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“If I lived a million lives, I would've felt a million feelings and I still would've fallen a million times for you.” ―robert m drake
The setting sun sent an orange glow over the glass-smooth lake as Alli made her way to one of the covered chairs, taking a seat next to Dixie Newberry.
“Hi there, sugar.” The woman smiled bright, patting her leg. “Isn’t this just lovely?”
Alli always found Dixie’s southern drawl and big hair charming. “Yeah, it is.”
Whoever the wedding planner was, she had placed rose-blushed material over all the chairs, the backs tied in silky bows. Alli had never been to an outdoor ceremony before, but from what she could see, Gage and Danica hadn’t forgone any of the finery found in a church wedding.
The main pathways were sprinkled in sweet pink flower petals, the center aisle Danica would be coming down a mixture of colors, lavender, pink, pale yellow, and creamy white. Small glass lanterns, lit with candles, hung in the branches of trees like a million fairy lights, while tall candelabras sent flickering light around the seating area.
At the front, facing Cedar Point Lake, a wisteria-covered arch stood, with Pastor Kyle, and Gage to the man’s right, the mayor, Phillip Granger standing next to him.
“They’re doing everything out here?” Alli asked voice lowered.
“Sure are.” Dixie pointed. “The reception is just through those trees. Huge party tent.”
Alli nodded as the haunting sounds of violins echoed in the distance: Pachelbel's Canon, their cue to stand and turn.
Breckin, wearing a lovely lavender gown with intricate beadwork on the bodice, was holding onto her niece, Arianna, as she came down the aisle—her handsome husband Mason right behind her with his nephew Aaron in tow. They stopped to hand the little ones to their grandmother and Berta Collins before taking their spots upfront with the pastor, Gage, and Phillip.
Jillian Donley-Amhurst, Danica’s best friend, came down the aisle next, her long strawberry blond hair swept up off her neck in an elegant updo. Alli always thought she looked like Nicole Kidman, only prettier in a way that was hard to describe adequately.
Next, Karly Rose Robinette came, that signature pink streak in her hair adding a little pop of wild at heart to her otherwise sophisticated appearance.
Then, Danica appeared. She’d left her blonde hair down. It flowed in billowing waves of sunshine over her bare shoulders. She was so beautiful in a stunning formfitting off-white gown with a pinkish sheen, her face aglow, a huge pastel bouquet in her hand—her father walking her up the aisle.
“Mommy!” one of Danny’s twins yelled.
Alli glanced over at Ella Lorry, Danica’s mother, who was holding Breckin and Mason’s baby, whispering something in Aaron’s ear. The little cutie had a look of concentration on his brow, nodding.
When her attention went to the front, Gage had such an expression on his face, like, awe, mixed into adoration and love. Most assuredly, love.
Alli’s heart sank. But the overwhelming feeling almost drowning her had nothing to do with Gage and Danica. She was sincerely happy for the two of them. Her sorrow came from another source she wasn’t sure she’d ever recover from.
Like the ghost he was, Cooper watched Gage Harrison marry Danica Lorry-Harding. But he wasn’t part of the crowd. No, he observed from his spectator’s spot within the security and seclusion of the trees, leaning his shoulder against the trunk of a Douglas-fir. He was there when, toward the end of the ceremony, Danica’s twins joined them upfront. They were dressed formally like the rest of the wedding party, just wearing much smaller outfits.
The pastor announced the bride and groom as Mr. and Mrs. Harrison, saying they were not only man and wife but a family. Arianna clapped her little hands together, and Aaron shouted, “Yay!” Then the happy couple somehow juggled and shifted to kiss.
Get a grip, he mentally scolded himself when a lump of emotion formed in his throat. He was a thirty-one-year-old former Navy Seal, a lethal man with a hard heart and horrifying exterior. Cooper wasn’t a sappy Sally.
Pastor Kyle informed the wedding guests of the reception as Gage and Danica made their way down the flowered aisle, each of them holding a child and the other’s hand.
People rising from their seats was his prompt to retreat, but someone caught his eye, making him stutter-step, and freeze when he focused on… Snow White.
He’d seen her before; only this couldn’t be her. Maggie had to be forty at least, and this girl, she was what? Eighteen or nineteen, maybe? But regardless of the fact she was way too young for him to be ogling, he couldn’t pull his attention away from her.
Everything narrowed down to the stunning young woman—the way candlelight bounced in her raven-black hair, the breeze disrupting some of the strands. The perfect shape of her ruby-red lips as she spoke to Dixie Newberry. The fine porcelain of her skin. Her high cheekbones and perfect slope of her nose. The feminine line of her jaw. She was pure poetry in motion.
Suddenly, she looked in his direction, tilting her head.
There was no way she could see him, but those honey-colored eyes sliced through the darkness where he stood, making an electric current of connection zip up his spine, sending a plethora of goosebumps over his body.
Cooper didn’t know who she was, though he strongly suspected Maggie to be her mother.
It doesn’t matter. Leave.
He should. He should listen to himself and leave, inch further into the shadows where he belonged. He needed to go. He wanted to stay.
Cooper scowled at his uncharacteristic inconsistency—the too-thin skin on the right side of his mangled face pulling even tighter.
“Are you coming, sugar?”
Dixie had come back for her.
The girl blinked, once, twice, three times, then mumbled absently, “Mm…yeah,” before she turned, smiled at the woman, then walked away—hips swaying in a little ice-blue sundress that showcased her toned thighs.
A second before his retreat, Snow White stopped and looked over her slender shoulder, causing him to suck in a breath when those honey-golden eyes found their way back to the darkness he was in.
One heartbeat, two…
With a shake to her head, she turned and disappeared—the pull to follow so strong Cooper had to fight the urge.
Hands fisting into tight balls, he backed away, moving deeper into the trees until he was on the correct path leading him home. Then he stopped, tossed his head back, and welded his eyes closed while the crazy inside of him did something it had only done a few times before. It released a tormented, silent scream.
Right then and there, Cooper Kane made up his mind. The beast who had hidden from the world would find out everything he could about the beauty who lived within it, starting with her name.