“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.
Becky 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?”
Becky laughed. “I’ve got aspirin, antacids, and that chalky pink liquid 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 she 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. “Looks like our table’s ready.” She hooked both Becky’s and Naomi’s arms and led them into the dining room, following the other three bridesmaids.
“I thought the guys were going to join us?” Becky said, drawing out a chair.
“They should be here any minute.” Melissa pointed around the table, 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, I need coffee—right now.” Naomi wandered off, cutting between tables, her tired eyes on the cabinet of beverage options set along the distant wall, well away from the extensive buffet in the middle of the dining room. She filled two cups and brought one back for Becky as well.
Becky looked up at her with concern when she accepted the cup Naomi handed her. “You’re looking a little peaked. You going to be okay?”
“Not sure.” Naomi settled gently into a chair and covered her mouth, stifling a gag. “I think the smell of sausages is getting to me.”
Becky pulled the bottle of bismuth out of her purse and plunked it down on the table between them.
“This is brand new.” Naomi picked it up and quickly peeled the protective plastic away from the cap.
“Yeah? I stopped at the store on my way here. Call it a hunch.”
“I could kiss you. Thanks.” Naomi tipped it back, forgoing the coffee until her stomach settled a little. She was right in the middle of a healthy swallow when she spotted Ryan walking toward her with two of the other groomsmen in tow. She choked at the slow smile he gave her when their eyes met.
What was that supposed to mean?
To her growing alarm, he came right over, put his hand on the back of her chair, and leaned in.
“Hair of the dog might work better,” he said with a wink.
Becky’s eyes darted back and forth between them, her brow furrowed with suspicion. “What was that?” she asked him directly.
“Nothing.” His hand landed on the chair between them. “This seat taken?”
Whether it was or wasn’t, he’d claimed it now. The two women shared a look as he kicked back comfortably and contemplated Naomi.
“Guess the bottle in your hand answers my first question.” His eyes twinkled. “Anything I can do? Don’t be afraid to ask.” His offer was more like a reminder, dripping with innuendo.
Naomi actually felt her pallor flush from sickly green to deep pink.
“What’s going on?” Becky broke in, her left eyebrow rising sharply. Then her eyes bulged and she gasped under her breath, “You didn’t.” She grabbed Naomi’s arm. “Tell me 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.
“It’s not what you’re thinking,” Naomi told Becky then glared at Ryan. “And you’re not helping.”
His hands went up innocently. “Have I said anything?”
“You’ve said enough.”
“You were supposed to go right to bed,” Becky reproached, her head shaking with disappointment.
Ryan opened his mouth to speak—his smile a little too mischievous for comfort. Naomi gave him a hard poke in the ribs to shut him up. “Don’t.”
“Fine.” He reached for Naomi’s cup of coffee. “Are you drinking this?”
He took a sip, set the cup back down, and looked at Becky. “Would you excuse us?”
To the clear surprise of both women, Ryan shot to his feet and drew Naomi up with him. She felt his fingers link with hers and suddenly they were moving toward the front of the restaurant and the parking lot beyond.
She didn’t have the energy or wherewithal to fight so she just stumbled along after him. When the sunlight struck her full force, she groaned and flipped her glasses back down in front of her eyes.
He glanced back at her, chuckled, and cut left, walking her around the building and away from the big windows. Landscaping rocks crunched under their feet as he towed her over the curb and into a shaded corner out of site. A couple of small trees offered a little cover from the prying eyes of patrons who might walk by.
Naomi was glad she was wearing tennis shoes. She could have turned an ankle walking across the rocks in heels. “What the hell?”
The next thing she knew, she was up against the cool stucco wall and Ryan was invading her space, his right hand cupping her neck, the left curled around her waist.
“We need to talk,” he said, his face much too close. “But first.” Then he laid a kiss on her that dissolved her muscles and turned her skeleton to rubber.