My heart was overflowing as I watched the library fill up. As soon as the doors opened, it hadn’t been a slow trickle, it had been a downright mudslide of townspeople coming in to support a more than worthy cause.
Farah came up next to me, bumping her shoulder against mine as we watched the building grow more crowded.
Tonight, the library was hosting a casino night, but it wasn’t just any casino night. It was an Alice in Wonderland theme. Dressing up was optional, but people had really gotten into the spirit of the night. There were Mad Hatters and Red Queens and the like all over the place. Every penny that was made tonight from the games or random donations, was going to renovate the sheriff’s station. And from the looks of it, there wasn’t a single resident who wasn’t here tonight—well, with the exception of a few, but that was intentional, and I wouldn’t be keeping them out of the loop for much longer.
If people weren’t at one of the tables, they were perusing the shelves, looking at the books. It was such a beautiful sight, it nearly made me cry.
“See? I told you this town would turn up. When it comes to helping our own, these people will always have your back.”
Farah was right. I still struggled to believe my luck in finding a beautiful home with such incredible people. I’d told myself I wasn’t going into planning tonight’s event with any expectations, but it had been impossible not to hope. I wanted so badly for tonight to go smoothly. Not for me, but for the men and women who really and truly deserved this. Holton included.
Deva joined us, surveying the library with a glass of wine in her hand. I could tell by her flushed cheeks and slightly glassy eyes it wasn’t her first glass, and I couldn’t help but smile. Tipsy Deva was freaking hilarious.
She didn’t go full out with her costume, but she did paint a triangle on the tip of her nose and draw some whiskers on her cheeks. She even rounded out the costume with a headband that sported a pair of cat ears. It wasn’t the best Cheshire Cat I’d seen tonight, but I adored her nonetheless because she was here and making an effort. Aurora and Lark, on the other hand, had gone a totally different route with their Cheshire Cats. They were dressed in footy pajamas with hoods and pink and purple stripes. They looked utterly ridiculous manning the blackjack tables, but it was still awesome.
I was dressed as Alice, if Alice’s blue dress was more cocktail than little girl, with frills and lace. Farah and Shane were both sexy versions of the Red Queen, and Poppy was a female Mad Hatter in black leather leggings, a feminine jacket over a white button-down, and a checked tie that matched the band around her top hot. She was a freaking smoke show. Willow was a classic Alice, looking cute as hell, and Wynn sported a White Rabbit costume that she rocked the hell out of.
All of my friends were here tonight, all of them helping in one way or another, and I adored them for it. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I couldn’t have pulled this off without them. They’d gone so far above and beyond, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to make it up to them. Not that they’d ever ask me to, because good friends didn’t keep markers.
“It looks so cool in here,” Deva said with a slightly tipsy slur. “I still can’t believe we managed to pull this off.”
Poppy came up then, joining our little huddle. “What I can’t believe is that you managed to keep this a secret from Holt and the rest of them this whole time.”
“Well, I had a little help with that.” I scanned my surroundings, looking for one person in particular, and when my eyes landed on Lucy Sheffield, I shot her a wink. She lifted her drink in silent cheers, then reached for the dice on the craps table, and gave them a quick shake before letting them loose.
She was the only deputy sheriff who had any clue what my friends and I had been up to for the past month and a half, mainly because I couldn’t have done this without an inside man. She’d managed to sneak Clay Morrison into the station so he could take inventory of everything that needed to be done to make the station functional and, well, a lot less ugly, really.
I’d stopped in a few times over the past few months to meet up with Holton for lunch, and I couldn’t help but notice the building looked like it was going to fall down around them. My man was going to be sheriff soon enough and he deserved better, so much better. They all did. When I’d mentioned it to my girls offhandedly, saying I wished there was something that could be done to give the men and women who gave their all to keep us safe better working conditions, a plan had been born. That plan and weeks of hard work had finally culminated tonight, and it was a thing of wonder to see the fruits of our labor pay off so wonderfully.
