Travis’s smile disappeared. “Just give her the postcare instructions, smart-ass.”

“I’ll have a printout of instructions and some A and D ointment at the counter,” Griffin said, amused by Travis.

My stare kept returning to the elegant script on my skin. We were married. I was a Maddox, just like all of those wonderful men I had grown to love. I had a family, albeit full of angry, crazy, lovable men, but they were mine. I belonged to them, as they belonged to me.

Travis held out his hand, peering down at his ring finger. “We did it, baby. I still can’t believe you’re my wife.”

“Believe it.” I beamed.

I reached out to Travis, pointed to his pocket, and then turned my hand over, opening my palm. He handed me my phone, and I pulled up the camera to snap a picture of my fresh ink. Travis helped me from the chair, careful to avoid my right side. I was sensitive to every movement that caused my jeans to rub against my raw skin.

After a short stop at the front counter, Travis let go of me long enough to push the door open for me, and then we walked outside to a waiting cab. My cell phone rang again. America.

“She’s going to lay on the guilt trip thick, isn’t she?” Travis said, watching me silence my phone. I wasn’t in the mood to endure another tongue-lashing.

“She’ll pout for twenty-four hours after she sees the pictures—then she’ll get over it.”

“Are you sure about that, Mrs. Maddox?”

I chuckled. “Are you ever going to stop calling me that? You’ve said it a hundred times since we left the chapel.”

He shook his head as he held the cab door open for me. “I’ll quit calling you that when it sinks in that this is real.”

“Oh, it’s real all right. I have wedding night memories to prove it.” I slid to the middle and then watched as he slid in next to me.

He leaned against me, running his nose up the sensitive skin of my neck until he reached my ear. “We sure do.”


The Road Home


Abby watched Las Vegas pass by her window. Just the sight of her made me want to touch her, and now that she was my wife, that feeling was amplified. But I was trying very hard not to make her regret her decision. Playing it cool used to be my superpower. Now I was dangerously close to being Shepley.

Unable to stop myself, I slid my hand over and barely touched her pinky finger. “I saw pictures of my parents’ wedding. I thought Mom was the most beautiful bride I’d ever see. Then I saw you at the chapel, and I changed my mind.”

She looked down at our fingers touching, intertwined her fingers in mine, and then looked up at me. “When you say things like that, Travis, it makes me fall in love with you all over again.” She nuzzled up against me, and then kissed my cheek. “I wish I could have known her.”

“Me, too.” I paused, wondering if I should say the thought that was in my head. “What about your mom?”

Abby shook her head, leaning into my arms. “She wasn’t all that great before we moved to Wichita. After we got there, her depression got worse. She just checked out. If I hadn’t met America, I would have been alone.”

She was already in my arms, but I wanted to hug my wife’s sixteen-year-old self, too. And her childhood self, for that matter. There was so much that had happened to her that I couldn’t protect her from.

“I . . . I know it’s not true, but Mick told me so many times that I ruined him. Both of them. I have this irrational fear that I’ll do the same to you.”

“Pigeon,” I scolded, kissing her hair.

“It’s weird though, right? That when I started playing, his luck went south. He said I took his luck. Like I had that power over him. It made for some seriously conflicting emotions for a teenage girl.”

The hurt in her eyes caused a familiar fire to come over me, but I quickly doused the flames with a deep breath. I wasn’t sure if seeing Abby hurt would ever make me feel anything less than a little crazy, but she didn’t need a hotheaded boyfriend. She needed an understanding husband. “If he had any fucking sense, he would have made you his lucky charm instead of his enemy. It really is his loss, Pidge. You’re the most amazing woman I know.”

She picked at her nails. “He didn’t want me to be his luck.”

“You could be my luck. I’m feeling pretty fucking lucky right now.”

She playfully elbowed me in the ribs. “Let’s just keep it that way.”

“I have not a single doubt that we will. You don’t know it yet, but you just saved me.”

Something sparked in Abby’s eyes, and she pressed her cheek against my shoulder. “I hope so.”


Travis hugged me to his side, letting go just long enough for us to move forward. We weren’t the only overly affectionate couple waiting in line at the check-in counter. It was the end of spring break, and the airport was packed.

Once we got our boarding passes, we made our way slowly through security. When we finally reached the front of the line, Travis kept setting off the detector, so the TSA agent made him take off his ring.

Travis grudgingly complied, but once we passed through security and sat on a nearby bench to put on our shoes, Travis grumbled a few inaudible swear words, and then relaxed.

“It’s okay, baby. It’s back on your finger,” I said, giggling at his overreaction.

Travis didn’t speak, only kissed my forehead before we left security for our gate. The other spring breakers appeared just as exhausted and happy as we were. And I spotted other arriving couples holding hands who looked just as nervous and excited as Travis and I were when we arrived in Vegas.

