Leaning in close, he stopped just short of brushing her hair with his lips, noticing the way her fingers curled on the tile samples. “I pick the dance. Think you can keep from climbing me?”
“There was a rat.”
“Keep telling yourself that’s all it was.”
He heard Bethany swallow. “Can we pick some tile now?”
“You’re in charge. I’m just here for moral support.”
“Your morals are in need of more support than mine.”
He couldn’t help but breathe a laugh at her clever wordplay, his smile widening when she laughed reluctantly, too. Her gaze strayed to his mouth for a split second before it shot back to the sample book.
Hard to tell. But he was damn well counting the minutes to Sunday.
Bethany popped the cork on a bottle of Moët, pouring the fizzing champagne into a neat line of crystal flutes. She’d woken up early that morning and turned her mother’s bedroom into a glamorous changing room, stringing up white lights along the edges of the ceiling, lighting candles, arranging seating. Georgie had balked at a bigger wedding venue, opting to marry Travis in their parents’ backyard, but that didn’t mean luxury had to be forgone entirely.
Champagne in hand, Bethany turned to offer her sister a glass only to find her sprawled out faceup on their parents’ bed. “I just spent two hours on your hair, woman.” Bethany nudged her foot. “Sit up.”
“Sorry, this is the only way I can breathe in this bustier.”
“You’ll thank me when Travis gets a load of your tits.”
“He’s gotten many a load on them. That’s why he’s wifing me.”
“Georgie Castle,” their mother admonished, sashaying into the room in her new blue mother-of-the-bride dress. “You can’t stand before God with that mouth.”
“He’s aware of her mouth by now, Mother.” Bethany handed Vivian a glass of champagne. “He also knows where she got it.”
“I beg your pardon.” Vivian took a long sip of bubbly. “Damn. That’s good.”
“Only the best,” Bethany said briskly, though excitement was making her fingertips sizzle. “Up with you, Georgie. It’s time to put on your dress.”
Georgie rolled onto her stomach, pushed up, and slid backward off the bed, gaining her feet. “Is Travis here? Are guests arriving?”
Bethany drew back the bedroom curtain and craned her neck to get eyes on the street. “Yes, he’s changing in the pool house. And it would appear we have some arrivals. Who is that slick-looking fellow with the equally slick-looking lady on his arm?”
Georgie sidled up to the window. “That’s Travis’s agent, Donny—and his date, I guess?” She smiled. “Donny really is every inch the wheeler-dealer sports agent, but I secretly love him. If he hadn’t told Travis to spruce up his image to score the commentator gig, we never would have pretended to date, and, well . . .” Still blushing from earlier, she gestured to her fancy wedding hair. “You know how that turned out.”
“You would have ended up together no matter what,” Vivian said, draining her champagne and setting it down on the dresser. “I saw it coming a mile away.”
The sisters traded a smirk. “Let’s get this dress on.”
“Ooh,” Georgie said. “Let’s wait for Rosie—”
“I’m here!” The third member of their trio slipped in through the door and closed it behind her without a sound. “Sorry I’m late. Dominic always conveniently forgets how to tie a tie when we have one damn minute to leave the house.”
Bethany hummed. “And then said tie ended up on the floor . . .”
“Girls,” Vivian huffed, smoothing her updo. “Knowing those two, the tie probably ended up around her wrists.”
“Mom!” Bethany and Georgie squawked.
“What? I’m a card-carrying member of the Just Us League. It’s not my fault you overshare at meetings after too much tequila.”
Bethany took a moment to recover, then crossed to Rosie, whose bronze skin was glowing in a deep-green silk dress identical to Bethany’s. “You look amazing.”
“Likewise. I’m so glad we went with the shorter length. I plan on dancing.” Rosie twisted her hips, causing the dress’s hem to brush mid-thigh. “But I’m more interested in seeing Georgie in white.” She stepped toward Georgie and pulled her into a squeezing embrace. “Let’s make you a bride.”
