Excerpt for Laura's Wedding (The Bridesmaid's Checklist series) by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Praise for The Bridesmaid’s Checklist



“While this looks like a story about how to put on a friend’s wedding it is also a story about personal growth… Nice HEA with a cliff-hanger ending.”

Mixed Book Bag



“Ms. Castle wrote a great contemporary romance (with a hint of spice/kink) that just so happens to have characters that fit the NA age bracket. I adored this book… Kass and Josh are perfect for each other… This is a great start to a series about friends and the post-college years.”

Harlie’s Books



“I would recommend it to a lover of contemporary romance and it’s a great start to a new series.”

Romance Authors That Rock



“Bridezillas, ex-boyfriends, and Bora Bora. Oh, my!… A quick read with humor and a sweet romance.”

Up ‘til Dawn Book Blog



“K.T. Castle weaves an intriguing new adult romance tale that sheds a whole new light on the crazy dynamics of friendships, romance, and wedding planning… The Bridesmaid's Checklist: Laura's Wedding is an enjoyable romance tale that will leave a smile on your face.”

Jersey Girl Book Reviews



By K.T. Castle



Copyright



The Bridesmaid’s Checklist

Copyright © 2016 by K.T. Castle

Smashwords Edition

All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.



Editing by Kathrin Hutson

Cover design by Victor Alberto Rivera

Photographs: models by Jhankarlo Photography; beach by Bernardino Menabrito

Book design by K.T. Castle Books

First publication July 19, 2016.



This book is a work of fiction. Any names, events, people, incidents, and places are product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, places or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Ebooks are not transferable. All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced, transmitted, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, without prior written permission of the author. The unauthorised reproduction or distribution of this copyright work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without permission.



This book is available in print in most online retailers.



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Dedication



This book is dedicated to my family and friends, especially the boys in my life. Thank you for supporting and understanding me.



Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Author’s Note

About the Author

Also by the Author



Chapter 1

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. I’d heard that saying more than once now. And it seemed that I was about to hear it once again.

“Kassie! Kassie, wake up! I’m getting married,” a high-pitched voice squealed at me at 3:00 a.m.

Who the hell is this? I had picked up the phone without even looking at the caller ID. Oh, Laura. Great. I found out that even if I was almost asleep, my brain preferred sarcasm.

Laura was one of my best friends. I was one of those lucky people who managed to keep my childhood friends throughout my life. It had always been the five of us from elementary to high school: Marisol, Natalie, Denise, Laura, and me. The perfect number for the perfect friends.

“Kassandra, are you listening? I’m engaged!” Laura screamed from the other side of the phone.

“Yeah, wow,” I said. “Congratulations.”

“I can’t believe you, Kassie. You should be more excited. You’ll get to be my bridesmaid!” The volume of her voice kept rising. “I’m the last of your friends to get married, and I chose to call you first. Show some real happiness!”

“I’m happy for you, Laura.” I really didn’t know at the moment how I felt. I was trying to look around to see exactly where I was. “Believe me. It’s just…it’s three o’clock, and I was sleeping.”

After looking at my surroundings, I remembered I was in my own house. Good, I’m home. I had a minor headache, probably from all the drinking the night before, and my body ached a bit. I looked beside me and found the reason for my hurt.

Next to me I found the silhouette of a no doubt beautiful man, probably blond—I had a thing for blonds—and I was pretty sure he was built. I wouldn't settle for anything less. The memories of the few hours before my abrupt awakening came back at me:

A bar. A blond. My home. Some sex…in that order.

Wait, we had sex at the bar before coming home. Yeah, I was sure now.

“I know it’s late, but I had to give you the good news.” Laura sounded as cheerful as I ever heard her. She really was excited.

“And news it is.” She was the last of my best friends who was single; not so long ago we roamed all the bars in town together, looking for men to hook up with, and suddenly she was engaged. “Laura, I haven’t seen you for a month, and now you are telling me you’re getting married. I didn’t even know you were dating anyone.”

“I wasn’t. Until recently,” she confessed. “Remember the trip I was supposed to take with my family? I met him there, and we’ve been inseparable since.”

“For real?” I honestly couldn't believe it. “You met him a few weeks ago and now you decided to get married?” I really needed to wake up and have a little chat with my friend.

I pulled the luxurious sheets off my bed so I could go somewhere else to continue my phone call. Unintentionally, I woke up the sleeping beauty beside me.

He probably looked as confused as I’d been some moments ago. “Hey, pumpkin. Where are you going? Come back to bed,” he said in a sleepy voice. I assumed he’d used pumpkin because he couldn't remember my name. Just as I didn’t remember his.

I hated pumpkins. “Hey, babe. Sorry, emergency call,” I said as I placed my cell phone over my chest to mutter a bit of the conversation with my beautiful stranger. “Do you mind giving me some privacy?” I used the cutest voice I could pull out.

“Sure, pumpkin. Go ahead and take your call,” my nameless lover said as he settled himself back into my pillows. “I’ll just go back to sleep.”

“You know what, I’m sorry, but I might have to step out to help a friend.” There was no simple way to kick someone out of your bed. I’ve learned with time that honesty was the best and more effective policy. “Do you mind going back home for the rest of the night? I’d really appreciate it.”

