A Christmas Wedding
December 24th dawned crisp and cold with an accommodating amount of snow that had fallen earlier in the week. Perfect for the Christmas effect but without impeding guest travel, according to the wedding coordinator Lucian had hired, what with Naomi and Knox being distracted with fertility specialist appointments.
Wedding coordinator Tiffany had coordinated us to within an inch of our lives.
Our house was full. Even now, laughter rose up from the first floor as the people I loved most in this world got ready to celebrate with us. Lina was probably comparing pregnant bellies with Nolan’s wife, Callie, while everyone else broke into the champagne.
We’d decided to get married at home where Lucian had spared no expense on decking our halls for our first Christmas together. The ceremony would take place inside, and then the reception was in the backyard. Lucian had somehow managed to get the entire yard under a large, heated tent filled with all the glamorous fixings for an event to remember. The aisle was blanketed in cherry blossoms, which were so far out of season I didn’t even want to know how much Lucian had spent arranging it. The man had probably paid scientists to clone our tree.
Tiffany had been in wedding coordinator heaven with an unlimited budget and a groom who wanted the best of everything. She was terrifying in her detail management and time schedules, which was why I was hiding in our bedroom.
I’d sent my half of the bridal party and my mother downstairs to welcome Mary Louise and Allen, who had just arrived, while I took a private moment to freak the fuck out.
I was dressed, made-up, shoes on, ready to go. And starting to panic.
Not seeing Lucian since the—thankfully drama-free—rehearsal dinner had stirred up my nerves.
I paced in the most romantic, perfect wedding dress in the history of wedding dresses and thought about how far we’d come in the past several months.
Lucian had set his sights on making every wish I’d ever had come true, starting with renovating our bathroom and installing not one but two rain showerheads and a platoon of body jets and continuing to complete the library in record time with new bells and whistles the entire town was still swooning over.
I nervously smoothed my hand over the ball gown satin skirt as I wandered our room.
As happy as I was for this particular occasion, I still felt the hole of my father’s absence. Knowing how proud he would have been to walk me down the aisle, how he would have loved quizzing Kurt, now Maeve’s fiancé, about his curriculum for the year, how he would have danced with Mom until their feet hurt, my heart was still just a little bit broken.
“Shit. Don’t freaking cry now and wreck the eye makeup,” I warned myself.
Tiffany would kill me if the makeup artist had to come back.
I fanned my hands in front of my eyes and thought about not sad things. Like the fact that Wylie Ogden was in prison and would never have the opportunity to hurt anyone I loved ever again. And Lucian was working from home two days a week and commuting—often by helicopter—on the other days. And about how the entire town had turned out for the grand reopening of the library.
Crap. I was back to teary again. I wished Lucian was here. He always knew how to calm me down…or rile me up, depending on the situation.
I thought about texting him and then remembered that Naomi had my phone to document the big day without me having to do the documenting.
A tap at the window startled me. I spun in a voluminous pool of taffeta and satin to find Lucian Freaking Rollins crouched on the porch roof in a tuxedo.
I ran to the window as he opened it.
“I thought it was bad luck to see the bride before the wedding,” I said even as I half dragged him through the window.
He stood staring at me, then slowly shook his head. “I don’t believe in bad luck. Not anymore.” His smile was devastating.
“What do you think?” I asked, twirling in front of him.
“I think you’re the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen and I’m the luckiest man on earth.”
It was the boob-highlighting corset top, I decided.
I stopped twirling and fell into his arms. “Good answer.”
“Are you still sure about everything?” he asked, tipping my chin up to look into my eyes.
“Marrying me. Two weeks in Fiji. Fostering. All of it.”
When we returned from our excessively sexy honeymoon, we would be beginning the application process to become foster parents. Traditional baby-making efforts were still ongoing and very, very enjoyable, but neither of us wanted to wait to start our family.
“Absolutely,” I promised. The tears were welling up dangerously fast this time. “Thank you for making all my dreams come true, big guy.”
Lucian ran a thumb under my eye, catching a tear as it spilled free.
“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” he said earnestly.
“Nope! No! Stop it right now,” I ordered as I stepped out of his arms. “No more sweetness or I’ll cry and ruin my entire face, and Tiffany scares the hell out of me. She might call off the wedding.”
“Tell me what you need,” he said, a faint smile curving his lips.
“I need one of your insulting pep talks. Don’t hold back,” I insisted, gesturing for him to bring it on.
His smile was wicked. “Get your shit together, Sloane. Do you want to look like Alice Cooper in our wedding photos that are going to be splashed all over publications across the country? I thought you were tougher than that.”
“Good. That’s good. Keep it coming.”
