Even though she was the bride, Natalie was still a problem solver. She turned to the pews and the faces looking up at them. “Does anyone have a man’s ring we can borrow for the ceremony?”
“I have a ring,” a man said, getting up from Frankie’s side of the chapel.
He was obviously a friend of Frankie’s. They both shared a common love of bushy beards, tattoos and bow ties with matching suspenders. He jogged up the aisle, slipping a ring off his finger and handing it to Natalie.
“Thank you,” she said. “We’ll give it back as soon as we get a replacement.”
“That’s okay, you can keep it.”
He returned to his seat and Natalie looked down at the ring in her hand. It was a heavy silver band with a skull centered on it. There were glittering red stones in the eye sockets. Natalie bit her lip to keep from laughing. A ring was a ring and that was what she needed. There was no being picky right now. She placed it on the tip of Colin’s finger and repeated after the pastor.
It wasn’t until the ring was firmly seated on his finger that Colin looked down. He snorted in a short burst of laughter and shook his head. Skulls must not be his thing.
The pastor didn’t notice. He was probably just happy they had rings and it was time to wrap up the ceremony. “Colin and Natalie, as you have both affirmed your love for each other and have made a promise to each other to live in this union ?, I challenge you both to remember to cherish each other, to respect each other’s thoughts and ideas, and most important, to forgive each other. May you live each day in love, always being there to give love, comfort and refuge in the good times and the bad.
“As Colin and Natalie have now exchanged vows and rings, and pledged their love and faith for each other, it is my pleasure and honor to pronounce them Man and Wife. You may kiss the bride.”
“This is the part I’ve been waiting for,” Colin said with a wide smile. He took a step forward, cradling her cheeks in his hands and lifting her lips to his own.
“Wait,” Natalie whispered just before their lips touched. “I need to tell you something.”
Colin hesitated, his eyes wide with panic. She realized then that he thought she was changing her mind. “You won,” she said quickly.
“Won what?” he asked.
“You won the bet,” she admitted with a smile. “Merry Christmas, Mr. Russell. It’s time to claim your prize.”
“That I will. Merry Christmas, Mrs. Russell.”
The kiss was soft and tender, holding the promise of a lifetime together and a thousand more kisses to come. It sent a thrill through her whole body, both from his touch and from the knowledge that they were now husband and wife. He had promised her a life-changing kiss and that’s what he had delivered in more ways than one.
“I love you,” he whispered as he pulled away, careful not to smear her lipstick before they took pictures.
She could barely hear him over the applause of the crowd, but she would know the sound of those words coming from his lips anywhere. “I love you,” she said.
“Please turn and face your family and friends,” the pastor said, and they complied. “I am pleased to present for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Colin Russell.”
They stepped down the stairs together as man and wife while the crowd cheered. Hand in hand, they went down the aisle as their guests showered them with tiny bits of glittery white-and-silver confetti that looked like snow falling down on them.
They stepped through the doorway into the lobby. Waiting for them was Gretchen. She had picked up Natalie’s headset, stepping in as wedding planner. “Congratulations.” She held out a tray of champagne to them both and escorted them to the bridal suite to wait while the guests moved to the reception hall.
Alone in the suite, Colin wrapped one arm around her waist and pulled her tight against him. “You’re all mine now,” he growled into her ear.
“And you’re all mine. For this Christmas and every one to follow.”
One year later, Christmas Eve
Natalie slowly made her way through the renovated kitchen carrying the glazed Christmas ham. She intended to put it on the dining room table, but Colin was quick to intercept her and snatch the platter from her hands.
“What are you doing? You don’t need to be carrying heavy things.”
Natalie sighed and planted her hands on her hips. Being seven months pregnant was certainly a bigger challenge than she’d expected it to be, but she was making do. “I’m just pregnant. I’m perfectly capable of doing a lot of things.”