Joe Cheveyo had followed in his sister’s footsteps when choosing a sunrise wedding ceremony to honor their indigenous heritage. He would greet the morning as a new man with new responsibilities. To be a good husband. To protect the one he loved with everything he had.
Lia Moreno was an amazing woman and he wanted to announce to the world that she’d chosen him. His heart was full in a way he’d never expected.
He’d buttoned his shirt when a soft knock sounded on the door. “Joe? It’s me.”
His sister. “Come on in, Tansy.”
She wore a sunshine yellow dress and a smile that was just as bright. “I just wanted to see how you’re doing.”
He grinned at her. “Almost ready to go. And I’m feeling great. How’s Lia? Is she nervous?” Lia wasn’t a fan of crowds or being the center of attention, much like his sister.
“She’s happy. A little nervous, but she’s also excited.”
Tansy wound her arms around his waist and squeezed. “I’m so glad you two found each other, Joe. Since you were sixteen, you’ve been taking care of me and everyone around you. You deserve the best and I’m so glad you found a woman who is the perfect fit for you. I’m even happier you let her in.”
“Me too.” His sister had hit on the heart of it. For years, he’d believed he’d never settle down. That it wouldn’t be worth it because the person you loved could die. Like their parents.
But it was worth the risk.
Tansy squeezed him again and then released him. “Thanks Joe, for always being there for me. You’re always been the best brother to me. Now, I’ll go before I cry and let you finish getting ready. See you soon.”
She was gone before he could reply. Not that he might have been able to get words out with all the emotions clogging his own throat.
He’d pulled on his jacket when the next knock came. Of course it was Sam, Nico, and Manny. His family.
Moments later, Mitch, Graham, and Flynn joined them. Sam pulled out a bottle of whiskey and Flynn handed out the shot glasses that had become something of a tradition with Midnight Lake weddings. Even if the sun hadn’t risen, they were going to have a toast.
Sam lifted his glass first. “To Lia. For bringing Joe home.”
Oh, hell. That got him right in the heart.
Graham grinned. “To Chevy for finally figuring out he belongs here.”
Mitch. “To burnout bringing you here.”
Flynn. “Thought you were going to drag your sorry ass about joining us for years. Glad you got smart.”
Nico’s eyes were shining when he lifted his glass. “Glad you’re home, brother.”
Then Manny sighed. “The women are going to kill us if we make him maudlin.”
They all laughed, mostly because Manny was right. As usual. Then he slung his arm over Joe’s shoulders. “You’ve chosen a hell of a woman, Joe. Keep her happy and you’ll have an amazing life together. Full of adventures and love and fun. You’ll be there for each through the tough shit and make the good times even better together. To Joe and Lia.”
While the others echoed the words, Joe said. “To family and to Lia.” And to the amazing future in store for them.
Lia hadn’t been a little girl with dreams of frilly dresses or fancy shoes. She’d mostly dreamed of a full belly and a safe place to sleep. Then she’d dreamed of being a surgeon.
When they’d set a wedding date, Lia had been lost about what to do next. Weddings hadn’t been part of her life. She’d never even attended one.
At least Joe had wanted to keep it simple as well. His family and their friends here at Midnight Lake. The decorations were flowers and that was all they needed. Aside from each other.
Lia had asked the other women to help her find a dress that was both casual and fancy enough for a wedding. She checked the mirror and hoped she’d chosen well. Joe’s family was important to her as well and she didn’t want to let anyone down. Tansy had assured her the dress was perfect.
She knew she’d never felt this pretty before. A knock of her door preceded Tansy’s voice. “It’s me. Can I come in?”
Tansy bounced in wearing a dress as sunny as her personality. “Oh, Lia. You’re stunning. That dress is perfect for you.”
“I can’t manage the zipper and the clasp. Can you help?”
“Of course.” There was no pity in Tansy’s voice and manner. And Lia didn’t feel any pity for herself. Not any more. Being at Midnight Lake had helped her move past that stage into acceptance. Her hand’s injury didn’t define her. She could do most things, but when she couldn’t, she was finally comfortable asking for help.
Tansy fixed up her dress and then hugged her. “I’m so glad we’re going to be related. I’ve always wanted a sister.”
Lia’s eyes filled as she hugged her back. “Me too.”
Another knock and Lisa Rivera popped her head in. “I hope I’m not intruding.”
