Logan Reed jammed a finger into the neck of his white oxford and pulled. He needed some fucking air.
What the hell was he doing here anyway?
As he surveyed the church, a bead of sweat popped out on his forehead. His breathing had become shallow and quick. He was going to hyperventilate right there and pass out, making a fool of himself in front of everyone.
He realized one of the ushers was speaking to him.
“Bride or groom?”
Bride or groom? Did he look like a bride?
All he wanted to do was strip off his stiff shirt, strangling tie, smothering jacket; throw on a soft, worn pair of jeans and one of his comfortable shirts; sink into his couch; toss his feet on his coffee table; and chug a nice, frosty beer.
Ah, now that was a fantasy!
But here he was, standing in a monkey suit in a church, about to be struck down by lightning at any second. He blew out a long breath to settle his thumping heart.
Logan stared at the confused usher. Unfortunately he understood the feeling.
“Are you okay?”
Logan had vowed to himself to never do this again. Never be in a church again.
He reminded himself he was only there to observe. He didn’t have to participate. But it didn’t help. Anyone with as many sins as Logan should have been barred from religious houses. That should have been a law. But it wasn’t.
For chrissakes, he had to get a grip. This was a wedding, not a crucifixion.
He had promised his sister he would be here. And even though Logan was a sinner, he never broke a promise. Never.
The usher cleared his throat.
Logan pinned the suddenly flushed, sweating kid, whose suit looked two sizes too big, with a glare. “Dude?”
He watched the teen’s Adam’s apple bob up and down a couple of times before he felt a whoosh of air against him, and someone grabbed his elbow. Hard.
“Logan! How nice of you to get here on time.” The female voice was singsong and syrupy sweet. And it held a lot more meaning in the tone than in the words.
Logan turned to face his sister. He had to look down because she was nearly a foot shorter than him. “Hey, Shorty. Good timing.”
The petite brunette gave him a tight smile. “I see that.” She turned to the usher. “We’re with the bride,” she said sweetly. “We’ll just seat ourselves. Thank you.”
The usher looked relieved, and Logan almost felt bad. Almost.
The grip on his elbow tightened, and without warning, his sister dragged him down the aisle and over into one of the pews on the left.
“Sit down,” Paige said through gritted teeth, even though her face held the biggest smile.
She smoothed her dress and tucked it ladylike as she settled into the pew beside him.
“Jesus Christ, Shorty. What the hell is your problem?”
Logan watched her plastered smile falter.
“Logan, you are in a church, for God’s sake. It’s not the best place to take the Lord’s name in vain. And if you keep doing that, I might have to move to another pew so when lightning strikes you dead, I’m in a safe spot.” She smoothed her done-up do and gave a pacifying smile across the aisle to the older couple staring at them, mouths agape.
“Hey, I didn’t want to be here in the first place.”
“I ask you for one favor—”
“One? Hmm. You must have a short memory.”
“Okay, okay. Knock it off. Believe me, I appreciate your coming.”
“And the thanks I get is a bruised elbow?”
“Sorry, I thought you were going to make that guy piss his pants.”
“Well, shit, he called me dude.”
“Oh yeah, that’s so much worse than you calling me Shorty.”
“I thought you liked it—” Paige elbowed him in the gut before he could say anything besides “ooof.”
The wedding march started, and the double doors opened to reveal the bride.
His sister owed him big-time.
* * * * *
Quinn Preston almost choked on her Alabama slammer when her friend elbowed her in the ribs. “Ooof.”
She saved her drink before it could spill all over her ugly bridesmaid dress. Yeah, that would have been a shame: to ruin such a nice, frumpy, pukey pink taffeta dress. One the bride had said she would be able to wear in the future. Like to a cocktail party. Or maybe her own funeral. Yeah, right. No one in their right mind would want to get caught dead in this thing.
Ruining the dress wouldn’t have been a loss, but losing her drink would have. She was drinking slammers for a reason—to get good and drunk.
Lana nudged her again. “You see that?” She nodded her head toward the back of the room.
