Gillian needed out of the suffocating confines of the pink dressing room. With trembling fingers, she plucked at the pastel purple skirt of the atrocious bridesmaid dress her mother had insisted she wear. It was her mother’s seventh wedding, for goodness’ sake. The faint sounds of church bells irritated her already stretched nerves, sounding more like a death knell than a joyful celebration. “Mother, stop.” Gilli slapped her mother’s hand away from the thick brown glasses perched on her nose for the tenth time. “I need those.”
“Gillian Rebecca Hilliard, you know you could do with contacts. Why on earth you insist on wearing these ugly old things I will never understand. You’ll never be a model, but must you hide every inch of your face?” Condescension oozed from her mother’s tone.
“I have no desire to put plastic in my eyes,” Gilli snapped, sliding them off her face to allow the hovering stylist to work. “I like my glasses.”
“Of course you do. Why Michael stayed with you as long as he did I will never know.” With a huff, her mother turned to the shadowy blobs behind her. “Do what you can with what you have.”
Pain lashed at Gilli, who swallowed against the rising tide of memories. Absently she rubbed at her right thigh, the faint scar searing with pain. Michael deserved to rot in hell, and she hoped he was suffering every day while in prison. “He didn’t put up with me, Mother. I believe you of all people should remember that, since it was you who drove me to the hospital after one of his episodes.”
“You always were a bit of an oaf…”
“The son of a bitch shoved me through a wall, not to mention down the stairs. I’m not even going to argue with you, Mother. The glasses are mine. I like them. They’re staying.”
“Whatever, do try to hurry Gillian.”
Gilli shook her head and listened to the rapid tapping of her mother’s heels on the hardwood floor. “Only woman I know who wants a huge wedding every time,” she grumbled as the stylist finished pinning her hair up.
“That’s it, Miss Hilliard. As per your request, I left most of it down.” The young woman leaned down, her hand on Gilli’s shoulder. “You’re going to knock ’em dead.”
Gilli offered a short, weak laugh and patted the girl’s hand. “Thanks.” She slipped her glasses on and rose to totter toward the door on the stilettos her mother persisted she wear. As she exited, the door closed behind her with a click. Gilli turned, smacking face first into a tall, hard wall of flesh before her. Heat seared her body at the touch of his hands on the bare flesh of her back. Putting a couple of inches between them, Gilli glanced upward. Her heart dropped before galloping in place.
Dark brown hair curled over a tanned forehead, green eyes as dark as pine stared at her, bemusement sparkling in them. “Excuse me, miss.”
She shuddered at the slow drawl curling like a lover’s touch into her core. Her labia pulsed beneath the lace of her panties. A flush crept along her throat to heat her cheeks and she ducked her head to hide the wave of color washing over her face. She cleared her throat. “No, pardon me. Entirely my fault.”
Scurrying down the hall, she gasped at the sensitivity in her breasts. Heavy, full, the nipples throbbed beneath the layers of satin and lace. Desperate to cool her blood, she darted past a couple of women and into the ladies room. The thin metal door offered minimal protection as she locked herself into a stall. A thud filled the silence as she let her forehead drop, leaned against the icy metal, and inhaled.
Gods above, Zeus in the flesh right before me. What I wouldn’t give to have him … but he’s not going… Arousal scorched along her veins, pooling between her legs and soaking her underwear. Like venom, her ex’s sneering tone filled her mind. You couldn’t turn a light bulb on, Gillian. You’re sexless. You should get a boob job. Can’t count…
The soft clunk of the heavy public bathroom door opening preceded Barbara’s biting tone. “Gillian, don’t think I didn’t see you…”
An uneasy cringe escaped in spite of the relief at the shattered memory. Gillian squeezed her eyes shut. “Mother, can I not use the facilities without you harping at me?” Gillian smoothed her skirt down, rolling her shoulders forward in the hope of hiding her erect nipples. “I’ll be there in a moment.”
“Well hurry up, they’ve already got everyone seated. Goodness, child, you’d think you’d remember this was my wedding!” The bathroom door clicked shut on her mother’s tirade.
With a roll of her eyes, Gillian stepped out of the stall, shot a look at her reflection in the mirror, and inhaled.
“There’s no point in getting hot and bothered over the likes of him. He ain’t going to want you.” Gilli waved a hand at her reflection, a perfect imitation of her mother. “Horn-rimmed glasses, mousy-looking hair, no tits. Didn’t Mike teach you a damn thing, Gillian? Men don’t want a mouse, they want a sexpot, and you’re not it.”
With a quick shake of her head, she smoothed her skirt down, sucked in a deep breath, and pulled open the bathroom door. She glanced around carefully before darting into the hallway.
Pressed close to the wall, she took her place before her mother, feeling like an over-stuffed Easter egg as the Wedding March began to play. A smile pasted on her face, she gripped the flowers in her hand tighter and began the slow but steady shuffle toward the preacher.
