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Hearts Unleashed: A Hearts of Alaska short story

There was blood everywhere. Lydia Lipin’s wedding fears had come true. It was Game of Thrones—Alaska style. No worse. This was like The Shining. Carrie. Definitely a horror movie of some sort. Lydia was more of a reality TV and rom-coms kind of person so she only knew about those scenes by cultural osmosis, but that was enough.

So much blood.

“Oh, my God. What happened?” Kelsey Porter rounded the corner and looked about to faint as she caught sight of Lydia standing in the room that had been given over to the female members of the wedding party. The groom’s cousin—and soon to be Lydia’s sister-in-law—clutched the door frame.

“Don’t faint,” Lydia said. Dear God, they didn’t need any more injuries this morning. “I’ll be fine.”

“I wasn’t going to faint,” Kelsey snapped, still looking very much like she was going to faint. She ran into the bathroom and came out with a handful of towels, which she shoved at Lydia while averting her eyes.

No, she definitely wasn’t about to faint.

“What happened?” she asked.

After inspecting her hand for glass shards, Lydia wrapped it in one of the white towels. Make that, one of the formerly white towels. “I came to get a cup of coffee, picked up one of the mimosa glasses to move it aside, and there must have been a weak spot in the glass. It shattered in my hand.”

“Sure you’re just not a little tense?” Kelsey asked.

“Why should I be tense? It’s not my wedding.”

“I don’t know, but you’ve been shouting orders all morning, and you can’t stop fidgeting. If I was trying to convey tension in a book, that’s what I’d write.”

Kelsey had a point.

“I’m fine. Totally relaxed.” Lydia couldn’t be tense, because if she was, Taylor would pick up on it, and Lydia’s sister was stressed enough. This powder keg of a wedding was her own, after all.

“It’s okay to be tense,” Kelsey said, daring a peek over her shoulder. “I’m tense.”

“But not squeamish.”

“Bite me. Are you still bleeding?”

All Lydia had to do was pull back a corner of the towel for an answer. “A little?” A lot. Heavens help her. What if she needed stitches?
The wedding started in a thirty minutes.

“I’ll go get Josh,” Kelsey said. “He’ll know how to patch you up.”

“You can’t get the groom!” Sure, Josh was a doctor who did a weekly stint in the ER, but there had to be a better way.

Kelsey opened her blue eyes wide in frustration. “Fine. I’ll go get Nate.”

That was better, and Kelsey’s older brother did have his EMT certification. But as much as Lydia wouldn’t mind seeing her fiancé, she dreaded his reaction. Nate was usually the most laid back member of his family. Usually. When it came to her, he had a tendency to overreact. It was kind of adorable except when it drove her batty.

On the other hand, the towel was turning scarlet, her hand was throbbing, and she still had to find time to clean off her dress. Nate’s fussing would more than do.

“Yes, Nate,” Lydia said, pulling her arm away to glance mournfully down at her bridesmaid dress. “Good thing these are black.”

“I told you dark colors was the way to go for hiding blood stains!” Kelsey yelled as she disappeared into the hotel hallway.

Within seconds of her vanishing from sight, Lydia’s phone vibrated.

Taylor: Did I just hear Kelsey say there were bloodstains?

How the hell had her sister heard that? Lydia thought Taylor and Josh were still outside with the photographer.

Lydia: Just cut myself is all. You know Kelsey exaggerates.

Taylor: Good thing the wedding party pics are all done! I couldn’t let you be in them if you had a bandage. How tacky.

Lydia snorted. Her sister was so much the opposite of a bridezilla that she’d had to push Taylor on occasion to even make basic decisions about things like dresses, the food, the guestlist… Taylor loved to plan other people’s weddings, but for her own, she kept insisting that all she wanted was for people to show up and be happy.

Lydia would settle for people showing up and not murdering each other. The Lipins and the Porters had been feuding for a century, and Taylor (a Lipin) and Josh (a Porter) getting married was straining an already combustible situation. But their relationship had also sparked what Lydia would once have believed to be impossible–a tenuous alliance (and dare she say it, a tentative friendship) between the families’ younger generation.

Lydia knew she could take some of that credit herself. When Nate Porter had returned to town, their former secret relationship had reignited, and strangely enough, that had helped cool the animosity that Taylor and Josh’s engagement had heated. As a firefighter and local hero, people found it hard to criticize Nate’s behavior. And as the oldest Lipin daughter with a reputation for respectability, Lydia had earned some family good will. Their subsequent engagement last month had probably made it clear that hanging on to the feud was a futile gesture for the older, more stubborn family members.

