What if a “Once in a Lifetime” could happen twice?
In Dahlia London’s world, happily ever after is a far cry from reality. Her soul has been left completely shattered by tragedy. But a surprising reunion with someone from her past is about to give her a reason to love again…
When rock star River Wilde comes back into Dahlia’s life, their super-charged connection runs deeper than either of them ever expected. The more time they spend together, the more intense their relationship becomes, and Dahlia believes at last she has found her soul mate.
But as old bonds fade and Dahlia’s grief begins to lift, her guilt and confusion remain. River desperately wants to be the one who mends what’s been broken—but with a past that refuses to stay buried, is it possible for their future to begin?
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Excerpt Chapter 2 from CONNECTED (Connections #1)
Written by Kim Karr
Time is Running Out
The set ends so I walk over behind Garrett to lean my guitar against the wall. I pull
my shirt up to wipe the sweat off my forehead. It’s hotter than shit in here and I need a
drink. Garrett laughs, tipping his head back to swallow the beer he somehow already has.
“You going to grab a drink? I’ll take another,” he says as he downs the rest of his
beer. “And, dude, wear this. Seriously man, your hair looks like shit,” he says throwing
his beanie at me.
I move closer and shove him a little and put the hat on my head. “Shut the fuck up,
you should talk.”
I hop off the stage and my sister rushes over to me. “River, I need you to take me
home as soon as the last set is over. I have someone meeting me back at my apartment.”
I shake my head, knowing it must be a guy. “Yeah yeah, I will Bell, but really can’t
you get a boyfriend that has some manners? You know, like actually picks his date up
and maybe even takes her out? And at a decent hour?”
She rolls her eyes. “All guys aren’t like you, big brother. Nice beanie,” she teases before disappearing back into the crowd.
As I walk through the jam-packed room, some brunette chick I think looks familiar asks me if I want to grab a drink in private. I kindly refuse, telling her I need to refuel before my next set. She’s still talking when I motion toward the bar to signal that I’m moving away. As my eyes flash across the bar, they’re suddenly drawn to a beautiful girl standing against it. And she’s looking directly at me. I start walking toward her, leaving behind the brunette who is still talking. As I stare at the beautiful girl, I think, “I want her.” Tall, slim, long blonde hair that’s pulled away from her face. But it’s her eyes that get me—the way she’s looking at me. Shit, I’ve talked to about a dozen chicks tonight, but she is the only one who has me interested.
As I stare back at her I’m feeling like she’s not just any girl. Not just a girl to have
sex with. I’m actually having a fucking conversation with myself. I can’t figure out what’s
going on in my own head.
I try not to smile, but I know she’s checking me out. Fuck, why’d I put this hat on? I
quickly pull it off and comb my fingers through my hair. I can’t take my eyes off her and
I feel like I want to knock everyone out of my way to get to her.
When I finally reach the bar, I stand right in front of her. For some weird reason I
feel the urge to touch her, but instead I shove my hands in my pockets. She’s smiling at
me and I smile right back. This girl is hot. Her eyes still haven’t left mine this whole
time, so I decide to break the ice by calling her out. “Were you staring at me?”
She pouts her lips and rolls her eyes. Shit, that look gets me.
“No, I was just looking for my friend while I waited on my drinks. You just
happened to be in my line of vision.”
I stifle my laugh and say, “That look was hot.” I want to say, “You’re hot,” but I
don’t—not yet anyway.
I can tell she’s trying not to laugh. If she does, I know I have her. Her phone rings
and her smile fades. “Why would you think I was looking at you, anyway?”
The person beside her walks away and I secure my place next to her. I toss my hat on
the counter and lean against the bar, my eyes never leaving hers. I answer in the most
honest way I can. “Because I was staring at you, hoping you were staring back.”
I don’t want to fuck this up so I decide to be the guy Bell always tells me I am—the
guy with manners. Then I say what I should have said first. “With all this talk about who
was staring at whom I think we forgot the basics, I’m River,” I say as I extend my hand.
She reaches hers out. Hey, I get to touch her. But she quickly pulls her hand back
before I get to grasp it and accidentally knocks a dude’s beer over. The asshole gives her
a dirty look and swears. I know I have to step in because this guy is out of line. I gently
guide her out of my way and try to control myself as I say, “Sorry man, just an accident,
but let me buy you another.” I hand him a ten, “Buy two.” I hope he takes the money and
leaves. Lucky for him he does, because otherwise I might deck him. I turn around to find the girl smiling at me and sliding one of her beers my way. I start to drink it and she says, “Thank you, that guy sure as shit wasn’t happy with me. In fact he kind of acted like an asshole.” I can’t help but laugh mid-sip, almost spitting the beer out of my mouth. Not cool. Not able to resist any longer, I run my finger over her smooth bare shoulder and lock my eyes on hers. “You’re more than welcome.” She just barely shudders and steps back. I’m pretty sure she’s interested in me so I step closer, not wanting to break our connection. “Now, where were we? Do we need to start over?” I ask, looking into her eyes. “We were introducing ourselves,” she says smiling. “Okay, so let’s try again. I’m River and you are . . .?”