“You mean I can’t stay the night?”

“You’re so sweet.” I really meant, ‘No, hon. Suck it up,’ but I learned through experience that that particular phrase wasn’t really polite. “It was fun.”

He stood and walked to the corner chair to pick up his clothes. I was impressed, both by the fact that he even remembered where he left his clothes and because he had a glorious ass. Even in the dark, his luscious body seemed to glow, appealing to me all over again. Maybe I should reconsider.

“Kassie! Kassie! Kassandra, are you still there?” If I’d though Laura had screamed before, this was worse.

I placed the phone back on my ear and said, “Oh, yeah, Laura. I’m sorry. I’ve got company. I’ll be with you in a minute.”

“You’re terrible, Kassandra. Can’t you spend a night on your own?” She was a bit dramatic. I never had a different man in my bed every night, let alone every weekend. She wasn’t any better. Laura had good taste in men, too. That made me wonder what kind of man had her so hurried to ‘settle down’.

Certainly, I wasn’t settling with the one standing in my room. He was good-looking—great-looking, to be honest. But he wasn’t enough. His body, on the other hand, was good enough to eat. It was a shame to see it all hiding under those designer clothes.

I ushered him to my front door and gave him a goodnight kiss. He was a good kisser. Really good.

I practically melted by the door, and if it wasn’t for the phone in my hand, I might have just fallen to the floor and let him have his wicked way with me all over again.

“See, pumpkin, we can still have some more fun together,” he tempestuously said. His lips delicately traced my neck as one of his hands followed the same trail until he reached the hem of my camisole. It was tempting—so very tempting. My latest conquest gave me a look that only meant business. He had the most beautiful baby-blue eyes I’ve ever seen, with an impish glimmer hard to resist. It matched his sexy grin.

“We will, babe, if you remember my name.”

His smile was dazzling, and I knew exactly what it meant: no fucking idea.

“Can I at least get your digits?” he tried once more. It was really cute when men did that. And flattering, too. It meant he’d enjoyed himself and wanted more.

“Sorry,” I said as I moved my head from side to side. “Have a nice life.”

“Bitch.”

Well, what could I say? He might have been right.

After I closed my front door, I went back to my phone call. “Okay, Laura. I’m all ears. Tell me everything I need to know about this engagement.”



Chapter 2

I spent a good part of the night talking to Laura. I still found it hard to believe she was getting married. Very movie-like.

They’d met in a resort, and it was love at first sight. He met her family and they all instantly loved him. He was a young, successful entrepreneur, apparently loaded. And for what Laura told me, well-endowed. Not that it made a lot of difference to me, but I knew it was important for Laura. She liked big dicks—in every sense of the word.

I could hardly wait to meet her groom-to-be, who I expected to be an asshole.

What bothered me the most was the fact that my wingman—or wingwoman—was now lost to the world of freedom, about to become a tied-up housewife.

A real shame.

The following day, I received an email from Laura in which she gave me explicit details of what she expected from me in my role as her bridesmaid:



Dear Kassie,

As you know, I had to pick all our best friends to be bridesmaids and stand by my side during my wedding, but of course you are the maid of honor. Eddie and I picked out the date: Saturday June 6 in Bora Bora. I know it might sound far away and expensive, but it really isn’t, especially with your wonderful planning skills at hand.

I am so excited that you get to be my MOH. You’ll be throwing me my engagement and bachelorette party, and after experiencing what you did in Marisol’s, Natalie’s, and Denise’s events, I can’t wait to see what you plan for me. Of course, the rest of the girls will help you out, but to be completely honest, you’re the one with the biggest role in my wedding.

With that in mind, I wanted to establish some ground rules with you. First of all, I need to know that you’ll be able to clear your calendar for the wedding. If it’s a problem for you, I really need to know NOW. By the end of the week, I want to discuss with you the rest of the dates for the engagement party and bachelorette party. I’m counting on you to be by my side for every one of those events. I can’t depend on the rest of the girls, but I know that I can count on you. The wedding, as previously stated, will be in Bora Bora, the engagement party at home in L.A., and the bachelorette party in Vegas (I know, cliche, but I really want you to take me there).

Most of the girls live near L.A. now that they’ve moved out of the city to start their families. Please talk to them, because I don’t want there to be any problems with them attending any of the events. Also, you know how Denise is always complaining that money’s tight? Please help her out by setting a savings plan for her and that good-for-nothing husband of hers. I really don’t want her whining about how she can’t afford this and that. I don’t have time to deal with her, I’m sorry. She needs to help that husband of hers get a job soon. Sol, too. Please explain to Marisol how she needs someone to take care of her rugrat. I can’t have that toddler at my wedding. No matter how cute he is, no babies allowed on my day. Which reminds me, when is Natalie having her baby? That’s going to be a problem. How fat do you think she’ll get? She needs to look her best. We all do. Please consider the fact that adjustments are going to be needed on her dress after she has her baby.

Dresses. We need something really elegant and chic. I don’t want cheap dresses that’ll make my wedding look tacky. We’ll all dress in light colors, since the wedding is at the beach, probably all white, or not? I’ll think about it. I don’t want to get lost with the rest of the guests on the wedding. We’ll discuss colors and styles later.

