Branna O’Dea twisted her mom’s engagement ring on her finger and worked to hold in the tears. She missed them so much.
She’d lost her mom before she’d been a full adult. Then her brother to an IED when he’d been in the military. Then her dad to a thug with illusions of grandeur. A thug who would be spending decades in prison, exactly where he belonged.
She missed them all every day, but especially today. There were some days special enough that a girl needed her family with her. Whether they were here or not.
Her mom’s ring helped Branna feel as if she was there. She wanted something of her dad’s and something from Charlie. But everything she’d owned had been destroyed in the fire set by Prince Hawley. She had nothing tangible but maybe she could have something symbolic.
If it wasn’t too late, she could order some green ribbon to symbolize their Irish heritage. Maybe there was something in the farmhouse she could scavenge. Reuse and recycle weren’t just for her new friends out at Midnight Lake.
A knock on the door interrupted her thinking. Piper’s voice called through. “I have a delivery for you. Slipping it under the door. I’ll be back soon.”
Branna called for her friend to come into the bedroom, but when she opened the door, the hallway was empty except for the envelope slid halfway over the threshold.
It was a large one, not a business envelope. Her name was written in Sean’s handwriting on the front.
Branna closed the door and moved to sit on the bed. She was smiling when she slid open the envelope. What had her fiancé given her?
She tipped the contents onto the bed and laughed out loud. A piece of green ribbon was the first item she spotted. There was a folded sheet of paper and a smaller envelope.
When she unfolded the paper, it was a note from Sean.
Even though today is the best day ever, I know you’re missing your parents and Charlie, just like I’m missing Mom and Dad.
I hope these help.
Tears glimmered in her eyes. He knew her so well. She opened the small envelope to find photographs. Her family posing outside O’Dea’s back in Miami. Another of her with her dad when they’d been building Guinnesses side by side behind the bar. Her mom holding a baby Branna. And one of her with Sean and Charlie when they were kids sitting in the snug behind the bar.
The photos had her smiling through misty tears as the memories filled her. So many good ones. She hoped he’d printed some for himself too.
At the bottom of the envelope was a gorgeous silver locket. When she managed to control her shaky fingers, she opened it to find a picture of her parents on one side and another of her, Charlie and Sean on the other.
“Sean Falcone, you’re an incredible man.” Her whisper slipped out and she hugged the chain before slipping it on.
Time to get dressed and tell him those words in person.
Sean patted his pocket to ensure the photos he’d printed were there. One of him with his parents. They’d be so happy that he and Branna were together. The other was his favorite photo of Branna, him and Charlie when they’d been kids.
It had been a miserably hot and muggy day where the humidity had been about a thousand percent outside. The power had gone out and everyone had been hanging out in the streets, too hot to do much of anything.
Then a storm had broken and rain had drenched everyone before they even had a chance to go inside. Branna, who’d probably been eight or nine had whooped with joy and started twirling in the rain.
The people who’d been ducking for cover had watched her for only a few seconds before deciding she had the right idea. Soon the street had been blocked with everyone in the neighborhood having an impromptu dance party.
The photo showed her with her arms spread wide and her face tipped up. She was grinning and catching rain drops at the same time, auburn pigtails flying out behind her as she danced.
She’d always brought joy. Emotion clogged his throat and he swallowed hard.
A knock sounded on the door and then it opened. Troy and Marcus walked in. Marcus in his dress uniform and Troy outfitted in a suit like Sean.
Troy grinned. “Looking good, Falcon. You ready for this?”
Sean couldn’t contain the smile. “To make her mine forever? Absolutely.”
Troy produced a tablet and Marcus pulled out a flask. Troy set the tablet up and he saw that Levi, Garrett and Heath had all looped in with a video chat.
Emotion punched him in the chest. He had to swallow before he could speak. “Hey guys. Thanks for being here with me today. It’d be better in person, but I’ll take what I can get.”
As one, the three men rolled their eyes. Levi grumbled. “You’re starting to sound like Epic.”
