Tessa Flores stared at the garment bag in her closet. Not too long ago the closet had held only a few items. Plain long-sleeved t-shirts and pants. Sweatshirts and sweaters.
Now, it held Flynn’s clothes as well as hers and she’d added a few short-sleeved items. Her scars had stopped defining her and she’d managed to even wear a few of the short-sleeved shirts. It still took a bit of will-power to put them on, but she was getting better.
And today, she was going to wear a dress for the first time since high-school. She’d had to wear them for any formal occasion at their house. A shudder ran through her and she had to remind herself again that she didn’t need to live in the memories, that the danger was past.
All because she’d met Flynn here at Midnight Lake.
Now, she didn’t need to live in fear. She didn’t need to hide ever again. She could live and love freely.
Tessa took a deep breath and unzipped the garment bag. The dress was by far the prettiest thing she’d ever owned. Which was totally appropriate for a wedding dress.
She slipped it on and took a couple of deep breaths. She needed to get comfortable in it before she looked in a mirror. The sleeves were fitted to above the elbow and then the fabric widened so it covered her arms partially but not like a tight sleeve.
Soft swings of fabric flowed from the waist and reached to varying lengths from her knees down. The v-neck of the bodice left her more exposed as well. It wasn’t especially deep or revealing, but she’d been covered up for so long, it felt odd too.
Nerves rippled along her skin and tightened her belly. Was it too much? Could she cope?
She took a few steps around the room, keeping her eyes down and off the full-length mirror Tansy had brought down for her. The material swished and floated as she moved, softly brushing her arms and legs. The sensations were odd, but not uncomfortable. Nothing was tight or restrictive. Nothing bothered her scars.
She needed someone to do up the zipper in the back to get the whole feeling, but just moving around the room helped settle her. Flynn deserved a wedding day. For him, she would do anything. Wearing a dress and exposing some scars was nothing. No big deal. All she needed was a few deep breaths.
A knock sounded at the door, stopping her frantic steps around the room. Tansy called through the door. “It’s us. Can we come in.”
Us would mean Tansy, Aisling, and Bella. Tessa took another deep breath and then called for them to enter.
The three women hurried in and closed the door behind them. As one, the three women gasped and smiled.
Bella spoke first. “Tessa, you look stunning.
Aisling laughed. “Flynn is going to lose his mind when he sees you.”
Tansy clapped her hands together. “You look like a queen, Tessa. That dress is gorgeous and absolutely perfect for you.”
Because she’d been watching closely, she knew their reactions weren’t fake, weren’t something just to make her feel better. Tears pricked at her eyes as her shoulders sagged with relief. None of the eyes showed pity or worse.
Her friends knew her story now and she was able to ask. “Do the scars stand out?”
Bella laughed. “Didn’t even notice them to be honest. Let me look.”
And because she was a direct person who didn’t back away from the tough stuff, she looked Tessa over carefully then she shrugged. “If anyone looks closely, you can see them, but they’ve faded so much, they’re not something you see unless you look.”
Aisling nodded. “Agreed. No one cares about your scars. Well, that sounds kinda mean. That’s not what I meant.”
That made Tessa laugh and the others joined in. “I know what you mean. Thank you.”
Tansy took her hand. “We’re family. We love you. You’re not going to let a few scars ruin the best day of your life. And you’re probably the only one who’s going to notice them or think about them.”
That made her smile. “You’re right. I’ve been panicking even though I know there’s no reason to panic. It’s been a long time since I’ve worn something so revealing and I went off the deep edge for a minute. I think I’m ready to look now.”
Tansy hugged her. “You’re going to love what you see. But let’s get you zipped up and into your shoes for the whole effect.”
Her shoes were soft ballet slippers with an overlay of lace that matched her dress. No way was she going to even attempt heels. For a few minutes, she let her friends fuss over her hair and then they turned her around to the mirror.
The effect was overwhelming. She’d never been a girl who obsessed over her looks and after the explosion she’d mostly avoided mirrors.
Looking at herself she realized she looked like a normal woman. A supremely happy woman judging by the smile, but normal. Not broken, not ruined. Normal. And that had her nerves flying away.
Flynn settled his dress Stetson on his hat and straightened his tie. He wondered if Vermont had ever seen a cowboy wedding before. He wore dark jeans, a white shirt, a black jacket and his black cowboy hat. His best boots of course. And the sheriff’s star belt buckle Sam had given him for Christmas.
