Cade and Willa’s wedding belongs in a country lifestyle magazine. Willa’s softly curled hair cascades down her back over the tight lace dress she chose. Cade went with a brown suit and a bolo tie. They look stunning.
We’re all seated in the massive white tent, sparkling with string lights, set up in the field behind the main ranch house. It has a black-and-white checkered dance floor, and there’s even a stage where Willa’s brother has arranged for Skylar Stone to perform later.
Right now, he’s wrapping up his toast to the bride, and his dry humor has everyone in stitches. I’ve watched Rhett wipe tears of laughter from his eyes at least three times.
Ford Grant stands at the podium, chestnut hair just a little too mussed to be accidental, wearing a tuxedo that fits like it was created specifically with him in mind. He’s suave. And cutting. The way he looks at his sister with so much love in his eyes has my own brimming.
“In closing”—he clears his throat—“I’m relieved that I’m no longer the only person on the receiving end of all your most annoying text messages. In fact, their occurrence has decreased dramatically since Cade came into your life. Or you blasted into his, and—let’s be honest—knowing you, that’s the more likely scenario. Which leads me to believe you’ve made him the target of all your unhinged harassment, and I couldn’t be happier for myself about that.”
Chuckles ripple through the crowd.
“Most of all, I’m happy my little sister found someone who loves getting those obnoxious messages as much as I do. And if seeing her this unbearably happy means a few less chances to mock her mercilessly via text, then that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.” Willa’s eyes roll, but I see tears well in the wake of that motion. “Because I’m selfless like that.” Ford tosses her a wink and a killer grin.
She mouths you’re an idiot back to him.
“Willa, if you ever stop making fun of me, I’ll know you’re not okay. So check in now and then. Tell me something mean so I know you’re still well. But since we’re not texting right now and I don’t see you that often, I’ll take this opportunity to tell you I love you and I am wildly proud of the woman you’ve become. It takes a special man to keep up with a formidable person like you, and I’m so glad you dropped your panties in front of one who can.”
Everyone laughs. Everyone knows Willa. Everyone knows the panty story.
Ford holds up a glass of champagne by the stem, tipping his chin down at the happy couple. “Cheers to you, baby sister. I wish you a lifetime of unhinged happiness.”
Now there are sniffles, followed by polite clapping and a few whistles.
Beau’s warm hand squeezes my thigh through my silky dress. “You good?”
I smile up at him. “I’m good,” I reply, watching him look out over the crowd of people gathered. Locals—townspeople—who don’t glare at me with contempt anymore. That treatment came to a fairly abrupt halt as word of my rant that day at the bar spread. I have to confess, it makes Chestnut Springs a far better place to be. Which is nice considering we still like to spend the odd weekend at Beau’s ranch house.
“We gonna do this one day, sugar tits?”
I shake my head with a smile. “We fuckin’ better.”
“Soon?” His lips dust over the shell of my ear. Living in the city with Beau has been like existing in some sort of dream world. He finished his training. I’m in school and loving it.
“What kind of wedding do you want?”
He keeps getting closer, turning in his chair, long legs wrapping around where I’m sitting. Mauling me, basically.
“Something small. Not quite like this.”
He kisses my neck.
“Maybe down by the river,” I whisper, confessing what I’ve envisioned for some time now. “Behind your house. Like, where it all began kind of thing.” I shrug, feeling suddenly shy.
“Where we spent our first night together?” His laugh rumbles over my skin as he kisses my shoulder.
“Where you came across the water to save me.”
“Where we struck a deal.” Another kiss, beside my mouth this time.
“Where we spent so many 2:11s together,” I whisper.
He nuzzles into my neck now. “So what you’re saying is … where I fell hopelessly in love with you?”
“Yes, soldier. There.”
“When?” His hands grip my hips just a little too low.
He laughs at that. “Wanna go scope out the location?”
“Yeah. Let’s sneak out. I’ll show you what I was thinking about doing that morning with the boner.”
“Life’s always an adventure with you, Beau Eaton.”
He grins, drawing away ever so slightly. “It is.”
And I grin back, twining my fingers with his.