Sean grinned. “Don’t tell him, but he was right. Phail is a surprisingly great place to live. I think you’d all love it here. In fact Henry, you need to be here soon. We’ve got a plan, but we need you to get it started.”
All three sets of eyebrows shot up. Levi frowned. “You’d probably have a better chance of that if you stopped calling my by that ridiculous call sign.”
Everyone laughed and Heath said what they were all thinking. “You’re a farmer from Kansas. What did you expect? Everyone has seen the Wizard of Oz.”
Levi shook his head with a sigh, but there was a smile in his eyes. He didn’t hate the call sign nearly as much as he protested.
Marcus checked the time. “I’ve got to head out in a couple of minutes, but I thought we needed to make a toast. You guys have yours?”
Sure enough, the three guys on screen held up filled shot glasses. Marcus produced three of his own and filled them. Then he lifted his glass. “To Falcon. You’ve found your home, your future, and your family all wrapped up in a beautiful woman.”
Troy held up his. “Here’s to a future filled with everything you’ve hoped for.”
The other guys echoed To Sean and lifted their glasses.
Eyes glimmering, Sean lifted his own. “To the best friends a man could have. Now you three, get your asses to Vermont.”
Laughing they all tossed back the shot.
Heath set his glass down with a thump. “Let’s get Falcon married.”
Branna took a deep breath and looked in the full-length mirror. The dress was exactly what she’d wanted. Fun and flirty. Formal enough to go with Sean’s suit but relaxed enough to fit in with Phail and their own personalities.
The neckline of the dress were perfect for the locket and the dress even had pockets where she carried the photographs Sean had sent her earlier.
The skirt twirled with every step and the green ribbon Sean had sent along worked as a belt around the waist of the white dress. The bodice was tight enough to make her feel feminine and loose enough to be comfortable.
Piper clapped her hands. “You are stunning, Branna. Sean is going to lose his mind.”
That made Branna laugh. “I do love making him lose his mind.”
Piper handed her a small posy of white flowers tied with more green ribbon. They didn’t have a local florist, but they’d brought in flowers for the wedding. Piper had even woven some white flowers into Branna’s hair. She almost felt magical, but that was from the joy bubbling inside. “I’m ready.”
At the bottom of the stairs, Jabba waited with Marcus who wore his dress uniform. Her friend smiled at her and Piper. “Ladies, you are beautiful. Your men are going to be struck speechless.”
Branna laughed and patted Jabba who had been brushed until his coat shone. He wore a green bow tie and sat on his haunches. “You’re both very handsome as well.”
Marcus gestured to the door. “I’ve pulled the car up as close as I can get to the stairs. We haven’t had fresh snow in a few days, so it shouldn’t be slippery or too wet for your shoes.”
In deference to the can-you-believe-the-snow-is-still-here? weather, they threw coats over their dresses. Marcus helped them both into the back seat and then opened the door for Jabba to hop in the front.
In only moments, they parked behind the saloon. Branna was nearly bouncing in her seat. Marcus ushered them all in and they headed up the back stairs. They stopped at the top to avoid alerting anyone below. Jabba let out a bark making them all laugh softly. “Way to ruin the stealth entry, Jabba.”
But the hum of voice below didn’t stop. There were probably other dogs in the audience. She knew Piper’s Oreo was down with Troy and she wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few more.
Marcus grinned and took out his phone. After a few texts, he looked up. “Troy says we’re ready to go. You?”
Branna nodded. “I’m ready. Thank you so much, both of you for being with me.”
Jabba whined and Branna patted his head. “Sorry, the three of you. Thanks to the three of you for being here with me. My parents would be thrilled to know I have such wonderful people with me to stand in for them.”
Piper hugged her tightly and Branna blinked back the tears. Then she hugged Marcus. “Thanks for being my dad for the day.” Marcus nodded with a smile and shiny eyes.
Celtic music filled the saloon and the voices below drifted away.
Piper patted Jabba. “Come on boy. Show time.”
The dog pranced along beside Piper as she walked across the balcony above the main room of the saloon. Piper heard the crowd’s happy response to the pair and it made her bounce in place.
