Evergreen Elves … the story continues!
I hope you have enjoyed reading all of the Winter Witches of Holiday Haven books this year. It’s been such a blast working with my fellow authors to create this special place. I know you are eager to see Lumi and Corbin’s big day, so please enjoy this bonus epilogue as my special gift to you this holiday season.
Autumn had arrived in Holiday Haven. Normally, this was when Christmas plans would kick into high gear and consume everyone’s attention. This year was a little different, as there was one other event taking place beforehand that had tongues wagging. In less than twenty-four hours, Corbin Frost and I would exchange our vows in front of our friends, family, and a whole bunch of people I’d never met before. And with a royal wedding on the horizon, talk of Christmas had faded to the background.
“Good afternoon, Lumi. Or should I say Princess Lumi?”
Turning, I smiled at a blue-haired fairy as she fluttered into the barn. “Lumi is fine,” I told her. “Believe me, I’d like people to use my official title as little as possible.”
Arabella smiled. “Understood. Although, I doubt you’ll have much luck with that. Everyone in town is so excited that one of our own is joining the royal family. People here have known your family for decades, most have watched you grow up, and now you’ll be a princess!”
Starlea poked her nose above her stall and immediately began rooting around the pockets of my thick winter coat. I smiled and stroked a hand down her fuzzy white nose. “At least some things never change, huh girl? You’ll always just see me as a walking treat dispenser.”
Arabella laughed. “Speaking of treats, we’re all set up for the rehearsal dinner. Your mom sent me down to see if I could talk you into coming inside and getting ready for the party.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course she did. And yet, I notice she didn’t come out here herself to volunteer to finish up the evening chores on my behalf?”
Arabella gave me a knowing smile. She worked closely with my mother, as she was one of our longest term vendors for the visitor events we hosted at the North Star Reindeer Sanctuary throughout the Christmas season. The fairy knew as well as I did Mom was allergic to anything dirty. She wasn’t afraid of hard work—there were times she pulled longer hours than the rest of us, in fact, working into the night to balance budgets and organize schedules. She was the brains behind the expansion of the sanctuary into becoming a full-fledged event space. And, now with my wedding nearly done, she’d started ruminating over the idea of expanding the sanctuary’s tourist operation even further by converting the old barn into a year-round wedding destination.
“I can help,” Arabella offered.
I took one look at her black party dress, carefully manicured nails, and expensive-looking watch. “It’s okay, really. I’m nearly finished. Dad’s out rounding up the last few stragglers. I keep telling them we have a large enough herd we could use a Border Collie or something.”
Arabella chuckled. “Sounds like Sugarplum needs to start earning his carrot cake!”
“Hey!” a voice called from one of the reindeer stalls on the other side of the barn. “I heard that!”
Arabella winced. “Oops. Sorry, Sugarplum. Didn’t know you were out here.”
The arctic hare hopped into view, one foot thumping on the concrete floor as he came to a stop beside my ankles. He had straw stuck in his velvety brown and white fur. “As you can see, I’ve been hard at work all afternoon!” He gave a shake and threw off most of the straw pieces. “These reindeer make a royal mess of their stalls!”
I pressed my lips together to hold back a laugh. The hare was my familiar and could speak, but that was where his magic capabilities ended. He couldn’t do a lot of work around the farm, but he was very good at spreading fresh straw, so that was his task once I finished shoveling the muck out. It wasn’t much, but it saved me a little time and made him feel productive. But maybe Arabella was onto something. Perhaps the hare could give reindeer wrangling a try.
Starlea poked at my lower right pocket with more insistence. “Hey there,” I said with a giggle. “There’s nothing in there for you.” I dug into the pocket to show her. “All I have is Corbin’s—”
My smile froze, then shattered with a lash of panic as my fingers wriggled deeper into the pocket.
“Lumi? Is everything all right?” Arabella asked.
