Someone Like Her ~ The Wedding
By Sandra Owens
"Jake's going to drool as soon as he sees you in this dress."
"He better not drool in the middle of our wedding." Maria Kincaid pressed her hands against her stomach in a futile attempt to calm the butterflies cavorting in there. She gave her sister-in-law a weak smile. "Were you this nervous when you and Logan got married?"
Dani Kincaid adjusted the headband made of red roses that Maria wore. "No, not at all, but maybe because it was my second wedding. I was a bundle of nerves when Evan and I got married."
"Well, I only plan to do this once." At the flash of sadness in Dani's eyes, Maria wished she could take the words back. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you sad."
"Oh, sweetie, you didn't. I've been blessed to love two wonderful men and there's nothing sad about that."
Maria had always felt confused about Evan's death. Logan had loved Evan like a brother and had taken Evan's death hard. Yet, her brother was now married to Dani and happier than he'd ever been in his life, which never would have happened if Evan hadn't been killed when he and Logan had been SEALs.
"Stop thinking about the past, Maria. Today is your wedding day and it's all about you."
She grinned. "I love you, you know."
"I know, and I love you back, sweetie."
Before Maria could respond, there was a knock on the hotel suite's door. "Why didn't Jake and I just elope?"
"Because your brother would have been crushed if you'd done such a thing." Dani said, as she went to the door.
Okay, that was true and she'd never deny Logan being a part of her wedding day. When she heard her father speaking quietly to Dani, Maria grinned. "Tell him to come in."
Although she had been afraid to hope he would come, she'd invited him to her wedding, and he'd answered, saying, "Of course I'll be there to give my daughter away." He'd arrived two days ago, and they had spent time together with Jake and her family, and time alone, just talking and getting to know each other.
From the first, he'd told her to call him Papa, and she was still getting used to having a father in her life. But he was everything she could hope for in a dad, and she already loved him. That she would have a true father to walk down the aisle with her was a dream she hadn't dared to think possible only a few months ago.
Even though everyone, her Papa, Jake, and Logan had been sure he really was her father, she had been afraid to believe it until the DNA test he'd agreed to had come back positive. Tomorrow, she and Jake would return with him to San Diego, where she would meet her half-sister, Elena, and Elena's baby, Rosy. It still boggled Maria's mind that she had an instant family; a father, half-sister, niece, and a grandmother. Her father had also as much as adopted Logan into his family, and for that she was grateful. Even though her brother—who would probably never learn who his father was—pretended it didn't really matter, she knew him well enough to tell he was touched by the gesture.
"Mi amor," her papa said, coming straight to her and giving her a kiss on each cheek. He stepped back and surveyed her from head to toe. "Ah, chica, you are a beautiful bride. Your husband is a lucky man."
Maria laughed. "That he is." There was so much joy in her heart that she didn't quite know what to do with it all. She reached up and adjusted the single red rose in his lapel. "I'm so glad you're here, Papa. Thank you."
The warmth in his smile as he looked at her made her eyes sting. Her father was a handsome man. A few inches taller than her, his salt-and-pepper-hair gave him a distinguished appearance, but her favorite thing about him were the laugh lines at the corner of his dark brown eyes that were so like hers.
"There is no where else I would be on this day, Daughter."
She loved it when he called her daughter, yet it made her a little sad. The mother who had given birth to her had never once called her anything but "Stupid". "Hey, Stupid, come brush my hair." Or, "I wish you'd never been born, Stupid."
Her father had asked about Lovely Dovey, but Maria hadn't wanted to go there with him, not at the happiest time of her life. Someday when she knew him better, maybe she would tell him about the house of horrors she and Logan had grown up in. On the other hand, knowing what it had been like for her and her brother would only serve to make him feel guilty for not knowing about her and doing something, so perhaps it was best to just brush over her history.
Logan opened the door and peeked in. "Everyone decent?"
Before she could answer, Dani's young daughter, Regan, pushed past him and ran to Maria.
"Maria! Look at me."
"Aren't you just beautiful?" Maria said, turning Regan so she could see the two of them in the full-length mirror.
Regan giggled. "We're the same same."
