Is the bridal lingerie embroidered with dildos too much? It might be too much…
Welcome to life as a wedding dress-maker for the rich and entitled of Manhattan. I’ve seen it all—from the most spoiled brides to the most egotistical Wall Street Bros.
Mark Holbrook—Billionaire. Arrogant. Knockout sexy. Certifiable jerk.
He hates weddings and I hate him.
But now his cousin is marrying my best friend.
He’s the best man with a bad attitude and I am the maid of honor who still lives in her childhood bedroom packed floor to ceiling in sewing supplies—complete with two gay dads and a family of rescue Roombas—who has never had a serious relationship and who is living her dream wedding vicariously through her best friend.
But I’m not so downtrodden that I let Mark get away with talking smack about weddings.
I flashed him. And dumped coffee all over him. That’ll learn him!
And hopefully send him running.
I don’t need Mark and his wedding negativity in my life.
I also don’t need to sleep with him after a stressful wedding planning session, nor do I need to sleep with him after the cake testing.
And I definitely don’t need to fall in love!
This standalone, full length romantic comedy has no cliffhangers but does have a swoon-worth HEA! This book is STEAMY! The highs are hilarious and the lows are as deep as the voice of the guy you want in your bed!
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This book is full of laughter and fun with good characters who bring the story alive with their crazy banter. The family dynamics are wonderful as well – you just can’t lose with this one. Grab your copy and try not to laugh – bet you can’t do it! –Emily P., Amazon
This enemies to lovers story is full of laughs, great secondary characters, and romance. –Melana T., Goodreads
I was laughing out loud so many times at the outrageous situations and then the next minute I was fanning myself reading the steamy scenes! I can’t wait to read more from Alina Jacobs. –Lori, Amazon
Alina Jacobs writes heroines I want to be best friends with and book boyfriends to dream about!! –Melinda S., Goodreads
If you like quirky laugh out loud funny this is definitely your book! –Danelle, Amazon
I am the kind of girl who would eat cheese puffs on my wedding day then accidentally wipe my hands on my dress. I am also the kind of girl who still lives at home with her parents, engages in elaborate and gratuitous daydreams about the boyfriend she will never have, and lives out her wedding fantasies vicariously through the brides for whom she sews wedding dresses.
Yes, friends, I’ve never been to a wedding I didn’t cry at, and I love helping brides celebrate their big day, even if they go a little kooky from prewedding dieting…or transform into full-blown bridezillas.
“Those were some of the most entitled brides I’ve ever seen,” Grace declared as we walked into the restaurant of the hotel that was hosting the Manhattan bridal convention we were attending.
“You mean you don’t want to give away a whole wedding-planning package for free?” Ivy asked her, rolling her eyes.
“If they let me design the dress I want, then I’d gladly do it, but I’m not going to hot glue flowers onto antique lace in the pattern of the groom’s face unless I am being paid very well,” I added, bouncing on my heels and slurping my fifth cup of coffee that morning. There was a Starbucks next to the restaurant, and I had stopped to buy a coffee before lunch with extra whipped cream and extra sprinkles.
Coffee and sugar were the best ways to start the day. I usually tried to be up by sunrise so I could take advantage of any natural daylight to sew. But today, I had woken up extra early, because the Weddings in the City collaborative had had to be at the bridal convention bright and early. Between the caffeine and all the syrup drizzles I had stashed in my purse to spike the cheap convention-center coffee, I was hyped.
As we waited for a hostess to come seat us for lunch, two Wall Street bros walked into the reception area behind us. Weddings in the City worked exclusively with the rich and powerful in Manhattan, so I’d been around my fair share of billionaires. Fancy suits, understated designer sunglasses, two-hundred-thousand-dollar watches, general aura of sociopath about them—these men clearly had billions, and they weren’t afraid to rub it in your face.
I might want to rub something else of theirs in my face, I thought then squashed it. I refused to acknowledge their hotness.
