THE PERFECT PROPOSAL (A Preload short story)

Happy Valentine’s Day. And I can’t think of a better way to spend it than with a short story about one of your favorite couples. At the end of NIKAN REBUILT, Nik mentions how Elliott has plans to propose to Kendalee on Valentine’s Day. So many of you reached out to me to ask if I’d ever write the scene for you. Well, your wish is my command.

Want to know something even more exciting? Nik mentions that Elliott had asked famed Canadian jeweler Zameer Kassam to make the ring. And guess what! When Zameer found out, he offered to design their ring for real. Between providing jewelry for an OSCAR attendant, and traveling to deliver one lucky girl the ring of her dreams, he managed to create something incredible for Kendalee.

So, without further ado, with real photographs* from Zameer’s design process which will just blow your mind, I present, THE PERFECT PROPOSAL. Happy reading.

(No part of this story is to be copied or reproduced without explicit permission from the author.)

(* All photographs are courtesy of Zameer Kassam and Dennis Kwan Photography and are not to be reused without explicit permission.)

Preload guitarist, Elliott Dawson, watched as two taxis pulled out of his drive way, each one carrying half of his heart. One contained Daniel, the boy he loved as his own, the son of the woman who owned his heart. He was on his way to the cinema to meet friends. The other taxi contained the woman herself. Just thinking about Kendalee made his heart tilt and right itself, and that was before he thought about the way they’d made love in the early hours of the morning simply because they’d needed each other.

She was on her way to Holt Renfrew to meet Lexi, Jenny, and Pixie, his bandmates’ girlfriends and fiancée. Some spa treatments and a personal shopping appointment was his Valentine’s Day surprise. It was also his decoy. His real gift to her was going to happen the moment she stepped back into their home.

He turned away from the window and looked at the chaos Daniel had created in the kitchen preparing lunch. Celery left out of the fridge, the lid left off the peanut butter, and a half-drunk bottle of cola left on the counter.

This was his family. And he loved every single noisy, disorganized, missing homework, lost car keys, and sex-in-the-shower moment of their crazy life. The Canadian leg of his tour had finished just before Christmas, their US leg just about to start. And between Daniel’s recovery from the serious burns he’d sustained just before Elliott had met his mom, and his schooling, they couldn’t join him as often as he’d like. But he loved the chaos of it. He loved having two people accept him unconditionally, and he loved them the same way in return.

He sent a quick text to the rest of the band that the coast was clear, and then cleaned up the kitchen because he knew they were going to need the counter space for what he had in mind. His original plan had been to propose at breakfast, but then he'd had a better idea involving his brothers. To take his mind off what was going to happen later, he made his way down to the basement recording studio to get in some practice.

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When the doorbell rang a couple of hours later, and Elliott hurried to answer it, excitement rattling through him like a freight train.

“Elliott, it’s good to see you again.” Zameer Kassam offered his hand and Elliott shook it firmly.

“And you. Thanks so much for doing this. Come on in.” Elliott opened the door wider and let the sharp-suited jewelry designer in. He wore a diamond pin in his lapel and tinted sunglasses which he removed as he stepped into the house.

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They’d met in New York at the start of January to discuss a very special collaboration. Over drinks, he’d tried to articulate to Zameer why Kendalee was his world. Words hadn’t come easily, and he wasn’t embarrassed to admit he’d gotten choked up answering some of the questions Zameer had asked him. Like when had he known she was it for him. He barely remembered how he’d answered, but he felt the answer all over again like fucking butterflies in his chest.

“Does Kendalee have any suspicions about this?” Zameer asked as they walked into the large family room.

“I don’t think so. I mean, I gave her a bunch of other gifts this morning, and her divorce only finalized a month ago, so I’m pretty sure she’s not expecting this.”

Elliott had seen the way she’d reacted to the divorce papers. She’d cried, but not for the loss of her cheating ex-husband, but instead had mourned the loss of the kind of relationship she’d wanted her marriage to be.

