I love weddings. Black tie. White tie. Cocktail. Garden. Even backyard weddings like this one. Weddings are just beautiful. The idea of loving someone so much that you want to stand in front of your family, your friends, your entire community in some instances, and tie yourself to another person in a symbol of your love; it’s swoon worthy.
Unless of course, you’re not in love.
Or worse, it’s unrequited.
In that case, watching one of your friends get married is still joyful, but it’s also a little prickly. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not jealous of Chloe and Paynter. I don’t wish they weren’t head over heels in love with each other. Or that the goat, along with Paynter’s niece, weren’t the cutest little flower girls.
I’m also not envious that Garrett, one of the other Frost brothers, found himself completely, irrevocably in love with his daughter’s nanny. So much so that the eternal playboy proposed to Erin at his brother’s wedding. And adopted a duck.
Who adopts a duck anyway? People in sickening, sweet love, that’s who.
Honestly, I couldn’t be happier for all of them. They deserve to live happily ever after. It’s just...I had hoped by now that I would be a little closer to wrangling a declaration of affection from my own Frost. Or, at the very least, a first date.
The bride is glowing. A minute ago, she was perfection. Not a hair out of place. Her perfect champagne gown appeared to glide along the carpet runner as she swanned toward her husband-to-be. But now she waves her hand under her nose and tries not to get teary while she says I do.
The photographer snaps shot after shot. They’re probably perfect, with the lake and trees behind the white trellis wound with vines and flowers. The groom pinches the bridge of his nose for a moment, hiding his eyes, before it’s his turn to make his vows.
It’s always the look on the groom’s face that gets to me the most. The way strong men can’t hide their emotions while pledging their lives to the woman they love. They crumble. The men in my own family would never show this much emotion. Not for love, death, or taxes.
I flutter my lashes and fight not to give in to emotion while I sneakily pull a tissue from my sequined clutch to blot the inner corners of my eyes. Beside me, James shifts his stance and makes a small, rough noise in his throat. From the side of my eye I can see his hands. Strong, capable hands with long, agile fingers and blunt nails. Tanned, but only because of his golf game every couple of weeks. I may have spent a little too much time over the years imagining them on me. He grips them together then drops them to his side before folding his arms across his chest. He never does know what to do with them when he’s not working. James Frost, the last single Frost brother and the one I have wanted to say I do to since the day I entered his office that first time. What an award-winning glower! And that head for business...such a turn-on.
The celebrant announces that Paynt can kiss his bride. The groom wraps an arm around his wife’s waist, one hand capturing her face while he says something that makes her smile. None of us hear it. Those words are only for her. Their lips meet and we clap. Someone, probably Garrett, says something a little untoward that sends up a titter among the guests.
James coughs into his fist. He’s uncomfortable with the display of affection in front of us. I glance up at him only to get caught in that familiar gaze. Is there any chance he could ever see me as a woman, instead of a walking, talking Blackberry? If I told him how I felt would he care, or would it ruin everything?
“Best go congratulate the happy couple,” he says. Then he strides across the lawn and it takes me a moment to catch up. He’s taller than me, slim, with long legs and a gym-earned physique, but I’m used to keeping up with him.
Five years. That’s how long I’ve been at this man’s side. And not once has he turned to me and said, “You know, Myra, I just want to throw you over this desk and fuck you senseless,” or “Would you ever consider dinner with me if it were, say, a date and not a business meeting?” Pity. I would like that.
“Myra, I’m so happy you’re here.” Chloe hugs me while James congratulates Paynt. They don’t hug, although Paynt gives his brother a light shove. The three brothers are so different, but James is the odd one out. He always has been that much more serious than the others. More determined and goal orientated.
“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” I tell her. “You’re such a beautiful bride, and that man loves you so much.”
“He does,” she agrees. “I know I’m incredibly lucky.”
“No.” I shake my head. “I doubt there was any luck involved.”
“But there was a goat.” Her eyes twinkle. “Some would say that finding Spot was luck.”
“Perhaps. Either way, you deserve to be happy.”
“What about you?” she whispers. “Are you ever going to do something about our boss?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I step out of the hug. I crinkle my brow as I look from her to James.