When Maria had found the perfect wedding dress, at seeing it, Regan had insisted on a dress just like it for herself. The wedding gown was elegant in its simplicity. The white silk slip dress, held up by two thin straps, covered her from the top of her breasts down to her ankles. What made it unique was the slit on one side up to a few inches above her knee and the row of red roses embroidered down both sides of the slit.
Regan's dress was ruffled from the waist down, with embroidered roses around the hem. Instead of spaghetti straps, her little girl dress had a wide ban of silk over her shoulders.
Regan held a basket filled with red rose petals, and Maria had decided on a single red rose for herself, tied with a white silk ribbon on the stalk, the ends of the ribbon almost reaching the floor. She thought is simple yet dramatic.
Regan spun in a circle. "Do I look pretty, Maria?"
"You sure do, sweetheart."
"Is it time to go?" Maria asked, her gaze searching for a clock. The last thing she wanted was to be late to her own wedding. If she wasn't there when she was supposed to be, Jake would come find her, toss her over his shoulder and carry her to the minister. That she knew without doubt. Wouldn't that be embarrassing?
"What's so funny?" Logan asked.
Stifling her giggle, Maria shrugged. "Nothing. Just my nerves." But she couldn't get the image of the last time Jake had gone all caveman on her and actually had tossed her over his shoulder. It had led to an amazing night that just thinking of it brought heat to her face.
Her brother moved in front of her and put his hands on her shoulders. "You look beautiful. Jake better know how lucky he is." He kissed her forehead. "I'm so proud of you. I have something for you from Jake." He pulled a long white velvet box from inside his tux pocket and handed it to her.
The breath rushed out of her when she opened the lid. Nestled on silk, the delicate silver chain and heart shaped ruby surrounded by glittering diamonds was beautiful, and a perfect match to her wedding dress. Dani helped her put it on and Maria simply had to admire it in the mirror.
"It's gorgeous," she said. Later that night, she would smother Jake with kisses. The pearl drop earrings she'd chosen for the day didn't quite work now, and she debated removing them.
"And these are from Dani and me." Logan handed her a small velvet box.
Inside was a pair of matching ruby earrings. Tears stung her eyes as Dani removed the pearl ones so Logan could put the ruby ones in her ears. From her earliest memories, her brother had been her protector, keeping her out of the hands of their mother's johns. He had been her champion, had believed in her when she told him at fifteen that she wanted to be a lawyer, and had supported her in all things.
As she stared into his eyes, she saw tears pooling in his. He would always be there for her, but on that day, she would marry her Jake, and even though she knew it would be the hardest thing he'd ever done, Logan would take a step back.
"You better not start crying and ruin your makeup, okay?" Dani said.
"I don't think that's a promise I can make."
Dani smiled. "Yeah, probably not a promise I could make either."
"Can we go get married now, Maria?"
At the tug on her hand, Maria knelt in front of Regan. "We sure can. Do you remember what to do?"
Regan plucked a rose petal out of her basket and dropped it on the floor. "I put these down like that and then you walk on them." She reached up and touched Maria's necklace. "That's pretty. I wish I had one."
"Ah, that reminds me," Logan said. Taking a smaller jewelry box from his pocket, he handed it to Regan.
Regan's eyes grew wide when she opened the box. "For me?"
Logan nodded. "Because you're Daddy's best little girl."
After Dani put a smaller version of Maria's necklace around her daughter's neck, Regan threw herself at Logan. "I love you, Daddy."
As Maria exchanged a teary glance with Dani, she marveled at how far the people in this room had come since the day Dani's first husband, Evan, had been killed. Her brother and Evan's wife had fallen in love when he'd gone to Asheville to protect her and baby Regan from a stalker.
They made sure Regan knew Evan was her real father, made sure memories of him were shared with Regan so she would know and love the father she'd never met. Logan had stepped into the role of father to the little girl and loved her as much as he loved his twin baby boys.
Her brother had finally found love and was the happiest he'd ever been in his life, and today, she was marrying the love of her life. Maria glanced at Logan and saw that he was watching her as he hugged Regan. He smiled, and she smiled back while trying to hold back tears of happiness.
For two kids raised by a mother who didn't give a damn about either one of them, they'd both done pretty darn good with their lives. Without asking, she knew he was thinking the same thing.
