Excerpt: One Eager Bride to Go

 

Chapter One

 

“Oh no you don’t! Not him. No way!” Sunny Bleecker gaped at the man striding through the ballroom’s open pocket doors some thirty feet away. His height made him easy to spot over the heads of the wedding guests milling around.

Automatically Sunny tried to back away, but her friends Raven Radley and Amanda Coppersmith, standing on either side of her, kept a firm grip on her arms. Sunny’s fingers tightened painfully on the bridal bouquet she’d just caught.

“Hear us out,” Raven said.

“You must be nuts!” Sunny cried. “You were supposed to find me a husband—as in a brand-new guy, someone I’ve never laid eyes on before. Not—not—” With her arms imprisoned, she nodded helplessly at the latecomer to Charli and Grant’s wedding reception, this specter from her past now scanning faces as he wove his way through the throng of guests.

He’d let his hair grow, she noticed, that pale wheat-colored hair that looked as thick and soft now as it had been when the two of them graduated from high school. Then, he’d worn it short, practically a crew cut. Now it fell almost to his shoulders.

Charli detached herself from her bridegroom, Grant Sterling, to lay a reassuring hand on Sunny’s shoulder. Charli looked so lovely in her white satin wedding gown, her long, dark hair pulled back in a chignon encircled with cream rosebuds. Of the four best friends, the four lifelong pals who comprised the Wedding Ring matchmaking club, Carlotta “Charli” Rossi was the one who’d never expected to get married. Yet here she was, with her sexy, devoted husband, the two of them deliriously in love—the latest Wedding Ring success story.

Charli and Grant had exchanged vows during a beautiful, moving church wedding followed by this sumptuous reception for 320 guests. Three months earlier Raven Muldoon had married Hunter Radley, and they’d just announced they were expecting a baby.

Two down, two to go. Sunny had just turned thirty, so it was now officially time for the other three members of the Wedding Ring, her best friends in the world, to find her a husband. That was the solemn pact they’d made twelve years earlier at the end of high school, and it was an obligation they all took seriously.

For Raven and Charli, the pact had worked. And Sunny suspected that even Amanda, who resisted the idea of walking down the aisle again after two failed marriages, would change her mind when her turn came in a few months.

But it was supposed to be Sunny’s turn now, and look who the Wedding Ring had chosen for her!

A few moments earlier, Sunny’s friends had wished her a happy thirtieth birthday. “What do you want more than anything?” Raven had asked her. “What have you always wanted more than anything?”

That was a no-brainer. A husband. A husband and children. It was all Sunny had ever wanted for as long as she could remember. The kind of loving happiness her parents had known for thirty-three years.

Then Charli had announced that the Wedding Ring had made its decision. They’d chosen a prospective husband for Sunny. Raven had reminded her that under the terms of their pact, she was required to date the chosen man for a full three months as long as he was interested.

“I know the rules,” Sunny had muttered. “Now, show me my man!”

That was when they’d pointed out Kirk Larsen, just entering the ballroom.

“You guys cheated!” Sunny struggled without success to yank her arms from her friends’ unyielding grasp. “I was supposed to get a new man! Made from all-new materials—none of this recycled stuff. What are you trying to pull?”

Hunter spoke up. “Sunny, I don’t think they’re trying to pull anything. As I understand it, you and Kirk were pretty tight back in high school.”

“Were!” Sunny responded. “Note the past tense. Kirk went away to college—to California, no less, clear across the country!—and left me behind. If I wasn’t good enough for him then—”

“Come on, Sunny, it wasn’t like that.” Raven’s expression was chiding, but her voice was gentle.

“How do you know what it was like?” Sunny’s face stung with angry heat. “It happened to me, not you.”

Grant rubbed his chin. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

Amanda’s frustration was evident. “Listen, Sunny. You two were tight back then, you really cared about each other, and face it. You haven’t felt the same way about a guy since.” She softened her tone as well as her grip on Sunny’s arm. “Charli and Raven and I just want you to be happy. We knocked heads trying to come up with the right guy for you, and then when Kirk’s mom told my mom he was back in town, well…” She looked at her friends for support. “The pieces just kind of fell into place.”

