Yeah, she was going to strangle Gabe when she saw him. What the hell had he been thinking? “Why would he call you?” she asked.
He shrugged. “We’re friends now. What do you need?”
The music cued. The bride’s hissing voice rose in her ears, breaking her out of the trance. She snapped to attention. “Pretend you know what you’re doing even if you don’t. Keep your eyes and ears open to any potential disasters, and tell me immediately. I’ll get you a wireless mic later so we can communicate.” Damn, she was thrown off by Gabe’s absence and Carter’s disturbing presence and needed her head in the game. She couldn’t afford shredded nerves at this point. This wedding needed her full attention.
Her voice cracked on a high pitch. “What!”
“I got this. Just tell me exactly what you need me to do right now.”
The quiet confidence in his tone and reassurance of his gaze loosened her tight muscles. “Okay. Go down the line and check in with the bridesmaids, making sure they’re calm and have their flowers. We’re on live time.”
She pivoted on her heel and headed to her stressed-out bride, praying it wasn’t a dress issue. They were the worst. She channeled her calm, hypnotic voice that helped in every situation. “Selena, what’s the matter? We’re ready to go. Do you need a few more minutes?”
The bride blinked furiously behind her veil, but, thank God, there were no tears to mess up her makeup. “That dog is going to ruin my wedding—I swear it.”
Avery glanced over at the canine ring bearer. The pug looked clueless, his fat body scrunched into a tuxedo that matched his master’s. His tongue lolled out as he sat on the floor, his black eyes peering out from a face full of thick rolls of flesh. The rings were secured to his collar in a velvet pouch.
“Gus is going to be fine,” she said firmly. “You’ve practiced with Adam, and the dog knows exactly what to do.”
“I wanted him to have someone walk him down with a leash, but Adam insists he’s trained to do it on his own. What if he stops walking? What if he runs around?”
Knowing all of that could possibly happen, Avery smiled with reassurance. “Gus knows what to do,” she repeated. “I’ll be standing by to handle anything. Now, look at me, Selena. This is your wedding—your moment. Don’t let Gus take that from you.”
The bride nodded, her chin tilted up as if to be strong. “It’s just that he hates me. Has hated me since Adam and I began dating. If he’s in the bed first, he growls at me and pretends to be sweet when Adam comes in. When we’re alone in a room, he turns his back and refuses to acknowledge I exist. I think he wants to kill me to have Adam to himself again.”
Her mind flashed to Lucy and her possessive glares. Before, she would’ve laughed and figured the bride was ridiculous. Now she wasn’t too sure. Dogs were smarter than anyone imagined, and their love knew no limits for their owners. But this was not the time to fuel her suspicions. “Gus loves you, too. You’re his new mom, and you’ll have a beautiful, happy family together.” Knowing Selena did better with a firm hand, Avery looked her in the eye. “Now, are we ready to do this?”
The bride seemed to calm. “Yes. You’re right, I’m overreacting. Let’s do this.”
Avery smiled, smoothed Selena’s train, and dragged the FOB from outside, where he was trying to sneak in one last cigarette. “Mr. Banks, we’re ready for you,” she said, getting him set up next to his daughter. She double-checked the line, and saw that Carter was charming the bridesmaids, keeping them in position. She rushed to the front, shooting him a grateful look, and cued for the mothers to begin walking and take their seats.
Carter moved to stand beside her. The delicious scent of soap and spice rose in the air. With all the heavy perfume and cologne in the church, his smell was like finding home. She swallowed past the tightness of her throat.
The aunt and flower girl made the trip down the aisle perfectly. One by one, each of the bridesmaids followed. Selena and her father were tucked behind the heavy carved doors, out of sight for the big reveal.
Saying a quick prayer, she bent over and said the magic word to Gus. “Showtime.”
The dog got up from his perch and shot her a look. Yawned. As panic teased her nerves, he began to slowly move, heading straight down the center of the aisle just like he’d practiced.
“That the crazy dog?” Carter whispered.
“Yeah. Come on, Gus. You’re almost there.”