But everything the two of them did together spoke to a future like she’d imagined, and a relationship unlike anything either of them had ever experienced. And Elliott wanted to make it permanent, to offer her the ultimate symbol of his feelings for her.

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Zameer reached into his bag and pulled out the box, setting it on the table, tapping the lid with his finger tip. “So, Elliott. When we met, you told me you wanted something as unique as Kendalee was. Something that would make her feel the way you do when you look into those green eyes of hers. Which, by the way, may be the most romantic thing I’ve heard a client say. Something as rare and perfect as she is. I knew as soon as you left the room after our first meeting that I needed to move fast to find the kind of stone you had in mind. And I found it in a mine in Muzo, Colombia. I remember thinking, as I watched the master cleave and cut it to perfection, that this emerald was going to be perfect. And as per your request, it is subtle enough that most people will never know that its value far exceeds that of a diamond even thrice it’s size.”

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Elliott’s palms were suddenly damp. He wasn’t nervous about asking Kendalee to marry him. He knew they belonged together with a rightness that flowed through his very bones. But this, seeing the ring, listening to Zameer’s words, even after seeing the sketches Zameer had sent him, was a moment like he’d never experienced.

“Is it too early for scotch?” Elliott asked, half-meaning it.

Zameer laughed. “Not in my experience. Take a deep breath,” he said as he opened the box. “Here it is.”

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Elliott reached for the ring, its weight solid in his palm. It was stunning, absolutely perfect. Zameer had told him about the technical details of the stone, one he had said was as rare as any stone owned by the Queen. But all he could see was a brilliant emerald, vivid and clear and full of fire. Just like Kendalee was. And the Canadian diamonds that surrounded it, a reminder of the home he’d made with her

“It’s perfect. Honestly, Zameer. It’s everything I hoped for. Thank you”

Zameer humbly tilted his head. “You’re welcome. I can’t wait to meet Kendalee when she returns.”

A loud thumping sounded through the hallway. It could only mean Lennon was here. The guy never rang the bell, just used his foot to kick the bottom right corner of the door which had a divot in it after fifteen years of him doing it.

“One second, Zameer,” he said, jumping up to let him in. Lennon was often on his mind. Vivid dreams waking him in the middle of the night. Images of them performing without him flashing before his eyes on a never ending movie reel. Lennon’s temper was shorter, his mood even more withdrawn. It hurt viscerally to see his brother suffer that way, but as always, any attempts to connect with him were brushed away.

Elliott swung the door open and found Lennon bundled up against the freezing temperatures. “Fuck me, it’s cold,” he said, stubbing the toe of his boot against the step to get rid of the snow.

Lennon bumped his shoulder as he walked by, the only sign of any affection between the two of them, but it was enough. Enough for Elliott that Lennon had come at all.

The gate swung open and Dred’s Land Rover pulled in. He had to laugh when it came to a stop and Jordan uncurled his huge frame from the back seat. The reason became clear when he walked around the other side of the vehicle and lifted Petal out of her car seat. Dressed in green tulle and a green coat, she flung her arms around Jordan’s neck and slobbered kisses against his cheek in between a flurry of words that probably made little sense.

Dred got out, grabbed a bunch of bags from the passenger seat, and locked the car. “She’s all about ‘Unky Jordan’ today. You’d think she’d not seen him in a month, but he was over yesterday afternoon.”

Elliott smiled. The special relationship between two-year old Petal and Jordan had saved Jordan’s life. He hugged Dred as he walked through the door, kissed Petal on the cheek, gave Jordan a slap on the back, and waited as Nik jogged up the drive way.

“You ready?” Nik asked, a huge grin on his face.

“I am. Did Jenny love her gift?” Nik had bought Jenny the two-bedroomed apartment they’d all lived in when they first left the group home. As the leader of a group home now, she always worried about where the children leaving her care would stay. The apartment would serve as a low-rent place for kids to stay while they saved for a deposit on a place of their own.

“She did. She’s already thinking about who to put in there first.”

With everyone there, they began to set up for the surprise engagement party.