“You two have very similar personalities,” Raven said. “You’re both lighthearted. Buoyant. You’re made for each other.”

“Give him a chance,” Charli said.

“Three months.” Amanda held up three fingers. “That’s all we’re asking.”

Sunny had been tracking Kirk’s progress across the ballroom. He moved with a long-legged, masculine grace she still recognized after all these years. He hadn’t noticed her yet. “This is all probably for nothing,” she said in a small voice. “I mean he—he probably won’t be interested.”

“Well, if he is…” Charli said.

Sunny sighed. If he was interested, she was obligated to give the relationship three months. She’d spent a dozen years trying to get over her teenage heartbreak, and not until she set eyes on Kirk Larsen again did she realize she hadn’t done a very good job of it. “Does he… does he know he and I are supposed to…?”

Amanda made a face. “I thought you said you knew the rules. Rule number two—the man must not be told he’s part of a matchmaking scheme.”

“Until after he’s been reeled in and landed,” Hunter added, with a mischievous grin.

“You have no right to complain,” Amanda told him. “You’re not even the one who was supposed to be reeled in and landed. We’d targeted your brother for that honor.”

Raven released Sunny to cuddle up to Hunter, the brother of the man the Wedding Ring had chosen for her. “Well, I for one am glad your first choice didn’t work out.”

“Which only shows,” Sunny said, “that the Wedding Ring isn’t infallible. We made the wrong choice for Raven, and maybe you guys have made the wrong choice for me.”

“Shh!” Charli hissed, cocking her head toward their quarry, who was fast approaching.

Kirk’s gaze was fixed exclusively on the bride. He appeared not to notice Sunny or any of his other old pals. “Charli!” He gave her a bear hug and a kiss on the cheek before holding her at arm’s length. His pale blue eyes crinkled at the corners. “You are without a doubt the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen.”

Charli blushed furiously. It was no secret she’d always considered herself plain and mousy. Only when she’d fallen in love with Grant had her singular beauty come to the fore. Sunny knew that Charli’s newfound self-assurance had much to do with it.

Sunny’s heart pounded in giddy anticipation as Charli introduced Kirk to her bridegroom. Kirk congratulated Grant and apologized for his late arrival. “My son has an ear infection. My folks are babysitting, but I wanted to wait until his fever went down before I left him.”

Sunny’s frantic heartbeat stuttered. A dizzying wash of heat swept her. He was married. So much for the Wedding Ring. So much for rekindling the old flame. Even if she wanted to. Which she didn’t.

Sunny didn’t dare look at Amanda or Raven. She couldn’t bear to see the dismay on their faces, to feel their chagrin as they realized their plan had fizzled before it even got off the ground. She took a step back, and another one, trying to blend in to the teeming crowd of wedding guests.

Kirk and Amanda exchanged hugs, then he greeted Raven, who introduced him to Hunter. Raven glanced around, spotted Sunny trying to shuffle out of sight, and hauled her back by the arm. “Look who else is here,” Raven said.

Kirk’s electric-blue gaze lit on Sunny, snatching her breath and making her light-headed. He blinked, slowly, and his mouth curved in a tender smile. “Sunny.”

His hand settled on her shoulder as he leaned in for a kiss—on the cheek, Sunny assumed, until his lips touched hers, lightly, fleetingly.

Well, that made sense, she supposed. This was, after all, the man she’d lost her virginity to all those years ago. Her first serious boyfriend.

Okay, her only serious boyfriend. She could understand why her friends had latched on to the idea of reuniting them. What Amanda had said was true. Sunny hadn’t felt the same way about any other man since Kirk had boarded that flight to California twelve years earlier.

So where was Mrs. Kirk Larsen today? Back in the Golden State, no doubt, keeping the home fires burning while her husband and son made this pilgrimage to Kirk’s boyhood home on Long Island.