“It’s gone!” I exclaimed, still frantically digging in my coat. There, at the bottom of the pocket, was a tear in the threads. A hole just big enough …
“Corbin’s ring is gone.”
“Oh no!” Arabella flew closer, leaving a trail of sparkling blue fairy dust in her wake. “Are you sure?”
Nodding, I quickly searched my other pockets, though I knew they were empty—save a small peppermint, which Starlea quickly gobbled. “The jeweler dropped it off today. There was a mistake in the engraving on the first one I purchased, so they had to redo it. He came here to the sanctuary to hand deliver it to me. I was in the middle of chores, so I stuffed it into my pocket—the box—” I gestured across the barn, “is over there. It was too big to fit.”
My eyes squeezed shut. “How could I be so stupid? I should have just taken the five minutes to walk it up to the house.”
“No, no. You’re not stupid, Lumi.”
Still cringing, I met the fairy’s wide eyes. “Arabella, what am I going to do? That ring could be anywhere!”
The fairy’s wings fluttered a little faster, scattering glittery dust everywhere. Starlea snuffled a half-sneeze. “Oops. Sorry.” Her cheeks tinged with pink as she calmed her wings and landed gently on the floor. “Well, I have my staff up at the barn. There’s your parents. Corbin. Jack should be here soon enough.”
Sugarplum snorted. “Yeah, like Mr. Fashionably Late will be any help.”
“There isn’t time to get a new ring made, but we can call the jeweler,” Arabella continued, glossing over Sugarplum’s remark. “Maybe he has one you can use as a stand-in?”
I shook my head. “Not one like Corbin’s. It was a special order, with engravings on the outside and inside. The pictures from the ceremony will be everywhere. People will notice if he starts wearing a different ring. The tabloids will write articles, the gossip machine will whirl … ugh. No. We just have to find the ring.” I exhaled and set my shoulders with newfound determination. “Sugarplum, can you go search the cabin? It might have fallen out when I was there for a quick lunch.”
The hare nodded, then bounded off to begin the hunt.
Arabella fluttered back off the ground. “I’ll go get my staff,” she began.
“No. Please, I don’t want anyone to know. Just go keep my mother busy for me. Tell her I’ll be up shortly.” I glanced at my watch. “We still have an hour and a half, and it won’t take me long to change.”
“Are you sure?” Arabella asked, her brow furrowing as much as her preternaturally smooth skin would allow.
“Yes. Buy me forty-five minutes. For all we know, it’s somewhere here in the barn. Plus, I have the frost pixies. They love looking for shiny things. Like little icy magpies.”
Arabella smiled, though concern lingered in her eyes. “Okay, Lumi. I’ll do my best.”
She fluttered away, leaving me to call upon the pixies.
* * *
Despite an hour of searching, and half a dozen false alarms, by the time I finally relented and went to my cabin to get dressed for the rehearsal dinner, the ring was still missing. The frost pixies promised to keep up the hunt, but I told them to put a pin in things and attend the dinner. They’d all helped so much in the wedding preparations, I didn’t want them to miss seeing their efforts finally come to fruition.
We’d planned the wedding over the past nine months, following Corbin’s proposal before the Yule Ball. Even with the convenience of owning the venue and having established connections with vendors, it was amazing how much work had still been required to pull it together. Granted, many of the complications arose because of the sheer size of the event. While Corbin and I would have been content with a small affair, with only our family and closest friends in attendance, that simply wasn’t an option. There were centuries of protocol and precedent to uphold when it came to throwing a royal wedding.
For once, Jack’s lackadaisical approach to ruling had played in our favor. Not only had he enthusiastically given us royal permission to marry, though it bucked tradition, Corbin being the younger brother and only a prince, whereas Jack was the crowned king, but he’d also not blinked an eye when we requested to marry outside of the Frost Kingdom and had pulled strings to ensure our union would be legally recognized with the swipe of a pen-stroke.
