“I hate weddings.” Megan Berry sighed loudly, crossing her arms. She looked more like a sulky child than a twenty-eight-year-old woman. Something she should have taken in to consideration before begging out of her maid of honor duties. But what choice did she have? The wedding was tomorrow. Time was running out.
“What a shock! Megan Berry, the carefree bachelorette, doesn’t like weddings.” Shane Reed chuckled loudly, delighted with his own sarcastic response. He looked ridiculous dressed in khaki pants and a light collared shirt—a preppy outfit picked out by his future wife. Despite Josie’s efforts, Shane’s tattoos were ill-concealed. Black ink ran up his exposed neck and down his exposed forearms. Megan hoped her best friend was as uncomfortable as he looked.
“You used to be carefree and unattached too, Shane,” Megan said knowingly. “And I know for a fact you hate weddings as much as I do.”
“Yes, but that was before I fell in love, Megs.” He smiled as if this explained everything. “Now I can’t wait to throw a big party and watch you suffer through your maid of honor speech.”
“Well, when you put it that way, how can I say no?”
Shane put a friendly arm around her shoulder. Megan rolled her eyes.
“You can’t! Plus, you finally get to meet my best man and older brother Jack.”
“Oh boy. The guy who catches fish. I can’t wait.”
Megan faked a yawn, pushing off Shane’s arm. Shane was insane if he thought she cared about his mysterious older brother, whom she had never met and didn’t care to meet.
“Crab, not fish. He’s the captain of a large fishing vessel in Alaska, just like that show The Deadliest Catch.”
“Deadliest what? I don’t watch TV, Shane, you know that. Plus, who cares? Crab? Fish? It’s all the same—boring.”
Shane shook his head and laughed. “You are the one who better care and start doing your homework. Otherwise, it’s going to be a pretty awkward night for you. Jack is a great guy, but he tends to be hard to get a conversation out of. Especially if he doesn’t know you.”
“More awkward than wearing a princess dress, stripper heels, and giving a speech in front of three hundred people?”
Megan’s eyes widened in alarm when Shane soberly nodded his head yes. This maid of honor thing keeps getting better and better.
“Maybe your brother won’t show. He’s already extremely late for rehearsal.”
Megan clung on to that idea like a lifeline. Shane told everyone an hour ago that Jack was flying in from Alaska in between king crab and opilio crab season, whatever that meant. Jack had missed his first flight because he had to make his “red crab quota,” which in non-fish guy language meant he was selfish and making everyone wait because he stunk at his job.
“Jack will show,” Shane said, as if trying to convince himself. Megan was well aware of the doubt in his expression. She had known Shane for a long time and had never once met his older brother Jack. But Shane talked about him as if he were the greatest thing since sliced bread. It made Megan sad to know Jack apparently didn’t feel the same. It also reminded her why she couldn’t get out of her maid of honor duties.
When Megan moved to Chicago five years ago, looking for an adventure, she wound up finding Shane’s tattoo shop. She became Shane’s receptionist, and over time he and Josie became her family. It was impossible to undo those years of strong bonding, the damage was already done. Her heart would not let her say no to her friends, as much as she needed to.
“That’s great. I can’t wait to get the party started.”
Megan dropped her head in her hands. She suddenly felt like she needed more sleep. The walls were definitely closing in.
“Look on the bright side, Megs, all the free drinks you can get.”
Shane’s response was hopeful, as if the alcohol would make a difference.
In this situation, there was no “making a difference.” Megan just needed out of the whole “maid of honor” gig. Being in front of a large crowd was not her thing. Just walking down the aisle was going to be a challenge. Giving a speech in front of three hundred people felt impossible. Her best friends knew all this, and yet, still, they begged her to be the maid of honor, knowing she wouldn’t be able to say no.
Megan glanced up, feeling like someone who knew their fate was sealed. She planned to let Shane know how hard this was going to be for her, but the words fell short against one of Shane’s trademark, annoying winks.
“Wink at me again, Shane-the-Pain, and you will be sporting a black eye to match your black tie!”
“Aye, aye, Captain Cheerful,” Shane shouted with a salute, then marched toward the other rehearsal party members chuckling loudly.