"Let's go get me married before Jake comes looking for me," she said.
As a SEAL, Jake Buchanan had survived numerous tours in-country, had somehow managed to return home each time with nothing more than a slight scar on his cheek that his bride—where the hell was she?—claimed gave him an air of mystery. He snorted at that thought. He'd been shot in the leg twice and had survived. Didn't even have a lingering limp to show for it.
He wasn't at all sure he would survive his wedding.
"You're gonna wear a hole in the bottom of your shoes if you don't stop pacing."
Jake glared at Jamie Turner. "Easy for you to say, Saint. It's not your bride who's MIA." He held up his arm, putting his watch in his friend's face. "She should have been here ten minutes ago."
When Saint's eyes slid away, Jake followed his teammate's gaze to see Sugar Darling sitting at the end of the third row of chairs. He glanced from her to Jamie, noting the naked longing in each of their eyes. So that was how the wind blew. Considering Saint had no sympathy for Jake's missing bride predicament, he hoped Sugar gave Jamie a run for his money.
Just as Jake decided he'd go find his errant bride, the minister approached. By the expression on the man's face, Jake's heart tumbled, landing with a thud somewhere in the vicinity of his belly. She wasn't going to marry him.
"I'm…I'm sorry," the man stammered.
It was a near thing, but Jake refrained from killing the messenger. "What did she say?" he growled.
Reverend Hammonds scrunched his eyebrows. "Who? My daughter? You know already?"
Jake shook his head, trying to clear it. "Let's start over. What are you sorry about?"
"The music. You won't have any."
At a glance at the piano, Jake saw that no one sat on the bench, ready to play the Wedding March. Nor was there a soloist where there had been one at the rehearsal. Didn't matter since there also wasn't a bride in sight.
Reverend Hammond cleared his throat. "My daughter ran away yesterday with your pianist. They called from Vegas. Got married by Elvis." The man's cheeks reddened. "I'm really sorry, Mr. Buchanan."
So was Jake, but not about the lack of music. If Maria had gotten cold feet, she could have at least warned him so he wasn't standing like an idiot in front of all their friends, some checking their watches, some glancing behind them at the empty door where no bride made an appearance.
Ryan O'Connor, the SEAL team's medic, who would soon come to work at K2, stepped up. "I'll sing for you."
"That would be great, Doc, if there was gonna be a wedding." Did he know Doc could sing? He tried to remember if O'Connor ever had and couldn't think of a time. Who the hell cared? He really needed to leave before he hurt someone.
Just as he turned to leave, a little girl appeared at the back of the outdoor room on the beach where he and Maria had chosen to be married. Regan Prescott—Dani and Evan's daughter—reached into the basket on her arm and grabbed a handful of rose petals, tossing them ahead of her.
The boss stepped up next to Jake, serving in the role of best man, at the same time his wife, Dani, took her place as matron of honor. Jamie was serving as groomsman, his counter part, Gina, Maria's best friend from college stood as a bridesmaid. Jake exhaled a long breath. His bride hadn't run away.
"Go sing," he ordered Doc, not caring if the man's voice was going to be the worst he'd ever heard. "Get ready to marry us," he said to the minister, who scurried up to the front, likely relieved to have Jake's attention off the missing music that had been promised.
As Regan walked down the aisle, tossing her rose petals like a professional flower girl, Jake's teammate began to sing Ave Maria. Well damn. How had the team never known what a beautiful voice O'Connor had? While keeping his eyes trained on the door, he made a mental note to thank Doc for choosing the perfect song.
And then, there she was. His bride. His heart. His every breath.
On the arm of Miguel Garcia, her father, Maria met his gaze and smiled. As Doc's incredible voice filled the air around him, Jake's gaze raked over his bride. She was beautiful. She was his. The slip of a wedding gown she wore, he guessed to be silk. As she came toward him, her rhinestone high-heeled sandals peeking out from under the bottom of her dress caught his eyes. The glimpse of a tanned leg that teased him with every step she took made him want to lick his lips. Red roses trailed down both sides of the slit in the gown, and he swallowed a smile remembering how sly Dani had been in guiding him to choose the ruby necklace as his wedding gift to his bride.
