“Woo! Go, Paige!” I cheer from my seat as I watch my best friend take her first dance as a married couple in the center of the dance floor.
“Thanks, Lily,” she says back, making the guests in the marquee laugh.
The infectious feeling of the wedding has reached everyone, and they drink merrily and clap in time to the symphonies of the band from their seats. I’m relieved that today has gone smoothly without a single problem, and I think it’s largely thanks to having the wedding here in her parents’ vineyard in Oregon. I can see why she got married here as the sun setting low in the sky, turning the sky into hues of oranges, reds, and crimsons above the vineyard is breathtaking.
The marquee inside looks beautiful and is filled with white cloth tables that have gold confetti sprinkled all over them. I can smell the delicate essence of the flowers in the air that Paige picked out at my store only a few weeks ago. Lilies, pink roses, and lavender. They are dotted all around, filling the marquee with a vibrancy of color. It took two days of final planning and setting it up with my colleague Suzanne, but looking at the outcome of our hard work, I can say that it was completely worth it as the overall result is spectacular.
“Don’t they look happy?” my mom says in awe as she watches Oliver twirl Paige on the dance floor before dipping her body back.
I turn around in my seat and look into my mom’s light blue eyes, the mirror image of mine. “Yes. They do.”
“Just think, that will be you one day,” she quips, swirling her glass of white wine around in the air.
My lips curl up, and I push a loose pin back into my braided bun. “You’re forgetting one thing. I need to get a man first.”
“True.” She chuckles. “But you’re still young, and you have plenty of time to give me lots of grandchildren.”
My eyes go wide at the mention of me having multiple babies. “Yeah, that’s definitely not happening soon.”
“I’m in no rush,” she says with a smile.
As I turn back briefly to watch the happy couple sway on the dance floor, I can’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. I wish my dad was here to see them as he knew Paige when she was just a little girl, but sadly, cancer took him away from us a year ago. Thinking about him is still hard, and it brings a tear to my eye. I grab a napkin off the table and dab my eyes, hoping that Paige won’t see me like this.
“I miss him too, honey,” my mom says quietly, reaching her hand over the table to give mine a gentle squeeze. I give a teary smile, grateful that she knows me so well. “Do you ever, you know, think about finding someone?” I ask delicately. I hate the thought of her living in her house all alone. Even though she has her two Labradors, Milo and Bailey, it must be lonely for her.
A sad smile crosses her face. “Sometimes, but I loved Arthur for forty years, and I’m not ready to let go of him yet.”
I nod my head in understanding. I hope I will have a love as strong as theirs. It’s rare that childhood sweethearts stay married as long as they did.
Not wanting to dwell anymore on this, I take a sip of my wine and change the conversation to a more happy one, and we soon laugh at our own stories of the preparations for the wedding.
An hour later, I hear Paige call my name somewhere in the distance, and when I turn my head to look for her among the throng of guests, I catch sight of her in her white dress. Her train glides across the wooden floor, causing the guests to watch their footing as they pass by her.
“What are you still sitting down for? Come on, I need a dance with my maid of honor,” she says merrily, putting her hands on my shoulders.
I shake my head in protest. I haven’t had enough drink in me yet to bring up the courage to dance around the many guests here. There must be at least two hundred here. “Oh, no. I’m happy to sit here for a while longer.”
“Nonsense! You need to come up and dance.”
Pouting, she places her hands together in a prayer sign. “Please? Just one and I’ll leave you be.”
I can see that I will not win this battle and, rolling my eyes, I turn to look at my mom to ask if she’ll be okay alone while I dance with her.
“I think I can cope, dear. Go on, have some fun,” she encourages.
“Okay.” I kiss her softly on the cheek and then rise from my seat. I quickly empty the last of my glass of wine for some liquid courage and then place my hand in Paige’s outstretched hand. Before I take my next breath, Paige pulls me away from the table and carefully weaves us through the guests until we reach the center of the dance floor.