The crowd tittered and laughed, kids pointing as the fat pug jiggled past, gaze on his master, who watched him with a prideful grin.
Halfway down the white runner, the dog paused. Looked to the right. Glanced to the left. More chatter and giggles. A childish voice yelled, “Look at the doggy, Mommy!”
The sense of impending disaster hit her before it happened. In slow motion, she watched in horror as the dog slowly began to lift his leg.
The church erupted. The groom’s face turned to horror and fear, telling her that he was deathly afraid his bride would walk out. The music stuttered, then kept going, and everyone seemed to look around to see what would happen next.
Gus finished emptying the last of his bladder and trudged the rest of the way without pause, settling beside the groom and plopping his ass on the floor.
Holy shit. The bride was about to walk into a puddle of pee.
“Holy shit,” Carter said, echoing her sentiments.
She’d trained her mind and body to not only see any impending crisis but also take only precious seconds to solve it. Selena still hadn’t seen the debacle, so she needed to move fast.
Mind clicking on the endless trinkets, tools, and emergency supplies in her giant bag, Avery turned and grabbed Carter’s arm. “My bag is in the little room to the right,” she instructed. “There’s the tea towel from your sister’s favors. Can you get it as fast as possible and cover that pee stain while I distract the bride?”
He didn’t bother to take the time to answer. He headed to the room, and she lifted her hand with two fingers up, giving Pierce, the musicians, and the priest the signal she needed two minutes. The organist began to play a new song, and the singer launched into some generic tune.
Avery dove through the doors with a wide smile. “Almost ready?” she sang, pretending to fuss with Selena’s gown.
The bride frowned. “That’s not the entry song. Is everything okay? Did Gus get down the aisle? I heard laughing.”
“Gus was a big hit,” she said. “He’s sitting nicely by Adam’s feet. We had a tiny tear in the runner, so we’re just patching it so you don’t trip.”
“A tear? How? Did someone trip? Oh my God, was it Gus’s paw?”
Her father patted her arm. “Sweetheart, calm down. Avery said it’s all fine. Now, are we ready to walk down the aisle?”
She gave a prayer of thanks for good FOBs and watched her bride settle in. “Ready.”
She hoped it was enough of a stall, because they both began moving toward the front doors. Wrapping her grip around the heavy latch, she counted to three in her head, then slowly opened them. Everyone stood.
The aisle was clear.
The singer saw her, nodded to the organist, and the classic strains of the “Wedding March” began. From here, Avery could see the pale-silver outline of the tea towel covering the bad spot, but they’d done their best under the circumstances. She looked around and spotted Carter standing off to the side, hands clasped behind his back, his tall, lean length a quiet, supportive presence.
Her heart melted.
Selena walked toward her groom and didn’t seem to notice or care about the tea towel. Her father lifted her veil, kissed her cheek, and gave her hand to Adam. As the bride turned, Avery caught the look of pure joy and magic on her face as she stared at the man she loved and claimed as her own for life.
Emotion choked her throat.
Too bad it was something Carter didn’t believe in.
She shored up her defenses, got her head back in the game, and concentrated on giving the bride and groom their perfect happily ever after.
She was magnificent.
Carter watched Avery weave her way through the crowds like a ninja—ready to battle at a moment’s notice, but invisible to the general crowd. The reception was in full swing, and he’d never felt so damn tired in his life. He’d been running around nonstop, taking care of endless tasks that popped up. Everything ached, from his head to his feet, and through it all, the woman never lost her cool or her charm. The idea she did this every weekend the entire spring and summer was more than impressive. And this was just “live time,” as she’d termed it. All the months of prep work led up to this one day. All her efforts and sweat and time were for the purpose of making one couple happy as they embarked on a life together.
The entirety of her work humbled him. There were so many layers he itched to explore, so many secrets to uncover with this fascinating woman, and he would never get the chance.
He remembered how she’d burned up in his arms a few nights ago. The honeyed taste of her mouth and feel of her pussy squeezing his fingers. The look on her face when she came and arched for more. The hazy sheen of satisfaction in her hazel eyes when he held her afterward, making him feel like a god.