 “We’ve got about an hour left,” Elliott said, looking at the men who meant everything to him. Jordan and Nik were hanging a large engagement banner across the flat screen TV over the fire place. Dred was trying to help the caterers but kept getting distracted by Petal, who, at two years old, was now a walking trail of destruction. Everything in all five men’s houses had been moved up above an imaginary three-feet water line. Lennon was setting up a mini-bar on the kitchen counter.

Even Zameer was pitching in, setting up a playlist on his phone.

With Elliott’s bank balance, he could have afforded to do something out of this world. Flown Kendalee to Paris and proposed on the top of the Eiffel Tower. But he knew that the simplicity of this… just their immediate friends, their only family… with decorations taped to the wall with blue decorator’s tape… would be her preference.

Daniel knew Elliott was thinking of proposing, because Elliott had asked him for his permission. The teenager had blown him away with his answer. Yes, partly because I can see how much she loves you, but because I love you too. And it will mean I get you as my Dad.

Petal wandered by Lennon and clambered onto one of the bar stools, chatting away. Elliott’s heart hurt as he watched Lennon struggle with the little girl’s attentions. The way he’d smile at something she was saying, but then catch himself, letting his hair fall back over his face as he packed ice for beer bottles into two large stainless steel containers.

“You ready?” Jordan asked, throwing his arm over Elliott’s shoulder.

“Never been more ready. It doesn’t seem like five minutes since you proposed right in this very room.”

“It should be a trend. Dred proposed to Pixie in this house. I proposed to Lexi. You’re proposing to Kendalee here. It’s appropriate, I guess, to come full circle here. This house was good to us all. I’m glad you wanted to keep it.”

“Me, too,” Elliott said, one eye on Petal who got to her knees on the stool, then began to climb off it. “Want a beer?” he asked, stepping toward Petal to help her down the last few inches.

Jordan nodded.

“Tank-oo, Unky Yellot.”

“You are welcome, chickpea. Those are some good manners, you’ve got.” God, how he loved that little girl, he stroked her dark curls before she toddled off toward the dining room.

He and Kendalee were working on growing their family. He was down for the sex part, because damn, he’d take Kendalee every which way and twice on Sundays. But he wished it didn’t come with invasive tests and injections and drugs for her.

He cracked the top on two beers and handed one to Lennon. “Let’s see this ring, then,” Jordan said, clinking the neck of his beer to Elliott’s.

“Sure thing.” He reached for the box that was on the counter and opened it, pointing it in Jordan’s direction.

“Good job this isn’t the real thing, you donkey,” Jordan said, his laughter booming around the room. “The ring needs to be in there when you flip the lid.”

Elliott’s heart dropped out of his chest as he looked at the empty box. “It was in here. I promise. Wait,” he shouted. “Which one of you fuckers is determined to give me a heart attack so I die before I get the chance to propose?”

He looked at Lennon who’d been closest to the ring setting up the bar. “Hand it over, dick,” he said, offering his palm in Lennon’s direction.

“Swear to God I don’t have it. Even I’m not that much of a douche canoe.”

“Hey, Zameer,” he shouted. “You didn’t take the ring out of the box for any reason, did you?”

Zameer shook his head but headed toward Elliott. “I haven’t touched it.”

“Go through the steps in your head, when did you last see it? Where was it? Where could you have put it?” Jordan asked.

“Steady on with the questions there, Poirot! I put it in the box when I went to open the door to let you guys in.”

“It was the butler in the library with the candlestick,” Dred said, as he came to join them. “What are we doing?”

“He’s lost the ring already,” Lennon said.

“You lost the ring?” Dred asked.

“I didn’t lose the fucking ring,” Elliott said, his heart now behaving like the pistons in the engine of his Porsche when he drove it at a hundred and forty clicks.

“Box looks empty to me,” Lennon added.

“No shit, Sherlock.” Elliott scowled at Lennon.

