Instead of turning me to face the minister, Braden took my hand and pulled me into his side, his eyes burning intensely into mine. His head lowered and I felt his warm breath on my ear, “You look stunning, sweetheart, but deep breaths. This is just you and me.”
“Tell that to the hundred people sitting behind us,” I told him a little shakily.
He chuckled, pressing an amused kiss to my mouth.
When he pulled back, Braden’s expression was reassuring as he murmured against my lips, “I love you, you love me, our family loves us and they’re right here beside us. Nothing else matters. So no fears for the future, no fear that you’ll fuck it up beyond repair. Life isn’t perfect, we aren’t perfect, but I’m telling you now, Jocelyn, we’re indestructible. Stop shaking, and just marry me.”
I pressed deeper into him, brushing my mouth over his. “You got it.”
The minister cleared his throat, drawing my and my smiling groom’s attention back to the ceremony and out of the little bubble we’d been in. I heard our guests titter behind us and the music stopped.
This was it.
There was something a little surreal about sitting next to Braden at the top table, my wedding band sitting prettily against my engagement ring, everyone referring to us as husband and wife, and people being cute and calling me Mrs. Carmichael instead of Joss. It was weird. But the good kind of weird.
Our wedding reception was held at the Balmoral Hotel. The banquet suite was this grand hall with tall ceilings, pillars, elaborate chandeliers, and huge arched windows with views of Edinburgh Castle. It was stunning and classy and beyond anything I’d ever imagined for this moment.
After dinner, Clark tapped his champagne flute, drawing everyone’s attention as he stood up to give his father-of-the-bride speech. I’d told him he didn’t have to, but he said he wanted to. And watching how comfortable he was as he lifted the mic, I knew as a university professor he wasn’t that daunted having to talk to a large crowd of people.
I didn’t know what to expect from Clark’s speech. I felt butterflies in my stomach as he smiled down at Braden and me.
“Braden is one of the finest men I know.” He began. “He’s a son to me. And he’s a friend. So when it became clear that what he and Joss had together was something special, I couldn’t have been more delighted for him. Because Jocelyn is without a doubt one of the strongest, most extraordinary young women I have ever met.”
I swallowed past the hard lump of emotion in my throat, leaning into Braden, who automatically wrapped an arm around me without my even having to ask.
“I am sorry that your dad can’t be here with you on this day, Joss,” Clark continued, his voice low with enough emotion that it threatened to spill the tears over my lids, “but I know that he would be so proud of you for the woman you’ve become, and so happy that you’ve found a family in Braden, and in us. I was honored to walk down the aisle with you for him. Tonight”—he lifted his glass, turning to our guests—“I ask you all to raise your glasses to my son and daughter. To Braden and Jocelyn.”
As everyone said our names in unison, lifting their glasses to us, I fought back the tears. Just barely.
The truth was I did feel part of the Nichols’s family. But it was kind of more than a little beautiful that the Nichols family thought of me as part of them.
Next to stand up was Adam as Braden’s best man. He lightened the mood, joking about his and Braden’s past, about Braden’s reputation with women, how different he was with me, and how much fun he had had watching Braden work his ass off to get me. Upon Adam raising his glass to us in toast, Braden kissed me, waited for his best man to sit down, and then stood up himself.
I looked up at him. More than anything I wanted the reception to be over; I wanted to not be center of attention anymore. Mostly, I just really wanted to be alone in a room with my new husband.
Braden stood tall in his kilt, looking every inch the delectable Scotsman, and he stared out at the room with a familiar air of intimidating confidence. “Over two and a half years ago,” he began, his voice deep, his tone serious, “I shared a taxi with a complete stranger. A young woman with a smart mouth and”—he smirked down at me—“a great pair of legs.”
The guests chuckled as I shook my head slightly at him, a small smile playing on my lips.
“I knew then,” Braden spoke loudly to the guests, but his eyes remained on my face, “my life had changed. I just wouldn’t know until you walked out of Ellie’s bathroom without a towel on how happy I was with that coming change.”
I rolled my eyes, feeling my cheeks burn as everyone laughed.
“I’m not joking.” Braden turned back to them. “The second time we met, Jocelyn was starkers. Up to that point it was the best day of my life.
