Tansy wrapped her hands around the mug of tea and inhaled the fragrance.
She didn’t make Essiac tea often, but today was a day to honor her ancestors. Essiac tea had been created by an Ojibwe nurse in an attempt to cure cancer. Today, Tansy drank it to remember her roots.
She would wear a hammered silver necklace passed down from her Hopi great-grandmother. She kept it for special occasions and today would be the most special of her life.
Tansy finished the tea and left the mug in the sink for Pennyworth to clean later. Her latest algorithm tweak had him optimizing the use of water. He was improving all the time.
She headed upstairs to the room she’d chosen for the day’s preparations. She wasn’t surprised in the least to see Lisa Rivera already there and setting out candles along the dresser with the lamp she’d turned on.
Lisa smiled as she looked up. “Did you sleep at all? Or did you have to resort to those wolf naps of yours?”
Tansy laughed. “I’ve been trying to sleep like a human these days. I managed a few hours.”
Lisa walked over and enveloped Tansy in a hug. “Your mom and dad would be so happy today. They loved you and Joe so damn much.”
Tansy swallowed the ball of emotion clogging her throat as she returned the hug. Lisa had never tried to replace her mom. She’d kept June alive for Tansy with her stories. She’d never shied away from the tough conversations and encouraged Tansy to grieve and feel and face the world head on.
“She would be so happy that you’re here with me, Lisa. She loved you, too.”
Tansy stood back and placed her hands on Lisa’s shoulders. “I don’t know if I’ve ever really thanked you.”
Lisa smiled. “Many times, with many words, and in so many ways.”
Tansy smiled even as tears filled her eyes. “If I couldn’t have Mom with me, I’m glad it was you I got. You helped me through those dark times, and helped me find my way.”
“You always knew your way, Tansy. You just needed a shove now and again to get out of your head and interact with people to make things happen.”
Tansy laughed. “Sam’s taken over that job.”
Lisa ran a hand over Tansy’s hair and then cupped her chin. “And you’re doing it on your own. You’ve opened your home to some pretty amazing people. Opened your heart, too. I’m so proud of you, and so happy for you. You’re creating the kind of life you’ve always imagined. You’ve got love, friends, and dinosaurs. What else could a girl ask for?”
They were laughing as Joe knocked and walked in. “Hey. Just making sure you’re awake. Don’t want to miss the big day.”
Tansy laughed. “I’ve been up for a while.”
Joe shook his head. “You know this is a good day, right?”
“Of course, I do. It’s just an important day, and I don’t want to waste it.”
Lisa laughed. “I’m going to get dressed. I’ll be back in a few.”
Tansy shared a smile with Joe. Their foster mom knew they’d want a moment together.
Joe ran his hands from her shoulders to her hands and back again. “I can’t believe my little sister’s getting married.”
He laughed and pulled her in for a hug. He’d never been the type of brother to push her away. From the earliest moments she could remember, he’d watched out for her. He’d never been afraid to show affection either.
After their parents’ deaths, neither of those things had changed. They’d become closer and she knew their parents would like that.
“They would love Sam. They’d love the man he is and how much he loves you.”
Tansy sucked in a shaky breath, not surprised their thoughts were aligned. “I wish they were here.”
“Me too. Every damn day.” He hugged her more tightly. “I’m glad you incorporated both Hopi and Ojibwe traditions into today. They’d love that, too. Even the getting up before the crack of dawn.”
“I can almost hear Dad grumbling about it.”
Joe laughed. “Grumbling through his smiles and maybe even a few happy tears. They’d also love what you’re building here at Midnight Lake, Tansy.”
She poked him. “What we’re building. Midnight Security is as much yours as Sam’s. Midnight Lake is ours. Maybe you need to spend more time here with us so it feels that way.”
He leaned back and grinned down at her. “Sounds great, but then who would keep the world from falling apart?”
As he’d probably intended, she laughed, but she set her hand over his heart. “You work too hard, Joe. You need to slow down a bit and take some time for you. Spend time here with us. You’re going to burn out.”
She worried he was going to close himself off as well. While he’d become one of the top FBI hostage negotiators, it had taken a toll on him.
Stress lines were deepening on his face and there were shadows in his eyes. He hadn’t had a long-term relationship in far too long. Or a vacation. His job was extremely difficult and no one should do it forever. “Sam is enjoying the change of pace. Maybe you would, too.”
