"You have to help Papa," I say to Max, squaring his shoulders and looking down into his big blue eyes.
Max giggles and bounces up and down, seeming to understand the excitement of our secret game. I'm not nervous, the only thing making me sweat is that I just handed a three-carat diamond ring to an infant. I've been instructed to call Colt and Collins right after this, since they both know I'm popping the question today.
"Don't eat this, buddy," I say to Max solemnly. He has the ring around his thumb and peering down at it like it’s a magical stone. Heck, maybe it is. This stone will turn us into an official family.
I can hear Kylie humming in the kitchen where she's making her homemade pasta sauce. She loves the kitchen in our new home and picked most of the features herself. From the large butcher-block island, to the dark cabinets, to the farm sink.
"Go give this to Mumma," I tell him and guide him by the shoulders from the family room.
Max toddles forward down the hall and I follow close behind him, unable to hide the smile on my lips. I'm excited and overwhelmed all at once.
Kylie's standing in front of the stove, stirring a pot of sauce on the range.
"Angel?" I ask.
She spins to face me and my heart trips over itself. Tendrils of hair have escaped from her ponytail and her pretty green eyes land on mine. All the doubt and worry that maybe I should have planned something big and extravagant fall away. This is exactly the way this moment is supposed to go. This is us. This is our life.
"Mumma," Max says, lifting the ring up for her to see.
Kylie's gaze leaves mine and lowers to Max. Her eyes get big and her hand flies up to her mouth.
"Pace?" she says, tears in her eyes.
I swallow back a wave of emotion. "Will you be mine?" I ask, fighting to keep the emotion from my voice.
She flings herself forward into my arms and I hold her securely to my chest. "Angel?" I ask while moisture swims in my eyes.
"Yes! Of course," she cries.
I reach down and grab Max, lifting him into my arms so we're all three hugging. Kylie is crying and Max looks concerned as he watches her, until we both start laughing and then his little mouth breaks into a wide smile.
When I slip the ring over her knuckle, my throat gets tight. I've never been this damn emotional, but these two bring out a totally different man in me. The man I've always wanted to be. Standing here, the three of us, in our new family home, I finally feel complete.
"Please, help yourself." Kylie sets the serving dish of pasta down in the center of the dining table, and I can't help but notice the way her eyes linger on her ring, turning it this way and that way to catch the light.
Colton and Sophie are sitting across the table, and Collins is by my side. He's alone and he seems distracted and somewhat somber, given the celebratory mood. When I ask him about Tatianna, his bombshell girlfriend who is rarely at his side, he gives a brief answer about her working tonight.
"So this is the famous pasta sauce Pace has bragged so much about," Colton says, serving Sophie a dish first, and then himself.
I couldn’t resist inviting the whole family over after Kylie said yes, and of course they all came. Sophie hugging and crying with Kylie as the gushed over how beautiful her ring was. I felt proud in that moment.
"So, when's the big day?" Collins asks, gazing at me approvingly.
My eyes find Kylie's. We haven't discussed that yet, but I could already envision Max serving as my best man. "She's in charge." I nod toward Kylie.
She smiles at me adoringly. "I'm not sure. We're still getting settled into our new house, but I don't want to wait long."
I agree completely. In my view, there's no point in waiting. I want this woman to be my wife. And I want to adopt Max as my own, and give them both my last name. I approached Elan with this idea during his last visit, and while he didn't seem thrilled with the idea, he was open to it. He knows they are my family and doesn’t want to stand in the way of that.
After dinner, Max entertains us all by dancing in the living room, then streaking naked through the house when Kylie tries to change him into pajamas. There is never a dull moment here, not like at my old bachelor pad. When I reflect on my life before, I really can't fathom why I wasted so many years pursing meaningless flings. I guess because I was waiting for the right woman to come along. My eyes connect with Kylie's as she hoists Max up onto her hip. She is my everything.
"Goodnight, guys, I'm going to get Max to bed," she says.
I jog over to where they're standing in the hallway. I wrap them both in my arms, appreciating the soft feel of Max's cheek against my neck, and the scent of Kylie's delicate skin warming me. After he's asleep, there will be drinks and music and celebration for our engagement, but in this moment, there is just me and the two who own my heart in a darkened hallway. I press my lips to Max's forehead. "Goodnight, Moon," I whisper. He yawns and rests his head against Kylie's shoulder. I kiss Kylie's lips and stroke her cheek. "I love you," I say, my voice getting tight.
"I love you, Pace," she whispers back.
I find her hand in the darkness and give it a squeeze, loving the solid feel of the ring decorating her finger. Sometimes I'm overcome with emotion for no reason at all. Imagining Max as a grown man, myself and Kylie with silver in our hair, still just as in love as we are today. There is so much ahead of us in this beautiful life, so much to look forward to.