On her wedding day, Evelyn spent the requisite number of hours primping and sweating the details. One detail in particular.
“Are you sure… I mean, this is kind of…shit.”
“Relax. It’s all good.”
She glanced at Melody. Evelyn had never had a ton of women friends. In fact, she’d always claimed she preferred men to women when it came to socializing. Easier, less fraught, minimal drama.
Once again, Evelyn congratulated herself for hiring Melody to be in charge of the formerly floundering Fitz Pub. The woman oozed confidence and the sort of inner peace Evelyn thought the stuff of cheesy Internet memes. She was unafraid of her own inner emotional life and that balanced Evelyn in a way she never realized she needed.
And now, she really needed all of that. And some more. Considering she was about to walk down the aisle with a man she’d spent so much energy rejecting as a legitimate possibility for herself, it felt more than a little surreal. Not to mention the rather alarming surprise she had planned for him.
She smiled at the memory of him—of her Austin—and how joyously they’d reunited.
He was already house hunting for a bigger place, where Ross could have his own space, even though Ross had protested that it wouldn’t look right. She’d half-agreed with him, until a few mornings ago, when Ross had come up from behind her as she studied her changing body in a full-length mirror, turning side to side, front to back. With a smile, he’d put both of his hands under the slight curve of her belly before sliding them up, inevitably, to her boobs, which were also changing, growing heavier, her nipples darkening. She’d sensed his erection pressing against her ass, and had been about to turn and accommodate him, when she’d sensed something wet hit her shoulder.
Knowing that any sort of emotional acknowledgement was harder than pulling his own teeth, she’d smiled and let Ross cradle the baby—their baby—growing inside her in his hands, as tears had rolled down his cheeks in silence. She hadn’t said anything. There’d been no need.
As she regarded herself now in the mirror, her smile faded and she put a hand on the shelf of her stomach, wondering just how much this little wrinkle would alter their dynamic. Austin claimed not to care at all that Ross had fathered the child. If anything, he thought it the most ideal beginning to their lives as a family.
But still…the two men—her two men—were straight-up alpha males and many times she wondered how it could possibly work. How could she love them both? And if she did, what in the world was she doing, marrying one of them?
For the thousandth time, Evelyn thanked God for his mercy in returning Austin to her, and for letting her keep Ross in the process. Such an excess of riches might’ve scared some women but Evelyn was determined not to let superstitious nonsense color her future.
“Sweet Jesu, woman. Relax.” Melody sipped from her glass of dark porter. The smell tempted, but Evelyn waved it away. She’d moved past the mild nausea stage pretty quickly and had tipped over into something new and different and very, very sexy. It was as if she were ripe, full of promise and hornier than a sailor on shore leave. “You’re gonna mess up your makeup, chica. Cut the waterworks already.”
But Melody’s own gaze was watery as she patted Evelyn’s cheekbones with a tissue.
“Honestly I don’t even understand why you have any right to feel upset about a damn thing. Marrying one. Getting two? Fuck me six ways to Sunday… Oh, right, you already do that, you silly cow.”
“Shut up, puta. You’re not helping.” Evelyn grinned at her friend.
Melody rolled her eyes and muttered a long string of Spanish words she couldn’t make out.
“Oh, hell.” She stared at herself in the big mirror in the bride’s room of the church. “He’s gonna kill me.”
“Very possibly, yes,” Melody said.
Evelyn turned away from the mirror. The tone of Melody’s voice was odd. Strained in a way she’d never heard.
Melody had not required an abortion after all. She’d had a messy, scary miscarriage that had landed her in the hospital for a week. A week that Trent had spent lurking around, trying to get her to see him only to be rejected over and over—loudly, usually accompanied by thrown objects. Evelyn had stayed with her around the clock, knowing Melody would have done the same for her. She’d tried hard to convince her friend to at least talk to Trent. The poor man had been out of his ever-loving mind with panicked worry over her. But Melody wouldn’t even allow her to speak his name after a while.
A knock on the door interrupted her train of thought.
“Hey, ladies, can I…?” A newly familiar face appeared in the doorway. Evelyn sucked in a breath. Melody took several steps back. “Sorry,” Brock said, retreating as if sensing the stress his appearance had caused.
“No, no, I’m sorry,” Evelyn said, motioning for him to step inside. “Come on in.”
Brock Fitzgerald entered the room, filling it with the force of his personality and extreme good looks. He had his twin’s bone structure, but his take on the Fitzgerald genes manifested into a more model-like arrangement of his features, slightly fairer of skin and hair, more chiseled of facial features, with eyes the oddest shade of hazel she’d ever seen. Since the moment she’d seen his email, she’d spent some time getting to know him—or at least as much as he would allow.
She’d agreed to hire him after he’d reappeared, reaching out to her, asking for help, but she’d wanted to surprise Austin. When she’d agreed to marry him, and had set a date, she’d also decided on her own that Brock would escort her down the aisle.
Ross had been more than a little dubious but went along with it, once he met Austin’s long-missing twin and had found him worthy—if on probation for causing Austin so much unnecessary grief.
“Dear God, you are exquisite,” Brock said, putting his hands on her shoulders and smiling at her into the mirror. “My brother is one lucky son of a bitch.” He took her hands and gave them a squeeze.