Megan rubbed her fingers methodically against her temples, ignoring Shane’s reaction of amusement. There was no going back now. When Jack got here, the rehearsal would begin. The prison door was locked and she was stuck. Megan Berry, tattoo shop receptionist, was about to officially be the maid of honor at her best friend’s wedding. Panic hung in the air like a suffocating blanket.
“Will you play with me, Megs?” David Reed, Josie and Shane’s toddler son, tugged hard on the hem of her dress.
She looked down at him, and smiled. “Absolutely.”
The only person suffering more through the long rehearsal was David. The boy was bored out of his mind. Megan was too. Maybe they could spend some enjoyable time being kids together? Talking to the other adults in the room was exhausting, as always. There were only so many times you could discuss Shane and Josie’s color scheme for their wedding.
Megan scooped David up into her arms, making him giggle. There was no better defense for an awkward situation than using a three-year-old like a human shield. She carried her cute shield away from the large wedding party to give them both a much needed break. Two hours in, and it had already been a long night.
But at least Megan looked good. She wore a light purple dress that highlighted her large, green eyes. She had somehow gotten her rebellious brown hair to hold a curl, and even put on some mascara to lengthen her lashes. All in all it was a lot of effort for a low maintenance girl.
The other girls in the wedding party looked flawless. They were all friends from Josie’s pageant days in Florida. Megan felt it was extremely unfair to have to stand in a wedding party filled with woman who had all successfully won beauty pageants. But these were Josie’s friends from home and Megan wanted to do her best to make Josie happy. Even if that meant putting extra effort into her beauty regiment, and making conversation with woman she had little in common with. Josie was family to her, and like Josie enjoyed to remind her constantly, that’s what true sisters did.
“We can get married one day, my Megs,” David said adoringly, pulling her from her thoughts.
She took a finger and tapped him lightly under the chin, smiling with deep affection. “For sure, little man. Although, by the time you’re old enough, I’ll be ancient.”
“That’s okay!” David wagged his head up and down with enthusiasm, as sure as only a three-year-old could be.
“Let’s play cars, okay?”
David sat on the floor pulling two toy cars from the pocket of his cargo pants. A curled brown hair flopped in his eyes, and he wiped it out of his way with one little red car. Megan watched, fighting the urge to laugh. He was just too cute to resist. The kid could ask her to do a back-flip and she probably would. Well, try at least!
“Sounds good to me.”
Megan sat down on the cold chapel floor with her little man. Immediately she began to feel as if she had just made the wrong move. Sitting down, on the floor, in a dress, was not exactly classy. Megan turned back and took in the disapproving looks from her fellow bridesmaids. They were all staring at her as if she was from another planet, and it hurt. Megan quickly turned back to David, letting out a long sigh.
“Oh boy, I did the wrong thing again, Davie.”
David seemed to not hear her. He was too concerned with whether Megan was moving her car. “Come on, Megs, you have to play with me.”
David crashed his car into hers energetically, making her smile. She pushed back with her car trying to get lost in playtime, but knew she was still being watched. This was not the first round of dirty looks Megan had received tonight, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last.
Megan was the type of girl who was always doing, or saying the wrong thing. Women tended to be more observant and less forgiving of those traits in Megan, which made interacting with other females very difficult. It also explained why she had way more male friends. Josie was one of her only girlfriends and that was because she found Megan’s quirkiness endearing.
“Bang, crash, bang!” David hit her car enthusiastically in the loudest voice he could muster. The sound echoed off the walls of the chapel. Several people in the room turned with fingers on their lips, telling him to “Shhh.”
Megan began to laugh. Fascinated at how a room full of adults, standing stiffly in their dress rehearsal best, and talking about nothing, could find a small child playing with his toys a nuisance. Her artistic mind wanted to sketch the entire scene and entitle it, “Never-ending Wedding Rehearsal hits an all-time low.” What else was little David supposed to do? They had been there for hours, waiting on a best man that would likely never show.
“Megs, we’re ready.”
Shane’s deep voice broke into the monotony of banging her blue toy car against David’s red one.
“Oh great. Did Mr. All-Important Crab Guy finally grace us with his presence?”
Megan looked up. Shane was not alone. A strange man stood next to him, wearing a dirty white T-shirt, worn jeans, and could only be described as Mr. Crab Guy himself. Megan felt the corners of her mouth strain into a crooked smile, while her face flushed with heat.
