Two weeks later
The house was nothing extraordinary, just a cookie-cutter ranch style in a middle-class neighborhood full of other cookie-cutter ranch style homes. The only difference between this house and the rest was that his was currently being swarmed by cops.
As I stood across the street, leaning against the side of my truck, I watched the scene unfold. I wondered if his neighbors knew they were living next to a monster. Most likely not. That was the problem with men like him; they were able to hide who they really were, blending in with the rest of the crowd, seemingly normal.
But never again. Not this guy.
I didn’t bother holding my smile back as Calvin Yates was escorted out of the house by two officers, his hands cuffed for everyone to see.
Like I told Charlotte, I was good at finding things, so I’d managed to track down the last foster home she’d lived in. More specifically, the abusive asshole she’d run away from at only sixteen.
With a little digging and some help from the rest of the guys in Alpha Omega, it hadn’t taken long to discover that this sick bastard was a repeat offender. The twisted things we’d uncovered on his computer, buried deep where he thought no one would ever find them, would be burned into my brain for years to come.
After learning just how evil this guy was, the only silver lining was that he’d never be able to hurt another child ever again.
His head came up as he was being led toward one of the many cruisers surrounding the house, his gaze drifting across the street to me. I watched as his eyes narrowed in confusion as I gave him a two-finger salute.
“Charlotte Belmont says hi, motherfucker,” I called out.
The confusion disappeared, and his eyes went so big I could see the whites of them from yards away just before he was shoved into the back of the cop car, and the door was slammed closed, shutting him off from the last free air he’d ever breathe.
“You good?” Trent asked as I stared after the brake lights until the car turned the corner and disappeared.
“Yeah. I’m good.”
“Then how about we get the fuck outta here.”
I didn’t have to be told twice. I had a woman at home waiting for me, a woman who made my life brighter just by smiling. I’d accomplished what I set out to do. The biggest monster from my Thumbelina’s past had been vanquished. Now all that was left was to move forward. “Let’s roll.”
Two months later
“Dalt, this place is incredible,” I breathed as we stood at the cliff’s edge, looking out on the huge, glistening Pembrooke Lake. The boardwalk stretched along the bank and jutted out into the water, and from where we stood, we could see the people, townsfolk and tourists alike, taking advantage of the gorgeous day. There were carnival rides and vendors, booths set up with games for the kids. The picturesque sight took my breath away.
“Yeah, it’s really something, isn’t it?” I looked up at my man, studying his profile and smiling big at what I saw there. He was happy to be back. Hope Valley was his home now, but this place would always be in his blood.
Just as I’d promised Jolie, I’d worked my magic and got Dalton to take some time off work so we could spend a week in the town where he’d grown up. When we knocked on his parent’s door three days ago, surprising them both with our unexpected arrival, Lorene had burst into tears of happiness. Hell, even Walt had gotten a little misty-eyed.
“Guess I didn’t know how much I really missed this place until now. It’s easy to forget when you’re gone for so long.”
I leaned back against him, relishing the way his arms tightened around my waist as I rested my head on his chest. “Then I guess we’ll just have to come back more often, huh?”
I felt his head move and his beard brush against my hair as he placed a kiss on the crown of my head. “Sounds like a plan, Thumbelina.”
After that, we stood in comfortable silence, content to just take in the beauty spread out before us.
A few minutes later, I felt the scruff that lined Dalton’s jaw scrape across the sensitive skin of my neck. “Thank you, baby,” he spoke softly into my ear.
My brows pulled together in confusion as I twisted my head to look back at him. “For what?”
“For giving this back to me when I didn’t even realize I needed it. Love Hope Valley and the life I made there, but I needed this. Needed to see my folks and Jolie, needed to share this with you.”
God, I loved this man. Turning in his arms, I wrapped mine around his shoulders and lifted up on my toes to press a kiss to his lips. “I’m glad you did. I want to share everything with you.”
The gray in his eyes melted, turning to quicksilver. “You mean that, baby? You want to share everything?”
My hand came around to rest on his cheek, my nails scraping gently through that beard I loved so damn much. “Absolutely,” I answered with complete honesty. “Every day with you is better than the one before, and I never want that to end.”
He removed one arm from around me and reached into the pocket of his jeans. “Then you’d be okay with wearing this and being mine for the rest of our lives?” he asked, holding a diamond ring up in front of my eyes.
As I watched the sun catch on the center stone, throwing off facets of colorful light, I sucked in a gasp so big it was a wonder there was any air left between us. “Dalton,” I managed to breathe out on a whoosh, nearly deflating my lungs.
“Say yes, Charlotte. Say you’ll marry me so I can spend every day of the rest of my life making you happy.”
“Yes,” I whispered before pulling my eyes off the beautiful ring so I could look up into the eyes of the man I loved. “You already make me happy, baby, but of course, I’ll marry you.”