Where was it? He and Zameer had been looking at it. Then he’d heard Lennon kicking the door. He’d put it back in the box and placed the box next to the huge floral arrangement on the counter and…


* * *

Aware that all eyes were on here, Petal looked around the room, a faint line between her brows. If Elliott didn’t know better, he could have sworn he heard the little cogs in her brain telling her it was a trap.

“What if she swallowed it?” Jordan asked quietly.

“She’d be choking on it,” Elliott hissed through his teeth. He looked to Zameer. “Wouldn’t she?”

Zameer shrugged. “I have no clue. Should somebody take her for an X-ray to be sure?”

“Hey, baby girl,” Dred said softly, crouching down and opening his arms.

Usually, Petal loved to be held, but today, she stood her ground, and looked back toward the dining room, as if plotting her escape. Her hands were clasped behind her back. Elliott prayed the reason why was because she was holding an irreplaceable ring.

Dred moved a little closer. “Did you see Elliott’s sparkly ring?” he asked.

Petal released her hands and gripped the sides of her skirt, twisting from side to side. Damn, there was no sign of the ring on any of her pudgy little fingers. But the look on her face told him everything he needed to know. Avoiding eye contact, she pursed her cute little cupee lips and looked at the ceiling.

“No, no, no,” she said.

Dred shook his head. “She totally took it,” he murmured over his shoulder before turning back to her with a sweet smile. “Where did you put it, Petal?” he asked softly.

She shrugged her shoulders, placing her hands out in front of her. “I not got it, Dadda.”

Elliott closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “We’ve got fifty minutes to find out where she put it. She’s only been here in the family room, and across the hall into the dining room.”

Jordan stepped between Dred and Petal and lifted Petal into his arms. She turned into the crook of his neck and pulled some of his long hair over her face.

“Did you see the sparkly ring that Elliott got for Kendalee?” he asked, stroking his hand up and down her back.

Petal shook her head furiously.

“I didn’t get to see it yet, and I was so excited to see it. Now I’m sad because I won’t get to see it,” Jordan said, pulling his bottom lip into a pout.

Petal lifted her face to see him and put a hand over her mouth as she giggled.

“Silly, Unky Jordan,” she said.

“No,” he said softly. “Not silly. Just sad. I wanted to see the blue ring.”

Elliott was about to correct Jordan, to remind him that it was an emerald, but Petal sat up straight.

“It’s geen. My favowit.”

“What’s green?” Jordan asked.

Petal jumped, as if realizing she’d said too much. As if her little brain had figured out what Jordan was trying to do. “I not got it,” she said, folding her arms in an act of defiance that would be so freaking cute if they weren’t talking about Kendalee’s engagement ring.

“She’s not going to tell us,” Elliott said, his eyes looking between the rooms at the million places she could have put it. “Let’s start looking.”

Lennon squeezed his shoulder. “I’ll look over here around the kitchen.”

“I’ll take the family room,” Dred said. “I know my daughter well enough that if she’s going to tell anyone, it’ll be Jordan.”

Zameer slipped off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves. “I’ll take the hallway.”

“I’ll take the dining room with Elliott,” Nik said. There are a thousand places over there she could have hidden it.”

“You got any cookies,” Jordan asked. “I have a plan. Rewards for information. Bribes always work with this kid.”

Within forty-five minutes, all of the obvious places had been checked. It wasn’t on any of the end tables or sofas. It wasn’t anywhere on Petal’s person and she was holding out on the cookies. It wasn’t on or under the dining room table, or any of the other obvious pieces of furniture. And Elliott was close to having a coronary. Or bursting a blood vessel. Or both.

“I’ll pay you back,” Dred grunted, as he lifted the end of the sofa so Elliott could have a proper look using the flashlight on his phone. “If we don’t find it.”

The money didn’t matter. Well, of course it mattered. But in the big scheme of things, the thing that was most important to him was proposing to Kendalee, today. And he’d wanted it to be perfect. For her.

For him, they could show up down city hall tomorrow and be married by noon. But she’d always gotten the shit end of the stick. Her ex-husband had always done the minimum. And Kendalee didn’t deserve the minimum. She deserved every fucking thing.

