Read At Last Online

Authors: Ella Stone

At Last

Groom dumps you at the altar? Fall in love with your hunky best friend.
When Susan is dumped at the altar--via cocktail napkin--it is up to her best friend Kevin to help her recover. After a brief post-wedding-that-wasn’t coma, Susan finds herself in paradise, on her honeymoon, but with Kevin, not her groom. After some crying, paragliding, frozen margaritas and bad advice from her other best friend Liz, Susan decides to seduce Kevin and get rid of her pain with a rebound fling.
Kevin has secretly loved Susan for years and finally giving into her cuts him deeper than he could have expected.
He leaves her and severs all contact with her until six months later, when they are both vying for the same account--designing Chicago’s new opera house.
Competition takes on a whole new meaning for Susan when Kevin shows up on the arm of her arch nemesis, the cougar Francesca Costa. She now must not only vie for the opera house...but for her best friend’s heart as well.

At Last

 

~*~

 

Ella Stone

Chapter 1

 

 

 

IT COULDN’T BE HAPPENING. 
Standing there in her pearl-white strapless satin gown, her blond hair painstakingly straightened and pulled back in a perfect twist, the veil already in place, she just couldn’t believe it. With her bridal bouquet of pink miniature roses in her left hand, Susan Rhodes couldn’t get over how heavy the generic white cocktail napkin seemed to be as it drooped in the palm of her right hand.

How could it be burning her flesh? How could the message scrawled across it be English one moment and gibberish the next? And how could that short, inadequate message have so much power over her?

She had been so happy: in love and engaged to a handsome, successful attorney--on the cusp herself of becoming partner at the architectural firm that practically worshipped her like a Greek goddess. She’d always known she would be a great architect, just as she knew she would make a wonderful wife. She had it all planned out, could call up the image of herself, her career, her husband and two tiny children, with such perfect clarity.

And now the shitty little cocktail napkin had destroyed it all, with eight near illegible words:

Suzie-Q,

Can’t get married. Marry someone else.

Mark

Tim, Mark’s best man and best friend since college, stood there in his tuxedo jacket and slacks, clashing ridiculously with a garish pair of green hiking boots and a faded orange t-shirt with
Orgasm Donor
emblazoned across his chest. He slouched, staring at Susan, obviously waiting for some scathing reply to the message he’d just pressed into her hand. Susan was known for her temper and for always having the best comebacks anyone had ever heard--sometimes polite yet viscous, sometimes so expletive-laced sailors would blush. But as he waited for Susan to lay into him, his drunken, apologetic smile slowly turned to stunned horror.

Susan just stood there with the napkin in her hand, her face falling from a bewildered smile to a completely blank stare. Her body slumped the tiniest bit, the arm holding the bouquet dropping to her side, the flowers absently dropping from her freshly manicured fingertips. Her flesh turned cold as if snow and ice had replaced the blood in her veins. Tim started backing away from her when he saw the first tears trickle from her eyes, sliding down her cheeks.

“Suze, what’s with dropping the flowers?” Liz, Susan’s best friend and maid of honor, bent to retrieve the bouquet from the floor of Saint Anne’s vestibule. “It’s like dropping the ball...” That’s when Liz spotted Tim, a guilty expression on his face, right before he turned and slunk out the door he’d entered.

She shook her head and smiled, her mouth opened as if she were about to say something, then her eyes got wide as she took a step closer to Susan. “You’re whiter than your dress! What’s going on?”

Susan said nothing, not moving. She wondered if she was even breathing. Her heart had definitely stopped beating. Liz looked down at the cocktail napkin and read the message upside down, her warm hand closing around Susan’s now trembling wrist.

Without looking away, Liz started to speak in the way she always spoke at her art gallery when she wanted everyone’s attention--her tone bright and sweet, yet steeped in authority.

“Ladies,” she said to the bridesmaids. “May the bride and I have the room for a moment?”

Thirty seconds later, the two women stood alone in the room, surrounded by wedding gifts and flowers, standing facing each other, Liz’s hand still gripping Susan’s wrist. “Suze?” she said, her clear blue eyes beseeching.

Susan gazed at Liz, startled, just comprehending her best friend was speaking to her. Her face crumpled, the tears spilling chaotic down her face in rivulets, a gasping sob escaping her lips. “Oh, Liz...”

Liz crushed Susan’s shaking body against hers, holding her up, protecting her too late from what had already harmed her.

 

~*~

 

Kevin Jacobs didn’t want to be in Chicago, he didn’t want to be going to his best friend’s wedding, and he certainly wasn’t masochistic enough to want to watch his best friend march down the aisle to marry another man--he was in love, not stupid.

And he wasn’t really “in love.” Not really. He’d let that go years ago, when, after trying to woo Susan their entire junior year at Dartmouth, she’d simply blurted out--in typical Susan fashion--she didn’t see him as a “romantic possibility.” But after two weeks of licking his wounds, he’d decided he couldn’t live without her being his friend. So he swallowed those lustful, romanticized feelings, burying them deep in him.

The rest of their college experience was a rose tinted haze of pizza and music and frozen margaritas--and all night cram sessions when they invariably partied too hard too often.

Graduation came, followed by jobs in separate cities, in separate states, on separate sides of the continental United States. Yet somehow they’d become even closer over the years, the distance acting as a magical truth serum, letting each share things they would never tell someone they actually had to look at in the morning. For five years, texting two to three times a day, and calling each other at least twice a week to share good news or to just sound off about what pissed them off.