“What?” Quinn really didn’t care what Lana was excited about. She just wanted to get this day over with. She was tired of watching the happy couple. She was tired of pasting on a plastic smile for the photographer. And she was really tired of listening to the sappy congratulations. All things she might never have—the wedding, the husband, the bridal bliss. And something her parents never failed to remind her. Especially now that she was in her early thirties. And single. Again.
“Not what. Who.”
“Huh?” She sucked on the dainty little straw the bartender had put in her drink. Hardly anything would come out of it. Maybe it was designed just for stirring. She pulled it out and threw it onto the bar. She really needed one of those big giant straws that came in those fancy frozen drinks.
“Him. Over there.” Lana grabbed Quinn by the shoulders and turned her around to face whatever had caught her friend’s attention.
“Oh, him.” She took a deep draw of the punchlike drink, only there wasn’t a bit of punch in it. Not the fruit kind anyway.
“Yeah, him.” Lana dragged out him like she was sucking on a maraschino cherry and enjoying the sweetness on her tongue.
Quinn didn’t even take a good look. Men were on her shit list at the moment. She didn’t care how hot they were. The potent drink in her hands was all the company she needed. She smiled into her glass; it was the best date she’d had in a while.
Another pink taffeta blur whizzed up to them, out of breath.
“Jeez Louise. Did you see that hunk of man meat?” Paula, another victim of the wedding fashion nightmare, was flushed and had a bead of sweat running down her chipmunk-like cheeks. “Do you think he’s single?”
Quinn raised one shoulder in a half shrug and turned back to the bar. It was bad enough when the three of them had to stand next to each other at the altar, then throughout the grueling pictures, followed by having to sit beside each other at the head table. All in that awful pink froth. But now that it was all over, and they had done their duty for their friend Gina, there was no reason they all had to stand there looking like someone threw up Pepto-Bismol.
She leaned into the bar and asked the semicute bartender the time. When he answered that it was six, she gritted her teeth. They had only been at the reception for an hour. It was way too early to bail.
With a sigh, she turned back to her friends. They were still ogling the male eye candy across the room.
Paula’s sigh drifted over her. “I wonder if he likes women with a little meat on their bones.”
A little meat? She opened her mouth to correct Paula, but shut it quickly. Her friend didn’t need to be on the receiving end of her miserable mood.
“Quinn, I bet he’d make you forget Peanut.”
Quinn winced and took another long draw from her drink. She loved the flavor and the tanginess on her tongue. And she was trying to forget Peanut. She hated the nickname her friends had called her ex-boyfriend, Peter. Once they had actually called him Peanut in front of his face—by accident, of course. Right. It had taken her a while to brush that one under the rug. He had never liked her friends after that.
On the other hand, her friends had never liked Peter from the beginning. Unlike her parents, who loved the bastard. Probably more than they loved her.
“Yeah, Quinn, he could probably fuck your brains out, and you’d never remember that douche again.”
Quinn frowned at Paula. She noticed her friend’s string of pearls hiding in the skin around her neck. Quinn’s hands automatically went to her neck to finger a similar necklace—a part of the stupid wedding costume. Ugh. She hated pearls!
She hated taffeta. She hated pink. She hated frilly dresses.
She took a long swig from her glass.
And she hated Peter. The asshole.
His gift to her last Valentine’s Day wasn’t an engagement ring. Oh no, after five long, wasted years of dating the shit, he couldn’t have gotten her a ring. Nope. Instead he sent her a text message.
That was it.
A stupid little text message. One line.
We’ve grown apart and I’ve found someone new.
She deserved more than that. Something better. After all those years of loyalty, standing by his side, being the “good, proper” girlfriend. As Peter had expected. As her parents had expected. The girlfriend any decent man would want on his arm. Right?
Not even a sorry. Not even an explanation. Nothing.
And the next day, FedEx had delivered a box with all the things she had left over at his apartment during the last half decade.
Quinn emptied her glass and turned back to the bar, blocking out her friends’ chattering over that man.
She needed another man like she needed a hole in the head.
She slid her glass over the bar top, and before she could ask for another, a deep voice washed over her.
“Put her next drink on me.”
