James, her ridiculously possessive fiancé, couldn’t join her for several days, and I picked her up myself from the airport for some one-on-one girl time. Well, as one-on-one as we could get, since she had a full-time bodyguard that tried to follow her everywhere. Considering that she’d been shot just a few months ago, I couldn’t completely blame her crazy future husband for going to such lengths. Two men had died in the attack, and she, her bestie, and her bodyguard had all been shot. I had heard about the whole thing after the fact, when she was in the hospital. I thought of how worried I’d been when I heard about the tragic incident. They’d known she would live by the time I learned of the attack, but I’d rushed to her side, completely distraught. I couldn’t even imagine how James must have felt.
We hugged. She tried to pull away first, but I held on tight. “Thank you so much for coming,” I said into her good ear. “I know it must have been a fight. Is James still having a hard time letting you out of his sight?”
She laughed, and I pulled back to look at her. Her hair nearly covered the quarter-sized, pink scar back near her jaw. It still made me want to cry every time I saw it. Not because it looked that bad, but because I’d heard the story of how it had happened, and the thought that we had come so close to losing her was still a tender wound for me.
The scar got to me, but Bianca seemed completely over it. She didn’t try to hide it, or show it off. It was as though she’d already forgotten about it. Even the hearing aid that she’d had to adopt didn’t seem to affect her, and I’d only heard her complain one time about the fact that she hadn’t been able to eat solid food for over a month after the attack.
I’d made a comment once about the fact that a traumatizing incident that would have defeated most people seemed to have barely affected her.
“We were so lucky that it’s hard to sweat the small stuff anymore,” she’d responded with her little shrug. She was just like that, weathering storms in that quiet way of hers. She fascinated and impressed me in so many ways, because she was both one of the most soft-spoken, and one of the strongest women that I’d ever met.
“Jackie tried to come with me,” she told me, as we walked to my car. “I had to put my foot down. I wanted some time with just the two of us, but I guarantee she’ll be here within two days.”
I smiled. I could tell by her tone that Jackie was growing on her. “And how many days do you think James and Stephan will stay away?”
She pursed her lips, taking the question more seriously than I’d intended. “I predict they’ll come together, and if they don’t show up by tomorrow, I’ll be surprised. I actually think that Stephan will be the one to egg James on, because James is afraid he’s been too smothering since the attack, and Stephan would never think of it that way. The only girls’ time we’re guaranteed is today, most likely, so what should we do before my boys crash the party?”
I laughed at her matter-of-fact tone. She didn’t sound a bit put-out about it, either, which was good, because I couldn’t imagine James becoming less possessive of her time in the near or distant future.
“Well, we need to stop by for a last dress fitting. It shouldn’t take too long, so how about an afternoon at the spa?”
“Sounds like a plan,” she said easily.
We met Mari at the bridal shop. She was my maid-of-honor, and Bianca was a bridesmaid, but it was the first time the two of them had met. I was relieved but unsurprised when they got along right off the bat. Neither were the type to cause drama.
I tried on my short silk wedding dress, pleased with the fit. It was a simple design, and perfect for the beach. I couldn’t have been happier with how it had turned out. It hugged my curves in a flattering way, showing my legs off to advantage.
Mari and Bianca tried on their light blue silk dresses. They were designed very similarly to my wedding dress, and both of the stunning women were suited to the look, if in very different ways.
“Have the other bridesmaids pay me a visit as soon as they get into town,” the dressmaker told me as we left. The fitting hadn’t taken more than a half an hour. “The sooner the better.”
I nodded that I would. Sophia and Jackie weren’t due in town for three more days, but I would pass the message along.
We spent a long, lazy afternoon at the spa, Mari joining us as we caught up on every little thing. Tutu showed up within an hour of our arrival, and Bianca and I good-naturedly gave up on a day of one-on-one time. There was plenty of time for that later, when we weren’t in the midst of wedding madness.
I could tell right away that Tutu liked Bianca, but that she liked messing with her, too.
“You aren’t another tall blonde woman that’s here to steal our local men, are you?” Tutu asked Bianca with a glare, as we had our toes done. “Around here, we smack the nerve right out of white girls for doing that.”
Bianca wasn’t intimidated, as Tutu had been expecting. Instead, she threw her head back and laughed. She pointed at Tutu, still smiling. “I’ve heard all about you, Tutu. Lana warned me that you might call me a haole and give me a hard time. I’m ready for you. But you don’t have to worry about me stealing any men. I’m engaged, and he’s not a local, though when you get a look at him, you’ll still probably want to smack me.”
Tutu grinned back at her. “You’re another sassy blonde girl. I like that.”
I was relieved. When Tutu decided to dislike somebody, things got a little too interesting. I could only hope that she wouldn’t take exception to any of my other bridesmaids.