Evelyn sucked in a breath and tried to convince herself that this—any of this—was a good idea.
Tried, and failed.
Evelyn jerked her hands out of Brock’s grip.
“Hey, hon, I need to talk to you about something,” Austin said through the door.
“Don’t let him in here,” she whispered to Melody. “I mean it.”
Brock stood, tucking his hands in his tuxedo pockets, squaring his shoulders and facing the door. “Let him in, Evie,” he said.
She glared at him, as panic ran up and down her spine. Melody stood, arms crossed over her chest, her eyes on the half open door.
“Evie?” Austin said as he stuck his head into the room. “Who the hell calls you tha—oh.”
“Austin,” Brock said with a wide smile. “I wanted to surprise you.”
Evelyn clutched the skirt of her wedding dress, anxiety at foisting this on him twanging all her nerve endings.
Austin stepped into the bride’s room, his face slack, his eyes dark with something resembling anger. He had an envelope gripped in one hand with handwriting on it. “Brock…you’re…here? Now?”
“Austin, I…” Evelyn said, moving toward him.
He held up a hand, keeping his gaze on his long-lost brother. When he spoke, his voice was flat, devoid of emotion, and terrifying. “I’m sorry, but it was my understanding that you were, I don’t know, dead or something like it. Which would explain your non-communication with me, your fucking twin brother, for the last, what, six years?” Austin’s face flamed an alarming shade of red.
When Evelyn tried to move closer to him, Melody grabbed her arm.
Brock seemed to deflate at his brother’s words. Then he squared his shoulders and lifted his chin in the face of Austin’s fury. “Yeah, well…I’m not dead. I was gone for a while, but I guess, I needed space.”
“Space,” Austin repeated, his jaw clenched. “You needed space. You needed…fucking…” He blew out a breath. “Does our mother know you’ve decided to pull a Lazarus? What about Caroline? You sneaking back into that poor girl’s life again?”
“Yeah, Mom knows.” The two men glared at each other across the room. “And what I do or don’t do with Caroline is none of your fucking b—”
“Excuse me? This is my day, gentlemen,” Evelyn interrupted, stamping her foot, her heart pounding so hard it deafened her. “Cut the crap. You”—she pointed at Austin—“get out of here and back into the chapel. Unless you’ve changed your mind, of course.” She rested a shaking hand on her stomach. The baby inside her—a girl, she already knew but had told neither Ross or Austin—gave a quick flutter, a new trick this week, as if sensing her mother’s stress and reminding her to be aware of her blood pressure.
Austin seemed to snap out of a trance and turned to face her, blinking fast. It broke her heart, how undone he looked. She steeled herself and motioned over his shoulder, indicating the direction he should go. He sucked in a long breath and held out the envelope with a shaking hand.
“He’s gone,” he said.
Evelyn stumbled backward. Melody caught her by the elbow and shot a barrage of Spanish curse words in Austin’s direction before helping her down into a chair. She pulled out the note, read the sparse lines and closed her eyes.
“What is it?” Melody demanded, trying to pry the paper out of Evelyn’s cold fingers.
Austin crouched by Evelyn’s chair and put his hand on her leg. “Ross left.”
“Left?” Melody spat out. “Jesu, you three are worse than the worst Telenovela.” She kept muttering as she handed Evelyn a cool glass of water.
“Are you going to be okay?” Austin’s soft query made tears fill her eyes again. She nodded, took Melody’s proffered hanky, swiped her tears away and got to her feet. This was no big surprise. And something she’d simply have to deal with later. Austin blew her a kiss then slipped out of the door.
“You,” she said, focusing her glare on Brock who stood nearby, looking sheepish. “You have a lot to answer for so be ready. I love that man,” she said, pointing to the empty space once occupied by Austin. “All I want is for him to be happy.” She took a long breath. “So help me, Brock Fitzgerald, you are gonna help me achieve that today. Got it?”
He nodded and cocked his elbow at her as the sounds of flower girl music swirled around them, indicating that the bride’s music was next. She hesitated, her long-ingrained resistance to this very moment reasserting itself with a vengeance.
“Come on, Evie.” He wagged his eyebrows at her.
She frowned, felt herself hyperventilating, sensed Melody at her side, providing support with her presence.
“Let’s do this thing, future sister-in-law.” Brock grabbed her arm and dragged her forward. He winked then pressed his lips to her damp cheek.
Interesting times ahead. She tucked her hand into the crook of Brock’s elbow.
“Relax,” he insisted, as he led her into the hallway and the harp music switched to something that made her pulse race faster.
“I can’t,” she said.
“Yes, you can. And you will. Just focus on Austin, Evie. That’s all you need to do. Tell you what. I’ll do it too, okay? I think we both need to focus on making his day today.”
She took a long breath, and did exactly that. “Promise me one thing,” she said, before taking her first step down the aisle toward her future husband. “Don’t ever leave again.”
“I mean it, Brock. He needs you just as much as he needs me.” She gripped his arm. Their eyes met.
“Okay,” he said. “I promise.”
“Okay,” she said. “Then take me to him, why don’t you?”