“One thing is for certain,” Sophie added. “If any of our brides ask me to glue pictures of their ex-boyfriends on their wedding cake, I am going to gently steer them to Costco. It’s criminal the way that booth had those cakes displayed and was telling brides that it was a popular style.”
“It wasn’t as bad as some of those dresses in the runway show,” Elsie said. “I’m surprised you didn’t burn the place down, Brea.”
“I feel like you can be sexy on your wedding day without having the barest triangle of rhinestone-studded satin covering your nipples.” I shuddered. “That dress is going to give me nightmares. Especially since it looked like it was Velcroed together. I don’t trust any of those seams to hold.”
One of the Wall Street bros behind us snorted derisively. I turned around to glare at him. With his black hair swept off his forehead by a neat part, the Wall Street bro was devilishly handsome and right out of the pages of one of the romance novels I devoured. Deep-blue eyes caught mine, and I whirled back around. I was sure a man like that had women falling all over him. I refused to give his ego any fuel.
“Did you find some nice fabric?” Amy asked. “You were giving your credit card a workout!”
“When you see handmade Leavers lace at that price, you have to buy,” I said, opening my large bag. “Several of the more spiritual brides have been asking for this type of custom lace that complements their astrology sign.”
“Are you serious?” the Wall Street bro behind me muttered under his breath.
I clenched my coffee cup. Don’t say anything. You’re hyped on caffeine. You aren’t rational.
A gaggle of soon-to-be-brides crowded into the restaurant lobby. One of them hopped up to me.
“Hi, Brea! I saw your presentation on timeless wedding dresses,” she gushed, whipping out a stuffed bridal idea notebook. “Do you mind telling me what kind of dress you think I should buy?”
I regarded her thoughtfully, analyzing her features and comparing them to the catalogue of wedding dresses I had stored in my head.
“I think you could look good in a number of styles. They’re all completely different,” I said, launching into my lecture on wedding dresses. All the coffee and sugar were pounding in my head, and I was ready for weddings! “The mermaid flatters a curvy figure. Everyone looks good in a trumpet gown. The ball gown is a classic. Then there’s the sleek gown and the one that shows your midriff for those of us who are more adventurous…and toned!”
The Wall Street bro, who was scrunched to the wall, trying to get as far away as possible from the frantic women in varying shades of white dresses, looked at me as if I was insane. I took another sip of my coffee.
“But for you,” I told the young bride, “I would probably go with an off-the-shoulder gown, with a scoop neck. I can tell you’ve been taking your upcoming wedding seriously, and your collar bones look insane!”
“I just got engaged!” She giggled then screamed, making Wall Street Bro cringe, and stuck out her hand to show me the brilliant diamond on her finger. “I am so excited to find a wedding dress.”
“I would definitely do a trumpet with your figure,” I told her, pulling out several large pictures of various dresses I had designed.
“I wish you would design a consumer wedding dress line,” the bride-to-be said wistfully. “I don’t have fifteen thousand dollars for a dress.”
“You make these women pay fifteen thousand dollars for a fucking dress?” Wall Street Bro exploded, clearly having reached his wedding limit.
All the brides gaped at him.
“Yes,” I said, straightening up. “I hand sew couture dresses. You can, of course, buy similar dresses for a few thousand less, but they may be the same dress another bride has.”
“That’s crazy,” he insisted. “I just don’t see why any woman needs an expensive wedding dress.”
“Mark,” his friend hissed at him. “I brought you here to pick up women, not alienate them.”
“You came here to find a date?” I demanded.
Mark glared down his nose at me. “Yes. There are lots of women who are so hung up and stupid about becoming a bride that—statistically; I looked it up—at least twenty-five percent of attendees at these types of events aren’t even in a serious relationship, let alone engaged. You’re selling a fantasy and trying to scam these women.”
My eye twitched. “Or maybe I’m helping them find some joy in life. After all, who doesn’t like weddings?”