Focused on getting there without falling, Gilli gasped at the man standing next to the altar. Laughing green eyes watched her, his lips turned upward at the corners. A slight shadow covered his square jaw. The dark suit he wore clung to his broad shoulders, tucking in at his waist. She wondered if beneath his suit coat, his ass was as good as the rest of him. Embarrassed, she stepped back, narrowly missing tripping on her own gown’s hem.
Her mother’s pointed clearing of her throat drew her attention to the woman sashaying along, the yards and yards of tulle and lace out of place on a woman in her fifties—who’d had six previous husbands and more lovers then Gillian thought healthy. The unspoken warning in Barbara’s eyes pierced clearer than any shouting match could be. There would be hell to pay if any attention slipped from the bride.
“Typical.” Gilli glared at the flowers, disgust rolling in her nauseous gut. She offered a prayer the ceremony would draw to a quick end so she could ditch the shoes, the flowers, and find a quiet corner to relax in, with the help of an expensive bottle of champagne.
She shot a glance across the aisle, heat suffusing her face when she caught sex in a cummerbund’s eye. Screw the wine—what she wouldn’t give to get lost in him. Maybe if she’d been different… Pushing aside the vague thought, she focused on the drone of her mother’s voice as she spoke her vows.
Jack caught the flare of desire in the eyes of the slim girl across from him before she ducked her head. He glanced up the aisle at the bride and exhaled. A sharp elbow to the side sent a shard of pain dancing up his ribs, drawing his attention.
“I am,” he grunted. His neck itched from the starch in his shirt collar, and the tie added to the discomfort. How he’d let himself get talked into this monkey suit he still didn’t know. It was obvious to anyone who knew him he was being a gentleman; hell, he’d have left hours ago, the minute he’d met the bride, if he’d been misbehaving. Although, the view from where he was sure made up for the monkey suit. She was cute, not out and out beautiful, but a knockout with her gentle curves and shy demeanor—it was the quiet ones who got you hooked. “Hey, who’s the kid?” His eyes traced over her again, the familiar curiosity dancing along his nerves as he wondered what the dress hid.
“That’s Gillian. She’s not a kid. She’s only six years younger than you are.”
“Yeah, but what does she do?”
“Something with dinosaurs, I think.”
“Dinosaurs, huh?” He whistled under his breath, his interest pricked.
Lenny shot him a quick look. “She’s the man-eating kind. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to get married.”
“Man-eater my ass.”
Listening to the preacher drag on, Jack turned his attention to studying the bridesmaid. Her fingers plucked at the ribbon on the flowers and her brows were drawn down behind the horrible glasses she wore. Dark rims shrouded her eyes, sitting atop her little nose, seeming to mock him. The pale purple and yellow dress she wore clung to her body, her narrow waist flowing into slim hips. Her chest rose and fell, the material hugging her small breasts. Though not his typical type, Jack couldn’t help himself, the need to get closer a steady confusing pull. He wasn’t here to get laid—this wasn’t some bar or nightclub.
Besides, there was always Shelli—buxom, gorgeous, sexy, a woman who knew her way around a bed, like all of the women he’d dated. Career-minded, single, knew how to play the game—and as boring as hell—probably why he’d dumped her before coming to the wedding. Nope, not here to get laid, he reprimanded himself, although I would kill to see what’s under the hideous amount of fabric.
On automation, he followed the bride and groom back down the aisle. With every step, he snuck another glance at the woman ahead of him. Who the hell was she? Inching closer to her, he sighed, the faint scent of her soap drifting to him. The hint of flowers more of a turn-on than any perfume he’d smelled before. Determination filled him. He’d find out at the reception; someone had to know more than her name.
What a dish? Perhaps I was a bit too hasty. Still, there’s time. Though I am worried about his interest in Gillian. Man like him would know his way around the bedroom. Would know how to please a woman. Nope, sure wouldn’t kick him out of my bed for eating crackers, unless it was to fuck him on the floor.
Look at her, lost in her own little world, ignoring the stud. Good for me, bad for her. Tasty, and she hasn’t got a clue. Never did. The useless little snot. How I wish Jason had gone away when I found out. Could have removed it before it ruined my figure. Though it does have its uses. Yes, yes, it does.
Gilli sat in the darkest corner at a small round table, her fingers plucking at the tablecloth. The music from the band swirled around her, irritating already exposed nerves. Why her mother would want hard rock at her wedding she had no idea, nor did she particularly care. It was one more attempt on Barbara’s part to reclaim her youth or some such stupidity.
With a nail, she scratched at the itch where her glasses usually sat, the faint indent of the bridge on her nose a welcome reminder. There was a very good reason she hated these parties—the opulence and public displays her mother so loved. Just knowing her mother had found another unsuspecting fool was enough to turn her stomach. The urge to flee was strong, but she was a prisoner of the damn chair until either she got help or got her glasses back. Maybe she could coerce one of the servers into stealing her mother’s clutch bag and returning it. Yes, she’d offer them a ten-spot and see if they’d bite.
