First Chapter: Good Boy (WAGs #1)
The Maid of Honor Gig
Even though the restaurant staff has already done its magic, I’m fussing over the dining table one more time. Each centerpiece gets a last-minute adjustment to make sure the flowers are perfect. A glance out the window shows me that the cloudless sky is already deepening. I’ve timed my brother’s rehearsal dinner so that the first streaks of color will appear over the Pacific just as the appetizer course is served.
The forecast for tomorrow is perfect, too—sunny with a high of seventy-five. Even the weather doesn’t dare interfere with the greatest wedding ever thrown.
Beyond the arched entryway to this private dining room, I hear the pop of a champagne bottle right on schedule. The guests are arriving. I can hear my sister’s laughter just around the corner in the bar area. Sure enough, my mother pokes her head through the doorway.
“Oh, sweetie, you did such a fabulous job!” she exclaims. “This is all so gorgeous! I predict a smashing success!”
“Thank you,” I whisper, adjusting a butter knife that I adjusted two minutes ago.
“You are constantly surprising us, Miss Jessica.” Mom beams at me as she raises her champagne flute to her lips.
Instead of beaming back and accepting Mom’s compliments, I find myself bristling. Because I don’t hear the compliments. I don’t hear the words “fabulous” or “smashing success” or “Miss Jessica,” the nickname my dad gave me when I was three years old.
I hear the word “surprising.”
Translation: My family is surprised I managed to pull off this rehearsal dinner without screwing it up.
“Thanks, Mom.” I muster a smile, and she disappears again, probably to greet another of my five siblings.
I should be out there, too, having a glass of wine and resting on my laurels. But I can’t stop myself from grabbing my notebook out of my bag and eyeballing the page marked Rehearsal Dinner one more time. Name cards—check. White wine ordered and iced—check.
Everything is perfection. Except for me. I’m a freaking wreck. In the first place, planning the perfect wedding is stressful. And in the second place…
“Wesley! J-Bomb!” a loud voice bellows in the next room. “I have arrived!”
The deep timbre of his voice reverberates inside my chest. Blake Riley is on the premises, and my blood pressure doubles.
I fiddle with the silverware again, listening. “Gonna get you both pixilated tonight!” Blake says, and I hear the powerful slap of bro-hugs being dished out. “And who is this beauty?”
My mother begins to gush over Blake, and I feel a chill climb up my spine. As if the wedding weren’t stressful enough, I have to cope with the loudest, brashest, most annoying man I’ve ever met in my life. He’s got a big body, a big personality and…
Fine. He also has the biggest dick I’ve ever seen in my life. But I try not to think about that particular part of his anatomy if I can help it.
My family cannot know about the colossal mistake I made this spring. I can’t give them one more exhibit of my lack of judgment, not when I’m about to announce yet another career change. I’m already the flighty kid. The screw-up.
And I absolutely put the screw in screw-up when I let Blake get me out of my clothes. Trust me, that won’t be happening again. But his presence complicates things. Tomorrow I’m throwing a wedding for three hundred people, including two dozen famous hockey players. Meanwhile, Blake has spent the past month texting me inappropriate wedding ideas and jokes.
And, when I hadn’t replied, a photo of his hand around his junk.
OMG, stop, I’d replied. Anyone could have seen that.
Ha! I knew you were getting these texts!
The man is incorrigible. And now I’ve run out of things to fuss over and straighten. I’m just hiding here in the private dining room, damn it.
I give my hair a quick toss and wet my lips. Then, with my chin held high, I take a deep breath and step into the bar area. I spot my sister Tammy holding a bottle of champagne, so I home in on her without looking at Blake. But I can sense his presence at the end of the bar. He’s a big man with an even bigger personality. Just stepping into the room with him, an awareness of him settles over me, like an itch that needs scratching.
Like poison ivy.
“Here, Jessie!” Tammy says, handing me a glass of the good stuff. “I’m just so impressed with the way you’ve handled Jamie’s big day!”
“Thanks,” I mutter, slugging back a mouthful of bubbly. Tammy heaps more praise on me, and then Mom joins us to heap on more. They had obviously expected me to fail spectacularly, or to quit in the middle of the job. And it brings me no satisfaction to know that the wedding tomorrow is going to be lovely. Because shortly afterward I’ll have to tell everyone that I’m giving up on party planning.
They’ll be shaking their heads over me before Jamie and Wes are back from their honeymoon.
“What’s the matter, Miss Jessica?” my mother asks.
Crap. Cindy Canning should’ve gone into law enforcement. I swear this woman can pick out any lie, read any expression to determine whether she’s being played. But no matter how intuitive she is, I refuse to ruin my baby brother’s wedding rehearsal dinner by revealing my insecurities.
