Surviving the Storm
Release date: April 28, 2018
Publisher: Twisted Press, LLC
Print pages: 118
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Surviving the Storm
Kate L. Mary
Tessa is going to kill me.
That was all I could think as I sped past the guard gate at Magnolia Plantation. The clock on the dashboard practically screamed at me every time I glanced its way. Six forty-two. Meaning I was more than half an hour late.
Tessa is going to kill me.
I pulled into a parking spot right next to Claire’s Toyota Camry and slammed my car into park. Somehow, I managed to throw the door open and jerk the keys out of the ignition at the exact same time. Everyone else had probably arrived when they were supposed to, and even though I had a great excuse for being late, Tessa wasn’t going to care. I could just imagine the temper tantrum my little sister would throw. It would probably even top the one from ten years ago when I’d decided to give her brand new Barbie a haircut, claiming she was getting ready to go find herself and she needed a more manageable hairstyle for the journey. Even though I’d gotten in trouble for that little stunt, I could only blame Mom for reading Eat, Pray, Love. It’s all she’d talked about at the dinner table for a month, and where I’d gotten the brilliant idea to give Tessa’s Barbie a makeover.
Tourists stared at me from the porch of the plantation house as I hurried by, heading for the gardens. The Charleston air was blistering despite the fact that it was May, and before I’d even reached the trails that would take me to my waiting family, my armpits were like a swamp. Why the hell Tessa had decided to have an outdoor wedding in Charleston was beyond me, but at the moment I was regretting the extra effort I’d put into curling my hair while wishing I had instead used the time to buy some waterproof mascara. I’d have to make sure I got some before tomorrow or I’d end up looking like a bridesmaid at a Kiss themed wedding.
When people came into view, I slowed to catch my breath. Even though I was late and I knew it would be impossible to get out of a lecture from both Tessa and my parents, I wasn’t about to go charging in there out of breath and covered in sweat. I needed to hold onto my dignity as long as I could, because very soon it would be ripped away in front of both Tessa’s friends and our closest family.
I finally made it to the clearing where the wedding would be held and found everyone else already in place. Six bridesmaids were lined up on one side, with seven groomsmen on the other, and in the middle stood Tessa, all smiles and sparkling eyes and giddiness as she gazed up at Rick. Their hands were joined, and the pastor was talking. Probably going over what would happen tomorrow so everyone knew what to expect. It was a good thing I’d been in weddings before, because by the sound of it, I’d missed most of his little spiel.
I had only taken two steps down the aisle when everyone turned my way.
“Sorry!” I started to raise my arms, but then slammed them back down when I thought better of it. Probably shouldn’t show off the pit stains that were sure to be there. “The traffic was horrible.”
Mom caught my eye as I hurried forward, lifting her brow in a way that assured me I wouldn’t be escaping a lecture. Sure I was twenty-two-years-old and a college graduate, but that did not make me exempt from being a daughter of Sylvia and Patrick Smart, which meant they were entitled to let me know every time they thought I had screwed up.
I shot Mom a tight smile while I avoided Dad’s gaze. When my eyes landed on Tessa, I found her giddiness gone and in it’s place was the scowl she had been famous for while we were growing up—at least in our house. It was her typical I-didn’t-get-my-way look, and even though it was the night before her wedding, I wasn’t in the mood for it. Not after this morning.
“About time,” Tessa spit at me.
I plastered an apologetic smile on my face. Even though I desperately wanted to engage in a match of verbal fencing with her, right now wasn’t the time. Plus, Mom and Dad had already made it perfectly clear I was not to bring it up. They would talk to Tessa later—meaning she’d get a slap on the wrist. As usual.
I hurried toward the line of bridesmaids and settled in next to my other sister, Claire.
She shook her head and leaned closer to me, whispering in my ear, “You didn’t miss anything. Don’t worry about it.”
Always the peacemaker, of course.
I shrugged so she’d know it wasn’t a big deal to me, and the pastor once again started going through what would happen tomorrow. Honestly, I didn’t understand the need for a wedding rehearsal. If you’ve been to one wedding, you’ve been to them all. Still, it got me a free meal and drinks, so I guess it was worth my time. Right?