“I told you Jack would show, Megs.” Shane chuckled and winked in his “Shane-the-Pain” way.
“She didn’t think I would show, huh?” Jack leaned into the wall with a sexy smile.
Megan stole her gaze away, noticing his powerful frame, broad shoulders and muscular arms crossed over his chest. She stood up slowly. There was nothing she could do now but apologize.
“Nice to finally meet you, Jack. I’m usually not this much of a jerk.” Megan absently offered her hand that was still gripping one of David’s toy cars.
Jack’s smile disappeared, and his gaze traveled over her face, making her nervous. He was shorter than Shane’s six-and-a-half feet, but not by much. He had the same dark curly hair as his brother and nephew, but his was cut short and clean. His eyes were a lighter shade of brown, almost hazel, and were lined with dark lashes that gave him a devilish appearance.
Jack was extremely attractive, but he didn’t appear to have the same good humor Shane often wore on his face. Megan desired a man who had a sense of humor above everything else.
Jack uncrossed his arms and chose to take the car instead of her hand. “Do you always play with toys?” His voice had taken on a deeper tone, sending a ripple of awareness through her.
What was the question, again?
Megan’s face flushed further, but she smiled as if it didn’t matter. “Yep! I just love playing with cars.”
Her humor broke over the man of stone like water. Jack continued to stare at her. He was definitely sizing her up, and making her more uncomfortable in the process.
“Shane, we are about to start,” Josie called across the chapel, gesturing for them all to come over toward the altar. Her wavy blonde hair was pulled back in a loose bun, showcasing her long neck, and supermodel good looks. A happy, infectious smile was painted on her face, making Megan grin. At least someone is excited for this rehearsal.
“Well, I can see you two are going to get along great!”
Shane gave her a friendly pat on the back, and left.
Awesome! I guess I’m all alone here. Megan turned begrudgingly back toward Jack, whose gaze had dropped from her eyes to her shoulders and lower still. She tried to swallow, but her mouth felt too dry. She expected the instant indignation that usually followed a strange man’s bold stare, but all she could feel was hot.
Megan decided if he was going to stare, she would stare right back. Her eyes devoured the handsome features of his face, the sensual curve of his lips, and lowered to his broad shoulders and chest. The shirt he wore was not only dirty, but had a tiny hole near his stomach, showing a preview of some seriously chiseled abs. Jack definitely worked hard for a living, and his body reaped the rewards.
“Megs, Jack, get over here. It’s time to start.” Josie voice sliced across the room, and right into their moment.
Jack snapped his eyes toward Josie, as if he hadn’t been caught ogling Megan. The handcuffs were finally gone, and not by her request.
“Well, let’s get this over with then.” Jack turned back to her with a slight smile. Slight, but enough to give her heart a jolt.
“Agreed.” Megan smiled back, feeling like a sixteen-year-old with a crush. When Jack smiled, it transformed his features, making him dangerously appealing.
He turned and headed toward the wedding party. Megan shook her head, trying not to notice how well he wore a pair of jeans. Jack was definitely tempting, making it hard for her to think, let alone talk. It was going to be challenging to make conversation for the next hour.
“Wish me luck, buddy,” Megan said, patting little David on the head.
“Lucky ducky,” David’s sweet voice called after her.
Megan walked over to take her place in the rehearsal line.
Jack held out his arm, and when she took it he put his opposite hand on hers. It was a simple, intimate gesture that made her heart dance with excitement. His hand was large, and the skin of his palm felt rough. There was dirt underneath his nails. Jack obviously knew what it was like to work with his hands.
Megan’s stomach began to swim with butterflies, and it made her feel ridiculous. What was the big deal? It was only his hand after all.
She noticed her fellow bridesmaids gazing at her like she won the lottery. Again, Megan was reminded how handsome Jack actually was, and because of it, all the attention in the room seemed to be in their direction. She cringed, closing her eyes, tightening her grip on Jack’s arm. The spotlight instantly made her want to run away.
“So, Shane says you live in Alaska.”
Megan opened one eye at a time, and placed them on Jack. She was desperate to make conversation—anything to distract from the feel of his hand on hers. Jack seemed more or less unaware of her discomfort and took his time responding.
