Beautiful Beginning: Chapter 5


I felt like my skin was going to ignite. Bennett sat beside me in the car, scrolling through emails on his phone, as calm as he’d ever been in his life. After the rehearsal exploded into chaos and dry humping at the altar, I’d gone upstairs to change, splash some water on my face, and take a few minutes to collect my sanity. But once I was back beside him, I wanted to find something else to yell at him about. I wanted to get into another huge, knock-down, drag-out fight. Unfortunately for us, fighting meant sex and we’d both agreed to the stupid fucking abstinence rule.

Instead, we sat in heavy silence, the memory of the disastrous rehearsal sitting between us like a thick fog.

He cleared his throat and without looking at me, asked, “Did you bring your pills?”

I looked over at him and smacked his hand holding the phone. He slid it back in his pocket, chastised.

“What did you just ask me?”

“Your birth control pills,” he clarified. “Did. You. Bring. Them.”

I turned in my seat to face him, fire and ice sliding into my arteries and pumping into every part of my body. “Are you fucking kidding me right now?”

“Do I look like I’m kidding?”

“I’ve been taking the pill for ten years without your help, traveling almost half of every week for the past year and a half, and managing to pack them for every goddamn trip without the Bennett Ryan Checklist, and you think you need to verify on how responsible I’m being now?”

He blinked away, pulling his phone back out of his pocket. “A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would have sufficed.”

“How does a ‘fuck off’ sound?”

Turning his head to me, he said very quietly, “It sounds like you might be playing with fire, Miss Mills.”

Heat slid down my torso and up my thighs, meeting at the juncture between my legs as I realized he was intentionally provoking me. No matter how calm he looked, he was just as worked up as I’d been. I shifted in my seat, hissing, “Controlling ass.”

“Temperamental bitch.”

I leaned in, punctuating each word with a jab of my index fingertip to his chest. “You. Imperious. Overbearing. Tyrannical. Prick.”

My back hit the floor of the limo hard enough for my breath to escape in a gust, and Bennett’s weight was on me fully, his cock pressing into the neglected space between my legs. Shoving my skirt up my hips, he rocked up against me hard, his mouth covering mine and forcing my lips apart so he could run his tongue inside and across my teeth. I felt more than heard his groan, the sound vibrating along my tongue and down my throat; my mouth, my hands, my pussy felt the emptiness acutely. I wanted him everywhere.

I arched into him, pulling his hair so hard he grunted in pain and with one hand grabbed my wrist, pinning my arm above my head, while reaching between us with the other.

It took two vicious tugs for him to tear my panties off—after all, why wear the skimpy, flimsy ones when I didn’t expect him to touch me in southern regions anyway?—and then he was pulling down his fly, freeing his cock, and positioning himself against me.

“Please,” I begged, struggling a little for him to release my hand just so I could put both of my hands on his ass and drive the sex from below.

“Please fuck you?” he asked, sucking at my jaw, my neck. “Please make you come?”

“Yes.”

His lips moved over my neck, sucking, tasting. “You don’t deserve it right now. I just want to . . .” He looked down at me, nostrils flaring. “I want to—”

“And the couple of the evening has arrived!” I heard a muffled voice say out of nowhere.

We didn’t even know we’d been stopped at the curb until the door to the limo flew open and Max stood, smiling down at us before his face fell in horror and he slammed the door shut again. Outside on the curb, I heard him proclaim, “Looks like the happy couple just need a moment to finish a conversation!”

Bennett scrambled off me, shoving himself back into his pants, tucking in his shirt and glaring at me. I sat up, pushing my skirt back down and grabbing the shredded tatters of my underwear.

With a pissed-off growl, I threw them at him. “Seriously Bennett? Can’t you keep the fetish in check for one fucking night?”

He shook his head, retrieving them from where they’d landed on the seat before tucking them into the inside pocket of his jacket.

I took a minute to check my hair and makeup in my compact mirror while Bennett bent over, elbows on his knees, and tugged at his hair. “Fuck!” he shouted.

“It’s your stupid fucking rule.”

“It’s a good rule.”

“I thought so, too,” I grumbled. “Now I’m not so sure. You’ve reduced us both to cavemen.”

Almost in unison, we took several deep, measured breaths. I leaned to the door, looking back at Bennett with my fingers poised on the handle. “Ready?” I asked.

