Recap of Chapter 27: Despite the accelerated wedding date, everything came out wonderfully. With Sydney’s help, Haze was ready from head-to-toe to marry Jake, the love of her life. Then why, at the very last minute, did she take a step back? It took only a few moments of reflection to realize it was her parents that were missing, and knowing that they were with her in spirit bolstered her to march down the aisle into her new life.

 To be married in the fall is to be suddenly thrust into the holiday season with the emotional climate of winning the lottery. At least that’s how Haze felt about it. Throw in her birthday on top of it all, which fell on the day after Thanksgiving this year, and it seemed that gratitude and a sense of being on top of the world were her signature emotions. The whirlwind wedding was so perfectly executed that Haze caught herself going over the details in her mind many times a day.

Every detail of the wedding brought a smile to her face: from the flowers to the tiny lights to the way everyone looked at her as she strode down the makeshift aisle. It was the expressions on the faces surrounding her that tugged most at her heart. Rather than time-honored traditional vows, they exchanged heartfelt promises that spoke to being each other’s best friend, confidante, and soft place to land. When the final ‘I dos’ were exchanged, and she and Jake were pronounced husband and wife, he shouted for joy and picked her up in a swirling embrace while he kissed her soundly. It was more of a surprise on his not-yet fully healed leg. Then the crowd erupted in shouts of joy and roaring applause. The Peterson Family was now her family and she wholeheartedly felt their embrace. The day after the wedding, Jake surprised her with a quick getaway mini-honeymoon. It wasn’t extravagant—just a road trip to Aspen where he’d booked an Airbnb off the beaten path. It was a storybook setting that made her gasp when the quaint cabin appeared around the bend, tucked among tall, fragrant pines. When they arrived, beams of sunlight filtered through the trees, illuminating the cabin like a piece of art. The tiny footbridge that arched over a creek, the shuttered windows, the Adirondack chairs surrounding a ringed firepit—it was simply perfect. Perfectly them.

“I figured it’s been pretty crazy getting the wedding together,” Jake said as he parked the car. “I thought we could use some unplugged time when it’s just you and me.” Haze grinned from ear-to-ear. He reached for her hand. “It’s all stocked so we don’t have to do anything but relax and chase each other around the cabin like proper honeymooners.” His sweet hand-holding turned into a tickle attack and she reacted by squirming wildly in the seat, giggling helplessly and reaching for the door handle. She made her escape, but he came after her, chasing her to the front door of the cabin, where she realized he had the key. She was cornered against the front door. He acted like he was going to tickle her sides ruthlessly, and she squeezed her eyes and squealed, waiting for the onslaught. But when he moved in, he pressed against her, lifted her chin and kissed her neck instead. Then he kissed her lips. It was the kind of kiss that radiated warmth and the promise of more to come. He quickly unlocked the door, and they tumbled in, still kissing. For five blissful days, they stayed in that cabin concentrating on only each other, relaxation, and celebrating their newfound status as husband and wife.

And before they could take a breath, Thanksgiving was upon them. They did a double appearance by first having a drink at Sydney’s Heathen’s Holiday, where they were celebrated by a toast and applauded for the bawdy joke Jake told, and then dinner with the Peterson clan. Haze declared a time-out for her birthday the following day, never changing from her yoga pants and loose sweatshirt. The big event of the day was binge-watching a murder mystery series and snuggling with Jake and Crowley on the couch.

Christmas came in on a frigid wind that blew across the lake and piled up by the porch of their cabin. In the cold temperatures, Crowley stuck his nose out, took in the wind and sub-zero temperature, and hightailed it back to his bed by the fire. He would visit the outdoors only when the need overtook him and then he’d be quick about it. They exchanged gifts as a couple on Christmas eve by the light of the twinkling Christmas tree in the glow of golden warmth from the fire. Haze did some local shopping to create a ‘warming bundle’ for her husband, who was very fond of staying cozy. From the Silver Arrow, she picked up a soft luxurious throw for the couch. From Evergreen Crafters, a mug from a local artist that had a lid to keep his cocoa warm. She tucked several gourmet hot chocolate mixes from Village Gourmet into the mug and bought some cute marshmallows that looked like snowmen. She topped it all off with a pair of sheepskin slippers and a big red bow. He loved it all. Unbeknownst to Haze, Jake had commissioned Betsy Buckner to paint a portrait of Crowley taking a nap on the porch. Like all her work, it was distinctively Crowley—she had captured him perfectly. Jake had it framed, and the size, composition and colors made the whole living room come alive. When Haze tore off the wrapping and laid eyes on it, she insisted they hang it right away. So, Jake put on his new slippers, trudged out to the garage and came back with hammer and nails.

Crowley barked as Jake climbed the stepstool and moved the painting right and left until Haze was satisfied. And when it was hung, he climbed down and pulled her into a hug. “Now I call this a great first Christmas!” he declared.