Megan waited for him to add anything else that would give her an opportunity to create a dialogue, but he didn’t. Instead, Jack stared straight forward waiting for their turn down the aisle.
Okay, now what? Shane was definitely right. Interacting with Jack was beginning to get awkward.
“Next couple, please.”
The wedding planner signaled for them to walk down the aisle, and they did quickly. After they had both made it to their own sides, Jack seemed to have nothing better to do than stare at her. Every time she dared to peek up at him, he would boldly meet her eyes, unashamed. Jack was confident, not to mention wildly attractive, and completely in control.
As the rehearsal wore on, Megan began to stare back. Her artistic mind took in all his fine chiseled features. Never had she felt the need to draw a person more. She began to wonder what Jack looked like under his T-shirt and jeans. Would his body be as tight and strong as it appeared? What would it feel like to touch the skin on his chest? Megan tried to swallow but her mouth had gone dry. She remembered how nice it felt just with his hand on hers, how it gave her a sense of protection. What would his hands feel like on other parts of her body? Would the rough skin of his palm create delicious friction on—
“Megs! Are you there?” Josie’s beautiful face was staring at her in curiosity.
Megan response was that of a snapping turtle. Josie’s interruption to her daydream was like getting dosed with a bucket of cold water.
Get it together, girl!
Josie inclined her blonde head with obvious amusement.
“Rehearsal’s over and you’re still standing here, staring off in a corner. I thought you were anxious to be done.”
Megan took a sailing trip back to reality with sudden enthusiasm.
“I sure am happy to be done. I mean, I just love weddings.” She sighed theatrically, laying on the sarcasm. “I only wish I could experience this feeling of joy every day.”
“That’s the spirit!” Josie laughed in her super cute girly way, making Megan smile.
“But on a serious note, Megs,” Josie added. “I’m glad you are here.”
“I know.” Megan grabbed onto Josie’s hand. She didn’t need her friend to explain further. She knew Josie’s own family had decided not to come. Her friend’s relatives never seemed to be able to get over their objection to Shane and all his tattoos. On top of that, Josie and Shane had little David out of wedlock, causing more tension.
Josie turned her hand over, so that their fingers were linked. Sudden tears in her blue eyes threatened to spill. “I thought that inviting all my old friends from home would make me feel like I had an army of support. But I haven’t talked to some of these girls in years, and it shows. They look at Shane like he’s a tattooed freak. And I can tell that they don’t understand why Shane and I waited so long to get married after having David. If you weren’t here, Megs, I would be all alone.”
Megan gave Josie’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “You are not alone, Josie. Shane adores you, and so do I. You’re my sister and I will always be here for you.”
“And I will always be here for you, sister.” Josie squeezed back, tears rolling down her cheek.
“Hey, don’t cry, Josie.” Megan let go of her friend’s hand, and wiped away her tears. “You’ll ruin your rehearsal dinner makeup.”
“Rehearsal dinner makeup?” Josie giggled, rolling her eyes. “Where do you come up with this stuff, Megs?”
“It’s all up here, my friend.” Megan patted the top of her head and smiled proudly, making Josie giggle again. It was funny how much Josie—with her southern belle roots—enjoyed Megan’s quirky Midwest humor. They were like the odd couple.
“Oh, Megs, why didn’t I just elope?” Josie asked, throwing her hands in the air.
“My thoughts exactly.”
Josie smiled, shaking her head. “I just got so carried away wanting to plan the perfect wedding. I guess I forgot what was really important.”
“Hey, who cares? It’s only one day!” Megan playfully punched Josie’s arm. “You and Shane are the best people I know, and have a lifetime of great memories ahead.”
“Thanks, sister.” Josie rubbed her arm theatrically and grinned.
“No problem. Just another thing I can check off my maid of honor duties!” She offered Josie a hand. “Let’s go, sister, we don’t want to be late for your rehearsal dinner.” Megan put on an extra enthusiastic smile. “Especially when it’s finally time to drink, I mean, eat.”
No, I mean a drink!
Josie smiled back and winked, reminding her of Shane-the-Pain. The two lovebirds were starting to take on one another’s more obnoxious traits. It was the pitfalls, Megan guessed, of being in love.
“Sure thing, Megs. Then you can start off karaoke night.”