BONUS EPILOGUE ©2017 Kylie Gilmore
Did she look like Scarlett O’Hara descending the grand staircase of Ludbury House to her very own Rhett Butler? Liz sure hoped so. The photographer snapped away as she made her way down the stairs on her father’s arm. She’d lovingly planned every detail of this special day from the gorgeous historic mansion for the wedding and reception (she fell in love with the grand staircase) to her sleeveless wedding gown with layers and layers of poufy white tulle. Her color-coded spreadsheet, daily planner, digital planner, and calendar had been her constant companions during the nine-month engagement. And the day was finally here!
Someone wolf whistled. “Foxy mama!”
Liz grinned through her veil. “Thank you, Maggie.” Her matron of honor (and fiancé’s grandmother) beamed at her in a full-length pale lavender dress with spaghetti straps. Of course, Maggie had to add her own personal touch to the bridesmaid dress Liz had chosen—a rhinestone clip with a burst of white feathers perched on one side of her white spiky hairdo.
“Ry’s eyes are gonna pop out when he gets a look at you!” Maggie exclaimed.
“I hope not,” Liz replied. Ryan was waiting outside with his best men—his brothers, Trav and Shane—by the pergola decorated with greenery and roses in white, yellow, and pale pink.
She reached the bottom of the stairs in the large entryway with two-toned hardwood flooring and a brilliant crystal chandelier. This spot would have been their rainy-day alternative, but she was thrilled with the gorgeous sunny June day. Her other two bridesmaids, her sister, Daisy, and best friend, Rachel, rushed to her.
Daisy’s bright blue eyes, so like her own, were wide and shiny with unshed tears. “Liz, I know I said this a bunch of times, but you are gorgeous!”
“You do look beautiful,” Rachel said, her voice tight, which meant she was trying not to cry. Her friend also looked gorgeous, her brown hair out of its usual braid and up in a sophisticated twist, and she wore contacts instead of her usual black-rimmed glasses.
“You all look so beautiful too!” Liz exclaimed, taking them all in. She blinked rapidly. “Nobody cry! You know I don’t want to be one of those sobbing brides. I’m not a pretty crier and the last thing I want is a red nose in my wedding pictures!”
“My little girl,” her dad murmured by her side.
She glanced over to see her dad wiping his eyes. He was a tough former pro football player turned restaurant owner. “See what you did?” Liz asked.
Maggie piped up, cheerful as ever. “Everything is so elegant and perfect, Liz. Have you ever thought of being a wedding planner?”
Liz smiled, calming down as she remembered how much fun she’d had organizing all the many parts that went into an elegant wedding. “You know, I did have a blast planning the wedding, but I think it’s because it was mine. Anyway, I love teaching too much to leave my students.” She’d just finished up the school year with a wonderful group of third graders.
Maggie looked thoughtful. “It might be a good idea for Clover Park to have a wedding planner. We have Ludbury House.” She looked around the mansion, more than a hundred years old with many of the original antique furnishings, and turned back to them, saying in her decisive way, “Yes, I think we could really make Clover Park a destination. We just need to find the right person.”
Justice Fleming, an elderly woman with dyed black hair, poked her head in the front door. “Are we ready to begin?”
“Yes,” Liz said. She couldn’t wait to marry Ryan, the man she’d loved since the tender age of thirteen. He’d been seventeen at the time and oblivious to that fact, then and now. She preferred not to dwell on her awkward teen years. They’d reunited at a much better time when they were both mature adults ready for a committed relationship. Okay, it had been touch and go for a bit, but they were on rock-steady ground now.
“Wonderful,” Justice Fleming said. “Wait five minutes for the bridesmaids’ procession. I’ll tell them to start the music.” She left.
Liz let out an excited little squeak. “Let’s go outside where we can hear the music.”
They stepped out to the large wraparound porch flanked by white columns. She let out a happy sigh at the beautiful scenery; the mansion and the manicured grounds around it were simply breathtaking. The photographer kept snapping pictures, which she appreciated. All of this would be lovingly placed in their wedding album as soon as they returned from their honeymoon in Hawaii.
Finally, it was time. Rachel went first, followed by Daisy and then Maggie. The music changed to the wedding march. Her dad squeezed her hand, tucking it into the crook of his arm, and they walked the flagstone path to the large patio, where their guests sat in rows of folding chairs.
She reached the aisle and locked eyes with Ryan waiting for her at the other end. Her heart squeezed, so swoony in love with him. He was gorgeous—short-cropped caramel brown hair, sharp hazel eyes, cheekbones women would kill for—but he was so much more than that. Some found him intimidating because of his dead-eyed cop’s stare and large muscular frame, but for those he loved he had nothing but sweet protective care. He broke into a warm, tender smile just for her.
She practically floated down the aisle. Fortunately, the swoony love feeling was mutual. He loved everything about her, even her compulsive neatness. When she’d first moved into his house, she’d really needed to organize his pantry alphabetically with her label maker. His response? Go for it, babe. Now that was true love.
