Always the Bridesmaid
She’s been burned, and he’s going to help her get revenge.
Always the bridesmaid, that’s what everyone says about dependable Jenna Smith. With her cousin’s wedding coming up and no boyfriend in sight, she doesn’t expect it to change. That’s until she meets Dr. Noah Absolom, one of the groomsmen. Not only does he not mind her BBW size, he seems to love it. Even as she basks in his attention, Jenna’s ugly past with the best man rears its ugly head. Rather than letting Jenna flee from it, Noah proposes that he help her get sweet revenge on her cheating ex – all Jenna has to do is accept.
“I can’t believe Angelica asked her,” A woman’s not so subtle voice informed the woman sitting next to her. Several of the people surrounding the woman glared, before shushing her.
“Well, what Angelica wants, Angelica gets…” her friend’s sarcastic reply ended up with the woman receiving more outraged looks.
“True, but that girl is always going to be a bridesmaid. With her figure, she’ll never be a bride, especially after what happened with the best man…”
Jenna Smith pretended to not hear the whispered words as she passed the gossiping women but they still stung. Instead of the polished gliding walk she’d practiced, she finished her trip up the aisle in a series of jerky steps. Taking her position at the edge of the satin runner, Jenna tried to forget the woman’s words. There’s nothing wrong with me. We can’t all be size two. Besides if they don’t like it, they shouldn’t be looking.
Comfortable in her own skin, it took all of Jenna’s good breeding to not march back down the aisle to smack the annoying women with her bouquet of baby’s-breath and lilies. Just because Jenna didn’t fit the image of runway beauty didn’t mean the woman should be vicious about it. Reminding herself that the women were notorious gossips and weren’t worth the effort was little consolation to her already over-strung nerves. She felt like she was on display. It was this confounded dress that Angelica insisted she wear.
While the creamy salmon color of it complimented her dusky skin tone, she wished her cousin, Angelica, had picked a different style for her. The beautiful elbow length gloves were sensuous but her large, ample frame was not meant for the sheath style gown she wore. Even special ordering her dress from a famous New York designer hadn’t helped. As her daddy used to say, trying to shove ten pounds of crap in a five pound bag just didn’t work.
Needing something to distract herself even if it was only for a moment, she glanced over at the groomsmen. Of course, Bradley was the epitome of what a groom should be. He was dashing in his midnight blue tux. Angelica was a lucky lady, she thought. Standing next to him was his best friend. Dressed in a similar tux with ebony hair and sparkling green-blue eyes, Dawson Peterson should’ve made her heart go pitter patter. Instead, she all she felt was disgust and unease. Their recent break-up had left a bitter taste in her mouth.
When he gave her a knowing grin, she quickly shifted her gaze away. There’s no way in hell I’m gonna let him think I’m pining over him. Her eyes skimmed further down the line. Over Seth, Kenneth, and Samuel, but where was the fifth groomsman? The one who was supposed to be paired up with me?
She jerked out of her thoughts when the music changed. The wedding march began but her attention remained on the empty spot across from her. She’d been staring so intently, that before she knew it, the minster had begun the ceremony. Even though she knew she should be paying attention, her curiosity was getting the better of her. Where was he?
The minister droned on and the missing groomsman still failed to appear, Jenna tried to keep from fidgeting. Am I going to have to walk back down the aisle by myself? Surely fate wouldn’t be that cruel. Her palms began to sweat at the thought. She was tempted to wipe her hands on skirt of her dress but restrained the impulse. Jenna wished for anything - even a slight breeze to take her mind off the whole situation.
But Mother Nature had plotted against her. The humidity soared higher than expected. Instead of the pleasant early June day that had been promised, Jenna and the rest of the bridal party sweltered in their formalwear. It was all because Angelica’s wanted an outdoor wedding. But then again, Angelica wasn’t suffering as the rest of the party was. She didn’t have to stand around in ten yards of taffeta and silk. Angelica wore a dress made of the lightest satin, which barely brushed her knees and left her shoulders bare. Coupled with the wrist length gloves, the bride was a stunning contrast to her bridesmaids. It hadn’t taken long for Jenna to realize that what the woman had said was indeed true. What Angelica wanted, Angelica got – including a not-so-happy bridesmaid.
