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“It’s absolutely true. Subtle, nimble wrist movements are the key to playing the correct note on the mandolin and no matter how many times I tried, I just couldn’t get it down.”
“Tell her the rest,” Xander interjects.
River rolls his eyes. “Okay, so my dad knew I was getting frustrated and tried teaching me by using the only other hit song featuring a mandolin.”
Xander laughs loudly again. “Man, I can still picture it,” he manages between snorts.
I move to sit up but River reaches out to stop me and continues, ignoring Xander. “My dad was teaching me how to play ‘Maggie May,’ so I watched some of Rod Stewart’s music videos and Xander walked in when I was practicing Rod’s walk from the ‘Hot Legs’ video. I had decided to give up my attempts at the mandolin and decided I’d rather move like Rod.”
All three of us burst out in a chorus of laughter and the vision in my head is priceless. God, sometimes it feels like my heart will burst with love for River. Everything about him drives me wild but especially his sense of humor.
His gaze captures mine and although we’re having a conversation with his brother, we’ve somehow moved from playful touches to sensual caresses. His hand rests on my stomach and his fingers are under the hem of my shirt resting on my bare skin. I’m drawing lines back and forth across each muscle of his washboard abs. The lower I get, the heavier he breathes. Leaning down, his soft lips meet mine and I wrap my arms around his neck and press harder. We get lost in each other for a moment and a small moan escapes my throat.
Xander clears his throat. “The windows are steaming up. Could you stop acting like a couple of teenagers?” Then he turns the radio up.
It’s shortly before dawn when Xander drops us off at home. With coffees in hand we sit outside and watch the sunrise. I’m content to sit near him quietly and appreciate the company, but in the calm of the bright crisp morning River asks me, “Why are we waiting to get married?”
He kisses my hair and continues, “It seems like all I was really doing was waiting for you my whole life anyway, and I don’t want to wait anymore.”
I shift so I’m lying on my side and can look up at him. “I’m not really sure. But, when you put it that way, I don’t want to wait either.”
“How would you feel if we charter a plane to Las Vegas and get married today? I can have it arranged in a matter of hours. We can fly up there, get married, and be back here by sunset.”
“You don’t mind if your family’s not there?”
He hesitates only a moment before pulling me closer. His arms tighten around me as the green depths of his eyes stare into mine. “I won’t be satisfied until I wake up next to my wife every morning. Dahlia, all I want is you and me forever. We can celebrate later once you’re feeling better. We can even have another ceremony here, but what happened in the hospital I never want to happen again. So will you marry me today?”
He’s romantic, fearless, and full of life and I love every inch of him. I loop my arms around his neck and my lips find his. Smiling at him as the sun rises and with the Hollywood sign as our backdrop, I say, “River Wilde, I would love to marry you today.”
He groans against my mouth and the sound echoes through my skin, making me smile even more. He kisses me. Then he kisses me again. Then some more. Once we’re both breathless he moves me enough to stand up. His smile, the real one, breaks across his face. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.”
I have no intention of going anywhere, so he’s safe. When he comes back he has Stella firmly in his clutch. Joy radiates from him and there’s a familiar gleam in his eyes as he sits down at the end of the lounge chair with the guitar. The slight breeze in the air blows his hair. I move toward him and rest my chin on his shoulder, my front to his back. His hot skin awakens all my senses.
I peer down and watch as his hand dances over the strings and he starts singing “You and Me.” As he plays I can feel every motion of his body as if I’m the one playing. Curling my hand around his hip I feel him shudder as heat travels through my arm. My eyes shift to his face and it’s a picture of what is real, what is right in my life, and what we have . . . true love everlasting.
He sings the final verse, “The clock never seemed so alive,” into my ear and I shiver as his warm breath grazes the skin of my neck. I could watch him play and listen to him sing a thousand times over and never grow tired of it. Not ever. He cocks his head to mine and picks the last notes on his strings as the sound of his music fills the air and I can’t help but think how lucky I am to get to spend the rest of my life with him.
A few hours later I’m sitting at the breakfast bar having just finished up a security system lesson with Caleb, when the doorbell rings. I know who it is before River has answered it. Aerie screams, “There you are! How are you?”
It’s only been sixty minutes since I called to tell her we were home and she’s already here. She runs over and I stand up slowly. My body aches much more today than it has since the incident, probably from sitting in the car on the ride home. “I’m okay—really! I look much worse than I actually feel.”
“I’m so sorry I didn’t come to see you in the hospital. Work has been crazy,” she says before throwing her arms around me in a tight embrace. I wince a little and she pulls away. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you!” Her face is full of concern—this woman who has helped me in more ways than I could ever count. Of course she’s here now. And she’s a vision of perfection in her red shift dress and black high heels, with a matching headband.
“I’m fine,” I lie so she doesn’t feel bad. I’ve talked to her on the phone so many times since I was hospitalized I think she knows more about the incident than River does.
“What’s going on at work?”
Rolling her eyes she says, “The owner’s son decided he wants to be more involv . . . ,” but before she can finish she’s giving me a speculative glance. “Why are you dressed like that?”
“Dressed like what?” I coyly ask, trying to keep my smile from exploding.
“You’re wearing a dress! In fact, you’re dressed like you’re going somewhere when you should be in sweats and lying in bed. You even have heels on. You never wear heels unless I make you.”
I glance over my shoulder to see River standing in the kitchen with Caleb. He nods his head. I’m so excited I just blurt it out, “We’re leaving this afternoon for Las Vegas to get married!”
She claps and jumps up and down with excitement then suddenly stops. “Wait a minute! You are not eloping, Dahlia London. You can’t. I want to see you get married.” She hugs me tightly again before pulling away. “Sorry, sorry,” she says, wiping the tears from her cheeks and trying to gain her composure.