He lifted his gaze to the ruby heart hanging from Maria's neck, then further up to take in her face. Her dark brown eyes promised a love that he'd never thought to want until her. On her head was a band of miniature red roses, and he smiled at seeing she'd honored his request. All he'd asked of her was to wear her long hair down, and other than the band with a lace veil attached to the back of it, pulling her black hair away from her face, she'd honored his request.
"You're one lucky dog," Saint quietly said.
He was, no doubt about it.
"You want the rest, Jake?"
Tearing his gaze from Maria, Jake looked down to see Regan standing in front of him, holding up her little basket, a thin layer of rose petals left in the bottom. He bent down and whispered in her ear, getting a wide grin from her.
"And it's a secret?" she asked, the eyes so much like Evan's alight with mischief.
"Our secret," he answered. "And you can only tell your mom."
She bounced off toward Dani, and he watched for a moment as she whispered in her mother's ear. Then he turned his attention back to Maria. Someday, they would have a little girl with mischief in coffee-colored eyes. He couldn't wait.
Doc finished the song at the moment Maria's father placed her hand in Jake's.
"She is a priceless treasure," Miguel said. "Love her and value her and she will always shine for you."
"I will. You have my promise." Amazed at how happy he was that he was about to be married, Jake turned them to face the minister.
"Why was Ryan singing?" Maria whispered.
"Something to do with Elvis." At her wide, questioning eyes, he grinned. "We'll have a great story to tell our kids about this day." He nodded to the minister to begin.
As he listened to the traditional wedding ceremony, Maria's soft hand still in his, her exotic scent wafting up, he wondered how he'd gotten so lucky. He'd gone from a man who hadn't believed he had it in him to be faithful to one woman, to a man who wanted no other woman but the one standing beside him. That she loved him back after what he'd put her through was a miracle. One he would never take for granted.
"Jake and Maria have something they want to say to each other," Reverend Hammond said. "Maria, you may go first."
She turned toward him, placing her other hand in his, her eyes soft and filled with love as she looked up at him. "I love you, Tiger Toes, you know that."
Jake couldn't help it, he laughed. He'd once tried to keep her silly name for him a secret from the team, but there were no secrets between the men he loved like brothers, and as he'd feared, they relentlessly teased him. Funny thing. He didn't care.
"I know," he said.
The smile she gave him then, had him leaning toward her, meaning to kiss her.
"Not yet," she hissed. "So, even though I love you with everything I am, don't expect me to eat broccoli. Okay?"
Jesus. He wanted to laugh because she was just so damned precious. Deciding to use her favorite word against her, he said, "Whatever."
His bride snorted, and behind them, he heard snickers and chuckles. As far as he was concerned, he and Maria were having the best wedding ever if they were amusing their guests.
"That's not encouraging, Jake. Besides, that's my word, so don't be stealing it. Anyway, my heart belongs to you. If drinking one of those yucky green shakes you make for breakfast will prove how much I love you, I'll do it." She grimaced. "That's saying a lot, you know."
The woman was melting his heart.
A beautiful smile lit her face. "The truth is, Jake, I've loved you in secret for a long time, and this is the happiest day of my life. I'll love you always and forever."
"I'll hold you to that, Chiquita. My turn?" he asked, glancing at the minister, who seemed a bit dazed by the turn the wedding had taken.
"Whatever," the man said, and those in the room who knew that word belonged to Maria burst into laughter.
"Yeah, whatever." He pulled Maria a few inches closer. "Maria, I don't think I can survive without you. You are my everything. I promise to never make you eat broccoli. Can we kiss now?" Somehow, the two-paragraph speech of flowery love that he'd written had been lost in the moment. Something he should get used to where his bride was concerned.
"In a minute. First I have to pronounce you man and wife," the minister said.
"Husband and wife," Jake corrected. Then, not waiting for permission, he kissed his bride right to the stars and back.
"You ever coming out of there, wife?"
Maria wiped the steam from the mirror with a towel. Still riding a high from hearing the minister's words pronouncing her and Jake husband and wife, she grinned at the growl in Jake's voice. He'd wanted to shower with her, but then the sexy lingerie Dani had helped her choose wouldn't have made it onto her body.