His dad and brothers matched, although their boutonnieres were all different flowers. His was Tessa’s favourite yellow rose. Red carnation, pink tulip, and purple hyacinths.
It wasn’t a formal wedding, but he and his family knew it was important. And even more important to ensure Tessa felt treasured by them all.
Without a mom to guide her, she’d ended up being a strong compassionate woman. Without a dad to love her, she’d ended up being able to love with all her heart. Without siblings to tease and help, she’d learned to be independent. Now she was opening that heart even wider and learning to accept help and support from his family and their new family at Midnight Lake.
His parents had insisted that they would take care of the flowers for the wedding. He wasn’t sure which of them had had more fun choosing the flowers that would decorate every last space. And not just one kind of flower, but all of the flowers that Marty had called her that long ago day on the ranch and all the ones he’d called her since.
Just the thought of it made Flynn’s throat clog with emotion. They would love her as well as they would a biological daughter. He’d been lucky in so many ways in his life, but his family was the biggest.
His dad slapped him on the shoulder. “You ready for this, son?”
He nodded. “Ready, willing and able.”
That made his dad grin. “Always knew you’d pick a winner.”
Flynn laughed at the reminder of his rodeo days. “You better not be comparing Tessa to a bronc.”
Marty grinned. “Well, she’s might pretty and feisty right along with it.”
They were all laughing when his mom knocked and opened the door. “It’s almost time, you boys all better be decent.”
Smiling wide, his mom walked in and then stopped short. Tears sparkled in her eyes as she looked over the four of them. She fluttered her hands in front of her eyes. I’ve got makeup on. You’re not allowed to make me cry.”
Beau rolled his eyes. “Not one of us has said a word, Ma. The leaky eyes are all on you.”
She laughed even as she smacked Beau’s shoulder. “Smart ass.”
Then she moved to run her hands up and down Flynn’s suit jacket. “You clean up nice, Flynn. Thank you for being such a good man and for bringing that wonderful woman into our lives. I know you’ll be good to her just as I know she’ll be good to you. I’m so proud of you.”
Flynn hugged her tightly and swallowed his emotions again. “Thanks Ma. For everything.”
Then she kissed his cheek and grabbed his dad’s hand. “Come on, Marty. Time to see our girl. I’ll meet you boys on the deck in a few minutes.”
Then it was just him and his brothers in the room they’d taken at the lodge. The building was full with his family and their friends from town staying the night to help them celebrate.
Morgan leaned against the window sill. “At least the rain didn’t come back today. Thought you were going to have to do this shindig inside.”
But Mother Nature had been on their side and yesterday’s deluge had morphed into a gorgeous spring day.
Beau pulled out a bottle of tequila and a trio of shot glasses. He filled them up and passed them around. “To our big brother who finally got his girl.”
Morgan grinned and held up his own glass. “To you and Tessa. May you have babies soon and keep Mom off our backs.”
Laughing, Flynn lifted his own glass. He could picture Tessa round with a baby and his heart nearly melted. A little one with her dark hair and eyes. “Sounds like a hell of a plan. You guys have always had my back. To family.”
They clinked their glasses then shot back the drinks.
Morgan slapped him on the back. “Let’s get you hitched.”
Another knock sounded on Tessa’s door and Aisling opened it to let in Flynn’s parents. Her friends all hugged her one more time before heading downstairs.
Marty and Shelley came in and closed the door behind them. Flynn’s mom wore a gorgeous blue dress that brought out her eyes and his dad was the epitome of Cowboy Chic. Tall and strong with his Stetson, his suit, belt buckle, and cowboy boots. The Walker genes were strong and she knew Flynn would look just as handsome in a few decades.
Shelley’s eyes glossed over. “You are absolutely gorgeous, Tessa. We couldn’t be happier today and I know your mother would be so proud of the woman you’ve become.”
The words had Tessa’s eyes filling instantly. She had no memories and only one photo of her mother, but she hoped Shelley was right.
Shelley laughed and pulled her into a tight hug. “I’m sorry. I promised myself not to cry or make anyone else cry. I don’t wear makeup very often and I don’t want to ruin it.”
Marty chuckled. “You’ll still be gorgeous with mascara trailing down your cheeks.”