“It will be all right, Lumi,” Sugarplum assured me as I slipped on a pair of pale pink satin slippers.
As part of the preparation for the wedding, my parents had worked with a contractor to convert one of the old barns into a proper event space, which included adding two separate dressing suites and half a dozen bathrooms. The building kept its rustic charm, while adding modern conveniences that would make the place more accessible—and desirable—to potential brides and grooms for years to come.
The bridal suite was decorated with elegant touches of pink and ivory, with a vanity table long enough to seat a whole gaggle of bridesmaids. On the opposite wall was a large, ornately framed full-length mirror. The center of the room featured a generous seating area, with two overstuffed sofas and matching wingback chairs. A fireplace mirrored an enormous picture window with sheer curtains to keep guests—or curious grooms—from sneaking a peek at the bride before the ceremony. An adjoining private bathroom made for a convenient changing area.
As I lowered my foot back to the thick rug underneath the seating area, my attention shifted to the mirror. I was the first bride to use the suite, and there was something nice about being able to christen the place. The sanctuary was so important to my family, and to the community of Holiday Haven at large, and I was endlessly grateful to start my next chapter of life at the place where all the previous ones had been written.
Aunt Vivienne had gone into overdrive mode upon learning of my engagement, and somehow I wound up agreeing to four custom dresses. Tonight I wore a soft pink gown with long sleeves. My dark brown hair fell in loose waves, piled to one side with the help of a bejeweled comb—also compliments of Aunt Viv. Tomorrow I would have three looks: the wedding gown, a reception dress, and a going-away silk jumpsuit. She’d also made a faux-fur-lined cape.
I couldn’t help but laugh. “This all feels like a dream,” I said, finding Sugarplum in the reflection. The hare hopped closer, his ears alert. “I feel like someone should pinch me, just to make sure it’s all real.”
The hare stood on his hind legs, balancing his rotund body as he peered up at me. “It is very real, Lumi. And very well deserved. I know the idea of being a princess is overwhelming, but if you ask me, the Frost Kingdom could ask for no one better to serve them and look after them. You are kind, fiercely loyal, intelligent, and filled with endless compassion. Corbin is lucky to have you, and so are his royal subjects.”
Tears sprang to my eyes, and a lump formed in my throat at my familiar’s words. As I glanced down, one tear slipped free and splashed onto the carpet. “Thank you, Sugarplum. That means the world to me.”
The hare inclined his head, his paws folding together in front of his furry chest. “You’re most welcome. Now, let’s get to your party! I’m eager to try some of these horde treats you and your mother keep talking about.”
I laughed, sending a few more tears splashing down my cheeks. Wiping them away, I smiled. “Hors d’oeuvres, Sugarplum.”
“Hey, I don’t care what you call them, I just want a plate to myself! After that, I’ll go see if I can’t find that ring.”
“Oh, you don’t have to do that,” I told him, exhaling as I reached for the doorknob. “We can use the placeholder. I took Arabella’s suggestion and called the jeweler. He’s bringing a different ring first thing tomorrow morning.”
“I want to help, Lumi. I just know we can find it.”
The hare’s determined tone told me there was no point in trying to talk him out of it at this point. He was on a mission. All I could do was make sure he got an extra big portion of appetizers for his trouble. He was going to go nuts over the maple-roasted carrots.
* * *
“Remind me to thank your Aunt Viv at some point tonight,” Corbin said with a wide grin as he spun me in a twirl out on the dance floor.
I laughed as he pulled me in close once more. “Just wait until you see the wedding gown. She must have changed the design half a dozen times along the way, but I have to admit the end result is pretty stunning.”
“She’s a perfectionist,” Corbin said with a smile. “Although, as I’ve said before, I’d marry you even if you showed up in a gown made of burlap.”
“Oh, yes, imagine the gossip columnists’ delight!” I said with a giggle. “They’d have something to write about until the next solstice!”
