I get out of Denver’s car and walk over to him. He smiles as he stands up.
“Don’t you have a game to play?” I ask.
“Yes. But I have to get my new uniforms first. That can take a few days.”
He pulls a baseball hat out of his back pocket and puts it on his head. Not a New York Nighthawks hat. A Kansas City one.
I cock my head to the side and study him. “I don’t understand.”
“I play for Kansas City now,” he says, handing me a folder.
“You what?” I take a few steps back as if someone had pushed me. “Why? I thought your job was safe now.” I cover my mouth and gasp as I open the folder and glance over the contract that has Sawyer being traded. I sit on the bench, guilt washing over me. “I did this, didn’t I? When I left, something happened. Did they find out you hired me? Oh, my God, this is all my fault.”
“It’s not your fault,” he says, sitting down next to me. “Actually, that’s not true – this is your fault. It’s your fault for making me see clearly. It’s your fault for making me want to be a better person. And it’s your fault for making me fall in love with you.”
I look up at him, not quite believing what he’s saying. “But you love New York. You love the Nighthawks. Everyone said you had a good shot at going to the World Series this year.”
“We do. Uh, they do. But some things are more important.”
“Some things?” I ask, hoping beyond hope that I’m one of those things.
“I want to be here because this is where you are. You don’t like New York. You only tolerated it because of Juilliard. This is where you need to be. And I need to be with you.”
“I know about Denver,” he says.
He nods. “Your letter. I figured something must have happened. I had a private investigator do some digging and he found out about the arrest.” He fishes a card out of his pocket and hands it to me. “My attorney, Sarah, said this guy is the best lawyer in Missouri. He’s expecting your call. We’ll do whatever it takes to help your brother. And as soon as Denver is able, he can start his new job with the team in Kansas City.”
My eyes go wide. “You got him a job?”
“It’s nothing fancy. Grounds crew. But the pay is decent and the benefits are good.”
“How did you manage that? You haven’t even started playing for them yet.”
He shrugs. “I made it part of the deal for getting me.”
“You did that for him? For me? What changed, Sawyer? What changed since last week when you were so adamant about not being in a relationship? How do I know you can do this? How do you know you can do it?”
“This weekend was the best and worst weekend of my life. I played three incredible games. Games I wanted to share with you. Nothing is real anymore unless I tell you about it. Rick finally hung my picture on his wall. Can you believe it? He pulled me into his office on Sunday and showed it to me. He said he was proud of me. I’ve worked for the guy for four years and that’s the first time he’d ever said those words. And all I wanted to do was go home and tell you about it. And when I got home and found that you had left, all I wanted to do was follow you. Because I realized that having my picture on his wall means nothing to me if I can’t be with you. So the day after he hung it there, I brought him the contract he made me hold onto for the season – the one threatening to trade me. I brought it to him signed.”
My throat is tight with unshed tears. Everything he just said is everything I’ve wanted to hear for so long. “What did he do?” I ask.
“He had a fit, of course. He said he wouldn’t trade me. So I confessed to everything. Deceiving them. Hiring you. Can you believe that even then, he still wanted to keep me? But I’d already talked to my agent who negotiated a pretty sweet deal with Kansas City. And ultimately, the decision wasn’t up to Rick, it was up to Jason, the team owner. He and I had a heart-to-heart on Monday. He recently lost his wife, so I think he gets how I couldn’t risk losing you. The Hawks won’t have me anymore, but they’re getting two great players in return.”
“Can you take it back?” I ask. “If you told them you changed your mind?”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“Because I can’t have you giving up what you love to chase me, Sawyer. What happens in a month or a year when you realize this isn’t what you want. You’ll always hold it against me.”
“I’m not giving up what I love. I still get to play ball,” he says. “On Saturday, when Brooke’s dad stood in front of the church and said there wasn’t going to be a wedding, I realized how devastated I would be if you left me. And then the very next day, you did leave.
“When I came home to an empty house on Sunday, I didn’t even have to think twice about it. I tore my townhouse apart to find the contract. There wasn’t even a small piece of me that hesitated to walk into Rick’s office and ask to complete the deal.”
I look at him skeptically, wanting so badly to believe everything he’s saying.
