by Rachel Van Dyken

  This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names, or named features are assumed to be the property of their respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part, electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright violation.


  Copyright © 2014 RACHEL VAN DYKEN

  ISBN 978-0-9911273-6-8

  ISBN 10: 0-9911273-6-6

  Cover Art by P.S. Cover Design

  Edited by Kay Springsteen

  Chapter One

  The human heart beats around one hundred thousand times a day. It pumps over two thousand gallons of blood through over sixty miles of blood vessels in any given twenty-four hour period. The physical greatness would be staggering enough, given those facts. But the emotional capacity? Words can’t explain. Doctors can’t describe why certain parts of your heart react to anger, sadness, joy, and love. Why, when you laugh, your heart laughs with you. When you cry, your heart breaks for you. But the most amazing fact of all? How easily we give our heart away even with the knowledge that in another person’s hands you are the most vulnerable you will ever be.—Wes Michels


  I sat in one of the pool chairs at my house. The mid-afternoon fog gathered around the Sound making it look more magical than eerie. Every time I exhaled, I could see my breath—proof that I was living.

  Such an amazing experience—to know you’re alive.

  My muscles ached and my head felt like it was going to explode. I was still trying to figure out if I liked living in that moment or if I wanted to stick my head in the sand and let out a little cry.

  I was trying to balance wedding planning with Kiersten, drama with Gabe, and spring training with the Seahawks.

  Life was quickly spinning out of control… not in a bad way, but if there was anything I’d learned in my twenty-two years of living, it was that even good things could end up being bad if you didn’t put what was important first.

  And Kiersten?

  She was most important.

  I winced as my muscles debated whether or not they were going to work or cease from functioning and let me fall on my ass.

  “Wes?” Kiersten’s pretty voice floated through the air. The sound of her voice was always like a balm to my soul, it reminded me of the first time my name had the honor of being formed by those beautiful lips. I could be in the worst mood—and just hearing her voice, my name and her voice mixed together, was enough to fix everything.

  Moving slowly because I felt like an old man with a walker, I turned and gave her a bright smile.

  “What’s wrong?” She ran towards me and grabbed my hands. Her green eyes filled with tears.

  “Why do you assume something’s wrong, baby?”

  Her lower lip quivered. “Your smile’s fake.”

  “Aww…” I pulled her into my arms, knowing that it was going to hurt like hell when she squeezed around my midsection. “I’m just in a bit of pain, that’s all.”

  Her eyebrows furrowed together in concern. “Your chest?”

  “No.” I chuckled stroking her red hair with my fingertips. “My entire body. Those workouts are rough.”

  “Oh.” She sighed in relief, almost melting against me. “So you’re fine? Your heart’s fine? Everything’s fine?”

  “Sweetheart…” I slowly released her and looked into her deep green eyes, framed by dark lashes and flawless skin, she still took my breath away. “Are we going to have to have another one of those talks where I tell you not to freak out every time I’m doing something other than smiling?”

  Her shoulders sagged. “Probably. It’s just everything with Gabe and Saylor—it just reminds me of last year and… I don’t know. It’s too close to home, you know?”

  “Yeah.” I sat back on the chair, pulling her down with me until she sat in my lap. “I know.” My hands instinctively dug into her red hair, my fingers twisting her silky locks. Each strand had a mind of its own as it wrapped around and slid through between two fingers, only for me to grab another piece and repeat the process. Each touch of her hair shot an obsessive need to have her—straight through me.

  With a groan, she laid against my chest. “It’s kind of cold out here. What were you doing anyways?”

  I swallowed the panic and told myself that being nervous was ridiculous. Kiersten had seen me at my best and my worst. She could take anything.

  “Remember last year? When I told you I wanted to marry you a year after I woke up from surgery?”

  She tensed in my arms. “Yeah.”

  “So…I don’t want to do that anymore.”

  Kiersten immediately started fidgeting with her hands. “Wes—”

  “I can’t wait.” I stopped her from pulling completely away from me. “If I have to wait one more week I’m seriously going to lose my mind.” I kissed her exposed neck and sighed against it, my body finally relaxing now that I was in her arms. “I want to get married now.”


  “I lied. I wanted to be married the day you said yes.”


  “I’ve spent my entire life being patient, Kiersten. I’ve spent my life waiting. Waiting to live, waiting to die, waiting to hear good news, waiting to hear bad news. And for once, I really, really, want to be selfish and screw the whole waiting process. I want you. I want you right now. I want you in every way a man could want a woman. I want you every second of every day. I want to give you my name. I want to live with you. I want to take care of you. I want to have kids with you. I want to massage your feet after a hard day. I want to hug you when you’re sad. I want to hold your hand when you’re sick. I want to hold you in my arms and never let go—even waking up in the morning with our bodies intertwined, won’t be enough for me. Breathing your air destroys me because I can taste you in everything—even when your lips aren’t anywhere near mine—damn, I can taste them, I taste you. I want you so deeply etched in my soul that I don’t know where I end and you begin. So, Kiersten, I’m going to pull the whole “I was dying and this is my dying wish card”—because every day I’m not with you. Every day that goes by when I don’t get to share every single moment with you…is like waiting to die all over again. So, will you marry me? Not in another eight months—will you marry me….now?”