“Nothing’s wrong,” I insist. “I mean, look at Jamester. How can anything be wrong when he looks this happy?”
The diversion is successful, and Mom’s face softens as she glances over at her youngest child. Jamie stands beside his fiancé, his hand on the back of Wes’s neck. They’re showing photos of their recent fishing trip to Pat, who runs the hockey camp where they met. All three men are relaxed and smiling.
Jamie is more peaceful and content than I’ve ever seen him, and that’s saying a lot, because his default mode is peaceful and content. Ryan Wesley, his super-successful semi-famous fiancé, on the other hand, is wound a little tighter. But Wes has his reasons.
That’s the real reason this wedding-planning gig was a bit of a challenge. Anyone can hire a tent and a band. The bigger trick is planning a celebration for a man whose family doesn’t speak to him anymore. The press follows him everywhere he goes, which means that I had to reserve everything under pseudonyms. But the two people who should be here tonight balancing out the tidal wave of Canning love and support—Wes’s parents—couldn’t be bothered.
So I planned this dinner—along with the engagement party a few months ago and the ceremony and reception tomorrow—taking care not to expose that gap. There won’t be any wedding favors with baby pictures of the grooms on them, because those photos may no longer exist.
Instead, I chose puck-shaped chocolates, because my brother met Wes at hockey camp.
Most of Wes’s teammates will be at the ceremony tomorrow, but tonight’s dinner is for family, close friends and members of the wedding party. I fill more than one of those roles, since I’m also Jamie’s best woman.
I’ve done the maid-of-honor gig before. Usually I love all the responsibilities that come with it. And if the best man is cute, that’s always a perk. For my friend Wendy’s wedding last summer, the hottie best man and I bailed on the reception midway through and locked ourselves in his hotel room for two days straight.
Won’t happen this time, though. Nopety nope. Because Wes’s best man happens to be—
“What the hell, J-Babe? You didn’t use any of my suggestions!”
Yep—him. Blake has threaded his muscular, bulky self through the crowd to speak to me.
“As usual, I have no idea what you’re babbling about,” I say coolly. But then I make the mistake of lifting my chin to look him in the eye. Why does such an annoying human have to be so freaking attractive? Bright green eyes look back at me, framed by thick lashes. They’re set into a ruggedly handsome face, which is riding atop a dreamboat body. For a split second, I can’t think of a single reason why I don’t like this man.
Blake’s gorgeous eyes narrow at me. “You so know what I’m talking about.” He waves one arm around the candlelit room, and my traitorous gaze notes the delicious way his sculpted body fills his tailored black suit. “Where’s the glitter, eh? And where’s the banner I asked for? The one that’s supposed to read ‘Wesmie 4ever!’”
Oh, right. Now I remember.
“Sorry, dude, but glitter plays no part in a wedding. ‘Wesmie’ is a ridiculous couple name. And banners are strictly reserved for high school proms and retirement parties.” I’ve spent months trying to make sure this event is classy and flawless. And he’d turn it into TackyFest 2016 in a hot second.
Emphasis on hot.
A cocky grin tugs at the corners of his mouth. “Call me that again.”
“Call you what again?”
“Dude. I’m totally digging it. Reminds me of my fraternity days.”
Blake was a frat boy? Shocking.
“You know,” he continues, “when all the babes would throw themselves at me nilly-willy.”
“Willy-nilly,” I correct.
“It’s willy-nilly. The willy comes first.”
He winks at me. “I’ll let you have this one, but only because you’re right—the willy always does come first.”
I clench my teeth. This man is impossible. I don’t know what ever compelled me to get naked with him.
Loneliness, a firm voice reminds me.
Right. Loneliness. Plus, that whole girly, I-need-to-feel-desirable curse that comes after a breakup. I might’ve been the one who broke up with Raven, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t feeling vulnerable. Blake and his big stupid dick were there at the right place, at the right time.
Sleeping with him was a mistake, but it’s a mistake I won’t be repeating. Doesn’t matter that he gave me three orgasms in thirty minutes. I will not be tapping that ass again.
“Actually, life’s not all that different from those college days,” he muses. “The babes are still knocking on the old Riley door.” He grins at me. “Sometimes they show up in nothing but a trench coat.”
“Ooooh, sounds kinky.” Sarcasm drips from my tone.
“It is,” he says seriously. “Like as kinky as getting it on in a massage chair.”
I glare at him. He just laughs, that deep, boisterous laugh that seems to come from the center of his soul, because Blake doesn’t do anything half-assed. He laughs the way he lives his life—loud and fierce and without inhibition.
He fucks that way, too.