He let go of his hair and turned to look at me. He studied my hair, my face. He let his eyes drop to my breasts, my legs, before moving back to meet my eyes.

“Almost.” He slid closer, framed my face in his hands before covering my mouth with his. He pulled my lower lip into his mouth, sucking. Never closing his eyes, he looked straight at me, gaze turning from hard and cold to warm, adoring. Releasing my lip, he repeated, “Almost,” and then kissed down my chin, my neck, and back up to give me one more, lingering kiss on the mouth.

He was apologizing for being an ass. My apology was letting him do it.

The Bali Hai restaurant was miles away from the Hotel Del on Coronado, but it was one of Bennett’s favorite places in San Diego. Located on the northernmost tip of Shelter Island, the restaurant boasted an amazing view of the entire harbor as well as much of Coronado. The building, which was reminiscent of the Pacific Rim–Polynesian style tiki décor, was two levels, with a famous restaurant upstairs and the large, private event room on the ocean level.

I stepped out of the limo to the now-empty curb (apparently Max had decided it was better that the guests greet us inside instead) and burst into a giddy smile. Although I’d seen photos and had heard all about the restaurant’s well-executed menu and world-famous mai tais, I hadn’t seen the site yet; Bennett had wanted to organize this dinner for me, much as I’d organized the honeymoon. We’d rented out the entire first floor, and already the party spilled out onto the deck outside. A bar was set up overlooking the water, and another bartender was busy mixing drinks inside. Waiters carrying appetizers walked among the crowd, and every member of our wedding party and family was here for this dinner before the big day. As we stepped deeper into the room, all of our guests turned to cheer.

It was sweet . . . these people were all family and our closest friends, but at my side, Bennett smiled stiffly, thanking everyone. I couldn’t exactly blame him for feeling the heavy awkwardness. Who knew how many of these people had just caught a glimpse of Bennett over me, pinning my arm to the floor of the limo, about to ram his cock into me?

At least all of the guests tonight were family or wedding party. They were contractually obligated to pretend like they’d never seen a thing.

As the shouts of welcome died down, I heard the distinctive voice of Aunt Judith rise above the sudden silence as she practically yelled, “That man could fuck me back into my twenties.”

Murmurs and uncomfortable laughter broke out around her but, bless her heart, she didn’t look even a little mortified to have been caught verbally molesting the groom loud enough for everyone to hear. She simply shrugged and said, “What? He does. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Our Chloe better have some tricks up her sleeve is all I’m saying.”

“Well, you don’t see my face tattooed on his arm,” I whispered, smiling sweetly up at Bennett.

With a scowl, he pulled me deeper into the room, making a beeline for the bar. “The mai tais are very strong,” he cautioned me before leaning forward and ordering one for himself. “I mean, there isn’t anything but alcohol in them.”

“You say this like it’s a bad thing.” I pressed into him, wrapping my arms around one of his. Smiling at the bartender, I said, “I’ll have the same.”

“There sure is a lot of driving this week,” Bennett’s uncle Lyle grumbled as he walked up behind us. “Why can’t we just stay put is what I’m asking.”

I felt my eyebrows rise in question as I looked up at Bennett. Not only were we paying for his entire family to stay in the Del; we’d also hired cars to drive everyone wherever they needed to go. He squeezed my side in a patient reminder: our family is crazy.

Clearing his throat, Bennett said, “Just a lot of wonderful landmarks to hit, Lyle. Wouldn’t want you to miss out.”

Bull swept up to us, his famous beer cozy currently occupied with a can of Bud Light, and held up double finger-triggers. “I know what I’d like to hit this week.” He winked, made a clicking noise as he pulled the triggers at me. “THAT LADY RIGHT THERE.”

“Appropriate,” Bennett said dryly in Bull’s wake. “Always classy, Bull.”

Bull waved over his head and headed straight toward the empty dance floor. The DJ was only just starting out the night with music on the upbeat but quieter side before food and then the real party started, but it didn’t seem to matter. Bull moon-walked out to the center of the floor and then started soft-shoeing in circles, beckoning to every woman who dared to make eye contact. “I’m a single stallion this week, ladies. Who’s the first to ride?”

Most everyone turned back to their drinks, or whomever they were talking to, or simply looked up at the ceiling.

I took my mai tai and sipped it, before coughing harshly. “Wow, you’re not kidding.” Bennett rubbed my back as I wheezed, “That is strong.”

