Thanks so much for reading One Sweet Love. Here’s a special bonus scene just for you!
Emily steps out from behind the curtain and twirls. She looks amazing in the black floor-length halter dress. From straight on, she looks like she always has, but as soon as she turns to the side, the small swell of her stomach is noticeable.
“Em, you look beautiful!” I rush over, unable to keep my hands from reaching toward her belly. I felt Baby Westing kick a week ago. She and Daniel have decided not to learn the gender until he or she is born. It hasn’t stopped me from buying cute little elephant-covered onesies and puppy pajama sets, though. My closet will be full of baby gear by the time her baby shower gets here. I’ve already got a location, theme, and menu. All I need is her guest list. I know it’s not possible to be more excited than the parents, but I’m way up there on enthusiasm for the newest member of the Westing family.
My best friend is beaming. Her skin practically glows with joy. “Thanks, but isn’t it about time for you to get your dress on?”
“I suppose you’re right. Will you help me get tied into it?”
She follows me into the dressing area. She removes my dress from its hanger and holds the top open so I can step into it. I untie the belt of my robe, shrug my shoulders so the sleeves slide off my arms, and let it drop to my feet. Unable to allow someone else to clean up after me, I grab it and put it on the hook holding the now-empty hanger. I step into the sleeveless, sweetheart-neckline dress and let Emily pull it up, situating it across my chest. I hold the top while she goes to work, cinching up the corset back. Glancing in the mirror, I can’t help but smile at the crystal beads dotted across the ruching on the bodice.
When I made our cake, I used my dress as inspiration, placing tiny clear edible gems all over. That’s right, I designed, baked, and decorated my wedding cake. There’s no way I could give up total control over anything dessert related. Emily convinced me to have Nikki do delivery and setup. She promised to send photos so I won’t be thinking about it during the ceremony.
Nikki’s done so much for the store. It’s nearly impossible to believe I ever managed it all on my own. She’s taken so much off of my plate including the business, organization, and training parts. I’m actually enjoying my work again, and finally feel like I can take off for a week and trust that everything will be fine. Which is good, because that’s the length of my honeymoon. I left all the planning to Jayson, only asking that we go somewhere with a beach so I can relax, maybe drink a coconut margarita or two.
Emily steps back and I turn so I can see the back of my dress in the mirror. The train swirls around my ankles, reminding me I need to put on my shoes. Like she can read my mind, Emily sets down my sparkly silver heels. I’d initially been nervous about their three-inch height, as I normally prefer flats, but I didn’t want Jayson to have to bend down too much for our first kiss as husband and wife. Besides, I’ve already got a pair of flip-flops stashed in the reception hall.
I step up into the shoes, feeling a little awkward when Emily sits and motions for me to put my foot in her lap so she can buckle the straps. It still feels surreal that I’m getting married today. Sure, we’ve been planning it for a few months, but the day’s finally here. I haven’t seen him since our rehearsal last night and all I want is for those doors to open so I can look down the aisle and see the smile on his face that’s just for me.
It’s been amazing witnessing his growing connection to Sadie. Early on, I kept her on a leash whenever he was with me, but Jayson quickly realized he’s more likely to be slobbered to death than bitten. They’re now great pals and I couldn’t be happier. He’s even talked about maybe getting a puppy one day when we find a more permanent place to live. We’d like to find a home closer to downtown since we both work there, so in the meantime, he’s moving into my apartment and letting Britt stay in the house.
When Emily’s finished with my shoes, I turn back to the mirror, pick up my earrings and necklace from the table and put them on. They’re clear crystal, just like on the dress. Emily steps up onto a chair with my veil and slides the comb into my hair, which I’ve tamed into an elegant chignon. She clasps her hands to her heart and meets my eyes in the mirror.
The tremor in her voice makes tears spring to my eyes. “Stop, Em. I can’t ruin my makeup.”
“I’m sorry. You just look so amazing. Jayson’s jaw is going to hit the floor when he sees you.”
The image makes me grin. I kind of hope it does. There’s no doubt he’s going to look incredible in his tuxedo. “I guess I’m ready.”