Say something, she commanded herself.

“Kirk.” Sunny pasted on a polite smile. “It’s been… a long time.”

Something passed behind his eyes, something akin to sadness, and then it was gone. Sunny wondered if she’d imagined it. After all, she hadn’t seen Kirk in over a decade. She couldn’t expect to read his moods as easily as she once had.

His face had matured. No traces of boyhood softness remained. Likewise, his body had lost its youthful whip-leanness. Though he was obviously still fit and trim, his oatmeal-colored suit jacket could not conceal broad shoulders and a sinewy thickness in all the right places.

Sunny became aware of an awkward watchfulness on the part of her friends. She felt more than foolish after that contentious discussion right before Kirk joined them. The man’s spoken for, okay? she was tempted to tell them. So just relax already.

The emcee announced, “It’s time for the garter ceremony. Grant, bring your beautiful bride up here!”

The guests gathered on the sidelines as Grant led Charli onto the dance floor and settled her on the chair that had been placed there. Shyly she dragged the hem of her gown to just above her knee. A frilly blue garter came into view, eliciting an enthusiastic response from the male guests and a few strains of stripper music from the band. Grant lingered over the chore of sliding the garter down her leg, taking his time, whispering something that had his bride coloring up and laughing behind her hand.

The emcee wasted no time calling up all the unmarried men to try to catch the garter. Sunny was looking forward to this. A few minutes earlier Charli had tossed her bouquet and Sunny had practically tackled all the other single women to secure possession of it. That meant she was destined to become the next bride. It might be meaningless tradition, but hey, you never knew. Tradition also dictated that the man who caught the bride’s garter would be the next fellow to tie the knot.

As the single men congregated some distance behind him, Grant prepared to toss the garter over his shoulder. Hunter nudged Kirk. “You heard the man—get out there.”

Was Hunter clueless or what? Sunny wondered. They’d all heard Kirk mention his son.

Kirk slid his hands into his pockets. “That’s okay, I’ll just watch.”

Laughing, Hunter gave him a hard shove, propelling him toward the action. “It doesn’t work that way. You’ve got a garter to catch!”

Kirk gave in with obvious apathy, standing at the rear of the group with his hands still crammed in his pockets. The drumroll began.

Sunny turned to Hunter and asked, “Why did you do that? Isn’t Kirk—”

Hunter cupped his hands around his mouth to shout, “Long bomb, Grant! Hit the back wall!”

Balling up the garter, Grant threw it with vigor, sending it sailing high over the heads of the men waiting to catch it. Sunny watched the scrap of blue lace arc directly toward Kirk as the other guys tripped over their feet and slammed into one another in an effort to snag it. At the last second a bemused-looking Kirk simply reached up and plucked the thing out of midair.

Hunter let out a whoop of triumph. Sunny tried to question him again about Kirk’s marital status, but she never got the chance as Raven and Amanda turned her bodily and marched her onto the dance floor toward the chair Charli had vacated.

Sunny’s heart stumbled. “Wait a minute. Time out.”

She knew the drill—she’d witnessed it often enough. The guy who caught the garter then had to put it on the gal who caught the bouquet.

She refused to sit. “Listen, I don’t think this is such a good—”

Her friends shoved her onto the chair, hard, as the emcee ordered Kirk front and center. Then it was just the two of them in the middle of the huge dance floor, ringed by hundreds of cheering, clapping wedding guests.

The emcee was giving Kirk instructions, suggestive little pearls of wisdom. Sunny sat clutching the bouquet in her sweaty fingers, her trembling knees clamped together beneath her ankle-length, vintage chiffon dress.

She looked up at Kirk, now standing before her with the silly lace garter dangling from his long, suntanned fingers. She made herself meet his eyes, expecting to see, at best, mild annoyance. Instead he wore the strangest expression, half melancholic, half amused.

Kirk knelt on one knee before her, like a man preparing to ask for his lady’s hand in marriage. A wave of scalding heat crawled up Sunny’s face.

