Read The Trouble With Love Online

Authors: Lauren Layne

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Romantic Comedy, #Contemporary Women, #Coming of Age

The Trouble With Love (20 page)

BOOK: The Trouble With Love
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World. Tilted.

Cassidy had wanted to date . . . Daisy?

He hadn’t even known she
existed
?

Emma stared blindly at her father for several seconds, waiting for him to get to the punch line of the joke.

When he merely grinned as his audience chuckled, not bothering to look at her, Emma’s gaze shifted to her sister, who was watching her helplessly. Her expression was devastated . . . but not surprised.

Daisy had known.

Finally, finally, she looked at Cassidy, silently begging him to deny it.

Deny that not only had he had to be bribed to ask her out, but that she’d been his second choice.

Please, somebody, anybody, deny it!

But when she looked at the man she was going to marry the next day, he didn’t look puzzled or outraged.

He seemed . . . resigned. As though somehow he’d known this part of their past would come back to bite him.

Only . . . he’d never told her.

They’d been dating for more than two years. Plenty of time for him to say, “Oh, by the way, you know what’s funny? Your dad totally set us up, only at the time I didn’t realize Daisy was a twin.”

But he hadn’t. He’d never once let her think that their chance encounter in the bookstore that day was anything less than serendipitous.

She watched as his eyes closed in guilty resignation, and she shook her head in denial. She was dimly aware that the other partygoers had started to notice that this wasn’t a good-natured how-they-met story, and the whispers started.

Daisy hissed something to their father before heading back toward Emma, her expression fiercely protective. But Winston Sinclair was too far gone on his bourbon. Too busy enjoying the microphone and the chance to grandstand.

This time when he motioned for the bartender to get him another drink, Daisy wasn’t there to stop him, and he got an unneeded refill, still unaware, or uncaring, of the turmoil exploding in his daughter.

Daisy arrived at her side, and Emma’s expression must have revealed every horrible emotion rolling through her, because her sister wrapped her arms firmly around Emma’s biceps and started to tug her toward the exit.

“Let’s go to the ladies’ room,” she said softly, smiling widely at the rest of the attendees as though to say
Nothing to see here
.

Emma started to let herself be hauled off, her eyes never leaving Cassidy. He finally seemed to snap out of his daze, because his head whipped around toward her, and he started to move in her direction, his expression desperate.

And then Emma’s father started talking again.

“Damn it, will he not shut
up,
” Daisy hissed under her breath.

That made Emma skid to a halt. Daisy never swore. If her sister was saying
damn
in public, it meant that this train wreck wasn’t over yet.

“You knew,” Emma said to Daisy, her voice wobbling.

Daisy’s face was panicked. “Emma, I swear to God, I never wanted Cassidy.”

“But you knew he wanted to ask you out.”

Daisy closed her eyes. “Daddy told me when Cassidy picked you up on your first date. I was horrified, Emma, but I swear to God, he never even looked at me after he met you. And I never wanted him. You have to believe me.”

Emma searched her sister’s face. She believed her. And yet . . .

“You never told me.” Emma’s voice broke.

Daisy’s face crumpled. “I didn’t want to hurt you. You liked him so much, and—”

Emma pulled her arm free just as Cassidy appeared at her side, his hand reaching out for her, but she jerked back. From both of them.

She turned to face her father, determined to hear the last of what he had to say.

“Well,” Winston said, taking a swallow of drink. “I’ll wrap this up. . . . I know everybody’s anxious to sit down for the delicious dinner the Cassidys have planned for us, but I’ll just say one last bit.”

Her father squinted around the room then, and for a second she thought he had a moment of clarity. That maybe he realized that the bride hadn’t exactly dashed up to stand next to him while he spoke.

But he wasn’t looking for her. Instead, Winston’s eyes landed on Cassidy and he grinned, before lifting his glass. “If you could all grab your beverage of choice, I’d like to make a toast to my future son-in-law, who might just be the wiliest son of a bitch I’ve had the pleasure of working with.”

“Don’t,”
Cassidy said harshly, from beside her, but not loud enough for her father to hear. As if her dad would have stopped.

