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Abi ran her finger over the embossed wedding invitation. The feel of the raised flowers, smooth under her fingertip, made her think of white satin.
She stared at the silver letters … Join us … and her mind drifted off, imagining herself walking down the aisle, wearing a beautiful white satin and lace dress adorned with delicate pearls and white sequins. In her daydream, her gaze locked on her groom, standing at the altar watching her approach with eyes filled with joy, his beaming smile melting her heart.
“Hey, earth to Abi,” Jaime, her older sister, said. “You know we’ve got to get all these done this evening, right?”
Claire, Abi’s other sister, laughed. “Don’t worry about it, Jaime. If our little sister wants to daydream a little, that’s okay. She’s already stuffed more invitations than both of us combined. What were you thinking about, Abi?”
This time Jaime laughed. “Isn’t it obvious? She’s thinking about Del.”
Ignoring her sisters, Abi slipped an RSVP and the invitation into an envelope, then turned it over and ran her dampened sponge over the glue on the flap and sealed it. Then she flipped it back and wrote Del’s name and address on the front.
He was the next guest on the list.
She sighed, wishing this was her wedding coming up instead of her brother Kurt’s. But despite the intense attraction between her and Del, he seemed more than happy to be just friends. Which she couldn’t really blame him for after their false start in college.
But she’d do anything to turn things around. To finally find her happily-ever-after in his arms.
Jaime plucked the completed invitation from Abi and placed it in the box with the others. Claire added the one she’d just finished. Doing the invitations had been Kurt’s task, but of course he’d left them to the last minute, then got pulled into something at work, so he’d called on his three sisters to help out.
Abi sipped her wine and realized Jaime was staring at her.
“What?” Abi asked.
“You know you’ll be seeing Del at the wedding. You should make a move.”
Abi’s lips compressed. “I don’t have a move.”
“You’re a woman. The only move you need is to get naked in his bed,” Jaime said.
Abi’s mouth dropped open. It wasn’t like Jaime to say something so brash.
Claire’s eyebrow arched. “You’re suggesting our little sister march into a man’s room, strip down, and climb into bed with him?”
Jaime shrugged. “I suggest a little more finesse than that but, yeah, essentially. And the point is, this isn’t any man. It’s Del, the man she’s been mooning over for years.”
“Forget it,” Abi interrupted. “That is not going to happen.”
“Come on, Abi,” Jaime said. “You’ve been out of sorts ever since you heard that Scruff was getting married.” Scruff was the nickname her older sisters had for Kurt.
Claire placed her hand on Abi’s, staring at her with concern. “What is it, honey? Why is Scruff getting married bothering you?”
Abi shook her head. “It’s not. I’m thrilled for him. Suzanne is wonderful and I know they’ll be very happy together.” She squeezed Claire’s hand. “I really want that for him.”
Claire stroked her shoulder. “Of course you do. We all do.”
“It’s not really about Scruff,” Jaime said, leaning back in her chair. “Is it?”
Abi shook her head. She’d been thinking about it a lot lately, confused by her own reaction to her brother’s fabulous news. And she’d finally figured it out. “It’s because after this, I’ll be the only one in the family who’s not married.”
“But, honey, you are married,” Claire said.
Abi sighed, pain flaring through her.
“Technically, yes. But I was married for barely a year before we separated and we’ve been apart for over two years now. I don’t really think that counts.”
Her chest constricted at the thought of Liam. The whole ordeal around their separation—her hands tightened into fists—around their marriage … was still difficult for her to think about. It brought up memories that were too agonizing to relive.
Claire slid her arm around Abi’s shoulders and squeezed.
“I know it’s been tough on you. But I still think you and Liam have a chance to make it work. I think the fact that he hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet means he’s not ready to let you go.”
“No,” Jaime said, “it means the jerk’s a son of a bitch who just wants to prolong Abi’s suffering. She belongs with someone who’ll make her happy. Del will do that.”
