Walker Stone and Ivy Fields are getting married, and all their family—even the goats—seem to want to be involved. Which is why Walker takes charge with a surprise to make this day perfect for both him and Ivy.
March 1st, Silver Stone ranch.
Ivy Fields cautiously poked her head around the corner before stepping toward the horse stalls. “Walker?”
Nothing but the usual sounds of the barn, which meant it was far from silent. Horses shuffled and nickered, buckets clanged, and a low rumble of voices carried from somewhere in the distance as the Silver Stone hands went about their day. Right where she was, though, were empty pathways and muted noises.
The sweet scent of clean hay tickled Ivy’s nose, and she had to work to keep from sneezing.
Sneezing was to be avoided at all costs.
She checked her phone again, but only the original message was there. He’d told her to meet him in the barn, but now that she’d arrived, he was nowhere to be seen.
Ivy sent off a quick message: Where are you?
Then she settled on a chair tucked to the side of the stalls, breathing deeply to allow the peacefulness of the location to wash over her. A moment of quiet in the bustle of everything that needed to be accomplished this Saturday wasn’t a bad thing, although there were things that needed to be done because they had a deadline.
Tomorrow was their wedding day. Hers and Walker’s. After so many years apart, they were finally back together and would be forever.
She closed her eyes as her lips curled into a smile. Life lately had been richly wonderful because Walker was—
Well, honestly, he was her heart.
Something nudged her thigh. She opened her eyes, ready to smile up at Walker.
A grey and white goat lifted its head in line with hers and blinked seriously.
Drat. One of the three pet goats belonging to Walker’s nieces had escaped.
Ivy laid a hand on the creature’s neck to keep it from moving any closer. Her fingers tangled on the bright-red bowtie attached to the animal’s collar, and his name tag flashed, identifying which of them was currently annoying her.
“Okay, that’s far enough, Meany.”
He didn’t agree, pushing harder, as if he wanted to give her a hug. Only she was not a goat hugger.
Ivy rose to her feet to brace herself better.
“Stop,” she ordered in her best vice-principal voice, but Meany seemed determined to get up close and personal.
Ivy retreated, and the next thing she knew, she was pushed against the wall beside the tack room.
It seemed a little silly, but she didn’t want to take on more than she could handle. While Meany wasn’t that big, Ivy was a teacher, not a cowgirl. She knew from watching Sasha and Emma take care of their pets that if a goat wanted to, he could put up a fight.
Goat wrestling the day before her wedding was not on Ivy’s agenda, so she quickly slipped into the tack room, partially closing the door to keep Meany out.
“Sorry, but you and I are not besties. You’ll just have to find someone else to cuddle.” She saw it in Meany’s eyes. The utter sadness at being rejected.
Or maybe it was something far more evil, because he dipped his head slightly, narrowed his eyes…
Right before he turned around and kicked.
Ivy automatically jerked away. The motion hadn’t been aimed at her but at something beside the door. A clatter rang out, then a crash, and the door jolted under her fingers.
Through the slight crack between the door and the frame, Meany grinned at her before turning on his heels. He stepped daintily for a couple paces then leapt easily onto the top of the nearest stall, doing an impossible balancing act. Another jump and he was strutting toward the open doorway leading outside to the arena.
“Brat,” Ivy muttered as she went to open the door.
She pushed again even as she peered through the crack to try and see—
A large wooden box lay on the ground in front of the door, another just beyond it. They were wedged together tightly enough, that no matter how hard she pushed, Ivy couldn’t make the door budge.
She tried for a solid ten minutes, though, because asking to be rescued would mean having to explain how she got into this situation in the first place.
It was no use.
“Good grief.” Ivy laid her forehead against the solid wood panel and laughed. Beaten by a goat. Not one of her finer moments, but it was funny enough that she was able to appreciate the situation for the novelty factor.
Finally admitting defeat, she pulled out her phone and put through a call to Walker.
Less than five minutes later, the opening at the door widened to reveal his familiar, well-loved features. Curiosity shone in Walker’s eyes, but there was also concern. “Interesting place to meet. You planning on a career change, Princess?”
She stepped into his arms, wrapping her fingers around his broad shoulders. Soaking in his warmth and letting the happiness in her tone assure him that she really was okay. “Meany was the evil mastermind of this tryst.”
