The Bridesmaid Lotto
His first mistake was playing.
His worst mistake was leaving.
Rowan Michaels never considered Connor Ashton as more than a friend. During their university days, he always had a new love interest; a revolving door of women. She refused to be one of them, not that he ever seemed interested.
When their formerly tight-knit group meets again to celebrate the wedding of one of their own, she’s tempted to sample the goods. Connor looks better than ever, and he’s turning on the charm. What harm could come from one night with the hottest man at the wedding?
Plenty, as fate would have it. When the reason for Connor’s sudden interest comes to light, Rowan is heartbroken. Her miscalculation might cost her one best friend, her place in her bestie’s wedding, and her last shred of dignity.
Can she forgive and forget? What’s a bridesmaid to do?
The clamour swelled, nearing a fevered pitch. “Shoot it!” Sharp retorts punctuated the words as people thumped pints of beer and multiple glasses against the solid wooden bar. “Shoot it! Shoot it!” More voices joined in the chorus until the entire club had joined in.
Rowan lifted her glass in a salute. Nothing to be done but to comply. The tradition couldn’t die with me. There’d be no living with that level of shame. “To Sadie! May her married life be full of joy.” She linked arms with the bride, tapping glasses before tossing back the shot. The path burning down her throat made her twitch and grimace, the tartness of the clear liquid a complete surprise. Sucking a wedge of lime, she squinted at the bartender and scrunched her nose. The wicked gleam in his eyes told her the drink switch was no accident.
Rowan and Sadie moved onto the next set of glasses, then the next, and the next, downing each portion in turn, finally ending the fifth and final glasses with more lime wedges.
“Brava, ladies. Those rounds are on the house.” The dark-haired bartender winked at Rowan before turning to pour out more shots as similar scenes played down the length of the bar.
Tomorrow Rowan may regret the man’s sass in slipping her some actual shots of tequila, but only a little. Tonight was all about celebrating Sadie and her upcoming nuptials in a manner befitting the sixth member of their close-knit friend group tying the proverbial knot.
At first, Rowan had protested at the idea of another drunken bachelorette, but she’d been overruled with remarkable speed. Each and every one of their friends who’d married in the past years had gone through this same ritual. Now they were pared down to only four remaining unmarried, the bevy of single ladies becoming increasingly sparse. Three. Soon only three of us left in the single ladies club.
Mallory, the maid of honour, interrupted Rowan’s silent moment of mourning by grabbing her hand and hauling her and the bride onto the floor. The light upbeat dance mix carried on the airwaves, the fairy lights ringing the roof top terrace glimmering against the dark summer sky. This wouldn’t last, these magical hours between midnight and dawn. Soon, their allotted time in this oasis would be up.
Rowan swayed to the music, lifting her arms and letting go. The time to rue the death of her own dreams, her wishes for happily wedded bliss, flitted away. Six months had flashed by in a blur since the end, leaving her in a daze. Time to move on.
Move on. Move on. The familiar ache surged through her, the words echoing in her head, morphing into the lyrics of the next song. She tipped her head back, closing her eyes for what she assumed was a millisecond, opening them to find she’d gained a dance partner.
Connor Ashton. The man waggled his brows, joining her in moving to the beat, wrapping an arm around her waist as she turned. He pulled her close, holding her tight against his firm body.
This weirdness added another disjointed moment in the haze. This weekend of all times, this guy decides to single me out? The crush she harboured for this man had simmered for so long she’d stopped trusting herself around him. She pulled away and headed toward the far side of the terrace, catching the eye of the bartender. The man tapped his watch, a sure indication closing time approached.
Rowan changed course to retrieve the tall, icy glass he set on the bar. “Thanks, Nick,” she said, making a mental note to add an extra-generous tip when she cleared the tab.
Circling behind the wall of greenery on the far side of the bar, she found her favourite bench and collapsed onto it. Seconds later, her shoes were off, her aching feet pressed against the cool stone.
“Rowan? Are you okay?”
She looked up into the amber eyes of Connor, taking in the concerned twist of his lips. “All good. You?”