“I’m sorry about this,” she said in an undertone, for his ears only, wondering where the urge to apologize had come from. But she knew where. She glanced at her Wedding Ring pals and their husbands, standing at the edge of the crowd, shouting encouragement.

“You are?” he asked, a funny smile lighting his blue, blue eyes. He grasped the fluttery hem of her dress, multiple layers of floral chiffon in muted pastel tones.

Good Lord, he’d turned into a beautiful man—so handsome it almost hurt to look at him. Sunny’s knees locked even tighter together. Her fingers cramped around the wrapped stem of the bouquet. “What I mean is… there’s a little too much history between us. This is—” She jumped as he inched the hem up her calves. A breathy chuckle escaped her. “Well, it’s weird, that’s all.”

“You let your hair grow.” Slowly, very slowly, Kirk raised the hem of her dress, his eyes never straying from hers.

Sunny reached up to finger the long, wavy, auburn strands draped over her breast. She’d twisted the side pieces into loose, reddish-brown ropes and secured them behind her head with an antique marcasite barrette. Back in high school her hair had been a short, curly cap.

He added, “You look like one of those ethereal beauties in a Pre-Raphaelite painting.”

The compliment suffused Sunny with a warm glow, although her ignorance embarrassed her. She didn’t know a Pre-Raphaelite painting from a Cubist. That wasn’t the sort of knowledge one gained waiting tables at the local diner.

“You grew your hair, too,” she observed. “It looks nice.” Does your son’s mother like it?

Her hem had risen as far as her knees. Kirk said, “If you don’t unlock your legs, I might have a bit of trouble getting this thing on you.” He glanced at the boisterous crowd, spurring on the action with applause and choice bits of advice. “Just how much of a show do you want to give these folks?”

Sunny swallowed hard. She took a slow, deep breath and willed her tense legs muscles to relax. Delicately she nudged one foot forward.

“No shoes,” he observed with a small smile. “Still the wild child, I see.”

“I took them off to give me a better chance of catching the bouquet.”

“Tough competition?”

Sunny grinned recalling how she’d nearly lost out to one of Charli’s cousins from Detroit, the tall one with the troweled-on makeup and the hot pink tube dress. “Yeah, but I’m tougher.”

“That’s one word I’d never have used to describe you. Tough.” Kirk pulled the layers of chiffon higher still, letting the hem settle partway up her thighs, as the rowdier male guests hooted in approval. He lifted her foot and rested it on the leg he knelt on. His thigh felt hard and muscular under the sole of her foot, and hot, even through his dress slacks and her nylon stockings.

He slipped the frilly garter over her toes, up her ankle and calf, to the accompaniment of wolf whistles and more suggestive music. He slid it over her knee and higher. Sunny had to work hard to keep her breathing even. As he positioned the garter a decorous two inches above her knee, the tips of his fingers happened to brush just under the hem of her dress.

Kirk went still. He locked his gaze with hers while his warm fingertips, hidden from view, traced the top edge of her stocking and the clasp connecting it to her garter belt by way of a satiny elastic strap.

Though his expression never changed, his crystal-blue eyes took on a smoky hue that pulled at memories long suppressed. Then his hands were gone, and Sunny struggled to drag in a shaky breath.

The guests clapped and cheered. Kirk stood and offered Sunny his hand. She rose on wobbly legs, keenly aware of the lace garter encircling her thigh, and the lingering imprint of his fingers on the bare skin just above her stocking.

Vaguely she heard the emcee inviting Charli and Grant to join the two of them on the dance floor. The band started playing a slow standard. Kirk took the bouquet from her and lobbed it to Amanda, standing on the sidelines. He pulled Sunny into his arms and they started moving to the music. He was bigger, taller, more solid than she remembered, but one thing hadn’t changed. His scent, the clean, masculine essence of his skin, was the same.

