“Mama, are you ready? We can’t be late or Gabe will be looking for us and see you in your dress and get bad luck!”
Bella laughed and stared down at her daughter with a heart so full it nearly exploded in her chest. She looked like a Disney princess, from her tiara, poofy white dress, and blinged-out shoes they’d almost had a fight over.
Almost. Because they were so damn pretty, she’d let Zoe win even though they had a slight heel. “That’s just a superstition,” she said.
“Is that a lie?” her daughter asked, nose crinkled in sudden thought.
“No. More like something we used to believe but found out later the facts don’t add up.”
Zoe nodded. “Like when Theresa said she was the most popular in the class so everyone believed it but me and Meg counted and found Theresa doesn’t have as many friends as us or Alicia so I think now it’s just a superstition.”
“Close enough.” She stopped herself from ruffling her perfect golden curls arranged under her tiara. “Are you ready to do this?”
“Yes. Come on, Aunt TT and Avery and Grandpa are all waiting!”
Bella followed her daughter out of the private suite where she’d asked to have a few minutes alone with Zoe before walking out. Not that she was worried. Zoe loved Gabe like hero worship, and they’d spent enough time easing into a transition for their family that worked well. Zoe was just as excited to make this official as Bella, but there was something bittersweet about leaving her past truly behind. She’d always miss Matt because he was her first love and Zoe’s father. But finally, her heart had truly moved on with joy. She’d wanted to honor stepping into a brand new chapter of marriage with Zoe and a little girl talk before they joined the crowd.
But now, it was time.
Minutes passed in a blur. Her father fussing with her dress and blinking back tears. Her sisters trying to enjoy being part of the wedding instead of planning for it, even though Bella caught Avery’s bridal emergency bag tucked discreetly under her arm, always prepped for disasters. Taylor grabbed Zoe and led her into position. The sun beamed warmly on her bare shoulders and the breeze rustled her veil. She blinked through the blur of lace as the music cued up, and her father led her down the stairs to pause under the floral trellis.
Endless faces turned. She watched the procession with a lump in her throat as the people she loved the most preceded her. Then began to walk.
Bella took a deep breath to calm her nerves, then fixed her gaze on the man waiting for her at the end of the aisle.
Devastatingly handsome in his classic black tuxedo, dark hair pushed back from his brow, full lips curved in a smile that was sexy, male, and held the tiniest bit of possessiveness. Each step toward him felt more right until he was taking her hand in his, and she was exactly where she was supposed to be.
With Gabe. The man she loved. The man who’d had endless patience and kindness and loved her daughter with a full heart. The man she was about to spend the rest of her life with, no matter how long or short.
He’d taught her the risk of love was worth it, and as he lifted her veil to push it back, a joyous laugh broke from her lips.
“I’m almost afraid to touch you, you’re so beautiful,” he whispered, voice low and husky against her ear.
“You better get over that issue because tonight starts our official honeymoon.”
He winked and squeezed her hand. “I recover quickly.”
The preacher cleared his throat with a smile and began the ceremony.
The platinum ring slid over her finger, simple and elegant. She recited the vows. Gabe repeated them back.
“You may now kiss your bride.”
His lips skated over hers, gentle and tender, but Bella knew tonight, in the dark, under the sheets, they’d demand things she couldn’t wait to give.
Applause rose. Zoe raced over between them and they walked back up the aisle together; a true family.
After the speeches, dancing, and cake, Gabe carried a snifter of expensive brandy to the back deck, where his friends waited for him.
“Must’ve been a pricey wedding,” Carter said. “They gave the good alcohol out for free.”
Pierce nodded. “Plus, you kept with traditional instead of those fancy tails or white suits too many beach weddings cater to. You done good, dude.”
Gabe shook his head, settled into the third chair, and took a sip. “Glad you noticed the important details,” he said with a grin. “Wait till it’s your turn and you become swept into the madness.”
“Hell, no. Taylor and I already discussed an impromptu wedding in Paris. Neither of us wants the pomp and circumstance.”
Carter began laughing and Pierce shot him a look. “What’s so funny?”
“Avery and Bella will never allow you to escape.”
“They won’t have a choice.”
