One more toast to the bride and groom and Rachel McAllister would fork someone in the heart. Simple as that.
“To Rachel and Rory,” her dad said. Everyone in the hall raised their glasses. “To Rachel and Rory!”
Rachel’s face warmed from all the tributes, attention and toasts. But she couldn’t fork her own dad. Rory must have read her mind because he squeezed her finger like a Chinese handcuff. He knew her so well—and still wanted to marry her. The waiter took her empty plate, fork and all. Maybe he had read her mind too.
Her Uncle Jimmy stood and cleared his throat.
Rachel groaned down low in her throat. Him, she could fork, spork or butter knife to death.
Everyone had sage marital advice to offer the bride-to-be. Where were they when she needed an ally for her elopement scheme? “Hey, let’s run off to Stone Cliff Lodge—and get hitched,” she’d suggested to Rory only two short months ago after his über-romantic Valentine’s Day proposal, complete with flickering candlelight, fragrant flowers and bubbly champagne. If she’d expected him to pop the question at all, she had pictured a mid-inning proposal on the big Jumbotron screen at a baseball game, including a celebratory beer and a hot dog chaser.
“Great idea, Rach,” he’d replied at the time. “You, me and our closest family and friends.”
Looking around, she suddenly realized she’d had no idea how many close family and friends they had, or how much food they could scarf and liquor they would guzzle.
Uncle Jimmy raised his glass high. “It seems like just yesterday I was refusing to change your poopy diapers and telling you to go play in traffic.” Everyone laughed. “Tomorrow you’ll be getting married. I’m glad you didn’t listen to me.”
Rachel raised her glass. “You and me both, Uncle Jimmy.”
“And,” Rory added, “we will not be needing your babysitting services in the future.” More laughter.
Babysitting! Damn skippy we won’t, not anytime soon.
There was a lull in the toasting as dessert was being served, because it was just rude to toast with a mouth full of tiramisu. Rachel leaned in to whisper in her fiancé’s ear, “I need some air.” Boy, did she ever. Air and solitude and a shot of tequila.
Rory winked. “I could use some too.”
Rachel read between his lines. He could use some necking and a cheap feel to carry him through until the honeymoon night.
Her chair legs screeched along the polished floor of the Stone Cliff Lodge’s dining room, which their combined family and friends tested the capacity of. Rory was already up and moving away from the pre-matrimonial meal mêlée, as she’d dubbed it. Say that three times fast.
“Don’t do anything we wouldn’t do,” some jackass sang out.
Rachel faked a laugh. Like killing you with my bare hands, for instance. Rory took possession of her hand and pulled her toward the clearly posted exit. He pushed through one side of the double glass doors to an expansive veranda overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
The Stone Cliff Lodge was just as advertised—a stone lodge perched on a cliff above the ocean. Romantic. Elegant. Picturesque. Waves crashed against the rocky shore with thunderous power. The photos on their website didn’t do the place justice. With both their families there, it resembled a cross between a failed Weight Watchers meeting and an episode of Family Feud. Name for me a wedding disaster. Top five answers are on the board.
Wind hit her face in the most refreshing way. Freedom. She closed her eyes, opening them when cool lips butted up to hers. “Uhm.” She saw stars, but also clouds and a thumbnail moon. “Are those people in there planning on hibernating?” They ate like they were storing fat for the long winter, but winter was over.
“What do you care?” he growled against her lips. “It’s your dad’s dime.”
If by dime you mean ten grand or more, sure. “Yeah.” She smiled at the thought, but the money would be better spent feeding the hungry or housing the poor, her passion and occupation in life. At least it made her mom happy to see Dad letting loose of some hard-earned money. It was ten or twelve grand his new wife couldn’t spend.
“What exactly is it your cousin wouldn’t do, just so I’ll know what not to do?” Rory wrapped his arms around her, warding off the chill she’d found refreshing only a moment earlier.
“My cousin, Brent? Was that the loudmouth?” She burrowed into Rory’s warmth and sighed, avoiding the question. Hopefully Rory wouldn’t date his second cousin—not that it was illegal, but let’s just say Brent would. “Are you sorry we waited, Rory?”