“Oh, please, Chlo,” George said as he approached, bumping his hip into mine. “You’re man enough to take it.”

“More man than you are,” I agreed, looking him over. He’d changed from his suit into dressy jeans and a fitted white button-down shirt with intricate black diamonds on it. He looked fantastic. I felt my smile wilt a little when I realized there wouldn’t be anyone fun here for him to flirt with, except Will, who was taking a much-needed respite in the corner of the room with Hanna. Will looked a little exhausted already from the Adventures of Judith and Mary—he’d finally given in and enjoyed their brand of absurdity, letting them feed him strawberries over breakfast while Hanna laughed—and probably wouldn’t even be up for some good George Games anyway. “Looks like Bennett’s cousin is out there looking for a dance partner. Are you ready to ride the Bull?”

George’s dark eyebrows inched up as he looked over at the man in question, still dancing alone, still working on his own brand of seduction. “Is that my only option for shenanigans this weekend? Having fun with the Jersey Shore contingent?”

“Sadly, I think so,” I said. “Unless you want to try to turn Will some more. I just fear you have some cougar competition there, and from what I hear, Hanna is trying to break his penis this weekend.”

George took my drink and enjoyed several large gulps before wincing and handing it back, now only half full. “Holy crap that’s strong.”

“You think that’s strong,” Lyle said, pointing his drink at George, “you should try some of the drinks we had back in the navy.”

A tiny grin pulled at the corner of George’s mouth. “I bet I would have loved everything about the navy.”

“Every single sailor,” Bennett said under his breath, sipping his drink. He ran his free hand down my back, coming to rest on the curve of my ass.

Lyle continued on as if no one else had spoken, “Those drinks . . . you’d try them and afterward think gasoline tasted like water. And the hooch would make us randy, oh boy.” Beside me, Bennett shifted on his feet, groaning quietly. Lyle nodded, pointing at me. “I’d have to walk around until I found a willing lady, sometimes had to pay for it, but I didn’t mind.” Lyle looked across the room, raising his drink in greeting to Elliott and Susan. “The drink was that kind of wicked, what can you do?”

I pressed my hand to my lips, struggling to hold back my laugh. “Oh, I don’t know, Lyle,” Bennett said quietly. “Maybe you could not point at my fiancée when you’re referencing hiring prostitutes?”

“That’s probably what I would do,” George agreed.

Oblivious, Lyle turned back to us. “They’d put a cinnamon stick in it over the holidays. Mark the occasion. Still tasted like fire.”

“Cinnamon fire,” I added, helpfully.

“In the drink or in the prostitutes?” George asked, brows pulled together.

Lyle didn’t even crack a smile. “The drink.”

“Really could have gone either way,” I said to George.

“I don’t know what women taste like with or without cinnamon sticks in them, is what I’m saying,” George stage-whispered to me. “Maybe it’s a thing.”

“One kid from my crew,” Lyle started, rolling back into his memories again. “Now what was his name?” He took another drink, closed his eyes, and then opened them in a flash. “Bill. Oh, that Bill, I tell you what. He was something else. One night he drank the hooch and came back wearing women’s underwear. Boy, did he get chased around the barracks that night.”

We all stood in silence, contemplating this for a few beats before George said, “Like I said. The navy sounds like my kind of place.”

We all turned at the sound of a loud shout. Across the room, Will was covering his ass with both hands, giving my aunt Mary his sexy-fire look of oh-woman-you’re-in-trouble before taking several predatory steps toward her. Mary was covering her mouth in a pathetically inadequate look of contrition.

George looked over at me. “Should I be jealous that someone else is harassing my boy toy?”

“Very,” Bennett mused dryly. “I’m surprised Chloe’s aunts haven’t put a saddle on him yet.”

“Well, then maybe I need to go find him and tell him once he goes gay, there’s no other way. I think he’ll be particularly interested to hear about what these magical hands can do.” He wiggled his fingers suggestively in my

face.

Lyle turned, drink in hand, and gave George a quizzical look.

“To a keyboard. Do to a keyboard,” George added, winking at me before walking across the room to the dance floor.

On the patio, Bennett and I looked out at the water, and chatted with some distant cousins he hadn’t seen in years, and whom I’d never met. They were nice enough, and the conversation entered the familiar territory of most conversations this week:

How’s the weather been in _____?

Now what is it you do again?

When was the last time you saw Bennett?

