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“To the unquestionable success of the new album, and all of you who helped get me there! I absolutely couldn’t have done it without you.”
As Isobel met his gaze, Ewan raised his glass, along with everyone else packed into The Stag’s Head for the release party of her latest rerecorded album. She still had two to go, but the effort had been more than worthwhile, with the current album hitting the top ten on the charts its first week out. The original recordings were still getting some play here and there, but critical acclaim for her new interpretations had been piling up, praising the sophistication and maturity of the music as coming from an artist entering her prime.
What Ewan saw when he looked at her was a woman who’d found herself and her place. She was radiant, full of joy and a confidence he found more and more appealing by the day. That she no longer faced the world with fear was a bloody miracle. She’d come so far since she’d first crashed into his life. The fact that Paul Burgette was still in prison and would be for years to come, courtesy of the additional charges made after his initial kidnapping trial, had a lot to do with that. But the strength and will were hers, and Ewan couldn’t have been more proud.
She’d done exactly what she’d set out to do, remaking her career into something that suited the life she wanted. That she’d done it with him in mind made him feel like the luckiest bastard in the world. Well, maybe not quite. He thought of the ring he’d been carting around in his wallet for six months. No time ever seemed to be quite right to ask her to be his wife. He’d wanted to make sure she was happy and settled and healed before he brought it up. Looking at her now, laughing and toasting with their family and friends, with her father’s family she’d been slowly getting to know, and all the members of her band and crew who’d joined them on the road for the short-stint tours she’d done to promote the new albums, he thought maybe she was finally there.
Damn, if that didn’t make his palms sweat.
Finley clapped him on the shoulder. “Why do you look like you’ve swallowed a frog?”
“I do not.”
“I’m the one looking atcha.” Finn narrowed his gaze, then leaned in close. “You’re finally gonna ask her, aren’t you?”
“Thinking about it.”
His friend’s grin spread wide. “It’s about damned time.”
Callum Quinn, the fourth member of their group, strode up with a pint of Guinness. “About damned time for what?”
“Somebody’s finally going to ask someone that thing.”
Ewan bodily pivoted his friend out of Isobel’s line of sight. “Och, shut yer pus. For someone who used to do covert ops, you’re shite at keeping a secret.”
“I dinna ken why you dinna just get on with it,” Finn protested.
“I should never have taken you lot shopping.” But it had been so nice that all three of his best mates had elected to set up their new outdoor adventure business in Glenlaig. Having his team together for the next biggest decision of his life had seemed like a good idea at the time.
Alex materialized from somewhere. “Best you take care of business before the intel gets leaked.”
Ewan glared at him. “You, too?”
Alex shrugged and popped a fried prawn into his mouth. “You canna think she’ll say ‘no.’ You’re disgustingly happy together.”
“Why am I friends with all of you?”
“There were bullets involved,” Callum said.
Finn and Alex nodded sagely. Ewan shot a middle finger and spent the rest of the party avoiding all of them.
But they’d put the idea in his head. Or, more properly, lit a fire under his arse. Maybe he was just tired of waiting.
At the end of the night, when she gave him their signal that she was ready, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and started navigating them toward the door. It took a while, as there were what felt like a thousand hugs that had to be exchanged. As they inched through the crowd, he spotted Ciara and Alex having what seemed to be a heated conversation. There’d been some weird antagonism between the two of them from the moment Alex had moved to town.
Isobel followed his gaze. “Hmm.”
“Do I need to intervene in that?”
“You need to stay out of it. Don’t go all big brother on them.”
That had his attention sharpening. “Is there something I need to go big brother on?”
She linked her arm through his. “Not your business, love.”
Whatever the hell it was, he wasn’t going to worry about it tonight.
Ewan drove them home, his brain circling to find the words to express what she’d come to mean to him. Words weren’t his forte. He was a man of action. So, when they got back to the house and let Havoc out for his evening romp, he pulled her out into the gardens they’d planted together. “I want to sit with you under the stars.”
She settled onto the bench beside him, leaning into the curve of his arm. “Tonight was too much socializing for you.”
“It was fine. You were having a good time. I just want you all to myself now.”
Her finger traced a pattern on his knee. “You have all of me. You know that, aye?”
He did. And yet he still wanted to make it official.
They sat in comfortable silence for long minutes, listening to the night noises and the gentle tinkle of the wind chimes he’d given her, as Ewan tried to come up with the words. But before he could pull together the scraps of his thoughts, Isobel sat up.
“You know how much I value the life we’ve built here. The home and foundation you’ve given me.”
“Aye.” His low-level nerves ratcheted up at the sudden tension he could feel in her frame. She didn’t do that anymore. Not unless she was worried about how he’d react to something. Surely, she wasn’t about to break things off. Did she want to go back on the road for a longer tour?
“Everybody tonight wanted to know what’s next. I put them all off because we’ve barely finished the latest album, and they’re already pushing for more.”
Ewan frowned. “Are you feeling burnt out? Do you want to slow down?”
“No, and yes.”
“I dinna understand.”
She huffed. “I’m not explaining this properly because I’m nervous.”
He lifted a hand, combed back the hair she’d taken back to her natural honey blonde. “You dinna have to be nervous with me. Just say it.”
“Maybe if I say it fast, like ripping off a plaster.” She took a deep inhale. “I want to slow down and take some time off because I think we should get married.”
Ewan’s brain short-circuited.
When he didn’t speak, she rushed on. “I know this isn’t the way things are done. But I also know you’ve prided yourself on never pushing me or saying or doing anything that’s going to unduly influence me. And I appreciate that more than I can say. But I just wanted to clarify the situation. In case that’s something you were thinking about.”
He couldn’t think what to say and knew he’d hesitated too long when she pulled away a little. “I’m good with how things are, if marriage isn’t for you. I just wanted to make it clear that it wouldn’t be coercion, if that was something you were into. Which clearly you’re not.”
When she would’ve stood up and fled, he grabbed her hand. “Dinna put words in my mouth.” With his free hand, he dug out the ring, holding it up in the glimmer of the moon. “I’ve been carrying this around for six months.”
On a gasp, Isobel covered her mouth. “You have?”
“Mmmhmmm.” Because he knew his mum and sister would give him grief if he didn’t, he slid off the bench and got down on one knee.
“You really want to get married?” she blurted.
He barked an exasperated laugh. “Woman, I’m trying to ask you, if you’ll just let me speak.”
“Sorry!” She mimed zipping her lips and waited, practically bouncing in her seat.
“Isobel, will you do me the honor of being my wife?”
Lips still pressed together, she went brows up, eyes sparkling.
Ewan quirked a grin. “Yes, you can speak again.”
“Yes!” She launched herself at him, peppering his face with kisses. “A thousand times, yes!”
Havoc, sensing a game afoot, came barreling over and tried to get in on the fun. Ewan toppled, wrapping his arms around Isobel to save her from the brunt of the impact. They were both laughing on the ground as he slid the ring on her finger.
“Never gonna be a dull moment with us.”
From where she sprawled over him, she beamed. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
* * *
We’re barreling toward the final stretch of the Kilted Hearts series. Next up is the book you’ve been waiting for from the very beginning. Check out Single Dad in a Kilt, Afton and Hamish’s friends to lovers, single dad-nanny, parent trap romance. You’re gonna love it!