“Well,” Bennett said, smiling, “I guess we couldn’t move forward without the universe at least giving us a fair warning.”

At that, everyone erupted into laughter and applause, and with an enormous smile, the judge proclaimed, “Very well then. By the power vested in me by the state of California, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Chloe, you may kiss your groom.”

I did a little dance at this small victory. Bennett gave a little growl of defeat but then leaned into me as I stepped on my toes, shoeless and inches shorter than my husband—my husband!—and pulled him down to me.

I didn’t care that there were people watching.

I didn’t care that the expectation was that we would give a small kiss now and enjoy many more, deeper kisses later.

Right now, as of this moment, this man was my f**king husband, and I needed to make sure everything felt the same.

I relished the way his arms tightened around me so intensely I lost my breath. I relished the firm press of his mouth on mine, and the parting of his lips, the gentle slide of his tongue across mine . . . once, twice, three times, and the last time just a little deeper until I could feel the vibration of his sounds and practically taste his urgency. His breaths came out shallow and uneven on my tongue and his quiet words—ah, fuck, Chlo, and need to get you alone—finally made me pull away before I started stripping off his tux right here at the altar.

Breathless and grinning like idiots, we turned and faced a lawn-full of guests with hands suspended in the air, prepared to clap but wearing expressions of shock frozen on their faces.

Apparently we’d been a little wild in our first kiss as husband and wife.

“Go on girl, get yours!” George shouted, just as Judith yelled, “Now that’s how you kiss a woman!” breaking the spell and the whole group in front of us broke into roaring applause.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the judge shouted above the mayhem. “It is my pleasure to introduce Bennett and Chloe Ryan!”

I turned and had just aimed my harshest glare at Bennett and his widening grin when chaos erupted all around us. Sara’s arms swallowed me, and then Julia’s and George’s and Mina’s. I felt my father’s hands on my face and his giant smooch to my cheek. I was hugged by Elliott and Susan in tandem, lifted by Henry and Max in turn, kissed on the cheek by Will, and then I felt Bennett’s smooth, warm hand wrapping around my arm and pulling me with him down the aisle, away from the tight press of the wedding party.

We ran, tripping through the mud, leaving wet footprints all along the patio. Inside, Bennett pulled me into the kitchen, where the caterers stopped what they were doing; the clattering of pots and dishes, the roaring of commands and replies went completely silent as Bennett turned and slammed me into the wall, his mouth on my neck, my jaw, my ears, my lips. He ran a hand up my side, gripping my breast through my wedding dress and I felt him begin to harden against my stomach.

“Tonight,” he growled, returning to my neck. “Tonight I’m going to consummate this marriage so f**king hard you’re going to walk with a limp on that beach in Fiji.”

I burst out laughing, wrapping my arms around him as his mouth slowed and eventually simply kissed a path from my shoulder to my cheek. “Promise?” I asked.

He sighed, kissing my lips once. “Promise. Now, how many hours do I have to play nice with our crazy family before we can leave and I can put my hands all over your na**d skin?”

I looked over his shoulder, searching for a kitchen clock, but all I saw was at least twenty faces, all staring wide-eyed and slack-jawed at us. One waiter was so stunned by Bennett’s display that a stack of plates slowly slid from his grasp and shattered on the floor.

Following the deafening crash of porcelain on tile, the kitchen finally returned to motion: people running for brooms and dustpans, the head chef barking out orders again. Bennett and I apologized quietly and ducked out of the kitchen and to the edge of the veranda, watching our guests begin to collect near the disaster of the lawn, taking appetizers from passing waitstaff.

I stretched to reach Bennett’s ear and said, “We just got married. That means you’re legally my manservant now.”

His long fingers dug into my sides, tickling me as he reached with his other hand to grab a flute of champagne from a tray and handed it to me. He took one for himself and quietly clinked my glass. “To us, my wife.”

We watched the wedding party begin to assemble for the photos and Max waved at us to come join them. Sara turned around, laughing at something George said, and I caught a full view of her dress.

Bennett must have seen it at the same time as I did, because I heard him suck in a huge breath. He took my hand and began guiding me to the area where the photographer had set up the tripod.

He slid his eyes to me at the use of my last name and said, “Apparently the van door was open when we left the cleaners.” He smiled at the straggler guests heading to the patio for cocktails, and maneuvered me on the outskirts of the crowd to avoid getting stopped every three feet on our way to the photographer. “And before you ask, Will tripped and dropped my wedding ring in the parking lot when he was trying to show me how good a job they did polishing it. I’m about two seconds from pulling you into the bathroom and forcing you onto your knees, so if you blow up at me or flip out about the dress or ring or the flooded lawn now, you will only convince me you need a dick in your mouth, and you’ll completely derail the agenda for our wedding day: pictures, dancing, food, dancing, cake, long hard f**king. Watch what you say next, Ryan.”When we returned to the party, music pulsed from large speakers on the veranda and I felt high, drunk, outright giddy from the day and the man at my side. He never let go of my hand, but even if he’d tried I wouldn’t let him. I loved the sharp press of his (dented) wedding ring between my fingers, and the way he kept lifting my hand to kiss it but really it seemed like he just wanted to make sure his ring was still there.

We made the rounds and spent the next couple of hours greeting everyone who came and getting lost in introductions and hellos. The guests ate the appetizers, and everyone seemed to get a little day-drunk and wild. Truth be told, it was overwhelming having so many people here. By the time dinner was served, the crowd was roaring, knives clinked against glasses almost every ten seconds in shameless bids to have Bennett kiss me.

Each time it grew a little dirtier until I worried he was going to clear the wedding table with a sweep of his arm and lay me down on it. But when Kristin told us the band would be starting our first dance song soon, and a symphony of knives tinkling against crystal rang out, Bennett simply leaned over and said, “If you put your tongue in my mouth again, I’m leaving this f**king wedding and taking you to bed, Mrs. Ryan.”