The entire time, his hand was around my waist, gripping me as if I was being punished.

His rough touch pissed me off, and thrilled me. Sliding my hand over his, I carefully dug my fingernails into the back of his hand. He squeezed my side harder and I dug in deeper. With a small yelp, he let go of my waist, glaring down at me.

“Damnit, Chloe.”

I smiled up at him, sugar sweet and giddy from winning the tiny battle, and felt Max’s giant hand cover my shoulder as he leaned between Bennett and me to speak to the wide-eyed cousins. “Don’t mind them. This is how they show love.”

The DJ announced that dinner was ready, and we all filed in to find our seats. Bennett and I were seated at the front of the room, sandwiched between our parents and flanked, farther down, by the entire wedding party.

I could still feel the echo of Bennett’s hand on my side, and it ached. But more than that, it felt cold and hollow. He was the only man I wanted so desperately that I pissed him off just to relish the satisfaction of watching him crack and give in to me.

Elliott and my father stood and walked to the front of the room. Elliott smiled at the DJ as he took the microphone. “Bennett is my youngest, and his entire life he has been driven, restrained, and poised. When Chloe came into my life, Bennett was still living in France. At the time, I would have no idea what she would do to my son’s composure.”

The room filled with quiet laughter and murmurs of agreement.

“I hoped, mind you,” he said, looking at me. “It was hard to know you, darling, and not want you to belong to us in some way. But, especially with these two, you can’t force anything. They are forces of nature. I’m so happy for you both, and I’m happy for Susan and myself, Henry and Mina. It feels a bit like the world has settled down the right path when you two are together.”

My father took the mic when Elliott handed it to him. It squawked loudly, and everyone winced. Dad apologized in a shaky voice and then cleared his throat. “Chloe’s my only kid, and her mother died several years back. I suppose I’m here representing for both of us, but I’ve never been any good at this kind of thing. All I want to say is that I’m proud of you, honey. You found the one person who not only can handle you, but wants to handle you. And for your part, Ben, I like how you look at my daughter. I like what I see in you, and I’m proud to be able to call you son.”

Elliott seemed to sense that my dad was growing a little emotional, so he retrieved the mic from my father’s shaking hand. “We’ve put together a little slide show of these kids growing up. It’ll play on a loop for you to enjoy during dinner. Please, enjoy the meal and the company.”

The guests applauded briefly and then awww’d in unison as pictures of us as babies, as small kids, and as teenagers reeled through. I smiled at pictures of me in my mother’s arms, wrestling with my father. I looked so goofy. In each of his photos, Bennett was well groomed and handsome, even in his awkward preteen years.

“Were you ever hideous?” I asked in a hiss. A picture of me came on screen and was met with loud laughter: it was the year of the worst haircut in the history of the world—jagged bangs, the rest of it basically a mullet—and braces so big I looked like I was eating train tracks.

“Wait for it,” Bennett murmured.

Just after he said it, a picture came up of Bennett holding some sort of certificate. Clearly he’d had a growth spurt; his pants were too short, his hair was long and unkempt, and the picture caught him in the middle of a particularly unattractive laugh. He looked just a fraction less than gorgeous, but by no means hideous.

“I hate you,” I said.

He leaned over, kissing the side of my head. “Sure you do.”

The pictures ended in the present day, with a shot I recognized from the picture of us that Susan kept in the family room: Bennett stood with his arms behind me, bent and whispering something in my ear while I laughed. I leaned over, kissed my dad’s cheek, then stood and hugged Elliott and Susan.

The pictures began to reel through again, and everyone began sipping at the wine the waiters poured into their glasses. I looked down our table, watching our wedding party in their unguarded moments. Sara said something under her breath as Max leaned close and kissed her cheek. Down the table, Will threw an almond at Hanna, and she tried to catch it with her mouth, missing by a mile. George and Julia argued about the ramifications of the return of acid wash. Bennett’s niece Sofia crawled all over Henry’s lap and Elliott poured water for Susan, who looked up at me and smiled, full of such happiness that I could practically see the entire history of Chloe and Bennett in her eyes, and how much she’d wanted this for her son. Beside me, Bennett reached under the table and slid his hand up my knee and under my skirt.

My heart squeezed so tight it felt like it stopped beating, and then took off in a heavy, stuttering gallop.

The rehearsal had been so disorganized that it wasn’t until this moment, right here, that I felt the full force of our impending wedding.

