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One Night with the Best Man
Unforgettable Nights (Book 4)
‘No man is perfect’ has always been Courtney Clark’s dating motto. Until, at her best friend’s wedding, she spends a magical night with the best man, her secret childhood crush. After fulfilling her dreams in the handsome Navy officer’s arms, Courtney is almost convinced that he’s not only perfect, but possibly her soul mate. Except that he’s a rigid neat freak with every minute of his day planned, and she’s a free-spirited hot mess. And then there’s his crazy ex-girlfriend...
Lieutenant Commander Drew Randall can’t believe the beautiful woman he spends a passionate night with is the same gangly, red-haired, freckle-faced kid who used to hang around their house after school. Courtney Clark is a knockout. And since Drew’s about to be deployed, Courtney’s offer of a “friends with benefits” deal is the perfect arrangement. Then Courtney’s life is threatened, and Drew realizes his feelings for her go deeper than a fun romp in bed. But how can he ask this ‘live for the moment’ woman to wait for him?
“Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here today...”
Looking past the happy couple, Courtney Clark eyed the scrumptious man in the khaki uniform standing next to the groom. Drew Randall.
She took in a breath. She hadn’t seen her best friend’s brother since he’d left for college eleven years ago. The handsome Navy officer had been stationed in San Diego for the past year, but their paths hadn’t crossed.
When he glanced over across the empty flower urns and caught her stare, she quickly looked away. She wasn’t a ditzy thirteen-year-old anymore with a secret crush on the boy next door.
She refocused on Reverend Wolcott, casually clad in khakis and a sports shirt. With only the wedding party assembled in this cavernous hotel ballroom, his booming voice echoed off the brocaded walls.
“...this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. Blah. Blah. Blah.” The preacher looked up from his book and spoke to Lisa’s father. “After I finish, I’ll nod at you and ask, “Who gives this man to this woman?”
“Her mother and I do,” Mr. Randall responded, voice shaking with emotion even though this was only the rehearsal. Courtney smiled encouragingly at the man who’d been the closest thing she’d ever had to a dad. Her own father had bailed when Courtney was two and none of the succession of ‘uncles’ who’d passed through her mother’s life had stuck around long enough to get their names printed on the mailbox.
“Then you two will say your vows,” Reverend Wolcott explained. “I understand you’ve written your own?”
“Yes, sir,” the groom said.
“Want to say them now?”
Matt gazed adoringly at Lisa, she right back at him. “No,” they said in unison.
“We’d rather it be fresh tomorrow,” Lisa added.
“Understood.” The preacher smiled. “Just be sure you face each other angled toward the photographer, so he can get a nice shot of the bride and groom and the bouquet.”
“The flowers,” Lisa whispered to Courtney, her face lined with bride angst. “Did you call and reconfirm?”
“I did. Everything will be here tomorrow by noon.” She squeezed her friend’s chilled hand, aware that the maid of honor’s most important job was to keep the bride calm and collected. “It’s going to be a beautiful wedding.”
“I hope so, it’s costing enough,” Lisa’s father joked, but the humor sounded forced. Courtney reached out and patted his shoulder.
“To continue.” The preacher cleared his throat. “Someone have the ring?”
“Yes, sir.” The best man didn’t click his heels and salute, but the tone of his response suggested it. “Right here, sir.” Drew Randall took the ring out of his flat, pressed pants pocket and handed it to Matt. Before he stepped back to his place, his eyes found Courtney’s.
And he smiled.
Courtney swallowed her breath. Since he’d arrived tonight and taken his place at Matt’s side, Drew’s expression had been uber-serious, as if he carried the burdens of the world on his shoulders. Which, in his profession, he probably did. But when he smiled, his face brightened the room with an intensity that made the ornate chandelier above their heads seem dim. God, the man was gorgeous.
This time she didn’t look away. She feasted her eyes on the once familiar face. The face that had inspired many a girlhood fantasy. A little older, but the same warm brown eyes and taut, unflinching jaw. His once shaggy dark brown hair was now closely cropped, adding to the aura of strength his body emitted. Those wide shoulders didn't hurt either.
“...I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Courtney reeled herself back to reality as Matt and Lisa joined hands for the recessional.
“Dum dum da dum dum dum dum...” Reverend Wolcott improvised the recessional music and then prompted, “Now the maid of honor and the best man.”
