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I still remember the exact moment that I fell in love with Owen. It wasn’t a gradual realisation or a slow slide into something new. It hit me hard and stayed with me, making the time I spent in his presence a combination of torturous and comforting from then onward.
I’d been waiting for my turn to give a speech at his younger sister’s eighteenth birthday party, and although we’d never spoken about it he somehow knew the idea of being the centre of attention terrified me. While his dad took the floor and entertained the crowd with stories from Sarah’s past, Owen reached for my hand and slid his fingers between mine, apparently unconcerned with the fact that his girlfriend stood right there beside him.
His thumb stroked mine in a reassuring caress but his attention remained on his father and he never once looked my way. The simplicity of his touch, the matter-of-fact way he offered comfort as if it took no thought at all, pushed what had once been a crush into something so much more.
Now, four years later, here we were at Sarah’s wedding, with him newly single and me perpetually that way because no one could ever measure up to him—and being the maid of honour meant I had speech duties to perform once again.
I’d gone outside to get some air and gather my thoughts but my legs kept trembling as I paced the edge of the parking lot. The muted sound of a drumbeat came from inside the reception centre and wind rustled through the trees. Moonlight peeked between the clouds, reflecting off the shallow puddles left on the asphalt after the rain.
A couple of guests were huddled against the wall with cigarette smoke curling between them, their figures briefly illuminated by a pair of headlights as a car swung out of the lot.
Dressed in a strapless navy evening gown with my brown hair falling in waves over my shoulders, I’d been feeling poised and in control earlier in the evening, but as the guests settled in for the night and the formalities began, my hard-earned confidence deserted me.
My fingers twisted together and I dragged in air, letting it out slowly in the hope that it might help to calm my racing heart.
I heard the main door open behind me and turned to see Owen stepping out into the night. My breath caught every time I set eyes on him, but tonight with his dark suit and equally dark hair, I struggled to draw breath at all.
He flashed me a smile as he passed by a glowing wall sconce. He’d been given the role of groomsman for the wedding, and even though we weren’t partnered up it still meant I’d spent most of my day with him. I would have thanked Sarah for making that happen if I’d ever built the courage to tell her about my feelings for him in the first place.
“Hiding out, Lucy?” he asked as he came to stop before me.
“Yep.” I watched as the other two guests walked by on their way back into the building. “Just doing the usual; freaking out over the idea of people looking at me.”
“I hate to break it to you but people have been looking at you all day.”
My attention shifted back to him. I frowned as I lifted my hand to make sure the jewelled comb was still in place in my hair.
“Not because there’s anything wrong,” he said. His brown eyes filled with humour as he gave me a quick once over. “It’s because everything’s right.”
“Oh.” In that moment I couldn’t focus on anything other than the steady thump, thump of my heart so it took a while for his words to register. I made myself maintain eye contact with him even though it was more natural for me to glance away. He’d never commented on my appearance before; the rush of pleasure it triggered inside me made my cheeks grow hot. “Thanks.”
He smiled. “So what’s your plan of attack?”
“I’m not sure yet.” I rubbed the chill from my arms and smiled back at him, hoping it might be convincing. “I’ll be okay.”
He raised his brows. “You don’t look okay.”
“I keep telling myself it’s only five minutes.” I stared at the ground, noticing that the music had stopped inside, only to be replaced by the muffled sound of the MC’s voice. He’d be directing the guests to their seats right about now so it wouldn’t be long before they needed me. “I used to feel anxious over almost everything when I was younger,” I said, looking up to meet Owen’s eyes again. “This is the only thing that still gets to me but I can’t seem to shake it no matter how hard I try.”
He contemplated me for a few moments while I tried my best not to squirm under his steady appraisal. The appearance of the dimple in his left cheek and the sparkle of amusement in his eyes told me I wasn’t fooling anyone. “I’m proud of you, you know,” he finally said.
I doubted he had any idea what those words did to me, especially coming from him. A feeling of tenderness built in my chest, spreading throughout my body. “Why’s that?” I asked.
“Even though speaking in front of people scares you, you do it anyway because you love my sister.”
I tucked a tendril of hair behind my ear and considered his comment. “I guess I just casino oyna didn’t think about saying no.”
