Daring Brides

By: Ava Miles


“Me too,” Danny mimicked.

So far, the two boys had bonded like crazy. Tanner threw Andy a look as if to say, “Kids.” The Hale brothers simply laughed and held out their hands as Arthur passed around more red hots. The man was like his own candy machine. Natalie deferred, agreeing with Tanner about the whole red-tongue thing.

“Are you nervous, Tanner?” Alan Hale, his future father-in-law, asked as he accepted a red hot.

Tanner had faced down the Taliban. How could he be nervous about marrying the woman of his dreams in the safe little town of Dare Valley, surrounded by family and friends? “Nope. Not a bit.”

“It’s getting to be about time,” Alan said, tapping his watch face.

“I’ll just go and grab my sister and my best man,” Tanner said. “That is, if they’re both still alive.”

Alan blinked rapidly, but Arthur barked out a laugh.

“Not too many men would come out alive after being penned up with your sister,” the older man said. “That’s why she’ll make a great deputy sheriff for our town. What are they doing in there, anyway?”

The Denver cousins, not to mention Meredith’s father, looked at Arthur like he’d just asked an inappropriate question, but the older man knew Peggy well enough to know there wasn’t any hanky panky going on in the waiting room. “They’re trading chokehold techniques.”

The other men’s eyes widened in shock, but the journalistic legend nodded sagely. “Sounds like a smart swap. You never know when you might need to use a chokehold on someone.”

“Dad!” Alan said aghast.

“You never worked international,” Arthur said. “It’s another world.”

After wrangling Asher and his sister, Tanner returned to the vestibule with the two in tow.

“I know you just got back here, but you’d better head to the waiting room with Asher,” Alan said, making sure his tie was straight. “The guests are starting to arrive.”

Tanner didn’t see the harm in staying where he was, but he clapped Asher on the back and off they went. When it came time for the ceremony to begin, he and Asher strolled out and took their places at the altar. All of the guests smiled at him, but his eyes were glued to the front of the church, waiting for that first glimpse of his bride. Covered in a long white runner, the aisle was flanked by candles and red roses, amaryllis, and red hypericum, the latter of which he would never have identified if Meredith hadn’t asked him to make a follow-up call to the florist one night.

Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” swelled, and so did his heart. He smiled as Danny came down the aisle holding an engraved sign that said Here Comes the Bride. They’d had to send the first sign back because it had arrived saying Here Comes the Bird. Someone needed to use spell check.

Next came Keith, their ring bearer, who beamed with happiness as he made his way up the aisle and came to a stop near the altar.

Looking lovely in a red satin bridesmaid’s dress, Jill strutted down the aisle with that sassy smile of hers. Asher met her halfway, and she curled her fingers around his arm and gave her grandpa a wink as she passed him. Tanner simply shook his head at his soon-to-be sister-in-law, whom he loved not only for all the energy she had poured into matchmaking for him and Meredith, but also for her wicked sense of humor. She blew him a kiss and took her place on the other side of the altar.

Then the music changed to “Ode to Joy,” which Meredith had chosen for its name, and everyone in the church stood.

His throat backed up when he saw her. Her red hair was swept up into some kind of elegant coif with soft curls framing her face. A short white veil was tucked into her hair and danced along her mid-back as she walked down the aisle, her blue eyes sparkling. When her dad kissed her cheek and stepped back, she locked gazes with Tanner and didn’t glance away. It felt like nothing could pull them apart.

As he took her hand, he knew nothing ever would.



***



Meredith knew everyone oohed and aahed over the bride at weddings, but when she saw Tanner, she decided those people were missing the boat. He was the most handsome groom imaginable. She was so glad he hadn’t worn a tux out of convention because his cream tan suit was so much more him. His rugged face softened when their hands met, and his brown eyes shone like the North Star on a recent December night.

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