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BONUS

SCENE

Simon

Two years later

 

     I’ve known for a long time that I wanted to marry Charlie Bennett. Hell, I would’ve married her the day she told me she was pregnant with Lainey.

     Wouldn’t that have been the most Simon Banks thing ever? Marrying the woman who five minutes before told me she was pregnant and five minutes before that hated me?

     Which is why I find it extremely odd that it’s taken us two years to say “I do.”

     In our defense, a lot has happened in two years. Friends and family have gotten married. Charlie’s restaurant has grown. My firm has taken off.

     But today’s the day.

     The day we’ve all been anxiously awaiting.

     “Who the fuck decided on bow ties?”

     I smile over to Shane, who is trying, yet failing, for the tenth time to properly tie the neck garment.

     “I did. Because we’re looking dapper as fuck at my wedding.”

     Shane scowls at me before trying, and failing again.

     “Come here,” Oliver says, using his best teacher voice to help Shane. Wes and I just sit back laughing, taking sips of our scotch as we watch the antics in front of us.

     “Remember the first time we did this?”

     I look over to Wes, because I’m not sure if he meant to say that out loud. “You mean your first wedding to the Wicked Witch?”

     Wes doesn’t talk about his ex much. And there’s no reason to. She went about a year asking for her visitation with the kids. When she never called the next summer to arrange plans, Wes didn’t bother to call her. And no one has heard from her since.

     In my opinion, they’re better off. Betsy is their mom in every sense of the word. She’s the best fucking thing to happen to Wes and his kids.

     “I’d rather not remember that day,” I say. “Those tuxes she made us wear were hideous.”

     “Not like these ones,” Oliver says, making a show of tugging on his sleeve. “But I think we could have rented. There was no reason you needed to buy us all tuxes.”

     “Every man needs a tux,” I say. “You’ll totally wear it again.”

     Shane, with his freshly tied bow tie, glares at me. “When am I ever going to wear a tuxedo? We’re all married.”

     “Not all of us…”

     My words lead us to all slowly turning our head to Emmett, who has been quietly keeping to himself all morning. “What?”

     “You’re the only one not married,” Wes says.

     “And you’re now officially part of our group,” Oliver adds.

     “And you know my sister has expensive as hell taste. You know she’s going to want the men in tuxedos.”

     “And doves. For sure doves.”

     “Oh! And a string quartet. Wasn’t she going to have that at the wedding that never was?”

     “Whoa! Let’s settle down.” Emmett says, putting an end to that train of dialog. I’m not sure if he did that because he’s counting in real time how many zeroes his eventual wedding is going to cost, or if he doesn’t want to think about my sister nearly marrying the douchebag she almost ended up with.

     Maybe a little of both.

     “I appreciate your commentary, and when the day comes that I do propose to Stella, I promise that you can you wear these tuxedos. But can I actually propose to her before y’all go and plan your groomsmen attire?”

Oliver’s eyes light up. “If you need help with the propos—”

     Emmett holds up his hands. “Thanks man. I have it under control.”

     “Wait!” Is he saying what I think he’s saying? “Are you going to propose? Did you buy a ring and not take me to help? Pretty rude if you ask me.”

     He might shrug his shoulders, but the knowing smile on his face says otherwise. “I’m proposing soon. Not today. Today is about you and Charlie and Lainey and the fact that the Banks family is becoming official.”

Wes pours another round of shots as Emmett and I share a silent moment. It’s crazy to think that just a few years ago we were distant friends who talked a few times a year. Now we’re business partners, best friends, and one day, he’s going to be family.

     Funny how life works. 

     Come to think of it, “Funny How Life Works” might be the title of my autobiography. Because after the last few years, those are the only words I can think of that can even come close to how I went from then to now.

If Jake and Whitley wouldn’t have got married, I don’t know if I would have seen Charlie after all these years. Hell, that wedding was pivotal for all our relationships. That’s where Oliver met Izzy. Where Shane kissed Amelia. Where Wes realized that he needed to get Betsy back.