Courtney took her place behind the bride, and Drew fell in step beside her, extending his elbow to her. Leading the other wedding attendants, they marched silently down the aisle and out the bronze double doors of the hotel ballroom. Only then did she dare look up at her companion. And drowned in that smile again.
“Freckle Face,” he said.
* * *
Courtney Clark. Drew took in the stunning redhead beside him. She barely resembled the gangly preteen he remembered. Her hair still flamed like a fire out of control, but the freckles had faded, and the boyish body had filled out nicely.
“Hey, sailor,” she said, green eyes laughing at his amazement. “Come here often?”
They walked together through the lobby to the hotel’s restaurant, where a large table had been reserved for the wedding party. “I’ve been to Los Angeles a few times since my assignment to North Island Naval base. Always managed to miss seeing you, though.”
“Then you’ve missed the best part.” Her smile displayed teeth so white she could have modeled for a dental commercial. When she walked, her breasts bounced with every step. Pert, not pendulous. The perfect size and shape for a man’s hands.
Get your head straight, Randall. She’s your sister’s best friend.
Drew pulled out two chairs at one end of the long table. A tall vase of flowers in the center partially blocked the view of his parents and the groom’s family at the other end, creating the illusion of privacy. “How about you fill me in?”
Courtney slid into one of the chairs, black pants hugging her butt as she sat. The knit green shirt clung provocatively to her torso, drawing Drew’s eyes back to her breasts. She sure as hell hadn’t looked like this the last time he’d seen her. But then she’d been somewhere around thirteen.
He averted his gaze and reached for her wine glass. “Red or white?”
Two bottles had already been set out on the table. Drew poured the Chablis for her, and a glass of burgundy for himself. “So you do drink?”
Courtney lifted a brow.
“Lisa tells me you’re a vegetarian,” he said over the murmurs of the conversations around them. “And a tree hugger. I didn’t know if you indulged.”
“Grapes are the fruit of the vine.” She raised her full glass to his. “Alcohol is from grain. And beer...”
“You like beer?” His personal drug of choice.
“Oh, yeah. Beer and a veggie pizza....mmm.”
She licked her lips so invitingly Drew was tempted to start naming tasty foods to see her do it again. “You don’t miss ham and pepperoni? You used to scarf that stuff up when we were kids.” He remembered Saturday nights in front of the TV, Lisa and Courtney in their pajamas, the three of them eating pizza and watching horror movies.
She shook her head. “Do you miss the animals of the world who gave their lives for man’s carnal appetite?”
Oh great, she was going to preach at him if he ordered meat. But when he selected the prime rib for his entrée, Courtney shot him a to-each-his-own glance but made no comment.
“I see you two finally hooked up.” His sister hovered behind him, one arm on his shoulder, the other on Courtney’s.
“Not yet,” Courtney said wickedly. “We’re just talking.”
Drew nearly sputtered out his wine.
Lisa giggled. “I think your face just turned the color of Court’s hair, Bro.” She whispered to her girlfriend. “Drew’s a bit of a Boy Scout.”
“Brave, clean, and reverent.” He dabbed a cloth napkin at his lips.
“And always prepared?” Courtney teased when Lisa had moved on to greet the other family members and wedding party. She fingered the ribbons over his left breast pocket. “Are these like medals?”
He tried to ignore the stirring sensation of her hand on his chest. “Some of them.”
“And what are these for?” She touched the gold oak leaves dotting both sides of his collar.
“They indicate my rank. I’m a lieutenant commander.”
“Like, you’re the captain of a ship? Didn’t you study engineering in college?”
He chuckled. “I’m an electronics engineer. Right now I’m field testing a new electronic warfare system.”
Her eyes widened. “What kind of system?”
“I can’t tell you any more than that.” He winked. “Or else I’d have to kill you.” He sipped his wine, keeping his eyes focused on her over the rim of his glass. “I assume you’re a bleeding heart pacifist, too?”
“Nope.” She bounced her fiery hair with a head toss. “I bleed for the innocent creatures who’ve done nothing to offend us. People, unfortunately, are rarely innocent. Some are downright scum.”
He’d bet there was a story or two behind that comment.
“Will I get to see you in your dress whites tomorrow?” Courtney smiled up at him.
“No, I’ll wear a tux like the other groomsmen. I’m only in uniform tonight because I went right from the base to LAX to pick up my parents and I didn’t have time to change.”
“You’re staying here at the hotel tonight?”
“Yes.” And although there was nothing untoward in her question, Drew felt his breath quicken.
