John’s heart pounded as he looked down at the beautiful woman in his arms on the ballroom’s dance floor. Her dark eyes were as luminous as the diamonds around her throat. Her black hair tumbled over her bare shoulders, above the sleek pale blue satin of her dress that perfectly set off the creamy-coffee of her skin.
“What is it?” she whispered.
This was the moment. If she didn’t want him after this…
He took a deep breath.
He stopped dancing, looking down at her in the middle of the crowded hotel ballroom. “You were right.”
“I was wrong to demand that you give up a life you love to marry me.” Shaking his head, he said in a low voice, “I never would have asked you to do that as my mistress. I shouldn’t have asked you as my wife.”
Lacey’s lovely face, which had been briefly shining, suddenly fell. Looking down at her expensive high heels, covered with crystals, she muttered, “We don’t need to rehash the past. It doesn’t matter.”
“You’re wrong.” He reached out and gently lifted her chin. “I should have thanked heaven the day you said you loved me. I never should have let you walk out my door.”
“Then why did you?” she said hollowly.
John’s lips twisted downward. “I was afraid. I thought as long as I never gave my heart, I’d never feel again like I felt as a boy. Loving without hope. Powerless and alone.” He took a deep breath. “But I’m not scared anymore.”
“What are you saying?”
He searched her gaze. “I love you, Lacey.”
She choked out, “You love me?”
“I love you. Exactly as you are.” He hadn’t cried since he was a boy, but in this moment, his eyes were stinging. “The truth is, I’ve loved you all this time. That’s why I couldn’t touch another woman. My body already knew what my brain refused to admit.” He cupped her cheek. “I thought the only safe marriage was to have a wife completely under my control. But now…”
He gave her a slow-rising smile. “I don’t want to be safe anymore. I want to live. With someone who challenges me. Delights me. Torments me. It’s you, Lacey. Only you.”
She swallowed. “But you said marriage was different from a love affair.”
“It is.” Suddenly, John slid to his knees in front of her on the dance floor, causing the other couples to slow down and then stop dancing altogether to stare. “It’s a love affair that can last forever.”
“John…” she breathed.
He looked up at her, his heart in his eyes. “Maybe you don’t need me. But I need you.” His voice caught. “We can stay in New York. Spend your days doing whatever makes you happy. I want to be with you. To be your partner, your friend. Your lover. For the rest of my life.”
Drawing a sparkling diamond solitaire from his tuxedo-jacket pocket, he said humbly, “Will you marry me?”
Covering his outstretched hand with both of her own, she burst into tears. “Yes,” she whispered. Throwing her arms around him, she cried, “Oh, yes.”
Joy rushed through his heart as John rose to his feet. Holding her tenderly, he whispered, “I don’t deserve you.”
Happy tears sparkled in her brown eyes. “I love you.”
“The greatest gift of my life.” And cupping her face, John kissed her passionately, in front of all the others, who were now cheering in the ballroom, rattling the windows and shaking the crystal chandeliers with their applause and delight.
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