***Sebida Methodist Church***
Abby tried to hide behind Jack. Shit, she had not thought about this. Of course, Mercy would insist that she and Lizzie participate in the whole catching the bouquet shit.
Jack turned to her with a broad smile that irritated the bejesus out of her. “Watch your language, baby girl. That’s another five.”
She poked him in the ribs, “Shhh, no one can hear my fucking thoughts except you. Maybe we could sneak out of here?”
“Lizzie! Abby Jean! Get your butts over here.” It seemed that love, marriage, and even impending motherhood had done nothing to temper Mercy’s outrageous behavior.
Someone pushed Lizzie from behind her. Her friend looked about as excited at the prospect of this tradition as she felt. But Lizzie smiled at her, “Come on. We might as well get it over with.”
Abby bit her bottom lip and was looking for some excuse when Jack lifted her hand in his. He removed the white satin elbow-length glove she had worn for just this reason. “Mrs. Abigail Greywolf kindly declines the offer.”
He said it so damned loudly that Abby had no doubt they heard it even inside the church. She dropped her head as she felt the heat rise in her cheeks. She was having words with her husband when they got home. He knew that she did not want to ruin this day for Mercy or Laura.
She could not force her eyes up when someone jerked her hand from Jack’s. “What the fuck? And you didn’t tell anyone?”
Abby drew in a deep breath. She owed Mercy this at least. She forced herself to look up into her friend’s face, but her eyes were clouded and her throat too tight to speak.
“She didn’t want to steal your thunder,” Jack drew her tighter, and Mercy dropped her hand as she shook her head.
“When? How? Shit, is that why we haven’t heard from you since the bachelorette party? We thought you were just embarrassed about getting drunk. Instead, you were off getting married? Or were you already married? Was that why you were so mad that night, Jack?”
“This is why I didn’t want to say anything yet,” she whispered as she looked around and noticed everyone’s eyes on them.
“Screw that. We all want to know what the fuck happened.”
“Mercy, watch your language. There are children present,” Abby smiled over her friend’s shoulder at Will. Maybe he would have better luck than the rest of them at tempering her attitude.
Her friend crossed her arms and gave her that look as she tapped her boots. Luckily they were standing on grass, so it was not quite as effective as Mercy hoped. When Lizzie stepped out of the crowd, her heart broke at the strained and sad look on her face.
“Congratulations, sweetie,” Lizzie drew her into an embrace. But that only made it worse as she was swamped with despair. Her head spun, and she actually felt sick to her stomach.
Jack drew her into his arms and put his body between her and her friends. “If you must know, when I took Abby home Monday night, we had a long talk, catching up on all these years. And we discovered….”
When he turned to her, love glistened in his eyes. The gentle squeeze to her shoulders seemed to clear her head and give her the courage she lacked. “We found that we both had feelings for one another.”
Jack lifted her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the ring that closed old circles and promised new eternities. He smiled at her before turning back to the crowd that had gathered around them.
“And before the gossips get started. This has absolutely nothing to do with my grandfather’s will. I wanted to marry her so damned quickly because I wanted her bound to me before she woke up and realized she could do so much better than my sorry ass.”
Mercy stepped forward and embraced Jack. Abby fought back the jealousy and the need to scratch her friend’s eyes out. “I’m glad you finally saw what was right before your eyes all along, Jack.”
Then her friend turned to her and pulled her into an embrace as their husbands shook hands. “Congratulations, Abby Jean. I know this is what you always wanted.” As Mercy kissed her cheek, she whispered, “You can thank me later.”
She drew back out of the hug, her eyes down as she whispered, “You aren’t mad at me? For ruining your wedding?”
“Ruining my wedding? What are you talking about?”
“I just didn’t want to steal your thunder, take the spotlight off of you or Laura.”
“Oh, sweetie, trust me, we are more than glad to have the spotlight off us. Congratulations,” Laura embraced her as well.
