“I doubt many people noticed your feet, Els.”
She kicked off her shoes and we all settled around the table, eating and planning. Well, Braden had done all the planning, so it was mostly just me nodding my head to his suggestions and covering Ellie’s mouth when she got too vocal in her opinions over the flowers.
We were just winding down when Ellie’s phone rang. It was Adam, requesting her company, although from the way she blushed I doubted the request was that polite or lacking in sexual innuendo.
She got up hurriedly, giving me a smile and her brother a kiss on the cheek. “This was fun. Thanks for letting me crash it. Speak soon!” She floated out of the kitchen, in her mind already out of the flat and with Adam.
“Tell Adam I said hey!” I called to her.
“Will do!” The door slammed in her wake.
I pushed my plate away, cupping my chin in my palm as I smiled at Braden. “Thank you for doing all this.”
“You’re welcome.” His smile turned into a yawn. He ran a hand through his hair, looking exhausted. “The only thing left to plan is the hen and stag nights.”
A hen party was what the Brits called a bachelorette party, and a stag night a bachelor party. “Won’t Ellie and Adam be organizing those?”
“Aye, at least that’s something.”
I huffed. “That’s okay for you to say. I doubt Adam is going to arrange an elegant tea party for yours.”
“Nah,” Braden grinned. “Casino night.”
I pouted. “I want a casino night.”
“Have a casino night. I’ll get Adam to nudge Ellie in the right direction.”
“We can’t end up in the same place for our parties.”
Braden leaned toward me, his gaze curious. “Why not?”
Surprised by the question since I thought the answer was pretty straightforward, I blinked a few times. “Uh, because it’s supposed to be a symbolic evening where we celebrate our last night of singledom.”
“But we’re not single. We’re married without the certificate. Let’s change the symbolism of it. We’ll celebrate together. We’ll celebrate how we mean to go on for the rest of our lives.”
I loved the way he looked at me. So full of . . . everything. “You could charm the pants off absolutely anyone,” I told him quietly.
He smirked. “I take it that means you like the idea?”
“I love the idea. I love everything you’ve said. But I know Ellie’s excited about this, so we’re going to give our friends what they want.”
“Adam mentioned strippers,” Braden warned me, his eyes twinkling.
“If Adam books a stripper for you, I’ll force Ellie to book a stripper for me.”
Chuckling, Braden relaxed back in his chair. “Let’s agree to no strippers.”
I raised my glass of water and waited for Braden to do the same. “To no strippers.”
“To no strippers,” he repeated.
“And let’s just make that a motto for our marriage.”
Laughing, Braden nodded. “I can guarantee it.”
I gestured to our plans and gave him a smile. “So are we done for the night? Can we lounge in front of a movie now?”
Together, we cleaned our dishes and cleared the wedding plans away. Half an hour later we lay on the sofa together, my head on Braden’s chest, his arm around my back, as we watched an action movie on pay-per-view.
Forty minutes in, I tilted my head back to look into his face and said, “Sometimes I can’t believe that I get to do this with you for the rest of my life.”
Surprised at my sentiment, Braden looked at me, eyes glittering with amusement. “What? Watch a movie?”
“Yes,” I answered honestly. “Lie in your arms and watch a crappy movie. It might seem simple to other people, but it’s everything to me.”
The amusement left his expression, quickly replaced with something far more intense as he reached up to stroke my cheek with his thumb. “I’m glad you’re quitting the bar.”
“Yeah. I’ve never liked you working there, and I miss you at the weekend.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Because you seemed happy. It’s sort of my life mission to make sure you stay that way,” he teased.
I grinned. “Gotcha. Well, mission accomplished. I have lots of new friends, so I don’t need the bar for a social life anymore. And I want to concentrate on my writing and on us. I’ll hand in my resignation this week.”
Braden nodded and squeezed me closer. “Sounds good, babe.”
Snuggling into him, I let out a contented sigh and turned my gaze back on the movie. “Pfft.”I mocked the screen as we soaked in each other’s warmth. “Like a cop would start shooting in a public place like that. What is this crap we’re watching?”
“Something about ‘everything to you,’ I believe.”
“Hmmph. Well, it will be if we become a little more discerning in our rental choices. Oh, God,” I groaned at the screen. “This guy is a tool.”
