My heart squeezes as I watch Hans walk Mrs. Cantrell up the aisle.
She’s openly crying, clinging to his arm, and it’s clear to see that she’s never been happier.
Cassandra’s parents know all about our little band of heathens. And they love us.
I squeeze my hands together against my chest.
Mr. and Mrs. Cantrell have become parents to all of us, and their acceptance is more than I ever could have hoped for. Nero is more than enough, but this… I look around at the people gathered… This is family.
I take a deep breath.
The aisle is short, just a few rows of chairs set up in King’s backyard. So after a few more steps, Hans stops with Mrs. Cantrell at the first row, bending to let her kiss his cheek.
In contrast to his adorable soon-to-be mother-in-law, Hans looks like a warrior, with his hair flowing in the late October breeze and his jaw clenched tight.
She says something to him, and when he pulls her into a hug, I lift the tissue clutched in my hand to the corner of my eye.
He really is the perfect match for Cassandra, my newest best friend.
Mrs. Cantrell pats him on the back as she pulls away, then waves to all of us with a watery apology.
Val is in the row behind her, sitting with Dom, and she puts her hand on Mrs. Cantrell’s shoulder.
I wish my husband was at my side. I would love to lean against him right now. But he’s not next to me because he’s standing before us all, next to Hans.
It was his idea to officiate this wedding. He argued that since he was already ordained, there was no reason to use anyone else. But we all know it’s because he and Hans have become nearly inseparable.
Nero claims it’s just because Hans is our neighbor, so it’s convenient to see him, but really, those two are a pair of peas in an unhinged pod.
It was also Nero’s idea to order that ridiculous black robe to wear over his suit. It’s truly absurd. And when he stepped into the backyard wearing it, I figured Hans would tell him to take it off. But instead, Hans grinned and presented Nero with a red-handled katana as a thank-you for marrying them.
So now the two men stand together, under an arch of beautiful flowers, with Hans in his three-piece dark gray suit with black shirt and tie, and Nero in his black robe with a sword strapped to his back.
It’s ridiculous. And wonderful.
And then I watch Hans’s expression change, and I know she’s here.
I don’t deserve her.
Cassandra smiles at me, her arm tucked into her dad’s, as she walks toward me.
Her black curls are twisted with silver threads and pulled back into a loose braid down her back, letting me see all of her glowing face, her cheeks pink from joy and the chill in the air.
Each step she takes has her dress fluttering around her. The silver gauzy material is absolutely stunning on her and just a few shades lighter than my suit.
I would have married her in her jean shorts, but she wanted a dress. And her parents wanted to help plan. So we waited these few long months. And it was worth it.
She’s so fucking worth it.
She wouldn’t let me see the dress, and as much as I love it, I can’t stop looking at her smile.
I haven’t seen her since this morning. And it’s been too long.
I step away from Nero and meet them at the front row.
Mr. Cantrell kisses both of Cassandra’s cheeks, then holds his hand out to me. “Take care of her, yeah?”
I shake his hand, then turn to the woman I’m about to make my wife. “Until my last breath.”
“I have something for you,” I whisper up at my new husband.
Hans looks down at me. “What more could you possibly give me?”
The ceremony ended a few minutes ago, and now everyone is mingling in the garden while we get ready to take photos.
I drag him over to one of the planters along the side of the house, where I stashed the surprise.
“Close your eyes,” I tell him, and he listens.
Grabbing his hand, I turn it upward and set the gift in his palm.
Hans opens his eyes. And then he breathes deep, tracing a finger across the lettering.
It’s just a stack of yellow Post-it notes. With the same words as before.
“Thank you,” he whispers.
And just like I knew he would, he lifts each piece of paper to make sure they’re all there.
I did them in the opposite order from the way he’d saved them before, with the newest at the bottom.
When he reaches the last one, he pauses at the words.
And when he looks up at me, I lift the little plastic bag with two Skittles sugar cookies in it.
Without saying a word, Hans takes the bag, removes the cookies, then shoves both of them into his mouth.
Mr. Cantrell spins me around in my art studio turned dance floor one last time, then laughs and presses a hand to his chest. “If I don’t go sit down, someone is going to have to call the paramedics to get me off the floor.”
He hugs me, then makes a show of staggering off toward the chairs in the courtyard.
“Mind if I cut in?” King rumbles from beside me.
I turn to my husband and lean into his chest.
He wraps his arms around me, and we rock slowly together while the fast-paced music thuds around us.
I loved our vow renewal and have no regrets about our unconventional ceremony, but this might be the best wedding I’ve ever been to. It’s so full of love.
King settles his hand on the back of my neck. “I’m pretty sure Cassie’s parents would adopt us all if they could.”
