Excerpt: Four Weddings and a Break Up
One fake relationship...too many real kisses
GINNY MICHAELS KNEW DANGEROUS WHEN she saw it.
Dangerous was cloaked in the tall, rugged, black-haired man who sat alone at a center table in Lonnie’s. His face was harsh. The angles of his cheekbones jutted out, as if daring someone to try to take a jab. His nose looked like it had been broken a few times, and his hands were big and strong. He turned his head when a waitress stopped by his table, and he let out a laugh that was deep and . . .
She needed another drink.
She tapped her younger sister on her shoulder and pointed to the bar a few feet away. “Julie. Want anything?”
“Nope. I’m enjoying the show.” Julie let out a sigh as Mr. Dangerous stood, then bent down to help the waitress pick up the empty beer bottle she’d dropped. His well-worn denim jeans molded nicely over his ass. “Oh, if I could just freeze-frame this right now, my life would be perfect.”
“So would mine,” their cousin, Deb, chimed in.
“You’re engaged,” Ginny said.
“Doesn’t mean I’m dead.”
He really did have a nice ass. But Ginny shouldn’t be ogling. Still . . .
A few more seconds wouldn’t hurt.
From her spot in the back corner, Mr. Dangerous couldn’t see her. Even if he did, it wasn’t like he would ever notice her. Men like him—tall, dark, and who put the “sex” in sexy—never paid any attention to her, a quintessential good-girl-next-door. She usually liked guys who were more clean-cut, safe, and not so big and overpowering. Mr. Dangerous had huge red flags all around him. She shouldn’t even be attracted to him. Yet there was something about him that arrested her attention.
And it wasn’t just because he was drop-dead hot.
The fact that he was alone on a Saturday night in a crowded bar piqued her curiosity. No woman had approached the table and joined him. So, he wasn’t on a date, and he hadn’t made any moves on anybody. She wondered what his story was, why he was here, and what it was about him that had her completely riveted.
Maybe it was because she couldn’t imagine going to a bar by herself. First of all, it wasn’t safe. Just because guys didn’t pursue her didn’t mean she operated on stupid. She’d seen way too many Dateline and 20/20 episodes to know better. Second of all, she wouldn’t be comfortable. She would feel like people were watching her, wondering why she was alone.
Just like she was doing to him.
Yet, he didn’t seem to care or even notice that a flock of women tracked him. Confidence radiated off of him. He seemed like someone who flaunted convention and did whatever the hell he pleased, damn what anyone thought.
She wished she could be more like that. She was so sick of smiling and nodding along . . . pretending to be okay when she wasn’t.
She really did need that drink.
Deb waved her fingers, the huge diamond catching the low lights of the bar, and she looked at the other women at their table. “Besides, it is my bachelorette party. We’re supposed to have fun. Where’s the fun, ladies?”
Ginny caught her sister’s eye and mouthed, ten more minutes. Julie frowned and shook her head. Ginny placed her hands on her hips. She hadn’t wanted to come here but had felt obligated since Deb was their cousin. Damn family ties.
“We still have those dares we never did,” Julie said.
Dares. Ginny repressed the shudder. Barely. “I’m going to get another beer.”
When she got to the bar, she decided she needed something a whole lot stronger. It was clear she wasn’t going to be escaping this party anytime soon. At thirty-three she should be able to leave when she wanted to, but family had a way of piling on the guilt like no one else. She had also promised her sister that she would stay the night. Ginny didn’t break her promises. So she would grin and bear it. Celebrate. And get very, very drunk.
Maybe—just maybe—she would have a good time, too. Immediately her thoughts returned to Mr. Dangerous.
She snorted. Get him out of your head, Ginny. He wouldn’t like you.
The bartender handed her a lemon drop shot. She downed it.
Her last boyfriend had been the complete opposite of a guy like Mr. Dangerous—dependable, reliable, and safe . . . a Mr. Stable. And she couldn’t even keep a Mr. Stable around. Although for Mr. Stable to have dumped her a few weeks after she’d been shot definitely made him deserving of the title of Mr. Rat Bastard.
She slammed back the shot. It tasted like cinnamon and burned her throat. She coughed; her eyes watered. She hadn’t expected that punch.
She still needed to get the beers for the table. None of them had asked for one, but none of them would refuse a free drink either. Besides, it would be a nice gesture on her part—maybe she wouldn’t feel like such an outsider after a few more hours.