She could see over her shoulder that Jack was surrounded by people too. Ryan, his cousin Rex and his wife, and Joe’s brother, though she forgot his name. Others waited to speak with him, too.
So why did she feel so bereft? Like some piece of her was missing. He was only a few feet away. When she looked back up, his eyes were on her. Had he heard that? How silly was she?
“Oh, sugah, I know your grandmother is smiling down from heaven. This is all Miss Myrtle ever wanted for you. To find a good man, get married, and settle down,” Sybil May pulled her into a tight embrace, and nausea assaulted her again.
Was it because she knew this woman meant none of those words? Or because she was once more confronted with her grandmother’s duplicity? Or perhaps because her greatest fear was that she too would be forced into living those same lies just to get by in this town?
She felt the arm about her waist, and his solid body drew her against him. “We will never live their lies, Abby Jean. That’s why I wanted all these people to know the truth. Even the ones who will never accept it,” he whispered into her ear.
She felt his fingers on her chin, gently turning her head until she stared into those dark depths of her eternity. “We live our truth. We do it unapologetically. And if these people don’t like it….”
He nodded his head, “I should add another five for that. But your ass can’t take any more. And besides, it would be wrong for me to spank you for speaking the truth. I love you, Mrs. Abigail Greywolf.”
“I love you, too, Andrew Jackson Greywolf,” she stood on tiptoes and brushed a kiss across her husband’s lips. She smiled at the growl from the back of his throat. “Damn, you even sound like a wolf, Jack.”
He buried his face in the side of her neck and inhaled. “I don’t think so, but who the fuck knows anymore.” She looked up at him, confused as he drew her away from the crowd.
He smiled as they passed various people, all offering their congratulations. Until they finally slipped from the crowd to the small group of people that Abby recognized as Joe’s brother and his family. “Abby, I’d like you to meet my Uncle Grandfather, Raymond Greywolf. Grandfather, may I present my wife, Abby.”
She searched the older man’s face for the similarities with the brother she had known most of her life. But it was mainly in the eyes. The same caring, compassion, and intelligence.
“I am humbled by your assessment, my daughter.”
Although she was getting used to Jack being in her mind and her in his, she was shocked that this man seemed to have the same ability. She focused hard, but no, unlike with her husband, it was not reciprocal.
The man laughed, “She is a quick learner, my son.”
Jack squeezed her tighter and beamed down at her with pride, “I don’t understand, Jack.”
“Here is not the time or the place, my child. Rex, we will delay our trip another day. Jack, we will talk later?” Did her husband just whine? “You have a lifetime for that, son. What is a couple of hours with an old man? I will not keep you longer than necessary.”
“I’m holding you to that, old man.”
The older man laughed and shook his head, “Always so impatient. Even when you find that which you seek.” He turned to her and held out his weathered hands.
She took them in her own, “It was a pleasure meeting you.”
He pulled her into his embrace, “No formalities. You are family now. Even if I do not envy you the task of keeping that one under control now that he has come into his powers.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t understand….”
“Later, child.” The man stepped away, and she was embraced by a woman she did not know, then a man holding a baby. A little girl stood off to the side, watching her the whole time. She felt those dark eyes as if they saw her very soul and deeper.
“She did it all to protect you,” the child looked down at the ground as she spoke.
Though the words made no sense, Abby recognized that voice and felt a deep kinship with the child. But before she could say anything more, they were swamped by the Reynolds women and drawn away. A makeshift bouquet was pressed into her hand by Mercy as she was pushed up the wooden steps to the stoop in front of the little church.
Laura smiled at her, “We figured you didn’t get to throw your bouquet. So, you can join us in throwing ours.”
Abby’s eyes filled with tears as she shook her head, “No, this is your day. I don’t want to intrude.”
“Bull shit. You know these women are going to fight like chickens over a banty rooster for the damned things. One more bouquet just increases the odds. Aim for Lizzie. We’re all agreed?” Mercy insisted.