She could feel the love in the room. Both from the people below and from her family. They were here. With her.
When it was time, she looped her arm through Marcus’ and headed for her future.
Sean knew he was smiling like a fool, but he had no intention of stopping. Piper had walked down the stairs with Jabba. The goofy dog wore a huge green bow tie and pranced at all the attention he got as he wove through the crowd to stand by Sean.
Sean managed to hug Piper and kiss her on the cheek before turning his attention back to the balcony above the main room of the saloon. His buddy Marcus was standing in for Branna’s dad and he couldn’t be prouder that she’d asked his former team leader to do the honors.
His past and his present were meshing and making the future look damn good.
The pair appeared on the balcony above. Branna’s smile was huge as her gaze searched the crowd. When their eyes locked, that smile widened and his heart filled.
Marcus said something to her that had her laughing and Sean knew he would always remember this moment as joy spilled from her.
The sexy dress swung with every step she took and he wanted to peel it off of her with his teeth. On second thought, he wanted to strip her out of whatever she wore beneath and sink into her while she wore the dress, the symbol of their vows to each other.
His gaze stayed locked on hers as she moved down the stairs and up to where he stood near the door to Doc’s.
Marcus kissed Branna’s cheek and he heard her tear-filled thank you to his friend. He pulled Marcus into a hug. “Thanks, Arrow.”
Then he took Branna’s hands and lifted them to his lips. When that wasn’t enough contact, he leaned down to kiss her properly.
Cheers and whoops erupted in the room and he finally managed to slow the kiss and stand back. But he kept her hands in his.
Beside them, Troy laughed. “Vermont tradition appears to be that the kiss becomes the first part of the ceremony.”
The group chuckled and Sean thought that was a brilliant idea. How was he supposed to keep from kissing this gorgeous woman? Impossible.
Troy’s voice easily covered the space in the saloon. “Welcome everyone. I know you’ve all been dying to see the interior, but we thought it was fitting that the first official opening of the saloon was Branna and Sean’s wedding.”
More cheers greeted that.
Troy continued. “You two have had a challenging few weeks and it’s a real pleasure to be able to join you in marriage here in the saloon that’s going to be such a great addition to our town.”
More hoots and hollers.
Branna laughed. “They just want someone to build a real Guinness.”
Troy grinned. “That might have been part of it before we met you. Branna, you’re going to bring so much to our town. Not only through giving us a great gathering place with the Saloon, but with your presence. We’re very lucky to have you here.”
Troy gestured at Sean. “And I’m glad you brought this guy home where he belongs. Even though you’re both from Miami, we hope Phail is home to you both for decades to come. Now, shall we do the rings and have you say your vows? Branna are you going to go first?”
His bride-to-be nodded and grinned up at him before leaning down to pat Jabba’s head and take a small box off of his collar.
Branna had wanted the dog to be part of their ceremony as they were going to be an official family. “Thanks for keeping the ring safe, Jabba.”
Everyone chuckled as she opened the box and slipped out the ring. Because Sean worked with his hands, the ring was tungsten with a carbon fiber inlay around the band. Classy and strong, just like the man. Her man.
She held Sean’s hand and smiled up at him. “You’ve been part of my family from my earliest memories. You were my brother’s best friend and another son to my parents. My childhood was filled with love and fun and joy, and you were a part of so many of those memories.”
She swallowed hard. “On the worst day of my life back in Miami, one of those childhood memories gave me a way to survive and hide. I sent you three words in a text and knew you’d come to help.”
Sean’s thumb caressed her skin and she took another breath. “You’re such an amazing man. Strong in all the ways that matter. Smart and courageous. A warrior with a gentle soul.”
She grinned. “The first time I fell in love with you was when I was about six. You and Charlie had just rescued a dog after it got hit by a car. I never did fall out of you after that, but that love has grown so much bigger. I love everything about you, Sean and I can’t wait to build a future with you in this town with a ridiculous name.”
“Hey!” Troy’s protest was covered up by the chuckles in the room.
