Read an Excerpt
"Is there anything worse than being a guest at the wedding of the only man you've ever wanted to marry?" Lara Ward asked.
"Yes," Finn Robards answered matter-of-factly. "Being a bridesmaid at the same wedding. I think the only upside to the puffy sleeves on those awful dresses is that the girls will probably float if someone pushes them into the pool."
Lara covered her mouth to mask her laughter.
"So rejoice," Finn went on. "You're the beautiful, exquisitely stylish ex-girlfriend, which means our blushing bride is more insecure than smug. Excellent work."
"You're the perfect escort for situations like these," Lara said, grabbing her second glass of champagne from a passing server.
"Why? Because I cried with you when he kissed the whore in white? Believe me, I had my own reasons. I've always harbored the tiny hope, that Dean Paul might be gay."
Lara admonished Finn with a look. "You think everyone is gay. It's ridiculous."
"Not true. Some men are unworthy of speculation. Bob Dylan, for instance. His orientation has never crossed my mind. Now, son Jakob is another story."
Lara tipped back the Cristal and clutched Finn's arm affectionately, her gaze locked on the groom. A little sigh escaped her painted lips. Have you ever seen a more impossibly handsome man?"
It was almost painful to look at him -- tall, blond, bronzed, and confident in his Ralph Lauren Purple Label tuxedo. Oh, God, he was beautiful, as much today as when she'd seen him for the first time . . .
Freshman year. Brown University. Lara had been sitting on the Blue Room steps. Dean Paul Lockhart had been playing Frisbee on the main green -- barefoot, shirtless, low-slung khaki cutoffs revealing the elastic band of his Calvin Klein underwear.
Instantly, she had known who he was. Everybody did. His father, Robert Lockhart, was a New York senator. And his mother, Sophia Mills, had walked away from a successful acting career for marriage and children. They were the Kennedys without the scandal and the tragedy. Postcard-perfect American royalty.
Lara watched Dean Paul go through the social motions. Every guest deserved a special moment in his rarefied orbit. He knew this, and had been raised not to deny. That smile began to kill her a little bit. The movie star teeth, the adorable dimples, the little crinkle around those piercing blue eyes. The same eyes that had seared her soul when she stared into them the night she gave up her virginity. It had happened just before midnight on a Thursday in the bedroom of his off-campus apartment in the Center Place complex. She wondered if he remembered.
Suddenly, the bride stepped into Lara's line of sight and flipped her off.
Lara gasped, glancing around to see if anyone else had witnessed this.
Finn had missed everything, his eyes glued to an attractive cater-waiter.
Head down, heart picking up speed, Lara looked again. Bridezilla's offending extended middle finger was still in formation.
How mortifying. The incongruity of it all astounded her. A custom-made Vera Wang gown. A four-carat rock from Fred Leighton. A perfect manicure. And the universal symbol of vulgarity.
Lara spun quickly, finishing the rest of her champagne and attempting to compose herself. "I can't believe it," she whispered to Finn.
"What?" he asked, still distracted. "I don't think that waiter's wearing any underwear."
"She shot me the bird."
"Aspen," Lara hissed.
"I would, too," Finn said easily. "Look at you."
Lara started to protest, then thought better of it. What was the point? Finn was no fool. He knew that her look for this event was the result of more strategic planning than George W. Bush had employed to invade Iraq.
The Celine by Michael Kors icicle minidress. The forty-five-carat three-strand diamond necklace. The Giorgio Armani stiletto heels with pav� Swarovski crystal toe straps. The long, naturally blond hair that fell to the small of her back, straightened to perfection by Yoshi of the Oscar Blandi Salon just minutes before the car service arrived.
So she looked fabulous. Big deal. The intent had never been to upstage the bride. Okay. The truth was, that had been the point all along. Oh, God. Did this make her a terrible person?
"Your love is lifting me higher . . ." The gorgeous voice of Rita Coolidge wafted from the state-of-the-art sound system at the Bridgehampton Yacht Club. The thumping bass line kicked in, and the singer swayed back and forth on the raised dais.
Lara tried to lose herself in the music, to forget the ugly incident.
Aspen Bauer-Lockhart. According to "Page Six," the new bride was insisting on the hyphenated name because she already enjoyed a "high-profile public persona of her own." Lara sniffed at the thought. A stint on MTVs The Real World was the only thing of note on this girl's resume.
Guests were beginning to migrate toward the dance floor.
Finn put out a hand for Lara to accept. "Shall we?"
She shrugged. At least it would give her something to do. Better to boogie than to wake up with a hangover. One more champagne, and that's exactly where she was headed. Lara couldn't hold her liquor to begin with, and the bubbly in particular could be especially unforgiving the next morning.
Finn had the moves. He didn't try to be sexy on the dance floor. He just was.
Lara adored her deliciously bratty friend. His grandfather had built an incredible real estate fortune, his father had improved upon it, and Finn had merely congratulated them on a job well done. Instead of working, he dabbled. Sailing in America's Cup. Walking the runway in a Diane von Furstenberg show. Writing (but never finishing) a screenplay.
Like Dean Paul, Finn had been a college discovery. Despite her good breeding (the daughter of two highly respected Providence, Rhode Island surgeons), Lara had known little of Brown University's complicated social structure. Finn had fixed that in a snap, rescuing her from an odd clique at the campus dining hall, which everyone called "the Ratty," and leading her to the dark smoking section known simply as "the cave." There, she had fallen in with a mix of Europeans and New York private school types, friendships that later helped put her boutique event-planning firm, Regrets Only, on the social map.
Lara's hip jutted out in snap-perfect synchronization with the drop of a heavy drum beat. A move shamelessly stolen from Beyonc�'s dance card, but Lara didn't care. In this dress, a girl was entitled to vamp just a little.
Finn guided her into a half spin, and Lara nearly stopped cold.
The eyes of Joaquin Cruz were locked on to her. He was biting his lower lip and punching his neck to the beat. It was a look of total appreciation. It was a look of pure sex.
Lara knew exactly who he was but had never seen him in person. The Argentine ten-goaler. The reference was to the highest handicap in polo's zero-to-ten rating system. His lightening-fast play style made him a high-scoring threat in any match. But he was better known for his ability to score elsewhere. Women threw themselves at his feet. Lara could name half a dozen famous names who'd been linked to him in the past year alone.
It took a nanosecond to agree with the masses. His photographs were stunning, but in person, Joaquin Cruz affected the central nervous system. He got away with things that would be tragic on other men. Black hair slicked into a ponytail. White shirt unbuttoned to his torso, revealing a mat of thick, dark chest hair and a gleaming gold medallion. Tight pants. Black leather boots with slightly elevated heels. He should look ridiculous. But he made everything work. Lara had to admit it. Some men were hot. This one was on fire.
She smiled her appreciation and spun back to face Finn.
Her ambitiously unambitious friend leaned forward to whisper in her ear. "I'm trying not to look. Otherwise, I might have a wet dream, even though I'm fully awake."
Lara laughed, shaking her head. Finn could be so crude.
"Do you think it's true about him doing the Kometani twins in the dressing room at Tennis East?" Finn asked.
Lara covered her ears. "Don't tell me that! I'm meeting with them tomorrow about their birthday party."
"Good. That's a great opportunity to find out."
Lara groaned. "Believe me when I say that I have no use for that information." Deep down, she surmised that it must be true, though. Those Japanese teen socialites were building a notorious reputation for shopping and sexual excess.
"I hear it's as thick as a man's wrist," Finn said. He raised an eyebrow. "I'm talking about his d --."
Copyright © 2004 J. Salem