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CAMERAS FLASH AS PHOTOGRAPHERS call Blake’s name. With his arm around my waist, he gently nudges me to face one pack of photographers, then another, angling his body as he poses in a casual-yet-suave way in his designer tuxedo.
My gown is a vintage Oscar de la Renta off-the-shoulder number that cost so much I want to puke. And swoon. And possibly frame the dress when I climb out of it later tonight. The train is long, the fabric is a luxurious peach color, and the cut is fabulous.
I feel like a million bucks, and on Blake’s arm, I’m practically preening. Glancing up at him, I’m surprised to see a blank, expressionless look on his face.
This is a side of Blake I don’t often see. The sleek, cool celebrity face he shows the world.
I’m not a huge fan of it, to be honest. I prefer the mussed bedhead in the morning, or the warm smile he gives me whenever he walks into Four Cups in Heart’s Cove. I miss the furrowed brow that tells me he’s poring over the new design of the house, going over some detail the architects can’t seem to get right.
It’s January, and we’re at the Golden Globes. It’s been nearly a year since I met Blake, and I can hardly believe it.
He leads me to an interviewer, who bats her eyelashes at him so much I only just barely stop myself from rolling my eyes. I’m sure I’d be turned into a meme within minutes if that got released on the internet.
While Blake is being Blake Harding, Hollywood celebrity, I let my head swivel, eyes bugging at the gowns, the tuxes, the sheer amount of wealth and celebrity around me.
Slight pressure on my lower back tells me Blake wants to move. My eyes snag on Brad Pitt. Holy moly, Brad Pitt is right there. I stumble, staring, because I remember E-X-A-C-T-L-Y how I felt as a teenager when I first watched Legends of the Fall.
Three words: Hot. And. Bothered. I was obsessed with long hair on men for a good ten or twelve years.
Then, Brad Pitt turns his head, looks at me, and winks.
Blake laughs. “Do I have competition?” he asks, lips brushing my ear.
I swat his chest and shake my head. “Of course not. But you have to understand, my formative years were spent desperately in love with that man.”
“Want to meet him?”
“What? No!” I gape at Blake, shaking my head.
But he doesn’t listen. He just gently guides (read: drags) me toward Brad freaking Pitt.
Before we can get there, we’re intercepted by another reporter. Then another. Then another. I’m simultaneously relieved and disappointed, flushed and embarrassed and excited.
By the time we make it inside The Beverly Hilton, I’m exhausted, and the Golden Globes haven’t even started yet. We’re led to our seats. I sit back and let myself be entertained.
Ricky Gervais is hosting this year, and when he looks right at Blake in the audience and makes a joke about the sheer number of romcoms Blake stars in, I can’t help but laugh.
Blake throws me a sideways glance, then leans over and plants a wet one right on my lipstick-covered lips. On TV!
IT’S NOT UNTIL WE’RE BACK at the hotel and I’ve carefully placed my gown in its garment bag that I take a deep breath. Blake is looking positively delicious, reclining on a mountain of pillows with one arm tucked behind his head. He’s kicked off his glossy black shoes, his bowtie is undone, and his black shirt is unbuttoned all the way down, showing off his glorious chest.
Flicking through the television channels, he glances at me when I emerge from the bathroom, a fluffy white robe wrapped around my freshly washed body. His lips curl into a soft smile. “How did you enjoy that?”
“It was insane. The gowns, Blake! I’m not a fashion person, but I swear to God, Trina will wet herself when I tell her about it.”
Blake chuckles. “You’ll get used to it.”
“I don’t want to get used to it. I want to be amazed by it every time,” I tell him, plopping myself down on the bed. It took me a full half hour to wash the makeup off my face, and I had to jump in the shower to get my hair back to normal. Being glamorous was amazing, and I’ll keep the photos for the rest of my life, but I feel more comfortable as myself.
Blake leans over and tucks a strand of wet hair behind my ear.
“Don’t get too comfortable,” I say, angling my head away. “I have to go blow dry my hair, otherwise it’ll be a bird’s nest tomorrow morning.”
“Who said anything about getting comfortable?” His voice is a low growl, his lips curled into a sinful smile. Then he reaches an arm around my waist and tugs me close with a yank that makes me yelp, and rolls his body over mine. “You looked beautiful this evening, Candice, but I think I prefer you just like this.”
My heart warms. I let my fingers drift over his cheeks, his lips, over to his temples. “Not so bad yourself, Mr. Harding.”
“It felt good having you by my side,” he says, nudging my nose with his before laying a soft, gentle kiss on my lips.
“Are you ready for the tabloids to pick up the story?” I tease. We’ve had a few intrepid paparazzi come to Heart’s Cove over the past few months, and there have been some rumors about Blake dating someone new, but this award ceremony is the first time we’ve been out together officially.
“It’s not a story,” Blake growls. “It’s real, and it’s my life.” He kisses me again. “My future.”
Oh. Oh, my. My insides clench at his words. Blake’s gaze warms right before he kisses me. For real this time. Deep, wet, and hot, his lips devour mine as he works the belt of my robe open. His hands explore my body like he doesn’t already know every inch of it, sending beautiful tingles rushing through my veins.
I’ll never get sick of his touch. I’ll never tire of his kiss, of the soft words he whispers in my ear when he makes love to me.
As if he can read my mind, Blake breaks the kiss and looks into my eyes, his gaze intent. “I love you, Candice. I loved having you by my side tonight. And I love the idea of going back to Heart’s Cove with you at the end of the week.”
I smile. “I love you too, Mr. Big Shot.”
Then he makes love to me. It’s soft, sweet, and slow, and it makes me burn up inside. Blake spends a long time with his hand between my legs, then his mouth, until I’m practically begging him for the real thing. And he gives it to me. I run my hands over his shoulders, gaze locked on his, emotions running riot in my body.
I never thought I’d have this. Even long before I lost my husband, I never thought I’d find someone who makes me feel so incredibly special. Someone who doesn’t try to smooth my rough edges, but fits right into them. Someone who loves me for me, who isn’t afraid to push me, who lets me know whenever I’m throwing up walls that have no business existing.
Over the past few months, I’ve let myself fall for him. I’ve slowly but surely let go of the guilt that plagued me for years, and allowed myself another shot at happiness.
These experiences—whether it’s a custom-designed new home, a yacht for whale watching, or a designer gown at an awards ceremony—don’t diminish what my life was before. They add to it. I’m able to appreciate and love Blake precisely because I lived the life that I did before.
I’ll always love Paul. And now I know I can love Blake, too.
When we’re tangled up in each other in bed, heartbeats returned to normal, I place a soft kiss on Blake’s chest. My limbs are heavy, and my eyelids keep sliding down.
“I’m going to wake up with the worst bedhead,” I mumble against his chest.
Blake’s chuckle is warm and round and perfect as he squeezes his arm around me. “I’ll help you brush it out. Or I’ll wake you up for round two and make it worse.”
Smiling against his skin, I secretly hope for option two.
And, as the first rays of sun peek through the hotel suite window, I get exactly what I wish for. Rounds two, three, and four are only interspersed with room service, a shower, and a much-needed nap. I’ve never felt so spoiled, so loved, and so alive.