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Michael and I started living together. There wasn’t much of a conversation about it. His landlord contacted him about renewing the lease on his place but I told him not to bother and just like that, he was moving all of his stuff into the house. It just felt natural having him around every day never having to worry about him leaving. I loved waking up at 5 am finding him lying next to me because he didn’t have to leave the night before. Although, there were times when I’d wake up and he wouldn’t be in bed because he was busy taking advantage of the studio to paint.

I loved watching him work especially when he did it without a shirt on. “That looks good.”

He turned his head, finally noticing me in the room. Of course, he made a quick scan down my body once he saw I was wearing barely anything at all. One of the perks of living together was that I became more comfortable walking around in my underwear around him. I might have initiated a few adventurous trysts but I was still a little shy about him seeing me half naked, especially during daylight hours.

“I’m almost done with the painting but if you don’t put some clothes on I might not get to.”

I blushed. I loved the way he admired me. He always made me feel like I was the only woman in the world. “Is that the other piece Dante ordered?”

“Yeah, I figured I’d get some work done while you were sleeping.”

“I like the colouring, it’s very earthy.”

“That’s the look I’m going for. I can’t believe I got another job so soon. Things are working out really well for me for the first time in my life. I’m finally starting my career and I have you…I feel really lucky.”

“I’m very proud of you.”

“I’m proud of you too. By the way, you never told me how the meeting with the accountant went.”

“They accepted my business plan so now I’m able to use the money I need for the restaurant.”

“I can’t believe you had to jump through all those hoops just to use your own family money. Shouldn’t you just automatically have access to the fund as the heiress?”

“It used to be that way but because of my Grandmother there’s this law that prevents legacy families from using their wealth towards anything illegal so I have to prove that it’s a legit investment.”

“Oh, your grandmother who went to prison? The one who was also responsible for the death of your grandfather on your Dad’s side?”

“That’s the one! There’s a state-appointed forensic accounting firm that audits us every year. They also approve of any big investments like the restaurant and after I complete the purchase of the property they’re going to want me to submit monthly sales reports, employee payrolls, purchasing documents, tax filings…everything!”

“That kinda sucks. It’s like the government is babysitting you financially.”

“It’s not so bad actually. It’s good that they’re holding us accountable. This way, no one in the family has to ever worry about there being another Gemma Sloane. Watcher knows we don’t need another one like her.”

“Babe, I’m not gonna lie, you’ve got one screwed up family tree!”

“Oh please! I wouldn’t say that. All the women in my family have been very accomplished. My mother was a scientist, my great-grandmother was the chief of police, my great-great-grandmother was an astronaut, and my great-great-great grandmother was a famous artist and she was the one who started this legacy.”

“And now you’ll be a chef and restauranteur! Okay, I get it. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the bunch. Either way, I’m grateful for Gemma Sloane.”

“Why?”

“Because without her, there’d be no you.”

He always says stuff like that but it never gets old. I love how he’s not afraid to express his feelings. I love how he never fails to remind me that he loves me. Having him around every day has made me realise that he’s the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. I would totally marry him tomorrow if he asked, without hesitation or consideration for anything else.

But he cleverly manages to avoid the topic of marriage. Every time I try to bring it up, he distracts me with kisses…and other things. I know he wants to get married someday since he told me that a long time ago but I wonder why he doesn’t seem to want to talk about it.

I was probably over thinking things as usual especially since I had three weddings to attend in a short space of time. The first one was Tatiana and Darren’s wedding.

They got engaged back when Lyra found out she was pregnant with Liam, around the time when Michael and I broke up because we thought he was the father. It was a very difficult time for me so I wasn’t really there for her the way I should have been as her best friend. She had to plan the whole thing herself and I felt bad about not being available to help her so I made it up to her by baking the wedding cake.

I think she and Darren really loved the lemon cake with coconut Swiss meringue buttercream I made for them.

Their wedding was also the first time either one of them got to meet Michael. I know T was anxious to finally meet him. I’ve talked her ear off about him so many times I couldn’t even begin to count.

“It’s great to finally meet you,” Darren said to Michael, “Maia told us a lot about you.”

“Good things, I hope?” Michael joked.

“Please, she made you sound so good I started believing she was lying.” Tatiana joked. “But I hope you know that we’ll bury you alive if you ever hurt our friend, just saying.”

