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Epilogue

One year later . . .

“I look ridiculous,” I said as I stared at my reflection in the full-length mirror. “Why did I let you talk me into this?”

“Hush up!” Gail commanded as she fussed with the silky white fabric that flowed like a waterfall over my hips and down my legs in a shimmering cascade. “I didn’t talk you into anything. You look beautiful, and you know it.”

I did look beautiful, thanks to my trio of fairy godmothers – Gail, Agnes, and Tess – who had devoted the entire morning to my hair and make-up. I stared at my reflection; I didn’t look anything like myself. My normally stick-straight hair fell about my shoulders in glorious, shiny ringlets, and framed a face that belonged to me, but boasted eyes that appeared huge, luminescent, and more gold than brown. My cheeks were faintly pink, as were my lips.

The dress was magnificent. Beautiful creamy lace traced the sweetheart neckline, enhancing my bust, which had grown a cup size thanks to a magical bra. The bodice followed the lines of my body, forming an hour-glass silhouette I had no idea I possessed. The skirt flared out gently at my knees, making me look a bit like the mermaid I had dreamed myself to be when I was a kid. Pearl drops glowed at my ears and a string of them encircled my neck.

The pearls were old, and borrowed from Agnes, covering two of the traditional stipulations. The dress was new, and the roses and hydrangeas in my bouquet were blue, offset by white calla lilies.

I reached out to snag the flute of champagne I had abandoned on the small side table, but my hand was slapped away.

“Don’t touch that!” Gail said. “You’ll spill it on that expensive dress and then the whole look will be shot!”

Fortunately, the door opened before I could tell Gail what I was going to do with the wine glass.

“You look very pretty,” Dalia announced as she marched in, Tess holding her little hand in a tight grip.

The small dressing room should have felt over-crowded with the child and the three women who had come to be friends, but it felt just right. Four women, I amended as I heard Fifi give a soft “woof” when Dalia wrapped her arms around her neck and squealed, “Doggy!”

“Dalia!” Tess snapped. “You’re getting dog hair all over your dress.”

“Let the child alone,” Agnes bellowed. “Fifi was feelin’ left out.”

“Well, she’ll just have to find another way to participate,” Tess said, tugging the reluctant child to her feet.

“That’s an awful pretty dress,” Gail said, distracting Dalia from the dog.

“I look like you,” she stated, “and you, and you.” She pointed to Gail, Agnes, and Tess in turn.

All four dresses were different, but they were all a deep, royal blue. I had insisted they all choose their own style, which they certainly had. Agnes was draped in a silky caftan with feather trim. Gail had chosen a sleek, body-hugging gown that highlighted her killer curves. Tess wore an A-line fit-and-flare gown perfect for a fairy princess. Dalia’s dress was much like Tess’s, only with a sweet Peter Pan color and white sash around the waist.

“Fifi has to have a blue dress, too,” the little girl piped up.

Agnes’s lips twitched. “Sweetie, there ain’t no way Fifi’s gonna wear no kind of dress. She don’t look good in ’em and she knows it.”

“She has to wear blue,” Dalia insisted, her jaw set in a stubborn line that made her look exactly like her father.

“How’s this?” Gail asked, coming to the rescue by tying a piece of blue ribbon to Fifi’s tag.

“Woof,” she preened.

Before I knew it, it was time. My heart jerked to a stop and then began beating so hard I was certain Agnes could hear it as she cradled my arm in hers.

“Let’s do this, baby,” she whispered before tugging me gently toward the dressing-room door.

We started down the red-carpeted aisle, stepping on the blue and white petals Dalia had strewn about with great abandon a moment before. All of my senses seemed to have sharpened. I could feel the cool breath of the air conditioner sliding along my arms, making me shiver. The strains of the Bridal Chorus rang in my ears. I could smell the cloying scent of my bouquet as it wafted upward. I saw every detail of Jason’s elegant black tux as he stood at the end of the impossibly long walk. He was so handsome! An overwhelming wave of tenderness chased the ripple of nerves. And then those green eyes met mine, and everything stopped.

“Woof!”

The spell was broken when a huge, furry, beribboned blur came hurtling past us and plopped itself at Dalia’s feet.

“Doggy!” she cried with glee.

I saw a range of emotions, from confusion to distress, on the faces of the small crowd in the church. Then Dalia’s happy giggles rang out as Fifi, resplendent in her wedding finery, began to lick her face. This, combined with the comical look of absolute horror on Jason’s face, was too much for me. I couldn’t hold back my own laughter. The tension snapped, and soon everyone, including Jason, was enjoying the impromptu bridesmaid.

Agnes and I finished our procession and I took Jason’s hand. Time sped up, once again, and it was over before I had a chance to really grasp what was happening. I was married! I couldn’t imagine the wonder of that ever growing old.

“Are you sure you don’t want to slip away to some private beach?” Jason murmured.

His arms were wrapped around my waist; mine were twined around his neck. I didn’t recognize the song that was playing, but the beat suited our sensual movements on the empty dance floor. Nearly everyone had gone home. Only my trio of friends, plus two, and Jason’s family – his mother and brothers, along with their broods – remained. Gail and Tess were bustling back and forth between the tables and the kitchen, apparently wrapping up leftovers. Agnes was regaling Jason’s clan with stories about her days in Hollywood, and seemed to be charming the pants off them all. Dalia and Fifi were curled up on the floor, a tangle of sleeping child and snoring dog.

“You know we can’t,” I answered with real regret. “As wonderful as that sounds, the campaign is just getting underway. I can’t disappear now.

“So, this is what it’s going to be like being married to the governor of Virginia?” he teased.

“Aren’t you optimistic,” I said. “Let’s get through this City Council election, first.”

“I have faith in you,” he whispered and his breath against my ear sent a shiver across my skin.

His lips slid to mine and heat bloomed low in my belly. This incredible, sexy man was mine, now. And Dalia, and Fifi, and Agnes, and Gail, and Tess, and the tribe at the table – they were all mine, now. I waited for a beat, but there was no panic, no fear of being crowded. There was only joy and overwhelming love.

Seeing Jason with his wonderful, smart, sassy mother had sent a tiny zing of pain to my heart. My own mother was a monster that had stolen my father and made sure he would never be a part of my new life. But at least I knew him now, I reminded myself. Not the evil image I had created, but the real man, who was neither all good nor all bad, but completely human.

I also thought about the little girl that I had given up to make sure she had a family like Jason’s, boisterous and loving. Perhaps one day I would try to find her, tell her why I had done what I had. But that would wait until she was old enough to understand.

I rested my head against Jason’s shoulder, soaking up the warmth inside and out.

“Why don’t you get a room?” a young voice called out, and I turned to see Jason’s nephew screwing his face into a theatrical grimace worthy of Agnes, herself.

“Excellent idea, Ethan,” Jason said.

He looked back to me and waggled his brows. “What do you say? Shall we take his suggestion?”

“Absolutely.”

He took my hand and led me toward the door and away from our well-meaning loved ones. Tomorrow would be about new beginnings and bittersweet good-byes. Tonight would only be about us. And so would the night after that – forever and always.

THE END

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