There wasn’t an unused tissue to be found during the ceremony. Travis and Georgie exchanged vows beneath the trees in the Castle backyard—the same trees where Georgie used to hide to spy on Travis while pretending to read Tiger Beat. Smoke practically came out of the man’s ears when his bride proceeded down the aisle in her clingy silk gown with embellished bodice, escorted by Morty. Travis didn’t take his eyes off her for a single second, as if she might turn tail, speed off in a taxi, and join the circus.
Rosie and Bethany stood to Georgie’s left. Stephen and Dominic were positioned at Travis’s right. All the tension between Bethany and her brother were forgotten in those moments beneath the twinkling, ethereal lights and twilight sky. There were no houses being flipped, only their sister marrying a man who believed she’d hung the moon.
Feeling eyes on her in the crowd, however, and knowing Wes watched her, Bethany couldn’t help but remember she’d agreed to a dance.
It was just one little dance.
Only, was it? From her maid of honor position at the front of the crowd, Bethany couldn’t stop herself from searching the sea of faces for Wes. Under the guise of welcoming guests with her smile, of course. At first she didn’t see him. Even while listening to the minister expound on the virtues of love, she despaired over her disappointment that he’d missed the wedding—
His head popped up in one of the center rows, cowboy hat and all.
The corner of her mouth tugged up when she realized he’d been hunting in a bag for Goldfish crackers to hand his fidgeting niece. Honestly. Where did he get off serving “James Bond meets Daddy of the Year” vibes tonight?
Slowly, his gaze lifted to meet Bethany’s and he winked, giving her a blatant once-over that made her grateful she was shielding her excited nipples with a bouquet of roses.
It cost her an effort to focus back in on the ceremony, but she managed it, well aware of Wes’s rapt attention on her from start to finish. Once the bride had been kissed, there was a rush to change Georgie into her reception dress and make sure the music for her and Travis’s entrance was cued up.
In the romantic, starlight-dappled setting, with “The Way You Look Tonight” playing softly from a string quartet, the dance she’d promised Wes felt the furthest thing from inconsequential.
Bethany watched him out of the corner of her eye as she spoke with one of the caterer waiters. Now that she could see Wes better, she noted he’d traded in his cowboy boots for shiny black loafers. Still, every time Stephen introduced him to someone new, he swept off his cowboy hat and pressed it to his chest, like Buffalo goddamn Bill, the college years. That flash of white teeth and accentuated jawline every time he smiled was so distracting that Bethany almost walked straight into the ice sculpture.
“Pull yourself together,” she muttered, batting a nonexistent wrinkle out of her bridesmaid’s dress. “You are mature enough to know better—”
“Are you talking to yourself or the ice sculpture, darlin’?” His shoulders shook with silent laughter. “What the hell is that supposed to be anyway?”
Bethany’s chin went up a notch. “It’s two swans with their heads bent together, thus creating a heart. Obviously.”
Wes winked. “Did they model it after your frigid heart?”
“Yes. Didn’t they do an amazing job?” Bethany erected her middle finger on the far side of the sculpture, making it visible through the ice. “If you look closely you can see which part of my heart you occupy.”
“Let me guess. That would be the fuck-off zone?”
“Bravo, Wes. You can’t discern the basic shapes of animals, but you know your geography.”
Bethany had the strong, stupid urge to laugh. Not a mean laugh, either. A good, long, belly laugh. Sparring with Wes had always been kind of a fun pastime, but it was alarming how much she’d been enjoying it lately. For the most part. Every once in a while, he made her stomach jolt with a barb about their age difference. Like yesterday afternoon when they’d met to pick out tiles and he’d joked that she had a few good years left in her. Those comments didn’t roll off her back quite as easily as the others. As much as she wanted to disregard them . . . they smarted.
But why? Shouldn’t she be grateful for the reminder that they’d been born seven years apart and were totally unsuitable for each other?
Yes. Yes, she should be. Totally grateful.
“So. I was thinking of squaring off those archways in the house—”
A blond streak of lightning split the atoms between Wes and Bethany. A second later, the laughing child was tossed up on his wide shoulders, knocking Wes’s cowboy hat to the ground and leaving his hair in some kind of . . . mesmerizing mess. Needing a distraction from his warm chuckle and haphazard hair, Bethany stooped down and picked up the hat, holding it awkwardly.