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He talks to him like they know each other.
My gaze snaps back to Cooper.
Do they know each other?!
A heavy organ starts to echo around the chapel, announcing the start of the ceremony. Cooper ushers me forward and tugs me down so the backs of my thighs hit the hard wood of the pew.
His mom leans forward and narrows her eyes on Dr. Russell. “Do you know Cooper’s date?”
At the same time, Cooper’s hand hits my shoulder. “Here, let me get your coat.”
I lean forward and let him tug it off.
Everything is happening so fast.
“Yes, Mom. We work together,” Dr. Russell answers simply, turning back to me.
“How is this—”
My sentence trails off at the exact moment I lay eyes on the man on the other side of Cooper’s mom, the last person in their group. His black hair might be sprinkled with salt and the glasses perched on the end of his nose detract from the similarities, but there’s no doubt I’m staring at Dr. Russell’s father.
Equations swirl in my head. So, if that woman is Cooper’s mom…and that man is Dr. Russell’s dad then…E = mc2?
“Matt’s my brother,” Cooper whispers quickly in my ear before he lays my coat on the pew on the other side of him.
The word collides into me with the subtlety of a Mack truck.
BROTHER. As in related, as in I’m sandwiched between my date and my boss. Brothers. The man I’m supposed to be into and the man I can’t get out of my head. This makes absolutely no sense. I have so many questions and I can’t ask them because there is a freaking wedding ceremony taking place around us. The mother of the bride and the mother of the groom are gushing and pink and sparkly and they’re being ushered down the aisle so they can take their seats two pews in front of ours.
It’d be rude to talk now, so I bite my tongue and try to stare straight ahead. Good. There. Focus on Jesus.
It doesn’t work.
I’m well aware I’m shaking while the men around me sit perfectly still. This isn’t as shocking to them as it is to me. What did Dr. Russell say when he first saw me?
“You brought her?”
So he was surprised to see me here, but not surprised to see that I knew Cooper.
What the hell does that mean?
I can feel Dr. Russell’s gaze on me. He wants me to turn toward him, but I won’t. I shift a little in my seat and now his thigh presses against mine. He doesn’t move away, and I don’t know what to do. The lacy fabric of my dress bunches up between us, but it doesn’t matter. His suit pants are searing my skin all the same, and it’s so hot we’re fused now, because no matter how much I scream at myself to move away, I can’t. It’s just not possible.
Cooper’s hand wraps around mine on the other side and he squeezes reassuringly.
A moment later, Dr. Russell’s hand clenches around his wedding program.
I frown and he must catch it because he offers the program to me, like that’s what I wanted—his stupid program. The backs of our fingers barely touch as I take it and yet the contact zips across my heart like he just hauled me up against a wall and kissed me.
I stifle a laugh.
I might not be able to move my leg from his, but I turn my body so I’m angled toward the aisle, toward Cooper. My long hair falls over my shoulder and I can feel Dr. Russell’s gaze on the back of my neck and my bare back. Why did I pick this dress? Oh right, it wasn’t my choice.
I can’t believe this is happening. Yesterday’s car ride was intense to say the least. I thought I’d have another 24 hours to work up what I wanted to say to him. Now here we are, thigh to thigh at a wedding. And there’s that smell again, his cologne. I want to buy up every bottle in existence and pour them down a toilet.
Cooper catches my eye, smiles, and mouths, “Sorry.”
I don’t say a word.
There’ll be plenty of time for explanations after the ceremony when I don’t have a million pairs of curious eyes focused on me.
It’s the cocktail hour between the ceremony and the reception, an hour in which I plan on drinking my body weight in alcohol in the hopes that it will distract me from the fact that Bailey is here at this wedding with my brother.
She’s standing right beside me, listening to Cooper try to explain his way out of this situation. I take another sip of my drink and am already trying to flag down a passing waiter so I can order another.
Bailey’s angry, though I’m not surprised. My brother handled the situation deplorably and now somehow, I’m in the middle of what feels dangerously close to a love triangle I want nothing to do with.
“So you see, it’s pretty simple. Bailey, you came into the bar with a few of your friends. I was there waiting for Matt. He never showed and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to meet you.”
Cooper’s standing in front of me like a dog with his tail between his legs. Bailey’s eyes could burn a hole through his head if he’s not careful. “Okay, fine, but did you know at the time that I worked for Dr. Russell?”
Again with the Dr. Russell bullshit. We’re off the clock.
“Matt,” I correct.
She shoots me a quick, searing glare that leaves me with third-degree burns.
Cooper adjusts his shirt collar, clearly uncomfortable. “I figured it out later that night.”
“So then why didn’t you just tell me? We’ve been texting for weeks.” She shakes her head. “This just feels weird now.”
Cooper steps forward, his tone taking on a pleading lilt. “I was going to tell you, but then I got busy with work, and tonight seemed like as good an opportunity as any.”
Honestly, I don’t mind standing here. It’s like watching a slow-moving train wreck. I kind of like watching him squirm. I move to take another sip of my drink but stall when Bailey’s eyes slice over to me again.
“And you knew too? Why didn’t you tell me?”
I chuckle and shake my head. “I don’t think so. This isn’t my fight. If you’re going to be mad at someone, it should be your date.”
She crosses her arms, clearly in disagreement. “Yesterday when you were driving me home, you could have told me about Cooper. There was plenty of time.”
I finish bringing my glass to my mouth in lieu of replying. The drink burns just a little on the way down, but it’s nothing compared to her gaze raking over me, taking in the suit I picked up yesterday while she waited in the car. It seems to offend her as much as my brother and I have.
“Wait, what do you mean?” Coop asks indignantly. “Driving her home?”
Oh, this is rich.
Cooper’s the angry one now, and I can’t help but laugh. “Relax, Coop. It was raining and I didn’t want your precious date to walk home. You can stop looking at me like you want to kill me.”
“This is a mess.” Bailey tosses her hands up and walks away. “You two can sort it out. I’m getting a drink.”
When she’s out of earshot, I step toward Cooper so we’re toe to toe and he can’t look away. “What the fuck were you thinking bringing her here as your date? Is this a game to you?”
He squares his shoulders and cocks his jaw. “Not a game—an experiment. I knew it would make you mad if I brought her, so I couldn’t resist. You’ve acted so weird about me talking to her. I wanted to see for myself how you’d act if she came tonight, and my suspicions were correct.”
I arch a brow. “Oh yeah? Please, enlighten me.”
He smiles smugly. “You like Bailey. When I showed up, you weren’t upset that she was here. You were upset that she was here with me.”
I push him hard. He loses his footing and stumbles back.
My reaction surprises us both. Sure, we roughhoused as teenagers, but we’ve never gotten into anything physical as adults.
“You’re acting like an idiot,” I say, stepping forward again. I’m starting to get pissed.
He meets me halfway and gets right up in my face, finger hitting my chest. “Maybe so, but at least I’m not a miserable asshole. You’re so used to being alone, you don’t even recognize an opportunity to be happy when it’s staring you in the face.”