“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Come on, Myra, be a go-getter.” Chloe grins big, so big. She’s so happy, she wants to see everyone happy. This isn’t the first time a bride has decided I needed a man in my life. Usually they try to set me up with their cousin’s accountant in Bristol or their father-in-law’s lawyer from Michigan. They don’t hit the nail on the head the way Chloe does. But then they don’t work with us either, and Chloe is James’s partner at Frost Inc.
“There’s absolutely nothing—”
“What’s nothing?” Paynt kisses Chloe’s temple as James moves to my side.
Again I’m tempted to glance at him, but will that make it too obvious that he’s the subject of our conversation? “It doesn’t matter. We were just discussing Spot.”
“You were talking about the goat?” James’s voice is deep, so even when he speaks softly it carries a note of command. If I weren’t a veteran it would make me jump. Still, it makes me shiver. But not like I’m scared. It’s more of a tingle that one might get from a sensual caress. The kind one might hope to take further.
“I was telling her she should get a goat.” Chloe beams as she slips her arms around Paynt. “It’s what brought Paynt and I together. Perhaps a goat might help Myra find her own happiness.”
“Funny. You’re kidding, right?” James gapes at me, his brows raised to his neatly styled dark hair. “A goat? Most people choose actual pets, not barnyard animals.”
“Actually, perhaps that’s not such a bad idea,” Paynt agrees. “But if anyone needs a goat in their lives it’s my brother. Which is why I asked him to look after Spot while we’re on our honeymoon.”
“Really?” Chloe and I both ask at the same time. James isn’t an animal person. It’s not that they don’t like him. It’s more that he doesn’t know how to handle them, especially the energetic, inquisitive types.
“Sure.” James shrugs. “I can handle it. It’s only for a couple of weeks. I’ll get Myra to put it on the schedule. That way if I’m too busy, she’ll make sure it’s done. Won’t you, Myra?”
“Of course.” What else is a walking, talking PDA for other than keeping a schedule? And that’s all I really am, isn’t it? With no change on the horizon.
“Okay. Now, if you don’t mind, brother, I think we’ll quit hogging your attention and get a drink. Who knows how long it will be before our father rounds me up to complain about my life choices.”
“It’s just because Mom wants grandbabies.” Paynt winks at me behind James’s back.
“She already has one. She doesn’t need me to get more grandchildren,” James grouches. “Coming, Myra?”
Boy, does a drink sound good right now.
I’m standing on the raised deck, watching the lanterns down near the beach send a shimmer over the water. Somewhere between the I do’s and the happy couple saying their farewells, it’s gotten dark; the only light comes from the bulbs strung through the yard.
Garrett and Erin snuck off a little while ago to take their little girl home, but they probably just want some alone time now that they’re finally, officially together.
Ronnie, the only girl in the Frost pack, slunk out of here with the young man who helped her set up.
And James? I knew when I agreed to come to this wedding with him that it wasn’t a date. Not a real one anyway. I’ve accompanied him to enough events, business and otherwise, to know that when he asks me to join him, he just doesn’t want to go alone. Or he’s hoping to network.
I don’t know why I expected it to be different at a family event. One I was invited to on my own merit. One I could have brought a real man to. Of course, James is a real man. There’s no questioning that. Especially where my lady parts are concerned. Earlier, he’d taken my elbow and guided me around the yard, talking to this person and that, and I could have sworn there was an undercurrent of something possessive to it. When he asked me to dance I got lost in the way his hands felt on my hip as he held me slightly apart from him.
But that’s just James. Considerate and a gentleman. Nothing more. He isn’t trying to flirt with me. He isn’t offering anything more than a lovely evening with some business networking thrown in. Because he doesn’t see me as a woman. I’m an extension of his office that he can take wherever he goes. I may as well be a pissing robot rather than a flesh-and-blood female. Then again, maybe it’s like my father always said: I should stop being a daft cow and pull my finger out.
Which is why I’m hiding while he talks to his parents and says good-bye to the rest of Chloe and Paynt’s guests. Because it’s time. Either it’s going to happen or it isn’t, but unless I make a move on him, I’ll never know. And I can’t move forward without knowing.
