“Do you, Dalton Patrick McKay, take Addie Maureen Voorhees to be your lawfully wedded wife? To have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward, until death do you part?”
This was it. The minister’s final words would pronounce them husband and wife and he would be tied to this woman permanently.
Dalton McKay, husband.
Jesus. That sounded all wrong. Really fucking wrong.
It’s just momentary cold feet. Breathe. It’ll pass.
But it didn’t.
Sweat beaded on his brow, dampening the collar of the white tuxedo shirt choking him like a noose.
The flutter beneath his breastbone wasn’t from nerves, but the gut instinct that’d never failed to warn him to cut his losses in playing cards.
The stakes were much, much higher now.
When that debilitating panic set in, his brain split into two warring camps. One side screamed at him to just say I do and be done with it. The other side, the side breaking out in hives at the very idea of forever, yelled at him to flee.
Say I do.
Run the fuck away.
He had been gazing at Addie’s face, but at some point…his unfocused gaze had landed on the Bible digging into his forearm like a painful burr.
Dalton heard the whisper of fabric as members of the wedding party shifted nervously. The cloying scent of lilies caused his throat to swell, cutting off his air supply. The sunlight shining through the church’s stained glass window threw fragmented strobe-light effects across the far wall.
And Addie’s soft hand remained in his, awaiting the placement of the wedding band.
Wedding band. Married. To this woman. Forever.
Was he having a crazy booze dream after a night spent drinking too many Irish car bombs?
Or was he really standing before a minister, in front of a church packed with his and her family members, about to pledge his life and eternal love to Addie Voorhees? The town sweetheart whom everybody loved?
Dalton tried to track the source of that phantom voice. He lifted his head and looked across the altar.
And saw her.
In that moment he knew; he fucking knew he couldn’t do this. This was all wrong. This marriage wasn’t meant to be.
Please God, forgive me, for what I’m about to do.
His brother Tell cleared his throat behind him.
Addie squeezed his hand and whispered, “Dalton? Here’s where you’re supposed to say I do.”
He finally met Addie’s eyes. Loving brown eyes that would soon lose the look of adoration and fill with disbelief or hatred. Or both.
Dalton released her hand and whispered, “I can’t.”
“I’m sorry, Addie. But this…”
“Stop it, Dalton, you’re scaring me.”
“I’m scaring myself.”
“Because you’re so great, in so many ways, but I can’t marry you. I just…can’t. I’m sorry.”
Dalton gave in to his flight instinct, shouldering his brothers aside as he left the altar and slipped out the side door of the church.