I know that you have your iPhone on you all the time, so no excuses for not answering me immediately. Since I’m out of the country at the moment, I’ll need all your help with the wedding planning. Don’t worry, I won’t call you in the middle of the night again (unless it’s really important).

Ever since I can remember, I’ve dreamed about my wedding, and now that the day’s about to become a reality, I can hardly wait. I’m so fortunate to have you with me every step of the way. I know it’s going to be the most epic wedding ever.

I’ll keep in touch!

Love,

Laura



And so it began.

After planning three previous weddings, I’d kind of gotten the hang of it. My concern wasn’t really about wedding preparation and all the events. Those I could handle. I did, after all, have a Masters in Business and Procedure Management.

What exactly did I do? Easy. Businesses were always looking for new ways to improve themselves: reduce costs, errors, delays.… My work was simple. I was the one who told businesses how to create process solutions on a broader, cross-functional, organizational-wide scale to drive overall performance.

So planning was exactly my thing. People, however, were not.

Who exactly were we dealing with in a wedding? People. Families. A couple. But more importantly: a bride. Dearest Laura had started the “Bridezilla” phase and was already trying to enslave her maids.

Been there. Done that.

I’m surprised, to say the least, that this was her first wedding cliche (and first check on my Bridezilla list). However, I knew by now that wedding mechanics weren’t really about processes and checklists; they dealt more with emotions and wishes.

Because the wedding was all about the bride and how the people around her had to make her wishes come true.

So, after sending an email to the rest of our friends (a very moderate version of Laura’s), I set an appointment with them to discuss some wedding arrangements and have a video chat with Laura.



Chapter 3

“What? Laura’s getting married? No way.” Denise sounded as incredulous as I first was when I heard the news.

“Yes way,” I assured my dark-eyed friend.

Denise was the oldest of us, although probably not the wisest. She married her high school sweetheart when they were way too young and excited, and it hadn’t been flowers and candy ever since. Not because they didn’t love each other, but because they had had a series of financial problems that had them constantly worried. The latest issue was her husband’s four-year-long unemployment. That’s right, it wasn’t completely easy when they decided not to go to college because they went ahead and got married. However, that didn’t deprive my friend of getting golden highlights in her long, straight hair.

“It’s hard to believe,” Natalie pitched in. “She hasn’t had a serious relationship since Julian.”

Of all of our friends, Natalie was the sweetest. She was the listener of the group, and there was no problem in the world about which she wouldn’t empathize with you. Unfortunately, that was as good as it got. You didn’t go to Natalie to find solutions or any bright insight. Plus, her innocent-next-door-neighbor look always made us feel comfortable around her. Her pixie-cut, platinum-blond hair and those big blue eyes were always there when we needed a shoulder to cry on.

“And she was having such a good time slutting around with you,” Marisol, the last of my best friends, added matter-of-factly.

“Hey, I resent that. I’m not a slut.” Why people always judged me because I was a strong, independent woman was beyond me. I simply assumed they were all a bit jealous.

It was no surprise for me that Marisol was the one pointing it out. If we ever wanted to hear the truth about something, we’d go to Marisol. She might be disguised now as a loving mother, but whoever met Sol before her little toddler was born knew she wasn’t the one to hide the awful truth. Even if she was the last to marry, she was the first to procreate. Sol, as we called her because of her shiny personality, now looked dull and exhausted. Apparently, children did that to a woman. The beautiful brunette with almond-brown eyes always wore a ponytail and comfortable clothes these days.

We’d met in Sol’s house, since it was more convenient for her and her little one. Plus, she always had healthy snacks and drinks. I rarely ate any of those, and I was sure they were meant for her son and not for her friends. Still, she always had a tray of offerings for us to munch on while we talked.

“No offense. Sorry.” Marisol really meant no offense at all; she simply wanted to point out what she believed was a fact.

“Well, your lifestyle might indicate otherwise.” Denise sounded resentful.

When had she become so bitter?

“Why exactly is my lifestyle being discussed at the moment?” I was the only one of my friends left unmarried, and by the way they all looked at the moment, I couldn't be more grateful.

“I guess ‘cause Laura was livin’ la vida loca with you not so long ago,” Natalie chimed in without any sort of malice in her voice. If anything, she was trying to lighten the mood—as always.

“Exactly. And now she’s getting married?” Denise still seemed in denial, the first stage of loss and grief. Honestly, if anyone was entitled to suffer, it should’ve been me. They all had husbands they could turn to. I, on the other hand, enjoyed my single life plenty, but I’d just happened to lose my partner in crime.

“Concentrate, girls,” I told them all. “This meeting isn’t to discuss the why, but the how.”

“Well, we all know how,” Natalie pointed out. Silly observation, really.

“Natalie, you know what I mean.” Sometimes even her sweetness got me crazy.

“The when is more like it.” Marisol tried to sound smart. Well, she at least changed her mood enough to be sarcastic instead of bitchy.

“Thanks, Sol, for your wonderful participation,” I said. Could any of them just concentrate for five minutes so we could get this over with? Laura was going to call us anytime to hang out via video conference, and I wanted everyone to be ready so we could avoid any drama. “Let me talk, and you all just listen. Laura’s decided to marry Eddie,” I started. Once more, I was interrupted.