His hand touched my elbow and slid slowly down to my forearm, his touch leaving shivers in its wake. “That’s one of the things I love about you,” he said. “And why I came out here to help you.”
Love about me? It felt like my heart had made a sudden leap into my throat and I struggled to stay focused on the conversation. “How are you going to help me?” I asked.
Mesmerised, I watched as he lifted my hand.
“Let me show you,” he said.
I’d never heard huskiness roughen his voice before now. My eyes rose to meet his; the way his attention never wavered from me made my stomach churn. “What’s next?” I asked. My words were so soft I wondered if he could even hear them. “Does it involve picturing people naked?”
“Hmm… No.” Owen smiled and encouraged my fingers to straighten. Our gazes remained locked as he placed our palms together. His skin felt so warm and comforting that I sighed before I could stop myself. The corner of his mouth lifted then his fingers slid through mine just as they had four years ago, only this time we were facing each other and there was no mistaking the affection in his eyes. “Remember?” he asked.
I nodded. The fact that he remembered left me feeling overwhelmed and unable to speak. His fingers curled over my hand, his thumb rubbing the sensitive skin on the side of my palm. We stood watching each other while I tried to focus on my breathing and he took everything in as if he’d never set eyes on me before. The expression on his face made me hope for things I’d always considered out of my reach.
My tongue slipped out to moisten my lower lip. His attention dropped to my mouth for a fraction of a second before his eyes flicked back to meet mine. “When you get nervous up there,” he said, “just look at me.”
“Okay.” The word came out sounding like a sigh.
He leaned in and pressed a soft kiss on my forehead, leaving his lips there just long enough to get my pulse racing. “Look at me and feel me holding your hand, Luce.”
I wouldn’t have believed anyone if they’d told me I could fall even more in love with Owen, but as I stood there with his calmness and strength surrounding me, I realised it was true.
* * * *
If the tears in Sarah’s eyes and the thumbs-up sign from her dad weren’t enough to let me know my speech had been a success, the cheers and applause I received afterward achieved that goal. I remained standing in front of the seated crowd, my heart pounding with relief as I raised my glass to toast the happy couple.
Floral centrepieces and crisp white linen decorated the tables filling one half of the room, with a parquet dance floor and a bench laden with gifts taking up the remaining half. Owen had been given a place at the bridal table with me but he was seated at the other end with his fellow groomsmen.
He’d fixed his attention on me throughout the entire speech, keeping me well aware of him even when I wasn’t looking his way. I’d glanced across at him every time I felt my nerves get the better of me, discovering he had a calming influence that helped me get through without embarrassing myself too much.
Now the formalities were over the MC invited the guests to take to the dance floor. At the sound of animated voices and shuffled movements, my shoulders relaxed and I felt like I could breathe again. I set my glass on the table and turned to Sarah, waiting while she pushed her chair back and stood beside me.
She smiled and drew me into her arms, surrounding me with her blonde curls and floral perfume. “Thanks, Luce,” she said. “I know that wasn’t easy but it meant so much to me.”
“It’s okay.” I smiled against her hair. “I found a way to handle the nerves this time around, so it wasn’t too bad.”
“I noticed you had some help.” She gave me a squeeze and pulled away to send a pointed look over her shoulder. I followed her gaze, my stomach performing a little flip when I saw Owen heading our way. “When are you going to tell him?” she asked, returning her attention to me.
I struggled to keep my surprise hidden. “Tell him?”
Sarah opened her mouth to speak but she stopped and turned around, distracted when her husband called her name. She gave Michael a wave then pointed to the dance floor, giving the impression they’d meet there as soon as she finished talking to me. She faced me again and smiled. “Come on. It’s impossible not to notice the way you look at him.”
I frowned as Owen joined us, overcome by the frantic racing of my pulse. “I don’t know what to say.”
“It doesn’t matter. Just say something. To him,” she added, clasping my shoulders and planted a loud kiss on my cheek. “I have to go but I’ll talk to you later.” Sarah punched Owen lightly on the arm then lifted her brows and sent me the look she always gave me whenever she meant business. “Do it, Lucy,” she said before hurrying away.
“What was that about?” Owen asked.
I shook my head, unsure what to say to him. “Relationship canlı casino advice, I think.”