Shelley laughed harder and pulled away to reach up to kiss her husband. “Thank you, Handsome.”
Then she turned back and took Tessa’s hands. “Thank you for letting us take care of the flowers for you in place of your mother. We hope we’ve honored you both. Now, I’ve got one more thing that you might want. If you don’t want to wear it today, that’s fine, but I wanted you to have it.”
Tessa’s life had been quiet for so long that Shelley’s big emotions, big presence always surprised her in the very best way. Flynn called his mom a force of nature and Tessa agreed completely.
Marty pulled a slender jewelry case out of his suit jacket and passed it to his wife. Shelley opened it and pulled out a beautiful silver necklace. “My family has been in Texas for generations. One great-great-great grandfather. Or maybe four greats, I can never remember. Anyway, he found a vein of silver that turned into a mine that built them a nice pocket of cash. He also had this made for his wife for their wedding day. It’s been passed down to the oldest woman in the family to marry since then. I’d like you to have it.”
Tessa didn’t stand a chance against the tears this time and they rolled down her cheeks. If she’d needed any more proof that this family welcomed her into their circle, she had it. “It’s absolutely stunning. Are you sure?”
Shelley laughed and wiped her own tears. “Of course I’m sure. You’re our first daughter and we love you. Will you accept it?”
Heart pounding, Tessa nodded. “I would be honored to wear it.”
Shelley laughed. “And keep it. And pass it on to your own daughter one day.”
Her own daughter. Another possibility she’d never expected to have.
Shelley clasped the necklace around Tessa’s neck. Tessa hung onto her until she had herself mostly under control. “Thank you. For everything. For absolutely everything.”
Marty sighed and spoke in an exaggerated drawl. “Okay, ladies. Dry the tears. Time’s a-wasting here. Don’t want the boy to think you’ve ditched him.”
Shelley wiped her face with a laugh and then kissed Tessa on the cheek. She did the same to her husband and then floated out the door.
Marty grinned down at Tessa and reached down to wipe her cheek. “No more tears, darlin’. This is a happy day.”
“The happiest of my life.”
Marty nodded seriously. “And Flynn will make damn sure you’ve got many more to come. You’ve overcome more than most, little Wedding Belle, and you deserve a lot more happy. My boy will make sure you get it.”
When her eyes filled up again, he raised an eyebrow with a grin. “Okay, Daisy, lighten up. Want a piggy-back ride down the stairs?”
Laughing, Tessa tucked her arm into Marty’s and they headed down to her future.
Flynn waited at the end of the dock. The sun was reaching its zenith but the weather was warm and comfortable. He was still getting used to the lack of Texas heat. Today, he was glad of it. But he would have faced a blizzard at its worst if it meant marrying Tessa.
The group from Midnight Lake had made the usual gorgeous setting even more stunning. Flowers were everywhere.
His mom had gone a little overboard. Okay, she’d gone so far overboard it was like the Titanic of flowers.
The deck was lined with them. And the path to the dock. The dock itself and the platform here at the end of it. There were pots of blooms on every surface.
The best part was, they were all different. Flynn could probably name more flowers than most after studying all the variations with Tessa deciding on her next tattoos. But he couldn’t name half of what he saw.
Nico had become an officiant when Tansy and Sam had decided to get married and he’d agreed to officiate their wedding as well.
The table he’d set up on the dock for the official papers they needed to sign had several pots of flowers as well, including one with tiny yellow roses.
Nico grinned. “I feel like I’m living in a snow globe except with flowers. Your mom is something else.”
Flynn laughed. “She sure is. I bet there are no flowers left for anyone else in the entire state.”
Nico chuckled. “Tessa will love it. I’m glad things worked out for the two of you.”
“Me too.” With their past, they were beyond lucky that they’d managed to not only live but find their future together. He was going to make sure she never had a moment to regret it. She deserved everything he could give.
Their friends from the lodge and from the nearby town of Phail mingled on the lawn. They’d spent the last week enlarging the dock to hold the entire gang for the ceremony, but for now, it was just him and Nico on the dock.
Someone started some music and Flynn’s heart slammed into his chest. This was it. He was getting married. He was getting Tessa. Forever.
Tessa couldn’t stop the gasp when she walked onto the deck from the lodge’s main room. There were flowers everywhere. Lilies, tulips, roses, daisies, daffodils. So many more. More than she could name. More than she’d seen in a lifetime. She’d bet every name she’d heard from Marty was represented and more.
