Four Weddings and a FiremanBy: Jennifer Bernard
Thank you to everyone who helped in the creation of this book, most especially Tessa Woodward, LAFD Captain Rick Godinez (any errors are mine, not his), my agent Alexandra Machinist, the fabulous Avon team, and my ever-supportive family. Thank you to Lizbeth, Tam and Maxine, the Homer Public Library for the writing haven, and everyone involved in the production of chocolate. Thank you to Kristan Higgins and Eloisa James for being my idols. Most of all, thanks to the readers I’ve had the joy of meeting, either virtually or in person. This one’s for you.
At the wedding of Sabina Jones and Chief Rick Roman . . .
Derek “Vader” Brown could bench-press nearly twice his own weight and heave an unconscious fire victim of any shape or size over one shoulder, but weddings turned him into a ball of mush. When a bride walked down the aisle, he might as well be some mutant combination of puppy dog and marshmallow, especially when that bride was his best friend, Sabina Jones, joining in true love and matrimony with Chief Roman.
If only Sabina hadn’t begged Vader to be her “man of honor.” If only he hadn’t invited Cherie Harper, the girl he’d been seeing off and on for a year, the girl he couldn’t stop thinking about even during those “off” times. If only he hadn’t happened to glance her way while the preacher discussed good times and bad.
But he did, and the dreamy smile on Cherie’s face was the nail in the coffin of his dignity.
Blame it on the orange blossom high. Blame it on the look of rapture on Sabina’s face as Roman claimed his first married kiss. Whatever the reason, soon after the “I do’s” had been said, Vader found himself circling the dance floor with Cherie in his arms, blurting words he hadn’t consciously decided to utter.
Cherie stumbled. Not a good sign, since she taught dance. Her gray eyes flew to meet his, and all he read in them was wariness. “What did you say?”
Slightly shocked, Vader replayed the words in his mind and decided that he stood by them. Despite their ups and downs, he loved Cherie passionately. He knew she loved him too, even though she fought against it.
“Marry me. Be my bride.” His heart swelled. This was right. It felt right. Saying those words aloud made all his confused emotions about Cherie settle into place, like puzzle pieces fitting together. Cherie was the right woman for him, the only woman for him. “I promise I’ll take care of you and make you happy, all that good stuff.”
But Cherie seemed to be going through an entirely different set of emotions, judging by the anguish on her face. “Honey, you know how I feel about you. But I can’t marry you,” she whispered gently.
Vader’s world went still, as if a bubble had dropped around the two of them. Outside the bubble, everyone else grooved to the tune of “Love Will Keep Us Together.” Inside, things were a lot more confusing. “Why not? I’d be a great husband.”
“You’d be the best husband in the world.” Tears welled in her eyes, turning them silver. “But I’m not interested in getting married to anyone. Please just believe me, Vader, please?”
She seemed so upset, he swallowed back his protest. He looked away, only to encounter one blissful couple after another. Captain Brody and Melissa glowed with the joy of brand-new parents. Ryan Blake and his wife, Katie, were cracking up as they tried out some complicated new dance step. Thor and Maribel, who had flown down from Alaska for the wedding, beamed with their own good news: pregnant with twins. Captain Jeb Stone was whispering something to his brand new fiancée, Nita Moreno. Everywhere Vader looked, happy faces stared back.
Except for the one in front of him. Cherie had gone pale with distress. “Can we just erase the last two minutes?” she asked in a pleading tone. “Go back to how things were?”
Erase his proposal? He wrestled with that one for a long minute. Granted, he hadn’t exactly meant to propose. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, and obviously a huge mistake. Why did the thought of marriage get her so upset? Didn’t most people want to get married?
He squinted at her, slightly dizzy from spinning across the dance floor under the influence of many champagne toasts. He hated upsetting Cherie. He’d jumped the gun and fucked this up. He had only himself to blame.
Even though it hurt his heart, he forced himself to nod. “Forget it. Weddings always mess me up. Now what were we talking about? Grey’s Anatomy, right?”
Her face lit up and she threw her arms around him. The feel of her curvy body, so warm and womanly, took some of the sting out of the moment.
He gathered her close and rested his cheek on her soft hair, which was currently blond with pink stripes. He inhaled a deep breath of lilac-scented essence of Cherie. They’d survive this. He didn’t give up that easy. At the right moment, he’d try again. In the meantime, he’d stay away from weddings.
Four months and twelve days later, from the wedding of Patrick Callahan IV and Lara Nelson . . .
The ring of her phone startled Cherie awake. Disoriented, she scrambled for it, squinting at the name that flashed on the screen. Vader. What in blue blazes? Vader was in Loveless, Nevada, at the wedding of his friend Patrick. And it was three in the morning.
Oh, sweet Lord. A wedding. She’d nearly forgotten what happened at the last one. The smart thing would be to ignore the call in case Vader did anything reckless like throw their relationship into chaos again.
Still, it was Vader, her own personal version of catnip, the only substance in the world she couldn’t resist for long. “Hello?”
Vader’s deep voice rumbled from her phone, sending the usual shivers down her spine. “We should get married, Cherie.”
“I mean it,” he continued. “Why don’t you fly down here right away and I’ll pick you up in Psycho’s tractor and we’ll get ourselves hicced. I mean, hitched.”
“Vader, are you drunk?” Was Vader drunk-dial-proposing to her? Despite her sinking heart, a little snort of laughter escaped her.
“Oh come on, Cherie. You know we’re meant to be together. You know it. Hang on. Some dude’s banging on the door.”
“Where are you?”
“You’re proposing to me in a bathroom?”
“Dude! Find yourself a bush. Toilet’s taken.” He returned to her. “Some guys have no manners. Frickin’ embarrassment.”
Cherie clapped a hand over her mouth to keep from giggling out loud. “Let’s talk later, okay?”