“I don’t care for them,” Mark said simply.
We all gasped. Several brides looked as if they were going to start throwing their conference totes.
“I’m sure your future wife is going to want one,” I chided.
“No,” Mark said in a clipped tone. “I’m too smart to waste my money on some price-inflated ego trophy for some woman who didn’t even pay for it. I mean, look at these women. They’re all preparing for when they can legally access the groom’s bank account.”
Mark’s friend pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head slowly. There were boos from the brides. Mark glowered but didn’t backtrack.
Don’t say anything mean, Brea. Don’t say anything mean. After all, wealthy people like him were the reason I was able to live out my childhood dream of sewing fairy-tale wedding dresses all day every day. I tried to smile at him, but it came out as more of a snarl.
“What’s wrong with spending money on a woman you love?” I said hotly, waving my hands, which still held the pictures of the dress and my coffee. “A wedding is an important occasion. You’re committing to the person you want to spend every day of the rest of your life with!”
“Yes, but none of your statements justifies a wedding dress that costs as much as a car,” Mark said, his deep voice dripping with derision. “You’re ripping people off.”
Now the whole left side of my face was twitching. Ivy clapped a hand over her mouth. Forget having decorum; if Mark wanted to insult weddings and especially wedding dresses, I was going to tie my hair up, then we were throwing down.
Mark looked critically at the pictures in my hand, then his gaze swung back to me.
“The dresses don’t look that special. I bet you could order the same thing from Asia. You know,” he said, his tone on taking that know-it-all drone that let me know a mansplain was incoming, “I bet I could help you get that price way down. You could outsource the decoration or whatever that is called.”
“Embroidery,” I spat.
He nodded. “Yeah, and you could find a factory in Bangladesh and make that dress for a tenth of the price. What you did was nothing special.”
Mark nodded smugly.
I hefted my coffee cup and threw the contents on him. Mark cursed and jumped back, glaring at me furiously as the coffee soaked into his suit and the whipped cream dripped onto the floor.
I wagged my finger at him. “I hand sew everything, I use only the best materials, and my gowns are one of a kind. You can display one of my dresses as an art piece when you’re done with it. You cannot outsource what I do; my brides are looking for one-of-a-kind custom dresses. Any red-blooded male would want to see the woman of his dreams walk down the aisle in any of my gowns.”
Mark’s mouth was a thin line as he dabbed at the bespoke suit with a napkin. “Not me. And I’m sure there are other men who don’t want their fiancée wasting tens of thousands of dollars on a wedding outfit.”
“Well,” I declared—like I said, I’d had a lot of caffeine, “I have just the thing that is guaranteed to get any man excited about a wedding!” I winked to the brides then whipped off my shirt.
“Ta-da! Convince your man to give you the wedding of your dreams with these babies!”
Mark slapped a hand over his eyes as my friends shrieked in laughter.
“This is a public restaurant! People can see you!”
“Relax!” I told him. “It’s a corset. You can’t even see my belly button.”
Mark peeked through his hands then went red again.
“Boobs,” I said helpfully.
“It’s just a bit of sexy shapewear to give you a little oompf,” I told the brides. “These are, of course, on sale from my Instagram and made in America! That’s how I like my men and my clothes!”
Mark was horrified. He twisted his body away from me and shook my shirt at me.
“Put it on.”
“Oh, please,” I told him, hands on my hips. “It isn’t anything you haven’t seen before.”
“I don’t even know you,” he shouted in disbelief. “And you just flashed me.”
“If I was going to flash you, I would have to take off all my clothes,” I reminded him.
“I need a drink,” he muttered.
“There’s cake in the lobby. Might go nicely with the coffee on your suit.”
“That is the last time I let you talk me into anything dating related,” I told my cofounder and friend, Finn Richmond, as we fled the restaurant.
“You shouldn’t have been so mean to that girl,” he chided.