“Who’s Eddie?” Denise quietly asked Marisol.

“Who knows.” Marisol simply stated.

“Shh, Kassie’s starting to get all red,” Natalie warned.

Yes, even if my skin wasn’t light, it responded the same way when upset or embarrassed. My late parents had a modern marriage—one that didn’t see anything wrong with interracial relationships. Therefore, my heritage was African-Russian, giving me a wonderful combination of genes to create my beautiful self. Light blue eyes with caramel-colored skin, lips everyone envied, and wonderful brown-golden curls.

Paying no attention to their interruption, I continued. “They’re getting married next June in Bora Bora.”

“Oh, great! ‘Cause getting married in L.A. wasn’t fancy enough for her.” As expected, Denise was the first one complaining about the location. “Doesn’t she know money’s tight?”

I looked at her, since I completely understood her worries, and said, “We’ll discuss money later, Denise. The engagement party will be here in L.A.”

“Well, thanks a lot,” Denise said sarcastically now.

This time, I didn’t acknowledge her. “She wants us to throw her a bachelorette party in Vegas.” And that finished the plans I had so far.

“Yay, Vegas. Fun!” Natalie exclaimed.

“Fun, said the pregnant lady,” Denise and her sarcasm struck back.

Natalie was three months pregnant. I easily forgot since, first, it really wasn’t on my priority list, and second, she didn’t show at all.

“Fun for you. I hate going to Vegas,” Marisol added, her boredom more than obvious. She’d become such a drag since she became a mother. I seriously wondered sometimes how we were going to manage to stay friends.

“We haven’t been to Vegas in a million years,” Natalie continued.

“Regardless, it’s more money to spend.” Denise’s complaining apparently never stopped.

Seriously, the wedding planning barely started and we were already dividing because of it.

“Calm down, girls,” I said. I had to do some damage control before everything fell apart. “We’re going to do things right and plan everything from the beginning to get the best deals and spend the least possible amount of money. But, yeah, it’s true. Some money is going to be spent. Just as it was in all your weddings.”

Marisol hadn’t gotten married very long ago. Three years ago, to be accurate. And we had all spent money on every single one of their weddings. What were they expecting? Not investing a single dime on their friend’s big day?

“Easy for you to say. You don’t have a family to support,” Denise said. She was the worst about money. I guessed she married so long ago, and so young, that she was the first to complain when someone else got married. It was as if she didn’t remember how much we pitched in all those years ago, when she’d finished high school without a penny and we helped out so she could get married the way she wanted.

“You don’t have a family to support. You only have a husband,” Marisol finally told her. “I have a child. How exactly am I supposed to bring him to Bora Bora? Does he need a passport?”

Wow, another topic of discussion—the protective mother who needed to take her child everywhere she went. I know she needed a rest and time for herself. “It might be better if you leave your baby in the States. Think of it as a second honeymoon,” I told her gently.

“I haven’t thought about that.” Natalie’s brain seemed to finally get a grip on our conversation. “What about my baby? Which reminds me,” she added. “Can we have the bachelorette party after I have the baby? I’d like to drink something during our stay in Vegas.”

“You won’t be able to drink if you’re breastfeeding. Plus, you might be so tired with the long, sleepless nights that you might not be able to handle it. It might be better if we do it before your baby’s born.” Leave it to Marisol, the voice of experience, to break it to Natalie that drinking wasn’t in her future.

Poor girl must be suffering.

“Oh, great,” Denise commented, her voice unrestrained acid. “Who’s giving us a lap dance with a pregnant lady in our party?” Not a moment ago, she’d complained about money being tight and now she had a dollar for a strip club. I thought I might have to have another kind of conversation with her after all this madness was over.

“You might be impressed,” was my only response. I knew for a fact that plenty of men out there were willing. Pregnant woman or not. “So, what is it, Natalie? Before or after you have the baby?” I asked her.

“Apparently before,” Natalie decided, all the excitement gone from her voice.

“Great. How about February?” I put out for votes. “Does that give us enough time to recover from Christmas and New Year’s, but still far enough away from Natalie’s due date?”

“It seems so,” Denise muttered.

“If you say so,” Marisol said blandly.

“Sounds good to me.” Natalie sounded defeated, now.

With all this excitement, Laura might kill one of us soon.

“I’ll leave the engagement party date for Laura to choose. Probably soon. I’ll try to make her choose the second week of November, so we don’t struggle with Thanksgiving,” I said as I finished calendaring all the dates. “Sound good for everyone?”

“It’s only a month away.” Denise had done her math quickly.

“Would you rather have it in December?” I knew she felt things were going to start fast, but I also knew there were some extra expenses at the end of the year which complicated everyone’s personal economic situations.

“No, please. Not December. You guys know, well…not really, Santa and all that,” Marisol said, begging with her eyes. I’ve seen the Christmas presents she bought her child. She should start saving for his college education instead of investing so much in silly gifts. How much could a toddler appreciate expensive things? I’ve seen the little rascal eat a booger or two, myself.

“I’d rather have it before Thanksgiving,” Sol finally said.

“Although, it’ll be nice to take advantage of those Thanksgiving discounts,” Denise said.

