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I try to relax my features, but it’s no use. I’ve felt anxious ever since Dr. Russell dropped me off yesterday. I barely slept. I kept replaying his words, and I’ve come to two conclusions. One, he was right. I have no idea the kind of stress he deals with all day, every day. I can put my head down and focus on work a little more, but—two, he also has to admit fault. He can’t keep using me as a punching bag.
I have no clue what I’ll do come Monday morning. Should I address what happened in the car and apologize for my part of it? And if he’s unwilling to change, do I want to keep working for him?
Josie thinks I’m quiet and anxious because of the wedding. That’s why she’s taking extra care with my hair and makeup. It looks really good. Her obsession with beauty videos on YouTube has clearly paid off.
“There!” She sets down the curling iron. “Now we just need to brush out the curls so they look soft, like you’re an Old Hollywood movie star!”
I have exactly enough energy to give her a feeble thumbs-up.
Dress shopping yesterday took a lot out of me. The thrift shop we walked to in the rain is in a nicer area of town so it was filled with designer castoffs. I thought we’d just go in and grab the first thing we saw, but Josie turned it into a mini fashion show. In the end, after a lot of suffering on my part, she settled on a formfitting ice blue cocktail dress with an elegant floral lace overlay. The long sleeves cling to my arms all the way to my wrists, and the flowy skirt hits halfway down my thighs. An open back adds a touch of sexiness without seeming indecent.
I’ll be absolutely freezing if the wedding is outside.
She puts the finishing touches on my hair then steps back with a proud smile. “Gorgeous.” I smile at my reflection more for her sake than my own. My heart’s not in it tonight, no matter how hard I try. “Too bad we couldn’t afford a new coat. Your pink one doesn’t go with this at all.”
She’s right. It’s too casual, but it’s all I have at the moment.
“I’ll take it off right when we get inside,” I promise her. “Don’t worry, I won’t ruin all your hard work.”
The doorbell rings a few minutes later while I’m in the bathroom alone, giving myself a pep talk that centers more on trying to put Dr. Russell out of my mind than it does on my impending date. I close my eyes and see his dark, wet hair, the way his damp shirt clung to his biceps when he got back into the car, his large hands gripping the steering wheel as he drove me home in silence, and the disdain in his voice when he told me to grow up.
If I concentrate, I swear I can still smell him. His car held the same intoxicating scent as his office, but in the smaller space, it was magnified. The scent clings to my memory like those drops of rain were clinging to him.
“Bailey! Are you ready?” Josie shouts from the living room. “Cooper’s here!”
I blink my eyes open and meet my gaze in the mirror, trying on a weak, awkward smile before shaking my head and giving up. “Yes! Coming!”
Cooper is waiting for me by the door, and I’m surprised to see how handsome he looks. It’s been weeks since we met in the bar, and Smooth Tony’s was hazy and dark. My memory didn’t quite do him justice. His hair is a dark, ashy blond, thick and styled well. His suit is navy blue, and his light blue tie is clipped in place with a slice of silver metal. He’s put together and debonair in a way that makes me feel like a child in comparison.
His eyes glide down me and apparently I merit his approval, even with my pink coat, because he smiles wide and steps forward to kiss my cheek.
“You look great. When you told me you were wearing blue, I wanted to match.”
I’m slightly confused until I realize Josie must have texted him a hint about my outfit. I slice my gaze to her and she winks before shooing us out the door.
“Don’t hurry home! I have everything I need. I’m going to bury myself in Netflix and popcorn.”
“Don’t stay up too late,” I warn.
She laughs. “Of course. In bed by 10:00, you got it. Hey, it was nice to meet you, Cooper!”
“You too, Josie.”
He smiles back at her and I’m not surprised to see genuine affection in his eyes. Josie wins everyone over. She could walk into peace negotiations in the Middle East and have that situation buttoned up in no time.
“Your sister looks like you,” he notes as he leads me down the driveway toward a shiny black BMW purring at the curb.
“Don’t let her guise fool you. She’s sly,” I warn with a shake of my head.
As he opens my door and takes my hand to help me step off the curb, Cooper informs me we’re running a little late.
I’m immediately worried. “How late are we talking?”
“Oh, just a few minutes. Nothing to worry about.”
He’s lying of course. Once I insist upon seeing the invitation, I realize we’re extremely late, only a few minutes shy of the bride making her descent down the aisle. Hell, there’s a chance we’ll walk in right as the preacher asks if anyone objects.
“My flight back from Cincinnati was delayed. Everyone will understand,” he promises after we park. He takes my hand and leads me toward the small church.
I hate being late. I especially hate being late to an event like this, and my worst fears are realized when Cooper opens the door to the chapel and every person in attendance turns in their pews to look back at us. Eyes blink expectantly. A small child asks if we’re the ones getting married. And yes, it really does feel like we’re the bride and groom making our way toward the altar. My cheeks burn. I want to yank my hand out of his, spin around, and walk right back outside, but of course, I can’t. I swallow and glance down to the floor, willing the color to drain from my face. It’s no use. I’m Rudolph.
The situation doesn’t bother Cooper in the least. I peer up to see that he’s smiling wide, waving and patting shoulders as we walk down the aisle at an annoyingly leisurely pace. He’s Prince Harry waving at his people.
I want to sit in the back, in the first pew we pass.
“What about here?” I say quickly, tugging him to the left. Bride’s side, groom’s side, floor, pew—who the hell cares. I just want to sit!
“My family’s up front. It looks like they saved us seats.”
Oh good. Next, he’ll tell me we’re actually going to stand up at the altar during the ceremony. You’ve officiated a wedding before, right?
I can’t make eye contact with anyone we pass because not only am I late, I’m also walking into a small, intimate wedding on the arm of a guy I barely know. Hell, I don’t even know his last name. Everyone is definitely judging me from head to toe, and now I wish I’d ditched my puffy jacket back in the foyer when Cooper offered to hang it up, but I didn’t want to delay us further.
“Cooper, there you are! I was worried you wouldn’t make it,” says a polite, feminine voice. It belongs to the woman standing up and waving us over. She has the same ashy blonde hair and easygoing smile as my date. She’s wearing a dark plum dress with a cashmere scarf tied stylishly around her shoulders. She is, of course, Cooper’s mother.
I wish we were meeting each other under different circumstances, but I aim a smile at her all the same. Her own smile widens in response and a small sense of relief rushes through me just before the world slips out from beneath my feet.
We’re turning into the pew when I freeze.
Cooper runs into me from behind and I nearly topple forward like a domino. He grabs my elbow to right me, but I can’t feel his touch because I’m staring at a figment of my imagination, or maybe it’s just my worst nightmare.
“Dr. Russell?” I ask, voice barely above a whisper.
My boss shoots to his feet, all six-plus feet of him. My mouth hangs agape. My heart sputters to a screeching halt in my chest. He’s nothing but darkness—his hair, his suit, his demeanor—everything except for his blue eyes, which are the exact shade of my dress.