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Leo placed the cutlery on the table then added the napkins that Cain had given him. He’d done some work on his laptop that afternoon, wanting to stay in the loop with things, then he’d showered and gone down to see what he could do to help. He hadn’t seen much of Erin today, except in passing, but she’d been out for most of the day with Zara and when they’d returned they’d both gone to freshen up and, he suspected, to take a nap.

‘Anything else I can do?’ he asked Cain in the kitchen.

‘No that’s great, thanks.’ Cain shook his head. ‘Oh… actually you could grab some wine from the fridge and open a bottle?’

‘No problem.’

Cain left the kitchen and Leo opened the wine then set the bottle on the table.

‘Better get some champagne ready too.’ Leo turned to find Paul standing in the doorway.

‘Oh? Are we celebrating something?’

‘We might be.’ Paul winked at him.

‘I think I saw some in the fridge.’ Leo had seen more than one bottle in there but assumed it was for Christmas Day.

‘I stocked up earlier,’ Paul said.

Leo looked at his friend and noted that he was wearing a smart navy shirt with dark jeans and that he was freshly shaven.

‘What’s going on?’ he asked Paul.

‘Wait and see.’ Paul grinned then left the room.

Leo straightened some of the cutlery then wiped the side of the bottle of wine with a napkin. What was Paul up to? He could be impulsive, Leo had known him long enough to be aware of this fact, but if Paul was plotting something he usually let Leo know what was going on. They’d always been close and Leo wasn’t used to Paul keeping things from him. But then they were adult men now and Paul was entitled to have secrets, but for some reason this one was making Leo feel a bit uneasy.

Soon, everyone made their way to the kitchen and took their seats at the table. Angelina was still limping, making the most of her injury from the walk at Box Hill, Leo thought, but it hadn’t stopped her putting on a pair of rose gold cork wedges with her white skinny jeans.

When everyone was seated, Paul tapped the side of his wine glass with a spoon.

‘Good evening family.’ He smiled around the table. ‘I wanted to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am to be here with you all this evening, including my beautiful girlfriend, Angelina.’ He paused. ‘I have something I need to attend to and I want to do it now because, to be honest, I can’t wait a second longer. I had planned on doing this on Christmas morning but hey… there’s no time like the present.’

He stood up and slid a hand into his shirt pocket then went down on one knee next to Angelina’s chair. She squealed and waved her hands in the air. ‘Paulie? What’re you doing?’

‘Ahem,’ Paul said. ‘Angelina… You are unlike any other woman I’ve ever met, and I am madly in love with you. I can’t imagine being without you now, just the thought is like a knife piercing my heart. You brighten every day with your beauty, your kindness and the way you make me feel so cared about. I need you like I need air, water and food. I need you in my world now and for always. Angelina, darling, will you please do me the honour of becoming my wife?’

The room fell silent. Leo pushed a finger between his collar and his throat, feeling suddenly parched. What was Paul doing? Was he sure about this? Angelina was nice enough but marriage? It was such a big commitment. But he must have suspected deep down that this was what Paul had planned because he’d felt uneasy about it earlier.

‘Paulie, darling, of course I’ll marry you!’ Angelina held out her left hand and Paul slid a platinum band with an enormous diamond onto her finger. She moved her hand from side to side and the diamond caught the light and Leo knew that it must have cost a small fortune, probably Paul’s entire Christmas bonus.

Leo heard a gasp from across the table and noticed that Erin had gone dreadfully pale. Her lips were parted and she looked like she might cry at any moment.

‘Paulie… I have some news for you too,’ Angelina said as she slid a hand down her low-cut purple jumper and pulled out a white, plastic stick. ‘We’re going to be parents!’

‘What?’ Paul’s face moved from jubilant to shocked to delighted all within seconds. ‘Y-you’re pregnant?’

He stood up and Angelina joined him. ‘Yes! I haven’t been feeling great lately and then I did a test because my period was late and… and… we’re going to have a baby. Isn’t it amazing?’

Paul embraced Angelina and Leo looked away as they started to kiss. He met Erin’s gaze across the table and was surprised to see that there were tears in her eyes. She quietly pushed her chair out and slipped away from the table as her parents congratulated their son and his new fiancée.

‘Congratulations!’ Leo said, patting Paul on the back then kissing Angelina’s cheek before leaving the room in Erin’s wake. He found her in the lounge, sitting on the sofa, her head in her hands. ‘Erin?’ He approached her cautiously as if he was afraid of startling her but she didn’t look up and he felt scared. What had upset her so badly?

‘Erin?’ He sat next to her and reached for one of her hands, taking it gently between his. ‘Are you OK?’

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