I was getting married tomorrow.

To Bennett Ryan.

To the man who’d anger-fucked me into loving him.

I remembered . . .

“Miss Mills, it would make working with you so much easier if you wouldn’t insist on ignoring all grammatical rules in your meeting minutes.”

“Mr. Ryan, I noticed the company is offering communication training to entry-level managers. Shall I sign you up?”

“Take these invoices down to accounting. What, Miss Mills? Do you require a map?”

I reached for my water, hand shaking as I downed half of it.

“You okay, baby?” Bennett whispered in my ear. I nodded frantically, giving him the calmest smile I could manage. I’m sure I looked like a lunatic. I could feel sweat breaking out on my forehead, and my silverware clattered onto my bread plate as I fumbled for my napkin. Bennett stared in naked fascination, as if he were watching a lightning storm build in slow motion.

“It’s nice to see you finally taking an interest in your physical fitness, Miss Mills.”

Beautiful fucking Bastard.

“And then you’re going to make up the hour lost this morning by doing a mock board presentation of the Papadakis account for me in the conference room at six.”

And I remembered . . .

“Ask me to make you come. Say please, Miss Mills.”

“Please go fuck yourself.”

Bennett slid a calming hand along the back of my neck. I looked up at him, blinked rapidly. “I love you,” I whispered, feeling like my heart was being strung up on a kite, sent headlong into the wind. It was nearly impossible to keep from climbing onto him, begging him to touch me.

“I love you, too.” He leaned closer, brushed his lips across mine. All around us, people broke out in cheers and catcalls. But very carefully he pressed his mouth to my ear and murmured, “Don’t you fucking tempt me right now, Mills. This isn’t the place to test my willpower.”

I tried to explain that I wasn’t playing a game, I wasn’t trying to seduce him right now, but no words came out.

He smiled, tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear, but the sweet gesture was betrayed by his sharp hiss: “If you try to tease me with my father sitting right here, I’ll take out any gentle tomorrow night and give you nothing but hard and fast. I’ll leave you hungry and unsatisfied on our wedding night.” He pulled back, winking, and then passed the basket of rolls to Elliott on his right.

I remembered when, during a meeting once, Henry had found the buttons to my ruined blouse on the floor of the conference room and Bennett had taunted me, asking me if they were indeed mine. He’d been the one to ruin the shirt, and there he’d been, acting blameless. I remembered the hurt, and the anger, and the terror I felt as I realized he was out to ruin my career in front of his family.

But he actually hadn’t been. He was simply as fumbling as I was, trying to form a connection somehow, and completely at the mercy of this undeniable fire between us.

I’d run, livid, from the meeting as soon as it finished. The memory was so sharp in my thoughts, I could still hear the elevator doors close, feel the heat of his breath on my neck from all those months ago.

“Why are you suddenly so much more pissy than usual?” he’d demanded.

“It would be just like you to make me look like a career-climbing whore in front of your father.”

“We’re getting married tomorrow,” I said on an exhale. “Right?”

“That’s right.” Bennett patted my hand, smiling indulgently at me, but I shook my head, reaching to grip his arm. My pulse spiked and I felt my hands grow clammy.

“I have the power? You’re the one who pressed into my dick in the elevator. You’re the one doing this to me.”

“We’re getting married. Tomorrow. Say it.”

His smile faltered slightly, eyes searching mine, and he nodded. “We’re getting married tomorrow.”

I closed my eyes, remembering now how his expression had fallen wide open, his heart exposed to me for maybe the first time as I got myself off in his office. “What are you doing to me? he’d asked, almost bewildered.

“You okay there, Mills?” he whispered, glancing up and smiling tightly at a waiter when he put the first course down on the table in front of us.

“I don’t want to walk out that door and lose what we found in this room.”

I pushed my chair back, lurching away from the table and tripping down the row of seats, past our wedding party, and to the restrooms.

I ran upstairs and burst into the small side room reserved for the wedding party, set near the restrooms, and didn’t even bother turning on the light. The room was small and stuffy; we’d kept the flowers in here earlier and the cloying perfume filled the dark space. I took gulping breaths, looking up at myself in the mirrors lining the entire span of the wall in front of me.

It was as if I could feel every emotion I’d ever experienced with Bennett, and all at once. Hate, lust, fear, regret, need, hunger, love,

love

love

blinding love.