I caught movement from the corner of my eye and saw Willow giving me the signal.
Just then, Sheriff Duke entered the building with Holton and Hernandez trailing behind him. The rest of the crew had to stay back, of course. Someone had to be there in case any calls came in, but these guys could share the good news once we gave it to them.
I made my way to them, so giddy my steps felt light and I had to tamp down my need to skip. I gave in only a few feet from Holton, then, as soon as I was close enough, flung my arms around his neck and popped up on my toes, giggling into the quick kiss at the total confusion on his face.
I pulled back and held my arms out wide. “Surprise!”
“What in the world?” Sheriff Duke started.
“It looks cool as fuck in here,” Hernandez declared, looking around wide-eyed.
“What’s going on?” Holton asked. “Also, you look beautiful, Dove. But really, what’s going on?”
Lucy joined me, the two of us linking our arms around the other’s waist. “What’s going on is your woman’s a genius with the biggest heart in all the world,” she explained vaguely.
I twisted my neck to look at her, asking, “Are we there?”
She smiled big and beautiful. “We’re more than there. Janine’s been tracking the total all night. We passed it about twenty minutes ago.”
I let out a squeal of delight and a little hop.
The sheriff hiked his pants up higher over his rotund belly. “Someone wanna explain why the hell we got summoned down here this late at night?”
“All will be explained,” I assured him. “Come with me.” I grabbed hold of Holton’s hand and dragged him after me, the rest of his team following behind as I threaded through the throng of people to the small makeshift platform. I released his hand to take the microphone Janine handed me as soon as I stepped up beside her. She also slipped me a piece of paper with the total amount of donations we’d received so far, and I nearly swallowed my tongue.
I gave her wide eyes and whispered, “You’re sure?”
She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “No, Lyric, I’m not sure. I was only an accountant for thirty years, but I managed to get by without knowing how to do simple math.”
Her surly demeanor didn’t even faze me anymore. I simply let it roll right off my back like water off a duck. Janine Gates might have been a salty grump, but there was a huge heart under all that sarcasm, and my friends and I had managed to find it, making her one of us, whether she liked it or not. And she did, even though she liked to pretend otherwise.
I leaned in and placed a smacking kiss to her cheek, earning a harrumph as she tried to fight off her grin. Then I flicked the microphone on and spoke into it.
“Hey guys. Can everyone hear me?”
The din of noise and laughter trickled down as I got the attention of everyone in attendance.
“As you all know”—I glanced down at the men in khaki standing front and center and laughed—“well, not all of you, I guess.” I paused while people laughed. “Tonight’s event was all about raising enough money to make some very necessary repairs to the sheriff’s station. The men and women who work there put their lives on the line for us day in and day out, and I think we’re all in agreement that they deserve better than they’ve had.” A murmur of agreement went up through the building, and my lips stretched into a huge smile as I looked at my man. “Well, I’m happy to announce that we’ve not only reached the amount to make that possible, but we’ve doubled it! And that’s all thanks to you guys and your big hearts. Now, it’s with absolute pleasure that I say, Clay?” I scanned the faces in the crowd, landing on Clay Morrison’s when he lifted his arm in the air, a beer bottle attached to his hand and a pleased grin on his face. “It’s time you get to work.”
Holton looked on, shell-shocked, as applause erupted all around us. He stepped onto the platform, took my face in his hands, and kissed me like it was the only way to save him from certain death. The cheers turned into catcalls that had me blushing furiously once he finally pulled back.
“I can’t believe you did this, Dove,” he whispered, his forehead pressed against mine.
“We all did. The whole town. Everyone that loves you.”
His chest rose on a deep inhale. “God, I love you.”
I giggled, joy filling my chest to near bursting. “I love you too. Now come on. I want to gamble away some of my hard-earned money.” I shot him a wink. “It’s for a pretty great cause, after all.”