James probably hasn’t even noticed I’m missing. But his mother must have because James looks up and scans the yard at the same time as his parents, all three gazes coming to rest on me.
James and his parents say something and then Jill waves at me. I raise my dirty martini in acknowledgment and polish it off, since Mr. and Mrs. Frost take this moment to depart, leaving a few stragglers heading toward the driveway where cars and cabs wait for them. James, however, heads in my direction.
We have to lock up the house when everyone’s left. And there’s the matter of the goat. Although I’m not sure where the delightful animal has gotten to, and I’m too busy staring at James to look for her right now. I can no longer hold out hope that he might decide there’s something more between us than business meetings and contracts. It’s now or never.
“What are you doing up here, My Supergirl?” James climbs the wooden steps of the deck. “Are you not enjoying your night?”
A star shoots across the lake. A small flare of light that promptly fizzles out. “Sometimes I hate that you call me that.” Almost as much as I like it.
He shakes his head and comes to stand beside me, close enough that I can smell the cigar he shared with his father earlier, and the quality scotch he likes so much. His suit is a little crumpled, and the jacket puffs out around the wrist of his hand that is shoved into the pocket of his slacks. “Sorry. I’ll stop. It just fits so damn well. The first day in my office, you saved my bacon.”
“I suppose that’s the definition of Supergirl, but saving your bacon is part of my job.” It’s the way he adds my to it that turns me upside down. “But things change. Don’t they?”
“That they do.” He unknots his tie, slides it from his neck, and shoves it into his jacket pocket. “It’s hard to believe I’m at the wedding of one of my siblings. Didn’t expect to see two brothers engaged at the same time. Mom’s ecstatic though, talking about all the grandbabies she’s going to be blessed with.”
“She has such a big heart.”
“I just wish she would leave me out of it,” he huffs.
“Don’t you ever think about it?” I twist to face him, the railing at my back.
“About what?” He pulls his phone from his pocket and checks the screen.
I don’t need to ask any more to know the answer. It’s right there in the way he’s completely oblivious to anything other than business. But I’m so tired of these emotions I carefully hide away. “Don’t you ever want to fall in love, James?”
He looks up from his phone, his brow furrowed. It’s an uncomfortable few seconds before he speaks. “I guess I don’t really think about it. Besides, it’s not like I have the time.”
“Because you’re always working.” I push away from the railing and take a few clipped steps toward the house.
“Exactly,” he agrees, following me. “Where am I supposed to meet women worth dating? In boardrooms? In my office?”
I almost trip over my own feet as I stutter to a halt. Anyone else would assume he’s being sarcastic, but the truth is, that’s where he spends the majority of his time. Still, it doesn’t bolster my confidence if I don’t count as datable at all. “W-where are you supposed to meet suitable women?”
“Right. You know what I’d require, Myra. Where should I be looking for this mythical woman to fall in love with?”
Something catches fire. I’m pretty sure it’s my brain. It might also be my good sense. I spin around so fast my own hair whips me in the face. The man I have been pining over for longer than any self-respecting girl should is asking me where to find a future wife?
“Did you suggest that I, as your personal assistant, should help you find a woman to date, James?”
My face must say it all, because his jaw drops and his eyes widen. He slips his phone back into his pocket without looking. “That’s not exactly—”
“Don’t.” I hold up a finger between us. I can’t believe that I’ve held out hope for so long. That I told myself if I were just patient, eventually he might come around. He might notice me in a way that was anything but professional. “Don’t say anything more.”
“I didn’t realize it would bother you so much. If anything, I would have thought you would want to be involved in choosing the right woman for me to date.”
“I…” There’s a certain amount of truth to what he’s saying, if I take into account the fact that I would choose me to be that right woman.
“Look, forget we ever had this ridiculous conversation.” He shrugs. “Chalk it up to my mother being on my case about settling down. I doubt there’s a woman out there who could handle my work schedule, my habits, my lifestyle, anyway.”