  “How…” Kiersten’s hoarse voice shook. “How in the world do you expect me to answer that?”

  My chest ached deep inside like I’d held my breath for too long and my lungs were about to explode. Was she rejecting my proposal?

  “I would have married you the second you asked, Wes. Had the doctors said they could only keep you alive for five minutes, I would have spent those five minutes in your arms—loving you. Time is precious—and I want to give you all of mine. So marrying you today? Even if I was in nothing but jeans and a t-shirt. Even if I was running a fever or got hit by a car…I’d do it. I love you. My heart’s been yours since the minute you needed it to beat for you. So Wes…” She cupped my face and peered deep into my eyes.

  With one look, she exposed everything I had ever been or would ever be. I stopped breathing.

  Then her lips tipped upward in one of her gentle smiles. “My answer’s yes.”

  “Really?” I choked and gasped for my next breath. “You mean it? Right now?”

  Her eyes narrowed. “Sure. Right now.”

  “Oh good.” I smiled, kissing her mouth once… twice, considered a third but spoke instead. “I’m so glad because that would have bee
n super embarrassing.”

  Kiersten bit down on her lower lip and pulled back from me. Her gaze searched behind me then behind her.

  I looked too. Nothing but swirling fog in both directions.

  Those beautiful, accusing eyes returned to me, and she raised one eyebrow. “What did you do?”

  “I read so many romance novels someone should seriously cut my balls off and take my man card.”

  “Huh?” Kiersten wrinkled her nose.

  “You think I don’t notice,” I said, smirking. “But I see what you and your Kindle do at night.” Laughing, I cupped her chin. “Why didn’t you just tell me you wanted me to storm your castle? I would have totally bought a horse.”

  Kiersten’s face flushed red.

  “And, really, there were so many highlights on that one contemporary romance where the guy was a hockey player that I almost thought about trying out for the NHL.”

  Her blush deepened.

  “But what really got me,” I whispered, “was that every single one of your quotes…were about true love. About surprises and a lot of them, about being fearless.”

  Her eyes smiled. “You taught me that. To be fearless.”

  “Yeah, well.” I slowly nudged her off my lap and got to my feet, bringing her with me. “I’m taking a cue from all that advice and all five hundred of those romance books and doing something really scary.”

  “Marrying me is scary?”

  “Hell, no,” I growled pulling her against my chest, kissing her head, damn just touching her shook my self-control. “But planning an impromptu wedding in front of all your friends and family without telling you? Yeah, it may have freaked me out.”

  “What?” Her eyes went were so wide that I was afraid she was going to pass out from the strain. “I’m sorry, impromptu wedding?”

  “Surprise?” I lifted her into my arms and carried her into the house.

  “But I didn’t see anyone and—”

  “Oh, thank God.” The words came out in a rush as Lisa slumped in relief and smiled. “She said yes!” The relief was short-lived, as two seconds later Lisa was running towards us with a hairbrush in one hand and some sort of torture device in the other. “We only have like two hours.”

  “Two hours?” Kiersten repeated.

  I set her on her feet and kissed her forehead. “See you girls at the ceremony.”


  Lisa and I both nodded then shared a high five behind Kiersten’s head.

  “But…my aunt and uncle—”

  “You think my dad would let me forget about Uncle Jobob? Geez, they’re worse than two old ladies. I’m shocked your uncle kept the secret this long. Now, go get ready. I’ll see you in a bit.”

  Reluctantly, I left Kiersten in Lisa’s hands and went outside. Gabe was waiting around the corner in my SUV. When he saw me wave, he drove up and unlocked the doors. “So?”

  “She said yes!”

  “Thank God,” he grumbled.

  I paused in the middle of climbing in and frowned at him. “Did you guys doubt me?”

  “Girls are weird.” Gabe lifted his hands into the air. “I think we know this by now.

  “True.” I smirked. “Oh, and I’m waiting.”

  “Bastard,” Gabe mumbled under his breath then said, “Weston freaking Michels is a badass.”

  I cleared my throat. “And?”

  “Do we really have to do this?” He groaned.

  I crossed my arms.

  “And, when the time comes I’m naming my firstborn after him.” His head shook as he fought a smile.

  We laughed the entire way to the ceremony location. Gabe said Kiersten would freak out—in a bad way. He said girls needed plans. Taking control from them—especially considering girly things like weddings—was like asking to get your balls chopped off with a rusty knife.

  But he didn’t know Kiersten like I did.

  And that was okay.

  Chapter Two

  “A love so deep. A love so wide. A love so extravagant—that even death wouldn’t deter me from an eternity by your side. Can you imagine that type of love, Kiersten? Can you fathom it? Well, can you?”—Wes Michels


  Lisa tugged my hair with a brush and then set to work on braiding it into a loose crown around my head.