He blew out a laughing breath. “Typical. She gets married then suddenly becomes an expert on happiness—wait,” he said as his humour disappeared. “You’re in a relationship?”
I still managed to smile despite the awkwardness of the situation. “You don’t have to sound so surprised.”
“I’m not. I’m just… I thought you were single.”
“I am.” I couldn’t be sure if I was just seeing what I wanted to see, but he appeared to visibly relax when I confirmed my relationship status. “I’m not with anyone. There’s just someone I’m interested in. Sarah was pushing me to do something about it.”
“So, when are you going to tell the lucky guy?”
I gave him a half smile and redirected my attention to my shoes. “I’m not sure. Up until now I’d just planned on admiring him from a distance for the rest of my life.”
The sound of Owen’s choked laughter made me glance up again. “Is he here tonight?” he asked.
I stared straight at him, wishing there was a way to calm my pounding heart. “Yeah.”
“Why don’t you practise on me?” he said. “Pretend I’m him so you won’t feel as nervous when you let the actual guy know.”
“I don’t… I don’t think that would help.” Reluctant laughter bubbled up inside me. I almost had to clamp my hand over my mouth to keep it inside.
His eyes sparkled as he watched me. “Try it and see.”
I wondered if he somehow knew what was going on. If Sarah had managed to pick up on it even in the midst of all her wedding celebrations then it must have been obvious. Maybe it would be a relief to get it out in the open. I could look him in the eye and tell him exactly how I felt without the pressure of him knowing I was actually talking about him.
He studied me and waited, not saying a thing, his patience helping to ease the tension inside me. My gaze swept over the room, checking to make sure everyone was otherwise occupied. Most of the guests had moved onto the dance floor while a few others remained at their tables involved in conversations.
I loosened my clenched fingers at my sides and returned my attention to Owen, deciding to just go for it before I could find reasons for why it was a bad idea. “All right, are you ready?”
The beginnings of a smile twitched at his mouth. “Hit me with it.”
I couldn’t stop myself from smiling in return even though my stomach churned. “I started having feelings for you years ago,” I said, “back when I was nearly seventeen. You were older than me and I was too shy to tell you. I assumed you wouldn’t see me in the same way so I just kept it to myself and hoped it would go away. I guess a part of me still wished you’d notice me as well, even though I probably wouldn’t have known what to do if you did.”
“I don’t know how to explain it. It’s kind of pathetic because I saw you with your previous girlfriends and noticed how affectionate you were with them. The fact that you never really touched me should have told me all I needed to know about how you saw me…” I let out a breath and forced myself to keep looking at him. “But despite all of that, I still want you… and I can’t stop.”
We stared at each other, the connection between us so strong that every sound in the room faded until all I could hear was the rush of blood in my ears. His gaze dropped to my lips, then wandered down my body. When his eyes finally rose to meet mine again the expression on his face was impossible to read. “You’re not talking about some other guy.”
He sounded so sure of himself it made me even more confident that he’d known all along. My eyes closed and I shook my head in answer, wondering how he planned to deal with this now. I’d just put him on the spot at his sister’s wedding reception. He couldn’t even leave if he wanted to get out of here.
The tips of his fingers brushed mine and he grabbed hold of my hand. “Dance with me,” he said.
When I heard the affection in his voice my eyes opened and relief flooded me. His thumb brushed mine and he turned to lead me toward the dance floor. We stepped out into the middle, one of his arms wrapping around my waist and his other hand clasping mine to pull me close.
We moved together in silence, soaking up the sights and sounds, until it reached the point where I couldn’t hold my curiosity inside any longer. My cheeks were still hot after my confession and I struggled to meet his eyes. “You knew I was talking about you all along but you let me go ahead and tell you those things anyway.”
His hand moved to my lower back, his fingers flexing against my spine. “I didn’t know it would turn out like that, I swear. I had a feeling you were interested in me but I was just trying to tease it out of you. You almost threw me at the start of the conversation… then you blew me away with the rest of it.”
“This is so awkward now. I wouldn’t have dumped all of that on you if I’d known what was going on. I’m sorry.”
