As a little girl, Bella had dreamed of wearing a firefighter uniform. That had been her Halloween costume pretty much every year. Helmet. Turnout kit that was way too big for her. Huge rubber boots. She’d felt powerful and strong. Just like her dad and brother.
She hadn’t been the type of kid to dream of fairy tales and wedding dresses. Now she was living the first and wearing the second.
She was getting married. Joy bubbled through her as it always did at the thought. The ceremony and the amount of people surrounding them was a little intimidating, but she would do anything in order to able to marry Mitch.
The people at Midnight Lake had become an extended family. The firefighters from Kelsor and the town had been so good to them. How could they not invite them all?
Bella closed her eyes and breathed through the routine Tansy had taught her. She could do this. She wanted to do this. Actually, she wanted this more than she’d ever wanted anything.
She’d sequestered herself in the apartment above the Phail Fire Hall to get dressed. When someone knocked on the door, she called for them to enter. Christo grinned when he spotted her. “You’re going to knock him on his ass. You’re gorgeous, Lizard.”
That made her laugh and when he hugged her, she held on tight. “Thanks for always being an amazing brother, Christo. I love you.”
His arms banded around her and he squeezed. “Love you back, Izzy.”
Another knock had them separating before she started to cry. Christo’s girlfriend Regina and the women from Midnight Lake all came in. Regina leaned up to kiss Christo’s cheek and then shooed him out.
Tansy hugged Bella and motioned at the dress. “It’s stunning. Nia did an amazing job.”
Bella nodded. Tansy’s cousins lived in Bloo Moose across the state and one of them had married a woman who was an incredible seamstress. They’d spent a few hours together and Nia had made the dress exactly as Bella wanted.
A simple bodice with lace along the edges. A swinging skirt that stopped at her knees with more lace and shimmery stuff throughout. She’d never felt more girly in her life.
The other women wore their own dresses, all in different shades of blue. “You must have coordinated. You all look amazing.”
Mitch and Bella weren’t having a traditional ceremony or wedding. They weren’t fancy people and they’d decided casual and fun was what they’d wanted. A celebration with their family and friends around them.
The waiting was over, and the fairy tale she’d never dreamed of was coming true.
Mitch sighed as he checked the time. Christo laughed and slugged him on the shoulder. “Relax, Robinson. It’ll happen.”
“Not soon enough.”
He was waiting in the firehall office with Christo, Roberto, the Chief, and his new buddies from Midnight Lake. Sam, Graham, Joe, and Nico. Nico had become an officiant to marry Sam and Tansy. Then Graham and Aisling. Now, him and Bella.
Sam opened a bag he’d brought in with him and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and several shot glasses. “Seems like the men are always waiting on the ladies and getting worked up. So a little toast to kill some time.”
Once everyone had a shot glass, Roberto held his up. “To my friend who finally got his head out of his ass and scooped up the girl he’s always wanted.”
Mitch laughed along with everyone else. He couldn’t deny it.
Juan held up his. “To my soon-to-be son. Don’t screw it up.”
More laughter. They moved around the circle.
Sam. “You’re happier together. Make sure she always knows that.”
Joe. “Better you than me.”
Nico. “Keep her happy. Keep her safe.”
Graham. “She smiles at you like you’re everything. Keep that shit up.”
Christo. “We’ve been buddies forever so I know you’ll treat her right. Thank you for finding her. Thank you for bringing her back to us. Welcome to the family.”
Christo’s eyes had misted and Mitch knew his were the same. He swallowed hard and then held up his own glass. “To Bella.”
By the time they all shot back the whiskey, Mitch had pulled his emotions back under control. Mostly.
Loki yawned from where the golden retriever had been napping in the corner and went into his dramatic stretching routine.
Juan set down his glass with a small thump and then slapped Mitch on the shoulder. “It’s time. I’ll see you soon.”
Mitch grinned at his friends as Loki wandered over to lean into his side. He patted the dog and looked around the room. “Thanks for being here, everyone. It means everything to me that you’re all here.”
Troy opened the door and stuck his head in. “Let’s get a move on. It’s a gorgeous day outside and we can only block the street for so long. Time to get you married.”
Grinning, Mitch followed his friends out the door with his dog at his side.
It was finally time. Bella hugged each of her friends as they headed into the hallway and let her father into the bedroom.
The man she’d thought of as the Chief more than Dad walked in, eyes shining with emotion. He smiled softly and then moved across the room to hug her. With each hug, they were less stiff with each other and more of a real family. The awkwardness occasionally reared its head, but they were both making the effort to ease it. Laughing helped a lot.
Bella hugged her dad hard. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
He grunted out a small laugh. “I’m honored to be here. I was so shocked when you showed up on my doorstep that day. Didn’t think I’d ever see you again. Didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to apologize to you and try to make things better.”