“Excuse me?” I take a step toward him. Is he joking? Isn’t that exactly what I do day in and day out? Yes, I’m his assistant, but I don’t do it entirely for the money. I certainly wouldn’t have stayed with him so long if it were only for the money. I have my own dreams and aspirations. Working for James Frost was only meant to be a short pause on the way to my goals.
“Other than you, of course,” he says. “But you’re my Supergirl. Other women don’t have your abilities.”
“Stop talking,” I tell him.
He raises both eyebrows. “Myra, what on earth has gotten into you?”
That’s it. I’ve had enough. Five freaking years of being at his beck and call and never once has he looked at me like I could be more. Now he wants me to find him a woman to fall in love with who is basically me.
Call me toast. I’m done.
“To hell with it, really.” There’s only one thing I can do with this cocked up situation. My stomach churns with nerves, and the back of my neck breaks out in a sweat. And the words...they just won’t come. So I suck in a deep breath and then I do what any girl who’s wanted the man in front of her until it’s sent her crazy would do.
The thick material of my cocktail dress swishes loudly as I rush him. Our bodies collide, the hard wall of his torso taking my impact with ease as I clasp his face between my hands and plant my mouth right on his.
“Myra? What is this?” he asks. Though he doesn’t push me away, he doesn’t kiss me back either. We’re toe to toe, and face to face, and I can feel his pulse under my hands. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?” I whisper.
“It looks like you’re trying to kiss me.” He captures one of my hands, then the other, and pulls them both down together.
My heart feels weighed down like my hands. “It’s all me, isn’t it?”
“I-I don’t know,” he says, but he doesn’t let go of me. “We’re friends, we’re colleagues. This is—”
“You had no idea?”
“None.” He brushes a hand down his face, over those sculpted lips that were touching mine mere seconds ago. At least he didn’t know. It would be so much worse if he had been aware of my feelings all along. “I need time to process this. You’re my admin, not—”
“I can’t believe I stuck by your side for so long.” I shake my head. “You are never going to see me as anything but your employee, are you?”
“How many martinis did you have tonight?”
“Clearly not enough.”
“Look, how about we call it a night. I’ll drop you at home. Perhaps this will all go away when your head is not filled with weddings and soaked in gin.”
“I think we’re past that.” I yank my hand free of his hold and turn my back on him. My chest heaves while I try to get my emotions under control. There’s no reason to stay, to keep torturing myself, and every reason to go. “I quit, James. I’m resigning.”
I’ve thought about quitting so many times over the last few days, but I didn’t think I’d actually have the guts to go through with it. “I’m resigning.”
“You can’t resign,” he argues, grabbing my shoulder and making me face him. “The company needs you. I need you.”
“It’s not enough anymore.”
“You’re irreplaceable. You know that. How will I ever find someone to take on your role at Frost Inc.?”
“I imagine quite easily.”
“What can I do to change your mind?” he asks, stepping back and reaching into his pocket for his phone. “Anything you need? Is it more money that you want?”
He still doesn’t get it, and I don’t know if he simply can’t process that I kissed him because I want more than to work for him or if he’s ignoring it because there’s nothing between us. “I’ve been offered a job. At the Royal Cookie Co. In London. It’ll be a step sideways, but I’m going to take it.”
“But you hate pissing England. Isn’t that what you always say?”
“Yes.” It’s true. I haven’t been back in almost twenty years, but I gave James five years of my life for nothing, it seems. Giving England a few years while I follow my passion for baking seems like a small price to pay. “It’ll be worth it to learn from the best.”
“I don’t want you to leave,” he says. “What happened tonight. This thing...” There’s a second where everything seems to be perfectly still. And then, like dominoes falling, James lets out a yelp as he stumbles backward. Losing his balance, he topples against the railing, which isn’t quite high enough for a man of his stature.
I leap forward, reaching for him, trying to get a hold on his suit jacket, his shirt, his hand, anything. But I’m not quick enough, and with the railing at his lower back, he’s like an upended see-saw, balanced for a split second before falling toward the lawn below.
My heart is in my mouth, my pulse racing frantically as I take the steps two at a time. Somehow, I don’t break an ankle or my neck in my heels, but can James be so lucky? I pull my phone from my clutch before I reach him, where I fall to my knees. The grass tickles my bare legs.