“Relax with the expenses. I told you, we’ll get good deals.” I was going to do my best to ensure everything was perfect for Laura without affecting the rest of our friends, especially Denise’s fragile budget. “What if all of us pitched in for the engagement gift?”

“Sounds nice.” For the first time, Denise sounded a bit enthusiastic.

“And we’ll have time to plan the rest of the events.” I really needed their help. Laura was proving too challenging to please.

“I think it’s better if we leave all that to you,” Marisol said. “You’re the one with the special brain. The planning master.” Of course, she’d be the first to wash her hands of the whole situation.

I couldn’t believe it. It happened every single time. I knew that eighty percent of the population struggled with planning, and I also knew I was one of the privileged ten percent fortunate enough to be born with a brain that had no problem planning. I hadn’t ever even needed to learn any planning skills. But, come on, I wasn’t about to be left alone planning this wedding.

“Guys, I need your help. You can’t expect me to do everything on my own.”

“Well, you’re the one who’s single.” Denise then used their other weapon against me.

“So, just ‘cause I’m single, I’m supposed to plan everything?” I didn’t have a particular man to please, but I did please men. Probably more than they each of these women did, at least in the bedroom department.

“No, not really,” Marisol finally confessed. “But you sure have more free time than the rest of us.” She wouldn’t even let me have one tiny win.

As much as I knew they told the truth, they all still frustrated me so easily. Even at Sol’s son’s birthday party, she’d left me alone to plan the whole thing for her. It wasn’t fair. This time, it wasn’t an event for any of them; it was for Laura. But I knew that eventually they’d all need my help for planning something else, and if they didn’t help me out this time, they could all forget about involving me in their next planning charade.

“I’m really sorry, Kassie,” Natalie said. “I’ll help as much as I can, as long as my pregnancy allows it.”

That’s right Natalie, think about your baby shower. Who’s going to plan that for you?

“I’ll do my best, though planning is not my forte.” Denise might have been some help as the only one of my friends without children. Maybe I should get her husband to help, too. After all, he didn’t have much else to do. Besides looking for a job.

On second thought, that probably wasn’t a good idea. I didn’t want to give him the wrong impression.

I couldn’t help feeling more than a little defeated. I knew they all expected me to plan this on my own, and it hurt. Regardless, I wasn’t going to let it go. I would nag them until every woman gave in for just a little help.

After a few minutes, my phone rang. Laura’s name and photo flashed across the screen. It was time to talk to the bride-to-be.

“Great, Laura’s here. Let’s tell her about our plans.”



Chapter 4

Laura was finally back in L.A. and she decided we needed to have brunch to discuss wedding details. Mainly for me, the brunch meant that I got to meet the man making all of this happen—Eddie.

I knew by now how they met and the wonderful reasons of their getting together. Even so, Laura didn’t have the brightest history with men, so I wanted to be sure she wasn’t making a huge mistake. While her taste was immaculate—she had this magnet to attract the most handsome men in a thirty-square-foot area—the results of such attraction were not. Usually, the men tended to turn into awful beasts after a few dates (alcoholics, workaholics, jealous, you name it), all resulting in them being assholes.

Not that it might make much difference…

As soon as I arrived at the fancy restaurant, the most popular one in the city at the moment, I approached the hostess and gave Laura’s first and last name. I was informed that someone in my party already arrived and that he had already been seated.

The hostess ushered me through the various tables and guests, until, in the most private corner of the restaurant, I was able to see our table and the person occupying it.

This can’t be happening.

The person sitting at our table was definitely someone I knew. Someone I actually had been avoiding for quite some time.

“Well, well. Good morning, babe,” the beautiful blond said to me.

I knew this guy. I’d constantly met him at bars and pubs around the city. He was always well accompanied by attractive ladies, but that didn’t stop him from hitting on me. Persistently, he’d tried for the past couple years to get my number and into my panties.

This man and I had a history…well, not really. We had a history of not having a history. He was an artfully known womanizer in the circles we frequented. Knowing exactly what I’d be getting myself into if I ever decided to tap that drop-dead gorgeous body of his, I had no choice but to reject him over and over again.

One drunken night I almost caved in.

We’d kissed for a while. His kisses made me all hot and wanton, especially when his lips went to my earlobe and neck, making their way to my chest. He was a wonderful kisser. That night, his mouth didn’t quite get to taste my aching nipples, as had been my desire at the time, though his skilled fingers had given them plenty of attention. His lips really drove me crazy, not only from their naughty words but from the wet trail they left on my body. He kissed even better than he looked, and that was saying a lot.

We’d made out until one of his bimbo girlfriends came up to us and asked if we were in a mood for a threesome. She was beautiful, but I would never be into that kind of scene. Been there, done that. And in my experience it never ends well.

It made me think about that time in college when my boyfriend begged me to have a threesome, and, well, if you don’t agree to those kinds of things in your early twenties, when exactly are you going to? It wasn’t nice, let me tell you. The experience only encouraged him into insisting I agree to just about everything else that made me uncomfortable, and after several refusals, he ended up having sex with another woman in front of me. Not exactly anything I could digest. The relationship was doomed from that moment. I never knew if that was the reason we broke up.

Probably not. But still, ménage-a-trois—big no-no in my book.