“I’m not sure you need to know that information right now. I’m kind of thinking you
might be a stalker,” she teases.
I laugh. I’m all about game playing but I’m not ready to play. I really want to get to
know this girl, and I’m pretty sure the feeling is mutual, so I avoid dropping the canned
line I might have used on another girl and say, “You’re not serious, are you beautiful
Rock star River Wilde brought Dahlia London back from the brink of hopelessness with his unwavering love and devotion. But their entangled history is about to test the strength of their relationship…
Dahlia was certain she had found true love and met her ‘Once in a Lifetime’ when she reconnected with River. But Dahlia’s world comes crashing down when someone from her past resurfaces, and all of River’s carefully hidden secrets are exposed.
Dahlia was certain she had found true love and met her ‘Once in a Lifetime’ when she reconnected with River. But Dahlia’s world comes crashing down when someone from her past resurfaces, and all of River’s carefully hidden secrets are exposed.
River wants to show Dahlia that life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass—it’s about dancing in the rain. But how many times can one broken heart be mended? Will River and Dahlia be able to stay together or will they be torn apart?
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Chapter 1 of TORN
by Kim Karr
© 2013 by Kim Karr
Published by the Penguin Group
Release date: October 1, 2013
A Thousand Years
A glimmer of light catches my eye through the partially open curtains across the room as I wake.
It must be dawn because the sky is turning various shades of pink, red, and orange. Before I know
it, the sky blazes with color; it’s as if it’s on fire—just like my body, but I push my pain aside. It’s
a glorious new day. And I’m here to share it with him. I look at the gorgeous lines of his body
slumped over in the chair next to my hospital bed. He’s asleep, but not very soundly. I study him,
taking in his strong jaw, sculpted nose, and toned body. But it’s his soul, his playfulness, and his
amazing personality that made me fall in love with him. He’s so much more than I could ever
have asked for—he’s my soul mate in every sense of the word.
Carefully removing my hand from his, I try hard not to wake him. Then I slowly ease myself
up from the bed and make my way to the bathroom. When I return, the sun has fully risen and so
has he. He’s staring out the window with the curtains now completely open. I sweep him with my
eyes so that I can appreciate every little thing—at just over six feet he’s glorious. Strong
shoulders, a lean waist, abs that seem to flex with his every movement. Arms crossed, his head cocked just so, his T-shirt tucked into his jeans haphazardly, and his stance so straight and sure. The soft bluish-gray sky of the early morning is almost as breathtaking as the sight of him. Trying to see what he’s looking at, I only notice the fluffy clouds drifting by. They appear so white against the morning sky; they make me start to smile. But I know that’s not what he’s seeing right now, when a bluejay flies by and he turns around I want to erase the pain I see in his sorrowful expression and sad green eyes. I don’t want to dwell on the events of yesterday’s incident, but he seems to be preoccupied with it. His mood has been somber ever since it happened. He calls it an attack—I prefer incident. After all, I’m here alive and merely bruised. I’m not going to waste my time thinking about one bad day—I’d rather celebrate the good things in each new day. But he blames himself. I haven’t been able to convince him that if anyone was to blame it’s me. Then again, a random act of
violence couldn’t have been prevented and, thankfully, I’m all right. I just want to leave the
hospital and go home.
Grabbing my clothes from the chair, I throw them on the bed. I’m standing in front of him
on the cold linoleum floor in nothing but a hospital gown. I make a twirling motion with my
finger impatiently. “Do you mind turning around?”
Sighing, he runs his hands through his already-messy hair. “I’m not turning around. I want to
help you. Seeing what he did to you can’t make me feel any worse. Believe me.”
I swallow the lump in my throat and try to gather the right words to respond, and help put his
mind at ease. “River, it was not your fault. Some perverted animal, looking to get his kicks by
attacking women, that isn’t your fault.”
He can’t hide his shudder from my eyes. “Dahlia, it wasn’t a fucking incident. You were
attacked. If I had been with you it wouldn’t have happened. I shouldn’t have been sleeping. It’s
really just that simple.”
I stand there shocked by his tone, even though I know he doesn’t mean to be so harsh. “No,
it’s not just that simple . . . ,” I start to argue, but he cuts me off.
