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“Ow!” Maggie jolted, dropping her mascara wand on the counter after having stabbed herself in the eye with it. It bounced off her bathrobe on the way down, leaving an inky streak. Thank goodness she wasn’t yet wearing the glittery confection she’d finagled from the upscale shop on Montague Street. The shop’s owner had turned into putty after Maggie had spun the tale of her impromptu engagement. Ruth’s charming retelling of her dad falling for her new mom had coaxed the man into selling the dress as a sample.
Maggie intended to wear it at their Montana wedding, too. It needed to be shown off more than once. Plus, Stella and Marisol would flip out over it, and with none of their siblings being able to get time off to travel for this ceremony, she needed to ensure they got the in-person experience.
She completely understood why they weren’t going to be able to make it. It still felt like something was missing, though.
This is what happens when you decide to get married with a week’s notice over the holidays.
And she wasn’t going to get married at all if she didn’t manage to remove the mascara she’d just globbed all over her eyelid.
Maggie dabbed at her watery eye with a tissue and surveyed the damage—a smear of black over the eyeshadow and concealer she’d just painstakingly applied. She growled at her reflection.
“What did you do?” Ruth, who was standing on a low stool getting her hair curled by her grandma, turned her head, earning a warning from Sarah not to move.
“You’d think that after seven years of performing animal surgery, I’d be able to put on mascara, but nope,” Maggie said.
Sarah sent her a fond look. “I could give it a go after I finish Ruth’s hair.”
Maggie studied her soon-to-be mother-in-law. It wasn’t like with her own mother, when every offer of assistance in her youth had come with a layer of criticism or condescension. Sarah truly wanted to help. And after being here for a week and getting to know the other woman better, Maggie knew she could relax. Asher’s mom wasn’t going to yank her approval because Maggie showed a trivial weakness or flaw.
“Thank you.” Relief trickled into her belly. “With my dress so fancy, I need my face to match.”
“My son would think you were perfect in jeans and no make-up.”
“Good thing—that’s what he usually gets.” Maggie grinned. “With some paw prints on my shirt.”
Sarah laughed. “Like father, like son. I could get all dolled up every day of the week, and Kento would still prefer me in scrubs with pillow marks on my face, like I was when we met in medical school.”
“Grandma, what was your wedding like?”
“Full of love and family, honey.”
Maggie’s heart clenched. She’d have the first this evening, but not as many of the second as would be ideal.
It’ll be okay. Today is for us. The summer is for everyone.
She listened as Sarah regaled Ruth while finishing the girl’s hair. Once the curls were pinned perfectly, Sarah sent Ruth out to check to see if Asher was ready. She focused in on Maggie’s face, removing the botched effort and reapplying primer.
“Given I’m the only woman here as your attendant, I feel like I should offer you my car or something, in case you need a quick getaway,” Sarah said. “Wedding tradition, and all. Making sure the bride still wants to go through with it.”
Maggie felt the blood drain from her cheeks. “Sarah—”
“I’m kidding, Maggie.” She cupped Maggie’s cheek. “When my son left, he wasn’t whole. I’m not going to say he was missing parts, but he was certainly in pieces. And once he met you, he figured out how to put himself back together. Not who he was with Alex, but his new self, with you. And I love who he is, and who Ruth is now. And I love you, too. My son is blessed to have you in his life, as is our whole family.”
Maggie blinked rapidly, eyes stinging. “Oh. I—”
“Grandma!” Ruth popped into the doorway. “Dad says the judge is going to be a little late.”
“Good,” Maggie joked around the tears in her voice. “I’m going to need time to stop crying.”
But an hour later, Maggie’s eyes were perfectly dry and the judge was still stuck on the side of the Long Island Expressway. She and Asher had abandoned all pretense of not seeing each other before the ceremony. She sat carefully on a chaise in the living room, making sure not to wrinkle the delicate layers of fabric. Asher paced in his suit, checking his phone for the gazillionth time.
“Did the judge say when a tow truck would be arriving?” she asked. Apparently he’d been visiting his niece in Westhampton and his car had broken down on the way back to the city.
“I think it already has,” Asher said. “He said he’d only be another half hour.” He typed something rapidly into his cell.
She chewed on her lip. “I hope this isn’t a bad omen.”
“Never.” He lifted her skirt off the seat and sat next to her, letting the glittery material spill over his leg. The lace and tulle looked like a fall of diamond-flecked snow against the navy wool of his suit pants. He put his arm around her. “We have hours until midnight. It’ll be perfect, no matter what time it is. I promise.”
Lips nuzzled her cheek. “Did I tell you how incredible you look?”
“Once or twice.” Or twenty times.
She relaxed into his solidness, the quiet confidence and reliability that he wore more comfortably than any tailored suit. Which was saying something, because his suit looked like it had been made for him, hugging his wide shoulders and thick thighs and every delicious part of him that she intended to devour tonight. They’d splurged on a night in Manhattan—exorbitant, given how few hotel rooms were left on New Year’s Eve, but worth it for some privacy—and she couldn’t wait to slowly remove all the ridiculously sexy parts of his attire, from his suit vest to his cufflinks to the tight, blue boxers she’d given him.