As I look around us, I notice that there are many people on the floor dancing and minding their own business, which puts me at ease, as I’m not the best dancer and always feel a little awkward dancing in public. The song is quite upbeat in tempo, and I take a moment to figure out how to dance along to the song, but once I move, I begin to feel myself loosen up, and I smile at Paige who is happily dancing along to the song with not a care in the world.
Our long dresses flow around us as we twirl and dance along the dance floor, and after a few more songs pass by, I notice that three men are standing on the sidelines as they talk to one another, watching us closely. I blush from their gazes, knowing that the bridesmaid dress I’m wearing fits my skin in all the right places and is low cut enough to show off some cleavage. It seems Paige spots them looking at us too, as she nudges my arm and winks. “You’re being watched. You should go over and introduce yourself.”
“What? No, I can’t.”
“Why not? They’re all quite cute, and the guy in the red tie is a work friend of Oliver.”
Paige isn’t wrong, they are all good-looking in their own right, but there is only one man here tonight who has caught my eye, and sadly, it isn’t them. Until today, I hadn’t seen him in eight years, and it seems my crush on Paige’s brother is still as strong today as when I was a teenager. I’m not a fool. I know nothing could ever happen between us and that he would never see me like that anyway, but even now, he still has a hold over me that renders other men invisible in his presence.
I shrug my shoulder and continue dancing. “Maybe later I will speak to them. Right now, I’m happy dancing with you.”
“Okay, but it’s your loss,” she teases. “You’ll only regret it tonight when you go back to your room alone, when you could have had a man in your bed satisfying you.”
I lightly snort at her comment and shake my head. “Only you would be worried about my sex life.”
“Just saying. It’s been a few months since you and David broke up. You deserve to have some fun after what that jackass did to you. ”
Sadly, she kind of has a point. I put up with David’s mind games and accusations for too long, only to find out that he was the one cheating. To this day I still can’t believe I missed all the signs, but then I guess that’s how people like him get away with having affairs for so long, putting all the blame and strain on you to deflect from their own deceit.
“Honestly, don’t worry about me. I’m fine.”
“Okay, but if you want a wing-woman, just say.”
“Paige, you’re married. What kind of wing-woman would you be?”
“A great one. They will instantly see this ring, realize they have no chance with me, and thus all eyes will be on you. You’re already getting some attention in this dress, and what’s hotter than a maid of honor?”
“Gosh, thanks,” I giggle. I glance at the guys again, and the one Paige was telling me about briefly catches my eye, and he quickly dips his head and smiles. Hmm, maybe he is a little cute.
Paige suddenly halts on the dance floor and places her hands on my shoulders, bringing my attention back to her. “Seriously, if anyone catches your eye tonight, just let me know and I’ll back you up.”
I’m flattered that she’s looking out for me, but I feel like she’ll have a coronary if I tell her that the man I would consider wanting to have some fun with is her older brother. Besides, I’m not bothered if I go to bed alone tonight. All I want is to have fun with my best friend and help her celebrate her wedding day. “Thanks, really. But like I said, I’m fine.”
She smiles and dances again. “All right, I’ll leave you alone.”
I smirk. “Good.” I reach my hands out and entwine my fingers between Paige’s and lift our arms in the air. As a new song plays, I sing along to the words and sway our arms to the rhythm of the music, noticing again that the guy in the red tie is watching me with interest.
We continue to stay on the dance floor for two more songs before I gladly abandon her with her husband and quickly check in on my mom who’s busy talking to Paige’s parents and then join the rest of the bridesmaids at the bar to down a couple of shots.
The bartender fills out three empty glasses with some clear liquid and then sets them alight in a row before he steps back and tells us to enjoy them. We each pick up a shot and carefully clink them together and as I look down at my own, I’m both mesmerized and slightly scared of the flame flickering from the glass.
“Here’s to a great wedding!” Taylor, Paige’s cousin, toasts before taking her shot.
I cheer along with the other bridesmaid and watch how she drinks her shot as well and then copy her, feeling the initial burn as the liquid runs down my throat before it’s replaced with a warm feeling over my body.
As soon as I place my empty glass back on the bar, the barman is busy refilling it with a colored liquid this time and once all of our glasses are full again, I lift my glass in the air and shout, “Here’s to Paige and Oliver!”