“Let me gather everyone outside. Wait just a minute.”
She glides through the curtain and claps her hands. I hear voices and muffled footsteps.
“Okay, Julie. Come on out.”
Her hand reaches through the curtain and draws it aside, giving me an exit door. I step into the main part of the room and hear a few gasps. I take in the faces of the women around me. Rachel smiles at me, looking gorgeous in her off-the-shoulder ruched maxi dress. My mom stands next to her, a handkerchief pressed to the corner of her eye. She dabs back and forth between her eyes and I have to swallow back the tears threatening to spill out of my own. Britt is grinning at me, stunning in her jewel neckline sleeveless black dress.
Emily is waving her hands in front of her face to keep her own tears at bay. “I’m so sorry. It must be the hormones.”
A chuckle escapes my lips and helps me pull myself together a bit. Just in case, I grab a few tissues from a box nearby and stuff them into my pocket. If today is anything like Tom and Rachel’s wedding was, I’m going to need a lot more before the evening is through.
There’s a knock at the door and then my dad slips in, looking quite dapper in his tux. He pauses when he sees me; the smile wavering a bit. If he cries, I’m a goner. Thankfully, his voice is normal when he speaks.
“Pumpkin, you look so beautiful. Jayson’s a lucky man.”
“I’m a lucky woman.”
“We’re both right.” He looks around the room, his eyes catching on Mom in her beautiful silver off-the-shoulder dress with sequin-embroidered flowers.
“You didn’t do so bad yourself,” I say, nudging his shoulder.
“What? Oh, yeah.” He gives me a smitten grin. “Anyway, the coordinator sent me to get the rest of the women. It’s time to get this wedding started.”
My stomach swoops with nerves. I hope everything goes right. Emily rushes over to me, her bouquet in one hand and her phone in the other.
“Here. Nikki sent over photos from the reception hall.”
She holds the phone out to me, but I hesitate. My therapist has been helping me choose trust over doubt in my relationships. Nikki hasn’t let me down once since she started working at the store, so why am I still trying to micromanage my wedding cake? I take a deep breath and let it out, reminding myself of the statements I’ve recited so many times they’re now burned into my brain. No matter what happens today, I will be fine. I can trust others. I am strong and resilient.
I push the phone away. “I don’t need to see. I trust Nikki.”
Her eyes widen briefly, but then she shrugs, slides the phone into her dress pocket, and pulls me in for a tight hug. “I’m proud of you, Julie.”
I squeeze her back, grateful for the wonderful people in my life. “Thanks, Em. Now let’s go get me married!”
Dad and I are standing just to the side of the double doors, waiting for our turn. Parents and grandparents are in their seats. Britt and Rachel have headed down the aisle. Now it’s Emily’s turn. The coordinator hands Sadie’s leash to Emily and the two of them processing down the aisle. I see Sadie’s tail pick up speed, presumably because she’s seen Jayson at the end. If I had a tail, I’m sure it’d be wagging like crazy right now as well.
I hadn’t planned to include Sadie in the ceremony, but Jayson convinced me to let her be our ring bearer, since she was a big part of our story. However, there’s no way I’d let her near my dessert table, so Emily’s husband is taking her home while we take pictures.
The doors close and the coordinator ushers us over. The assistant hands me my bouquet and I hold it in both hands to keep them from shaking. Dad squeezes my forearm with his free hand.
“Jayson’s great, Julie. And the way he looks at you reminds me of how I look at your mom. You two will be just fine.”
I give him a grateful smile. “Thanks, Dad.”
The music inside changes and the doors open. The crowd of friends and family stands and turns. I feel all eyes on me, but I’m determined to keep my gaze on the man at the end of the aisle. A wide grin breaks across his face and my nerves evaporate. This feels right.
Before I know it, I’m standing in front of Jayson. Dad removes my arm from his and gives my hand to Jayson. I remember to hand my bouquet off to Emily and then both of my hands are clutching Jayson’s. He gives me a wink that makes my knees weak, but his firm hands keep me from sinking too far.