I grazed Travis’s fingertips with mine.

He sighed.

His response caught me off guard. It was heavy, and full of stress. The closer we got to the gate, the slower he walked. I worried about the reaction we’d face at home, too, but I was more worried about the investigation. Maybe he was thinking the same thing and didn’t want to talk to me about it.

At Gate Eleven, Travis sat next to me, keeping his hand in mine. His knee was bouncing, and he kept touching and tugging at his lips with his free hand. His three-day scruff twitched every time he moved his mouth. He was either freaking out on the inside, or he’d drunk a pot of coffee without me knowing.

“Pigeon?” he said finally.

Oh thank God. He’s going to talk to me about it.


He thought about what he might say, and then sighed again. “Nothing.”

Whatever it was, I wanted to fix it. But if he wasn’t thinking about the investigation or facing the aftermath of the fire, I didn’t want to bring it up. Not long after we took our seat, first class was being called to board. Travis and I stood with everyone else to get in line for economy.

Travis shifted from one foot to the other, rubbing the back of his neck and squeezing my hand. He so obviously wanted to tell me something. It was eating at him, and I didn’t know what else to do but squeeze his hand back.

When our boarding group began to form a line, Travis hesitated. “I can’t shake this feeling,” he said.

“What do you mean? Like a bad feeling?” I said, suddenly very nervous. I didn’t know if he meant the plane, or Vegas, or going home. Everything that could go wrong between our next step and our arrival back on campus flashed through my mind.

“I have this crazy feeling that once we get home, I’m going to wake up. Like none of this was real.” Concern shone in his eyes, making them glassy.

Of all the things to worry about, and he was worried about losing me, just as I worried about losing him. It was then, in that moment, that I knew we’d done the right thing. That yes, we were young, and yes, we were crazy, but we were as much in love as anyone. We were older than Romeo and Juliet. Older than my grandparents. It might not have been that long ago since we were children, but there were people with ten or more years of experience who still didn’t have it together. We didn’t have it all together, but we had each other, and that was more than enough.

When we returned, it was likely that everyone would be waiting for the breakdown, waiting for the deterioration of a couple married too young. Just imagining the stares and stories and whispers made my skin crawl. It might take a lifetime to prove to everyone that this works. We’d made so many mistakes, and undoubtedly we would make thousands more, but the odds were in our favor. We’d proven them all wrong before.

After a tennis match of worries and reassurances, I finally wrapped my arms around my husband’s neck, touching my lips ever so slightly to his. “I’d bet my firstborn. That’s how sure I am.” This was a wager I wouldn’t lose.

“You can’t be that sure,” he said.

I raised an eyebrow, my mouth pulling to the side. “Wanna bet?”

Travis relaxed, taking his boarding pass from my fingers, and handing it to the attendant.

“Thank you,” she said, scanning it and then handing it back. She did the same to mine, and just as we had little more than twenty-four hours before, we walked hand in hand down the Jetway.

“Are you hinting at something?” Travis asked. He stopped. “You’re not . . . is that why you wanted to get married?”

I laughed, shook my head, and pulled him along. “God, no. I think we’ve taken a big enough step to last us a while.”

He nodded once. “Fair enough, Mrs. Maddox.” He squeezed my hand, and we boarded the plane for home.




Water beaded on my skin, mixing with the sunscreen and magnifying the texture of my tanned stomach. The sun beat down on us, and everyone else on the beach, making the heat dance in waves on top of the sand between the patches of brightly colored beach towels.

“Ma’am,” the waiter said, leaning down with two drinks. Sweat dripped off his dark skin, but he was smiling. “Charging to the room?”

“Yes, thank you,” I said, taking my frozen strawberry margarita and signing the check.

America took hers and stirred the ice with her tiny straw. “This. Is. Heaven.”

We all deserved a little Heaven to recover from the last year. After attending dozens of funerals, and helping Travis deal with his guilt, we fielded more questions from investigators. The students who were at the fight kept Travis’s name out of it when speaking with the authorities, but rumors spread, and it took a long time for Adam’s arrest to be enough for the families.

It took a lot of convincing for Travis not to turn himself in. The only thing that seemed to hold him back was my begging for him not to leave me alone, and knowing Trent would be charged with misleading an investigation. The first six months of our marriage was far from easy, and we spent a lot of long nights arguing about what was the right thing to do. Maybe it was wrong for me to keep Travis from prison, but I didn’t care. I didn’t believe he was any more at fault than anyone who had chosen to be in that basement that night. I would never regret my decision, just like I would never regret looking straight into that detective’s eyes and lying my ass off to save my husband.