My gaze moved past Tessa and Rick, who were once again staring at each other like they were caught in a trance, and over to the groomsmen. Claire and I shared the duty of maid of honor, but as the oldest I was at the head of the line. Meaning I would be walking down the aisle with Rick’s best friend. I’d heard a lot about Logan over the last few months, but had yet to meet him in person. After getting to know my future brother-in-law, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect.
Not wanting to be too blatant in my staring, I snuck a peek at the best man out of the corner of my eye only to find him staring at me outright. When I turned my full gaze on him, he grinned, revealing teeth so perfect they could have been featured in a toothpaste commercial. I returned the smile, trying my best to ignore the tingle that moved down my spine as I looked him over. He was…hot. Super-hot, really. Broad shoulders filled out his white dress shirt, the sleeves rolled up to just below his elbows to reveal tan forearms that told me he’d spent a lot of time in the sun this past summer. His dark brown hair had a slight wave to it, no doubt aided by the South Carolina humidity, and the stubble on his chin was business chic. He reminded me of a GQ cover model. Logan winked when I didn’t look away, his gray eyes twinkling, and I found myself almost laughing out loud. There was something very open and inviting about this guy.
“Are you listening?” Claire nudged me from behind and I was forced to tear my eyes away from Logan.
Everyone was staring at me. Of course.
Heat that scorched me even more than the sun and the humidity combined crept up my neck to my cheeks, and I cleared my throat. “Sorry,” I said, doing my best to sound repentant when all I really regretted was having to look away from the imitation Greek God across from me. “What?”
Tessa let out a sigh dramatic enough to get her nominated for an Academy Award. “Seriously. I made you my maid of honor and you show up late, and then zone out the whole time. This day isn’t about you, Melanie.”
My back stiffened when the heat from my cheeks seeped inside me, spreading through every inch of my body so fast I suddenly knew how the Incredible Hulk felt. Behind me, Claire sighed, and I let out a deep breath as well, trying to ease the hurt and anger threatening to bubble to the surface. I had to remind myself that my job was to keep my mouth shut and go with the flow, which was nearly impossible when Tessa insisted on pushing my buttons this way. And she knew exactly how to do it, too. She’d had nineteen years of practice.
“That’s enough, girls.” Dad’s voice boomed through the air, and when I turned to meet his gaze, the look of disappointment on his face was more than enough to freeze the anger in my veins until it felt like a blizzard. “You’re all adults now, so let’s act like it.”
I sucked in a deep breath, and turned to face my baby sister, my gaze holding hers. I exhaled, forcing the anger out as well. Dad was right. I was twenty-two and a college graduate, I didn’t need to act like a ten-year-old. Even if my sister had acted like a spoiled brat today.
The apology was meant to placate Dad, but Tessa relaxed and actually smiled, making me relax too. I looked up to find Logan chuckling quietly, and the expression on his face told me he understood a thing or two about sibling rivalry.
“Let’s run through it one more time before we head to the rehearsal dinner.” The pastor’s eyes were focused on me. As if I were the irresponsible one in this family.
Great. This day just kept getting better and better.
* * *
With the rehearsal done all I wanted to to do was grab a drink, but Mom grabbed my arm and pulled me aside before I had a chance to follow the rest of the wedding party into the restaurant. Tessa’s two best friends from high school passed, and Mom flashed them a smile that looked painful in its tightness, simultaneously wiping the sweat off her forehead. The sun was pounding down on us from above, and my own neck was beaded with moisture, my hair clinging to it tighter with each passing second. I wanted to get inside, but I also wanted to get this lecture over with so I could actually enjoy my day.
“Now I know your sister hurt you, but that doesn’t make it okay to hurt her back,” Mom said when most of the guests had passed us, her voice just slightly louder than a whisper. “I’m going to talk to her about it, but later. After the rehearsal is over. I want you girls to be close, which means forgiving and forgetting. After all, it’s not like any of you are perfect.”