Sunny was reminded of the first time they’d made love all those years ago when Kirk’s parents had spent the weekend in Cambridge, Massachusetts, having driven his older sister to Harvard. The scent of Kirk had been an aphrodisiac as she’d lain naked with him on his narrow twin bed, nuzzling his hair, his throat, his chest, burning with adolescent passion, dizzy with anticipation, aching with love for the golden youth she’d lost her heart to.

Sunny closed her eyes for one brief moment and inhaled deeply. Don’t do this to yourself, she thought. Stop torturing yourself with memories. That particular pastime had been pointless twelve years earlier and it was downright destructive now when she had to focus on her goals. She was thirty years old. Dwelling on the past would not put a husband in her bed or a child in her womb.

They shared the floor with Charli and Grant, the newlyweds holding each other close, sharing secret smiles and private whispers.

“Some reunion, huh?” Kirk asked. His warm breath stirred the loose hairs springing free at Sunny’s temple.

She looked up at him. “Is that what this is? A reunion?”

“I’d say when you haven’t seen someone in over a decade, it qualifies as a reunion.” When she didn’t respond, he added, “It was nice of Charli to invite me at the last minute. I just got into town yesterday.”

Sunny forced a smile. “So. You’re a daddy.”

Kirk’s expression softened. “His name’s Ian. He’s eighteen months old.” Smoothly he steered them away from the other couples now drifting onto the dance floor.

“Um… I knew you were teaching physics out there at Stanford. I didn’t know you’d gotten married.”

“Three years ago.” He glanced away for a moment. His fingers tightened around hers. “Linda died in a car accident on New Year’s Day.”

Sunny’s chest constricted painfully. “Oh, Kirk… I’m so sorry.”

He said nothing. She felt stiff and awkward, suddenly wishing they were someplace quiet and private.

Kirk’s voice was strained. “I stuck it out at Stanford until the end of the school year. Now I’m home for good. We’re home, Ian and me.”

Home for good? Sunny searched his eyes. “You mean you’re moving back here? To Long Island?”

He nodded. “This is where I belong. I was thinking of moving back a few years ago and then I met Linda and, well, those plans got shelved. When I lost her I realized it was time to come home. Ian will be near his grandparents, his aunts and uncles and cousins.”

The bleakness in his eyes grabbed hold of Sunny’s heart and squeezed.

He added, “It won’t be like having his mom back, but it’ll be good for him having his whole extended family nearby.”

Sunny nodded, at a loss for words. Amanda, dancing past with one of Charli’s many brothers, caught her eye and winked. Did Sunny’s Wedding Ring pals know about Kirk’s marriage and the death of his wife?

They had to, she realized. None of them had seemed surprised when he’d mentioned his son. Raven had described Kirk as lighthearted and buoyant. Clearly she was remembering him the way he’d been in high school when he hadn’t a care in the world aside from fixing up his vintage Jaguar. The man Sunny was dancing with was not that same carefree youth.

She said, “Something tells me you wouldn’t have moved back here without lining up a job first.”

“I’ll be teaching at Garrison in the fall.” Garrison University, a renowned research institution, occupied a sprawling campus on Long Island’s South Shore. “What about you?”

“What about me?” She averted her eyes, already feeling a prickle of embarrassment.

“What have you been doing with yourself?” he asked. After a moment of silence he added, “Still single, I assume, since you caught the bouquet.”

“Yep. Still single.”

When she didn’t elaborate, he asked, “So what are you up to nowadays?”

“Same thing I was up to last time we saw each other.”

He chuckled. “Right. Serving the He-Man Special at Wafflemania. Seriously. What do you do for a living?”

Sunny kept her gaze directed at the band as she said, “That’s what I’ve been doing, Kirk. Seriously.”

He was silent for long, agonizing seconds as the merriment around them continued unabated. “Listen,” he said quietly, “I didn’t mean to make it sound…”

Sunny pasted on a smile. She forced herself to meet his chagrined gaze. “Sure you did. Don’t worry, I’m used to it. I fill an important function in my social crowd. I’m the resident underachiever. My job is to make all my friends feel good about their lives.”