And at this point, Emma wasn’t sure she
wanted
her father to stop. She wanted—
needed
—to hear it all.

“To Cassidy,” Winston said, with a nod. “For having the balls to one-up an old man. See, back when he was an intern, I was one step ahead of him, but about a year ago, he got in front of
me
. Not twenty-four hours after I told Cassidy that I’d only pass Sinclair Media Group on to family, my darling Emma bursts into my house for Sunday dinner with an announcement: She was engaged to Alex Cassidy. Well played, son. Well played.”

Winston laughed, although nobody else did, all long past realizing what Emma’s father hadn’t: This was
not
a story to be told at a rehearsal dinner.

Or at all.

Very slowly, Emma turned to face her fiancé. “You’re marrying me for my father’s company?”

Cassidy’s features twisted, and suddenly he looked decades older than his twenty-five years. “Emma. No.
No
. I just—”

“And you only asked me out because you thought I was Daisy?” Emma said, her voice coming out in a pained squeak that sounded nothing like her normal voice. Apparently one of the shards from her currently splintering heart had lodged itself in her vocal chords.

Daisy touched her arm, and Emma jerked, backing away from both of them, barely aware of the fact that everyone was staring at them.

Cassidy’s eyes burned into hers, begging, but she could only shake her head.

Their first meeting was a lie. His proposal had been a business move.

Their entire relationship was a
lie
.

“Emma, please—”

She turned on her heel, and did the only thing she could think of: She walked away. Walked out of the private room into the main area of the restaurant. Walked blindly past tables until she got to the reception desk, and then kept going.

Only when she stepped out of the restaurant did she halt, stopping to suck in the humid summer air in gasping breaths that didn’t quite help to clear her head, nor ease the ache in her chest, nor soothe the nausea in her stomach.

She heard the door of the restaurant slam shut behind her as someone joined her outside. Knew it was Cassidy.

And then she turned to face him.

She turned to
end
it.

Seven years later

“Emma, you okay?” Grace asked, touching her arm softly.

Emma put a hand to her throat, blinking to reorient herself before sliding her palm over her pounding heart.

Mitchell’s father was still droning on, something about never going to bed angry, as Julie and Mitchell stood beside him, nodding and fake-smiling.

This wasn’t her dad giving a speech.

And this was New York, not North Carolina.

She was thirty-one, not twenty-four. She wasn’t the bride.

This wasn’t that night.

Emma smiled at a concerned Grace. “I’m okay,” she whispered. “Just . . . just a few bad memories.”

And then, because she had to, she turned her head until she found Cassidy. Found him watching her, just as he had been all those years ago.

And from the bleak expression on his face, she hadn’t been alone in her miserable walk down memory lane.

He’d been right there with her.

Chapter 19

Emma made it down the aisle at Julie’s wedding without looking at Cassidy even once. She kept her eyes on the pastor, a smile firmly in place, and concentrated on not slipping in her high heels.

The night before, she’d slipped up. At the rehearsal dinner, she let herself become self-absorbed, let the moment be about her.

It was a mistake that she wasn’t going to repeat on Julie’s wedding day.

Today she would be fully present as a bridesmaid.

As it turned out, she didn’t have to try that hard.

Because there was something stronger than memories: friendship.

Her friend was getting married.

No,
friends,
because Mitchell had become fiercely dear to Emma as well—her fellow introvert in a group full of chatty yappers.

And when Julie started down the aisle on her uncle’s arm, wearing her gorgeous A-line dress, adorned only with a satin sash crisscrossing Julie’s tiny waist, Emma felt
it
. That knob in her throat and a prick behind the eyes.

A quick glance at the dazed, smitten expression on Mitchell’s face when he saw Julie pushed Emma over the edge. She wasn’t much of a crier, generally speaking, but she put a hand over her mouth anyway less a hiccupping sob of happiness sputter out.

Grace was standing in front of her and offered a tissue over her shoulder, which Emma happily accepted.

“God, I hate weddings,” Riley whispered from behind her, her voice also watery.

“Get it together. Julie will kill us if her entire bridal party is up here with mascara running down our faces,” Emma whispered, dabbing the corner of her eye.

“Good,” Riley hissed back. “Then I won’t feel as bad for wanting to kill her for making me wear
beige
.”