His shoulders sag. He promptly diverts his eyes to the ground and shoves his hands in his
jeans pockets. “I’m sorry, Dahlia. I don’t mean to yell. I just can’t stand that you got hurt. It kills
me to see you like this, to know what could have happened to you. It just kills me.”
We’ve had this conversation twice already. I already know my reassurances will go nowhere.
So I repeat myself and contemplate making my way to the duffel bag lying next to the chair to get
my socks and shoes and then go into the bathroom to change. But I plead one more time, “River,
please turn around.”
He’s standing in front of me with only the bed between us but for some reason it feels like
we’re miles apart. He doesn’t move toward me, but I can see the overwhelming emotion in his
face and in his eyes. He’s hurting. I can also hear it in his voice and his sorrow not only makes me
sad, it tears at my heart.
I’ve never been shy around him. I just know that I’m covered in bruises and I want so badly
to spare him the heartache of seeing me this way.
“No, let me help you,” he whispers. His tone is barely audible.
With a deep sigh I resign myself to his plea and pointing near the chair I ask, “Can you
please hand me that?”
Grabbing my bag, he sets it on the bed.
As I untie the ugly green gown and slide it down my arms, he watches me. But not in an Oh,
I want to see you naked kind of way, more like an Oh God, I might be sick way.
The gown puddles on the floor and I stand there completely naked in front of him. I watch as
he looks at me. He scans my body from head to toe before his eyes drift back up to meet mine and
In an attempt to lighten the mood, I pick up the hospital gown and playfully toss it at him.
“Your turn to play dress-up.”
His lips finally turn up in a semblance of a smile, but his eyes are still filled with sadness. “I
think I’ll pass this time, if you don’t mind,” he says, holding the gown up to him. “Green isn’t my
Both of us smiling, I know he’s looking beyond my bruises. At last. And all his love for me
is now reflected in his eyes—it means everything to me.
He strides around the bed and insists on helping me put on my panties and jeans. I want to
comment on how easy it would be for him to get in my pants right now, but I refrain. But when he
ever so carefully starts to pull my sweater over my head, I can’t hold back. Grabbing his hand, I
press it over my heart and look at him. “See, you can touch me. I won’t break. I’ll even let you
get to second base,” I say, sliding his hand down to cup my breast.
He resists at first, but eventually sighs and brushes his thumb over my nipple. A slow grin
crosses his lips. “Second base, that’s it? I think I had a better chance with the pants.”
We both laugh a little and I continue to hold his hand in place. His eyes burn into mine as he
moves his hand to cup my cheek. Leaning into my ear he whispers, “You better stop it. You’re
going to get me all worked up and when Nurse Smiley Face comes in here she’s going to kick me
He pulls back and I roll my eyes as he pulls my sweater down the rest of the way. I silently
wince a little in pain. My shoulder is sore, my wrist is sprained, and my body is bruised. The
doctor wanted to cut off my bracelet, the only jewelry I was wearing, because of the swelling, but
I begged him not to. It’s the one thing of Ben’s I have left and I need it to always remind me to
live my life with no regrets.
Once I’m dressed, he gently places his arms around my waist and pulls me to him. “I’m
sorry. Did I hurt you?” he whispers.
“You could never hurt me,” I respond in a low, comforting voice.
Leaning back, he crosses his finger over his heart. “I promise I will never let anything
happen to you again.” The ache in his voice cuts through me and I have to take a deep breath to
prevent tears. I just want to throw my arms around his neck but my aching body won’t let me, so I
settle for circling my arms around his waist instead. He, in turn, slips his back around mine and
we just hold each other. Then he kisses each of my eyelids and rests his forehead against mine.
And with each passing second I can feel our love growing stronger, if that’s even possible. We
stay like this in silence until the nurse enters the room.
She clears her throat and he whispers, “Nurse Smiley Face caught us again, I’m in trouble
I giggle and we pull apart. She’s nice, but she didn’t like it that River stayed the night. And
once last night when I asked him to lie next to me, she came in to check my vitals and made him
get off the bed.
She takes my blood pressure one last time and goes over the discharge instructions left by
the doctor—basically rest, no strenuous activities, and if I experience headaches of any kind I am
to see my doctor immediately.
Once I’ve signed all the paperwork, the nurse calls for an orderly and when he arrives he
wheels me to the door. River gets his car and we are finally allowed to leave the hospital. He
decided earlier that we should spend the night in Tahoe and head home in the morning. On the
way to the hotel, he looks over at me. “Did I tell you Xander and Caleb are here?”
I look at him questioningly. “No you didn’t. Why are they here?”
