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with bated breath

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Ned paid the driver and slid out of the backseat of the cab, his eyes bright. He hated that he'd had to pay for a cab to get home from the poker game, but after tonight he would be living closer to downtown, and he'd practically be able to walk back home.

His place. And soon it would be their place.

Nancy's car was parked in its usual spot on the street, and Ned strode quickly toward the basement stairs, stopping short when he heard some soft laughter to his right. He glanced over and saw his fiancée sitting at the edge of Sonny and Jane's porch, her legs dangling just above the grass.

"You could've waited inside," he pointed out, coming over to her, and she launched herself up, into his arms, twining around him.

"I know," she murmured against his ear, grinning. "But it's a nice night. And the place looks so empty now."

"Yeah," he agreed. "So how'd you get away?"

She shrugged. "Well, I'll be paying for it tomorrow, but I switched assignments with Mark. I just couldn't pass up the chance."

"Mmm. And I'm glad to hear it," Ned murmured, nuzzling against her neck before he released her. He grabbed her hand and they walked together down the basement steps, for probably the last time.

His lease was up tomorrow, and the majority of his possessions, and some of Nancy's, were in the new place. Once he moved in there, they had agreed that they would stay apart until the wedding. No more sleepovers, no more kissing each other awake, no more pinning her to the kitchen counter and teasing her until she was screaming in pleasure. At least, not for the next month or so. Not until she walked down the aisle to him in her long dress and promised to be his forever.

They had practically tried to wear each other out, in the meantime. She had managed to spend all of Saturday and half of Sunday with him, and the only times they had been clothed were when they were eating, and that was only because she insisted. Even then they'd only had the strength to put underwear on.

Ned unlocked the door and flipped on the lights, and she walked through, shaking her head. "God, I can barely remember how this place looked when you moved in," she said softly. "After all the work you put in down here, I'm surprised they aren't paying you."

Ned smiled, locking the door behind them. "Well, Sonny's probably going to give me all my security deposit back—and get easily one and a half times as much out of the next renter. So at least there's that."

The refrigerator was defrosting for the next tenant, so Ned had set up a makeshift refrigerator in a large cooler full of ice. Nancy shifted her overnight bag off her shoulder and glanced at Ned, a smile on her face.

"I love our new place," she told him. "But I'll kinda miss this one, too. We made a lot of good memories here."

Ned slipped his arm around her shoulders. "Yeah," he agreed. "I fucked you in every room of this place, even the laundry room that one time—"

Nancy swatted at him, giggling. "I still can't believe you did that."

"Me? You were the one begging me to go harder..."

"I was under duress," Nancy lied, lifting her chin. "We weren't even engaged back then. It would've scandalized poor Jane if she had come down the stairs to wash a load of towels and found us banging against the washing machine."

"Remind me to add that to the list," Ned murmured against her earlobe, before he nuzzled her neck. "Of the places I need to fuck you in our new place."

Nancy shivered. "Speaking of," she growled, swinging so her body was pressed up against his. "We've only got all night, sailor."

Ned kissed her hard, wishing he hadn't already moved the couch; instead, he had to press her up against the doorway between the kitchen and the living room, but that wasn't so bad. She arched up against his touch, almost purring in pleasure as he cupped her breasts, and she raked her nails up against his ass. He growled, thrusting his hips against hers, and she bit his lower lip gently, unbuckling his belt.

"Go get naked, baby," he murmured, then released her. "I'll be right there."

She nipped at him once more, then reached for her bag, vanishing into his bedroom. He was down to a bare minimum: a few changes of clothes, his bed. All their toys were at the new place.

He reached for the cooler lid, looking at the beers and sodas and ice inside, then smiled.

Nancy was naked when Ned walked into the room, closing the door behind him by habit, and the only light left was the light coming through the high window. With her red-gold hair spilling down her back—it was longer, now, and it curled invitingly over her shoulders—and his ring on her finger, her ankles crossed and her lashes low, she looked like practically every fantasy he'd ever had. He put the red plastic tumbler down at the foot of the bed and kept his gaze on her as he stripped.

"How do you want me, baby?" she asked, her voice a low, seductive purr.

"Just like you are, with that hot little ass at the edge of the bed," he told her, slipping his underwear off. "All you have to do is lie back. I thought maybe after the workout we had this weekend, you might need to get iced up a little."

She had obeyed him; she had her knees wide open, exposing the neat line of curls between her otherwise smooth thighs. She pushed herself up on her elbows, regarding him with a raised eyebrow. "You want to use ice on me?"

He nodded. "And I think you'll want to grab a pillow to scream into, sweetheart."

She rolled her eyes as she stretched to grab one, and he could fucking smell her arousal. She wriggled back down to the foot of the bed and he just stood there for a moment, gazing down at her. Her nipples had already hardened into tight pink buds, and he knew every inch of her, but he was going to be spending more than a month without this waiting for him in his bed.

She lifted her leg and stroked the side of her foot down his hip. "Don't be shy," she said with a smile.

Ned knelt down to pluck one of the ice cubes out of the cup. "And don't forget to say the safe word if you need to," he told her, moving forward so he was standing between her open legs. Her lips were parted just a little as he touched the ice to her nipple.

She shivered and a trickle of freezing water, melting off the cube from the heat of her flesh, slid down her breast and her side. "Oooh," she murmured, gazing up at him.

"How does it feel?"

She made a soft noise. "Can you do the other one too?" she murmured.

Ned chuckled and reached down for another ice cube, then rubbed them both against her nipples, and she squirmed under him. "Harder, baby," she said, and she was shivering as he ran the edges of the ice cubes against the sensitive tips of her breasts. "Mmmmm..."

He waited until she was rocking under him, until the first cube had practically melted into a sliver, then let it slide down her chest, and she squealed at the sensation. He kept rubbing the ice against her other breast as he leaned down and sucked her numb, chilled nipple into his mouth, stroking back and forth with his tongue, and she warmed quickly at the heat of his mouth.

"Mmm... oh God," she cried out, running her fingers through his hair, and she was grinding her sex against his upper thigh. He switched off, rubbing the ice against the first nipple as he suckled sensation back into the second, and she bucked under him, sobbing, propping her heels on the bed so she could rut harder against him.

Ned pulled back and smacked her thigh hard, and she stopped, her blue eyes wide as she gazed up at him. "Bad girl," he told her, a smile teasing his lips. "Very bad girl. Spread yourself for me, baby. Let me see how wet that tight little cunt is for me."

She obeyed him, opening her legs as wide as she could, then reached down and spread herself for him. The smooth pink nub of her clit was already firm and exposed to him, and Ned reached down for two more ice cubes, then traced one just at the edges of her sex, the ice melting to drip on the edge of his comforter. She shuddered, trembling, arching up under him.

He followed that path a few more times, and she squealed when he suddenly ran the edge of the ice against her clit, circling the nub. "Okay?"

She nodded shakily. "It burns a little... God, you're gonna make me numb..."

He kept stroking the ice against her clit, and his fingers were beginning to go numb. It was hard to hold onto the ice, but she was trembling, rocking under him.

Then he reached down and rubbed the other piece of ice just inside her hot, wet cunt.

She panted for breath, whimpering. "Oh God oh God oh God," she chanted, shaking harder, and he had to rub the ice more roughly against her clit to make her twitch against him. So she was going numb...

He dropped the smaller piece of ice back into the cup, then knelt on the floor, his face between her thighs. He took her clit into his mouth, still rubbing the other piece of ice against her cunt, and she bucked against him, bringing her heels up to perch at the edge of the mattress.

"Mmm, mmmmm," she hummed, and then she let out a sharp, sobbing cry. He circled her cold clit with the tip of his tongue and she turned her face so she could scream into the pillow. He kept sucking on her clit, sliding his cool fingertips up into her incredibly hot cunt, holding the ice there at her entrance, and he felt her begin to pulse around him, shivering, her hips circling. He lashed the tip of her clit hard, back and forth, with his tongue, and she screamed again, the sound only mostly muffled by the pillow.

"Mmm, baby, you cold?" he asked, pulling back. "You need me to fuck that tight cunt of yours hot again?"

She nodded, bucking under him again, her hands still between her legs. Ned stood and dropped the remains of the last piece of ice back into the cup, then guided his cock, hissing at the chill of his fingertips, to the cooled flesh of her opening.

He pushed into her with one rapid, rough thrust, tilting forward to arch over her, deep into the slick heat of her cunt, and she shivered and tensed around him at the brutality of his intrusion. "Oh God," she sobbed, and he knew the exact moment when her fingertip brushed against her clit. He pulled back and slammed home again, and she flushed as she licked her thumb, then rapidly worked her clit again. At his next thrust he saw her breasts jiggle, saw her tremble as she was jarred by his thrust, and he kept going, harder, harder. Her nipples were still damp from his saliva and she cried out when he squeezed them between thumbs and forefingers, brushing the edge of his nails against the sensitive tips.

"Oh fuck," she moaned, her hips rocking as he fucked her harder, and she tipped her head back until the crown of her head was against the mattress, letting out deep, pleased moans with his every thrust. He considered telling her to put her face against the pillow, but he loved the noises she made when she was reaching orgasm, when he was fucking her, and besides, it wasn't like Sonny and Jane were going to throw him out.

"Oh fuck yes," she cried out, jerking and thrusting up under him, arching again. "Oh yes yes yesyesyesyes so fucking good," she sobbed, and she began to pulse around him again, her cunt pressing hard around his cock, and she was writhing, almost fighting him. Ned made his thrusts shorter and harder and she whipped her head back and forth, wrapping her legs around him, her heels tightening against the small of his back.

He was gritting his teeth at the effort it took to hold himself back before he finally came, spending himself deep inside her cunt. She was trembling, faintly gleaming with sweat, arching up and whimpering softly when he pulled out of her, and she blinked up at him, her legs falling open as he took a step back. Her hand had fallen open beside her hip, and he picked it up, licking her fingertips until he found the one still slick with the taste of her arousal. He sucked that one into his mouth and she let out a quiet moan, writhing under him.

"Mmmmm," she whispered, lazy and sated, when he stood up again. "Tell me again why we agreed to spend a month apart?"

He shrugged. "So our wedding night wouldn't be just another night," he recalled. "But then, it was never gonna be."

She nodded, scrambling under the covers with him. "I can't wait," she whispered. "I can't wait to be your wife."

Ned smiled. "I can't wait either, baby," he murmured against the crown of her head.

Chapter Text

Three weeks before their wedding. Nancy already had the key to their place, but she left it in her purse and knocked lightly. She was looking down when Ned opened the door, and she heard him suck in a breath. He crooked a finger under her chin and brought her face up, and his dark eyes were sympathetic. She gave him a small smile, and he let her move past him, into the living room.

They had managed to get a great deal on the townhouse, and since it was the last one in the row, at least they would only be annoying one neighbor when they had loud sex. It had two bedrooms and one and a half baths, a decent kitchen, and she loved all the light that came in downstairs. But dusk was falling in Chicago, and she was glad for it.

Ned's laptop was on the coffee table, along with a spread of his work papers. Nancy put her purse down beside the door, toed out of her shoes, and smiled. She felt at home, and when Ned came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her, pulling her back to his front, she closed her eyes and rested her hands over his.

He just held her for a moment, then kissed the crown of her head. "Your dinner should be here soon. Want something to drink?"

"I can get it—"

"I'll get it. Go ahead and sit down." He stole another glance at her as he went into the kitchen, and Nancy shoved her hair out of her face, wincing when her fingertips brushed her cheek, and sat down on the couch. The television was tuned to ESPN, and though the volume was muted, the ticker was almost more distracting. Nancy tucked her feet up and smiled when Ned brought her a can of diet soda.

"So what happened?"

Nancy swiped her thumb over the top of the can. "The fucking fraud case," she sighed. "The one we've been working on for a month now?"

"Yeah, I remember." Ned's arms were crossed.

Nancy swallowed. "I walk in this afternoon and he's fucking burning everything. All the evidence. All of it. His partner comes in and gets the drop on me..." Nancy gestured ruefully at her face. Her black eye and split lip were practically par for the course, but she hated that she might have to smear concealer over almost her entire face on their wedding day, just so her fiancé wouldn't look like a damn abusive partner.

At least her bruised ribs most likely would be healed up by then.

Ned gently cupped her uninjured cheek in his hand, lightly stroking his thumb over her skin. "God, I'm sorry, Nan," he murmured, and she closed her eyes. "Did you go to the doctor, the police?"

She smiled at the order. "I filed a police report, but I'm not concussed or anything. A little rest and some pain reliever and I'll be right as rain in a few days. I'm just so fucking irritated. All that work down the drain..."

Ned shook his head, then moved closer to her, leaning down to press a gentle kiss against her forehead. "I worry about you," he whispered.

"I know," she said softly. "God... after I reported back in I just wanted you, I just wanted to feel your arms around me..."

He pulled her into her lap, holding her close, and she rested her head against his shoulder, just breathing him in, feeling his pulse beat under her lips. She hated feeling so fucking weak, hated the fact that she needed any comfort whatsoever, but just the feel of Ned's arms around her had always made her feel so safe and loved. Even though they had been living together for the majority of two years now, she still felt a little thrill of anticipation when she imagined being married to him, being his and him being hers, for the rest of their lives.

"I love you," she whispered against his neck.

"I love you too," Ned whispered, and rubbed his palm up and down her back. "Always will."

They only parted when the doorbell rang. Nancy reluctantly moved back to her side of the couch. "My wallet's in my purse," she told Ned as he got up to answer the door.

"I've got it," he said, and signed the ticket the delivery guy handed him. "It's fine. Thought I might as well get used to supporting you."

She wrinkled her nose. "I'm sorry, which one of us makes fifty dollars more a year?"

"Me," he said with a grin. "For now, anyway."

Nancy looked down at the sandwich he had ordered for her after she unwrapped it. "Yeah, this is significantly bigger than what I asked for."

Ned shrugged. "Thought you might be really hungry," he said, picking up his laptop again. "Or, you know, you could have some for lunch tomorrow..." He shot her a glance.

"Or maybe you're hungry," she said, spreading a piece of butcher paper over her lap before taking the first bite. "There's no way I'll be able to finish all this, baby, so why don't you have some."

Ned rubbed his hands together in glee. "Well, if you insist. I just have a few emails to send."

Nancy nodded, and was surprised when she was able to turn the television station with no protest from Ned. She turned to the evening news and managed to finish most of her half of the sandwich, plucking the last few strips of thin-cut steak and cheese before she wrapped up the remains. She threw it away, finishing off her drink, but she winced when she stretched. God, her ribs ached.

Ned was shuffling through a few papers, and he glanced up when Nancy put her hands on his shoulders, rubbing them a few times before she leaned down to press her lips against the crown of his head. "Sorry. It'll just be a few more minutes."

"It's okay, sweetheart." She kissed his ear, then stood up. "I think I'm gonna lay down for a little while. Come wake me up, okay?"

He nodded and she took the stairs up to his—soon, their—bedroom. She was kind of jealous that he had been able to move in before she could, that he had all this space to himself, but it had made sense when they were planning. She had picked out the patterned comforter on the bed, and he had helped her put up the curtains. She smiled and went into the bathroom. His aftershave and razor and toothpaste were in the corner of the sink, and she gingerly washed off her makeup, finding the remover she had brought over from his basement apartment. She gently patted her face dry, and when she walked back into the bedroom, her exhaustion hit her all at once. She stripped off her clothes, leaving her panties on, and slipped between the sheets. She was out practically as soon as her head touched the pillow.

The soft hush of the rain was the second thing she heard; the first was Ned's breathing from beside her. His arm was tossed over her. She made a soft noise, bringing her head up. The room was pitch black, and the alarm clock was on the other side of the bed. She squinted at the red numbers.

1:53

"Oh shit," she whispered under her breath, turning onto her back. "Oh shit."

Ned made a soft noise beside her and yawned. "Whaswrong," he slurred.

"Hannah has got to be freaking out—" Nancy pushed the covers back.

Ned fumbled for her in the dark, and his fingers closed gently around her wrist. "It's okay," he said, his voice a little less blurry. "She called and I told her you were over here and she said for you to just call in the morning."

"Oh." Nancy reached up to rub sleep out of her eye, hissing when she accidentally touched the tender flesh around it. "Why didn't you wake me up?"