“I would expect nothing less.” Michael nodded and grinned.

“You look so beautiful T.” I said.

“Thanks. I’m glad you could make it. With those hours you used to work I was worried you wouldn’t get the time off.”

“No way was I gonna miss your big day even if I still had that job.” I went in for a hug and she squeezed me in return.

“I’m still happy my best friend is here.” She then leaned close to my ear and whispered, “You totally downplayed how yummy is! You lucky girl you!”

She wasn’t very good at telling secrets because her whispers were not as hushed as she liked to think they were. I think both men heard her and I was pretty sure I saw Darren roll his eyes at her in response.

Michael and I remained in Willow Creek for another two days so we could attend the next wedding in line. My cousin Nate was getting married to my other cousin Justine. Yep, those sparks that I saw flying at my last birthday party actually turned into a serious relationship. It was a little weird to me every time I’d see them together but then I’d remind myself that they’re only related to me and not to each other so it’s fine. It’s good for Nate that he found someone like Justine to tame his wild nature.

He was the complete opposite to his twin Aden. Nate was always getting into trouble before dating Justine. Every weekend he’d find himself getting into drunken bar fights while out with his slacker friends. Justine made him give all that up. She’s a lot like me in some ways, only a total goofball and Nate absolutely adores her.

They decided to get married at her family home. Nate would be moving to Willow Creek to live with her so Aden can have their house to himself. I know Aden was excited for Nate to move out. He was practically counting down the days to where he would no longer have to clean up Nate’s messes, a feeling I could totally relate to myself.

It was a very intimate gathering with all of the family minus a few people. Patrick came but without Ashley who had just given birth to their daughter Amiyah, and Lyra was…well…I had no idea what Lyra’s excuse was. She and I still haven’t spoken to each other in person. I was hoping she would come to Justine and Nate’s wedding so we could talk and I was a little disappointed when Justine told me she canceled at the last minute.

The backyard ceremony was short and straight to the point and Justine looked gorgeous in her black gown. I’m sure she picked it because it was Nate’s favourite colour. Turns out, the wedding was Nate’s idea. She would have preferred to elope but he wanted a wedding because he to marry her in front of their family and friends. It was so sweet to see how she brought out that sentimental side of him.

Kaleb and I didn’t get to talk much because all the guys practically formed a convention in the living room. It was sweet to see how well Michael blended in with the men in my family. I didn’t even have to try to get my brother and cousins to talk to him either. They made him feel so welcomed, and I really appreciated that they treated him like he was one of us.

Of course, Justine had to ask when we were going to make it official.

“I have no idea.” I said.

“No idea? You’ve been together for so long now.”

“It hasn’t been that long. We were broken up for quite a while after…” I shrugged, deciding not to go there when I was in such a good mood. “We haven’t talked about marriage as yet.”

“But you guys are living together. I’m not judging but you’ve always been very traditional, you know. I’m just surprised that you would live with a man and not know what his plans for the future are.”

Michael and I never talked about our future other than when it came to our careers. We never talked about marriage. Did Justine have a point? Should I have known whether he wanted to marry me before asking him to move in?

I tried to talk to Michael about it when we returned from Willow Creek but as usual, he changed the topic as soon as I brought it up.

That more or less confirmed my suspicion that he was avoiding talking about marriage on purpose. But why? He had to know this would come up at some point. I tried not to dwell on it too much. I was probably overthinking things as usual. Maybe wedding season was to blame for all these thoughts and insecurities.

We still had one last wedding to attend in San Myshuno. Kaleb and Penny’s!

Michael and I went to San Myshuno for their wedding which they decided to keep small and intimate despite the fact that they decided to host it at the San Myshuno Meadows. Michael and I were the first to arrive and then came Lyra.

She brought Liam who was walking and everything. I watched the little guy climb up a chair all on his own, refusing his mother’s attempts to help him. Lyra also brought a date, a very familiar date.

He was Julian Villareal, the foreign exchange student she dated in high school. I guess it’s not much of a surprise that she was dating someone or that it was Julian considering he was from Windenburg and she still lived there. What was surprising was that she never told me that.