He laughs a little and says, “What do you mean ‘why’? They’re here to make sure you’re
“But we’re going home tomorrow, they could have just checked on me then.”
Shrugging his shoulders, he answers, “I know but I wanted Xander to drive us back so I can
sit with you.”
“Oh, that’s really sweet of you, but not necessary. I’m fine.”
“Well even if you’re fine, it’s not a short ride and I want you to be able to stretch out in a
backseat. I wanted to be able to be close to you. To take care of you if you need anything.”
I look at him lovingly; he really does always say the sweetest things. “Thank you. But why
did Caleb come? Do Xander and Caleb even really know each other?” I have to ask because it
wasn’t so long ago that I thought River didn’t care for Caleb and now his brother is riding up to
Lake Tahoe with him.
“Yeah, of course they know each other. They’ve met a few times, actually. And since I
decided yesterday to hire Caleb to install additional security in our house, I thought it would be a
good idea to discuss the upgrade with him before we get home. That way he can start on it as
soon as possible.”
“We don’t need additional security at home because of what happened. River, I think that’s a
“Dahlia, I never had the security system upgraded when I moved in, so I’m just taking a
precautionary measure, that’s all. You’ll be coming back to LA alone during the tour so I want to
make sure you’re safe.”
Shaking my head I throw in, “I didn’t even think you liked Caleb.”
“I never said I didn’t like him.”
“No, you didn’t say it, but I felt it every time you talked to him.”
“Hmm . . . well, regardless of how I feel about him I know he’s good at what he does and
when I called him he said he had time. Oh, and one more thing, Caleb or someone who works for
him will be escorting us places.”
I narrow my eyes at him. “You mean like bodyguards?”
“Well I wouldn’t call them bodyguards, just additional security.”
“That sounds really awkward.”
“Dahlia, I promise you won’t even know they’re around.”
“I doubt that.” I rest my head against the window and close my eyes. I find the whole ampup-
the- security thing a little absurd, but since it makes him feel better, I won’t protest.
When we get to the hotel, we learn that Caleb had our room changed and he and Xander now
occupy the adjoining room next door. I want to tease River—“Yeah, we won’t even know they’re
around,” but I don’t.
The doctor gave me some pain pills at the hospital and they’ve made me so tired that I spend
the rest of the day in bed, snuggled in River’s arms. I must have fallen into a deep sleep because
when I wake, I look at the clock and it’s well after midnight. The first thing I do is reach for him
only to find that he isn’t next to me. Looking around the room, I’m a little disoriented at first. But
I see River huddled in the corner with Caleb and Xander, discussing something in hushed
whispers that I can’t hear. When he sees me try to sit up and move to get off the bed, he hastily
“What do you need, baby?” he asks in almost a whisper. His face looks worn, tired, and
“I need to go to the bathroom and get some water.” I try to smile at him, but my mouth tastes
like it has a wad of cotton balls in it and my body feels completely detached from my mind. I’m
not sure I can actually walk to the bathroom without falling. I also feel light-headed. “Let me help you,” he says as he moves my legs to the floor and carefully helps me stand up. But when I start to wobble a little, I grab his shoulder for support. I think the pain medication has not only made me light-headed, but also unstable. He’s already wrapping my arm around him as he picks me up. “Dahlia, let me help you.” Xander and Caleb look over at me, appearing worried. They stand and both say good night, disappearing through the adjoining door. Once we reach the bathroom, River gently sets me down and removes my pants. I grip the counter and begin to regain my stability. “Can you grab me a T-shirt?” I ask him quietly. “Sure, beautiful girl, whatever you need,” he replies with a smile. When he leaves the bathroom I push the door slightly closed and frown as I take the first real glimpse of myself in the mirror since I got home. I look much worse than I did earlier this
morning. The bruises have turned purple, my wrist is still swollen, the scrapes on my cheek from
where my attacker held my face to the ground are crusted over, and my shoulder aches from
where he shoved his knee to hold me down.
I carefully pull off my sweater and hastily wrap a towel around me. I consider a shower, but
decide against it. It seems like it would require too much energy right now. I do manage to brush
my teeth. Once I finish, I look back into the mirror and see that he’s standing behind in the
doorway with such sadness in his eyes. He walks over to me as I wipe my mouth with a towel.
“Let’s put this on you,” he says while pulling his long-sleeved 30 Seconds to Mars T-shirt
over my head. “It will be easier to get on and off than one of yours and it will keep you warm.”
I let him dress me like I’m a small child. Happy memories of my father getting me ready for
school pop into my head. My dad would help me get dressed and drop me off at school when my
mother had to leave early for work. I loved those days. I loved every day my parents were alive.