Joe smiled indulgently at her. “Maybe one day. But not today. Today is for getting you married to one of my best friends. And that should be weird, but it isn’t. You were always meant for each other. I remember you mooning around after him when we were kids.”
Tansy poked him. “I never mooned around after him.”
Joe snorted out a laugh. “You absolutely did. If your nose wasn’t stuck in a book or on a project, your eyes were following Sam whenever he was around.”
She tried to pretend it wasn’t true but they both knew better so she laughed instead. “And now, he’s going to be officially mine. It pays to set a goal and work toward it.”
Joe hugged her again while he laughed. “Okay, now I’d better head off and make sure the groom isn’t getting ready to run.”
“Put those hot-shot negotiator skills to use. If he runs, I’m blaming you.”
Sam paced the room, checked the time, then paced again.
A soft knock at the door had him striding over to open it. A distraction would be good.
Manny Rivera walked in and grinned at Sam. “A little antsy? You’re not usually one to show your nerves.”
Sam frowned. “I just want it to be done.”
Manny laughed. “You make it sound like a tough case, not your wedding.”
That had Sam pausing. “Damn it, you’re right. Don’t you ever get sick of being right?” Over the years, Manny had been a real father figure to them all. He’d never lectured, never shouted. Mostly the man had asked questions and made wry observations that had them all thinking.
“Being right isn’t something I’ll ever get sick of. Proud of you, Sam.”
Sam’s eyes filled instantly but he blinked back the emotion.
Waste of skin.
That voice no longer had any power, hadn’t had any for a while now. In large part to the man standing with him.
With his emotions in his throat he pulled Manny into a hug. “Thanks for everything, Manny. For more than I can put into words. You saved me.”
Manny thumped him on the back. “You saved yourself, Sam. Not that I think you were ever in danger of being lost. You’re too strong for that. Your sense of justice was well ingrained by the time you came to our house.”
Sam wasn’t sure that was entirely true. “You and Lisa have been amazing parents to all of us. And to so many more.”
Another knock at the door, but he didn’t need to answer this one. Joe and Nico walked in without waiting for permission.
Manny faked a scowl. “Were you raised in a barn?”
Nico laughed and slung his arm around his father’s shoulders. “Yep. You should know.”
Nico, already dressed in one of his fancy suits that cost more than Sam’s car, held up a bottle of Scotch. It probably cost as much as the suit.
He pulled four shot glasses out of a suit pocket and put them all on a table. “I know it’s early, but we need a toast.”
Sam snorted. “Early? It’s almost the night before.”
Nico laughed and filled the glasses. Then he passed them out and lifted his. “To Sam. To him finally getting the woman he’s always loved. To the first brother to take the plunge. Cheers.”
Laughing, Manny held up his glass. “To my three boys, the best of me. To the future and all the happiness it can bring. To Sam and Tansy who will be strong enough to take on anything.”
Joe held up his. “To Sam, who’d better not hurt my little sister. Ever.”
Laughing himself, Sam looked at the three men who meant the world to him.
They were the three best men he knew and he was proud to call them family.
With a lump in his throat, he lifted his glass. “To Manny, for being the best dad on the planet. For having our backs every damn time. To Nico, for not only welcoming us into his own family, but for making us brothers. To Joe, for being willing to try to kick my ass if I don’t treasure the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
When the chuckles died down, he finished. “To family.”
Then then downed the shots before the sun even touched the horizon.
Sam stood on the deck for a moment, taking in the scene before him. The sun was still below the treeline, exactly as Tansy had predicted.
Over the summer he and his buddies had replaced the dock he’d accidentally destroyed on his first day here at Midnight Lake. He could still feel the fear that had rushed through him that day when Tansy had crashed through the ice.
And he could still picture that tight body jogging up the stairs in front of him in nothing but a sports bra and panties.
If they ever had the lodge to themselves, they might have to reenact that scene.
But not today.
Today was for the future.
When they’d rebuilt the dock, Sam had insisted on a deck at the end instead of rebuilding it as a simple straight line.
It was the perfect place for the wedding.
Aisling had built an arch for them and it sat on the dock, covered in flowers. The weather was going to cooperate. The forecast said it would be a brilliant autumn day with barely a cloud in the sky. The leaves surrounding the lake were gorgeous in their reds and golds. Exactly what Tansy had wanted.
