Trina hefted one side of the trunk as Chloe handled the other. They’d dragged the thing out of storage back in her refuge in New York and brought it here to the Bloo Moose Sugar Shack.
Chloe looked around the parking lot as they moved toward the building. “Hurry. He might see you.”
Trina laughed. “You’re ridiculous, Chloe. This was your idea and you know Jack’s not going to be peeking.”
“I think he’s always peeking where you’re concerned.” Her best friend laughed and like always, the sound filled Trina with warmth and love. They moved across the Sugar Shack’s main room and set the trunk down in the corner. The screen was already set up and they’d moved a couple of stools and a small table to the area as well.
A knock sounded on the door and Lil LaChance poked her head into the room. “Okay to come in?”
Trina waved in her new friend. One of many she’d made since she’d come to Bloo Moose to hide away from the world. After her parents’ deaths, the only people who had known her were Chloe and her parents. Now, she was surrounded by the town of Bloo Moose. Not only had she found Jack, but she’d become close with so many of the people in town.
Lil was going to help them set up this booth and then take pictures of the rest of the day because Trina was getting married. Something she’d never dreamed about. Getting married meant trusting someone with her whole heart and she’d never believed she’d be whole enough to do that.
She could almost hear Babu’s tsk tsk in the air. Trina’s grandma had always believed that all good things were possible if you worked hard enough. She sent a mental hug and thank you to her Babu before hugging Lil. “Thanks so much for doing this today.”
Lil laughed. “You’ve thanked me a million times already. And it’s payback. Your songs helped me through some really dark times after I was attacked. I still can’t believe I not only got to meet you, but that we became friends.”
Trina blinked back the tears. Lil had been attacked by a man who didn’t like women smarter than him. Thankfully, she’d got herself free and then eventually had helped Max and the others put the man in jail for a very long time. It was a hell of a story and Trina knew the themes of surviving and thriving that were whirling in her head would eventually coalesce into a song for her friend and the man who’d helped her heal.
Chloe heaved out a huge dramatic sigh. “Stuff away the tears, ladies. We’ve got a photo booth to set up and a wedding to get to.”
Laughing, Trina squeezed Lil again and then motioned her to the area they were working on. “Chloe put together a trunk full of my old props for the photo booth.”
Lil clapped her hands and bounced over. “Real Ekaterina props? We’re going to have a blast with these. I can’t wait to see Max in this.” She held up a hot pink wig of ridiculous curls and a pair of neon yellow rhinestone sunglasses.
Chloe laughed. “That would make an excellent author photo for the back of his books.” Max wrote terrifying thrillers that Trina only read when she was in Bloo Moose with Jack. If she read them while she was alone in a hotel room, she’d never sleep.
The three women spread out the choices on the tables in the main room of the Sugar Shack. Jack was hoping to turn the area into a cafe at one point. She wasn’t sure which list held that task. She might never be a person who used lists, but they definitely worked for Jack.
Her soon to be husband.
Chloe’s laugh broke into her thoughts. “Stop daydreaming about your man and help us out so we can get to the whole wedding bit.”
“Good plan.” Because she couldn’t wait.
As a lawyer, Jack Taylor had stood in front of judges and juries more times than he could count. He’d faced down thugs and human traffickers and white supremacists. Not once in all the courtroom showdowns had he broken into a sweat.
Today, he was on his second shower to make sure he wouldn’t soak through his shirt.
He was marrying the love of his life. And the love of so many people across the world. A woman who sang to crowded stadiums and was nominated for Grammy Awards had agreed to be his wife.
Even after he’d almost burned their relationship to the ground.
Jack doubled the deodorant and his determination. He wasn’t going to embarrass himself or her. He was going to prove himself worthy. And keep proving it until his last day on earth.
He yanked on his clothes with hands that weren’t quite as steady as he’d like. The tie was giving him fits when someone knocked on the door.
“It’s us. Can we come in?” His mom’s happy voice floated through the door and he called for them to enter.
The sight of his parents calmed him immediately. They’d always been in his corner, always supported him. Even when they couldn’t understand his choices, like quitting the law and buying a Sugar Shack.
His mom’s eyes filled with tears when she spotted him. Sylvie Gerard-Taylor wasn’t a crier. She didn’t have time for tears between her prosecution cases and her causes. But today, her eyes sparkled and her smile was big enough to encompass the whole world.
“My boy.” Sylive enveloped him in a brief hug and then stood back and patted his suit before she reached up to fix his tie. “You look so handsome, Jack.”
