The Wedding Must Go On. Robyn Grady
she whirled again.
The dress’s back was scooped low and, with her long fair hair twisted up, Nate was greeted by an unobstructed, blemish-free landscape. Delicate twin shoulder blades bracketed a sweep of smooth tan skin and two accidental curls spiralled either side of the dent of her spine.
Pleasant warmth pooled then solidified high on Nate’s thighs. But he took a deep breath and, focusing not on the view but the task, doggedly searched. After a full-on few seconds, he huffed. No wonder she couldn’t find it.
‘There is no zip.’
‘It’s invisible,’ she told him. ‘Feel around inside the bodice facing.’
Nate scratched his head. Did she say invisible? And, ‘Bodice what?’
‘Slide your finger up and down the inside top of the seam.’ She dropped a wry look over one shoulder. ‘You do know what a seam is, don’t you?’
‘A rich deposit where minerals are found.’
She rolled her eyes as if to say, Men. ‘Just don’t tug too hard.’
When she turned back, Nate shook out his hands, rubbed his palms together. Not sweaty. Not cold. All good. He edged one fingertip inside.
Her skin was toasty-warm and smooth as the satin. And now he was aware that she was wearing the same perfume she had that fateful night. Subtle. Something with lavender? Whatever the ingredients, the scent was light and fresh and.
Nate filled his lungs.
The kind of bouquet I could breathe in all day.
He snapped open eyes that seemed to have drifted shut.
Roxy had implied that she’d dated since their evening together. Leaning closer, he slid his thumb down and felt around. He hated himself for needing to ask but couldn’t a guy be curious?
‘So, I take it you’re seeing someone.’
‘No one in particular.’
Chewing that over, he found something small and difficult to grab high at the top of the crease. Squeezing just enough to get a grip, he added, ‘And yet someone’s swept you off your feet.’
Those curls tickled the back of his hand as she purred. ‘I’ve been swept off several times since that night.’
His bite tightened and grip firmed more. He was jiggling in earnest when, outside, the desk bell rang again.
‘I’ll be right out,’ Roxy called pleasantly, then to him, ‘What’s taking so long?’
‘Inexperience,’ he growled. With a wedding gown, at least. This darn thing didn’t glide as it should.
‘Don’t force it,’ she told him.
‘I’m not forcing anything.’
Shifting, he began to work it in a hopefully more fruitful and earnest kind of way. Clearly this exercise needed a little more of the ol’ Nate Sparks finesse.
Three seconds later, she complained, ‘You’re too rough.’
‘Relax.’ His fingertips rolled, then tugged and rolled again. ‘Just a few seconds more.’
‘Nate, not so hard.’
‘Almost got it—’
The zip suddenly gave.
Actually what gave was the fabric splitting either side.
While Roxy stiffened, Nate’s heart stopped beating as he held his breath and stared.
It wasn’t much of a tear. Really barely noticeable. But when Roxy turned around, her expression said it all. Her face was a mask of disbelief, anguish. Rage. And her eyes, which had looked merely annoyed earlier, now spat green fire.
‘Tell me you didn’t tear the dress,’ she groaned. ‘You didn’t, did you? Not this dress.’
The anger in her eyes turned to fear then they edged with moisture and Nate felt the walls press in.
‘It’s not too bad.’ He indicated with his fingers. ‘Maybe an inch.’ Maximum two.
That call from outside came again.
‘Coming,’ Roxy said, but this time her voice cracked.
What could he say? If he could take it back, he would.
Her eyes filling, she inhaled and in a heartbeat all her angst and energy seemed to drain away. She pressed her lips together. Swallowed. Shrugged.
‘Doesn’t matter anyway,’ she muttered and he frowned.
‘What doesn’t matter?’ When she swished out of the room, he followed. ‘Roxy, answer me.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ she replied, ‘because this gown is—or was—Marla’s.’
Nate gaped. He’d wrecked his mate’s fiancée’s gown? Not a good omen. And why was the bride’s best friend wearing it anyway?
When he joined Roxy out front, she was looking around an empty room. Seemed those potential customers had given up and gone home. But then that same enquiring voice rang out again, this time from the direction of the dressing rooms. A moment later, that older woman appeared. On seeing them, she clasped her cheeks with glee.
‘Oh, my. This must be your beautiful bride-to-be. And you’re right,’ the woman went on before speaking directly to Roxy rather than Nate. ‘That gown suits you to a T. My Violet thinks she might have found the right one too.’
‘Really? That’s wonderful.’ Roxy’s disappointment at that accidental rip transformed into a frail but hope-filled smile. Then she evaluated her own gown. ‘But this dress …’ Her cheeks pinked up and she rubbed her brow. ‘Well, it’s a little hard to explain.’
The woman angled in. ‘No need. My Violet went through the same thing,’ she confided. ‘Anxiety. So many decisions.’ Her shoulders squared. ‘But when you’ve found a man who’s so obviously in love with you, so committed, how can things not fall into place? You’re a lucky woman.’ She slid that smile Nate’s way. ‘A lucky couple.’
Nate smothered a wince. The woman had it wrong. Roxy wasn’t Emma. There was no Emma and wouldn’t be for a very long while, if he could help it.
The woman looked between the uncertain two, then slanted her head. ‘Is there something wrong with the gown, dear?’
‘Oh, no,’ Roxy said. ‘I love it. More than any gown ever. The satin’s as soft as rose petals. Every line is exquisite. It’s just that this dress is—’
‘Beautiful,’ Nate cut in when he knew he ought to have let her finish and set the misunderstanding straight. But the dress was stunning, he thought again, drinking in those satiny curves and falls, whether Marla ended up wearing it or not.
When Roxy’s slow smile said she appreciated his compliment, a kernel of heat bloomed in his chest, a sensation he enjoyed as much as he spurned. Then she turned and admitted to the woman, ‘But I’m not this man’s fiancée.’
The woman blinked. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘I own this salon. I’m Roxanne Trammel.’
The woman absorbed the news and, nodding absently, introduced herself as Ava Morris before her focus swung to Nate. ‘Where’s your bride-to-be? Nothing’s wrong, I hope.’
Nate scrubbed his jaw. He’d only meant to help—to give Roxy a hand up with a potential sale. But duplicity, well intended or not, had caught up. Nothing for it but to face the music.