“Ah, yes. The goats of doom.” Walker tucked his fingers under her chin and examined her closely before nodding, as if content to find she wasn’t hiding anything. “I got waylaid by my brothers for a state-of-the-union update, and we were just finishing up when Meany dropped in. And then you called.”
She would have explained more, but Walker slid a big hand around her neck and, with gentle but insistent strength, pulled her to him. Their mouths brushed fleetingly, then again. His lips soft against hers, teasing out the teeny bit of frustration that had risen at her predicament.
The kisses grew more heated as they continued. Walker laid his free hand against her lower back and brought their bodies into full contact. His hardness contrasted with her softness in such a perfect way, his lean lines and rock-solid passion making Ivy forget she’d been trapped by a goat. Forget that she still needed to finish getting ready for her wedding.
Forget the tomorrow she was both eager for and dreading, because celebrations meant a gathering, and even though they were her people, Ivy still never knew how she was going to react to a crowd.
Passion flared between her and Walker, intense and wild, the way it always did. White lightning and fire, they were ready to come together, so when he pulled them apart, it was far sooner than she expected.
He leaned his forehead against hers, breathing heavily as he used ironclad control to slow them down. “As much as I want to continue, we need to go help with the goats.”
“Are we making a stew?” Ivy asked. “I could get on board with that—oh!” She ducked away, his fingers sliding off her butt. “Walker. No pinching.”
“No suggesting cannibalism,” he teased. “Those goats are family.”
“Distant family,” she insisted. “And they may not call me Auntie Ivy.”
He laughed as he wrapped his fingers around hers and led her from the barn. “I like your coat, Snow.”
She’d pulled on the bright-blue garment this afternoon because she knew it made him smile. “I love you.”
He left her at the side of the goat pen with a fiery kiss then joined the chase for the elusive pets.
The four brothers worked with Sasha and Emma, although there seemed to be more arm-waving and excited shouting than goat-capturing.
A heavily pregnant Tamara was being escorted by her sister Lisa across the snow toward Ivy.
Ivy took Tamara’s hand and helped her grab the railing for support. “Good to see you up and about.”
Tamara grinned. “How could I miss even a single one of the wild goat escapades?”
Her sister looked puzzled. “I wonder if the girls are jury-rigging the pen to help the creatures get out because of how much excitement it causes.”
The three of them paused, eyeing each other as they considered it, because really, it was possible.
Then Ivy had to shake her head. “Nope. I think it’s one hundred percent evil goat power.”
“Agreed. And for pity’s sake, don’t even think that idea again, Lisa, because if they could, my daughters would,” Tamara warned sternly.
“Oh, no worries.” Lisa glanced at the chaos, a smile on her face. “Nearly ready for tomorrow on our end,” she told Ivy.
“Nearly ready on mine,” Ivy offered brightly.
Lisa’s head swiveled, and she gave Ivy one of those looks. The ones that said the woman knew Ivy was lying her pants off.
The next moment she found herself wrapped up tight in an enormous hug, Lisa whispering in her ear, “You’re going to have an amazing day. I know you will. Trust me.”
The sheer confidence in the message was enough to make Ivy’s nerves relax a little. “Thanks,” she whispered before joining Tamara at the fence.
Lisa backed away. “If you’re both okay, I’ll go help with the roundup.”
Tamara waved her off.
So much to look forward to, so much happiness. Ivy considered how blessed she was as she and Tamara watched seven humans futilely chase three goats with boundless energy.
A lone rider appeared. A rope sailed out, but instead of falling over a goat head, it wrapped around Luke’s shoulders.
His fiancée, Kelli James, moved closer to free him. Ivy deliberately turned so it didn’t look as if she were watching, but it was impossible to look away as the two of them stole off together. Love was written on their every move.
Beside her, Tamara was laughing joyfully at her children and husband. The usually staid-and-stern Caleb appeared to be hamming it up with his children, and Ivy smiled at the sound of little-girl laughter.
When she glanced around to find Walker staring at her with love in his eyes, she nearly melted.
Whatever the next day brought, she’d be able to face it because Walker would be with her. Her heart, her rock-solid base.
Walker winked then blew her a kiss.
The next moment, one of the goats ducked past Dustin’s outstretched arms and rammed into the back of Walker’s knees, and he cartwheeled to the ground.
It just wasn’t right. A day later and Dustin was still grinning every time he glanced at Walker.