Nature at its finest was the best decoration.
Sam could believe the planet appreciated everything Tansy was doing for it and had decided to give her a glorious day.
Nico stood in front of the arch, all smiles and fancy footwear. Sam was still overwhelmed that Nico had become an officiant for them.
He couldn’t imagine anyone better to join them as family.
Their friends stood on the deck. Aisling with Graham. Troy, Marcus, Ginny and Nimii. Bella. Tessa.
Joe and Lisa emerged from behind him and joined Sam on the lodge’s deck. Lisa slipped one arm through each of theirs. “Well, my boys, the sun is almost here. Let’s get a move on. I want to see my first boy married.”
Sam grinned at Joe as they moved down the steps. “See, she likes me best. I’m the First Boy.”
Once they reached the end of the dock, they took their places and turned back toward the lodge. Sam’s heart rate tripled.
The first rays of the sun spread over the trees as Tansy walked through the doors on Manny’s arm.
Everything else faded into the background.
She wore a white dress that flirted with her knees in wispy layers of fabric. Nimii had made them both wedding moccasins and Tansy’s white ones matched her dress, while the beads sparkled in the sunrise.
Tansy rarely wore jewelry other than her engagement ring. Today she wore one grandmother’s necklace, another’s bracelet, and her mother’s earrings. Unbeknownst to her, Sam had her mom’s wedding band in his pocket.
As Manny and Tansy neared, he was able to lock eyes with her. All the joy and love he felt reflected back at him.
He wasn’t sure he’d ever believed he’d be this happy, this confident of the future.
But here he was, surrounded by family and friends, about to marry his best friend.
Life was pretty damn good.
Tansy’s eyes were clear as she walked toward Sam.
She’d worried she’d get teary-eyed but all she felt was joy. True happiness bubbled inside her, filling all the cracks.
She didn’t have her parents or Koko with her physically, but they surrounded her. In the land. In the jewelry. In the ceremony. In her heart.
And in the hearts of those around her.
When they reached the platform at the end of the dock, Manny leaned down to kiss her cheek. “You deserve all the happiness I see in your eyes, Tansy.”
Then he moved to stand with Lisa. He kissed her deeply, then they stood watching with their arms wrapped around each other.
Tansy and Sam reached for each other’s hands at the same moment, making them both smile. Sam leaned down to kiss her gently.
While the others cheered, she smiled into his kiss. “I love you, Sam.”
“I love you, too, Tans. Let’s do this.”
Nico let out a shrill whistle to quiet the group. The cheers quieted but the smiles remained on every face around them. Nico grinned at them. “Thanks for letting me do this for you.”
The sun rose over the trees and shone fully on the group.
“Perfect timing. The Hopi people hold sunrise wedding ceremonies to celebrate the beginning of a new life together. Today, we follow in their footsteps knowing your marriage will be as strong as those traditions.” Nico lifted two of the candles that stood on the table beside him and passed one to her and the other to Sam.
“When you join the flames from these two candles, you follow in more footsteps. Of your families and many peoples of the world. The symbol of joining flame to flame to create a third symbolizes the joining of you both into one new whole. Another family unit to join in our already intertwined and confusing family.”
Everyone chuckled and Tansy was so glad Nico was doing this. His irreverent style was perfect for their simple ceremony.
She hadn’t wanted a crowd or a spectacle. She’d wanted her family.
Sam wrapped his arm around Tansy as they lit the new candle and watched the flame soar high.
Nico continued to make everyone smile as he led them through the ceremony. “And now, for your vows.”
Sam turned to her and took both her hands. “You’re my anchor, Tansy. Always have been. You help me find my way and don’t let me wallow. I promise to protect you, to walk beside you, to support you in following your dreams. I love you with everything I am.”
Tansy’s eyes filled as he spoke. He lifted her hands to his lips and kissed them. “No tears, Tans. Not today.”
She blinked them back and took a deep breath. “I’m not good at letting people in, but that didn’t stop you. You taught me to protect myself and helped me cope when I didn’t have a clue how to move forward. You’re an incredibly compassionate man who puts everything he has into everything he does. I also promise to protect you, to support you in your dreams, and to walk along beside you. I love you so much.”
