For once, I was awake before Scotty. It wasn’t even six, but I heard him start rummaging around in his room, probably rearranging his dinosaurs again. At about six-thirty, he’d wander downstairs and start looking for his favorite cereal bowl—Jillian had gotten him this clock that had different colors behind the hands, and he knew he had to wait for the small hand to be in the green before he could come to our bedroom or go downstairs. It wasn’t that he couldn’t read a clock before, but somehow the color-coded system appealed to him. When it was red, he knew he should be in bed. Green was for morning routines. Yellow was for daytime activities like school or therapy or church or errands, and blue—his favorite—meant it was free time, which he usually spent on the iPad. Every day had a similar pattern and rhythm, which reassured him.
Except, of course, today wasn’t like any other day.
It was my wedding day.
Today, instead of dressing in jeans and t-shirts and sneakers, Scotty and I would put on suits and ties and what he called our “man shoes,” and we’d go over to Jillian’s parents’ place, where a hundred people would watch us say our vows in an outdoor ceremony next to the cherry orchard where she grew up.
I scratched my beard, trying to picture it. Other than the time and place, I really didn’t know many of the other details. I’d pretty much given Jillian and her sisters free reign to plan things. It wasn’t that it didn’t mean as much to me—it meant everything that Jillian wanted to be my wife and the only mom Scotty would ever know—it was simply that what color the tablecloths were, what flowers she carried, and what the chairs looked like mattered much less to me than the promise we’d make each other. It had taken me so long to get to the point in my life where I felt like I could make a promise to someone other than Scotty, and now…I couldn’t imagine life without her.
Sometimes I still had to pinch myself to believe that she was mine. Ours. Scotty adored her, and she was amazing with him. “We’re in a club now,” Scotty always said to her, and about her. She said it to him a lot too. It was from Up, one of his favorite movies, and at first it was mostly about the fact that they both loved me, but it had come to mean even more than that—it meant they loved each other, too. Their own little code.
Thinking about how lucky we were had kept me awake half the night. Well, that and the fact that it was the first night Jillian and I had spent apart since she’d moved in three months ago. It had been such a whirlwind—and yet, it also felt as if we’d always been together.
“He missed you at bedtime,” I’d told her on the phone last night when she called to check in. After the rehearsal dinner, she’d gone back to her parents’ house to stay the night, and Scotty and I had returned to our place.
“Oh no,” she said, her tone sorrowful. “I knew it would throw things off for him if I wasn’t there. I should have stayed. Should I come home?”
“No, no, he’s fine. I explained it to him again. He’s excited for tomorrow.”
“Are you sure? I hate to think of him upset.”
My heart swelled with love for her. “I’m sure. You get some rest, because I am keeping you up all night tomorrow.”
She laughed. “I can’t wait. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I said, my voice catching. “More than you know.”
After breakfast, I put Scotty in the shower and then let him have some iPad time while I cleaned up. Later, we stood side by side in the bathroom mirror and combed our hair, Scotty mimicking my every move. I trimmed my beard and let him rub some oil in it, then gave him some for his own face, just like we always did. After that, we buttoned up our white dress shirts and tucked them in. I let Scotty pick out a pair of cuff links for me, and he chose the ones he and Jillian had bought me for Father’s Day last month—my initials on one, Scotty’s on the other. When our neckties were knotted, our “man shoes” were tied, and our jackets were buttoned, we stood next to each other in front of the full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door. Frowning at my reflection, I hoped I wasn’t forgetting anything. Had I put on deodorant? Socks without holes? The right wristwatch? I double-checked that I was wearing the black Shinola Jillian had given me for my birthday.
“Well? What do you think?” I asked my son, fiddling with my tie. “Do I look good enough for her?”
“No,” he answered, making me burst out laughing. When he laughed too, I scooped him up in a hug and he threw his arms around my neck.
“Fair enough, buddy.” I set him down and straightened my coat, then his. “I agree. Nobody’s good enough for her, but since she said yes when I asked, let’s go to that wedding before she changes her mind.”
My heart was pounding as Skylar fastened my dress up the back. I closed my eyes, almost scared to look.
“Oh, Jilly.” Natalie sighed from where she stood in the doorway of my old room, rocking little Gotham in her arms. “It’s perfect.”