And maybe pigs would fly.
Ginny placed her order and decided another shot and a margarita wouldn’t hurt.
When her sister had convinced her to attend their cousin’s bachelorette party tonight, Ginny had thought that perhaps—just perhaps—she could let loose. Have some fun. Live a little. All things she hadn’t done in a long time. With the bachelorette party held in Atlantic City and not their hometown of Cape Hope, there was also the extra bonus of no one knowing her.
For one night, Ginny could be free of the restraints placed upon her. She could pretend that she was a carefree, spontaneous, confident woman. She could go after what she wanted and be someone different.
So instead of wearing her usual “don’t notice me” clothes, she’d agreed to her sister’s suggestion of a blue skirt, white v-neck t-shirt, and silver sandals. It had been easier to acquiesce to Julie than to say no. Ginny hadn’t been able to stomach the look of concern on her sister’s face. So she’d put on the clothes, dabbed on some makeup, and driven up with her sister to Atlantic City. For tonight, she could pretend to not have any worries or fears or hang-ups.
She’d gotten really good at pretending lately.
The bartender handed her a tray of drinks and took the money from her. With that, she headed back to the table.
She had always done what was expected of her and never made a fuss. Usually she was fine with that, but in the last couple of months there was a growing sense of irritation in her, like a pebble she hadn’t been able to free from a shoe. A chasm had formed, and she wasn’t sure if she would be able to make the leap from one side to the other. If she wasn’t good, reliable, sweet Ginny Michaels anymore, who was she?
It was better to stay here. Be who she was. Just ignore that pebble. She’d find it eventually and remove it. Right now, she was thinking way too much. She just wanted to have a good time. Let loose. That was all.
Ginny headed back to the table and passed the beers to Julie, Deb, and their friends. That had been another reason why she hadn’t wanted to come out—she didn’t know anyone in the group besides her sister and cousin. She felt like an outsider, and if her sister hadn’t forced her, Ginny would have gladly stayed in the hotel room.
But that, as Julie had told her, was playing it safe. And hadn’t Ginny told her that she wanted to be a little bit wild tonight? Ginny sorely regretted that slip of the tongue, since her sister had taken it as carte blanche to act as a demented fairy godmother, one who encouraged her to act like an extra from Girls Gone Wild.
Thank God there weren’t any beads.
Julie had promised her that she’d help Ginny have fun tonight. Ginny was wary of what her sister had up her sleeves—she really hoped it wasn’t the bungee jump on the boardwalk. Or, worse, some weird bachelorette hazing ritual. It wasn’t as if Ginny was in the bridal party anyway. She quickly sent up a small prayer of thanks for that near miss. Having seen the bridesmaids’ dresses, she didn’t envy her sister one bit for having to wear pink crinoline in the middle of July, especially in the humid beach air.
“You’re so sweet, Ginny,” one of the girls called out.
Sweet. Yeah, that was her all right. Sweet like sugar rubbed raw.
Julie pushed her curly blonde hair back and patted the empty chair next to her. “Sit.”
“I have to return this tray first.”
Julie shared a look with the other women. “It can wait.”
Ginny didn’t like that look. It meant something was going on—something that would undoubtedly involve her. Her pulse kicked up a notch, and her throat went dry. Maybe her sister was going to announce what she had in mind. She sat, albeit reluctantly, and put the tray on her lap. She started drinking her margarita even as she eyed the last shot. She had a feeling she was going to need it.
“What do you want?”
“It’s not a matter of what I want. It’s a matter of what we want.”
It wasn’t like Julie to talk in riddles. “Huh?”
“Or rather, what you want.” Julie giggled, along with the others.
Now, she was thoroughly confused. “I’m sorry. I’m not following along.”
“Tall. Dark. Handsome.” As if Julie needed to be any clearer, she leaned forward and pointed one manicured finger to the center table. “Him.”
“You’ve been looking at him all night long.”
She wrenched her gaze away. “I have not.”
“Now, Ginny, you know what the Lord says about lying,” Deb piped up.
“Yeah, and I also know what she says about sex before marriage. And we all haven’t exactly followed that, have we?”
“Hold back, Gloria Steinem.” Julie sipped her beer. “Deb’s right about before. We need to have some fun. More importantly, you need to have some fun, especially after the year you’ve had.”
Ginny gave her sister a sharp look. They had agreed not to mention that. Especially not tonight.