“You could sew a little lace on it, I suppose. Maybe set off some kind of trend,” Corbin teased.
“Uh huh. Because who wouldn’t want a garment with tiny holes all over it while living in the North Pole?”
We laughed together as we took another turn around the dance floor. My parents smiled over at us as they waltzed slightly out of step with the music. Despite her best efforts, Mom hadn’t convinced my dad to take a series of dance classes ahead of the wedding.
The rehearsal dinner had gone off without a hitch—well, aside from the missing ring. Luckily, we’d glossed over that part of the practice ceremony, with the minister simply making a note of where that portion would occur. The ceremony was rather lengthy, including several traditions that were new to me, as I’d never attended a wedding in the Frost Kingdom, let alone a royal one. Afterward, we’d gathered for a lovely catered meal, curtesy of the head chef of the best restaurant in the entire Frost Kingdom. Then we’d taken to the dance floor as the string band ran through a few songs that would play during the reception.
It all felt a little surreal, even as I relished every step. The past nine months suddenly seemed like a blur. Every decision and painstaking moment of planning had led to this magical evening, and it was only a small slice of what tomorrow would bring.
When the song ended, Corbin and I broke apart to applaud the musicians. The leader of the band took a deep bow. “Thank you for allowing us to play for your most special day, your grace,” he said, addressing Corbin specifically. He smiled as he straightened. “I know that I speak for many in the Frost Kingdom when I raise a glass to our future princess, Lumi.”
“Hear, hear!” Corbin called.
Around us, people raised glasses and joined the toast. A server rushed over to provide Corbin and me with flutes of champagne. “To Princess Lumi!”
A flutter of emotion tangled with panic in my chest as the words echoed through the beautifully adorned barn. My cheeks warmed as I lifted my glass a few inches. “Thank you.”
Corbin smiled at me and placed his free hand on my back, the warmth reassuring. “Thank you all for being here tonight,” he said, directing his attention to everyone in the room. His eyes caught his brother’s, and he paused. “It means so much to us that you were all here to attend this gathering, and even more so that you’ll be standing by our sides tomorrow when we make things official. Jack, thank you for giving Lumi and me your blessing.”
Jack flashed his signature grin. “Hey, whatever it takes to keep me out of the hot seat. With you two planning a wedding, the press has been delightfully distracted, leaving me to … indulge myself freely.”
Laughter rippled through the room, and I couldn’t help but notice a trio of female servers primping and preening from their place behind one of the banquet tables.
Corbin gave a long-suffering sigh before raising his glass aloft. “In any case, none of this would have happened without you. In fact, Lumi and I might not have met if not for you getting your royal behind kidnapped.”
That drew more laughter, and Jack joined in. “Yeah, yeah. You’re welcome. Now, come on, let’s get the music going again! And someone bring me another bottle of bubbly!”
The trio of servers practically tripped over one another in their hurry to fulfill the request.
Corbin shook his head as the band resumed their music. “Some things never change, I guess.”
I leaned into his side and rested my head against his chest. “No, I suppose not. But then, maybe that’s for the best. I don’t know how much more change I can take right now.”
Corbin chuckled, his muscles moving under my cheek. “Fair enough. Just think, this time tomorrow, we’ll be making our getaway and the day after that, we’ll be on a beach, slathered in sunscreen, sipping a couple of fruity cocktails with little umbrellas in them.”
I laughed. “Oh, believe me, I can’t wait!”
We’d decided to escape the North entirely for our honeymoon and would be spending two sun-soaked weeks in the Seychelles. I’d never left the North before, and aside from the annual Summer Solstice party, had never been somewhere tropical and warm before.
As visions of sailboats and seashells danced through my head, I spotted Sugarplum hopping into view from down the hall. My heart swelled with hope, and I straightened. “I’ll be right back,” I told Corbin.
“All right. I think I’m going to get another slice of cake. Do you want one, too?” he asked as I started to walk away.