“I will hurt you,” Walker said as he passed his younger brother. They were in the Silver Stone ranch house kitchen getting ready for the wedding. “Stop now, or you will be sorry.”
No one else had said a word about Walker’s tumble. Of course, Caleb had been busy making goo-goo eyes at Tamara, and Luke had vanished with Kelli, but still…
It just wasn’t right that his little brother had seen him taken out by a goat.
Dustin held his hands in the air. “Fine. It’s your wedding day, so I’ll be nice.”
“Which means tomorrow you’ll go right back to teasing, yes?”
His kid brother grinned again.
“Ass.” Walker muttered it quietly in deference to the little people running around the room.
Dustin waggled his brows then headed off to answer a call for help from Tamara.
The next second, Lisa stood next to Walker. “Tansy called. They’re on their way. Should be here in ten minutes.”
Walker hadn’t expected butterflies to strike, but they were there, taking control of his gut like when he used to lower himself onto the back of a bull.
“Oh, hey.” Lisa patted her pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. “Your sister sent a letter a few days ago and said to give it to you now.”
He’d gotten an email from his foster sister Dare that morning as well, with well wishes from her and her husband, Jesse, and a promise to come visit soon.
He unfolded the page to find Ginny’s familiar handwriting.
You just don’t take orders well, do you? I told you to wait until I’m back, but nooooo, you had to get married while I’m still off toiling in Italy.
Fine. I get it. I saw the way you looked at Ivy when I was there this summer. Go right ahead and start enjoying married twue luv a.s.a.p.
You two deserve it.
I mean that. You’re an awesome big brother, and Ivy is wonderful, and I look forward to watching your wedding and crying.
(Trust me, that’s a good thing. Chicks love to cry at weddings.)
Love ya, bro.
Your favorite sister named Ginny.
Walker blinked hard even as he grinned. She was just so…Ginny.
He turned to Lisa, who was waiting patiently. “Thanks. You have everything set up?”
The idea had started so they could save the moment to share with his sisters, but then the truth had hit—Ginny and Dare weren’t the only ones who would appreciate watching the wedding.
The rest of the agenda had grown from there.
Lisa pointed across the room to the television monitor brought up from the family room in the basement. A glorious image of an ice-clad waterfall graced the screen. Motionless, until you looked closer. Then it was possible to see delicate branches waving gently as the March wind moved whisper-like through distant treetops.
“I’ve got the recorder going,” Lisa assured him. “I’m recording you guys and I’ve got a camera in the room here. It means you’ve got the legal witnesses you need, plus you’ll get to see all of our reactions. So behave. Or not, your choice.”
“Got it.” Walker watched as his oldest brother stepped closer. “I think this is my cue.”
Walker was caught up in a quick embrace as Lisa squeezed him tight. She let go then winked. “Happy wedding.”
Caleb’s hand came down on his shoulder before he could respond. The next thing Walker knew, he was outside, standing next to Hannibal, his horse.
Luke and Caleb joined him, arms folded over their chests. Expressions tight.
God. Just what he didn’t need right now was bad news. “You’re scaring me,” Walker growled. “What’s wrong?”
Caleb’s face didn’t change, but a muscle on Luke’s cheek twitched a second before he gave up the act and broke into a wide grin. “Damn, knew I couldn’t do it.”
Their oldest brother rolled his eyes and shoved at Luke’s shoulder. “Softie.”
“Yeah, so sue me.” Luke hauled Walker into a hug, patting him on the back hard enough to shake his teeth. “So happy for you, bro.”
“Me too,” Caleb agreed before pummeling Walker with equal enthusiasm.
“Hey, gentle with the bridegroom. If you break me, Ivy will give you both hell,” Walker warned.
But this moment with Luke and Caleb was right and good. An affirmation of belonging shared with Walker’s closest friends, who just happened to be his family. Just like the teasing with Dustin a few minutes earlier was right, and the note from Ginny—
Walker wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
And then she was there, and Ivy was all he could see.
She slipped from the car and he was there to take her hand, staring down at her in astonishment. “God, you’re beautiful.”
Her cheeks flushed, but she met his gaze straight on. “Thank you.”
Ivy’s mom and sisters gathered around to give final hugs before slipping into the house.
