Tied, p.18
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       Tied, p.18

         Part #4 of Tangled series by Emma Chase
 
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  As Erin sticks her head into the refrigerator behind us, Jack stands next to me. In a low voice I ask, “Did you . . . is this . . .”

  “Is this what you think it is?” He grins like a well-fed feline. “It is, and I did.” Then, softer, he says, “Erin’s a wildcat, man. Easily made the top three bangs of my lifetime. I’ll fill you in later.”

  If this ends up causing Erin to not be my secretary in the near future—I’m going to have to kill Jack. Seriously. I can always find more friends. Finding a secretary who knows her shit as well as Erin does? That’ll be much more difficult.

  Erin comes back into the room sipping her coffee. Jack grabs a newspaper off the table and announces, “I’ll be in the john.” Before he goes, he adds, “Hey, Erin—how about you bring me a cup of coffee for when I get out?”

  Erin smiles sweetly. “Hey, Jack—how about you get it yourself? This isn’t the office, and even if it was, I don’t work for you.”

  Jack just chuckles and goes back into the bedroom.

  Thump.

  I turn to stare at Erin. My voice is teasingly aghast as I say, “Erin. I am shocked. I can’t believe you let Jack play you—I thought you were smarter than that.”

  She clears her throat. “Did you ever consider the possibility that I’m the one who played Jack?”

  I touch my jaw thoughtfully because, no, I hadn’t considered that.

  Thump.

  Erin continues, “I came here hoping to meet Mr. Right, but he didn’t appear. Jack is cute, and, more important, he was ready, willing, and able. You do the math.”

  “But isn’t that going to be weird for you, working in the same office every day? He’s seen your cum face.” I pause. “At least . . . I hope he’s seen your cum face.”

  Erin winks. “He’s well acquainted with it.” She sips her coffee. “But, no, it’s not going to be awkward. We’re adults—and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right?”

  “I guess so.”

  Unless you’re Billy Warren. In his case, what happens in Vegas may end up taking 50 percent of his net worth.

  With that, Erin goes back to the kitchen, pours a second cup of coffee, and returns to the bedroom Jack retreated to, closing the door behind her.

  I shake my head a little. “Wow.”

  I’m about to ask Matthew and Dee where Kate is again—but that rhythmic knocking noise starts back up. Do you hear it too?

  Thump.

  Thump.

  Thump.

  “What the hell is that noise?”

  Like those disturbing twins from The Shining, my best friend and his wife answer in harmony yet again. “Steven and Alexandra.”

  The racket does seem to be coming from behind their closed door. “What are they, nailing each other to a cross?”

  Matthew mutters, “Something’s getting nailed all right.”

  Thump.

  Cautiously, I step toward their door. When I’m inches away, I align my ear with the seam at the hinge. Listening.

  “Who’s your daddy, baby? Say it, say my name.”

  “Steven, ooohhh, Steven.”

  Then the unmistakable sound of a palm slapping ass reaches my ear.

  “Ahhh!” I jump back away from the door as if it were an electrified fence. I cover my ears, but it’s too late.

  I bend over and brace my hands on my knees, on the verge of actually vomiting. I just hope the villa is stocked with hydrogen peroxide, so I can sterilize my eardrums.

  After the desire to upchuck passes, I stand up and address Dee and Matthew. “Screw all this. The only thing I want to know is—where. Is. Kate?”

  Delores answers, “I told you, dumbass, she’s in your room. We tucked you two into bed together as soon as we came back last night.”

  “I was just in our room! She’s not there!”

  Delores shrugs. “Maybe she decided to bail on the wedding—pried open the window and made a break for it.” Then she smiles. “If that’s the case—good on her.”

  Matthew pulls Dee’s hair again, but says, “It’s true, Drew; Kate hasn’t left the room—we would’ve seen her.” He turns back to his wife and warns, “If yanking your hair doesn’t get the job done, I’m going to break out the paddle.”

  She leans closer and taunts, “Promises, promises.” Then she kisses him, ignoring my dilemma completely. I push my hand through my hair, then turn away and march back to our bedroom.

  My eyes scan the bed, but Kate’s not there. Just to be safe, I pick up the blanket and shake it out.

