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Cannon: Chapter 21

CANNON

I was convinced that the VanDoren women were really undercover secret operatives. That was the only logical explanation to the way they’d intercepted me each of the seven times I’d tried to see Persephone since that shit had gone down in the front yard. If this place actually had a designated front yard.

“You sure you want to do this?” Logan asked as we flattened ourselves against the wall in the upstairs hallway.

“Do you think I’d ask you to come up here and play Mission Impossible if I didn’t?” I challenged.

He tilted his head. “Okay, that’s reasonable. But you really don’t think this can wait forty-five minutes until you see her?”

I narrowed my eyes at my best friend. “You honestly think that standing at the altar in front of all our friends and family is a good time to have a heart to heart?”

He mulled it over and nodded. “Again, reasonable.”

“Can you please just open that fucking door so I can talk to my wife?”

“On it.” He stood tall, adjusted the tie of his tuxedo, and knocked on the door between us.

There was a faint sound of rustling before it opened.

“Oh! Logan! How can I help you?” Mrs. VanDoren asked.

Logan turned on the charm with a regretful smile. “I know these minutes are sacred, but Cannon just sent me up. There’s apparently an issue with the flowers at the altar—”

“The peonies?” she gasped.

I held my breath and prayed that she didn’t look through the crack in the door that would show me doing a shit job of hiding.

“Right, the peonies,” Logan continued. “It turns out he thought you said posies?”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Mama, is everything okay?” I heard Persephone ask, and my heart jumped.

“It’s fine, darling. Don’t you worry about a single thing.”

“Right, so the florist said that Cannon is wrong, and they’re supposed to be posies, and they’re still down there arguing—”

“They are most certainly supposed to be peonies. Of all the silly things to go wrong today. Honey, I’ll be right back. You just stay right here, and we’ll get your dress on in a few minutes, okay?”

“No problem.” Her voice was the only thing I’d wanted to hear all day.

Logan stepped back and held his arm out to Mrs. VanDoren, facing the opposite way from where I was hiding. She took his arm and headed down the hall. The minute they turned the corner, I yanked open the door and stepped inside.

Persephone’s childhood bedroom was pink…and not just a little pink. Really fucking pink. And frilly. The door to the ensuite bathroom was open, and as I headed that way, Andromeda stepped into the doorway.

“Oh hell no! You don’t get to see her before the wedding! Get out!” she snapped.

“What? Who is that?” Persephone asked.

“I’ve been trying all day to talk to my wife, and you know it.” I folded my arms across my chest. “You’ve stolen her cell phone, posted a guard at the bottom of the staircase, another guard at the tree that grows just outside her window, refused the flowers I sent up to her—”

She grimaced. “We gave her the flowers…we just kept the card from her.”

“The card was all I cared about!”

“Well, I’d certainly read more romantic notes. Call me so we can talk, certainly didn’t make the top ten in my life—or hers, I might add.” She cocked her head at me.

“You did what? Andromeda get out of my way right this minute!” Persephone demanded.

I cocked an eyebrow at my fake sister-in-law.

She grumbled but stepped aside so Persephone could come through the doorway.

Her hair and makeup had already been done, the first in an elaborate updo that had my palms itching with the knowledge that I’d pull every pin loose later, and the second a more formal version of the minimalist style Persephone favored. She looked beautiful.

She tucked the edges of the white, silk bathrobe closer around her and looked up at me with wonder, her gaze skimming over the details of my tux before coming back to my face. “Cannon.”

“We need to talk.”

Some of the light shuttered in her eyes, but she nodded. “Anne, get out, and don’t you dare come back until you see Cannon leave.”

“Are you serious? You know that seeing the bride on the wedding day is horrible luck! I might buck tradition, but even I made sure not to violate that one.” She tapped her foot under a lavender bridesmaid dress—the same one I’d just seen Lillian in as she dressed Owen.

“And look how that turned out for you,” Persephone offered with a smile. “Now do me a favor and stand guard for Mama. I’m not kidding. We need a moment.”

Anne rolled her eyes but walked out the door, muttering something about tradition.

Persephone and I stood staring at each other for at least a minute after the door closed.

“I’ve been trying to get you alone all day.” I rubbed the back of my neck to keep from fidgeting with my tie. At least it wasn’t one of those pansy-assed bow ties. “If I’d known that taking care of Lillian meant I’d lose my only opportunity to talk to you, I would have stayed outside with you.” She’d been gone by the time I got my sister calmed down and reassured that our father had been hauled off the property.

“You needed to be with her. I understood that,” she said softly, taking a few steps so she could sit on the pink-cushioned window seat. “I was really proud of you.”

