Gasps of surprise from the shocked guests went into one of Julian’s
ears and out the other when he saw Eve at the far end of the aisle with
Simone at her side. In a gorgeous off-white gown that fit her every
like it was painted on, Eve looked like she stepped right out of his
The sparkling tiara and his mother’s pearls complemented the ensemble
perfection. His eyes stayed riveted to Eve’s smiling face as she and
made their way down the aisle. The murmuring of the crowd grew louder
more the two neared the altar.
Sheridan took a step closer to Julian. “I hope Eve’s well-meaning friends don’t throw a wrench in your plans,” she whispered. “Everyone seems a little agitated.”
A tempered summer breeze wafted through the garden filling the air with the light scent of the many flowers in bloom. A blue sky and singing birds added to the perfection of the day, and perfect it would remain.
“I’m not worried,” Julian said. “I don’t see any signs of Whitney, and that saddens me, but Eve is still walking towards me. If Whitney’s absence didn’t stop it, shocked friends who think Eve has lost her mind won’t.”
“She looks absolutely stunning,” Sheridan gushed.
Julian nodded. His eyes still glued to his lovely bride. “Yes, she does.”
“What’s this about Eve?” Father Lonigan asked. “Is something wrong? Does Rebecca need a doctor?”
“No, Father, there’s just been a little change of plans,” Julian explained. “It will all be cleared up momentarily.”
The crowd continued to whisper and stare as Eve and Simone stepped up to the altar. The harpist ended her solo and Simone took a step toward Julian.
“Now I see why you were being so nice to me,” she said, giving him a look that had equal parts annoyance and grudging admiration.
Julian took her hand and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “That’s not the only reason, I assure you. You’re an amazing young woman, Simone, and I look forward to getting to know you better.”
“You can stop buttering me up now, Julian, Mom’s here,” she said, her tone light. “You just take good care of her, okay?”
“I will, I promise.”
“We’ll talk more later,” she said, before turning to Eve and kissing her cheek. “Be happy, Mom.”
“I already am.”
Simone nodded and then took the empty seat next to Sam.
Julian took Eve’s hand into his. “Do you have any idea how hard it is for me not to break down in tears in awe of all your beauty?”
Eve shook her head. “Uh-uh, don’t you dare cry,” she instructed. “A veritable flood will take place if you start my waterworks. Besides, right now, we have a little explaining to do.”
Moving to Julian’s side, they turned to the waiting assembled. Eve’s hand tightened around his. “I imagine you all are a bit surprised,” she said.
“Is that Eve?” Father Lonigan asked.
“Yes,” Sheridan and Grace answered.
Sam stood abruptly. “Surprised isn’t the word! Is he threatening you, Eve? I can have him arrested. You don’t have to do this. What about T.C.?”
“I know T.C. is your best friend, but this has absolutely nothing to do with him. Julian’s not threatening me, Sam. I’m here because I want to be. Because I love him, and I want the world to know it. I want the world to know everything,” she said in Ivy’s direction.
The woman’s face blanched. Julian derived a strange enjoyment in his ex’s discomfort. With Eve marrying him, the leverage Ivy had on her was shot to hell, and she knew it.
Ivy curled her arm around Sam’s and tried to bring him back to his seat. “Sam, if Eve loves Julian, why stand in the way of her happiness?” Julian shared the amusement radiating in Eve’s eyes. Ivy was so transparent. She would bend over backwards to stay in Eve’s good graces, for one word would send Ivy’s house of cards tumbling down. “Everyone deserves true happiness,” she said. “Everyone.” Julian smirked. Ivy’s attempt at pleading was appreciated, but futile. In two weeks, Eve planned to tell Grace everything, and Ivy would have to deal with the fallout, just like everyone else.
“Mi Dios!” said Pilar, making a sign of the crucifixion. “Eve, this is Julian Crane.”
“Eve knows who I am, Pilar, and she loves me anyway,” Julian remarked, the slightest hint of irritation in his voice. He could appreciate Eve’s friends rushing to her defense, but in this instance it wasn’t necessary. “This wedding was as much a surprise to Eve when I told her about it an hour ago, as it is to you all now, but she’s here. Somewhere I did something right, because she loves me, and I love her more than…” His eyes locked with Eve’s as he continued his words. “I love her more than any of you are capable of understanding.”
