Authors: Kira Sinclair
Tags: #Island Nights
Two of her cousins, Barley and Matthew, grabbed Mitzi’s arms and tried to pull her away from the mass of people pouring up onto the steps of the sanctuary. Lena’s best friends had rounded on the poor girl, their faces livid as they yelled at her for ruining Lena’s wedding. And through it all, Wyn wouldn’t let Mitzi go.
Lena stood in the center of it all, the motion and noise rushing past her, completely ignored.
Lena stared at her cousin. Nineteen. The girl was at least eight years younger than Wyn. And in maturity and experience, he was light-years ahead.
A red haze filtered across Lena’s vision. She closed the few steps that had separated her from Wyn and hauled back and slapped him. “Bastard.”
Wyn looked stunned. Unfortunately, the livid red handprint across his cheek did nothing to dampen his perfect New England aristocratic good looks. For that, she hauled off and slapped him again.
Spinning on her heel, Lena tried to walk away, but the crowd of people pressed in around her. Her mother. Her cousin. Her best friends. Wyn. Wyn’s mother. The people who moments ago had ignored her in favor of yelling at each other suddenly wouldn’t let her leave.
Their fingers plucked at her. Someone stepped on her train. The dress had cost her six months’ salary but had been worth every penny. She’d dreamed of what she would wear on this day ever since she was six, and the reality had been perfect.
being the operative word.
The nasty sound of ripping satin and tulle made her cringe and the ping of crystal beads as they hit the marble floor made her want to scream. Her body jerked, straining against the phantom hold. And then she was blessedly free.
People, flower petals and sequins trailed in her wake as she raced down the aisle. She stumbled on the torn train, stopping long enough to scoop up the material and throw it over her elbow.
God, she must look a sight.
Her veil clouded around her face, obscuring her vision and irritating the hell out of her. Lena reached up, yanked the thing off and threw it at someone as she flew by.
“Don’t do anything rash, Lena. I’m sure you can work this out, dear,” Diane, Wyn’s mother, yelled behind her. The woman must really be panicked if she was willing to make that kind of public declaration. Diane was the perfect D.C. wife who spent her days organizing charitable events but didn’t have an identity outside of her family and husband. Her face was frozen in place by too much Botox. Her hair was pulled back so tightly Lena wondered how the woman didn’t have a permanent headache. And even on this day, her trademark single strand of pearls draped across the conservative neckline of her plum-colored dress.
That was what she’d almost signed up for. Relief washed over her.
But it was short-lived. Everywhere she looked there were people. Family, strangers, friends, enemies. All crying, yelling and full of pity.
She couldn’t take it. It was all too much.
Pressing her hands over her ears, Lena looked for a way out.
She was halfway across the church when a calm in the center of the storm appeared. Colt stood beside the heavy wooden doors at the back of the church. His long and languid body was propped against the elegantly carved frame, both hands shoved into the pockets of his tux pants, one ankle crossed over the other as if he was just hanging out there, waiting.
He wasn’t yelling. He wasn’t freaking out.
She met his eyes, beautiful calm green eyes, so familiar and friendly. No pity or sorrow or anger or anything else, just Colt.
Relief pulsed beneath her skin, along with the urgent need to get out.
Her heels clicked against hard stone as she hurried toward Colt. Skidding to a halt, she looked into his eyes and said breathlessly, “Take me home.”
“GET ME OUT OF THIS THING,” she growled the minute her apartment door closed.
Not waiting for Colt to do as she’d asked, Lena craned her arms behind her, scrabbling at the tiny row of buttons running down the length of her spine. She struggled, twisting, trying in vain to reach them all and rid herself of the mountain of satin she’d crushed into the tiny passenger seat of his Porsche. That car definitely had not been made to hold two people and a wedding gown.
Brushing her fingers out of the way, Colt said, “Let me,” and finished the job for her.
The slight tremor in her hands did not go unnoticed and Colt fought the urge—once again—to drive back to the church and beat the shit out of that sorry excuse for a man she’d almost married. The only thing that stopped him was knowing Lena wouldn’t want him to make a scene. She hated drama. Never wanted to be the center of attention. While it would definitely make him feel better, it wouldn’t do her any good.
He just hated to see her upset.
The bottom button had barely popped free before she was pushing the voluminous mess off her shoulders and down her body. Pulling at the slip beneath, she left the lump of satin behind. Miraculously, it retained its shape, a sad white bell of material with a hole where her body should have been.
She blew out a sigh of relief, pushing the swell of her breasts against the edge of the full-length bra that skimmed over her hips and waist. Colt tried to ignore the way his mouth went dry, telling himself it was a normal male reaction to any woman undressing in front of him.
This was Lena. They’d been friends since they were kids. And if he’d occasionally woken from erotic dreams about her in the past, he told himself that it was simply the pitfall of having a female friend. Men thought about sex all the time, right? It was inevitable that his brain would put two and two together eventually.
Lena disappeared down the hallway. Deciding not to follow, Colt went into the kitchen and filled a wineglass from the open bottle he found in the fridge. It was the same bottle that had been there when he’d visited three months ago on his way to film a piece in Spain. He remembered because he’d come from Alaska where the frigid temperatures had played havoc with the film equipment. He’d brought the bottle with him, picking it up in the airport. He could no longer recall which airport it had been, they all started to look the same after a while.