Argh. Damn it. I don’t want to think about how Blake is in bed. I don’t want to think about him, period.
“I need to speak to the caterer,” I say stiffly. “Go bother someone else.”
“Not until you tell me why you vetoed my idea about life-sized cutouts of the grooms.”
“Because it was childish!” I blurt out, frazzled to the point of anger. “All your ideas were! I was trying to plan a wedding, and you were trying to plan a teenage girl’s Sweet Sixteen!”
He smirks. “Excuuuuuuse me for trying to inject some silliness into your brother’s wedding.” He gestures around the room again, pointing at the gorgeous centerpieces at each table and the flickering candles set up on the ledges spanning the walls. “Maybe if you’d taken some of my suggestions, this shindig wouldn’t be so stuffy.”
“It’s not stuffy. It’s elegant. Now if you’ll please excuse me…” I force myself not to stamp my foot, because that would make me the childish one. And Blake Riley wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be the only screw-up in a family of achievers. Besides, there’s nothing stuffy about the labor of love I’ve done for this wedding. It’s going to be perfect, or I’ll die trying.
It’s too late to convince my almost-brother-in-law to pick a new best man. So I solve the problem the only way I know how—with a gulp of champagne and by marching away from the big oaf.
* * *
I watch Jess Canning stride away, her long, tanned legs mocking me, her perfect ass sashaying. To look at us, you’d almost think that Jess didn’t like me. But this is just how we are together. Fiery, baby. That little exchange just bought me at least an hour of sweet lovin’. Though at some point I’ll have to stop baiting her so she’ll remember how much she likes to get naked with me.
It’s all about the timing, really. And I’ve always been good with timing. That’s why I had twenty-one goals last season.
And, hell, it’s fun to tease her. She gets a cute little furrow on that smooth, kissable forehead. Her big brown eyes get all flashy, as if Bambi were possessed by a demon. A really hot, fuckable demon with great tits.
At the rate I’m going, she and I won’t be doing the naked salsa until the dessert course. But I can wait. I’m a patient man. And in the meantime, I’m going to feast on seafood with my best buds.
A few minutes later, Jess herds everyone into a dining room overlooking the bay. There’s candlelight and a killer view. The boats in the distance look like toys from here. It’s beautiful.
“What a dump,” I tell Jess as she rushes by to tweak another detail. “I wanted to have the rehearsal dinner at a clam shack on the beach.”
She casts me a glare that burns with pure hatred.
Yessss. My dick gives a little twitch of impatience.
There are name cards on the tables so everyone knows where to sit. Mine is on the opposite end of the long table from Jess. I know she did that just so we could stare longingly at each other from a distance.
I take my seat beside her brother Scott. “Dude. Are you wearing your weapon right now?” I ask him. If I couldn’t be a hockey player, I’d be a cop like Scott.
“Uh, no,” Scott says. “No need to show up to my brother’s wedding packing heat.”
“Bummer. Can I play with the siren in your cruiser, then?” I’ve always wanted to do that.
“Since I made detective, I don’t have a cruiser anymore. So no more siren.”
“What a rip!” I thump him on the back. “What’s the point of being a cop if you don’t get all the gear?”
He picks up his menu card, so I pick up mine. There’s a list of all the tasty things we’re going to eat. On the cover there’s a black-and-white map of Lake Placid, New York, even though we’re in Marin County, California right now. Jamie and my teammate Wes met in Lake Placid, and that’s why Jess put it on the card.
I can’t help myself—I pull out my phone and text her. Shoulda gone with my suggestion. The pic of two lobsters humping? Sets the mood for the bachelor party later.
Her reply takes a minute to arrive. Stop texting me or I’ll block you.
Yup. She wants me.
Waiters begin to bring out food, so I have to concentrate. I’m serious about my food. I mean, you don’t get to be this size without knowing your chow. Luckily, the restaurant doesn’t disappoint. We have a fabulous shrimp cocktail and a ceviche so tangy and delicious that it makes me want to cry. Then it’s on to lobster tail and potato-crusted salmon and peppercorn tuna.
I’m in heaven.
When the plates are cleared, it’s time for dessert. But I have to set aside my chocolate mousse temporarily for a very important reason. It’s time to roast the groom and the groom, and I can’t let J-Babe beat me to it. In fact, it looks like she’s making a move, so I hurry to stand up first. I move so fast that I hear my chair thunk to the floor behind me, but it’s all good because now I have everyone’s attention.
“Ladies and gentlebeasts,” I begin.
At the other end of the table Jess’s beautiful brown eyes narrow.
“As Wes’s best man, it’s my obligation to embarrass him tonight.”
There’s a ripple of laughter, and Wes just shakes his head.