"In a minute, husband."
They had a suite at the beach resort where they'd been married earlier in the day, and she laughed, thinking of how much fun their wedding had turned out. Tomorrow, they would board a plane along with her father for a honeymoon in San Diego, where she would meet the rest of her new family.
She didn't check her reflection in the mirror again. If she had, she'd likely snatch one of the hotel robes and cover up the transparent—barely there—little red teddy. Why was she so nervous? It wasn't like this would be their first night together. But she was a wife now, and somehow, that changed everything.
Jake tapped on the door. "Chiquita, I'm going to tear the hinges off this thing if you don't come out."
His impatience settled the nerves inside her. With a grin on her face, she opened the door and breezed past him. "Whatever."
"Chiqui…" he said, then made a choking sound.
Maria glanced over her shoulder to see her husband eyeing her as if she were his favorite flavored ice cream cone, one he couldn't wait to lick.
"That…that…" He made a sweeping gesture with his hand, then gave a low wolf-whistle.
Crooking her finger, she headed for the bedroom, not looking back to see if he followed. She knew he was. When she stepped into the room, she paused to take in the sight in front of her. When she'd gathered up everything to go take a shower, it had been a normal hotel bedroom. Now, it was a fairyland.
Red rose petals were scattered over the bed, vanilla scented candles—the only light—burned on the nightstands, and soft music played from somewhere. An ice bucket with a champagne bottle in it was on one of the side tables, and two crystal flutes set next to the bucket, ready to be filled with the golden liquid.
"You'll have to call Regan tomorrow and tell her how much you loved her surprise," Jake said, coming up behind her. He wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled her ear. "God, you smell good."
"I doubt she was the one who thought of the champagne." She leaned her head to the side, giving him better access.
"The rose petals. She thought it was great fun putting them on the bed. Now she wants to get married so she can put some on hers."
"You guys were busy little bees while I was showering." A shiver traveled down her spine when he licked the skin on the back of her neck, then nipped at it.
He chuckled. "And I'm about to get real busy, wife. This little thing you've got on," he tugged on the top. "It's damned sexy, but I'm going to enjoy taking it off you."
As he spoke, he walked her toward the bed while still holding onto her from behind. He scraped his teeth across her shoulder, then soothed the skin with licks of his tongue, sending heat spiraling downward to her core. The love she felt for this man sometimes scared her. Not that he didn't love her back, but that she'd had no role model growing up on how to be in a lasting relationship. What if she couldn't keep him happy?
"Hmm?" She glanced back at him, then thought she might melt because of the way his hazel eyes shimmered with desire.
"You're thinking, and whatever worry is going through that beautiful mind of yours, we can talk to death tomorrow. And, Maria, I'm guessing you're doubting yourself somehow. Silly girl, I love you. Love all your perfections and, although I've not found any faults, if you had some, I'd love them, too." He lifted her hair, wrapping the long strands around his hand, then trailed his tongue down the back of her neck. "Tonight it's just you and me making a beautiful memory."
"Whatever," she said, knowing it would make him laugh, which it did. How did he know her so well that without her saying a word he understood?
"Yeah, whatever." He pressed the hard length of him against her back so that she felt all of him—his muscled chest, his erection pushing against her bottom, and his strong thighs rubbing hers.
Not sure her legs would support her any longer, she leaned back on him. "Jake." She felt the curve of his lips on her skin, and then he picked her up as if she weighed no more than a feather and hugged her to his chest.
"We're married," he said, as if in wonder.
She smiled up at him. "I love you." She wanted to stand on a rooftop somewhere and shout out her happiness for the world to hear. Until the day she saw the ring he wore made from the strands of her hair that he'd stolen—the rat thief—she hadn't thought the time would come when she could call him husband.
He lowered her to the bed as if she were a precious jewel, and then stood and stared down at her. Jake was a beautiful man, and she never got tired of looking at him, but he still wore his tux.
"Take your clothes off, but do it slowly," she said.
He gave her a wicked smile. "So you want a show?"