Now, Jenna stood at the end of four other bridesmaids on the back nine of Elmcrest Country Club. Angelica demanded she be married at her favorite place on Earth. As another pesky bug tried to dive bomb her, she wondered where the lucky missing groomsman was and why the hell she’d even agreed to fulfill her role in this charade. It isn’t like Angelica and I are even close.
In reality, it was Jenna’s pride which had demanded she not hide or allow Dawson to drive her away from her family. Even if the family in question had decided to take Dawson’s side during their break-up. No, it doesn’t matter how many times Angelica makes a snide comment or how many knowing looks Dawson throws my way, I am still a Smith. As such, I refuse to air my dirty laundry for all to see!
She couldn’t deny it hurt to know that her family and friends truly believed the lies her ex was spreading. Quite frankly, if she had to hear one more time “if she would’ve simply gone on a diet, then Dawson wouldn’t have dumped her,” she’d strangle the asshole standing across the aisle.
“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.” The minister’s announcement had the crowd cheering and jerked Jenna out of her vengeful thoughts. When the selected recessional piece began to play, Jenna pasted a smile on her face as Dawson walked by with her very married sister simpering over him. His smirk had her wanting to clobber him with nearest blunt object. She’d known this wouldn’t be easy when she’d assured her aunt that the breakup wouldn’t affect Angelica’s wedding plans…
“Thank goodness, Jenna that you’re such a sensible young woman. There would be no time to replace you if you weren’t. Then the numbers would’ve been uneven. I’m so happy you can set aside your petty differences with Dawson. You’ve always been the most dependable of Richard’s girls. I told Angelica you wouldn’t ruin her day”
Even now, the anger she’d felt at her aunt’s words ate at her. How could she have assumed it was merely a petty indifference that drove Dawson and I apart? Like walking into my own bedroom to find the man who was supposed to be in love with me in our bed with two other women was a minor thing.
But the pitying looks from each of the other bridesmaids as they passed assured her that almost everyone had the same opinion on the matter: Dawson’s. Thankfully, she had a healthy dose of her father’s pride and was able to hold her head up in the face of adversity. In fact, to hell with what everybody thinks. I’m going to find a man who wants me, plus size body and all. It’s time this nice girl takes what she wants for once. My days of pleasing everyone but me are over. Who knows, maybe I’ll even rub it in Dawson’s face to boot.
“I take it you’re my date for the evening?” A deep masculine voice washed over her from several inches above. A gasp of pleasure escaped her when she had to tilt her head back to see his face. He must’ve joined the recessional while she’d been lost in her thoughts. Her eyes met his. He has the most amazing blue eyes I’ve ever seen and he’s taller than me. Please, let him be my missing groomsman!
“I’m Noah. Sorry I’m late. My flight from Brazil was delayed, but if I’d known such a beautiful woman was waiting for me, I would’ve rushed.”
The sincerity reflecting in his eyes surprised her. While she had no doubt he was sorry for being late, she hadn’t expected a compliment. Uncertain on how to proceed she ignored his later words to focus on his apology. “Don’t worry about being late. It’s not like you had any control over your flight. Besides it’s better late than never.” She forced a quick smile to her face. “I was worried I took those blessed dance classes for nothing. After all it’s hard to do the Salsa without a partner.” A thought occurred to her. “You do know how to do the Salsa, right?”
He threw back his head and laughed before nodding. “Speak your mind often?”
“No, but I decided to turn over a new leaf. No better time like the present.” She mentally swore as her face heated.
He chuckled once more. “You are such a delight. Shall we?”
Her face grew even warmer when he offered her his arm. A loud ahem from her aunt made her realize that she was holding up things. She took his extended arm as she fought her own awareness of the man at her side. With his towering presence, thick blond hair and arctic blue eyes, Dr. Noah Absolom was much more virile than his name had suggested. Despite reading his name on the wedding program, she hadn’t prepared for the reality of the man. Or her reaction to him. Under her hand the silky smooth fabric of his tux teased her palm. Her breath caught as bated anticipation surged through her at the thought of touching the warm skin under the cloth. She had to remind herself that she couldn’t toss him down on the ground and have her way with him.
