"J'aime ce moment avec toi. C'est parfait."
What You Left Behind
Valentine’s Day – Bonus Chapter
© Len Webster 2016. All rights reserved.
* UNEDITED *
Disclaimer: This bonus chapter happens after All We Have and references some events that will happen in With The First Goodbye – Max’s book.
“Oui, Papa,” Stevie murmured into her phone as she rummaged through her handbag for her apartment keys. “I will not forget.”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course. I’ll come by your office tomorrow and talk about work. Don’t take this personally, but Julian offered me a position, and so did another company.”
“Bill is sorry, ma chérie,” her papa said with a hint of an apology in his voice. Bill Rogers had been her ex-boss before he had fired her for her relationship with Julian. Stevie hadn’t blamed him. He was just going off on the information Julian had given him. But that was the past.
“I know he is. So is Julian. But I’m going to turn them both down. No matter how much Mona has emailed me to come back, I can’t. Conflict of interest if I work for my fiancé.”
Once she found her keys, she fiddled with them until she found the one for the apartment. It’d have been easier if she just knocked, but she was an independent graduate now. University was finished, and come May, she’d have her bachelor. Her fiancé, Julian Moors, was excited to hang it on the wall next to his. The thirteen months since they had met again had been utter bliss. Passionate bliss, too. When her secrets were revealed, she was sure she had lost him. But after seeing her mother and ex-boyfriend in England for almost a month, she knew she had to go back to Melbourne and tell him how much she loved him.
Her decision to return had been the smartest decision Stevie had ever made.
Their hardships only made them stronger.
Only made her love him harder.
Since his not-proposal it had been a lot of petty fights over silly things. But she wouldn’t change it for the world. When his brother, Rob, and her best friend, Ally, had finally gotten together, the tension between Stevie and Julian had been lifted. Neither Rob or Ally knew just what a strain the start of their turbulent relationship had put on them.
Conflict of interest.
Those three words.
Julian was Rob’s brother.
Ally was Stevie’s best friend.
It was a struggle for them to be impartial, considering their relationship with them. Then came Max and Josie. For a short while Josie had lived with them. It hadn’t been long. Several days. For Julian, he loved it. Loved making her breakfast before her classes. As Stevie had watched her fiancé make their friend feel at home, she knew just how much she loved him. Like, wanted him to marry her already loved her. It was intense. But Julian had a gentle nature to him. And though they clashed on silly things like getting a dog, she knew how perfect they fit together.
“And it’s not a conflict of interest if you work for your papa?” The scepticism in his voice had Stevie rolling her eyes.
“No,” she breathed as she went to work unlocking her apartment door. When she twisted the handle and then entered her apartment, she held her phone tighter. “I’ll see you tomorrow, I just got home from picking up Julian’s Valentine’s Day present.”
“All right. I’ll see you tomorrow. And call your maman, she misses you.”
She groaned as she shut the apartment door. “I literally Skyped her yesterday. Make sure you treat Rose to a nice dinner tonight, Papa. I love you.”
“I love you,” he said and then hung up.
Stevie removed her phone from her ear. Upon reaching the hallway table, she removed the paper bag that hung from her arm and set it, her phone, and keys on the table with her handbag. She gazed into the mirror on the wall and fixed her hair from the mess the wind outside had made. It had been her idea to put the mirror there. So that when her fiancé headed to work, he could take a quick glimpse and make sure he wasn’t wearing his shirt inside out. He hadn’t been having a great day without her while she and Clara had a girls’ weekend after Ally left the hospital. Or when he had incorrectly knotted his tie. It was an atrocity he’d woken her up to fix.
“Julian!” she called out as she eyed the mail on the table. Then something pink caught her eye. Her mother’s name was scribbled on it. She knew exactly what it was. She had discovered several in the lounge room and kitchen the other day. “Julian! For God’s sake stop leaving your little love letters to my mother all over the apartment!”
Stevie shivered. She would never forget how love-struck her fiancé had been when he had met her mother, Collette Agustin. It was embarrassing, made worse when he had asked her to sign his damn magazines that she had done throughout her years as a supermodel.
“You’re just jealous, Blondie!” he yelled from the kitchen.