“Sunny—”

“I mean, there’s Raven, a successful hypnotherapist with her own practice and everything. And Charli, teaching instrumental music at our old high school. And look at Amanda. Publisher of a children’s magazine! Rewarding, well-respected careers, all of them. And then there’s Sunny. No drive. No ambition. Whenever the others are feeling crappy about their lives, all they have to do is look at me and—”

“Sunny, stop it.” Kirk’s body radiated tension even as he continued to lead her around the dance floor.

“I’m just telling it like it is.”

He took a deep breath. He glanced around at the couples dancing nearby and lowered his voice. “What happened? You started working at that greasy-spoon joint right after graduation. For some quick cash, I figured. I never thought it would last.”

Neither did I. “What can I tell you? I’ve discovered the smell of grilled burgers is a real turn-on.”

“That’s not the kind of job you make a career out of. Not you.”

“Hey, we can’t all be hotshot college professors with our name splashed all over the physics journals.”

“You know, this is something you used to do. Bluster your way out of it when you felt defensive or embarrassed.”

“Sounds like you missed your calling, Dr. Larsen. Maybe you should’ve gone into psychology.”

“It won’t work, Sunny. I want an answer. What the hell happened? You had so much promise.”

Sunny swallowed hard. “What I do is good honest work, Kirk. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“I never said it was. I’m sorry if that’s how I came across. I’m just… confused. I figured you’d take a year to get your act together, accumulate a little money. And then you’d go to college, get some kind of liberal arts degree. Maybe become a teacher. You always loved kids.”

The song ended and the band struck up a livelier tune. Sunny was relieved when Kirk took her hand and drew her off the dance floor, and surprised when he headed straight for the exit. Raven caught Sunny’s eye as they passed her table. Sunny felt as if she were under a microscope, every detail of this “reunion” with Kirk analyzed and overanalyzed by her well-meaning Wedding Ring friends.

Kirk didn’t stop until they were outside the elegant catering establishment, located within a huge county park. It was nearly 10:00 pm, a balmy night in early July. A parking attendant approached. Kirk waved him away and led Sunny under the colonnade and past the lit fountain to a wooden bench nestled in a grouping of giant boxwoods strung with tiny white lights. There they sat, listening to the muted sounds of revelry from within the building, inhaling the summer-scented breeze.

The minutes stretched on. Kirk leaned back against the bench, and Sunny felt a bit of the tension drain from him. She sensed that he didn’t often let himself relax. She stared at his profile by moonlight, the strong jaw, the steep, high-bridged nose that had always put her in mind of a Roman emperor. Or a Viking now, with the long hair and grim expression. No, not grim, she thought. Melancholy. When did he say his wife had died? New Year’s Day. Six months earlier.

How crushing it must have been to lose her so suddenly like that. His life partner. The mother of his child. Sunny did some quick mental arithmetic. Ian had only been a year old when it happened. Had his mother gotten to see him blow out his first birthday candle?

That was perhaps the saddest part, she thought. Kirk’s son wouldn’t remember his mother. He was just too young.

Automatically her hand moved to cover Kirk’s where it rested on his thigh, but she stopped herself.

“I was out of line before.” He sounded weary. “It’s none of my business what you do with your life.”

His words settled like a deadweight in Sunny’s chest. There’d been a time when everything about her had been very much his business, when the two of them had been hopelessly in love and completely wrapped up in each other’s lives.

How could she explain twelve years wiping coffee and syrup off Formica diner tables while pocketing her measly tips? Twelve long years with her life on hold, waiting for her soul mate, whoever he might be, to stroll through the doors of Wafflemania and order the He-Man Special with one eager bride to go.

No. She couldn’t share that with him. Not Kirk. Better that he think he’d misjudged her all those years ago, that youthful ardor had caused him to see promise in her where there was none.