I used to not be so bitter and angry. I had never been what could be described as fun, but I never would have insulted some woman like that. Brea didn’t seem that put out. She did flash you.
Maybe a few years ago, I would even have acted on it. That was until my life had completely imploded.
I still had the engagement ring. I kept the box in my pocket, a reminder that I couldn’t trust myself when it came to women. I didn’t know why I still carried it. She had been perfect—smart, model pretty, a computer scientist like me—and had orchestrated an entire lie around pretending to be in love with me.
I killed the thoughts. I had successfully tried to not think of my last epic disaster of a relationship in—I mentally did the math—thirteen days and eleven hours. It was a new record for me. Then that curvy little wedding dress maker had thrown coffee all over me. Fortunately, I had a change of clothes in my office.
Finn rolled down the window of the town car as soon as we sat inside.
“You reek of coffee,” he told me.
I crossed my arms and stared out the window.
Finn regarded me.
“You were doing so well. I thought you were rounding a curve after, you know, everything.” His face softened. “Is it because of Wes and Liz’s announcement?”
“What announcement?” I asked, brow furrowed.
“You didn’t check your email? So that outburst was just your natural personality and not your past trauma bubbling up?”
I ignored him and pulled out my phone to open my email, angry that my heart was yammering.
You knew this day was coming.
Finn peered over my shoulder as I read.
Wes Holbrook: Liz and I have a big announcement to make that we’d like all our loved ones to be present for if you can make it tonight.
The address and time were in the email.
I leaned back in the leather seat, forcing myself not to act like a bitter child.
“It’s okay to be mad,” Finn said in concern.
“I’m not mad. He’s my cousin. And Liz is my friend. They deserve to be happy. I knew they were going to get engaged. They’ve been together for almost two years.”
“Yes, years since Wes ruined your life,” Finn added.
“It was my own fault. If I had been better, smarter…” I clamped my mouth shut. I did not like to spiral into self-pity. It wasn’t productive.
“They won’t be married for like a year and a half at least,” Finn assured me. “Then it will be a few years before they have a baby. It’s going to be a slow and steady transition.”
“You won’t have to participate, just show up.”
“I’m fine,” I snapped at him.
But I didn’t feel fine.
That wedding dress maker got under your skin is all.
The engagement party—or what I assumed was the engagement party, because what else could it be?—was in full swing when I arrived at the restaurant that evening. I had spent the rest of the day fuming about Brea, because it was easier than stewing about how Wes had come out of the ordeal from a couple years ago completely unscathed, while I hadn’t.
It was your own fault, I reminded myself. Still, if things hadn’t gone to shit, maybe this would have been my engagement party.
“I thought you hated weddings,” a feminine voice piped up.
I looked down. There was a giant platter of snacks beside me.
Brea peeked around it, and I glared at her.
“Your face is going to stick like that if you keep scowling. You’re going to be sad when you get wrinkles.”
“Don’t you have a wedding to plan?” I growled at her. As if this evening couldn’t get any worse.
“Shhh!” she said and jerked her head toward Liz and Wes, who were making their way to the small stage at the front of the room.
Of course, I was right.
Brea noisily crunched a coconut fried shrimp next to me as Wes gazed adoringly at Liz.
“They’re so cute!” Brea whispered beside me. “I hope she lets me make her gown! I love wedding dresses!”
I shot her an annoyed look.
“When you do make some woman happy—or miserable, going off of your expression—I can make her a pretty dress too!” she shot back in a low voice.
“Liz,” Wes said, voice echoing around the restaurant through the sound system, “two years ago, you stole my company and my heart. Though we fought initially, your coming into my life was the best thing that ever happened to me. I can’t wait any longer, so I’m asking you to be my wife.”
He knelt in front of her. Next to me, Brea cheered and jumped up and down as Liz, eyes shining with tears, said yes.