"Well, I would've, but you were fucking out, Nan. And you looked so tired I couldn't bring myself to wake you." He ran his hand gently up and down her arm. "It's okay," he repeated.

She relaxed against her pillow, then turned to him, moving into his arms. It had only been a little over a week, but God, she was addicted to the feel of his skin against hers, and it had been so long since they had just lain together when it didn't involve afterglow. He was wearing only boxers and she slipped her knee between his, cuddling against his chest.

"Mmmm." Ned's fingertips trailed up and down her spine. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," she murmured. "I'm okay. Now I'm okay."

They needed to sleep. They both knew that. She drifted off but she was still awake as he shifted onto his back, and her bare breast was against his chest, her knee between his so she was straddling his upper thigh. She made a soft noise and pushed herself up on her hands, blinking down at him, and his eyes were open in the dark. He reached up and gently cupped her breast, his dark-eyed gaze on hers.

And that was all it took, for her.

She reached down and slipped her underwear off, and heard Ned doing the same. He cupped her hips as she straddled him, and even in the darkness she could feel his gaze on her bruises. Her eyes had adjusted to the dim light filtering through the blinds and his gaze was sympathetic, and after she had stroked the join of her thighs against his erection a few times, she swung off him, then straddled him again the other way.

He stroked her ass a few times as she took his cock in her hand, angling him for her. She closed her eyes and bowed her head, her lips parting as she pushed her knees apart, taking half his length in one thrust.

"Mmm," Ned murmured. "God, that feels good."

She grasped his knees and began to ride him, steadily at first, her hips shaking when he was fully inside her. "God, yes," she moaned, and cried out when he reached between her legs, finding her clit. "Oh fuck yes," she encouraged him, and when he bent his knees she tipped forward to brush her nipples against his legs, riding him harder. The angle of his cock when she rode him this way, oh God, he felt so thick inside her, and when she tossed her hair back he let out a soft, pleased groan.

"Yeah, baby. Just like that."

She kept crying out, softly, but she couldn't find the angle she wanted, and she sucked in a swift breath as she grasped his knees and balanced on the balls of her feet. She squatted down onto him and arched, whimpering, and when he roughly circled her clit she bounced down onto his cock, harder, feeling how incredibly slick she was, hearing it every time she rocked her hips down to his again.

"Fuck," she breathed, trembling when he rubbed her clit harder. He pushed up a little and found her breast, flicking her nipple hard, and she rode him faster, pinching her other nipple, shifting the angle of her hips. She scrabbled behind her to keep her balance and felt the warmth radiating from his chest as she tilted the other way, her mouth falling open.

"Oh God," she sobbed out as the tension grew unbearable, and she fucked him harder, gasping for breath, as she reached down and they both played with her clit. He let her take over, grasping her breasts, tugging at her nipples, and she could feel his legs flexing as his hips rose under hers.

"Fuck," Ned panted. "Oh God, Nancy, oh God..."

He pushed up to meet her as she bounced down onto his cock, and she tipped her head back and cried out, the slick, tight heat of her cunt beginning to pulse around him as she came. She stroked her clit harder, riding him desperately, and she screamed when he pinched her nipples hard, then slid his hand down to help her play with her clit.

"Oh God yes yes yes please yes," she begged him, making her thrusts shorter, sharper, a tear streaking down her cheek as his hips slammed up to meet hers. She was shuddering as he came, her head bowed, her hand fallen open at her side, shifting down onto her knees. He flicked her clit one last time and she moaned, and he straightened his legs.

She tipped forward, trying to catch her breath, then mustered all the strength she had left to dismount before she slid off him. She sprawled on her side, spent, whimpering softly, and Ned was making similarly satisfied noises before she heard him pull a handful of tissues out of the box on the bedside table.

He rolled her onto her back and gently cleaned her up, and when he moved back under the covers she waited a moment before she joined him. Her legs were still trembling a little, and she cuddled up against him again, both of them still naked.

Ned was stroking her hair when he chuckled.

"What is it?" she whispered against his chest.

"I love it when you do that, babe, you know that," he said. "It's hotter than hell. I just like seeing your face, too," he admitted. "I like watching you when you come."

She made a face, glad he couldn't see her. "I just didn't want you to be staring at that hideous black eye the whole time," she mumbled.

Ned pulled back, looking down at her. "You are not hideous," he told her firmly. "You are gorgeous. And I hate seeing you hurt..."

"Which is why I didn't want you looking at my face."

He leaned down and kissed her, gently. "I want to see your face," he murmured. "I always want to see your face. I love you so much, sweetheart."

"I love you too," she whispered. "I always have, and I always will. ...I just..."

He kissed her again. "Just what," he whispered.

Her gaze rose to his, and she shook her head.

Ned's lips tightened a little. "We talked about this," he reminded her. "I'll always hate seeing you hurt. Always. But I know this is what you love, Nan. And as long as you come through that door at the end of the night, I'll be here waiting for you."

She blinked up at him, her eyes wet, then nestled against his bare chest again. "And I promise you," she whispered, "that I will always walk through that door, baby. I will always come home to you."

He slipped his arm around her and squeezed her gently. "I think we just said our vows," he said softly.

She pressed her lips against his chest. "One more time," she whispered. "One more time and then it's forever."

"It always has been, for me."

She smiled. "Me too," she whispered, as she began to drift off to sleep again.

Chapter Text

"Oh, sweetheart." Eloise put her hand over her mouth. "Oh, Nancy."

Nancy took one last glance at her reflection, then turned. Her aunt, Bess, and George were all gazing at her, their eyes wide. She gave them a small, hesitant smile. "You think it looks okay?"

"Okay?" Bess retorted, stepping forward. "Nan, you look fu—you look incredible."

Eloise shook her head at Bess's near-slip, but she stepped forward too. "You look gorgeous, Nancy."

George was the first one to hug her. "It seems real now," she admitted. "I know that doesn't make any sense..."

"It does," Nancy admitted, smiling at all of them. "I know what you mean." She ran her thumb against the band of her engagement ring as she turned around for one last glance. Her final fitting had been rushed, and she hadn't seen it like this, fitted almost like a glove to her.

Nancy's wedding gown was satin, with a dropped waist to emphasize her slender frame, sweeping down from the points of her shoulders. The neckline wasn't dangerously low, but Nancy still had to admit that Ned would probably find it sexy. The train swept dramatically behind her, but it wasn't too over-the-top, or at least Bess had convinced her it wasn't. The dress was the only wedding expense Nancy had really splurged on, and her father, thankfully, hadn't thrown a fit when he had seen the bill for it.

The associate at the bridal store had almost gasped aloud when she had seen Nancy in the dress. Hannah had cried at the third fitting.

And though all their responses had reassured her that she had made the right choice, she still wanted to see the expression on Ned's face when he saw her for the first time. Their wedding was set for late afternoon, so the photographer had asked if they would be comfortable doing the group shots beforehand.

Her hands were shaking just a little when she closed the door behind her and began to unfasten the dress.

It was real. It was finally real, now.

--

A part of her couldn't believe how many girls came along for the bachelorette party. Bess and George had planned it for two nights before the wedding just so she wouldn't be suffering through a massive hangover on her actual wedding day. Nancy put on a shockingly short black leather miniskirt and a deep red sequined tank top, let Bess do her makeup, and whistled in approval when she slid into the back of the lavishly-appointed limousine. She could see two bars from where she was sitting, a massive television and stereo system, and enough seats for practically half their senior class.

Some of the bridesmaids and her friends were staying in the city anyway, using the wedding as an excuse to sightsee, and once they had picked everyone up, Nancy sat back with her first flute of champagne and looked around. Bess and George, Helen Corning Archer, Laurel Chandler, Emily Terner, Joanna Rockwell Hollingsworth, Mattie Jensen, Teresa Montenegro, Linda Ferrare, Jennifer Bishop, Midori Kato, April Callahan, Jan O'Shea, and Bree Gordon were all chattering loudly, their eyes bright. They were sure to attract a fucking squadron of paparazzi. Bree was the daughter of Lucinda Prado, who had been a famous actress before her death; Joanna was a heiress who had married an insanely famous racecar driver. Teresa was shattering records left and right on her pro tennis career and Mattie was married to Rick Arlen, her costar on their popular soap opera, Danner's Dream. And, of course, Linda was bass player and vocalist for Bent Fender. Several people Nancy knew would have killed to be a fly on the wall of their limousine.

She loved them all, though. She and Helen had been friends for just as long, if not longer, than she and Bess and George, although once Helen had married, they hadn't been able to hang out as much. Laurel was married to Ned's cousin Evan, and she and Nancy had always gotten along. Emily had become friends with Nancy during a previous trip to the Hamptons, although Nancy didn't like to mentally linger on those circumstances too long; she had met Sasha Petrov during that summer. While Nancy had eventually figured out that she wanted to be with Ned, the way her flirtation with the Russian dancer had hurt Ned still lingered in her memory, even if Ned had forgiven her for it. Jennifer was a stewardess Nancy and her friends had known for years, and Dr. April Callahan was married to Ned's friend Dr. Trevor Callahan. Nancy had known Midori since Midori had been an exchange student, and Jan O'Shea was married to Ned's best friend Mike.

Nancy felt a small pang, looking around at all of them. There had been a time when the women in the back of this limo, the ones closest to her, had felt impossibly far away from her. She had felt so lost without them, but then she hadn't felt like she deserved to be around them, not as depressed as she had been. She felt so incredibly grateful to have them in her life again.

Nancy took a sip of champagne, chuckling to herself. She was nowhere near drunk yet and already feeling maudlin. At this rate she would be hugging all of them, slurring that she loved them, before midnight.

And it wasn't exactly like Bess and George had invited them all for the perks, but as soon as they walked into Zephyr, they were immediately shown to the VIP section, and their server fell all over herself to get their drinks comped. Soon they had gone through their third bottle of Clos d'Ambonnay and the manager had sent over complimentary gold-leaf-topped pomegranate sponge cakes with rum cream, and the coordinating martinis...

Nancy wasn't drunk but she was well on the way there when they hit a club that Mattie had apparently suggested. It was dim and smoky, and it looked like converted office space on one of the upper floors in a skyscraper, but the view was absolutely stunning, the city spread out like a million glowing finite heartbeats below her.

For not the first time, she felt the impulse to call her fiancé. Bess had confiscated her purse early on, though, telling her that she wasn't going to buy a single drink for herself or anyone else tonight—or call Ned.

Half the girls were out dancing, and Nancy was amused when she saw Joanna, Laurel, and Mattie among them. She supposed that since they were married, they didn't have so much chance to get out and have a good time by themselves. April was out there too, and she had a rose tucked behind one ear; she was flushed with laughter. All of her friends looked gorgeous, delighted, but none of them had Ned waiting for them, and Nancy's grin was the biggest of them all.

April tapped her shoulder when Nancy moved out onto the floor, her hips swaying with the beat. "You'd better get out there and get the flirting out of your system," April told Nancy, her eyes dancing. "Do Bess and George have one of those scavenger hunt things planned?"

Nancy shrugged. "To be honest," she called over the insistent beat of the music, "I'd rather just get drunk and have a good time than find out what guys in the room carry around glow-in-the-dark condoms or will make out with me in a bathroom stall."

"Then that calls for another round!" April shouted, and the rest of the girls cheered.

Three shots of vodka later, everyone was out on the floor, even Helen. And, Nancy noticed, they had attracted a moderately-sized entourage, mostly guys, but a few girls too. Teresa, Jennifer, Emily, and George had all managed to snag incredibly handsome guys, and though Nancy knew a few guys were dancing near her, trying to get her attention, their fingertips or hips occasionally brushing against her, she ignored them, her eyes closed, her body swaying rhythmically to the beat as she let the music pulse through her. When she finally did open her eyes, she caught April giving her an amused glance. Bess was sandwiched between two guys, her head tipped back, and when the next cry for a round went up, Nancy joined in. Damn, it went down smooth.

Only once Nancy was exuberant with alcohol did Bess finally pull out one of the damn scavenger hunt lists, but by then they were all drunk, and Helen was actually the first to collect a magnum-sized condom off a guy at the next bar. Linda ordered the blow-job shot and Mattie technically showed a guy her bra, even if it was just the strap. Midori talked five guys into giving her ink-pen tattoos—and got three shots out of the deal. Nancy threw herself into collecting phone numbers, though she got out of providing her own, and Bess collected underwear off three guys before she had Nancy take a picture with them and then threw them out. After the next round April and Linda each faked orgasms and Jennifer convinced Teresa to get up on the bar with her, and they subjected everyone to an incredibly off-key shout-along rendition of Benny and the Jets.

Nancy went one shot over her self-prescribed limit, then another, and at three a.m., after a hilariously disastrous attempt to go through a drive-thru in the limo, they stumbled into an all-night diner, demanding pancakes and toast and coffee. Bess was distracted by her newfound entourage of male hotties and when Nancy managed to steal her purse back, giggling as she slipped away from George's disapproving grasp, she pulled her phone out.

Four missed calls. All from Ned.

Nancy took a long sip of her coffee, wincing as it slid warm down her throat. "Be right back," she mumbled, heading out to the street. The various security and bodyguards for the women inside were standing on the street smoking, and she tossed them a wave when she came out. Paparazzi were crouched at the windows, and while a few errant flashes went off, she heard them mumble in disappointment when they realized she wasn't Teresa and went back to trying to find good angles to shoot the back booths the group was crowded into.

Nancy took a deep breath as soon as she was being ignored again, out in the night air, even though it was full of exhaust and smoke and humanity. Her head was still spinning a little, and she had to lean against the brick face of the building behind her as she returned Ned's call, moving far enough away that she wouldn't be accidentally overheard.

"Hello?"

"This... isn't Ned," she said slowly, then laughed.

"Ahh shit. You're fucked up as a goose too," Howie sighed. "Look, Ned's okay, he just wanted to talk to you for a sec—"

"Is that Nancy?"

Nancy giggled as Ned interrupted in the background. "Look, man, it's cool," Howie told Ned, holding the phone away from his mouth. "It's chill. She's fine."

"You better not give him the phone!" Nancy heard Mike shout.

By the time Ned wrestled the phone away from Howie, Nancy was laughing hard. "Nan? Baby?" Ned panted.

"Hey," she said happily. "Hey sweetheart."

"I miss you," Ned said, and his voice was so plaintive that her heart beat painfully hard in her chest at the sound.

"I miss you too," she replied, sweeping loose strands of hair off her flushed cheeks. She was starting to shiver a little. "You're drunk, aren't you," she said, and started laughing again.

"I feel good," Ned admitted, and Nancy grinned. "But I'd feel even better if you were with me. God, baby, it's been too long since I've felt you—"

"Ned!" she said warningly, blushing, even though his voice had dropped. "Shh!"

"Since I've felt you in my arms," he finished, sounding wounded. "It's true."

"It is true," she admitted. "Sorry. I thought you were going to say something about fucking me."

Ned made a mock affronted sound. "Yeah, it's been way too long since I've fucked you, too," he said, and Nancy blushed even hotter when she heard the loud chorus of "Ohhhhhhhh" go up behind him.

"Okay, now you're gonna be lucky if you even get any on our wedding night," she told him, although a smile was twitching at her lips.

"Nan," Ned moaned. "I'm sorry, baby, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. I mean—I did mean it..."

Nancy shook her head. "It's okay."

She heard the crowd noise on the other end of the line rise to a roar, then recede, replaced by the sound of cars rushing by. "Where are you right now?"

"At a diner," Nancy said, turning to see Bess poke her head out of the diner. She caught sight of Nancy on her cell phone and shook her head, attempting to run in her sky-high spike heels, but Nancy easily eluded her as she tried to snatch the phone out of her hand.

"Where are you going after?"

Nancy smothered a yawn, then laughed as she squirmed away from Bess. "Back to the hotel, I think?"

"In the city?"

"Yeah." Bess was scowling at her, her arms crossed.

"I need to see you, baby."

Nancy had to concentrate to make her voice sound stern. The low, pleading sound of his voice shivered all the way down her spine. "We'll see each other tomorrow..."

"Tonight, Nan. Please."