“Um, sure! Thanks.”
I managed to keep myself composed enough to avoid scurrying over to the hare, but as soon as we stepped out of sight of the guests, I twisted my hands together. “Did you find it?”
Sugarplum’s ears drooped, and I had my answer.
“Oh no,” I groaned. “Looks like we’re going to have to officially go with plan b, huh?”
“I’m sorry, Lumi. I can’t find it anywhere,” Sugarplum said, still downcast.
“It’s okay,” I told him, even as I struggled to bottle up my disappointment. “It’s my fault, not yours.”
Footsteps sounded behind me and I turned to find Jack strolling down the hall, his hands tucked into the pockets of his gray slacks. “Now, now. What’s this? A secret meeting? Are you planning to prank Corbin? I’ve been debating between drawing something on his forehead and tricking him into thinking it’s permanent ink or filling his wedding shoes with whipped cream. Thoughts?”
“Jack!” My eyes widened. “You cannot be serious! This isn’t some kind of joke, this is our wedding.”
Jack chuckled and leaned casually against the wall. “Relax, Lumi. I’m only kidding. Besides, if I was planning something, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”
I peered at him, one brow raised.
Sugarplum stamped one hind foot. “We don’t have time for your tricks! We have a real crisis, so unless you’re going to help, scram!”
I cringed. Besides Corbin, the last person I wanted to tell about the missing ring was Jack.
“A crisis?” Jack purred, his smile spreading. “What kind of crisis?”
“It’s nothing!” I snapped. “Please, Jack, just go. And don’t say anything about this. It’s important, okay?”
Jack’s amusement lingered, but he managed to somewhat contain his Cheshire grin. “Come on, Lumi. Tell me what’s going on. I can probably help. Besides, you’re about to be my sister-in-law. You should trust me.”
I choked back a sarcastic burst of laughter. “Um, no thanks. No offense … but, no thanks. We’ve got it under control.”
Sugarplum nodded his head in one definitive motion. “That’s right.”
Just then, a tiny frost pixie blew into view over Jack’s shoulder. The tiny winged creature made a beeline over to us, a flurry of snowflakes sailing in her wake. “Lumi! There you are. We’ve looked everywhere. There’s no sign of the ring.”
“Ring, eh?” Jack met my gaze. “You lost a ring?”
I sighed. “Yes. I had Corbin’s ring in my pocket while I was out doing chores today, and somewhere along the way, it slipped out through a tear in the lining. It could be anywhere. We’ve had a good two inches of fresh snowfall, so any hope of finding it is … well, pretty pointless.”
“Well why didn’t you just say so?” Jack gave me a wink, then tugged my arm as he headed for the door. “Come on.”
“Jack! Where are we going?”
“To find the ring, of course. You got a pair of boots around here somewhere?”
My protesting fell on deaf ears as I hurried to follow Jack. We made a pit stop at the bridal suite to get my waterproof boots and coat, then stumbled outside through a side entrance and began trudging toward the pasture. Jack seemed immune to the cold, but then, that made sense. Corbin was often like that, too.
“Jack, I’ve already been out here looking. The pixies have been looking, so has Sugarplum. Even the reindeer were out here nosing around, trying to find it.”
Jack shot me an impish grin and lifted his hands. “Trust me. I got this.”
Exhaling a frustrated puff of white air, I wrapped my arms more tightly around myself. Even with my longest winter coat, it wasn’t doing much to keep my legs from rapidly turning into icicles. Corbin said he would marry me in a burlap sack. I wondered how he’d feel about a bride with severe frostbite …
I was about to plead with Jack once more, but he was muttering something under his breath. Crackles of energy and magic coursed through the air as Jack chanted some kind of spell. Slowly, a whirl of snow built up around him, enclosing him in a cyclone of ice. With a final word, he threw out his hands and sent the fierce wind out across the pasture.
