“Milo, wait up!” Laina broke into a jog to keep up with the mastiff. She’d returned to the little cottage in Red Grove that she now called home from her first day back at Four Paws veterinary hospital, blissfully exhausted from a busy caseload of pets and owners, to find Milo with a red satin bow around his neck. A note affixed to his collar said, Let me out. I know where to go. Laina had re-zipped her Canada Goose puffer and opened the door for the dog.
The crisp night air revived her and she drew in a deep breath. The ice coated branches of evergreen trees glittered in the moonlight around her, nestled among sleeping oaks. Red Grove forest was magical, the star-filled sky putting on a show above her. Considering woodland fairies inhabited these woods, she wasn’t surprised at the winter wonderland surrounding her but wondered what Kyle was up to, drawing her deeper into the woods this time of night.
Milo cut around the full branches of a spruce tree, and Laina followed, her boots skidding to a stop when she spotted the marvel in front of her. Breath caught in her throat. How was this possible? It couldn’t be. The click of Milo’s nails against the plank ramp finally convinced her. Yes, Kyle’s tree house, the same one that once stood in the forest behind Hunt Club in Sable Creek, Wisconsin, now rose in all its snow-covered splendor in her new backyard.
The rounded door opened, and Kyle stepped through onto the balcony. “I was beginning to wonder if Milo ate my note,” he called down to her.
“I worked late. The clinic was busy.” Laina spread her arms, her mouth gaping with wonder. “How is this possible, Kyle? You did not build a replica of your tree house in two days.”
He shrugged. “Magic.”
“You magicked this from Wisconsin to New Hampshire?” she asked breathlessly. She didn’t even think that kind of thing was possible.
“Technically, the witch and her caretaker took it apart in Wisconsin and conjured it here in sections. Arthur, Gerty, and I put it back together. I can’t take credit for the magic involved, although I promised to babysit for Grateful and Rick in exchange for their help, and judging by how willingly she made that deal, I’m not sure I came away with the better end of the bargain.”
Laina jogged to the tree and climbed the planks around the trunk to the balcony. A cold, wet flake landed on her cheek. It was snowing again, and the fluffy white flakes only added to the magic moment. “This is incredible. It’s something out of a fairytale.” She took his face in her hands and kissed him soundly.
Kyle’s hazel eyes twinkled with delight at her reaction. Pulling back from the kiss, he brushed her hair from her face before threading his fingers with hers. “Come inside before our lips freeze together. She followed him through the hobbit door, flabbergasted at what he’d done with the interior. Warm light engulfed the room from wall sconces and a rustic chandelier. At the far end of the maple floors, a kitchenette with a small table and chairs waited, and behind her, at the other end of the circular room, he’d covered a double bed in a patchwork quilt constructed of multiple shades of red velvet. Beside the bed, flames danced in a stone fireplace. Milo had already figured out that was the place to be and had curled up on a braided wool rug in front of it.
“A fireplace in a treehouse?” she said, her voice breathless with wonder.
“Yes. One of the additions Arthur helped me make. It’s not as magical as it seems. No different than building one into an actual house actually, although, thanks to a little fairy magic, this one is safer than most. He also helped me with the wiring. We have solar electricity now.”
“Oh, Kyle, it’s incredible. I love it.” Noticing Kyle was dressed only in jeans and a grey sweater, she unzipped her coat and hung it on the rack near the door.
“Let’s celebrate. I have something for the occasion.” Kyle moved into the kitchenette, flipped open a window, and retrieved a bottle of champagne from the pile of snow it was chilling in. He closed the window, tossed a kitchen towel over the top, and popped the cork into it. “Excellent. The bubbles are still flowing. This has been chilling out there a while.”
She winced. “Sorry. Becca put the word out I was coming back to work, and everyone wanted to bring their pets in today. I treated six dogs, four cats, two guinea pigs, and a parrot that told me to go fuck myself.”
Kyle laughed. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. His owner runs a tavern in Carlton City and swears like a sailor. The parrot learned from the one who loves him most and apparently delights tavern-goers with his vocabulary. He’s well cared for, which is the important thing.” She winked at Kyle and accepted the drink he handed her.
“Cheers.” Kyle tapped his glass against hers.
“Cheers.” She locked eyes with him as they drank and savored the dry bubbly. Seeing Kyle like this reminded her of everything she loved about him. He carried a light within him, a childlike wonder wrapped in a sexy, rugged package that she’d never tire of.
“Oh, I forgot to show you the best part. Come.” He led her around the tree trunk to the bed, then pointed skyward. “Look up.”
She tipped her head back. “Ooooh!” A skylight recessed into the ceiling offered an impressive view of the stars and the half-moon that smiled down on them. “Goddess, you thought of everything.” For a long moment, she soaked it in, sipping her champagne and counting herself among the luckiest people in the world.
“Laina…” His voice strained with emotion. She lowered her gaze to find him kneeling on the floor behind her.
He drew a small box from his back pocket and popped open the lid. The size of the elongated cushion-cut diamond inside made her wonder how it fit in the box! The last time she saw a diamond that size, she’d been in a museum.
Her glass slipped from her hand, and thankfully there was nothing dormant about Kyle’s shifter reflexes. He caught it before it hit the floor with his non-ring-holding hand and set it on the bedside table.
“Will you marry me, Laina? I don’t know what the future holds for us, but I know that no place is home without you.” His eyes crinkled at the corners. All she could do was stare, at the man, the ring, and the dog behind him, watching them both as if he, too, was holding his breath. Several moments passed before she realized he was waiting for her reply.
“Oh, you need me to say it,” she tittered through a slow-spreading smile. “Honestly, the answer is so obvious I wondered if I needed to. Kyle, you’re my family. You’re my pack. I’m not going anywhere without you, and I would be honored to marry you.” She held out her hand, and he slipped the ring on her finger. “Damn, good thing I’m a shifter because this thing is heavy.”
He stood from the floor, still holding her hand. “I can get you a smaller one if you prefer.”
“No, no… this will do. However, I will need to take care that it doesn’t affect the tides. And I’ll have to hire security to guard it during surgery. All problems I’m willing to face.” She beamed up at him.
His hazel eyes shone in the firelight. “It suits you.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her body against his. “There is one problem, though.”
“What?” His lips moved deliciously close to hers, and she threaded her fingers into the back of his hair.
“All this ice has made me cold. Do you think you can warm me up?”
“That I can do.” Their mouths collided, and the world melted away, leaving only him and her and a night brimming with magic.