Her stomach lurched. Gabe had told her he didn’t like being a number in a big-city firm. Maybe this position was too good to pass up. Could she really blame him for taking on a job that would give him more money and prestige?
Yes. Because he’d kept reassuring her he was happy in Cape May and at Sunshine Bridal.
Bella picked up her phone to call him, then slowly placed it back down. She wouldn’t say a word. She’d wait and see when he felt it was time to tell her and hear what he had to say. She’d be calm and listen to all the good reasons he needed to leave them all behind.
She stared out the window and chided herself for being so shocked. In a way, this was all her fault. All her fears and doubts had come true, and now Zoe and her family would be devastated. After all this time, hadn’t she learned her lesson?
Everyone always leaves.
When Bella reached the Lobster House the next evening, the outside bar was jammed.
The restaurant was an icon in Cape May, and during high season, people packed the open decks that held dozens of wooden picnic tables overlooking the water, feasting on buckets of oysters, shrimp, and lobster. Two outside bars added to the party atmosphere, and when ordering food for takeout, groups would linger over a specialty cocktail while waiting.
The weather cooperated with happy sunshine and a playful breeze. She stopped to chat with a few people before ordering a tequila sunrise—the drink special of the day—and took a deep breath of the salty ocean air. She’d been tempted to cancel, sick about seeing Gabe, but she refused to cower and hide. He owed her the truth—face-to-face. For now, she’d try to celebrate spring and reconnect with the people she cared about.
She waved Taylor over, who was the easiest to spot with her pink hair and diamond nose ring catching the light.
“Hey, glad you made it. Do you know if Avery and Carter are coming?”
“Avery’s got a rehearsal dinner, so she’s doing a stopover with Carter. Where’s Pierce?”
“He’s coming with Gabe.” Taylor regarded her with narrowed suspicion. “Speaking of which—why are you not here with him? I haven’t noticed his car parked by the curb this week. Something up?”
She looked away, not wanting to say anything. “Sorting stuff out, I guess.”
Usually, her youngest sister backed way off. Her respect for privacy was legendary, so Bella was surprised when a frown creased her brow. “That doesn’t sound good. I heard gossip in town, but I know it’s not true.”
“About work?” she asked, wondering if she wasn’t the only one who knew about his big offer in New York.
“No. About Devon.”
Irritation hit. She was getting sick of the Devon thing still going on. “Yeah, I know. Let’s not talk about it, okay?”
Taylor opened her mouth to say something, but Daisy interrupted just in time. “Hey, gorgeous babes! Happy almost summer!” She laughed and clinked her glass to theirs, her copper hair turning to fire under the light. “How’s it going?”
Taylor smiled. “Good. Heard you have a hot date.”
Daisy rolled her eyes. “Lord, I just told Bella, but I guess my dry spell around here is legendary. Even my dad congratulated me and took Meg for the night. Nothing like getting a thumbs-up from your own father to get frisky.”
They laughed. “Where is he?” Bella asked.
“Should be here soon. How’s wedding season? Any fun disasters to entertain me with yet?”
“Would you believe it’s been pretty easy lately?” Taylor said. “I haven’t had a PITA in a while. Which means I’ll be due soon for a doozy.”
“Speak for yourself,” Bella said. “I had an appointment with Winifred today.”
Taylor winced. “The whiner and codependent?”
“Yep. Her partner, Sophia, is such a sweetheart, but she took herself completely out of the planning. How am I going to deal with six more months of this?”
“Get help?” Daisy suggested. “I’m sure your sister or Gabe can take the brunt.”
Taylor snorted. “As if. Bella’s the best to handle the difficult couples, anyway. She’s able to translate a calm focus everyone can relate to. It’s a gift.”
She stared at Taylor in surprise. “I thought that was Avery.”
“Avery is a driving force of energy and the backbone of Sunshine. But you? I think you’ve always been the heart.”
She shared a glance with Daisy, whose mouth dropped slightly open at the compliment. “That was really nice,” Daisy said. “And I agree.”
Taylor shrugged. “I can be nice sometimes. No one gives me enough credit.”