Eve caressed his cheek and gave him a bright smile. “I love you, too.”
Sam raised a curious eyebrow. “Is that true, Eve?” he asked. “You really love this man and you’re not doing this because he’s somehow forcing you?”
“Nobody is forcing me. I would like for you all to stay and witness this happy moment, but like I told Whitney, I’m not going to force you. She’s not here, but I am. I’m very happy, and that’s thanks to Julian. I don’t want anyone who’s not happy for me or who can’t accept my love for him to stay. So, if you want to leave, now would be the time to do it.”
At the moment Eve said those words, Julian noticed Whitney and Fox take seats in the back of the crowd. He didn’t know how long they had been there, but he was glad to see Whitney, even if accompanied by Fox.
He gave Eve’s hand a little shake, then motioned his head in Whitney’s direction. “See, she’s here,” he whispered in her ear.
Julian didn’t think she could look happier than she did when she first approached the altar, but the telltale smile of her face proved that thought to be false. With both her children present, Eve’s happiness was complete.
Sam took a glance at Whitney, cleared his throat, and then slowly took his seat.
“Are we ready to begin?” Father Lonigan asked.
“Yes,” Eve answered, “we’re ready.”
The ceremony proceeded. You could hear a pin drop when Father Lonigan asked if anyone could show just cause why the couple shouldn’t be wed. When the eternity of that deafening quiet moment elapsed, Father Lonigan continued with the exchange of the vows.
“Do you, Julian, take this woman, Eve, to be your lawfully wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Do you promise to love, honor, cherish, and keep her in good times and bad, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other remain faithful only unto her as long as you both shall live?”
“Oh, absolutely, I do,” Julian readily replied, somehow able to speak over the intense pounding of his heart. “Now and forever.”
“And do you, Eve, take this man, Julian, to be your lawfully wedded husband, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Do you promise to love, honor, cherish, and keep him in good times and bad, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other remain faithful only unto him as long as you both shall live?”
Eve smiled. “I do,” she said.
“Take both Eve’s hands and repeat after me,” he said to Julian. Eve passed her bouquet to Grace and clasped her hands with Julian’s. “I, Julian, take you Eve to be my lawfully wedded wife.”
“I, Julian—wait,” Julian said.
The murmuring of the crowd returned.
Eve gave his hands a squeeze. “Julian, is something wrong?”
He shook his head. “No, everything is right, my love. I just…” He turned to Father Lonigan. “Father, would you allow me to deviate from the norm for a bit? It’s just I--”
“You may speak from your heart, my son,” the cleric replied.
Julian turned all of his attention to Eve and dived into the warmth of her gorgeous eyes. He brought her hands to his waiting lips. “I love you, Eve.” He took a deep breath and slowly let it go. Even with his feet planted firmly on the ground, he felt like he was walking on air. “I love you,” he repeated. “To be able to say those words before all these people is the most wonderful gift, but knowing when all the words are said you’ll be my wife—that is the greatest gift of all.”
“I’ve heard people refer to me as a despicable bastard, and with some of the things I’ve done in my life I can accept that, especially in regard to the things I’ve done to you, my dearest love.” He closed his eyes, feeling the stab of pain that filled his heart whenever he thought of the hurt he caused her all those years ago. Eve’s trailing finger alongside his face opened his eyes. And like always, her caring eyes and enchanting smile chased his pain away. “Even with all the bad things, and there are many, I managed to do one thing right, and that’s fall in love with you. That single action is my life’s salvation, and your forgiveness of all I’ve done my greatest reward. Your love makes me want to be the man I know I can be. A man you’ll be proud to call husband.”
His thumb brushed against her chin. “My beautiful Eve, if given every word in every language and all of eternity, I doubt I could ever tell you just what you mean to me. You have influenced my life more than anyone in this world, and loving you and losing you has taught me the greatest lesson I’ll ever have to learn. Nothing is more important than love, and when you have it, you should never let it go, because its worth is greater than anything money can buy.”
“Regret is an emotion I know all too well, and after nearly three decades of living with it day and night, today I’m finally free of its stronghold. My fondest dream has finally come true. I get to live out the rest of my days the happiest man in the world, your husband.” Julian’s eyes burned from the threat of tears. He closed them tight, but a lone warm teardrop managed to squeeze through and roll down his cheek.