I start to feel a little guilty, but rapidly try to push those feelings aside. “We’ll have a party after the band’s tour and all of us can celebrate then, okay?”
River comes around the counter and hugs Aerie before whispering something in her ear. Pulling me into his side he says, “We’ll celebrate later, but we want to get married now.”
“Is it safe for you to travel?” Aerie says with concern.
Nodding my head I try to convince her not to worry. “Really, Aerie, I feel fine. I promise.”
River kisses my hair softly. “Coffee?” he asks Aerie.
“No, you know I don’t drink that stuff. It’s pure octane and tastes like it, too.”
Laughing, he walks back into the kitchen, mumbling, “I don’t know how anyone survives without caffeine.”
River’s phone rings and I hear him say, “Xander, I told you I’m not meeting her today or tomorrow. I don’t give a shit what she wants.” I give River a concerned glance and he nods at me, flashing me what I know to be his make-believe smile. Once he ends the call, he turns to me. “Dahlia, I have a few things to take care of. Will you be okay?”
Aerie shoos him away. “She’ll be fine,” she says and pulls me over to the sofa.
River comes over and kisses me again. “You sure?”
“I’m fine. Go already,” I tell him, kissing him back.
“Okay. Caleb is in the music room if you need anything. He set up his computer in there for now. I won’t be long.”
Aerie and I talk for a while. Once she feels she has wrung every ounce of information from me, she stands and says, “I’ll be back in an hour. Don’t leave until I get back. I mean it!”
“Where are you going?” I glance at the clock.
“It’s a surprise. Wait for me. Please?”
“Okay, you have an hour, that’s it.”
She waves at me as she rushes out the door.
With minutes to spare she returns holding a gray suit bag in one hand and a shopping bag in the other. She leads me to my bedroom.
“Every princess has to have a wedding dress to get married in,” she says as she unzips the bag and pulls out the most beautiful white silk dress. Simple, yet elegant. It’s a sleeveless cocktail-length dress with a deep V-neck and A-line skirt adorned with tiny pearls. There’s also gorgeous, yet subtly patterned silk embroidery on the bodice, making it special enough for the occasion but not overwhelmingly fancy. It’s perfect.
She sits me on the bed and pulls out a simple pair of silver high heels and slips them on my feet. “Just like Cinderella, Dahlia, you got your Prince Charming,” she says as a tear slides down her cheek. She pulls one more item out of the bag for me. I look at the beautiful white band of fabric with small blue jewels all around it as I take it out of the box. “The dress is your something new, here is your something blue.” It’s a garter and as she takes it from my hand, she slips it on my leg and up to my thigh; I laugh at her need to make sure I follow the typical bridal wedding traditions.
Once she has powdered and primped me, covering my bruises as best she can with makeup, she stands up and removes the pearl earrings from her ear. “And these are your something borrowed.” They are her great-grandmother’s pearl earrings, the ones I’ve always loved. I remove my earrings and insert hers, then stand to look in the mirror. Now I really look like a bride. I throw my arms around her despite the pain shooting through me. “I love you, Aerie Daniels, forever and always. Thank you so much!”
“You don’t have to thank me. I can’t have my best friend getting married in just anything. And to be honest I was afraid you might end up in your Converse sneakers.” I puff out a laugh and grab my camera. I hold it out in front of us and snap a picture. She’s been my best friend for so long, I want to remember this time with her forever.
Aerie and I say our goodbyes—she has to get back to work—and I find myself alone, thinking about how drastically my life has changed over the past year. When I catch sight of my Grammy’s pearls hanging on the mirror, I walk over to the dresser and pull down my something old. As I slip them around my neck, I have an odd déjà vu feeling. Today I’m going to marry the man who turned my life around; the man who taught me to love again. I thought Ben was my once-in-a-lifetime, but who knew a once-in-a-lifetime love could happen twice?
I feel so incredibly happy but a sudden sadness washes through me for those I’ve lost and I shift my eyes to the ceiling to say a silent prayer for each of them. I tell my mother and father I wish they could be here with me today. I thank my uncle for looking after me and keeping me on the right path. I think of my aunt and her mother and how they taught me that life is full of magic. Then I whisper to Ben, the man I intended to marry who was taken too soon, that I will always love him and he will forever hold a special place in my heart, as my first true love. I finish looking in the mirror and take a deep breath. I’m ready.
The battery in my cell phone is almost dead and I hope I have time to charge it. I walk into the empty living room and head over to the kitchen to get my charger. Once I’ve plugged it in, I turn around and see his gorgeous silhouette framing the doorway. He walks toward me, looking irresistible.
All I can do is stare at him because today I get to marry this man.
River’s mouth slowly curves into a smile. “You look amazing.”
I return his smile and walk toward him. We meet in the middle and he gathers me close, whispering in my ear, “Come on, beautiful, you don’t need that today.”
We break apart, both of us ready to take the next step. His phone rings and he pulls it from his pocket. I glance at the screen and see it’s his brother. He ignores it. I’m looking up at him while I ask, “Hey, what’s going on with Xander? What was that with him on the phone earlier?”
He looks back at me and shakes his head. “You know Xander, he always wants what he wants now.”
“And he wants what right now?”
“He wants me to meet with Ellie.”
“She’s his contact for the label. Nothing to worry about now, though.”
He places soft kisses on my forehead. He pulls back and gazes into my eyes with a look of adoration that I love. “Are you ready to become my wife?”
My legs start to quiver as I pull back to look at his handsome face. “Only if you promise to love me forever.”
He cups my cheeks and says, “Beautiful, I made that promise to myself the first time I kissed you. I promised to love you always. How could I not?”