     Kind of crazy to think about. Hell, if Whitley would’ve never moved to town none of us would be here. She wouldn’t have got together with Jake, and she wouldn’t know Amelia, who wouldn’t have used her to set up catering tastings. Shane and I likely wouldn’t have made our way to Napoli’s that day.

     And without that day, I’m not here right now—about to marry the love of my life with our friends and family gathered. We wouldn’t have a little girl who makes us smile and laugh and love her more every day.

I know I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life. I was an ass to many people. Hell, I was an ass to Bug.

     So I don’t know how I got this lucky to be here today.

     But I am. And I’m not about to take that for granted.

     I think I could keep daydreaming for hours, but a knock on the door brings me back to the present.

     “Guys?” Luke pops his head in, looking a little disheveled. “Can I get some help?”

     “Why do you look like you’ve just went through a gauntlet?” Shane asks.

     “Because I have. These women are…very…handsy.”

     We all laugh, knowing exactly who he’s talking about. Charlie’s diner has become quite the destination for card clubs and book groups. One of the groups, “Never Too Old for Smut,” meets every Tuesday and have become some of Charlie’s favorite customers. So obviously we had to invite them. 

     I’m not sure if Luke likes that decision at the moment.

     “I got you,” Emmett says. “I’m used to them.”

     Luke lets out a sigh of relief as Emmett follows him out the door.

     “I know it’s almost time, but I’d like to make a toast.” We all hold up our shot glasses to Wes’s request. “I’m sure I’m not the only one who never thought we’d be here today.”

     “Is this a toast or a roast?” I ask.

     “Give me a second,” Wes says. “Yes, all of us never thought Simon would get married. We still don’t know what Charlie is thinking.”

     We all laugh, but because it’s true. I still don’t know most days but I’m not about to ask. She might change her mind.

     “But what I meant by my original statement was, who would’ve ever thought that all of us would be here, where we are, with who we are all with, and happier than we could have all ever imagined.”

     The four of us simultaneously look at each other, and the smiles of happiness come over our faces.

     “You guys realize that three years ago at this point we were all in completely different places in our lives?”

     “I hadn’t retired yet. Let alone moved back here or met Betsy,” Wes says.

     “Izzy and I hadn’t met,” Oliver says. “Though I was probably proposing to someone.”

     “I don’t think you need to add probably,” Shane says. “Then again, I can’t say shit since I was likely hanging around Amelia pretending I wasn’t bat shit crazy for her.”

     “Three years,” I say. “Three years ago we were all so different. It’s nuts to think how much changed in such a short amount of time.”

     We all put our glasses together.

     “When it rains it pours.” Shane says.

     “But what a storm it’s been…”

     The four of us clink glasses, before tapping on the table, and throw back our whiskeys.

     “I need to say something,” I say, hating that I’m about to become Sappy Simon. “I need to thank you all. And not for anything specific. But for thirty-some years of friendship.” 

     “I don’t think any one person needs to say thanks,” Shane says. “We’ve all been there for each other. For a lot of things.”

     “Divorces.”

     “And breakups.”

     “Weddings.”

     “Birthdays.”

     “Engagements.”

     “Unengagements.”

     “More streamers, balloons, and decorations than I ever thought I’d come in contact with.” 

     Shane’s contribution makes us laugh.

     “Bonfires.”

     “And parties.”

     “Weddings.”

     “Births.”

     “And many more things to come.”

     We all pour each other one more shot and hold up our glasses.

     “To friends,” I say.

     “No,” Shane says. “To brothers.”

     We all look at each other and nod our heads.

     “To brothers.”