“We can talk about that tomorrow,” Elliott said, getting to his knees. He looked around the family room. The furniture was all over the place, the fridge had been pulled out in the kitchen, as had the dishwasher. Over in the dining room, Nik had removed the vents to the heat and air system and was peering into them with the flashlight of his phone.

Elliott’s heart raced and sweat beaded on his forehead.

He turned to where Petal sat on Jordan’s lap. To give Jordan his due, he’d tried everything to get the whereabouts of the ring out of her. “Petal, please, sweetheart,” Elliott begged. “Do you know where Aunty Kendalee’s ring is?”

Petal climbed from Jordan’s lap and toddled over to him, placing her hands on either side of his face.

“You sad, Unky Yellot.” Her expression was filled with concern.

“Yeah. I’m sad. It was a special present for Aunty Kendalee, and I’m sad I can’t give it to her.”

Petal huffed, and then pouted. “I sorry, Unky Yellot.”

“Where is it, chickpea?” he asked.

Petal stood in front of him, lines of concentration across her forehead, as though she were working on a complex problem. What felt like minutes passed by, and the rest of the room fell silent.

With another sigh, she took his hand and led him into the hallway, to the thick glass vase that held all the umbrellas. She reached for the umbrella at the back and pulled Kendalee’s ring from one of its spokes.

“You mad, Unky Yellot?” she asked. The truth was, he had been a little. But now, looking at the tears pooling in her sweet brown eyes, he didn’t have the heart to tell her off.

She slid the ring onto her engagement ring finger and lifted it to Dred. “I be like Momma now,” she said with a sniff.

Elliott’s heart squeezed at the idea she’d only taken it to be like Pixie, the only mom Petal had ever known.

Dred blew out a breath and bent down to scoop her into his arms. “Yeah. You’re just like Momma now,” he said as he held her close.

At that moment, the front door burst open. First came Daniel, then Lexi, Jenny, and Pixie. Ellen and Maisey, his former group home leader and social worker, who were the only moms he’d ever really known, followed them in. And finally, Kendalee walked through the door. Her strawberry blonde hair freshly blow dried, her make-up perfect. She slipped out of her coat and hung it on the rail. Elliott smiled. She was wearing blue. Whenever she wore navy, he never asked if it was because she knew it was his favorite color or if she loved it too. Whatever the reason, he approved of the dark blue sexy-as-fuck navy sweater that slid off one shoulder revealing the strap of her camisole, which he knew would be edged in lace.

She looked at the mess. “Whatever did you guys get up to this afternoon?” she asked.

Petal screamed at the sight of Pixie. “I like you, Momma,” she shouted, waving Kendalee’s ring in the air. “I like you.”

Kendalee’s eyes went wide as saucers.

Pixie, immediately figuring out what had happened, slipped her own ring off. “Can I see it if I give you my ring to hold for now?” she said calmly, switching the rings in Petal’s hands before she had chance to complain.

She placed the ring into Elliott’s palm.

“Thank you,” he said. But looked at Kendalee.

“Kendalee, I had plans, but dear Lord deliver me, nothing about this afternoon has gone the way I expected.”

Kendalee placed her hand to her mouth and laughed. “I can see that”, she said, looking in the direction of the fridge which was still out of place.

Elliott took a deep breath and lowered to one knee. He did it slowly, because when the chaos of the afternoon was over, he wanted to look back on this moment and savor it. The wood floor was solid beneath his knee. The men he loved flanked his back, like they always had, like they always would. Daniel, the boy he thought of as his own had his hand on Elliott’s shoulder, squeezing it gently. The two women who had saved him from himself and encouraged this crazy family of theirs stood by his side. And the women who loved his brothers held onto to each other, broad smiles on their faces.

“Kendalee,” he said, “When I first saw you, my first thought was that you were fucking glorious. And, Lee, believe me, I still think that every time I see you. I wake up next to you every morning and count my lucky stars that you want me.”