He lifted a strand of her hair and drew it slowly through his fingers. He twisted the end around his fingertip and watched the waves spring back when he released it. For the longest time he didn’t meet her eyes. A fluttery sensation rose in Sunny’s throat.

She could still read him. It may have been a dozen years since she’d set eyes on Kirk, but there was still something there, a connection, albeit frayed.

“I’ve thought about you,” he said, staring off into the inky blackness of the woods. Sighing, he loosened his necktie and undid the top button of his pale blue dress shirt. “A lot. Too much.” He looked at her then. “Don’t misunderstand me. I loved Linda.”

“I know you did.”

He searched her face. “How could you know that?”

“I know you, Kirk. For you to marry someone, make a life with her, make—” Sunny’s voice cracked “—make a child with her, well, I just know you had to really be in love. You’re… You’re the most sincere guy I ever knew.”

He stared at her for long moments while crickets trilled and a trio of guests exited the building, laughing. “People change,” he said. “Maybe I’m not the same sincere guy you remember.”

She tilted her head, studying him. “You have changed. It’s been twelve years. You’ve been through a lot. But deep inside…” She laid her hand on his chest, over the strong, steady beat of his heart. “You’re still you.”

Slowly Kirk lifted her hand from his chest, wrapped his long fingers around hers. Absently he brushed his lips over her knuckles, side to side. It was a gesture she remembered well. He used to do it when he was deep in thought. Had he done it with Linda?

Finally he spoke. “Are you involved with anyone?”

There it was. Sunny’s head reeled with conflicting emotions. She’d been bushwhacked by her best friends when she’d least expected it. It was too soon. She needed time: time to think this through, time to decide how she felt about getting involved with Kirk again after… everything.

When she didn’t answer, he said quietly, “Can I assume that’s a yes?”

“No. I’m…” She cleared her throat. “I’m not involved with anyone.”

He settled their linked hands on his thigh and rubbed his thumb across her palm. “I’d like to see you again, Sunny.”

Under the terms of the Wedding Ring pact, she was now officially obligated to date him for at least three months unless he broke it off sooner. She had no choice in the matter, and she couldn’t decide whether to be outraged by that—by her friends’ presumptuousness in choosing this of all men for her—or relieved. The decision, after all, was now out of her hands. She didn’t have to analyze it, to weigh the pros and cons. Her lifelong pals, who supposedly knew her better than anyone and knew what, and who, she needed, had already done that for her.

Lightly he squeezed her hand. “There hasn’t been anyone since Linda. It was all I could do to… well, getting involved with someone else has been the furthest thing from my mind. But when I saw you in there…” He trailed off.

“You don’t think maybe it’s just that you, well, feel comfortable with me? I mean, I’m someone from your past. In a sense, I must represent the ‘good old days.’”

He smiled wryly. “You mean is this just a pathetic effort to re-create happier times?” He seemed to ponder that a moment. “Maybe it is, Sunny. I won’t pretend to know my own mind at this point. I haven’t been thinking straight since…” He released her hand and leaned forward, elbows on knees, head cradled in his palms. After a moment he dragged his fingers through his hair.

“You’re right,” he said, standing. “This is premature.”

“I didn’t mean…” What did she mean? Here was her out. He was backpedaling, and it would be easy enough to shut up and let him. Nice try, she’d tell Amanda and Raven and Charli, but he’s not interested. So that’s that. Find me another guy.

And they would. They’d find her someone new, made of all-new materials. No recycled emotions. No threadbare psychological baggage. No good old days.

Kirk turned and started toward the building. He was almost there when Sunny called, “Kirk?”

He turned and looked at her, a tall, almost spectral presence, his pale suit and hair suffused with silvery moonlight.

Sunny realized she no more knew her mind than did Kirk. All she knew was that if she let him walk away…

“I’d like to see you, too.” She stood. Her thigh tingled where the bridal garter hugged it. “If you still want to.”

Kirk stood staring at her, his expression unreadable. Finally he lifted his hand to her. Sunny closed the distance on unsteady legs and twined her fingers with his.


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