Most of her expected Ned to forget about it as soon as she hung up the phone, or for his friends to talk him out of it. At the suite, since she was the bride-to-be, she had one of the bedrooms to herself. After she took her makeup off, she put on a tank top and a pair of cotton shorts and snuggled into the soft, pillowy mattress, her cell phone on the table right beside her.

She was just beginning to drift off when her phone vibrated with a message.

You asleep?

Nancy crept through the common area, hearing the stertorous breathing coming from the couch bed, and peered through the peephole before cautiously opening the door. Ned stood on the other side, and as soon as he saw her he stepped through, lifting her in his arms. She knew she shouldn't, but when he picked her up Nancy boosted herself up and wrapped her legs around him, pressing her face against the side of his neck, inhaling the scent of aftershave and soap and cologne and him.

The door clicked shut behind him. "Mmm," Ned murmured. "Where are you sleeping?"

She nodded in the direction of her bedroom. "We really shouldn't," she whispered, but when he carried her there, closing the door behind them, she couldn't bring herself to object again. She had missed him so much.

He tasted like scotch when he kissed her. His tongue slipped into her mouth and she let out a soft moan as she threaded her fingers through his hair, as he walked with her to the bed and tilted down to lower her to the bedspread. She kept herself wrapped around him as he pushed himself up, and she distantly heard his shoes thunk to the floor, one by one, as they kept making out.

They could make out relatively safely, but through the thin fabric of her panties and shorts, she could feel that he was hard. He pulled back and she was a little flushed, panting, and she ran her fingers through his hair.

"We have to stop," she said softly, reluctantly.

He leaned down and brushed his lips over hers again, and neither of them made any effort to part. "Do you really want to," he whispered, and God, he was so hot, and her body fucking craved his, more than the sex, just the intimacy of feeling his skin against hers.

"No," she whispered, and slipped her tongue into his mouth, bucking just slightly under him. He pushed himself up and she let out a soft cry when he rubbed against her.

"Please," he whispered, his dark eyes pleading, scotch strong on his breath as he gazed down at her. He reached for the hem of her shirt and she closed her eyes as she sat up and let him pull it over her head, and then she reached for his. As soon as they were both barechested she crept over him to straddle his waist, drawing the backs of her fingers over the line of his jaw. She forced herself not to tilt forward and rub against his erection, even though the cooler air against her nipples felt amazing, and when it came to being half-naked around her future husband, her body definitely knew what she wanted to happen next.

Ned leaned forward and sucked gently at the pulse point in her neck, and Nancy let out a soft, breathy moan, shivering as his fingertips traced down her spine. She swept her nails gently over his back and he surged against her, and she closed her eyes again.

They had to stop, had to. Had to.

Didn't they.

She arched a little and her nipples brushed against his chest and he was drawing her closer, and if her crotch came into contact with his erection again, she knew she wouldn't be able to stop or even think about stopping. Her underwear was already getting damp. She put her palm against his cheek, bringing him back up, and kissed him hard as she stood up on her knees.

"We have to stop," she panted again when they parted.

Ned made a soft, frustrated noise. "Baby, I need you," he whispered. "And I know you're wet for me..."

Nancy sat back, feeling around in the dark for her tank top. Ned groaned quietly and reached for her.

"Okay, okay," he said. "I'll be good. Just let me lie down with you."

Nancy pinned him with a stare for a moment, but both of them knew she missed him just as much as he missed her, and there was no way she'd be able to bring herself to turn him down. "Okay," she murmured, giving up on the search. He began to take his pants off, and Nancy paused a moment before she slipped out of her shorts, uncomfortably aware of how slick she was beneath the only clothes she had left on.

Nancy moved under the covers and Ned joined her, pulling her into his arms, and she made a soft contented noise as she settled against him. "Not that I don't love this little game of chicken we're playing," she murmured against his chest.

Ned groaned softly, his fingertips idly tracing over her spine again, making her shiver. "Yeah, I love feeling like I'm seventeen again."

She swatted at him. "You said you needed to see me."

He pressed a kiss against the crown of her head. "I did," he said softly. "Frank and Joe actually came along tonight—"

Nancy pulled back to gaze into Ned's eyes, her own wide. "God, really?"

He nodded, pushing a strand of hair off her cheek. "Yeah. I couldn't believe it either. They didn't stay too long, but when we were at the first place, I overheard Frank talking to Joe... about how he didn't know how he was going to get through the ceremony, watching you marry me, and how he wanted you to be happy but he knew it was going to hurt."

Nancy looked down.

"Nan," Ned whispered, and she glanced up at him, her eyes wet. 

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I'm sorry you heard that, if it upset you—"

"It did," he admitted, "but not... not because..." He shook his head. The alcohol was making both of them thick-tongued. "I realized that if you hadn't walked back into my life, I'd be that guy," he finally said. "I'd be the one saying I wanted you to be happy while I was eating my heart out, and I fucking hated when we were apart, but now, since we got back together? It finally feels right, baby. I loved you for so long, so long, Nan, and I was never going to have with anyone else what I have with you, and when you came back to me, for the first fucking time since we met, I finally felt like you were starting to feel the same way..."

Nancy reached up, sucking in a trembling breath, and stopped him with a kiss. "No one else will ever know me the way you do," she said softly. "Not Bess or George or Helen, not Hannah or my dad. You're my best friend, sweetheart, and I feel whole when we're together, and before, I took you for granted..."

He stroked her cheek. "Not anymore," he whispered.

"Not anymore," she agreed, searching his eyes. "And every single day for the rest of our lives I want to make sure you know that, baby. I love you so much my heart hurts with it," she admitted, and when she blinked she felt a tear streak down her cheek. "So much that sometimes I can't breathe when I think about you, when you're looking at me... the way you are now..."

He kissed her gently, then again, and God, she wanted him. He rolled over, partially pinning her under him, and their hips were lined up, and if either of them moved, she knew it would be over. He nipped at her gently and she shivered a little when he pulled back.

"I love you so much," he whispered. "Oh, Nancy, I can't imagine how terrible it would be to know I'd lost you forever..."

She caressed his cheek, shaking her head. "Don't," she whispered. "I spent every second we were apart trying to find something to replace you and nothing ever would have, baby. Nothing. You told me once that I was half of your heart, but Ned... you're all of mine and I was so fucking lost without you..."

Their lips met and she wrapped her legs around him again, needing to be in as much contact with him as she could, needing the comfort of his warm flesh, the security of his weight pinning her down. 

"I broke your heart," she whispered, her voice shaking, when he pulled back, both of them panting a little. "Oh, Ned, I broke your heart and I didn't realize I was breaking my own too, and oh God, I was so afraid... it was so hard to come back to you because if you'd said you never wanted to see me again it would have destroyed me..."

He gently kissed the tears off her cheeks. "Baby, the night I saw you on my parents' porch... it was like I had been asleep and when I saw you I was afraid you couldn't be real, and I kept telling myself I didn't need you but it was such a fucking lie..."

Another pair of tears slipped down her cheeks and she pulled him down to her for another kiss. When he just barely shifted against her she felt a bolt of desire so strong it left her trembling with need for him, and it took every bit of her strength not to slip his boxers down, not to beg him to fuck her.

Ned's lips found her neck again, and he whispered her name against her skin. She shivered, feeling the hard press of him against the join of her thighs. "You have no idea how much I want you right now," she heard herself admit, but the alcohol and the sway of his closeness meant she didn't care.

"Oh, I do," he replied, pulling back to gaze into her eyes. "My hand's getting old, baby, and I remember every fucking night how good you feel around me."

She released a soft moan. "One more night to get through, after this one," she said, trying to convince them both. "Then... then, oh God, Ned..."

Making love with him... oh, it had been weeks, but she could hold out for just a little while longer. She had made it through that time without him. Barely, but she had.

He cupped his hand between her thighs, gently squeezing her, and she was immediately arching, parting her legs for him, flushing. She heard herself making soft pleading noises, and she was trying to talk, but oh God, oh God she wanted him.

Ned leaned down and kissed her, swallowing her cry as his fingertip brushed against her clit and she bucked hard under him. She reached down and they needed to...

She could count on both hands the number of times she had needed him this much.

He circled her clit through her panties and she sobbed at how good it felt, and when she began to push his boxers down, she had a brief second of clarity. No. No. They had wanted their wedding night to be special.

Their wedding night was always going to be special. Hadn't he told her that?

She rocked under him, panting. "Ned..."

"Yeah," he breathed, looking down at her face. "God, I love you..."

She blinked and another pair of tears slipped down her cheeks. "Please," she whispered, and then her mouth fell open. Her hips were rocking up against him and she reached for him, her fingertips drifting down his side, and felt him already pumping his cock in his fist.

"Please what, baby," he murmured. His breathing was labored. "If you beg me to get inside you I will."

She let out a soft desperate cry. "I need you," she whimpered, and he stopped touching himself long enough to slide his hand into her panties and slick his fingers with her arousal. He plunged the fingers of his other hand up into the tight heat of her sex and she cried out again, rocking against his fingers.

"Oh God, baby, we can't..."

"We aren't," he told her, through gritted teeth. "We aren't. Remember? Remember how it was?"

She did remember. In his bed at Omega Chi, the list of things they could do that they didn't consider sex, and how extensive and specific that list had become before he had taken her virginity. Their fingers, their mouths...

She tipped her head back, and before this had been everything, when they were still pulling back from the lines they kept redrawing. She trembled, feeling the glorious tension of her orgasm rise, and when she pushed her panties down Ned made a rough pleased sound.

She sat up, gasping, her hips rocking as he fingered her, as he stroked her clit. He sat up with her and she pushed his hand away from his cock, and Ned groaned aloud as she bent over his lap, taking him in her mouth, tasting her arousal and his precum as she swirled her tongue around him.

Ned plunged his fingers into her, his other hand resting on the back of her head as she sucked his cock. She took as much of his length as she could, her hips circling against his touch, and when she felt his fingers tighten against her scalp she snaked her hand down to caress his balls, her heartbeat thudding in her when he came in her mouth, letting out a stuttering cry.

She pulled back when he was spent, and his fingers were slowing a little, but when she stood up on her knees, naked and undulating, her head tipped back, he switched hands, and Nancy belatedly realized that neither of them had locked the bedroom door.

And she didn't give a fuck.

"You look so damn sexy right now," Ned gasped out. "So goddamn sexy. If you hadn't just sucked me off I'd fuck you until you screamed, baby."

She let out a soft mewling cry when he curved his fingers inside her, her breasts bouncing as she rode his hand, and every stroke drove her pleasure even higher. "I've been so wet for you," she moaned, "oh God, Ned, oh God, so—fucking—"

He tilted onto his back, pulling her on top of him, and she rubbed against him, sobbing into his skin as he held his fingers in place so she could keep fucking him, and God, she didn't want to stop, she never wanted to stop, the only thing better would be feeling him inside her.

"Come, baby," Ned growled, panting a little. "Come or I'm gonna put my face between those legs and suck your clit until you wake up every single person in this entire damn place."

She felt herself spasm hard at the thought, and she kept pulsing around him, screaming against his chest. Her entire body was jerking with her orgasm, and when she rolled onto her back Ned rolled with her, nipping hard at her breasts as he kissed his way down.

She trembled, muffling her scream against her fist when he ran the tip of his tongue up the slit of her sex, and she writhed, all of her tensing in an effort to hold her cries in as he suckled against her clit. "Oh fuck," she panted, whimpering, and she was powerless to do anything other than undulate against him, rocking her hips. He sucked and circled and teased her until he sent her over the edge of another orgasm, hard on the heels of the first, and when he pinched her nipple she sobbed, her eyes rolling back at how amazing it felt, how amazing his tongue and stubbled chin felt as he ate her out. Her cries were so high they were silent, desperate, her nails digging into the bedspread, and when he did an especially wicked thing with his tongue the spike of pure agonized bliss left her senseless for a long moment, all of her centered on the unbearably glorious tension that left her rocking her hips up against his face, before her orgasm finally crested and broke.

They were breathless when he rolled off her, both of them slick with sweat. Nancy couldn't move, and she knew her legs were sprawled open on the bed, but she didn't give a damn. She had known she was horny, but oh, she had thought...

She moaned quietly. "Shit."

Ned made a soft noise. "Mmm?"

Nancy sighed. "Okay, well, we just had sex."

"Did not," Ned replied. "According to the old rules we didn't have sex."

Nancy chuckled, finally finding the strength to pull her legs back together and roll onto her side, propping herself up so she could look at him. "Remember at the end when the rule was that if you were more than an inch inside me we were having sex?"

Ned grinned. "I loved that rule," he admitted. "And then I was half inside you..."

"And then we were having sex," she murmured. "On top of all those other times we were having sex and we said we weren't."

He slid over toward her, his fingertips brushing her glowing cheek. "I fall in love with you again every time," he whispered, and she felt her eyes prick with tears. "Every time, baby. Every time we're together."

She smiled at him. "And I fall in love with you every time our eyes meet," she told him. "And the day I stopped fighting it was the most terrifying day of my life because I knew I'd never be complete without you again."

He slipped his arms around her and she sighed as they wrapped around each other, sprawled over the bedspread, their heads at the foot of the bed.

"Are you disappointed?" he whispered, his lips brushing the crown of her head. "That we... did that?"

"I want to yell at you," she said. "But like we said, it wasn't really sex. And I have wanted you so fucking much and when you were eating me out, oh my God," she trailed off in a little moan.

He laughed softly. "And the feel of your mouth around me is so much better than my hand."

She pressed a kiss against his chest. "So I think as long as you and I stay five hundred feet apart all day tomorrow, we'll be good."

"That'll be hard during the rehearsal."

"As long as another part of you isn't hard during the rehearsal."

Ned rolled over, pinning her to the bed, and she giggled at his mock glare. "As long as you come in wearing... well, fuck, you're going to look hot in whatever you wear."

She ran her hand through his hair again. It was already mussed as hell. "I really hope you like my dress," she whispered.

He searched her gaze, then smiled. "I am going to love the way you look in your dress," he said. "And whatever else happens that day, as long as we put those rings on each other's fingers, I don't care. Because it's going to be the first day of our life together."

She smiled. "Another new anniversary."

He nodded. "I think I can stand just one more."

--

"Nan!" A fist pounded at the door. "Nan, you'd better be decent!"

Ned was scrambling under the covers to put his boxers back on. Both he and Nancy were wincing at the sun and the loud noise when Bess pushed open the door, George, Jennifer, and Emily with her. The rest of the group had dispersed to their husbands the night before, or to the continental breakfast bar to sober up that morning.

Nancy, thankfully, had managed to have her panties and tank top on when the door opened, though she scowled at the crowd. Bess's eyes were wide in mock affront. "Nancy Drew, I can't believe this. The day before your wedding and here you are, in bed with a man."

Ned ran a hand through his hair, which did absolutely nothing to help how disheveled it already was, before he slid out from under the covers. "Morning," he told the gathered group, and while he collected his clothes, Nancy didn't miss the appreciative gazes the women were casting on her fiancé. She pulled on her own shorts under the covers.

Then Ned turned back to her. "I'm gonna go get some coffee," he said. "Did you want to—"

"Oh, no, no, no," Bess insisted. "You've done enough here, Nickerson."

Ned ignored Bess, his gaze locked to Nancy's, and she felt a small shiver go down her spine. She smiled and shook her head reluctantly. "Remember what we said about five hundred feet?"

The corner of Ned's mouth turned up. "Uh-huh. It's coffee, Nan."

She raised her eyebrows. "Yeah. Exactly."

Bess sighed. "Come on, guys, let's go get ready," she said. "I've seen that look before. We're gonna have to pry them apart in twelve seconds."

Ned crossed to Nancy's side of the bed, and she stood up on the mattress as the women filed out. He wrapped his arms around her and she twined herself around him, sliding down so she could kiss his cheek.

"I love you, baby."

"I love you too," she whispered, her fingertips stroking down the side of his face. "I'll see you tonight, if not before. And then, tomorrow..."

His smile widened into a grin. "Tomorrow," he agreed, then brushed the tip of his nose against hers.

After Ned left, Bess prescribed doses of extra-strength pain reliever to help the hangovers they were all going to have, and a brisk shower and two cups of coffee later, Nancy felt almost human again.

Checkout time came and Nancy was content to ride in the passenger seat of the convertible the girls had rented, taking it easy while she prayed her hangover would remain a vague throbbing in the back of her head. George was driving, since she had steady nerves in the city traffic; Bess was in the backseat.

