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The full moon shined in the dark sky like a spotlight. A nice breeze had finally cooled down the temperature on that summer night. The couple stood at the tall windows admiring the beautiful view of Baltimore, both with a glass of champagne in their hands. Topside was one of the best rooftop restaurants in the city and also the location of their first date almost a year ago. The smell of seafood filled the air, reminding the young lady of the delicious meal she just enjoyed. The mussels in a white wine garlic butter were her favorite meal and she couldn’t find any other establishment in the city that could match the taste. She couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night and it showed by the slight grin on her face.

“What the heck are you smiling for?” Darren asked.

Reign was in a daze and didn’t hear Darren’s question. He knew exactly what was on her mind but didn’t want to mention it. Her thick lips made a simple act such as smiling seem seductive. Everything about her was so sexy to him. She didn’t have to do much to attract attention because she was a beautiful woman. There was no need to cake on make-up or enhance her physical features in any way because they were almost perfect. Besides, she hated make-up. She mostly wore eyeliner and lip gloss, that was all she needed. Reign wore her curly hair to the side, just the way Darren liked it. He wasn’t only in love with her physical appearance, he loved her mental as well. Reign’s personality was humbling and pure. She had a heart of gold and the love was reciprocated. She was in love with him. Unlike a fairytale love, the couple had a different connection; an unbreakable one.

“It’s so crazy there are people who never see this side of the city,” Reign muttered.

“Yea, I know.” Darren looked over at her. “It’s a shame.”

“Do you think I’m like the city?”

“What do you mean?”

“Baltimore is a beautiful city, but to the world it’s nothing.”

“Hell no, baby. Everyone can see how beautiful you are. You don’t ever have to worry about not being seen for what you truly are,” Darren said sincerely, reaching over and caressing the side of her face. They locked eyes and it was as if they were the only two in the restaurant. No one else existed at that moment.

“I love you so much.”

His words made her smile. She had never felt this safe and secure with a man.

“I love you too.”

Darren leaned in and placed a tender kiss on Reign’s soft lips. Wrapping her in his arms, Darren positioned himself behind his lady as they both continued staring out the window. He gripped the champagne bottle, ready to top off their glasses but the bottle was empty. Another one was waiting on ice for them. Picking up the champagne bottle, Darren popped the cork, causing the bubbly to overflow out the bottle. Reign laughed because when they first met, he struggled to open similar bottles. Darren had evolved so much, right before her eyes. She had also evolved. They made each other better. Reign truly felt like he was her soul mate.

“Come on, let’s get a better view,” Darren whispered as he intertwined his fingers with Reign’s and led her to their destination. The restaurant manager gave him a head nod as they approached and walked the couple back past the kitchen. Anticipation was getting the best of Reign. She wasn’t a fan of surprises, but she trusted Darren. The manager opened a door, which led to a small flight of stairs. The stairs led to the roof of the building where a small table was set up with two chairs, candles, roses, another bottle of champagne, a tray of assorted desserts, and a violinist. Reign’s mouth dropped. Her heart seemed like it wanted to jump out her chest and into Darren’s arms. It was his to have forever.

Reign just gazed at Darren in admiration, as the soft tune of the violin set the tone of the night. His slim, tailored suit seemed to fit perfectly. A turtleneck and oxford shoes were his choices to accent the suit. He wore a clean fade and had a thin goatee. Darren’s dark skin reminded Reign of Hershey’s chocolate and she wanted him all to herself. Everything about Darren was fresh but it was also different. He was a good guy, so growing up in Baltimore girls always overlooked him because they were into niggas that ran the streets and made fast money. That was far from Darren’s persona. He aspired to start a tech company, expand his outreach program, and to move out of Baltimore. However, there was something he had to do first.

“I know you hear me say it all the time, but I don’t think you know how much I love you,” Darren said as he pulled Reign in close.

“Bae, I know how much you love me. You literally changed my life.”

“I have wanted you since the first moment I saw you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

“I want to spend the rest of my li—”

Just before Reign could finish her statement, Darren dropped on one knee. The princess-cut diamond ring he presented to her shined brightly.

“Reign, will you marry me?” Reign became weak and her knees buckled. She felt lightheaded as memories of her past began to make her head spin. “Reign, are you ok?’ Darren asked, noticing her changed behavior.

Once again, her Prince Charming’s words brought her back to reality. She was back in the moment. Tears of joy poured down her face like someone left a faucet running.

“YES! Yes, I will marry you.”

Darren grabbed Reign’s left hand and slipped the stunning ring onto her ring finger. She damn near tackled him to the ground with a tight hug and attacked him with soft kisses. Cheers and applause filled the air as the restaurant manager and staff members congratulated the couple on their engagement. For Reign, this moment was like heaven on earth. Coming from the Gilmor Homes, she never envisioned having a “normal” life. As a young girl, she never thought about marriage, having kids, or building a family. All she knew was crime and survival. It surrounded her. Darren grew up in the same environment but due to his parents’ divorce, he and his siblings also spent time in Virginia with their father. Those little escapes to Virginia gave Darren a different outlook on life. The ride from Baltimore to Richmond showed Darren life outside the Gilmor Homes. Interacting with the children in Richmond was much different than the interactions in Baltimore. It was actually safe to play outside without being harassed by crackheads, local drug dealers, or the police.

