I hadn’t sweated this much since the first time I met Sophia. Jesus H. Christ. Of course, it wasn’t every day I asked Paul Croft for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Before entering the Banks Brew Co., I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. Summer weather was here, but I didn’t feel right talking about such an important subject while wearing shorts. Maybe it was my military training.
Paul waited for me at the bar, a pint sitting in front of him. Bennett was behind the bar as usual. A few months ago, the sight of him would have made me grind my teeth, but he and I had come to terms with each other—more than that, actually. I considered him among my closest friends. Hopefully, I’d soon be able to call him a brother.
Paul raised his hand in greeting. With a final gulp, I weaved my way through the room to sit beside him. “What are you having?”
He picked up his glass and looked at it. “You know, I don’t even know. Bennett, what is this?”
“It’s not on the menu.”
I arched a brow. “Are we going to have to carry him out of here if he finishes that?”
Bennett bristled. “I don’t serve my home brew here.”
Paul chuckled. “And I know better than to drink too much of that. It’s so strong it’ll singe your insides.”
I’d learned that the hard way, which resulted in me drunkenly suggesting to Lyra we get married. That was not the story I wanted her telling our grandchildren and was the reason I needed to get the real proposal perfect.
“I’ll pour you a glass,” Bennett said. “It’s a new recipe, and I’m not sure I have it right. Let me know what you think.” It said a lot about how far we’d come that he valued my opinion.
As Bennett set a glass in front of me, Paul said, “Now, tell me what you need to talk to me about.”
Bennett smirked, and I suddenly wished we weren’t at the Banks Brew Co. But where else would we go? Everything always seemed to happen here.
I swallowed thickly. Here goes nothing. “I hope you know how much I love your daughter.”
“I want nothing more for her to be happy and—”
Paul put his hand on my hand. “Let me stop you right there, Brody. My answer is yes.”
I blinked. “I haven’t asked a question.”
Paul patted my arm indulgently. “Fine. Continue if you must.”
Well, damn. The man had taken the wind out of my sails. “I want to ask Lyra to marry me, and I would like your blessing.”
“What if I say no?”
My stomach dropped into my toes. “But you just said yes.” I hadn’t really considered that possibility. Lyra’s family was everything to her, but she was everything to me. I couldn’t live without her.
He laughed. “I’m just screwing with you. Of course you have my blessing.”
I let out a sigh of relief. “You had me going there for a second.”
“I know. It’s a testament to how much I like you that I didn’t keep up the ruse.” He slapped me on the back. “Now, son, show me the ring.”
The small box in my pocket felt like it weighed a million pounds. I didn’t dare leave it at the house, where Lyra might find it, though. “With all due respect, I’m not showing anyone until Lyra sees it first.”
Paul’s expression was approving. “Good man. I can’t wait to officially welcome you to the family.”
I looked down at the sweatpants I’d changed into five minutes earlier and groaned. “Do we have to go?” I whined.
I’d just changed out of my work clothes and into my comfy clothes. I had a date with Netflix that evening, or so I’d thought. Apparently, I’d forgotten we were supposed to meet my family at the Banks Brew Co. It was the first night Bennett had secured a live band, and he wanted us there for a ribbon-cutting ceremony or some nonsense. That was not like my brother at all—I figured it must be Claire’s doing.
Brody drummed his fingertips on the doorframe of the living room. “You know better than I do that you’d better be dying or close to it if you miss a family event.”
I sighed. He was right. It was unsisterly of me to try to bail. Gazing longingly at the remote, I hauled my ass off the couch. “I’ll get changed.”
Fifteen minutes later, I exited the bedroom to find both Sophia and Brody waiting for me by the front door. I frowned. “Are we running late?”
“No,” Brody said quickly, “but I don’t want to risk it. Bennett just started liking me.”
I rolled my eyes. Brody had turned the bromance love triangle between Bennett, Hudson, and Wes into a quadrilateral. Secretly, I was pleased he got along so well with my brothers.
I checked my face one last time in the hall mirrors and then noticed my daughter wore the fancy dress her mimi had gotten her. “That’s so sweet of you to dress up for Uncle Bennett’s ribbon cutting.”
Sophia’s eyes widened, and she looked up at Brody. He gripped her hand.
“Uh-huh,” she squeaked.