“You can’t tell me you aren’t moved by the wedding spirit!” Brea said, nudging me as Wes picked Liz up to kiss her and twirl her around.
I shifted on my feet. How much longer did I have to stay? I supposed I needed to at least congratulate the happy couple. I gritted my teeth as Liz, beaming, took the microphone.
“Uh…ha ha! I’m so glad Wes asked me to marry him, because he’s right, he literally could not wait.” She gulped then gamely smiled. “We’re pregnant!”
The room was dead silent. Then people started cheering and screaming and hugging each other.
“Yes!” Brea said happily. “A baby! Don’t you love babies?”
“I’m not a kid person,” I said flatly.
Could have been you.
But you fucked up.
Liz and Wes were beaming as they descended the stairs from the stage to receive well-wishes. I squared my shoulders and tried to ignore Brea as I made my way up to the happy couple.
“Congrats, Liz,” I told her, giving her a hug. “That’s wonderful news.”
“I’m going to be an uncle!” my cousin, Grant Holbrook, boomed, throwing his arms around his half brother. I was glad he did, because I didn’t know what I was going to say to Wes.
My brother Carter sauntered over with a plate of snacks almost as big as Brea’s.
“Can I have some of those?” Liz asked hopefully.
“You need to start sending your fiancé out to get you all the snacks your heart desires,” Carter said, offering her the plate.
“Prawn?” he asked me, dangling a crustacean in my face.
I batted his hand away. My younger brother was incapable of being serious.
“I can’t believe you’re the first one to have a kid!”
Wes grinned. I couldn’t believe he was going to be a father. All my male cousins and my brother were paired off. I was the only loner. But I had told myself it was fine, because it wasn’t as if they had started having kids yet. Now here we were.
“You’re making me feel old,” Dana complained to Wes. “I hope you’re having a girl,” she told Liz. “I’m tired of all the men in the Holbrook family.”
“I’m doing my best. It’s going to be a surprise though,” Liz said. She had eaten so many of the snacks from Carter’s plate that he finally just gave her the rest of them. “I’m so nervous!”
“You’ll be a great mother,” I assured her.
She smiled at me as Brea, hopping up and down, hugged her and led her to a table.
My cousin and brother looked between me and Wes awkwardly.
I took in a breath. “And you’ll be a great father,” I told him, shaking his hand and giving him a one-armed hug.
“Thanks, Mark,” he told me then stepped back. “Look, I, uh, I know we probably never started off on the right foot, but I wanted to see if you would be my best man.”
“Are you sure you don’t want Grant to do it?”
Wes looked slightly hurt.
“Well, I just was thinking this could help clear the air.”
“There’s nothing to clear,” I said, more harshly than I had intended. “What happened was my fault. I should have known.”
Wes ran a hand through his hair. “It’s not. It’s mine, and I was hoping…”
“You better do it,” Grant told me. “I’m too busy, Dana’s going to turn it into a major broadcast production for her reality TV channel, and Carter is flaky.”
“Hey!” Carter complained. “I could put on a nice wedding.”
“The best man doesn’t even do anything,” Grant cajoled. “You just have to show up to a few meetings.”
“It would mean a lot if you could,” Wes told me sincerely.
“Sure,” I said weakly, “I’ll do it.”
I should have known Mark was going to be at the engagement party. Now that I realized he was a Holbrook, it all made sense. But wasn’t that just my luck? Normally I liked reading about billionaires, but none of the men in my books were as awful as Mark had been. They had their quirks, but they weren’t psychotic.
The romantic in me had always dreamed of having a huge wedding with a big, poufy princess dress and the perfect man by my side. Though my wedding-day fantasy was a little hazy on the groom details, I had admittedly always envisioned the groom looking a little bit like Mark Holbrook with his blue eyes and dark hair.
But, I told myself, that was just because that was what Prince Charming should look like.
