Pretend It's Love(2)By: Stefanie London
“Too many drinks, not enough dinner,” Des said with a frown. “We should get something into your stomach.”
“Don’t be a bore. I haven’t drunk like this since university—it’s a special night!”
“Can I get that in writing so when you’re glued to the bed all day tomorrow I can remind you the hangover is worth it?”
She poked her tongue out at him before turning to Paul. “Was he always this straight-laced growing up?”
“Uh, yes,” Paul replied. “Hard to believe it, but he was worse.”
“Yikes.” Gracie giggled, covering her mouth with one hand.
When she wandered off to dance with her sister, Des shook his head. “The wedding planning has been a little…tense.”
Noah frowned. “Because of Mrs. Greene?”
No one ever referred to Gracie’s mother as anything but Mrs. Greene, although Paul had been led to suspect her name might be Cecilia. Despite sharing her daughter’s petite stature and flair for style, she lacked any of the warmth and charisma that Gracie exuded, and had a reputation as being a bit of a dragon.
“Yeah.” Des raked a hand through his dark hair. “She’s driving Gracie bananas, but I can’t get involved. She gets worked up if I mention it. Good thing it’ll be over in a few weeks.”
Paul choked on his drink. “A few weeks?”
“Yeah, we’re going to announce it tonight. The wedding is going to be in six weeks.”
“Is she…” Noah looked around to see if anyone else was in earshot.
Des folded his arms across his chest. “She’s not pregnant.”
“Not yet,” Noah said, waggling his eyebrows.
“Why the hurry?” Paul set the champagne flute down.
Des looked over his shoulder. “I don’t want this planning phase to go on any longer than it has to. Besides, we’re ready to be married. It sounds corny, but I don’t want to wait any longer.”
Paul made a gagging motion. “What chick flick did you pull that from?”
“Mock me, oh little brother. One day this will be you, and I’ll be the first one to remind you of this moment.” Des turned to Noah and slapped him on the back. “And when it comes to the wedding you have to wear a suit. No excuses.”
Noah had worn black jeans and an open-collared shirt under a leather motorcycle jacket, despite the fact that the invites had said Dress Code: Cocktail. “It’ll be the first time.”
Des moved on to talk to Gracie’s older sister and left the two men to their drinks. The engagement party was intimate. Private. Immediate family and the bridal party only.
But the wedding would be filled with people Paul didn’t want to face. Most of all, his ex-almost-fiancée and the guy she’d married…who just so happened to be his cousin.
“Six weeks, can you believe it?” Noah shook his head. “How are we going to plan a buck’s party in that time?”
But Paul’s mind was consumed with the wedding itself. He’d thought that Gracie and Des would have a more standard engagement, like one or two years…five, if he was lucky. Then he would have time to get his shit sorted, find someone he trusted enough to bring to a family function, and do something noteworthy so he didn’t have to rehash the overdone conversation about his lack of direction in life. He could hear his aunts now.
Paul, why can’t you be more like your brother? Why haven’t you settled down with anyone yet? Don’t you want to get married?
And the underlying question beneath it all: what did you do that was so bad your girlfriend cheated on you with your own cousin?
Like it was his bloody fault.
“Hey.” Noah waved a hand in front of his face. “I said, do you think Des would want a weekend away for his buck’s?”
“Maybe.” Paul wanted to talk about anything that wasn’t connected to the wedding, but his concentration had deserted him.
“You giving a speech?” Noah asked.
Paul looked up. “Huh?”
His friend pointed to a piece of paper sticking out of his suit pants pocket. “I thought you hated speeches.”
“I’m not giving a speech, but I did get her number.” He nodded toward the blond catering assistant who flushed when the two men turned to look at her.
“This is a family event.” Noah shook his head.
Paul grinned. “Girls love me, what can I say?”
“You’re so full of shit.”
Truth was he hadn’t really wanted her number, but old habits die hard. At one point women were the center of Paul’s life, though not any one woman in particular. However, lately he’d stopped going out partying with Noah. He’d even deleted all the numbers in his phone that weren’t family or his mates. Empty encounters had begun to fill him with resentment.