Kendalee chewed on her bottom lip and blinked quickly a couple of times in succession. It wasn’t his goal to see her cry, but he wanted her to know how much more she meant to him. “But what made me fall in love with you was the fire that burns inside you and the incredible capacity you have for love. I love you, and your son dearly. I love that you put him first. Before me, and before all other things, like a real mom should.”

He looked over to Ellen and Maisey and nodded in their direction. A silent thank you for doing the same for him. Maisey dabbed a handkerchief to her eye and Ellen held her tightly.

And suddenly he found his words. He found everything he wanted to say in his heart because they’d inspired the ring he held in his hand. Everyone else faded into the background, because this… this moment between the two of them was all that mattered. “I had this ring made specially for you, because I wanted it to be a constant reminder of our story. A one-of-a-kind emerald because emeralds have a unique combination of being remarkably strong, yet delicate. Which is just how I see you. It’s protected by a ring of diamonds because they are the hardest stone of all, and I promise you here on the floor of our home, that there are no lengths I won’t go to, to protect you and Daniel and any future children we might have.”

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“Oh, Elliott,” Kendalee gasped, the first tear falling.

“There are twenty diamonds on each side as a reminder of the day you made me line up a million times to check out so I could talk to you at the grocery store because you scan so damn fast.”

Kendalee laughed, the sound squeezing his heart so damn he thought he was going to pass out.

“And the prongs that hold the stones are inspired by the façade of St. Michael’s Basilica because I know your faith is important to you. And even though you’ve been tested this last year, I know how much value you put in your relationship with God.”

Kendalee dropped to her knees in front of him and placed her hand on his cheek. “Can I say yes, yet?” she said.

“I haven’t asked you... yet,” he said, and those around them laughed, reminding him they weren’t alone. He turned the ring so she could see the diamond placed on the inside of the band, just beneath the emerald. “This is Daniel, your shining light, and this,” he said, pointing to the row of musical notes on the left of the stone, “is the opening chords of Kissing Kendalee, done in my handwriting. You inspire me, Kendalee, and kissing you is something I hope to do for the rest of my life. And the empty musical staff to the right is for us… to write our own song.”

Finally, he took Kendalee’s hand in his, kissing it softly. “So, sweet Kendalee, will you take me, to be your husband and will you let me love your son as if he was my own?”

Kendalee nodded and swiped a hand under her eye to brush away the tears. “Yes, Elliott. Yes to all of it. To you loving my son. To marrying you. To loving you and writing our own song. Yes.”

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Their family cheered and hollered as Elliott stood and pulled Kendalee into his arms. “I love you,” he whispered against her lips.

“I love you, too,” she replied, before he kissed her in a way that probably wasn’t suitable for young Petal.

“You need to let me put your ring on,” Elliott said taking a step back before sliding the ring, a perfect fit, onto her finger.

“It’s spectacular,” Kendalee said, turning her hand gently to watch it sparkle.

“The man who made it is here,” Elliott said. “He can explain all the bits of the story I missed.”

“So, I have to ask,” Kendalee said. “What has this,” she said, wiggling her ring finger at him, “got to do with this?” She gestured around the mess.

All of the men turned and looked at Petal before laughing. “It’s a long story,” he said, taking her hand. “I’ll fill you in while we celebrate.”

ABOUT: Scarlett Cole is a writer of contemporary romance and a two-time RITA finalist. Her debut, THE STRONGEST STEEL, has already become an Amazon best seller in romantic suspense, was a Best Debut Goodreads Author Finalist 2015, and Authors On The Air Global Radio Network Contemporary Romance Pick of 2015. Between her tattoo artists, her rockstars, and Navy SEALS, she spends her days writing steamy romance with characters you'll fall in love with. Having travelled the world for work and fun, Scarlett is a citizen of both Britain and Canada. A true city-dweller, she considers Toronto and Manchester home and likes to set her books in vibrant locations such as Miami, San Diego, and Toronto.

Rep'd by Louise Fury at The Bent Agency, and published by St. Martin's Press.