Page 23 of Forbidden Stranger

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“What?”she asks and looks around, expecting something to stand out.

“Well, this is just a pit stop along the way, but I wanted to bring you back here and try to start again.”She’s purposely not looking at me, and when I reach out and touch her chin, she closes her eyes.“I’m Gabriel Snow, and I’ve come a long way to meet you, Noel.”

Slowly her eyes open, and she looks up at me.

“The first time I saw your picture, you took my breath away, but when we stood here in this spot, you took my soul.You’ve had it with you since then and you will forever more.”I point to the wooden shelf where I’ve carved a little heart with our initials in it.“I want our great-grandchildren to know this is where we fell in love.”

“Gabriel,” she whispers as she reaches out and touches the little heart.

“Now to the real surprise.”I tug her hand, and this time she comes easily with me as we walk to the back of the library.

Before, this was just an empty area of grass that connected to the elementary school on the other block.The day she ran out of the library I walked all over Troping and then ended up back here in this grassy lot.I kept thinking that this library is a part of who Noel is, just like Troping is, and if I want to do something that will show her how serious I am, then I need to do it where it will make the most impact.

When I open the door to outside, I step back and let Noel walk through.I keep my eyes on her, and I hold my breath, waiting for her reaction.

“How did you do this?”She sounds like she can’t believe it as she turns in place and tries to take it all in.

“It turns out that Clause knows how to build stuff, and with enough money, anything can be done in a short amount of time,” I say.

In the space between the library and the elementary school, I had a giant gazebo built for outdoor plays and for people to put on concerts.The whole thing is strung with lights, and surrounding it is a brand-new playground.It’s open to the public and for everyone to use but will serve as a community center for afterschool programs and a place for the people of Troping to gather.

“Gabriel.”She covers her mouth when she looks up and sees the sign on the gazebo.

Dedicated to Noel and all those who love romance.

When she turns around to face me, there are tears in her eyes, but this time they’re ones of joy.She takes a step closer, and I get down on one knee, taking out the ring that I got from her mom last night.It’s been in their family for generations.

“Oh my god.”Her eyes widen in recognition when she sees it.

“You mom gave this to me after I told your parents what you mean to me, Noel.I know I messed up, but I promise you that I’ll spend the rest of my life making up for it.What I texted you before you knew it was me was all true, and everything I’ve said since then has come from my heart.I love you, and you’re the one for me, if you’ll have me.”

“What about New York?What about—”

“My home is where you are, and that’s here in Troping, dollface.”I take her hand and bring it to my mouth so I can kiss her finger before I slide the ring on.“My heart belongs with yours, forever.”

“I love you too, Gabriel,” she says before she falls into my arms and our lips connect.

My body lights up from the inside out, and the next thing I know, I’m spinning her in a circle while I kiss her like I’m starved.Maybe I am, after three miserable days without her, but doing all of this made me realize just how deeply my feelings for Noel are.Some people might say it’s crazy to propose so quickly, but life is short, and I’m not wasting another second without her by my side.

“That looks like a yes to me,” someone says from behind us, and I hear people cheering and clapping.

Music begins to play, and a crowd descends on the new gazebo and playground.“What is going on?”Noel asks as she looks around.

“I planned a dedication ceremony after you said yes,” I say, and she smiles up at me.

“What if I had said no?”She’s teasing me now, and I shake my head.

“No way was I going to let that happen, dollface.”

I still haven’t put her on her feet because it’s been too long since she was in my arms, and I’m not about to let her go.Everyone who helped put this together comes outside, and Mayor North begins to make a speech as the rest of Troping gathers around.

When Noel’s parents come over, they hug her, and then North talks about the dedication of the new park and gazebo.I don’t listen to half of what he’s saying because I’m too busy looking at the most beautiful woman in the world.

Noel’s dad shakes my hand, and her mom gives me a kiss on the cheek.I was surprised at how welcoming and supportive they were, but I think once they knew I planned to keep her here, they just wanted their daughter to be happy.

It’s a long time later after everyone has congratulated us that I’m able to sneak Noel away from the crowd.

“Where are we going?”she asks in a giggle as I pull her down the street and toward the inn.

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