She reached his side and he gazed at her, serious now. Her dad transferred her hand from his arm to Ryan’s and took a seat.
Ryan leaned close. “You look beautiful.”
“You too,” she whispered back.
They turned as one to Justice Fleming. Liz remained dry-eyed through the short ceremony, until Ryan took both her hands in his and said his vows to her like a solemn promise. She bit her wobbly lower lip, knowing he was a man of his word. He squeezed her hands briefly, tender understanding in his eyes.
She took a shaky breath, hoping to keep it together for her own solemn vow, but it didn’t help. Tears silently streamed down her cheeks as she spoke. “I promise to take Ryan as my husband to love, honor, and cherish in sickness and in health, in sorrow and in joy, for as long as we both shall live.”
Ryan lifted her veil before cradling her face with his large hands and wiping her tears with his thumbs. The judge was still speaking, but all Liz could focus on was the overwhelming love she saw in his eyes.
He dipped his head, giving her a tender kiss. A cheer went up. Music. The doves. Confetti. It was all lost on her as she threw her arms around his neck and returned the kiss passionately.
“Party time!” Maggie exclaimed.
Ryan grabbed her hand and they led everyone back to the mansion, where they’d party like only a sexy cop and wild teacher could. Like total badasses.
~ ~ ~
Ryan had only gotten one dance with his beautiful bride before the father-daughter dance, which had him suddenly dancing with Gran. Not the first time either. She loved to lead him around in waltzes in her kitchen, but this time he took the lead, confident in his dance moves after a few private lessons with Gran’s husband, Jorge, a ballroom dance instructor.
She patted his shoulder. “You know this is all my doing.”
He arched a brow. “Is that right?” Like he had no moves of his own. Please. He’d finessed a slow seduction with Liz, sensing the fire that hid under her buttoned-up exterior. Not just any guy could’ve pulled that off as smoothly as he did. The love thing had sorta snuck up on him, but he was very glad it did. No thanks to Gran.
Gran beamed. “Yessiree! And now I’m going to help your brothers.”
“Trav’s got this.”
They both looked over to where Trav and Daisy were slow dancing. Trav held her close, barely swaying. Their wedding was next month. If their nine-month-old son, Bryce, didn’t grow too much, he could wear the little baby tux he had on today.
“Then it’s Shane’s and Rico’s turns,” Gran said with a vigorous nod that made the white feathers clipped to her hair flap in agreement. Shane was his youngest brother, and Rico, a close family friend that Gran treated like an honorary grandson.
He stifled a sigh. There was no stopping her when she got an idea in her head. He glanced over to where Shane was dancing with Rachel, who was talking the entire time. The two had become close, like best friends, but damn if he was going to set Gran loose on them. Rico was chatting up one of Liz’s cousins in the corner. Rico certainly wasn’t looking to settle down. His rep with women was the stuff of legend.
He gazed longingly over at Liz. He wanted her back in his arms, back in their bed. She’d been teasing him about the sexy lingerie she’d bought for their wedding night and he couldn’t wait to see it. She had zero inhibitions in the bedroom once he flat out told her there was not one part of her that wasn’t one hundred percent sexy as far as he was concerned. It was true. And it had worked out very nicely for him. The woman was a total nympho.
Gran’s voice rang out way too loud. “I have to give you some credit for your grand romantic gesture. I think that sealed the deal with Liz!”
His ears felt hot. “Probably,” he said quickly. “Any vacation plans for you and Jorge?” That got her on a long enthusiastic description of a trip they planned to take in August to the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont, where they would be recreating scenes from The Sound of Music. He tuned that out as soon as she got to the schoolgirl uniform. She was big on role-playing. He gazed at Liz, sexy as hell in a snug-fitting gown on top with a big puffy skirt part that reminded him of a ballerina. Was it his grand romantic gesture that sealed the deal between them? What was it that made her fall in love with him?
For him, never having a serious relationship before, the love thing had hit him like a jolt. A sudden realization when he’d found himself mooning over her, wanting to write her a poem, though he wasn’t great with words. He couldn’t wait to ask her when she knew it was love. He was pretty sure he knew the answer.
As soon as the song ended, he kissed Gran on the cheek. “I’m going to fetch my bride.”
He strode over to Liz where she’d just stepped away from the dance floor. He caught her around the waist and kissed her temple, careful not to muss her hair, which he knew had taken hours to get just the way she wanted it. “My turn, sweetheart,” he crooned in her ear. It was another slow song. Perfect.
She turned in his arms and gave him a sunny smile. “I missed you.”
“Now you’ve got me.” He led her back onto the dance floor. They’d only been separated for one dance, but he knew what she meant. He couldn’t wait to have her back in his arms. He took her hand and rested his other hand on the small of her back to guide her as they did a slow waltz. “God, I love you.”
She smiled, her blue eyes twinkling with delight. “I love you too.”