They laughed. A few minutes later, Daisy was tapped on the shoulder.
“Hello,” Andrew said. Her date from the bar looked fresh in the light, with a simple white T-shirt and khakis. His slightly curly blond hair gave him a touch of a pretty-boy look, which Daisy adored. Bella watched her friend light up and hoped he’d be good for her. It had been a long time since she’d allowed herself to go out on a date—she was just as overprotective of Meg as Bella was of Zoe.
“Hi, Andrew.” They did an awkward half hug, but they both laughed, easing the tension. “You remember Bella, and this is her sister, Taylor.”
He shook their hands. “Nice to see you again, Bella. Nice to meet you, Taylor. Can I get you ladies another drink?”
Everyone declined, and they fell into casual chatter. A bunch of PTO moms caught sight of Daisy and rushed over, probably to get a handle on the new hot guy she’d seemed to lasso. Before long, the circle had grown bigger, and soon Bella caught sight of Avery, Carter, Pierce, and Gabe as they headed over.
Her heart thundered, and the boat deck rocked under her feet, throwing her off-balance. God, he was beautiful. He must’ve had a consultation, since he was in his suit, but he’d taken off the jacket and had rolled up the crisp white shirtsleeves to his elbows. He walked toward her, coal-black hair tossed in the wind, his overwhelming grace and sexuality stealing the very breath in her lungs.
But it was the look in his soot-colored eyes that made her knees want to buckle. They pierced hers, holding her hostage, pretending his heart was all hers.
Avery handed her another drink. “I have one whole hour to cut loose before going back to work.” In an obvious good mood, she wound her arm around Carter’s neck. “Wanna get crazy with me, babe?”
He laughed and pulled her into his side. “Not before you need to juggle the Baker family. You’ll need all your brain cells to get through that war zone. Hidden bombs everywhere.”
Pierce shuddered and grabbed his beer. “I’m dreading tomorrow’s wedding. They want a video, and I’m thinking nothing about this crazy family should be immortalized. They’ve had blowups in my office regarding the photo packages.”
Avery winced. “They are a bit temperamental. And we’re meeting the whole crew tonight. The MOG has been married three times, the FOG twice, and the FOB has four stepchildren, all pissed that he paid for his daughter’s entire wedding. I expect fireworks. It will be a good test for Nora.”
Gabe nodded. “She seems to be doing great so far. Avery finally found someone who loves color-coded tabs and Excel sheets as much as she does.”
“I’ll still miss you the most,” she said, blowing air kisses at Gabe.
Pierce groaned. “You two are weirdly affectionate. No wonder Carter thought you were banging each other.”
Taylor snorted. “I didn’t know that!”
Gabe cracked up and pointed at Carter. “Damn, he’s actually blushing. It still gets him irritated to hear he was intimidated by me.”
“Shut up,” Carter growled, grabbing Avery. “Come on, baby, let’s go mingle.”
“We’ll come with you,” Pierce announced.
Bella turned to head toward the big circle of laughing, chattering locals, but Gabe reached out to encircle her wrist. “Can we talk?” he asked quietly.
She jerked in his grasp, her body already piqued and ready to play. He’d made sure the physical bond was strong between them, wringing out endless orgasms and holding her tight in his arms until she’d believed it was all real.
The anger hit, and she tilted her chin up, nailing him with her gaze. “Do you have something to tell me?” she said, ready for the confrontation.
She squared her shoulders. “What?”
“I missed you.” His face revealed the familiar fierce hunger he’d been so careful to mask lately. “I’ve been hoping you had enough time to think. About us.”
The breath exploded out of her lungs. “I’ve been doing nothing but thinking lately,” she said coldly.
He flinched. “What’s wrong?”
“Let’s just say I’m finally facing the truth about everything. Especially us.”
He leaned in to speak, but her name echoed across the boat. “Bella! Get your ass over here!”
With one last pointed look, she turned her back on him and headed over to Daisy. Trying to calm her shaking limbs, she lost herself in the big group, where everyone was loudly interacting, sipping cocktails, and picking on pails of peel-and-eat shrimp set out around the various tables.