Gabe joined in with the laughter. “You should know her sisters better than that, Pierce. Go ahead and have your lovely Paris ceremony. When you get back, you’ll be stepping into the wedding of the year, planned personally by Avery and Bella. They won’t be able to help themselves.”
Pierce groaned.” God, you’re right. I didn’t think about that. How’d you pull this off without pain? Both of you are planners—you must’ve driven each other crazy.”
“A little. We had a lot of the same vision and taste so things were easier.”
Carter waved his hand in the air. “I told Avery I’d help as little or as much as she wanted.”
“And?” Pierce prodded.
He grinned. “I showed up. Job done.”
“Bastard,” Pierce murmured.
“Bottom line is we got the women we were meant to have. Remember all those nights out when we bitched about our love lives? Finally, things worked out,” Gabe said.
The two men who’d become his best friends nodded in agreement and lifted their glasses. “No more Ben & Jerry’s mixed with whiskey,” Carter said solemnly.
“No more using Lucy to do your dirty work,” Pierce said.
“No more paintings with your ugly mug on them,” Gabe said.
They clinked glasses and drank. A sense of peace and happiness mixed with the alcohol and flowed through his blood. From the moment he’d laid eyes on Bella, he’d known she was the one. It may have taken him a few years, but she was finally his, along with a beautiful six-year-old daughter he loved like his own.
Yeah. Life was good.
“Better get your ass back out there and do some dancing,” Carter said. “You wanna get lucky tonight.”
Gabe laughed. “You’re right. I’ll cover you for a bit, but you better take your own advice.” He turned, then paused. “Guys?”
“Yeah?” Pierce asked.
“Thanks for everything.”
He didn’t wait to get emotional. Just strode back in to look for his wife.
Gabe lifted her in his arms in a cloud of lace and tulle. Zoe was blinking awake, a smile on her lips. “Hi, Gabe.”
“Hi, princess. Did you have a good time?”
“It was the best wedding ever. Is it over?”
He chuckled and laid her down in her bed, tugging the pink blanket over her. “Yes. You can just go to sleep, we’ll talk all about it in the morning.”
“No teeth brushing?” she asked with a yawn.
“Not tonight. Just sleep.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead and adjusted the butterfly pillow under her head.
“Are you my Dad now?”
His body stilled. His heart thumped in his chest as love and need exploded inside of him. “You’ll always remember and love your real Dad, who’s watching you every day from Heaven. But yes, I’d love to be your Dad here. If you want.”
She lifted her hand and patted his cheek. “I’d like that. Now that you’re married to Mama, I want to call you Dad and have you come to the Father’s Day parties and dances and give me away when I get married one day, okay?”
The strange sting of tears blurred his eyes. He managed a nod. “I’d love that very, very much. Because I love you and you’re my daughter, Zoe.”
A sweet smile curved her lips. Her hand dropped and her eyes closed. “Good night Dad.”
“Good night, sweetheart.”
He turned on the nightlight, closed the door gently, and left the room.
Bella was waiting for him. She’d changed out of the dress into a blush pink satin negligee that struck him dumb and mute for a few moments.
Damn, these females were powerful. His Kryptonite and his greatest strength. Part of his heart and soul. It was almost too much to handle.
“Why do you look weird?” she asked. Her Goldilocks hair tumbled over her shoulders. Her gaze narrowed suspiciously. “You don’t like my outfit?”
He practically choked. “Yeah, you can come over here and feel how much I hate it.” Her blue eyes flared with heat and light. “I had a talk with Zoe that has my head reeling.”
“Good or bad?”
“She wants to call me Dad.”
Her face softened and she crossed the room. Sunk her fingers into his hair and tipped her chin back so he could see her full expression. “I can see how much you hated that.”
The lump in his throat was back. “I may have cried.”
“God, that’s sexy.” She pressed her mouth to his and the sparks turned to familiar flames. His hands rubbed her back, over her full breasts, greedy and mad for the taste of her, this woman who completed him. “I love you, Gabe. Thank you for never giving up on me and my daughter. Thank you for being my husband and Zoe’s father.”
There were no more words to be said, not after hers. So, Gabe picked her up, slowly stripped the piece of silk from her body, and showed her with action for a long, long time.