Lia’s heart knocked against her ribs. Nico regarded this woman as his second mom and Lia desperately wanted Lisa to like her.
Lisa’s smile grew as she walked in. “You’re always beautiful, but today you are beyond gorgeous. That dress is perfect.”
“Thank you.” Her nerves wouldn’t let her add any more.
Lisa took one of her hands and one of Tansy’s. “I always wanted a houseful of children. And I’ve had so many over the years. But only one daughter.” She smiled at Tansy. “And now I have another. I’m so glad you’re part of our family, Lia. And with your name, I’m sure it’s another sign you’re meant to be.”
Lia frowned at Tansy but she shook her head. She turned back to Lisa. “My name?”
Lisa laughed. “We’re only one letter apart. Lisa. Lia. Poor Joe is going to get our names mixed up for years to come. Probably Manny too. We’re going to have so much fun with it.”
Lia found herself relaxing.
Another knock on the door had her smiling. “Come on in.”
Her mouth dropped completely open as first Casilda and then Tabora entered her room. More tears filled her eyes as she crossed the room to engulf her friends from Atlanta in a hug. “You’re here. You came.”
The women laughed and Casilda spoke. “Of course we came. It’s your wedding. We wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
“But it’s a two-mile hike in and it’s not even morning yet.”
Tabora grinned. “We’ve been here since last night. You’re the only one who didn’t know. Joe made all the arrangements.”
Because he knew these two women were important to her.
She doubted it was possible to love him anymore than she already did.
Joe stood inside the main room of Midnight Lodge with Lisa Rivera and looked out at their friends waiting on the platform at the end of the dock, lit by a few lanterns and the beginnings of the sunrise. Tansy and Sam had been the first to get married here at Midnight Lake. Nico had become an officiant to marry the two and he would perform the task again today.
The group on the dock’s platform was larger today than it had been at his sister’s wedding. He hadn’t even met some of the women standing there or the two teens who towered over everyone.
Now they were family. His family, Lia’s family. Theirs.
Lisa squeezed his arm. “What are you thinking?”
He turned to smile down at his second mom. “I’m thinking about how damn lucky I am.”
Her eyes glimmered with tears but she blinked them back. “June and Robert would be so happy for you and so proud of what you’ve accomplished. And for how you’ve taken care of Tansy and the others. You don’t have to do that alone anymore.”
He smiled. “I never did. You and Manny have been amazing from the moment that accident happened. I don’t think I’ve thanked you enough.”
Lisa’s laugh filled the room as it often did. “You and Tansy have thanked us a million times at least. And you don’t have to. It was a joy and a pleasure to share our home with you both. You were always going to be a good man, Joe, but you’ve become one of the best I know. And I know several spectacular specimens of your species.”
She could always make him laugh.
“I had lots of amazing examples growing up. Mom and Dad would love that we’re all family. They’d love this place and these people. And Lia. They’d love her.”
Lisa nodded. “You’re absolutely right. They would also love the fact that you finally allowed yourself to fall in love despite the risks. I remember the conversation we had on Tansy and Sam’s day. That day you and Nico were both so sure that you would never be ready for love. That it wasn’t something you were willing to risk. Ever.”
He remembered the conversation well. Lisa had told him that love was always worth the risk. And it was. “I guess here is where I admit you were right?”
She laughed again. “I’ve never been more happy to be right in my life.”
Someone started up the music and that was their cue to start moving, to take the first step into the ceremony that would make Lia officially his.
With Lisa’s arm tucked into his, he opened the door for her.
With a sparkling grin that usually meant she had a zinger heading his way, she squeezed his arm. “Do you want to know how I knew Lia was perfect for you?”
Did he? Probably not, but he couldn’t stop himself asking the question. “How?”
“Her name is the same as mine, just without the S. You were looking for a Lisa clone all your life and you finally found one.”
She was laughing loudly as she tugged him out the door. After a heartbeat, he joined in.
But he’d never tell her that she might be right.
Lia hugged her friends one by one as they headed down to wait on the dock with the rest of the group. Casilda and Tabora fit right in with the other ladies.
When they moved down the hall, Manny Rivera approached from the other side of the hall where he’d been waiting. His kind smile was exactly the smile she’d always thought a dad should have.
She’d never known hers, hadn’t actually thought about the lack very often. Neither of her parents had wanted her, but she’d found a wonderful home with Carlotta, and Lia had never missed what she hadn’t had.