“I knew it would be.” Skylar’s tone was smug. She’d been the one to insist all along it was the perfect dress. When I’d seen it hanging, I hadn’t been at all sure it was the one—my long, gangly body would look even more string-beanish in a mermaid style, wouldn’t it? And all that fussy lace and the long train just didn’t seem like me. I had a more reserved sense of style than Skylar, and I’d pictured something sleek and modern. But when I tried it on, Natalie and my mother had teared up, and Skylar had jumped up and down, squealing with victory. And she was right—the lace made it romantic, the mermaid silhouette gave me the illusion of curves where none existed, and the slightly ecru color gave it a modern edge.
I opened my eyes and smiled. “Thank you.”
“How do you feel?” Natalie asked, coming into the room. She looked beautiful in her wine-colored bridesmaid dress, her brown hair loose around her shoulder, the front twisted back and pinned with a flower. Her son, just over three months, cooed appreciatively and reached for her face, his eyes full of love. So sweet, I thought, one hand unconsciously touching my stomach.
I dropped it before either one of them noticed.
Not yet. You have to tell Levi first.
I’d known for three days now, but I hadn’t told him yet because I thought it would make a fun wedding night surprise—although I was a little nervous he would think it was too soon. We’d only been together for a year, and I’d just moved in with him and Scotty a few months ago. I hadn’t planned on getting pregnant so quickly, but life had been surprising me left and right since we’d run into each other at Skylar and Sebastian’s wedding last September.
“I feel good. But…” I shook my head, still in awe that this was actually happening. I’d watched both my younger sisters walk down the aisle already, and it had often seemed like my day would never come. “It’s still a little unbelievable.”
“That’s because you barely gave us any time to plan,” Skylar complained, moving around me, checking the pins in my hair, fussing with the strands around my face, nodding with satisfaction when she was done. Radiant, as usual, her blond hair was thick and flowing, a flower above one ear. She was a few months pregnant with twins, her belly just starting to pop. She griped about it constantly, but I couldn’t wait to start showing.
“We didn’t want to wait,” I said without apology. “And I’m happy with the way everything turned out—even the weather is perfect.”
“Are you nuts? Don’t mention the weather!” Skylar’s blue eyes went wide. “You’ll jinx yourself.”
But I didn’t feel like anything could jinx this day.
It was time.
My stomach was fluttering like mad as I watched my grandparents, Levi’s parents, and my mother leave the house to go be seated. Skylar, Natalie, and I held each other in a long, silent, three-way hug before they picked up their bouquets and slipped outside, both of them misty-eyed but smiling. That left my dad and me.
“Ready, Jilly Bean?”
The childhood nickname made me laugh a little. “Definitely.”
He offered me his right arm, and I took it, my throat constricting unexpectedly. I made a joke to ward off the tears. “Bet you thought this day would never come, huh?”
“Oh, I knew it would come.” He squeezed my arm. “But I also knew you wouldn’t settle for anything less than a man like Levi, and that takes time to find.”
“He is a good man, isn’t he?”
“The very best. Exactly the kind I’d choose for my Jillian. Exactly the kind I’d choose for a son—and I got a bonus grandson out of it, too. I’m a lucky man.”
I couldn’t even speak, my throat was so tight. But I kissed him quickly on the cheek and smiled.
The wedding coordinator poked her head in. “OK, you two. Come on out.”
Heart thumping with nervous excitement, I let my dad guide me out the front door and around the house toward the orchard, where rows of chairs were set up in a semi-circle at the foot of the cherry trees. Off to the left was the tent where our reception would be, and behind that the catering trucks. We followed a little brick path along my mother’s herb and flower gardens, and I inhaled the fragrant scent of basil and lilacs. The sun warmed my arms as we cleared the shadow of the house and approached the white runner serving as an aisle. I took a deep breath as the guests stood and looked back at us.
Then it caught in my chest—there he was.
Tall and gorgeous and broad-shouldered and straight-backed, his dark hair smooth, his beard neatly trimmed. Our eyes locked as I started toward him.
There was music being played by a string quartet, but I didn’t hear it.
The sun was so hot, people fanned themselves with their programs, but I didn’t feel it.
More than one hundred people watched as I walked toward the love of my life, but I didn’t see them.
