Take Me On

By: Cherrie Lynn

Chapter One

March

It was the day every little girl dreamed of, but Gabriella Ross suspected her dreams had been more elaborate than most. She’d always imagined herself in a ridiculously puffy confection of a wedding dress, walking up an aisle sprinkled with rose petals to meet the handsomest man on the face of the earth at the altar in front of hundreds of adoring guests. Her groom would only have eyes for her, and the two of them would become united for the rest of their lives, and doves would fly, and a choir would sing, and they’d live happily ever after. Piece of cake.

Well, she had still imagined most of that until recently. There were no doves poised for release here today, no choir, no rose petals—but there were a couple hundred guests out there. Hopefully, most of them were adoring. And the church was gorgeous. She couldn’t have dreamed of a more perfect setting.

Looking at her own reflection in the full-length mirror of her dressing room, Gabby saw a woman splotchy with anxiety instead of flushed with excitement. The dress was fabulous, but sleek and elegant instead of something appropriate for a princess in a fairy tale. And even her matron of honor/sister-in-law’s expertise with the foundation she was dabbing on Gabby’s throat and chest did little to camouflage the evidence of her out-of-control nerves. Minutes ago, she’d begun to look like she’d been slapped on both cheeks.

“All right,” Kelsey said soothingly as Gabby took yet another shuddering breath. “Do you need some fresh air or something? Don’t pass out on me.”

“We should’ve done what you and Evan did. Small, intimate…far, far away.”

“It’s the way to go,” Kelsey agreed, intent upon her task. “I did the whole big-wedding thing for my first marriage. Once was definitely enough.”

“You could’ve advised me of that before we started planning this three-ring circus.”

“You wouldn’t have listened.”

“True.”

“Keep breathing.”

Gabby nodded, exhaling slowly and fanning herself with her hand, for all the good it did. Her heart knocked erratically in her chest. She hadn’t eaten all day, despite Kelsey’s prodding. This was it, her special day, the day she’d dreamed of…and she was going to have a hypoglycemic episode and faint at the altar. She just knew it.

Of course, the thought of Mark in a tux could snap her out of any funk. God, she couldn’t believe how lucky she was that he’d come along. Once upon a time, she’d cracked a joke at her brother’s birthday party about how she needed to marry a doctor before starting med school, and here she was, about to do just that—because she loved him, though, not because he was a doctor. She stifled a chuckle at the thought. Her brother Evan ribbed her about that little comment constantly. He had a memory like a steel trap.

Besides, she was in med school now, almost to the end of M1. It would’ve been more sensible to put this whole thing off until the summer, but she’d always wanted to have a spring wedding. It meant delaying any kind of long, lazy, sultry honeymoon for a couple of months, but that was okay. They would get there.

Kelsey’s gaze flickered up to hers as she stepped back and eyed her with concern. “You all right?”

“Better now,” Gabby said, and it was true. She didn’t sway on her feet at the idea of walking up the aisle. The image of her future husband and the knowledge she was about to become Mrs. Mark Easton—and in a few years, Dr. Gabriella Easton—had instilled her with confidence. She just needed to keep him at the front of her mind and look at this wedding not as the culmination of a lifetime of girlish fantasies, but as a silly little thing she needed to get through to have everything she’d always wanted. It was all good. Life was wonderful.

She gave Kelsey a big smile. Her sister-in-law looked ravishing in her black dress, almost the antithesis to Gabriella’s. Her dark hair was piled atop her head in intricate curls, and soft tendrils spiraled down around her face.

“There’s that megawatt Ross grin,” Kelsey said warmly, returning the smile. “The deer-in-the-headlights look had to go, girl. I couldn’t let you go down the aisle like that.”

Thank God for Kelsey. Gabby would be ever thankful that Evan had brought this woman into their family. She was more than a sister-in-law; ever since marrying Evan, Kelsey had become like the sister Gabby had always wanted but never had. Nope, just two annoying little brothers for her, even though Evan was an attorney now, and the baby of the family, Brian, was a successful business owner.

“I hope Mark and I can be half as happy as you and Evan,” Gabby said, leaning in to give Kelsey a quick hug.

Kelsey laughed. “That’s no thought to have on your wedding day. You should know you’ll be happy, happier than any other couple in the entire world.”

“Well, of course. I know. We will be.” Right? Gabriella straightened and looked at herself in the mirror again. She only wanted to do this once in her life. But then, Kelsey had only wanted to do it once too. It had taken twice for her to get it right.

“It’s work, I’m not going to lie,” Kelsey said. “As long as you have the right partner, though, that’s all that matters. I see that now. It makes all the difference.”

Mark would be a great partner. He was…well, he was amazing. Brilliant. Caring. There had been moments when she’d questioned where she ranked on the list of things he cared about, but it had been selfish of her. He was one of the top cardiologists in Dallas, for God’s sake; he had other priorities too. She accepted that. And he had asked her to marry him, to spend the rest of her life at his side.

Kelsey seemed to be opening her mouth to say more, but a gentle knock on the door interrupted her. “Come in!” Gabby called and smiled as Candace Andrews slipped into the room. Her little sister-in-law-to-be, since Brian had finally popped the question at Christmas. She wasn’t as close to Candace as she was to Kelsey, but she hoped to change that. The girl had been a miracle worker on Brian, and though Brian constantly threatened that they were going to elope, Gabby really hoped they wouldn’t. Seeing her tattooed, pierced baby brother in front of a large congregation vowing to love Candace for the rest of his life was something she would pay a substantial amount of money to see.

“I was starting to worry,” Gabby teased. “Since you skipped out on the last wedding you were supposed to be in and all.”

Candace halted in her tracks, putting a hand to her head. “Oh God! Don’t remind me. I still feel bad about that. I still hear about it too.”

“I bet.” Kelsey laughed. Candace’s family was overbearing, to say the least. That Brian hadn’t run screaming from them yet was testament to how much he loved this girl.

“What were you doing? Sneaking off to make out with my brother?”

Candace smirked. “My hair is still fixed, isn’t it?”

“Ah, young love.” Kelsey sighed.

Gabby rolled her eyes. “Like Evan wouldn’t mess up your hair if he got you alone right now.”

Now it was Kelsey’s turn to blush. “He totally would, yeah.” Hmm. Gabby had attended a number of events with Mark where an updo had been appropriate, but never once could she recall him messing it up for her afterward. Not that he wasn’t good in bed. She had no complaints whatsoever…except maybe that he’d never been so consumed with desire for her that he’d, oh…demolished her updo before they could make it to the bedroom.

Honestly, she would’ve relegated that fantasy to teenager-ish fairy tales too…except that proof of its reality was right in front of her.

Well, good for them. For her, there were more important things in life.

“You know, it’s not like you’re…old love or anything,” said the twenty-four-year-old Candace to the two thirtysomethings in front of her.

“Oh, thank you so much.”

As the laughter and chitchat went on, Gabby forced herself to participate, but her mind was with Mark. It was almost time. What was he doing? Was he nervous? It seemed improbable that a man who could perform lifesaving surgery without so much as breaking a sweat would get clammy palms over repeating a few words in front of a crowd, but she liked to think he would. Because he would be saying those words to her, and those words meant forever.

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