They say little girls dream about this day most of their life. They know what color they want their flowers to be. Where the ceremony will be held. The style of dress they’ll choose.
The man they’ll be walking toward.
It’s a fairytale they write for themselves.
The only difference between my girl and all the others out there… her fairytale is about to become a reality.
Because at thirteen, Cleo was dreaming about our wedding day. I was the man standing at the end of the aisle waiting for her.
As far as the other details, they don’t matter. Because in the end, our happily ever after is here.
God, she’s beautiful.
It’s all I can think as she slowly approaches, smiling at me like she has a secret she can’t wait to share with me. Only with me.
But she knows as well as I do, there are no secrets left between us. No more lies. We spent the last year clearing up any confusion about what we mean to each other.
And where we were headed.
Which is what’s led us here.
Well, back here I should say.
To the place we reconnected. Where Cleo finally gave herself to me. For the second time. Whole-heartedly. Completely.
With the sand between her toes and the setting sun at her back. Her hair cascading over her shoulders in long waves.
The same way it is right now as she stops in front of me, her arms linked with her parents.
“Who gives this woman to this man?” Colt asks from beside me.
When I asked him to officiate the ceremony, I expected him to laugh. Instead, he stood before me with a look of shock on his face for a long stretch before agreeing. Which meant I still needed a best man since my best friend was going to marry us.
And who do you think volunteered himself for the job?
Because who else would insert themselves into our relationship other than the guy who knew our secret the entire time and never said a word. To either of us.
He didn’t speak to Cleo for over three years. But he made her a promise to never share what he knew, and he kept his word. Which meant he had to keep me in the dark all that time.
We all have our breaking point, though. And Max broke shortly after Cleo and I were caught fucking in the backseat of a limo.
Not our finest moment.
But I don’t regret it. The events of that night put the wheels in motion for our story to unfold. For us to find our way back to each other. To find our way here.
“Her mother and I do,” Cleo’s dad says, placing Cleo’s hand in mine.
She kisses her parents on their cheeks before moving to stand beside me, lacing our fingers together.
“We are gathered here today to celebrate the union of our dear friends, Cleo and Kane. To share in the love they have for each other. To witness the start of their life together.” Cleo squeezes my hand as Kane continues to drone on about commitment and honor. When she begins drawing shapes on my palm with her fingertip, I zone out and focus on the feel of her hand in mine. Until Kane clears his throat…
“Uh, the rings, brother.”
Reaching into the pocket of my slacks, I pull out the little black box, handing it to Colt as I turn to face my soon-to-be wife, the love of my life, the reason I breathe and then begin reciting the vows I wrote just for her.
“It’s no secret that we’ve been through more in this life together than most couples our age have. That we’ve fought for this day, to be standing here, promising to love one another for the rest of our lives. That’s the easy part. Loving you. I’ve been doing it so long it comes as natural as breathing and it always will. You are the calm in the storm, the sun on a cloudy day. You make my world brighter and my heart lighter. My promise to you is this…
“I promise to give you the best of myself and to ask of you no more than you can give. To share with you my time and attention, and to bring joy, strength, and imagination to our relationship. I promise to grow along with you – to be willing to face changes as we both change in order to keep our relationship alive and exciting. I promise to love you in good times and in bad, with all I have to give completely and forever. In this life and the next.”
Tears are streaming down Cleo’s cheeks by the time I finish. Reaching into my pocket, I pull out the tissues I shoved in there earlier anticipating her reaction. She takes them from me and quickly dabs at her face.
“Cleo,” Colt encourages after she’s handed me the soaked tissue back.
“Kane, I…” her voice trails off as she stares deep into my eyes. It takes me a second to realize that for the first time in her life, Cleo’s at a loss for words. This dominant, outspoken woman that I love has been rendered speechless.
“I know,” I whisper, gently squeezing the hand I’m still holding.
“I…” she tries again. “I love you. I promise to love you every day for the rest of my life, even when times are tough, even when you make it impossible to like you. I will love you through the good times and the bad. Your love makes me stronger. It makes me a better person. I take you to be my partner, loving what I know of you, and trusting what I do not yet know. I eagerly anticipate the chance to grow together, getting to know the man you will become, and falling in love a little more each day.”
God, I love this woman. I always have. I always will. No matter what the road ahead has in store for us.
Kissing Cleo for the first time as her husband… it reminds me of the first kiss we shared when we were teenagers. New and exciting, as if we hold the entire world in the palm of our hands.
Until cheers erupt around us anyway.
That’s when I remember we’re not alone. That all of our friends and family came to witness our union. The same way all our friends were here to witness our reunion a little over a year ago.
Not that any of them seemed all that surprised. Which was a little shocking at the time, but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.
There were eighteen of us on that trip and there are eighteen of us, about to be twenty, here today. With Piper and Willow both pregnant, our family is already starting to grow. Cleo and I will add to that number one day, as will the rest of our friends, I’m sure.
Our children will grow up together, as friends, as family. Eventually, outnumbering us I’m sure.
“Three down, six to go,” Kora exclaims as Cleo and I enter the reception tent after spending an hour taking pictures.
“Three down?” I ask, wrapping my arm around Cleo’s waist and pulling her close.
“We’re the third to get married. I have a feeling the rest of our friends are getting a little antsy to tie the knot.”
“Yeah but we’ve known each other a long time. A lot longer than most of them. We had a head start.”
“We did. We also spent almost four years apart so they forget I’ve loved you since before I understood what that feeling inside my chest really was.”
Same, bug. Same.
Max taps his glass with a fork, calling the attention of the small group here to celebrate with us. As happy as I was to have him stand up for me, this is the moment that concerned me the most.
As my best man.
Clearing his throat he begins and is immediately taunted. “As the best man-“
“By default,” Colt hollers.
“As the best man-“ he tries again.
“You volunteered for the job.”
“As,” Max pauses, contemplating his next few words. “A friend of the bride and groom, I have a few words of encouragement I’d like to share with them.” The room remains silent, so he continues, but I have a feeling it’s not going to stay quiet for long.
“Marriage is more than a vow to love and cherish each other. It’s more than a promise to honor and protect. It’s the union of two people, unconditionally. Mind, body, and soul. To share a life together. The good times and the bad. To hold the others hand through the darkest of times and also celebrate the joys in life.
“It’s no secret to anyone here that the two of you tried to travel different paths. When you’re meant to be with someone, that path will lead you to the same place. Back to each other. The way your paths led you here, to this moment. To the start of the next chapter of your lives. Together. To Cleo and Kane.” Lifting his glass, Max’s eyes lock on his wife. “May their life be filled with more love and happiness than either of them can imagine.”
For a man who seemed to once despise Cleo, Max’s words should catch me off guard. And maybe if he hadn’t been the first of us to marry, they would have. But after watching him swear his love to his wife, and seeing the light she brought to his eyes, I’m not shocked at all to learn that underneath his tough exterior is a man who has a soft side and isn’t afraid to show it anymore.
Max was the first to get married? But to who… I mean, at this point, I’m assuming you’ve figured it out. But there’s more to their story than even I could have predicted when I first started writing this series. Make sure you pick up your copy of Defiant Little Love and find out how the series ends, and how Max’s love affair began.
On another note… did you notice Emerson and Ryder Dixon from my Rumors series made a cameo in Twisted Little Lies? I missed my friends at Dixon Advertising so much that I found a way to include them in this series. And because of that, you’ll be seeing more of our friends from Dixon soon!