  Nothing.

  I enter the walk-in closet next to the bedroom door. Though I realize it’s unlikely, I check behind the hanging clothes. Not a sign of Kate to be seen. Then I walk out of the closet and take a few steps around the bed . . .

  On the floor, peeking out from the far side of the bed, are five pretty toes. They’re connected to a beautiful foot. My eyes travel from the foot, up the delectable calf, to the exquisite thigh that fits so perfectly around my hip.

  Still in last night’s clothes, sound asleep on her side, one leg stretched out, one tucked close to her torso, with folded hands resting under her cheek, like a pillow.

  Kate.

  Every cell in my body sighs her name with relief. I stand there for a minute, just watching her—breathing in the sight of her as she slumbers like a kitten in front of a fireplace. The all-encompassing love I have for her, that’s always with me—I feel it more keenly. Because even for just a few minutes, I’d thought I hurt her.

  I grab a pillow and the blanket and drop to my knees beside Kate. Then I lie on the makeshift floor bed and gather her tight against me. My chest pillows her head.

  She stirs with a moan. “Drew?”

  I smooth her hair. “Yeah, baby, it’s me.”

  Without lifting her head, she wonders in a drowsy voice, “Why are you on the floor?”

  I kiss the top of her head and whisper against her hair, “Because that’s where you are.”

  After a pause, she just says, “Oh.”

  My hand slides up and down her back, her arm, savoring every touch—enjoying the feel of her next to me. “Did you have fun last night?”

  Still lying on my chest, she nods. “Uh-huh.” Then Kate breathes deep and suggests, “Let’s never do anything like this again.”

  “I could not agree with that statement more.”

  We’re quiet for a few moments. I look up at the ceiling, wanting and needing to get a few more hours of sleep. But I have to tell her one more thing first.

  “Kate?” I squeeze her shoulder gently. “Hey, Kate?”

  “Mmmm?”

  My voice is low, rough with emotion, as I confess, “I really can’t wait to marry you.”

  She raises her head and gazes at me with adorable bleary eyes. She smiles. “Yeah . . . me too.”

  Kate lays her head back down, and her hand rests right over my heart. I cover her hand with mine, and together we fall back to sleep.

  Epilogue

  So what have we learned from this story?

  First and foremost, bachelor parties?

  Terrible idea.

  Once you’re in a committed relationship, going to bars or a strip club without your significant other is just asking for trouble. Whoever started the bachelor-party tradition should be buried alive in a mass grave with the karaoke guy and . . . well . . . I was going to say Billy Warren.

  But I guess we can let him live. I’m over it—he’s harmless. He’s also dim-witted, annoying, and . . . decent . . . a stand-up guy, a good friend.

  You already knew that, didn’t you?

  We’ll never be the best of friends, but from here on out, the one or two times a year I have to see him will actually be okay with me.

  What else?

  Have faith in yourself—it actually is possible to learn from your mistakes. I did. And this time, when I was on the spot, I didn’t screw up. I believed in Kate, trusted what we have, and did the right thing. Fucking finally.

  Now
let’s get to the part you’ve been waiting for:

  The wedding.

  Matthew, Jack and Steven, my parents, James and I, arrive at St. Patrick’s Cathedral right on time. Although they rarely close the church to the public, for our event—and to accommodate the thousand-plus guests sitting in the pews—the powers that be agreed to do just that. The hefty “donation” I gave didn’t hurt either.

  I keep an eye on my son as he runs up and down the aisle, stopping occasionally to bask in the attention of an adoring guest. Then I shake hands with Father Dougherty, the priest who’ll actually be doing the deed.

  “How are you feeling this afternoon, Andrew? Are you ready?”

  “I was born ready, Father.”

  “That’s good to hear. Your bride’s limousine has just arrived, so you can take your place at the altar.”

  There’s no anxiety—no nervousness or fear that I’m making a mistake. No cold feet. The only thing I feel is . . . excitement. Impatience.

  My mother retrieves James and they head back to the vestibule. My father and I walk up the side aisle, toward the altar.