“Here, here!” Taylor cheers loudly.
This shot is more easy to take and I enjoy the fruity taste that goes with it. I can already feel the buzz running through my veins, and if I’m not careful, I’ll be drunk before I know it.
After some hesitation, I agree to take one more shot before I’ve had my fill and when the barman finishes pouring out the liquid in our glasses, Paige’s work friend who has been giving me funny looks all day raises her shot glass and gives a sly smile. “Here’s to amazing sex tonight! Let’s see how these groomsmen hold up!”
I raise my eyebrows at her bold statement and share a wary look with Taylor before we clink our glasses and down our shots.
“Did I hear you toasting to great sex with us groomsmen, ladies?” a deep, husky voice asks behind us causing me and the two bridesmaids to turn around to face the person who said this, though I know I don’t need to see their face to know who this voice belongs to.
My breathing halts as I take in the sight of Paige’s brother Max King standing less than one feet from us and I curse my body for reacting this way around him once more.
“Um,” I respond, dumbfounded, as I look up into his emerald eyes.
The bridesmaid who made the toast boldly saunters up to him and strokes the arm of his dark suit. “You heard right and as it stands I’m still searching for my partner,” she purrs, leaning into him, her long black hair falling across his chest.
“Gross,” Taylor murmurs beside me. I can understand why she says this as this woman isn’t exactly holding her cards close to her chest and is also flirting with Taylor’s cousin right before her eyes.
I may be reading into things, but as I look at Max’s reaction to her advances, I swear I can see him cringe a little and he soon moves out of her arm’s reach and bows his head. “That’s very flattering of you, but I’m afraid I have to decline your offer, as I’m already indisposed tonight.”
My ears prick as he tells her this and I practically feel my heart sink at the thought of him already having a woman lined up for the night. I thought he had come to this wedding alone, but I guess when he looks the way he does, someone can easily snatch him up.
“That really is a shame, but if you change your mind, you know where to find me,” she simpers, wiggling a finger at him.
Max makes a choked sort of noise as she walks away and heads back to the bar, giving me a dirty look as she passes by me. I get Paige has only a few female colleagues where she works to be friends with, but I seriously don’t see how she can put up with her, as from what I’ve seen of her so far she seems vile. Thankfully, after today I won’t have to see her again.
I roll my eyes at her rudeness and offer Max a friendly smile. “Are you having a good time tonight?”
“I am,” he responds politely. “It’s not every day my baby sister gets married.”
“I can’t believe she got married before me. I’ll have to drop some more hints to Peter,” Taylor jokes lightly, which causes us both to laugh. “Speaking of which, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if he wants another dance.”
Max nods his head while I give her a look of pure horror. Why is she leaving now?
“You’re welcome,” she whispers quietly enough so that Max can’t hear her while he checks something on his phone. I try to hold on to her, but she smoothly gets out of my clutches and winks before turning to go look for her partner. As soon as she disappears in the crowd, I feel my heart speed up, wishing that I had been the one to leave first. I don’t know what to say to this man who has practically been a stranger for the entirety of my adult life. I run my hands down the silk fabric of my dress in a nervous gesture as Max types away on his phone, clearly unaffected by my presence. With him being distracted, I take a chance to really look at him now, noting how his once boyish face has become more defined and angular over the years; his lower jaw is covered in thick stubble, which adds a layer of mystery around him. Even in my heels he still towers over me and as I take in the rest of his frame, I can see that he still looks in good shape, better maybe.
“Sorry,” he apologies as he puts his phone away in his suit pocket. “Security is keeping me updated throughout the night. We’ve been having some people trying to gatecrash the wedding.”
“It’s nothing to worry about, just some teenagers looking to score some free alcohol.”
“Can’t say I blame them. We are in a vineyard, after all.”
“Me neither,” he grins. We quickly become silent again, and I can feel my skin itch from the awkwardness of just standing here. Once again, Max seems unaffected and looks at me evenly.
“I should probably see how my mom is doing. I’ve left her long enough.”