Kevin could’ve done this long distance thing for the rest of his life, never having to meet any of his best friend’s boyfriends and bed partners. He had stopped dating after the second year after college, recognizing he unfairly compared these women he dated to Susan and always found them lacking no matter how wonderful they were. Instead he’d thrown himself into his work, and when not designing buildings or whole cities, he would spend his leisure time working out compulsively at the twenty-four-hour gym down the street from his apartment.

But no, that easy routine of listening and being able to be detached--because, after all, she was just a voice on the phone--was blown to hell. Susan was getting married, and she needed her best friend--well, her second best friend--to be there for support.

Swallowing the regret and long buried feelings he’d had for her--and had thought he’d forgotten--Kevin hopped on a plane for Chicago, and once there, froze his ass off as he flagged down a cab and made his way to Saint Anne’s Cathedral to do what he hadn’t been able to do all those years ago when college had ended. Say goodbye.

The church was packed with familiar and unfamiliar faces. Amber and rose-colored light filtered through the stained glass windows. The sharp, sweet smell of flowers filled the air, their bright colors popping against the dim interior of the church. As if by instinct, Kevin found his way back to the corridor leading him straight to Susan. The mahogany-lined hallway was cluttered with half a dozen bridesmaids, their lilac dresses clustered like living bouquets against the walls, the plethora of their flowery perfumes overwhelming him. There was also one rather disturbed-looking groomsman named Tim. Kevin recognized him from pictures Susan had emailed over the last year of her engagement with Mark, aka, “the shit-head.”

Kevin pushed through the door to the vestibule and stopped in his tracks. Susan was clinging to her best friend Liz, gasping heart-ripping sobs as if someone had died.

Had Mark, the shit-head, died? The possibility was intoxicating, yet Kevin refrained from asking.

Liz’s eyes met his and he mouthed,
What’s wrong
?

Liz held out the crumpled cocktail napkin and mouthed,
Tim gave her this
.

Kevin read the words, not comprehending that they were not just some frat-boy joke, but as he read them again, he understood they were the end of Susan’s dreams, or at least that’s how she would see it.

Looking back into Liz’s eyes, Kevin could tell they were thinking the same thing.
That shit-weasel!
And when Liz’s usually hostile expression abruptly turned beseeching, Kevin knew exactly what she wanted him to do.
Find Tim.

Kevin sprinted down the corridor and shot with increasing speed through the long sanctuary of the cathedral, the wedding guests’ jaws dropping as they watched him hurtle past them and through the front doors of the church.

The sun beat down on the rain slicked streets, making the city glare as if it were constructed of industrial strength halogen lightbulbs. Kevin squinted and turned in quick circles until he spotted the still-tipsy groomsman about to crawl into a cab. As Kevin ran toward the car Tim’s drunken face changed expression, a slow comprehension dawning. He tried desperately to yank the cab door open, his hands slipping as he scrabbled against the handle. Kevin was upon him all too quickly, pulling him around to face him and slamming him hard against the cab door. The look on Tim’s face was so ludicrously horrified it would’ve been funny if Kevin didn’t feel so violently enraged.

“Where is he?” Kevin seethed, his voice a thinly restrained snarl.

The front passenger side window of the cab rolled down and the cabby leaned his head out. “Get the fuck off my cab!”

Kevin turned his dark glare toward the cabby, daring him to say another word.

The cabby gulped and looked away. “Take your time,” he said as the window whined back up to closed again.

Kevin turned his gaze back to Tim and leaned in a little closer, not saying a word.

“I don’t know what you’re--” Tim mumbled.

Kevin cut him off, barking, “Where is he!”

Tim was starting to turn green. “Honest, man, I don’t know--argh!”

Kevin pressed his forearm across Tim’s throat and watched as Tim’s complexion turned from green to pink, to scarlet.

“If you don’t tell me where your shit-weasel friend is, I’m going to give you the beating I was saving for him. Do you understand?”

Kevin waited for Tim to shake his head in comprehension before letting up on the pressure to his Adam’s apple.

Tim sputtered as he gasped for oxygen, and he started spilling his guts. “Aspen! Mark’s in Aspen, Colorado.”

Kevin shook his head, unconvinced. “Why would he be in Aspen?”

“I don’t know,” Tim sputtered, trying to right himself, but finding Kevin still had him pinned against the idling cab. “I mean it, I don’t know why. One minute we were drinking Crown Royal and telling him he’d be fucking the same chick for the rest of his life, the next minute he was talking up some cocktail waitress.”

Kevin bore down on him again, enough to make something in Tim crack audibly. “What about the cocktail waitress?”

“Oh God, fuck! She was this redhead, great rack, even better legs--”

“What was her
name
?”

“Shauna!” He cried out painfully. “Her name was Shauna, and all she said was she loved to ski. Next thing I knew Mark told me to give that stupid napkin to Susan, and he and the waitress were gone.”

“And you’re
sure
they went to Aspen?”

“Yeah, yeah. He maxxed out his credit cards paying for the honeymoon to Cancun. He had to call me to get my credit card to buy the tickets and book the hotel.” Tim looked like he remembered something.

“What?” Kevin growled.

“I just realized he’s charging this whole thing on my card...that
asshole
!”

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