He leaned back, but kept his hands on her shoulders. “I’m so proud of you, Isabella. You’re strong like your mother and you’ve got her big heart.”
Bella’s heart swelled and she blinked hard to keep the tears at bay.
Her dad blew out a breath and then reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket. “Your mom would have loved to be here. This is hers and I thought if you wore it, she would be with you.”
“Oh, Dad.” Her voice shook.
Then Juan held up the necklace she remembered her mom keeping for special occasions. Birthdays, Christmas, date nights. Several delicate hearts linked together along the bottom of the silver chain. Bella had always loved the piece.
“I bought this for our first Christmas together. We had lots of happy times. I hope this will remind you of those.”
He reached around to clasp the necklace on her. Bella’s hand reached up to brush over the hearts and her heart nearly burst. Her dad put his hands on her shoulder and turned her to the mirror. She could almost image her mom standing on her other side, smiling at them.
Bella reached up to cover one of her dad’s hands with her own. “Thanks, Dad. I’ve always loved this necklace. I’ll think of you both and all those happy memories every time I see it.”
Then she turned and buried herself in his arms and battled for control. She’d never thought to have this kind of moment with her father. But they’d both grown enough to mend their relationship.
Christo knocked and walked in. He grinned at them both and then joined in the hug briefly. “Let’s go before anyone starts bawling. None of that allowed today. Move it, Martinez.”
Mitch stood at the front of the firehall. They’d moved their one and only fire engine onto the street and rearranged the bay itself.
When more people than expected had shown up, they’d backed everything up into the road. Troy had set up some pylons at either side, but they figured most of the town was already at the wedding anyway, so it shouldn’t cause many problems.
Christo and Regina moved down the stairs first and were followed by the others. Sam and Tansy. Aisling and Graham. Roberto. Joe. They weren’t spread apart like a traditional wedding, just everyone coming down as a group. He didn’t see Tess but that didn’t surprise him. The woman didn’t like crowds. She’d probably watch from upstairs.
As the group made their way to the front, someone started up the music and finally he spotted Bella starting down the stairs on her father’s arm.
Mitch would have never believed the Chief would look so proud and emotional in public. Isabella had been good for them all. She’d healed old wounds and taught them all about bravery.
She was going to be his in only a few minutes. He had to plant his feet in the ground to avoid crossing to them. She and her father had grown closer and were now happy to spend time with each other. They spoke every few days on the phone and Mitch was glad she had her family back.
They reached the bottom of the stairs and turned so Mitch finally got a good look at her. His heart rate picked up and he clamped his jaw tightly to ensure he didn’t drool. White lace and something shimmery. Her dusky skin glowed and her smile was huge and only for him.
When they reached him, the Chief leaned down to kiss Bella on the cheek and hug her. Then he shook Mitch’s hand and moved to the side.
Unable to stop himself, Mitch took her hands and brought them to his lips. “You’re always beautiful, Bella, but today you’re a goddess.” Then he leaned in and kissed her lightly.
Nico cleared his throat loudly as everyone laughed. Loki took the opportunity to curl up in front of podium. Although podium was a grand word for the shiny red toolbox they’d rolled outside to hold some flowers and the paperwork they needed to fill out.
Nico smiled at them. “I’m happy to be here today to join the two of you in marriage. You make a great team and I believe you’ll have decades of good times ahead of you. Because we’re human, there will be bad times as well, but you’ve both proven you’re strong enough to deal with difficult things. Together, you’re even stronger.”
Mitch squeezed Bella’s hands and they smiled at each other. Nico was totally right. With this woman at his side, they could deal with anything.
Nico continued. “As you both like to play with matches, we thought we’d incorporate that as you say your vows.”
With a flourish, Nico motioned them to stand on either side of the red tool box. Mitch stepped over Loki to take his place.
Then Nico lifted a fire bucket from the floor and plunked it on the podium. As everyone chuckled, he lifted out a old lantern and placed it on the box. It looked like iron and Mitch would bet that Tansy had found it somewhere in the basement of the lodge before she’d polished it up for them.
The candle inside the lantern was white, but Nico pulled out two red tapered candles before putting the bucket back on the ground.
He passed one to Bella, then the other to Mitch. As he lit them, he spoke. “Each of these flames symbolizes you. Your hopes, your dreams, your pasts. You’ve spent your lives as individuals. Learning, growing, becoming yourselves. Now, you’re going to join these flames as you join your lives. To become one. Bella, would you like to go first?”
Bella took a deep breath and locked her eyes on Mitch. Nico’s words were filling her up and she couldn’t wait to marry her man. “I love you, Mitch. The first time I saw you was at the firehall I was a kid, but I knew from that moment that you were a man I could love. Of course, I’m sure I hid my crush really well.”
Mitch chuckled and she heard her brother, father, and several other firefighters from Kelsor laugh.
“You’re such a good man, Mitch. You’re strong in all the ways that matter. I don’t know anyone more willing to help out his community and his family. You put your life on the line with your job because you care.”