“You alright, Dahlia?” he asks with concern.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.”
Then smiling, I tell him, “You dressing me now just reminded me of happy times when my
dad would let me pick out whatever I wanted to wear to school whether it matched or not. Since
my mom wasn’t home to make me change I usually wore his concert T-shirts.”
He smirks, “You mean your mom, the fashion designer, didn’t like it when you wore your
dad’s grungy T-shirts to school?”
“How did you guess?”
“Intuition,” he tells me. “Personally, I think you make everything you wear look incredible,
but I could see where your mom might have a different opinion.”
I lean into him just to feel his warmth and nuzzle his neck. “I wish you could have met my
“I may never be able to meet them, but I know them through you.”
Pulling away, I smile at him and press my palms against his chest. “That means everything
to me,” is all I can say because it does.
He nods and we stay silent for a few moments.
“I think you should lie back down.” Carrying me back to the bed, he sets me down on the
opposite side I woke up on. But I don’t care which side I sleep on as long as he’s next to me. I
take his hand and squeeze it. “Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me,” he says, kissing the top of my head. “I ordered you something
to eat while you were in the bathroom.”
“I’m not really hungry. I’m just really thirsty.”
Pulling the covers up over my legs, he sits beside me. “You have to eat something when you
take these pills.” He opens the medicine bottle on the night table and pours two oblong, white,
horse-sized pills into his palm then sets them down next to the open bottle.
“There’s no way I can swallow those.”
He laughs quickly and then stands up and walks toward the TV. “I ordered you grilled cheese
and French fries to eat and a milkshake to swallow the pills with.” He opens the adjoining room
door and says, “Hey Xander, just bring the food over here when it comes.”
I’m staring at his backside when he turns his head over his shoulder and catches me. He
throws me a wink and I smile back. We don’t exchange words but we both start laughing and I
have to say, that is my all-time favorite sound. God, I love it when he laughs, it’s soft but husky
and oh so sexy.
I hold my bruised ribs in pain, and he apologizes for making me laugh.
“River, it’s okay. I want to laugh. And, really, I just couldn’t resist the view.”
He stifles more laughter and I ask, “Why did you order food and have it delivered to
Xander’s room?” I pause a moment before adding, “And why are we sharing a room with Xander
and Caleb anyway?”
His laughter stops and he becomes more serious. “We aren’t sharing a room with them. The
door closes between us, silly girl.” As if to prove his point, he opens and closes the door in a
swinging motion. Leaving it open, he walks back over to the bed and sits next to me. He cups my
unbruised cheek before leaning in to kiss my forehead. “And I ordered food to be delivered to
their room in case you fell back asleep. I didn’t want the knocking to disturb you.”
“Oh, that makes sense. Well now that you mentioned my favorite—grilled cheese dipped in
a chocolate milkshake—I might be feeling a little hungry.”
“Have I told you how gross I think that is, by the way?” he asks, raising his eyebrows.
“Only a thousand times, and yet every time I order it you manage to steal a bite. And don’t
think I haven’t noticed you dip it in your shake first.”
Chuckling, he pinches his thumb and index finger together and says, “Well, I might like it
just a tiny little bit.”
I smile at him and lay my head down on the pillow just as Xander brings in the tray of food.
River points to the empty spot next to me on the bed. “Thanks, man, just put it down right there.”
“Dahlia, do you want anything else?” Xander asks.
“Just a gallon of water,” I say jokingly. “My mouth feels like a desert in the middle of July.”
He grins at me and starts to pour the liter of bottled water into a glass as River takes my
giant pills, along with a knife from the tray, and comes over to the table.
“I’ll take the whole bottle, please. No need for a glass.”
Xander hands me the water as River cuts the pills in half.
“Stop looking like you’re going to someone’s funeral, Xander. I’m fine. You and Caleb
really didn’t have to drop everything to come up here when we’re just going home tomorrow
“Will it make you feel better if I tell you I came for my brother?”
I take a huge sip of water and eye him before giving him a full smile. “Since I know you’d
never admit you came for me, then yes it will.”
He kisses me on the forehead. “Good night, Muse. If you weren’t such a pain in my ass I
might find you funny. I might even like you.” I don’t mind him calling me Muse since he
repeatedly tells me the Wilde Ones’ claim to fame is the song “Once in a Lifetime,” which River
wrote after meeting me that first time.
“I’ll keep hoping and wishing for the day you say you love me.”
He looks at me with all trace of humor gone. “I’m really glad you’re okay, Dahlia. Good
night. See you in a few hours.”