  About halfway there, he stops me with a hand on my shoulder. His blue eyes, so much like my own, are filled with emotion. “If I haven’t told you before, I want to make sure you know—I’m so proud of you, Son. You’re a good man, you’re an amazing father, and I have no doubt you’ll be an outstanding husband. I’m so very proud, Drew.”

  Then he hugs me. Tight and secure, the kind of embrace that tells me even though I’m married and a father—he’s still my dad and I’ll always be his son.

  “That means a lot, Dad,” I say gruffly. “Thank you for being the best example of what a father, a husband, is supposed to be.”

  We pat each other’s back. Then he taps my biceps. “Now get up there before Kate changes her mind.”

  I smirk. “Highly unlikely.”

  He shrugs. “Better to be safe than sorry. I didn’t think your mother would try backing out, either.”

  Haven’t heard that one before. “Mom balked at marrying you?”

  He slaps my back again. “That’s a story for another day, Son. Go get yourself married—and enjoy every second of it.”

  With that, he walks to the back of the church. I meet Matthew and Steven at the altar. “You got the rings?” I ask Matthew.

  He taps his pocket. “Safe and sound.”

  When the pianist begins playing the prelude—“Angels Watching” by the O’Neill Brothers—Steven announces, “That’s our cue.”

  Matthew grins my way and imitates the Terminator: “I’ll be back.” They both walk down the side aisle to the back of the church.

  I’m left standing alone. Waiting.

  I nod to the watching guests. One hand rests at my side, the other is folded across my lower back. I inhale a deep breath and blow it out slowly.

  The string quartet in the orchestra bay begins to play Canon in D by Pachelbel.

  It’s game time.

  The first to appear in the doorway are our parents. My father looks distinguished as he stands in the middle, my mother, wearing a plum gown, on one arm; Kate’s mother, in deep blue, is on the other. All three wear beaming smiles as they proceed down the aisle. Before my mother enters the pew, she blows me a kiss. She used to do the same thing when I was a kid, as I ran out the door to school—before I was old enough to ask her to stop.

  I smile back at her meaningfully.

  Next are my sister and Steven. Alexandra looks gorgeous in the strapless, burgundy bridesmaid gown Kate chose. An ivory shawl demurely covers her shoulders: her blond hair is pinned up and curled, not a strand out of place. Her arm rests comfortably, confidently, through Steven’s. They glance at each other and I just know they’re thinking of their own wedding. When they reach the altar, Steven kisses Lexi sweetly, then they part and stand on their respective sides.

  Jack and Erin follow, arm in arm. Jack winks at a female guest as he strolls down the aisle and Erin smiles joyfully. Brightly. If you ever wanted a good example of how a no-strings-attached hookup should be done, Jack and Erin are it. No bad feelings, no awkwardness, just friendly, physical attraction.

  After they reach the altar, it’s Matthew and Dee-Dee’s turn—the best man and matron of honor. Wearing the same gown as my sister—instead of one of the whacked-out ensembles she typically dresses in—Delores looks really good. She holds Matthew’s arm and sways her hips in time with the music, making him laugh at her silly exuberance. When they reach the altar, she looks me up and down—then gives me a thumbs-up.

  I nod at her silent compliment.

  Delores stands beside my sister, and Matthew takes his place to my left.

  One more couple to go before Kate makes her entrance. This couple will steal the whole fucking show. I knew it, Kate knew it, and neither of us minded at all.

  Mackenzie and James.

  The flower girl and the ring bearer. The gold mine of every wedding photographer who ever worked.

  Mackenzie’s dress is white lace with cap sleeves. Her long hair is pulled up at the sides with white daisies woven into the crown of blond braids. She’s old enough to be called beautiful but still enough of a kid to be called adorable. Her blue eyes shine as she waves to me from the end of the aisle.

  I wave back.

  She takes my son’s hand and together they make their way to me. James looks impressively lovable in his own custom Armani tux. He’s surprisingly well behaved—keeping pace with Mackenzie, holding his ring-bearer pillow straight, grinning for all the cameras taking their picture.

  When they reach the altar, James drops Mackenzie’s hand, ditches his pillow, and runs straight to me. “Daddy!”

  I scoop him up and look into his big, brown eyes.

  “Is good?” he asks.

  “You did great, buddy.” I kiss his temple. “Go sit with Grandma and Pop now, okay?”