In her typical, domineering manner, her mother had snatched her glasses the moment she’d sat down. Now they were in the little white clutch her mother had—but being as close to blind as she was, the damn thing could be right in front of her and she would never know it. Swearing under her breath, Gilli reached for her drink. The burn of alcohol down her throat drew a grimace.
“You don’t drink much, do you?” Deep, the whiskey-smooth baritone danced along her nerves, setting them aflame.
“No, I don’t.” Gilli wiggled in her seat. Her shoulders hunched as she sucked at the strong concoction in her glass. Her stomach twisted with each swallow. Tomorrow she’d pay for drinking, but tonight it was the only thing making the evening bearable. A shiver danced over her and she exhaled. Would it be too much to ask for the floor to swallow her whole?
“You should slow down on that, it’s pretty strong.”
Why was he talking to her? There wasn’t any logical reason to speak to her. Men didn’t talk to her except to ask what bone went where on the skeleton of a stegosaurus. Unless… Her stomach twisted at the stray, unwelcome thought settling like a lead weight. Had her mother asked him to?
“Gillian.” She held out her free hand in the direction of the voice. His warm laughter preceded his calloused palm as he shook her hand. “Nice to meet you.” If he picked up on the sarcasm, his grip didn’t show it.
“Pleasure’s all mine, only woman here not gyrating like a wannabe belly dancer—which is so wrong when you’re listening to ACDC.” Firm, dry, his hand pumped hers up and down. His thumb rubbed along her knuckles absently, the gentle caress reaching through to her center. “So, what happened to your glasses?”
Gilli set her empty glass on the table and reached in vain for the largest object on the table, hoping it was the bottle of whatever she was drinking. “My glasses?”
“You had glasses on at the church, but I don’t see them anywhere. Did you lose them?” His voice dropped, the warmth of his breath ghosting over her skin. The taffeta of her dress slipped along the chair as she moved away from him. She debated getting up but brushed aside the instinctual desire. They were in a public place and she’d sat down first.
“In a manner of speaking.” Gilli sighed, slouching forward even farther. Why is he still talking to me? What could he possibly want with me? Unless he’s desperate, and hey, then it wouldn’t be so bad. A quick tumble and I’m good for another few years. It’s not like I need sex, but Hillary says it’s healthy…
Gilli shook her head, there was no way she was sharing this humiliation with a stranger. Why couldn’t her mother have left her glasses alone? Why was she sitting at a reception dressed in pale purple and yellow, blind, alone, and ignored for the most part?
“So, you’re a friend of the bride?” His voice pulled her from her thoughts.
“Daughter. Unfortunately for me … and you it would seem since you’re here stuck talking to me.” Gillian squinted at the table, leaning forward in the vain hope of finding the alcohol. A dart of something slid under her skin when she recognized the blurred shape of what appeared to be an umbrella. It wasn’t her drink, but what the hey, didn’t matter. As long as there was something in there strong enough to drown out the need to retch she’d be happy. She touched the glass, moved it slightly, and breathed a long sigh of relief. Finally! Taking a long sip, she shivered. If it takes me all night, when I get Mother’s purse I’m going to steal my glasses and catch the first flight home.
“Really? Uh, your um…”
“Believe me, this isn’t my idea of fun. This is one step below the Spanish Inquisition for torture. As well the woman knows; she just refuses to allow anyone to ruin her day.” The old resentment a bitter weight on her tongue, she wondered again why Barbara would want her around. “I’d rather be at a dig or the library or something. To be honest, anything is preferable to being stuck in this Gong Show. Don’t get me wrong, I love weddings, they’re great, fun; it’s just attending hers I despise. So, what brings you here?”
“Are you an archeologist?”
“Historian. I’ve spent years learning all about history—specifically Canadian history, pre-white settlers. At the moment I work for a movie company. They’re making an epic historical drama, and I’m the consultant they hired—or rather the museum loaned out. Then when I go home I’m going back to work. The new semester is starting soon, keeps me busy.” Gillian shrugged. “How’d you get roped into my mother’s wild plans?”
“Ah, you noticed my less than subtle dodge, huh? I’m a friend of the groom’s. He’s my captain at the fire hall.” A figure moved between them, setting something with ice in it on the table before vanishing.
Gillian nodded. Typical. Why couldn’t he be something she could hate? Snickering at herself, she reached for the glass on the table. Even geeks can be asses, Gilli, just look at Mike. Fear and revulsion slithered down her spine at the memory. No, don’t look at that example. Better not to think of it, she told herself, her fingers catching the edge of a glass.
“Watch it, you’re going to…” His warning came seconds too late.
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