His dad, Jonas, chuckled. “That’s because he takes after his father.”
Sylvie’s tears dried up in her big boisterous laugh. She turned and bounced on her toes to kiss her husband. “Mais oui, mon amour.”
Jack grinned. These two were opposites in many ways but the love was strong and obvious. This was exactly what he wanted for himself and Trina. And he would work his ass off to make it happen.
His dad pulled him in for a hug and slapped his back. “This is the start of your forever, Jack. You’re a lucky man. Trina is a wonderful woman.”
Trina had been so nervous to meet the couple, but they’d all hit it off immediately and she’d come to be so close with them.
Jack’s heart was full and he had to swallow to speak. “I don’t know if I’ve ever thanked you for everything you’ve done for me over the years. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. I love you both so much and I’m so glad for your example to guide me through life.”
Sylvie’s eyes filled again and Jonas pulled them both into a tight hug. “We’re so proud of you, son. You’re a good man with a big heart and more determination than anyone I’ve met.”
Another knock sounded on the door. Gage’s voice called through. “Hey Lumber Jack, time to get a move on or the woman’s going to find another lawyer turned maple syrup farmer to hitch up with.”
They broke up the hug laughing and Jack realized his nerves had vanished. It was time to start his forever.
Trina got dressed in the Sugar Shack’s office. It was now an efficiently organized space with room for a few people to work. Jack had hired a couple of locals to help him out and it was working well. She jumped in and helped when needed, but that wasn’t very often. Without any outside interference, the business was doing well. Even better than Jack’s projections.
Getting into her wedding dress in this room felt completely right. It was the place where she and Jack had got to know each other. There were so many good memories here.
When she shot a look at the drawer where she’d once stashed her broken locket, she admitted not all of the memories were positive. But they’d worked through it like adults. They’d built up the trust that had been broken. Because the love that flowed between them was as strong as any emotion she’d ever felt. It was as pure as the sap Jack tapped.
That could go in a song.
Her creativity was always humming in the background now. She never worried about the magic leaving her anymore. She’d been writing up a storm and had been spending less time on tour and more time here in Bloo Moose. The songs she didn’t want to record herself, she sold to other artists. She could even envision a time when she would give up the performing part and concentrate full time on writing songs.
Chloe was cheering her on. Her friend was thrilled Trina’s life was finally filled with more than costumes and work. Life was good and it was about to get better.
A trio of knocks told her it was James Washington on the other side of the door. She called out to him to enter even as he called out to her.
James and Lonnie walked in together. He wore a suit that showed off the still trim body that had once fought in the boxing ring. Lonnie rocked a gorgeous dress that swung around her hips and set off her dark skin perfectly.
Trina whistled a catcall making them both laugh. James turned Lonnie into a dance and they waltzed their way over to her while she applauded.
“You two are life goals for me.”
“You say the nicest things.” Lonnie laughed and swept Trina into a hug. James wrapped his arms around them both.
For a long moment, they simply held on. Trina blinked back the tears that wanted to flow. “Thank you for being my family, my parents when my own were taken away from me. I know they loved you both. While I’m sure they would love to be here today, I know they’re happy having you standing in their place. Thank you for everything. I wouldn’t have any of this without you or Chloe.”
James squeezed the hug even tighter. “Don’t you make my lady mess up her makeup or we’ll be another hour before we get this show on the road.”
Lonnie pulled back to swat at him although her eyes twinkled. Then she turned back to Trina. “Your folks would be so proud of who you are and how you’ve coped with all that life has thrown your way.”
James nodded. “You’re kind of a big deal, baby girl. And I bet Babu is kicking up her heels with every new song you write.”
Trina hoped that was true.
Chloe opened the door and heaved another of her dramatic sighs. “Is no one going to listen to the No Crying advice today? I swear you all want crappy pictures with red eyes and streaked makeup. Lil can only fix so much you know.”
Then, with her own eyes full, she came over and joined the group hug.
Jack walked the trail through the maple forest surrounded by family and friends. And Swindler, who’d already stolen his mom’s cell phone right along with her heart.
The LaChance men, Dave Belanger, Scott Anders, and Nathan Johnston rounded out the group. Along with Rayce, the latter two had helped him with the cabin rebuild after the fire.
Scott was an officiant as well as a deputy and he’d happily agreed to do their wedding. They were keeping the whole thing off social media and everyone had been sworn to secrecy until after the weekend. They didn’t want the day ruined by paparazzi—which was something that continued to blow his mind. Jack wasn’t sure he’d ever paid attention to celebrities and now he was marrying one.