She leaned forward, between her cousin and Nancy, pushing her sunglasses up the bridge of her nose as the wind whipped her long blonde hair away from her face. "So I seem to vaguely remember you saying something about how you and Ned were staying away from each other—"

Nancy made a face, turning to look at Bess, and noticed George glancing over too. "We were drunk," she said, deadpan.

"Well, alcohol does cover a multitude of sins," Bess sighed.

"Is that why you were trying to get him out of there this morning?" Nancy asked.

"I had a suspicion that if I didn't, you guys would keep doing what you had been doing all last night," Bess said, mock archly.

Nancy colored just a little. "Anything you guys may or may not have heard..."

George shot a glance at Nancy. "She's bluffing. We were all dead to the world."

Bess tapped Nancy on the shoulder. "So, since you broke your little abstinence vow—"

"We—well, we did, just not..." Nancy made a little gesture. "Uh, the main thing."

"We've known each other for how long, Drew?" Bess pointed out. "You can say it. So he didn't actually put that mouthwateringly glorious cock inside you."

The three girls laughed. When Nancy and Ned had first started fooling around, she had told Bess and George about it, and Nancy was just praying that no one got so drunk at either the rehearsal dinner or the wedding reception that they started letting that information slip. Like how disastrous Nancy's first attempt to go down on Ned had been, or the pregnancy scare two weeks after her eighteenth birthday. They even knew about the damn list, and while George had just kind of shaken her head at how finely they were splitting hairs, Bess had nodded with wide-eyed sincerity at the fine demarcation between Ned licking her clit and the two of them having actual oral sex. And whether that counted when it came to her virginity, or not.

She had told them when Ned had taken her virginity. She had told them everything and they had told her everything, until they hadn't anymore.

"He did say that if I'd begged him to, he would have."

Bess sighed. "I swear to God, Nan. You've got to be the luckiest girl I know."

Nancy smiled. "I am," she said.

George checked her side mirror before she whipped into the next lane. "No cold feet?"

Nancy shook her head. "The opposite, really," she said. "I mean, we've been living together for so long now. I guess not that much is going to change."

"Or everything," Bess said. "I mean, before? Before if he did anything you could just walk out and refuse to return calls or whatever. Now, though, you have all this other stuff to think about. And in a few months or a year he'll knock you up, if he didn't last night..."

Nancy shook her head. "He didn't. Uh... yeah, like I said."

Bess giggled. "Okay, fine, act like you're not going to talk about it—"

"Okay I came like three times and it was fucking amazing," Nancy said rapidly. "Because it's been almost a month—"

"Almost?"

"Well, we might have slipped up three weeks ago."

George shook her head, chuckling. "I thought it was cute you guys made that little agreement. Stupid, but cute."

"Stupid?"

"Yeah," Bess piped up. "Girl, you are addicted to that man. Anyone with two eyes can see it."

She was. And despite everything else they were saying, that was why the next day held no terror for her, other than the thought that something might go disastrously wrong. Like Ned had said, as long as tomorrow ended with their being legally married, their wedding rings on their fingers, she didn't care what else happened.

Two summers before, she had told Ned that she didn't care if they ever put a name to what they were to each other. Planning their wedding with her aunt and Bess and George, though, had brought it all back. When she was eighteen she had been convinced that, eventually, they would be married. Their names together on the wedding invitations, their engagement photography session, every single aspect of planning their lives together, picking out the townhouse, decorating it together, everything, had made her crave it again.

He had been the first man to make love to her and the only one she had truly loved. Their time apart was behind them, for good.

She had caught herself doodling her married name when she was bored on the phone. Nancy Drew Nickerson. Ned and Nancy Nickerson. When she had been with him before, his declaration that he would marry her someday had provoked a panicked fluttering in her chest. Now, though, just the idea of it sent a frisson of pleasure down her spine.

Nancy caught her wind-whipped hair in her fist and glanced at the two women who had been her best friends, other than Ned, for most of her life. "Thanks, you guys," she said sincerely. "Last night was amazing. And I mean even before Ned came over," she said when George chuckled. "Seriously. You have no idea how happy I am that you two are my maids of honor."

"I'm so glad everything's better again," Bess admitted. "I'm so sorry things... that everything went the way it did."

George nodded in agreement. "Plus, I'm sure Ned needs someone around to make sure you actually walk down the aisle."

Nancy smiled. "Oh, I don't care who I have to knock down or out to get there, I will be there."

The borrowed house in the Hamptons was already bustling with activity when the girls arrived. Eloise had put out a spread of snacks, light chicken salad sandwiches and thin cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, shrimp cocktail, stuffed mushrooms, crudites, and champagne punch, the latter of which Nancy bypassed. The wedding director called to make sure Nancy knew when to show up for the rehearsal, and soon Helen and Emily and the rest of the bachelorette party attendees arrived, descending on the snacks with glee. Eloise was on the phone with the caterer when Hannah walked out of the kitchen with a freshly uncorked bottle of wine.

James and Edith Nickerson had just walked in. When James saw all the women around, he shook his head. "Is Carson here yet?" he asked Nancy, raising his voice a little to be heard over the din.

Nancy glanced over at her aunt. "I know he was due in this morning; I think he's staying at the bed and breakfast close to the church."

James grinned. "I think we're all supposed to meet up today; I'll call his cell."

"All?" Nancy repeated.

"Your father, and my son." James laughed when he saw how Nancy's eyes widened. "It's okay. I can just imagine how nervous he must be, knowing he'll be giving you away tomorrow."

Once James and Edith had gone, Edith promising she would be back soon, and some of the butterflies in Nancy's stomach had calmed down a little, Eloise tapped her wineglass to get the exuberant group's attention. "Girls—ladies," she said. "Before we head off to the church in a little while, I thought we could give Nancy some advice. Some of us know how hard it can be, to be married for the first time."

"Only time!" Nancy interjected, to general laughter. "I don't plan on doing this over again."

"Some of us don't see why you'd mess with a good thing," Eloise said, raising an eyebrow. "And some of us just can't wait to see him make an honest woman out of you."

A chorus of "oooooh"s rose, and Nancy flushed a little. "I think I'm gonna need some wine for this," she muttered, and the women laughed as they all settled down in a circle in the living room, crowding onto the couch, on throw pillows, wherever they found space.

"Well, let me just say," Hannah began, "that I've known Ned for a very long time now—and I think he'll forgive you almost anything once I give you that recipe for double-chocolate layer cake."

"I think you're right," Nancy replied with a chuckle. "He'd probably happily help me bury a body if I promised him some of your cake."

Helen was the next to speak up. "There's something that changes," she admitted, toying with a cocktail napkin, "when you get married. Everything that annoys you about him now? Oh, God, it gets that much worse." The room responded with sympathetic laughter. "But I think when you marry the right person, the love you feel for each other, it feels like it grows every single day. You just need to remember that."

April nodded. "With how crazy your work is, just please remember to make time for each other," she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, her shapely legs folded in front of her. "It's easy to forget that the first year, when you're living with this guy you felt like you knew, suddenly seeing every bad mood, every single unflattering thing about him. Make time to just be together, to stay in tune with each other."

Nancy could just imagine how tumultuous April's first year of marriage to Trevor must have been, with both of them working insanely long hours seeing patients. She smiled at April, nodding.

Linda was the next to speak up. "Well, I can't say I've let myself get shackled—and I probably never will. My vote is to just never let it get boring in the bedroom."

Nancy opened and closed her mouth, and Eloise chuckled. "Will it help if I just don't listen to whatever you're about to say?"

"Considering you went with me to that lingerie store," Nancy replied, and the other women laughed. "I'll just say I have no intention of that happening."

"Like April said," Midori added, nodding at her, "I really think that once a week, just make a date with each other. Even if it's just ordering some takeout and watching a movie on TV. It can be tough, but it'll help keep you sane."

"And never go to bed angry," Joanna said, and almost every other woman nodded. "No matter how awful the fight was, even if you're not actually physically with him, get it figured out before you go to sleep. It's just awful when you don't."

"Remember that he's your best friend," Laurel said, and then glanced over at Bess and George. "It's important that you still make time for your friends, to go get some retail therapy in or whatever you need, but just remember that Ned is the person your allegiance is to now, other than yourself. When you're dating... it's okay to keep secrets, but once you're married, share your life with him. You'll be amazed at how wonderful it can be, because my cousin-in-law seems like he's got a good head on his shoulders—"

Bess and George exchanged a glance and covered their mouths, their eyes dancing, and Nancy cut her gaze at them.

"And he'll be a great partner," Laurel finished.

"Be honest," Bree agreed. "Because in my experience lies will always come out—and be a thousand times worse when they do."

Nancy let out a mock gasp. "Seriously, it sounds like you guys think I'm going to be telling Ned I'm going to a movie when I'll really be on a stakeout—"

"Like you wouldn't do that," Bess said, and the other women laughed too.

Mattie said that Nancy should make sure to do something every now and then just for Ned—and Nancy could imagine that Rick adored Mattie doing things just for him. Teresa countered by suggesting that Nancy stay in touch with herself and what made her happy, because losing her own personality in the relationship would only make her unhappy later. Jennifer suggested that if they needed to spice things up, that she would always be happy to get them onto a flight, so they could have a romantic getaway together. And maybe, she hastened to add, Nancy would get lucky and not stumble across a mystery while she was trying to get in some quality time with her husband.

Bess rolled her eyes. "Oh, Jennifer. Nancy won't consider it a good trip unless she finds a mystery. Because she's crazy."

"I think you have to give him some time to be himself too," Emily added, hugging her knees. "Poker game, pool, whatever it is that he needs. I'm sure he'll need some time to unwind. Especially if he's been helping you on any of your cases."

Jan was next. "Being married is hard," she said, frankly. "I love Mike, you know I do, but every single morning it's work. I don't for a second regret it, though. I mean, maybe every week or so I want to break something over his head... but I can't imagine life without him. And all the ways we're different just make me love him more. You just have to hold onto that, especially when he hasn't taken the trash out in two weeks..."

Once the laughter died down, Eloise stood up. "You're my favorite niece, you know that," she said, a twinkle in her eye. "I wish I'd been able to play more of a role in your life, sweetheart, but thanks to your parents and Hannah, you've become a mature, beautiful young woman.

"I can't help but feel like you're walking into this, all this, without quite knowing what's going to happen, but then I don't think anyone really does. What I do know is that you and Ned love each other. You're both stubborn and headstrong but you love each other, and that first fight is probably going to be a monster, but once you get through that, once you figure each other out, what you two have is going to be stronger than anything life can throw at you. Because you'll be together. Just don't let anyone or anything come between you."

George was next. "I remember who you were when we were young," George said, swirling the wine a little in her glass. "I remember Nancy swearing that she would never get married because if it came to cooking and cleaning for some guy or solving mysteries, she would always, absolutely choose the mystery. And Bess and I always promised that we'd be there with you to help, because let's be honest here—Nancy's cases were always a thousand times more interesting than whatever was playing at the movie theater.

"And then you met Ned, and it was hilarious, how long it took you to admit that you were head over heels in love with the guy. Because you were, practically from the first moment you saw him, and truthfully, I was jealous. If you had to break that vow, and had to get married, you've chosen a great guy to be married to. And this better not be the last of our sleepovers," she said sternly. "Don't turn into one of those boring married women who can never do anything because she has to be home making dinner for her man or whatever."

The other married women jokingly protested, before George sat back and Bess began to speak.

"You have been our best friend for so long," Bess said. "So long. And over this past year, planning for what's happening tomorrow, seeing you two around each other, the way you always have been around each other... I kinda want to ask what took you guys so long. Because Ned is perfect for you, Nan. I've seen you upset and all he has to do is touch you and you're okay again. The connection between you two... well, it's spoiled me, because I pretty much won't accept anything less. You feel like you were almost made for each other.

"And I hate that we're losing you... but in a way, we're never going to lose you. He's your best friend, but we're your best friends too. And for as long as he makes you happy, I will be happy—overjoyed, even—to see you with him.

"I just want him to know that if he ever hurts you, ever lays a finger on you or makes you cry or breaks your heart, all you have to do is tell me, and I will end him, Nan. I may not look like much but if anyone hurts the people I love, oh, that person will rue the day."

The other women nodded and Nancy shook her head a little. "He won't, guys. He won't."

"I know he won't," Bess said reassuringly. "It's just if he does, all you have to do is call."

"And then we'll see who gets to him first, you guys or my dad," Nancy pointed out.

Bess came over and wrapped her arm around Nancy's shoulders. "I love you, Nan," she said, and smiled. "And I'm so happy for you."

The rest of them gathered around her too, and Nancy was at the center of their group hug. She laughed just a little, her eyes gleaming faintly. "You guys are great," she said. "All of you. Thank you so much for being here for me. And I'll keep everything you said in mind." She smiled. "Well, once we get back from our honeymoon, anyway..."

"And you'd better enjoy that while you can," Jan put in. "After you get home, you're lucky if you get it once a week."

"I thought I was lucky when he wanted to do anything other than just lie there," April said with an eye-roll.

"What's the trick to getting it more than once a month?" Midori said, and Nancy wasn't sure if she was joking.

Mattie's forehead was furrowed. "Really? I mean... Rick is always ready to go. It probably helps that our trailers are side by side..."

The women laughed. "I'd ask if the honeymoon is going to be a surprise, but it sounds like that's one mystery you've already solved," Emily said with a saucily raised eyebrow. "Judging by who we found in bed with you this morning."

"Oh, thanks!" Nancy retorted as the other women responded with hoots of gleeful laughter.

Just then Edith walked into the living room with a smile. "So what did I miss?" she asked.

Nancy cast a savage glare around her, warning them not to embarrass her in front of her future mother-in-law. The color was still high in Bess's cheeks when she replied, "Oh, we were just giving Nancy some marriage advice."

"Oh, that's easy," Edith replied with a smile. "Always remember that he's your partner, if you have a problem solve it between yourselves instead of bringing anyone else into it... and that, when the time is right, James and I will be delighted to take the kids off your hands for a little while so you can get some time in together."

"And make some more," Bess interjected, and that sent the room into even louder laughter than before.

--

Nancy hadn't lied when she had said she didn't have cold feet. She knew that she wouldn't have cold feet.

What she felt instead was a rush of almost terrifying joy in her belly the second she saw Ned standing there waiting for her, as soon as she walked into the church. The butterflies weren't cold feet. The butterflies were the realization that in less than twenty-four hours, the man standing in front of her would be her husband. Ned turned and she was grinning and an answering grin spread across his handsome face as he pulled her into his arms.

"Hey baby."

"Hey." She squeezed him tightly for a moment, then released him, mindful of their audience. "Been a long time."

The corner of Ned's mouth turned up. "Let's go ahead and get this done, sweetheart. I'm starving." He took her hand and squeezed it, and she cast a sideways glance at him. The longer they were in contact, the more certain she was that he wasn't hungry for food.

The wedding director hurried over, clucking at them. "Okay, Ned? I'll direct you. Nancy, bridesmaids, father of the bride? You'll be back in the vestibule. Mother and father of the groom?"

Nancy had been in her share of weddings, although she had to admit, she had zoned out when it had come to the bride's directions. Helen, Jan, Bess, and George filed in before Nancy, and then Carson offered Nancy his arm, a small smile on his face. They waited for the director's signal.

"So you had lunch with the Nickersons," Nancy prompted.

Carson shrugged, his eyes twinkling. "Well, you know how it is. The day before a man gives away his only daughter, there are some last minute things he has to get settled. Like how many cows should be in her dowry. And his future son-in-law has to understand there are certain rules... secret handshakes, mysterious fraternal orders, that kind of thing."

"I think Ned has that mysterious fraternal order stuff down pat," Nancy chuckled, and the director called for them to enter, coordinating their steps to the tempo of the music. "So everything's okay?"

"Did you think it wouldn't be?" Carson asked.

Nancy shrugged. "I've heard you can be pretty intimidating," she teased her father. "I wouldn't know anything about that."

"Yeah, because you're the only person I can't intimidate," he pointed out. "Too much play-trial when you were young, I suppose. Can't be helped now. I keep hoping that if I throw a lot of Latin at you, you'll back down."

