More Than This Epilogue

“Holy crap is it hot.” Quinn squinted up at the sun before slipping her sunglasses on.

“It’s August. In New Orleans. What did you expect?”

She looked at Ryan hoping he’d feel the heat of her glare. After two days of driving down from Chicago, after putting off her scheduled departure date so Ryan could set things up with the bar and his family, she’d begun to rethink allowing him to join her on vacation. They’d bickered about everything on the drive and now he was making snarky comments. “I expected hot. Even humid. But not this. It’s like the air is wet.”

A drip of sweat snaked down her back. She gathered her hair and tied it up. “This is way worse than Chicago.”

She glanced up and down the street and noticed Ryan checking his phone. Grabbing his free hand, she said, “Let’s go.”

“Where?” He tucked his phone back in his pocket.

“Just walk. I want to see the French Quarter before we decide what we want to do. But there is a cemetery tour that sounds good.” A slight breeze kicked up, cooling the sweat on her skin.

“Uh-uh. No cemeteries.”

“Why not?” She released his hand.

“Indy said vacation. No dead people.”

Quinn laughed. “No, she said it couldn’t be work-related, like education stuff. I’m not looking for dead authors. This is fun. Plus, you’re one to talk about work—you were just checking your phone.”

He shrugged, but didn’t say anything. Instead, he laced his fingers in hers as they walked. As soon as he touched her, she remembered exactly why she wanted him to be with her on her vacation. The sun beat down on them and they skirted around other walkers. She eyed various gift shops and reminded herself to make a list of who she wanted to buy souvenirs for.

“Look!” She pointed at the sign and laughed. “It’s Bubba Gump Shrimp. Run, Forest, Run.”

Ryan shook his head while she took out her phone to snap a picture. “You’re such a tourist.”

She bumped her shoulder against his. “You play tourist in the city in which you live. At least I really am a tourist here.”

She glanced into the restaurant and saw red signs on the tables that read ‘Stop, Forest, stop.’ Too bad she didn’t like seafood.

They walked along until they came to a park where artists lined the fence with their work. Quinn made Ryan walk the perimeter of the park so she could check out each artist.

Ryan was surprisingly patient, although she occasionally caught him wiping sweat from his forehead or sneaking a peek at his phone. When they got to the back side of the park, Quinn stopped.

The artist had repurposed old windows and doors as art. She’d painted fabulous pictures on the glass with the weathered wood acting as a frame.

One caught her eye. The gray wood frame of the window accentuated the midnight blue sky painted on the glass. Stars twinkled above a saxophone. She could almost hear the musical notes drifting from the instrument, the jazzy whine filling the night air.

She didn’t know how long she stood staring at it, but suddenly the artist was pulling it from its hooks and walking away. Quinn’s heart sank.

Then she turned to see Ryan paying the woman and grabbing the window. He smiled and it shot straight through her heart.

“Guess it’s a good thing we drove, huh?”

“You didn’t have to buy me that.”

He hefted the window into his arms. “I bought it for us. A memento of our first vacation together. Besides, when I saw you looking at the stars, it reminded me of the part of you I love best.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

“The dreamer.”

Oh, crap. She’d never had a chance against this guy. Especially when he said things like this because he knew her heart. She reached up, grabbed the back of his head, tangling her fingers into his damp hair, and pulled him down for a kiss.

Yeah, having Ryan on vacation had been an excellent decision.

***

The following morning, Ryan grunted as Quinn pulled the curtains open.

“Wake up. I want to go to Café du Monde for beignets.”

Even on vacation, the woman filled her schedule to bursting. She buzzed around the room wearing only her bra and panties. He enjoyed the sight. Her hair dripped on her shoulders, which reminded him to get in the shower. He shoved off the bed to avoid any more complaints.

When he got out, Quinn was standing beside the bed wearing one of those breezy sundresses that he loved. He grabbed her waist and kissed her neck.

She sighed and sank against him, but then patted his hand. “Come on. Get dressed.”

He pulled away, but ran his hands up her thighs beneath the yellow dress. “New rule. You can’t wear these dresses if you want to leave the room.”

She swatted his hands. “I’m hungry.”

He dropped his towel and gathered his clothes. While Quinn filled her purse, he tucked the small jewelry box into his pocket. He’d racked his brain the entire trip down trying to figure out the best way to propose. He wanted it to be special, and she deserved romantic, but he also knew she would appreciate simple.

