“What do you mean? Are you crazy?” she asked, her head jerking up to look into my eyes.
“I’ve never been so clear about anything in my life. I turned around, made my way to that room you were in, and there you were. Nothing else mattered. I didn’t even know if we would make it out or not, I just wanted to be where you were, whatever that meant. The only thing I’m afraid of is a life without you, Pigeon.”
Abby leaned forward, softly kissing my lips. When our mouths parted, she smiled. “Then you have nothing to be afraid of. We’re forever.”
I sighed. “I’d do it all over again, you know. I wouldn’t trade one second if it meant we were right here, in this moment.”
She took in a deep breath, and I gently kissed her forehead.
“This is it,” I whispered.
“The moment. When I watch you sleeping . . . that peace on your face? This is it. I haven’t had it since before my mom died, but I can feel it again.” I took another deep breath and pulled her closer. “I knew the second I met you that there was something about you I needed. Turns out it wasn’t something about you at all. It was just you.”
Abby offered a tired smile as she buried her face into my chest. “It’s us, Trav. Nothing makes sense unless we’re together. Have you noticed that?”
“Noticed? I’ve been telling you that all year!” I teased. “It’s official. Bimbos, fights, leaving, Parker, Vegas . . . even fires . . . our relationship can withstand anything.”
She lifted her head, her eyes fixed on mine. I could see a plan forming behind her irises. For the first time, I didn’t worry what her next step would be, because I knew in my core whatever path she chose, it would be a path we walked together.
“Vegas?” she asked.
I frowned, forming a line between my brows. “Yeah?”
“Have you thought about going back?”
My eyebrows shot up in disbelief. “I don’t think that’s a good idea for me.”
“What if we just went for a night?”
I glanced around the dark room, confused. “A night?”
“Marry me,” she blurted out. I heard the words, but it took a second for them to register.
My mouth widened into a ridiculous grin. She was full of shit, but if that was what helped get her mind off what we’d just gone through, I was happy to play along.
She shrugged. “We can book a flight tomorrow. It’s spring break. I don’t have anything going on tomorrow, do you?”
“I’m callin’ your bluff,” I said, reaching for my phone. Abby lifted her chin, making a show of her stubborn side. “American Airlines,” I said, watching her reaction closely. She didn’t flinch.
“American Airlines, how can I help you?”
“I need two tickets to Vegas, please. Tomorrow.”
The woman looked up a flight time, and then asked how long we were going to stay.
“Hmmmm . . .” I waited for Abby to give in, but she didn’t. “Two days, round-trip. Whatever you have.”
She rested her chin on my chest with a big smile, waiting for me to finish the call.
The woman asked for my payment information, so I asked Abby for my wallet. That was the point I thought she would laugh and tell me to hang up the phone, but she happily pulled out the card from my wallet and handed it to me.
I gave my credit card numbers to the agent, glancing up at Abby after each set. She just listened, amused. I said the expiration date, and it crossed my mind that I was about to pay for two plane tickets we probably wouldn’t use. Abby did have a hell of a poker face, after all. “Er, yes ma’am. We’ll just pick them up at the desk. Thank you.”
I handed Abby the phone, and she placed it on the night stand.
“You just asked me to marry you,” I said, still waiting for her to admit she wasn’t serious.
“That was the real deal, you know. I just booked two tickets to Vegas for noon tomorrow. So that means we’re getting married tomorrow night.”
My eyes narrowed. “You’re going to be Mrs. Maddox when you start classes on Monday.”
“Oh,” she said, looking around.
I raised an eyebrow. “Second thoughts?”
“I’m going to have some serious paperwork to change next week.”
I nodded slowly, cautiously hopeful. “You’re going to marry me tomorrow?”
She grinned. “Uh-huh.”
“I fucking love you!” I grabbed each side of her face, slamming my lips against hers. “I love you so much, Pigeon,” I said, kissing her over and over. Her lips had trouble keeping up.
“Just remember that in fifty years when I’m still kicking your ass in poker.” She giggled.
“If it means sixty or seventy years with you, baby . . . you have my full permission to do your worst.”
She raised one eyebrow. “You’re gonna regret that.”
“I bet I won’t.”
Her sweet grin turned into the expression of the confident Abby Abernathy I saw hustling pros at the poker table in Vegas. “Are you confident enough to bet that shiny bike outside?”
“I’ll put in everything I have. I don’t regret a single second with you, Pidge, and I never will.”
She held out her hand and I took it without hesitation, shaking it once, and then bringing it to my mouth, pressing my lips tenderly against her knuckles.
“Abby Maddox . . . ,” I said, unable to stop smiling.
She hugged me, tensing her shoulders as she squeezed. “Travis and Abby Maddox. Has a nice ring to it.”
“Ring?” I said, frowning.
“We’ll worry about rings later. I sort of sprung this on you.”
“Uh . . .” I trailed off, remembering the box in the drawer. I wondered if giving it to her was even a good idea. A few weeks ago, maybe even a few days ago, Abby might have freaked out, but we were past that now. I hoped.
“Don’t freak out,” I said. “I kind of . . . already took care of that part.”
I stared up at the ceiling and sighed, realizing my mistake too late. “You’re going to freak out.”
“Travis . . .”
I reached for the drawer of the nightstand, and felt around for a moment.
Abby frowned, and then blew her damp hair from her eyes. “What? You bought condoms?”
I laughed once. “No, Pidge,” I said, reaching farther into the drawer. My hand finally touched the familiar corners, and I watched Abby’s expression as I pulled the small box from its hiding place.
Abby looked down as I placed the small velvet square on my chest, reaching behind me to rest my head on my arm.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“What does it look like?”