His life had taken a huge turn from courtrooms and law offices. He was happier than he’d ever been. Happier than he’d thought was possible.
Jack didn’t think he’d ever had a friend group that was as tight and solid as this one. And there were more. Throughout his life, he’d been focused on one goal after the next. Between school and clubs and raising money for charity, he’d been friendly with lots of the other guys, but he’d never forged strong bonds. Something he’d never realized he was missing until he’d arrived in this town.
His parents were excited for him, loved the new business, and were happy to visit the town often.
And then there was Trina herself.
Jack was a hell of a lucky man.
As they walked near the cabin, Swindler let out a bark and bounced ahead to meet one of his new buddies. Lil was snapping pictures of his group and her huge mutt Thor was at her side.
They all waved at Chloe who appeared to be guarding the cabin so that Jack wouldn’t sneak his way in there.
She grinned at him as if reading his thoughts. “Move along, Lumber Jack. No sneaking in here first. Be prepared to drool.”
They laughed and walked a little further until they were in the clearing with Maple at the head. The huge moose statue made him smile every time he saw him. Made him appreciate Trina a little more each time as well. Her heart was as big as the statue and nothing could make him happier. After his epic screw-up, he was damn lucky to be here.
Chairs were set up in the clearing and it seemed like half the town had shown up for the wedding.
He waved and chatted quickly with people as he moved to the front. Scott moved to the officiant table. Jack’s parents and the other men took their seats.
And Jack’s eyes moved to the trail leading to the cabin.
Someone turned on music that flowed through the speakers they’d installed for the group events.
It only took him a second to recognize the tune. He might not have known a single thing about music when he’d moved to Bloo Moose, but he was becoming an expert. Especially on Trina’s songs.
This was an acoustic version of the song she’d first sung at the concert in Albany. Lumber Jack.
Everyone in the crowd smiled at the tune and Chloe was laughing as she walked down the aisle with her mom. They both hugged Jack before taking their own seats.
Swindler gave an excited bark and took off down the trail. Heading for Trina.
It was all Jack could do to make his own feet stay in place.
Trina squeezed James’ arm. Joy bubbled through her and she wanted to dance or run all the way to where she knew Jack was waiting for her.
James laughed and patted her hand. “Take your time, Trina. You’re only doing this once, so soak in all the moments as your man sees you for the first time.”
This man’s heart was so big. “Do you remember seeing Lonnie as she walked down the aisle?”
“Every last detail from her shiny shoes to the tiny flowers in her hair. And that smile that hits me right here.” He tapped his heart and smiled down at her. “Jack looks at you with that kind of love. You’ve got a good one there.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
A bark announced Swindler bounding down the trail and the goofy dog ran up to them as if he hadn’t seen her in weeks. She laughed and reached down to hug him. “Did you get tired of waiting for us? Come on, let’s go see Jack.”
They were laughing and the dog was bouncing around them as they walked into the clearing. The acoustic version of the song she’d written for Jack filled the air. It’s the Little Things. He’d shown her his love in so many little ways and those words had simply flowed out of her when she’d written this song. Like the man, it held her heart. All these months later, the tune continued to rank in the top fifty of the charts, showing it held the heart of others as well. Everyone loved a good love song.
Peripherally, Trina knew there were people, friends, in all the chairs. She knew there were flowers in sap-collecting pots all around the space. But she only had eyes for Jack.
He stood at the front. Tall, strong, and confident. He looked stunning in his classic tux. He could be an incredibly sexy James Bond, except he didn’t have a wandering eye. He was completely focused on her and Trina nearly picked up her skirt to run.
“Easy baby girl.” James patted her hand again. “Let that anticipation build. You’ve got a lifetime together.”
If the anticipation built much higher, she was going to pop like a champagne bottle.
When they reached the front, Jack’s smile was huge. He shook James’ hand then hugged him. She heard him murmur something that had James hugging him harder. Then James leaned down to kiss Trina’s cheek.
Jack took both hands in his and brought them to his lips. “You’re stunning.” Then he kissed her and she melted into his touch.
Scott laughed and brought them back to reality, but she didn’t care. She’d kissed this man in front of an entire stadium and she planned to take every opportunity to kiss him for the rest of her life.
Scott grinned at them both. “I’m happy to be here today, joining you two in marriage. You’ve both had quite the impact on Bloo Moose, most of it is pretty good.”
A chuckle moved through the crowd. Two stalkers meant not all that impact had been positive.
