the way you look tonight - Page 64

They filled up the hours with stories from the past thirteen years of each other’s lives. Her mother asked her about the various celebrities she’d met, and Mary made sure not to leave out one single glittering detail. Likewise, her mother left no stone unturned in their town, and as old friends and neighbors she’d grown up with came by one after the other to visit, she was amazed by how easy it was to rekindle those relationships, as if she’d only been gone thirteen weeks instead of thirteen years.

And, of course, everyone adored Jack. As Mary and her mother had worked on her dress, Jack and her father had worked on Jack’s Italian language skills. She’d known her fiancé was a brilliant man, but that didn’t make her any less surprised two days later when she walked into the living room and realized he was actually having a conversation in Italian with the little four-year-old girl from across the street who had been sent over with her mama’s panettone, a classic Italian Christmas cake. For a moment, Mary wondered if jet lag had finally gotten a hold of her brain.

Jack’s use of her native language was still halting, of course, and he had to ask the girl to repeat herself a half-dozen times, but from moment to moment the man she loved continued to astound her. The little girl watched with big eyes as Mary moved to his side and kissed him right then and there in the middle of the living room with the cake in his hands and the midday sun streaming in through the window.

That night, when she snuck into his bedroom, she taught him the romantic, sexy phrases her father had left out of his schooling. And as Mary and Jack loved each other, Italian and English endearments fell from their lips in a seamless blend of cultures and backgrounds.

She didn’t realize she was standing and staring at her wedding dress until her mother gently said, “It’s time to put your dress on now, cara.”

Mary could no longer imagine her life without Jack in it, and yet up until this week, past hurts and fears had kept her from being absolutely certain that she could give her entire heart to him. She’d told him that night in his garage full of computers and circuits that she was still waiting for the cracks in her heart to heal, but he’d done so much more than just heal her broken heart.

He’d given her his heart, too.

Joy coursed through her as she undressed and folded the clothes she’d worn to the church in a neat pile. She reached for the beautiful dress she and her mother had made together, and carefully slid it over her head and shoulders. Her mother rose to help her with the dozens of tiny pearl buttons that ran down the length of her spine.

After helping her mother to sit back down, Mary moved in front of the full-length mirror. She’d modeled wedding gowns many times during her career, but they’d only been costumes she’d worn for the camera.

As she gazed at herself in the dress in which she’d promise forever to Jack, Mary finally understood why women spent so much time and money and energy on their wedding gowns.

One day in the future, would her own daughter wear this dress?

As if her mother had read her mind, Lucia said, “You’re a beautiful bride, and you will be an amazing mother.”

“I hope so.” Both she and Jack had agreed they wanted a large family, one full of laughter and love. She could see their family already, little boys full of boundless energy and mischief, little girls that wrapped everyone around their fingers with big eyes and laughter.

Her hands trembling with emotion, Mary reached for her veil, but her mother said, “Not yet. Bring me that box first.”

Mary had wondered if the medium-size box tied up in red-and-gold ribbon had been a wedding gift dropped off here instead of at the reception hall where they’d be later. Now she realized it was a gift from her parents.

Just as she had so many times as a little girl, it was natural for her to sink to her knees in front of her mother as she put the box in her lap.

“Your Jack told me about your first kiss.”

Mary felt her face flush at the potent memory of Jack’s lips against hers in the San Francisco bar, beneath the mistletoe. “From the first moment we met, even though I was frightened by what I felt for him, I think I already knew I would love him. But when he kissed me…”

Her mother’s lips curved up into a soft smile. “When I met your father, he was eighteen and so sure of himself. I was a headstrong fifteen-year-old who couldn’t wait to have a dozen men fall at my feet. It was Christmas Eve, and when we ran into each other in front of the fountain, the kiss he gave me was the best Christmas present I’d ever had.” Lucia put her hand on Mary’s cheek. “Your first kiss with your true love is something you will cherish forever. Your father and I were hoping you would want to wear this for your wedding.”

As Mary carefully removed the top from the box, she truly had no idea what she’d find inside, only that it was meant to remind both her and Jack of their very special first kiss.

What she found atop a layer of red velvet was a beautifully made tiara of mistletoe, the plump white berries woven around bright green leaves in an intricate pattern.

With steady hands, her mother lifted the tiara from the velvet and placed it on Mary’s head. “Today, when your true love kisses you under the mistletoe, it will be forever.”

“I love you, Mama.”

Her mother held her close. “I love you, cara.”

* * *

Jack stood at the front of the beautifully decorated church, his heart pounding hard and fast with anticipation as he looked out at the large crowd. Mary’s hometown had not only welcomed her back with open arms, but they’d thrown their arms around him, as well.