Glancing over at River, he gives him a nod before closing the door. Our plan is to leave in
the middle of the night to get home early enough for Xander to get to work. River comes to sit
next to me and once I swallow the disgusting horse pills we share the tray of food and then fall
asleep in each other’s arms.
Moonlight cascades through the windows and the stars shine bright above us as Xander drives us
home. Lying on River’s lap, I am listening intently to him. He’s strumming his fingers through
my hair and singing along to “Losing My Religion,” but his voice sounds sad, reminiscent of
something almost. When the song finishes I reach my hand up to caress his cheek. “I love that
song. I saw R.E.M. perform it at the Greek the year it came out.”
He takes my hand and kisses my knuckles. “I have a love/hate relationship with it myself.”
Xander snickers from the front seat. “Yeah, more like it had a love/hate relationship with
Combing my fingers through his hair, I tug on a strand and he grins. “Why?” I ask.
He slouches a little more so I can rest my head on the tautness of his abs. His fingers tap my
arm and he laughs. “When it hit the top five my dad decided I should learn to play the mandolin.
He studied hit songs all the time trying to dissect them for what drove them to the top. He took
note of anything different used in its production and ‘Losing My Religion’ was only the second
hit song ever to feature a mandolin prominently.”
Xander starts laughing so loud it surprises me. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him laugh like
that. River shakes his head. “Shut up, Xander.”
River’s eyes seem to dance in the moonlight at the memory and it thrills me to see him laugh
when he mentions his father. He doesn’t mention him often but on the rare occasion he does it’s
never with any sign of emotion. I’m glad he has happy memories of his dad, like I do. I have a sudden urge to kiss him and pull his head down closer to mine so I can press my lips against his. “Tell me,” I whisper, tracing the outline of one of his perfectly defined pectorals. “Don’t laugh but you know the saying ‘It’s all in the wrist’?” I nod. “It’s absolutely true. Subtle, nimble wrist movements are the key to playing the correct note on the mandolin and no matter how many times I tried, I just couldn’t get it down.” “Tell her the rest,” Xander interjects. River rolls his eyes. “Okay, so my dad knew I was getting frustrated and tried teaching me by using the only other hit song featuring a mandolin.” Xander laughs loudly again. “Man, I can still picture it,” he manages between snorts. I move to sit up but River reaches out to stop me and continues, ignoring Xander. “My dad was teaching me how to play ‘Maggie May,’ so I watched some of Rod Stewart’s music videos and Xander walked in when I was practicing Rod’s walk from the ‘Hot Legs’ video. I had decided
to give up my attempts at the mandolin and decided I’d rather move like Rod.”
All three of us burst out in a chorus of laughter and the vision in my head is priceless. God,
sometimes it feels like my heart will burst with love for River. Everything about him drives me
wild but especially his sense of humor.
His gaze captures mine and although we’re having a conversation with his brother, we’ve
somehow moved from playful touches to sensual caresses. His hand rests on my stomach and his
fingers are under the hem of my shirt resting on my bare skin. I’m drawing lines back and forth
across each muscle of his washboard abs. The lower I get, the heavier he breathes. Leaning down,
his soft lips meet mine and I wrap my arms around his neck and press harder. We get lost in each
other for a moment and a small moan escapes my throat.
Xander clears his throat. “The windows are steaming up. Could you stop acting like a couple
of teenagers?” Then he turns the radio up.
It’s shortly before dawn when Xander drops us off at home. With coffees in hand we sit
outside and watch the sunrise. I’m content to sit near him quietly and appreciate the company, but
in the calm of the bright crisp morning River asks me, “Why are we waiting to get married?”
He kisses my hair and continues, “It seems like all I was really doing was waiting for you
my whole life anyway, and I don’t want to wait anymore.”
I shift so I’m lying on my side and can look up at him. “I’m not really sure. But, when you
put it that way, I don’t want to wait either.”
“How would you feel if we charter a plane to Las Vegas and get married today? I can have it
arranged in a matter of hours. We can fly up there, get married, and be back here by sunset.”
“You don’t mind if your family’s not there?”
He hesitates only a moment before pulling me closer. His arms tighten around me as the
green depths of his eyes stare into mine. “I won’t be satisfied until I wake up next to my wife
every morning. Dahlia, all I want is you and me forever. We can celebrate later once you’re
feeling better. We can even have another ceremony here, but what happened in the hospital I
never want to happen again. So will you marry me today?”
He’s romantic, fearless, and full of life and I love every inch of him. I loop my arms around
his neck and my lips find his. Smiling at him as the sun rises and with the Hollywood sign as our
backdrop, I say, “River Wilde, I would love to marry you today.”