“Jocelyn?” Braden tightened his arm around me and I looked up at him to find him grinning. “Just so you know, this is everything to me too.” He bent down to give me a sweet kiss before turning back to the television. “Perhaps minus the commentary from the peanut gallery.”
Clark, Ellie’s stepdad, and thus father figure to Braden and me, threaded my arm through his elbow and patted my hand in a comforting way.
At the gesture, I glanced sharply at his kind face. “What? Do I look nervous?”
He smiled softly at me. “A little.”
“I don’t want to look nervous,” I whispered back.
Although his mouth didn’t laugh, his eyes definitely did. “Just take a deep breath.”
We were standing out of view of the double doors that had opened up onto the red-carpeted aisle of the church and my bridesmaids were already walking their way up it. It was nearly my turn.
I couldn’t believe our wedding day was here already. It didn’t seem that long ago that I’d woken up the day after my engagement to Ellie knocking on my door with a bunch of bridal magazines in her hands. Although I’d had moments of doubt, I’d fiercely fought them back.
It was kind of a shock then to find myself standing at the bottom of the aisle, freaking out.
Fuckity, fuckity, fuck, fuck.
I could not have a panic attack. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Braden. The problem was I was terrified I was going to find some way to fuck it up. Even after months of proving to myself that I was capable of being in a committed, loving relationship, I was still afraid. I was afraid I was going to hurt him.
“What if I mess this up?” I murmured.
Clark’s hand tightened over mine. “It’s not going to be perfect because no marriage is. You’re going to fight, clash, say things you don’t mean . . . When you love someone, these things can happen. But, Joss”—he dipped his head to meet my gaze—“the good you two will have together, will always outweigh any bad.” He smiled. “And I think Braden’s proved there’s not much you can do to chase him off.”
“True.” I squeezed his hand and took a shuddering, deep breath. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Now let’s do this.”
The strains of the guitarist and violinist grew louder as the double doors swung open, their beautiful instrumental version of Paul Weller’s “You Do Something to Me” sending shivers up my neck. We stepped out onto the carpeted aisle of the church and at first all I could see was the flowers, the guests who had turned to stare at me, their approving smiles, their curiosity. At the squeeze of Clark’s hand around mine where I clutched fiercely to my bouquet of white lilies interspersed with thin reeds of champagne gold, I began to focus. My eyes found my bridesmaids, Ellie, Hannah, Jo, Rhian, and Liv, dressed in their floor-length champagne-colored dresses, looking elegant and happy. The closer we got I could see Ellie was tearing up. I caught Elodie in the front pews along with Cam; Cole; Jo’s Uncle Mick; his new girlfriend, Dee; Cam’s best friends, Nate and Peetie; and Peetie’s girlfriend, Lyn. I didn’t have any family here so we’d decided not to divide the room into groom and bride sides. Still, there were just my colleagues from Club 39. Everyone else was associates or friends of Braden and the Nichols family. And of course his vapid socialite mother hadn’t turned up. She was feeling under the weather. More like we’d met at Christmas last year and I’d made my distaste for her clear and vice versa.
My eyes found Adam and Dec, who were standing on the opposite side of the altar. They wore the same as Clark and Braden—what was referred to as a Prince Charlie gray jacket and matching three-button waistcoat. Their silk champagne ties were intricately knotted against their dark gray shirts, and because the Carmichaels were associated with the Stewart clan they were wearing a subdued Stewart gray tartan. Adam’s kind, bolstering smile finally made me look at Braden.
I almost faltered on the walk up the aisle.
The look in his eyes was like a physical pressure on my chest. The love there caused my throat to constrict and I leaned more heavily against Clark as I attempted to float toward Braden in my wedding dress. My dress was simple. It was strapless with a heart-shaped neckline, and the upper half of the bodice was ivory with crystal beading and lace. The finest white silk chiffon pulled across the bodice in a tight drape, fitted to my waist. From my hips the layers of chiffon, shot through with silver, fell to the floor in simple elegance. I could tell by the look on Braden’s face as Clark and I approached that he liked the dress.
Still shaking, I kissed Clark on the cheek, so honored that he’d walked me down the aisle in absence of my father. I thanked him sincerely, almost choking up at the sheen of wetness in his eyes as he handed me over to Braden.