“Alright…could we have sex on the kitchen counter?”

His eyes widened slightly, like he hadn’t been expecting such a scandalous request. “Absolutely.”

33

Cassini

Balto bought the house and got the keys.

The place was officially ours.

In the morning, Balto would begin moving my stuff to the new place. Everything we didn’t keep would be sold. And then the apartment would be put back on the market.

For now, I lay in bed beside him in the middle of the night. My body was cuddled into his side even though it wasn’t the least bit cold. My fingers grazed over his hard chest, and I felt his distinct heartbeat, slow and powerful.

My eyes were heavy with fatigue, but all I wanted to do was stare at this man, worship him while he slept. He returned to me on his knees and had become the man I’d always wanted him to be. He would be a wonderful father. And he would be a good man to me. I pressed my lips to his chest and placed soft kisses everywhere.

He stirred slightly but didn’t open his eyes.

I was so large with my pregnancy, throwing up every morning and feeling self-conscious about my swollen hands and feet. My body had changed so much, and I suspected it would never return to the way it used to be. But Balto made me feel more beautiful than I’d ever felt. He made me feel like the most desirable woman on the planet, like every woman should be jealous of my looks and curves. That’s what I appreciated about him the most, that he loved me even more than he had before. His love made him blind to my flaws. When everyone else saw rolls of fat, he only saw curves.

I didn’t know what I’d done to capture his obsession, but I was so glad I’d earned it. I felt like I loved a man who was truly loyal to me, who would do anything for me without thinking twice about it. He would never hurt me, not the way other men had. He was my protector, and he would protect both of us for the rest of his life.

He turned over and faced me. His eyes opened an instant later and looked into mine, a sleepy hint to his gaze. Instead of closing his eyes again and drifting back to sleep, he chose to stare at me instead.

My hand glided across his chest as I held his gaze. “This is what I missed the most…sleeping with you. That was the hardest part about losing you…sleeping in that big bed alone.” I stared at his chest as I remembered the nights I’d cried myself to sleep.

His hand moved under my chin and forced my eyes to meet his. “You’ll never sleep alone again. I promise.” His hand slid to my cheek, and his thumb brushed over my bottom lip. Sincerity shone in his eyes, like he was truly sorry for all the pain he caused. “I’m gonna be right here. Every day. Forever.” He wasn’t the kind of man that made promises, but he made one to me. His hand moved to my stomach, his favorite spot to touch.

I placed my palm over his.

“Baby.”

My eyes lifted to his again.

“Close your eyes.”

I looked at the command written all over his face and did as I was told.

He pulled his hand away, left the bed, and then returned a moment later. His weight shifted the mattress as his naked body returned to mine.

I had no idea what was going on.

I felt the chain around my neck disappear as he took it away. I kept my eyes closed, waiting until he gave me permission to open them again.

Then I felt the cold metal against my finger as he placed a heavy ring on my left hand. He slid it until he reached the bottom of my finger. “Look at me.”

I opened my eyes, my sight immediately going to my left hand. A skull diamond identical to his sat on my hand, the diamond so brilliant that it shone even in the darkness. It wasn’t a typical engagement ring, small and feminine. This was an extension of him, of his blackened soul.

I looked at his left hand and noticed the ring I’d been wearing on the necklace. He normally wore it on his right hand, but now he wore it on his left, on his ring finger. The realization hit me in that moment, and my lungs immediately gasped for air.

“I may not be the Skull King anymore, but I’m still the king of your heart. And you’re the queen of mine.” He grabbed my left hand and admired the enormous diamond that now graced my hand. “This is the part where I’m supposed to ask you to marry me. But I can’t do that because I don’t think I need to ask. I feel like we are already together, already man and wife. I’ve felt this way since the beginning, since the moment I laid eyes on you. You’ve always been mine, even when you belonged to someone else. I don’t want to ask because you’ve always been my queen—and I’ve always been your king.”


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