A FREE BONUS to be read AFTER
completing His Plus One
~ FREYA ~
It seems fitting somehow—and it feels so right—watching Graydon and Hailey get married in my old stomping grounds of Annapolis.
This, whether they know it or not, is really where their story began.
If I hadn’t lived here… if Mason hadn’t lived here… if I hadn’t responded to Mason’s profile on that dating app, hoping he’d help me with my romance novel… Mason and I never would have been married.
And if we hadn’t booked that wedding cruise, Hailey and Graydon would never have fallen in love under the warm Bermuda sun.
If. That powerful word that endlessly fascinates believers in destiny. Like me.
Of course, that’s not why Graydon and Hailey chose this Annapolis park overlooking the South River to say their vows. They only chose it because, just a half hour from the apartment they now share close to where they work, Annapolis was one of the most picturesque options.
But for me, it’s just destiny making its mark, once again.
Hailey’s strapless wedding gown is just simple enough to fit into this natural setting at Quiet Waters Park on the outskirts of town. Yet, draped in textured organza which adds volume to its skirts, the dress also has a regal air to it that seems so appropriate next to Graydon in his dress uniform.
They look like the perfect couple.
Correction: they are the perfect couple.
A large gazebo serves as their altar, and the sunshine sparkles on the water behind them, the perfect backdrop. The image it creates reminds me of my own wedding almost a year ago.
I glance at my husband who stands near Graydon on the other side of the rose petal-speckled aisle that divides the white chairs. I want to reach for Mason so badly, remembering that day we were wed. The pull between us is as magnetic right now as it was that day.
But I keep my feet firmly planted next to Natasha and Max. All three of us stand near Hailey—so honored to be her bridesmaids after becoming so much closer this past year. All of us content to stand at the bride’s side except for Max, who made it very clear that she’d prefer to be taking photos herself rather than trusting another wedding photographer to do it. Yet Hailey insisted on hiring someone because she said she wanted her bridesmaids to be having fun at this wedding, not working. (Although I’ll bet my life that won’t keep Max from taking photos of the food at the reception.)
I gaze at the couple again. They chose to do a very traditional military wedding with a Navy chaplain doing the honors and a sword arch coming up later. So the only one of the brothers out of uniform is Colt, who insists that the tux he is wearing makes him look like a penguin. “This is more dressed up than public school teachers usually get,” he had joked when I saw him earlier. And I didn’t see the slightest bit of regret in his eyes as he said it. Teaching was the perfect transition for him after being a Ranger, and he and Max couldn’t be happier.
My eyes move to Carson, who announced a few weeks ago that he won’t be wearing a uniform much longer either. He and Natasha decided to move into one of their cabins full-time at the end of the year and turn their property into an upscale lodge. They’ve even purchased the house and stable on the property adjoining theirs since the older couple who lived there decided they wanted to move to Florida. They’ve already drawn up plans to turn the house into an inn for even more guests. And, according to Natasha, Carson is aching to add more horses to their stable.
My gaze rests on Mason again in the uniform I know so well—the same uniform he’ll probably wear for many years to come. And that’s just fine with me.
It’s even better now that I won’t be the only SEAL wife in the family. In fact, when Graydon’s post at the NSA ends next month, they’ll be moving down to the Teams in Virginia Beach, and living only a short walk away from Mason and me. It will be so nice to have family close by, especially when Mason is deployed.
I smile at the back of Hailey’s head. I wish I could see her eyes from where I’m standing. But I know what they look like right now, because I’ve seen it before.
Right now, they’re filled with the kind of love that reminds us that everything that is of this Earth is only a fraction of what reality has in store for us.
Love is the promise—the proof—that the things we can’t see or touch are the things that are the strongest, the most everlasting.
I press my lips together, itching to tap those words into my phone so I can remember them. Because I totally want to use that line in my next romance novel now that I finally got the second one finished.
Instead, I just repeat them in my head, memorizing them, just as I do for this moment as I see Graydon lean into Hailey and kiss her for the first time as husband and wife. Tears threaten—they always do at weddings for me—and the entire audience very nearly leaps to their feet with applause.
I spot Harris among them, his date at his side. I was surprised to see him here since I didn’t even know that he and Graydon had gotten to be friends this past year. When I asked Graydon about it at the rehearsal dinner, all he said was that he owed Harris for keeping his mouth shut about something. But he wouldn’t say any more than that. No matter. It’s nice to have Harris even more firmly ensconced as an honorary part of our family.
Hailey and Graydon walk down the aisle together, arm in arm, their smiles exuberant.
The wedding party follows, and when I pass Harris this time, I can’t help taking a good look at his date, just as I couldn’t resist at the rehearsal dinner last night.
There’s no chemistry between them at all. And if I didn’t know better, I’d even suspect that he’d lassoed her just to keep me from setting him up with anyone for this event.
I’ve been told I come on a little too strongly as a matchmaker.
Still, this woman, as she glances down at her phone as I pass, seeming distracted by anything but romance… she simply won’t do for Harris.
Don’t even think about it,” Mason whispers, leaning into me as we turn at the end of the aisle.
“What?” My eyes are wide and innocent.
“I can read your mind.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Harris and that girl he brought. You know, he’s perfectly capable of finding an appropriate date.”
I turn, glancing behind me as the guests pour out of the aisles, and there she is, still looking at her phone.
Nope. Definitely no chemistry there. “I’m not so sure about that,” I counter. “She said at the rehearsal dinner that she had no idea why anyone would want to marry a military guy, which, considering I had just met her, kind of struck me as odd. I’d bet a month of sales from my first novel that they won’t last long.”
“A whole month of sales?”
“All twenty bucks worth,” I joke. “He’s moving back to Annapolis, you know.”
“Yep. Told me last night. He’s got a job at Fort Meade and wants to live here since it feels like home.” I have to agree with him there, I decide, my eyes glancing at the South River again. Just around the bend, I know this lovely river opens up into the stunning Chesapeake Bay.
I know it, because this place feels like home to me too.
“You know…” My voice trails a moment and Mason stops in his tracks on our walk toward where they’ll do the sword arch.
“Oh no,” he mutters.
“I know you well enough to know what’s coming next.”
I give him a gentle smack on his arm just like I always do. Just like I even did back in the years when we were just friends.
“I was just thinking about that basement apartment you used to rent on the Severn not far from here,” I tell him. “That would be a great place for Harris. I wonder if it’s vacant. That neighbor you had—she was single, right?”
He sends me a frown. “For a woman who believes in destiny, you really do meddle a lot.”
I counter his expression of disapproval with my widest smile. “Sometimes even destiny needs a little help.”
The corners of his mouth curve upward and he bends to kiss me. Perhaps to silence me. But I’d like to think it’s just because the pressure of my lips against his feels as decadent to him as it always does to me.
Always, since that first kiss we shared when we were just friends.