“I fear we’ve taken this too far,” Nat said, standing outside Fred and George’s enclosure.
“They look cute,” Rhett said.
“They’re in little bear versions of tuxedos.”
“They have bow ties on,” Rhett scoffed. “That’s hardly a tux. I’m in the tux.”
She looked over to him, letting her eyes sweep up and down his body. “You sure are.”
He grinned, hooking his arm around her waist, brushing a kiss across her cheek because they were doing photos right after the ceremony and if he smudged her lipstick, Lydia Munroe would kill him.
“I still think this entire thing is silly,” Nat said, leaning into him as they turned back to the enclosure, where Fred and George were waiting to fulfill their duties as ring bearers, because Rhett had never met a pun he didn’t like, apparently. “We’re already married.”
“Did you really want to argue with my Dad and Big Stan once they got it in their heads? Or your mother? Though, frankly, Hank and Big Stan are definitely more bridezilla than your mom. Plus, your mom actually knows what she’s doing. Big Stan tried to argue with Lydia earlier. It was not pretty.”
Nat sighed. “I loved our wedding,” she said.
His fingers squeezed at her hip as he pressed his lips to her hair, nuzzling there for a moment, breathing her in. He did this, just liking to come over and hold her, to bask in her presence, no words, just touch and feeling. It was like a drug or a hot bath or that first shot of whiskey after a terrible day. It never failed to make her smile and unwind into him, so damn grateful that they had each other, that they’d “finally gotten over themselves”, as practically all their friends put it.
“I loved our wedding, too,” he said, his words vibrating against her skin in that way that never failed to get her a little revved up. She had to stop herself from biting her lip and leaning into him more. “And I really loved what happened after.”
She rolled her eyes, but she laughed, because she’d been thinking the same thing. “The wait was worth it,” she murmured.
“Mmm,” he said. “So worth it.”
“All those years in between…” she faded off for a second, and he waited for her to finish, because he knew sometimes it took her awhile to gather the nerve, even now, even with him. “I missed you without knowing what I was truly missing. And then I came back to Oregon and suddenly you were there, it was there, the possibility of you. The temptation.” She smiled fondly, shaking her head, feeling the bristles of his beard against her skin at the movement. “God, you were such a temptation.”
“Oh yeah?” his voice dipped. “Yet you kept coming out here. You’re always playing with fire, my love.”
“You were hard to resist,” she said, and she didn’t have to look up to know he was smiling, amused at her confession.
“I thought I was gonna spend my life wanting you,” he said, his own confession wrapping around her like his arms. “Never having you. Always aching from missing that piece of my heart you took that night in New York. I’d resigned myself to it. Thought I could be content with being your friend, being on the edge of your life.” He let out a warm huff of air against the sensitive skin of her neck, making her shiver. “I was a fool.”
“Well, now you’re stuck with me,” she said lightly.
“Oh no,” he drawled sarcastically, placing a teasing kiss against the nape of her neck.
“Did you two seriously wander off to cuddle?”
Nat turned around to see Molly in her blush bridesmaids dress and Carter standing there in a dark blue tux very similar to Rhett’s standing there, pulling a wood wagon decorated with flowers. “We’re here to pick up the bears,” he said.
“Come on, buddies,” Rhett said, unlocking the enclosure, Fred and George loping over when they saw him and Molly come inside.
“Isn’t it bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding?” Carter asked.
“I don’t think it counts if we’re already married,” Nat said dryly.
“You coming with us, Rhett?” Molly asked.
“He is supposed to be at the end of the aisle instead of here, making moves on his bride already,” Carter tutted.
“Shoo,” Nat said. “He’ll be there in a second.”
She waited until they had disappeared, pulling Fred and George who were adorably settled in their wagon and very interested in all the interesting smelling blooms surrounding them.
“I have a gift for you,” she said, going over to where the little white lace bag she’d been carrying around was set. “Do you remember that succulent hair comb you got me, the night of the black and white ball?”
“When we met? Of course,” he said.
She turned back to him, the little bag in her hands. “Well, that night, after our kiss, I planted the succulents from the comb. And throughout the years, I’ve cared for them and the cuttings I’ve taken.”
“Wait…” he frowned, thinking back. “The succulents you have in your office windows are from the comb I gave you?”
“Mmmhm.” She untied the bag, drawing the succulent boutonnière out. “And so is this one.”
A smile—that beautiful, wonderful, gorgeous, so damn happy—smile of his lit his face and his eyes and he was kissing her and she didn’t care that her lipstick was likely going to be smeared all over his own lips. This man. This life. Loving him was the wildest ride she’d ever taken and she was so glad she’d taken the leap.
“You know,” he said, when they finally parted and she laughed, trying to get her lipstick off him. “You try to act like you’re not, but you’re really quite the romantic.”
“Take that back!” She swatted him playfully before she began to pin the succulent to his sleek lapel.
“Never,” he said. “You’ve shown your hand. You pined for me. You love me so much.”
“Well, I should hope so,” Nat said sassily. “I am marrying you for the second time to appease our meddling fathers.”
“Just wait until they become meddling Grandpas,” Rhett said.
“Oh god,” she groaned. “Maybe we shouldn’t have kids and just raise wild animals. It might be preferable.”
He chuckled and held out his hand. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. For now…let’s go get fake married. Again. Which, I guess, makes our first marriage…the real one?”
She had to press her lips together to keep from laughing. “The love was always real,” she said.
His golden eyes glowed hot as he brought her hand up to his lips, kissing the tips of each of her fingers. “And always there,” he said.
They strolled arm in arm towards the orchard, where their guests and their ring bearers—god, the puns she’s going to hear all night—were waiting. And all was good.
She had him by her side.