Rainbows had nothing on the deck.
Her whisper had Marty chuckling and squeezing her hand where it rested in the crook of his arm. “Shelley may have overindulged, Little Flower.”
She laid her head against his shoulder. “Thank you.”
“Suck up the tears, darlin’. Show’s on.”
In front of them, Shelley blew her a kiss then walked down the lawn and onto the dock with Morgan and Beau as her escorts.
Marty gently tugged Tessa into motion and they crossed the deck and down the stairs, slowly. Just like his son, the man made sure she was steady on her feet and supported. She didn’t have to worry about stumbling with him at her side.
Huge pots of blooms bracketed the stairs. More were spread across the lawn.Their friends from Phail were also spread out on either side of the path leading to the dock. Everyone of them smiling and clapping as she and Marty walked toward the lake.
And then she looked up to see Flynn waiting for her at the end of the dock. Her heart rate doubled and she wanted to run to him, run to their future.
“Slow down there, Filly, don’t want you falling off the dock.”
She laughed and squeezed Marty’s arm again. “I’m so happy I feel like I could float right over top of it.”
Flynn smiled at her as they neared. He wore an outfit similar to his dad but with tiny yellow roses pinned to his lapel. He looked so natural in his cowboy boots and hat. Strong, capable, and sexier than any Hollywood cowboy she’d ever seen.
Her childhood and adult dreams were coming true today and she wondered if a person could burst from an overload of joy.
As they reached the platform, she realized that Marty and Flynn’s brothers all wore different flowers. Another sign this family loved her and that she truly belonged in their midst.
When they stopped, Marty leaned down to kiss her cheek. “Welcome to our family, Tessa.” Then he shook his son’s hand and pulled him in for a hard hug.
Flynn took her hands and kissed them. “You’re so damn beautiful, Tessa.” Then he grinned at Nico. “Sorry man, can’t wait.”
Flynn cupped her face in his and brushed his thumbs over her lips. “I love you, Tessa.” His voice was husky and sexy and when he kissed her, it was with so intense, she wondered if she might melt right into his being.
The cheers around them registered and they broke the kiss. She knew she was blushing just as she knew she didn’t care. She wanted the world to know she loved this wonderful man and, impossibly, he loved her back.
Nico was smiling when he spoke. “I think you two deserve to sneak in as many of those as you can for the rest of your lives. You’ve been through a lot to get here today, and we’re all thrilled that your second chance worked out.”
As he spoke, Tessa felt the love and support of the people clustered around them on the platform in this beautiful place that seemed to help heal her wounds.
When it was time for their vows, Nico turned to her. “Tessa. Would you like to go first?”
She nodded, not looking away from Flynn. “I never thought this day would be possible. Even in my imagination I never believed that happy endings were possible. Now I have a home, friends, and family. Best of all, I have you. You’re the very best man I know, Flynn. You’ve given me hope and strength. You’ve made me see past the scars and the past. You’ve given me a chance and a future.”
She had to swallow to continue. “You’re this marvellous combination of strength and tenderness. You protect everyone around you and do everything in your power to make the world better. I didn’t know love could be this big, this powerful, or this amazing. I will love you forever, Flynn. With all my heart.”
Flynn’s eyes were bright as he squeezed her hands. “The best day of my life was when you paddled your way to this very dock with snow everywhere and ice on the lake. I thought you were completely bonkers.”
She laughed along with everyone else.
Flynn voice dropped even lower. “And then I saw your face and thought I was imaging things. It took me a while to stop being an ass and realize this was the second chance I’d wanted from the beginning. I still can’t believe you wanted that chance, too.”
She was trembling and Flynn rubbed his thumbs over her knuckles. His warmth, as always, helped her settle again.
He spoke again. “You’re the most incredible person I know. You’ve battled through so much. You’re so strong and resilient. While you’ve been through hell and back more than once, your heart is wide open and loving. I will do everything in my power to make you happy, to keep you safe, and to make sure you know you’re loved. You’re my world, Tessa. I will love you forever.”
Unable to wait any longer, Tessa reached up on her tiptoes to kiss him.
“I now pronounce you man and wife.”
Flynn tasted like home and love and forever.
“You may keep kissing the bride.
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 Illusions, spotlights Josie and Nico.