The ranch had been transformed for the big event, a huge clearing at the front of the house painstakingly perfected for the ceremony. It was a vision of tall grass and wildflowers, well-groomed where the guests were seated, with flowers planted all along the perimeter, but the rest left running wild with riotous white and violet wildflowers.

Large tents had been set up on the side of the property for the reception that would follow.

One of the living areas near the front of the house had been turned into my bridal party’s prep station. The groomsmen waited just outside, in the light-filled foyer, for the bridesmaids.

“Showtime,” Javier told us, grinning.

Stephan and Javier had been more impulsive than we had, and had already gotten married over Christmas. They’d had a gorgeous commitment ceremony in Bali, with a reception afterwards that had turned into a four-day long party with all of their closest friends. The entire trip had been magical, and I’d never seen two happier newlyweds. Even several months later, they were both still glowing with it.

Stephan was happier than I’d ever seen him. Two months ago, he’d even been contacted by one of his sisters. She had just turned eighteen, and moved away for college. She’d found him on Facebook, sending him an earnest message about wanting to meet him. She had apologized for the way he’d been treated by their family, though of course she’d been too young at the time to have anything to do with the way things had happened. Stephan had told me that they were getting to know each other slowly, but that they were chatting nearly every day now.

Javier blew us a kiss before letting the door swing back closed on him. He’d ended up as part of the groom’s party. Dividing our friends had turned into quite the debate. We’d had a row over who would get Stephan. The very idea had made me furious.

In the end, we’d decided on gender-bending wedding parties, with Frankie as James’s best woman, and Stephan as my best man. It only made sense. James had argued that he should get Lana, and I’d made a case for myself getting Javier, but in the end we’d let them choose, so Javier was a groomsmen, and Lana was mine. I knew it was a sign of how blessed we were, that our friends were so intertwined that they belonged to us both.

One of the biggest wedding party upheavals was kneeling at my feet, fretting about some minor detail on the hem of my gown. Jackie had taken some getting used to, but I’d more than gotten used to her. Our friendship had grown over countless thoughtful little notes that she’d left in my closet. Lana had been so right about her—that she needed to be challenged. Something in her nature held a constant need for it, and I didn’t mind obliging. First, I’d insisted on only wearing up and coming designers’ clothes for months, which had made her want to pull her hair out, but I saw that she grew to love the idea, the discovery of new designers presenting that challenge that she craved.

She’d learned to respect me, and as that respect had budded, so had our friendship. And when we’d begun to hunt for my wedding gown, it had grown into a bonafide bond. I’d realized that I had room in my heart for another sister.

Jackie and I hadn’t taken to each other right away, but you wouldn’t know it now. As she’d obsessed over finding the perfect dress, I’d begun to tell her little details that I might like for a gown, and she had added her own persistent suggestions. When she’d begun to make elaborate sketches for the elusive dress, I’d been impressed with her vision, and made the offhanded suggestion that she should design it herself. She’d taken that suggestion to heart, and designed the perfect gown for me. I knew by her talent, and the way the task seemed to fulfill her, that it wouldn’t be her last.

The women began to file from the room, giving me encouraging looks before they left. The looks made me feel a bit like a crazy woman, since they told me clearly that everyone was still a little afraid that I would turn into a runaway bride.

Stephan and I peeked our heads around the corner to catch a glimpse of the altar.

James already stood there, looking too perfect to be real in a sharply tailored tuxedo. He wore the classic black jacket and trouser, with an off-white silk shirt, vest, and tie. His hair was styled artfully out of his face. Frankie stood next to him, decked out in her own sexy version of a tux.

He saw us looking and grinned. He knew I’d be nervous for this, just as I knew that he wouldn’t. We shared one of those complex looks that said we understood each other. His look took the form of an indulgent smile, and mine was a bit of a pained grimace. I ducked back into the room.

In addition to being my best man, Stephan was walking me down the aisle. That one hadn’t even been a question. He wore a tux that was nearly identical to James’s, but with a lavender silk tie. He kept an eye out for our cue to go, naming off the bridal party as they walked, and keeping me up to date on every detail, Stephan style.

“First is Elliot. He’s got the ring on top of his head, and he’s hopping.”

I giggled.

“Now it’s Parker and Sophia. They’re right on his tail, in case he runs off. Oops, he made a dash… No, he’s okay now. I think he was just faking them out.”

We shared a grin. Elliot was too adorable.

“Next up are Lana and Akira. He looks mean as ever, and she is the picture of elegance. Seeing them side by side, they just make sense, but you’d have to see it to believe it, since they’re so dissimilar.”

I had to agree with that observation.

“Now it’s Murphy and Judith. They actually look like they’re trying to behave themselves. I was expecting a little dance down the aisle, YouTube style.”

