The sequel to the steamy hit novel, The Dating Alternative.
Standing in front of all our friends, bouquet in hand, tears stream down my face. The upstairs room of the restaurant has been transformed into a place as magical as the love we’re here to celebrate. I look over at Chelsea, and she’s crying just as hard as I am. On the other side of me, my best friend in the world isn’t paying attention to any of us at all, and who can blame her? Instead, Brie’s looking at her handsome boyfriend, whose eyes are damp with emotion as he stares down at the woman he so clearly adores.
Blake looks down at his notes, then looks back at Brie and Max. “By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you man and wife.” For a long moment, Max just stares at her, until Blake breaks the spell. “Kiss the girl, already!”
Everyone cheers and claps as Max bends Brie backward, her clutching his jaw in her palms as they kiss. When they finally come up for air and turn to the crowd, Blake introduces our friends to the assembled crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Thomas MacCallum!” We all smile and laugh as he uses Max’s real name instead of the nickname everyone except Brie calls him by.
Brie and Max raise their linked hands to the cheers and applause of the assembled crowd. Brie grabs my arm with her free hand and gives it a squeeze, throwing me the happiest smile I’ve ever seen.
I’m standing at a bar top table by the window with Chelsea when Brie and Max find us. “Here you go, ladies.” Max smiles as he sets three glasses down on the table. “Three of whatever she’s having.” He winks as he makes reference to the specialty drink he invented just for her. It’s on the menu here at their bar now. He presses a kiss to her temple and turns to go find his friends.
Brie gives me a nudge with her shoulder and looks from me to Chelsea. “So how long did you two know about this?”
“Not long,” I reply evasively.
“Two weeks.” I shrug. That’s how long it took to get everything together once Max called and told me he wanted to throw Brie a surprise wedding and asked me to organize it.
“How long have you been in town?” Brie’s brows furrow as she looks accusatorialy at Chelsea. She doesn’t get to come down from Montreal that often, and I’m sure Brie is thinking she hates to miss any time with her, just like I do.
“Just a couple of days. I made my contributions to the planning by phone.” Chelsea crooks her thumb at me. “This one and your new brother-in-law took care of most everything. I basically just had to show up and look fabulous.”
“Simon helped you?” Brie is taken a little aback. “He’s a dark horse. I didn’t think he believed in love or marriage, or, ya know, anything that includes feelings or can’t be drafted into a legal contract, for that matter.”
“He was really great, actually. As much and he and Max give each other shit, it seems like that’s just brothers being brothers macho bullshit. They really do love each other deep down, I think.” I fiddle with the corner of the napkin under my drink. Seeing how Simon went out of his way to help Max make this happen for Brie was kinda sweet, actually.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody’s awesome. Can we please toast so we can start drinking?” Chelsea holds up her glass and Brie and I both laugh.
“Yes, a toast, definitely!” Brie raises her glass high. “To the two best friends a girl ever had. Thanks for seeing me through the toughest times, and the best. Thanks for helping plan a wedding I knew nothing about until tonight, but most importantly,” she wipes a tear from her bottom lashes and clears her throat. “Thanks for wearing the most godawful pink dresses in the history of bridesmaids.” We all laugh. “Cheers!” We clink our glasses together and down a healthy gulp of the sweet, fruity vodka concoction.
Just as we finish up our cocktails, Max comes back over and slides his hands around Brie’s waist, resting his chin on her shoulder. “Do you ladies mind if I steal my gorgeous bride for the first dance?”
Chelsea and I make our way to the edge of the space that’s been cleared for dancing as Brie and Max spin around, slow-dancing while they stare into each other’s eyes. I hear Blake ask Chelsea if her boyfriend would mind if they danced. She quips something about him not having anything to worry about, and they both laugh as they head out for a friendly turn around the dancefloor. Brie’s mom and her boyfriend du jour join them, as everyone else pairs off.
I’m standing near the wall, swaying back and forth when I feel a presence behind me. A deep voice makes my skin prickle. “You’re not dancing, Catelyn?”
I turn to see Simon standing behind me. Max’s brother has been in town for a little over a week, helping me get everything in place for the surprise proposal and wedding. I’ve always thought he was the more handsome of the two brothers. His confidence is intoxicatingly sexy. I didn’t realize, though, that there’s more to Simon MacCallum than meets the eye until we spent this time together.
I gesture to the dancefloor. “Every guy over the age of ten is already dancing.”
He replies without meeting my eye. “I’m not dancing.”
I narrow my gaze and grin. “And you haven’t asked me.”
He rolls his dark eyes and smirks, then takes his hand from the pocket of his obscenely expensive suit and extends it. “Catelyn, may I have the pleasure of this dance?”