The minister welcomes everyone and starts talking, but I’m not really listening. Just enjoying staring into Jayson’s sparkling brown eyes. He squeezes my hands, then lets go to pull a piece of paper from his inside pocket. Oh, it’s vow time.
He lets go of my other hand so he can open up the page, giving me a devastatingly handsome smile before he clears his throat and begins.
“Julie, our relationship has been a bit like climbing up a mountain. Some treacherous terrain and boulders to traverse. Not to mention facing a childhood fear. But I wouldn’t change our journey because being with you and receiving your love has revealed strength and courage I didn’t realize I possessed. I love your creativity and dedication and tenacity. Despite the bumps in the road, I know my heart is safe in your hands. With you is where I always want to be. I can’t guarantee our marriage will be without difficulties, but I promise we will face everything together for as long as we both shall live. I love you.”
Well, there went my tissue stash. I stuff the sodden bunch back into my pocket and use my fingers to stem the flow. Jayson reaches across, dabbing my cheeks with a handkerchief he pulled from his pocket. I take it from him, noting that it smells like his cologne. I’m keeping it now. Not that it really matters since he’s almost my husband.
Taking a few deep breaths to get my emotions under control, I blink my eyes to make sure the tears are under control. Satisfied that I’m out of the woods for now, I pull my notes out of my non-tissue-filled pocket and stash the handkerchief in its place. I catch Jayson’s knowing look. Yep, he knows he’s never getting it back now. I look down at my paper and take one more deep breath.
“Jayson, I read a quote that said, ‘People are more than their first impressions,’ and that’s definitely true of you. We didn’t get off on the right foot and you worked hard to change my opinion of you. That determination and unwillingness to give up makes you great at your job. It also makes you a great partner for me. I’m so grateful you didn’t let my prickly nature deter you. You are warm, generous, and tender-hearted and I’m better for knowing you. You’ve helped me work through my past. You worked through yours for me. You are more amazing than I could have ever imagined. You deserve nothing less than all my heart, and you have it. I love you so much! I promise to trust you, support you, and always believe in you for as long as we both shall live.”
Jayson takes my hand and presses a soft kiss on the back of it. His eyes are shining with love and unshed tears. Maybe I should give him back his handkerchief. I take it out of my pocket, but he gives his head a small shake and pulls a clean one out of his pocket. My guy is always prepared. I smile up at him in amusement.
The minister asks for the rings and Carlos unties them from Sadie’s collar. I’m amazed she’s sat patiently up here next to Jayson this whole time. Movement catches my eye, and I see Jayson’s hand dip into his pocket, then emerge with his fingers curled toward his palm like he’s holding something. Sadie snuffles his hand, then her mouth moves. Is she chewing something? So that’s it. She’s being bribed.
Jayson slides the platinum band over my finger, repeating the words of the minister. Then it’s my turn. The ring gets stuck momentarily on Jayson’s knuckle and I have to pause my response to push it over. Thankfully, I pick up right where I left off. Who knew getting married contained so many little stresses?
“By the power given to me by the state of North Carolina, I now pronounce you man and wife. Jayson, you may kiss your bride.”
Jayson gives me a wolfish grin as he steps closer, dipping me in his arms before his lips find mine. Guess I didn’t need these heels after all. The kiss must grow a little long for the audience, because soon there are a few whistles and hoots. Jayson’s lips curve up against mine and he gently pulls me back up to standing.
The minister nods at Jayson’s older brother, Quinton, who moves from his spot between Carlos and Jayson’s father, coming to stand in front of us, a small wooden broom adorned with ribbons in a rainbow of colors in his hands.
I’m excited to participate in this ritual. Jayson’s family has used the same broom for generations in their wedding ceremonies. It has a different colored ribbon on the handle from each of the previous marriages it was used in—Jayson’s brother, parents, aunt and uncle, grandparents, and great-grandparents. We added a green ribbon to the red, purple, blue, pink, and yellow ones of the previous generations. When Brittina gets married, she’ll add her own ribbon.
