I giggled and gave a half-hearted shake of my head. “Nah. We probably shouldn’t. Chloe would kill me if my parents didn’t. I think she’s more excited about it than we are,” I said on a laugh, but I couldn’t help the wistful tone of my words.

“You said we shouldn’t. You didn’t say we couldn’t. Leah, let’s do it. Let’s go get married!”

I blinked at him in surprise. “Seriously? You’re being serious right now. Really?”

He nodded, then threw down his napkin and got to his feet. He moved to my side before he dropped to one knee and took my hand in his, staring up into my eyes beseechingly. “Leah, will you run away and marry me?”

I grinned, my eyes filling up with tears. “You’re so goofy,” I said, my voice clogged with emotion. “But yes, you crazy man, I will run away with you and marry you!”

I leaned down and kissed him briefly, but only because pure pandemonium reigned around us as people broke into cheering and applause. I glanced around, my cheeks flushing as I found that we were the center of attention for the whole restaurant.

Ian took it in stride, standing up and pulling me up into his arms as he grinned widely at all the well-wishers.

I finally got him to sit back down and we finished breakfast, all the while nailing down the details of when we were going. I pulled out my phone and did some checking, but before we left the IHOP, we had a plan: by Christmas, I would be a married woman.

The next week flew by in a flurry of last minute preparations for Chloe and Brandon’s wedding the following weekend. We had the bachelorette party to look forward to just a day away, on Saturday night, and then it was the seven day countdown until The Big Day. Chloe was bouncing off the walls with excitement, even more so than usual, but who could blame her?

I had scheduled to have the Friday before the wedding off so that I could help Chloe out, much to the dismay of my students, but honestly, I think they were more upset that Gerry would be coming home with me on Thursday since I’d be gone on Friday and it was the weekend. I felt bad about it, because the kids absolutely love Gerry, but no way in hell would I leave him at the mercy of a room full of rambunctious kids and a substitute teacher that may not catch someone trying to smuggle him home in their underwear. (Thankfully that hadn’t happened anymore since the last time.)

I hadn’t taken the Friday off before the bachelorette party, because, let’s face it; I didn’t really need a whole day prep time to get ready to basically get wasted, and I already had all the favor bags packed up and waiting to be passed out.

Ian was going out with the guys for Brandon’s bachelor party on the same night, but we knew nothing about the details of it. They said that they were keeping it a real secret this time so we didn’t all end up at the same place. Chloe was worried because, of course, my brother got involved in the planning, just like he had been for Luke’s. I put her mind at ease a little bit, though, reminding her that Luke’s hadn’t been too over the top.

You know…except for Emma and Allie waking up on various kitchen surfaces…

Anyway. Thankfully, things had been quiet on the crazy stalker front. We’d been told that Victoria was out of the hospital and had been taken downtown to be booked and then released, because her dad was already there with the bond paid so she didn’t have to spend any real time sitting in the jail. We’d also been told that she looked positively dreadful with a swollen jawline and nose, and two sickeningly dark black eyes.

Those descriptions came via Ian’s Mother, who’d called and “apologized” (in her own roundabout way) for the way she tried to throw her son together with that “madwoman.” Ian had listened, rolling his eyes the whole time, and had ended the call with, “As soon as you apologize to Leah, then maybe we’ll see you at Christmas.”

I wasn’t holding my breath. I had a feeling I’d be dead by the time that happened.

Ian hadn’t mentioned anything about our engagement to her, nor had he told her that we were going to be married before Christmas down in Tennessee. We’d decided Vegas just wasn’t for us, wedding-wise, and Niagara Falls, while it would be absolutely breathtaking, would just be way too cold (because no way could you go there and not visit the falls), so Gatlinburg it was.

We’d found the cutest chapel down there that had gorgeous pictures of Christmas weddings they’d performed there. With the decorations and the snow, the place looked like it was straight out of a dream, absolutely breath-taking in its simplistic beauty.

I’d even managed to sneak away on Wednesday night and found a wedding dress that was perfect. It was basically a simple, white strapless gown, slim fitting at the top, then slightly flaring out at the hips into a full skirt, but it had an overlay of tulle to give it more of that floaty kind of look. The top of the dress had a long-sleeved, fitted overlay of scalloped lace that buttoned up the back, with a wide, boat-neck style that left the tops of my shoulders bare. Add in the white lace, peep-toe bootie shoes with the four inch heels I’d found and I was set.

What Ian didn’t know, though, was that I couldn’t go wedding dress shopping without my mom. It was hard enough to keep it a secret from my sisters and my best friend, but I think my mom would have had a coronary if I’d gone without her. So, she knew about the wedding, and I’m pretty sure she’s already got a plan in motion to attend.

I was completely okay with that, especially because it meant my dad could walk me down the aisle. I was pretty sure that, once I told Ian, he’d be okay with it, too. He’s kind of a great guy like that.

The day of the party dawned bright and beautiful…and super early, due to an overeager bride-to-be pounding on my door at a time no one should be up, especially on a Saturday. When I answered the door, I glared at her, but that didn’t dampen her spirits in any way.

“Why are you here at…what time is it?” I growled at her, squinting in the sunlight.

She shot me a weird look and glanced at her watch. “It’s almost nine. What the hell are you doing still sleeping?”

I yawned. “Uh, I don’t know, I was up late last night? But seriously, why are you here so early? I thought we weren’t meeting up until later this evening.”

She shrugged. “Yeah, well, I thought you and I would go to breakfast and hang out for the day, if that’s okay with you? Did you have something else planned before the party?”

“No,” I replied, moving aside to let her in. “C’mon in, just give me a sec to get dressed.”

She practically skipped into the kitchen, calling back her intent to make me a cup of coffee to get me going while I got ready.

Ian was awake when I walked into the bedroom. “What’s going on?”

“Chloe wants to hang out for the day before the party. Are you good with that? We’re gonna go to breakfast, right now. You could probably tag along, if you want. At least to eat…”

He shook his head, stretching his glorious body under the sheet. “Nah, I’m good. I’ll probably head over to see what Brandon’s up to, then. But before you do anything, you need to bring that sexy ass of yours over here and kiss me.”

I smiled at him before I jumped into bed, landing on my knees beside him. He pulled me into his arms across his body and pressed his lips to mine in a sweet, but totally toe-curling kiss.

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