“So where’s your something blue?” he asked, as if he were reading her mind.
“Same place yours is,” she murmured. She’d found herself a pair of pale blue panties that were really no more than a fragment of lace.
He groaned. “Okay, maybe the judge needs to hurry up.”
His phone buzzed again, and he checked the screen at an awkward angle. His eyes widened. “Never mind. They’re—uh, he is—almost here.”
Ruth strutted into the room, pointing her toes and clearly enjoying the click of her shoes on the hardwood. She’d begged for a pair with a short heel, and Maggie hadn’t been able to resist the pleading eyes. Ruth looked adorable and far too grown up in the tea-length, silver-shot, navy taffeta dress. She’d wanted to match her dad and be his “best girl.”
That had made the bridal shop owner cry, too.
A car door slammed outside.
Then another, and another.
“Was the tow truck driver dropping the judge off here or something?” Maggie asked.
Asher rubbed the back of his neck under his snowy-white collar. “I think so?”
A faint ah-roo came from somewhere outside the brownstone.
Maggie froze. Was that—no. Couldn’t be.
Louder this time. As if there was a giant dog standing on the other side of the door, waiting to be let in. “Asher…”
Ruth flew to the front window and peeked out. She shrieked. “Daddy!”
Grinning, he opened the front door. And love spilled in.
Tears and laughs, smiles and shouts, bundled in winter coats and pulling carry-on suitcases.
Maggie pressed her hands to her mouth and stood on wobbly legs. Dang it, they hadn’t had their pictures taken yet—she couldn’t ruin her make-up job—but the tears welled despite her best efforts.
There was Stella, her black peacoat unable to button fully over her round belly, and Ryan in his cowboy hat and suit, a thousand percent in tune to whatever she needed. Caleb and Garnet, snuggling a cranky looking Eli between them, only to have the little bundle snatched away by a teary Sarah who couldn’t wait to see her grandbaby. Marisol with a bleary-eyed Laura on her hip, and Lachlan at their side, holding a leash.
And behind them all, Jackson. Vibrating to get to his person, the tween slowly maneuvering her way past all the adults to greet her canine soul mate.
Ruth gave the dog a giant snuggle. He seemed to understand the import of the situation, as he plopped his bony butt on the floor and kept his greeting to a few small licks on Ruth’s cheek.
“Asher,” Maggie said. “What is happening?”
He’d made his way back to her side, lacing his fingers with hers because everyone seemed to want to get a glimpse of the two of them all dolled up. He squeezed her hand and grinned at Stella, who was motioning to Ryan for a Kleenex.
“I think we surprised her,” Asher announced.
“You think?” Maggie said. “You all told me it was too short notice! And that there were no flights.”
Stella wove her way through the crowd and threw her arms around Maggie. “When your sister’s getting married, it’s time to pull strings and call in favors.”
“Thank you,” Maggie whispered.
A cold, wet nose nudged her bare elbow.
“Oh, hi, buddy. Good waiting.” She knelt and got face-to-face with her big galoot. Who cared about a massive dry-cleaning bill in the face of getting to love all over her dog? He smelled like he’d recently had a bath, and a glittery, navy belt with a bow attachment was looped around his neck twice. It looked suspiciously like the one that was supposed to be around Ruth’s waist.
He went to give Maggie doggy kisses, and she stopped him, pressing her nose to his. “No wrecking my foundation, good sir.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Asher taking a picture on his phone.
“David and his family are only five minutes away. They’re bringing my grandparents. And the judge is here, love,” he said. “He wasn’t actually having car trouble. I asked him to hold off until the family arrived.”
“We were the tardy ones,” Stella explained. “Our flight got delayed with the snow back home.”
Asher helped Maggie to her feet, earning a dirty look from Jackson for having stolen her attention away.
“You can sit next to me during the ceremony,” she told the dog before looking at her sister. Her sister, who was in Asher’s parents’ living room in New York after having performed some kind of aviation scheduling magic… “I’d have waited until eleven fifty-nine if it meant having you all here.” Their plans for after the ceremony flashed into her mind. “Oh, no! We have a hotel room booked. We can’t stay elsewhere, not with you all here.”
Her fiancé rubbed his knuckles over his bearded cheek, wincing. “Actually, we don’t. I lied about making it.”
Relief flooded through her, before she remembered that their dinner reservation at a bistro around the corner was only for six. “How are we going to feed everyone?”
He stroked her cheeks with his big hand, and the assurance in his dark brown eyes soothed her rising worry. “It’s all taken care of. Food, festivities, sleeping arrangements—but for now, let’s give the people what they came for, us promising to love each other for the rest of our lives, okay?”
“Okay.” And with Jackson sitting stoically on her left, Ruth standing next to Asher with hope and happiness on her sweet face, and Asher’s hands in hers as he vowed to cherish her, it was the easiest promise Maggie had ever made.
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