Today wasn’t like other days though.
I pulled into the parking lot and grabbed my dress bag. Mom was going to be pissed—I was supposed to be there almost forty-five minutes ago but I’d been delayed. The church coordinator glared at me as I walked in, grabbing my arm and rushing me downstairs to the bathroom. There I found my mother looking like a dream in an elegant, Grecian-style, peach-colored wedding dress.
“Oh Mama,” I said, feeling tears spring to my eyes. “You look so beautiful. John’s gonna die when he sees you.”
Her face crumpled at the word “die” and I swore under my breath. Mom was fragile these days and I still wasn’t sure how to deal with that. I was used to her being the strong one, because she’d suffered so much and always survived. Now I’d become the strong survivor.
“You need to get dressed,” she said, forcing herself to smile again. Joanie, her longtime beautician, clucked at Mom to sit down so she could finish up her makeup. Her hair was already done, swept up in keeping with the Grecian style, little ribbons woven through it along with fresh flowers.
An hour later we waited in the back of the church. The last of the guests were inside and then John came out to stand at the altar. The music started and I reached over to take Mama’s hand, squeezing it. John’s daughter Carla walked ahead of us carrying white lilies. She was hard to read and I still wasn’t quite sure how she felt about our families being joined. I guess it didn’t matter, because she wanted her dad to be happy and that was enough to make her overlook our oddities. The wedding march started and I took Mama’s hand to give her away.
It should have been Jeff’s job.
I wondered if he could see us from wherever people go after they die. I hoped he knew Mama was finally happy. Then I stopped thinking about Jeff because the stunned, almost worshipful look on John’s face as we came down the aisle filled my heart. I put their hands together, popping up on my toes to kiss first his cheek and then hers. I liked him. I liked him a lot, actually. He adored my mother and the feeling was mutual.
I stepped back and took my spot next to her as maid of honor. The minister started talking and that’s when I let myself look over at Horse for the first time. He stood strong and tall next to John’s grown son, Paulson. They wore matching tuxes, which I’d never imagined Horse would be willing to tolerate. He’d done it with grace though, telling me I’d find a way to pay him back.
I blushed, because that’s why I’d been late. He’d already started collecting.
They held the reception in the old Eagles lodge, where John was a lifelong member. Their first dance together was beautiful, and somehow Mama resisted the urge to smash cake on John’s face. She hadn’t been married to my father, so this was her first wedding. That seemed to please John in some weird way. I guess he liked the idea of being her only husband. Horse held my hand all through dinner, stealing little glances at me when he thought I wasn’t paying attention. It made me a little nervous—I knew him well enough to realize he was up to something. That could be very good. Once when he’d gotten that look, he’d taken me up to Canada for a surprise weekend at a gorgeous bed-and-breakfast.
Of course, last week I’d seen that look on his face the instant before Maggs dumped a bucket of water on me from the second floor of the armory.
I stood talking to Denise next to the dance floor when he struck, throwing me over his shoulder and carrying me out of the room to cheers and whistles. My mom’s voice was the loudest, something we’d be having words about later. I squawked as he hauled me up the stairs and out onto the roof. Then he set me down and I saw a blanket covered with red rose petals.
My eyebrows raised.
“I get that this is probably some romantic gesture, but what have you done with my old man?” I demanded, looking at him with narrowed eyes. “This isn’t your style, babe.”
Horse grinned, looking almost sheepish. Wow. Didn’t know Reapers could do sheepish.
“Your mom’s idea,” he said. “She said I couldn’t be trusted not to f**k things up. This is the price I paid to keep her from following us up here. C’mon.”
He took my hand and led me over to the blanket, standing in front of me and kissing my lips very softly. Then to my utter shock he lowered himself to one knee and took my hand.
“I feel like an ass**le because this is so corny,” he said, shaking his head. He started to get back up and I grabbed his shoulders, pushing them down hard.
“Ouch,” he said, glaring at me.
“Just say it,” I burst out, glaring back at him. “Don’t make me get my gun.”
“Fuck, am I ever going to live that down?” he asked, shaking his head. “You know they’re calling me your bitch at the armory now, does that make you happy?”
“I’m aware. Not my fault I had to save your big, bad, biker ass. You know what they say with guys who—”
“Shut the f**k up, Marie,” Horse said, rolling his eyes. “You gonna let me do this or what?”
“Okay,” I replied, feeling a little giddy. Sure it was corny, but it also kicked ass.
“Marie Caroline Jensen, will you do me the honor of being my permanent bitch?”
I smacked him on the side of his head as he burst out laughing, then aimed my foot for his nuts. He grabbed me, shoving me down onto the blanket and covering me with his body, still shaking with laughter.
“You’re going to ruin my dress.”
“I guess your mom was right—I am f**king this up.”
“Do it right or I’ll say no.”
“Marie Caroline Jensen, will you marry me?” he asked suddenly, looking right into my eyes. I bit my lip, trying to decide how long to drag it out. Maybe a little longer…he’d used the “b” word, I should probably make him suffer. I looked away, refusing to meet his eyes as he stopped laughing and grew still.
“Marie?” he asked, his voice suddenly strained. “Oh f**k, don’t do this to me, please. I—”
“Yes,” I said, catching his eye and smirking. “I’ll marry your big, dumb ass but only because you said the magic word.”
“Fuck? You’re right, that is a magic word. Let’s test it out.”
I burst out laughing, which only lasted for a few seconds before his mouth took mine, kissing me deeply. I felt the length of his erection between my legs and realized that whatever damage he’d already done to my outfit was probably just the beginning.