I startled. “You what?”

“I was proud of you,” she insisted, gripping the edge of the cushion so hard that her knuckles turned white. “I can’t imagine the effort it took for you to stand there silent and not let your temper loose on your father. You were practically shaking with it.”

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.” I’d wanted to rip him limb from limb for daring to come, for scaring Lillian and raising his voice at Persephone. But I’d known that if I’d moved one inch or even opened my mouth, I would have given Persephone’s father yet another reason to call me out. “Hell, it was probably the hardest moment of my life before this one.”

Her shoulders sagged in defeat, and her gaze fell from mine.

“No. Persephone, no.” I fell to my knees in front of her. “God, I fuck everything up, don’t I? I can’t even do this right.”

“Do what?” She slowly brought her head up just enough to meet my eyes. Never again, I promised myself. Never again would she wear the look of apprehension that paled her face right now.

“Tell you that I’m in love with you.”

Her eyes flared, and her lips parted. Shit. She was speechless, and I was out here hanging on a limb.

“You put yourself in front of me today. You literally stepped between my dad and me.” That moment had almost brought me to my knees.

Her expression changed from shock to confusion. “Wait, what?”

“Today, when my dad was here, you put yourself between us—”

“I remember. I was there. But what does that have to do with you being in love with me?” She shook her head.

“You don’t get it.” I braced my hands on either side of hers. “In my entire life, no one has ever put themselves between us. Mom was already too bloody by the time he’d start on me, and Lillian was always smaller, so I was usually the one stepping in. No one’s ever put themselves in the line of fire for me. And as much as I wanted to haul you over my shoulder and carry you back into the house—and away from him…” My eyes squeezed shut. “I was in such awe of you in that moment.”

I opened my eyes to find her staring at me in slack-jawed disbelief.

“Cannon Price, are you telling me that you fell in love with me on our wedding day because I yelled at your father?” Her voice rose to an almost scary level as she progressed.

I cocked my head to the side. “No, but I hadn’t seen you since that happened, so I needed to tell you.”

“Tell me that you loved me? Or tell me that you’re in awe of me?”

“Yes.” Fuck, this was not going any of the four million ways I’d planned in my head. “This isn’t going well, is it?”

“Well, it’s not going great.” Now both her eyebrows were sky-high. “You have me so confused that I don’t know what to do with myself.”

“Welcome to my world,” I muttered.

Her eyes narrowed, and then her expression shifted, crumpling a little and taking my heart with it. “Cannon, you just have to tell me if you’re calling off this wedding or not because I’m dying inside. My soul has shriveled a little with every hour that’s gone by, not knowing what’s going on in your head. So tell me right now—are we getting married today?”

“That’s up to you.”

I might as well have told her that Neil Armstrong was outside and prepared to walk her down the aisle for the look she shot me.

“Okay.” I gathered up all the courage I had. “Maybe this will go better if I can just get it all out. Because I’m fucking this up left and right. So, let’s make a deal.”

“A deal?” she repeated.

“Yep. I’m going to talk, and then I’m going to leave. And you will agree not to say anything until I’m gone.” I nodded, quite pleased with my little plan.

“So I don’t get to respond?”

“Of course you do,” I assured her. “But it’s an actions-speak-louder-than-words kind of thing. I’m just worried that if you interrupt me, I’ll never get this out, and we’re kind of down to the wire on this will-we won’t-we thing.”

“Right.” She sat up straight and folded her hands in her lap as she crossed her legs. The silk split with the motion, revealing a smooth, creamy thigh that reminded me it had been days since I’d made love to her.

If this didn’t go well, it would be an eternity.

“Okay. You talk. I’ll listen, and then I won’t say a single word until you’re gone, I promise on my Mama’s life.” She swallowed, her eyes laced with fear, but she nodded anyway. My brave girl.

I took a deep breath, steadied my nerves the best I could, then yanked my tie loose.

Her eyes flared wide as she watched me pull the knot apart, and unbutton the top few buttons on my shirt, but she was true to her word and didn’t speak. I was careful to leave the edges of the shirt closed, but if all else failed, I had a visual aid.

“I love you, Persephone,” I began.

She pressed her lips in a firm line as her eyes searched mine.

“I’m never going to be the man you deserve. I’m not the man who sits quietly, sipping mimosas on a Sunday morning at the country club, listening to all the douchebags prattle on about their 401K’s. I’m not the man who spills his guts when something is bothering him. I’m not the man your dad wants or your friends want, and I’m pretty sure I’ll never be allowed into a PTA meeting. I’ll never be the man in a bowtie or the man in the green vest. And to be honest, that kind of guy isn’t the one you fell in love with.”

