Midnight Special Coming on Strong
Author:Tawny Weber

Epilogue



MARNI HAD THOUGHT TELLING Hunter she loved him was scary. And she’d been crazy nervous over his reaction to her new career focus, and his special place at the center of it. But those nerves, that fear, had nothing on the acrobatics going on in her stomach at that very moment. It was like butterflies, bats and dragons were square-dancing.

“I really shouldn’t be here,” she murmured from her safe, cozy spot in the passenger side of the car, her seat belt still firmly in place despite the fact that Hunter had shut off the car and had one hand on the door latch.

“Of course you should. Besides the birthday bash, we need to celebrate you helping me put Burns away for life.” Hunter gave her a knowing look, then reached over to unwrap her fingers from themselves, so her hand was twined with his instead. “This is my family. I want them to meet you. To know the woman I’m in love with. And I want you to meet them.”

“I get that your father is family,” she said, half turning in her seat to give him a curious look. “But I didn’t realize you were related to the Black clan. I found a ton of information on them when I was researching the articles.” A ton was an understatement. “I know you were college roommates with the oldest sibling, Caleb, right? Is that why you consider them family? Because of that?”

“The connections crisscross and bisect. My father spent half of his career trying to nail Tobias Black. Somewhere along the way, they became tight friends. But you know that. You wrote the profile.” After giving her an appreciative smile, Hunter glanced at the house, a two-story Victorian complete with fancy gingerbread and a colorful garden. “And like you said, Caleb and I were roommates. His sister, Maya, is married to Simon. He’s FBI and was one of my agents at one time.”

“I thought the family, except for Caleb who was DEA, were all con artists,” she interrupted, drawing her knee up and turning more fully. Her fingers itched for a pencil. This family was the stuff fiction was made of. Or seriously enthralling profiles.

“Yep. Well, officially, Tobias and Maya retired years ago. Gabriel was still on the take when I brought him in last year.”

“You arrested your best friend’s brother?”

“My protégée did. Danita Cruz. Or Danita Black now, I guess.”

She hadn’t found that out in her research. Marni knew her eyes were round to the point of falling out, but she couldn’t help it.

“Gabriel Black, con extraordinaire, is married to an FBI agent? One who arrested him?”

Hunter laughed. “Be sure to use that phrase with him. He’ll love it.”

“One of the most notorious families of con artists, and each one is tied in some way to a federal agent?”

“Sure.” Hunter shrugged. “You’re going to love them. And the food. Pandora serves up some great eats. There are bound to be aphrodisiacs, so this will be fun.”

Paying no attention to her jaw hanging on her chest, Hunter gave her fingers a squeeze, then let go and exited the car. Marni had no choice but to follow.

Aphrodisiacs?

Curiosity fought with nerves. They all sounded fascinating. And, she tried to swallow past the lump in her throat, totally intimidating.

Do-si-do, and here we go. She pressed one hand against her churning belly, then took a deep breath and plastered on her brightest smile, hoping the strength of it would shield her a little.

As she joined Hunter at the sidewalk, Marni started to head up the walk. But he caught her hand before she took a step and pulled her back into his arms.

Marni sank into the kiss, her nerves dissipating quickly as passion left no room for anything else in her body. But just as her lips were warming and her body heating, Hunter pulled away.

She murmured her protest, slowly opening her eyes and giving him a questioning smile.

“What was that for? Afraid to introduce a nervous mess to your family?”

“Maybe I just wanted to remind you that you love me before you face the craziness and question your choice,” he teased. Then, his smile still in place, his eyes cooled. He glanced quickly toward the door, then, for the first time since she’d known him, looked a little worried.

Marni’s earlier stomach churning do-si-do turned into a spastic jig as her nerves returned with a vengeance. Was he worried about his friends and family reacting to her? Nervous for her to meet them? Concerned over bringing a reporter into their midst?

Sucking in a deep breath, she pressed her palm against her stomach to try to calm the frantic dance.

“There’s something I want to do before we go inside,” Hunter said, his words so quiet they were almost carried away in the wind. “Something I want to say.”

“Okay.” Needing a little distance to brace herself, Marni stepped back just a bit.

And was instantly horrified when Hunter stepped back even farther. Could she just dive into the car and wait until this little birthday celebration was over? Then, after another quick glance toward the house, he puffed out a deep breath and grabbed her hands before she could make her dash for the safety of the car.

“I love you,” he said.

That’s all it took for Marni’s nerves, fears and urge to flee to disappear. She gave him a bright smile, ready for whatever follow-up he was going to offer.

“I want to marry you.”

Her brain stopped.

Hunter reached into his pocket and pulled out a small velvet box, flipping the lid and holding it out.

Her mouth dropped.

Her eyes shot from the ring, sparkling in the setting sunlight, to Hunter’s implacable face, then back again.

She couldn’t find the words.

She couldn’t even find her breath.

Frowning, he shot a glance at the house again, then shook his head at her.

“You really should say yes. Avoid all of those what’s-your-relationship-status, why-haven’t-you-introduced-a-woman-to-the-family-before questions when we go inside,” he suggested, sounding a little nervous.

Marni blinked.

“You want me to agree to marry you because you think it’ll make your family behave better?”

That broke his stoic expression, making him bark with laughter.

“Hardly. I want you to marry me because I love you. Because I want us to spend our lives together, to build a future together. To celebrate this love every single day.”

Her heart, already his, melted with love. All Marni could do was whisper yes, reaching one hand up to cup his cheek as she stood on tiptoe to brush a kiss over his mouth.

Hunter wasn’t having any of that gentle, sweet stuff, though.

He grabbed her close, taking the kiss from gentle to intense with one swift thrust of his tongue. Marni’s body joined her heart in the meltdown.

“Yes?” he clarified, shifting back just a little.

“Yes,” she repeated, laughing.

As if afraid she’d change her answer, Hunter quickly slid the ring onto her finger.

Before she could even get a good look at it, though, he pulled her right back into the kiss.

When she finally eased back to beam up at him, Marni noticed there were at least a half-dozen faces pressed to the house’s front window. Her laughter rang out, even as Hunter groaned.

Still laughing, Marni snuggled tight into his arms, then sighed with delight.

“Just so you know,” she warned quietly, tilting her hand this way and that to watch the last of the day’s sunbeams dance off the diamond, “our engagement is going to make my family crazy. And they aren’t nice enough to wait behind a window. They’ll grill you, nag you and drive you absolutely batty.”

“They can’t be that bad, can they?”

Marni brushed a kiss over his mouth, then, with her hand snuggled in his, headed up the walkway to meet the people he loved.

“Oh, they can. You’ve been warned. But you can’t get out of it,” she said, curling her fist tight over the ring.

Hunter stopped to kiss her again, then shook his head.

“Sweetheart, I promise. We’re in this together, forever.”

* * * * *