Probably. Because there were no guarantees with over a hundred years of history behind anyone. And it didn’t change the fact that Taylor wanting people to be happy for her and Josh was the biggest, most demanding ask of them all. So maybe her sister was a bridezilla…

Lydia peeled the towel further off her hand, trying to decide if the bleeding had slowed. Unable to figure it out through the mess, she went into the bathroom to wash the cut. She was running her hand under the cold water when Nate burst into the room.

“What happened? Are you okay? Kels made it sound like you were bleeding out.” In the short time since the family photos had ended, Nate had somehow managed to make it appear as though he’d been sleeping in his suit. His tie was loose, his shirt had wrinkled, and the top buttons were undone. Despite the blood and the pain, Lydia had to take a moment to appreciate the walking, talking beauty that was Nate Porter. He made disheveled sexy.

“It’s not too bad,” Lydia said, having no clue.

Nate dropped the backpack he was holding and held out his hands. “Let me see.”

“Roll up your sleeves.”


“Because my dress is black, but your shirt is white and won’t hide bloodstains. In fact, take off your shirt.”

Nate smirked. “I feel like I just walked into a porno. The medic arrives and the patient says to take off your clothes?”

Lydia straightened her shoulders, and her hairsprayed-in-place curls bounced against her neck. “I was being practical, but since you mentioned it. Yes, please. Feel free to remove as much as you’d like.”

“I guess you can’t be dying, even if Kels made it sound that way.” Nate yanked off his tie and began unbuttoning his shirt.

Lydia raised an eyebrow. “Feel free to do a little dance as you strip.”

“I only dance if someone’s stuffing bills down my waistband.” Nate flung the shirt away, and it nearly landed on top of the breakfast remains. He cringed. “Maybe you should have let me keep it on. Bloodstains would have been heroic. Coffee stains will just make me seem like a slob.”

Lydia raked her eyes down his chest. Since he’d moved back home and his puppies had grown into full-sized huskies, Nate had been hitting the weights hard. His usual workout routine had been sidelined for a while as he recovered from a broken shoulder, and months later, he was still insisting he make up for lost time. Lydia, who counted moving wine bottles around as heavy lifting, didn’t understand what he had to make up for at this point, but she wasn’t above admiring the results.

“Well, I didn’t say you had to fling the shirt,” she pointed out.

“Now you tell me.” Nate took her hand to examine the damage, and Lydia’s stomach fluttered. How he could still have that effect on her was a wonder. But Nate’s hands were warm and his touch—as always—was gentle.

“Do I need stitches?” she asked, ignoring the urge to kiss him.

“I don’t think so. You washed it?”


Nate wrapped the towel back around her hand and raised her arm over her head. With her back pressed against the bathroom wall, he kissed her.

Oh, yes. He was going to smudge her makeup, but Lydia didn’t care. His mouth was hot and demanding on hers, and his skin smelled like pleasantly woodsy aftershave or cologne. His usual stubble was gone—he was freshly shaven for the wedding—but she liked smooth-skinned Nate every bit as much as his usual sexily scratchy self. Desire rippled through her body, liquid electricity. With her free hand, she traced her nails down his chest, feeling his need grow against her.

Nate abruptly pulled away and cleared his throat. “Uh, door’s open, and I need to bandage that hand.”

“There went my porno medic.” She sighed and dropped her arm.

Nate grabbed her fallen limb, but rather than the encore Lydia thought she was about to get it, he raised her arm again. “Keep it elevated while I get supplies.”

Apparently someone more pessimistic than her had been preparing for the bloody wedding, because Nate’s backpack was a genuine first aid kit. In short duration, he’d wiped down her cut with antibiotic and fixed a butterfly bandage to her hand.

Before he’d finished, Lydia received a text from the hotel’s wedding coordinator that the wedding party needed to gather in fifteen minutes. Nate wasn’t a groomsmen, but he needed to get downstairs with the guests.

“You should be all good,” Nate said, rubbing his his thumb over her hand. “Try not to break any more glasses, though. Okay?”

“I might be a bit tense.”

He grinned and slipped a hand under the dress. “I might be able to help with that too.”

Lydia swallowed. Fifteen minutes. It would take five to figure out where they were supposed to meet. Another three to fix her makeup and for Nate to dress. No problem.

She slid her bandaged hand back up the wall. “Should I keep this elevated?”

