When her sister is left at the altar at her destination wedding, Deanna Riley hunts down the groom – her long time friend Nick Wallace – to give him a piece of her mind. She has no idea what excuses or explanations to expect, but the last thing she expects is to sympathize with him once he tells his side of the story.
Actually, no. The last thing she expects is for the conversation to turn into…more than a conversation. And if there’s anything the heartbroken, jilted bride doesn’t need, it’s a fling between her sister and would-be husband.
Now Nick and Deanna are desperate to atone for what they’ve done, but even as they struggle to patch things up with Deanna’s sister, they can’t deny that the unexpected night on the beach ignited a flame that refuses to die.
When the ink has barely dried on your divorce papers, weddings are seriously depressing. Even when that wedding is taking place on a white sand beach under some palm trees before a reception that involves drinking booze out of coconuts, it’s hard not to see dark clouds hovering overhead in that clear blue sky.
Imaginary dark clouds hanging over a tropical wedding would have been much, much nicer for Deanna Riley than sitting in an air-conditioned hotel room and comforting her hysterical sister.
The clock beside the bed in their parents’ suite read ten minutes past five in the evening. Right about then, Kristina and Nick were supposed to be standing on that white sand, in the shade of a couple of palm trees, exchanging vows and rings before their sunset reception. Instead, Kristina sat on the bed and went back and forth between sobbing inconsolably and promising to cut off various parts of Nick’s anatomy.
A year of planning. Months of preparation. Thousands of dollars.
And with hours to go, Nick had pulled the plug.
Now the entire wedding party was in her parents’ hotel suite. Well, aside from Nick’s brother and dad, both of whom had gone to notify all the people and places involved in the wedding that wasn’t happening. The other three bridesmaids cried with Kristina, and Mom and Deanna exchanged angry “I’m going to kill him” looks while Dad sat beside the table and looked uncomfortable.
Cynthia, Nick’s mother, paced in front of the window. “I just can’t believe he would do this. This isn’t like Nick.” Sighing, she shook her head and looked at my mother. “I am so sorry about this, Anita. This must be costing you a fortune to—”
“That can be dealt with later,” Mom said. “It’s not an issue right now.”
Cynthia pursed her lips and folded her arms over her chest. “Well. When he shows his face, he’ll be getting a piece of my mind, that’s for sure.”
“Where is he, anyway?” Linda, one of the bridesmaids, asked.
Deanna looked at her sister. “Do you think he’s already flown home?”
Kristina sniffed and wiped her eyes. “I don’t know. I don’t know where he is. He just took his stuff and…” She gestured at the door and crumpled into fresh sobs.
God. Nick. I’m going to strangle you myself.
And if Nick survived long enough to get home, Deanna would have ample opportunity to choke the bastard, seeing as his office was on the same floor as hers. She’d known him longer than he’d known Kristina. In fact, she’d introduced them, so to say she felt guilty right then was a huge understatement. Guilty and royally pissed. She hadn’t been this ready to throttle someone since her ex-husband… well, since she’d decided to make him an ex-husband.
Kristina glanced at herself in the mirror, and as her eyes welled up with more tears, she covered her mouth. “Look at me. I’m supposed to be getting married today.” She sank onto the bed, and Mom put her arm around her shoulders. Kristina sobbed against her. “This is my wedding day, and look at me.”
“I’m so sorry, baby,” her mother said, stroking Kristina’s hair gently.
Watching her sister crumble like that broke Deanna’s heart. She was sorely tempted to take a photo of her and send it to Nick’s phone with a caption “Happy now, jackass?” But Nick’s phone was apparently off. Kristina, Dad, and Deanna had all tried calling him. Cynthia had left him at least three scathing messages.
“Maybe he just got cold feet,” Deanna said. “If he’s still on the island, then maybe he’s just hesitating. I can… maybe I can try to talk to him.”
“Sure, go ahead.” Kristina sniffled again. “If you can find him.”
“You guys have a joint account, right?” Dad said. “Check your bank and see if he’s checked in someplace else.” He glanced at Deanna. “You sure you want to go talk to him yourself?”
Kristina laughed softly as she picked up her cell phone. “If anyone can get him to explain his sorry self, it’s Deanna. She’ll probably take him down to the beach and water board him or something.”
“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” Deanna said.
The two sisters exchanged smiles, and Kristina looked up the bank info on her phone.
Twenty minutes later, Deanna stepped outside into the thick afternoon heat, clutching the handwritten driving directions to the Sea Side Inn. It was just as well her rental car had keyless entry. Otherwise she probably would have broken the key off in the lock. As it was, she was lucky she didn’t snap it off when she turned it in the ignition.
She glanced at the directions. Then she backed out of the parking space and headed for the road.
Gripping the hot faux leather steering wheel, she ground her teeth. If that man knew what was good for him, she wouldn’t find him because he was already on his way back here with a dozen roses, a heartfelt apology, and an explanation involving words like “temporary insanity,” “cold feet,” and “I’m over it now, I promise.” If she found him having a one-man pity party with something alcoholic, she’d drag him back here by his ear if she had to. Perhaps another body part, if it came down to it.
And God help him if she found him with another woman.
Her mind drifted back to an afternoon year or so ago when Nick had come into her office shortly before the end of the work day. He was somewhere between giddy and nervous, and needed a little morale boost, a little pep talk, from the sister of the woman who he hoped would be his fiancée before the end of the night. Deanna had assured him over and over that Kristina would say yes, and that she would love the ring that Nick had been so sure about but suddenly seemed too small, too dull, too plain.