While they made their way back down the aisle, she could see she wasn’t the only woman in attendance reacting to his presence. Several women watched him with hungry eyes. Even her seventy year-old aunt was fanning herself with the vintage fan dangling from her wrist while peeking coyly over its edge at him. Good lord, if even Aunt Aggie, who was known for being a prickly-pear around men, is flirting with him, how am I going to compete with all the skinny single women at the reception? For the life of her, though she couldn’t understand why idea bothered her. After all, she’d just met the man. She had no reason to be jealous.
“So, Noah, what exactly was it you were doing in Brazil? From my understanding, you’re a doctor. Do you work in a clinic?” She spoke softly while they followed the couple in front of them.
He tilted his head to the side before shaking it. “Nope. Don’t let the doc title fool you. I have a PhD in Geological Engineering with a minor in Mining.” He gave her a brief smile. “I’m basically a nerd who likes to work on oil rigs.”
She gave him a quick glance out of the corner of her eye. “You? A nerd? I highly doubt that.” She flashed him a quick grin to hide the fact she was dying to know more about him. Who’d have thought that he worked for an oil company? I bet he could tell me some hair-raising stories.
“Do I dare ask what’s going through that gorgeous head of yours?” The humorous drawl had her ready to giggle.
The need to laugh died when she saw the wedding photographer approaching the group. Dread filled her. She didn’t have the patience to deal with him again. She swore if he made one more snide comment about her height, and how difficult it made his job, she’d pick the little man up and toss him into the pond not twenty feet away.
“Bridesmaids, I need all of you over here.” The nasally tone he used, had her wincing, but she did her duty. Releasing Noah’s arm, she walked briskly over to where the photographer had indicated. She had to agree that a pond featuring a spraying fountain would be a beautiful backdrop for the wedding pictures. Taking her place behind the rest of the bridesmaids who were already gathering around Angelica, she glanced over her shoulder longingly. What are the chances that the wind will shift and blow some of that cool water my way? It’d be worth getting this dress wet if it cools me down.
She turned attention away from the fountain as the photographer started shouting instructions at them. Pasting a smile on her face, she waited for the ordeal to be over. Hopefully, she’d be seated next to Noah at the reception. Even leaning against the wooden railing of the fence surrounding the golf course in a too-hot tux, he looked as mysterious as could be. She just had to find out more about him.
* * * * *
Standing in the sweltering heat, Noah Absolom watched as the photographer lined up the women. After the morning he’d had – a delayed flight, the teething baby in first class, and lost luggage – all he wanted to do was get out of this ridiculous monkey suit. Who the hell had decided that full formalwear was appropriate for an outdoor wedding in the middle of summer? Christ don’t they know about heat stroke? Even as he groused to himself about it, he realized the bridesmaids had to be just as miserable if not more so than he was.
He just didn’t understand the reasoning behind women and weddings. All practicality flew out the window it seemed. When he saw his bridesmaid glance longingly at the pond behind her, he grinned. He could almost hear her inner thoughts. She was probably contemplating jumping in the cool water. He knew he would be. He idly wondered if he’d have the self-control to resist when it came his turn.
Instead, to keep his mind off his discomfort, he stared at the woman he’d been lucky enough to be paired with. She intrigued him. It wasn’t just her looks either – he had always been attracted to larger women. Women he wouldn’t worry about breaking when he embraced them. She was pure temptation with her dark hair pulled up in a chignon, the barest of tendrils caressing her neck, even if the designer who had made her dress hadn’t been able to follow the curves of her lush body. But it was those molasses dark eyes that held his attention. The intelligence he saw in those captivating eyes held an attraction all of its own. He just adored intelligent women.
Especially when the woman in question was one that he wouldn’t have to crouch down to talk to or kiss. The lovely bridesmaid came up to his shoulder and other than his mother, she was the first woman to come close to claiming that boasting right. At just shy of seven feet, he knew he was an oddity, but with this woman he looked forward to finding out how well their bodies meshed together. Providing, of course, she was still single. As soon as these pictures were over, he planned on exploring the interesting possibility. Being trapped on a remote oilrig off the Brazilian coast for the past six months had not been good for his love life. It’s been so long since I’ve touched a woman that I swear I’ve forgotten how. Perhaps I can remedy that with my luscious date.