Sugarplum and I both gasped as the blanket of snow covering the pasture rolled away as effortlessly as a well-loved rug. With a clap of his hands, the scattering of frost pixies zipped over, all aflutter. “There,” Jack said, turning back to me, his grin firmly back in place, “that should help. Pixies? Light it up!”
The pixies flapped their wings, sending bits of moonlight over the bare field. A glint caught my eye, and I nearly tripped as I hurried toward it. Sugarplum got there first and let out a triumphant cheer. “It’s here! Lumi, it’s here!”
I plucked the ring from a frozen dirt clod and held it up to the moonlight reflecting off the nearest pixie’s wings.
Jack chuckled as he sauntered over. “Now, see. Aren’t you glad you confided in me?”
Bewildered, I met his glittering eyes. “Thank you, Jack. I—I—well, I don’t really know what to say!” A laugh bubbled freely. “This really means a lot to me.”
He hitched one shoulder. “Hey, that’s what brothers are for, right?”
Smiling, I launched myself at him, crushing him in an embrace.
When we parted, he held out one hand, palm up. “You want me to hold on to that for you?”
His promises of a prank echoed through my mind and I clutched the ring a little tighter. “I think I’d best keep a hold of it.”
Jack pulled a face as he slapped the palm to his chest. “I’m wounded!”
I rolled my eyes. “Come on, your grace. I’m sure it’s nothing a little more cake can’t fix.”
I started back toward the barn without waiting for him. He caught up within a few seconds, chuckling to himself. “You know, Lumi. Nothing is official yet. You still have time to ditch old man Corby and run away with me.”
“Only kidding!” He laughed. “Now, tell me more about your friend, Hannah. She looked rather fetching in that dress.”
* * *
The day of the wedding arrived in a quiet fashion. My eyes fluttered awake and for a long moment, I lay in my bed, alone, smiling up at the ceiling. Of course, that bubble of peace quickly popped. My mom had insisted on me sleeping in the guest room at the main house the night before, and as soon as she heard me say good morning to Sugarplum, she threw open the door and entered the room with a flurry of excitement. Aunt Viv wasn’t too far behind her.
“Wake up, Sleeping Beauty!” Aunt Viv declared. “Your prince is waiting on you!”
I groaned as I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes. “You two are just as bad as the paparazzi. Can we just be Corbin and Lumi today?”
Mom smiled as she came to sit on the side of my bed. She cupped my cheek with one soft, warm hand, the gesture reminiscent of my childhood goodnight ritual when she and Dad used to tuck me in after shooing away any monsters that might lurk in the closet. “How are you feeling? Did you get a good night’s sleep?”
“More or less,” I replied. I’d slept a lot more soundly than I would have had Jack not found Corbin’s ring, but by some miracle he’d kept his end of the bargain and hadn’t said another word about it after we returned to the rehearsal dinner.
“Lumi, dear, it’s your wedding day!” Aunt Viv reminded me. “Cheer up! You’re not getting cold feet are you? Well … beyond the normal chill around here.”
“No!” I exclaimed. “No, it’s not that. I love Corbin. It’s just a lot to process, I guess. Everything has happened so fast. In the beginning it seemed far away, but then it’s like someone stepped on the cosmic fast-forward button, and now it’s here—it’s today.”
Aunt Viv and Mom exchanged a knowing smile. “Lumi,” Mom said, returning her gaze to me, “I know you think you’re an unlikely princess, and that you’re not crazy about the spotlight, but I believe everything happens for a reason. I’ve watched you over these past months, the way you’ve diplomatically handled all the challenges of your new life as a member of the Frost family. You’re already a princess, dear. Today you’re just making it official.” She smiled, her eyes glistening as she gently patted my cheek before taking my hands. “I’m so proud of you, honey.”
Emotion swelled in my chest, and I had to clear my throat.
“Diana, don’t make the girl cry,” Aunt Viv chided. “Her eyes will get all puffy!”