Mom arched her eyebrows in my direction, as if challenging me to argue. Which, of course, I couldn’t. Because she was right. I wasn’t perfect. There had been plenty of times over the years when I’d hurt Tessa. We were sisters, and growing up we’d practically made hurting each other a sport.
“You’re right,” I said, “but just so you know, I didn’t get to the rehearsal late on purpose. I had a lot going on today.”
“I know, and I plan on reminding your sister of that. We told her how it was going to be when she chose today, but she wanted to get married in May when it was still cool.” Mom rolled her eyes because we had all known it wouldn’t be as cool as Tessa had thought it was going to be, and the sweat rolling down my back was proof that we’d been right. Then Mom’s lips turned up into a smile and she put her hands on my arms. “We’re proud of you, sweetie, and don’t worry about Tessa. After tomorrow she’ll be so blissfully happy she won’t even remember you were late to the rehearsal.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said, even though I seriously doubted it. I had a strong suspicion she would be bringing my tardiness up for the rest of our lives. As if today was the anniversary of my failure instead of her wedding rehearsal.
Mom gave me a quick squeeze before letting out a deep sigh. “Now that we’ve taken care of that mess, let’s get out of this heat.”
Cool air brushed over us when we stepped inside, and Mom let out an audible sigh. I closed my eyes and lifted my hair, trying to dry the back of my neck before joining the rest of our party. Hopefully, my deodorant had done its job. The little wink Logan had shot my way as we headed toward our cars was still fresh in my mind, and a couple hours chatting him up sounded like a great way to celebrate my recent achievement.
“Late again.” I opened my eyes to find the hottie in question grinning down at me.
Mom shot me a wink before hurrying away, patting the best man on the arm like they were old friends. I’m sure she already had us walking down the aisle in her head. People were always giving me shit about studying too much, and Mom was the worst one.
“I like to make an entrance,” I said, letting my hair dark drop as I returned his easy smile.
“You do a good job.”
The slow progress of his gaze as it moved down my body made it impossible to imagine it as anything but a caress. Every inch of my skin warmed under his gaze, and I swear my thighs clenched on their own. It had been way too long since I’d had sex.
“I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Tessa’s big sister, Melanie.” I stuck my hand out, suddenly anxious to touch the perfect specimen of a man standing in front of me. An introduction was probably a better idea than ripping his shirt off and running my nails down his chest, which was the first thought that had gone through my mind.
“Nice to meet you.” Logan wrapped his hand around mine and the air between us sizzled. “Logan.”
“I can’t believe we haven’t met before now.”
My hand was still in his, and the softness of my skin contrasted with the callouses on his palm, telling me he was the type of man who knew how to roll up his sleeves and do an honest day’s work. My gaze locked with his as all around us the room heated and warmth seeped into my pores, turning the blood flowing through my veins into lava. How he could do that with just a look and a touch was beyond me.
Logan’s thumb caressed the top of my hand, letting me know he felt it too. “There wasn’t really time, now was there?”
“I guess not.” I laughed as a dozen different scenes played through my mind, all of which starred Logan and me. Each one was hotter than the last, and each one made me flush deeper until my cheeks were on fire. But with the way he was looking at me, it was impossible to think of anything else. He was like walking sex, and it didn’t matter that most of my family was standing just fifteen feet away from us.
“Nothing like a whirlwind romance to bring people together.” Logan’s lips tipped up on one side, and he winked again.
Damn. This guy had grabbed my interest, hog-tied it, and thrown it in the back of his truck.
Rick, my future brother-in-law, broke through the electricity when he popped up out of nowhere. “I see you two have finally met,” he said, shoving his hand through his blond hair.
His cheeks were slightly flushed, and his body swayed just enough to give away that he’d been drinking. Which wasn’t like him. Sure, I hadn’t known Rick long, but other than this whole thing with Tessa, he wasn’t exactly the kind of guy to let loose.
“It was long overdue.” Logan didn’t take his eyes off me, but he did release my hand. Much to my disappointment.
