She paused until Ned searched her face to see if something was wrong. She seemed to be considering something.
“What is it?” he whispered.
She shut her eyes. “I’m feeling you.”
He nearly lost control right then, but held on some more until he thought that this might be divine retribution for all of his prior sins. Then Fila began to move again. Up and down. Faster and faster, moving with an animal grace that brought him to life. Now he allowed himself to move, too. Thrusting into her as she slid down his length, slowly at first, then faster to match her pace. He was rewarded when she sped up again as well, and together they found a pleasing rhythm.
Best of all was when she lowered herself down to lie on top of him and allowed him to take control. Ned thought that no one had ever given him such a gift—the trust she showed in him let him know she’d be his forever. He was determined never to let her down.
He slowed his pace again to long, strong strokes that had her begging for more. She pressed kisses into his neck, clinging to him, murmuring words that didn’t make sense but that he understood anyway. Cupping her bottom with his hands, grinding her into him as he thrust into her, he increased his pace bit by bit until he could tell she was barely holding on.
She crashed into her release with a cry of such abandon that Ned went over the edge too. Bucking against her, filling her full, crying out himself—they shuddered into a tangle of an embrace. Still breathing hard, Ned gathered her close and kissed her. He would never get enough of this. Never get enough of her.
He would never, ever let Fila go.
“Wake up. I need to buy you a ring.”
Fila came to with the most luxurious sense of rightness at finding herself in Ned’s arms. The events of the previous night rushed into her mind and she couldn’t help but smile.
“I could lie here all morning and just look at you,” Ned said, tracing a finger over the contours of her face. She kissed his fingertip as it slid over her lips, then turned and snuggled closer.
Her second attempt at lovemaking went more smoothly than the first and fulfilled her in ways she hadn’t dreamed possible. She felt like she was coming alive after years lying parched and forgotten in a desert. Why didn’t everyone do this all the time? When she asked Ned, he laughed.
“We can try.”
They did try. But as the morning went on, he finally pulled away. “I’m serious about that ring, but someone’s going to have to drive us. Do you have Rose’s number?”
“Yes.” She fetched him her phone, feeling oh-so-wicked for prancing about the cabin naked, but she liked knowing he was watching—that it was right for him to watch.
Soon to be her husband.
She left him reluctantly while he made the call and showered and got dressed. He took his turn in the bathroom and described the clothes he wanted from his closet. As she went up and downstairs, helping him get ready for the day and whipping up a quick breakfast of cereal and toast, Fila realized this was only the beginning. She and Ned would belong together from here on in—they’d make a whole life together.
She couldn’t wait.
Rose arrived and swooped Fila immediately into a big hug. “Congratulations! I’m thrilled you’re going to let me help you pick out the ring!”
“But you won’t spill our secret?” Ned came nearer on his crutches. “I want to announce it at Fila’s dry run of the restaurant on Saturday.”
“I won’t spill. And I’ll help you get ready for Saturday any way I can.”
A half-hour later they were perusing the glass cases of Thayer’s Jewelers where Rose had worked until recently. Rose had emitted a sigh of relief when they walked in and found her old boss wasn’t present. “Hi, Andrea,” she called. “This is Fila and Ned—they’re old friends of mine.”
Andrea came and handed her a set of keys. “Emory’s not coming in today. Take your time.”
“She lets you have the keys to the cases?” Ned asked. “Even though you don’t work here anymore?”
“Only on special occasions,” Rose said. “We’re friends,” she explained. “And I let her vent about Emory to me whenever she needs to. Which is a lot.” She smiled. Fila knew that Rose’s former boss had been a thorn in her side, so she understood. Rose began to point out rings she thought might suit.
Fila loved the way Ned kept a hand on her at all times during the proceedings, as if she might slip away from him if he wasn’t careful. It was a far different thing than the way her captors had watched over her—it came from a place of desire, not of control.
The ring they chose in the end was both delicate and strong. A little old-fashioned, but that suited her. It made her think of the strength of traditions, while the more playful elements reminded her there was always room for change and growth.
Fila wanted to wear it home, but it needed a slight adjustment, and they’d already agreed to debut it at her restaurant’s dry run. Now it was time to get busy preparing for the day when her friends would taste-test her food. Everyone had volunteered to help. She needed to make to-do lists and contact them.
The next few days flew by for Fila in a whirlwind of planning and preparation. Mia, Hannah and the women from the Cruz ranch took turns shopping with her and getting everything set up at the restaurant. Fila combed the Internet for tips on staging so many meals at once and Autumn filled her in on everything she knew about cooking for a crowd.
“When I serve my guests, I serve them all at once, like a family, though,” she cautioned. “That’s pretty much how it will be for your dry run, but on a normal day you’ll need to know how to serve people continuously over the course of hours—that’s a whole different ballgame.”
Fila wished she knew someone with more experience to consult.
“What about Camila?” Mia asked her on Friday morning when they were stocking the refrigerator with the last perishable ingredients they would need for the following day. “She’s got lots of experience, right?”
Fila tried to hide her reaction. Why wouldn’t she consult Camila? Because Camila had set her sights on Ned? So what—she was the one about to wear his ring. Because Camila hogged everyone’s attention with her outgoing ways and her winning smile? That was just petty.
Petty, but true.
Fila sighed and told herself not to be ridiculous. If she really wanted to be the star attraction of a gathering, then she needed to learn to shine. And if she didn’t want all that attention, then she couldn’t complain if someone else hogged it. “Okay. I’ll see if she’s next door.”