Something in Nate seemed to snap, and he shoved her dress up the rest of the way. “Yes. Just stand there so you don’t injure yourself again, and keep looking so unbelievably gorgeous that it’s not fair to the bride.”

* * *

Exactly fifteen minutes later, Lydia joined her sister and the rest of the wedding party in a service corridor near the patio where the ceremony would take place. Since the photos had been taken before the ceremony, there was no need for Taylor to hide from Josh, and everyone had gathered together while they waited.

Lydia was feeling much more relaxed thanks to Nate’s full-service medical attention, and she beamed at her sister. Nate was clearly biased.

In Lydia’s judgment, she’d never seen a more beautiful bride than Taylor. Her strapless dress was elegant in its simplicity, and her shoulder length brown hair had been swept into a chignon. If her sister was worried about World War III breaking out in the ballroom later, she hid it well.

“You ready?” she whispered in Taylor’s ear.

“Born ready.” Taylor took her hand. “All good?”

“May that be the day’s worst injury.”
Taylor rolled her eyes, but her face glowed with amusement. “It’s just like you to always want to take one for the team.”

The wedding coordinator clapped. “All right, people. Groom and groomsmen, time to get out there.” Kelsey shot her a look, and she amended, “And groomswoman. Where is the ring-bearer?”

“Ian has him outside,” Kelsey said, referring to her boyfriend.

Soon after Josh and his groomspeople headed out, surprised laughter and cheers of delight arose from the guests. Lydia strained to peer outside. Ian had given Jay, one of Josh’s three huskies, a pat on the rear, and the dog charged down the aisle with the wedding rings attached to his his collar. As it was explained in the wedding program, Jay had brought Taylor and Josh together when he’d nearly knocked Taylor over, so it was only fitting that he finish the job today.

Then Lydia was lining up with Taylor’s best friend, Stacy, who was the other bridesmaid, and they were marching down the aisle too. Lydia’s gaze swept over the families seated on either side.

Taylor and Josh had kept the guest list small, but even still, no one had been sure who would attend, regardless of what their RSVP cards had claimed. In fact, Lydia was certain the bride and groom had been hoping most people would not show rather than show and make a spectacle of themselves. But here they were, Lipins and Porters sitting together, uncomfortably perhaps, but most looking genuinely happy to be present.

On the bride’s side, Lydia and Taylor’s parents, still amicably separated, sat side-by-side, both appearing on the verge of tears. Their grandmother, who’d balked at Taylor marrying “that man” until the very end, was there too. Stiff and formal, but looking a little softer than usual in her floral dress.

On the groom’s side of the patio, the turn of Nate’s father’s lips suggested he was moody but resigned. As he should be. This was only the first of the Lipin-Porter weddings in his future. Lydia’s engagement ring felt momentous on her hand. Next to Nate’s father sat a woman Lydia had only met briefly the day before—Josh’s mother, who was every bit as sunny as Josh’s uncle was gloomy. The enthusiasm on her face more than made up for anyone else in her family.

Although Taylor had joked about making the families light a unity candle, they kept the ceremony short and sweet. As Lydia watched everyone from her spot near the makeshift altar, she thought even Nate’s surly father had a hard time hiding a smile when the couple exchanged their vows.

It looked like Taylor had gotten her wedding wish.

* * *

“They did it,” Nate said when they’d all gathered in the ballroom later. He’d ditched his suit jacket as soon as the ceremony was over and rolled up his shirtsleeves. Lydia was positive he hadn’t done it so she could ogle his forearms, but she nonetheless appreciated that he was often overly warm.

Nate wrapped those arms around her, and Lydia grinned as she watched Josh spin Taylor around on the dance floor. “We all did it. I think this was a group effort.”

She motioned to Kelsey who was being dragged onto the dance floor by Ian, and to Kelsey’s brother, Kevin, who was dancing enthusiastically with his husband Peter. Other cousins and friends had joined the party on the floor, looking like they were having a good time and couldn’t care less about who else was out there with them.

Nate laughed. “Lipins and Porters breaking bread together. What is the world coming to?”

“Hopefully, it’s coming to be a better, happier, more loving place.”

“I’ll dance to that.” Nate took her uninjured hand as the DJ switched to a slower tune.

“I thought you didn’t dance unless someone was stuffing bills down your pants?” Lydia asked.

“What can I say? I love you too much to deny you my inept feet.”

Lydia stretched up and kissed him. “Wow. I guess change really is coming around here. As our generation’s elders, we should definitely set the example.”

And with that, she allowed Nate to lead her onto the floor and into the future.