Lia rarely wore jewelry, but today she wore a necklace Carlotta had given her. The pretty silver chain held a trio of small silver hearts of varying sizes. The hearts moved freely on their own, but usually sat together. Carlotta had always believed in love. After her William had died, she’d decided to take in foster kids and Lia had been lucky enough to be one of them. Whenever she’d thought of home, she’d thought of Carlotta.
Now, she’d found another home. And a family of her own. Carlotta would be thrilled.
Manny patted her arm. “You holding up okay?”
She blinked away the tears and nodded. “I’m just a little overwhelmed. I can’t believe Joe brought in my friends from Atlanta and that you and Lisa brought Sneaks and Gogo. I never dreamed I’d have so many people in my life.”
Manny nodded. “From what I know, you spent most of your dreams on your career.” He lifted her hand and squeezed it. “You worked hard to create first one career and now a second. You’re a strong woman, Lia and you’ve earned a huge portion of happy.”
She had to swallow hard to contain the ball of emotion clogging her throat, making Manny laugh. “Lisa will kill me if I make you cry, even if they’re happy tears.”
He tucked her arm through his and they headed down the stairs. “Let’s get you hitched to my boy before he begs.”
That had her laughing.
The main room was empty except for Moose who was snoozing in a sunbeam. As soon as they started to walk his way, he woofed and moved to the door.
Manny grinned. “Looks like your attendant is ready to get this show on the road too.”
Once on the deck looking down towards the dock, she could see the pots of flowers lining the walkway. Friends and family waited on the huge platform at the end of the dock.
And she could see Joe. His smile brightened as their eyes locked and she couldn’t look away. This wonderful man was about to be her husband. “I’m getting married Manny.”
“You sure are darling. And it’s going to be a great marriage. Lisa tells me so, and that woman is always right.”
Laughing, but keeping her eyes on Joe, Lia squeezed his arm. “Thank you for doing this. You’ve been such a good dad to Joe and Tansy and Sam and Nico. I’m so happy to be part of your family.”
When he spoke, Manny’s voice was thick. “We’re so proud and happy to have you join us, Lia. Watch your step here. Don’t want you falling off the dock and into the water.”
She was smiling as she reached the man she would love forever.
Joe watched Manny escort Lia along the dock and thought his heart might burst.
Lisa had reminded him of the way he’d felt during Tansy’s wedding. He’d been happy for her and Sam, but he’d also been worried. And wary.
Now, having met Lia, he got it. He finally got it. Love was most definitely worth the risk.
He shook Manny’s hand and then took Lia’s in his. Unable to stop himself, he leaned down to kiss her gently. “Hi, Gorgeous.”
She smiled and kissed him back. “Hi, Handsome.”
He wasn’t sure anyone else heard them, but Nico chuckled. “I think that makes us O for six in getting grooms to cooperate with waiting to kiss the bride. I think we definitely need to change up the order of the traditional ceremony.”
That brought laughter and applause from the crowd.
Nico grinned. “It’s a pleasure today to perform the ceremony to marry Joe and Lia. It’s become quite a tradition here at Midnight Lake. In fact, I think without Tansy’s choice to be here, most of the couples standing on this dock wouldn’t have even met.”
That was very true. His sister was at the root of a lot of happiness.
Nico continued. “Thanks Tansy. I’ve known Joe forever and I know he’s one of the good guys. I’m glad you’ve found your perfect partner, Joe. We can all see how great you are together. Lia, we’re lucky to have you here. Would you like to say your vows first?”
Lia nodded and her smile widened when she turned to him. Joe felt his heart swelling again and wondered how it managed to stay in his chest.
Lia’s voice was soft. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when you first walked into my OR. You walked into a very tense situation.” She sent a smile at Sneaks and Gogo before turning back to him. “Without knowing much, you walked in there unarmed and kept all of us from dissolving into panic.”
He almost snorted at that. Lia had been the exact opposite of being in a panic.
“Through a lucky twist of fate, also known as Tansy, we got a chance to meet again and I’m so glad we did. You helped me to see past my limitations without pushing me in any direction. You helped me feel whole again.”
She squeezed his hands and swallowed. “I love everything about you Joe. The way you take care of everyone around you. I love the way you do everything to the very best of your abilities. I love how you’re so strong in all the ways that count, but your heart has room for so much love.”