He’d carried the damn ring in his pocket since he’d bought it in Chicago after convincing Quinn they needed to delay their departure for a couple of days. He’d claimed bar business, but he knew he wanted to propose and needed to find the right ring.

As they walked out of the hotel, a thought occurred to him. Café du Monde was almost always crowded. Not where he’d want to propose. “Instead of Café du Monde, let’s try Café Beignet. It’s close.”

It also had an outdoor courtyard that Quinn would love and would set the stage. After a few blocks, Quinn suddenly slapped a hand over her nose and mouth. “Oh, my God. What is that awful smell?”

Ryan glanced around. “Garbage.” Cans lined the street and the heat had made it pretty ripe, but it wasn’t any worse than the alley behind O’Leary’s in the summer.

Quinn’s face seemed to change color.

“Are you okay?”

She shook her head and ran into the restaurant they stood in front of. Damn. Every time he thought he had a plan, he hit a bump.

A few minutes later, just as Ryan prepared to check on her, Quinn emerged. Her eyes were a little watery, but she smiled.

“Sorry about that. I don’t know where that came from. I was sure I was going to throw up, but I’m okay.”

“Do you want to go back to the room?”

“No. The smell got to me, but I want breakfast.” She turned and started walking away.

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’m fine,” she called over her shoulder as she hurried down the block away from the trash.

He followed and tried not to get distracted by the way the breeze kicked up the bottom of her dress to reveal a bit more thigh.

At the restaurant, there was a line, but it moved quickly. Quinn placed an order for beignets and coffee for both of them. He led her to the courtyard and one of the wrought iron tables.

She sipped her drink and then wrinkled her nose.

“Something wrong with the coffee?”

“It’s what I ordered, but it doesn’t taste good.”

He took a sip. “Tastes fine to me.”

She shrugged. “My taste buds must be off. I’ll grab a water later.”

Trees shaded them from the sun and Quinn pushed her sunglasses on top of her head. They held hands, and he thought about what he wanted to say. He wasn’t sure if he’d have the right words.

The waiter dropped off their beignets and Quinn ripped a piece from one and popped it in her mouth. “Mmmm…that’s good. Definitely makes up for the coffee.”

Ryan shoved his cardboard tray away from him and looked around at the handful of customers sitting in the courtyard. Quinn devoured her first beignet.

He reached for her hand. “I love you.”

Her eyes melted as her lips curved. “I love you too.”

He toyed with her fingers as he tried to formulate the words. “I don’t really know how we got here, but the past few months with you in my life have been…amazing. Even when you were driving me crazy.”

As he spoke, Quinn’s free hand let go of the fried dough and it fell back into the tray. “Is something wrong? You’re acting weird.”

He ran a hand through his hair and then stood. Quinn released his other hand and he watched her guard go up, expecting something bad and preparing to accept it.

So he smiled.

“Nothing is wrong. Stop worrying.”

He reached into his pocket and palmed the box. Getting down on one knee, he set the box on the table and said, “Marry me, Quinn.”

“What?”

Her mouth hung open and he suddenly felt like an idiot. Bad plan.

Eyes of strangers focused on him and color rose in Quinn’s cheeks. He should’ve done this in private. Even a few people were too many.

But he couldn’t back down now. He flipped the lid on the box and words flooded his brain. “You make me happy, Quinn. I want to marry you and have babies with you.”

She went from wide-eyed shock to teary in a blink. He tugged the ring from its home and held it out to her. The cold cobblestone beneath him bit into his knee, but he refused to move until she spoke.

“Yes.” Her voice wobbled.

He slid the ring onto her finger and stood. She joined him and wrapped her arms around his neck. Their audience applauded and one guy whistled.

Ryan lowered his mouth to hers and tasted the sweet sugar from the beignet. When he pulled away, he scooped her up in a hug and she squealed, so he set her back on her feet.

She slapped a hand on the table to balance herself, but caught the edge of the cardboard tray. Beignets flew up and sprinkled powdered sugar over her hand and up her arm.

She laughed and brushed at her skin. “Jeez. Just can’t take me anywhere.”

He nipped her earlobe. “Let’s get these to go then. We’ll celebrate in our room. In private.” He flicked his tongue against the pulse on her neck. “Sweeter than sugar.”

She giggled. “Bet you say that to all the girls.”

“Nope. Just you. Always just you.”