Moving to Hope is book two of my Rolling Thunder series. The story begins as Dog and Joci, from Moving to Love, get married.
Molly is a friend of Joci’s and as you read the stories, you’ll find out just how intertwined their lives are. They weren’t even aware of their connection.
I thought I’d share the first chapter for you here.
Moving to Hope
Emily sobbed and raised her hand to her mouth. Tears formed in her eyes. “You look so beautiful, Joci. That dress is perfect, just perfect.”
Joci smiled. “Thank you. It feels perfect.” And it did. She’d waited a long time to get married. Forty-five years to be exact.
The other girls chatted and talked excitedly. There was a knock on the door and a beautiful dark-haired, blue-eyed woman walked into the room.
“Hi, can I come in and take pictures?”
“Yes, Molly, come in and meet everyone,” Joci said, walking forward to greet her.
“Molly, this is Emily, Jeremiah’s mom. Staci, Angie, and Erin are Jeremiah’s sisters-in-law. You know my sister, Jackie, and my best friend, Sandi. Everyone, this is Molly Bates. I met Molly a few years back at a class and then again on the Veteran’s Ride, where she was one of the photographers. We’ve been working on a few things together since then. She freelances and I was thrilled that she was available today.”
“Hello everyone, it’s great to meet you. Okay, let’s start getting some pictures, shall we? Then, while you’re putting the finishing touches on, I’ll go out and take pictures of the guys.”
She loved taking pictures, especially at weddings. Everyone was so happy and beautiful in their formal clothing. Most people were polite and used their best manners at weddings. Even the biggest bridezillas settled down by the time the wedding actually arrived.
“Joci, you’re a beautiful bride. You look radiant.” Molly smiled. She snapped pictures of the veil being pinned on Joci’s head, Jeremiah’s mom buttoning the cuffs on her bridal gown, and Sandi placing a necklace around Joci’s neck—the usual photographs brides wanted to be frozen in time for the days when the memories begin to fade.
Joci beamed. “Thank you, Molly. I have a hard time believing this is actually happening. I’m forty-five and a first-time bride. I’d given up on love before I met Jeremiah.”
“Well, I’m so glad you found each other.” She smiled as she motioned for the women to stand behind a bouquet of flowers. “I love taking pictures of happy people. And these pictures…well, they’re going to be amazing; you’re a gorgeous family.”
She positioned the women in various poses and snapped dozens of pictures as she enjoyed the excited chatter; the fragrance of fresh flowers, the ladies’ perfumes, and wedding day happiness filled the air. “Okay, I’m heading down the hall to snap some pictures of the men. I’ll see you at the altar, Joci.” She gave a small wave and slipped out the door.
Locating room number three, she knocked on the door and poked in her head. Jeremiah saw her and waved her in. He met her halfway across the room and hugged her briefly. “Thank you for taking pictures for us today. Joci and I are thrilled you were available.”
She smiled. “I’m excited beyond belief to be here. I love Joci.” She glanced around the room, looking for the perfect spot for photos. The lighting was good, the room was decorated similarly to the room Joci and her family were in with tan armchairs, tan carpeting, and oil paintings of flowers hung on each wall.
Jeremiah smiled and turned to introduce her to the rest of the guys. “Everyone, I would like you to meet our photographer, Molly Bates. These handsome men are my brothers, Dayton, Tommy, and Bryce, and this is our father, Thomas.”
Walking to the four men standing by a tall table, he said, “These are my buddies: Sarge, Superman, Pitbull, and Radio.”
Jeremiah turned them to the corner of the room where the groomsmen helped each other with cuff links and cravats. Continuing with the introductions, he said, “David is Joci’s brother-in-law. And these are my sons: JT, Gunnar, and Ryder.”
Molly looked at the camera in her hands as her cheeks brightened pink. “Okay. Ummm, let’s start over here.” She pointed to an area in the corner. With shaking hands, she set up her tripod across the room. She placed the men in several positions and snapped numerous pictures.
“Okay, Ryder and JT, if you could sit on the stools; and Gunnar, if you would stand between, but just behind them, please,” she said, a catch in her throat. She looked through her lashes as the men took up their positions. Mostly, she watched Ryder. She leaned in to look through the lens of her camera and felt goose bumps run up and down her spine as Ryder’s intense green eyes trained on her. She repositioned the guys a couple more times and snapped several more pictures.