“Okay. Let me rephrase the question: When did you get that?”
I inhaled. “A while ago.”
“I just happened to see it one day, and I knew there was only one place it could belong . . . on your perfect little finger.”
“One day when?”
“Does it matter?”
“Can I see it?” she smiled, her gray irises shining.
Her unexpected reaction caused another wide smile to stretch across my face. “Open it.”
Abby lightly touched the box with one finger, and then grasped the golden seal with both hands, slowly pulling the lid open. Her eyes widened, and then she slammed the lid shut.
“Travis!” she wailed.
“I knew you’d freak out!” I said, sitting up and cupping my hands over hers.
“Are you insane?”
“I know. I know what you’re thinking, but I had to. It was The One. And I was right! I haven’t seen one since that was as perfect as this one!” I inwardly cringed, hoping she didn’t pick up on the fact that I’d just admitted how often I actually looked at rings.
Her eyes popped open, and then she slowly peeled her hands from the case. Trying again, she pulled open the lid, and then plucked the ring from the slit that held it in place.
“It’s . . . my God, it’s amazing,” she whispered as I took her left hand in mine.
“Can I put it on your finger?” I asked, peering up at her. When she nodded, I pressed my lips together, and then slid the silver band over her knuckle, holding it in place for just a second or two before letting go. “Now it’s amazing.”
We both stared at her hand for a moment. It was finally where it belonged.
“You could have put a down payment on a car for this,” she said quietly, as if she had to whisper in the ring’s presence.
I touched her ring finger to my lips, kissing the skin just ahead of her knuckle. “I’ve imagined what this would look like on your hand a million times. Now that it’s there . . .”
“What?” She smiled, hoping for me to finish.
“I thought I was going to have to sweat five years before I’d feel like this.”
“I wanted it as much as you did. I’ve just got a hell of a poker face,” she said, pressing her lips against mine.
As much as I wanted to undress her until the only thing she had on was my ring, I nestled back against the pillow, and let her rest her body against mine. If there was a way to focus on something other than the horror of that night, we’d managed it.
Mr. and Mrs.
ABBY STOOD ON THE CURB, HER HAND HOLDING THE only two fingers I had free. The rest were gripping bags or trying to flag down America.
We had driven the Honda to the airport two days prior, so Shepley had to drop his girlfriend off at her car. America insisted on being the one to pick us up, and everyone knew why. When she pulled up to the curb, she looked straight ahead. She didn’t even get out to help with the bags.
Abby hobbled to the passenger seat and got in, babying the side she’d just inked with my last name.
I tossed the bags in the hatchback, and then pulled on the handle of the backseat. “Uh . . . ,” I said, pulling on it again. “Open the door, Mare.”
“I don’t think I will,” she said, whipping her head around to glare at me.
She pulled forward a bit, and Abby tensed. “Mare, stop.”
America slammed on the brakes, and raised an eyebrow. “You nearly get my best friend killed at one of your stupid fights, then you bring her to Vegas and marry her when I’m out of town, so not only can I not be the maid of honor, but I can’t even witness it?”
I pulled on the handle again. “C’mon, Mare. I wish I could say I’m sorry, but I’m married to the love of my life.”
“The love of your life is a Harley!” America seethed. She pulled forward again.
“Not anymore!” I begged.
“America Mason . . . ,” Abby began. She tried to sound intimidating, but America shot a glare in her direction so severe, it left Abby cowering against the door.
The cars behind us honked, but America was too enraged to pay attention.
“Okay!” I said, holding up one hand. “Okay. What if we uh . . . what if we have another wedding this summer? The dress, the invites, the flowers, everything. You can help her plan it. You can stand next to her, throw her a bachelorette party, whatever you want.”
“It’s not the same!” America growled, but then the tension in her face relaxed a bit. “But it’s a start.” She reached behind her and pulled up the lock.
I yanked on the handle and slid into the seat, careful not to speak again until we reached the apartment.
Shepley was wiping down his Charger when we pulled into the apartment parking lot. “Hey!” He smiled and hugged me first, and then Abby. “Congratulations, you two.”
“Thanks,” Abby said, still feeling uneasy from America’s temper tantrum.
“I guess it’s a good thing America and I were already discussing getting our own place.”
“Oh, you were,” Abby said, cocking her head at her friend. “Looks like we weren’t the only ones making decisions on our own.”
“We were going to talk about it with you,” America said defensively.
“No hurry,” I said. “But I would like some help today getting the rest of Abby’s stuff moved over.”
“Yeah, sure. Brazil just got home. I’ll tell him we need his truck.”
Abby’s eyes darted between the three of us. “Are we going to tell him?”
America couldn’t contain her smug smile. “It’ll be hard to deny with that big-ass rock on your finger.”
I frowned. “You don’t want anyone to know?”
“Well, no, it’s not that. But, we eloped, baby. People are going to freak out.”
“You’re Mrs. Travis Maddox, now. Fuck ’em,” I said without hesitation.
Abby smiled at me, and then looked down at her ring. “That I am. Guess I better represent the family appropriately.”
“Oh, shit,” I said. “We gotta tell Dad.”
Abby’s face turned white. “We do?”
America laughed. “You sure are expecting a lot from her already. Baby steps, Trav, Jesus.”
I sneered at her, still irritated that she wouldn’t let me in the car at the airport.
Abby waited for an answer.
I shrugged. “We don’t have to do it today, but pretty soon, okay? I don’t want him hearing it from anyone else.”
She nodded. “I understand. Let’s just take the weekend and enjoy our first few days as newlyweds without inviting everyone into our marriage just yet.”
I smiled, pulling our luggage from the hatchback of the Honda. “Deal. Except one thing.”