Weird, but okay. Come to think of it, she’d been uncharacteristically quiet all afternoon. I hoped she wasn’t coming down with the virus that was going around her school.
I put my hand on her forehead, and she jerked out of reach. “What are you doing?”
“Just checking to make sure you don’t feel warm.”
Brody opened the front door. “Let’s get going.”
“Yes, let’s.” The sooner we got there, the sooner we could leave, and the sooner I could return to my sweatpants.
The Banks Brew Co. lot was packed. We drove around back and parked where the employees did to leave the few remaining front spaces for customers. Bennett had just renovated the inside, and from the looks of it, he might need to expand the parking lot as well. Good for him.
Inside, a local band was sound checking their instruments on the stage behind a trio of ribbons that had been artfully twisted together. My family had commandeered several tables right in front and had pushed them together. The whole gang, including Brody’s mother, was already there.
“Peanut!” my dad called to Sophia. “I saved you a seat next to me.”
She skipped off to join him while Brody grabbed two chairs from the stack against the wall and wedged them between Hudson and Alec.
Bennett wandered over. “It’s about time you guys got here.”
I pointed to the band. “They’re still setting up. We didn’t miss anything.”
My brother shot Brody a pointed look. “You good?”
Brody swallowed. “Never better.”
A passing server carried french fries, and I inhaled deeply as my gaze followed them to their destination. Ah, fried food. So much more appetizing than the leftovers I’d planned to heat up at home. Suddenly, I was famished. I tried to flag down a server, but the lights in the restaurant dimmed, and bright lights above the stage clicked on. I was impressed—the production value was much higher than I’d anticipated. Go, Bennett.
My stomach growled. Damn it. I’d have to wait until the ribbon ceremony was over to put in an order. Hopefully, it would be quick. My gaze landed on my father, who had his trusty tripod and camera set up. I chuckled. That man documented every event in our family, no matter how small.
Bennett walked onto the stage. “Thanks for coming out, folks. And thanks to the Tree Frogs for signing on to be the first of hopefully many live musical acts.” The audience clapped politely. “A final thank-you to my family. Without them, I never would have remodeled, and we wouldn’t have this stage I’m standing on. So raise your glasses.”
The audience raised their glasses. Since Brody and I hadn’t had a chance to order yet, I raised my hand and held a pretend beverage.
With a huge grin, Bennett picked up a giant pair of scissors. He put them up to the ribbon then stopped. “Actually, Lyra and Sophia, would you mind coming up here?”
He must have wanted Sophia to cut the ribbon for him. Best uncle ever. I didn’t need to go with her, but whatever. I’d indulge the moment.
When we climbed onto the stage, I expected Bennett to hand Sophia the scissors, but instead, he gripped her shoulders and pulled her off to the side. I looked around in confusion. My entire family had huge grins on their faces.
“What’s going on?” I muttered to Bennett.
Sophia flashed me her gap-toothed grin and pointed behind me. I turned to find Brody down on one knee.
Gasping, I clutched my chest. Then I laughed nervously and forced my pulse to slow. He was really going all out for this prank proposal. I should have seen it coming, but I hadn’t seen the previous baker’s dozen, either.
“Ha, ha,” I said. “You got me.”
Instead of laughing, he took my hand. “Lyra, I love you. I don’t know how I made it this far without you in my life.”
My heart hammered. This isn’t a prank. This is real. My knees threatened to buckle as I struggled to breathe.
Brody stood and looped one arm around me, holding me steady. “I had hoped to do all of this on one knee, but this might be more fitting. I want to catch you before you fall. I want to support you in every aspect of your life. I want to be there for you forever. I want us to build a life together and add to our family.”
He lifted his hand, which held an open ring box containing a ring with the biggest diamond I’d ever seen. I stared, and my vision blurred as my eyes turned glassy. I swallowed the lump forming in my throat.
I would have been happy to accept any of the previous prank proposals for real. I didn’t need fancy—I just needed him. Yet he’d included my family in this moment. He understood how much they meant to me.
His gaze met mine, and in his eyes, I saw my past, my present, and my future.
“I need to know,” he said, “will you marry me?”
I bobbed my head, unable to form words.
“We can’t hear you!” Hudson called out. “Speak up!”
“Yes!” I cried. “Yes, yes, yes!”
I pressed my lips to his and felt a thud against my side as our daughter crashed into me and wrapped her arms around us. The moment was perfect.