I saw nothing but him, felt nothing but love, heard nothing but the beat of my heart.
When I got close enough, I saw the way his eyes shone as he looked at me, felt the strength in his hand when he squeezed mine, heard his soft, deep voice say in my ear, “My God, you’re beautiful.”
The temperature was probably close to eighty, but I had chills.
Next to Levi stood Scotty, adorable in his dark suit, looking both uncomfortable and proud to be standing up for his dad. His hair was tousled, as if he’d been twirling a hand in it already. I smiled at him before watching my father shake Levi’s hand and then—to my surprise—his son’s. My eyes filled as my heart pounded with love and gratitude for my dad. What a sweet, thoughtful way to acknowledge that it wasn’t just two lives being joined today; it was a new family being created. I saw Levi’s jaw twitch as he nodded his thanks at my father, and I knew how much he appreciated the gesture as well. He smoothed his son’s hair and cleared his throat before taking my arm as we turned toward the officiant.
I’m sure the ceremony was touching, but honestly I can’t remember one word of it.
But my heart jumped when I heard him pronouncing the magic words: “Ladies and gentleman, I give you Mr. and Mrs. Levi Brooks!”
The guests stood and cheered as Levi and I faced them before kissing once more. Music played—I heard it this time—as we headed back down the aisle with a grinning Scotty between us, each holding one of his hands. I glanced back at my sisters and saw them dabbing at their eyes as they followed behind.
When we reached the brick path, Natalie threw her arms around Levi and Scotty while Skylar clung to me and sobbed. “I’m sorry,” she wept. “I’m so happy for you, but I’m just so stupid emotional!”
I laughed and held her tight. “It’s the pregnancy hormones.”
“And it’s double,” she said, sniffling. “Darn Sebastian for getting me pregnant with twins!”
“Hey, I heard that.” Sebastian appeared and patted his wife on the back. “I’m not sorry, either.” With a rare unabashed smile on his face, he kissed my cheek. “Congratulations, Jillian. I’m happy for you.”
I grinned back. “Thank you. I’m happy for you guys too.”
Skylar traded crying on my shoulder for sniffling on Levi’s, and Natalie reached for me. “Oh my God, that was so perfect,” she gushed.
“Was it?” I laughed as she hugged me so tight I could hardly breathe. “I honestly can’t remember a thing. Did I say the right words?”
“You totally did,” she assured me.
Miles joined the group, Gotham asleep in his father’s arms. “He couldn’t handle his joy.” Miles said. “It wore him right out.”
“That’s OK.” I brushed the back of my fingers over Gothan’s plump pink cheek. He looked so sweet and peaceful, with his chubby little legs and soft baby skin. “So cute.”
Levi wrapped an arm around my waist from behind and whispered in my ear, his beard tickling my skin. “OK, we’re married. Can we be alone now? Is there a closet somewhere that smells like Pine Sol?”
Smiling, I looked back at him. “Behave, you.”
He groaned. “How much longer?”
“I’m not going to make it,” he said with certainty.
I laughed. “Try.”
I made it three more hours, and let me tell you, it was not easy.
There were pictures. And cake cutting. And pictures. And dinner. And pictures. And dancing—dancing, for fuck’s sake. If ever two people liked dancing less than Jillian and I do, I’ve yet to meet them. But her sisters said we had to dance alone, at least to the first part of the song, so we managed to hold onto each other and sway woodenly for a minute before Jillian made eye contact with Natalie and gave her the look that must have said, We are dying so get your asses out here right now. Once we weren’t alone on the dance floor, we relaxed a little bit and I enjoyed holding her close to me. It was the first time all day I felt like I had her to myself, even if it was in a crowd, and I inhaled the sweet scent of her neck. My dick took this as an invitation to perk up, and I was glad her body was in front of mine. “Mmm. Is it dark yet?”
“I think it is.”
She laughed. “We can’t be the first to leave our own wedding.”
“It’s not good manners.”
“You know I have no mothertrucking manners. And you don’t either.”
Her brows arched. “Oh no?”
“No. If you had manners, you wouldn’t still be torturing me with that dress, and those eyes, and that perfume, and those lips.”
“What would I do instead?”
“You would come home with me and let me fuck you with my tongue, to start.”
Her face flushed, her lips falling open. “Oh my.”