Scott grinned at them. “We’re happy to have you here as part of our town and thrilled you’re setting roots down here.”
Scott continued to talk, but Trina struggled to take in the words. She was getting married and every cell of her being was focused on Jack. After they exchanged rings, Scott turned to her. “Trina would you like to speak first?”
She nodded at Scott’s question but kept her eyes on Jack’s. “I came to Bloo Moose to hide from the world. I was scared and worried and facing a crossroads in my career. Other than the Washingtons I didn’t have a soul I could trust. Then I found your ad. I didn’t even know what a Sugar Shack was when I came in for an interview that day.”
She smiled along with the crowd. “You called out to me from the dark of the cabin with that glorious baritone of yours and I think I started falling in love right then. Then you rescued a mutt who steals everything in sight.”
They grinned at the dog who was currently snoozing at their feet.
“You’re an amazing man. Compassionate, hard-working, determined. You do the right thing every single time. I love your strength of conviction and your strength of character. I love how you see me, all of me.”
Her voice started to shake so she took a breath before she continued. “You’ve already starred in a couple of my songs. Please know that every time I sing about love and soul mates and forever that I’m singing about you. I love you, Jack and I promise to love you forever.”
Jack’s eyes were shining and he took his own deep breath before speaking. “You’re the strongest person I know. You’re so damn brave and beautiful. I still can’t believe you gave me a second chance when I screwed it up so badly.”
She gripped his hands and started to speak, but he shook his head.
“I did. I know it. Everyone knows it.” He grinned at the crowd. “Right?”
There were calls of Right and You sure did and Damn straight amid the laughter.
He turned back to her with a huge grin. “But you’ve convinced me to leave that day in the past and to focus on the future. Our future.”
She nodded and he lifted her hands to kiss them again. “Our future is very bright. Full of love and fun and music. I can’t wait to watch you spread your talent around the world and bring joy to everyone you touch. You’re a special talent, Trina. More importantly, you’re a special person. One with a huge heart. I love you with every part of my being. I’m going to spend the rest of my life making sure you know I trust you and I love you. I will love you forever.”
She couldn’t last one more second without kissing him, so Trina bounced up on her toes and did just that. Jack wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into him.
The kiss was filled with love and heat and joy.
Scott laughed. “I now pronounce you husband and wife. You two make a great team. Carry on while we start the party.”
Jack patted Maple and took a seat on the huge statue’s knee. “Good party, bud.”
Dave Belanger appeared at his side with a grin on his face. “Hope you’re not planning to drive anywhere if you’re talking to statues.”
Jack laughed and held up his glass. “Switched to water a while back. I want to remember every moment of today.”
Dave lifted his own glass and tapped Jack’s. “Hell of a plan and a hell of a party. I’m glad you two worked it out and I’m still sorry for my part in having Trina think she was locked in at the station.
That had been a hell of day. But it was a day he’d promised to Trina that he’d keep in the past. It wasn’t like he could forget it, that whole time was burned into his soul. But he was using that memory to fuel a future full of love and a better version of himself.
She believed in him, believed in them, and he’d be damned if he was going to do anything to screw that up. He tapped Dave’s glass again. “All in the past now.”
They watched the party for a few minutes. When he’d first arrived at the Sugar Shack, he’d envisioned this space as a place he could teach school kids, maybe learn a few things from local old-timers. Not once had he thought about it as the place he’d get married.
The space was filled with happy people. Some eating, others dancing. The photo booth had been a huge hit and Trina’s former costumes were everywhere.
Lil wore a huge pink wig and had lassoed Max with a matching feather boa. Myla had thrown a rainbow striped cape over her dress. Megs had glommed onto some kind of purple fur thing she wore around her shoulders and even Antonia Fortini was bright green elbow length gloves.
Gage had been trying out all the wigs and costumes. Every time Becca looked at him, she burst into laughter. The woman was normally as quiet as Maple, but her fiancé had her in giggles half the night.
It really was a hell of a party.
Dave nodded and smiled. “You’ve done a good thing with this place Jack. It’s growing and you’ve created another good business for our town. Glad you quit the lawyer thing?”
He nodded as he stood. “I am. It was good for a while, but I needed something fresh and new. This was the perfect place for me.”
He spotted Trina dancing with Lil, Chloe, Myla, and Darby. She was spectacular in her gorgeous wedding dress that hugged her curves and then spread out somewhere around her knees. The dress had a series of tiny white buttons all the way down the back and he couldn’t wait to undo each one and taste every inch of skin he exposed.
