Home > The Reception (The Wedding From Hell #2)(3)

The Reception (The Wedding From Hell #2)(3)
Author: J.R. Ward

“I just don’t want you to do something you’re going to regret.”

Moose looked over, and the simmering anger in his eyes slowly drained out, revealing an exhaustion you had to feel sorry for. “Why does everybody always love you, Danny? And not me.”

Danny looked away. To Anne.

Not everybody loves me. At least, not the way I want them to.

“Moose, I—”

The guy squared his big shoulders and smiled without any happiness. “It’s gonna be fine. I’m getting the girl of my dreams. What could be better?” He turned to the assembled. “Come on, boys, let’s get hitched!”

* * *

Anne had been sure Danny would talk some sense into Moose. But then the groom announced it was time to head up to the narthex and start seating people. Left with no other choice, she’d made sure her clip-on bow tie was straight, and then she’d done up her jacket and headed out with the others.

Lot of funny looks as she escorted folks to their seats.

Particularly from the grandmothers.

But Anne got used to it as she did her groomsmen job. And after about an hour, she and the rest of the 499 crew were lining up on the right side of the altar.

She’d been convinced Deandra wouldn’t show at the last minute. Even as the woman’s Pepto-Bismol bridesmaids had beauty-queened it down the aisle. But then the organ music swelled and people were standing and the double doors all the way at the other end of the cathedral were being opened.

Beneath the soaring arches, bathed in candlelight and the glow of stained glass, Deandra stepped and paused, stepped and paused, stepped and paused, all the way down the red carpeted aisle on the arm of her father, her veil over her features, her train a wake of white stretching behind her.

As her father lifted her veil, kissed her on the cheek, and gave her hand to Moose, Anne looked at Danny.

He was stone-faced and standing in disapproval—until he glanced at her.

All at once, the heat returned between them, charging the air, dampening all sounds.

She had watched him as he’d tried to talk to Moose and told herself it was because she was trying to read lips to see what he was saying. But that hadn’t been why she’d stared. He looked positively edible in that tuxedo, his rough workman’s hands a delicious contrast to the satin lapels and satin stripe down his slacks.

Anne looked away. There were a good two hundred people in the church, which, considering the place could seat at least five hundred, meant there were a lot of empty pews. She wished there were a thousand on the invite list.

At least that way, maybe she could see someone, anyone, other than Danny Maguire.

“Do you promise to love him, comfort him, honor and keep him . . .”

As the priest stared speaking those words, Anne thought about the chances of her ever doing this, and not as a groomsmen but as the bride. She had had a couple of relationships—what twenty-something-year-old woman hadn’t? But they’d never intruded on her drive to perform on the fire service and blow away all the preconceptions about women and what females could do in that job.

Her career had been the most important thing.

So why in the hell was she suddenly looking to complicate things by having sex with Danny? She’d gone online and checked the night before. There was absolutely a no-fraternization rule in place for people inside the same firehouse.

They might be able to have a single hookup, but a relationship was out of the question unless one of the two of them relocated—and she wasn’t looking for a one-night stand.

She glanced at Danny again. Focused on his full mouth. Pictured him shirtless, his tattoos and his muscles like something out of a firefighters’ calendar.

No, she told her libido. She absolutely was not looking for a one-nighter.

Chapter 3

It was every kitschy, Pinterest, Brides magazine bright idea crammed into the ballroom of the Hyatt Regency New Brunswick.

Tables with tall crystal displays you couldn’t see around were marked with a different meaningful song, and as you checked in, you had to find your name on a placard and locate the title inside. Which meant two hundred people were stuck walking through the whole setup because there was no numerical or alphabetical order to anything. Then there was the endless lull as pictures were taken of the bridal party. Followed by a plated dinner of rubber chicken, gelatinous risotto, and some kind of green vegetable that might have been deconstructed beans, but could have been pea puree.

At least Anne could people watch to pass the time. And she was also not at Danny’s table.

She had won the Crazy Aunt Lottery.

“—as I was saying, my sister, Melinda, would have been here tonight, but she has problems with her knees.”

Anne turned to her left. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”

The old woman who was speaking smiled, revealing dentures that were as even and round-topped as a picket fence. Courtesy of her sequined purple dress, sparkles flashed up her wrinkled neck and highlighted her eroded jawline. Her hair, tightly permed and dyed the same deep red as her lipstick, made her a candidate for Willy Wonka’s mother.

“It’s just too much for Melinda, you know. She’s younger than I am, but not in as good shape. I’ve told her she needs to get out more with her walker. She’s getting a Hoveround chair—have you seen the commercials on TV?”

Her name was . . . Margie? Marianne?

“I work out,” she said proudly. “I’m seventy-eight and I bet you never would have guessed.”

“Ah . . . no, I wouldn’t have.”

“Have you ever heard of Prancercise?”

“I’m afraid I haven’t.”

“It’s all the rage. You might want to try it. Here, let me show you on my phone. I have a Samsung—”

“Oh, Mary Ellen, will ya give it a rest. No one gives a shit about your stupid Prancercise bullcrap.”

Anne turned to her right. Unlike Mary Ellen, this sister had retained a strong Fall River accent, her cigarette- and whiskey-fried vocal cords making her sound like a foghorn that had developed a shocking competency with some version of the English language. She was clearly over eighty, and dressed in a pantsuit that would have fit right in with Mike’s Tuxedo Rentals’ changing area.

“Well.” Mary Ellen sat back and lifted her chin. “I don’t understand why some people can’t live and let live.”

“ ’Course ya can’t. ’Cuz you’re always pushin’ ya shit on other folks.” The pantsuit aunt leaned in conspiratorially. “She’s always been like this. Bettah than everybody else.”

“Can we not fight?”

Anne looked across the table. This other sister looked worried in the way someone on a train who might, or might not, be developing stomach issues would get if they weren’t sure where the bathroom was.

And there were three other octogenarians seated around, all first cousins of the ones with the names that started with “M.” Along with the vacant chair that Melinda of the Hoveround should have been in.

“Tell me, dear,” one of the cousins asked, “when are you getting married? Now that your kind can do that.”

“Excuse me?” Anne asked.

The little old lady lowered her voice. “You know, the . . . gays,” she whispered. “You people.”

Across the way, Deandra mashed a piece of wedding cake into Moose’s beard, and then the eighties cover band started up a beat.

I have to get out of here, Anne thought. Right now—

“Dance with me?”

She jumped as Danny’s voice spoke over the din of the music. Glancing over her shoulder, she nearly jumped up and grabbed onto him like he was a life raft.

“Yup. Absolutely.” She put her napkin on the table. “Will you excuse me?”

She didn’t wait for permission. She bolted out of there, grabbing Danny’s hand and going Olympic sprinter to the dance floor.

Under any other circumstance, she probably would have thought better about it, but when your evac away from the frontlines appeared, you didn’t stop to criticize the fact that the SUV lacked air-conditioning.

Or that the guy you’d agreed to dance with was someone you were desperate to be with, against your better judgment.

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