Yeah, all right.
Jealous of my mother?
She glanced down at his Valentine’s Day present and wondered if he even deserved it. She mulled it over. It’d be such a waste if she denied him it.
“The idiot is so lucky I love him,” she murmured as she picked up the white paper bag that was closed with a knotted ribbon. Then she went down the hall to find her fiancé icing a heart shaped cake. She almost burst into laughter just watching him concentrate. There was no way he could ever out-ice Clara Parker. But she had tried to teach him the perfect way to the last time she was in Melbourne.
Julian’s brows knitted as he bit his lip in concentration. “You just gonna stand there, Stephanie? Or you gonna come over here, take over, and then kiss me?”
“Nope,” she quipped as she headed towards the counter. When she reached it, she placed the bag next to an envelope with her name on it. She picked it up and peeked at her fiancé. “What is this?”
Julian set down the icing bag down and she noticed red frosting all over his white business shirt. He’d ruined a perfectly good shirt. That was what she should have bought him. More work attire. Not what was in the bag.
“I know you’ve been awfully jealous of your mother.” He took a deep breath and his jaw clenched. Serious Julian was back. He hadn’t been back since Max returned from Boston. In fact, the last time she watched serious Julian, he’d almost stopped Josie. But Stevie had to tame him. No one could interfere with those two. It’d been heartbreaking to see. But she knew it was heartbreaking for Josie most of all. “I love you, Stephanie. I do it to tease you. You know that, right?”
Stevie couldn’t help the sly smile she made as she sat on the barstool. “I know. How was work?”
“Fine. Though I hate that we’ve barely spent Valentine’s Day together. This morning and that was it.”
“Morning sex was all right,” she offered.
“All right?” He’d set a hand on his chest, horrified.
Stevie laughed. “See, I can tease you just the same. You know just how much I loved it.” She winked. “Now, why did you decide to bake a cake? I’m not one to be an over romantic.”
Julian dropped his hand and that glimmer in his eye returned. He slid the cake aside and leant over the bench, his lips close to hers. “I’m an over romantic. We balance each other out.”
“That’s what you think,” she whispered. Then gave him a chaste kiss, sat back into the barstool and focused on the letter. “Is this your Valentine’s Day present?”
He nodded. “And some other things that involve the bedroom.”
She laughed. “Of course it does.”
“You read that letter. Is this mine—” He reached for the bag but Stevie swiped it away.
“No, you have to earn this,” she said.
“How do I earn it?”
“With this letter,” she answered waving it in his face.
Julian’s shoulders dropped. “Well, looks like I just screwed myself over.”
“Knew you would. Well, let’s see how you apologise afterwards. Then you get your gift. And trust me, you want this gift badly.”
“Oh, Christ, Blondie,” he groaned as he bent his knees and then pressed his forehead into the counter. “Go on, read it. Put us both out of our misery.”
She shook her head at his childish behaviour. Did she ever tell him just how much she loved him? In all his idiotic-ness and all his romantic-ness? She was sure her present would. She went above and beyond for him. But was it enough?
She wouldn’t know until he untied the ribbon and opened the box.
“Have you spoken to your brother at all today?” she asked as she ripped the envelope.
“He’s not training in Bordeaux this weekend, so he’s gonna take Ally to Monte Carlo as a Valentine’s Day surprise,” he answered, face still on the bench.
“Monte Carlo, wow. Never thought there was a romantic bone in his body. Glad she flew with him to France for his Olympic training preparations.” The sounds of her pulling the piece of paper out from the envelope had Julian pressing his elbows onto the surface of the counter to lift himself up. Then he set his chin in his palms, staring at her.
“You still love me, right?” he asked, not sounding like his confident self.
“When did I ever stop?”
His light blues twinkled at her. “Might now. Didn’t realise how much this letter could backfire.”
“Let me read it first and we’ll go from there. All right?”
He nodded. “All right.”
Then Stevie took a deep breath, unfolded her fiancé’s letter and began to read it.
Dear Stephanie Elise Appleton,
You got one hell of a beautiful name there, Blondie.
Right, listen. I know you were expecting some romantic, pun-filled letter for Valentine’s Day, but tough.
This is an ULTIMATIUM.