“I want to build this business with you and I want to watch you build Falcon Construction. I want to fill this saloon with memories of our past and add new ones to pass on to the next generation. Our love is only going to get bigger and brighter. I promise to love you and trust you and support you forever.”
Then she slipped the ring onto his hand and kissed it. When she looked up, Sean’s eyes were shining with emotion and her own heart was full.
Sean took a moment to swallow down the emotions crawling up his throat. Once again, he lifted Branna’s hands to kiss them. Then he pulled the ring box from his pocket. The same pocket that held some of those memories she’d mentioned.
“Branna, you are the brightest part of every day. You always have been. Even when you were Tagalong Sally, I knew you were special.”
She grinned at the nickname and he grinned back.
“We have some amazing memories from the past. Our parents. Charlie. I believe they’re all with us today and I believe they’re all thrilled we’ve found our way to each other as adults.”
Her nod have him smiling back. “We’ll pass on my mom’s lasagna recipe, your dad’s skills in building a perfect Guinness, and all the love they always shared freely.”
He smiled again as another memory hit him. “Just before we headed off to our Army training, Charlie saw me watching you. He reminded me of something he’d said more than once. He said, She’s too young for you. For now.”
Branna laughed. “He used to tell me you were too old for me. For now.”
Sean’s heart swelled and his voice was husky when he spoke. “Looks like he knew this moment would come.” He glanced up at the ceiling. “Thanks Charlie.”
He heard the collective sigh from their friends but kept his focus on Branna. “I can’t wait to grow our businesses and our lives together in this town with the ridiculous name.”
Troy’s protest was drowned out by more laughter.
“I promise you I will love you forever, that I’ll be with you through all the tough stuff as well as the best times. I’ll have your back, I’ll walk at your side, and I’ll do my best to give you whatever you need. I love you, Branna and I promise to love you forever.”
“With the powers invested in me by the town with the ridiculous name—my name by the way—I pronounce you husband and wife.”
Branna was laughing and Sean captured her joy in their first kiss as a married couple. He lifted her straight up and clamped his arms around her as he kissed the breath out of her to the cheers of their friends.
Branna stood behind the bar as she built the first official Guinness at the Saloon. When it was done to perfection, she built another.
The crowd cheered as she passed one to Sean and took the other herself. They looped arms and sipped to more cheering from their friends.
Branna set down her pint and reached up to kiss Sean. Her husband. Joy bubbled through her and she kissed him again. He gathered her into his arms and swayed with her as the crowd continued to laugh and cheer and mingle.
Troy spoke through the mic which was part of the speaker system Sean had installed. “Looks like a good time to have our couple’s first dance. I heard this song was a favorite of Falcon’s parents and grandparents.”
She watched Sean’s eyes as Frank Sinatra’s The Way You Look Tonight filled the air. He lifted her in a hug and his husky whisper tickled her ear. “That’s perfect. Another way they’re here with us. Thank you. Let’s dance, Sally.”
He led her in a dance through the back of the bar and into the main part of the room. Branna had several memories of Achille and Margaretta dancing in the kitchen to Sinatra and Mario Lanza and Sammy Davis Junior. More good memories that would live on.
Someone had put Italian and Irish flags up and she figured it wouldn’t be long before Troy added in a Scottish one. Sean had enlarged the photos he’d given her earlier and a few more. He’d had them framed and they hung on the walls around the Saloon. She knew at least one from today would join them.
When her eyes misted with tears, Sean’s hands immediately tightened on her. “Okay?”
She nodded. “Just thinking about the past and the future. And loving the present. This is going to be our place Sean. We’re going to build it and fill it with love and memories.”
He cupped her face and kissed her. “Damn straight.”
The party had been a lot of fun, but Sean wanted his wife to himself. His wife. That sounded so damn good.
He grabbed her hand and tugged her back to the dance area. She snuggled in and then leaned up to whisper in his ear. “I had some of my friends help out earlier. We set up one of the bedrooms upstairs for us so we don’t have to go home. Piper and Troy are going to take Jabba home with them for the night.”