Her mom lingered for a moment. She cupped Ivy’s face in her hands and stared with eyes full of love. “You are beautiful, sweetie, from the inside out. Because of who you are and how much you love. We’re so proud of you, your father and I. Blessings to you on this special day.”
Ivy’s eyes were filling with moisture. “Mom…”
“I know, don’t make you cry.” Sophie Fields turned to Walker and shocked the hell of out him when she cupped his face. “And you. Your mom and dad would be so proud of the man you’ve become.”
Walker’s throat closed, and he was rendered speechless.
Sophie leaned in and spoke softly. “I know, don’t make you cry, either, but it had to be said.” She kissed him on the cheek then stepped away. “Have fun, kids.”
The house door closed, and suddenly it was just them. Him and Ivy standing on the snowy ground next to his horse.
Ivy examined him carefully, uncertain at this unexpected turn of events. “Umm, mind explaining what’s happening?”
“Nope.” He lifted her into his arms. Ivy let out a little squeal as she clutched his neck.
A moment later he was sitting in the saddle, Ivy firmly positioned sideways across his lap. Walker clicked at Hannibal and turned toward the mountains.
Ivy pressed her palm to Walker’s face as she chuckled softly. “Is that a nope, you’re not explaining, or a nope, you don’t mind explaining?”
“It’s a ‘we’re getting married, and neither of us really needs an audience’ kind of thing.” They were headed in the right direction at a nice, easy pace, so Walker focused on his bride. “I love you, Snow Princess. So damn much, I could stand on top of the tallest mountain and shout it to the heavens. But I don’t need to have a bunch of people cheering us on—wait, that’s wrong. We do need a bunch of people cheering us on, and supporting us, and for us to know that they’re there for us. We’ve got that. Your family, and mine.”
“Yet we seem to be headed away from the house where I’m pretty sure most of our family is gathered.” Ivy’s eyes softened. “And I’m wearing a puffy winter coat over my wedding dress.”
Walker ran a hand down her arm as he admired her bright-blue coat and the bits of wedding dress he could see. There were little blue flowers with shining silver centers woven into her silvery-white hair, and she looked every inch the snow princess he’d fallen in love with all those years ago.
“God, you’re so beautiful,” he repeated, because he couldn’t stop himself.
Ivy laughed as she hugged him tightly. “I love you, Walker Stone.” She leaned away just far enough to look him in the eyes. “Does your secret have something to do with why my mother insisted I wear long underwear under my dress? Which I have to tell you was one of the most awkward conversations I’ve had with her in recent memory. Or maybe explain why my father left the house an hour before we did?”
Walker considered. “Probably?”
He told her where they were going and that the wedding would be recorded, then he proceeded to distract her for the rest of the ride by taking her down memory lane with a whole bunch of “do you remember…?” until they were both starry-eyed and laughing.
When they finally came to a stop beside the frozen pool at the base of Heart Falls, Ivy’s cheeks were bright, and her eyes were shining.
Her father, Malachi Fields—who had been waiting patiently near the base of the falls—came forward to hold Hannibal’s lead. Walker slipped off then lowered Ivy carefully to the ground. He left his hat hanging on the saddle, dragged a hand through his hair, and hoped like hell he didn’t look too wild.
Malachi nodded at them. “Well, it seems it’s time for the main event. Are you ready, Ivy?”
“Yes, Papa,” Ivy whispered. “So ready.”
He grinned and led them a few paces to the side, lining them up just right for the camera before taking a deep breath. “It’s been my privilege to officiate at a few of these celebrations, but I’ll admit that while every one of them was special, this one might just knock me a trifle off-kilter. So if I seem to become incapacitated, you two just go ahead and finish up without me.”
Walker laughed then realized Malachi wasn’t joking. “Yes, sir.”
Ivy turned to face Walker, putting her hands into his, and he slipped into a bit of a dream world.
He knew the falls were there—a frozen magnificence of crags and nooks and shimmering meters-long icicles like only a wild winter wonderland could produce.
The sky overhead was a rich blue, and the air crisp on his throat with every breath, even though March had arrived like a lamb, and the temperatures were warmer than usual, a Chinook wind blowing.
Looking into Ivy’s eyes made his breathing speed up. Made him focus down on the softness of her hands in his. On her long white skirt covered with teeny blue flowers that sparkled in the sunlight.
She was still wearing her puffy coat.