“I don’t know how you survived there, Ginny.” Deb shuddered. “You all know that one of Ginny’s students hurt her, right?”
Hurt was putting it mildly. A year and a half ago, back in January, one of Ginny’s students, Kyle DePaul, had shot her and another student. Luckily, she and the student had both survived the encounter. Kyle had taken his own life, even though Ginny had tried to stop him. So much of her life had changed since that cold winter day.
“And his parents had the gall to blame her.” Her sister’s hands tightened around her beer. “Bastards.”
Ginny especially didn’t want to think about that. Blame and guilt were two things she lived with on a daily basis—she would replay that moment when the gun went off, and she often wondered what she could have done differently. She didn’t want to think about any of this.
She drank the rest of the margarita, and she kept her voice low, calm, unaffected, even though she was anything but those things. “I thought we weren’t going to talk about this.”
“You’re right. We’re not.” Julie handed over a bowl of pretzels, and Ginny ate a few. “We’re talking about the dare now.”
“The dare, as in singular?” Ginny remembered them all scrawling on many pieces of paper over dinner. She was grateful for the change of subject and strove to regain the lightheartedness of the evening. “I thought there was more than one dare Deb was supposed to do.”
“This one has your name all over it, Gin.”
“And I’m willing to make the sacrifice because I’m good like that,” Deb added.
“You’re a real Mother Theresa,” Ginny joked. “How much did those shoes cost again?”
“There is no price tag on pretty shoes.”
“Stop trying to change the subject, Gin,” Julie said. “Here’s the dare: You have to give your number to the hot guy and ask him out.”
Ginny froze. Was her sister serious? She had to be pulling her leg. She’d much rather bungee jump. “Are you all trying to humiliate me? Look at him.”
Their heads swiveled to Mr. Dangerous. He whispered sex on a humid summer night as thunderstorms broke out. Oh, yeah, he was living up to the nickname she’d given him. She was butter on hot toast, ice cream under hot chocolate sauce, the Wicked Witch of the West hit with a pail of water.
She cleared her throat and pointed at herself. “And look at me.”
Their heads turned back to her.
“You think a guy like that is ever going to want to go out with a girl like me?” Ginny snorted past the hurt. “Puh-leaze.”
“You’ve got boobs, hips, and you’re pretty,” Julie said. “He’ll say yes.”
“Another way of saying I’m overweight. And I’m not pretty.” Ginny tugged at her low ponytail, the dark brown strands sliding through her fingers. “I’m average at best.”
Her sister studied her. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe you can’t get a guy like that.”
Deb let out a gasp. “Julie!”
Ginny narrowed her eyes. She knew what was coming. She could see her sister already fishing around in her purse.
“You didn’t let me finish, Deb.” Julie leaned in and motioned for everyone else to huddle closer. “Ginny can’t look like a schoolmarm. No offense, Gin.”
“Oh, none taken,” she said dryly, although she was slightly hurt by the comment. She’d put on askirt, for goodness’ sake. Ginny had thought that her outfit was pretty and not boring.
“First, put this on.” Julie handed her a tube of lipstick.
Ginny looked at the name and managed not to roll her eyes. Much. “‘Sex Drive?’”
“Just put it on.”
Even though Julie was younger by five years, she took control and was bossy. It was better not to argue. Maybe this is why people called Ginny a pushover.
Opening the tube, she grimaced. “It’s red, Julie. I’m not a big fan of red.”
“Oh, fine. Deb, where’s yours?”
“It’s a lip gloss,” Deb said, handing over a shiny pink tube. “And it tastes like apples.”
“Does it come out that pink?” Ginny asked.
“No, not really. It’s a soft pink. And he’ll want to kiss you.”
“Because of the lip gloss?”
Her sister let out a sigh of frustration. “No. It’s because you have a pouty mouth. Not surprising since you’re Miss Whiny Pants right now.”
Because she knew Julie was right and she didn’t want to ruin the evening, she put on the lip gloss, tasting the apple flavor.
“You’re a little pale.” Before Ginny could point out that she was always pale, Julie took out blush and quickly smoothed the brush over her cheeks. Their eyes met, and Ginny hated the look of pity she saw in her sister’s blue depths. She did not want to be pitied. Ever.
So she made her voice teasing. “Isn’t this breaking some rules of etiquette?”