He groans against my mouth and the sound echoes through my skin, making me smile even
more. He kisses me. Then he kisses me again. Then some more. Once we’re both breathless he
moves me enough to stand up. His smile, the real one, breaks across his face. “Stay here. I’ll be
I have no intention of going anywhere, so he’s safe. When he comes back he has Stella
firmly in his clutch. Joy radiates from him and there’s a familiar gleam in his eyes as he sits down
at the end of the lounge chair with the guitar. The slight breeze in the air blows his hair. I move
toward him and rest my chin on his shoulder, my front to his back. His hot skin awakens all my
I peer down and watch as his hand dances over the strings and he starts singing “You and
Me.” As he plays I can feel every motion of his body as if I’m the one playing. Curling my hand
around his hip I feel him shudder as heat travels through my arm. My eyes shift to his face and
it’s a picture of what is real, what is right in my life, and what we have . . . true love everlasting.
He sings the final verse, “The clock never seemed so alive,” into my ear and I shiver as his
warm breath grazes the skin of my neck. I could watch him play and listen to him sing a thousand
times over and never grow tired of it. Not ever. He cocks his head to mine and picks the last notes
on his strings as the sound of his music fills the air and I can’t help but think how lucky I am to
get to spend the rest of my life with him.
A few hours later I’m sitting at the breakfast bar having just finished up a security system lesson
with Caleb, when the doorbell rings. I know who it is before River has answered it. Aerie
screams, “There you are! How are you?”
It’s only been sixty minutes since I called to tell her we were home and she’s already here.
She runs over and I stand up slowly. My body aches much more today than it has since the
incident, probably from sitting in the car on the ride home. “I’m okay—really! I look much worse
than I actually feel.”
“I’m so sorry I didn’t come to see you in the hospital. Work has been crazy,” she says before
throwing her arms around me in a tight embrace. I wince a little and she pulls away. “Oh my God,
I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to hurt you!” Her face is full of concern—this woman who has helped
me in more ways than I could ever count. Of course she’s here now. And she’s a vision of
perfection in her red shift dress and black high heels, with a matching headband.
“I’m fine,” I lie so she doesn’t feel bad. I’ve talked to her on the phone so many times since I
was hospitalized I think she knows more about the incident than River does.
“What’s going on at work?”
Rolling her eyes she says, “The owner’s son decided he wants to be more involv . . . ,” but
before she can finish she’s giving me a speculative glance. “Why are you dressed like that?”
“Dressed like what?” I coyly ask, trying to keep my smile from exploding.
“You’re wearing a dress! In fact, you’re dressed like you’re going somewhere when you
should be in sweats and lying in bed. You even have heels on. You never wear heels unless I make
I glance over my shoulder to see River standing in the kitchen with Caleb. He nods his head. I’m so excited I just blurt it out, “We’re leaving this afternoon for Las Vegas to get married!” She claps and jumps up and down with excitement then suddenly stops. “Wait a minute! You are not eloping, Dahlia London. You can’t. I want to see you get married.” She hugs me tightly again before pulling away. “Sorry, sorry,” she says, wiping the tears from her cheeks and trying to gain her composure. I start to feel a little guilty, but rapidly try to push those feelings aside. “We’ll have a party after the band’s tour and all of us can celebrate then, okay?” River comes around the counter and hugs Aerie before whispering something in her ear. Pulling me into his side he says, “We’ll celebrate later, but we want to get married now.”
“Is it safe for you to travel?” Aerie says with concern.
Nodding my head I try to convince her not to worry. “Really, Aerie, I feel fine. I promise.”
River kisses my hair softly. “Coffee?” he asks Aerie.
“No, you know I don’t drink that stuff. It’s pure octane and tastes like it, too.”
Laughing, he walks back into the kitchen, mumbling, “I don’t know how anyone survives
River’s phone rings and I hear him say, “Xander, I told you I’m not meeting her today or
tomorrow. I don’t give a shit what she wants.” I give River a concerned glance and he nods at me,
flashing me what I know to be his make-believe smile. Once he ends the call, he turns to me.
“Dahlia, I have a few things to take care of. Will you be okay?”
Aerie shoos him away. “She’ll be fine,” she says and pulls me over to the sofa.
River comes over and kisses me again. “You sure?”
“I’m fine. Go already,” I tell him, kissing him back.
“Okay. Caleb is in the music room if you need anything. He set up his computer in there for
now. I won’t be long.”
Aerie and I talk for a while. Once she feels she has wrung every ounce of information from
me, she stands and says, “I’ll be back in an hour. Don’t leave until I get back. I mean it!”
“Where are you going?” I glance at the clock.
“It’s a surprise. Wait for me. Please?”
