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The Key To My Heart

A 'xoxo, Valentina' bonus scene



I could tell the minute Gabriella started to have doubts. We’d been planning this for months. We had every detail worked out, and I could sense Gabriella was getting… the cold feet. 

I slowed my pace and tugged her hand. She ignored me and kept marching along. Color stained her cheeks, and her chin was so high in the air. I was concerned she might trip over the uneven bricks in the sidewalk. She was so cute when she was stubborn. I hated to stop her, but we needed to talk. I tugged her hand harder, pulling her with me to a side street where it was less crowded. 

“Where are you going?” Gabriella resisted me by pulling in the opposite direction. “This is the wrong way.” 


“We can get there from here.” I tucked her hand under my arm and strolled along the side street as if I didn’t have a care in the world. And I didn’t. I had Gabriella by my side. If she didn’t want to go through with this—if she wasn’t ready—we didn’t have to do it. 

“But this is the long way.” She exhaled sharply. “We’re going to be late.” Gabriella hated being late. She would do anything to avoid it. But this was our day. No timetable could spoil it for us. 

“They will wait for us. It’s not so busy on this street.” I pointed out a bench in front of an antique store that sold mostly junk from twenty years ago. “Let’s sit for a minute.” 

Gabriella checked her phone and shoved it back in her purse with a disapproving shake of her head. “You want to sit right now?” 

I sat on the bench and pulled her closer. “We need to talk.” 

Gabriella eyed the bench warily. “I don’t think you’re supposed to sit there unless you plan to buy it.” 

A bubble of laughter lodged in my chest. She was such a little rule follower. She never bent on anything. “I’ll take my chances.” When she eyed me doubtfully, I wrapped my arm around her waist and pulled her onto my lap. “They’ll let us try it before we buy.” 

“Joey!” She braced her hands on my shoulders and tried to stand. 

“Stop wiggling.” I scooted her closer. “You’re turning me on.” 

Her eyes went wide. “How can you be turned on again?” 

We’d just come from my place where we’d had a wonderful breakfast and some much-needed alone time. 

I cupped the curve of her hip over her dress. “Because you are so sexy.” 

Desire flashed in her brown eyes. “Joey.” 

Tension zigzagged between us. The air vibrated with energy, crackling when she leaned down to brush her lips against mine. I pulled away before we could deepen the kiss. I didn’t want to spring for this ugly bench, and I needed to talk to my stubborn fiancéé. 

I smoothed her dress over her knees. “You don’t have to do this,” I said. 

She laid her hand over mine, turned my palm, and linked our fingers. Her palm radiated heat against mine. “I want to do this. It was my idea.” 

The tightness in my chest eased a bit. I squeezed her hand. “You’re allowed to change your mind.” 

“I don’t want to change my mind.” She brought my hand to her mouth and kissed my fingers. “I’ve thought it through. This is what I want.” 

I wrapped my arms around her and lifted my head to capture her mouth in a tender kiss. She leaned into me, squirming closer. 

I laughed. “Stop wiggling, or we are going to have to buy this bench.” 

“It’s your fault for kissing me like that.” 

“Like what?” 

“The way I like it so much.” She shifted on my lap, grinding against my stiffening cock.

I stifled a groan, and a wicked gleam flashed in her eyes. 

I got to my feet and set Gabriella down in front of me. I didn’t want to be too late, and I definitely didn’t want to buy this bench. “As long as you’re sure.” 

Doubt flickered across her face. “Are you sure? You’re not having doubts, are you?”


I slid my arm around her shoulders. “Not a bit. Now let’s go, or we’re going to be late. Kennedy and Lacey are probably waiting for us.” 

“I told you,” she said. 

We hurried back to the main part of the street. We were in the historic section of Mossy Oak, known as Frog Level, where there were fewer tourists and the shops weren’t as fancy as the ones downtown. The restaurants served diner-style food, and thrift shops sold second-hand clothing. 

When we neared our destination, I pulled Gabriella under the awning of a candle shop and kissed her again. 

“For luck,” I said. 

Her eyebrows pulled together. “I hope we don’t need it.” 

“It’s always nice to have a little luck.” 

She tugged me back onto the street, and it was my turn to lag—not because I didn’t love her with all my heart, but because I was about to let go of a part of myself, too. Doubts I’d managed to push away crept to the surface. What if we didn’t work out? What if I was setting myself up for more heartbreak? I rubbed my hand over my heart in an old habit that would soon have new meaning. 

Gabriella caught the gesture. “Nervous?” 

I grimaced. “Yeah.” 

“Me too,” she said, squeezing my hand. “We’re in this together.” 

We neared our destination, and I caught a glimpse of Lacey’s blonde hair through the large window. A lump formed in my throat, and I swallowed roughly. 

“You have it?” Gabriella asked. 

I pulled the folded-up paper from my pocket. “Of course.” Handing it to her, I forced a smile. “I didn’t forget something so important.” 

She unfolded it, her hands trembling. “It’s going to be beautiful.” 

Her voice sounded thick with tears, and my heart seized. If she started crying, I was going to lose it right here on the sidewalk. 

“Don’t cry,” I said. 

“I’m not. I’m excited.” 

The knot in my chest loosened, and a sense of calm washed over me. Even though we were surrounded by people, I felt like we were alone on the sidewalk, the only two who mattered. Electricity crackled between us as I dipped my head to hers. 

“I love you, baby.” 

“Right back at you.” 

We leaned into each other and kissed. It seemed like we’d never get enough of each other. 

“Hey!” Lacey cracked the door open. “Are you two coming in, or are you gonna stand out there kissing all day?” 


Gabriella broke the kiss and showed Lacey the paper. “What do you think? Shane drew them.” 

We’d chosen a heart-shaped locket and a decorative key for our matching tattoos. The locket would cover Maria’s name, and the key would be inked over Gabriella’s heart. 

Lacey looked at the drawings and grinned. “They’re perfect!” 

“Does it hurt terribly?” Gabriella asked Lacey, whose arms were inked from shoulder to wrist with colorful tattoos. 


“At first, but you get used to it.” She glanced from Gabriella to me and her smile widened. “And it’s worth it.” 


With one last glance at the drawings to be inked on our chests, we followed Lacey into the tattoo shop together. 

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