By the looks of it, though, he had no problem with it. He was totally my type, blond and beautiful. Whether he was a womanizer or not.

Laura couldn't be marrying this man.

“Oh, God. Not you. You’re a man whore!”

He stood as soon as the statement escaped my lips. He didn’t look offended. I guess he was used to my rejections by now. “Nice to see you, too,” the handsome man said. “I like knowing that you miss me.”

“Miss you? You wish! I can’t believe you’re marrying my best friend.” And I really didn’t.

“No offense, babe, but I’m not the one marrying Laura. I’m Ed’s friend. Name’s Josh, remember?”

Oh, right. Josh. For a moment there, I thought I had to talk Laura into canceling the wedding.

“Have a seat, angel.” Josh had this habit of talking to me as if we were close. “Our friends are running a little late. I’d like to take advantage of having you all to myself.”

We weren’t close.

“Knock it off with the chivalry. Ain’t gonna happen.” I’d lost count of the number of times I’d turned him down. He kept trying to get his hands on me again after that failure of a night, but I kept rejecting him. It was a little game we played now. He probably thought I was flirting. And I couldn’t say I wasn’t. He was absolutely gorgeous. But I didn’t do repeats, and I didn’t do that gorgeous.

“A man can only dream,” he said playfully, smiling. Man, he had a great smile. And that hair. His dirty-blond hair looked like he half attempted to get it into style without success and gave up. As if he didn’t care. But I knew just how much he cared; it showed in his eyes. Those eyes—they were as gray as steel and manifested the storm of my attraction to him.

“Kassie. Kassie!” Laura distracted me before my thoughts took me to all the wrong places. I was totally attracted to Josh, even if I wanted to deny it. Which was why I kept my distance and avoided him at all cost.

Thank God I wasn’t alone with him anymore.

Laura ran to me and gave me a big hug. It was silly that knowing she was getting married made me feel protective about her. She and I had partied a lot and went clubbing regularly. Laura always ended up in someone’s handsome arms. Even though I always took care of her, I couldn’t remember feeling this protective over her. It was probably due to her fast engagement and my not knowing who the heck she was marrying.

“Oh, Laura! Finally, you’re here.” I was a bit afraid of her standing us up, and me ending up completely alone with Josh. “You look amazing!” And somehow, she looked and felt different. Not only did she come across as mega beautiful and extremely joyful, but in a way, she had an aura of maturity around her. It suited her.

Surprisingly, it did.

“I know, right? I went to my stylist the moment I got back. I needed a whole new look and wardrobe. After all, I’m a bride-to-be!” It took her a moment to acknowledge the man standing beside me. “Oh, I see you met Josh. He’s Eddie’s best friend.”

Yeah, well, hopefully their friendship didn’t reflect too much about Eddie’s character.

“So where’s Ed, sweetheart?” Josh hugged her and kissed her cheek politely. It was the first time I’d seen him use anything other than a hand-on approach. Weird. However, we were standing in plain daylight in an open restaurant, and she was marrying his best friend, so maybe he did have some boundaries.

“He’ll be right here. He went to park the car.” Laura couldn't keep from smiling as she talked about her fiancé. “You know how he is. No one gets to drive his car but him.”

“Sure. He doesn’t like people playing with his things,” Josh commented as he took his napkin from the table and sat while placing it back on his lap. “Too bad for me, right Laura?” He winked at her.

There was the man I knew, crossing the boundaries however he liked.

Regardless, Laura didn’t seem to mind. “Josh, you’re such a flirt.” She brushed him off as she sat next to me. “Have you guys ordered something to drink? How about mimosas?”

“Isn’t it a little early?” I knew she was excited about the wedding, but having champagne this early in the day made me nervous.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for partying all day long. Especially when there was a good reason to do it. But somehow, this reunion was making me feel uneasy. That uneasiness bordered on turning into frustration and annoyance. I couldn’t shake the feeling that this brunch meeting was fated to be a disaster.

“It’s fine, Kassie. We’re celebrating!” Laura was so full of enthusiasm and happiness, it was hard not to get infected. “If you’d rather have some Perrier, go for it. I don’t really mind.”

Seeing her this happy was really revealing. Only a really good man could make her glow like this. I’d heard her over the phone, and her excitement seemed sincere, but now that it was up close and personal, I could only think about how good Eddie must be for her.

“Have some champagne, babe. Don’t ruin the fun,” Josh told me.

It wasn’t my intention to be a buzzkill. I just had a few reservations, namely drinking on an empty stomach and…well, Josh being so close to me.

As if reading my mind, he took my hand in his. I pulled it back as fast as I could, and after a second I realized that was ridiculously rude. Laura noticed and frowned at me. Josh didn’t comment or try to hide the event with some kind of joke; he just stared toward the front door of the restaurant. Maybe he was finally getting it.

“Oh, here he comes,” he said. Maybe he’d ignored me because he’d found Eddie walking toward us.

Anyhow, I was happy to not be the center of his attention anymore.

I turned around in my seat to see Eddie coming our way. Oh, shit.

I wanted my eyes to be lying to me. The moment I saw Josh, I knew the day was going to be rough, but now…him? I couldn’t believe it.