Colt shook his head, hoping the wine hadn’t spoiled. Yelling down the hall, he asked, “What now, Lee?”
She stuck her head around the corner, her bare shoulders just visible and her lips twisting into a crooked line. “I have no idea,” she said before disappearing again.
Taking a sip of the chilled wine, he stopped in the open doorway of the kitchen, leaning against the jamb. The place was definitely bare. Lena had spent a lot of time and energy filling her apartment with things that mattered. It had been comfortable, warm and welcoming. This place had always been her pride and joy.
Boxes were stacked in the corner. He could see the neat labeling from here and knew she probably had a master list tucked into a binder cataloguing which box held what. The whole thing was depressing.
Lena returned wearing an oversize T-shirt and a pair of black leggings. Her hair, previously arranged into a twist that had probably taken hours, was now piled haphazardly on top of her head, tufts sticking out in every direction. In that moment she reminded him so much of the young girl he’d met so many years ago.
They’d both been ten the summer Lena and her mother moved into the estate next door. They’d become fast friends, inseparable. She’d spent more time at his house than hers, blending seamlessly into his family. His parents had treated her like one of their own.
When she’d left nine months later he’d been so upset. His parents had given Lena a laptop so they could keep in touch. And they had, building a friendship on emails, phone calls and brief visits here and there that had lasted through distance and time.
He hadn’t seen that carefree girl in a very long time. He wasn’t sure when she’d disappeared—probably when her mother was dragging her all over the world. Or maybe after his parents’ fatal accident. His life had been falling apart and she’d been holding together the pieces for him. Or possibly while he was rushing from one corner of the globe to another, working his butt off trying to prove his talents as a photographer and documentarian were more important than his bank account and family name.
Sure, he could have bought a production company and hired himself to direct any film he wanted, but that wouldn’t prove he had the skills to make it on his own.
Staring at Lena, he wondered what else he’d missed in the months and years they’d been separated. And whether he could have prevented the debacle at the church if he’d been here more than a few days at a time.
Closing the space between them, he held out the wine he’d poured for her. With a sad smile, she took a long swallow. Cradling the glass against her body, her mouth twisted over the rim. “I think it’s going to take more than some wine to fix this one.”
Unfortunately she was right, and her family would likely descend at any moment. “This probably isn’t the best place to hide. Maybe you should get away for a few days?” he suggested. “Let things die down a bit before you have to deal with everything.”
“I can’t afford to go anywhere. I spent all my savings on the dress.” She gestured halfheartedly to the pile of satin still sitting behind them in the entranceway.
“What about the honeymoon?”
“Wyn paid for it,” she said slowly, drawing out the words as she apparently turned over the idea. “But I’ve got all of the travel documents.”
For the first time since he’d walked into the church, Colt felt a genuine smile tug at his lips. “Even better. Where was he going to take you?”
A spark flickered in her eyes for just a moment as she told him, “To a secluded Caribbean resort off the coast of St. Lucia. It’s supposed to be upscale, adults only. I was really looking forward to it.”
“Well then, I think it’s the least the bastard owes you.”
“No, I can’t. Besides, I wouldn’t want to go by myself. That would just be…depressing.”
“So take a friend.”
Lena’s head cocked to the side as she studied him for several moments. “What are you doing for the next week?”
“No, I didn’t mean me,” he sputtered.
“Why not? I haven’t seen you in forever. The last time you were in town hardly counts. You were so jetlagged you spent half your time sleeping.”
Colt could see the hope in Lena’s eyes. He hated to disappoint her. “I was hoping to be in Peru to film a documentary about an exciting archaeological find, but the producer chose another director.”
“I’m so sorry, Colt. I know you really wanted to land that one. Why didn’t you tell me when you found out?”
“You were all wrapped up in the wedding plans. Besides, it isn’t important. Something else will come along. It always does.”
He tried to hide his disappointment, but probably failed miserably. The job was perfect, everything he’d been working and waiting for. A great opportunity, an interesting subject and a challenging location.
Lena didn’t seem to pick up on his lie, though; she was understandably preoccupied with her own disappointment.
“So there’s no reason you can’t go with me. Come on. Fruity drinks and lounge chairs on the beach. Sleeping late, five-star meals. You know you want to.”
He opened his mouth to say no again, but as her eyes went misty with unshed tears, Colt realized it was a losing battle. When she said, “Please, Colt, I need you,” it was the final nail in his coffin.
“Fine.” He sighed, and tried to ignore the tremble of her bottom lip when she wrapped her arms around his body and squeezed tight.
“Thank you,” she whispered against his skin, her nose buried in the crook of his neck.
Her breath tickled and something thick tightened in the back of his throat. He ignored it.
He held her, knowing what she needed right now more than anything was a friend. But the moment was interrupted when a loud knock sounded on the door.
“Lena, let me in.” A man’s voice boomed through the closed door.
Colt didn’t have to ask who was on the other side. The stiffening of Lena’s muscles beneath the circle of his arms said it all.
Jerking away from him, she faced the door, but didn’t actually move to open it. “Go away, Wyn. I don’t want to talk to you right now.”
“Fine, but your mother gave me your suitcase.”
Lena cursed under her breath. “Of course she did. Remind me to thank her.” She rolled her eyes and grimaced. “Right after I kill her.”