Henry Dunne stopped his pacing in front of the small church for a moment. He thrust his hands into his pants pockets as he glanced down the street first in one direction then the other. She’d told him to be there at five o’clock sharp. It was now twenty past; where was she?
The priest had already been out twice to check on the status of the next couple on his schedule. It seemed there had been a wedding before he’d arrived and there was another one due to take place at six. Obviously Friday nights was the time for shotgun weddings or for weddings such as theirs – one where there wasn’t anyone else around who would want to attend.
Taking his hands out of his pockets, he flipped open his pocket watch to check the time once more, and frowned. He was just about to risk losing their time slot for the night and go off in search of his love when a soft voice behind him said, “I’m sorry.”
Placing his hands on his hips, Henry shook his head. “You sure know how to work a man’s nerves, Rachel Flynne. I’ve a good mind to deny you the weddin’ ni …” While speaking, Henry had turned around so as to see Rachel’s reaction to his playful threat but what he saw instead almost left him speechless. Letting out a slow peaceful sigh, Henry whistled admiringly. “If you aren’t an angel then I don’t know what is.”
Rachel blushed out of pleasure and ducked her head out of embarrassment. With all she’d done in her life, feeling shy definitely wasn’t a character trait of hers but since meeting Henry, the things he would say or the way he would look at her had her feeling like a young girl with her first crush on a boy.
With her head bent, Rachel caught sight of the reason why she’d been late and grew serious as she lifted her eyes to look at her fiancé. “I would have been here sooner but I couldn’t decide on what to wear. A weddin’ dress just didn’t seem practical but then I wasn’t sure if this was fancy enough.” She smoothed out the dark skirt she was wearing then fluffed up the ruffles running down the front of her blouse. “The white might be a bit much,” she commented with a frown.
“I wouldn’t change a thing and besides I hear it’s what all the brides are wearin’ nowadays,” Henry teased as he took her hand.
“It’s what brides have always worn,” Rachel told him, in a voice she would have used if she was teaching him basic math and a voice that she continued with as she felt she needed to clarify what she meant, “but it’s meant for those brides who haven’t … well, who haven’t spent their time dealing cards in a saloon, or socializin’ with gamblers or men who think they run a whole town.”
Henry raised his eyebrows in her direction, disapprovingly. “White is just a color, a tradition, as is black at a funeral.” He leaned in close to her ear. “And let me tell you that you could wear purple with green spots all over it to your weddin’ and you’d still be a bride.”
Rachel laughed at the picture he painted before covering her mouth up with her free hand. “Henry, this ain’t a joke! I thought it wouldn’t matter to me but I guess it does.”
He knew most of the men in her life hadn’t been good to her. They might not have forced her to do anything she wasn’t willing to do but they sure had a way of putting her down, making her feel like she wasn’t worthy of anything other than the life she was living with worthless riff-raff like Thad Browning. That wasn’t the Rachel Henry knew but he wasn’t surprised when she’d told him about that part of her life. But Henry didn’t care because he knew the good-hearted person he’d fallen in love with and knew all of it had been done out of the desire to survive in a world where most people didn’t care what happened to single women. Well, he cared what happened to this woman.
Henry placed his hands on Rachel’s shoulders and lowered his head so they were eye to eye. “Rachel, my dear, despite what me mum used to think, I am not a saint. If I was, I would’ve been in that saloon sellin’ bibles insteada prayin’ for a royal flush.”
Rachel placed her hands around his arms as she smiled. “Sorry I couldn’t deliver that royal flush but you managed to do quite well in spite of it.” She leaned close to him and placed a quick kiss on his cheek.
Moving his hand quickly, Henry caught the back of her head before she pulled away and delivered a kiss to her lips. “The money was just an added bonus to the lifetime prize I wound up with.”
“You tryin’ to sweet talk me?” Rachel drawled in an exaggerated Southern accent. “I already said I’d marry you.”
Henry pulled away from her slightly, straightening up to his full height, with a satisfactory nod in her direction. “I just wanted to make sure that’s why you were here. Rachel, I thought you said you don’t care what other people think.” He placed his hands on his hips once more as he watched her closely. Her behavior since getting there was very out of character for her and he wanted to get down to the real reason causing it because he felt there was much more to it than a silly white blouse, lovely though it was.
“I don’t!” Rachel stared at him defiantly before letting out a long sigh and turning to sit on one of the steps behind her. She didn’t look at her fiancé as she continued, “Well, I do but I try not to let it show. Maybe I keep thinking this is too good for me but that thought makes me mad at myself because I do deserve this!” She slapped her hands down on her thighs as she lifted her eyes to meet his.
“You certainly do my dear and so much more,” Henry assured her as he took a seat beside her. “You just need to remember that what we did in the past led to us getting to where we are at this moment.”
Rachel turned slightly and looked at the front door of the chapel.
“A wedding is still a wedding.”
“What?” She turned back to him once more.
Henry took both her hands in his. “Whether or not there’s a church full of people; you’re wearin’ a gown made in France or clothes from the local seamstress; or there’s an elaborate reception waitin’ for us when the ceremony ends insteada dinner at the town restaurant, the result is still the same.”
Rachel smiled at him. “Two people that love each other are declared man and wife.” She placed a kiss on his mouth before getting up and placing her hands on the knob at the end of the railing, resting her chin on them. “You’re right that none of this was bothering me. I went to see my mother yesterday. She’s too weak to make it to the ceremony.”
Henry gave a sad smile as things were finally beginning to click into place. “I’m sorry my sweetheart. I know how much she was lookin’ forward to seein’ her daughter gettin’ hitched and gettin’ the life she couldn’t give her when she was younger. That musta hurt ya somethin’ fierce.”
“I didn’t really expect her to be able to come but I kept hopin’.” Rachel turned around to face him. “She likes you so much and is so happy for me and the life we’ll have together. We haven’t talked like we did these past months in, well, in … never! Look what she gave me. She said her mama gave them to her the night before her weddin’ and she is so happy to be able to give them to me to wear for my weddin’.” Rachel pushed back the curls that were hanging by her ears so she could show off the cameo drop earrings she had on.
“Ah they look mighty fine on ya. Ya got yourself a fine mum there, Rachel. I’ll tell ya what … how about first thing tomorrow mornin’ we go over and see her; ya know, show off these rings we’re about to exchange and maybe bring her some food so we can share some stories over breakfast.”
Rachel threw her arms around Henry’s neck. “I would like that so much; thank you.” She relished the feel of his arms wrapped around her, making her feel safe and loved but after a minute she pulled back her head so she could lean close to his ear. “I just think that maybe it oughta be a dinner we share with the woman because I have a feeling that we are gonna be much too exhausted to get outa bed and are gonna need the afternoon for restin’ to build up our energy to go visitin’.”
Henry threw back his head and laughed heartily. “You are a woman after my own heart, Rachel Flynne, and you also prove that I’m right when I say that great minds think alike.”
Now it was Rachel’s turn to laugh. She quickly covered her mouth though as a loud “Next!” came from behind them. Turning they looked into the wooden face of the priest and both of them began to laugh again.
Holding his arm out, Henry said, “Are you ready to become Mrs. Dunne, my dear?”
“I am more than ready, Mr. Dunne.” Rachel placed her hand on his arm as he began to escort her up the steps, following the man of the cloth who had already entered the chapel. Henry was right when he said a wedding was still a wedding but it was the bride and groom that made it different from all the others. She didn’t care if this wedding sounded word for word like the one that had just been performed or the one after theirs. This was their wedding so that, in and of itself, made it the most special wedding that had ever taken place in this or any town as far as she was concerned.