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“Why are you hiding in my kitchen? It’s your wedding day.”
Afton studied Ciara with a practiced eye, wondering if she was thinking of pulling a runaway bride. In the three years since she’d joined Ardinmuir Event Planning, they’d only had two, and both had been talked down from their pre-wedding nerves before the ceremony. Afton wasn’t aware of any problems between Ciara and her groom—now, anyway.
But she wasn’t in the middle of their relationship, now was she?
Ciara gripped a wrinkled paper bag in one white-knuckled hand. “Because you always have this total air of calm control. I was hoping to absorb some through osmosis.”
Wiping her hands on a kitchen towel, Afton turned away from the reception prep she was doing to take her friend by the elbows. Her sous chef, Megan, would keep things on track. “What are you feeling out of control about, love? Everything about today is taken care of. You know we’ll make sure it runs like clockwork.”
“I just… this is all so huge. What if he changes his mind? He did before.”
“Pretty sure that was largely because he thought your brother would murder him for touching you. And he regretted it. It just took him a while to work around to doing anything about that. But he’s not going to change his mind again. He’s sure.” Afton paused. “Are you?”
Ciara fisted a hand over her heart, gray-green eyes glimmering. “I love him so much, sometimes I can’t breathe.”
Afton smiled and framed her pale cheeks between both palms. “I know the feeling.” It was exactly how she’d felt the day her son had come into the world. “Some days I look at Hamish, Freya, and Andrew, and my heart’s fit to burst. But that’s how you know you’re alive. That they matter. If you didn’t feel that sometimes, all the rest wouldn’t be worth it.”
Ciara blew out a breath. “He loves me. Right?”
“He definitely does.”
She reached up and curled her hands around Afton’s wrists. “Okay. Thank you. I needed that.”
“Good. Now it’s time for you to go get ready. There’s not that much time left before the ceremony.”
“Right. And that dress will take some work to get into. I blame the cathedral length train on you. You made it look so bloody good at your wedding.”
“Yours looks magnificent. And bonus, you don’t have to worry about grass stains, since the wedding is here at the castle. Now, wait just a tick.” Afton crossed to a cabinet and pulled out one of the protein bars she kept for low blood sugar wedding party emergencies. “Eat this on the way to the bridal suite. You’ll feel better for it.”
“I will. Thanks.” Ciara took one last look at the paper bag and tossed it into the rubbish bin. “See you on the other side.”
“That I will.”
The moment Ciara was out of the room, Afton grabbed up one of the staff radios. “Kyla, I just talked Ciara down from a cliff and sent her back to the bridal suite. See that she actually makes it. And in case she doesn’t, have the groom on standby with some heartfelt words, aye?”
“Understood. I wondered where she got off to.”
“I sent her back with a snack. I doubt she’s eaten today.”
“Good call. Ah, here she is, coming down the hall. I’ve got her. T-Minus thirty.”
Megan looked up from the chicken she was prepping to pop into the oven. “Do you think she’s really good now?”
“Aye, I think so.”
“If I freak out on my wedding day, I hope you’re there to talk me down.”
Afton flashed a smile. “Somehow, I doubt you’ll freak out. I think you’re more likely to sprint to the altar.”
The other woman grinned. “Aye, you’re probably right. Let’s do this thing.”
Afton threw herself into the rest of the prep, falling into the familiar frenetic dance with Megan as they juggled entrees and plated canapés. Her sous chef would do all the finish work, as Afton herself would be attending the ceremony.
“Time for you to get ready, Chef, if you want to make it in there before the processional.”
“Right. Thanks for all this. Are you sure you’ve got everything?”
Megan gave a smart salute. “You’re in good hands. After all, I was trained by the best.”
Afton bolted into the office, stripping out of her chef’s jacket and pants and donning her dress and shoes. Then, as she had a few years before, she slipped into the back passages of the castle to make her way unseen to the great hall. Hamish and Freya were waiting toward the front of the room. She slipped into the seat they’d saved between them and reached for her son on Hamish’s lap. Andrew waved both chubby fists, burbling with happiness as he settled in for a cuddle.
She pressed a kiss to his pale blond hair, thinking this was one of those heart-stopping moments. God, how had she gotten so lucky to be here with these people, this family she loved more than life?
“Everything sorted with Ciara?” Hamish murmured.
She wasn’t surprised he’d heard. All their men pitched in at events from time to time.
“I think so. She just had a wee fit of nerves.”
Afton looked around the hall, searching for Kyla to confirm that fact. Her friend hurried up the side aisle, leading with her pregnant belly. She slipped into the seat Raleigh had saved her and stroked a hand down Lily’s red-gold hair. At her quick thumbs up, Afton loosed a breath. They’d hired extra staff for the event since all three of them were actually attending this wedding, and they wanted to be able to enjoy it. Everything was going to be fine, so long as Kyla didn’t go into labor. She wasn’t due for another six weeks, but she’d been warned that second babies often came sooner.
Further down the row, Sophie sat with Connor and their son, Robert, who’d come along four months before Andrew. For all that they’d all been alone for so many years, they were filling their homes with love and laugher and family. Despite Ciara’s trepidation, Afton suspected she wouldn’t be far behind. She had that squishy heart look of a woman who wanted babies every time she held one of theirs.
The groom and his men strode out and took their positions at the front beside the altar. As Ewan was standing as best man, he’d clearly gotten over his reservations about the relationship. He clapped the groom on the shoulder, straightening his tie and saying something that had the other man flashing a grin.
Then Reverend Grant joined them, and the music started. Everyone stood and turned to the back as Ciara made her way down the aisle, looking utterly gorgeous in a confection of ivory satin, a crown nestled in her dark locks. Her bridesmaids processed in behind and took their places.
And as the minister continued the ceremony, Afton laced her fingers with her husband’s and smiled, content with the outcome of her choice to be a runaway bride. Everything had worked out in the end, and she couldn’t wait to see what this next chapter would bring.
* * *
I hope you enjoyed this last little glimpse into the Kilted Hearts series! As you have no doubt surmised, this won’t be the last we hear from the village of Glenlaig. Astute readers will have picked up on the fact that Ewan has friends, and Ciara absolutely has history with one of them. You can be on the lookout for Special Ops Scots in 2024, starting with the prequel backstory that gives you a front row seat to the…shall we say contentious history with Ciara’s future groom. Preorder One Fine Night today!
In the meantime, if you’re new to my work, you’ll be happy to know I love a good crossover. Many of the secondary characters you saw in this book have their own series!
If you’d like to get to know Athena and Ari, go check out The Misfit Inn quartet, which begins with When You Got A Good Thing. Athena is number 3 in that series in Stay A Little Longer, and while each book is standalone and can be read out of order, it’s really so much better if you read them in sequence to watch the evolution of Ari, who’s in all of them.
If you’d like to get to know Rebecca and Grey, they’re the final installment of the Bad Boy Bakers series, which begins with the prequel novelette, Rescued By a Bad Boy and the follow up novel, Mixed Up With a Marine. If you want to jump straight to Rebecca and Grey, you can do so in Caught Up with the Captain.