“If Ms. Manners saw that ass, she would not object,” Julie said with a laugh. The traces of pity disappeared although Ginny suspected they still lay underneath the surface. After all, wasn’t this why Ginny had been included in the bachelorette party? Wasn’t it why her sister had helped her pick out an outfit? Wasn’t it why they were daring her to ask out Mr. Dangerous? Because they all thought she needed the push, that she was just a charity case.
Had she even fooled her sister tonight with her act? Apparently not. Ginny needed to step up her game. Big time. She needed to prove to them—and maybe even to herself—that she was something more than they all expected. And it wasn’t like she was ever going to see the guy again. What did she have to lose?
Julie winked. “In fact, I think she would probably tell you to lower your shirt and show off your girls.”
“My girls are perfectly fine where they are.”
“Vastly unfair.” A thin redhead next to Deb sniffed. “You’ve got the goods with no help, and you’re not showing them off. I paid for mine, and they still aren’t like yours. What I wouldn’t give for a double D.”
“How did you—”
“Okay, take out your ponytail and shake out your hair,” her sister instructed. “You’ve got long, glossy hair; you should be showing it off.”
“I like my ponytail,” she said with a grumble, but she did as Julie wanted. “Satisfied now?”
“Immensely.” Julie tapped the tray on Ginny’s lap.
“You want me to do it now?” Thinking about approaching Mr. Dangerous and actually doing it were two entirely different things. He could reject her. Ginny almost laughed. There was no could about it. It was a definite. He was going to reject her. It was just a matter of how fast he would say no.
“No time like the present.”
“But . . . but . . . but . . .”
“Unless you’re scared.” Her sister leveled her with a look. “A chicken.”
When he said no, she’d be the butt of the joke for the rest of the night. Possibly for a long time with how embarrassing stories were retold. Ginny could just see it. She’d be at a family gathering and someone would say, hey remember that time Ginny took that dare . . .
“I’m not doing this. It’s juvenile.”
Julie bawked like a chicken.
“You really think that’s going to work? Because it’s—”
“Bawk. Bawk. Bawk.” Now the others at the table joined in, too.
That was it. She was going to be humiliated either way, either by not doing the dare or by being rejected. But at least by taking the dare she didn’t have to see the looks of concern aimed her way. And she could be a little carefree in this moment. She could be someone else. Someone who went after what she wanted and got it.
She actually liked the sound of that.
“Fine.” Ginny stood, grabbing the tray and a beer. “But it’s not because you all bawked me into it. It’s to prove to everyone that I’m right and you’re wrong. Mr. Dangerous—”
“Ohhh, she gave him a nickname.”
“—is going to laugh in my face and—”
“You’d better hurry, Gin. Mr. Dangerous is headed out for some fresh air.”
Ginny turned and saw her sister was right. Mr. Dangerous was headed toward the back entrance, a cell phone to his ear. At least her humiliation would be private. Thank God for small favors.
But what if she wasn’t humiliated? What if she changed her attitude? Instead of thinking he was going to reject her, why not think he would take her number and even kiss her. Hell, she could also kiss him.
The thought stopped her.
She could kiss him.
She didn’t know his real name, and he didn’t know hers. They weren’t going to exchange stories. He’d never know she’d been shot, or that since that day, she’d been treated like the town hero. And that despite all the accolades heaped on her, she felt like the biggest fraud because she shouldn’t be a hero for being shot, especially with how it happened.
Mr. Dangerous didn’t know anything. He never would. Taking this dare wasn’t something she normally did, except tonight was different.
She was with her sister, whom Ginny always felt safe with. Julie would never do something to harm her. It was time to seize the day, live in the moment, be all she could be, and to just do it.
“And if you kiss him,” Julie added slyly, “I’ll cook you dinner for the next month.”
“Two months.” If she was going to take this dare, she was going to make it worth her while. “And your carrot cake. Also, Deb cannot aim her wedding bouquet at me next month.”
“Hey!” Deb protested.
“It’s a deal,” Julie cut in. “You’ve got to do three things: Give him your number, ask him out, and kiss him.”
“All in that order?”
“Well, maybe you should kiss him first. Break the ice.”
Ginny laughed. Break the ice indeed. She downed the last shot for some courage and good luck. “Fine, fine. I’m going.”
She started walking away, and her sister called out after her: “And, Ginny, don’t be afraid to shake your ass. Just a little.”
To show them that she wasn’t going to let them have the last word, Ginny shook her ass.
Just a little.