SPOILER ALERT! This is the missing epilogue from Book 1 of the Big Heart Ranch series. You should read the book first. Get your copy here.
“The photographer is here,” Emma Maxwell Norman called as she breezed into the church’s bridal room.
“We’re coming.” Lucy Maxwell fingered her fringe of dark bangs and pushed back a tendril at her nape.
“Stop messing with your hair,” Emma said.
Lucy turned to the huge wall mirror. Tiny pearls on hairpins had been slipped into her hair to hold the feminine updo in place. She cocked her head to admire the dainty pearl and jeweled headband she had chosen instead of a veil. “That cannot be me,” Lucy murmured to her reflection.
“Of course, it’s you.” Now Emma stood behind her big sister, and their eyes met in the mirror. “Oh, Lucy,” she said, her voice wobbly. “I wish Mom and Dad could have been here today.”
“They’re in our hearts.” Lucy said the words softly, swallowing the emotion clogging her throat. The skirt of the frothy tulle bridal gown rustled as she faced Emma and offered the youngest Maxwell sibling a hug. “Don’t make me start tearing up. It will ruin my makeup and it took me forever to get this silly stuff applied.”
“It was worth the effort,” Emma returned.
Lucy inspected her sister’s deep coral matron-of-honor dress. “Emma, you’re lovely.”
Across the room, six-year-old Eva and Ann took turns pirouetting in the full-length mirror. Their peach taffeta dresses swished as they twirled around, and their blond hair fell in soft waves around their identical faces.
“Look, girls, Aunt Emma’s dress nearly matches yours.”
“We’re all pretty bridesmaids!” Emma said. She stared pointedly at Lucy’s feet. “Where are your shoes?”
“Right here.” When Lucy reached for her hand-tooled red leather boots, Emma grimaced.
“What happened to those satin slippers with the sparkly jewels?”
“Ugh. Uncomfortable.” Lucy slipped her feet into the Western footwear. “Besides, these boots have a history. I was wearing them when I met Jack.”
“Oh, Lucy, you’re incorrigible.”
“I think I’m romantic.” She turned to her littlest bridesmaids. “Ready girls?”
Eva’s eyes widened with excitement. She looked at Ann, and then to Lucy. “Are we getting married now?”
“Not yet. First, the photographer will take pictures. Then we’ll go in the chapel to get married.”
“But we’re really already a family, right, Lucy?” Ann said. “Because the judge said we’re adopted. Me and Eva and Dub.”
“That’s right, sweetie.”
The door to the bridal room opened and Meredith Brisbane stepped inside. Jack’s aunt looked as regal as ever in a taupe lace dress. “Oh, my goodness, look at you, Lucy, dear. You’re the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen.”
Lucy’s face warmed with pleasure at the compliment. “Thank you, Meredith.”
“You must call me Aunt Meri from now on.”
“Aunt Meri.” Lucy savored the words.
“I brought you something old.” Meredith chuckled. “I mean, besides me.” She held out a blue velvet box and opened the hinged lid. Inside lay a single strand of pearls.
“Oh, Aunt Meri. Thank you.”
The older woman smiled and nodded to Emma. “Would you put them on the bride, dear?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Emma fastened the pearls and stepped back. A slow smile lit her face.
“Perfect,” Meredith pronounced. She leaned forward to embrace Lucy, bringing with her the scent of lavender and roses. “Thank you, dear, for saving my nephew.”
“I think it was mutual,” Lucy whispered.
“The photographer,” Emma reminded them.
Lucy grabbed her bouquet of yellow sunflowers and raised the skirt of her dress as she prepared to step outside.
“Careful, Lucy. Let me help,” her sister said from behind her. “Give me that bouquet.”
Lucy stood in the doorway for a moment, calming her stampeding heart. Overhead the October sky was bluer than she’d ever seen, with strokes of lazy white clouds painted across the horizon. She inhaled the sweet scent of autumn and impending change with anticipation. Shoulders back, Lucy took the hands of her foster daughters, soon to be adopted daughters and stepped into the courtyard.
She stopped in her tracks at the sight of Dub and Jack. In dark gray slacks with white dress shirts and gray bow ties, they struck identical poses with hands on their blue striped suspenders. Jack’s coal black hair and Dub’s fly-away blond hair had been combed back. They looked all the world like father and son.
Lucy blinked back more emotion.
When her gaze met Jack’s he released a whoosh of air. Love shone from the depths of his gray eyes.
“Look, Miss Lucy. Look what Mr. Jack found.” Dub pointed to the parking lot and an unobstructed view of a vintage humpback Chevy pickup truck. A red pickup truck.
Lucy released a small gasp and rushed into her fiancé’s arms.
“Oh, Jack,” she breathed against his neck. “I can’t believe you did this.” It was as though her parents were here at the wedding.
“We only have it for the photos. The owner will be back in a few hours.”
“It’s beautiful, and I’d kiss you but we have to take pictures first.”
“I can wait. We have a lifetime for kisses.”
Her brother, Travis Maxwell, and the equine manager, Tripp Walker, approached with grins on their faces.
Tripp adjusted his bow tie and leaned over to examine the vehicle. “1953 Chevrolet 3100,” he said with a nod.
“Rented for the photos,” Jack repeated. “You do not want to know what this vehicle costs.”
“Too rich for my blood,” Tripp said as he headed to the door of the church to escort Meredith outside.
“Nice touch,” Travis said. Eyes narrowed, he assessed his soon to be brother-in-law. “I guess we did all right with you, Jack.”
Jack chuckled. “Thanks.” He glanced at Lucy. “I think I’m the one who came out with the real treasure today.”
Lucy smiled and took his arm as the photographer urged the bridal party to line up in front of the truck.
“Are you happy, Lucy?” Jack whispered.
“I’ve never been happier.”
Dub pulled up the cuff of his dress shirt. “I wore my new watch that Mr. Jack gave me for my birthday. I can tell time and the watch says it’s time for us to become a family. We gots to get the pictures done so we can get married.”
“Dub, what do you think about that?” Jack asked. “About becoming a family.”
"It's real good." Dub grinned, proudly showing off his front teeth. “Now I know why God waited. He wanted to give us a family. A home. Forever.”
Lucy bit her lip and clutched Jack’s hand tightly. “We’ve given quite a few hearts a second chance today, haven’t we?”
“Five that I’m counting,” Jack said.
“Five of us,” Lucy murmured.
“Amen,” she said.
But not the end of the story…