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WHITE SAND STRETCHES OUT in both directions. Behind me, palm trees sway in the Caribbean breeze, the soft scent of salty water wrapping around me. My dress flutters around my ankles as I shift my weight from one foot to the other.
“Knock, knock,” Dani says behind me, stepping into the pavilion I’ve been using to get ready. She ducks under the curtained door and smiles at me. “Wow, Bonnie,” she says. “You look beautiful.”
Spilling into the pavilion behind her are Layla, Penny, and Nikita. They’re all wearing matching bridesmaid dresses, and they clasp their hands at their chests in unison.
I spread the fluttery skirt of my dress. “You like it?”
My dress has an A-line skirt that falls all the way down to the ground. The bodice is fitted with an open back and a sweetheart neckline. Delicate lace flowers fall over the chiffon, placed in intricate clusters all over the bodice and skirt. It’s fluttery and delicate and feminine. My hair is in a low chignon, which the hairdresser recommended in case the beachside outdoor venue was particularly windy. I smooth a hand over my hips and smile at my friends.
“You’re a vision.” Penny beams at me.
“I have a present for you,” Dani cuts in, lifting a bag.
“Hush,” Dani interrupts, smiling at me. “Open it.”
From the bag, I pull out a velvet box. My hands begin to tremble at how familiar it is. “Dani…”
She clicks her tongue, urging me to open it with a wave of her hands.
But I already know what’s inside.
I flip the lid open and see the necklace Arlo gave me for the Noble Foundation Gala. A lump forms in my throat as light bounces off all those twinkling diamonds and sapphires…and then I notice the matching earrings pierced into the velvet beside the necklace.
“I gave this necklace to you, Dani. You were meant to break it apart and sell it.”
“Ha. Right. So,” Dani says, almost businesslike. “We figured this covers all your bases. Something old—the necklace. Something new—the earrings. That leaves something borrowed and something blue. I knew you’d be all weird about the necklace, so here’s the deal. You’re borrowing it—indefinitely. So that covers that. And the blue part is obvious.”
“Eight hundred grand’s worth of obvious,” Layla adds with a grin.
“Of course you can.” Dani lifts the necklace and undoes the clasp while Penny spins me around. Nikki grabs one of the earrings, handing it to me to put on while Layla grabs the other and waits on my other side. When both earrings are firmly in place, I spin around to look at the full-length mirror resting against one of the pavilion’s pillars.
I suck in a deep breath, running my fingers over the gemstones. “It’s perfect.”
Dani smiles at me in the reflection, her eyes glassy. “I know.”
“Come on, now,” Nikki says, blotting my forehead lightly to get rid of the shine that’s already poked through my makeup. “Let’s get you out there and get you married, already.”
A small string quartet begins to play the wedding march. My heart takes off in a flutter. I poke my friends out of the pavilion and find a group of people waiting to walk down the aisle in front of me. First are Beth—who carries a squirming one-year-old Becca—and Will. Penny winks at me, heading out to walk down the aisle beside her husband, followed by Layla, Leif, Dani, and Emil. Nikita and Rome are the last in line, and then it’s my turn.
My sister waits for me near the curtained entrance of the pavilion. “Ready?” she asks, extending her arms toward me.
“As I’ll ever be.”
Linda walks me down the aisle, proud as any parent. As I step to the beginning of the aisle lined with flower petals, my eyes lift, and I catch my first glimpse of my soon-to-be husband.
He’s wearing a sharp black suit with a white shirt and white waistcoat. His gaze crashes into mine, and it feels exactly like that first day in his living room. The world tilts, freezes, and nothing exists but him and me. I suck in a deep breath, and a smile breaks over my lips.
It takes all my self-control not to sprint down the aisle. Linda holds me firmly by her side, but she grins at me when she hands me off to Arlo. She could feel me urging us faster.
Arlo’s gaze drops to the necklace glittering against the base of my neck, and I watch him gulp. “I thought you got rid of that,” he whispers.
“I did,” I admit. “But apparently my friends had other ideas.”
His smile is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. He clasps my hands in his as the officiant begins the ceremony. I hear none of it. All my attention is captured by the man in front of me. His broad shoulders, his dark eyes, the smile lines around his lips. The kindness and love and trust pulsing from him like a living thing.
We seal our vows with a kiss, and I pull away from Arlo, laughing. His eyes shine bright, and he steals another kiss for good measure.
“You’re stuck with me now,” I tell him. “For better or worse.”
“I was going to say the same thing,” Arlo admits, laughing. He kisses my knuckles and leads me to the reception with all of our family and friends.
We—and by “we,” I mean Arlo—decided to rent out an island in the Bahamas for our wedding. The reception takes up the ballroom of a huge mansion where our guests are already milling, dancing, drinking, and eating. They cheer as we enter, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face if I tried.
Our first dance is set to salsa music, of course. In the past year, Arlo has kept to his word and taken me dancing as often as I’ve wanted. He’s only improved, and dancing with him is a special kind of joy. When our friends crowd onto the dance floor with us, happiness floods through me like a never-ending well bubbling up from the earth, warm and pure.
We dance until my ankle aches. Arlo notices immediately and sweeps me up into his arms, carrying me out of the room to the delight of all of our guests.
“I can walk,” I protest, but the way I’ve wrapped my arms around his shoulders belies my words.
Arlo grins at me. “I know, love, but you’re my bride, and I’m going to carry you to our wedding bed if it’s the last thing I do.”
We head out the front door and over to a smaller building. It’s tucked behind palm trees and lush foliage, a cabana looking out over the pristine waters all on its own. Arlo steps into the air-conditioned space and sets me down on my feet with the utmost care. His hands slide to my hips as he spins me around, resting his cheek against mine as we look over the space.
“What do you think?” my new husband asks softly.
I take in the flower petals strewn over the bed, the champagne chilling in its bucket of ice, the waves crashing on the beach just outside the big doors on the other side of the room. I lean into him, letting a smile curl my lips. “It’s so perfect, Arlo.”
“Just like you.”
I snort, turning in his arms. My fingers coast over his temples, stroking into his hair. I pull him down for a kiss that warms me through and through. Arlo groans as he licks into my mouth, deepening the kiss as he guides me to the bed.
My dress has a row of six buttons down the lower back. Arlo flicks them open one by one as he kisses me, then slips the shoulder straps off. The dress puddles at our feet in a white froth, and I’m left wearing a strapless white bra, white panties, white heels—and the necklace.
Arlo’s eyes darken as his fingers touch the edge of the precious stones ringing my neck. “I never got to do this before.”
“Do what?” I ask, even though I know the answer.
“Make love to you when you’re wearing nothing but this necklace.” His fingers flick open the clasp of my bra, and one more item of clothing drops to the floor.
I bite my lip. “Well, tonight’s as good as any—” I squeal as Arlo tosses me onto the bed. I bounce twice, laughing, and then my panties are being torn off.
“I’ll leave these on,” Arlo says, touching my shoes.
“You’re the boss,” I say, placing one of those shoes against his chest. I nudge one of the buttons of his shirt with the pointy, white toe. “But you’re also wearing too many clothes.”
Grinning, my husband kisses my ankle and gets to work rectifying that problem. As soon he’s as naked as I am, he joins me on the bed—and I forget about everything except him, me, our bodies, and the love that binds us together.