A Double Surprise

Philip’s POV

(This is an unedited scene)

Nerves do not become me. And sweaty palms are not remotely attractive.

Wiping my hands along the side of my jeans to clean the moisture from my hands, I center myself with a deep breath, stand a tad taller with the exhale, and raise my fist to the door. Knock.

The large manor is ablaze with lights even though dusk has only just begun to bleed across the landscape. A few members of the construction crew working to divide the too-big-for-only-two-people house into more than one residence are clearly working overtime, as the sounds of electric tools leak from the far side of the dwelling.

Not the atmosphere I imagined for the start of our evening. But…this moment is a small steppingstone leading to the rest of our night, and the muted sounds of progress won’t lessen the importance, or dampen the thrill, of the plans I am putting into action.

My knock has gone unanswered. After a few more moments of silence, I rap against the wooden frame again. I’m rewarded with the muffled thunder of steps rapidly descending the stairs inside.

“Bye, Grams.” Miri’s voice calls from inside the house, moving closer with the sound of her descent from the upper level. “I’ll see you later tonight.”

Approaching footsteps married with the blurred image of beauty personified approach the opposite of the glass door.

I clear my throat, finger comb my hair, and prepare to come face to face with the woman who owns my heart. The door opens and…

Like every time I set eyes on my Miri, my breath hitches.

God, I love this woman.

Her immediate―genuine―smile brightens her eyes and melts away my anxiety. Her hair drapes over her shoulder in a cascade of soft curls enticing my hands to weave their way through the satiny tendrils. Wrapped in my favorite color―cobalt blue―everything about her makes it difficult for me to remain the gentleman and keep my hands to myself. I want to devour her right here, on the front porch.

She must note the gleam in my eye because her smile widens. A breath later, her attention shifts from my face to a space over my shoulder.

With a gasp, her hands fly to cover her mouth. “My god, Phillip. What have you done?”

“Well…today is rather special so I thought…” I shift and fan my hand out in presentation. “Surprise.”

Closing the door at her back, she giggles and then bites her lip.

Parked at the curb is not my usual ride but a horse drawn carriage. At the clear gain of our attention, the coachman tips his hat.

“Shall we?” I offer my hand to her, and she accepts. We climb down the porch stairs side by side.

“And today is special because we are celebrating…” she prompts.

I turn my head to peer directly at her, the sides of my lips kicking up a notch. “The two-year anniversary since I saw you for the first time, on the basketball court with your siblings.”

She stops and turns her body into mine. Cradles my face in her soft palms. “You are beautifully sentimental and romantic. I’m beyond lucky to have captured your eye.”

“I’m the lucky―”

Miri presses her mouth to mine, cutting off my words. Her lips are silk, strawberry sweet, and wipe all thought beyond Miri from my mind.


Miri and I jerk apart at the sound of her grandmother. “Good evening, Mrs. Roussard,” I say. “How are you doing this beautiful night?”

Mrs. Roussard stands on the covered porch, a foot beyond the now open door. “Don’t try to cajole me with your innate charm.” She drops her hands on her hips and, although her tone carries a sharp edge, her smile softens the delivery. “I need you to promise me you’ll take good care of my granddaughter and return her home safely, with time to spare before the witching hour.”

“But of course.” I tip my head. “Miri’s safety is always my top priority.”

“As it should be.” She flaps a dishtowel at them, shooing us onward. “Now get and enjoy your date.” Without waiting for a response, she returns to the house and closes the front door.

Date. The word seems too trivial for what I have planned. And I suspect…hope…Miri will feel the same once she’s in the know.

Sweeping my arms toward the awaiting carriage, I bow to Miri and invite her forward. “After you, my lady.”

Muffling a giggle, she climbs into the carriage seat, and I slip into place at her side. The coachman knows our intended destination and he encourages the horse into motion without any verbal exchange between us.

I take Miri’s hands in mine as the carriage ambles down the street to the serenade of clomping horse hooves. I lean in and press a kiss to her cheek.

“Have I ever told you about that first time I saw you?” Lifting our joint hold to my lips, I deposit another kiss to the top of her hand. She bites her lower lip and follows my every twitch with intense interest. “From the first moment, there was something about you, tugging at my core. You knocked the breath from my lungs, like a rocketing basketball to the gut. I wanted…no, needed…to know you. And the second I heard you speak, your voice wrapped around my heart and started claiming ownership, bit by bit.

“And now…” My fingers trace a gentle line down her temple, my palm flattening in a caress against her cheek. “You dance like magic across my soul, and I am utterly, completely, irrevocably yours.”

She springs forward, wrapping her arms around my neck and capturing my mouth with her own. The kiss is pure and perfect and far too short.

