New Year’s Eve. It was the perfect date for a wedding. It was all about new beginnings. Ten … nine … eight … Out with the old. Seven … six … five … Starting the next chapter of their lives. Four … three … looking toward the future—together. Two … one …
“Happy New Year!” Bree had edged toward the outskirts of the dance floor while everyone counted down but not quickly enough. A large hand snaked around her waist and pulled her up against a very hard chest. She recognized the cologne she’d been secretly sniffing throughout the night. Feeling her blush right down to her toes, she looked up at the man holding her against him.
“Oh no you don’t. I see you sneaking away. They paired us up for a reason. It’s only right that we ring in the New Year with a kiss.” Foster Duncan, groomsman and the head chef of this restaurant hosting their friends’ wedding reception, grinned down at her. She doubted any woman in their right mind could say no when he flashed those sexy dimples.
“You know full well that we’re the only two people in the wedding party without significant others.” Rising to her toes, she gave him a quick peck then slipped out of his arms.
Yeah, she was crazy for turning down a proper kiss with probably the most handsome man in the room. Her heart tripped in her chest as she considered changing her mind. He was right there. She just had to walk back into his arms. Pausing, she chewed at her bottom lip. Nope. Couldn’t do it.
He gave her a long, considering look from under his sinfully dark brows. Bree stood her ground, resisting the urge to run for cover in the ladies’ room. After a moment, Foster raised his champagne flute, downed the contents and gave her a little wave, drifting into the crowd. She was such a ninny!
“I know I’ve already told you this, but you really do look lovely tonight.” Bree’s mother, Lyssa, murmured as she approached from behind. Then she kissed her oldest child on the temple.
Distracted, Bree patted her normally plain brown hair. She was amazed to find not a single curl out of place nearly twelve hours after the town hairdresser, Kayla, of Kayla’s Kut and Kurl, had transformed her into a Grecian goddess. The soft velvet gown of cranberry did wonders for her coloring. She stood up taller. She almost felt beautiful.
“Your brothers have reached their limits. I need to get them home.” Her mom gestured to a table in the corner where three little boys had pushed their plates of wedding cake to the center of the table so they could rest their heads on the white linen. They had been so excited to be invited to such a grown up event.
“Of course. I’ll help you get them home and tucked in. Let me get my purse and say goodbye to Cady and Burke.”
“No, dear. I won’t hear of it. You stay and enjoy yourself. This is their special moment and you are a big part of that.” Lyssa pulled her daughter in for a hug, hanging on a second longer than necessary. Gripping Bree by the shoulders, she studied her, almost as though she were looking for something.
“It’s a new year, sweetheart. Anything can happen if you want it bad enough.”
“Mmm hmm, like my own happily ever after?”
“And why not? You are an amazing woman, Bree Adams. You deserve to find your own happiness. Put yourself first, for once in your life. Stop thinking about what might have been.” Her mother gave her one of those looks that only a mother could.
Bree kissed her mother goodbye, watching as the woman collected her three sleepy boys and herded them toward the restaurant exit. If she only knew the whole truth. Oh, she’d put herself first once, when she was young and foolish. The tragic results of which she’d used to punish herself every day for the last thirteen years. It was exhausting, and it really had to stop. The only man she’d ever imagined a happy ever after with had moved on a long time ago. It was time she did as well.
“It’s my wedding day, Bree—dance with me!”
Breathtaking in a simple sheath of white silk with just a touch of lace at the edges, Cady grasped Bree’s hands and twirled her around. They laughed until they were out of breath. Seeking out an empty table, they sank onto the tulle-wrapped chairs. Cady slipped her feet out of her three-inch heels, wiggling her toes before propping them up on another chair. Bree grinned, toeing off her own cranberry-dyed shoes and jockeying for room on the same chair.
“I know I gave my mom a hard time about all this froo-froo stuff,” Cady picked at a stiff satin bow on the back of her chair, “but it really is gorgeous. Mother knows best, huh?”
“It was so nice of Foster’s parents to close down for a night so we could have your wedding here.”
Bree looked around at the restaurant she had frequented with her own mom since she was a little girl. The Lobster Pot was the best place in Scallop Shores to get great seafood. The views were phenomenal. But for tonight the casual atmosphere was transformed beneath rented linens, tiny white lights and fancy flower arrangements. It would be fun to come back on a normal visit and remember the restaurant decked out as it was now for Cady’s wedding.
The friends leaned back, giggling as they watched a mixed-age group struggling their way through the Macarena.