I flexed my fingers, marveling at the tingle his touch had left behind. He’d somehow managed to get me all hot and bothered with just a handshake and a few sexy looks. I’d honestly never experienced anything like it. Either I was way more repressed than I’d thought, or this guy had some kind of sexy magic powers. Possibly both.
“Very true.” Rick glanced over his shoulder, frowning. “We’re about to get started and Tessa wanted me to ask you to take a seat.”
“Of course.” Logan offered me his arm, winking once again. “May I escort you?”
“Thank you,” I said, trying to play sexy, which meant ignoring my still damp skin and the way my dress stuck to my legs when I moved.
I tucked my hand into the crook of his arm and allowed him to lead me across the restaurant to where the rest of the wedding party was already sitting. His body heat once again seeped inside me, but unlike the Charleston air, it wasn’t unpleasant. It was warm and inviting, and there wasn’t an inch of me that didn’t want to get lost in it. Sweaty pits and all.
Tessa had assigned everyone places to sit, of course, so Logan deposited me at the bridesmaid table, along with my other sister, Claire, and Tessa’s five high school friends. All of them were decked out in tight little dresses that seemed more suitable for club hopping than a wedding rehearsal, and judging by the whispers and glances toward the groomsmen, they were already plotting their evenings.
“What were you and Logan talking about?” Claire whispered as Rick’s dad began talking, thanking everyone for sharing in the special day.
“Just introducing ourselves.” I shrugged like it was no big deal, but Claire grinned.
She swept her light brown hair back and leaned closer, her lips almost touching my ears. “It looked like you two were discussing running off together.”
I snorted. “I’m not about to follow in Tessa’s footsteps.”
“They didn’t run off together.” Claire glanced toward our little sister, who was smiling at Rick like he was the master of the universe. “That’s something at least.”
She had a point.
The food was served and a light chatter filled the room. Tessa’s friends whispered among themselves, not including Claire and me in the conversation. Not that it mattered. Claire was usually content with being on the outskirts of any event, and I was too busy ogling Logan from across the room. Which he was more than happy to reciprocate.
About forty minutes after the meal had been served, he pushed his chair back and stood. I followed his lead, earning me a grin that had my knees wobbling. His eyes held mine as we both made our way across the room, rounding the tables and meeting in front of them. I wasn’t sure where he was headed, but I did know I didn’t care. There was something magnetic about this guy.
“A drink?” he said when we were finally side by side.
“That sounds good.”
The air around us was charged as we headed to the bar, the electricity intense enough to power the whole state. We put in our order and the bartender hurried off to get our drinks, leaving me alone with Logan’s intense gaze.
“Have you and Rick known each other long?” I asked, wanting to know more about the man who could make my body sizzle from just one look. A thousand questions had gone through my head, but that seemed like the most logical place to start.
“Forever,” he said. “Since we were little. Our parents live next door to each other.”
“So you’re from Daniel Island too?”
“Yeah, but don’t let that fool you. I’m a down-to-Earth guy.”
Unlike Rick is what I wanted to say, but I opted for the more diplomatic response. “Not a workaholic like Rick?”
Logan chuckled. “Not exactly. I like my job and I want to do well, but I don’t live for work the way Rick does. It runs in his family, so I can’t blame him. His dad always has been more focused on work than family.”
The news temporarily cut through the sexual tension surrounding Logan and me. It was what I’d been afraid of, why I hadn’t been thrilled to learn Tessa and Rick were getting married, and why I was still worried about my baby sister.
“Hey,” Logan said, nudging me. “You okay?”
I shook my head, trying to clear the concerns, but it didn’t really help. Despite butting heads with her on a daily basis, Tessa would always be my baby sister and I’d always want to protect her from getting hurt.
“Yeah. Rick is…different. He’s five years older than Tessa and I can’t say his obsession with his job really meshes with my little sister’s carefree attitude. My parents have brushed it off as a simple opposites attract situation, and I’m sure they’re hoping Rick will help her settle down, but I can’t help worrying.”
“Yeah. I worry Rick might be making a mistake.” Logan frowned and shook his head. “Sorry, I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. Tessa is great, don’t get me wrong, she’s just…” He pressed his lips together like he couldn’t come up with the words.