“Murphy asked me if he could dance, and I said I didn’t mind, as long as no one expected me to,” I said.

“Oh, well, there he goes. They’re doing that shuffle dance. It definitely looks like they practiced.” We shared a laugh.

“And now Javier and Marnie,” Stephan continued. “He looks sexy as hell, and he just winked at me as he passed the door. Now it’s Jessa and Damien. They have huge smiles on their faces.”

He paused watching, his smile fading just a touch. “Next up are Tristan and Danika. It hurts my heart to see those two around each other.”

I knew just what he meant. There was still such a feeling of unresolved issues when the two of them got together. Danika hadn’t been thrilled with the pairing, but she’d been a good sport about it. Always, though, she treated Tristan with cool civility.

“Sven Jr. and Adele are up. They look very model-y.”

“Is that a real word?” I asked playfully.

“Sure. Last up are Jackie and Camden,” he continued. “He just gave her a roguish smile, and she took his arm without sparing him a glance. They make a strange pairing.”

I had to agree. Lana’s brother, Camden, was the opposite of Jackie in just about every way I could think of. He was tall and muscular, with wavy golden hair like his sister, and those same startling violet eyes. He dwarfed the tiny figure of Jackie, and was as playful as she was serious.

Stephan stepped back from the open doorway when the last couple had departed, moving quickly to adjust my skirt, smoothing out my short lace train.

The dress had turned out exquisitely. It was pale cream, with intricate gold-threaded lace, and lush detailing along every inch. It was sleeveless, with a high-collared neckline of sheerest lace, so sheer that my locked-on choker was clearly visible underneath. Jackie’d had the enterprising idea of cutting a hole out for the hoop in the collar, and it had worked perfectly. My choker looked like part of the dress. Underneath I wore a plain white, strapless sheath that came to just above my knees. The lace gown overlaying that was longer, the hem touching the floor, the train trailing lightly behind me. I’d had to be talked into a train, and we’d finally compromised on one that no one would have to carry for me.

He handed me my large bouquet. It was a lovely mix of violet lilies, purple roses, and tidy little white calla lilies. The same flowers had been interwoven into a wreath on my head, showcasing my long hair, which had been painstakingly curled into ringlets that hung down my back.

He touched my cheek lightly, a world of joy in his twinkling blue eyes, before offering me his arm. We began our slow-paced walk down the flower-lined aisle, the sun at our backs, our movements synched from years of perfect accord.

James was a jealous man, the most possessive man I’d ever met. I doubted that there was a thing about me that he didn’t consider his. But he had never made me choose, never made me question or compromise one thing about my relationship with Stephan. He had only accepted, as much as that acceptance must have gone against all of his natural inclinations. I thought that was perhaps the surest sign of his love for me—that he would so obviously put my needs before his own. His love was such a beautiful thing, always so perfectly suited to my own needs, and so unselfish in its way.

He’d made me a believer. We’d been together for nearly a year now, and I was well and truly convinced that we really were made for each other. Life wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close.

I had thought that looking at Stephan would make me lose it today, but as we drew closer, I realized that the look in Mr. Beautiful’s eyes would be my real undoing. He didn’t bother to hide from our guests those tender eyes that he had just for me. No one there could doubt that he was crazy about me. I didn’t know how I’d ever doubted it myself. Though I had seen the world with different eyes back then. How could I have known that I was being swept into my very own fairytale? I’d never believed in such things.

Stephan handed me to James when we got into reach. James gave me his softest smile, one hand rising to brush the one lone tear that had managed to make its way silently down my cheek.

Abruptly, he pulled me close and kissed me. It lasted long enough, and held enough passion, to draw loud cheers and guffaws from the crowd, and one loudly cleared throat from the minister. I was breathless as he pulled back with a wicked smile.

“It was that or drag you into the nearest room. I couldn’t have you wearing that kissable look for the entire ceremony and not address it,” he murmured to me, shameless as ever.

I was still recovering as the minister began to speak. I let the official words wash over me, my eyes steady, if a little moist, on my love’s.

“We are gathered here today to take part in the most time-honored celebration of the human family, uniting this man and woman in marriage,” the minister began.

I listened to each word of the ceremony carefully, trying to take it all in, but my eyes didn’t waver from his.

We recited our vows, and my voice was as steady as I could make it for my own part. We had opted for short, traditional ones, because I had a strong aversion to public speaking.

Tears ran silently down my cheeks for a lot of it, but James held it together for the most part. That is, right until the end, when the minister was reciting a small part that James had wanted to add.

The minister read, quoting the Benediction of the Apaches.

“Now you will feel no rain,

For each of you will be shelter to the other.


Tags: R.K. Lilley Up in the Air Erotic
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