The candles lit the room in a soft glow, and as he did a slow striptease, her mouth watered. With each button he undid, a little more of his chest appeared, and it was like having the best ever Christmas present unwrapped for her. The flickering flames of the candles cast shadows over him, and he was like some magic prince who'd come to grant her every wish. And, oh, did she ever have a barrel of wishes tonight.
Finally, he shed his shirt, and the breath left her in a rush of air. Her gaze followed his hands as he lowered them to the waistband of his trousers. It was torture waiting for him to remove his pants, but she'd asked for this show—and boy, was he giving her one—so she fisted the sheets and chewed on her bottom lip to keep from begging him to hurry up.
A knowing smile appeared on his face as his gaze locked on her. The heat in those hazel eyes was hot enough to start a fire, and her skin crackled in anticipation. When he slid his slacks past his hips and down his legs, she let out a gasp.
"You went commando to our wedding?" He stilled, then nodded, his expression reminding her of a misbehaving boy who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"Just knowing that I was going to marry you…I've had a hard on all day, Maria. I tried to put underwear on, but it was damned uncomfortable."
She didn't know why she found that so funny, but she burst out laughing. Yet, even though she thought it hilarious, it felt like her heart was going to explode from pure joy.
"You think that's funny, Chiquita?"
"Uh huh." Unexpectedly, he fell over her, catching himself with his arms. Caged in by his body, her laughter died away. The man was a walking furnace, and his warmth surrounded her, along with his spicy scent.
"Not laughing now, are you?"
His voice was rough and needy sounding, and his erection was nestled between her legs. She closed her thighs around him. "Make love to me, husband."
Jake squeezed his eyes shut. The woman was killing him. He hadn't been lying when he'd told her he'd been walking around all day with a boner. Why the idea of her being his wife made him rock hard, he didn't know. From his first kiss as a boy, he'd lived to see how many women he could get into his bed. Then Maria had come along, and poof, just like that, no one would do but her.
He rubbed his groin against her, groaning when she reached down and circled her hand around him. Lowering his mouth to hers, he kissed her as he pulled her hand away. Any other time, he was a master of control, but not tonight. He moved down her body, licking a path to her breasts, taking one of her dusky pink nipples into his mouth.
As he swirled his tongue around the tip, the little nub hardened, and she let out a long sigh of pleasure. Yes, he had all her sighs memorized. The ones that said she liked what he was doing, and the ones that told him she was giving him an inward eye roll. That last one for some reason always made him want to ratchet up whatever he was doing to annoy her just to see that fire flash in her eyes. Big turn on, that.
One thing he really liked since they had made a commitment was throwing away the condoms. They were going to wait a while to have kids, so she was on the pill, but to feel her skin to skin when they made love, there was nothing like it.
"I know we should have some playtime first, but damnit Maria, I've been hot for you all day, and I can't wait. I'll make it up to you next time." He lifted his head and looked down at her, taking in her shimmering, desire-filled eyes and kiss-swollen, damp lips. "Because I promise you, there's going to be a next time tonight, and a next time after that. It's your fault I'm like this, you know."
Her almost black hair was spread out over the pillow, and her dark eyes peered up at him with so much love and trust that it felt like his heart might burst out of his chest knowing she was his.
He made love to her then, tried to be gentle, but she wasn't having it, and the pressure building inside him was so intense that he was pretty sure his eyes crossed.
"Maria," He gasped. "My Maria." Her inner muscles clamped down on him as her body gave a great shudder and he held her to him as they came together.
"My Jake," she whispered, then buried her face against his neck.
He kept his promise and made love to her throughout the night—sometimes frantic and hard, and sometimes soft and easy—each time marveling that he was making love to his wife. As dawn peeked through the edges of the curtains, Maria fell asleep, and he spooned his body around hers. On his left hand was a silver wedding band, but it was the ring on his right hand that he valued the most. He held up his fingers, and in the gray light, he studied the braided ring he'd made of her hair when he'd thought he lost her. His wife was a stubborn one, though, and she'd not given up on him.
He drifted off while thinking Saint was right. Jake Buchanan was one lucky dog. Back when he was Romeo, he'd believed he didn't have commitment in him, that he wasn't capable of loving just one woman. Never had he been so happy to be proven wrong.