There, that’s a reasonably good excuse for me to leave and is also partly true as I have spent little of the day with her as I was busy finishing the floral decorations before carrying out my maid of honor duties. Though, before I can walk away, Max lifts a shoulder and looks at my mom, who is still sitting with his parents around the table chatting. “Julie looks like she’s managing well enough to me.”
I’m frustrated that my plan didn’t work, but I like how he still uses her first name after all these years apart. There was a time in our lives when I was used to seeing Max around my parents, but as we got older and did our own things, we saw less of each other until we stopped seeing each other completely.
He takes a step closer to me, catching me off guard and bends his head, which causes his light brown hair to fall forward. “I did actually come over here originally to see if I could have a dance with you.”
“You did?” I squeak, instantly regretting how that came out.
“Yes. Paige said she wants the photographer to take photos of the two of us dancing. Some best man, maid of honor thing.”
“Of course, you don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
“No, no, that’s fine.”
“Good. We should probably go now while they’re playing some slower songs.”
Max surprises me by holding out his hand for me to take and I hesitate for a brief second before lifting my hand and placing it in his. He feels warm to the touch and his large hand envelops mine, which feels nice. I let him take the lead and follow slightly behind him, and as we move away from the bar, I hear a low scoff and when I turn my head; I see the obnoxious bridesmaid from before standing with her arms crossed and jaw hanging open.
Even though what we’re doing is completely innocent and orchestrated by the bride herself, I can’t help but feel a tinge of smugness at her sour reaction.
When we reach the middle of the dance floor, Max lets go of my hand and I fumble with the material on my dress, not knowing how I should hold him. The band begins a new slow melody and Max takes charge and lifts my hands, wrapping them around his neck. I give a shy smile, which makes him laugh deeply. “You are cute, Lily.”
I can practically feel my cheeks heat as the flash of a light goes off to the side, and sure enough when I turn my head to see what it is, the photographer is standing on the edge of the dance floor with his camera poised in the air.
“Pretend he’s not there,” Max murmurs, moving my chin back to face him.
“Hmm,” I respond, my mouth feeling as dry as the Sahara right now.
He takes a slight step closer to me so that our bodies are flush together and then wraps his arms around me with his hands sitting on the small of my back. In the back of my mind I wonder which woman here is with Max and if they are watching us right now, but as his green eyes gaze into mine, my initially worry of this dissipates.
We move on the spot, and I’m a little wobbly on my heels from the amount of alcohol I have consumed, but luckily Max holds onto to me tight and keeps me upright. After the third time I step on his feet, I apologize. “Sorry. The drinks are getting to me.”
He smiles reassuringly. “No worries. I’ll make sure you won’t fall.”
“Thanks. The last thing I want is to be caught on camera with my ass in the air.”
“No, we wouldn’t want that,” he replies with humor in his voice.
We dance for a little longer in a circle, occasional flashes of light coming from the camera to capture this moment, and when we’re halfway through the song, Max leans down and whispers against my ear. “You looking stunning tonight, by the way.”
I instantly have shivers go down my spine and I have to work on making sure Max doesn’t notice this. “Thank you. You look handsome too,” I murmur, looking up at his angelic face.
He gives a deep throaty chuckle and moves his thumb back and forth against my back, electrifying my skin. Knowing that this will be my only opportunity to be this close to Max, I lean even closer to him, resting my head against his chest.
All too soon, the song ends and Max releases me from our hold. I’m about to turn away thinking that we’re done now that the photographer has what he needs, but Max lightly grips my wrist, causing me to pause. “Would you like to go for a walk through the vineyard? I remember how you used to love running through them with Paige when you were younger.”
I nod my head, glad that he doesn’t want to leave me just yet. He takes my hand again and leads me through the throng of dancers, and we exit the dance floor at the back and duck out of the tent. I immediately notice the drop in the air outside the warmth of the marquee, causing goosebumps to form on my arms, and somehow Max sees this and offers me his suit jacket.
“Thank you,” I respond gratefully, placing my arms into the sleeves.
We make our way down to the edge of the vineyard, making small talk about the day’s events as we walk and I think to myself how nice it is to talk to him now without feeling nervous or forcing the words to come out of my mouth