TAKE a deep breath, you can do this. Georgia told herself this as the sounds of Pachelbel’s “Canon in D” filled the small, but crowded, church. Squaring her shoulders, she stepped out into the aisle, her gaze fixed on the back of Kate’s black bridesmaid dress. Then Kate began to walk, and repeating her mantra to take a deep breath, Georgia did the same.
Stupidly, her gaze flickered around the congregation. It was stupid because it meant she wasn’t focused, she wasn’t concentrating on placing one foot carefully in front of the other and keeping her balance despite the sky-high heels she wore. And it was stupid because she was suddenly distracted from her duties as bridesmaid, distracted from the fact that two hundred people were watching her and stupid because she suddenly found herself mesmerized by the bluest eyes she’d ever seen.
Incredibly blue eyes that locked with hers and knocked the breath from her lungs. How are his eyes so blue? Does he have contacts? And they were staring right at her, into her, if that were even possible. It was only when, after a brief second, he smiled slightly, the edge of his mouth lifting, that she noticed the rest of his face.
Angles. Shapes. Those were the words that popped into her mind. Square, hard jawline, chiseled cheekbones, straight nose. His hair was cut close, shaved over his skull. God the man was gorgeous, ridiculously, illegally gorgeous. Panty-dropping gorgeous.
His smile deepened, threatening to become a proper grin, and that’s when she felt the impact of his devastating good looks. An impact so severe that her shoe, a high black patent stiletto, caught on the edge of the floor-length bridesmaid dress and had her falling face first in the middle of the rose-petal-strewn church aisle. To make it worse, she cried out as she tripped and hit her head on a pew, throwing her bouquet in the air.
The sounds of two hundred people gasping rang as loud as church bells as heads swiveled in her direction.
Oh my God, was the only thing Georgia thought as she lay, face down on the floor, a horrible thumping beginning in her head. Just kill me now.
Lifting her face from the floor and spitting out a stray rose petal, she met Kate’s eyes, which were wide with horror, her mouth twisting into a grin. She was about to lose it and laugh hysterically over Georgia’s clumsy tumble.
Amelia, the beautiful bride and Georgia’s best friend, crouched down beside her, alarm and concern written all over her face.
Georgia’s face burned and she wanted to crawl away and hide her humiliation. The congregation had gathered around and everyone was looking at her.
“She hit her head,” someone said. “She might have a concussion.”
“Maybe she had a stroke.”
“Did someone check for a pulse?”
“Hold a mirror in front of her face to see if she’s breathing.”
“That’s stupid! Who even has a mirror in a church?”
“Why? Is it blasphemy to have a mirror in church?”
“I don’t know, it’s probably considered vain. Isn’t it in the commandments?”
Georgia heard all this through the horror of her predicament. She wondered if she could crawl away while they debated the commandments.
“Should we get her to the hospital?” someone else asked and then louder, calling out to the congregation, “Is anyone here a doctor?”
Georgia shook her head, pushing up onto her knees as her eyes pricked with hot tears. “No!” Oh God she wanted to die. “No. I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? It sounded like a solid thump.”
Oh dear God. “No, I’m fine really.” Panicked, she looked around, searching for her bouquet.
Somehow, without even looking, Georgia knew that the deep masculine voice who’d said that one simple word belonged to the gorgeous blue-eyed hunk. The smooth, deep, velvety tone matched how she imagined his voice sounded. She turned in his direction, still on her hands and knees, and he handed her the bouquet of white roses, just as Kate smoothed down the back of her dress which had been sticking up.
Oh God, he caught her bouquet! Could this get any worse?
And had she really just been on her hands and knees in the middle of the church, with Pachelbel playing and her skirt sticking up?
“Thank you,” Georgia squeaked, letting him help her to her feet. Tendrils of hair brushed against the nape of her neck, and she wondered what state her hair was now in.
“You’re very welcome,” he said, and there was no hiding the amusement in his voice. “I hope your head is all right?”
She touched the tender spot on the back of her head and realized she’d have a nasty lump there. She also realized that during her display of clumsiness, the perfect curls that had sat on top of her head were now completely destroyed.