Her eyes shining with unshed tears; Eve reached up and brushed away
the watery trail. Julian sniffled softly and gave her a smile. “From
day forward I’m going to spend every minute of every day trying to make
you as happy as you’ve made me, and showing you how very much I love
You are my world, Eve. You are my best friend, my heart, my soul, my
and only love, and I will be yours forever.”
The knot of emotion in Eve’s throat continued to expand. She feared she wouldn’t be able to speak. After one swallow, and then another, she attempted to express the overwhelming feelings that threatened to consume her. “Julian, our journey to this point has not been an easy one. We’ve experienced enough heartache and pain to fill volumes. But even through all the hurt, one thing remained the same, and that’s this incredible love we share.” A soft chuckle passed her lips as the tears that filled her eyes brimmed over the lids. “I remember the first time we met. You were like no man I ever knew-- worldly, daring, charming, and so very handsome. Falling in love with you was easy. It was everything that followed that was so hard.”
Julian smoothed the pads of his thumbs against her cheeks, before returning his hands to hers. Eve cleaved to him, drawing from the love and strength he always provided her. “When you left me, I didn’t want to go on. For the longest time, I convinced myself I hated you. Despising you was easier than living with knowing you didn’t love me and everything our love created. But I could never truly hate you. I was so angry and so hurt because I loved you so much, and as much as I wanted to try, I couldn’t deny it or forget it. Coming to terms with this realization didn’t happen overnight. Every time I saw you, I wanted to rip your head and other parts of your anatomy right off,” she said laughing.
Julian joined in her merriment. “I remember,” he said.
“But, then, you came to me with an offer of friendship, and though I was leery, you were so sincere. Before long, not only was I cognizant of my love for you, I had fallen in love with you even more.” Eve brushed her fingertips along the graying locks at his right temple. “You changed, Julian. Gone was the womanizing scoundrel who only thought of himself, his money, and his brandy, and in his place was the gentle caring man I knew years before multiplied a thousand times over.”
“We’ve had to deal with painful losses,” she said, thinking of their son and his family, “but in dealing with that, we’ve grown even stronger. From this day forward, we’ll grow stronger still, blessed by God as husband and wife.” Eve sniffled as a stream of tears flowed down her cheeks faster than Julian could wipe them away. “You said my love makes you want to be a better person, but you’re already that. I’ve seen into your heart, Julian, and I love every part I see, just the way you love me. We’re not perfect people, God knows that’s true, but I think we’re pretty perfect together. I love you with everything I have, and I will love you and be yours until the end of time and beyond.”
Tears and smiles abound throughout the exchange of rings, and by the time Father Lonigan had completed the marriage prayer, Julian and Eve were more than ready to seal their fate as husband and wife. No sooner had the priest pronounced them as such, did Julian pull Eve into his arms and they engaged in their first kiss as a married couple.
“Julian, you may kiss your bride,” Father Lonigan instructed.
“You’re a little too late,” Sheridan and Grace replied in unison.
Soft, sweet, and a little more passionate than it needed to be in such a public atmosphere, Julian’s kiss made Eve’s knees wobble and head spin. His tongue raked repeatedly against her lips, begging for entry into her mouth. Eve wanted to oblige him, but knowing someone had to show restraint, she denied him that request…for the time being. Her fingers twined in the silvery locks in back of his head, Eve savored the kiss until the need for air demanded it come to an end.
“Are they done?” Father Lonigan inquired.
“Yes, finally,” Grace said with a chuckle, handing Eve her bouquet.
The breathless newlyweds turned to the crowd as Father Lonigan held his hands out to the assembled. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. and Mrs. Julian Crane.”
Simone, Sheridan, and Grace rushed the duo with words of congratulations and best wishes, while the guests, still clearly stunned by what they just witnessed, extended not quite raucous applause.
Sheridan’s face beamed. “Welcome to the family, Eve,” she said, wrapping her arms around Eve’s shoulders. “This is indeed a happy day for the Crane family.”
A loud broken clap interrupted the cheerful moment. “It is quite a
for the Crane family, but I wouldn’t label it happy…at least not yet,”
said Alistair, making his way down the aisle.