I laughed. “Hey, at least I don’t have my makeup on yet. No mascara to ruin.” I swiped at a stray tear and then gave my mom’s hands another squeeze. “Thank you, Mom. Thank you for everything. I know it’s been a lot these past few months, with the construction and the royal wedding planners all piled on top of everything else you do around here.”
“Oh, honey. Think nothing of it. I’d do anything for you, to see you happy.” She rose from the bed and stood beside Aunt Viv.
“All right!” Aunt Viv clapped her hands together once and a surge of fairies flew into the room. “Time to make the magic happen! We have four hours before the ceremony. Sterling, Winterbelle, let’s do a final dress fitting in case we need to make any changes. Perrie and Magnus, let’s let Lumi eat a little breakfast before we start hair and makeup.”
The fairies all gave Aunt Viv a nod, their demeanor that of soldiers preparing to go to the front lines. I couldn’t help but laugh. Mom was right, my life had already changed. It was time to fully step into my destiny.
* * *
“You ready for this?” Dad asked as he offered me the crook of his arm. He looked dapper in his dark gray suit with a pine and juniper boutonniere affixed to his breast pocket.
Smiling, I took his arm, grateful for the warmth and steadiness. “As ready as I’ll ever be,” I said with a shaky exhale. I hadn’t sneaked a peek at the crowd waiting inside the barn. Logically, I knew how many guests would be in attendance as I’d helped oversee the invitations, but there was a difference between seeing a number printed on a page and actually beholding that many people in one place.
Knowing their eyes would all be on me …
Dad patted the back of my hand. “You’ll be great. And at the end of today, it will be you and Corbin, and all of this pomp will be a blur of happy memories for the two of you to cherish for all of your years together.”
He sniffed, the emotion catching me off guard. “Imagine, my little Lumi, all grown up and off to live in a castle.”
“Oh, Dad. Not you, too!” I said with a giggle. “Come on. I’m counting on you to help me keep it together.”
He chuckled, and after a brief moment to wipe at his eyes with his handkerchief, he rallied. A royal assistant ran over with my bouquet and I wrapped my hands around the burlap-wrapped stems of the juniper, holly, and snow roses. It was simple, but elegant. We’d done our best to merge the simplicity of life on a reindeer sanctuary in the middle of the frozen woods with the opulence of Corbin’s life back in the Frost Kingdom. The flowers were simple, but they were abundant, with large arrangements placed throughout both the ceremony and reception spaces. Twinkle lights had been swapped for crystal chandeliers. Hay bales replaced by white chairs and artfully arranged tablescapes.
I’d slipped in little mementos of my upbringing, with the decked-out hot cocoa station Arabella was running for all the guests. Outside, there were fire pits set up with tree stump seats, and s’mores fixings packaged up in small boxes. My dress was fit for a princess, that was a given, but I’d steered Aunt Viv away from a full-on cupcake princess look. It was sleek, with a mermaid silhouette, and long, lace sleeves. The chapel train was handstitched lace as well, with the Frost crest embroidered at the end. Naturally, I also wore a tiara, but Corbin had ordered the most understated one he could get by the powers-that-be who made those sorts of decisions for the royal family.
Ahead of me, two wreath-trimmed doors stood closed, the wreaths festooned with the same delicate roses that comprised most of my bridal bouquet. A line of bridesmaids in burgundy stood before me, most of them ladies I’d never met before, but members of the extended royal family who had earned their places in the procession by some other set of mysterious rules and centuries of tradition.
A woman in a chic pantsuit raised one hand and began counting down from five. Two assistants in suits matching my dad took their places, one on each door.
I held my breath.
The doors opened and soft string music swept over me. The flower girl began her journey down the aisle. I closed my eyes as we inched forward, still not ready to see the full mass of the audience. We’d banned cameras for all but the royal photographers, but even so, there were flashbulbs snapping off in rapid-fire succession.