“Immature?” The second it was out, I regretted it. That wasn’t being fair to my sister. Tessa was Tessa, and I loved her for it. “I meant she’s young. She’s nineteen, and we were all young and immature at that age. I know I was. I remember thinking I had everything figured out, but looking back, I realize I was still just a kid in a lot of ways.”
“And I worry Rick has allowed himself to get swept into something he’s going to regret. They only met nine months ago, and who knows what either one of them is going to want six months from now, let alone ten years. Marriage shouldn’t be something you rush into, and this isn’t like Rick.”
“Maybe that means he’s found the right person?” I had to hope that was true because if not, there was an excellent chance we were about to witness the biggest mistake of Tessa and Rick’s lives.
Logan was still nodding when the bartender came back with our drinks. “Let’s hope,” he said, sliding my glass of wine across the bar.
We both took sips from our glasses. The attraction sizzling between us was still in the air, but slightly less volatile now that we’d had a real conversation. There was something about Logan’s presence that was very soothing, though. He had a good head on his shoulders, but it was obvious by the glint in his eye that he didn’t take life as seriously as Rick did. It was a good balance, and exactly what I’d hope to find in guy.
“What do you do?” Logan asked after a moment of comfortable silence.
“Nothing right now.” His brows shot up and it hit me that I’d just made myself sound like a total slacker, which wasn’t me at all. I laughed and waved my hand as if trying to brush his impression away. “I just graduated and I have a couple interviews lined up in June, but for the next couple weeks, I’m taking a break. I’ve worked my ass off for as long as I can remember. Now that I’m finally done with school, I plan on having a little bit of fun.”
Logan’s eyes once again twinkled. “What kind of fun?”
“The normal kind.” I smiled at him over my glass as I took another sip. The Bordeaux was smooth and rich. Not too dry. Perfect. “I’ve barely taken any time for myself over the last four years, and I’m looking forward to starting my life.”
“You keep talking like you just finished school. When did you graduate?”
Logan’s mouth dropped open. “Today?”
“Yup. I got my diploma this morning, had a big celebratory lunch with my best friend, Sarah, and then finished packing up my apartment so I could move home until I figure out where I want to live. It’s why I was late.”
“But…” Logan glanced over to where the rest of the wedding party was laughing and carrying on, Tessa in the very middle of it all. As usual. When he looked back, he was frowning. “We went out today. Tessa was there.”
I turned my back on my sister before downing the rest of my wine. No bitterness, Melanie. You promised you’d be the bigger person here.
“She didn’t come to your graduation?”
I shook my head.
“I wondered why you and Claire weren’t with us today.” Logan sighed, and I snuck a peek at him out of the corner of my eye. He was frowning and not looking my way.
I didn’t want to make my sister sound like a horrible person, so I forced myself to face him. “It’s okay. We discussed all the details when Tessa chose the wedding date, and this is what we decided on. Tomorrow was the only time Magnolia Plantation was available during the spring, and that was only because they’d had a cancelation and it was a Sunday evening.”
“Yeah.” Logan nodded, and after a second his lips turned up into a smile. “We should order some champagne. Celebrate the fact that you’re a college graduate.”
He got the bartender’s attention before I could protest, and next thing I knew there was a cold bottle of champagne in front of us. Logan grinned as he popped the cork, and I had a good feeling everyone in our group was staring our way, but I didn’t care. My parents had been so wrapped up in Tessa’s wedding that all I’d gotten after my graduation was a hug before they’d hurried away to finalize the plans for my little sister’s big day. It was nice to have someone acknowledge the hard work I’d put in.
Logan clinked his glass against mine, grinning as his eyes swept over me, and goose bumps sprung up on every inch of my skin. “Congratulations, Melanie.” He leaned closer. “If you’ll let me, I’d love to help you enjoy yourself over the next couple weeks. We could start with dinner one day this week. See where it goes after that?”
I licked my lips, already fantasizing about the evening. “That sounds like a great idea.”
There was no way I’d turn down a night out with Logan. In fact, at the moment, I couldn’t help planning many more nights to come.
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