“Pretty much the most romantic thing you’ve ever said to me,” I replied.
“Very well done, son,” Father Joe said before angling in my direction. “Lucy, would you like to repeat after me, or did you memorize the vows as well?”
“I’ve got this, Father,” I said, squeezing Jude’s hands. Amazingly, neither of our hands were clammy. Neither one of us was nervous about making promises of forever to the other. “I, Luce Roslyn Larson”—now it was Jude’s turn to keep from smiling—“take you, Jude Ryder Jamieson, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish—until death do us part.”
As I finished my vows, I wondered what had taken me so long to get here. What had I been so worried about waiting for? Jude was just as much mine now as he had been then. A simple exchange of vows shouldn’t change anything. But as I stood here before him now after exchanging our vows, it kind of changed everything, too.
“I understand you have rings you’d like to use?”
“We do,” Jude answered, slipping something from his pocket. It was a tiny silver band. A wedding band with three alternating gemstones. It looked like he’d been hoping for this moment when he got dressed today.
Holding my left hand in his, he positioned the finger above my ring finger. “These stones represent you and me, Luce, and our little girl,” he said. “Emerald for your birthday, ruby for mine, and amethyst for the month she’s supposed to be born. I wanted it to be special, you know?”
He’d put a serious amount of thought into this one ring. “I know,” I said, fighting the lump in my throat. “It’s beautiful, Jude.”
He slid the ring down my finger. “With this ring, I thee wed.”
The wedding band with the three members of my family’s birthstones sparkled above the engagement ring I’d worn solo for three years. It was happy to have its mate.
I had to wipe my eyes before I grabbed his left hand. “Mine’s not nearly as thoughtful, but it’ll work. For now.”
“It’ll work forever,” he said, admiring the band.
As I slid the ring down his finger, I realized it would work forever. It suited him. “With this ring, I thee wed.”
Father Joe looked between us. “And now, by the power vested in me, I hereby declare you husband and wife. You may—”
“Yeah, Father,” Jude said, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me close. “I memorized this part, too.” His mouth covered mine, and he kissed me. It was a bit like our first kiss, timid and hungry, and a little like it would be our last kiss, slow and consuming.
My first kiss as a married woman was pretty damn amazing.
Only when we had to surface for air did Jude’s lips leave mine. He sighed. “Finally.”
“Yeah,” I said, kissing his scar. “Finally.”
“Congratulations,” Father Joe said, his eyes still sparkling. “Be good to each other.” Giving us one last smile, he backed away from the podium and headed out of the chapel, along with our silent witness.
“What now?” I asked, tugging him toward the door. “Now that you’ve made an honest woman out of me, what have you got in mind next?”
“We should probably get that official wedding license thing so I can hang it on the wall,” he said, grinning ear to ear.
“We’re as official as you and me need to be,” I said, “but a framed wedding certificate would be a nice touch to the Ryder family home.” Wherever that home would be. We were in something of a TBD state in the home department. “But when I asked ‘what now’ I was referring to the next few hours future, not the next few days future.”
“In that case . . . how about a nice dinner? Candles? A bottle of champagne,” he said, catching himself. “Or a bottle of sparkling water?”
Shoving through the door, I pulled him along. “Dinner sounds good,” I said, pulling him faster down the hall, until we’d passed the elevators and nurses’ desk. “But I’ve got a better idea.” Pausing at the last door at the end of the hall, I slid inside and gave it a quick once-over. It was empty, and had a lock on the door and a freshly made hospital bed against the window.
“I’m all for better ideas, Luce,” Jude said as I pulled him inside, “but what does sneaking into a hospital room have to do with it?”
Locking the door behind us, I shoved him up against the wall.
“This,” I said, kissing him. Hard.
“Better idea,” he said in between my frantic lips. My hands grabbed the hem of my shirt and tugged it over my head. “Much better idea.”
His shirt was the next one off, and then his fingers were releasing my bra. His hands skimmed around the front, covering my br**sts.
“Shit, Luce.” Jude pulled away from me, and his eyes dropped to where his hands had just been. They widened. “What the hell?”
“Being pregnant has its advantages,” I said, glancing down where my baby Cs had blossomed into full-on Ds in the wake of baby making.
“Hell yes, it does,” he said, lifting his hands back into position.
“Plus, I’ve got increased sex drive,” I added with a wink. “We’re talking crazed, panting, do-me-in-the-morning-afternoon-and-evening kind of increased sex drive.”
“If I don’t get inside you soon, I’m going to bust something,” he said, lifting me up and beelining for the bed. “Your huge tits and your dirty mouth are doing a number on me.”
“Well, you’d better hurry then,” I said, kissing his neck as my hand slid inside the front of his pants.
