. Digging into one of his pockets, he pulled out a house key. “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Her jaw dropped. “You’re giving me my own house?”
“Well, I was kind of hoping that you’d let me live here, too,” he said with a teasing smile, then he handed her the keys to the Mustang. “Couldn’t see myself letting Chase have his car back. So, it’s all yours. Figured it might be fun for you to drive back and forth to class on sunny days.”
Glancing from the keys to the car, then him, she shook her head. “But what about living in Charlotte?”
“You want a house there, too? Done.”
She punched him in the shoulder. “You know what I mean.”
“I decided to open two garages. One in Charlotte and here, in Holland Springs. Jake and I decided to forgo the investors and become business partners. Besides, what would Beau do without you defending him?”
She jumped into his arms, plastering kisses all over his face. “Best presents ever, well, besides this diamond ring. But I don’t have anything to give you.”
“I’ll let you make up your oversight in bed.” Holding her by her thighs, he walked to the house. “Why don’t we go inside and take a look at the master bedroom… maybe let me drive you crazy for once.”
Laughing, she wrapped her arms around him, happiness winding through her. She was going to be Mrs. Carter Ambrose, her best friend’s sister-in-law and best of all, her happily ever after had come true. “How about we drive each other crazy?”
“Sounds like a plan to me.” He pressed her against the door, dipping his head to claim her mouth in a searing kiss. Then he opened the door and carried her inside to begin what promised to be one crazy ride.
Two years later
Big brown eyes stared up at Carter, a toothless grin making his heart flip in his chest. The baby in his arms wiggled, then yawned and snuggled against him.
“You are so wrapped around her finger,” Melanie said, gently caressing SmithAnn on the face.
“I’m alright with that.” He kissed his baby girl before laying her down in her crib.
Pink was everywhere in his house: On the walls, the bedding and the baby’s clothes. It was even the color of the mini-Sprint Car he’d bought her a week after she’d been born. “Someday real soon,” he had said while “showing” her the present he’d gotten, “your daddy’s going to teach you how to beat the boys at their own game. Then I’ll have to buy three more shotguns to keep them all away.”
“Guess I’ll get going.” But he lingered in his daughter’s room, not wanting to miss a thing his little princess did.
His little princess grunted and let out a burp.
“Where’s your manners, Miss Priss?”
“That’s my girl,” Melanie said, then smacked Carter on the ass. He followed her to the kitchen. “Today, I’m taking SmithAnn with me to Kerry’s house to shoot her daughter’s birthday party, then we’re supposed to have dinner at your momma’s house. Card games to follow.”