"Hasn't worked yet," Nancy pointed out with a sunny smile. "But you should feel free to call me up and throw a bunch of Latin at me anytime."

They reached the altar together. Ned wore a pleasant smile, but a certain light danced in his eyes whenever he looked at Nancy.

"Okay. The minister will ask—"

"Who gives this woman in marriage," the minister piped up, smiling at the two of them.

"And when I refuse?" Carson said, and Nancy laughed.

"Then they invoke the little-used sudden-death clause," she said, deadpan. "Bareknuckle brawl, last man standing wins."

"All right, you two," Ned said, shaking his head. "Let's be serious. I haven't had a thing to eat in nearly—oh, three hours now." He patted his stomach.

"Okay, father of the bride, after you give your answer," the director said, shaking her head, "you'll take a seat. Ned, take Nancy's hand, and you'll move up to the altar."

They went through the runthrough of the rest quickly, still holding hands. The minister asked if they were still planning on reciting their own vows along with the traditional ones, and each of them nodded, Ned gently squeezing Nancy's hand. They pantomimed the communion ceremony, and when the minister pronounced them almost husband and wife, Ned brushed his lips across Nancy's, gently.

"And it'll be just like that." Ned's dark eyes were so intense as he gazed at her that she forgot how to breathe for a moment.

The wedding director was talking to Mike and Bess about the rings. Ned guided Nancy a few steps away, then leaned down and pulled her up, into his arms. She slipped her arms around his shoulders, and when he touched his forehead to hers, she closed her eyes, breathing him in. They had parted hours earlier but all of her still felt attuned to him—and it had always been that way with them, especially since their reconciliation. Her every nerve, every cell, felt alight when he was in the same room.

Their vows to each other. That definitely sent a frisson of anxiety across her belly. She'd feel a thousand times more at ease saying them to him alone, but she knew how much it would mean to him, to hear her say them in front of everyone.

"I love you," she whispered.

"Love you too," he whispered, his lips touching hers again.

"All right," Bess said, disgustedly. "Enough! Man, I'll be glad when you two are married and PDA isn't fun for you anymore," she teased them.

Ned took Nancy's hand and they walked together out of the church, followed by their attendants and parents. "So, one more night apart," Ned said softly.

Nancy nodded, brushing her hair back. "And that's all."

"And this time tomorrow..."

She squeezed his hand. "Yeah," she said, her voice barely a whisper.

It was only words. Only words and a pair of metal bands and her new name, their name, scrawled on a piece of paper.

And it would be everything.

Chapter Text

"Ned? It's almost time."

Ned put on his tuxedo jacket. He and his father, Howie, Mike, Dave, and Bert had been sequestered in a room near the sanctuary to get ready, and Mike had produced a deck of cards. Ned had waved that off, though, too jittery to sit still for long.

His wedding day.

When he had opened his eyes that morning, he had been alone, a single man. Tonight he would go to bed a married man, with his wife.

He hadn't seen her at all yet. Just the thought of seeing her sent his heart trip-hammering in his chest. A very small part of him was worried that the wedding march would begin and keep going, that Carson would walk in with a shrug, indicating that they should stall to give Nancy time to make it in...

The photographer instructed Ned to wait about halfway down the aisle, then left to get Nancy. Ned held his hands behind his back, waiting for her, and oh, he needed to see her. Because a part of him still couldn't quite believe they had made it this far, that she was really here...

He had his gaze down, and then he heard the sanctuary doors open. He brought his head up.

She stepped through and Ned felt his mouth drop open, but he didn't care.

"Oh my God," he whispered. "Nancy... baby, you look... you look so beautiful."

She glanced down, then back up at him, a very small smile on her face. Her makeup was subtle and soft; her hair was shining, pinned up behind her head. She looked elegant and utterly stunning, but when she looked at him, he could see the vulnerability on her face. He had seen her take on life-or-death situations with utter aplomb, but she had been worried about whether he would like her dress or not. "Really?"

"Oh, sweetheart..." Ned shook his head. "It feels real."

Her smile widened into a grin. "I know," she said. "I mean, it was real, but..."

They finally reached each other and she slipped her arms around him, her fingertips against the back of his neck. He held her to him, just gazing down at her, gone speechless for a long moment.

"I'm dreaming," he said softly, and very gently traced his fingertips down her cheek. "Don't wake me up, okay?"

Her eyes were gleaming faintly when she gazed back at him. "Bess is gonna kill me if I ruin my makeup, but I really want to kiss you," she admitted softly.

He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers, soft and chaste as a first kiss, and felt her, warm under the satin, as she breathed in. Distantly he could hear the photographer capturing this moment for all posterity—earlier she had come by the dressing room and asked Ned's father to adjust his son's tie, so she could get a shot of that—but Ned was sure he wasn't going to forget a single moment of their wedding day, at least not the ones he spent in her presence.

"You look so incredible," she told him. "You are the most handsome man I've ever seen."

"And you, sweetheart..." He shook his head. "There are no words for how amazing you look right now."

She reached up and swiped the trace of her lipstick from his mouth. "No cold feet?"

He shook his head, holding her gaze as he leaned down to brush the tip of his nose against hers. "The only way my feet could be less cold," he said, "is if they were on fire."

--

The photographer had all of them go down to the beach for the group photos. Nancy looked around when the entire wedding party and their relatives were all gathered around, and over the soft hum of expectation simmering in her belly, she was so happy to see them all. Her father, aunt, grandmother and great-grandmother and Hannah, Ned's cousins and parents and grandparents and great-grandparents, toddlers in arms, all gathered around, and Ned's arm around her as they grinned for the photographer. They took individual shots with the bridesmaids and groomsmen, with their parents and families. And then, finally, no one could come up with any more combinations, so Nancy picked up her skirt in her hands and began to pick her way over the sand on her heels, toward the cars.

Edith and James easily caught up with her. "Nancy, dear, your dress—your dress looks gorgeous." Edith gave her a small grin. "And I bet you can't wait to get out of it."

Nancy smiled at the woman who would soon be her mother-in-law. "It's not so bad," she said. "The dress itself, anyway. It's what I'm wearing underneath..."

Edith nodded in understanding. "You know that James and I have pretty much considered you our daughter for quite a while," she said. "I just wanted to tell you that I—that we—well, we're so glad to see you and Ned getting married. I don't know if you know this, but Ned's pretty crazy about you."

"I'm pretty crazy about him, too," Nancy said with a smile.

Nancy couldn't believe how high her anxiety level rose in the hour of downtime before the ceremony. She had to have something to focus on, but anything she tried—puzzle games on her cell phone, going over her vows—oh God, oh God, why the hell had she ever mentioned writing their own vows.

Mostly because, she remembered, Ned had told her that he wanted to say his own, that she didn't have to. But if he did, she did have to, she knew that. She wasn't going to just stand up there and give the rote promises, not after he had actually gone to the effort of writing his own.

Bess came over and sat next to Nancy. "I think Linda has pretty much any nerve relaxer you could want," she said frankly. "Want me to go ask her for something?"

Nancy shook her head, pushing herself to her feet. She had to pick up her dress so it wouldn't trail on the ground; she was leaving her heels off as long as she could. "I—I wish it was just me and him," she admitted, softly, so only Bess could hear—and George, who had come over just after her cousin. "All these people are here... We're gonna be in front of everyone and I'm just... what if I forget, what if I screw up..."

Bess shook her head and put a steady hand on Nancy's shoulder. "You aren't. If you want to make some note cards I can hold onto them for you. But everything's going to be all right. And if you, you know, faint or something, well, I'll just get Ned to marry me by proxy and everything will be okay."

Nancy rolled her eyes, chuckling. "I'm not going to faint," she said. "I won't."

The wedding director walked in, her eyes wide and bright. "Okay! We're getting close, guys. I want all the attendants over here; let's make sure all the bouquets are in order..."

Nancy's father was waiting for her just outside the dressing room, in his crisp black tuxedo. He hadn't seen her in her dress until earlier that day, either, and he had been speechless when he had seen her for the first time. She had caught him worrying his wedding band, which he usually only did when he was thinking about Nancy's mother. "I wish Catherine could see you right now," he had said softly, shaking his head. "Well, I know she can... I can't believe you're so grown up, Nancy. It seems like a month ago you were just starting kindergarten, and here you are, this incredibly beautiful young woman."

Nancy's heart had melted, seeing how moved her father was, and she saw that same disbelief on his face when she walked out of the dressing room, her veil pushed back over her hair, a simple ribbon-wrapped bouquet of lilies and roses in her hands. Carson took his hands out of his pockets and came over to her.

"I can't believe I'm giving my baby girl away," he said softly.

Nancy smiled at her father. She had spent the previous night with Bess and George; Jan and Helen and Emily had been there for a while, but then the last wine bottle was emptied, when the three of them were all cozy in their pajamas, ignoring the movie playing on the television, they had stayed up talking, reminiscing about everything, filling in the gaps. The wine had loosened Nancy's tongue enough to tell them more about the shooting than she ever had before, and they had clung together and sworn that they would never drift apart again, no matter what, that they wouldn't let their friendship just become the occasional rushed phone call and school recital invitation.

But what she remembered most about that absolute worst time in her life was that her father had never stopped believing in her. He had never given up on her. He and Hannah had kept her from sinking into despair, and in Ned's absence, in the absence of everything else that had ever kept her whole, they had helped her put herself back together again. They had believed in her, and here she was, whole again.

She wasn't the same woman who had broken up with Ned so many years before.

And she was glad. Because she was stronger than she had been, in that terrible moment, that terrible year.

Hannah came around the corner. Her greying brown hair was pinned up, and she was resplendent in a black and silver dress and jacket. Her eyes began to shine as soon as she saw Nancy. "Oh," she managed to whisper, and shook her head.

"I know," Carson said, a small half-smile on his face. "Remember when she barely came up to my knee and always had at least four band-aids on her arms and legs from climbing trees after stray cats or sneaking over fences looking for clues?"

Hannah chuckled, nodding. "Oh, Nancy," she said softly. "You look perfect."

Nancy looked between the two of them, grateful that she had a little time with them alone before the ceremony. "You two saved my life," she said, and her voice broke a little at the end of it. "I wanted to give up on everything but you wouldn't let me, and I love you both so much..."

The two of them embraced her, careful not to crush any of the elaborate ensemble, and Nancy had to work hard not to cry. She had no doubt that before the ceremony was over, her face was going to be a mess of mascara and smeared foundation.

Carson patted her gently when he pulled back. "I was wrong," he said softly. "I'm not giving you away. You gave your heart to that boy in the next room a long time ago, and ever since then I've been waiting for him to make it official, because I've seen you without him..."

When Carson trailed off, Hannah shook her head. "Treasure him, Nan," she said softly. "What you've found with him, what you have with him... that doesn't happen every day. And believe me, I've already told him that he's the luckiest guy alive."

They heard the music begin in the next room, and the wedding director came around the corner, gesturing for them to follow her. With one last embrace Hannah went into the sanctuary to be seated, and Nancy saw her bridesmaids fluffing out their skirts, nervously smoothing their hair. She glanced up and saw her father smiling at her.

"I love you," he told her. "And when you came back home, I knew you were going to be all right. Because my daughter is one of the strongest women—no, human beings—that I know. You were always going to get out there and make a difference in the world, and I couldn't be prouder of the woman you've grown up to be."

Nancy shook her head at him, her eyes gleaming again. "You are the best dad who's ever lived," she told him, giving him a brief, hard hug. "And I'm the luckiest daughter in the world. I can't imagine who I would be without you."

"Probably someone who was a lot less inquisitive," Carson said with a chuckle.

She wrinkled her nose. "And who would want that," she teased him right back.

The church was almost overflowing with people. In the crowd she saw the women who had accompanied on her bachelorette outing—those who weren't standing at the altar waiting for her, anyway—and their husbands, Ned's large extended family, friends of her father, friends she had made on cases, Ned's fraternity brothers. Frank and Joe. Frank, the only other man in the room she had slept with. For a second she felt a frisson of fear that he would stand up during the time the minister asked if anyone had any objections, declare his love for her, beg her not to marry Ned.

But Ned was standing at the altar, waiting for her, his gaze locked to her and only her, and her world became just the progression of steps between her and him.

In a few minutes, just a few minutes, everything from before would fall away, but for them it already had. It didn't matter if Frank stood up and said anything; Ned knew all of it and had forgiven all of it. He was the only man for her, for the rest of their lives.

The minister asked who gave her in marriage, and Carson answered gravely that he did. He gave his daughter a kiss on the cheek and took his seat at the front of the church, and Nancy stepped forward. She had decided to wear her veil already pushed back, and the only thing obscuring her view of Ned were the tears just rising in her eyes.

She was not going to cry. She was not. She was not.

She had to concentrate, to hear what the minister was saying, as he began to talk about what a sacred bond and vow holy matrimony was, how it would join the two of them in the eyes of God and man. How they would leave their parents and become one flesh, how they should not enter into this union lightly or unadvisedly. He asked if anyone present had any objections to their marriage, and for the few obligatory seconds he paused after, Nancy realized she was holding her breath, and only let it out once he continued.

They stole glances at the minister, but for the most part, they only had eyes for each other.

"Nancy and Ned have decided to say their own vows before the exchange of rings," the minister announced, a smile on his face.

Ned swallowed hard, and reached for Nancy's other hand, and his hands were a little clammy. She gave him a small smile.

Underneath it all, underneath the nervousness and anticipation and euphoria, she was calm, because she was with him.

"I grew up in awe of my mom and dad," he said, and Nancy knew his parents were probably beaming. "They were so in love. And when I first started noticing girls, I decided I wanted to get married too, someday. The girl I would marry—she would be beautiful, and a good cook, and she would be gentle and kind. I wished and I prayed that I'd meet that kind of girl. The kind of girl I could have a happy, calm life with.

"And then I met you, Nancy."

They both heard the soft laughter from the attendants around them and their friends in the audience, but they ignored it. "And you were so, so much better, so much more than that imaginary girl I'd wished for. Gorgeous, incredibly smart, almost recklessly brave, and more than that good, just genuinely good, down to the heart. From the first second I set eyes on you, I knew that I'd never find anyone as incredible as you, and that no one else would make me happy. Because no one else could ever compare to you, and I swear to you, Nancy, that I have never, that I will never love anyone even half so much as I love you. You're a part of me I never even knew was missing, and for the rest of our lives, I'll know that I'm the luckiest man alive, because somehow, after everything, I have you by my side. 

"My parents like to joke that I knew you were the girl I wanted to marry about five minutes after we met, that I'd bring you the moon if you asked for it. And I have been head over heels in love with you for that long, it's true. I would do anything in my power to make you happy. And if that meant bringing you the moon, well, Nancy, I would start building a spaceship."

When he closed his mouth, tears were streaming down Nancy's cheeks. She felt Bess gently nudge her, then hand over a tissue. Nancy wiped hastily at her eyes, shaking her head, then back up at Ned.

She hated talking about this. But for him, she would.

"When I was a little girl," she said, "as my friends have so recently reminded me, I decided that if I had to choose between solving mysteries or marrying, having to make dinner and keep house instead of tracking down clues, well, I would never get married. I would just live at home with my father, who was the greatest man I had ever known, and we would solve mysteries together. And—and I'd never be hurt. I would never have my heart broken by losing the man I loved.

"I never expected to meet a man who would understand the way I feel about my cases, but more than that, I never expected to meet a guy I could respect and admire the way I respect and admire my father.

"And then I met you." Ned gave her a small smile and she took a deep breath, willing her voice not to shake, but of course it did. "And you were incredibly handsome, so smart and brave and protective and so good. You are an amazing man, Ned Nickerson. So amazing that, for the first week we knew each other, I couldn't believe you were interested in me."

Ned's parents chuckled, but she could see it in Ned's eyes, as they held each other's gazes.

"You are the part of me I never knew was missing." Her lips were shaking, and her eyes filled with hot tears that spilled down her cheeks so quickly, but she kept going, watching Ned's eyes gleam in response. "You made me a better person. You make me a better person. I've seen who I am without you, Ned, and I still can't believe you slowed me down long enough to win me over, but I am so incredibly, so wholeheartedly in love with you. You are the best guy I know, and no one else could ever be as perfect as you are for me.

