Good Lord! He couldn’t say things like that to me. I wanted to tell him where to take his c**k and shove it, but I was afraid of what might come out of my mouth.
His hand patted mine. It was meant to calm me, but any time he touched me little darts of heat fractured out from his fingertips and across my skin. It was disorienting. I pulled my hand away and tucked it safely into my lap.
We sat there in silence, passing the flask back and forth, listening to our friends’ muted sex noises. God, it’d been entirely too long since I’d gotten any. I clamped my thighs together and groaned. I felt Braydon watching me and turned to meet his eyes.
“You need something, kitten?” His voice was deep and low. Too sexy for his own good.
“I’m fine,” I squeaked out. “You good?”
“Oh, I’m f**king fantastic.”
Finally, the door opened and Ben emerged, his hair thoroughly rumpled—from Emmy’s wandering hands, no doubt. A giant smile was planted across his full mouth.
I rolled my eyes. “You two need to go. I need to get her dressed.” I gestured to Braydon. “Go fix his sex hair.”
Braydon saluted me. “You got it, boss.”
• • •
The wedding ceremony was beautiful and heartfelt, perfectly representative of Ben and Emmy, just as I knew it would be. They had written their own vows and exchanged them in a tearful display in front of several hundred guests. It was beautiful to watch.
After a thousand photos and makeup touch-ups, we arrived at the reception at a beautiful, historic hotel overlooking Central Park. They’d certainly gotten lucky today. August in New York City could be brutally hot and humid this time of year, but it was mild, sunny, and perfect.
All through pictures, dinner, drinks, and dancing, I played the quintessential maid of honor. I was attentive to Emmy, smiled and made small talk with her loopy relatives from Tennessee, danced with her rather sweaty cousin, Randy Joe, and was fondled by her perverted Uncle Lou more than once.
I’d lied and told Emmy I was fine not having a date to her wedding—I’d reasoned that being the maid of honor meant I’d be too busy to entertain a man. But the truth was, watching Ben hold Emmy close on the dance floor and seeing the older couples swaying together made me realize it was pointless to lie to myself. Not that I had any viable date options. My recent prospects consisted solely of a string of lousy first dates, thanks to the Internet, with no real prospects on the horizon. My best friend’s wedding only amplified my loner status. Enter shame spiral.
I wanted that deep, all-consuming love and acceptance when someone just got you. I didn’t want just a boyfriend. I craved true intimacy and the peace of knowing I’d found my someone. I was tired of the game, and I wanted to settle down with a nice man. But something told me that working sixty hours a week as a scientist and shunning the entire male population wouldn’t make it easy to find my happily ever after. I wasn’t foolish enough to believe in fairy tales, but having a front-row seat to my best friend falling in love with a male model, traveling the world, and gushing about mind-blowing sex with a man who was allegedly hung like a baby elephant was making me hold out hope for my own Prince Charming. Possibly to my own detriment.
With my high heels pinching my feet, I headed for the exit, needing a moment to myself. The dance floor raged behind me, but my destination was one of quiet solitude. Emmy’s mom stopped me in my path.
“Darling, I think we’re low on champagne. There’s more in the storage closet down the hall. Would you mind?”
“Not at all.” It’d give me a reason to escape for a few minutes. Be alone and catch my breath.
“I’ll escort her.” Braydon appeared beside me out of nowhere. I’d noticed him throughout the night, quietly sipping his beer and keeping me in his sights but maintaining his distance.
His tone and the intense look in his eyes left little room for argument, so I merely nodded and turned for the exit. Making my way through the crowded ballroom, I felt Braydon’s hand ghosting along the small of my back as he guided me. Little flutters of heat raced along my spine, pooling low in my belly. I turned down the deserted hallway, thankful for a moment of silence. Today had been exhausting. Not to mention, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to be surrounded by two people who were so in love when my own love life was in the crapper.
We reached the storage room at the end of a long hallway only to find it locked.
“Dammit,” I muttered, wrenching on the door handle.
“It’s fine. We’ll just find one of the catering staff and ask them to bring up more champagne.” His hand closed around my elbow and an electric current zapped through me. It was as though his body knew mine and was calling to me. What the hell was that?
“Hey,” Braydon said, lifting my chin to his. “Is everything okay?”
“Fine. Why?” I lied.
He lifted one shoulder. “You don’t seem like yourself. Tonight, after that speech . . . I don’t know. I wondered where my little firecracker had gone. . . .” His hand lifted to my upper arm and glided along my skin in slow, measured strokes.
He was incredibly perceptive. Too much so. But I couldn’t have him getting to me. My maid of honor speech had been cut short when a lump of emotion had lodged in my throat, and I’d nearly broken down in front of everyone. I’d said a quick congratulations and ended it. Emmy and Ben seemed none the wiser, happily kissing and clinking their champagne glasses. I found it interesting that Braydon, of all people, had been perceptive enough to pick up on the change in me.
I sucked in a fortifying breath. I couldn’t let him see how weak and alone I felt. “She’s still here and will happily kick you in the balls if you decide to get too handsy.” I glared at the hand he’d left resting on my bare shoulder.
He quickly withdrew the offending hand. “Glad you’re back.”
I swallowed down a wave of nerves, my heartbeat quickening as I realized we were all alone.
“You look stunning tonight. I should have told you earlier,” he said.
My eyes lifted to his and I parted my lips to speak, to give him one of the sassy quips I was known for, but nothing came out.
“Shh, it’s okay,” he said, his palm cupping my cheek. “You don’t have to be tough all the time, you know?”
I nodded slowly.
“I know you can take care of yourself, but who takes care of you, Ellie?”
He rarely, if ever, called me by my actual name, and the familiarity of it passing over his lips caused a little ripple of desire to dance in my belly. “No one,” I admitted. “Men suck.”