We still text each other to check in. She always says she’s doing great and sends pictures and videos of Liam but she never once mentioned that she was dating someone. I felt a little hurt by that honestly. She told Kaleb and Penny but she didn’t tell me! Then Michael reached for my hand as Kaleb and Penny shared their first kiss and I was reminded of why she wouldn’t tell me anything. I was the one who made it clear that I didn’t want to be involved in her life. No wonder why she wouldn’t tell me anything too personal.

The fireworks started, Kaleb and Penny went all out, and all the guests gathered to watch it. I saw Lyra talking to a fussy looking Liam whose pouting was enough to make my heart melt. “Hey there, little guy.” I said to him but he just kept pouting.

“He’s upset because I won’t let him take off his suit.” Lyra said with a chuckle.

“Aw, terrible twos?”

“Yup. He’s at that ‘I don’t want to wear clothes’ phase. It’s like a full-time job making sure he keeps his clothes on! Remind you of anyone?”

“Who?”

She laughed, “You! When you were a baby you were always taking off your clothes and running around the house. You had poor Dad chasing after you every time you needed a bath!”

“No way!” I said in disbelief. If anyone was wild as a toddler it was probably her.

“It’s true. Ask Kaleb, he’ll tell you. If we left you alone for too long we would find you rummaging through the kitchen cupboards completely naked. You always liked playing with pots and pans.”

“Well, that I believe!” I shrugged with a laugh. It was nice talking to Lyra like this. It felt like old times.

I was about to pick Liam up but then he waddled off to the wedding arch where the bride and the groom and the other guests were standing. It looked like he going to meet Julian but then he stood next to Michael and started babbling to him.

Lyra looked a little nervous and to be honest, I was as well. Not because I thought Michael would be mean to him because I knew for sure he would never mistreat a child, but because of what Liam meant to him at one point. I was afraid that Liam being near him would rehash the past he tried to forget.

It didn’t occur to me beforehand that bringing Michael around Lyra and Liam might not be the best thing for him but my concerns were laid to rest when I saw him reach to pick up the squealing toddler. Lyra seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and continued mingling with one of the guests who came to talk to her. I remained watching Michael play with my nephew like he was just another kid.

They were having so much fun. Michael even got down on the grass in spite of wearing his best clothes just so he could hoist the little guy up in the air.

“You should be careful,” Julian warned. “The last time I played with him like that I had to visit the chiropractor!”

“Nah, he’s solid but I can handle him!” Michael answered.

It was so sweet watching Michael toss around my nephew just to make him laugh. As I watched them I started to think about him playing with our own children someday. He would be such a good dad. The way he immediately stepped up to the plate when he thought Liam was his son and the way he was with him now was proof of that. I was so ready to spend the rest of my life with him.

I just hoped he felt the same way.

Later on, when the reception was over and most of the guests had left, Michael wanted to go for a walk so we ended up exploring the nearby gardens. Apparently, there was a meteor shower decades ago that nearly destroyed that part of town. It used to be the main commercial district back then so there were many casualties. The city erected a monument to honour the lives lost that day.

“This is really sad,” I said as I watched all the names carved on the stone sculpture. “So many people…could you imagine going to work or going to run errands one day and then something like this happens? It must have been terrible!”

“Uh yeah…um…maybe I picked the worst place to bring you.” He said awkwardly.

“Didn’t you want to see the monument?”

“No.”

I was confused. “You wanted to explore the gardens. Why else would we come all the way over here? I thought the monument was the end goal.”

“Actually, I just wanted to get you alone. I didn’t want to do it at your brother’s wedding reception and steal his and Penny’s thunder.”

Steal their thunder? Was he saying what I think he was saying? “Do what?” I asked innocently trying to contain my excitement in case I got it all wrong.

“I wanted a romantic spot. I figured the garden with a view of the city skyline was as romantic as I could get. I thought about waiting until we got back to the hotel but…I just can’t wait anymore…”

“I think I’ve loved you since the moment I first laid eyes on you. You are everything I have ever wanted and I’ll be the luckiest guy in the world if you say yes. Maia, will you marry me?”

“Yes!” I answered the second after he asked the question. It was a wonder to me how I managed to even let him finish say all those sweet things. He had me as soon as he got down on one knee.

Now I understood why he was avoiding the topic of marriage. He knew all along that he wanted to marry me, he even bought a ring, but he didn’t want me to see it coming. He wanted the proposal to be a surprise.

And I was definitely surprised!

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