Bianca was staying with me at my family estate, since it was the location of the wedding, and there was plenty of room for all of the mainland bridesmaids and groomsmen. Akira and I hadn’t even considered the idea of sleeping separately until the wedding, so he was staying there with me, as well.
He met us the second we all came, laughing, through the front door of the villa. He was smiling. I quickly saw why as two men appeared behind him.
Stephan didn’t hesitate, striding forward with a smile to embrace a startled Bianca, and then me. He politely introduced himself to Mari and Tutu while I glanced at James, who was still hanging back, studying Bianca with a wary look. I glanced at her.
She looked a little surprised, but not unhappy, that she’d been followed.
As though he couldn’t help himself, James moved to her, crushing her against him as he said something into her ear that had her blushing profusely as he pulled back.
“And how are you, Lana?” James asked, looking towards me with a grin.
I grinned back, knowing the part he’d played in my own personal bliss. “As well as you could expect, considering that I have the best friends in the world.”
Jackie and Camden, and Parker and Sophia all showed up two days later, my parents a day after that. Watching my father with Akira did something very good for my soul, especially with everything on the table as it now was.
My father greeted Akira before he even gave me, his favorite little girl, so much as a glance. I didn’t feel slighted, and I wasn’t the least bit worried about his approval. He, like me, had only ever seen the good in Akira.
The two men embraced, and I saw that my father said something into Akira’s ear that had the huge man looking suspiciously watery eyed.
I hadn’t heard my father’s words, but I did hear Akira’s clear, quiet response. “Thank you, sir. That means the world to me.”
My dad was in his fifties, but still a very handsome man. Camden and I both took after our mother in looks, but I thought that we’d both have been fine taking after him, too. Our dad was tall and elegantly built, with silver hair and warm brown eyes that at that moment somehow reminded me of Akira. He had the warmest, most enchanting smile, and it enchanted me more than ever when he turned it on Akira.
“Call me Dad,” I heard him say quietly to Akira, and I just about lost it. I had to fight not to burst into sappy tears, at the dumbfounded, grateful look on Akira’s face.
I asked Akira later what my father had said into his ear. He clenched his jaw, and I could see that he had to struggle not to get choked up at just the memory.
“He told me, ‘About damn time, son.’ I didn’t expect him to approve.”
“I know,” I told him, giving him a tight hug. “Which is silly. He thinks the world of you, you know. He always has.”
“I don’t feel worthy. Of either of you.”
I squeezed him tighter. “Well, you’re just going to have to get over that. We’re all family now. All we can hope is that Tutu doesn’t try to box my dad’s ears at the wedding.”
I wasn’t really worried about that possibility, but if I was just a touch worried, I needn’t have been. When Tutu and my father finally met again, face to face, they embraced for so long, whispering into each other’s ears, that my ravishingly beautiful mother had begun to shoot them some rather disgruntled looks. That was ridiculous, of course, because when they pulled back I saw the tears in Tutu’s eyes. After all these years, she had finally thanked him for all he had done to mentor her son. I could tell by the look on my dad’s face that it had been worth the wait.
As Tutu had predicted, the day of the wedding dawned sunny and picture perfect, and she took full credit for it.
Tutu wore light blue to match the bridesmaids for pictures, and she fussed over me as I dressed for the beach ceremony. I couldn’t help taunting her a little as she worked on straightening the lei around my neck, her lips pursed.
“I told you so, Tutu,” I told her quietly, with a smug little grin. It felt smug, but a happy kind of smug.
Her eyes shot up to mine, one sassy brow shooting straight for the sky. “What do you mean by that?”
“I told you years ago that I would marry Akira, and you told me it would never happen.”
She snorted. “Silly girl. This was all my idea, the whole time. I was using reverse psychology on you, and you fell for it. You’re welcome.”
I laughed so hard that I had to have my eye makeup redone.
We had a short ceremony on the beach at sunset, with less than a hundred guests in attendance. We watched each other as we said our vows. Akira’s face was stoic, but I could see the strong emotion in his eyes, and I was certain that he could read the adoration in mine.
I’d spent a little time regretting all of the years we could have been together, if I had just been brave enough to come back sooner, or if he had just been bold enough to contact me, but I felt at peace even with that, as I looked with clarity at the good years ahead of us. I knew that we would never take each other for granted, or fail to appreciate what we had. Our time apart had been painful, but it had forever assured us of that.
Akira gave me the biggest grin as we were announced man and wife. He looked breathtaking, his hair pulled back to show off his starkly handsome face, dressed in white, with a maile lei draped over his strong shoulders.
We had only invited about one hundred close friends and family to the beach ceremony, but the reception/wild party was a whole different story. There was only a short list of people on the island that weren’t invited. The family estate was opened up and equipped for a hell of a party.