“More? You need more? Okay. Do you know where Kansas City holds spring training? In Arizona. I’ll be less than thirty minutes away from Danny for almost two months every spring. If that isn’t a sign, I don’t know what is. Everything makes so much sense now, don’t you see?”
I look over at his suitcases, still trying to absorb what this all means. “So, you’re moving here? And you want to date me? Like for real, date me?”
He laughs. “I don’t just want to date you,” he says, pulling another folder from his suitcase. “I have a new contract for you to sign.”
I huff in displeasure and then stand up and start to walk away. “I knew you would never change. It’s why I left. Go back to New York, Sawyer.”
He comes up behind me, placing a gentle hand on my shoulder. “At least look at it, Aspen.”
He hands me the folder and I open it, angry at the thought of what he wants me to sign this time. But when I read the words at the top of the first page, I gasp. It reads: Prenuptial Agreement.
I spin around to see Sawyer down on one knee, holding up a ring. And this time it’s not Murphy’s ring. It’s not a huge, flashy ring like the old Sawyer would have gotten. It’s a modest platinum band with a just-big-enough diamond. Because he knows that’s what I like. Because he knows me. It’s the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen.
“Are you kidding?” I ask, trying to focus on him through my tears.
“There’s nothing fake about this ring. Or this proposal. Or how I love you. Because, I do love you, Aspen Andrews. I’ve loved you for a while now. And everyone except me seemed to know it. But right now it’s just you and me. There aren’t any cameras around this time. Everyone else can have the fake proposal on the internet. This one is just for us. And I promise you, everything from here on out will be real. No more hesitation. No more games. No more hiding behind the memory of my father.”
“Do you trust yourself with me?” I ask.
He shakes his head. “I don’t know. I want to. I want to more than anything. But I can’t be sure. So I made sure you have a safety net.” He points to the prenuptial agreement. “If I ever hurt you in any way, you get it all. Our house, our kids, our bank accounts, everything.”
“Kids?” I say through my tears.
“Kids,” he says. “And it’s not just the prenup that will protect you. I told everyone everything about me. I told Brady and Caden and their wives. I told Bass. And as soon as I can, I’m going to tell Denver. If you ever feel threatened by me, you go to them. They know about my mom and dad now. They know about Danny. They will protect you if you ever need to be protected.”
I put my hand on his cheek and rub my thumb along his jaw. “I won’t need to be protected from you. But I don’t understand. None of them said anything after I left. Nobody tried to contact me.”
“I asked them not to,” he says. “I didn’t want anyone to spoil this. I needed you to be without me, without us, for a while. I needed you to be as miserable without me as I was without you. Please tell me you were miserable without me.”
I laugh and nod my head. “Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“Good. But neither of us needs to be miserable any longer.” He nods to the ring he’s still holding. “Look at the inscription,” he says.
I take it from him and squint my eyes to read the tiny words engraved inside. It reads: Iron-clad contract.
Tears spill over my lashes. “I always knew you were a romantic.”
“That’s because you know me better than anyone else.” He shifts uncomfortably on the pavement. “Now my knee is fucking killing me, so what do you say, Aspen Andrews, will you marry this self-centered son-of-a-bitch and make me happier than I ever thought I could be?”
I grab his hands and pull him up to me. “Now, that’s a proposal I’ll never forget.”
“Is that a yes?” he asks.
“If the ring fits,” I joke.
“I’ll make it fit,” he says. “Because I’ll do anything to have you, Penny, including bending platinum with my bare hands.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “Penny?”
“Yeah. All the men who love you call you that, so I thought I’d give it a try.”
He slips the ring on my finger. It’s a perfect fit.
“I’ve never loved my nickname more than I do right now,” I tell him.
He cups my face in his hands, looking at me with so much love it literally hurts my heart. “I’ve never loved anything more than I do you right now,” he says.
He leans down until our lips meet. And as he’s kissing me, I try to recall what the date is. Because in my book, this is the date it all happened. Not the date our arrangement was made. Not the date he publicly declared his fake love for me. This date – today – is the date it became real. Our first real kiss. Our own private engagement. And if the heat in his eyes is any indication, the first time we make love. Real, honest-to-God love.