  “Otay.”

  I set him down and my parents receive him into their pew.

  Then I straighten up. The starting notes of the “Wedding March” fill the cathedral. All the guests stand and turn toward the closed double doors.

  The wooden doors open. And the air rushes from my lungs.

  Because she’s breathtaking. More stunning than I’d imagined—and my imagination is pretty fucking active.

  Kate’s a vision in white—strapless, a sweetheart neckline with just a teasing taste of cleavage, fitted around the middle, accenting her tiny waist. Lace covers the delicate swell of her hips, flaring out behind her in a majestic train. An Irish-lace veil adorns her head, and her hair falls in shiny, dark waves beneath it. Her makeup is light, just enough to emphasize her flawless skin, full lips, and those big, dark eyes that captivated me the moment I saw them.

  She swallows hard and gazes around the crowded cathedral, looking uneasy. Anxious. Until she sees me. At the altar—waiting for her.

  She holds my eyes for a second, then slowly, surely, she smiles.

  And it’s perfect.

  My view of the world blurs, and I don’t give a shit if that sounds pussified. It’s true. And deserved. My chest tightens with tenderness, with the sanctity of this moment.

  The music soars as Kate holds George’s arm, and he escorts her down the aisle. I can’t take my eyes off her, and her gaze never leaves my face. When they finally arrive, I shake George’s hand and he moves into the pew next to Carol.

  Kate offers me her hand, and, as I did the first time we met, I bring it to my lips and kiss it reverently.

  “You’re exquisite,” I tell her softly. “I . . . have no words.”

  Her smile doesn’t falter. “I guess there really is a first time for everything.”

  It’s as if everyone else, the whole damn church, just fades away. And there’s only the two of us. I cup her cheek and smooth her lip with my thumb. Then I lean forward and kiss her—softly and slowly and brimming with feeling.

  After a few seconds, Father Dougherty clears his throat. Loudly. “That pa
rt comes later, son.”

  I end the kiss and turn to the priest, still holding Kate’s hand.

  Kate blushes and the guests’ laughter echoes off the walls.

  I clear my throat. “Sorry, Father. Patience has never really been my strong suit.”

  “Well, in this case, I don’t blame you.” He focuses on Kate. “You look lovely.”

  “Thank you, Father.” She passes her bouquet of white daisies and roses to Delores.

  “Shall we get on with it, then?” Father Dougherty asks.

  From the first row, James yells, “Ready, set, go!”

  Again, laughter ripples through the congregation.

  Father Dougherty says, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

  The wedding ceremony proceeds without incident—the prayers, the readings, the lighting of the unity candle. Then the moment you’ve all been waiting for arrives.

  Father Dougherty asks, “Andrew, do you promise to be true to Katherine in good times and bad, in sickness and health? Do you promise to love, honor, and cherish her until death do you part?”

  In a clear voice, I pledge, “I sure do.”

  Kate’s eyes hold mine and her smile is so bright—so true—as Father Dougherty asks her, “And do you, Katherine, promise to be true to Andrew in good times and bad, in sickness and health? Do you promise to love, honor, and cherish him until death do you part?”

  Tears well in her beautiful brown eyes. “Yes. Yes, I do.”

  It takes everything I’ve got not to pull her to me and kiss her again.

  Matthew passes me the rings and Kate holds out her hand. My throat tightens as I place her ring on her finger. “I give you this ring as a token of my love and devotion. I pledge to you all that I am, all I’ll ever be. With this ring, I marry you and join my life to yours.”

  Kate holds my hand for an extra moment. Then, tears slip down her cheeks as she slides my own ring on my finger, saying in a voice choked with emotion, “I give you this ring as a token of my love and devotion. I pledge to you all that I am and all that I will ever be. With this ring, I gladly marry you and join my life to yours.”

  Then Father Dougherty declares, “I now pronounce you husband and wife. What God has joined together, let no man pull asunder. You may kiss your bride.”

  Without hesitation, I sweep Kate up into my arms. She laughs and wraps her arms around my neck, and our mouths fuse hot and heavy. The kiss is long and thorough and totally inappropriate for church.

  Applause and whistles erupt, the church bells ring, and the musicians belt
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