“You dog. You’re getting married!” Josh was the first to approach him. He gave Eddie a bear hug and a few slaps on the back. “I can’t believe I’m losing my wingman.”

Funny, that’s how I felt about Laura. But at the moment, I could only look at Edward. And he noticed.

He and I definitely had a history. A true history. In my threesome college experience, Edward had been the M in the F-M-F group.

That’s right.

He’d been my first love and had pretty much messed me up forever. It wasn’t something I even allowed myself to think about—the only moment of weakness I’d ever had with a man. I thought I’d left that part of my life behind me in Massachusetts after I’d finished college and moved on.

I was so very thankful in that moment that my friends didn’t know about this part of my past. They’d all stayed in California to study (except Denise, who went straight to work after getting married), but I’d been offered a scholarship at UMass and gladly left for the best education I could afford. I’d also accepted, a little shamefully, that I somehow managed to disconnect from my friends during this phase of my life, since Edward and school had been the only focus. Our relationship had lasted a little too long, exactly between Denise’s and Natalie’s weddings.

Apparently, today the past had chosen to come right back at me.

What a way to start this wedding adventure.

“Stop it, Josh. We’ve got company.” Edward brushed Josh off him and went to Laura. He gave her a tender hug and a steamy kiss, then looked into her eyes and asked, “Did you order something to drink, honey?”

“We sure did,” Laura said as she melted into him. “Mimosas are on the way, although Kassie didn’t want to have alcohol this early. Oh, I’m sorry. Eddie, this is my best friend Kassandra. Kassie, this is my future husband Edward.”

“Hello, Kassandra,” Edward said as he looked at me intensely. He remembered me. I could see it in his eyes. I learned to fear those looks of his; back then I would have done anything he asked of me if he looked at me that way. And I had.

“Hi.” There wasn’t anything else I could think of saying. At least, I couldn’t think of anything appropriate for our meet-and-greet brunch reunion.

We finally sat and took a look at our menus. The last thing on my mind at the moment was eating. I needed a drink. Whiskey sounded way more appealing than mimosas.

I could feel Josh looking at me, but I did my best to ignore him. I also felt Edward’s eyes on me every now and then. Even though Josh and Laura were the ones sitting next to me, I could sense Edward the most, all the way from across the table. I didn’t want to look up and run the risk of meeting his gaze.

How was I supposed to explain this to my friend?

“You won’t believe this, Eddie. Apparently, Kassie and Josh already know each other,” Laura lightly commented. She was completely ignorant of the fact that I knew her future husband—intimately—and I wasn’t about to explain it to her.

“It doesn’t impress me, to be quite honest. Josh is a total whore.” He sounded cold and bored. Exactly as I remembered him.

Was that what he really thought about Josh, or was it about me?

“What can I say? Life is good,” Josh commented as he placed his arm around me. This time, I didn’t even move. When I thought about it, I probably wasn’t even breathing right then.

“Sure it is. And because of our wedding, Kassie gets to be my maid of honor and you get to be Eddie’s best man. Pretty cool, huh?” Laura was in her own little wedding world, oblivious to the hell I was living at that very moment.

“The best,” Josh confirmed. “Especially ‘cause I get to play around with the bridesmaids.”

“Well, not much, I’m afraid,” Laura said playfully. “All my friends are married except Kassie.”

I knew what she was trying to do; she knew that Josh was exactly my type.

Think again, Laura.

She had no idea that Edward had actually been the one who set the trend when it came to my type. Edward was excruciatingly handsome—movie-star beautiful. With light blond hair and crystal-clear blue eyes, he was irresistible. Not only that, but now that he’d “grown up”, now that he wasn’t just a college boy, he’d gotten a lot better at showing everyone just how handsome he was. His refined suit and expensive-looking shoes screamed money. And that was probably the first thing that had attracted Laura to him.

“Even better,” Josh said, tearing me away from my thoughts. “Can't wait to get her all hot and panting.” He kept teasing me, but I couldn’t respond.

“Finally, drinks are here,” Edward said. He grabbed two mimosa glasses from the waiter’s tray, gallantly giving Laura the first before he served himself the second.

“Great! Let’s toast. For an epic wedding!” Josh held up his glass.

Everyone held a drink but me. I had the most unappealing glass of Perrier in the world before me, and at the moment I regretted not having ordered something else.

Without asking, I grabbed Josh’s glass and gulped down every single drop of that mimosa.

“Oh, that’s rude, Kassie.” Laura frowned at me once more. “You said you didn’t want one.”

“I didn’t know we were toasting,” I said. Or that I would need one so desperately.

I knew she was about to start really noticing my strange behavior, so I needed to compose myself and act like everything was just peachy.

“But now Josh has nothing to drink,” Laura stated.

“That’s all right. Kassie gets what Kassie wants.” For whatever unknown reason, Josh was backing me up. At that moment, I was thankful. “I wanted a beer, anyways,” he added.

As a gesture of apology, I called the waiter. “I would like another mimosa,” I said. “Oh, and he wants something, too.” I pointed at Josh so he could order his drink.

Laura frowned at me; now she knew something was going on. “Excuse me,” she said. “I need to use the Ladies’ room.”

I knew what she was doing. She was trying to get me alone with her so I could explain myself.

It wasn’t happening.