“Well, I’ll then keep it chaste, Mr. Mills. Because I want cake.”

His eyes fell closed and he leaned forward, gently touching his lips to mine. How did he manage to blend sweet and commanding so seamlessly?

We walked to the center of the dance floor amid hushed silence. The first few chords of the song began and Bennett gave me a devilish grin before pulling me close with both hands gripping my ass. The room exploded in raucous cheers and I looked up at him, shaking my head as if it bothered me.

Without shoes, I was so much shorter than he was, and still sometimes hated not being able to see him eye to eye, even when we were dancing at our wedding. I stood on my tiptoes, swayed in his arms, and after only about half a minute I felt him reach around my waist and lift me so we were face-to-face, my feet dangling several inches off the ground.

“Much.” I twisted my fingers in his hair and leaned to slide my mouth over his.

Camera flashes exploded around us and I could imagine hundreds of pictures of Bennett holding me, spinning me slowly, my still-dirty feet telling anyone who would look at the picture in the future what kind of wedding day we’d had: perfect.

The song drew to an end, but it was several long beats after the final notes before Bennett put me down.

“I love you,” he said, letting his eyes roam my entire face before coming to settle on my lips.

Laughing, I said, “We’re married. That’s insane. Who let this happen?”

He didn’t even break a smile. Instead, his eyes grew heavy, his voice even lower. “I’m going to disrespect the f**k out of you later.”

The entire surface of my skin felt flushed and silvery.

He released me, letting me slide down his body and groaning quietly as my hip pressed against the length of his cock, half hard already. “I’m tempted to disrespect you now,” he said. “But my wife wanted cake.”

We drifted apart a little as another song started and I felt my father’s hand press to my back. Bennett turned, taking his mother in his arms. As we danced with our parents, we caught each other’s eyes over their shoulders and grinned, giddy. I felt like closing my eyes and letting out the loudest, happiest shout ever heard.

“Your mom would have had a great time today,” Dad said, kissing my cheek.

I nodded, smiling. I missed my mother in this sort of hollow-throb way. She hadn’t ever been the cool mom, or the fashionable mom; she was the sweet mom, the hugger mom, the overprotective mom. She would have hated Bennett at first, and the thought made me laugh out loud. Mom would have assumed he was a prick and that I could find someone more giving, more connected, more emotionally available. And then she would have seen him look at me in an unguarded moment, would have seen him trace a fingertip from my temple to my chin, or kiss the back of my hand when he didn’t think anyone was looking, and realize I’d found the one man other than my dad who loved me more than anything on the

Catching Bennett in these private moments had been what won my father over to Bennett’s side, eventually. After our disastrous Christmas visit to Bismarck over a year ago, where Dad grilled Bennett endlessly and finally walked in on me riding him like a rowdy cowgirl in my childhood bed, Dad came to stay with us in New York for a week. Bennett, predictably, had been working like a fiend for the first few days, and Dad grumbled endlessly about how a man should provide for his family not only in material ways but also emotional.

But then one night, when Bennett got home well after midnight and Dad got up out of bed to get some water, he found us on the couch, my head in Bennett’s lap and his fingers running gently through my hair as he listened to me ramble on about every detail of my day. Bennett had been exhausted, but, as usual, he insisted I spend time with him, no matter how late. Dad admitted the next morning that he had stood, mesmerized, watching us for a full five minutes before he remembered himself and left to get his water.

I caught him giving Bennett a look over my shoulder and then heard my husband’s deep, real laugh—the one that bubbled up from low in his belly and came out sounding like the quietest, happiest sound.

“What are you two up to?” I asked my dad, pulling back to look at him.

“Just giving my new son some nonverbal advice.”

I gave my father a warning look and then caught Bennett’s attention as my father turned to me. His eyes twinkled with amusement. “Ask your husband what that was all about.”

Dad pulled me into a hug, kissing my cheek, before Bennett came to my side, bending to whisper, “Your dad just indicated he wants five grandkids.”

My screech of horror was drowned out by the heavy bass blasting through the speakers, signaling to the guests that the real party had started. Crowds rushed to the dance floor and we took the opportunity to go get a drink of water. Will passed us on our way, flanked by my aunts.

They sandwiched him between them good-naturedly and Will’s head fell back in laughter. “For the love of God, Hanna, where are you?” he yelled.

Across the room she lowered her fruity drink, held up her hand decorated with a beautiful engagement ring, and called out, “Is that what this ring means? That I come to your rescue?”

Finally, after a nice, long bit of staring at the poor boy, Hannah walked to him and pulled him away from my laughing aunts and into her arms. I smiled, turning back to Bennett.

“Can we leave now?” he asked, eyes dropping to my mouth.

The crowd had barely thinned, and I knew the party would probably continue on for another few hours, but right then all I wanted was to get upstairs and get my husband out of his tux.

“One more hour,” I said, pulling back his jacket sleeve to glance at his watch. It was only eight thirty. “One more hour and then I’m all yours.”After what ended up being three hours—three hours of dancing and drunken toasts, of Max and Will carrying Bennett to the bar for a final round of “man shots,” of pure, wild celebration—Bennett came up behind me at the bar where I stood talking to Henry and Mina, and slid his arms around my waist.

I leaned back into him, smiling at my brother- and sister-in-law. “I think that’s my cue.”

There were no flower petals to throw in our wake, no handfuls of rice. Instead, Will and Henry grabbed handfuls of cocktail napkins and drunkenly chucked them at us as we ducked away from the bar and waved to our guests.

“Good night everyone! Thanks for coming!” I called out above the catcalls and whistles.