I push open the front door and step inside the house. After the first couple of feet, I realize my boot heels are creating an unfamiliar echo throughout the foyer. When I gaze around the house, I realize it’s empty. Completely empty.
“How long where we gone?!” I ask in a panicked tone. “Jace!” I cry out into the vacant house.
About ten feet from the front door, I find a white piece of paper lying on the floor. I crouch down to scoop it up and recognize the small handwriting that flows across the page in black ink.
There are furniture magazines in the kitchen. Circle what you want and Josie will have it all ordered and here before you return from your honeymoon. Fill me with furniture. Make me your own.
P.S. Don’t be mad at your soon-to-be husband. He loves you more than anything in the world and just wants you to feel at home.
I smile at his quirky, yet sweet note. I should be mad at him for doing this the day before my wedding, but I just can’t bring myself to find anger anywhere inside me. This is the new side of Jace I’ve learned to love. He tries to fix any problems between us immediately. After we realized how stupid we’ve been wasting so much time apart when we could have just talked out our issues, he won’t let a second of misunderstanding pass without trying to resolve it.
“Me and my big mouth...” Quinn grumbles, reading the note over my shoulder.
“Do you hate me?” Jace’s voice calls out from upstairs, and I look up to see his handsome face peeking around the corner.
I run up the stairs toward him and launch myself into his arms. “You big idiot, you have more money than sense!” I say into his neck, hoping that my words come off gentler than they sound.
“I want you to be happy in our home,” he whispers into my ear, while pulling me into his arms tighter.
“As long as it’s ours, I’m happy. I don’t ever want you to think otherwise,” I say, kissing a line along his neck.
A throat clears from behind us and we both turn to see Quinn stomping her foot in clear frustration. Jace chuckles under his breath before Quinn says, “And where exactly is my family?”
“Sorry, Quinny. I had to move you guys to Jax and Em’s house. But you’ll come back when the new furniture gets here,” Jace explains.
“Well, if we’re already over there, we should just stay until our house is done,” she replies.
“No!” Jace and I say in unison.
When she gives us both a puzzled look, Jace says, “I want to see my baby as much as I possibly can before you guys have to move into your home. I’m gonna miss her.”
When he juts out his plump bottom lip in a ridiculous pout, my heart beats faster at the idea of Jace being a dad someday. I know without a doubt, he’ll be the best there has ever been.
That night after our rehearsal dinner, we all crowd in through Em and Jaxon’s front door. Chloe is spending the night at her grandparents’ house so that Cole and Quinn can stay out late tonight. Jaxon leads us all to his back porch where we can have a few more drinks and talk late into the night.
“Mom, you can’t be mad at me forever,” Jaxon complains, while trying to hold back a laugh.
“Yes, I can. Jace is my good son, having a nice, respectable wedding. But you! Not once, but twice now you’ve run away to elope!”
“Mom, it’s been almost a year,” Jaxon pleads. “How come you aren’t mad at Em? She was there too, you know.”
Em immediately whacks him in the stomach and says, “Thanks, traitor!”
“Because I know you tricked her into it somehow. I only have you to blame,” Julie argues. This is an ongoing dispute between the two of them. We all know that Julie was over the moon when she found out Em was officially a Riley and honestly, I wasn’t surprised to hear those two snuck off to Vegas. But his mom still likes to give him hell anytime there is wedding talk.
Cole and Quinn had a massive wedding right after she gave birth to Chloe this summer, with all of his father’s political friends in attendance. It was more of a show-off affair for his dad’s campaign and less about them, but we all had fun anyway. Jace and I are the next ones in our little group to get married, and I can’t wait to finally ditch my father’s name and lovingly add Riley in its place.
I walk out to the porch railing and gaze at the light from the moon bouncing off of Jax and Em’s pond. Lane wraps his arm around my shoulders and squeezes me tightly into his side. Lane has been my rock for so many years that I can’t believe our little era is coming to an end. I swipe away the tears that escape from my eyes.
“He’ll take good care of you, doll,” his raspy voice says from above me.
I look up to see the moisture in his eyes. “I’ll be a sobbing mess in seconds if you start the waterworks too!”
He laughs softly and says, “I’m happy for you. I’ll miss you like f**king crazy, but you deserve this more than you know.”
“I can’t wait to be in your wedding someday,” I state but he rolls his eyes. He doesn’t like talking about falling in love or marriage when it pertains to himself. I give him a break and ask, “You’re not upset about not being a groomsman, are you?”
“He doesn’t even have groomsmen,” he laughs. When Jace and I decided we wanted a very small and intimate wedding, we cut the idea of having a wedding party standing alongside us. Besides, if we had our close friends standing up next to us, we would lose half of our audience. “I would much rather walk you down the aisle any day, doll,” he whispers.
“Thank you for saving a broken mess of a girl, Lane. I can’t thank you enough. You’ll never understand how much you helped me grow,” I say, while hugging him around the waist.
“Damn, all this time I thought you were the one saving me,” he chuckles and I pinch his back, just like old times.
“You haven’t finally realized what you’re missing and trying to run away with my girl, are you?” Jace affectionately says from behind us.
I leave Lane’s warm grasp to enter Jace’s. I’ve never felt more at home than I do in this moment. It’s almost as if there’s been a light turned on for me, and I can finally see how blessed I am. And just like Jace said to me a year ago, I would walk through the sadness all over again if I knew I would be reaching this point.
Lane leaves Jace and I alone out on the porch to look out over the pond. When Jace wraps his arms around me from behind, I whisper, “You know, it’s unheard of for a bride to not know where she’s getting married.”
