Pretend You're Mine
He gave her exactly one week to plan the wedding. “You’re not going through another Christmas without a family to smother you,” Luke told Harper. “And I’m not waiting any longer than that to call you my wife. You’re lucky I’m not dragging your ass to the JP at lunch today.”
In the end, instead of a guest list, they invited the entire town to the lakeside lodge on Christmas Eve. Four hundred and twenty-seven of their closest friends, family, and neighbors. The crowd was so big, Luke tapped every restaurant in town help with the catering. Dawson’s delivered 100 pizzas and a truckload of salad and garlic bread. The Greek and Chinese places set up side-by-side buffets that filled the lodge with competing delicious scents.
But it was the ceremony that had the town grinning through tears until the new year.
“Are you sure she’s here?” Luke paced the narrow strip of rug that covered the wide pine planks in the groom’s room.
“What? You think Harper changed her mind?” Aldo teased, adjusting his bowtie in the mirror.
“She could.” Luke swiped a hand over the back of his head. “I was such a dick. A stupid, dumbass dick.”
“Drink this,” Charlie pressed a glass of bourbon into Luke’s hand. “We’re all stupid, dumbass dicks from time to time. Thankfully they usually forgive us.”
Luke knocked back the glass without bothering to taste it.
“I’ll drink to that,” Ty said, lifting his own glass.
“Look, can someone just go make sure Harper’s here?” Luke felt like his tie was strangling him. He just wanted to see her, talk to her. Touch her.
“I’ll go,” Aldo volunteered.
Harper took a deep breath as she felt Sophie slide weight of the headpiece into her hair.
“Okay, you can look now,” her soon-to-be sister-in-law said.
Harper lowered her hands and stared in the mirror, but it wasn’t her own reflection she saw. It was that of the women who surrounded her. Joni, wiping a tear, from her eye. Claire, pressing her fingers to her lips. Sophie, Gloria, and Hannah in short black dresses grinning like hyenas.
Luke had given her so much more than a wedding day. He had given her a family.
Her eyes welled up.
“Don’t you dare!” Sophie yelped. “If you cry one tear you’ll ruin your makeup and right now you’re perfect.”
She really was. Harper took it all in. The simple strapless satin cinched at the waist with a glittery silver belt. Her blond hair had been styled into a whimsical updo accented again by the silver snowflake band.
Her cheeks were flushed. Her lips perfectly glossed. And her eyes, while perfectly lined and shadowed and mascaraed, were oh so happy.
“I just can’t believe this is happening. I love you all so much,” she breathed.
That started the waterworks.
Aldo knocked twice before giving up trying to be heard over the sniffling and sobbing. He stepped into the room to find a pile of women hugging in front of the mirror.
“Is everyone okay?”
They converged on him. Hugging him, kissing him.
“Okay, okay. Happy tears. Got it,” Aldo said, extricating himself. He pulled Gloria’s hand to his lips. “Luke sent me to make sure Harper was here.”
Tears turned to laughter.
“I’m serious. He’s wearing a hole in the rug over there.”
Harper wiped her eyes and held out her hands to him. “You look handsome. In a few months it will be you wearing a hole in the rug while Gloria cries happy tears.”
“I can’t wait,” he said earnestly. “But let’s get you through your perfect day first. Do you need anything before I report back to Luke that you’re here and actually planning to go through with it?”
“There is one thing …”
“What is so fucking important that you have to drag me away minutes before my wedding,” Luke grumbled. He didn’t want Aldo to know how deeply grateful he was for the distraction. If he had to spend one more minute in that room wondering if Harper was okay, if she was sure, if she had forgiven him, if he deserved her, he was going to finish the bottle bourbon and have to be carried down the stairs.
“There’s just this one last thing that needs to be taken care of,” Aldo said opening the door.
“That’s the attic. What needs taken care of in the attic?”
Aldo shoved him inside. “Just shut up and go up there. Trust me, you’ll thank me.” He slammed the door on Luke’s face.
Muttering to himself, Luke trudged up the stairs one and at time. He hated surprises.
But this one was worth it.
She was a vision in white. Standing by the bank of windows, her hands folded neatly in front of her, she was a sucker punch to his soul.
Luke doubled over to catch the breath that had been torn from him. “Harper,” her name was wrenched from his lips.
She floated to him, her face glowing with love, with happiness.
He pressed his fingers to his eyes, but the tears still came. She took his hands in hers, pulled them away from his face.
“I was afraid you’d change your mind,” he whispered, cupping her face.
Harper shook her head, her gray eyes dancing. “And miss the Italian, Chinese, Greek buffet downstairs? Never.”
“I wish there were words to tell you how much I love you. How beautiful you are. How lucky I am.” His voice shook and Harper’s eyes filled.
“I think you just did,” she said, a tear spilling over. “Now show me.”
Ever so tenderly he brought his lips to hers. It was a kiss that was filled with the purest of love. He felt his heart beat with it, felt it grow and pulse within him. His love for her was limitless. As was his need.
He would have ended the kiss there if she hadn’t moved in, hadn’t whimpered. Instead of retreating, he dove into the kiss, banking embers into flames. He ravaged her mouth, forcing her back until she was pressed against the timbers of the wall.
His hands roamed her bare shoulders, her arms. His fingers curled into the bodice of her dress intending to yank it down when Aldo’s voice broke through from the bottom of the stairs.
“Stop mauling the bride and get your ass back down here. We’ve got a wedding that starts in five,” he called.
Harper giggled and threw her arms around Luke. “Please tell me that’s a preview of coming attractions tonight.”
Luke cupped her chin. “Baby, I promise you that’s a preview of the rest of our lives together.”
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Garrison.”
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. Wilde-Garrison.”