Nodding at him, I drop my gaze and look into Ashlyn’s eyes.
“I stand before you, our family, and our friends and ask you, Ashlyn Keck, to be mine always,” I say, looking into her gorgeous face, feeling her pulse beat against my fingers wrapped around her wrists and I pull her closer, resting my forehead against hers. “For the rest of our lives, I will work at making you happy. In sickness, I will nurse you back to health. In health, I will encourage you to follow your dreams. In sadness, I will find a way to make you happy. And in happiness, I will be there to share your joy. There will never come a time when you are alone, because for the rest of our days, I will be by your side as your anchor, your strength, and the carrier of your heart, like you are the keeper of mine,” I whisper the last part, and watch tears fall from her eyes.
“Oh, God, there is no way I can top that,” she sobs, and I grin, swiping away the tears that have trekked down her cheeks.
“You don’t need to top it. All I ask is that you love me, baby,” I say softly, watching her eyes slide half-mast and her face soften even more.
“Forever,” she whispers, dropping her forehead to my chest before tilting her face up to look at me. “There will never be a day I don’t love you. There will never be a time I don’t choose you. Thank you for giving me this.” She rests her hand over my heart and my jaw clenches. “It’s the most beautiful gift I’ve ever received, and I’m honored you trust me with protecting it.”
“Christ.” I blink back the wetness in my eyes and take her left hand in both of mine. “This was a symbol of our start,” I state, toying with the plain white gold band around her finger. A band I put there on a wish that came true, a band I had no idea would mean everything to me. Then I reach into my pocket and take out the ring I’ve been carrying around since the moment I picked it up. “And this is a symbol of our forever,” I murmur, sliding the four carat diamond solitaire ring on her finger then lifting it to my lips, resting it there.
Her eyes move from mine to her hand and she covers her mouth, shaking her head. “I… I can’t believe you did all of this.”
Holding her against me, I move my mouth to her ear and speak only for her to hear, “I know we didn’t have the most traditional start, but I wanted you to have this moment to look back on. I wanted you to have a story to tell our kids one day, and I need you to know how important you are to me.” Leaning back, I swipe away the tears that are falling steadily from her eyes and watch her pull in a deep breath and look around.
“I didn’t need this moment.” She smiles softly, throwing her hand out before resting both hands against my chest, and my heart trips over itself. “Since the moment I woke up as your wife, I’ve had thousands of moments that have shown me how important me and my happiness are to you.” She pauses, pulling in another deep breath. “I didn’t need this ring.” She holds up her hand then grins. “I love it, and I’m totally keeping it.” I chuckle at that, and then watch her face soften. “But I didn’t need it. In the end, it’s just a ring. My devotion to you lives in here.”
She holds her hand over her heart then rests her hands back against my chest and leans closer. “I can’t wait to tell our kids how I married their dad in Vegas, and how the craziest thing I have ever done in my life was also the best and most beautiful thing I ever did,” she breathes, wrapping her arms around the back of my neck. “I love you more than I ever thought possible, and I wouldn’t change our story, even if I could.”
Clearing my throat that has suddenly closed up, I slide my hands around the curve of her waist, pull her up my body, and take her mouth like no one is watching, hearing a loud roar move through the crowd below.
Leaning back against the bar, I watch Ashlyn on the dance floor toss back her head and laugh, “Papa!” as her mom’s dad swings her around in circles. Since the moment dinner finished and the music started up, she has danced with one person after another, and the smile on her face hasn’t faltered once.
“I suppose my granddaughter did all right in marrying you.” Looking down, I smile at Ashlyn’s Memaw. The woman is a tiny thing, maybe four-eight, with long gray hair on her head, and a face I know I will one day see on her granddaughter.