“Lumi, it’s time,” Dad whispered.
My eyes fluttered open, and my feet began moving. The music changed. The crowd got to their feet. We took our first steps inside the hall and the bottom of my stomach dropped out, sending my heart into a freefall. Everyone was smiling, their hands clasped in front of their chests or pressing tissues to their eyes. It took me several long moments before I even spotted one familiar face.
Dad kept moving us forward as I did my best to smile, even as I hoped the photographers would be skilled enough to edit out any deer-in-the-headlights panic in my eyes.
After it seemed like we’d walked a mile, I finally tore my eyes away from the crowd, and I found my groom standing at the end of the white satin aisle runner. Time screeched to a halt and my heart ricocheted back to where it belonged.
We reached the end of the aisle, and my dad kissed my cheek. Hannah, my maid of honor, took the bouquet as I stepped toward Corbin.
He took my trembling hands, and with one simple smile, everything else melted away.
* * *
The reception was every bit as magical as the ceremony itself. Love and support overwhelmed us from our families, friends, and residents of both Holiday Haven and the Frost Kingdom. It was a perfect mirror of the ceremony and its implications, seeing the two parts of my life blend into one. I’d even spotted Eli, the young elf, seated with Doc Patches and Mrs. Patches at their reception table. It seemed they’d found a way to mend their broken relationship after all.
When we’d cut the cake and danced until our feet hurt, we finally retreated to our place at the head banquet table to snack on cake and await the myriad of toasts to come.
As I sipped from my glass of spiced wine, I nudged my chin toward the other end of the table where Jack was smiling at a striking brunette seated beside him. “Who is that over there, speaking with Jack? They look pretty cozy.”
Corbin leaned forward, following my gaze, then chuckled. “Looks like my plan is working.”
Frowning, I glanced up at him. “Plan?”
He grinned. “I hadn’t had a chance to tell you about it quite yet.”
“Hey, we’re married now. You can’t go around making sneaky plans without including me!” I teased, needling him in the ribs with my elbow. “So, cough it up. Who is she?”
“She’s his matchmaker.”
My brows creased even further. “Jack agreed to work with a matchmaker?”
“Well … not exactly.” Corbin’s grin turned conspiratorial as he lowered his voice. “Her name is Noelle and I’ve hired her to find Jack a wife, and thereby the kingdom a queen.”
“Whew.” I took a sip from my wine glass. “Whatever you’re paying her, it’s not nearly enough.”
“Probably not,” Corbin agreed with a laugh. “I set things in motion last year, before Jack agreed to let me marry before he did. Tradition might not mean much to Jack, but I must say, I didn’t expect him to bulldoze over it the way he did, and I was eager to propose … so … I had a crazy idea and ran with it.”
My heart warmed at the lengths he’d gone simply to marry me. I squeezed his hand under the table. “That’s really sweet.”
“Anything for you, Lumi.”
I rested my cheek on his shoulder and watched Jack and the brunette laughing together as Jack told an animated story. My eyes narrowed slightly as I watched Jack continue his tale. There was something in his eyes that plucked at my curiosity. Was it my imagination, or did it look like maybe there was something more brewing between the matchmaker and the elusive royal bachelor?
Nah. Surely it resulted from my matrimonial love goggles.
Today, all that mattered was that I finally had my prince, for this Christmas and all of the Christmases to come.
As for Jack … well, that’s a story for another winter.
If you want even more magical Christmas fun, you can snag my other festive reads.
A Very Beechwood Christmas—an anthology of holiday tales set in the coastal town where supernaturals live among humans.
Grimoires and Gingerbread—set in Winterspell, Washington, this magical community holds secrets and spectacular creatures. You’ll meet Rosella Midnight, a witch with a special gift—or curse, depending on who you ask.
Above all, I wish you the happiest of holidays. From me and all of the voices in my head. 😉
Until next time, happy reading,