“For sex?” He swayed her in his arms. “Every damn day. Sometimes twice a day.”
She looked up into his sparkling green eyes. He smiled that lopsided grin that told her he was content, if not satisfied. Towering over her tiny five-foot-three-inch frame, she wondered why he’d waited for her. Being a tall, dark and clichédly handsome up and coming architect, he could have had any beautiful, flexible, big-boobed bimbo he chose, probably including his second cousin if he were so inclined. “Well, at least this is the last day.”
Rory picked her up and spun her around. “That’s exactly what I told my reflection in the mirror this morning.”
“You’re not just marrying me to get laid, are you?” Rachel teased him.
It was like asking if he was marrying her for her money, of which she had very little. But her high school boyfriend, Michael I-can’t-even-recall-your-last-name-that’s-how-over-you-I-am, dumped her after she’d served nearly eighteen months of what felt like a prison sentence with him and the beginning of the end was sex. The relationship spiraled out of control within days of the deed. She’d thought they were in love, but looking back, it turned out to be something akin to the flu, resulting in losing her virginity in his basement bedroom on dirty sheets while his parents were in Reno for a long weekend. Very romantic.
“Yes, Rachel. Am I that transparent? I hounded you for a solid six weeks for a date, thinking the only word in your vocabulary was no, and here we are only a year later with a hundred or so dates under our belts. If I only knew then what I know now, which is that it was as simple as marrying you.”
Rachel laughed. “And no bachelor party.” She patted his cheek. “Poor baby.”
“I knew what I was getting into.” He kissed her temple. His hand skimmed lightly over her breast. Accidentally on purpose if she had to guess. She couldn’t wait for it to be his lips floating over her skin. His other hand cradled the curve of her ass. He loved to see how much he could get away with. His wasn’t the only resolve tested by their celibacy, although she’d had the power to end their misery at any time by saying the magic word yes. “Besides, who in their right mind would want to watch half-naked women bump and grind and shimmy and strut around a shiny pole?” He exaggerated a shiver at the prospect.
“Uh-huh.” She looked up at him skeptically. “I can feel your shiny pole poking me in my navel just from talking about it.”
He swatted her butt playfully. “So let’s stop talking about it and go back in where it’s warm.”
“I love you.” She pushed up to her tiptoes and kissed his chin.
There was a sharp change in the weather of scattered showers and gusty winds since they’d arrived the previous day, and fouler weather in the forecast. The Channel 7 weather guy, who had predicted partly cloudy weather with a chance of sun in his seven-day forecast, was going to single-handedly ruin the fancy-schmancy wedding ceremony she never wanted. High winds and pelting rain nixed their plans to wed on the expansive lawn of the lodge with the roaring waves as a backdrop. But they’d taken the luck of the draw, snatching up the first available weekend. The lodge had actually been closed for remodeling, but opened a week early to accommodate the wedding party. It was either that, wait until autumn, or pick another venue. “The sooner the better,” Rory had said. It had been his neglected penis talking. Her lonely vagina hadn’t objected.
He led her back into the posh, marbled lobby. Peeking into the dining hall where they’d had the rehearsal dinner, Rachel spotted only a few folks lingering over coffee and conversation.
“Check the bar,” Rachel said dryly. It’s our family and friends, after all. And it was her dad’s dough they’d been chowing and chugging on. Hopefully he’d left his generosity and credit card at the heavy mahogany door of the bar and made her guests finance their own hangovers.
Rory pulled her to the bar, where dark woods met polished brass and muted candlelight. Ferns spilled out from oriental pottery. Glasses clinked. Ice cubes rattled. The buzz of conversation floated and swirled in the air around them. Outside the picture windows, the wind rustled through the treetops.
She squeezed his hand. “I’ll catch up. I see Gram.”