I pulled at my necklace, feeling like I was being strangled with nostalgia, anticipation, and, above it all, need for it to be done, for us to make it official so fate couldn’t suddenly decide to take a different path and somehow leave us enemies instead of lovers.

“Breathe, Chloe,” I whispered.

The door opened and a slice of light cut into the space before it returned to darkness. Bennett’s big, warm hands slid down my back and came to rest on my hips.

“Hey,” he said, kissing the back of my neck, his deep voice spreading like a current across my skin.

I closed my eyes, straightening and turning into his arms. Pressing my face into his neck, I inhaled his aftershave, opened my mouth to suck hungrily on his skin. He felt like home, he tasted like home.

He groaned quietly, fingers digging into my sides, dragging up my back, shaking.

But with this reminder of the restraint he was making us both endure, a wave of anger and heat and frustration overtook me and I shoved at his chest, slamming my fists into him. “You did this to me! You and your stupid rule and your teasing smirk and the giant cock you won’t share! Your long fingers and tongue that does that . . . that circle thing! You!” I gulped down a giant breath of air and continued, “You’re such a perfect, shit-talking, stubborn, exacting, bossy asshole! And fuck you, Bennett! Why are you so damn smart and good at everything? Why do you love me? How did I get so lucky? You’re turning me into a maniac! I thought I was going to start crying out there!”

He laughed silently and I could feel him shake his head next to me. “Unlikely. You cried a couple of years ago. I don’t think you’re due again until—”

I cut him off with a kiss, and I really had intended it to just be a firm, relieved kiss to shut him up—shut myself up—and thank him for being him when I needed it. But it went from playful to fevered as soon as he opened his mouth, let me slide my tongue over his bottom lip, and met me halfway with his.

With a growl, he had me lifted and pressed against the back wall, his hands sliding up the skirt of my dress, fingertips digging into my thighs. “You’re not getting cold feet, are you?”

“No!” I gasped, my head falling back and hitting the wall heavily as he ground his cock between my legs.

“Because I’d drag you by your hair down that aisle.”

I laughed, and it turned into a moan as his lips played their way up my neck and over my chin. “It’s funny that you think you could drag me anywhere,” I told him.

When he returned to me, I tilted my head away, pushing on his shoulders. “On your knees.”

He glared at me. “Excuse me?”

“Knees,” I repeated.

If looks could kill, I would be chopped up into tiny pieces and served with the calamari. But without speaking, Bennett lowered my feet to the floor before kneeling in front of me. He didn’t require further instruction; he simply pulled one of my legs over his shoulders, leaned forward, and opened his mouth against my clit.

Bennett’s only goal was to get me off, in record time. There was no teasing; there was no flicking of the tongue or gentle warm-up kisses around my soft, bare skin. There was only open mouth, suction and, finally, the press of his fingers at my entrance, swirling, gathering my slick lust with his fingertips.

But he didn’t do what I expected. Instead, he slid his thumb into me and dragged his wet fingers to my backside, where he carefully pressed one just inside. I let out the most desperate, pathetic moan of my life and slid my hands into his hair, holding him steady so I could rock against his face. Bennett didn’t penetrate me there often, but when he did it—whether with fingers or his cock—it always left me sated and dopey for days.

His mouth sucked and pulled at my tender skin, and his finger and thumb pressed together and away, a pulsing dark pleasure. The sensation was somehow both too much and not enough. I wanted everything he was doing to be deeper, and harder, and bigger almost to the point of pain. My pleasure built low in my belly, a steady, throbbing hum between my legs. I feared the explosion would elude me, that there was too much else happening out there, on the other side of the door. I worried nothing but Bennett’s naked body would be enough, heavy and commanding, pounding into mine.

But then, as if reading my thoughts, he slid a second finger into my backside, and fucked me hard and fast until my thighs shook, my hands curled in his hair, and the growing sensation between my legs exploded into delicious flames that shot down my thighs and bowed my spine, tearing a cry from my throat.

Bennett didn’t let up until I was gasping, clutching at his shoulders and trying to push him away. Then, gently, he kissed my clit and leaned back, looking up at me.

“Think that will hold you over until tomorrow night?”

I let my head fall back against the wall, feeling like my legs were made of jelly. “Yeah.”

“You look properly fucked.”

Sighing, I mumbled, “I feel properly fucked. You and that magical mouth and those naughty fingers.”