Besides, what would I, a seamstress who lived with her parents, do with an actual factual male person, let alone a billionaire male person? They should be reserved for people like my sister-in-scrapbooking-arms, Liz Davenport. She came from a nice family and was in love with Wes Holbrook. They went to fancy parties, ate at expensive restaurants, and traveled to exotic locations. Meanwhile, the closest I had ever come to that lifestyle was drooling over her scrapbooks at our monthly scrapbook club meetups. Through our love of food and fancy paper, Liz and I had become friends.
Next to me, Mark radiated annoyance. I wasn’t going to allow his bad attitude to spoil the engagement for me. I had been teary-eyed as Wes proposed to Liz. I didn’t want to admit it, but some of the tears were for myself. I didn’t think I would ever be proposed to, let alone in such a nice way. For one thing, my parents could not handle themselves at a nice event.
Mark glowered as I hiccupped a sob.
“I love weddings,” I told him and then ate a piece of fried squid from the plate I was holding.
Mark studiously ignored me.
“You can’t tell me you don’t want this.”
His mouth twitched. “Never.”
He looked down at me. I felt his gaze burning into my forehead and looked up to meet his eyes as I crunched a jalapeño popper.
“What?” I whispered.
“I’m trying to decide if you’re going to throw something on me.”
“Try making an asinine comment and see what happens.”
When Liz told us all she was having a baby, I couldn’t help but start full-on sobbing. Mark’s face was unreadable.
“Cheer up,” I scolded him as I dabbed my eyes. “You’re going to have a little baby cousin! That’s so exciting!”
“Don’t tell me you don’t like babies either.”
“I’m not a kid person.”
“What kind of monster doesn’t like kids? Kids are great! You can dress them up and have tea parties. You would look amazing in a waistcoat and top hat à la Alice in Wonderland.”
“There’s more to having children than dress-up and tea parties,” Mark lectured. “It’s a huge responsibility. You have to make sure they learn to read and write, that they don’t become sociopaths, that they become successful, know how to run a company, and that they aren’t pushovers and easily manipulated.”
“Is this another dig about weddings and wedding dresses being stupid and expensive?”
Mark’s lip curled back. “If I had a daughter who expected a large, over-the-top wedding, I would be very disappointed.”
“Wow. I feel sorry for your future kids.”
“And I feel sorry for yours. You’re such a child,” Mark said snidely to me then stalked over to his family.
What is wrong with you, Brea? You’ve dealt with entitled billionaires and bridezillas before and not lost your cool. Normally I could act like a professional and not a feral animal. But Mark irritated me. His total disdain for what I did, his smarter-than-thou attitude toward weddings, his outright dismissal of me—all of it was triggering my worst insecurities.
Though I was part of the Weddings in the City collaborative and helped plan nuptials for the rich and powerful in Manhattan, I still didn’t earn that much money at the end of the day. I used only the finest lace and the best silk and hand embroidered the dresses. Though I had some assistance from other seamstresses around New England, after all the work and material, I didn’t net all that much profit per dress. It was enough to feed my sugar and romance novel addictions but not enough to move out of my childhood bedroom.
And that was what I felt like—a child. Even when I was out on the town and happy with my friends, the minute I remembered that I actually in fact was not a real adult, a pit would form in my stomach as if I was dropping on a roller coaster. The only things that made me feel better were snacks and distracting books. Then Mark had just gone and flung it all in my face.
I decided I hated him.
“You’re lucky I’m too busy making wedding dresses,” I whispered as I glared daggers of indignation at the billionaire’s broad back.
I fortified myself with some freshly made pasta before I went to congratulate Liz. When she and I had first met, she had been as scattered and sugar addicted as I was. I had found a kindred spirit. Now she was engaged and would soon be a mother.
“It’s strange to see you not surrounded by pretty paper,” I told her, hugging her.
Liz made a face, and we went to a table with our snacks. “I’m so glad you came! I need you to design my wedding dress. And I need Weddings in the City to do my whole wedding. I have to be married before the baby comes.”
