The Hardys were putting the wedding party and out-of-town guests up at a hotel across the street from the beach house where the wedding was being held. I’d gone downstairs this morning for some breakfast just in time to see Amanda walking out the front door on the arm of Jason Stone. His rock-star brother and Sadie White were with her. I lost my appetite.
I wasn’t going to be able to make it through today if I didn’t get a grip. I had to control my emotions. I’d been keeping them in check until I’d seen Amanda again last night. She’d tried to talk to me and I’d been rude. I’d protected myself. A lot of good it had done me.
I’d go talk to Marcus. He’d make me feel better. I was heading for the elevator when it opened and Marcus came barreling out. His eyes looked panicked. “Have you seen Low?” he asked, looking past me to the lobby.
“No, I haven’t. Why?”
Marcus swore and gritted his teeth. “Because she’s missing. We had an argument, but it was over. I thought we were good. Then I went to get her, and she wasn’t in her room. I’ve called Mom, and she’s not at the beach house. I can’t find her anywhere.”
She was probably off somewhere taking a breather. “Calm down, dude. The girl ain’t going anywhere. She’s here somewhere. You just got wedding nerves.”
Marcus took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. I’ll find her.”
He took off for the front door. I didn’t follow him. Instead, I headed back up the elevator to my room.
I stopped outside the door I’d seen Cage go into last night. I could talk to Cage. I needed to talk to someone. I knocked on the door.
It opened up, and Eva was standing there in her robe looking like she just got out of bed.
“Hey, Eva, sorry if I woke you up,” I said, and walked into the room before she could turn me away. I was running out of friends to talk to. Cage was a last resort.
“Preston?” she replied. It sounded more like a question.
“She’s here. I mean, I knew she would be, but f**k me I hadn’t been prepared to see her with him. What the hell does she see in him? He’s a prick.” I stalked over to a chair and gripped the back tightly. I wanted to hit something. Anything.
“Who is she?” Eva asked.
“Where’s Cage?” I asked her instead. I wasn’t here to talk to her. I needed a guy to rant to.
“I don’t know,” she said sadly.
What the hell did that mean?
“He just left?”
“He was gone when I woke up,” she replied.
Low was missing. Cage was missing. “Fuck. Marcus can’t find Low, either,” I told her. I didn’t want to assume anything, but that was the truth.
The door swung open and Cage walked inside. His eyes swung from his upset girlfriend to me, and the fury that lit them told me he had the wrong idea.
“What the hell are you doing with my girl in my hotel room?” Cage asked in a cold, even voice.
“I came looking for you. Wipe that stupid-ass alpha snarl off your face. I’m not here to make a play for Eva,” I replied, annoyed that he was acting the same way I would.
Cage walked over to stand by Eva, who shifted away from him.
“I’ll talk to you later. You got your own set of problems,” I said, and headed out the door.
Breakfast with Sadie was nice. I’d missed her. Seeing her again would have made this day perfect, if it wasn’t for the fact that my heart was broken and every time I saw Preston’s face and he looked past me it shattered all over again. The wedding pictures would be starting soon. I needed to put on my bridesmaid dress and fix my hair.
I started to walk to the stairs, where I knew Willow was going over things with the wedding director, when I saw Preston’s blond hair out on the beach. He was alone. His hands were tucked into his pockets, and he was watching the waves crash against the shore.
I slipped off my heels and headed out there after him.
He couldn’t hear me approaching, thanks to the wind and waves.
“You out here hiding?” I asked when I was close enough for him to hear me.
His shoulders tensed. That was the only clue I had that he had heard me.
“Is this the way it’s always going to be between us? Can we not even go back to being friends?”
Preston’s shoulders rose and fell as he sighed. “I can never be your friend, Manda.”
“Why? I didn’t do anything wrong. You did. If I can forgive you, then why can’t you forgive me? Why do you have to hate me so much you can’t stand to be around me?”
Preston turned his head to look at me. “Hate you? You think I hate you?”
I shrugged. Yeah, that was what I thought. He sure acted like it.
“I don’t hate you, Manda. I could never hate you.”
“Then why are you treating me this way? Why can’t you at least look at me? Talk to me? I’m not asking for—”
Preston grabbed me and slammed his mouth against mine violently. His tongue plunged into my mouth, wrapping around mine while his hands grabbed my butt and pulled me hard up against his body. I’d barely had time to respond, when he was suddenly gone. I opened my eyes, and he was standing in front of me breathing hard. “That is why I am acting the way I am. Because every time you get near me, I want to grab you and hold on so damn tight you can’t go anywhere again. I want to kiss you until you forget what a sorry-ass bastard I am. But I can’t. You want to move on, and I am trying to let you.”