“If I so much as see one single tear on that beautiful fucking face of yours before you walk down that aisle to me, I’ll tell Tiffany we want her to plan every anniversary party for the rest of our lives.”
I gasped. “Mean!”
“Don’t be a fucking baby.”
“Me? You better keep it together since you’re the one who’s been dreaming about this since the first time you climbed that damn cherry tree,” I shot back.
“You’ll be happy to know that ‘that damn cherry tree’ is weight-bearing again. The tree surgeons did an excellent job.”
“Good. Keep distracting me,” I said.
“I have something for you.”
“Damn it, Lucifer!”
“Suck it up and deal with it,” he said, handing over a thick, rich-guy envelope.
“Where do you even buy stationery like this? Wealthy Person Mart?” I demanded, waving the linen envelope under his nose.
“Don’t be ridiculous. We shop at Riches R Us.”
Rolling my eyes, I opened the snooty envelope and pulled out the papers. “This is a lot of legalese. Did you just gift me a prenup? I told you I’d sign one.”
With a roll of his eyes, Lucian flipped through the pages and tapped one. “It’s not a prenup, Pix. It’s an endowment and paperwork to make the Simon Walton Foundation official.”
“Well, shit, big guy.” My eyes went right to the number. “Is that a phone number? Or is that an incredibly well-endowed endowment?”
“You did good work. This will allow it to continue. Maybe with a few full-time employees.”
I looked up at him, stunned. “Like Mary Louise?”
“Who better to handle the day-to-day? And I thought Allen might be interested in officially joining the fight now that he’s passed the bar. I also thought, though the decision is yours, my mother might be a good addition.”
Shortly after their fight, Kayla had started seeing a therapist. She and Lucian had quickly reconciled, and Kayla had finally started to take her independence seriously. In the process, she and my mother had managed to become friends.
I stared down at the page as words and numbers swam before my eyes.
“You’re going to cry again, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not, assface. God, why do you have to give such thoughtful gifts? You’re such a jerk,” I sniffled.
“Suck it up, or I’ll be forced to unleash Tiffany.”
Blinking back tears, I crossed the room to my nightstand and found the wrapped package I’d tucked into the drawer.
“This is for you,” I said, thrusting it at him.
While he carefully undid the wrapping, I resumed the fanning of my eyes.
“What is it?” he asked, flipping over the frame.
He went statue still, looking like he’d been carved from marble by a besotted sculptor.
It was a picture from this summer of me, Maeve, Mom, and Chloe on the front porch. Lucian was grinning in the middle, his arms around us protectively. Beneath the photo was a slip of paper. The last text my dad had sent him.
If I could have chosen a son in this lifetime, it would have been you. Take care of my girls.
Lucian swallowed hard. He opened his mouth, but no words came. And when he covered his eyes with his free hand, I knew I’d hit the mark.
“This is…” His voice was raspy. And when he looked up at me, those gray eyes were red-rimmed and filled with so much love it took my breath away.
I waved a hand between us. “Don’t you dare. You need to get your shit together, Lucifer, because if you break, I break.”
He reached for me and hauled me into his chest.
“He’d be so proud of you, Lucian,” I said on a broken whisper. “I can feel it. He’d be bursting with pride, and he’d be so happy for us.”
A silent shudder rolled through the man I loved, the man who’d taken a bullet for me, the man who’d rebuilt my dreams for me.
“I love you so damn much, Lucian. I always have.”
He pulled back and peered down at me, holding my wrists in his strong hands. “Everything I did was for you, Sloane. Because it was always you.”
“This is everything I’ve ever wanted, Lucian,” I confessed. “You’re everything I ever wanted.”
“You saying that, in my arms, wearing my ring, is everything I’ve ever wanted.”
The ceremony was performed by Emry, who needed to pause several times to blow his nose noisily into a billowy handkerchief.
Sloane didn’t walk down the aisle. She ran and jumped into Lucian’s arms. They said their vows locked in an embrace.
When the officiant asked “Who gives this woman to this man?” Karen Walton stood and said, “Her father and I do.” There wasn’t a dry eye for the rest of the ceremony.
Nolan cried and wrapped Lucian in a bear hug. Nolan’s wife documented the hug with her camera, and Petula framed it for the office.
Sloane and Lucian danced their first dance as man and wife to Shania Twain’s “From This Moment On.”
Lina took Sloane and Naomi aside to whisper the word “twins” to them on the dance floor.
Knox, Nash, and their father shared a hug on the dance floor.
The family was surprised to find the front porch Christmas tree sporting a new angel that bore a striking resemblance to Simon Walton. No one knows where it came from, but everyone agrees that it looks like he’s winking.