“James? James, are you all right?”
“What? What happened?” he asks, breathing raggedly.
“Don’t move.” I touch his face. It’s the only part of him I can tell isn’t hurt. “I’ll call an ambulance.”
“I’m fine,” he argues. “Let me just sit up.”
I scan his body. I’m not sure what damage he’s done, but the deck is a fair distance off the ground, and I am not taking any chances. “You fell from the deck. You’re not moving until the EMTs are here.”
“It’s not negotiable, James.” I focus on the emergency services operator on the phone.
“Where is everyone?” he asks while we wait for the ambulance. “Where’s Paynter and Chloe?”
“They all left. We were about to lock up the house. Don’t you remember?”
He scrunches his brow in concentration and lets out a groan. “I’m not sure. How’d I fall anyway?”
“Uh, well...” I glance up to where I made a fool of myself and quit my job. I pushed him away—was it my fault he fell over the deck railing?
“I know that look, Myra. If you’re thinking it was your fault, you’re wrong.”
“Maybe. I’m not sure what happened.”
Above us Spot sticks her head over the deck and bleats. Almost like she’s laughing at us.
“It was probably the goat.” James sighs. “I swear my legs got tangled up on something. It makes sense that damn animal would try to kill me.”
“She didn’t try to kill you.” I shake my head.
“How do you know?”
“Because she’s only a goat.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good enough excuse.” He groans again and shuts his eyes. “I’m just going to rest until the ambulance gets here.”
“No, no. You have to stay awake and keep me company.” I hover over him. Can’t let him fall asleep with a possible concussion. Isn’t that what they say? “Just for a little while.”
“Okay. Why don’t you jog my memory and tell me what we were talking about up there?”
“How much do you remember?” I shift to sit beside him and take his hand. The one that isn’t swelling.
“I was talking to my parents. Mom was giving me a hard time about my lack of love life. Then you and I…” He screws up his brow and turns silent for several seconds. “What were we talking about again?”
“Okay.” I hum to myself. At least for tonight I don’t have to face any more awkward conversations about resigning or falling for my boss or why he isn’t impressed with either situation. “Well, we were talking about that big meeting you have on Monday morning, and how you want to push it to Friday.”
“I wouldn’t have said that,” he says. He sounds exhausted, unlike himself.
In the distance, I pick up the wee-waa of sirens. “Not much longer. The paramedics should be here any minute.”
“You’ll change the meeting to Friday? Rearrange the rest of my schedule? I might need a day or two to recuperate.”
“I’ll have your new schedule ready for you in the morning.”
“And you’ll make sure the goat is safely locked in its pen?”
“Can’t have it running around loose, taking out old ladies and little kids.”
“Of course not.” I can’t help chuckle, though it comes out strained and feverish. “And I will call your family.”
“But not my mother. I don’t need her trying to baby me.”
“Not until we know what you’ve hurt and how badly.”
“Good.” He squeezes my hand. “Promise me you’ll never consider running off and leaving me. I don’t know how I’d cope without you.”
For someone who doesn’t remember our conversation, he cuts right through to the heart of matters. My heart dips. Maybe he’ll remember tomorrow, and I’ll have to face the fact that everything has changed. He’ll look at me differently, but not as a man who wants me.
The sirens get louder and then shut off abruptly. I can hear voices from the front of the house, and the woman on the phone tells me the EMTs have arrived. I squeeze James’s hand and then let it go. “I’ll go meet them and bring them around the back.”
“Okay,” he says. “But don’t be too long.”
“I won’t.” I climb to my feet. “A few minutes more and we’ll get this mess sorted.”
He tries to nod. Winces. Groans.
“Hold still. Until they assess the damage,” I tell him. “I’ll be right back.”
As if it will be that easy to work out where we stand now. Or to write up my resignation and rehash why I threw myself at my boss. If he remembers that pathetic attempt I made at all. What I wouldn’t give to pretend this never happened. But it did. And now I need to work out how to handle the fall out.
Starting with rescheduling every bit of James’s life for the next week.