“We end this ceremony,” the minister says, “with the tradition of jumping the broom, symbolizing a physical and spiritual transition into matrimony. It’s also a request for support for the marriage from this community of friends and family. In honoring this ritual, Jayson and Julie issue a hope and a prayer of sweeping away prejudice between people of different ethnicities and beliefs. The bride and groom will now begin their new life together with a clean sweep!”
Quinton grins at us, then sets the broom down in front of us, retreating out of the way. Emily hands me my bouquet and Jayson takes my free hand.
“Everyone count together,” the minister says. “One, two, three, jump!”
Jayson catches my eye and we jump over the broom together. Our guests cheer, music starts up, and Jayson whisks me down the aisle and out the doors. He pulls me around behind one of the open doors, pressing me against the wall for another kiss. I wrap my arms around his neck and put all my love into our embrace.
“C’mon, guys.” Emily groans, though I hear the smile in her voice.
Jayson pulls back but keeps an arm firmly around my waist. “Sorry, couldn’t help it. Have you seen how beautiful my wife is?”
I grin. “Yeah. How could I not kiss my superfine husband?”
The rest of the wedding party has gathered around us. Britt and Emily eye roll in tandem. Jayson and I just laugh. Carlos pulls Jayson into a back-slapping hug and I squeeze Emily tight. I’m surrounded by people I love and have just married the most amazing man. Can life get any better?
Julie and I are waiting just outside the doors to the reception hall at the Arboretum, waiting for everyone to settle so we can enter and have our first dance. I’m buzzing with excitement, waiting to give Julie a surprise I hope she’ll never forget. I pull her into my arms and squeeze, bending down so I can drop kisses along her jawbone and down her neck. The lack of sleeves allows me to continue my kiss assault on her collarbone and out to her shoulder. She shivers and I know it’s not because she’s cold. I make my way back to her neck.
She places a hand on either side of my face and pulls my lips to hers. The kiss is teasing and greedy, a promise of what’s coming later this evening. A quiet cough to my right makes us both turn. Our wedding coordinator is looking over my shoulder.
“Everything’s ready inside, if you two are.”
Julie and I lock eyes, and I nod, releasing my arms from around her waist and intertwining my fingers with hers. She squeezes my hand.
The coordinator does something on her phone and we can hear someone inside on a microphone. I know who it is, but I doubt Julie can recognize the muffled voice through the doors.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce to you, for the first time, Jayson and Julie Thompson!”
The coordinator and her assistant each pull open a door, and I let Julie lead us into the hall. The lights are low inside and there’s a spotlight on us, so we can’t really see anyone very well. We reach the dance floor, and I pull Julie into my arms. The band plays the first notes of the song she chose, and she smiles up at me. I smile, my heart racing in anticipation of what’s coming next.
We move our feet along to the beat. Then the singer starts in on the words.
“Just about the time the shadows call…”
I watch Julie’s face closely, noting the furrow of her forehead as she realizes she knows the voice but can’t place it. Suddenly, her eyes widen and she whips her head around to the band. Her mouth drops open, and I can’t help but chuckle.
Her grip on my shoulders tightens and her gaze swings back to me, surprise etched across her face. “Jayson!”
I try to smother the wide smile on my face, but fail epically. “Yes, my love?”
“You got Two Left Feet to play our reception?”
I nod. “I did.”
She clasps my neck, bringing my face to hers and pressing her lips firmly against mine. We’ve stopped dancing, but I don’t care. Seeming to realize we’ve got an audience, she breaks it off suddenly, and starts us moving again.
“I can’t believe you set this all up.” Amazement laces her words. “When you said you wanted to pick the band, this is not what I expected.”
“I love you and want to make you happy.”
“Marrying you makes me happy. This is above and beyond.”
Totally worth it. Of course, now I’ve set a high precedent. But I’m up for the challenge of surprising and spoiling Julie for the rest of our lives. The song ends, the room brightens incrementally, and Brandon, Two Left Feet’s front man, invites everyone to take a seat for dinner service. Julie gives me another kiss, then leads me over to our table.