Over top of the gorgeous dress, she wore a flannel shirt. One of his. The same one she’d worn on the stage in Albany all those months ago.
And suddenly he was done with the party.
He wanted Trina all to himself. He wanted his wife to himself.
Trina had traveled so often in her life, she’d had no desire to jet off anywhere for a honeymoon. Lil and Max were taking Swindler home with them for a few days and he hoped the couple had locked away their valuables.
Jack had stocked the fridge and freezer from Fortini’s and he planned to keep Trina happy and in bed for the next few days. They would have everything they needed and no need for interaction with the rest of the world.
Jack nodded at Dave and set his glass down on a table. Their friends had assured them they’d clean up for them. Jack had far better things to do.
Chloe spotted him moving through the crowd. She smirked, but didn’t ruin his approach. As he reached the group, he scooped Trina up into his arms.
She squealed and laughed, then threw her arms around his neck.
He kept walking, moving toward the trail that led to their cabin. Trina reached up to kiss his jaw and whisper. “Time to ditch the party?”
He grinned down at her. “Unless you have any objections?”
Her fingers played with his hair. “Not a one.”
Hoots and hollers sounded behind them. Someone turned up the music and turned on the Lumber Jack song. Soon everyone behind them was singing along. Trina waved over his shoulder and shouted out her thanks.
He didn’t slow down until they were beneath the trees and away from the crowd.
He cradled Trina to his chest and stopped to kiss her then murmured against her lips. “Hey there, Mrs. Volkova-Taylor.”
She smiled and kissed him back. “Hey there yourself, Mr. Taylor. How’s it feel to be married?”
He swung around in a circle and then kept walking toward their cabin. “Really damn good. And about to feel a whole lot better. You?”
She laughed and squirmed, having him almost moving at a jog. “I’m flying. It was a marvelous day, but I’m looking forward to the whole lot better part. Hurry, Jack.”
They found paper wedding bells strung along the trees on the final steps to the cabin and then a sign on the door.
Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Ekaterina!
Laughing, Jack shifted her so he could open the door. “I have the feeling that name is going to stick on me for a while.”
Trina giggled. “You can handle it.”
He carried her over the threshold then leaned back against the door. Home. With his wife. Love filled him up.
“Lock that deadbolt behind us, would you?”
They didn’t turn on the lights and Jack moved again, carrying her to their bedroom. They found a soft lamp glowing there. One he hadn’t left on.
Candles had been set up around the room. Dozens of them.
Trina let out a happy sigh. “I bet Chloe did this.”
Jack kissed her and then set her on her feet. “Wait right there.” He grabbed the lighter someone had left and moved around the room, lighting the candles and turning off the lamp.
On the side table, he found a bowl of chocolate covered strawberries and another of the maple candies they’d been trying out at the Sugar Shack.
There was also a note beside a phone he didn’t recognize that was plugged into a charger. Music is all set up for you. He followed instructions and some kind of romantic music flowed from the speaker.
Trina’s soft laugh had him turning. “The power of Chloe. The woman knows how to set a scene. But now, I want to think of nothing else aside from this sexy husband I married today. Think you can help with that?”
He grinned and crossed back to her, taking her in his arms to sway to the music. “That’s good, because I’ve been able to think of nothing but this gorgeous wife of mine for hours and hours.”
They swayed for a long minute, letting the anticipation build and build. Then he twirled her in his arms and hugged her from behind. “Time to see about these buttons that have been driving me to distraction all damn day.”
Trina laughed and shivered when he kissed her neck and slid his flannel shirt off her shoulders. She tilted her head to the side, giving him better access. He trailed kisses along her skin while his fingers released the first button.
He licked and kissed the skin he exposed. Trina’s breathing turns to gasps as he made his way down her spine. Shivers covered her skin and when he reached her waist he was able to reach inside the dress and reach around to tease her breasts.
She leaned back into him and let him take her weight as her knees weakened. “Jack.” Her whisper was full of desire and had his already primed body ready to go.
But he corralled his need. This was their first time as a married couple and he wanted it to be memorable.
“Jack. I need you.”
He chuckled and moved back to the next button and tormenting his wife in the very best of ways. “I need you too, Trina, but these sexy buttons need my attention.”
She laughed until he kissed the skin he’d exposed at the top of the curve of her spectacular ass. “Jack.”
Her gasp of pleasure, had him moving on to the next button and repeating the process. “I’ve got you Trina. Trust me.”
“I do Jack. With all my heart.”
And nothing could be better than that.