“Okay Jeremiah, why don’t you step in next to Gunnar for a few pictures?”
She found it difficult to continue working as her mind kept wandering to Ryder. Each time she looked at him, he was staring right at her.
“Dayton and Sarge, let’s get you two with Jeremiah, please.”
Molly briefly glanced at Ryder and watched him slowly run his hand across his jaw and back to the nape of his neck. His eyes caught Molly’s almost immediately, causing her heart to pound in her chest. Quickly grabbing her camera tripod with her left hand, she snapped a few more pictures.
“It’s time to go, Jeremiah,” Dayton announced.
Relief washing over her, Molly gathered up her cameras and equipment. “Thanks, guys; I’ll see you out there,” she called as she quickly headed out the door, her pulse racing and her temperature higher than it had been before walking into that room. It had little to do with the fact that she was in a room filled with handsome men, but more because one of those men had caught her attention in a serious way.
Ryder watched Molly walk out the door and had the desire to follow her. Her eyes were stunning—so shiny and blue—like a bright summer sky. Her dark hair was cut in a short bob. It suited her. He wondered if it was soft. He wanted to touch it and let it fall through his fingers. She was petite but taller than his mom, even in the flat-heeled shoes she wore today, but he thought her legs would look incredible in high heels, wrapped around his waist as he pushed himself into her. He took a deep breath then released it, shaking his head; he didn’t even know if she was single, so no need to continue torturing himself.
“Hey Ryder, you ready to go?” JT chuckled.
“Yeah, I’m coming,” he mumbled. He swiped his hand across his jaw and looked away from his brother.
JT nudged him with his arm. “She’s fucking hot. You gonna tap that?”
Ryder scowled at him. “Don’t be crude, JT.”
Gunnar shrugged his shoulders and smirked. “Well, your eyes never left her once. You looked at her like you were going to devour her. Poor thing looked nervous.”
Laughing, JT said, “Maybe I’ll take a shot at her if Ryder’s too shy to talk to her.”
Ryder glared at JT just as Jeremiah approached.
“Come on boys; I’m getting married.” Jeremiah wrapped his arm around Ryder’s neck and pulled him forward toward the door. “You okay?”
“Yeah. I’m okay, Dad.”
“Don’t let them get you down, buddy.”
He and JT sat in the church with their grandparents. Gunnar was walking his mom down the aisle, so he headed down the hall toward the chapel doors to meet up with his mom, Aunt Jackie, and his mom’s best friend, Sandi.
As Ryder and JT took their seats, he looked around to find Molly. His heart hammered in his chest when he found her standing in the corner at the front of the church, waiting for the men to walk out so she could take pictures. Her dark hair shined where the lights touched it. Her slender body stood tall as she set her camera on top of the tripod and adjusted the lens. She glanced his way, and his heart sped up; heat crawled up his torso and beaded on his forehead.
Molly’s heart beat wildly. There was something about Ryder that got to her. She chanced a look around and saw Ryder staring at her and her breath caught in her throat as little shivers danced down her arms and up her spine. Dammit, she couldn’t stop looking at him. She forced herself to look away just as the men walked through the door to stand in front of the church. She almost missed it! She had to start concentrating.
She snapped pictures of the men as the music started, then quickly trotted around the back of the pews and scrambled through to catch the bridesmaids walking up the aisle. She could snap posed pictures later, but sometimes these in-the-moment shots were fantastic. Joci and Gunnar began walking in. Gunnar looked at her and winked, and she clicked away. As soon as they walked past her, she scrambled around to run up the side of the church to get more candid moments up front. As she reached the front of the church, she was able to capture Gunnar and Jeremiah hugging and then she looked over and saw Ryder hugging Joci. Her fingers were tapping the camera buttons as quickly as she could while she watched Ryder whisper something in Joci’s ear. JT leaned in next and hugged Joci as Ryder hugged his dad. Wow, what a moment.
Throughout the ceremony, she continued taking pictures of this beautiful family. She couldn’t wait to get home and take a closer look at Ryder. One of the advantages of being a photographer was knowing you could snap away now and stare all you wanted to later—in private.
Joci had given Molly a list of pictures she wanted to have taken after the ceremony. After the honeymoon, she and Joci would sit down and work on the photo albums together. Joci wanted a few pictures for the house, but mostly, she wanted digital collections made. She and Jeremiah planned to give digital picture frames to all of their family and friends to share memories from today and throughout the past year.
