Piper texted her mom that she was staying in L.A. to visit and would be home on a later flight. She didn’t say who she was visiting, though.
She set her phone in her lap and glanced at Bastian as he worked to downshift the gears on his convertible, peeling off a freeway exit into heavy traffic that made her heart stop.
Actually, her heart was racing a mile a minute.
“You really want to do this?”
“Hells yeah. Why? Second thoughts?”
“No,” she said firmly. She was a little drunk from the mimosa at breakfast, though. She had walked into the restaurant with Bastian’s hand in hers and sheepishly grinned at Skye and Chase’s raised brows.
“Hello, again,” Skye had said with a narrow-eyed study of Bastian’s bed head and rumpled shirt.
“I should have introduced you properly last night,” Piper said. “This is Bastian Bloom. His sister, Liz, married Blake Canon this June. Skye grew up next to Blake’s place,” she told him. “And you’re acquainted with Chase’s younger brother, Flynn, of course.” She blinked up at him with false sweetness, silently laughing at the way he stiffened.
Bastian probably would have said something frosty and protective, but Chase said, “That’s incredibly refreshing, getting labeled Flynn Goodwin’s big brother. Nice to meet you.” He offered to shake, inviting them to take seats at their table as he did. “You live here in L.A.?”
“Used to.” Bastian gave Piper a tender, hungry, male look as he held her chair. “But I will be moving to your hometown as soon as I can arrange it.”
“Really?” Skye brought her hands together in delight.
“Please don’t tell anyone yet,” Piper hurried to say. “I need to tell Mom first. I just… Well, I was so upset last night. I wanted you to know everything’s okay.”
“Tell your mom…what exactly?” Skye looked between them.
Piper glanced at Bastian, still feeling his proposal was surreal.
“We’ll be going ring shopping soon as the stores open,” he confirmed, hand stroking over her shoulder and grazing the tails of her hair. “And I have to admit, your remark to your fans last night about locking her in—” He glanced at Chase and nodded at Skye. “—made an impression. I’m not waiting a year,” he warned Piper. “Six months. Maybe.”
Chase threw up his hands. “Everyone we know is marrying before we do.”
“My fault. I know,” Skye bemoaned, giving Chase’s arm an apologetic squeeze. “I thought we’d need more time to be sure so I set the date for after the series. You know, being optimistic that he’ll be in it. But now it seems so far off.”
“Oh, you’ll be in the series,” Piper assured Chase. “Dad is sure of it.”
Chase grinned. “I’ll do my best to prove him right.”
Chase had ordered the champagne and orange juice, but had to rush away with Skye to catch their flight. Piper had sipped her drink while Bastian nursed a coffee and they planned the rest of their day.
And decided with whom they would share their news and how.
Which sent them climbing the mansion-covered hills of L.A., excitement bubbling inside Piper like the fizz of champagne.
“Sure?” Bastian prodded. “Because asking your friends to keep a secret until you can talk to your mom is one thing. Once we do this, we’re all in.”
“I know. That’s why I want to make sure you’re sure.”
He slowed even more as he entered a neighborhood of even grander mansions surrounded by stone walls and tall palms and an air of fairy dust.
“I’ll be dead honest with you, Piper,” he said, turning into a drive where he was stopped by wrought iron gates protecting a courtyard with a fountain. The house was a behemoth of modern architecture sporting a four-car garage and a putting green off to the side.
“This is Liz’s ex-husband’s place?”
“Yeah. He’s rolling in it. But money doesn’t make a marriage and that’s why I have never felt bad about denigrating the institution to my sisters. They both know how unhappy Liz was, despite all this. It made it okay for me to refuse to get married and risk that same misery. But Petra is different. When I left Marietta, she was really mad at me for breaking things off with you. I’ve been feeling like a heel ever since. There was a part of me that figured she needed to grow up and see the world through the same cynical eyes I’d developed, which wasn’t fair to her. I really want her to know that I’ve turned around. Telling your parents and my family, that’s going to be fun and I can’t wait to do it, but even if she was in Marietta, she’d be the first I’d want to tell. Since she’s here at her Dad’s…”
“You really love her a lot.” Her heart melted.
“Yeah, I do,” he said with a rueful grin. “Half the time I think she’s still the little brat who threw up on my shirt and talked me into keeping her class ferret for summer break—cute animals, but they stink. But she’s becoming an adult. One who is smart enough to know better than to look up to me, but she does anyway. I can’t stand to let her down.”
“You’re going to be an amazing father someday,” she told him, leaning across to kiss him. “If I did have any doubts, they just evaporated.”
Something moved in his blue-green eyes. A light of tender excitement.
“You want kids? Because I should have asked—”
She nodded. “Unless—”
“No, I do. Maybe not tomorrow, but sooner than later. Let’s get married and settled and…”
They were both nodding like bobble-heads, which made them laugh.
He grabbed his phone from the console and thumbed through it for a moment, then pressed a button and brought it to his ear. “Hey Dean, it’s Bastian. I’m at the gate. I need to talk to Pet a minute. Let me in?”
A pause, then the gates slowly parted until they were fully open.
Bastian pulled around the fountain, stopping at the bottom of the stairs as the front door opened.
It was a grand staircase with big, wooden doors that dwarfed the slender Petra as she came out. She was a nymph in a little summer dress, blond hair flowing loosely, eyes widening as she recognized Piper.
“What—? Are you here to say hello?” She cocked her head with confusion as she came down the steps.
Bastian climbed out of his car, slamming the driver side door and coming around the back of the car as Piper climbed out on her side.