 

~~~

 

Charlie

 

     “Mama! Pretty!”

     I look down to Lainey, and it takes all I have in me not to start crying at my daughter, who’s wearing the cutest blush colored flower girl dress I’ve ever seen.

     “Thank you, sweetie. And look how pretty you are!”

     My complement makes her smile as she starts twirling around in her dress, which of course makes everyone in the room cheer for her. That only makes her show off even more.

     She might look like me, and have my temperament, but when it comes to hamming up a crowd, the girl without a doubt is the daughter of Simon Banks.

     “You ready Charlie?”

     I look over to Whitley, who is in full wedding coordinator mode with her earpiece and iPad at the ready. “Yeah…I am.”

     “Oh this is so exciting!” Mellie jumps up from her spot on the couch, careful to not spill her champagne as she comes over to give my veil and dress one more fluff. “You’re about to get married!”

     I smile, though I really want to cry. Not out of sadness, but of sheer happiness. Betsy worked too hard on my makeup for me to cry before the ceremony or first look. No, I need to choke back the emotion as long as I can.

Easier said than done considering I’m pregnant.

     Not that anyone knows. I only took the test a few days ago to put my mind at ease that I wasn’t pregnant and that I missed my period due to the stress of the wedding.

     I should have known that I apparently only get pregnant when major life events are happening.

     But unlike last time, I didn’t panic or stress or cry. In fact, I’ve been busting at the seams to tell Simon, but I thought this could be a wedding present he couldn’t top.

     “Okay,” I say, taking a deep breath as I turn to Whitley and grabbing the present I have wrapped for him—aka the pregnancy test. “Let’s go have a first look.”

     “Mama!” Lainey yells after me as I exit the room. “Daddy!”

     “You want to go see Daddy?” Lainey nods so much she looks like a bobble head. “Okay, let’s go see Daddy.”

I ask Mellie to come with me so she can take Lainey so Simon and I can have a moment after he sees her. We debated whether to do a first look. Part of us wanted to have the traditional altar moment. Then Simon heard that the guys were taking bets on whether he’d cry as I walked down the aisle. He figured having this would help make sure they lost money.

     I was okay with it though. I like the idea of having a moment for just the two of us with no one around. To have this quiet time before the chaos of the day.

     To tell him my surprise.

     We make our way to the shaded path Whitley found for us on the grounds where we’re having our wedding—also known as where everyone in this group has gotten married. We figured since it all had a special part in all our stories, why not make it part of all of our forevers.

     Who knew three years ago when I heard the word “Bug” being yelled at me it would lead me back here?

     “Daddy!”

     Lainey’s squeal makes us all laugh, though apparently Simon doesn’t hear her. I kneel down to eye level, suddenly having an idea that I think I’ll love just as much as Simon will.

     “Sweetie, I want you go to Daddy and tap him on his leg. But be very quiet. Don’t say anything when you walk up.”

     She gives me a firm nod as she makes her way to Simon, walking as fiercely as a two-year-old can. I do my best to hide out of sight while also wanting to watch what’s about to happen.

     “Oh this is going to be good,” Mellie says.

     “And the photographer is in the perfect place,” Whitley adds. “Brilliant idea Charlie.”

     I smile as I watch Lainey tap Simon, who turns around and gives her the best look of awe and excitement. I think he even adds an audible gasp.

     I watch as he kneels and takes her hand, spinning her around so she can show him her dress. It makes me laugh because she’s tried it on every day for the past two months to show him. But Simon does exactly what I thought he would—he acts like it’s the first time he’s seen it. I can’t hear him, but I know he’s telling her how beautiful she is and how he’s the luckiest guy in the world to be her daddy.

     Simon Banks might be an overgrown man child. He might act before he thinks and spend way too much money. One of my book club regulars called him a “cracked out golden retriever.”

     And he’s all those things. But at the end of the day that man is the best dad I could have ever asked for my daughter. And I know he’s going to be an amazing husband.

     “I’ll go get Lainey,” Mellie says, stepping out from behind the fence that we are badly hiding behind. I see Simon give her a hug before she scoops Lainey into her arms and takes her back to the bridal suite.

     “Whenever you’re ready,” Whitley whispers.

     With one deep breath I make my way out of my hiding spot. Simon has turned back around, and I have to stifle a laugh as I watch him shift back and forth. I can tell he’s nervous, which somehow calms me. I sometimes still have to pinch myself that this man—this beautiful, caring, loving, and frustrating man—gets nervous about me. Then I remember how I feel when we’re together and any of those thoughts go out the door. Because you can’t fake a love like ours. It’s true and real and meant to be.

