“Of course,” she says, with a brittle smile.
I ignore her. “Everyone,” I call out, and I wait for the hum in the room to die down. When I have everyone’s attention, I take a deep breath. “Thank you for coming today. I have to say I was expecting a quiet family dinner, so this is a pleasant surprise.” I shoot Mia a pointed look and she waves at me. “Ros and I”—I give Ros and Gwen a nod—“we had a close call yesterday.” Ros raises her glass to me. “So, I’m especially glad to be here today to share with all of you my very good news. This beautiful woman”—I look down at my girl beside me—“Miss Anastasia Rose Steele, has consented to be my wife, and I’d like you all to be the first to know.”
My announcement is met with a few gasps, a cheer, and another spontaneous round of applause. I turn to Ana, who looks flushed and beautiful, tip her chin up and give her a swift, chaste kiss. “You’ll soon be mine.”
“I am already.”
“Legally,” I mouth at her, with a wicked grin.
Mom and Dad are the first to congratulate us.
“Darling boy. I’ve never seen you this happy.” Mom kisses my cheek and wipes a tear and then gushes over Ana.
“Son, I’m so proud,” Carrick says.
“She’s a lovely girl.”
“Where is the ring?” exclaims Mia as she hugs Ana.
Ana gives me a startled look.
“We’re going to choose one together.” I glare at my little sister. She’s such a pain in the ass sometimes.
“Oh, don’t look at me like that, Grey!” Mia scoffs, and she folds her arms around me. “I’m so thrilled for you, Christian,” she says. “When will you get married? Have you set a date?”
“No idea, and no we haven’t. Ana and I need to discuss all that.”
“I hope you have a big wedding here!” Her persistence is overwhelming.
“We’ll probably fly to Vegas tomorrow.”
She looks pissed, but thankfully I’m saved by Elliot, who gives me bear hug.
“Way to go, bro.” He slaps me on the back, hard.
Elliot turns to Ana and Bastille claps me on my back, too. Harder.
“Well, Grey, I did not see this coming. Congratulations, man.” He pumps my hand.
“Thank you, Claude.”
“So, when will I start training your fiancée? The thought of her kicking you onto your backside fills me with hope and joy.”
I laugh. “I’ve given her your schedule, I’m sure she’ll be in touch.”
Lily’s mother, Ashley, congratulates me, but she’s a little frosty. I hope she and Lily steer clear of my fiancée.
I rescue Ana from Mia as Dr. Flynn and his wife approach. “Christian,” says Flynn, holding out his hand, and we shake.
“John. Rhian.” I give his wife a kiss.
“Glad you’re still with us, Christian,” Flynn says. “My life would be most dull—and penurious—without you.”
“John!” Rhian scolds him, and I introduce her to Anastasia.
“Delighted to meet the woman who has finally captured Christian’s heart,” Rhian says warmly to Ana.
“Thank you,” she replies.
“That was one googly you bowled there, Christian.” Flynn shakes his head in amused disbelief.
“John—you and your cricket metaphors.” Rhian scolds him again, wishes me a happy birthday and congratulates us, and soon she and Ana are deep in an animated conversation.
“That was quite the announcement, given your audience,” John says, and I know he’s referring to Elena.
“Yes. I’m sure she wasn’t expecting that,” I answer.
“We can talk about it later.”
“She’s good, Christian, responding well to treatment. Another couple of weeks and we can consider an outpatient program.”
“That’s a relief.”
“She’s interested in our art therapy classes.”
“Really? She used to paint.”
“So she said. I think these classes could really help.”
“Great. Is she eating?”
“Yes. Her appetite’s fine.”
“Good. Ask her something for me.”
“I need to know if she moved some photography I had in my safe.”
“Ah. Yes. She told me about that.”
“You know how mischievous she can be. Her intention was to rattle Ana.”
“Well, it worked.”
“We can discuss that later, too.”
We’re joined by Ros and Gwen, whom I introduce to Ana.
“I’m so glad to finally meet you, Ana,” says Ros.
“Thank you. Have you recovered from your ordeal?”
Ros nods and Gwen puts her arm around her. “It was quite something,” Ros continues. “How Christian managed to land safely was a miracle. He’s an excellent pilot.”
“It was luck, and I wanted to get home to my girl,” I respond.
“Of course you did. And having met her, who can blame you?” says Gwen.
Grace announces that dinner is served in the kitchen.
Taking Ana’s hand, I give it a quick squeeze to see how she’s holding up, and we follow the guests through to the kitchen. Mia ambushes Ana in the hallway, holding two cocktail glasses, and I know she’s up to no good.
Ana gives me a brief panicked look but I let her go, watching as they enter the dining room. Mia closes the door behind them.