  “How did you keep this a secret?” I gasped as she pulled a bit too hard and glared when she smiled like she’d done it on purpose.

  “If I can keep my identity a secret as well as Gabe’s secret life—I can surely keep a surprise wedding a secret.” She grinned at me through the mirror. “Vault. I’m a vault.”

  “Rrrriiiight.” I laughed, while she shoved a few bobby pins into the base of the braid and grabbed the hairspray.

  “Hold your breath. I don’t want this to fall out.”

  I covered my face with my hands and took a deep breath as the cold hairspray hit the base of my neck and top of my head.

  “Now.” Lisa set down the can. “Makeup and the dress.”

  I giggled—I couldn’t help it. Was this really happening? Was I going to be a wife in a few hours? How the heck had Wes planned everything? It was a tie between being so nervous I wanted to puke and being so excited I couldn’t actually sit still.

  I hadn’t told Wes—mainly because I didn’t want to add to the stress, but with everything going on with Gabe, things had felt distant. I know he wanted to be there for his friend, but between practice and him making sure Gabe didn’t jump out a window—I’d kind of fallen into the cracks. Though if I were being completely honest to myself it felt more like a giant chasm.

  “Hey…” Lisa held out a dress. “You ready for the fairy tale?”

  I gasped when she zipped open the garment bag. The color white made everything more real. The material shimmered and beckoned from the bag. The lamplight from the room gave the beading a warm glow. I was almost afraid that if I touched the dress it would disappear. “Is that for me?”

  “From your future husband—he flew it in from France.”

  “WHAT?” I shrieked.

  “Wes Michels does style good.” Lisa’s smile grew to epic proportions. She clapped her hands in excitement. “Then again he may have had the super awesome best friend of the bride help out a bit with measurements.” Lisa giggled and thrust the dress into my arms. “Now hurry and get dressed, we don’t have a ton of time.”

  Chapter Three

  The type of love that makes you want to laugh out loud—scream a bit—run in circles—and then repeat? Yeah that’s how I felt about Wes. Totally. Out. Of. Control. Giddiness.—Kiersten


  My smile felt so forced that it ached. Don’t get me wrong. I was really excited for Kiersten—what type of friend would I be if I wasn’t excited?

  I felt like the last one. The redheaded stepchild. However, you want to look at it. Wes had Kiersten…Gabe had Saylor…

  And I had…a shady past filled with the memory of a guy I’d betrayed. A guy I could have loved—but had destroyed instead.

  Yeah, so much for happy memories.

  “How’s it look?” Kiersten emerged from the bathroom and twirled. The dress was actually an embellished bodice with a sweetheart cut, while the skirt was around seven layers of lace and intricate beading. It had a definite Spanish flair. It was something I knew Kiersten would love.

  And when I’d tried to show Wes, he’d covered his eyes and pulled out his credit card and mumbled something about not wanting to see the dress before the wedding and that I should do “whatever it takes” to make the love of his life happy.

  I snatched that credit card with lightning speed—no girl should say no to a Wes Michels credit card, those bad boys have no limit, which was also a perk since I’d had it shipped that very day.

  “You look beautiful.” I fought the tears clogging my throat as Kiersten’s smile filled the room with joy. I had to look away. I needed to look away because it broke my heart that I would never have that same type of joy
. That same smile. I didn’t deserve it and part of me wondered if I ever really wanted it in the first place. When you want something, you fight for it, right? And I never fought. I just gave in, over and over again. I gave in to the nameless faces, the touches, the numerous advances…and then there was Taylor.

  I didn’t give in to him. Not the first time. Or even the second, but the third? The fourth? The fifth? Sixth? Seventh? I’d lost count. And he’d turned out to be a monster. So I’d tried to leave. But the thing about leaving someone who’s a sociopath? They always find you.

  For years, I’d never regretted what happened, what I did. It had to happen in order for me to survive…but watching Wes and Kiersten—it made me regret things, things I had no business regretting, because in the end I couldn’t turn back time. I couldn’t get my dignity back, my pride, my heart. Those had all died right along with his black soul.

  Chapter Four

  Plato believed that reasoning originated within the brain, but passion? Passion originated in what he called the fiery heart. Separate from all logic—fueled by blood, driven by passions. I for one, completely side with Plato, how else could I explain the way she made me feel? It went against logic. It went against life. Against death. It was transcendent. —Wes Michels


  Being nervous hadn’t really occurred to me—not until Gabe mentioned a text from Kiersten where she used lots of exclamations points and enough emoji to illustrate her own graphic novel. By the time we’d gotten to the location and I saw the decorations—I started freaking out. Probably not to the level that Kiersten was freaking out, but my hands were shaking and I was pretty sure that if Gabe offered me a shot of tequila I’d toss it back like water. I wasn’t nervous about the marriage—I was nervous about everything before that point.

  I sucked in a nervous breath as Gabe slapped my back. Either Kiersten was going to flip in a bad way, or she was going to think it was the coolest thing I could do.

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