“They really would.” I smile against him. “I have to admit, I wouldn’t say no.”
King hums his agreement.
Dom is the only one out of all of us with a parent worth speaking of. And we all love Bibi, but she doesn’t like to leave Chicago, so we only get to see her when we visit. Which we should do more.
Aspen, my sister-in-law, dances into view with her boyfriend, Rob, and I can feel King’s sigh.
He pretends to disapprove, but Rob is a good guy. And as Dom’s second in command of the Chicago mafia, he’s perfectly suited for Aspen’s intensity.
Aspen shuffles over, cookie in her hand. “Is this the one you made?”
I look at the sugar cookie with the yellow bits in it and smile. “It is.”
“They’re good.” She grins and pops the last bite in her mouth.
Rob lifts Aspen’s hand to his mouth and licks the crumbs off her fingers.
“Oh, fuck off,” King grumbles, then turns us the other way.
I can’t help my laugh. They do such a good job of needling him.
Then I realize a cookie sounds like a good idea, so I drag King toward the dessert table.
Each of us girls picked a cookie from Cassie’s food blog and made them as our wedding present to her. Even the men made some, with Nero choosing Cassie’s twist on Rice Krispies bars that are made out of popcorn instead of cereal.
As soon as we showed her the desserts, Cassie broke into big, noisy tears, making the three batches of corn cookies that I had to throw away after burning them totally worth it.
“I’ve always wanted to do this.” Cassie grins, then turns her back to us, ready to toss her bouquet into the air.
While Payton does the countdown, I look across the room to where my husband is standing. He’s talking to King, and his big, tattooed hands are gently cradling Danielle, our infant daughter, to his chest.
I’ll never get tired of the sight.
He’s a wonderful father. But that’s no surprise. And as soon as I’m done breastfeeding, I’m going to have Dom give me another tattoo. It will be a different name this time, but I don’t think he’ll mind.
“One!” Payton yells, and Cassie throws her bouquet.
I stretch my arms up.
I’m already married, but those flowers are pretty, and I want them.
But before anyone catches them, a man leaps up and snags the bouquet out of the air.
Rob is grinning ear to ear as he holds them above his head. And I don’t care how much Dom complains about me saying it, Rob is hot.
“Put those down!” King shouts, stomping toward the man dating our sister.
Rob skips backward, away from King, and finds Aspen in the small crowd.
Then he drops down onto one knee in front of her.
King’s “Oh, hell no!” is drowned out by all the women gasping.
“Aspen, my love.” Rob looks up at his woman. “Will you do me the honor of telling your terrifying brother that we’re already married?”
My mouth drops open, and I whip my head over to look at Dom.
My husband is smiling at the pair, and when his gaze moves to find mine, he winks.
That bastard already knew.
King stomps over to Aspen. “Is this true?”
Aspen, not at all intimidated by his attitude, slips her hand into her dress pocket and pulls out a big, shiny ring.
“We did it last week.” She slides the ring onto her finger, then uses her left hand to pat King’s chest. “You can stop worrying about me now. I promise I’m happy.”
King heaves out a loud exhale, then pulls her into a hug.
Rob is grinning when he stands, and he holds his arms out for a hug next.
King rolls his eyes, then embraces the other man, but when he lets go, he punches Rob in the shoulder. Hard. “Don’t fuck this up.”
The music has ended, and the couples of The Alliance are all lounged around King’s living room, and I feel like I could carry the whole world if I wanted to.
Hans is standing across the room from me, talking with Nero. And I can’t help but be drawn to the silver band on his left hand. He looks so good marked as mine.
I look down at the matching band on my hand.
Hans wanted to get me diamonds, but I wanted us to match. And we both know that Hans will always give me what I want.
God, I love him so much.
I’m about to cross to him, needing to be closer, ready to give him his final wedding gift, when Val addresses the room.
“So I know this is a little bit of short notice, but everyone is invited—”
“Expected,” Dom interrupts.
Val shakes her head. “We would like you all to come to Chicago for Christmas. It’s Danielle’s first Christmas.” She strokes her hand over her daughter’s head. “And we want her to spend it surrounded by her loved ones.”
I watch Hans, my heart swelling even more with my love for him.
For half of his life, he’s had no one to share holidays with. And now we have this.
“We’ll be there,” Hans answers first.
When his eyes move to meet mine, I can see it all in his face. The affection. The peace.
My fingers reach up to touch the spot on my arm, next to my tracker, where the other implant used to be.
And I can’t wait any longer.
I have to tell him.
Tears fill my eyes as I mouth, “I’m pregnant.”
Hans opens his mouth, then slams it closed.
His throat works, and his eyes lower to my wedding-dress-covered stomach.
Then his eyes move back up to meet mine, and he mouths, “That’s one.”