Brighter Than the Sun

Page 88

Relief was tangible in the sanctuary when the music began and the doors leading from the vestibule were opened. One by one, the Kelly wives plus Maren glided down the aisle, each holding a bouquet of purple irises. For the first time in his life, Sean envied his friends for the lives they had. The wives they came home to. The children they doted on.

Being several years younger than the Kelly brothers, he’d been more concerned with establishing his career and remaining single than establishing families like his older mentors. But now he was the age they had been when they’d all started getting married. There was only one woman he was remotely interested in settling down with, and he’d fucked up his chance with her time and time again.

There was a pause as Sophie took her place in line with the other attendants and Sean turned, expecting Zoe to make her appearance at any moment. But when he saw who walked down the aisle, back straight, eyes focused straight ahead, his stomach bottomed out.


He was bombarded by a host of contradictory emotions. Elation. Relief. Anger. Excitement. Betrayal. He sent accusing stares toward the Kelly men but they looked as shell-shocked as he did. Obviously they had no more forewarning of her return than he did. How could they not know? She was acting as Zoe’s goddamn maid of honor and even Joe looked flabbergasted.

His eyes narrowed when his gaze shifted to the women, who didn’t look at all surprised. They looked ecstatic. And just as he was witnessing it, the men were also making the same observation.

He turned rapidly as Rusty neared the pew where he was seated right next to the aisle. Her gaze flickered for the first time, dropping from the pulpit to where he was seated.

“Rusty,” he said in a low voice. “Where the hell have you been? I’ve been worried out of my goddamned mind!”

“Not here!” she hissed, lengthening her stride and nearly stumbling in the ridiculous heels she wore.

His Rusty never wore toothpicks disguised as shoes. She was a flip-flop, combat boot, tennis shoe–wearing woman who didn’t give one fuck about makeup and girly froufrou shit and she rarely wore her hair in any way except a ponytail or a messy bun, and yet tonight . . . she looked so beautiful his teeth ached.

She was different—looked different—and yet she was still his Rusty. Nothing would ever change that.

As she increased the distance between them, he called out to her, uncaring of the scene he was making.

She immediately halted and whirled around, bitterness burning brightly in her eyes.

“I will never forgive you if you ruin Zoe’s wedding,” she said, emotion thick in her voice.

Sean grimaced and then sent Joe an apologetic look. Goddamn but he could never say or do the right thing. He bowed his head, unable to look at Rusty, because if he did, he wouldn’t be able to overcome the urge to haul her out of the church, wedding be damned, and handcuff her to his bed for however long it took for her to listen to him. Or for him to finally get it right.

Joe’s heart swelled with love and gratitude as he stared over at Rusty. Uncaring of protocol, since he planned to break it in just a few moments anyway, he walked over to where she had taken her place and pulled her into his arms, hugging her fiercely.

“Thank you for being here for Zoe—and for me,” he whispered in her ear. “I love you, baby sister, and I’ve missed you so damn much. I hope this means you’re coming back where you belong.”

Rusty smiled and returned his hug, mindful of the flowers she carried. “Love you too, big brother. Now get on with it before Zoe has a meltdown thinking you’ve changed your mind.”

“Oh shit,” he breathed.

Hurriedly he went to the microphone stand and nervously cleared his throat as he motioned for the doors to be opened. Once opened, they revealed Zoe, looking so beautiful that it hurt to look at her. She was clearly confused and her gaze found his in obvious question.

He smiled tenderly at her and then spoke into the microphone for the entire gathering to hear.

“I wanted to do something special for my bride to be. Something to let her know how very much I love her and how much I cherish the honor she’s bestowed on me by agreeing to spend the rest of her life with me. I know it’s typical to play the wedding march for the bridal procession, but I chose a song as my gift to her, as my message to her as she walks to me, escorted by my father.”

Zoe’s watery gaze lifted to Joe’s dad, whose arm hers was firmly tucked under as he prepared to walk her down the aisle and give her away.

Once again he motioned, and the song he’d picked—“I Swear” by John Michael Montgomery—began to play. He’d instructed his father to walk her very slowly, and when Zoe and his father reached the spot where Joe stood waiting, he’d take over.

His gaze was riveted to her. He couldn’t look away if he tried. She was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen in his life. And she was his.

As Zoe absorbed the lyrics to the song, a thin trickle of tears tracked down her cheeks and her smile was so big that it lit up the entire room. But what nearly brought Joe to his knees was the overwhelming love shining in her eyes for all to see.

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.”

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