“But it’s not gonna be easy,” I admit. “’Cause Ryan Wesley is a helluva friend and a helluva teammate. I mean, the guy is full of shenanigans. But the man who witnessed all of those—the public nudity in Lake Placid and the drunkenness and the trespassing—is marrying him tomorrow. And he wouldn’t give me the dirt I need.”
That gets me another laugh.
“This year he played a season of hockey that was the opposite of embarrassing, so there’s no material there. Honestly? The only thing that’s embarrassing these days about Wes is how much he loves Jamie.”
“Awwww,” the whole family says in unison.
Wes looks at his coffee cup.
“I mean, I could just stand up here and tell you some of the stupid shit that Wesley has said. Like that night in the bar after a game against Philly, he argued—vehemently, I might add—that penguins weren’t mammals.” I give a little chuckle just remembering that ridiculousness. “He wanted me to believe they’re birds.”
“They are,” Jess mutters under her breath, because she loves to bait me.
“But I thought it would be more fun…” I wave to the waiter who’s watching from the door, and he carries in the extra-big tablet I rented for this. I get up and stand where everyone can see me, and I fire the thing up. “…to let Wesley embarrass himself, you know? It turns out that he wasn’t always such a great hockey player and such a studly guy. Thought you all should know.” Then I press play on the video I made and hold it up.
The sound is working—that’s good. The first strains of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” emerge from the speakers on this thing. The intro text I made lights the screen, and it reads, Ryan Wesley, Ladies and Gentlemen. Then it changes to say, Super Stud. The first picture dissolves into focus, and it’s a two-year-old Wes gripping a hockey stick in his chubby little hand, looking quite deranged.
There’s a gasp from the other end of the table. Jess’s eyes are the size of my dessert plate.
“Awwww!” Cindy Canning says, clutching her heart.
“Look at you!” Jamie crows, reaching over to rub his fiancé’s back. Wes just leans forward, staring at the screen in confusion.
“It’s a good thing the Toronto management didn’t have access to these babies.” I chuckle as the next photo fills the screen. It’s Wesley in a snowsuit at age five, I think, those fierce eyes already recognizable. He’s on a pond somewhere, skating hard after two kids about twice his size. He doesn’t have a prayer of catching them. Funniest thing I’ve ever seen.
But nobody’s laughing. Jamie has his arm around his boyfriend now, and his eyes look a little shiny. Cindy Canning is standing behind them both, an arm around each shoulder. And everyone else is smiling.
“Where on earth did you get these?” someone murmurs.
Then comes the really good stuff. A video clip plays of Wesley at eight, kitted out in a full uniform, a determined look in his eyes. He sends a slapshot toward the goal and…misses! And because I’m just that funny, the clip is followed by Wesley missing shots on goal three more times at various ages. There’s one where he’s kind of tiny and skating face-first into a snow bank.
Finally, I get a laugh. Tough crowd here tonight.
More pictures flash on the screen—Wesley at twelve, accepting a trophy. Wesley with a mouth full of braces and a serious case of bedhead. The music swells because my video is coming to an end.
“Brace yourselves,” I tell my audience.
Next we get Wesley at fourteen, grinning, a big pimple right on his nose.
The final shot is my pièce de résistance. It’s the only photo I had to steal. I took it out of Wesley’s wallet one night in D.C. during the playoffs. We were all so exhausted after the overtime period of our game that a single glass of whiskey made us drunk and silly. I’d swiped the photo and had it scanned by the hotel concierge. (Tipped the guy twenty bucks.) It was safely back in Wesley’s wallet a half-hour later.
There’s a chorus of awwwws and sighs as the photo of sixteen-year-old Jamie and Wes together fills the screen. They’re standing on top of a hiking trail somewhere near Lake Placid. Jamie is making a goofy face, but Wes is looking at him with such love that it gives me a big ol’ ache in my chest just to see it.
I check my teammate’s face and find red spots on his cheekbones. Maybe he thinks I’ve embarrassed him with this picture, because it reveals so much. But I haven’t. It’s only embarrassing to declare your love for someone who then betrays you with it.
That kind of shit only happens to me, though. My two friends here are solid.
The show is over, so I click the tablet off and hand it back to the waiter who’s keeping it for me. (Tipped him twenty bucks.) My chocolate mousse is still waiting for me, thank you, baby Jesus. As I tuck in, my phone buzzes with a text. Hoping it’s from my date to the wedding tomorrow, I eagerly glance at the screen.
But it’s from Jess. Where on earth did you get the pictures and video?????
Stop texting me, I reply. Don’t want to have to block you.
From the other end of the table, she gives me an evil look.
Yeah, it’s on.