Before he could analyze his reaction, Drew’s parents appeared at their side of the table, his mother glowing and in her element, his father grinning and bearing the social obligation.
“Courtney. So nice to see you,” his mother said. “It’s been a while.” Looking like a cheery ladybug in her black and red pantsuit, she embraced the young woman who’d once been almost part of their family. “I guess it’s been a lot longer since you two have seen each other.” She pecked Drew’s cheek and winked. “Our little Courtney’s all grown up now.”
“So I noticed,” he said without meeting Courtney’s eyes.
“You doing okay, Mr. R?” Courtney stood and wrapped her arms around Dad’s neck. For that second, Drew envied his father.
“I’ll just be glad when it’s all over,” Dad said.
“Until the bills start coming in,” his mother teased. “Well, I’m sure y’all have a lot of catching up to do. See you at breakfast tomorrow, dear.” Patting Drew’s hand, she glided away, dragging his father along like an appendage.
Courtney watched them with a wistful expression. “Your dad is so emotional tonight.”
“My father? Emotional?”
“I thought he was going to cry at the rehearsal.”
Drew hadn’t noticed his father tearing up. George Randall had always been a strict-but-fair, no-nonsense, non-touchy-feely parent, at least where Drew was concerned. He’d cut the girls a little more slack. The girls being Lisa and Courtney. Since she had no strong male presence in her life, Dad had always treated Courtney as his own daughter.
Drew topped off both their wine glasses, then clinked his to hers. Courtney sipped her wine slowly, sensuously. She might think he was rude for staring, but he couldn’t take his eyes off her.
Licking vestiges of wine from her lips, she fingered the stem of her glass, caressing it. “Where’s your lady friend? Lisa said you’ve been seeing someone.”
“I was, for a few months. It didn’t work out.”
“I’m sorry.” A mock frownie-face. “When did you two break up?”
“Couple weeks ago.”
“Bad timing.” Courtney wrinkled her nose. “She could have at least waited until after the wedding.”
Drew shrugged. There were worse things than being dateless for a wedding. Especially your sister’s wedding, where every female family member would be anxious to link all their single relatives with their ‘perfect match.’ Drew studied the dazzling woman beside him. At this moment he was damn glad he was unaccompanied this weekend. “Actually, I was the one who broke off the relationship.”
Courtney tipped up her chin.
Normally Drew wasn’t a big talker, especially about relationships, but he felt at ease with Courtney. She seemed to ‘get’ the southern California dating scene. Apparently she’d been through a few less than perfect affairs herself.
“She was looking for a serious relationship,” he said, mesmerized by Courtney’s liquid green eyes, “and I...well, I wasn’t.” On their third date Melissa had started planning their future, a wedding, children... “She said she understood how I felt, and we were obviously on separate pages, so we parted amicably.”
Drew took a sip of his wine. He and Melissa had shared some good times. But the truth was, there was no spark between them. He’d never even asked her to stay the night. “How about you? You still dating Tom?” He was the most recent of Courtney’s boyfriends Lisa had mentioned.
“Tom?” She wrinkled her nose. “He’s ancient history.” She pressed her lips over the rim of her wine glass, her eyes glittering like green glass. “The last guy I dated was Harry. But we broke up a week ago.”
“Not anymore.” Her saucy smile sent hopeful tingles across Drew’s skin.
“You dated a Tom and a Harry?” He chuckled. “What happened to Dick?”
“They were all dicks,” she said.
Had she set him up or was he just an easy straight man? “Want to tell your big brother about it?”
Her eyes flashed. “You’re not my brother, Drew. And you’re not that much older than me.”
So true. When he’d left for college, Courtney had been a giggling teenager. Now at twenty-five, she was all woman.
He lifted his wine glass then set it down. “So how long does it take to figure out a guy is a dick?”
“Not long. Most guys are dicks, jerks or assholes. I’ve learned to put up with a lot of quirks and some downright oddball behavior. But if a guy cheats on me or tries to play me, he’s out. My trigger point is lying.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Drew smiled at her, wondering what differentiated dicks, jerks and assholes. Lisa seemed to think Courtney set the bar pretty low when it came to men. But it didn’t sound that way to him. At least Courtney knew what she didn’t want. Not every woman aspired to the storybook marriage-and-family option. Some girls, according to Cyndi Lauper’s classic song, ‘just want to have fun.’
If only she wasn’t his sister’s best friend...
Courtney Clark might be one of those girls. And for the short time he probably had left stationed in southern California, Drew was definitely up for a little fun.