Excerpt of Chasing Happiness:
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Zoe was relieved that Katie and Ariana had taken the cake news so well, and not just because it had been quite a job to get the three of them to agree on the white sheet cake with raspberry filling and buttercream frosting, but because the cake with their Rosebud logo on top was to have been the finale to their grand opening party. Despite them laughing it off, she was still very disappointed.
She glanced over at Dan, seated on her right, and then over to her mom, who was on his other side and was glad they got along so well. She remembered what a difficult time Katie had with her family when she’d gotten serious about Jake. Not because he wasn’t a great guy, but because his work required traveling to places that could be dangerous. The last thing her four brothers wanted was for their baby sister to wind up a widow. But watching them all having a wonderful time tonight confirmed that they’d finally come to terms with Katie and Jake getting married.
“Are you going to eat that?” Dan asked, jabbing his fork into the last remaining meatball on her plate and bringing her back to the present.
“No, no. Go on, you eat it. I’m finished with dinner. Stuffed, as a matter of fact.”
“I thought you’d say that.” He popped the meatball into his mouth. After he finished chewing, he took hold of Zoe’s hands. “Now that we’re both finished eating, there’s been something that I’ve been wanting to say to you.”
She stared at him with wide eyes. What in the world?
“You’ve been so busy preparing for your grand opening,” he went on, “there just didn’t seem like a good time, but now that things are winding down…”
Her mind was awhirl and her heart was racing. She couldn’t imagine what he was going to spring on her.
“Zoe, I love you, but when you refused to move in with me…well, that made me even more determined to give you…”
He let go of her hands and reached into his jacket pocket. Zoe thought for a moment that her heart might stop. She couldn’t believe it. He was going to propose to her. A wide smile lit her face as she anxiously awaited a dazzling diamond engagement ring.
But instead of presenting her with a black velvet box, he held out a key. Her smile quickly faded, replaced with a simmering anger that was about ready to explode. “What’s that?”
“The key to my heart,” he said sheepishly.
“Looks to me like it’s the key to your apartment.”
He smiled boyishly. “It’s that too.”
She wasn’t amused. Apparently their earlier conversation meant nothing to him, or the one before that. Was he going to just continue with this nonsense until she broke down and agreed to move in with him? Well, it wasn’t going to happen, and if he pushed her much further, not only wouldn’t she move in with him, but she’d say good-bye.
“That’s not the reaction I’d hoped for,” he said, his gaze flicking back and forth across her face. “I can see that you’re angry, and I’m sorry.”
“Then why are you pushing me?” She dipped her head toward him after her mother sent her a disapproving glance, indicating her voice had risen a bit too high.
“This wasn’t meant to push you to move in with me. It truly is the key to my heart. Use it anytime…anytime at all…whenever you need me. If you’ve had a bad day and just want to talk or if you’re feeling lonely. I’m there for you. Always.”
She chewed the side of her lip and studied him closely. He seemed sincere enough. “Really? That’s what you meant?”
“Yes, babe, of course.”
Convinced he was telling the truth, she pulled him closer so that his lips touched hers. Their kiss was longer than she’d expected, and when it ended, she noticed quite a few eyes directed their way. She didn’t care, though. But when he pressed the key into her hand and curled her fingers closed around it, she started to protest.
He held a finger up to her lips. “Shhh, don’t say a word.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to use it.”
“Okay. I believe you. Keep it, though, as a reminder that you have my heart.”
With what seemed like perfect timing, a server came over and poured steaming-hot coffee into their cups.
Ariana whispered in Zoe’s ear, “Think this is a good time to give your little speech?”
“Yeah, perfect time.” Zoe pushed her chair back, then cleared her throat as she stood. “I’d like to thank you all for coming tonight and supporting us in our new venture. Ariana, Katie, and I,” she raised her hands urging her partners to stand as well, “are excited to be a part of Lakefield’s business community. We hope you enjoyed this evening at the Rosebud. We’d hoped to have dessert with the coffee, but due to unforeseen circumstances, the cake—”
“Has arrived,” the caterer announced. The two servers who’d dropped their cake earlier set a similar one—minus their logo—on the round table covered with rose petals.
“What?” Zoe looked from Ariana to Katie. Both of them seemed as shocked as she. “Where did that come from and how?”
“I have no idea,” Katie said, “but I’m thrilled we have a cake.”
“And a gorgeous one too,” Ariana added.
“I’m glad you like it.” The voice was deep and rich, and distinctive in its British accent.
Zoe saw Ariana sway and caught her around the waist just as Ariana’s knees began to buckle, keeping her from winding up on the floor. “Are you okay? What’s wrong?”Ariana gripped the back of her chair so hard that her knuckles turned white. “Phil’s here.”