“Who’s getting married next?” Alison Hartwell Broussard waved her bridal bouquet of roses in the air in open invitation, looking pointedly at her cousin Rebecca.
A few shrieks answered in reply. “Me!”
A quiver of longing rippled through Rebecca, but she remained silent, hugging her arms around herself in a protective embrace as she stood beneath the sprawling branches of a live oak. She was the least likely of all the single and female bridesmaids at her cousin Alison’s wedding to tie the knot.
Her model-gorgeous sister, Suzanne, would probably be next. That is, if she ever decided to settle down with one man. Right now, marriage and monogamy were two words missing from Suzanne’s vocabulary.
Rebecca was the very opposite.
She ached for marriage. For one man to love her and hold her and make her feel special. To give her a child.
Unfortunately, the man she yearned for happened to be Thomas Emerson, a man who had once been engaged to Alison.
A man who had his pick of women in town. A man who might still be in love with Alison. A man who’d barely noticed Rebecca.
Well, except for the time she’d dropped an entire platter of pastries on his head at Vivi Broussard’s wedding. He had gazed at her through the whipped cream dripping from his hair as if she might possibly be the biggest klutz in the world. Which she was.
Especially when she got nervous. And being around Thomas Emerson made her extremely nervous.
“Come on, ladies, line up.” Alison stepped beneath the trellis of roses, an early-winter breeze carrying the spicy scent of flowers through the air. “Brady and I are ready to leave. He’s finally promised me a honeymoon.” She slid her arm around Brady’s waist. “I only had to marry him twice to get it.”
Laughter and cheers erupted. Alison’s sisters’ husbands, Jake Tippins and Seth Broadhurst, grinned wickedly, obviously remembering highlights of their own honeymoons.
Brady slung an arm around his new wife. “Honey, it’ll be worth the wait.”
More laughter followed, envy mushrooming inside Rebecca. Her three cousins had all married this past year in the gazebo on top of Pine Mountain at Grammy Rose’s, and their husbands obviously doted on them. She wanted that kind of love, that mind-altering, earth-shattering bond with a man.
But every time she got physically close to a man, she lost her cool. Rational conversation fled, and she stumbled all over her size-seven feet. And sometimes, God help her, sometimes she even stuttered.
“Becca, come on.” Suzanne jerked her toward the small crowd of women gathering on the lawn, their long dresses fluttering in the wind. “Angie and Caitlin are about to attack Alison for those flowers.”
Rebecca laughed at her twenty-three-year-old twin cousins – daughters of her aunt Shelby who giggled and squealed – vying for the place in front of Alison. Although the twins shared a sibling rivalry born of being identical, they also shared a loving sisterhood, as did Hannah, Mimi and Alison. For some reason, she and Suzanne had never quite had that connection.
Probably because they were so different.
Another stab of envy assaulted Rebecca as Mimi nestled her three-month old baby to her chest. Rebecca’s own biological clock beat inside her like a drum. She desperately wanted a baby.
But a husband had to come first.
“Back to earth, Becca.” Suzanne waved her hand in front of Rebecca’s eyes, but Thomas gazed their way, and Rebecca froze. A frown marred his lips, his charcoal-black hair gleaming in the early evening light. The immediate pull of attraction that engulfed her slid through her nerve endings, sending a frenzy of delicious sensations spiraling through her. Sensations that paralyzed her.
His six-foot-plus muscular frame filled out his dark suit. His broad shoulders almost seemed massive in the crisp white dress shirt. The sparkle of laughter normally present in his light-green eyes was replaced by a dark, faraway look, arousing her curiosity. Was he wishing Alison had married him instead of Brady?
Contemplating going to him and offering a comforting hand, Rebecca started across the lawn. But her heel caught on a twig. She took a step forward and nearly plunged to the ground. Yelping, she reached for something to steady her, or at least break her fall, but found nothing to hold on to, not a chair or a tree or a table in sight. Thomas pitched forward as if to break her fall, although he wasn’t near enough to reach her, but Suzanne, ever the graceful one, slid a long manicured hand beneath her elbow, catching Rebecca first. Mortification stung Rebecca’s cheeks.
A fraction of a second later, Thomas raised his gaze, the dark intensity disappearing as a slow smile spread across his face.
Rebecca’s heart fluttered.
Suzanne poked her. “Wow, who is that hottie eating the groom’s cake?”
Her heart sank.
If Suzanne wanted him, even though she lived miles away in Atlanta, she would have him. Suzanne always got what she wanted.
“Thom-Thomas Emerson, the OB-GYN -” She took a deep breath to steady her voice. “He works with Hannah.”
Suzanne whistled beneath her breath. “Whew, a girl might be tempted to tear up her little black book for him.”
Rebecca gulped. Thomas continued to stare, his gaze almost unnerving this time.
He had to be looking at Suzanne. Everyone stared at her dark-haired, incredibly exotic-looking sibling. Not that she could blame them. Suzanne was beautiful. Dazzling. Mesmerizing. And, darn it, she was even nice, so Rebecca couldn’t hate her. Suzanne didn’t try to get all the attention. People were just drawn to her.
But Rebecca was the mousy blonde who hid behind books and art and wire-rimmed glasses. The impossibly shy one who couldn’t talk or walk without tripping over her own tongue or feet.
“Let’s hurry, she’s getting ready to throw the roses!” Suzanne gently pushed Rebecca forward just as Alison released the flowers. The bouquet soared through the air, bouncing first from Caitlin’s hands to Angie’s, then finally landing with a thump on Rebecca’s head. She reached for the arrangement, but the ribbon caught on the stem of her glasses, dangling over her eyes, blinding her, and a thorn from the rose stabbed her finger.