Abi glanced at Jaime who sat in the chair opposite the couch, sipping her wine. “I always thought you liked Liam.”
The severe expression on Jaime’s face softened.
“I did. Until he hurt my little sister.”
* * *
When Abi got home, she slumped into her bed and stared at the ceiling. Both her sisters were home with their husbands now. Jaime with her two boys in the next room. Claire didn’t have kids yet, but Abi knew she and her husband, Bill, were thinking about it.
Her sisters had everything Abi had ever wanted. A life partner who loved them. A family, or the opportunity to have one soon. And now Kurt did, too. In a month’s time, he would be married and working on his family.
Where was Abi’s happily-ever-after?
She closed her eyes, but sleep wouldn’t come. All she could think of was Del and what might have been.
* * *
Abi had met Del at college, the day she’d moved into her dorm room. She’d received a scholarship to pursue her master’s in Early Childhood Education at Brahm’s University in Eldridge, New Hampshire. The same place her brother, Kurt, had gone for his graduate studies.
It was the first time she’d been away from her family, since she’d done her undergraduate degree close to home, and she’d been feeling a little lost.
Then Del had shown up at her door. He was a friend of her brother’s, and Kurt had asked him to look out for her.
She still remembered glancing up to see the gorgeous man standing in her doorway.
He’d smiled, his straight, white teeth and the warmth glowing from his eyes making his whole face light up in a way that dug into her heart and tugged at her most intense feminine needs.
When she’d shaken his hand, electricity had sparked up her arm, firing every nerve ending along the way. His hand had been so big and warm and … comforting. In his warm olive-green eyes, flecked with what looked like golden stardust, she’d been sure she’d seen a reflection of the same intense attraction.
He’d shown her around town and helped her integrate into the social life on campus.
But because of his friendship with her brother, he’d insisted they remain just friends.
She’d kept hoping. Her face flushed with embarrassment as she remembered when she’d practically thrown herself at him one evening, kissing him and telling him she wanted more from him than friendship.
Despite the sexual tension between them, their friendship continued to grow. He was always there when she needed someone to talk to. And he looked out for her. He even introduced her to his best friend, Liam, clearly hoping she’d turn her attention to him instead.
The moment she’d met Liam, she’d fallen hard. It would be easy to tell herself that she’d only needed someone to distract her from her feelings for Del, but it wasn’t that simple. The chemistry between her and Liam was spectacular, burning brighter than anything she’d ever experienced before. And both of them had mistaken that for love.
Her gut clenched as her mind started along a path that would take her on a rapid downward spiral. Tears prickled at her eyes, and she brushed them away. She pulled herself from the painful memories, refusing to relive them right now.
Over the long, dismal year when her marriage was falling apart, Del had been there for her. Encouraging her. Trying to help her keep it together with Liam, who had sunk into his own man cave of despair.
After she’d finally ended it with Liam, Del had been the one holding her hand. He had been the shoulder she’d cried on.
And he’d helped her get herself back on her feet and focused on getting her degree. Despite the fact that all she’d wanted to do was curl into a ball.
He’d known how vulnerable she was, and he’d been a true friend, never making a move on her. Even though she’d wanted him to.
Then she’d graduated and moved back home, hoping to get a position teaching. And needing to be near her family. She and Del kept in touch, but they continued to stay firmly entrenched in the friendship zone. She was sure that he had feelings for her and now that time had passed, it was time to do something about it.
* * *
Del grabbed the mail from his box and headed up to his apartment, then dropped onto the couch and sorted through it. He spotted the invitation to Kurt’s wedding. He knew that’s what it was before he opened it. Kurt had asked Del to be a groomsman and, of course, he’d accepted. The invitation was a formality.
He recognized the handwriting on the front of the envelope. Abi had addressed it.
He ran his finger over the inked lines, picturing her fingers gliding the pen over the paper. Imagining reaching for her hand and taking it in his, then bringing it to his mouth. Brushing his lips against the soft skin on the back of her hand.