“I hope someone is taking a picture right now. Your expression is priceless.”
“I bet.” She glanced around. “Where’s Scotty?”
“He’s sitting with my parents. But I think he’s about done with the crowd, so they’ll probably leave pretty soon. And then we have the house all to ourself.” I put my lips at her ear. “And you can be as loud as you want while I make you come, over and over again.”
She whimpered softly. “Maybe we can leave early.”
Ah, victory. “Good idea, Mrs. Brooks. I’m ready whenever you are.”
I hadn’t thought she could look more beautiful than she did in her wedding dress, but when she came out of the bathroom and into the bedroom wearing some little lacy slip that was more bare than there, my jaw dropped. I was sitting on our bed, coat, shoes, and cufflinks off, but everything else still on.
“You still have clothes on,” she chided, coming toward me in her bare feet. I didn’t even know where to look, and I sure as hell couldn’t speak, maybe not even breathe. The only thing functioning properly was my cock, which was jumping up like it needed a better view, racing for a front row seat.
And that view. Jesus Christ.
Her long slender legs went on forever. Her skin was luminous in the low lamplight. Ruby nipples peeked out from white lace. Her hair, which had been pulled back all day, swung loose around her gorgeous face. I wanted to run my fingers through those waves, slide my hands beneath that lace, run my tongue from her toes to her thighs, and then beyond. While I sat there stupefied by her beauty and by the fact that this woman was actually my wife, wearing the ring I put on her finger, she slipped my loosened tie from my collar and set it aside. “Why do you still have clothes on?”
“I called my mom to check in one last time while you were changing…and now I’m just paralyzed by the sight of you.” Rising to my feet, I took her face in my hands. “Jillian. You’re so beautiful.”
Her eyes lit up. “Thank you.”
“You’re more than that. And before I get all caught up in your body, I want to tell you something while I still have the capacity for sentences—although this little thing you’re wearing is reducing my vocabulary to very few words. Possibly just caveman sounds.”
“Better tell me quick, then.” She started working her way down the buttons of my shirt, pulling it free from my pants. “I have some words in my head too.”
“I want you to know,” I began, although now she was unbuckling my belt, and I was distracted by her pretty, graceful fingers so close to my dick. Concentrate, asshole. This is important. You only get one wedding night.
“Yes?” she purred, undoing my pants and sliding her hand inside.
Oh fuck. “How much I love you, and—”
“Mmhmmm,” she murmured as her fingers wrapped around my shaft.
“How, uh, grateful I am that we—that you—”
“Yesss,” she whispered, rising on her toes to brush her lips over mine. “That I what?”
My hands moved to her ass before I could stop them. “Grateful that—” Her fingertips swirled over the tip of my cock, her mouth moved to my neck. “That you’re the one—fuck!”
Jillian started to laugh. “That I’m the one with a hand in your pants?”
“Yeah. Let’s go with that.” Giving up on making nice with words, I claimed her mouth with mine and ran my hands all over her body, thrilled to find she wore nothing beneath that little slip. My wife, my wife, my wife. I couldn’t stop thinking it—she was mine in a way that she’d never been anyone else’s, and I was hers the same way. She’d married me—me—a hairy, overgrown single dad with a son who needed special care, who would always need that care, a boy who was amazing and loving but also challenging and frustrating at times. Jillian had accepted us both, grown to love us both, and that meant everything to me. I could never tell her how much.
I picked her up and swung her onto the bed, whipped off the rest of my clothes without style or grace, and stretched out over her. Settling my hips between her thighs, I braced my arms above her shoulders and she wrapped her legs around me.
“Don’t stop,” she whispered, sliding her fingers into my hair. “I know you like to be all about the finesse first—and I love your finesse, I really do—but right now, I really want to know what it feels like to have my husband inside me. Don’t make me wait.”
Normally I argued with her when she wanted to skip the part when I got her off first with my hands or my tongue (I was forever scared of finishing so fast she wouldn’t come), but tonight I couldn’t resist doing what she asked, letting my body take over. I slid inside her, slow and deep, craving that sound she made when I reached her limit—and then pushed beyond.
I hadn’t thought it would feel different, but it did.
More emotional, more powerful, more symbolic of what we were now—joined forever.