When his cock began to throb even harder, he decided to switch his focus. The last thing he needed to do was come in his pants. Then he’d not only be hot but sticky as well. He was tempted to walk back to the club-house but he knew Bradley would string him up if he ruined the photos. It hadn’t been easy being a college roommate of one of Cedar Rapids’ elitists but they’d had a close relationship until they graduated. For a boy from a small hick town in the upper peninsula of Michigan, even being in the popular college town of Iowa City had been shell-shock enough until he’d met Bradley. And as they say the rest is history. Our college years were quite memorable indeed.
Then he’d lost track of his friend as he’d trotted the globe to various oil platforms and well locations. It had been sheer luck he’d been at his parents’ home four months ago when the call had come asking him to be a groomsman in Bradley’s wedding. Needing a break from his constant travel, he’d used the wedding as an excuse to be Stateside for a while. It had taken some doing but he’d managed to convince his boss he needed the downtime. A burnt out geologist wasn’t a good thing. He was thoroughly going to enjoy his two weeks off.
The drone of a bee along with approaching feet drew him out of his thoughts. When a man with salt and pepper hair holding a can of icy cold beer approached him, he licked his suddenly parched lips. Damn I could go for one of those. Wonder where he got it. A cold beer, some shade and the removal of the damn bow tie that was strangling him sounded like heaven at the moment.
“You must be Noah – the missing groomsman.”
Noah nodded. “Sorry I was late. Delayed flight and you are?”
The man nodded. “Richard Smith.” He stuck his hand out. “Uncle of the bride.”
Noah briefly shook the man’s hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Smith.”
Richard shook his head. “Richard, please. I am not as hoity-toity as my sister and her husband.”
Noah decided then and there that he liked the older man. Richard was more down to Earth than he’d expected any of the guests to be. Who are you kidding? You were expecting to be bored out of your mind and were planning to make a quick exit once the reception was over.
“Have you ever seen a prettier picture? We Smiths make some beautiful women.” The admiration coming from Richard was understandable. All of the women posing for the pictures were beautiful, including one particular bridesmaid, he mused.
“No, Sir. All of them look lovely. I was pleasantly surprised when I found out who I was paired up with. Since I’ve been out of the country for six months, I’m hoping she’ll take pity on me.” He took the opportunity to pump the other man for some info. “You wouldn’t happen to know her name would you? I didn’t get a chance to ask her before the mad photographer commandeered her.”
“Considering I’m her father, I should hope so.” He handed an icy can to Noah before continuing, “You look like you could use one these. Her name is Jenna, by the way.”
A smile split Noah’s face. He wasn’t sure if it was because of anticipation of the icy beverage or the relief at finding out his bridesmaid’s name. “Jenna. A very pretty name.” Popping the tab on the beer, he lifted towards his mouth before remembering his manners. “Thanks for the beer. You don’t know how much I’ve needed this.” Taking several long draws, it didn’t take him long to drain it. While most men might have felt the effects of chugging twenty-four ounces of ice-cold beer, Noah could easily drink five times that amount before he even got the slightest buzz. But damn if it still didn’t taste good.
“You got another one of those, Richard?”
Noah turned to see another one of the groomsmen. Donald or Dalton, he thought he’d heard Bradley call him. He was surprised when Richard stiffened beside him.
“I don’t have anything for you.” The curt biting tone of the older man matched his body language. There was evidently some bad blood or something between the two men.
“Mr. Smith. Ah hell, I should probably apologize for this mess with Jenna. I’m sorry that we aired our dirty laundry but if she…”
The fury in Richard’s eyes along with the subtle clenching of his hands had Noah backing up a step. If looks could’ve killed, the other man would’ve been dead.
“I don’t want to hear it, Dawson. You fucked up and lost her. Get over it.” Mr. Smith taking Noah’s empty can with him. Mr. Smith walked away. He joined a lady, who Noah assumed was his wife. Noah turned to follow him, not wanting to even converse with the other man but Dawson grabbed his arm. Mentally counting to ten, Noah strove for a little patience. The last thing I need to do is get in a fight at a wedding where I don’t know anyone other than the groom. Mom would be appalled.