Dumb ass. The drinks are on the house. She turned to ream whoever it was, and stopped. Her mouth opened, but nothing escaped.
“You look like a fish out of water with your mouth hanging open like that.” When he smiled, the lines around his eyes crinkled. He was tan, an outdoorsy tan, not a manmade one. And he had beautiful green eyes. Shit. She had never seen such beautiful eyes on a man. His nose was a little crooked, like it had been broken, and it made him even more beautiful. No. Not beautiful. He was… He was…
Quinn closed her mouth and swallowed hard. He was so unperfect, he was perfect. His hair was a dark brown with natural highlights, more proof he liked being outdoors. It was long and pulled back into a neat ponytail.
She hated long hair on men. But it was right on him.
He had a beard that wasn’t a beard. It was like a longer five-o’clock shadow.
She hated facial hair.
He had a strong, corded neck that disappeared into a stiff dress shirt. The collar had been already released and one more button undone below that. The knot of his tie was loose and hung crookedly from around his neck.
The sleeves of his crispy white shirt were rolled up to his elbows, and his forearms were tan covered in dark hair. His hands…
His hands were large. They were working hands. They weren’t soft and pampered. But calloused and thick and strong.
Capable. Capable of doing all kinds of things.
Quinn’s nipples hardened under the scratchy taffeta.
His hands could do all kinds of dirty, nasty things.
Things Peter had never wanted to do…
Quinn ripped her gaze from him and spun back around to the bar, bracing herself against it for a second to catch her breath. She grabbed her fresh drink and took a gulp.
“Whoa. Slow down there.”
She pressed the cold drink against her forehead in an attempt to cool herself off.
She needed to go change her panties, she was so freaking wet.
She could feel his heat next to her; his body was like a furnace. She wanted to plant her hands on his chest and feel how hot he really was. Her fingers convulsed around her glass.
“Are you okay?” The deep timbre of his voice sent a shot of lightning down her body, landing right in her pussy.
Quinn could only nod her answer.
He palmed her bare shoulder and turned her to him. He stared down into her eyes, his lips widening into a smile.
His lips. Oh man. Those lips probably could do all sorts of things to her, with her. Lips that were made for more than kissing…
“Yes.” Oh my God, she thought. That was the kind of yes she blurted when she was in the midst of an orgasm. At least from what she could remember. It had been so long since she’d come…with a partner, anyway.
She felt the heat crawl up her neck, and she stepped back, breaking the contact.
“I…I’m fine.” She cleared her throat. “Thank you for the drink.” She took another sip before raising the glass to him in thanks.
“It was nothing.” When he laughed, her knees almost buckled. “Enjoy it.”
He stepped away and then paused. But it looked as though he thought better of whatever he was contemplating, and he continued on his way.
Quinn leaned back against the bar and let out a shaky breath.
She was suddenly flanked on either side by her friends. She had been so distracted, she hadn’t even realized that they disappeared.
“Oh. My. God!”
“I told you he was hot!”
“Oh! I wish I weren’t married already.”
“I wish he liked chubby chicks.”
Quinn couldn’t take any more. She raised her palms in surrender. “Stop. Enough.”
“But nothing,” Quinn answered Paula.
“You’re just going to let him walk away?”
“Paula, he isn’t going anywhere. Unfortunately I’m not going anywhere. We have to be here for two more hours, at least.”
Lana said, “Are you going to let Peter ruin the rest of your life? All men aren’t assholes like him.”
Quinn harrumphed and took another sip of her slammer.
“Why don’t you at least dance with him?”
“Why not?” Lana asked.
Why not? Because if she did, she might come right on the dance floor? Because she might end up in a puddle of her own juices? The picture in her head shocked her: it was of her lying in a heap in the middle of the dance floor in the throes of an orgasm. Surrounded by all the wedding guests…
This drink was stronger than she thought.
“Because no one is dancing yet.”
“Sure they are. Look.”
Quinn glanced over at the area cleared for dancing, and sure enough, a crowd of people were out there shaking their groove thing. Quinn had been too busy trying to get her drink on to notice.
From the looks of the participants on the dance floor, a few of them had been partaking in the open bar also. Even the bride and her new husband were bouncing and shimmying in the crowd.