She sucked in her breath but stayed silent.

“If you say you love me, and you really do, then you have to accept who I am, not who you think I can be. I will always struggle with my temper. Chances are I’ll get your name dragged through every tabloid at least once a month for something stupid I do, or they’ll just make shit up like they usually do, anyway. I can’t promise that I won’t beat the shit out of Michael—out of anyone who has the nerve to say shit about you in front of me.”

Her brow furrowed.

“When I can’t find the words to talk about how I feel, I read them. I’m not saying that I won’t work on communication, but I am saying that you have to accept the fact that I’m not the poetry and hearts guy. I travel too much. I swear too much. I’m covered in scars from shit I would rather die than have you experience, and most of those scars aren’t physical. I’m not big on tradition—I’d rather find a newer, better way to do something. My job isn’t stable—I can be traded to any team when the terms are right. I really hate jello, and it’s even worse when people stick fruit in it.”

She cracked a smile.

“Persephone, I love you. I’m in love with you, and I have been since the moment you had the nerve to throw sass at me in that hallway two years ago. I just didn’t recognize the emotion until I was staring down the barrel of losing you. And if this is really what you want, then I’m changing our rules. Four is out—because I love you and you love me. Five is out because I plan on making love to you for the rest of our lives. I can’t guarantee seven, because I tend to get into fights on the ice in at least eighty percent of the games I play in.”

I shifted forward on my knees, and my shirt fell open.

Her eyes shined, and her lip trembled as she reached for the white, crisp fabric and held it apart just far enough to see my new ink, still swollen and lightly scabbed in places.

In a sea of black on my chest, the once-empty heart now had her name scrawled across it in crimson red, against a backdrop of pomegranate seeds that filled the heart to the brim.

“I got it done instead of playing golf,” I admitted. “Even though your dad had just told us that we weren’t married, and I knew I was going to have to walk away for your own good—”

Her eyes flew to mine in a panic.

“—I realized that you own me, and that fact won’t change if you decide not to marry me today. You will always own me.” My brows knit. “And I guess that’s another con for the list—I’m never going to willingly play golf. Ever. It fucking sucks.”

She took in a breath, her lips parting, and I gently lifted her chin with my fingers.

“You promised,” I reminded her.

She swallowed as tears filled her eyes.

“I love you. I want to marry you, but I’m giving you this one last out because my biggest fear is becoming your biggest regret.” My self-control hung in tatters, but I made it to my feet. “If you can accept me for who I am, then I’ll see you out there, and if you can’t, if you need more than I can give you, I’ll understand. I just want you to be happy.”

I left the room quickly for fear that I’d fall at her feet and beg her to lower her standards for me.

“You guys all done?” Andromeda asked as she leaned against the wall in the hallway.

“I guess that’s really up to her,” I answered, leaving her bewildered as I made my exit.

Thirty-five minutes later, I stood at the altar, Logan at my side, and a few Reapers backing him up.

The October breeze was mild, rustling the flowers that laced the massive arbor we stood under as we faced the two hundred guests that made up what Mrs. VanDoren had called an intimate affair.

If this was intimate, I would have hated to see what she considered friendly.

“You have got to relax,” Logan muttered in my direction. “And for fuck’s sake, don’t lock your knees. You’re too heavy to catch if you go down, and Axel is three guys away.”

I grunted my response and tried to slow my heartbeat as I stared down the very long, very empty aisle. My left hand felt bare, and I wondered if Persephone would leave it that way.

My thoughts raced. Had my words been enough to convince her? Or just enough to make her realize that I really wasn’t the guy she wanted? Now that I’d given her my heart, was she going to break it? To be fair, I’d left the woman on pins and needles since we realized her mom was going to be okay, so me sweating it out for a little over half an hour as she made up her mind was getting off easy.

The string quartet just off to my left switched songs.

“Here we go.” Logan gave me a little nudge with his elbow.

My jaw locked as Lillian came down the aisle, holding a bouquet. That was a good sign, right? Next came Andromeda. When they both stood across from me, Sterling appeared. He had not worn a leisure suit, thank God. He walked slowly, but somehow still managed to swagger as he pulled a wagon up the aisle containing both Owen and Cerberus.

Okay, I wasn’t one for gooey shit, but that was fucking cute.

Lillian lifted Owen into her arms, and Sterling did the same with Cerberus, tugging the wagon out of the way. He must have hooked it up to some kind of spreader because it trailed flower petals in its wake.

The music shifted again, and everyone stood.