“Sorry about that, man. Word of advice, never date the fat chicks.” Dawson had the audacity to wink at him before continuing. “Their fathers can be pure hell on wheels when you dump them. No one wants to hear that their baby girl is fat, even if the girl does have two degrees in history. Too bad Jenna didn’t apply the same kind of devotion to her body as she did her studies.”
A fury unlike any Noah had ever experienced before filled him. How come this ass is talking about Jenna this way? She isn’t fat. She has a curvy body that just has my mouth watering. Is the man a total idiot? Trying to breathe evenly, Noah realized it was time to change the topic before he did something foolish - like decking the man.
“Really, I don’t think that this is the time…”
The man talked over Noah’s protest. “She could’ve been a knock out. With her height and tits, she could’ve been a playboy centerfold. But she likes her ho-ho’s too much and her fat ass and belly are a testament to it. I feel for you, bud. Watch your toes while you twirling her around the dance floor tonight.” A laugh escaped him, “Well twirling might be an exaggeration. You’d need a crane to hoist her off the ground.”
What little control Noah had over his temper evaporated under the viciousness of Dawson’s words. Reaching out, he clenched a hand around man’s shoulder. Dawson swallowed uneasily. Evidently, the fool had realized that he’d overstepped his bounds.
“I’m only going to say this once, bud, where I come from – real men don’t talk about any woman the way you just did. Have some respect for yourself if nothing else. Either shut the fuck up or I’ll do it for you.”
Dawson paled before trying to back away from Noah. When he couldn’t fury replaced the fear. “Take your hands off me! Whatever that bitch told you, it’s nothing but lies so there’s no need to get your panties in a twist.”
A low growl rumbled in Noah’s chest. Fuck it. “You just don’t learn do you?” Noah’s soft tone should’ve been a warning. His consuming need to vindicate Jenna surprised Noah. He knew he desired her but he shouldn’t be feeling this over whelming need to protect her. He barely knew her. But it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to resist his need to drag the little punk over to the pond and drown his ass. He could easily claim the other man slipped in. Dawson would think twice about what he said about Jenna in the future. Retaining his hold on Dawson’s shoulder, he leaned over the smaller man. “You’re coming with me.”
“Where are we going? The pictures…” It was obvious the man was trying to backpedal.
“…can wait. This can’t.” Noah placed enough pressure on Dawson’s shoulder that a grunt of pain escaped the other man. “Since you can’t seem find your manners, I help you find them.” Even though Noah kept his tone cordial, the other man began to struggle.
“Let me go, you Neanderthal. This isn’t the 1950s where you need to kill me over the slightest insult.”
An evil grin crossed Noah’s face. “Wanna bet?”
Dawson’s eyes darted around frantically. Probably looking for someone to help him, Noah figured. He idly wondered who the man thought was going to help him. The words that spilled out of the man’s mouth next shocked Noah.
“I’ll sue your ass!”
Noah’s startled laugh turned into a hiss of disgust when the familiar voice of the photographer came from his right side.
“Ah, I see the missing groomsman has arrived. You two can catch up later. I need you over here now.”
Noah reluctantly released the man but his eyes promised retribution. As far as he was concerned, his and Dawson’s conversation was far from over.
* * * * *
Jenna wasn’t happy. Even though it was cooler inside the reception hall, she was sitting at the opposite end of the banquet table from Noah. To make matters worse, she was listening to Dawson make a fool of himself as he toasted the newly-married couple instead of flirting with Noah. The rising sound of Dawson’s toast had her mentally groaning. When is he going to finish and sit his drunken ass down?
“Congratulations, Angelica and Bradley. May you have many horny… I mean…happy years together!” Dawson waggled his eyebrows and crowd laughed weakly as he finally finished his long-winded toast.
Picking at the salad in front of her, she tried not to obvious about who was drawing her attention. But it was hard. Sitting several chairs away, she could see Noah shifting in his chair, obviously trying to find a comfortable position. The bored look on his face told her that he was finding the reception as dull as she was. Why couldn’t we be seated together? At least I wouldn’t have to put up with a tipsy Kathleen. I can’t believe my sister-in-law is already loaded.