“Shit, baby, I’m serious.” He groaned when my hand tightened around him.
“So am I,” I replied, gliding my hand down him.
Then he had me on the bed and was crawling into the space between my legs. His face took on a serious expression all of a sudden.
“Can we be doing this?” he said, still breathing heavily. “With you being pregnant and all?”
If we didn’t do this I was fairly sure I’d burst into flames. I grabbed the top button of his jeans and tugged it free. “Does it seem weird to you that you want to abstain from the act that made the baby because of the baby?” I made quick work of his zipper.
“You’re talking over my head again,” he said.
“Then why don’t you just shut up and make love to your wife already?” Grabbing the waist of his jeans, I tugged them down.
“Okay.” His fingers slid inside my panties and he pulled them down my legs. The skirt would have to stay, because I couldn’t wait any longer. “Let’s see how Mrs. Ryder is in bed.”
Hovering over me, Jude braced his arms around me and lowered his chest until it smashed against mine. A stupid little grin formed on his face.
“I think I can get used to these things, Luce.”
I lifted my h*ps until I could feel him hard against me. “Enough talking. Not enough screwing.”
His dopey smile morphed into something else when he pushed himself inside me. I’d been so ready for him he sank all the way in. His mouth dropped to my neck, sucking the sensitive skin into his mouth, torturing me with each slow kiss as he stayed unmoving.
“Be nice,” I said, trying to flex my h*ps against his, but he had me pinned. I was at his mercy. “I’m your wife, after all.”
Jude gave my neck one final nip before his face moved above mine. “When you put it that way,” he said, staring hard into my eyes as he slid back—and, just when I thought he was pulling out all the way, he thrust back inside.
My arm flailed to the side, winding around the metal bedrail for support. It appeared that along with increased sex drive came a decreased thrust count until orgasm.
My other hand dug into his backside, curling into his flesh as he pulsed in and out of me.
“I can’t wait, baby.” I moaned as he rocked inside me again, already feeling my cli**x coming on.
“I can’t either,” he panted, picking up his pace until my moans came at the same time as his low groan. His fingers wove through mine on the bedrail as I pulsed around him.
Wrapping his arms around me, Jude rolled over and cradled me to him. His breathing was just as labored as mine as our chests rose and fell to the same count.
“I love you, Luce Ryder,” he breathed, running his fingers up and down my back.
“I love you, Jude Ryder.” I looked up at him. “So . . . how was Mrs. Ryder in bed?”
That same stupid smile broke over his face. “Fucking fantastic.”
I chuckled into the crook of his arm. “Good thing. Since you’re going to be stuck making love to her until you shrivel up and die.”
“Good thing,” he said, sounding happy, satisfied, and tired. That was a powerful combo.
“So, Mr. Jude Ryder.” I lifted my head from his chest and pretended to talk into a microphone ceremoniously. “You just got hitched at the age of twenty-one, will be changing your baby’s diapers before you turn twenty-two, and just had your honeymoon on a hospital bed.” I held out the imaginary mike. “How do you feel?”
“Like the luckiest damn bastard in the world.”
I could relate.
“Well put,” I said. “Very convincing.”
He ran his fingers through my hair and stared at me like I was the most special thing in the world to him. “I must be convincing. I got you to say yes a few minutes ago, didn’t I?”
I thought of all the ways he’d gotten me to a yes. That first day at the beach, when I’d known he wasn’t good for me but couldn’t stay away. That morning at my locker, when he’d gotten me to say yes to going to Homecoming with him. His proposal at the fifty-yard line in front of fifty thousand fans. And finally, at the altar becoming his wife, when I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
“Yeah, Jude,” I said. “You sure did.”
Jude was at the fifty-yard line again, being cheered on by tens of thousands of fans, but this time it was a few games into his second season playing for the Chargers.
I was still in the front-and-center seat, cheering along with the rest of the fans.
But this time our wiggling, cooing six-month-old baby girl was on my lap. No surprise she’d had her own agenda when it came to what day she wanted to come out and meet the big world. Jude and I were her parents, after all. She was born three weeks early, and I don’t know if Jude breathed the entire twelve hours of my delivery. But he never left my side. When she finally came out, Jude could barely look away from her long enough to cut the cord. He’d cried his second tear that day. And his third, and maybe even a fourth when the doctor said our girl was perfectly healthy.
After fall semester, I moved out to San Diego to be with Jude. To have our baby and figure out our future. After she was born, life had been crazy, but I’d just enrolled in a few courses at a local college that would count toward my degree, so, slowly but surely, I’d get it done. Finishing my degree was more a matter of pride and stubborn resolve.