“Yeah, just a social call,” he said laconically. “I thought you might like an introduction to my girlfriend. Or, well, I guess you’re my fiancée, aren’t you?”
“Oh. My. Gawd!” Petra squealed, throwing herself at him so he oofed and stepped back to catch his balance. Just as quickly, she thrust away from him to hug Piper. “Really? You two are really getting married? Does Mom know?”
“No, she doesn’t,” Piper told her. “So I’d appreciate it if you kept it a secret until we can get home and I tell my own Mom. She doesn’t even know I was seeing him,” she added ruefully, thumbing toward Bastian.
So many emotions chased across Petra’s face it was comical. She didn’t want to keep quiet. Her eyes bugged out over Piper’s confession that she had kept such a monumental secret from her mother, but then she said, “Well, I guess since you told me first, I can try to hold it in.”
Neither of them explained about Skye and Chase, just let Petra hug them each again before explaining that Bastian had to pack since he was heading back to Marietta with Piper.
“I wish I was coming with you,” Piper said with a little pout. “It’s nice to see Dad and my little brothers, but—” She shrugged. “I miss everyone there. But I’ll be home in a week. Can you wait until I’m there to tell Mom?” She brightened.
Bastian snorted. “No,” he said firmly.
“Oh, come on,” she wheedled very prettily, Bastian looked at Piper and Piper knew how Bastian had wound up with a ferret for six weeks.
“We’ll wait until you’re home to get married,” Piper said, which made Petra laugh and roll her eyes.
“Fine. But tell me exactly what she says. I wish I could see her face.”
They hugged it out and some eight hours later pulled into Piper’s parents’ driveway, tired from a long day, but both letting out a breath that was pure relief.
“That’s a great sound,” Bastian said as Charlie barked from behind the gate. “I missed that knot-head.”
“He’s been thinking the same thing, I’m sure,” she said, earning a grin.
Her parents were enjoying an iced tea on the back porch and stood as they realized Piper had brought someone with her. Charlie recognized him right away and danced ecstatically around Bastian, refusing to stand still for a proper petting.
“Who— Oh, my goodness. Wherever did you find him?” Piper’s mother asked, coming forward to greet Bastian with a warm grasp of his arms and a kiss on his cheek. “Are you back visiting your family?”
“You could say that,” Bastian said ruefully as he shook her father’s hand. “Wondering how you feel about me becoming part of yours, actually.”
“I don’t—” Her mother started to say while her father frowned.
“As my husband,” Piper clarified, blurting out the rest in a rush. “We were dating when he was here in June and now…” She showed them the ring she wore, still so new she barely breathed each time she looked at it. “We’re engaged.”
“Oh! Piper!” Her mother covered her heart with two hands. “Oh! I didn’t— Piper!” She backed into her chair and sat down abruptly. “Land sakes! I wondered. You’ve been so glum, but—! You might have warned me!”
Her father was busy shaking Bastian’s hand so hard he was liable to rattle it right off. “So you’ll be wanting the guest room again?”
“I can stay at my sister’s,” Bastian said.
“Dad,” Piper said more firmly. “He’s staying with me.” She rolled her eyes.
“Worth a shot,” her father muttered.
Liz’s reaction the next morning was a suitable mixture of joy and admonishment with a glance of warning toward Piper. “Sure you know what you’re doing?”
“I’m marrying him for his family,” she assured Liz, exchanging a hug around her baby bump. “His sister is awesome and his niece is a riot. You’re pretty nice, too,” she assured Blake as he congratulated her with a kiss on her cheek.
“That kid just kicked me,” Bastian complained as Liz hugged him.
“Yeah, we’ve got a barrel racer in here,” Blake said, setting a hand on his wife’s belly.
Over coffee, Piper explained to Liz that she and her mother had been looking at dates for the wedding, hoping to make it in September.
“You guys can’t really travel, so we’d like to do it here. In town, I mean, as opposed to California, so your family will still need to come to us,” Piper said. “I imagine your parents will stay with you again? With you being due soon, we thought we should run everything by you, see what you think.”
Liz blinked. Slowly she turned her head to look at her brother. “You’re really serious.”
“What did you think?” he asked, sitting back and taking on a look of impatience.
“That you’d be engaged for five years!”
“Since when do I drag my feet once I’ve made up my mind?”
“Fair point, but…” Liz was genuinely flummoxed. She quickly rallied, moving to the calendar to flip the page. “Babies come when they come,” she said. “But I’ll do my best to be there and of course Mom and Dad can stay here. They were going to come once the baby is born anyway.”
Liz made it to the ceremony. Barely. Bastian and Piper married on the third Saturday in September at Saint James, planning to put off their honeymoon until school was out for Christmas break. On the Tuesday before, as Piper was dismissing her class before lunch, Petra poked her head into the band room.
“I’m going to the hospital.”
“Oh no! What happen— Oh!” Understanding dawned as Piper read Petra’s excited grin. “Ethan is going with you?”
Piper nodded vigorously. “Funny thing is, I heard it from Darby Stacks. She was getting her cast off and said she saw Mom and Blake checking in. I had to ask permission to look at my phone and…” She waggled the device in the air. “It’s happening!”
“I’ll text your uncle that he’s going to be an uncle again,” Piper said, grinning in anticipation right along with Petra.
“Already did it,” Petra said. “But keep your phone handy. I’ll let you know soon as the baby is here.”
After dinner that evening, they went to the hospital to meet Lucy Canon, who became the youngest guest at their wedding at a mere five days old.
As Piper held the tiny little girl against the satin of her white dress, she glanced into her groom’s eyes and could have sworn she read the same thought echoing in her own mind.