So here it is:
Stephanie Elise Appleton, you let me change that name of yours to Stephanie Elise Moors or you’re getting me a dog!
Un jour has finally come, Stephanie.
Really want to make you my wife.
So what do you say?
Please, marry me.
I’m begging here.
Marry me, already.
Your awaiting soon-to-be husband or fellow dog owner.
– Julian ‘Overlord’ Moors.
“I have to either marry you or you’re getting a dog?” she said unbelievably. Her heart thumped behind her ribcage. She loved his letter. But she would not admit it to him. Not just yet. That was how the rules worked.
Julian stood up, popped out his chest and cleared his throat. “You’re finished with uni and I’m settled at Rogers & Co. I think it’s time. I wanna marry you, Stephanie. We’ve been engaged for a long time.”
She set the paper down. “When?”
“After your graduation and after we visit Alex, Keira, and Will.”
“Why not before?”
“If you want to, sure. But I’d want more time for us to plan it. Plus, William Lawrence, our lovely nephew needs to grow a little more to fit in his tux. And I will fight Clara. He’s our nephew. He loves us more than her.”
“Look at you, Mr Moors, you have all the answers.”
He pursed his lips. “Not all of them. I’m missing one of them. Dog or marriage, Stephanie?”
Stevie took a deep breath. Then she reached over and slid the paper bag over to him. “Open your present.”
Julian frowned and pulled the ribbon to unfasten the bow. Then he took out the box. He wasn’t very pleased that she hadn’t given him an answer. Sometimes, the teaser had to be teased once in a while. His nose crinkled the moment he removed the lid and took out the album.
His eyes shot up to hers and all Stevie did was smile. She was nervous as hell, but she knew he’d love her present.
Julian flipped the cover over to the first page. His eyes widened as he breathed, “Holy…” Then he flipped the to the next page. “… Fuck.” He swallowed hard. “Are these?”
“Boudoir shoots of me?”
“Yeah, they are. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
He hadn’t said anything as he looked through the album. Her photographer was amazing. She’d talked Stevie through how to be confident in front of the camera. Her mother was the model. Not her. But it seemed posing came naturally to her as the photos of her turned out surprisingly beautiful. And most importantly, they appeared tasteful.
Then he stopped at the picture of her looking over her shoulder, her curled blonde hair rested on her back. Her engagement ring sparkled as she had her fingers on her neck.
“This one’s my favourite,” he revealed in a tight voice.
“Julian,” she said, getting his attention. “Also…”
He turned to the next page of her standing by the bed, the sun’s light hitting her skin perfectly. He made an “Uh-huh,” sound.
“Both,” Stevie said.
His body went rigid as his eyes collided with hers. “Both?”
She nodded. “Both.”
Julian closed the album, ignoring the rest of the photos of her. Some she was sure he’d love. Then he went around the counter until he stood next to her. Then he swivelled her around to face him. He let out an exhale and then shoved a hand into his pocket.
Then he had pulled out a small box and opened it before he got down on one knee in front of her.
“So here’s to both?” he asked with a smile and that beautiful glimmer in his eye.
Stevie gazed down at the circular diamond ring. It was a proper engagement ring. As they would now be a proper engaged couple. No more not-fiancée and not-fiancé.
They were getting married.
“Here’s to both,” Stevie agreed as Julian took out the ring and dropped the box to the floor.
“Relax,” he urged as he tilted the ring and she noticed the engraving of a bird. “My mockingbird isn’t going anywhere.” Then he pulled her not-an-engagement ring off her finger and then slipped the diamond on her.
She loved it. Though she’d miss her old ring, she loved this one more. She’d wear the simple silver ring on her right hand.
Julian got to his feet and cupped her face. “Been carrying that ring with me every day for the last nine months,” he revealed and then kissed her. Then he pulled back as quickly as their lips had met. “All right, Blondie. That’s enough. We’ve got things to do.”
She blinked at him. “Right. The wedding.”
A smirk plastered his lips as he shook his head. “Gotta research the best dog for us.”
Her heart sank.
“Oh,” she breathed. “We’re getting…”
Julian’s wide and large smile had a laugh slipping.
“We’re getting a dog!” he shouted.