He tucks his face into the nook between my chin and my shoulder and says, “I promise this is my last surprise. From then on out, we’ll make joint decisions. This is a good one though. I know you’ll be happy with it.”
I turn in his arms and grab the lapels of his suit coat. “I love your surprises, Jace. Quinn may have had a point about your work hours, but she failed to mention that you’re great at surprises,” I rise up on my toes and whisper in his ear, “and at taking control.”
A low rumble emerges from his chest and he growls, “Well, that’s a damn good thing, babe, because there’s no way in hell that’ll ever change.”
I never pictured myself standing outside on my wedding day, with my hair tightly pinned to my head and my long, white dress blowing in the cold breeze…blindfolded. When Em approached me as I was climbing into the limo with a light blue sash in her hands, I stared at her with apprehension.
“I already have something blue,” I reply, gesturing to the thin, sterling silver bracelet with diamonds and turquoise gemstones that Jace had sent over while I was getting ready.
“He wanted you to have something else too,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. That was the last thing I saw before she wrapped the sash around my eyes and helped me the rest of the way into the car.
Standing out in the breeze, completely blind to the world around me, I hear a familiar deep voice say, “Well, this is different. A blindfolded bride. I’ve heard that usually happens on the honeymoon, but not before the ceremony,” Lane chuckles.
“Don’t make fun of me. I have no idea where I am,” I nervously confess.
His arm is instantly around me in a protective hold. “You look beautiful and you’re going to love this.” Shortly after, I hear a door open and close. “Well, doll, that’s our cue. Should we bail and run away forever, or go inside?” he asks teasingly, although I know if I asked him to, he would whisk me away in a heartbeat.
“I’m ready.” And I am. I’m ready to marry my best friend and the one true love of my life.
“Good, because Jace has been pacing nervously all damn morning.” When he feels my body lock up, he rushes to say, “Not that kind of nervous. More like, so-fucking-anxious-to-see-you nervous.”
I let out a deep breath and allow Lane to lead me inside to my mystery wedding. We step inside and I immediately feel relief at the warmer setting. My dress has a deep V-neck and my back is almost completely bare. Not the best choice for a wedding in the chill of November, but the second I put it on I knew Jace would love it. It feels classic and elegant, just like him.
Wherever we just stepped into has a very distinct yet recognizable aroma. It smells antiquated and musty. I scan through locations in my head that can produce this scent. When realization hits, I gasp and grab to pull my blindfold down. The first thing I see is Lane’s bright smiling face. I skim my surroundings and take in the beautiful old bookstore. The very same bookstore that I first crashed into Jace, right out front on the sidewalk. The store that I’ve spent countless hours in since we’ve been back. I don’t like to come into town much, but this is the one place I make an exception for.
I stare up at the towering shelves full of old books with yellowing pages that contain beautiful love stories. Gorgeous white flower arrangements hang from the high ceilings. My family has strung tiny little lights between the books and tea lights adorn the shelves to create a magical atmosphere. Strings of light bulbs criss-cross along the ceiling, giving off a romantic glow. I smile widely when I realize I’m going to say my vows in front of a bunch of love stories that have stood the test of time. I can’t imagine a more perfect setting.
My eyes make their way down from the mesmerizing shelves and finally land on my handsome fiancé. The breath is stolen straight out of my chest when I catch the look on his face. Tears are streaming freely and shamelessly down his face, and I can feel his deep love with just that look alone.
Jace stands at the end of a long center aisle, with our closest friends and family sitting in front of him. Before I realize it, Lane has walked me all the way down the aisle and placed my hand in my soon-to-be husband’s comforting one.
Nothing else matters. No one else matters. It’s only Jace. Jace, with his gorgeous grey suit and copper-colored tie that perfectly matches the pennies strung around my neck.
“It’s not fair that every time I see you, you look even more delicious than the last,” he whispers into my hand, right before he gives it a soft kiss.
“You can’t keep using the same lines on me,” I softly say back.
“I’m sorry, but you really shouldn’t be allowed to look this beautiful,” he expresses, while leaning in toward my neck.
A couple of throats clear from behind us and Jace freezes. “Vows first, you guys,” I hear Jaxon chuckle.
We behave for the remainder of the ceremony, repeating each vow after the priest prompts us. Sniffles are heard from our audience, but my eyes are still glued to the man in front of me. His eyes are equally spellbound as he looks at me. We are all alone in this magical bubble. Although I’m aware of the eyes boring into us, the only ones I care to look at right now are Jace’s.
Jace surprises me yet again with a beautiful, sparkling wedding band. Tiny little diamonds surround the platinum ring, and the lights above us cause it to glisten and glow.
I realize that the priest has finished his speech and that the room is completely quiet. I look up to Jace for clarification, because I don’t remember what we are supposed to do now. I hear a few chuckles and then Jace gives me a drop-dead sexy smirk, right before he scoops me into his arms and lands me with a breath-stealing kiss. Instantly, I remember what I’m supposed to be doing, so I thread my fingers through his soft hair and return his kiss with equal passion.
After a few more beats, Jace pulls back and gazes down at me. “I love you, Mrs. Riley.”
“It’s about time you changed my name,” I whisper breathlessly up at him.
“I couldn’t agree more,” he says and smiles lovingly.
Before he can dip down for another kiss, I stand up on my tiptoes, deciding it’s finally my turn to give him a surprise. When my lips brush the edge of his ear, I let him know the news he’s been begging to hear from me. I overhear the catch in his breath and his grip on my arms squeezes a bit tighter.
In front of our clapping and cheering audience, he leans back to look at me with tears running down his face for the second time today and questions in his eyes. He needs me to confirm it for him.
“You’re going to be a dad, Mr. Riley.”