He pressed a kiss against my hair. “Don’t kaçak casino be sorry. I’m still getting used to the idea but right now I’m almost more attracted to you than I can stand.”
“Oh.” Tingling warmth rushed through me and my skin prickled with the pleasure of it all. “Wow.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Wow.”
He turned with me and I caught Sarah’s smile from the other side of the dance floor as my position changed. I wondered how long he’d felt this way. I guessed his view of me might have altered during the lead up to the wedding when we’d be spending so much time together.
He lowered me into a dip that drew a smile from me then spun me around until I gave in and laughed. My embarrassment eased a little and we danced for several songs, sometimes talking, sometimes just holding each other close. The more time that went on the more relaxed I felt around him and I eventually stopped feeling so stupid over what I’d said.
When the current song ended, he pulled me against him and wrapped his arms around my waist, looking down at me as we stood by the edge of the dance floor.
Some of guests walked by, heading back to their seats to take a break. The MC announced the cake-cutting ceremony would begin soon. Amidst the activity Owen touched his mouth to the edge of my lower lip, making an “mmm” sound that rumbled in his chest. I let out a tortured whimper and felt him smile against my skin. “Will you come back to my place after this?” he asked. “We’ll hang out for a while, just the two of us.”
Although I’d been to his apartment many times over the years, I’d always accompanied Sarah. Owen and I had never really spent any alone time together before tonight. I didn’t know what his intentions were but I wanted to be there with him regardless. The sudden shift in our relationship had left my head spinning but through all the confusion I still knew exactly what I wanted.
I looked up at him and smiled. “I’d like that.”
* * * *
Owen closed the door to his apartment and took my evening bag from me, setting it on the hall table with his wallet and keys. I kicked off my high heels and left them by the door, thankful to finally be free of them.
He wandered through the wide archway into his living room, giving me a smile as he passed by that encouraged me to follow him. I trailed behind him, feeling anticipation stir in the pit of my stomach.
We’d stayed at the reception for another two hours after our initial conversation, deciding to leave straight after we waved Sarah and Michael off. Although Owen and I had spent the entire time together, he hadn’t made any other moves on me after our almost-kiss on the dance floor. The waiting left me wanting it more than ever now.
I glanced around the room, taking in the two couches arranged in a right angle formation, the coffee table in the middle and the oversized television on the wall. Several magazines were scattered over an end table but it made the room look lived in rather than cluttered. I’d always loved his place. It had a warm, welcoming feel to it that usually made me want to settle in and make myself at home.
His bedroom was situated across the hall but that was the only room I’d never actually been in before. The idea of going in there with him tonight left me feeling on edge—not with nerves exactly, more just with the thrill of the unknown.
“Tired?” he asked, reaching his hand out to me.
“No, not even a little bit.” I smiled, sliding my fingers across his palm.
His hand clasped mine and he pulled me toward him. He slipped his arms around me, and without another word dipped his head and brushed his lips across mine. The swift touch left my skin tingling and my lips parted to invite more. My eyes closed and I sighed when he came back for another touch, his mouth lingering longer this time, nibbling, tasting.
I clasped his biceps through his suit jacket, holding on while he kissed me until my knees trembled. His tongue briefly touched mine, giving me just enough attention to tease my senses but leave me wanting more. I settled into the kiss, releasing my hold on his arms to slide my hands up his chest and link them behind his neck. My tongue pressed against his and I moaned softly as the kiss deepened.
It went on like this for long, unhurried moments, the intensity building slowly until I thought I had a pretty good idea where this was headed. Just when I began thinking about pushing his jacket off his shoulders, Owen shocked me by pulling away and resting his forehead against mine. “Believe it or not I didn’t bring you here for this,” he said, his deep voice roughened with desire.
My fingers stroked the back of his neck and I struggled to stay calm when all I wanted to do was beg him to keep going. “I don’t care,” I said. “I want it, Owen. I want you.”
I thought about how long I’d waited to experience this with him. The sensation of his body pressed to mine while his mouth travelled over me had been a recurring fantasy for years. Now I had him right here in front of me I didn’t want to give him any reasons to stop. I pushed up on my tiptoes to trail my mouth over his chin. The stubble darkening his jaw rasped against my lips, the smell of his crisp cologne making me want to nuzzle his throat.
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