“Okay, you have an hour, that’s it.”
She waves at me as she rushes out the door.
With minutes to spare she returns holding a gray suit bag in one hand and a shopping bag in
the other. She leads me to my bedroom.
“Every princess has to have a wedding dress to get married in,” she says as she unzips the
bag and pulls out the most beautiful white silk dress. Simple, yet elegant. It’s a sleeveless
cocktail-length dress with a deep V-neck and A-line skirt adorned with tiny pearls. There’s also
gorgeous, yet subtly patterned silk embroidery on the bodice, making it special enough for the
occasion but not overwhelmingly fancy. It’s perfect.
She sits me on the bed and pulls out a simple pair of silver high heels and slips them on my
feet. “Just like Cinderella, Dahlia, you got your Prince Charming,” she says as a tear slides down
her check. She pulls one more item out of the bag for me. I look at the beautiful white band of
fabric with small blue jewels all around it as I take it out of the box. “The dress is your something
new, here is your something blue.” It’s a garter and as she takes it from my hand, she slips it on
my leg and up to my thigh; I laugh at her need to make sure I follow the typical bridal wedding
Once she has powdered and primped me, covering my bruises as best she can with makeup,
she stands up and removes the pearl earrings from her ear. “And these are your something
borrowed.” They are her great-grandmother’s pearl earrings, the ones I’ve always loved. I remove
my earrings and insert hers, then stand to look in the mirror. Now I really look like a bride. I
throw my arms around her despite the pain shooting through me. “I love you, Aerie Daniels,
forever and always. Thank you so much!”
“You don’t have to thank me. I can’t have my best friend getting married in just anything.
And to be honest I was afraid you might end up in your Converse sneakers.” I puff out a laugh
and grab my camera. I hold it out in front of us and snap a picture. She’s been my best friend for
so long, I want to remember this time with her forever.
Aerie and I say our goodbyes—she has to get back to work—and I find myself alone,
thinking about how drastically my life has changed over the past year. When I catch sight of my
Grammy’s pearls hanging on the mirror, I walk over to the dresser and pull down my something
old. As I slip them around my neck, I have an odd déjà vu feeling. Today I’m going to marry the
man who turned my life around; the man who taught me to love again. I thought Ben was my
once-in-a-lifetime, but who knew a once-in-a-lifetime love could happen twice?
I feel so incredibly happy but a sudden sadness washes through me for those I’ve lost and I
shift my eyes to the ceiling to say a silent prayer for each of them. I tell my mother and father I
wish they could be here with me today. I thank my uncle for looking after me and keeping me on
the right path. I think of my aunt and her mother and how they taught me that life is full of magic.
Then I whisper to Ben, the man I intended to marry who was taken too soon, that I will always
love him and he will forever hold a special place in my heart, as my first true love. I finish
looking in the mirror and take a deep breath. I’m ready.
The battery in my cell phone is almost dead and I hope I have time to charge it. I walk into
the empty living room and head over to the kitchen to get my charger. Once I’ve plugged it in, I
turn around and see his gorgeous silhouette framing the doorway. He walks toward me, looking
All I can do is stare at him because today I get to marry this man.
River’s mouth slowly curves into a smile. “You look amazing.”
I return his smile and walk toward him. We meet in the middle and he gathers me close,
whispering in my ear, “Come on, beautiful, you don’t need that today.”
We break apart, both of us ready to take the next step. His phone rings and he pulls it from
his pocket. I glance at the screen and see it’s his brother. He ignores it. I’m looking up at him
while I ask, “Hey, what’s going on with Xander? What was that with him on the phone earlier?”
He looks back at me and shakes his head. “You know Xander, he always wants what he
“And he wants what right now?”
“He wants me to meet with Ellie.”
“She’s his contact for the label. Nothing to worry about now, though.” He places soft kisses on my forehead. He pulls back and gazes into my eyes with a look of adoration that I love. “Are you ready to become my wife?” My legs start to quiver as I pull back to look at his handsome face. “Only if you promise to love me forever.” He cups my cheeks and says, “Beautiful, I made that promise to myself the first time I kissed you. I promised to love you always. How could I not?” My tears spill over at his heartfelt words. I love him so much. He’s hugging me, not too tightly, but enough that I feel his love and I know he will always be mine. He kisses me again and says, “The instant you become Mrs. River Wilde I’m going to show you just how much.” He grabs my hand and we head toward the door. “Amazing Grace” starts playing from my phone in the kitchen just as we’re about to leave and I turn back. “River, let me quickly grab that. I don’t want Grace to worry about me any more than she already has.” I drop his hand and walk to the kitchen counter to answer my phone. “Hello?”
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