He wasn’t over me. He wanted me. But he didn’t love me. Could I live without love? I wanted what Marcus and Willow had. But I also wanted Preston. Did I let go of the dream of a fairy-tale romance so I could have my dream of Preston?
“You show up here with him,” he growled. “How the f**k do I handle that? All I can think about is, has he touched you? It’s killing me. It is literally eating me up inside. Knowing he may be touching you in places only I had touched you. Places that were mine. Mine! And I f**ked it up and lost it.”
I took two steps, closing enough distance between us so that I could touch him. I’d made my decision. Preston wasn’t raised like my brother. He hadn’t been given love. How did I expect him to know how to love if no one had ever shown him? Marcus could love easily. He’d been loved all his life.
I’d show Preston how to love. Maybe one day he’d love me too. He just needed someone to teach him how love works. How it feels. That it isn’t built on lies. I loved him more than my fantasy of what I thought romance was. I would never be happy with anyone but him.
I reached out and placed my hand on his heart. His pec muscle jumped underneath my hand. “I’m not dating Jason. We are friends. Only friends. Never even kissed him. He knows my heart is unavailable. I’ve explained it to him, and he is okay with that. He isn’t looking for anything more with me. This weekend he knew was going to be tough on me, so he flew in to be supportive. Nothing more.”
Preston was breathing hard. “He hasn’t touched you anywhere? Because he sure as hell hugs you too tightly.”
I grinned and shook my head. “He has hugged me twice. That is all.”
“He’s got money. He’s got fame. He’s got that damn jet. Why don’t you want him?”
I rubbed my thumb over his heart. “Because I love you.”
The hard mask on his face fell away, and his eyes swam with emotion.
“How? Why?” he asked, reaching up to cover my hand with his. “I don’t deserve it.”
“I disagree. You’re special, Preston Drake. I think I’ve been in love with you since my sixteenth birthday and you came to my bonfire party on the beach with Marcus. You winked at me and called me beautiful. From that moment on I watched you. I was fascinated by you. Then as I got older, I wanted you. Once I got you, I realized I was in love with you.”
Preston slid his other hand around my waist and rested it against my lower back. “The night you walked out on me and you knew the truth, there were no more lies standing between us, and I realized this crazy, wild, intense feeling I had for you was love. I’d never had this before. Sure, I loved my brothers and sister, but nothing like this out-of-control emotion I couldn’t name. I had been scared to tell you I loved you because I couldn’t believe that what I was feeling was love if I wasn’t telling you the truth about me. I lied to you because I knew you’d leave me if you found out. I didn’t want to lose you.”
My breathing stopped. I’m more than positive my heart did too.
“You love me?”
He smiled and lowered his head until his lips hovered over mine. “I love you with a scary, insane, wild, amazing love. I always will. No one else could ever make me feel this way.”
I pressed my lips against his and wrapped my arms around his neck. Both his hands locked on my waist, and he picked me up. I wrapped my legs around him while I kissed him with all the emotion pouring through me. His hands slipped under my dress and cupped my bottom so he could hold me up.
“Come on, guys. Really? This is my freaking wedding day. Can y’all save that crap until it’s over?” Marcus’s voice carried out over the wind, and we broke apart to see him grinning at us a few feet away.
“She’s hard to resist,” Preston called back out to him.
“Well, try. Please. Everyone is getting ready inside. We need the best man and maid of honor. If y’all could try not to make out during the wedding pictures, I’d appreciate it.”
Preston laughed and set me back down on the sand. “I take it you’re not going to bash my face in this time?”
Marcus shook his head. “No, but if the two of you had continued to look at each other and sulk like babies, I was going to bash your face in for being an idiot.”
“I take it you found the bride,” Preston said.
What did that mean? Had he lost her?
Marcus shrugged. “Yeah. She’d gone to eat fries.”
“Fries?” we both asked in unison.
Marcus rolled his eyes. “Yeah, fries. It’s one of those Cage and Low things I’m still learning to deal with.”
Preston squeezed my butt and then patted it. “You go on ahead with your brother. I’ll follow behind. Tonight isn’t the time to deal with your mother’s reaction.”
I’d forgotten about her. Crap.