“And you totally want your dream wedding!” I said. “It’s what, like eight months until the baby comes. We can get you married in that amount of time. You’re, what, probably a few weeks along…”
“Months!” Liz wailed. “I’m six months!”
“I just thought I was getting fat!”
I pushed the plate of pasta across the table to her, and she stuffed a bite into her mouth.
I mentally tried to do math. “Okay so, three months. We can do that.”
“I don’t want to look like a whale in my wedding dress,” Liz sniffled. “I still want to look sexy.”
I had designed dresses for pregnant brides before, but a woman eight or nine months along? Gulp.
“I’ll make you the pretty’s bride with the most gorgeous dress,” I assured her. Liz started crying, and I patted her hand. “You’ll look great.”
I hope I can pull this off.
“One more thing,” Liz said, eating a bite of garlic bread. “Can you please be the maid of honor?”
“You don’t want to?” Liz started crying again. “Sorry, it’s the hormones. And I’m freaked out.”
“I mean, we’re friends, but you don’t want your sister or a closer friend?” I asked tentatively.
“I’m so worried about this wedding,” she admitted. “It has to be perfect. I don’t want Wes to feel like I trapped him or to have any regrets.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t. He loves you!” I reminded her.
Liz blew her nose.
“I need someone who knows the wedding rodeo. You work with Weddings in the City, and you’ve done hundreds of weddings.”
“Ivy is a great wedding planner,” I assured her. “She’ll give you your dream wedding.”
“I would just feel better if you were there.”
I took her hand and smiled. “I would be honored to.”
So I need to make a dress for a pregnant woman whose body is changing on a daily basis. And to make matters worse, her baby daddy is a giant and probably also made a giant baby, so by the time this wedding rolls around, Liz is going to be the size of a hippo. And I have to help her throw the wedding of her dreams in less than three months and not ruin our company’s reputation in the process. You got this, right?!
At the very least, I wouldn’t have to deal with Mark freaking Holbrook. I knew he was going to stay as far away from this wedding as possible.
You should have said no, I scolded myself as I helped my family take the rest of the food back to Wes’s penthouse after the engagement-slash-baby announcement party was over.
It was late. I had a routine. I liked to be up before sunrise, and that required a moderate bedtime. My family, though, were night owls and did not seem to have any intention of turning in.
You should move, I thought as the elevator carried us up to Wes’s apartment. We all lived in the same building. My uncle had bought several condos and doled them out. When I had left the military, it had seemed convenient to simply accept one. However, now that my family saw my proximity as an excuse to harass me, I was reconsidering the idea.
“Drink?” Allie, my brother Carter’s girlfriend, offered when we had laid out the food on the counter.
At least it was just us cousins. My parents had already returned to Connecticut. I had mostly been able to avoid my mother. She had fallen into the annoying habit of trying to set me up with her friends’ daughters.
“I actually am leaving. I have some work to do,” I told her.
“Dude, you work too much,” my brother insisted. “You know what you need?”
I blew out a breath.
“A therapist,” Carter continued. “Mine is great. She has cucumber water and snacks. She’s really helped me get in touch with my inner child.”
“I don’t need help.”
Carter slung his arm around my neck.
“We never see you,” Carter said in a poor imitation of an Italian noni. “You don’t call, you don’t write, you don’t answer the door.”
“You come down and harass me at all hours of the night!”
“What is family for?” Carter retorted. He took a piece of steak from one of the platters and tossed it to his one-eyed, three-legged dog, Margot.
“Mark needs a dog,” Grant joked, his own chubby corgi, Gus, salivating at his feet.
“I don’t have time for a dog.”
“Right, you’re too busy harassing those Weddings in the City girls. Finn told me all about that.”
“You can’t harass my wedding planners!” Liz cried.
Wes was making her another snack and trying to coax her to drink water.