In answer to her earlier question. Yes, this could get worse.
Amelia stepped forward, blocking her view of the man who had caused all of this, her eyes full of concern. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
Georgia nodded again, not trusting herself to speak. “I’m fine. I promise. I won’t do it again.”
“She said she’s fine!” someone called out. “Let’s get on with this.”
Georgia kept her eyes on the ground. Yes, she agreed, let’s just get this over with.
* * * *
Damn, if that bridesmaid hadn’t done something to him. The moment Jack had seen her step into view, the pale of her skin and hair contrasting sharply with the black of her dress, he’d been mesmerized. She’d walked stiltedly up the aisle, a dark red blush spreading over her shoulders and up her throat that made her seem incredibly vulnerable. She was obviously very shy.
That black dress clung to her like a glove, accentuating every smooth curve of her slender frame. She was tiny—he estimated she’d barely reach his shoulder—but of course that wouldn’t matter if they were lying down.
At that thought Jack swallowed hard, dragging his eyes away from her. It’d been a long time since he’d had any female company, too long, judging by the way his body reacted.
He hadn’t wanted to come to this wedding. In fact, he’d come up with a slew of reasons why he shouldn’t. He only had a few weeks leave, he needed to get back and see his family, and he’d never even met the bride. But then Dylan had called to ask if he was coming, stating that he really hoped he’d be there. He’d talked about Amelia, about how amazing she was, and how much he loved her, and to be honest, his interest was piqued. This was the guy he’d shared a room with at college, the guy who had girl after girl traipsing in and out of their room, and never, ever—his rule and albeit hers too—the same girl.
Now there was a girl he wanted to marry. Jack couldn’t get his head around that and needed to see it for himself.
And shit, if Dylan didn’t look like he’d lay down his life for this girl. When the string quartet in the corner had started up and the bridal party stepped into view, Dylan’s eyes had started shining. Fuck, the hard as a nut, man whore was crying. Over a girl.
Now he’d seen everything.
Or so he’d thought until the bridesmaid, the very same one he’d been checking out, face planted in the middle of the aisle. Not before giving her head a solid whack on the wooden pew though. Jack had heard the thump, since she’d tumbled right near him, and knew that had to have hurt.
Although judging by the bright red of her skin tone, her ego was more bruised than her head. Nevertheless, she picked herself up and despite her obvious embarrassment had managed to continue the walk up the aisle to stand by her friend’s side. Had to give the girl kudos for that.
She stood at the altar now, her face still tinged with dark pink, the flowers in her hand a little squished and some blonde curls hanging sexily over her bare shoulders. Her chin though, was lifted in a fuck-you kind of way, although it was hard to imagine anyone who looked that sweet and innocent, who was so adorably clumsy, swearing at all.
Jack’s eyes roamed down over the form-fitting dress, and he imagined what she looked like underneath. Naked. He imagined her sliding across a massive bed, her hair all sexy and tousled and wondered if there was anything he could do to her to make her swear.
Fuck, he was acting like a fourteen-year-old boy. It had been a really long time.
He shifted between his feet, looking away from the pretty bridesmaid and thinking about something else. Dead puppies. That would do it. Dead men.
He sobered immediately as his mood turned and a sour taste filled his mouth. Wrong direction for his thoughts to take.
But it was too late now. His thoughts were darkening, and he could hear the steady but increasing beat of his heart in his head. The blood pulsing through his veins and the sound of gunfire ringing in his ears.
Looking around the church, he took in the happy smiles. This was a joyous occasion. Last time he’d been in a church he’d been surrounded by tears. The mood had been somber, more than somber, it had been depressing as all hell unlike now, and there’d been nothing to celebrate.
The death of a twenty-two-year-old man, blown to bits by an IED, was never anything to celebrate.
Suddenly he became aware of people moving. The wedding was over and they were headed out. He wiped a hand over his face and could feel the tiny beads of sweat. Shit, that had been close. He shook his head, clearing his thoughts as he searched the crowd for the bridesmaid.
He knew she’d take his mind off the demons in his head.