She ticked through the picture list she’d gotten from Joci. Having just finished with Sandi and Jon and their kids, she leaned over the pew to see who was next in line on her list. She could feel the air around her crackle and goose bumps shimmied up her arms. She slowly raised her eyes and looked into Ryder’s. She sucked in a breath and froze. Gawd, he was beautiful. Having him this close to her was very distracting. She could smell the spicy, tantalizing scent of his aftershave and see his corded neck and strong jaw leading to his broad shoulders. Wow!
“I believe my brothers and I are next,” he said, his voice husky and low.
Molly’s mouth went dry, and she had difficulty swallowing. When Joci had described the boys to her, she had explained that Ryder was shy and would need encouragement to participate in things. He didn’t usually jump in unless invited—he was content to stand back and wait to be asked. So Molly was a bit surprised that he approached her at all. When the only response she gave was a slight nod, Ryder’s eyebrows shot up in question.
Licking her lips, Molly replied, “Yes, you’re up next.”
Ryder continued watching her. She had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen—set off perfectly by her dark brown hair. Standing this close to her, he could smell her perfume. She smelled like…more. His cock twitched as he watched her swipe her little pink tongue across her lips. Now that she was ready to take pictures of him and his brothers, his cock decided to stand at attention.
“Maybe we can start on the altar and then we’ll step outside for a few more pictures your parents asked for.” Her voice shook, and a blush crept up her cheeks.
His brothers chuckled behind him as Ryder nodded at Molly and headed toward the altar. He turned to scowl at them. He loved them, but they could be dickheads when they wanted to be. When he reached the altar and turned to face the back of the church, he found Molly standing right in front of him. Good thing he was wearing a tuxedo to help camouflage the growing tent in his pants. He grimaced at his brothers as they stood watching him, then turned his attention back to Molly.
“Okay, Gunnar, if you would sit on the stool, and JT and Ryder, you two stand just behind him. We’ll do a few formal pictures, then some fun ones.” The boys moved into position as Molly looked through her lens. She snapped a few pictures, moved them around again and continued until she had the shots she wanted.
These guys were great subjects. She could easily do something like this for Rolling Thunder. She made a mental note to mention this to Joci. She hadn’t had a chance to photograph these guys at the Veteran’s Ride, because the studio that hired her had assigned her to one of the Veterans groups that had recently earned accolades for their work with veterans. That group had also been a recipient of some of the money from the ride.
After finishing with the boys alone, Jeremiah and Joci came forward to be included in some of the pictures with them.
Molly arranged them in several poses and clicked away. Ryder watched her intently. It was unnerving the way he continued to focus on her, and she wondered when her hands would stop shaking. After finishing with the pictures indoors, they headed outside for some special shots. Molly grabbed her camera and started to reach for her big camera bag when Ryder stepped in and grabbed it for her. Without saying a word, he walked toward the back of the church with her bag. She watched him a few beats and looked back to see Joci smiling at her. Her cheeks flamed bright red as she turned and walked in the direction Ryder had gone.
Joci looked up at Jeremiah. “I do believe I see some sparks flying.”
“Yep. We’ll see what happens from here. They sure seem to be paying a lot of attention to each other,” Jeremiah smirked.
They both chuckled and followed Ryder and Molly out the door.
Joci had not only fallen in love with Jeremiah at the Veteran’s Ride this summer but also with an old orange 1937 Ford Pickup with an oak box and oak box rails. Jeremiah had asked the old guy who owned it if he could rent it for the wedding. He told Jeremiah he would be happy to rent it to him, but he would prefer it if Jeremiah bought it and took it off his hands; he’d been thinking about selling it anyway. Jeremiah was excited when he found out the old truck was for sale. Joci was about to find out that Jeremiah not only bought the old truck, but he’d bought it for her. Molly couldn’t wait to capture Joci’s surprise in pictures.
“Okay, line up alongside the truck for a few group pictures,” Molly directed. Everyone else in attendance knew what was coming. Jeremiah lifted Joci into the box of the truck for a few photos. The boys all took ‘gangster’ style pictures with the truck and joked around.