“It’s beautiful, Nick,” she’d told him as she’d pushed the little velvet box across her desk and back into his hands. “She’ll love it, and she’ll say yes. I know she will.”
He’d been so excited, and so nervous, and Deanna had told herself time and again he could be forgiven for being too distracted to notice all wasn’t right in her world. He could usually sense from a hundred paces if she and Jason had had so much as an argument the night before. Like no one else in the world, aside from her sister, Nick could read Deanna like a book, and he’d always, always, always been there when she needed him. So that one day, could she really blame him if he was on another planet? The man wasn’t psychic, after all. And he’d had a lot on his mind. Since her husband had been seeing that girl for a long time before Deanna had discovered the relationship the night before, Deanna figured she could hold out a few days before she talked to Nick about it. He deserved to be happy now, especially after that long streak of horrible luck with women, without her putting a dark cloud over everything.
If she’d known that a year later, she’d be hunting him down on an island after consoling her left-at-the-altar sister, she’d have rained all kinds of hell on him right then and there in her office. The whole reason she’d hooked them up in the first place was because she could vouch for both of them. Kristina and Nick were both sweet, faithful, and had the same sense of humor. The same sense of humor as Deanna herself, in fact. For a million reasons, they’d both had her stamp of approval.
Once she found his sorry ass today, though, the only stamp he’d have would be on his butt in the shape of her sandal. Too bad she hadn’t brought any more severe footwear with her. Oh well. Sandals and a blistering tirade would just have to do.
About twenty minutes away from where the family was staying, she found the Seaside Inn, the place Nick’s credit card had been swiped.
It was less of a hotel and more of a motel. Single story, not quite so sleek in construction or meticulous in maintenance. White-washed and wind-battered, with a few palm trees leaning lazily over the edges of the parking lot and a boardwalk leading toward the beach.
Nick had taken the rental car he and Kristina were sharing, and Deanna found it parked in front of room twelve. She parked her own rental beside theirs, got out, and marched up to the door.
“Nick?” she called out as she knocked, trying to sound as neutral and not royally pissed off as she could. “It’s Deanna. Can we talk?”
She knocked harder, clenching her jaw and pounding the door with her fist. “Nick? We need to talk.”
Don’t make me break this door down, or I’ll break you down next, damn it.
Still no answer. Deanna scowled. Either he wasn’t answering or he wasn’t here, but if he’d left, he hadn’t gone far. Not unless he took a taxi. Wherever he was, it was probably within walking distance.
And she’d have bet money it was a bar. Though Nick had never been a heavy drinker, he’d been known to take a dip in a bottle when he was stressed, and whether he’d brought it on his own damn self or not, chances were he was stressed now.
It was still early in the evening, but this was a vacation spot. No such thing as too early to get the booze flowing, and some of the tacky touristy Tiki bars already had a few people hunched over beer bottles and stemmed fishbowls with giant umbrellas sticking out.
No sign of Nick in the first bar. Or the second. Third time wasn’t the charm. She tried two more, then walked back the other direction and tried the ones down that way.
Four bars down from the motel, Deanna found another bar that looked just like the others: a dry grass roof over a string of plastic light-up Corona bottles, recorded steel drum music coming from hidden speakers, and supports and braces built using weathered driftwood. She stepped inside and pulled off her sunglasses. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust from being outside, but as soon as they did, she homed in on him.
He was the end of the bar, a brown bottle in front of him and his forehead resting in his hand. His sandy blond hair looked damp, so he must have taken a swim in the ocean or grabbed a shower before he came out. His shoulders slumped beneath his faded Hawaiian shirt, and he would have looked drunk and sluggish if not for the way his knee bounced rapidly with the tempo of his tapping foot.
Grinding her teeth and resisting the urge to cuss him out from the opposite end of the room, she stormed across the sand-dusted wood floor.
She was about five steps away when he turned his head, and as soon as he saw her, he mouthed “Oh, fuck” just before he looked away.
The fury in her chest threatened to boil over. “Nick Wallace, you had better have a goddamned bulletproof explanation for why you’re here right now.”
He looked at her again, his eyes narrow. “That depends on how willing you are to hear it.”
“Oh, I am all fucking ears,” she snarled. “Do enlighten me as to why I’ve been consoling my sister all day when—”
“—she’s supposed to be saying ‘I do’ with the man she’s in love—”
“—with out on a fucking beach after hauling all of us all this way for—”
She snapped her mouth shut.
“Do you want to know why I’m here and not there?” he asked coolly. “Or do you want to tell me why I’m an asshole and then leave me to finish my beer?”
Grinding her teeth, she said, “I’m not sure I want to know. I came down here to talk some sense into you, but I—”
“Save your breath, then.”
“It’s over.” He focused his attention on his beer bottle, hunching over it like he needed to protect it. Or needed it to protect him. “Kristina and I, we’re…” Trailing off, he shook his head, and the recorded steel drum nearly masked the whispered, “We’re done.”
She pressed her fingers into the bridge of her nose. “And why are you done today of all days? Why did you have to end it now?”
“Do you really want to know?” he asked coolly. “Or do you just want to chew me out?”
Nick held her gaze. “I know I’m not in a position to ask any favors, but you’ve been my friend long enough to know I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t need to.”
She glared at him, but didn’t speak.
“Let me buy you a drink,” he said. “Anything you want. All I ask is that, for the time it takes you to drink that drink, you’ll listen to me.”
She pursed her lips. “I’m guessing something in a shot glass isn’t an option.”
“Deanna, please,” he whispered, and the hint of desperation in his voice took her aback. “I’m just asking you to hear me out.”