"And what I want from you, is not the moon," she said, and their audience chuckled in response. "Not the stars, not all the jewels in the world. What I need is worth infinitely more than that. Because I need you, Ned. You are my—my heart." Her voice broke a little as she said it. "And now that I've found you, I can't live with anything less."

Ned pulled her into his arms in front of everyone, embracing her, touching his forehead to hers. "I love you so much," he whispered, his voice gruff, his eyes closed.

"And I love you," she breathed, another pair of tears slipping down her cheeks before she dashed them. "I love you so much."

After they recovered, they stood before the minister, as Mike and Bess handed over the rings.

"I, Ned," he said, repeating after the minister, "take you, Nancy, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish forever, according to God's Holy Ordinance. I forsake all others and I will be faithful to you for as long as we live." He slipped the ring onto her finger.

"I, Nancy," she said, "take you, Ned, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish forever, according to God's Holy Ordinance. I forsake all others and I will be faithful to you for as long as we live."

"You have exchanged your vows," the minister said, smiling at the both of them. "Your vows and your rings, and you have given your pledge. For your first act as a married couple, you have elected to take part in Holy Communion. May the Holy Spirit bless this union and keep you both."

Nancy was aware of the slender band on her finger the entire time they stood there, and when they were finished, the minister turned to them again.

"Those whom God has joined together, let no one part.

"As you have made your vows together before God and this congregation, as you have given your pledge and exchanged rings to mark your bond, by the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife.

"You may now kiss your bride."

Ned lifted Nancy into his arms and kissed her, and she wrapped her arms around him, shivering at the feel of his lips against hers. Her husband was kissing her. Her husband.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. Nickerson."

--

Nancy kept her elaborate wedding gown on as they left the church for the reception, as they cut the cake together, as they sipped their first flutes of champagne, and for the first dances, for the one with her husband and the one with her father. The sun was setting over the ocean when the photographer asked them to come down to the beach, Ned's jacket already off, his tie loose. They played at the edge of the waves, grinning like idiots at each other, their fingers, arms, lips, bodies pressed together. Then the photographer let them go and Nancy vanished for a little while.

When she came back, Ned glanced up at her, and from the moment they had been pronounced husband and wife, she had felt the simmering awareness between the two of them. She had put on a knee-length white sundress and a pair of low-heeled slippers, and she looked and felt much more at ease.

The reception hall was large, but only the food was inside, along with a few tables for those who preferred to eat indoors. The rest of it, the large open bar, the dance floor, and the tables, were under tents just outside. Twilight had fallen and the strands of white lights gave the space under the tents a soft glow.

Ned was amused at the plate Nancy brought back to their table. He had stuffed his tie into the pocket of his jacket and had the first few buttons of his shirt undone. All she'd have to do was run her fingers through his hair a few times and he would look like they had been going at it in a closet.

She had to put that idea out of her head just as soon as she had it.

"Looks like someone's worked up an appetite."

"I couldn't eat," Nancy told Ned, plucking a large strawberry off her plate. "I was nervous all day. Now I'm famished. And I have a feeling I'm going to need some energy later."

Ned swallowed a bite of roast beef, washing it down with a long sip of champagne. "Some," he agreed. "You were nervous?"

She shrugged. "Well, given my track record—I just didn't want to be late. Or delayed. Or kidnapped. Or—"

"Or suddenly find a ransom note, or come across some old lady who spun you a tale about magic lights, or be snatched off the street and forced to serve as chief cook and bottle-washer aboard a pirate ship," Ned finished the thought.

"That last one seemed just a bit more farfetched, dear," she told him, spearing a stuffed mushroom with her fork.

"Sorry. Got distracted thinking about the elaborate cosplay I have planned for later."

Nancy raised an eyebrow at him, then blushed when her aunt laid a hand on her shoulder, asking if either of them needed anything.

After they finished their meal, topping it off with a slice of cake each and more champagne, Nancy and Ned moved out onto the dance floor together. She slipped her arms up around his neck and he slipped his around her waist, and they swayed together to the music. Nancy had given the DJ a list of songs to include, among the usual dance numbers, and the one playing was a slow, sweet one that had always made her think of Ned.

Her boyfriend.

Her husband.

They hadn't really had a chance to talk to each other, save a few stolen moments in the limousine on the way to the reception site. But Ned, Nancy could tell, relished the idea of telling anyone who tried to cut in on them that he was her husband, and he had a permanent hold on her dance card.

She touched the back of his head, bringing it down so she could whisper into his ear, and she shivered, taking a swift breath as he nuzzled against her neck.

"So I noticed in your vows you didn't say anything about my cooking abilities," she teased him. "Even though you said you wanted your wife to be a good cook."

Ned kissed her ear. "If all I wanted was a good cook, I would've married Hannah," he teased her back. "As it is, I'm kind of hoping she visits a lot. With treats."

"I'm sure you are." She brought a hand down to pat his stomach, and he made a soft noise deep in his throat when she let her fingertips barely drift against his belt.

"You know, Nan," Ned mused aloud, still gently swaying with her, "when you were still in your wedding dress—which was really gorgeous, just wanted to say that again—I wouldn't really have considered trying to drag you into a broom closet so I could have my way with you. It looked pretty damn hard to navigate around. But that cute little thing you're wearing right now? Pretty sure I could have your panties off and your legs wrapped around my waist under a minute from now."

"You know, I did not even consider that when I was picking this dress," she replied, in the same lazy tone. "Not really. Mostly because I'm not wearing any panties."

Ned's mouth dropped open slightly, and then he cut his eyes at her. "Tease," he chastised her. "We're married now. It's not nice to tease."

"Really? You sure about that?"

"Definitely." He leaned down so he could whisper directly into her ear. "It's pretty much required to tease. All fucking night long. And if, at any other social function, you feel the impulse to go commando..."

She chuckled, gently drawing her nails down the back of his neck. "I am wet with anticipation, wondering what you have planned for tonight."

"What I've planned to do tonight is to make love to my wife," Ned said, and Nancy shivered against him. "And then to fuck her until she's screaming. And I don't care who knocks on the door demanding proof that I'm not murdering you, babe, we aren't stopping until your voice is gone."

"Mmm." Nancy's eyes were low-lidded as she looked up at him. "You have to pick the one night we definitely can't get away from this crowd for long together without attracting attention."

"Anyone would forgive us for taking a little break," he told her. "Especially those people in the room who know that—" his voice dropped— "it's been a fucking lifetime since I've been inside you."

She shook her head, coloring just a little. "Can you imagine, if we'd waited until today to have sex?"

Ned shook his head vehemently. "The second he pronounced us husband and wife, I would have dragged you to the nearest flat surface and somehow gotten that skirt up around your hips—"

Nancy stopped him with a soft kiss. "Say it again," she said softly.

"The part about getting your skirt up—?"

She shook her head. "Husband and wife," she murmured.

He smiled at her, reaching up to push a strand of hair off her forehead. "Husband and wife," he repeated. "For the rest of our lives, no matter what, officially and forever, I'm your husband."

"And I'm your wife," she said, and giggled happily at the end, her eyes bright. "I can't believe we made it."

"Me either." He kissed her softly. "Are you really saying that we can't sneak off and just—"

She shook her head. "There will be no throwing me over your shoulder and carrying me off. Especially not while you're making bad puns about booty and plundering depths."

Ned shook his head. "Is this it? We've been married for less than three hours and we're having our first fight? Because there's only one way to resolve it, and it involves us being naked and me trying to train you not to be such a saucy little wench."

"With your cock, no doubt," Nancy murmured, barely moving her lips though she was smiling, just in case anyone was watching them.

"You mean, while my broadsword plunders your depths," he murmured against her ear, though she could hear the laughter in his voice.

"Wouldn't a saucy wench need a big, hot, hard... gag in her mouth, to stop her from being quite so saucy?" Nancy raised an eyebrow.

"Only if I didn't want to hear her screaming when she came," Ned whispered. "Because I do. And after that, anything at all that my wife's heart desires, we'll put on the table."

"What my heart desires," she told him, and by then their bodies were sealed tight together, too close. They were definitely playing with fire. "What I want is to spend our entire honeymoon naked and fucking you, making up for every single second of lost time. Especially since apparently once we get home we'll be having sex once a month, if we're lucky..."

Ned pulled back to stare directly into her eyes, speechless for a good long moment. "Uh—the hell?"

Nancy shrugged. "Apparently marriage isn't the perpetual porn-scenario fantasyland I was led to believe it was."

"So, the kitchen counter? The back patio, the laundry room? All those are off limits?" Ned played along, his eyes wide.

She nodded mournfully, her eyes dancing. "Sorry. Once we get back it's going to be all flannel pajamas and missionary position for five minutes before we pass out watching the ten o'clock news."

"Okay, that's it," Ned announced to her. "I'm going to sue over false advertising. I request—no, I demand—the right to cover you with whipped cream and hot fudge and slowly lick it off every single bit of you. Or to get so impatient to get inside you that we scramble into the backseat and you hike your little skirt up and ride me."

"Skirt?"

"In my fantasies you're always wearing a skirt," he informed her. "When it isn't a dress. Or fruit roll-ups. Or a cheerleading uniform."

"I get the idea," she chuckled. "Plus, I think I've been told that I need a lot more practice when it comes to sucking off that gorgeous cock of yours..."

Ned growled quietly. "Don't you tempt me," he told her, his fingers gently pressing into the small of her back.

Nancy pulled back before their proximity would make him even more aroused. "If we don't slow down I'm going to drag you out in the water and do incredibly dirty things to you," she said reluctantly.

Before she could do anything Ned swept her up, tossed her over his shoulder, and started running toward the waves. Nancy let out a shocked laugh, then started flailing, trying to squirm free. "Ned, if you don't put me down right now—"

"Please finish that threat," Ned told her, holding her tighter.

They weren't alone on the beach, though. Several couples and guests were taking a break from the dance floor or the buffet by taking a little stroll beside the moonlit waves. Nancy smoothed her dress down as soon as Ned put her back on her feet. She cast a fierce glare at him, although her heart wasn't in it.

"See?"

"Next time, broom closet," Ned replied.

After she recognized her Aunt Eloise and Seth, Nancy saw Frank, Callie, and Joe strolling toward them. She hadn't had a conversation with Frank since Ned had told her what he had overheard, and she was glad for the low light; she knew that Frank and Ned had held a conversation or two after all of them were aware of their communal past, but that still didn't mean she relished the idea of her former, if only briefly, lover talking to her freshly-pledged husband.

"I'm so glad you guys could make it," Nancy said sincerely, exchanging smiles with them, although she found her gaze shying away from Frank's before even a fraction of a second had passed. "It's really gorgeous out here."

The three of them nodded in agreement. "Your dress was so incredibly gorgeous," Callie piped up, slipping her arm through Frank's.

Nancy smiled at Frank's longtime girlfriend, trying to imagine how she would feel if she was invited to Jennifer's wedding, with Ned by her side. Probably relief. At least in that scenario Jen would be less likely to try to sink her claws into Ned again. Probably.

"Thanks. And your dress is really pretty too," Nancy told Callie.

Callie plucked at the skirt of her dress. "Oh, this?" she said with a small chuckle. Her matte jersey dress hugged her figure. Nancy was sure Callie had worn it specifically for Frank's benefit. "Thank you."

Carson came over to ask Ned something, and they walked a few steps away. Nancy was hugging Midori, thanking her for coming, when Frank hesitated, then walked back toward her. Nancy almost wanted to beg Midori to stay, but Ned was only a few steps away.

And she was being ridiculous. Frank wasn't going to try anything. He wasn't.

Frank gave her a small smile once they were relatively alone. "Congratulations," he said softly. "I... I wish I could say that... oh, God. I'm... glad you're happy."

Nancy swallowed hard, forcing herself to meet his eyes. "I am happy," she said. "And... and the timing... it just wasn't right, for us."

Frank nodded. "That damn shooting," he said. "I'm just so glad you're okay."

Nancy clenched her hand against the side seam of her dress, glancing over at Ned. Ned had been the one to hold her on those rare nights she'd had flashbacks to the shooting—and before that, her father and Hannah had been panicked when she would wake up screaming, terrified. Her life had divided so many times—before and after she had met Ned, before and after that terrible breakup, before and after her mother's death—but the major one was before and after the shooting, and everything that had gone along with it.

She remembered who she had been before, but it was like remembering a different person. She was so much more careful, now. For a while she hadn't cared so much if she lived or died, for that brief span of time, but her father and Hannah and Ned had helped her overcome that.

Regardless of what he thought, the shooting hadn't been the reason she and Frank had drifted apart.

Even so, she nodded. "And Callie's a great girl."

Frank nodded. "She is. She really is." He grinned. "I'm having second thoughts about inviting her as my date, though—I think now she'll be expecting a black velvet box in my hand any day."

"And that wouldn't be such a bad thing," she told him. At least he usually kept Callie out of danger. At least she probably wouldn't be the one bleeding out...

Nancy shook her head sharply to clear it as Callie came over, taking Frank's arm again. "Come on. We haven't danced nearly enough tonight," she told him, then smiled at Nancy.

"That is an excellent point," Nancy said. "Where is that husband of mine..."

A pair of strong arms slipped around her waist, and she felt Ned press a kiss against the crown of her head. "You called, darling?" he murmured.

"We have a lot more dancing to do before the night is over," she informed him, cupping his hands with her own.

The floor had become a crazy blur of color and exuberance when they made their way back. The groomsmen, bridesmaids, spouses, family members, guests, all laughed and swung their hips to the beat. Nancy noticed that Bess was gazing up at Ned's cousin Terry, and that gave her a little shiver of happiness. Bess had been through so much with so many guys who were so wrong for her—one of whom was dancing with Mattie just then—that Nancy hoped they would hit it off.

Nancy and Ned's hands were joined as they swung their hips, Nancy's skirt swirling around her legs, and she laughed when he twirled her. She loved the fast dances, but at the next slow dance she slipped her arms around him as fast as she could, and the little trembling that she'd felt deep inside at the mention of the shooting began to fade as soon as she was in his arms.

"I love you," she murmured. Saying it to him that first time had been so hard, but once she had realized that was how she felt, that he felt the same way, whenever they were around each other she could hear it in every beat of her heart. It meant everything and nothing, the words they had said to each other so many times, in front of everyone a few hours earlier, because before that last breakup, she had said the words to him too. Now, though... love was a paltry word to give to her feelings for him.

She didn't just love him. And yet sometimes that was all she was, all she felt.

Ned squeezed her tight to him for a moment. "When we were out, drinking and doing all that shit a couple nights ago, what I really wanted was this."

She tipped her head back to look at him. "Okay, you're just trying to butter me up."

"Hand to God," he said.

She grinned. "And were they saying that you really needed to get in a couple more lap dances, maybe make out with a few more strangers, before you got shackled?"

"Maybe." Ned raised an eyebrow. "Hell, were there any lap dances I should know about?"

Nancy shook her head, her eyes gleaming. "Although I will say that if you—no, no. Never mind. I'm sure no one who came along want to talk about what we did that night."

Ned brushed a strand of hair off her cheek. "As long as you kept all your clothes on and didn't make out with any random strangers..."

"Who said they were strangers?" She laughed at his scandalized look. "No, no, it's okay. No makeout sessions. There was nothing I needed to get out of my system. It was all already gone." She ran her hand through his hair. "This was all I wanted too."

She gave him a long, lingering kiss before they parted, dancing with their relatives and guests. Nancy shared another dance with her father, one with Seth, even one with Rick, then one with Terry. Ned danced with his mother and his grandmother, and then Nancy's great-grandmother, who was utterly charmed when she made her way back to her seat. Then the DJ called for all the ladies to hit the dance floor and Nancy made her way out with her friends, feeling the bass pound through her, feeling it shiver up her spine. She felt exhilarated, almost dangerous when she gave herself up to the music, and when Ned's gaze locked to hers from the edge of the dance floor, she could see in his eyes how sexy he found her.

She had left the ridiculously frilly garter on her upper thigh, under the sundress, and when she sat down and he knelt to slip it off, under Nancy's warning glare, Ned kept his hands mostly in check. He did let one fingertip drift up the curve of her inner thigh, and Nancy swallowed hard, gritting her teeth so she wouldn't part her legs to him in front of everyone.

