The Only One
One Year Later
The clinging sound of silver against glass interrupted the enthusiastic chatter that filled the intimate dining room.
“Can I have everyone’s attention, please?” my father’s voice raised over the noise as he ceased dinging against his wineglass. “I promise, I’ll make it quick.” He smiled from where he stood at the head of the table. The room broke out in soft laughter.
I chuckled with them as I snuck my hand under the table and into Ava’s lap. I squeezed her leg just above her knee, causing her to look over at me with her big, beautiful smile. She covered my hand with hers, clasping them together, before turning her attention to my father.
“I know many of you, like myself, are excited about tomorrow’s festivities taking place. It’s been a long time coming and I know I speak for both my wife and myself when I say we are thrilled to be welcoming Ava to the Blackwood family. It is an even greater honor that she has so graciously agreed to allow me to walk her down the aisle.” His gaze fell onto my bride-to-be, as did mine, before he continued. “Ava, though I would never dare try to take your father’s place, I hope you know I think of you as a daughter as much as my own children. Vivian and I are here for you always. Welcome to the family,” he said, raising his glass.
She swiped away the tear rolling down her cheek before raising her flute of champagne. “Thank you,” she mouthed quietly to my father.
Still holding her hand tight, I lifted my glass as well.
The entire room of guests followed suit, and loads of “cheers” rang throughout. When the chatter amongst our friends and family picked back up, I leaned over, giving Ava a kiss.
“You okay?” I asked as I sat back.
She nodded. “I’m great. It’s just hard not having him here, but I know he’s looking down on us now and will be cheering for us tomorrow all the way from heaven.”
Lifting our clasped hands, I kissed the back of hers. “I love you. So damn much.”
“I love you, too.” She palmed my cheek, giving me another kiss.
“Alright, you two, break it up. Save some for tomorrow and the honeymoon.” Riley gripped my shoulders, giving them a playful squeeze as he pulled me away from Ava. “Besides, it’s time for us boys to part ways with the ladies.”
“That’s right,” Lizzie said as she, Joce, and Emily joined his side.
“Is this really necessary?” I grumbled.
“Yes!” they all yelled in unison, including Ava.
I frowned. It was one of the many wedding traditions I could live without. I hated the thought of spending the night away from her, but I knew it’s what she wanted.
“You know what they say. Distance makes the heart grow fonder,” Joce added.
I’d had enough distance from Ava to last me a lifetime. I was overflowing with fondness.
Seeing as they outnumbered me, I stood from my chair and leaned over my fiancé to whisper in her ear. “Tomorrow. Two o’clock. On the beach. Do not be late.”
“And if I am?” she countered.
“I will find you and take you away from all this non-sense and force you to elope the way I wanted.” The moment I proposed, I wanted to elope and marry immediately. Ava and our families had other ideas, though. For once, I conceded, hence the long ass engagement. Planning a wedding took time. More time than I liked.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t love all this.”
“I love it because you do. As long as you’re happy, I’m happy.” I kissed her cheek. “Tomorrow, Ms. Connor, you better be there.”
“Promise. I’ll be the one in white.” She winked, then blew me a kiss as I walked away with Riley.
Jackson, Mike, and some of my other friends were waiting by the exit for us. As we walked out into the parking lot of the restaurant, a tall figure approached us. I slowed my pace when I recognized the man coming to a stop in front of me.
“Hey,” he said nervously.
“Adam,” I responded tersely. “What are you doing here?”
“I…uh…I was invited.”
I looked over at Riley. He shrugged and shook his head.
“By Ava,” Adam clarified. “She told me you wanted me here…for the bachelor party.”
Of course she did. Ava had been on me for a while now about mending things with Adam. She believed he was as much a victim of Serena’s mind games as I was. She had a point, and a part of me wanted to reach out to him someday, but I hadn't yet.
“I guess she was wrong and I shouldn’t have showed—”
“She wasn’t,” I interrupted. “I’m glad you’re here, man.” I held out my hand to him. “Tonight wouldn’t be the same without you.”
He swallowed hard, before placing his hand in mine giving it a firm handshake. “Thanks. For what it’s worth, I really am sorry about all that shit in the past.”
I released his hand and clapped his shoulder. “Water under the bridge, man. What do you say?”
“Sounds great,” Riley chimed in. “Now let’s get this man a beer!” He smacked my back, forcing me toward the limo where Jim stood waiting.
Eighteen Months Later
“Ava?” I called out as I closed the front door and shoved my keys into my pants pocket.
She had beaten me home for the first time since we married. I always made it an effort to get home before she did from work. I didn’t take the advice Rex Archibald had given me years ago lightly. Work was important, but Ava was my priority. And being home when she walked in the door every day meant the world to her.
She didn’t respond, so I followed the music and the sweet smell of something baking coming from the kitchen. Her back was to me as she swayed her hips to the beat and licked some kind of icing off her fingers.
I leaned a shoulder against the door opening to the room and crossed my arms and ankles as I took it all in. My wife. Even more beautiful as she danced barefoot around the kitchen, still in her pencil skirt and blouse she wore to work this morning. Her hair was now in a messy bun, her heels deposited somewhere on the living room floor, I was sure. They were the first things to come off every evening she came home from work.
I was enjoying the little show she was giving me, even if she didn’t yet realize she had an audience. When she started to twerk, I rubbed a hand over my smile, knowing if she kept it up much longer, I’d be forced to toss her over my shoulder and take her to our bed. Or maybe I'd bend her over the kitchen counter and make good use of that bowl of icing.
She did a little spin and then screamed when she finally saw me. Her hand flew to her chest.
“Freaking hell, Rhett! You scared me half to death.”
I laughed, walking into the room, then hooked an arm around her waist and pulled her to me. I licked the frosting from the corner of her mouth before taking her mouth with mine.
“You’re home early,” I said.
“I am,” she beamed.
“And you’re baking?”
“Yep!” She wrapped her arms around my neck. “Cinnamon buns.”
“Cinnamon buns? At five o’clock in the evening.”
She nodded, biting down on her grinning bottom lip.
“Are they for the morning?”
She shook her head. Her grin growing wider. “Nope. I figured a bun in the oven was appropriate for dessert this evening.”
I stared at her as I processed everything she was saying. The timer on the oven went off just as it hit me.
“Bingo!” she said, bouncing on her toes.
“For real?” I asked in a bit of shock. We hadn’t been trying technically, but we hadn’t been not trying either.
“Yes!” she said, trying to pull away from me to turn off the timer and get the cinnamon rolls out of the oven.
I refused to let her go, my gaze dropping to her stomach. She laughed and kissed my cheek. “I need to get them out of the oven before they burn.”
I didn’t give a damn about the buns burning, but I released her as she pried herself from my arms. She shut off the timer, opened the oven, and took out the rolls.
I leaned back against the island counter, rubbing a hand over my face and through my hair.
Turning back toward me, Ava’s smile fell. “What are you feeling right now?” she asked nervously, walking back over to me.
A million things. Surprised. Scared. Worried. Extremely protective. Excited. Thrilled. But mostly...“Complete.” I gripped her hips and pulled her flush against me. “Complete. And completely happy. This is up there with one of the best days of my life.”
“Truly. You just made my world even better. Every day, you make it better.”
A tear slipped down her cheek. “We’re going to be parents.”
I nodded. “We’re going to be great fucking parents.”
She laughed and poked my shoulder. “Watch your mouth, Mr. Blackwood. Little ears are listening now.”
I chuckled and kissed her. If I had any say, we were going to have tons of little ears listening in the future.