Jillian and I were often vocal during sex and loved shocking one another with our dirty mouths, but tonight was beyond words. Eyes locked, I moved inside her, and only our breathing filled the silence, until her breaths became those beautiful sighs and moans and gasps that made my blood surge through my veins, and my breaths became the usual barbaric grunting and cursing and choked-off sounds that was my language when I was inside her, struggling to maintain control.
I held on until I felt her climax happen, until I saw her eyes close in ecstasy, heard her long, blissful cry of release. Her fingernails dug into my ass, and I thrust hard and quick until I couldn’t move anymore, my entire body clenching up as I poured myself inside her.
Nothing had ever felt better. She was mine, and I was hers, and we were a family. A whole family. I’d never been happier or more hopeful about the future. So when I opened my eyes and saw tears slipping from the corners of hers, I was taken aback. Jillian wasn’t really a cryer—had I done something wrong already? But her hands were still on me, holding me deep inside her. Her legs were still wrapped around my body.
“What is it?” I asked. “Are you OK?”
She nodded, a smiled pulling at her pretty lips. “Yes. I’m just happy.”
I exhaled and kissed her forehead. “Oh. Good. You confused me with the tears. I’m a simple man, Jillian. Smile, happy. Tears, sad.”
She laughed and ran her hands up my back. “Sometimes tears are happy. That’s what these are.”
I brushed the tears from her cheeks with my thumbs. My hands looked big and masculine next to her soft skin and delicate features. “We have a lot to be happy about.”
“We do.” Her smile changed then—into something more sly, and mischief suddenly twinkled in her eyes. “You don’t even know how much.”
The back of my neck prickled. “What do you mean?”
She hesitated for just a second, but being coy wasn’t Jillian’s style, another reason I fucking loved her beyond reason. “I’m pregnant,” she whispered, unmistakable joy in her face.
My heart, which had barely slowed after sex, boomed hard again in my chest. “What?”
“I’m pregnant.” She bit her lip. “Just barely…but pregnant.”
Overwhelming joy swept through me. Dizzying, thrilling joy. Tears jumped into my eyes before I could even blink. “Oh my God.”
“Are you happy?” she asked hopefully. “I know it’s a little sooner than we planned, but—”
I crushed her lips with mine, holding her head in my hands and pushing back against the sob that threatened to burst from my chest. When I looked down at her again, she was smiling, and I took a few deep breaths to compose myself. “Yes. Yes, I’m happy.”
As I talked, I brushed the hair back from her face. “I love being a father, Jillian. For all its hardships and sacrifices and challenges, there are so many moments of pure joy. Of feeling a love so powerful, I think my heart can’t handle it. Of pride and protectiveness so fierce, I think my chest will explode. But I’ve been alone all this time, and…now, to think I’ll share that journey with you, it’s—” Again, I fought back against tears. “It’s everything. I loved my life, loved being Scotty’s father. And I thought that being a good father to him meant dedicating myself to only him. I thought wanting happiness for myself was too selfish. But I was wrong.” Her eyes filled once more, and I kissed her lips. “I am happier with you than I’ve ever been, and I want nothing more than to spend the rest of my life taking care of our family.” Suddenly I realized I must be crushing her belly, and I rolled off her, staying on my side and pulling her close.
“Me too,” she said, turning her face to look up at me. “Being with you and Scotty the last few months has made my life so complete. I used to hope that my career would be enough to fulfill me, because I was scared I’d never meet anyone who’d love me the way I wanted to be loved. Or accept the love I wanted to give. And look—I got you and Scotty to love all at once.”
“He does love you.” I swallowed hard. “Even if he doesn’t say it, he does.”
“I know.” Lifting her chin, she pressed her lips to mine. “Words aren’t always the most important thing. Sometimes…you just know.”
I placed my hand on her stomach, then moved down the bed to kiss the warm, taut skin of her belly. How fucking incredible that a life grew here already—one created by Jillian and me. By my wife and me. A little brother or sister for Scotty. This…this was everything. Jillian’s hands slid into my hair, caressing softly.
I was damn glad she didn’t require words at times like this, because I had none worthy of the love and gratitude and hope that I felt. Instead, I rested my forehead lightly on her stomach, closed my eyes, and repeated hers. “Sometimes…you just know.”