     And today we make it official.

     “Hey there,” I say as I come up to him. “Want to get married today?”

     Simon slowly turns toward me, and before he’s even fully around, he’s in tears.

     Good we did the first look.

     “Bug,” he says, grabbing my hands but making sure to look at every inch off me. “You look…fuck, you look stunning.”

     I feel my body heat from his compliment. My dress is form fitting with a corset bodice, which is doing some pretty good things for my boobs. As soon as I put it on, I knew it was the dress. For one, it was on sale. I might be marrying a man who would tell me to drop any amount of money on my wedding dress, but my frugal heart couldn’t do that. Though, I might have made an exception for this dress. It makes me feel like a princess, and I knew Simon would appreciate it. We might be three years into this, but the man still isn’t bored when it comes to the girls.

     “Thank you. You look pretty dapper yourself.”

     He backs away, but keeps hold of my hands. “Oh this old thing? I just found it in the closet.”

     I laugh, knowing damn well he had that custom made for today.

     “Oh!” He says, reaching into his pocket. “I have a present for you.”

     “Funny you should say that,” I say with a smile. “I have one for you as well.”

     His eyes go wide. “Really?”

     I laugh. “Yes, but you first.”

     Simon doesn’t think anything of my request as he hands me a long box. It reminds me of the one he gave me all those years ago with the bank statement and letter.

     Only this time when I open it up, the present inside is much flashier than a few pieces of paper.

     “Simon…” I gush as he helps me take out the beautiful diamond necklace. “This is too much.”

     “Not even close,” he says as he takes it out of the box and motions for me to turn around. “I’ve been told you didn’t have anything new. So consider this that part.”

     “It’s beautiful.”

     “Yes it is,” Simon says, gently placing a kiss on my bare shoulder. “And maybe tonight you leave it on…but take everything else off.”

     I laugh as I turn back around. “I think that can be arranged.”

     Simon’s eyes heat but I shake my head. “Not here Mr. Banks.”

     “Fine,” he pouts. “But only because you have a gift for me.”

     “Oh! Yes.” I take the box out of my pocket—because yes this dress had pockets—and hand him the box.

     “Did you get me a diamond necklace too?” He says as he gently opens unwraps the paper.

     “Not really…”

     I hold my breath as I watch Simon open the box. He’s confused for a second, but then the moment of realization hits him.

     “Pregnant?”

     I nod as he takes it out of the box, looking closer like he might be reading it wrong. “Pregnant.”

     “Oh…Bug!” Simon wraps his arms around me, squeezing me harder than he might ever have in his life. “When? How far?”

     “Not sure,” I say. “Just took the test a few days ago.”

     “Oh wow!” He says as he pulls away, but not before coming back in to kiss me.

     It’s so different than last time. Last time I was worried sick what he’d say. Would he stay? Would he want this? But this time I had no worries. Hell, I think he’s been trying to get me pregnant for a while now. The man is not sneaky when asking about my cycle.

     “Y'all...” Whitley says from the distance. “We have to be getting back. It’s almost time.”

     We nod to Whitley, but before we can walk away, Simon leans in and kisses me one more time. And it hits me right now, that the next time we kiss, it will be as husband and wife.

     It’s crazy to think about how much things change. If you would have asked me five years ago where I’d be, the last place in the world I’d say is marrying Simon Banks, who is the father of my children, in a small town in Tennessee.

     No way. No how.

     Except the joke’s on me, because I can’t imagine this life any other way.

     “I love you.”

     He leans in, giving me one more kiss on my forehead. “I love you more. Now let’s go, I’m ready to give you a new nickname.”

     I give him a questioning look. “New nickname? What? All of a sudden you don’t like Bug?”

     He shakes his head. “Nah. I just like that I’m going to have options now.”

     “What’s the other option?”    

     He smiles that devilish grin. “I think ‘wife’ sounds pretty good. Don’t you?”

     It does…it really does.

Thanks for reading Simon & Charlie! Now, what's next? 

If this is your first Rolling Hills book, then might I suggest heading back to the beginning. Wes and Betsy kick off the series in The One I Want. She might have just started off as the nanny, but she was so much more.
 

Since we're done with this version of Rolling Hills, it's time to start a new chapter, and this one will feature the Banks sisters. Stella starts things off with The Runaway Bride's Guide to Love coming in September!

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