Reign stood up and took a good look at her ring. It was breathtaking. Darren walked up behind her and embraced his new fiancé. She leaned her head back, resting on his chest. The fabric of his suit was gentle against her head. She didn’t want to move. She wanted to stay wrapped in his arms forever

“There’s no more hiding our love for each other, baby. I want the world to know about us,” Darren said, referring to their discreet relationship.

He grabbed the bottle of champagne and took it to the head, gulping down half of the bottle in one take.

“I’m yours ‘til the end of time, bae. You don’t ever have to question that.”

They kissed passionately and hugged each other tightly. Even with her arms wrapped around Darren’s neck during the embrace, Reign couldn’t help but take another look at her ring. It all still seemed like a dream, and she didn’t want to wake up. The joy she felt was unlike anything else she had ever experienced. Tears fell from her eyes in disbelief.

A notification went off on Darren’s phone. It was a text message from his sister. Did she say yes? Darren smiled and ignored the message when he noticed it was a few minutes before midnight. The restaurant manager did him a favor by allowing him to have the space to himself for the proposal, but they were supposed to close in three minutes and Darren didn’t want to hold them up.

“Come on my beautiful fiancé, let’s get out of here,” Darren said.

Reign grinned and nodded her head in agreement; she knew they had to get up early and drive to Virginia to meet with his father. Reign already knew Darren’s mother and siblings from around the neighborhood, but this would be her first time meeting his father. The meeting would be different than the others because of the exciting news they now had to share with their families. Despite their morning plans, a fire was burning inside of Reign and the only thing she could think about as they headed back into the restaurant was going home and making love to her new fiancé.

Darren swooped her off her feet and carried her to the exit door. They smiled all the way down the stairs, still on cloud nine. Darren was known to be a calm and quiet guy, but inside he had a confidence about him that was on full display. While other men focused on being tough guys, Darren’s only focus was being a true gentleman and someone that gave back to his community. He spoiled Reign with everything money couldn’t buy; loyalty, trust, and respect. However, once he started his tech company, he planned to give her the world.

They finally reached the outside exit. Reign went to get down, but Darren readjusted his grip and continued carrying her. He didn’t let her down until they reached his car, which was parked down the street from the restaurant. Darren opened the front passenger door of his white Dodge Charger and guided Reign into her seat. He hopped into the driver’s seat and started the car. The growl from the Hemi engine was music to Darren’s ear. He placed his hand on the gear shift, ready to go but Reign placed her hands on his. She guided Darren’s hand from the gear shift to her thigh. In a matter of seconds, the couple was lip-locking as their hands were exploring each other’s bodies. Darren wanted to rip Reign’s dress off and she wanted to do the same with his suit. The kisses were passionate, and the windows of the Charger began to steam up. Reign took another peek at the gorgeous ring. Just beyond her ring, she caught glimpse of a shadowy figure approaching the driver’s door.

“Bae, look!” she yelled out.

Darren was startled and turned around to see what had Reign so shook and was greeted by muzzle flash from an AK-47 assault rifle. Reign let out a nightmarish scream as the shots shattered the driver’s side window and ripped through the door panel. The gunman emptied the entire clip into the vehicle, before pulling at the handle and attempting to open the door. Darren instinctively threw the Charger in gear and slammed on the pedal. The tires screeched and Darren struck the vehicle that was parked in front of him, but he was able to get on the road after driving over some type of bump. He was speeding down Cathedral Street, as more shots rang out and the rear windshield shattered. Excruciating pains shot through Darren’s left arm, shoulder, and leg as he swerved. The Charger bounced off several vehicles before Darren turned a sharp corner. He cut the lights off and continued flying down each street he hit until he was sure he wasn’t being followed. A warm liquid began seeping through his suit. He looked down and noticed dark red stains on his torso.

“Baby, I think I got hit,” Darren said as he continued focusing on the road. “Baby? Reign?”

An eerie silence filled the car. Darren took a deep breath and looked over at Reign, who was leaning against the window. Her eyes were open, but they were staring into the abyss. Blood was splattered on the side of her face, but it was nothing compared to the large stain that was on her stomach. Her hand covered her stomach and blood was running down each finger.

“Reign, wake up,” Darren pleaded. Shaking her shoulder did nothing but make her hand fall by her side, exposing the stomach wound. “Don’t worry, baby. Everything is gonna be okay,” Darren said as his voice began to crack.

Tears ran down his face. His hands began shaking as he did his best to navigate through the darkness. He had to get to the nearest hospital, but it was hard to focus because he began feeling dizzy.

“God, please don’t take her from me.”

A chill went up Darren’s spine and his vision began to blur. The Charger continued down the street at a high rate of speed. Other vehicles honked their horns and flashed their lights at Darren, in an attempt to get him to cut on his lights. Little did they know, the wounded driver was moments away from death. The Charger drifted into the opposite lane and headed straight towards oncoming traffic. The honking horns weren’t enough to prevent a collision with a pickup truck that sent the Charger flipping into the air. The vehicle was totaled, and blood decorated the interior.

What seemed like a beautiful ending to a love story quickly turned into a violent tragedy. But to understand the ending, you must know the beginning.

This is Reign’s story…

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