Malachi was talking, but Walker was fully focused on the woman he loved. On her face, and her lips, and the curve of her cheek, and the sweet memories he had of her here at the falls, and in his bed, and in his life, and everywhere.
He was so focused that when she grinned at him, he wasn’t sure why.
He glanced at Ivy’s father. “Did I miss something?”
“Son,” Malachi leaned back slightly, his expression one hundred percent content. “The way you’re looking at my daughter means you didn’t miss a single important thing. Although if you’d like to tell her something about being together forever, this would be a good moment.”
“Yes, sir.” Shit. He was missing in action during his own wedding. Walker dragged a hand through his hair. Took a breath then started.
“Ivy, I thought about this moment and what I wanted to tell you, but it’s pretty simple when it comes down to it. You know how I feel. I know how you feel. So if we keep working on it for the next fifty or more years, eventually we’ll get it perfect. I’m looking forward to every minute.”
He stopped, not sure what else to tell her.
That hadn’t been romantic or sweet or any of those things. Poetry and roses he could only do in songs, it appeared, and he’d already done that for her.
Ivy’s lips curled upward. “How do you feel, Walker Stone? How does loving me make you feel?”
Suddenly he was back on solid ground. “That one’s easy.”
He wrapped an arm around her, twisting until they faced the falls. He pointed at the very top, at the ledge he’d climbed to once. “Imagine yourself standing up there and then racing forward and throwing yourself off.”
Ivy literally quivered in his grasp. “Ummm….”
He turned her so he could lean in, now eye to eye with her. “Loving you is a million times more thrilling and heart-pounding, and god, I’m never going to get enough of you. I love you, Ivy Fields, and I’m so grateful you’re willing to be my wife.”
She melted against him. “You’re amazing. And I while I don’t think I could ever throw myself off the cliff, I’m ready to throw myself into forever with you. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for never stopping. I love you so much.”
Screw protocol. When his woman said I love you as heartfelt as that, Walker needed to kiss her.
So he did.
He scooped Ivy up and, right there in front of a grinning Malachi, proceeded to kiss his bride before he’d been told he could.
The sun beat down on them, a flash of bright light bouncing off the surface of the pond and shining like a spotlight as Ivy returned his kiss.
Walker kept the exchange somewhat appropriate for public viewing, separating them just enough to grin unashamedly at his new father-in-law. “So. Does this mean we’re married?”
Laughter roared. Malachi nodded as his amusement shone clear and bright. “Sure. Why not? Welcome to married life, Walker and Ivy Stone.”
A loud crack rang out, like a shot from a gun. The sound echoed as roaring filled the air. Behind them, the frozen surface of the waterfall reacted to the heat of the day, and a huge portion broke free from the top to fall with a deafening crash to the ground.
A chain reaction began, and as the air filled with a crescendo of bell-like clangs and shrieks and crackles, Ivy leaned against Walker’s side. Together they stared in amazement as the entire wall of ice descended to the earth. Shattering shards flew everywhere, and with the sunlight reflecting off the ice, it was like a light show in the middle of the day.
It took a long time for the area to go quiet. Walker’s heart was racing.
Ivy was breathing hard as she turned back to him. She shook her head slightly. “Walker Stone, this is the best wedding I could ever imagine.”
He curled his hand around hers and squeezed tight. “Me too. Ivy Stone.”
Sheer delight shone in her eyes before Walker gave in to temptation and kissed her again.
Of course, that’s when he remembered that all of this was being recorded. Everything from his loss of concentration to the ice fall and all the rest. He could imagine the laughter and cheering that would be happening at Silver Stone…
The memories being made and shared in a way that was perfect for both of them.
Walker let Ivy free but kept hold of her hand. “Want to wave at the camera with me?” he whispered.
Ivy blinked hard before nodding. “I forgot.”
Good to know he wasn’t the only one. “We were thinking about other things.”
He twisted toward the camera, and they both waved.
Suddenly Walker found himself being pulled into a loving embrace as Ivy offered him another scorching hot kiss.
Laughter bubbled inside, and he caught her up in his arms and twirled her. Skirt flying, her long hair streaming behind them.
Love in her eyes as she stared into his.
“I love you,” she repeated softly, just for him. “Now and forever.”
The tumbleweeds had come home.
Copyright © 2018 by Vivian ArendBack to Heart Falls Vignettes