Chapter 15

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Gwyn stood back from the mirror in the dressing room, staring at her reflection. From cap sleeves and v-neckline, the ivory gown's gathered surplice bodice hugged her torso snugly, embellished by a single beaded appliqué at the waist. From there, folds of satin flared outward over their hooped underskirt, swaying gently with her every movement, her every breath.

It may not have been her first choice in wedding dresses, but it was perfect. And it was hers, and it hadn't been exposed to the world by the tabloids, and it had been so right to do the exchange. Just as it had been right to follow Carol's suggestion to do away with the professional hair and makeup, and the manicure Gwyn had been certain she'd chip before she'd left the salon in the first place.

"Just be you," the coordinator had told her with a smile. "Be the woman he fell in love with. That's all he wants. That's why he's here. Why you're here."

So Gwyn wore her hair down, in the tangle of auburn curls Gareth loved to touch, with a handful of tiny blossoms tucked into it. Her nails remained unpainted, and only a minimum of makeup had been applied. A touch of foundation, a sweep of blush, a coat of mascara, a dab of pale pink lip gloss. She looked like herself. Felt like herself.

No Cinderella could have been happier.

A tap sounded behind her and the door of the theater dressing room opened to admit Sandy, bouquet in hand. Her friend stopped short, her eyes taking in Gwyn and filling with tears.

"Oh, sweetie," she breathed. "You look beautiful."

Gwyn felt an ominous sting behind her eyes. "Don't you dare make me cry, Sandra Masters. It took three tries to get this mascara on without smudging it, and I'll be most unimpressed if I have to start over again."

"So will your groom be, I suspect." Sandy managed a misty smile, dabbing at her tears with a tissue she pulled from the bodice of her navy chiffon matron-of-honor dress. "He's already looking a little impatient."

Gwyn's heart swelled an impossible size more, pressing against her lungs. Had any woman ever been this happy?

Sandy tucked the tissue out of sight again and cleared her throat. "Well? Are you ready?"

"Just one last thing." Gwyn picked up the shell locket Gareth had given her. Without speaking, Sandy traded her for the bouquet she held, then looped the locket's chain around her neck and did up the clasp. The cool of the gold nestled just above the hollow of Gwyn's cleavage.

Sandy took back her bouquet and smiled her satisfaction. "Perfect," she said. "Absolutely perfect."

Maggie, Nicholas, and Katie all waited with Carol in the hallway outside the dressing rooms, looking their grown-up best in their wedding outfits. Nicholas had his blond hair slicked back and wore a black suit with blush-colored vest and tie, with an ivory rose boutonnière pinned to his lapel; Katie and Maggie were dressed in matching taffeta dresses the same color as their brother's vest, each carrying a smaller version of the bridesmaids' bouquets. All three faces lit up at the sight of Gwyn.

"You look beautiful, Mommy!" Katie exclaimed.

"Like a princess," Maggie added, slipping her hand into Gwyn's and pressing close. "In a fairy tale."

"Does that mean I get to be a prince?" Nicholas asked.

"Rings, Nicholas," Carol reminded him.

Nicholas leveled the velvet cushion he carried. "Oh, yeah."

"Good call, stitching them to that pillow," Sandy observed under her breath.

"Experience," Carol said. She gave Gwyn the once over and nodded. "Perfect. Absolutely perfect."

Gwyn laughed at the exact echo of Sandy's words from moments before. "Thank you," she said, giving the coordinator a heartfelt hug. "For everything."

Carol hugged her back. "It has truly been my pleasure, Gwyn." She dabbed at her eyes, smiled, and then handed over the bridal bouquet. "Now, let's go get you married, shall we?"

All took their agreed-upon places at the curtained opening to the foyer for their unorthodox entry. Katie first, followed by Sandy, and then Maggie and Nicholas flanking Gwyn. The opening strains of Pachelbel's Canon in D reached them. With a final smile, Carol swept back the velvet drape, and they began their walk to join the rest of their new family in front of the raised dais: Gareth and Sean dressed in identical black three-piece suits; Amy in a carbon copy of Sandy's navy chiffon.

Gwyn's gaze traveled the grand hallway briefly, taking in the guests filling the chairs that had been arranged for them; the swags of ribbon and flowers marking the ends of the rows; the stretch of red carpet running the length of the aisle. Overhead, the domed ceiling soared two stories high, its gilt and deep red paint lit by a massive crystal chandelier. Somehow, the tired, faded old theater had pulled itself together to give the impression of grandeur once again, surprising her with its beauty and making a corner of her heart smile.

Then Gareth turned, his gaze meeting hers down the length of the aisle, warm, bold, and fiercely content. It drew her to him as surely as a lodestone, taking away her breath and making her forget all about their surroundings.

His fingers closed over hers the instant she reached his side, strong and gentle at the same time. A reflection of the man they belonged to. The man who would give himself to her today, as she would give herself to him. With his free hand, Gareth swept back her hair.

"You," he whispered, "look stunning."

Impulsively, Gwyn stood on tiptoe to kiss him. "So do you," she said.

"Ahem," said Sean on Gareth's other side. "I think you're supposed to wait until after the ceremony for that."

Gwyn blushed, their guests chuckled, and their officiant smiled.

"Nothing like a little enthusiasm to start a marriage off on the right foot," he assured her with a wink. He waited for the laughter to die down, and then looked out over the gathering. "Welcome," he said. "And thank you all for joining us today to witness the joining of Gwyn and Gareth and their two families."

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