His dark-eyed gaze made her a promise, when it met hers. Soon.

After the garter toss, the bouquet toss was easy, and George emerged victorious, gazing down at the bouquet with a conflicted expression on her face.

For their last dance, the DJ cued up their song. The dance floor wasn't as crowded as it had been—some of the older guests had already said their goodbyes, wishing Nancy and Ned luck—but Nancy didn't care who was around them, if anyone was around them at all. Their bodies pressed tight together and she rested her head on his shoulder, the ocean breeze gently ruffling her hair as they swayed.

She was actually somehow feeling just a little nervous about tonight. Since they had started having sex again, nearly two years ago, they definitely hadn't gone three weeks without it. Even their worst arguments were good for epic makeup sex within the following day.

Ned's fingertips drifted down her spine and she arched gently. "Today has been one of the best days of my life," he whispered into her ear. "And in a little while I'll find out if it's in contention for the best."

Nancy's lips curved up in a small smile. "Well, now I have to ask what the best day is now."

"The day you told me you loved me for the first time," he said, and while he still had a small smile on his face, his eyes were serious. "The first time we made love, and the day before my twentieth birthday, and the day you came back into my life. And today."

"All those are the best day."

He nodded. "And I can't wait to have some more, with you."

Their departure from the reception, surrounded by all their friends, was full of laughter. Ned kissed her softly as soon as they were together in the limousine, and then longer, once the photographer had wished them a happy honeymoon and left.

"Finally," he murmured, kissing her more thoroughly, and she giggled when he lifted her so her legs were draped across his lap. She kissed him again, harder, and when they parted she brushed her lips against his cheek, nuzzling into him.

"We made it," he said softly. "We're actually married now. The reception wasn't interrupted by terrorists or Mick Devlin—Oh shit. Please tell me he's not driving the limo."

Nancy cast a glance back over her shoulder, but both of them had seen the man driving, and he definitely wasn't a blond, cocky Australian. "I think we're safe," she told him, leaning down, slipping her tongue into his mouth.

"Mmmm." Ned covered her breast with his palm, then stroked his thumb over her nipple, and she flushed, arching against him. His other hand slipped up under the hem of her dress, and he made a soft sound when he found that she was actually wearing panties.

She pulled back, her eyes dancing. "Surely you didn't think I was being serious."

"A guy can dream." He kissed her again, still stroking her breast, and she felt a rush of warmth and throbbing awareness between her legs.

She kissed his earlobe when they pulled apart. "What you said back there," she whispered, and she found that she couldn't continue. Her eyes were shining when he tipped her face up so he could look at her. "It..." She shook her head, a tear slipping down her cheek.

Ned smiled. "I used to think that you—that you just didn't feel things as deeply as I did," he said softly. "You never seemed to get that caught up in anything. But it's just hard for you to talk about it." He stroked her cheek. "Because you've had to keep yourself locked down for so long..."

She nodded, grateful that he understood.

"What you said when we were up there," he murmured. "You said I was your heart."

She nodded. "You are," she said softly.

"Then give me yours," he said softly. "Forever, Nancy. I swear, what's between us is only between us... but tell me." He brushed his lips against hers. "Don't ever stop letting me all the way in."

She wrapped herself tightly around him, another pair of tears slipping down her cheeks. "I don't just love you," she whispered. "But sometimes there are no words between us and I feel like we don't need them. How can it be something as simple as love when—" She swallowed hard, forcing herself to continue. "When I would tear my own heart out to save yours, when every single part of me, everything I am, is better because you're in my life. You—after the shooting, when I just wanted to die, it was my dad and Hannah and you, the memory of how strong I was when we were together, that pulled me through. I—I thought I needed you too much, that it made me weak..."

"Never, baby," Ned whispered, touching his forehead to hers. "Never. How can it be weak when you know that you've found the other half of yourself..."

"I was so afraid that I'd lose you that I never let myself have you," she whispered. "I never thought it could be like this. I thought I could be strong without you."

He shook his head, and she cried out softly before his mouth touched hers. He kissed her hard, and she felt his fist close against the fabric at the back of her dress, pulling it taut over her breasts. She returned it desperately, her face wet. He wiped her tears away when they parted, searching each other's eyes.

"I need you," she breathed. "I always have."

"And I need you," he whispered. "From the moment we first met I knew that. You were what I was missing, and I will never be whole without you."

When the limousine pulled to a stop in front of their room for the night, Nancy hastily wiped the ruined trace of makeup from her face, and they put themselves back in order. The driver opened the door for them and they walked out together, slowly, hand in hand.

They reached the door and Ned unlocked it, pushing it open before he reached for Nancy. She closed her eyes and she had seen it in movies a hundred times, but when her husband carried her over the threshold, it was with her legs wrapped around his waist, their mouths just barely touching. He closed the door with his foot, his hips shifting against hers, and she kissed him harder, moaning softly when he braced her against the closest wall. He angled so she was sandwiched between his hips and the wall, then hiked her skirt up, his fingertips sliding along the edges of her panties.

She slipped her hand into his hair, gasping against his mouth, and he tasted like champagne and sweetness. Her lashes were still wet and her heartbeat echoed in her ears, and when he brushed his lips against her neck, she shivered.

"Let me get ready," she whispered.

He pulled back and held her gaze for a moment, his eyes dark and intense, his lips curved up just a little. Then he let her go and lowered her to her feet, and she reached up to draw his face down and kissed him hard.

"I love you."

He cupped her hip, backing her into the wall again, and then he found the zipper of her dress and pulled it down. He kissed her harder and his fingers found the fasteners of her bra and she was powerless, she couldn't do anything to stop him, nothing at all as he unfastened it. The cups, loose over her breasts, moved with her every breath, teasing the sensitive tips of her already-hard nipples.

She dug her nails into his shoulders, tilting her chin down to break the kiss, and they panted. "I'll be right back," she whispered.

He kissed the corner of her mouth. "Okay," he whispered.

Nancy shut herself into the bathroom with her bag and just leaned against the door, her eyes closed as she tried to calm down.

They were married. The man in the next room, waiting for her, was her husband.

She blamed it on how keyed up she was, but when she walked over to the mirror her eyes were gleaming with tears again.

She had never let herself believe this could be real. Never.

She wiped her eyes and shrugged her dress and bra off, slipped out of her panties, then quickly gave herself a sponge bath and brushed her teeth. She found the outfit her aunt had bought for her as a wedding gift and pulled it out, then slipped it on and met her own eyes in the mirror.

They were still red. She bathed her face again, then took a deep breath.

Ned was sitting on the bed waiting for her, the bedside lamp on. She walked into the halo of illumination, her thumb brushing against the curve of her wedding band and engagement ring, and Ned's gaze did a slow fall and rise, down to her toes and back up to her face.

"Wow," he said softly. "You look amazing, baby."

Nancy glanced down. The store hadn't carried the usual flounced skirts and lace garter belts. The teddy she wore was made of sheer silky mesh, with printed black roses trailing over the breasts, over the join of her thighs. It made her look practically naked, and the tips of her nipples were standing under the insubstantial fabric.

She looked up at him again, and he was standing up, and she felt her heart begin to race as he closed the distance between them. He slipped his arms around her and she let out a soft sigh as he picked her up easily, nuzzling against the join of her neck and shoulder, his body so warm against hers. "I'll be right back," he whispered.

Nancy smiled just a little as she found her cell phone, setting the alarm so they wouldn't miss their flight, then pulled back the covers. A bottle of champagne sat in a sweating bucket of ice near the refrigerator; Nancy read the congratulatory card beside it, then put it back down. Their hotel room was sumptuous and relatively isolated.

She sat down on the bed, looking down at her feet. She and Bess and George had all painted their nails the night before. It had felt like a sleepover, like the last sleepover they would ever really have, because from today on she couldn't imagine spending the night alone on a couch or a spare bed when she could spend it with her husband.

He wanted her. He still wanted her, after everything.

When he walked out of the bathroom she looked up at him, and a tear slipped down her cheek. She wiped it away impatiently. Tonight she felt like she was shedding every tear she had ever held back around him. "Promise me," she whispered.

Ned knelt at her feet, the light soft in his eyes as he looked up at her. "Anything," he replied.

"Promise me we'll always talk about whatever's bothering us. Always. No matter what it is, we'll work it out." She gently ran her fingers through his hair.

He nodded. "As long as you will," he said.

"And promise me we'll never go to bed angry," she said, watching him rise to his feet and slide onto the bed, his knees between hers. He tilted forward and touched his forehead to hers. "We'll always make up first."

"Mm-hmm." He slipped his arms around her and she sipped in a shivering breath as he bore her gently to the bed.

She blinked and another pair of tears slipped down her cheek. "Promise me this is forever," she said, her voice barely a whisper. "Promise me."

He was leaning over her, gazing at her face, when she finally found the strength to open her eyes again. "It has always been forever," he said softly. "I will never stop loving you, Nan. I will never leave you, never again." He brushed a tear from her cheek.

She cupped her hand over his. "The way... the way you're looking at me right now... oh, Ned..."

He smiled, but there was no humor in it. "I never look at you any other way," he whispered, searching her eyes. "I never see you any other way."

She slipped her arms around him when he kissed her. He wanted all of her, every bit of her, and she had all of his heart. She could see it in his eyes.

He pulled back and she cupped his cheek, her knees up and his hips resting in the valley between her thighs. "I love you," she whispered. "Forever."

He kissed the tears off her cheeks, gently, then pulled back to gaze down at her again. When he saw the expression on her face, she saw his own gaze soften. "Nancy," he whispered.

"I mean it," she said, and took a deep breath. "All of me. You have all of me. From the first time you kissed me. From the first time I realized that I could never afford to lose you..."

He kissed her again and she wrapped her legs around him, and she let the fear in her drown in desire, in the love she felt when he touched her. He slipped his hand between her thighs and pulled apart the snaps between her legs, and then he touched her through the thin fabric of the teddy, his fingers so warm against her sensitive skin.

She stroked her hands down his sides, gently pushing at the elastic of his boxers, then broke off the kiss, panting as his thumb brushed against her clit. "Mmmmm," she moaned.

"Say it again," he whispered softly.

She blinked up at him, her hips rocking as he stroked her. "I can't live without you," she whispered, and her lips were shaking. "Not anymore."

He kissed her again, and began to peel the teddy up, leaving her sex exposed. "And I need you," he murmured, nipping at her lower lip. "I need you and baby, I need to be inside you, sweetheart..."

She sat up and they peeled her teddy up together, and when they were both naked he returned to her, and she was almost uncomfortably slick between her thighs. He kissed her again and she rocked her hips, trying to encourage him to touch her there again, but he kissed his way down to her breast, then suckled against her, stroking her other nipple. He teased her nipples with his lips, his tongue, his fingers, fondling her, and she arched, parting her legs for him. When he cupped the join of her thighs she let out a soft pleading whimper, crying out when he just lightly dragged the tip of his finger up the slit of her sex.

He wrapped his arm around her and rolled with her, and she straddled him, slowly rubbing against him, the tips of her hair drifting against his bare chest as the tip of her clit stroked against the underside of his cock. He rested his palm against her bare ass as she ground against him, and she let out a soft, shivering sigh before she kissed him. When she arched her nipples dragged against his chest and she kissed him harder as she started to tremble.

"Mmmm." The tip of Ned's tongue slipped against hers. "I need you, Nan."

She ground her hips against his faster as Ned's hand drifted down her back, and when she felt the tension begin to tighten against her belly, she broke off the kiss, sobbing softly. "Oh God, feels so good, so good," she whimpered, and Ned was moving with her, his hands roaming over her, stroking her back, squeezing her ass. God, his cock was slick with her arousal, and she hung her head, breathing hard.

Then she tipped her head back up, gazing into his eyes. "Please, please," she sobbed out. "Fill me up, baby, I want to feel all of you inside me..."

He rolled her onto her back and she trembled as he pulled back, angling to fit just inside her. She bucked hard under him when he brushed his thumb against her clit, and as he pushed his cock smoothly inside her, she shuddered at the feel of him, drawing her heels up and arching slightly to change his angle.

"Oh fuck," she sobbed. God, she felt so fucking tender, so sensitive, it had been weeks and he was so hot and hard inside her. He stroked her clit slowly and she flushed as he set up a steady rhythm, pushing deep inside her with every rock of his hips. The terrible pleasure of her orgasm rose until it was unbearable, as her hips rocked and bucked to meet his, as she rolled her head back and forth, panting loudly, until she couldn't hold back anymore.

"Oh fuck, oh fuck yes," she cried out, her inner flesh just beginning to clench around him as he stroked her clit more roughly. "Yes yes yes oh God don't stop don't stop oh yessss," she sobbed, and when she looked into his eyes, she gasped in a swift breath.

"You feel so good," he groaned, giving an extra jar to his hips at the apex of his next thrust, and her next cry was louder. "Oh God, baby, so fucking good."

She tilted her hips back even further, licking her lips, and when he began to slam into her with every thrust she dragged her nails up his back and he surged against her, pressing deeper into her, and oh God, the new angle meant he felt impossibly big inside her, that his every stroke made her almost delirious with pleasure. She tipped her head back, her cries growing louder as she began to spasm around him, her body jerking with the force of her orgasm as he kept riding her, pounding into her, until her eyes rolled back and she screamed.

"Yeah, yeah, baby," Ned growled, and she was rocking her hips back and forth, writhing under him, her nails digging into his flesh. She would lose her mind if they didn't stop, and God, it felt amazing.

She dug her nails into his ass, shuddering. "Oh God, oh... baby—" She screamed when he circled her clit the other way, her inner flesh tightening around him, and her entire body shook as she took his every thrust.

She wasn't sure if she came again, if she just kept surging on wave after wave of her orgasms, or if it was just the longest single orgasm she had ever experienced. He didn't beg her to come, and by the time she was gleaming, gasping for breath, gloriously sore from their lovemaking and so incredibly tender that all he had to do was breathe and she was trembling, she finally forced herself to open her eyes.

"Come," she begged him, her breath ragged. He buried himself inside her, his hips flush to hers, and let out a guttural groan, and she felt him jerk as he finally let himself climax.

They stayed joined, their skin slick where it touched, panting their breath back. She let her legs fall open and let out a soft moan when the angle of her hips shifted, and she couldn't have moved even if she wanted to. Slowly, slowly, she became aware of the world outside the two of them, of anything beyond the deep perfect satisfaction of his cock inside her.

Ned moaned softly. "Holy fuck," he muttered, turning slowly to face her.

She gently trailed the points of her nails down the indentation of his spine. "That was so amazing," she whispered. "You were incredible."

He smiled and shifted a little, taking some of his weight off her. "I have never held out that long," he admitted. "Never. But oh shit, you looked so incredibly sexy..."

She smiled, reaching up to touch his face. "I've never come like that before," she said.

"So it was good for you?"

"Oh hell yes," she told him, and grinned when he planted a soft kiss on her lips. "Definitely."

"Better than your birthday?"

He laughed when she actually paused to consider, but she nodded. "Not that I wouldn't love to try it again sometime, but yeah," she told him. "Because I was making love to my husband, this time."

He kissed her again, a little harder, and his lips were still against hers as he whispered, "And it was amazing."

He finally found the strength to lift himself off her, and Nancy let out a long sigh, brushing her hair back out of her face as they cleaned themselves up and moved under the covers. She cuddled against him immediately, and he radiated heat as they tangled their legs up, their arms around each other.

His lips brushed her forehead. "You know, the last thing I would've called you was shy about having sex," he murmured. "But... were you more relaxed than usual?"

"Yeah," she murmured. "I missed you so much, these past few weeks..."

"And that's what did it?"

She made a soft noise and shook her head. "Bess said something," she said softly, into his chest. "How after we were married we couldn't just walk out if one of us got upset. And I think..."

She trailed off and Ned kissed her forehead again. "You think what," he whispered.

Her chest felt tight. "I think in the back of my mind I was always worried about that," she whispered. "That you'd walk out on me the way I walked out on you. And that I'd deserve it."

Ned pulled back to meet her eyes. "Do you want me to be honest with you?"

She nodded. God, after tonight she'd be happy if she never cried again. She hated the helplessness of it, and the vulnerability of talking about these things—but this was what he wanted.