She had to swallow hard to get the next words out. “I lost my way for a long time. I might have eventually found my way on my own, but I’m so glad you showed up here at Midnight Lake. You helped me find not only my way, but you helped me find myself. You brought me back my family and gave me you.”
She steadied her hand as her candle trembled. “I’m not sure I ever believed I could be this happy. I love you, Mitch. Forever.”
Mitch’s eyes were shiny as he reached across the toolbox to take her hand. “I love you, too, Izzy. Isabella. Bella.”
He looked out to the group and nodded at Roberto. “I think our mentor had it right all this time. Bella. Beautiful. You are so beautiful, inside and out. Walking through the woods to find you at your cabin made that the best day of my life.”
He swallowed and continued. “I couldn’t lose you again. You’re always been the best of us, Izzy. You bring out the best in me and everyone else around you. You’re smart and determined. You impress me every day.”
This time he was the one steadying his candle while Bella’s eyes filled.
“I love you, Bella. I promise to love you forever and I will always, always have your back.”
Bella knew exactly what he meant and when she smiled, hers was shaky as well.
Nico blew out a breath. “No making me cry, guys.”
His words broke the tension and Bella was relieved to laugh with everyone else.
“Now, join your flames, as you’ll join your lives.”
Bella smiled at Mitch and then they lowered their candles to the lantern at the same time. When the new flame flickered and grew, the audience cheered.
Nico took both candles and then he gestured at them. “May your lives grow like these flames. Bright and full of possibilities. I now pronounce you husband and wife.” He grinned at Mitch. “Go ahead and kiss your bride.”
Mitch grinned at her as he stepped over Loki and rounded the toolbox. Then he swooped her up to cradle her in his arms and twirled in a circle. When his lips finally crushed onto her, they were both laughing and the crowd around them was cheering.
Mitch raised his head just enough to whisper that he loved her then kissed her again.
The alarm of the firehall rang out and the siren on the engine whooped. Loki let out a bark while Mitch spun with her in his arms. Was there a fire?
A look at the laughing faces around them proved there wasn’t. Mitch set her on her feet and then pulled her into his arms while he mock-glowered at the crowd. “No giving a man a heart attack before he gets to enjoy his honeymoon.”
Mitch wanted his bride to himself.
He figured he’d been patient long enough. Eating, dancing, socializing. Lots of laughter and bonding. He was done with it all.
Mitch had booked a couple of nights over in Bloo Moose at Tansy’s cousin’s lodge. It was only an hour and a half away, but that was a long time before he could have Bella in a bed. The sooner they left, the better.
Bella was currently dancing with Roberto, but Mitch knew their friend wouldn’t mind. In fact, as he neared, Roberto spotted him and he laughed, then twirled Bella right into Mitch’s arms.
He didn’t even want time to explain, so he scooped her up into his arms. Their bags were already in his truck and he didn’t need anything other than her.
Bella laughed as they crossed the room and she looped her arms around his neck and leaned into him.
Of course, they couldn’t slip away unnoticed. Troy clanged the bell at the side of the bay and someone else gave a whistle.
Mitch didn’t stop walking but he did call over his shoulder. “Make sure nothing burns down while we’re away.”
Bella waved over his shoulder and called out her thanks to everyone. He opened his truck and slid her into the seat with a kiss and then hurried around to the driver’s seat.
The bell continued to clang and Christo turned on the siren of the engine as they drove away. They waved out the windows and he kept driving.
Once they were on the highway, Bella sighed and turned to him. “Good decision, Mr. Robinson.”
He grinned at her. “Thank you, Mrs. Martinez-Robinson.”
Bella laughed and reached over to pat his arm. “That sounds so good. I was nervous about all those people, but it was such a fun day.”
“You don’t care that we cut out early?”
Her laugh was husky. “I would have left hours ago if it wouldn’t have insulted all the people who brought the food. I’m looking forward to having my husband to myself for a few days.”
He glanced at her and the heat in her gaze nearly had him missing the next curve. Highways around the mountains didn’t tend to be straight for long. “I want to pull the truck over to the side of the highway and get my hands on all of you, but I also know I won’t be able to stop once I get started.”
Her chuckle was soft and sexy. “Me too.”
He groaned at her words and forced himself to concentrate on the road and on driving safely enough not to get pulled over. “Distraction needed. We’ve got over an hour. Talk to me about something other than sex. Any new arson cases?”
She laughed. “Nope. I took the week off. I don’t have anything new.”
“How are we going to make it through the next hour?”
Bella patted his arm again and this time her sigh was sweet. “Together. Like we’re going to get through everything for the rest of our lives. Together.”
He liked the sound of that.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this bonus scene to the Small Town Heroes (Midnight Security) Romantic Suspense series!
The next book in the series, Built Of Second Chances, spotlights Tessa & Flynn.