He leaned down to her ear. “What was it that made you fall in love with me? Was it when I gave you the toaster?” That had been his grand romantic gesture—a four-slice toaster to show her he was ready for a domestic life that included her and children. Hopefully two kids, which would be perfect for four pieces of toast. Course, he could always buy a second toaster.
She giggled. “Yes! I met you and I was toast.”
“You’re never going to let me live that down,” he grumbled. She had a ton of toast jokes.
“My heart just melted, so warm and toasty.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. “You really want to know?”
He kissed her again, needing a little more of that heat and sweetness. “Yeah, I really want to know.”
They stopped dancing and just stood there, gazing into each other’s eyes. He felt the love and the zinging jolt of crackling chemistry like he always did when they got close. The blood surged through his veins, a primal need for skin on skin had him about to coax her somewhere private when she went up on tiptoe and whispered something so astonishing he was rendered speechless. He put a hand over his heart, deeply moved.
“When I was thirteen,” she added.
He staggered back. “Wait. Love at first sight when you were thirteen?”
She nodded. “Why do you think I asked you all those questions about being a lifeguard?”
“I thought you wanted to be a lifeguard when you were old enough.”
She pulled him close and danced in a slow sway, her fingers running through the hair at the nape of his neck. “I was flirting.”
He chuckled. That was what she called flirting? “Oh, really?” he teased.
She smacked his chest and kept her hand there, rubbing the spot. “See? This is why I couldn’t tell you until after we got married. It’s too embarrassing.”
He lifted her hand from his chest and kissed the palm. “I just can’t believe you were in love with me all those years. I had no idea.” Liz had explained why the day he’d helped her at the lake long ago had been embarrassing for her, but he hadn’t known this piece of it. Everything suddenly clicked together in his mind—her skittishness with him, her avoiding him, her cautious easing into their relationship. It only made him love her more.
“Ask Rachel,” she said. “I even had a Ryan scrapbook.”
“Can I see it?”
“I burned it because it was so embarrassingly one-sided.”
He couldn’t help his huge smile. “What was in it?” This was just too amazing to be believed. He’d thought he had to work so hard to win her over. He’d tortured himself with how to come up with just the right way, just the right romantic gesture, to show her how much he loved her, and all this time she’d already been in love with him. Outstanding.
When she said nothing, only stared at his chest, he tilted her chin up. “Come on, tell me. I’m your husband; you can tell me anything.”
“Promise not to laugh.”
He bit the inside of his cheek. “Promise.”
“I wrote acrostic poems of your name, kept a tally of how many times you remembered my name, your favorite phrase, the pattern of the freckles on your left arm, the three colors in your eyes, and wrote Mrs. Ryan O’Hare over and over and over.”
He did not laugh, but he did smile. Big time. “What was my favorite phrase?”
Now he did laugh. “That sounds like a seventeen-year-old boy all right.” Her cheeks flushed pink, which he found adorable. “Hey, I love it.”
She grinned cheekily. “See, you do say hey.”
He inclined his head. “I love it and I love you. I fell for you when I realized you were the one person I wanted to share everything important in my life with.”
“Oh, Ryan,” she said on a sigh.
He cupped her cheek. “And when I found myself writing you a poem about toast and scrambled eggs—total goner.”
She leaned into his hand with a soft smile. “And the toaster, of course. That sealed the deal for me. I was toast.”
She was never going to let him live that down. And that was okay because it got him what he wanted most—her.
Gran whirled by in Jorge’s arms. “Well, butter my toast, aren’t they darling?”
Ryan narrowed his eyes at Liz. “Did you tell her about the toaster?”
Before Liz could answer, Gran caroled, “I knew you had it in you, Ry! So symbolic! We’ll toast to you later!”
Great. Now not only would Liz tease him forever, so would his entire family. His grandmother would be outrageously loud about it; his brothers merciless. He shot Gran a quelling look. The kind that got the guilty to confessing when he was in his police uniform. She made a big gesture of locking her lips.
“Butter my toast, we are darling!” Liz exclaimed.
Two could play at this game. “A toast to your scrapbook,” he returned and then jumped when she pinched his butt. He moved in quick, giving her neck a nip and then pulling her tight against him. “I can’t wait for our wedding night.”
He heard the smile in her voice as she whispered, “I’m wearing part of it right now.”
He twined his fingers with hers, tugging her off the dance floor. “Show me.”
He led her out of the ballroom, intent on going upstairs, where several bedrooms offered privacy. “Just a peek, Mrs. Ryan O’Hare.”
“Okay, just a peek, but no hands.”
“Just my mouth, promise.”
She gasped, and he laughed before scooping her up in his arms and carrying her up the grand staircase. His wife, his forever love—
He jolted as her teeth sank into his neck before raining hot kisses along his throat.
His wild woman.
~ ~ ~
Don't miss the next book in the series Daisy Does It All, where Trav and Daisy finally get on track. Or not!
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