My heart galloped. I remembered what Logan said and bent my knees just slightly.

Please, God. Please. I take back everything I said in her bedroom. I’ll be whatever she needs. I’ll wear the fucking vest and make friends with the douchebags. Just please let her love me.

She appeared at the end of the aisle with her father by her side.

My breath abandoned me—she was that radiant. She’d shown up. She was going to marry me. Emotion clogged my throat and stung my eyes as she walked closer. Her dress was long and white, clinging to her every curve and shimmering in the dying light of the sunset with every step she took. Her veil trailed behind her but didn’t cover her beautiful face.

Our eyes locked and held as joy filled every molecule in my body.

My smile echoed hers as I stepped forward to take her hand. Her father kissed her cheek, then transferred her hand to mine and leaned forward.

“There’s a new, correct, legal license waiting for you both to sign in my study.”

My eyebrows shot up. “For someone who doesn’t want this to happen, that was a step out of your way.”

He scoffed. “I’m man enough to know when I’ve been overruled by my daughter’s heart. Treat her well.”

“I will,” I swore.

He stepped away, leaving me to stare at Persephone as the preacher started the ceremony. We didn’t look away for much, both content to take in every last detail of each other in those moments. God, she was beautiful and smart, and generous, and loyal, and so fucking mine that I wanted to pull a Princess Bride and demand the preacher just skip to the Man and Wife part.

I found a ring in my hand, and saw she had the same, and just about fist-pumped that we were moving right along.

“Oh, we’re going to do our own vows. Cannon’s not one for tradition,” Persephone said, tossing a wink my way.

We’re doing what? I stared at the love of my life in complete and utter shock.

She had the nerve to grin but went first.

“I, Persephone Julia VanDoren, swear to love you, Cannon Price, for the rest of my life. I will be your shelter in every storm, even when you swear it’s not raining. I will bake you peanut butter cookies and walk Cerberus by your side every night, but the early mornings are on you.”

A chuckle went through the crowd, and my heart soared.

“I promise to abide by rules one, three, six, and eight, knowing that rules four and five are off the table, and hoping that you might wiggle a bit on rule number two.”

I huffed a laugh. I was never touching her money. Ever.

“I promise to be your biggest fan, consume two-thirds of your closet, never make you eat jello, and always keep you up to date on the latest magazine articles.” Her eyes took on a wicked gleam, and I nearly kissed her right then. “I will love you the rest of my life, Cannon, just the way you are because you’re already perfect for me.” She slid the ring onto my finger, and my soul clicked back into place.

“It’s your turn,” the preacher reminded me when I stood there staring at Persephone.

Shit. Right. Okay.

I took her wedding band between my thumb and forefinger and poised it just at the tip at the end of her finger.

“I, Sheldon Cannon Price—”

You could have heard a pin drop when Sterling muttered, “Whaaaaat?”

“—swear that I will love you, Persephone Julia VanDoren, for the rest of my life, and every second of forever that follows. I promise that while I don’t have gentle manners, I’ll always be gentle with you. When I travel too much, I’ll carry you with me in my heart. When I can’t find the words, I’ll read them to you. When I lose my way, I’ll follow you, knowing that your light is all I need.”

A single tear slid down her face, but her smile was brighter than ever.

“I swear I’ll bring color to your life in every way, and to always have your back. I will build you a bigger closet for your tiny clothes, and get whatever you want, whenever you want it, from the highest shelves. I will always catch you when you fall, and I will never forget what a gift your love is. I will protect you, cherish you, adore you, and worship you every moment for the rest of our lives.”

I slid the ring onto her finger and heard more than a few sniffles from our audience.

“By the power invested in me by the state of South Carolina, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride.”

I was already on it, cupping the back of her neck as I brought my mouth to hers. She tasted like love and home, and happiness. She tasted like Persephone.

She was mine.

“Not a poet, huh?” she whispered against my lips as the crowd clapped behind us.

“I guess you bring out the romantic in me.”

She grinned, throwing her arms around my neck. I swept her into my arms and kissed her thoroughly, uncaring if the audience thought it was too much. Then I mentally did the math and cursed the hours we’d have to wait before I could take this exquisite dress off her body.

I felt a tap at my shoulder and broke the kiss, ready to get the PDA lecture, but instead, I found Logan and the rest of the Reapers gawking at me.

“Your name is Sheldon?” Logan blurted the question with huge eyes.

“His name is mine,” Persephone corrected him, then pulled my face back to hers for another kiss.

I carried my wife back down the aisle to the cheers of our friends and family, letting the happiness soak in as we took our first steps into forever.

And this time, we remembered every single second of it.


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