I barely got the last word out before he slid the ring into place on my left hand and slammed his lips down on mine, kissing me like I’d just righted every single wrong in his world with only a handful of words. The love he poured into that kiss made my knees weak, and my heart beat a staccato rhythm.
“Christ. Do you have any clue how happy you just made me?” He asked, short of breath as he rested his forehead against mine.
“It can’t be any more than you make me every single day.”
When he smiled, I felt my world light up. “This is just the beginning, Thumbelina.”
“And I can’t wait.”
After that proposal, all I wanted to do was drag my man back to our hotel room and spend the next several hours showing him just how much I loved him, but we’d made plans to meet up with his family for lunch, so the private celebration would have to wait.
We walked hand-in-hand through quaint downtown Pembrooke our shoes thudding against the boards that made up the sidewalks along Main Street. We passed a group of people on the sidewalk that tipped their chins up in a pleasant greeting. On top of this town being downright cozy, the people were also exceptionally nice.
“I didn’t think there was a place on earth more beautiful than Hope Valley; now I’m not so sure.”
Dalton looked down and gave me a smile before lifting my left hand and pressing his lips against my knuckles, most specifically, his ring resting on my finger. “We’ll come back for Christmas. Just wait until you see it covered in snow.”
A few minutes later, my man pulled the door to the restaurant open and guided me in with a palm at the small of my back.
I hadn’t really known what to expect from a place called the Drunken Moose—shortened to the Moose by locals—but I was pleasantly surprised by its rustic charm. The delicious smells coming from the kitchen made my stomach rumble loud enough that Dalton heard it and chuckled.
An excited squeal pulled me from my perusal, and I barely had time to brace before Jolie collided with me, hugging me so tight my lungs deflated.
“We’re going to be sisters!” she exclaimed loudly.
“Jesus, Jo. It won’t get that far if you strangle her to death before the wedding,” Dalton grunted. “Mind letting my woman go so she can breathe?”
She pulled back with a contrite wince, “Sorry about that. I just got a little carried away.”
“Don’t apologize for being excited,” I told her. “We’re going to be family!” I announce, the realization of that really hitting me for the first time. And just like that, the needle on my enthusiasm jumped up to meet hers. We embraced again, both of us squealing this time, making a scene in the middle of the crowded restaurant.
Dalton finally managed to separate us long enough to lead us to the table where his parents waited.
Lorene’s reaction was on par with her daughter’s, while Walt was subtler but no less happy than the rest of the Prescott’s.
Once we were all seated and the waiter came around to take our orders, Walt lifted his drink in a toast. “To making our family that much bigger. Welcome to the family, Charlotte. We couldn’t have picked a better woman for our Dalt if we’d tried.”
Wrapped up in the warm glow of these incredible people, we ate some of the most delicious food I’d ever tasted while laughing and joking around. When Jolie, Lorene, and I started talking wedding details, Walt and Dalton took that as their cue to break off into their own conversation.
The three of us sat huddled together as we discussed things like flowers and color schemes, and I was so wrapped up in imagining what my big day was going to look like and trying to decide if I wanted something outdoors or inside, that I was slow to realize Jolie had gone eerily quiet.
When I looked over at her, I saw her normally golden complexion had grown sallow.
Her attention was locked onto something over my shoulder, and when I turned to see what held her focus so intently, I nearly swallowed my tongue.
“Jolie,” I called again, a bit louder this time.
She blinked, giving her head a small shake as if she were clearing her mind of cobwebs. “Sorry. What?”
I glanced quickly back to the Adonis that had just entered the Moose. “Do you know that guy?”
She blinked, picking up her glass of iced tea and sucking it down like she’d been dying of thirst. “What guy?”
I lifted a brow and gave her a flat look. “Like you didn’t notice that insanely gorgeous man who just came through the door.”
She cleared her throat, her gaze darting anywhere and everywhere that wasn’t at the man. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I need to use the restroom. Be right back.”
Before I could get another word out, she shot up and bolted toward the restrooms like her ass was on fire. I turned back to Lorene with wide, quizzical eyes as she shrugged a single shoulder. “That’s Barrett Cohen,” she said in a low whisper.
I couldn’t help but think Barrett was kind of a perfect name for him. “What’s the deal between him and Jolie?”
She let out a sigh while giving her head a little shake. “It’s a long story. One I don’t have enough time to get into just now.”
We both turned just in time to see Barrett catch sight of Jolie, his gaze trailing her all the way to the alcove where the restrooms were. And in that moment, something flashed in his eyes that looked a whole hell of a lot like desire.
I wasn’t sure what the deal between my future sister-in-law and this dude was, but I had a feeling that something big was about to play out, which meant I was going to have to stay in constant contact with Lorene.
Because there was no way in hell I was going to miss the fireworks.