And then her voice choked up, but it didn’t matter because Sam was kissing her again.
Nico let out another whistle and had everyone laughing again. “Okay. We’re not there yet, big guy. Take a breath. Let’s have the rings.”
Smiling, Tansy held up the ring she’d had engraved with the Ojibwe and Hopi symbols for love.
She slid it onto his finger as she explained the symbols.
Then Sam held up her mom’s wedding band and her breath stuttered.
Sam’s growly voice was full of emotion. “I asked Joe what he thought and we both agree that your mom would love you to wear her ring.”
More tears threatened, but Nico cut them off with a chuckle. “No tears, shortcake.”
The ring fit perfectly and it was like a hug of approval from her mom.
Nico spoke again. “I officially pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride. Again.”
Joe watched his little sister and one of his best friends dance under the stars.
The entire day had been about fun and celebration.
Instead of a stuffy wedding in a hall, they’d spent the day outside. People from Phail along with their Bloo Moose cousins had shown up to spend the day and give best wishes.
They’d played bean bag toss, badminton, horseshoes, and taken the canoes out to do photographic scavenger hunts for things like warblers and turtles and proof of climate change.
They’d marked out the space for Tansy’s greenhouse and plotted a new obstacle course for Midnight Security that would require teamwork and cooperation.
They all planted wildflowers that were natural to the area.
And they’d talked. Made plans for the future.
Individually, in groups.
For the business, for the land, for the town.
Tansy had always been a force. The quiet, introverted girl had become a woman who was determined to improve the world.
And she was doing it. She was catalyzing the people around her as well.
One seed, one robot, one hologram at a time.
He was so damn proud of her.
Their folks would be, too.
He wasn’t sure he’d ever be as brave as Tansy.
Losing their parents had changed them both, but Tansy had managed to put her heart on the line.
Probably helped that she’d had a major crush on Sam from an early age. Maybe it wasn’t terrifying when you knew someone so well and trusted them completely.
Maybe it was worse.
How would either of them cope if they lost the other?
He’d tried to banish the gloomy thoughts all day, but watching Sam hold his sister like she was the finest treasure in the world made it impossible to block it out.
Joe couldn’t imagine risking his heart like that. Couldn’t imagine taking the risk that his heart could be shredded once more.
He was glad Tansy was brave, but he didn’t have it in him. Doubted he ever would.
Nico walked up to stand beside him on the lodge’s deck where they watched the pair dancing out on the dock.
“You want that one day?” Nico asked.
“Don’t think so. You?”
Nico was silent for a time. “Hard not to when you see two people so happy, but I’m not sure either.”
Joe nodded. Nico’s parents were alive and some of the best people Joe knew. But because they’d fostered so many kids over the years, Nico had seen a lot of loss. A lot of heartache.
Lisa squeezed in between them. “No depressing introspection on their day.”
He and Nico shared a look. How did she know what they’d been discussing?
Lisa bumped them both with her shoulders. “You’re easy to read, guys.”
They weren’t. They really, really weren’t. Joe was a hostage negotiator who knew exactly how to hide his thoughts and feelings from everyone around him.
Nico was the FBI’s leading profiler. He read people and their motivations as easily as others read the newspaper. He worked all over the country, contributing to the capture of the worst of what humanity had to offer.
“I’m the mom. It’s my job to know how you’re feeling. And you’re both happy for those two out there.”
They both nodded.
“But.” Lisa paused to look them both over. “But, you’re also worried. For them. For yourselves. For each other. For every person you know and love. You worry too much, both of you.”
Lisa pointed at Sam and Tansy, laughing at some private joke as they danced. “That’s what you need. That’s what you should be aiming for. It’s worth the risk. Always. Every single time.”
Nico hugged him mom. “We hear you, Mom. But not everyone is as lucky as them. Or as you and Dad.”
“Luck doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it. It’s hard work keeping your heart open. And it’s scary. But it’s worth it.”
Manny saved them from answering when he tugged at Lisa’s arm. “Come on, let’s show them a thing or two on the dance floor.”
Laughing Lisa allowed herself to be led down the dock and into a dance.
Joe watched the two couples as they moved into a polka and then switched partners, laughing the whole while.
Joe held up his beer and Nico clinked it. “Here’s to love.”
“And staying safe from it.”
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 Strength, spotlights Aisling and Graham.