I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to say. She expected me to join her, but I didn’t feel like having a conversation with her about just how wonderful Edward was. So I stayed put. Laura looked around, trying to find some company to the restroom.

Josh saved the day for the second time.

“Yeah, I have to go too. I’ll come with you,” he said as he stood and playfully offered Laura his arm.

“What a charmer, Josh. We’ll be right back.” They left, but not without Laura shooting me another one of her looks. The one that said, ‘We’ll talk about this later.’

I wasn’t about to be alone with Edward. I’d rather sit through Laura’s questions and babbling than stay here with him.

“Laura, I’ll come with you,” I said lightly, as if I’d suddenly changed my mind.

Laura really surprised me when she said, “Oh, nonsense. Keep Eddie company. BRB.”

Tragic, really tragic.

I should have taken my chance when I had one. Now I was alone with a man I wanted to avoid with every part of my being.

We were quiet for a few seconds before he said, “I see that you’ve been doing really well, Kassandra.”

He loved to say my name, rolling the syllables on his tongue. I’d loved it, too, once. Now I hated it.

“Yeah, well, thanks.”

“You look mouthwateringly beautiful,” he added.

The man had no shame. What exactly was he trying to do?

“Why are you trying to make me uncomfortable?” I asked.

“I wasn’t,” he said, as if this was completely boring him, nothing more than a brunch with old friends. Which, in a way, it was. “I simply wanted to loosen the tension between us before Laura noticed.”

So he didn’t want to cause a scene. Good—that was good.

“I can’t believe you’re marrying her. I can’t believe you’re marrying…anyone. What am I supposed to do with all this?” At least I managed to speak honestly.

“Nothing,” Edward stated. “You aren’t supposed to do anything. Leave things as they are and make no comments.”

I didn’t exactly understand what he meant. Was he trying to make me feel better? Or was he threatening me? It wouldn’t be that easy.

“No comments? How dare you—”

“We’re back!” Laura surprised me and interrupted my almost heated outburst. “Were you talking about how wonderful I am and how lucky you all are to be part of my life?” She batted her eyelashes at Eddie and smiled at me.

“Of course, honey,” he reassured her.

The nerve.

Asshole.

I knew Laura’s new paramour was going to be a complete jerk. I simply didn’t have any idea how much more of a dick he could make of himself.

“I knew it. It was exactly the same conversation Josh and I had,” she said, grinning, and sat down. “Oh, great, the food’s here.”

The waiter arrived with our food, and on his tray were Josh’s beer and my mimosa. He was kind enough to take both drinks from the tray and place them on the table.

I grabbed my second mimosa and drank the whole thing in one swing before the waiter placed the hot dishes on the table.

“I’ll be needing another one of these,” I said to the waiter.

“Calm down, babe. There’s plenty of time to celebrate.” Josh patted my thigh a little too amorously for my taste. But I let it go. I was more scared about the meaning of his words.

Celebrating.

He’d just reminded me of my other pressing anxiety. Wedding preparations had just started.



Chapter 5

I thought I would be happy once I got in my car and on my way home.

I was wrong.

The part of the equation I hadn’t contemplated was that my friends thought I was unable to drive due to (and I quote) ‘excessive drinking.’

Unbelievable.

As if my drinking was unjustified.

“I told you I could drive myself home,” I repeated for possibly the fifth time.

They discussed how Eddie didn’t like anyone touching his toys, or driving his car, as was the case. Well, guess what? I didn’t like my car driven by other people either. But did they listen to me? No. They just decided, and now I had to deal with the handsome blond driving me home.

“I know, babe. But after five mimosas, we didn’t want to take any chances,” Josh lightly said. “Besides, I’m really curious to know what happened between Eddie and you. The tension was almost palpable in the restaurant.” He glanced at me.

I couldn’t believe it.

Had I been that obvious?

Now that I thought about it, yes. I was possibly too apparent.

“Do you think Laura noticed?”

“Not really. She thought the tension was between you and me, not really between you and Edward.” At least he tried to ameliorate my shame. Regardless, Josh wanted to fish for information, that much was obvious.

“This is so bad,” I said.

“Not really,” he repeated. “I explained to her that the tension between us was sexual. That it’ll go away after we sleep together.”

How did he so simply assume I would have sex with him? “Not in a thousand years.”

He laughed at my response. It always got under my skin how he was so sure of himself. Problem was, he reminded me too much of Edward. Today I learned why.

“So, that’s what happened, right?” Josh asked me insistently.

“What happened?” I, of course, was playing dumb. I knew exactly what he wanted to know. I simply didn’t want him to know it.

“You had sex with him.” This time, he didn’t ask a question; he made a statement. As if it was a fact.

I hated that he was right.

I simply ignored him. I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction of an answer.

“Was it before or after they got engaged?” Josh curiously asked once more.

How dare he infer such a thing? “Shut up!” I had to take a deep breath. “I would never sleep with any of my friends’ lovers. There’s plenty of men out there for me to fool around with, and I don’t need to get my picks from their drawers.”

When have I ever done such a thing? Not once.

Josh had followed me around enough to notice who I’d taken home. Guys I picked up at bars and met on the spot. I rarely had the same guy twice, or even fuck buddies. My thing was one-night stands, and that was about it.


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