Hawthorne is waiting for me, looking even better than he did a year ago when we said goodbye.
Well, when I ran.
He still has his thick beard and those steel grey eyes that should feel cold but have only ever offered warmth. He’s in a perfectly fitted tuxedo, and my eyes widen as I take him in--I’ve never seen this rugged mountain man so cleaned up.
How did Laura not prepare me for this? I haven’t seen Hawthorne in twelve months. I turn around where my best friend is standing with her father, about to walk down the aisle. Widening my eyes, I silently ask her what my ex is doing here. The man I have been thinking about every day since I left. The man I long for … the man I hurt.
The man I want so damn bad.
Laura leans in. “I didn’t know. It was last minute, Hawthorne stepped in and--”
She’s cut off as the wedding planner steps forward and tells Hawthorne and me that it’s time to walk down into the chapel.
I swallow. Hard.
Then I step closer to Hawthorne, the wedding music filling the foyer of the chapel, and he offers me his arm.
I take it, knowing I have no choice––I’m the maid of honor at my best friend’s wedding, and apparently Hawthorne is the last-minute best man. I can’t exactly turn and run this time. My best-friend’s wedding is about to begin.
“What are you doing here?” I lean in and whisper, trying to ignore the flip-flop in my belly, the pounding of my heart. Hawthorne smells like pine trees and rich leather and promises he meant to keep.
Promises I broke.
“Mark’s brother’s flight was delayed,” he says in his low, gravelly voice. A voice that used to say I love you. A voice that said We’ll last forever. A voice that asked me to stay. “I fit the tux, so I’m filling in.”
I inhale, my hands trembling as I grip the bouquet of pink roses, offering the two hundred guests in attendance a warm smile as we make our way down the aisle. Candlelight fills the sanctuary, creating a dreamy atmosphere. I let my shoulders fall, focusing on Laura and Mark’s special day, and not the man standing beside me.
The man I fell in love with two years ago. The man who asked me to marry him.
“You look as beautiful as you ever did, Honeysuckle,” he tells me, his hot breath sending a shiver down my spine. Standing so close to him after so much time is torture and I blink back tears. He is the only person to ever call me Honeysuckle. The only person who looked at me and saw something sweet. He said being with me was like spring time, a fresh start for both of us.
But I was the one who needed a fresh start when we met. He was steady, I was in pieces. Alone, picking up the fragments of my life … and then he showed up, proving to me he was nothing like my last boyfriends––the ones who hurt me, hit me. Insisted on tearing me down. Hawthorne was strong, but it wasn’t his fists he fought with. He believed in the power of love.
That kind of strength terrified me.
I had never known it before.
I give him a quick glance and see the sincerity in his eyes. He was always so genuine, so true-blue. He wore his heart on his sleeve.
It was me who was scared of the truth. Of handing a man my heart, scared he would break it.
Instead, I broke it all on my own the day I walked away, boarded a plane, flew across the world and disappeared in my research on wildflowers, focusing on the book I was writing.
At the end of the aisle, we part ways, and I take my place next to the bridesmaids, watching Laura walk down the aisle in her white organza gown, a long veil trailing her, a glittering tiara on her head--making Meghan Markle look like a second rate princess. Blasphemy, maybe, but today Laura looks like a queen.
As they exchange their vows, I train my eyes on Laura and Mark as they slip rings on one another’s fingers, promising till death will they part, and I cheer with the guests as they are pronounced husband and wife.
It could have been me, standing here with Hawthorne--to have and to hold. I can’t help but steal a glance at the man who raked his hands through my hair, who kissed away my pain, who picked up my shattered dreams and helped me piece them back together.
He’s looking right at me.
This time I don’t look away.