He brushed his thumb over her lower lip, then wiped away her tears. "When you came back to me, when we were just seeing each other again, when nothing was official yet... I was waiting for you to walk out again. I wouldn't let myself believe you when you said you might come by, when we could go out, because I hated so much... I hated the way I felt when I'd get so excited to see you and then I'd be disappointed.

"But I was falling in love with you all over again," he whispered. "Every time I saw you. Every time you said you'd show up, and you did. And if we'd been having sex then, I might have been able to convince myself that it was just lust, that it was just how incredible you always were in bed... but we weren't sleeping together. We were the way we used to be, before everything—got bad. And that was worse.

"Because I know how it was without you, and I could have lived that way... I could have. People live with broken hearts." He gave her a very small smile. "It's so much harder to live with half of one."

She nodded. "Yeah," she breathed.

"There was a time when I could have walked away. When I had to decide if the risk of losing you, of how terrible that would be, was too much... but Nan, you have no idea how much it meant to me, that you came back."

"And you didn't send me away."

He kissed her softly. "I couldn't," he whispered. "You are my flame, baby, and the closer I get... the more I have of you, the more I know I will never have enough."

"And you're mine too," she breathed, shifting onto her back, closing her eyes as she took his weight again. "I hate feeling powerless and that's all I felt around you, and it was like fighting the tide. I've almost figured out how to let it go."

"Then let me help," he whispered.

They kissed each other lazily, caressing each other, two people secure in the knowledge that they didn't have to be anywhere near coherent the next morning. She remembered the unopened bottle of champagne and he uncorked it, brought it and the flutes back to bed still naked, and filled both to the brim.

They were on their second flutes when Ned dragged his fingers through the ice-cold condensation on the sides of the champagne bottle and then stroked her nipples with his cool fingertips, and she hissed, arching. His eyes were dancing wickedly as he touched the bottle again, then stroked her clit.

Nancy cried out softly, her legs sliding even further apart. "I'm not gonna be able to walk by the end of our honeymoon," she moaned, whimpering when he stopped touching her.

"You're not gonna be able to walk tomorrow," he promised, and she reached up for him, drawing him back to her for another kiss.

"Is there any ice left in that bucket," she whispered, when their lips parted.

Ned looked down at her. "You liked that, huh," he murmured, nipping at her.

She blinked up at him. "Can I be honest with you?" she murmured.

"Yeah," Ned whispered. "Always."

"I like when you hurt me," she admitted. "I feel like I deserve it."

Ned pulled back again, and his face had gone pale. "Shit," he whispered. "Nan, if you don't... if you don't enjoy it..."

She shook her head, her eyes shining. "I do... I do like it. It..." She sighed. Her heart was beating so hard her lips were shaking a little. "It makes me wet when you hurt me, when you're getting off on it too. When you bite me, bruise me, leave me sore. I'm... when I think of what I was like to you before, the way I treated you, all those fucking broken dates and stolen kisses and... I feel terrible. Like I was awful to the man I loved, like I can never make it up to you. When I ask you to punish me for being such a bad girl..."

Ned shook his head. "You did get almost scarily into it..."

Her brow knit a little. "Do you not—do you not like that?"

"Oh, sweetheart." He leaned down. "I... I thought it was just dirty talk," he admitted, brushing his lips lightly over her cheek, down her neck, soft as breath. "I didn't know you felt that way about it."

She closed her eyes. "I... didn't mean for you to," she said softly.

Her fingers slipped through his hair as he made his way down to her breast, as he gently stroked her nipple with his tongue. He planted a soft kiss on the pebbled tip before he whispered, "So what else do you fantasize about?"

Her heart was beating so hard it almost choked her, almost took her voice. She waited until he trailed his lips back up, until he pulled back to gaze into her eyes. "I think about you spanking me," she whispered. "Naked and bent over your knee while you do it. I think about you tying me to the bed and doing whatever you want to me. I think about you..."

She turned her face away and Ned leaned down, his hips between hers, and pressed his lips to her ear. "Tell me," he whispered, and his fingertips stroked up and down her side, soothingly. "Just say it, whatever it is."

She squeezed her eyes tight shut. She couldn't look at him. "Hurting me," she whispered. "Hard. Ignoring me when I say the safe word and making me bleed, making me pay for everything I've ever done to you. I think of you using clamps on me." She shuddered when he cupped her breast, so, so gently stroking her nipple. "On my nipples, on my... on my clit."

Ned made a soft noise deep in his throat, and she felt him shake a little when he stroked her side again.

"Of letting you dominate me. For real. You ordering me around, grabbing me by the hair and forcing your cock in my mouth, getting off when I'm choking on you, like when we were in New York." She paused, waiting for him to protest, to beg her to stop talking.

"What else, baby," he whispered.

"Choking me." Her voice was barely above a whisper. "You fucking me while you choke me. Not killing me, just until I pass out."

Ned chuckled weakly. "Well, that's good, because no matter how hard you'd get off, I'm not choking you to death," he said.

She closed her eyes again. "When I felt worthless I'd imagine you burning me, cutting me. Imagine you telling me I... I deserved to hurt the way I hurt you."

"Please tell me you don't feel like that anymore," he whispered.

She released a soft sigh. "Not in a long time," she whispered.

Ned moved back up to the pillows, rolling onto his side, and pulled her to him. "Okay," he said softly. "So... hurting you to the point that I draw blood? Intentionally? I don't think I can do that. When we bite each other, that's okay, hickeys, yeah, but I can't... cut you. I can't do that. I won't burn you. And I don't think you'd get off on that anyway," he said, and gently brushed his thumb over her cheek.

"The choking thing... uh, that scares me a little, because it would be way too easy to fucking kill you, but... I don't know. I've heard it can be really hot."

Nancy chuckled. "That mean you might want me to ride you and then start smothering you?"

"Maybe," he said. "I don't know. I need to... if we agree to do it, I just want to be safe about it."

She nodded. "That seems fair," she said, and her heart was beating hard. She couldn't believe she had admitted it to him—or that he was even considering it.

"The clamps sound fucking hot as hell and I saw this set that would be perfect when I was shopping for the strap-on..."

She chuckled, flushing just a little. "Oh, so you've been thinking about it too," she teased him.

Ned shrugged. "It's kind of amazing, how much of my day is given over to thinking about what I want to do to you in bed," he admitted.

"So what is it that you want?" she asked, meeting his eyes. "I mean, I just seriously laid fucking everything out..."

"We'll get to it," he murmured, leaning down to kiss her. "Let's see, what else... spanking? Seriously fucking hot. I am all for that. Deep-throating you and knowing you're getting off on it? Oh hell yes. Tying you up? Only if you tie me up too, sometimes, because that is fucking hot as shit.

"But, Nan... I mean, if you want me to really dominate you, past the safe word... then we have to have another one. Maybe the first one will be a warning and the second one will mean no, but I can't... I can't go past you saying no if there's nothing else. Mostly because if I cross a line I don't even know is there, I don't want you calling your father and then waking up to find I've been castrated."

Nancy chuckled at that mental image, but immediately stopped when she saw the stricken look in her husband's eyes. "Okay," she said softly. "Okay. That seems fair."

"So if I dominate you... if we take it that far, I know you said a threesome is off the table..."

She shuddered. "What I said still stands," she told him. "There's exactly one guy I'd let share our bed, and no, I'm not gonna go down on some chick while you're fucking me. Yes, I know you'd die of happiness, but you don't even need to bother saying it."

Ned shook his head. "As long as you promise to let me know when you change your mind."

She smiled and cupped his cheek in her palm. "It's an if, and that if is a never. Good try, though."

He reached up for his champagne and finished the rest in a few gulps, and she did the same, chuckling when he refilled their glasses. "It does help to get liquored up to talk about it," she admitted.

He took a long sip of the next glass before he put his flute down, then teasingly trailed his chilled fingers over her ribs, and she squealed and squirmed away from him as he tickled her. "Okay," he began, when she calmed down. "I should've said this a minute ago, but... we're married now, okay?"

"Uh, I was aware of that," she told him, flashing her wedding ring at him.

Ned shook his head. "No, I mean... all that stuff is in the past, okay? It's one thing for you to like it if I spank that tight little ass of yours, but I need you to understand that I'm not looking at it as payback for stuff that I forgave you about a long time ago. That's just not the way I think. If it makes you cream yourself to deep-throat me, fuck, Nan, that's awesome. If you need me to force you to do it, if you like that, that's fine. But..." His eyebrows went up. "You know, I'd rather go the other way," he murmured.

"What do you mean?"

"I'd... I don't want to punish you for what you've done. You're my wife and you don't do that anymore." He shook his head. "You need positive reinforcement."

"You mean I do something good and you reward me by dominating me?" she murmured, sliding her leg up over his hips.

He slipped his hand down to cup her ass. "I mean we do it because you want to do it, because you get off on it, and the entire time..." He kissed her softly. "The entire time we're enjoying each other, baby. I don't want to be hurting you because you think that's the only thing you fucking deserve. I want to be rough with you because that's what will get you off."

"And if it gets me off, for you to punish me for being a bad girl?"

Ned growled against her skin, and she chuckled. "There's a difference between roleplay and... that. What you said earlier... let's make a deal, okay? If you're upset or dwelling on some shit or whatever, we talk about it. And then, you know, if you beg me to fuck you senseless just to take your mind off it, I'm all for that. But I'm not gonna fucking tie you to the footboard and whip you and tell you I'm punishing you for every time you fucking looked at Frank. No. That's not on the table."

"So if I tell you that I'm a bad, dirty girl because while I was at work I started thinking about you, and I got so wet that I had to go shut myself in the restroom and run my fingers between my legs, imagining you doing it, and I need a good, thorough spanking so I won't do it again..."

Ned growled, kissing her hard. His fingers dug into her hip hard for a second. "Okay, you better fucking stop it," he muttered. "You say it one more time..."

She tilted her head to whisper into his ear. "Spank me," she moaned, and a little shiver went down her spine. "Until my ass is red, baby. Just the thought of it makes me wet, oh, Ned..."

He grabbed her, his fingers tightening in her hair, and she gasped as he tugged, dragging her with him as he slid to the edge of the mattress, sitting up, his legs over the side. "Get on top of me," he ordered her, and she maneuvered until she was straddling his hips, and God, she could feel how slick she was.

He smacked her ass when the tip of his cock was just inside her, and she tipped her head back, feeling her cunt pulse in answer. "Harder, baby," she moaned, sliding her knees apart, and she shuddered as he spanked her other cheek, a little more forcefully. "Mmm, keep going," she begged, slipping her arms around his neck as she took the full length of his cock, then began to rock her hips back up.

"You like that, baby?"

She nodded, letting out a little sobbed moan as he spanked her a little harder. "Mmmm, yeah," she encouraged him, circling her hips a little as she sank onto his cock again. "And I was a very dirty girl a few days ago, sucking your cock with my friends sleeping right outside..."

Ned's hips jerked up to meet hers as she trembled. Her ass was stinging from his spanking, she was flushed, and when he spanked her again she let out a louder moan. "You were dirty," he told her, "and it was the fucking hottest thing ever. Did you like the taste of your juice on my cock, you dirty girl? Did you get off, swallowing my cum?"

Her eyes were low-lidded as she bounced on top of him, and he spanked her every time she rose, sending her slamming back down onto him, her cunt tightening around the thick length of his cock. "I loved it," she moaned, and one of her hands stole down to pinch her nipple. "I loved it, and I love sucking your cock, baby."

She was riding him hard when he reached down and grasped her ass, and she let out a cry of surprise as he stood, lifting her. They were still joined when he slammed her into the wall, holding one of her legs up still, and she cried out, tipping her head back at how fucking amazing it felt. He fucked her harder, pushing up into her, and she shuddered as the angle rubbed against her clit. "Oh God, oh God yes," she sobbed out, trembling as she raked her nails down his back. "Oh fuck that feels so—so good—"

He didn't stop until she was screaming. Her ass was stinging from before, and his every thrust into the slick press of her cunt was audible, she was so wet. She pushed herself up on her toes and gave herself over to it, gasping and burbling his name when he found her g-spot. He was panting harshly as his body slammed into hers, and her screams sank to a low, desperate moan as she came with a hot gush of arousal, her inner flesh clenching against him in spasm after spasm.

Ned pinned her against the wall as he came, her leg wrapped around his waist, both of them panting hard. Her heartbeat, the soft throb of her clit, the glorious press of his skin to hers, were all she knew. She let her head fall to the side, and Ned's lips brushed the line of her jaw before he slowly let her go.

Her legs were shaking, and she leaned against the wall, thanking him with a smile when he brought her a cloth and wiped her thighs. "Mmm. Where did that come from?"

Ned shrugged. "Well, what I really wanted to do was pull your legs up so your ankles were up and crossed behind my head, but I got a little too impatient," he admitted, picking her up and tossing her lightly back onto the bed.

"So we'll put that on the list," she said, and when he settled into bed beside her, she reached for her champagne and finished the rest. He chuckled when he lifted his own flute.

"Thirsty?"

"My throat gets dry when I scream that much," she told him, with a soft chuckle. "Okay, against the wall with my legs up..."

"Generally the stuff I want to do to you is just positions we haven't quite gotten around to trying yet," he said. "The clamp thing, yeah. And I fucking love that you love anal." He stopped, his fingers idly stroking down her side, and glanced up at her face. "But you've kind of scared me—do you enjoy it?"

She nodded. "Especially if you're rubbing my clit while you do it," she admitted.

He relaxed a little. "I love the thought of coming home and walking in to find you just naked and waiting for me," he admitted. "Maybe already playing with a vibrator just to get you in the mood. You know, if you feel like it..."

She chuckled. "I'm so surprised," she said, deadpan. "That sounds so unlike you. Encouraging me to use sex toys? Very dirty, Nickerson."

He smiled at her. "I like it when you're rough, too," he told her. "When you bite me, when you dig your nails in. Not super-hard, but damn, it's sexy. And I like it when we're gentle, too. When I'm looking into your eyes the whole time."

Her lips curved up. "I like that too," she whispered.

"So you don't want me to throw you around the room every time we have sex."

She shook her head. "Maybe we could just... alternate," she suggested. "Super-rough sex one night, really gentle romantic sex the next..."

"Well, if you insist." He kissed her softly. "Or maybe in the same night..."

"Twice in one night?" she asked, in mock surprise. "Did you forget that we're limited to five minutes of missionary, while still practically clothed?"

"Fuck that," Ned growled. "I'm just feeling a little spooked because everything you said was so intense..."

She cupped his cheek, her gaze meeting his. "Because that's the stuff I was afraid to tell you," she whispered. "I love when you go down on me, when you fuck me with your fingers, when we use the toys. I love when you're fucking me and that cock ring is buzzing up against my clit. I love riding you and I love when you ride me. I love when you pin me down so I can't move and fuck me until I scream. And I love waking up beside you, whether we have sex or not, just feeling you close to me..."

"And I love all those things too," he murmured. "I love being inside you, baby. I love making you come."

She snuggled against him. "Anything else?"

He paused for a moment. "I think," he said, hesitantly, "maybe... we could try some more ass play. I don't mean I want you pounding me with a strap-on next week..."

Nancy chuckled quietly. "Although if you want to be pounding me with a strap-on..."

Ned ruffled her hair. "I don't know. I'm just curious."

"Which is my middle name." She pushed herself up to kiss him. "Ned, the only reason I told you all that, before... I trust you. I know you'd never be malicious, that you'd be careful. And anything you want to try with me, I'll be gentle too."

He smiled at her. "I could never intentionally hurt you," he said softly. "I love you too much, baby."

"And I love you too," she whispered, brushing her lips against his. "So much. So much." She kissed him again. "When I was walking up the aisle to you today, I had this terrible idea that Frank might stand up, might say something to object... but you know everything, baby."

He nodded. "And it's done," he told her. "I don't care about who you were while we were apart—I only care that you're better. That we're never going back to that terrible time again. Because I swear it, baby. This is forever."

"And those other girls can eat their hearts out," she whispered fiercely. "Because you're mine."

He kissed her hard, and her fingers threaded into his hair as she returned it. "There has never been anyone else but you," he whispered. "No one who could touch the way I felt about you."

"And you're my first and last," she told him, her eyes gleaming again. "My first and my last and my only, baby. Because you have always been my heart."