“I promise to love you every day, when things are good and when life throws us challenges. I’ll support you in your dreams and I look forward to rocking our chairs together on that deck eighty years from now.”
Joe thought his heart was going to burst at Lia’s vows. He wanted to skip his own vows and demand Nico declare them married right there, but she deserved to hear the words.
He lifted her hands to kiss them. “I love you, Lia. For years, I didn’t think I was cut out for this. I figured the only thing love was good for was setting you up for a heart break.”
She smiled softly at him and he swallowed hard. “The day we met, you were completely in control of the chaos going on around you. You saved your first patient, ordered all of us around, and saved Gogo’s life.”
Joe grinned at the young man. “No offence Gogo, but I never want to see your intestines again.”
Gogo grinned. “I’m hoping they stay on the inside from now on.”
Joe laughed along with everyone else and then looked back at Lia. “Your beauty and strength showed that day. Your compassion for both Sneaks and Gogo changed the course of their lives. You could have been bitter, but you acted from your heart, proving what an amazing woman you are.”
Lia’s eyes were swimming and a tear spilled over. He reached up to brush it away. “I think I started to fall in love with you that day when you ordered me to pick up a suction tube. You make it so easy to love you. Your compassion, your dedication to making the world better, your work ethic, and your determination.”
“I love you so damn much, Lia. I’ll support you in whatever venture you take on and I think holding your hand while we sit on those rocking chairs sounds like a perfect future.”
He kissed her softly while Nico chuckled. “You forgot the rings.”
Laughing, they exchanged rings.
Nico gestured at the sky. “And as the sun rises to give its blessings to the couple, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Time to kiss her as her husband this time.”
Joe cupped Lia’s face in his hands and whispered. “I love you Lia.”
He caught her returning vow with his lips and then he kissed her like he’d wanted to since he’d seen her walking onto the deck.
He ignored the cheers and laughter as he focused his attention on making this the best first official wedding kiss ever.
Lia danced with Joe’s arms around her, keeping her safe and reminding her she was loved. It was the best feeling in the world.
He grinned down at her. “Remember the first time you stepped on the dock?”
She laughed. “I do. I didn’t trust it at all. Actually, I didn’t trust much at that point. Or anyone. You changed all of that.”
He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s true. You just needed some time to get through the tough stuff. You’d have got there.”
“Mind if I cut in?” The deep voice belonged to Sneaks.
Joe grinned and shook the young man’s hand before kissing Lia and moving to the side.
Sneaks grinned and held out his hands in a proper dance stance. “Lisa’s been coaching me on how to do this right.”
Grinning, Lia moved into a dance with him. “Lisa is one amazing lady, isn’t she.”
Sneaks nodded. “She is. And Manny’s awesome too. I wanted to tell you how sorry I am about that day and thank you again.”
Lia squeezed his hand. “You’ve apologized and thanked me a million times, Sneaks. Gogo has too. You’re both amazing young men and I’m glad I was able to do my part in helping you. Joe was the one who pulled the strings to get you out of state and to California.”
Sneaks nodded. “He did. And I’ll never forget that either. Same with Gogo. But you’re the one who saved my brother’s life. I was so scared when they shot Gogo. I would have done anything for him. Would have paid any price to keep him alive and playing ball. Between you and Joe, you helped us land in the best place ever. And now Gogo’s working with a real coach and he has a shot at an amazing future. You made that happen, Doc. You’re a miracle worker.”
Lia couldn’t have stopped her tears for anything. Sneaks eyes were glossy too and she stopped dancing to hug him tightly. “You deserve that new future Sneaks. Gogo’s not the only one with a bright future. I’m so proud of you.”
The young man’s arms tightened around her. “Thank you.”
Lia hugged him back. “I’m so glad you walked into my OR that day, Sneaks.”
He straightened to stare at her. “But your hand.”
She held it up. “It’s still my hand. Because of what happened, I was able to take a look at my life. I realized I didn’t actually have one, I only had a job. Now I have a new job I love and I man I love even more. It’s all okay, Sneaks. Let go of the guilt and live your life to the fullest.”
He squeezed her into a hug that lifted her right off the ground. “Hey Joe, I may have to keep her.”
Lia laughed as Joe walked over with a grin. “Sorry man, she might like you a whole lot, but it’s me she loves.”
Sneaks set her back down. “Yeah. She does. You’re a lucky man, Joe.”
