After a long moment, Rose flashed her a grin and a thumbs-up, skirted the counter to grab Hannah and pulled her into the back, closing the door behind them. More relieved than she could say, Bella turned to Evan, just in time to meet his kiss. Desire crashed over her as she pressed herself to him. She wanted him close, wanted him never to leave her again.
“I should have phoned you and let you know I was coming,” he said when they finally broke free of each other.
“No. I’m just so glad you came. I don’t care how it happened,” she said. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too. I didn’t know if you wanted me, though. I mean…mmph!”
Bella leapt into his arms and kissed him until she couldn’t kiss him anymore, trying to show him just how much she wanted him and always would. “I won’t ever let you go,” she murmured finally into his neck.
“I will always listen to you. I promise,” he said. “I will always be here for you.”
“We’ll save all the animals and all the people.”
“I can’t wait.”
When you send a kitten down the center aisle of a church, trailing after a tempting ribbon dangled by an adorable flower girl, you have to figure your odds of it reaching the altar are mighty slim, Bella thought. Nevertheless, she smiled happily at the sight of the black feline tripping down the aisle, two rings tied to the collar around its neck. Behind it walked Hannah, her maid of honor, and Morgan, who to her surprise had been overjoyed to be her bridesmaid. Although as she put it, it should be bridesmatron. She’d gotten to know Morgan well over the past couple of weeks. Since she wasn’t as stressed out about money and losing her clinic anymore, Bella had found that Morgan, Rob, and the rest of the gang were more than willing to include her in their fun.
She lifted her eyes to where Evan stood at the altar in a dark jacket cut to perfection over his muscled frame, his eyes shining back at her with love and happiness, and her heart thrummed with an emotion she couldn’t even name. Love, of course, but something more; something like wonder.
She was marrying Evan. Not because he’d won her in a contest, but because she couldn’t imagine life without him, and he felt the same way.
Hannah and Morgan had both helped her plan the last-minute wedding. Morgan had endless energy for organizing and getting things done, and Bella no longer wondered why Hannah found her such good company.
The two women also agreed to help her find the best way to spend her new millions—and maybe some of her husband’s billions—to the best effect for Chance Creek’s homeless animals. She couldn’t wait to get started…right after her honeymoon, that was. She and Evan agreed they needed a little more time off from their normal busy lives and had booked a safe, steady cruise down to Mexico for some R and R.
She glanced up at her father, who held her arm as they walked down the aisle. At first he’d hemmed and hawed and rumbled uncomfortably when she brought up the idea of a ranch and rehabilitation center for old and injured horses, but now he’d thrown himself into the plan. He’d come close to tears the day she went home and told him she loved him, and she had a feeling from the way he held her arm so tightly now that the old man might get misty again today. She couldn’t believe they’d both harbored so much guilt about the day Caramel died that they’d nearly lost each other forever. Clothed in a bright blue mother-of-the-bride dress, her mother sat in the front row next to Craig, beaming with happiness back at Bella as they progressed toward the front of the church.
A lightbulb flashed, she winced and frowned for a moment as she took in the cameramen and film crew off to the left. She hadn’t realized her contract contained language that allowed Madelyn to document any significant changes in her life that happened because of winning the show. At least that clause ran out in a couple of months. She didn’t need a film crew hanging around forever. She saw Ellis take Madelyn’s hand and she forgave them just a little. She’d seen the ring on Madelyn’s finger earlier and the way the two looked at each other when they thought they were unobserved.
She met Evan’s gaze again, and smiled when the flower girl—Evan’s niece, Katy—and the kitten—arrived at the altar and Evan’s brother, Nate—his best man—bent down to untie the rings. Katy picked up the kitten and snuggled it as she made her way to sit by her mother in the first pew. Bella reached the altar herself and took her place beside the man she loved.
* * * * *
Evan didn’t think anyone could be happier than he was when the country preacher, Joe Halpern, pronounced them man and wife and he bent to kiss his bride. He hoped no one could read his thoughts, as he considered the night—and the lifetime—ahead of him. He couldn’t wait to be alone with Bella, but for now he’d take the time to get to know her friends—his new community.
This small chapel and country style wedding was a far cry from the society wedding the paparazzi always seemed to expect him to have, but it suited him just fine, as did the fresh, delicious food served at their reception and the local band that began to play as soon as dinner was consumed.
Nate caught up with him when he took a break from the dancing. “I guess I can’t be too angry that you found yourself a wife. Although I think you’re pissing away the family fortune on those pie-in-the-sky environmental ideas you have. I hope you’ll invest at least a portion of it in something solid like oil and natural gas. And your niece and nephew’s college fund.”
“Nephew’s?” Evan asked, knowing damn well Nate could afford to send his own kids to school a thousand times over on the salary he earned from Mortimer Innovations.
“Brenda told me yesterday. The sonogram says it’s a boy.” Nate beamed, and Evan understood the sudden sweetness of his brother’s disposition. He knew he’d taken a chance when he chose Nate as his best man, but he figured his brother deserved some sort of recognition. It couldn’t be easy watching him control Mortimer Innovations and know he might never get the chance to do so himself. Now it looked like his gesture was paying off. They were talking—joking, even. It could be worse.
A lot worse, he thought, spotting his bride across the reception hall. He could have refused to go on the show and never met his cowgirl bride.
* * * * *
“You actually rode a stallion?” Craig asked, as they waited for the caterers to carry out the four-tiered wedding cake.