He nodded, but showed no sign of retreating. Instead, he propped himself against the edge of a massive stone planter. “Surprised you aren’t under the table, considering the number of shots you packed away.”
Lifting one shoulder, she sipped her ice water. Did I want to reveal my sleight of hand or uncover my accomplice? “After all these bachelorette parties, I’ve learned to handle it. Besides, tonight my job is keeping the bride safe and sound.”
“I’ve seen you in this role before. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride?”
Rowan quelled the urge to roll her eyes at the tired cliché. “Don’t you have some blonde waif to pursue? Isn’t that your preferred type?”
Maybe biting back was unworthy, but the reminder of her failure to make it to the altar burned in unexpected ways. Not that she necessarily cared about Connor’s opinion or his usual taste in women; she definitely didn’t. The issue lay in the painful echo of the words, another voice berating her about matters beyond her control. She gulped a mouthful of water, hoping to soothe the lump in her throat.
“Nope, no preferred type.” His searching look seemed a touch regretful. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have said that. Don’t know what I was thinking.”
She shook her head, powerless to speak, but she wouldn’t discuss his direct attack on her heart. Rising, she hurried back toward the dance floor, ready to lose herself in the celebrations. Time to move on. Move on. Move on.
Despite the late night, Rowan arrived right on time for their Friday morning strategy session. She peered around the restaurant, spotting the group of bridesmaids at a long table toward the back of the restaurant.
Mallory waved and beckoned. “You’re looking good.”
Rowan slid into a chair beside the cheerful maid of honour. “You too. How’s Sadie this morning?”
“Rough,” said Coco, their fellow bridesmaid and long-time friend. “I set up the usual morning after pack for her. She’s well equipped to manage the hangover, plus we booked a couple’s massage and a light lunch at the hotel spa. I’ll check on her this afternoon to ensure she’s ready for the rehearsal and dinner.”
“Perfect. Everyone will receive their assignment in a moment,” Mallory said, tapping her phone. The action set off a series of chimes down the table. “If we divide and conquer, we’ll have time to meet up for drinks before the rehearsal.”
“You are so organized.” Rowan lifted her Mimosa in a toast to Mallory’s organizational skills. The woman was unrivalled in her ability to complete her MOH duties with time to spare, turning out elegant event after elegant event, all tuned the strict budgets and exacting specification of each couple.
“Back at you. The terrace last night”—Mallory kissed her fingertips with a flourish—“simply perfection. You ready to pull out all the stops for the venue?”
“On it.” Rowan checked her phone and frowned. “Is this accurate? What body part did you sell to get Connor to decorate?”
Ha, right. Probably scoping out his options. “Yeah, I just bet he did.”
“Would I lie to you?” Mallory’s over-the-top saucy wink made Rowan laugh. “Just think, you can spend the entire day bossing him around.”
She pictured his reaction to the lovely blonde caterer with her trim figure. “He’ll be sorely disappointed the lovely catering staff won’t be in until tomorrow morning.”
“He’s not that bad.” Mallory giggled. “I’ll send reinforcements once some of the other guys have picked up the tuxes and completed their duties, so you won’t be tortured all day by our resident playboy. Anyway, rumour is he’s reined in those womanizer tendencies.”
“Grady told me that too,” Coco said. “My sweetie knows Connor better than anyone, so it must be true.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Rowan muttered, but she pasted on a smile. No way would she fail on one of the most important missions of the wedding, so the man would simply have to fall into line. If the decor wasn’t perfect, there would be hell to pay, and Connor would be shelling out for that particular bill. “Don’t worry. I’ll keep him in line.”
“Excellent. He’ll meet you in the lobby in thirty minutes so you can share a ride to the hall.” Her friend snickered. “You’ll have a pleasant afternoon admiring his fine physique while he performs all the heavy lifting.”
Rowan smothered a snort. If only he didn’t change women with the same frequency as his socks, he might be worth another look. Her final hope of spending as little time as possible with the man faded, leaving her with the small consolation of enjoying him like a morsel of eye candy. It could be worse.
A Steamy Romance Novella from the Love Me Collection.