“Hey!” Melissa shrieked and hugged her bridesmaids one after another. Their unfettered excitement reminded Naomi of high school all over again.
She groaned and massaged her temples, barely coping with the increased decibel level her friends brought to the already noisy restaurant.
Andrea stepped free of Melissa’s embrace and noticed Naomi hanging back. She strolled over wearing a knowing smile and flicked up Naomi’s dark glasses to get a look at her eyes.
“Not as bad as I thought they’d be,” she admitted. “How’s the head?”
“And your tummy?”
Andrea laughed. “I’ve got aspirin, antacids, and Pepto, just in case.”
Naomi gave her a one-armed hug. “You’re a good friend.”
“Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in.” Melissa sidled over with a wicked grin. She cocked her head at Naomi and her dimples deepened. “How ya doin’ this morning?” she sang in an unnecessarily loud voice. Since Melissa was already coming forward with her arms wide open, Naomi had no choice but to return the hug.
“I get it. You’re chipper and excited, but you don’t have to be so loud about it,” Naomi muttered.
“It’s my wedding day. I’m allowed. But for your sake, I’ll be nice.” Melissa turned and noticed the host signaling her. “Looks like our table’s ready.” She hooked both Andrea’s and Naomi’s arms and led them into the dining room behind the other two bridesmaids.
“I thought the guys were going to join us?” Andrea looked around as she chose a chair.
“They should be here any minute.” Melissa pointed around the table, mentally figuring out the seating. “Let’s do this boy, girl, boy, girl. That’ll be fun. Heidi, scoot over one. Leave a spot for Todd.”
“Sorry ladies,” Naomi spoke up. “I need coffee if I’m going to function.” She left them for a moment, her tired eyes locked on the beverage counter against the far wall and all it offered. There was no waiting at the coffee urns when she got there. The customers had evidently shifted over to the loaded buffet tables in the middle of the dining room. Naomi filled two cups and brought them back.
“Thanks.” Accepting the coffee Naomi handed her, Andie looked up in concern. “You look a bit peaked. You going to be okay?”
“Not sure.” Naomi settled gently into a chair and clapped a hand over her mouth, stifling a gag. “I think the smell of sausages is getting to me.”
“Hang on.” Andrea pulled the bottle of Pepto out of her large purse and plunked it down on the table between them.
“You’re a lifesaver.” Naomi swiftly peeled the protective seal off the cap and poured herself a full shot.
“Call it a hunch.” Andrea smiled modestly. “I stopped at the store on my way here.”
“I could kiss you.” Deciding it would be wise to forgo the coffee until her stomach settled a bit, Naomi tipped back the thick pink liquid. That exact moment is when she spotted Ryan coming toward her with two other groomsmen. Their eyes connected and she choked in mid-swallow at the slow smile he gave her.
What was that supposed to mean?
To her growing discomfort, he walked straight over, put his hand on the back of her chair, and leaned in to softly suggest, “Hair of the dog might work better.”
Then he stood with a wink and Andrea’s eyes darted back and forth between them, her brow furrowed with suspicion.
“What was that?” she asked him specifically.
“Nothing.” His hand moved to the chair between them. “This seat taken?”
Whether it was or not, he’d claimed it now. The two women shared a look as he settled back comfortably to consider Naomi.
“Guess the bottle in your hand answers my first question.” The morning sunshine streaming through the restaurant windows made his hazel eyes dance. “Anything I can do? Just ask.”
The twitch at the corner of his ridiculously perfect mouth led her to hear the subtext rather than the words. She actually felt her pallor change from sickly green to deep pink at the unwelcome reminder of how she’d practically begged him to touch her, to, to, to, oh god.
Andrea saw the blush. “What’s going on?” Then it came to her in a flash and her eyes bulged. She stared at Naomi. “You didn’t!”
Ryan gave Naomi an equally interested look, no doubt wondering what she’d admit to. She was going to get him for this.
“No!” Naomi assured her friend then glared at Ryan. “And you’re not helping.”
He raised his hands innocently. “Have I said anything?”
“You’ve said enough.”
Andrea wasn’t buying it. She shook her head in disappointment. “You promised to go straight to bed.”
Ryan opened his mouth to speak, presumably in Naomi’s defense, but that smile of his was a little too mischievous for comfort. Naomi gave him a poke in the ribs to stop him. “Don’t.”
“Fine.” He reached for her cup of coffee instead. “Are you drinking this?”
He took a swallow, set the cup back down, then turned to Andrea. “Would you excuse us?”
To the clear surprise of both women, Ryan shot to his feet and took Naomi with him. She felt his hand slide down the inside of her arm just before his fingers linked with hers. The next thing she knew, she was stumbling after him as he towed her toward the exit and the parking lot beyond.
Naomi didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to fight whatever this was. When the sunlight struck her full force, she groaned and flicked her glasses back down in front of her eyes.
Ryan glanced around at her, chuckled, and cut left, leading her to the side of the building and away from the large picture windows. Gray landscaping rock crunched underfoot as he led her over the curb and into a shaded corner out of view. A cluster of ornamental trees provided some privacy, screening them from prying eyes.
Naomi was glad she’d worn tennis shoes. She would have turned an ankle traipsing across rocks in heels.
“What the hell?” she demanded in exasperation.
The next thing she knew, she was up against the cool stucco wall and Ryan was invading her space again, his right hand cupping her neck, the left curled around her waist.
“We need to talk,” he told her, his face much too close. “But first.” Then he laid a kiss on her that dissolved Naomi’s muscles and turned her skeleton to rubber.