A loud crash had her dropping her fork. There were several gasps, and sounds of chair legs scraping across the floor. Her eyes widened as she saw Bradley, on one side and Seth on the other, trying to help Dawson into his chair. Evidently, Dawson missed his chair when he tried to sit down. Relief flared through her that she was no longer dating him. She couldn’t even begin to count the number of times she helped him up off the floor during the two years they dated. He really shouldn’t be drinking. Sighing with disgust, she picked her fork back up and continued eating. Let some other fool deal with his stupidity.
“Look what you’ve done, Jenna!”
Jenna’s fork froze on its way to her mouth. “Excuse me?”
Kathleen wrapped her hand around Jenna’s wrist. “You’ve turned a perfectly good man into a lush. This is your fault. You had to go and…”
Dropping the fork onto her plate, she turned to look at Kathleen. Keeping her expression neutral, she mentally dared Kathleen to finish her sentence. “I had to what?”
“You know.” Kathleen averted her eyes before letting go of Jenna’s arm.
“No, I don’t. Why don’t you tell me?” Jenna crossed her arms under her breasts, and for once didn’t care that the action caused them to plump up and nearly spill over the neckline of her gown. In fact, she vaguely hoped that Noah might notice from the other end of the table.
When Kathleen eyes darted back to hers and Jenna laughed. It felt good to call Kathleen out, to not back down from her. “What’s wrong, Kathleen? You can’t bring yourself to say it? Did you honestly think I didn’t know about the rumors about the break-up? Which is it...the fact that I got fat, or that I couldn’t satisfy him in bed, that has you sitting there impersonating a fish out of water?” Even as her words left her mouth, she wasn’t sure where her audacity had come from. She was sick and tired of being the butt of her female relatives’ taunts.
Kathleen’s face reddened. “You got fat!”
The room grew quiet. Her cousin’s outburst had garnered everyone’s attention. Jenna tossed her napkin on her plate.
“Really?” Jenna pushed away from the table. When she went to stand, Kathleen grabbed at her again.
“It’s true, Jenna Smith! You weren’t this heavy when you started dating him. I’d drink too if I had to crawl into bed with you.”
She glanced at her sister-in law’s empty wine flute. “Evidently you don’t need that particular excuse to tie one on, do you?” Spying her own still full flute, she poured it into Kathleen’s. “So have another, on me. Maybe if you drink enough, you won’t remember what a fool you made of yourself today.”
Kathleen gasped in outrage, her eyes narrowed before her mouth snapped shut. Jenna turned and left without another word to anyone. She wasn’t running away but she desperately needed a moment to herself before she returned to the reception. Perhaps she’d sit in her SUV for a bit before returning, she mused.
After retrieving her purse from the unattended cloakroom, she was looking inside the bag for her car keys when a masculine hand touched her bare arm above her glove. The same awareness she’d felt earlier returned.
A voice, deep as night, breathed over her. “Where are you running off to Ms. Jenna Smith?”
Pleasure that he’d bothered to find out of her name rushed through her. “Noah.” The word floated out on a breathless sigh.
His eyes darkened in response before he released her to lean against the doorframe effectively blocking not only her exit, but hiding her from the view of any passing guests.
“I’m not. I was just getting ready to step out for a breath of fresh air. I promise I will return. I can’t leave until we at least get to dance the Salsa.” She gave him a quirky smile.
“I’m not worried about the dance. Are you okay?”
The concern in his eyes was frightening. Her smile wavered. Why would he be worried about her?
“I’m fine, Noah. Despite that very public display in there, I’m not fragile. I’m a big girl.”
Her heart skipped a beat when his eyes turned a sapphire blue. Concern was gone and desire had taken its place.
Heat burned in her cheeks and she thanked God that room was somewhat dark. Hopefully he wouldn’t notice her blushing. When he continued to contemplate her for several minutes, she finally snapped. “What? Do I have something on my face?”
He shook his head. “Tell me something. Are the rumors true?”
Coldness replaced the heat before anger consumed her. She’d thought he was different.
“While it’s none of your business, Dr Absolom, they’re not.”
She’d expected him to back off at her curt tone, but instead the corners of his eyes crinkled and mischief filled them.
“Good. Then how would you like to get even with all of them, including your ex?”