Del couldn’t help remembering the first time he’d met Abi almost four years ago.
He’d been attracted to her the instant he’d seen her. He’d heard a lot about her from Kurt, so he’d already known what kind of person she was. Loving, sweet, and giving, with a strong sense of family. And intelligent.
He hadn’t realized how stunning she was, however. He’d seen pictures of her, but none of them did her justice. Her long, wavy, chestnut-brown hair that tumbled around her shoulders had glistened in the sunlight from the window. Her figure was slim, but well-rounded in all the right places. And when she’d gazed at him with her luminous blue eyes, his pulse had skipped a beat.
Damn, his friend’s little sister should not have been so fuckably attractive. She’d been totally off-limits.
Even now, the memory of how she’d looked at him still sent liquid fire racing through his veins.
He stood up and walked into the kitchen, then grabbed a water bottle from the fridge. He returned to the couch and sat down again.
When he’d taken her out to dinner that first day, despite his best efforts, he’d forgotten he was with the sister of a friend, seeing instead a fascinating, vibrant, sexy woman he wanted to get to know better.
When they’d stood outside her door, her wide, blue eyes gazing up at him, his intense desire for her had urged him to take her up on the invitation glowing in her eyes, and follow her to her bedroom.
But he had a sister. He glanced at the graduation photo of Cara on his bookshelf. One he cared about very much. And when Kurt had asked Del to look out for Abi, he’d taken that promise very seriously.
So he’d forced himself to resist the temptation of her lips. Of her incredible body. A feat that had become increasingly difficult the more time he’d spent around her.
He took a sip of his water, then slumped back on the couch.
Especially the day she’d made it clear she wanted more. He’d walked her to her door, and seen the desire in her eyes. She’d wanted him to kiss her. When he didn’t make a move, she’d rested her hand on his shoulder and pushed herself up onto her tiptoes, then their lips had met.
Oh, God, he could still feel the gut-wrenching need that had swelled within him at the feel of her soft lips. His arms were around her before he knew what he was doing, pulling her tight to him. His cock swelling in response to her soft curves. His tongue had delved inside her, her sweetness becoming like an aphrodisiac. He’d pulled her tighter and she’d murmured softly against his lips.
When their mouths parted, she’d smiled up at him and invited him inside.
He raked his hair from his face.
That’s when he’d come to his senses. He’d explained to her that he couldn’t pursue the attraction between them. That he wanted to be her friend.
He’d been a complete fool. If he had only allowed them to pursue the intense attraction that crackled between them … allowed their romance to blossom … then he would have prevented the tragic events that followed.
And the limbo they both found themselves in now.
Fuck, he wanted her in his life. And not as a friend. Desire had turned to something more years ago.
The fact that she was his friend’s younger sister didn’t matter anymore. Not after so much had happened.
But she was married. To his best friend.
The marriage had failed, however. He’d seen it crumble before his eyes, despite Abi trying to keep it together.
Liam was resisting signing the papers, but Abi wanted the divorce. And they’d been separated for two years.
His lips compressed as he opened the envelope and pulled out the RSVP. He grabbed a pen and filled out the small card—no plus-one—then slipped it into the small pre-addressed, stamped envelope.
It was high time he stopped playing by the rules and did whatever it took to win her heart.
* * *
Abi stepped from the car and stood gazing at the lovely country inn with a beautiful garden of bright-colored flowers adorning the sides of the stone path leading to the front entrance, as Claire’s husband, Bill, started pulling their luggage from the trunk of the car. There was a sparkling lake beyond the building, the shoreline spotted with tall trees.
Claire stepped beside her and drew in a deep breath.
“Mmm. The flowers smell lovely,” Claire said. “Scruff and Suzanne definitely picked a beautiful spot for their wedding.”
Claire hooked her arm with Abi’s and they walked along the path toward the front door.
Abi’s heart stuttered at the familiar male voice and she turned toward Del.
Copyright © 2018 by Opal Carew