“Give the old bat a peck from me.” He held her hand until distance made the connection impossible. He double tapped his heart with his fist and pointed at her. I love you. She in turn put her fingertips to her lips and then toward him. It wasn’t quite as hokey as blowing a kiss, but darn close. Rory drifted across the length of the bar to his pals, the same ones who would continue to rib him about not having a bachelor party.
In Rachel’s opinion, if a man needed a strip show performed by a stranger while in the company of hooting men and overpriced beer, that man wasn’t ready to settle down and get married. Rory’s stag party entailed a basketball game with friends from work and college buddies. They got a good drunk on afterwards— in other words, it was his normal monthly guys’ night out.
“Hi, Gram.” Rachel slid into the recently-vacated seat next to her grandmother. It was no well-kept family secret that Gram needed constant monitoring and not for her health. A toddler was less likely to get into trouble than Gram. The terrible twos had nothing on the terrible eighty-twos. “Whatcha drinking?”
Tea, my dying ass. Rachel reached over to pick up the dainty, hand-painted teacup. She sniffed it. Whiskey. “Isn’t that on your no-no list?” Along with operating a moving vehicle, online gaming and, more recently, Internet dating. Basically anything to do with the Internet.
Gram squared her shoulders. “Not my no-no list. Your mother’s.”
Who was Rachel to deny her Gram that one small pleasure? “Your secret’s safe with me.” If she believed in nothing else, she believed in quality of life over quantity, especially when it came to her own wicked pleasures. Chocolate ice cream under a thick coating of chocolate syrup. Coffee. Coke. Candy. The four Cs. And she knew firsthand how unforgiving her mother could be about decadence in any form.
Gram patted her hand. “Big day tomorrow.”
“Yeah.” The biggest. “Any words of wisdom?” As long as they weren’t don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Since Gram was a terror in the nursing home, pinching orderlies’ asses, organizing high-stakes poker games in the recreation room during quiet time and wandering off to catch the bus to the nearest bar, Rachel wasn’t sure what or who it was that she wouldn’t do.
Although Gramps had passed on to the great golf course in the sky, if there was a God, he and Gram enjoyed over fifty years of marriage. Or they looked like they’d enjoyed it, always teasing each other. They were inseparable. Gramps kissed her whenever he left and again upon his return. Not a sloppy kiss, just an affectionate peck. Anything else wouldn’t have been remembered fondly. Yuck. He called her Ma and she called him Pa. Cute. I’d shoot Rory if he called me Ma.
“Men love their whores,” Gram said, quite out of the blue.
Rachel knew her dad loved his whore. He’d married her after a torrid affair that had ended her parents’ marriage. Which reminded her. She did a quick visual inspection to make sure her mother remained a good fifty feet from the whore in question. There was no official restraining order or anything like that. It was simply a good policy.
Fifty feet didn’t separate them, but with the many obstacles resting between the two women, tables, chairs and people, it was the equivalent of fifty feet. Next Rachel found Rory leaning casually against a round pillar with a beer in his hand. By his stance, he could be debating only one subject with his best man. Green technology. His passion. Better you than me, Greg.
Too bad his best man Greg, a childhood friend, was not the intellectual equivalent of Rory. He was nice enough, but Rachel suspected he’d need to remove his shoes, socks and pants to count to twenty-one.
“Find the whore within yourself.
Author: Kelli Scott
Publisher: Ellora’s Cave
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Rachel McAllister tried to dissuade Rory Callahan’s interest, she’d been hurt by love too many times before, but Rory had been as relentless as a dog after a bone. She gave in, but made one thing perfectly clear from the start—no sex until she said, “I do.” If Rachel knew one thing about men, it was that you gave them what they wanted—sex—and they’d be out the door before the sun came up. Rory has passed all her tests and jumped through her hoops to prove his love. They’re ready to say, “I do”, and Rachel’s ready to erase any of Rory’s lingering regrets about waiting to have sex.
Rory fell head over heels for Rachel at first sight. Getting her to date him was another matter altogether. He’d followed all her rules and has barely complained about her strict moral code. Now he’s going to marry her for better or worse. He’s about to find out his goody-two-shoes bride-to-be is a fiery vixen who’s too hot to handle.