Brighter Than the Sun(115)

By: Maya Banks

It felt as though he’d waited for this moment forever. The time it took his father to escort her to where he waited for her was interminable. When his dad finally stopped just in front of him, his heart was thudding so violently that he was convinced the beats could be heard over the music.

Frank leaned down and kissed her on the cheek, his own eyes tearing up. “Welcome to the family, my girl.”

Zoe squeezed his hand and released a shuddering breath in her effort not to completely break down into sobs. Then he formally transferred her hand to Joe’s and looked him in the eye, his expression one of utter gravity.

“Take care of her well and love her always.”

“I will,” Joe said, his voice cracking.

His father stepped back to join his mother, who was openly crying and wiping her face repeatedly with a tissue. Joe captured both of Zoe’s hands in his and turned so they faced each other and were sideways to the congregation.

He simply watched her, allowing all of the love he felt for her to flow from every part of his body, heart and soul. The only sound was the music and the lyrics, and Zoe was listening intently, moisture welling as the song told of the promises he was making to her.

I love you, she mouthed, her eyes watery but shining with absolute joy.

I love you more, he mouthed back.

And then he silently mouthed the last of the song, standing with his bride and serenading her in front of his entire family. A family made up of blood and love. A family that wasn’t defined by genetics, DNA or birth. A family that Zoe now belonged to and would call her own. He knew that the gift of that alone was the most precious thing she’d ever been given.

And when he gave her children—a family of her own—he knew her bliss would only increase tenfold. That he was the one to get the privilege and honor of making her happy, of making all her dreams come true and of being granted her love, was all he’d ever ask for and nothing more.

The song died and he realized that both their eyes were wet. Once again, forgoing custom, he lifted her hands that he still held firmly in his to his chest so they lay directly over his heart and leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss on her lips.

Now that the music had ended, he could hear sniffles and suspicious sounds of clearing throats arising from multiple locations—even from his side, where all his brothers stood behind him. No one was unaffected by the absolute beauty and perfection of this moment in time. If he could make it last forever, he would. But no, she still wasn’t his. They had a ceremony to get through.

He turned to the minister, who’d married most of his family members. He’d been pastoring the old whitewashed country church for the last forty years so he was quite accustomed to the Kellys not exactly following the usual protocol.

Even his eyes glimmered and his smile was soft, making the weathered wrinkles in his face more pronounced. His hair was stark white but he had the bluest, most gentle eyes and the most caring, generous soul of any man Joe knew. He’d supported the Kelly family through some of the best and worst moments, dating back to when his parents had been young and Sam was the only child.

“Feel like getting married today, son?” he asked in amusement.

“Yes, sir,” Joe said emphatically.

Zoe smiled and nodded her agreement.

They turned to face the preacher and solemnly recited their vows, never once looking away from each other or breaking physical contact, their hands entwined the entire time. Even when Joe slid the wedding band on the ring finger of her left hand, his left hand still clung to her right.

Just before pronouncing them man and wife, the older man put one hand on Joe’s shoulder, his expression serious as he focused his attention on Joe.

“Son, a good woman is hard to find and a priceless treasure. Never forget God’s gift to you or His grace, and always turn to Him in times of hardship. Be her friend, her biggest fan and supporter, and always, always take out the trash, and if you want brownie points, offer to do the dishes.”

Laughter scattered throughout the church.

“It is my honor to pronounce you man and wife. Son, not only may you kiss your bride, but I highly recommend it.”

Joe needed no urging. He turned and pulled Zoe close, wrapping his arms around her and holding her until there was no space between them and her softness molded to his harder frame. For just one precious moment, he stared into her eyes, committing to memory the way she looked, knowing he’d remember it to his dying day and play it back often.