He grinned and slapped Sneaks on the back. “You’re right on that count.”
Gogo let out a whistle that had everyone looking his way. “Ginny brought cake and she wants pictures and stuff before I eat it all. You’d better hurry.”
Lia laughed along with everyone else. Joe took her hand and they headed to save the cake.
In true Midnight Lake fashion, Joe lifted Lia into the canoe, wedding dress and all.
The crowd showered them in flower petals, best wishes, and a lot of good natured ribbing and suggestions from his buddies.
They waved and thanked everyone and then Joe took his paddle and pulled away from the dock. It was summer, but it was late, so Lia used one of the solar flashlights his sister had created and aimed it into the lake.
They were spending their honeymoon night alone and not in their usual room in the lodge. Joe wanted his bride all to himself without any interruptions for the next day or two.
Several of the cabins had been taken by the team members, but there were still several available. He’d had help over the last few days cleaning one out and hauling out a mattress and bedding.
Lia glanced over her shoulder at him. “I can’t believe we’re paddling in a canoe in the dark. Are you sure we won’t get lost?”
Joe laughed. “I’m sure. No way am I getting lost when it’s my first night with my wife.”
Her soft laugh had him grinning. “I like the sound of that. I can’t wait to make love to my husband.”
Joe dug harder into the water and it wasn’t long before he spotted the solar-powered lanterns he’d left on the dock and in the cabin.
When she spotted them, Lia gasped. “It’s so beautiful, Joe. This is amazing. I can’t believe you did this.”
He tied up the canoe and lifted Lia to the dock. Then he hopped up beside her and took her hand. The lanterns led the way to the cabin and kept the shadows at bay.
He used an app on his phone to start the music he’d set up inside. Some soft and sexy jazz with a beat guaranteed to heat the blood. Not that he needed any help in that department. His blood had been simmering all day long.
He turned Lia into a dance. “You’re breathtaking, Lia. Or should I say, Mrs. Moreno Cheveyo.”
“That’s a bit of a mouthful, but I like it a lot.”
“Me too. I also like your dress. You’re so damn sexy in it.”
“I’m glad you like it. I had some help picking it out but I love it.” She ran one hand up the lapel of his jacket. You look like a sexy spy or billionaire. Dashing and daring. And all mine.”
He grinned at her and then unlocked the door of the cabin. Even though the danger was behind them, no one on the property took any chances with safety. Tansy had created locks with constantly changing codes. The app she’d made allowed them to unlock them without remembering the codes.
Joe swooped Lia up into his arms, making her squeak and then laugh. He kissed her for good measure as he crossed the threshold with her, bringing all the luck of the tradition their way. Then he engaged the locks. The curtains had already been drawn and the atmosphere was perfect. “Alone. Finally.”
Lia cupped his face with one hand. “Finally.”
The cabin was small but it was clean and homey. He set her on her feet as he realized he hadn’t been the last one to visit the cabin.
Mason jars filled with wildflowers were scattered around the space. A bucket of champagne sat on the tiny kitchen table and two flutes sat beside it. There was a tray of cookies and cakes. There were also cinnamon buns, tea and mugs for the morning. “I see my sister has been here.”
Lia laughed and moved to smell some of the flowers. “This is beautiful and romantic and perfect. Thank you for doing all of this for us.”
“I’d do anything for you, Lia.”
Her eyes filled and she smiled. “Right back at you, my dear husband.” Her eyes sparkled. “I do have one request.”
She leaned up to kiss him lightly, then she turned her back to him and pulled her hair over one shoulder. “I need some help with the zipper and the clasp.”
Joe’s body reacted predictably and he moved in to kiss Lia’s neck. She shivered under his touch and he traced his finger along the neckline of the dress.
He unclipped the clasp and kissed the skin he exposed. He eased down the zipper, kissing and teasing as he went.
His name fell from her lips like a prayer and made him feel like a superhero. “I’ve got you Lia.”
By the time he’d eased the zipper down to the base of her spine, he wasn’t sure who was trembling more.
“Joe. I need you.”
“You’ve got me, Lia. You’ve always got me. Now let’s see you fly.”
Thank you so much for reading. I hope you enjoyed this bonus scene to the Small Town Heroes (Midnight Security) Romantic Suspense series!
Next up will be the No Fail Heroes series. The first book No Good Deed will feature Troy Phail!