The only thing I hated about weddings was everything. While I wasn’t quite as jaded about love and relationships as say, my half-brother Flynn used to be, I also wasn’t sure how just one day was supposed to be the start of a whole new life.
If anyone asked me—although they hadn’t, thankfully—that was a hell of a lot of pressure on just that one day.
People always went on and on about it like the choice of napkin ring or something equally mundane would make a difference to how the marriage would turn out, but honestly, I just didn’t get it.
As I loosened my tie and the collar of my shirt, I lounged near the bar, sipping my whiskey and watching Flynn dance with his baby girl and his new wife, Ariane.
Today was their wedding day and so far, it’d been incredible.
Everything had gone off without a hitch, and in their case, I knew they’d chosen the right people to spend the rest of their lives with, but I still didn’t understand the hype.
Flynn and Ariane looked blissfully happy as they swayed together with Willow in Flynn’s arms between them.
It was the sort of happy from movies, and books, and fairy tales, and even I had to admit that for the longest time, I’d thought this kind of love was bullshit.
Now that it was right in front of my face? Well, I was starting to have my doubts.
Flynn was the last person in the whole universe I’d expected it from, so if he could be so happy to be wearing a suit and swaying around the dance floor with his wife, maybe it was real. Maybe it wasn’t bullshit.
On the other hand, I’d always thought it might exist out there somewhere. Our mother had sure spent her life in pursuit of living that particular dream, but I’d kind of figured it didn’t really happen for regular people.
And then my friends had started falling.
The boys next door from when we’d been growing up, Karson and Maverick Neidum, had gone down first.
It hadn’t been that much of a surprise when I’d found out about Karson. The dude had always pretended to be all hardcore, but I’d had my suspicions. Since I was younger than them, I’d never been on the inside with them as much as Flynn had, but it still hadn’t really bowled me over when I found out Karson had been slayed by the love dragon.
Then came Maverick, Flynn’s best friend.
In his case, it had been something of a surprise. It’d been more likely to happen to him than to Flynn, but the chances had still been slim. Mav lived his life in the fast lane, wheeling and dealing to make himself and his brother as much money as he possibly could as fast he could.
Their construction company had reached stratospheric heights because of it, and I’d thought he wouldn’t stop until he reached the moon.
He still worked damn hard, but he’d definitely slowed down. Now living in a nice mansion with his beautiful wife and their unexpected kid—courtesy of a one-night stand in a limo at Karson’s wedding—he claimed to be living his best life.
And so, the Neidums had been cut down at the knees.
But that was them, and Flynn and I were Flynn and I. We were not the Neidums, and therefore, I’d thought we were safe.
At the very least, I’d thought that if one of us got married, it would be me. Flynn had been next-level jaded by both of our fathers breaking our mother’s heart, and the dude used to laugh in the face of the mere prospect of marriage.
Until he’d met Ariane, who’d given birth to a romantic side of Flynn I never thought I’d see—and then she’d given birth to their daughter.
It was still unbelievable, but I was staring right at it. Believe it or not, there was a gold band on the ring finger of Flynn’s left hand, and he looked fucking happy about it.
He smiled and rested his forehead against hers, both of them looking down at the cutest, most amazing, smartest baby on the entire planet. My niece, Willow.
Evidently, real love existed for mere mortals and now I was wondering if perhaps they were all onto something. If maybe I had been too fast to put myself in the out there, but probably not going to happen category.
“I can practically see the steam coming out of your ears.” Maverick sauntered up to me at the bar, a grin on his face. He slid into the empty space beside me and ordered two shots of tequila. “Let’s see if that’ll get you out of your head. What are you thinking about so hard anyway? It’s your brother’s wedding and you’re single. You should be living it up.”
He did a half-turn to point across the dance floor where the bridesmaids were clustered together. “That’s where you should be.”
I chuckled. “Good to know, but I was strictly told to be on my best behavior tonight.”
Maverick laughed. “Flynn and Ariane are new parents. They won’t last past midnight, but if the bridesmaids are still here, you should go for it.”
“My mom is taking Willow home with her when she leaves and Ariane’s mom is babysitting tomorrow morning. I hate to break it to you, but those two aren’t going anywhere.”
Humor sparkled behind Maverick’s eyes as he lifted both eyebrows and scoffed at me. “Watch this space. I know what I’m talking about. Wedding night or not, they’re bailing early.”
The bartender set our shots down on the counter and Maverick handed one to me before raising his tiny glass into the air. “To another one biting the dust.”
“A fairy just died somewhere because you said that.” I clinked my glass against his and tossed the tequila down the hatch. A shiver sped down my spine as I swallowed the ice-cold liquid, and I winced before tapping the glass against the counter. “Damn, I hate that stuff but it’s so good.”
Maverick laughed. “Yeah, I know. It just doesn’t make good decisions, so if you do decide to go for it, take it from me. Remember the condom and call her in a few months just to make sure you don’t miss the birth of your own child.”
The tequila threatened to make a comeback, and I nearly gagged. I dropped my head and brought my hands to my hips, holding on tight while I waited for it to pass. “Dude, you’re going to make me throw up.”
Laughing again, he winked at me. “Nah, it’s not so bad. In fact, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. There’s nothing like being a dad, man.”
“There’s nothing like being an uncle either, and I’m already one of those.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I know. I feel the same way about Karson’s kids, but I promise you, having your own is even better.”
I shrugged. “Maybe.”
“No, not maybe. It’s a fact.” He dipped his head toward my brother and his little family. “Did you ever think you’d see him like that? I sure as hell didn’t, but there he is.”
“It’s just because it’s Willow. She’s the best.”
Maverick gave me a knowing look, still in good spirits even though he also had a kid and I supposed I shouldn’t have said Flynn’s was better than his. “She’s got you securely wrapped around her teeny, tiny finger, huh?”