“I’d like some pictures with Joci sitting in the driver’s seat,” Jeremiah said. He kneeled down in front of her for a few photos, then he reached into his pocket and pulled out the truck keys, with a tag attached, and wrapped in a ribbon. He held them up to her with a smile stretched across his face. Joci looked at the keys, carefully taking them in her hand, and reading the tag—“Something old. I love you, Joci – Jeremiah.”
Joci gasped and threw her hand up to her mouth. Molly snapped picture after picture as Joci’s face ran through a gamut of emotions expressing her surprise and happiness.
Joci sprang from the truck and jumped into Jeremiah’s arms as he swung her around and whispered in her ear, “I love you, Jocelyn Sheppard, with everything I have in me.”
“God. I love you, Jeremiah, so much. Thank you. Is it mine? Is that what this means?”
“Yes, baby, it’s your wedding present.”
“Oh my God, Jeremiah, it…it’s perfect.”
All who stood by watching clapped, cheered, and wiped tears from their eyes as they watched. Except for Ryder; he watched Molly.
Once all the pictures had been taken, the wedding party and guests headed to the reception hall. Molly began loading her gear into her car, taking deep breaths to get her emotions under control. She was captivated by Ryder in a big way, but she had no business getting lost in a man, even this gorgeous man. No way! Focus, Molly, just focus.
At the reception, she took pictures of the wedding party eating dinner, dancing, the bride and groom’s first dance, cutting the cake, throwing the bouquet, and throwing the garter. Now she was done. She loved her job, but after taking thousands of pictures today, she was wiped out. The day had been both emotional and energizing. She packed up her gear and slipped out the back door to go home.
The drive home was a blur. She thought about Ryder. He was possibly the most handsome man she had ever met. Her heart beat faster just thinking about him now. She wanted to get home, pour a glass of wine, and look at her pictures.
She walked into her kitchen and set her camera bags on the counter. She pulled disks out of her bag and fired up her tablet. She could download the pictures onto her tablet while she jumped into the shower, then she would sit and enjoy looking at Ryder.
After her shower and her glass of wine had been poured, she grabbed her tablet and sat on the sofa. She began browsing through the pictures from today. Joci was easy to please, but these were going to make her ecstatic. All she wanted was to camouflage her injuries. She had been in a bad motorcycle accident about five weeks ago. They had just learned that Joci was pregnant, so it had been a very stressful time for their family. She didn’t lose the baby and was recovering, but her right arm, shoulder, and her collar bone were severely damaged. Her right hip wasn’t broken, but badly and deeply bruised. Her slight limp was noticeable when she was tired. She still couldn’t lift her right arm up, and was supposed to be wearing a soft cast, but refused to for the wedding. Joci had asked Molly to make sure she didn’t look injured in the pictures. She didn’t want to look back on this day and remember the accident—just the day she became Jeremiah’s wife.
Molly stopped on the first photo of Ryder. Her breath caught in her throat. Jesus, he wasn’t just beautiful; he was perfect. His shoulders appeared larger than they probably were in his tuxedo but still broad. He was tall, nicely built, and freaking handsome. Wow! He had a slight smirk on his face, and those blazing green eyes were staring right at her. She looked at his picture for a long time, finally making herself swipe her finger across the screen, moving to the next one. There he was again. And again and again and again. She had taken tons of pictures of him. No wonder JT and Gunnar had been smirking at her all day.
She fell asleep on the sofa holding her tablet, looking at Ryder’s picture. Would anyone ever capture her attention like he had?
Ryder kept his eyes on Molly all night. He wanted to ask her out, wanted to ask her to stay. He just couldn’t. She seemed interested in him; every time he looked at her today, she was staring right back at him. Watching the pulsing in her neck unnerved him, imagining he was doing that to her. It was maddening, wanting to approach her and not being able to. At the church, he could talk about the pictures or the wedding. Now, though, wanting to ask her out, he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Women always approached Ryder; he never had to approach them. He didn’t know what to do now; it sure didn’t help that JT and Gunnar were making fun of him at every turn. Jerks.
He looked over to see Molly slip out the back door with her gear. He waited, hoping she would come back in and have a drink, but she never came back. Fuck! The remainder of the night, Ryder visited with his family. He had always enjoyed spending time with his cousins, so he walked over to a table where a bunch of them were sitting and joined them. His mind was elsewhere, though—on a beautiful, dark-haired woman with bright blue eyes.
Finish reading Ryder and Molly’s story –