“Figured that might be in order.” He stood, straightening his jacket with his other hand.

I reached down, cupping his cock, stroking down to his balls and back up, feeling the thick head of his erection. “One of us should get back out there. We’ve been gone . . . a few minutes. Seriously Bennett, that was pretty stunning.”

I heard his teeth grind, and peeked up at him to see his tense jaw working side to side. “I know.”

“So sorry I don’t have time to reciprocate,” I whispered, stretching to kiss his jaw.

“No you’re not.”

“Well,” I said, patting his cheek, “you need to go wash up anyway. May as well pull double duty and jerk off in the bathroom.” I kissed his chin, adding, “Again.”

He bent low, inhaling into my neck, before slamming his hand on the wall beside my head, turning, and storming out of the dressing room. Walking to the wall, I flipped on the light and studied my reflection in the mirrors lining the room. I tucked a stray strand of hair back into my little diamond clip and smiled at myself in the mirror before stepping out into the hall.

Will walked out of the men’s room just as Bennett shoved past him inside. Turning to me, he laughed, asking, “What’s with him?”

Shrugging, I said simply, “It’s his own fault.”

He nodded in mock sympathy and then asked, “You ready for tomorrow?”

“Not remotely.”

He put an arm around me. “It’ll be perfect. And even if it’s not perfect, there will be alcohol.”

“I know,” I said, smiling. “I’m actually not nervous, just—”

“Mommy, that’s the man with the big weenis! I saw him in the bathroom earlier!”

We both looked down to see the small son of Bennett’s third cousin Kate pointing at Will.

I slapped a hand over my mouth to hold in a loud burst of laughter. Will’s hands flew up into the air and a look of horror passed over his face. “I swear I did not show him—”

“Oh, I know you didn’t,” Kate assured him, eyes wide and apologetic. She bit her lip, staring maybe a beat too long at Will. A long, uncomfortable silence passed before she seemed to remember herself and blinked down to her son. “He’s potty training and my husband told me he was checking you out earlier.” She did a full-body wince, adding, “Not that my husband was checking you out. And not that he wouldn’t. Except, he wouldn’t because he’s married. And not into guys? But he did mention that our son was walking around and . . . Oh, God.” Without another word, she grabbed her son’s hand and pulled him into the women’s room.

I blinked up to Will, eyes wide. “What was that?”

He shrugged, laughing a little. “The kid was walking around us at the urinals while his dad washed his hands. It wasn’t a big deal.”

“Why do women lose their ability to speak around you?”

“Do they now?” he asked, grinning flirtatiously at me. “You’re speaking.”

“That’s because I’m more dragon than woman,” I replied with a wink.

“Touché.” Looking back at me, his eyes grew a little heated, as if he had a bone to pick with me. “There is something I want to discuss with you, however.”

“William,” I said, leaning against the wall, “I’m flattered, but if you’re going to chastise me about something, you won’t know what hit you when it’s my turn to speak.”

He exhaled, staring me down. “Honestly, Chloe, you’re the one woman I’m sure would take me over her knee and break my spine. This is about your husband-to-be.”

“What did he do now?”

Will exhaled slowly, eyes moving over my face. He was a worthy opponent, for sure. “I think you know what he did.”

Looking over at him, I could see traces of lipstick on his cheeks, claw prints practically drawn through his hair. Will was the poker-faced, wisecracking brainiac seduction artist. It was actually a little fascinating to witness the cracks forming in his shell. “Oh, come on. Judy and Mary are kittens.”

“Right,” he said through a sharp laugh. “And I know Bennett put them up to this. I’m telling you, Chloe, that I’ll behave myself for the rest of the weekend. I’ll play along. But the second we’re back from this wedding, and you’ve returned from your sexfest in Fiji, it’s on. Do you understand?”

I gave him a thrilled smile, nodding enthusiastically.

“The psychotic clown I sent for his birthday will feel like a feather falling on a pillow atop a cloud. The laxative in my lunch? Child’s play. If you think it was bad when I sent that fake resumé for his open assistant position and the stripper came for the interview? No. We’re talking Defcon Five, Vietcong-level mind fucking, do you hear me, Chloe?”

“Can’t wait, Dr. Sumner.”

He pulled back, studying me. “It’s a little unnerving how excited you look.”