“Even after being caught in the buff she gave me attitude.” He grinned down at me again, and I felt the warmth inside my chest turn into a burn of overwhelming emotion. “You’ve challenged me since the day I met you. No woman has ever challenged me more. Nor made me laugh harder. There is not a moment that passes where you don’t make me feel more alive than I ever thought I could, and today you gave me something I thought was lost a long time ago for the both of us. You’ve given me peace, babe. You’ve given me everything.” The timber of his voice had deepened with emotion and I swear to God I was close to bawling my eyes out as he lifted a glass of champagne from the table and raised it in the air. “To my wife, Mrs. Jocelyn Carmichael.”
The guests repeated his words as he bent down to me, his eyes warming at the sight of my unshed tears. “To my wife,” he murmured again, cupping a hand behind my nape to bring my lips to his.
While making the rounds of the reception, attempting to stop to chat with all our guests, the unsettled fluttering in my stomach had called a cease-fire and I was feeling a lot more relaxed. The champagne was helping.
I stood by Braden’s side while he introduced me to distant cousins, relatives of Elodie and Clark, friends and business associates. We’d nearly made our way through the entire guest list when we came upon Jenna and Ed. Jenna was one of Ellie’s friends and Ed was her husband. When I’d first met Ellie, Jenna and Ed had been a close part of their group, but after their wedding Jenna fell pregnant and for some reason they stopped hanging out with a lot of their friends. Ellie had been a little put out at first but Jenna seemed more content to spend time with married friends who had children and I reassured Ellie that she hadn’t done anything wrong. Some people were just like that. Still, it was nice to see them.
“Joss, you look beautiful,” Jenna said, giving me a tight hug.
“Who’s looking after Andrew?” Braden asked, referring to their baby boy.
Ed grinned. “I talked my parents into babysitting tonight. We haven’t had a real night off in God knows how long. I actually had to talk Jenna into coming here, into leaving him.”
Jenna frowned at her husband. “I don’t like leaving him. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
Hearing the bite in her tone, I shot Braden a look that suggested we should move along.
He nodded at me and turned to speak but Jenna cut him off by jerking me toward her.
“So, when are you thinking about having a baby, Joss?”
The Jenna I knew was chilled out, down-to-earth, uninquisitive. Whoever this was, I wanted to kill her. “Uh . . .” I glanced around the room, looking for help.
“We haven’t had a proper talk about it,” Braden offered, his hand resting on my lower back in a way that suggested he knew I was about to run away. “But kids are definitely in the plans.”
My shoulders tensed, my stomach cramped, and the champagne sloshed unpleasantly in my stomach.
This morning I’d been optimistic as I’d looked at myself in the mirror. I’d thought about my mini meltdown I’d had a few weeks ago when Braden first mentioned having kids. I’d thought that it was something I’d get over.
But once again, the thought of children paralyzed me.
Worse, the thought that Braden believed they were in our immediate future paralyzed me.
I couldn’t have kids yet. I wasn’t emotionally ready for that. No. I definitely wasn’t. “There’s Alistair and his girlfriend.” I pointed over Ed’s shoulder. “I better go say hello.” I pulled away from Braden’s touch and almost sprinted from them, two steps from Alistair when a strong arm wrapped itself around my waist and hauled me about.
I crashed against Braden’s hard chest, blinking up at him in surprise. “Was that necessary?”
My husband frowned at me. “Something’s wrong.”
“No.” I shook my head in denial. “I just . . . Jenna bothers me a little now. I just wanted to get away.”
As Braden searched my face, I wondered if he believed me. In the end I didn’t know if he did or not. But he let it go, bending down to press a soft kiss to my mouth. It was our wedding.
No fighting allowed.
The Honeymoon—Part 1
“Does that say what I think it says?” I asked, leaning my cheek against Braden’s upper arm. With his hand clasped in mine, I stood next to him before the departures board in Edinburgh Airport quietly excited about our honeymoon to Hawaii, and trying not to be deflated by the information on the board.
Braden gave my hand a squeeze. “Yeah. Delayed.”
Our flight was delayed by a few hours, which meant being stuck in the airport. Luckily Edinburgh wasn’t grimy. In fact it was kind of shiny. We were surrounded by designer shops, restaurants, and an old-fashioned oval bar at one end of the international departure lounge. Still. It was an airport. As human beings we were genetically predisposed to hate them.
My husband let go of my hand to curl me into his side, his hand resting low on my opposite hip. “Do you want to wait in the first-class lounge, get a drink there, or do you want to get a drink at the bar we just passed?” he asked, absentmindedly pressing a kiss to my temple.