“I need to get married in three months. I can’t have you running Brea and her friends out of town!”
“Mark has completely forgotten how to act in normal society. It’s because he’s all alone downstairs in his apartment,” Carter said dramatically, “slowly going crazy as he stares at numbers on a screen.”
“One of us has to work,” I retorted.
Wes gave me a worried smile. “You should get a dog though. Kal is great.” Wes’s large American Akita wagged his tail and went back to begging Liz for food. Wes set a chair in front of her and put her feet up.
“You need to stop treating me like I’m fragile,” Liz complained.
“I can’t believe I had no idea you were pregnant,” Wes fretted, putting a pillow under her feet. “You weren’t even taking any vitamins. This is a terrible start to parenthood. What if the baby comes out with three heads or something?” Satisfied that her feet were properly taken care of, Wes handed her a bowl full of raw spinach.
Liz made a face.
“It’s so adorable it’s almost sickening, isn’t it?” Dana said in my ear, jabbing me in the ribs. “Drink?”
“I’m not drinking with you anymore. The last time, I ended up agreeing to be set up on a blind date. The woman turned out to be one of the Svenssons’ love interests, and they almost killed me.”
“I was doing you a favor,” Dana insisted as she mixed a vodka tonic. She squeezed the lime into the glass and handed it to me. “You need to get back out there. The more you practice talking to pretty women, the more accessible and attractive you’ll seem.”
“Why does everyone care if I date someone?”
Dana sighed. “You are turning into some sort of Beauty and the Beast parody. When I came over here last week to visit Wes, you were just standing at your condo window, hulking and sulking.”
I glared at my drink. “Why don’t you take your own advice?”
Dana laughed. “Please. As if I want anything to do with any of the little boys running around Manhattan with their expensive sports cars and overpriced scotch.”
“There’s always Gunnar Svensson.”
“But you kissed him on Christmas Eve!” I protested.
“It wasn’t a real kiss. It was a drunk-friend kiss.”
“There are other Svensson brothers.”
“My dad would flip his shit if I started dating one of the Svensson brothers. They hate each other. And I doubt one of the Svenssons would date a Holbrook anyways.”
“They like Wes.”
“Because my brother is a bit of an idiot. They find him easy to manipulate. As we all well know.”
I looked away.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Dana told me.
It was the same thing everyone in my family told me. But it had been my fault. Wes wouldn’t have known. I had been in the military. I did cryptography. It was literally my job to recognize patterns, rout out spies, and then eliminate them. And yet I had let Rhonda worm her way into my family.
I tossed back the rest of my drink. My cousins and brother were play fighting, their dogs bouncing around them, their girlfriends giggling. I felt like such an outsider.
“I need to go,” I told Dana, setting the glass down. “Market opens in Japan soon.”
“Don’t forget, you have to be at my wedding-planning meeting tomorrow!” Liz called out as I tried to sneak out.
I froze. “Why?” I said in horror.
“You’re the best man, aren’t you?” she said.
There was another worried look from Wes.
“Of course,” I said, jaw tense. “But that doesn’t make me the wedding planner.”
“Wes is going out of town a lot over the next few months before the baby comes,” Liz pleaded, “so I need you there to make sure that he’ll like what we pick.”
“I’ll like anything you pick out,” Wes told her, gazing at her softly.
I tamped down the jealousy and bitterness, forcing my expression to remain neutral. “Yes, Liz, anything you pick is fine.”
“Please!” Liz begged.
“I bet there will be alcohol,” Carter said.
“You’re not invited,” his girlfriend told him. “You’d just derail the entire meeting.”
“I can party plan,” Carter insisted. “Flowers, bells, papier-mâché, cake—boom! Wedding.”
“This is why you have to be the best man, Mark,” Grant said with a laugh. “Carter will turn it into a train wreck. You’re the only one of us who is marginally organized.”
They’ve only been engaged for a few hours, and I’m already sick of weddings.