Straightening up, I pushed off the wall and patted his cheek. “I am excited. I like seeing that the only thing that will change after this week is that Bennett will have a ring on his finger and my last name after his first name. I like knowing that you guys will continue to escalate this big testicle war. You and Hanna will continue to be adorable and giddy, Max and Sara will continue to be disgustingly in love. Bennett will continue to alternately rock my world and make me insane. It’s life as it should be.”

As if on cue, Bennett stepped from the men’s room, wearing an expression that told me he was much calmer. He gave me a little wink.

Will glared at him before turning and walking past us to head back downstairs to the party.

“Well?” I asked, when Bennett came close and bent to slide his lips across mine.

“Well, what?”

“Feel better?”

He shrugged. “Marginally.”

“What was the fantasy?”

His hazel eyes grew heavy as he stared at my mouth. Leaning forward he murmured, “You were bound and gagged. I fucked you from behind, and didn’t let you come.”

When he kissed my cheek and pulled my hand to lead me back to our dinner, I knew he was telling me the absolute truth. And suddenly I didn’t feel quite so sated anymore.

Dinner wound down and people began ordering cocktails, moving into small groups to talk, and venturing out onto the dance floor. From our table, Bennett and I sat watching. His long arm stretched out on the chair behind me, and he toyed with the ends of my hair.

“You’re a pain in the ass,” he said quietly.

“Well, you definitely weren’t a pain in mine.”

With a deep chuckle he whispered, “You’re shameless.”

“I am.”

He shook his head next to me, reaching with his free hand for his drink.

I looked over to where Judith and Mary had Will sandwiched between them, grinding lewdly. “You’re in trouble for that,” I told Bennett. “Will said he’s going ‘Vietcong’ on you.”

“I figured.”

Their hands moved up his sides, in his hair . . . seriously, he looked like he was in some AARP version of a Naughty by Nature video. He was trying to be a good sport, but, dear Lord, even the king of players could only do so much.

“You two troublemakers quit it now!” my dad yelled across the room.

“We’re reminiscing, Freddy, relax!” Judith yelled back. When Judith not-so-discreetly reached down and grabbed Will’s ass, he carefully pushed himself away, stumbling toward the DJ table and pulling the mic from the stand.

“Hanna!” The microphone squealed with feedback and everyone slapped their hands over their ears. The DJ abruptly stopped the music, and silence roared through the room. Will seemed completely unfazed. “Hanna. Look at me.”

We turned to look at her where she stood across the room, talking to Mina. Her eyes had gone wide, and she shook her head slightly at him. “Oh, God,” she whispered.

“Remember that thing I alluded to on the plane?” he asked, eyes glued to her.

A tiny smile played at her lips. “Jog my memory, Player Will.”

He squeezed his eyes closed, took a deep breath before looking back at her, and said, “Marry me?”

I was clearly not the only person to gasp. It felt like the entire room did it in unison. As if anticipating my needs, Bennett reached into his pocket and handed me a handkerchief. Across the room, I saw Max do the same thing for Sara. But whereas she took it and thanked him, I batted Bennett’s hand away.

“Sorry, Chloe,” Will said, looking as though he wasn’t even sure he was awake and doing this in front of fifty people. “I realize my timing sucks.”

“Don’t you dare interrupt this moment to talk to me!” I called out, gesturing wildly to Hanna across the room. “Keep going! This is the best thing to happen so far tonight.”

Bennett dug his fingers into my shoulder, laughing darkly next to me. “You’re in trouble for that.”

Hanna took a few steps closer and the dance floor between her and Will cleared. “Are you asking me this because you’re afraid of the handsy cougars on the dance floor?”

“A little,” Will admitted, nodding frantically. He swallowed thickly and repeated in a squeak, “A little. But I’ve wanted to ask every day, and every day I get scared.” Holding up his hand before she could misinterpret his words, he hastily added, “Not because I’m not sure. But because I want you to be as sure as I am.”

I watched as Hanna walked across the room, took the mic from Will’s shaking hand, put it back into the stand, and stretched to kiss him before saying something that none of us heard, but that made Will Sumner smile more widely than I’d ever seen him smile.

The guests broke out in roaring cheers and Bennett signaled to the caterer to bring trays of champagne around. Music pulsed, heavy and wild from the speakers, and the dance floor quickly grew packed with bodies.

Bennett stood and looked down at me. “Let’s go dance, Almost–Mrs. Ryan.”

“Only if you let me lead, Almost–Mr. Mills.”


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