“What’s your New Year’s resolution, Bree? I don’t know mine. I have everything I could possibly want.”
“Oh, I can’t say it out loud.”
“No, honey. You’re thinking of a wish on a star. If you tell someone what that is, it won’t come true.” Cady gave her foot a little kick. “Tell me.”
“I want what you have. I want my own happily ever after. I want my forever to start now.” She blinked. That had been a lot easier to say out loud than she’d thought. Maybe all that champagne had loosened her tongue.
“Atta girl. Go get it!”
“Oh, Mrs. Sanders? Your presence is requested upstairs. There is a bubbling hot tub with our names on it. And a huge four poster bed that I might let you nap in … after.” Burke had undone the collar and the first couple of buttons of his starched tux shirt, his bow tie hanging rakishly from his neck. He reached a hand down and pulled his wife to her feet, winking at Bree.
“I’m sorry, Bree. Time to fulfill my wifely duties.” Cady chuckled as she slipped back into her shoes.
She watched the two of them go, eyes locked, hands linked, hip to hip. To Burke and Cady, the still-crowded restaurant ceased to exist. Bree knew by the way they were looking at each other that they had already begun to make love. Her sigh was long and deep.
Standing up, Bree stepped back into her heels. She retrieved her wrap from her seat at the head table and slid it across her shoulders. Time for some air and a little quiet reflection. She smiled and nodded at the wedding guests who called to her as she made her way to the restaurant’s entertaining deck.
Stepping through the door, she marveled at the thousands of tiny white lights strung up along the railing. Whether they were leftover from Christmas or placed specifically for the wedding, it didn’t matter. The effect was still magical. In the summer months, live bands would play on the small stage set up in the corner of the deck. The view was stunning, the crowds coming for the great food and staying for the spectacular sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean.
She’d expected to be alone on this frigid winter evening, so she was surprised to find one of the Adirondack chairs occupied. Foster had propped his feet up on the deck railing. The jacket to his stylish black tux was MIA, the sleeves of his white dress shirt rolled up, dark hair dusting his forearms. Taking a long pull of the beer he seemed to have traded for the champagne he’d been drinking earlier, he offered her a slow grin as she approached.
“It was a beautiful wedding.” She lowered herself into the chair beside him.
“They’re happy together.”
Butterflies swarming in her belly, Bree knew what she had to do. She gripped the arms of the Adirondack and hoped it was too dark to see her white knuckles.
“So everyone has been asking what my New Year’s resolution is.” She felt like she was babbling. Foster still hadn’t given her his full attention.
“May I?” She held a hand out for his beer.
He turned to her, his eyes narrowed slightly. He was trying to figure her out. She gripped the bottle of beer and pulled it easily from his grasp. Taking a big swallow, she swiped the back of her hand across her lips before handing it back to Foster. Now or never.
“Anyway, I resolve to take more chances this year. To put myself first and go after my own happiness.” Her jaw jutted out just the tiniest bit.
“I thought books made you happy.” His voice threaded with challenge, she knew she now had his undivided attention.
“Of course books make me happy. But they aren’t everything. I need more.” Being the town librarian shouldn’t define her. Only perhaps it had begun to. Her mouth had become dry as dust, but she didn’t want to ask for another sip of his beer.
Foster waited. He wasn’t going to make this easy for her. Nor should he. Bree pinned on a brittle smile. She could do this.
“I thought maybe we could go out some time, you and me.” “Maybe?” Those dimples. That grin, teasing.
“Definitely. On a date.”
“I’ve got to say, I’m used to being the one asking.”
A hot flush flooded her with embarrassment. He thought her too forward. This was a disaster. Her breath hitching in her chest, she gave him a small smile and started to rise. Foster reached out a hand and clasped her wrist.
“You didn’t let me finish. I was only going to say that you beat me to it.”
“I … you were going to ask me?”
“I meant to, a long time ago. I should have. It’s just … you’ve always got your head stuck in a book. Like you’re trying to keep people at arm’s length.”
That was exactly what she’d been trying to do. And now that she realized how successful she’d been, she was ashamed.
“Well, this is a new year and I’m trying out a new me. And the new me says no more hiding behind books.”
“Nice to meet you, New Bree. Welcome to Scallop Shores. I think you’re going to like it here.”
The butterflies in her stomach had changed their pattern. No longer nervous, they were excited to start a new phase of her life. She was through punishing herself for the past. It was time to look to the future.