I cast a flirtatious gaze in his direction. “Now, was that so hard?” I grin, placing my hand in his. “I’d love to, thanks.”
He takes my hand and leads me to the floor.
I first met Simon a little more than a year ago when he helped out with some legal problems Brie had. He’s smug, no doubt about it. I guess being one of the highest paid attorneys in Chicago will make a guy’s ego swell, so not sure I can blame him there. He’s also insanely handsome, which probably doesn’t help in the humility department.
There’s more to him than that, though, an I’ve seen enticing glimpses of it shining through that gruff exterior over the past couple of weeks we’ve been planning the wedding together. Like how he calls his grandmother, we call her Nana Dorothy, every week to check in on her under the guise of talking about her favorite TV shows. Or how he dropped everything to come down here and spend the week helping me organize this surprise wedding, despite saying he doesn’t believe in marriage, for his brother, who he pretends to hate. He’s definitely a handful, that’s for sure, but there’s just enough there to keep a girl coming back for more. I feel sorry for any woman who gets involved with him. It can’t lead to anything but heartbreak.
When we get to the dance floor, he slides one hand low around my back, and takes my palm with the other. I can’t say I’m surprised at how expertly he leads me. He has an athlete’s body—tall and strong with broad shoulders and a trim waist. I’m beginning to suspect he’s one of those people who is annoyingly good at everything he does.
“The dress suits you.” His voice is gruff and low in my ear when he leans forward to speak, and I don’t miss the way his eyes linger on my cleavage.
“Thanks. Chelsea and I thought it would be fun to wear the loudest bridesmaid dresses we could find.”
He glances around the room. “Are you happy?”
It’s an odd question. “Well, I mean generally, I think I am. Of course, there are things I’d like to be different, just like everyone else, I suppose.”
He smirks and it’s devastatingly sexy on him. “I meant with the way the wedding turned out. You worked hard to make it perfect.”
“Oh.” I chuckle and roll my eyes. “Of course. Yeah, I’m pretty pleased with everything. Thanks again for all your help. I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than come down here to help us.”
“I didn’t mind. My brother is a pain the ass, but I like Sabrina, and she deserves to be happy, even if she has shitty taste in men.” He grins at his own joke, and I am sure he wishes Max had been standing close enough to hear it. Those two dig at each other nonstop, but anyone can see there’s plenty of brotherly love there, too.
As the song reaches its crescendo, another couple dancing nearby bump into us, and Simon’s broad palm slides a little further down my back, pulling me closer. It’s instinctual, protective, and it stokes the embers of attraction to him that are already smoldering inside me.
The song changes to a slower one. The piano is light and airy as the singer croons. I can’t resist pressing a little closer into Simon’s muscular frame, pulling my hand from his to rest my palm on his chest. His grip tightens around me and his jaw brushes against my temple as I hear him faintly humming. I look up and grin. His voice is soft and low as he joins the singer, crooning about “The way you look tonight.” He ends the verse with a panty-incinerating wink.
Jesus, Catelyn. Get it together. He’ll be gone in a couple of days, back to Chicago, so there’s no chance of anything happening between us. Still, the way he’s looking at me now makes me think something could, if circumstances were different.
As the song ends, Blake walks by and puts a hand on Simon’s shoulder, giving it a double pat. “You’re up next, man.”
I start to pull back to free him from our embrace, but Simon doesn’t move. He just stares down at me. The intensity of his gaze makes me uncomfortable, so I try to break the tension.
“Time for your big speech. You nervous?”
He scoffs. “No way. I give summations in court all the time. Piece of cake.”
I grin up at him, imaging how sexy he must be, striding around the courtroom with purpose, taking down the opposition with his verbal jousting. I look up into those deep brown eyes, and my belly flips.
Okay, maybe I have a little crush on my best friend’s brother-in-law. What can it hurt, though? I mean, I know nothing will ever come of it. After this week, I won’t see him again for ages, I’m sure.
Simon looks around, then suddenly moves, his hand on the small of my back, guiding me to the alcove by the stairs. He keeps his eyes on the crowd as he dips his head, his words tickling my ear.
“Even if all this wedding business is complete and total bullshit, I’ve enjoyed our time together this past week, Catelyn.” His jaw grazes my cheek and goosebumps cover my skin. “You know, I’m not leaving until Tuesday.”
He cocks up one dark brow as he scans my face for acquiescence.
I smirk, raising my hand to smooth down the lapel of his five-thousand-dollar suit. “Now why on earth would I think it’s a good idea to get involved with a heartbreaker like you?”
“Since when are bad ideas and good times mutually exclusive? Some of the best times I’ve ever had started with very bad decisions.”