At least they were a happy couple.
Quinn took another drink.
Lana frowned at her. “Are you just going to drink tonight, or are you going to do something about your situation?”
“Situation? What situation?”
Quinn checked over her shoulder to see if the bartender was listening. He was. He had a big grin plastered on his face. Great.
The father of the bride came up and asked for a gin and tonic. While he was waiting, he turned to them. “Hi, girls. Enjoying yourselves? You look great in those dresses. My wife picked them out.”
Oh joy. Quinn would have to remember to smack—she meant thank—her. She couldn’t wait to rip the scratchy, ugly piece of shit off.
All three women gave him a smile but bit their tongues. Eventually he wandered away, and Lana and Paula jumped right back to harassing her. Good thing they were her friends.
“C’mon. It’s not going to hurt to have a one-night stand. Look at him.”
“I already saw him.” Holy moley, she knew they meant well, but they were getting on her last nerve.
“Yeah, and we saw how you were drooling too.”
She had not drooled. Her hand automatically went up to her mouth.
Paula said, “He probably isn’t interested in you anyway.”
“Yeah, you couldn’t get someone like that. You attract losers like Peter,” Lana said.
If they thought their reverse psychology was going to work, well, it wasn’t.
“Looks like he’s with Paige Reed, anyway.”
Quinn’s gaze shot over to the corner of the ballroom where the tall man stood next to the petite, dark-haired beauty. Paige Reed. Figures.
“I thought Paige was dating Connor Morgan,” Quinn mumbled.
She must have mumbled loud enough, because Lana answered her. “She is. Connor had to fly to Australia for something to do with his job.”
“So why is she with him?” Quinn asked. Why was she so curious all of a sudden? Why did she care?
She didn’t. She nursed her drink. After one and a half Alabama slammers, she was starting to feel pretty tipsy. She wasn’t used to drinking. And when she did drink, she usually had wine, not hard liquor, and especially not such a hard-hitting mix of liquors.
Paula leaned into the both of them and said in an exaggerated whisper, “Maybe he’s an escort,” like it was a scandal, and then laughed.
Maybe he was an escort.
He was probably worth every penny too.
His back was to them now, but that just gave Quinn the opportunity to study how broad those shoulders were in his dress shirt. When he moved, the fabric bunched and pulled with his muscles.
Lana gasped, jerking Quinn out of her thoughts. “He’s not an escort! That’s Logan Reed, Paige’s brother. I haven’t seen him since we were kids. Holy shit, did he grow up.”
“I’ll say.” Paula agreed. “Quinn, I dare you to go ask him to dance.”
Lana joined in. “Yeah, I dare you too. Don’t be a wuss.”
If she were a wuss, she wouldn’t have come out in public in this pink atrocity. And the matching shoes were killing her feet. The last thing she needed was to be dancing. She’d be crippled.
“That’s a double dare, you know, with the two of us daring you.”
Oh, boy, a double dare. She would definitely do it now—not. “You’re crazy.”
“No, you are, if you pass up this opportunity.”
“How do you know he’s available?” Quinn asked them.
“You don’t know until you ask him,” Lana said. “But if I remember correctly, his wife left him a while ago. There had been some rumors…”
There had been some rumors about her and Peter too, but rumors were just that: rumors. She didn’t take any stock in them.
Paula suddenly shouted, “Truth or dare?” making Quinn jump. It was like they were teenagers all over again.
Lana quickly said, “Truth.” And bounced on her toes like she was fifteen.
Jesus, would someone please put a bullet in my head? Quinn needed to be put out of her misery.
Paula asked Lana, “Do you shave or wax?”
“Shave. Okay, Quinn, your turn. Truth or dare?”
Quinn was not playing this juvenile game. It was stupid; she was not going to fall into what was clearly a trap.
“How bad was Peter in bed?” Lana asked.
Damn. She wasn’t going to answer that one. Even as drunk as she was. She didn’t want to relive their vanilla, boring lovemaking. And she definitely didn’t want to admit it or talk about it.
There was only one thing left for her to do.