Carlos sits to my left with his sister Sara as his plus one. Britt and Neil are next to them, then Quinton and his wife Lauren, and finally Emily and Daniel. Rachel and Tom are sitting at a table with Julie’s parents, her sister, her older brother Charlie and his wife Serena, my parents, Aunt Alicia, and Uncle Raymond.
“Hey, Britt,” I say. “Is it weird attending an event at the Arboretum?”
She grins. “A little, though it still feels about the same since you and Carlos are here.”
Someone taps a glass with their silverware and a few more people join in. I turn to Julie.
“Should we give the people what they want?”
We kiss, and the crowd cheers. Servers set our salads down before us and the crowd seems to settle. I feel a hand squeeze my thigh under the table. Julie’s looking at me, her eyes shining with love. She motions me closer, then presses her cheek to mine.
“I still can’t believe you did that for me,” she whispers in my ear.
“I hope you know by now that I’d do anything for you. By the way, you can meet the band if you want.”
She pulls back, her delight clear. “Of course, I want to. What kind of crazy question is that?”
I laugh. “Just checking. By the way, where’s Sadie?”
“Daniel took her over to Tom’s house after the ceremony.”
“Oh, good. I’m sure she’ll have lots of fun while we’re gone.”
She gives me a coy look. “So, where are we going?”
“Nuh-uh. You said you wanted it to be a surprise and it will be until we’re at our departure gate.”
She huffs, but is still smiling. “Fine. Though, honestly, I’m just happy to be finally taking a real vacation.”
“You and me both.”
She takes a bite of her salad and turns to talk to Emily. I lean over toward Carlos. “Everything set up for our departure tonight?”
He doesn’t respond and I realize he’s staring at someone across the room. I follow his line of sight to a woman in a black dress who’s glaring in our direction. Well, at Carlos’s direction. I recognize her as one of Julie’s bridesmaids. I nudge Carlo and he blinks a few times before looking at me.
“Hey, man,” I say. “Why’s Rachel staring daggers at you?”
He swallows. “That’s not Rachel. It’s her sister, Abbie.”
I look back to the table and realize that there’s another woman with her back to me also in a black dress. She turns her head toward the other woman. They look at each other and it’s like seeing a reflection in a mirror. “Whoa. They look identical.”
“I can tell them apart.”
“Rachel smiles at me and Abbie glowers.”
“What’d you do to her?”
He shakes his head. “Nothing. She thinks I was cruel to her sister in high school and still hasn’t let it go.”
“You’re telling me.”
He’s staring at her again. Does he have a crush on her? “Go talk to her. Straighten things out.”
“No way. I tried once, and she bit my head off. Her mind’s made up about me.”
“I’m sorry, Carlos.”
He shrugs. “It is what it is.”
It’s obvious the subject’s closed, so I return to my initial inquiry. “Do you have a car key for me?”
A smile returns to his face. He retrieves it from his pocket and drops it into my hand. “Oh, yeah. Washed and waxed it this morning.”
Carlos’s dad agreed to let me use his cherry red 1973 MGB convertible to drive us off the premises after our sparkler tunnel goodbye later. I’m a little nervous about running through fire, but Julie assured me that everything will be fine. We’re spending the night at the Omni Grove Park Inn and have a half day at the spa before we head to St. Lucia for a week. I’ve booked us a catamaran ride, a snorkeling trip, a hike up Gros Piton, and some time at Beauté de Cacao Spa at Hotel Chocolat. We’re not staying there, but I thought she might enjoy a cacao massage or facial since she is a chocolatier. We’ll also have plenty of downtime to swim in the sea, lay on the beach, and drink margaritas or whatever else sounds refreshing.
I eat a few bites of salad, glancing around the room at all the friends and family around me. I thought this day would come, but I hadn’t ever imagined it. Now, sitting next to the woman I love, surrounded by people who love and support me, I don’t think life could be any sweeter.
* * *
I hope you enjoyed this extra peek into Jayson and Julie’s story. Want to learn what inspired the book or find out which Book Babe member you most resemble? Visit the One Sweet Love Extras page.