The walls of the sanctuary pulsated as the organ swelled to the final verse of Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary,
Erin’s cue to begin the walk down the aisle. She drew a calming breath, and met her father’s gaze. “Ready?” she whispered.
Her father gave her a conspiratorial wink, the lines of his leathery face revealing every bit of laughter and every ounce of pain he had endured throughout his fifty-seven years on earth. He tucked her trembling hand in the crook of his elbow. She felt his quiet strength surge through the cool fabric of his tuxedo.
“Ready.” His voice was rock steady. His eyes glistened with tears. His lips quivered with unspoken emotions.
The sound of rustling crinoline thundered in her ears as she took her first step towards her new life.
Erin blinked against the bright sunlight streaming through the sanctuary’s stained-glass windows. It seemed as if every angel in heaven were blessing this union. That’s a good sign, Erin thought.
The pews were overflowing with family, friends, co-workers, and members of the press. So many faces, all here to witness her and Grant’s vows of undying love.
Her four-year-old niece, Kaitlyn, stood at the steps of the altar, swaying to the music. Round, unblinking eyes and impish grin peeked from beneath a white straw hat. Kaitlyn had been instructed to scatter the contents of her basket before reaching the steps. One large pile of rose petals lay at the child’s feet.
Grant and I will have equally adorable children. The thought gave
Erin courage to continue. Her slipper-clad feet whispered down the aisle. Step. Pause. Step. Pause.
What in the hell are you doing? screamed a little voice inside her. Just bridal jitters, she attempted to calm herself.
Smile for the camera.
Did the florist remember the last minute changes?
Erin glanced at the extravagant flower arrangements that filled the chancel. Three hundred and sixty-seven dusty pink roses dwarfed the altar, one for each day she and Grant had known each other. Bouquets of rose buds, baby’s breath and greenery wrapped with white satin ribbon hung at the end of each pew. Silver urns overflowing with freesias, gladiolas, iris and orchids stood in soldier-like formation up the alter steps. Bridesmaids clutched simple nosegays of white rose buds tied with cascading ribbons in shades that harmonized with their raspberry sorbet-colored dresses. Groomsmen tucked similar white rose buds into the lapels of their shadow-gray tuxedos. Erin sighed. Everything was perfect. Just as she had always dreamed.
Remember to send a thank you note to the florist.
Oh my God. What has Aunt Muriel got on her head?
Erin blinked in disbelief at the dozens of scraggly wildflowers that festooned her aunt’s trademark straw hat. It listed dangerously to the right as the dear old lady waved an exaggerated greeting. Erin dipped her bouquet in acknowledgement.
Don’t breath. Mrs. Gunderson’s dab of perfume will make you sneeze.
Don’t cry. Your mascara will run.
Don’t let Grant look you in the eye...he won’t see his love reflected there.
Her father tugged on her hand, urging her to pick up the pace. She realized she was hanging back. No doubt any first year psychology student would diagnose that her subconscious was sending a strong, clear message. And they would be right. It felt like she was walking to the gallows. A death sentence? No, this was more of a life sentence.
Blood pounded in her ears. The tightly clenched bouquet pierced her hand. The netting of her veil tickled her nose. Her breakfast of a blueberry bagel with cream cheese gurgled at the back of her throat. Sweat trickled down the underside of her arms. Her feet felt like cement blocks.
I’m marrying the man of your dreams, Mom.
The final notes of the organ music faded and the sanctuary fell into a hushed silence. The minister’s strong voice reverberated off the walls. “Who gives this bride to this man?”
“Her mother and I.” The comforting smell of her father’s Old Lyme after shave tingled her nostrils as he lifted the veil from her face. His brown eyes shimmered with tears as he leaned down and kissed her cheek. With one last reassuring squeeze, he gave her to Grant.
Grant’s hands were warm and welcoming. Her own felt as cold as ice.
Look at him.
A deep breath steadied her nerves and kept the tears at bay as she turned towards the minister. She focused on the stained glass window above his head. Light filtered through an image of a dove carrying an olive branch.
As the minister welcomed the witnesses,
Erin dared a peek at Grant. He was so handsome, with his strong square face, dancing green eyes and sensuous mouth. His thick blond hair always looked as if he had just been roused from a restful slumber. She fought the urge to brush back one errant curl from the middle of his forehead. With his good looks, Olympic-athlete body and intelligence that had earned him a degree with honors from , Grant was considered the most eligible bachelor in the state. Harvard Law School
Erin and Grant were the perfect couple. Everyone said so. They had been inseparable since Grant had backed his fire-red BMW Z3 over the flat of purple petunias she’d been planting as part of the Main Street Beautification Project. They liked the same movies, enjoyed the same restaurants, and shared the same bizarre sense of humor. His kisses were passionate; his lovemaking tender and satisfying.
So what in the world was wrong with her? Grant was everything she’d ever dreamed of in a husband.
HE’S NOT DAKOTA! That reality had been tapping at the fringes of her conscious thoughts for weeks.
Dakota doesn’t love you. Never has, and never will. Grant does. In time, you’ll forget Dakota. In time, you’ll learn to love Grant.
“Let us pray. Dear Father, we ask that you bless this union of Grant and Erin...”
“Amen,” echoed the audience.
“If there is anyone in this room who has reason that Grant and Erin should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace.”
I DO! screamed
Erin’s little voice, but she bit her tongue to avoid uttering the words aloud.
“I DO!” a deep voice declared from the back of the church.
A chorus of “OH’s!” accompanied by the sound of snapping necks rippled through the assemblage as heads turned to see the source of the dissension.
The knot in
Erin’s stomach unclenched. The light shining through the windows beamed even more brilliantly. The heaviness that had clutched her heart dissipated like a whisper on a breeze. Erin heard the sounds of angels singing the Hallelujah chorus, for she knew that the sweet baritone could only belong to one man. Dakota!
Grant’s firm grip on her hand prevented
Erin from turning completely around, but she managed to twist far enough to peer over her shoulder. Her heart thudded against her breast as she watched Dakota stride down the aisle. He looked more handsome, more desirable, and more vital than ever. Jet black hair emphasized his deeply-tanned face. A T-shirt clung to his brawny torso. Aged Levi’s hugged narrow hips and sinewy thighs. Dusty cowboy boots scratched along the satin runner, their muffled ka-thumping music to Erin’s soul. As Dakota approached the altar, Erin’s gaze locked with deep blue eyes whose smoldering depths revealed a love so intense it stole her breath away.
Erin’s hands from Grant’s and turned her to face him. “Marry me, Erin.”
It wasn’t a question, just a simple statement.
Erin smiled through happy tears.
Dakota stood and scooped her in his arms. Her slippers fluttered from beneath a sea of satin and lace as he carried her back down the aisle. Murmurs of speculation ushered the happy couple towards the exit. A smattering of applause and whispered congratulations revealed that many knew
Erin’s heart better than she did herself.
“Do you love me, Erin?” Dakota whispered, his warm breath tickling her ear.