“That sounds perfect. And I think it’s time to check it out.”
All it took was for Sean to send a look to Troy and his buddy nodded. With a grin Troy stopped the music and picked up the mic. “Drink up folks, the bar is officially closed, and if we don’t head out soon, Falcon might end up tossing us out physically. Let’s have one last toast. From Branna’s ancestors, here’s a short one.” He lifted his pint.
May you always walk in sunshine.
May you never want for more.
May Irish angels rest their wings
Right beside your door.
Then he grinned. “The Italians are much more direct. Viva l’amore! And andare a casa which is a translation of go home!”
Sean couldn’t agree more, and he lifted his glass in salute. Beside him, Branna laughed and did the same.
They endured hugs and congratulations, but it wasn’t long before Sean was able to close and lock the front door. He’d already checked the back door, he’d never take Branna’s safety for granted again.
His wife took his hand. “That was a lot of fun, but I’m glad they’re gone.”
Her eyes were bright and happy as she looked up at him. Then she ran one hand up his dress shirt to where he’d loosened his collar hours before. “Did I tell you how sexy you are?”
She had several times, but he grinned down at her. “Nope.”
She laughed and then walked those fingers up to tap on his nose. “You’re sexy. You’re sexy when you’re working and wearing that tool belt. You’re sexy when you’re working out. You’re sexy as hell in this suit, but I think you’re sexiest of all with a few less layers. I want my sexy husband.”
“I believe that can be arranged.” He turned off the lights and twirled her into another dance, pulling her close as they moved across the floor. “I’ve got one last surprise for you.”
She reached between them and cupped his erection. “I can see that.”
Laughing, he danced her along the bar and then instead of heading to the stairs, he detoured into the snug. He’d set it up earlier and when she turned to look, she let out a happy laugh. “This is amazing. You’re the best, Sean.”
He hugged her, pleased with her reaction to his setup. Twinkle lights lit up the space with romantic lighting. The champagne bucket came from Tansy’s basement and held a bottle of the bubbly stuff.
He’d also ordered in tiramisu from Tansy’s cousin’s friend who lived across the state in a town called Bloo Moose. Antonia Fortini was apparently a goddess in the kitchen and he’d wanted the best for tonight. It had arrived earlier in the day and Lia had kept it in the fridge at Doc’s for him. Beside the champagne, a large piece sat on a plate with a fork.
Sean placed the champagne, glasses and cake on the bench to clear the table and then he squatted down in front of her. With his eyes locked on hers, he reached to run his hands over her legs. “I’ve been thinking about this all day. Wanting to know what you’re wearing under here.”
He held up the front of the skirt. “Hold this.” Then he dipped his head and growled. Barely-there white lace that demanded his mouth.
He leaned in and licked her over the material. Branna cried out his name and dropped the skirt to lean back and grab the edge of the table.
Sean laughed and held up the skirt. “You hold that. I’ve got you.”
Her answering smile had his body harder than ever. He went back to work with his mouth and his tongue and his teeth. When he eased down the panties and had her step out of them, her legs were trembling.
He’d barely touched his tongue to her when she gasped his name and went flying over the edge. He kept his mouth moving under she nearly collapsed on top of him.
Sean lifted her and flounced the dress out behind her so her gorgeous ass was sitting on the edge of the table. When her eyes fluttered open he kissed her. “You’re gorgeous when you fly.”
He poured some champagne into a flute and passed it to her. Then he lifted a forkful of tiramisu to her lips.
Her tongue zipped out to taste the cake, then she sipped and handed him back the flute. Her hands went to his pants and she made swift work of freeing him. He grabbed one of the condoms he’d stashed in the snug and covered himself.
She pulled him toward her and he slid home inside her. They both sighed at the sensation, breathing hard. “I love you Branna. Now that you’re my wife, you know there’s no going back, right.”
Branna smiled and angled her body to bring them as close as two people could be. “No going back for you either, Falcon. From now on, we’re going forward.”
“Always. Now, Sean, now.”
He watched her fly once more, wearing the dress that bonded them together. And then he flew with her.