“Yep.” I wouldn’t even try to deny it. I adored kids in general, but I was absolutely mad for my baby niece.
While I was an alpha in every aspect of my life, I’d get down on my hands and knees and make goo-goo-gaga noises for that little girl any day of the week. The only part that made it even better was that I could give her back when she pooped or started crying.
The bartender yanked me out of my thoughts when he handed over the whiskey Mav had ordered, and my friend shot me another wise-ass grin. “Take your shot with a bridesmaid, Jude. You might just end up thanking me for this one day.”
“I highly doubt it.”
Chuckling once again, he shook his head at me, inclined his whiskey my way, and then took off back to his wife. They were childless this evening, and I also didn’t doubt that he was going to be dragging his wife away soon.
He might’ve warned me that Flynn and Ariane wouldn’t make it past midnight, but the fact of the matter was that Maverick and Penny wouldn’t last that long either. Their daughter was older, sure, but none of them had a lot of alone time these days and I knew them both.
They were going to make it count.
It was that thought which had my gaze drifting back to the bridesmaids he’d pointed out. If Maverick and Flynn were getting lucky tonight, it was only right that the best man did as well. It was practically one of my official duties.
I zeroed in on one bridesmaid in particular. I hadn’t really been paying attention to them before since I’d been so busy with my actual responsibilities for the day and I’d taken a shift with Willow earlier, but as far as I was concerned, every other bridesmaid paled in comparison to this one.
They all wore elegant, sparkly navy dresses. Ariane’s mother had chosen them, so I was sure they’d been designed by someone with a name worth knowing. But one particular woman really filled hers out. With curves like a figure eight and loose, shoulder-length brown hair, delicate features, and a button of a nose, she was a little less put together than the others but I liked that in a woman.
If I wanted to fuck something with a body as hard as mine or as painted as a wall, I’d sleep with an ironing board or a can of paint. So no, this is better. So much better.
Turning against the bar, I knew it looked like I was simply watching the guests dancing now that the formalities were over, but my gaze never strayed far from the mystery bridesmaid. I wonder who she is to Ariane.
I knew she’d asked a handful of old friends and coworkers to be in the bridal party since her lifestyle hadn’t afforded her the opportunity to make—or keep—many close friends. But I wondered which category this woman fell into.
Ariane was the daughter of Congresswoman Blakely, and her entire life had revolved around helping her mom get elected to office. A job she’d excelled in, since that was exactly where her mom was these days, but this girl being part of the bridal party had to mean that the Congresswoman had approved of her—which was no easy feat.
Getting more and more curious as the minutes ticked by, I was having a much harder time focusing on anyone other than her. Her cheeks were rosy from all the dancing she’d been doing with the other bridesmaids. She had a big, white smile that never seemed to leave her lips, and that voluptuous figure filled out her dress magnificently.
When her laugh rang across the dance floor again, I decided I’d had enough of hanging back. After ordering her one of the specialty cocktails on the drinks menu, I waited for the bartender to mix it before I brought it to her.
I wasn’t in the habit of asking people if I could do things for them. If she wanted the drink I’d brought her, she’d take it, and if not, she could simply say no. What’s the point then of asking if I could buy her drink?
Even if she took it, she didn’t have to have it with me. I was assertive, not aggressive.
Crossing the venue toward her, I gripped our drinks and dodged the bodies barreling toward the edge of the dance floor. The music was lively and happy and people sure seemed to be having a good time, which was great for Flynn and Ariane.
Right now, though, I was about to see if I could make a good time happen for myself as well. I strode right up to the girl, offering her the drink and flashing her a winning smile. “For you. It’s part of my duties as the best man to make sure the bridesmaids stay hydrated. I’m Jude. Jude Olson. Flynn’s brother.”
She blinked hard, like she was so surprised that she thought I was going to disappear if she didn’t look carefully. Greenish brown eyes moved up to meet mine and those pretty pink lips parted as she reached out to take the cocktail.
“I, uh, thank you.”
I smiled. “You’re welcome. I should’ve introduced myself earlier. I’m sorry. We’re both part of the bridal party. It seems almost rude to only be meeting you now.”
More surprise flickered in those hazel eyes, but then she smiled easily and held out her hand like we were in a boardroom. “McKinley, but you can call me Mickey.”
I had to stop my nose from scrunching and I cocked my head instead, looking her over slowly from head to toe. The expensive dress clung to her curves like it’d been sprayed on, her hair shining under the twinkle lights strung up above, and her makeup light and natural. This beautiful woman could be a McKinley, but why on earth she’d call herself Mickey, the gods only knew.
“Mickey? As in, Mickey Mouse?”
Her brow puckered for a moment. Then she rolled her eyes. “Like that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that. One would think you’d be able to come up with a better line than that, Jude Olson.”
A slow grin spread on my lips. “Oh, I will. As soon as I figure out why you’d willingly offer to be called a name made famous by a rodent.”
“It’s arguably the most famous rodent in the world,” she said lightly, those eyes latching on mine. “I’d say that’s something to aspire to, wouldn’t you?”
Uh, no, but right now, I was less interested in her name than I was in her body. The longer I spoke to her, the more aware I became of her slightly fruity scent wafting to my nostrils and the more curious I got about what those curves would feel like pressed up against me.
Judging by the fact that she was now engaging me in conversation and hadn’t tossed the cocktail in my face for buying it for her without asking, I had a feeling that she was curious about me too.
Maverick might have been right after all.
I was single and this was my brother’s wedding, and now, maybe I could live up to the time-honored tradition of the best man having a good time with a bridesmaid. I sure as hell suddenly wanted to, and generally, I got what I wanted.Now all I had to do was to bring it—and her—home.