Julie had selected champagne-colored cocktail dresses for the bridesmaids, which Grace and Emma had deemed classy and lovely, but which Riley insisted washed her out. Julie had insisted that that had been, in fact, the point.

But Emma needn’t have worried about Julie catching sight of their happy, weepy faces.

Julie had eyes for only one person.

And he for her.

You could actually
see
the love between them, and Emma had to tap Grace for another tissue.

Watching Mitchell and Julie exchange their vows was, without a doubt, one of the high points in Emma’s life. And no moment was quite as beautiful as when Mitchell mouthed
I love you
to his bride while slipping the wedding band on her finger.

And when finally,
finally,
Mitchell and Julie shared their first (long) kiss as husband and wife, Emma let herself glance at Cassidy, just briefly, just wanting to share her happiness with someone . . . no, to share it with
him
.

And he was looking right back, a bittersweet smile on his face as he winked at her.

Emma winked back, and for just a second, just one second, they weren’t enemies, weren’t two people who’d ravaged each other’s hearts.

They were simply two people whose lives were inexplicably wrapped up in each other’s in about a dozen different ways.

And in that moment, Emma was happy.

Then Mitchell and Julie were grinning, heading back up the aisle amid clapping and cheering, and the bridal party followed, filing out two by two. Emma wasn’t sure what happened, but instead of walking out on the arm of Mitchell’s childhood friend, she was surprised when it was Cassidy who offered his arm, looking heart-stoppingly handsome in his tux as he gave her a rare grin.

Caught up in the pure happiness of the day, Emma grinned back, and they walked out together, each only slightly aware that if circumstances would have been different, they would have been taking this very walk seven years ago, and not as bridesmaid and groomsman, but as something infinitely more dear.

When they were out of the room where the ceremony had taken place, Emma released his arm and started to follow the rest of the bridesmaids to the bridal dressing room to tackle the bustle of Julie’s gown so Julie could move more easily and, quote,
dance her matrimonial ass off.

But before Emma could pull away, Cassidy caught her hand, and she paused, watching his thumb as it brushed over her knuckles before lifting her eyes to his.

He smiled then, and before she could register that he’d moved, he leaned in, pulling her closer before planting a soft, sweet kiss on her cheek.

Then he was gone, his stride as confident and cocky as ever as he shouted something to Sam before clamping Jake on the shoulder as they laughed at something she couldn’t hear.

“That was interesting.”

Emma glanced to her right to see Grace literally with her tongue in her cheek, having seen the whole interaction. Then Riley was on her left side, smirking even as she swiped on lip gloss as the three of them watched their three gorgeous men.

No, not
their
men.

Cassidy wasn’t hers.

But for a second there . . . it had sure felt like it.

Chapter 20

Julie’s goal of dancing
her matrimonial ass off
?

Achieved.

And then some.

Mitchell was not as much of a dancer, which was a surprise to absolutely nobody, but Julie wasn’t out on the dance floor alone. Emma and the other women were right there with her, from “The Electric Side” to Britney Spears songs Emma hadn’t heard since high school (the bride’s request).

Of course, it wasn’t all champagne-fueled booty shaking or wild arm waving. There were a handful of slower songs.

Songs that demanded slow swaying and sexy touching and romance.

For those songs, Emma quietly slipped off the dance floor to make room for the couples. Again and again, she watched Julie wind her arms around Mitchell’s neck, whispering something that earned a rare smile from the buttoned-up Wall Street broker.

She watched Grace and Jake, entertaining herself by trying to figure out which of the two looked happier, only to give up when she realized they were both as happy and as in love as two people could be.

And then there was the newest couple, Sam and Riley, who fit together so perfectly, who held each other so tightly, it brought a new lump to Emma’s throat, even though she thought she was all dried out after the ceremony.

Of course, Emma wasn’t a wallflower
all
the time. Jake had claimed a dance, as had Sam. She hadn’t danced with Mitchell, although she knew that was because the few times the guy managed to separate himself from Julie, he was snapped up by some adoring female relative. Most of them either elderly or children, and all adorable.

BOOK: The Trouble With Love
11.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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