For the remainder of the carriage ride, I regale her with stories about us. Our moments spent together and the countless reasons we fit together so exquisitely. When the carriage pulls to a stop along the waterfront, at the boarding ramp for an illuminated steamboat, Miri blinks and balks.

Her hand drops to my thigh. “What is this?”

“Dinner on the water.” I climb out of the carriage and extend my hand to her, offering my assistance. “Maybe a little dancing.”

She slips her hand in mine and steps down “Only a little dancing? When I’m in your arms I feel like I am floating on air, and I could dance all night long.” She glances over the steamboat and boarding dock. “But if this is a dinner cruise, where are all the people?”

“Just you and me tonight.” I wrap my arm around her and tuck her into my side. “This voyage is a private dinner cruise for two.”

“Phillip!” Miri spins to face me and slams her palm to my chest. “What have you done? Booking the cruise like that…it had to cost a fortune.”

“You are worth every penny spent.” I kiss her forehead and then tug her forward toward the steamboat.

With our fingers intertwined, I lead her to the upper level where a table awaits. The steamboat launches and takes to the river, while the staff is quick to serve our meal―crisp salad, shrimp and lobster, potatoes au gratin, and steamed asparagus. With flavors exploding on my tongue, and the city lights glimmering off the water on either side of us, I bask in the pure magic of Miri’s presence. Her beauty, not just in a physical sense…although, there is that…but beauty of the mind and soul.

She leans into the table, closing the distance between us. “How did you pull this off? Or even afford it?”

“Never underestimate my will or ingenuity.” My lips spread in a responding grin even as I wipe my palms across my thighs and swallow against the dryness consuming my mouth.

Music sweeps across the deck as the staff breezes in and clears the table. Two additional staff members deliver a bottle of bubbly chilling in a silver bucket of ice and dessert on a covered tray. The waiter cracks open the liquid refresher, but before he can tip the drink to a glass, I rise to a stand, collect the bottle, and raise a finger, giving it a tight twirl. The waiter nods and leaves Miri and me alone.

“May I?” I tilt the bottle to Miri’s empty glass.

Her hand darts out, covering the top of the flute. “Phillip. What are you thinking? I’m not yet twenty-one.”

“And that’s why…” I gently kiss her forehead. “I am offering you sparkling cider.”

“Oh.” Her mouth curves into a small o and she removes her hand for the top of the glass. “Then you may pour.”

My insides are a jittery mess of bouncing knots, yet I hold my body steady. I fill her glass, set the bottle aside, and grab the handle set on top of the silver dome covering her dessert.

Her gaze tightens on me, swinging from my face to my hand and back. “What are you up to?”

“What am I up to?” I slam my free hand to my chest in feigned shock. “My only motive is to make every moment memorable for you. That being said…” I lift the lid and set it aside.

Miri’s attention shifts to the cupcake placed in the center of the round tray. Vanilla cake with white frosting and a sculptured red rose set on top. Her eyes pop wide and she sucks back a sharp breath.

I pick up the dessert and lower to one knee.

“Miri…” I present her the cupcake and her eyes dip from my face to the sparkling diamond ring nestled with the fondant rose. “Would you bless me with the honor of tackling on the rest of our lives together as husband and wife?”

Large professional confetti cannons set at the four corners surrounding us explode, sending red chrysanthemums and miniature roses into the air all around us.

“Oh. Oh my!” Her hands fly to her mouth and her breathing accelerates. “I…”

She bites her lip, her response falling into silence. Every second she leaves me in suspense my chest grows tighter. Does she know how much her slow reply tortures me?

Every millisecond feels like an hour or more and I…

Oh god. Panic is blooming in my gut.

Maybe I was too impulsive, and she isn’t ready for this. Or maybe I was more wrong than I had considered, and she isn’t interested in such a commitment.

I start to lower the ring adorned cupcake. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have―”

“Oh, Phillip.” She captures the cupcake from my hold and sets it on the table. Her finger brushes over the top of the stone. A breath later, her palms glide along the side of my face. “I love you so much, and I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life with you, as your wife.”

I tilt my face into her touch. “O-kay. So then why am I sensing a problem?”

“Well. I just…” She drops her head and sighs. Lifts her head to meet my gaze once more. “Before you decide you want to spend the rest of your life with me, there’s something you should know.” She leans forward and presses a kiss to the lower edge of my temple. My heart slams like a battering ram against my ribcage. I close my eyes as her lips lower and she whispers in my ear. Whispers that something she says I should know.”

My body locks up, my breath snagging in my throat. In a mere handful of spoken words, my world is forever changed.