Read an Excerpt
“He’s going down,” Andre murmured against Evan’s ear.
“That’s what she said.” Evan smirked from behind the lens of her camera and clicked.
“Mmm,” he said, pressing a light kiss to her shoulder. “I wish that’s what you were saying right this second, bella. Wanna take a break? I think there’s a storage closet with our names on it. I could get down on my—”
She moved her face away from her camera and sent Andre a warning look, but the impact was totally undermined by the way her teeth bit into her lip. She was picturing exactly what he could do to her in that closet, no doubt.
“Behave,” she whispered. “You’re supposed to be my assistant tonight. Keep me on track, not on my back. Plus, if the groom takes a header because he drank too much, it’s my job to capture the special moment so that their future children will be able to laugh at him.”
Andre’s gaze slid over the dance floor where the bride was basically holding her newly minted husband up for their dance. Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” was playing, and other couples were bouncing to the beat, but in the middle, the bride and groom were swaying like they were listening to “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” Andre grinned. “It’s kind of romantic, isn’t it?”
“Getting drunk off your ass at your own wedding?” Evan asked, adjusting her position and snapping more shots.
He hefted her equipment bag higher on his shoulder. “No, that they’re moving to their own beat. She doesn’t seem annoyed at all, even when he keeps stepping on her dress, and he’s watching her with rapt amazement.”
Evan smiled. “Well, she is a beautiful bride.”
Andre leaned against a pillar, still watching the couple. Yes, the bride looked like she’d stepped out of the pages of a bridal magazine, but she was nothing compared to the woman standing beside him. Even with Evan sporting her photographer uniform of nondescript, black everything, he couldn’t keep his eyes off of her. Though, seeing the bride all dolled up, he couldn’t help but imagine what Evan would look like in flowing white and walking down an aisle next to him—no, next to them. She wasn’t just Andre’s, she was Jace’s, too. And he, theirs. But they wouldn’t get the right of that marriage ritual, at least not in the traditional sense. There wasn’t room for three of them at the church.
And Evan had declared more than once that she didn’t need the fancy wedding, that she wasn’t a woman hung up on fairy-tale stuff. But Andre had to wonder what it was like for her to spend most weekends photographing things that were normal for most people but complicated for them. Weddings, family reunions, children. Even he got pangs every now and then. He knew there was nothing traditional about his tastes or his relationship with Evan and Jace—and he wouldn’t change anything about what he had. He was one lucky bastard. But he’d been raised in such a traditional environment that part of that was still ingrained in his psyche, making him crave some of the privileges of that life—talking openly about the people you love to friends and family, calling someone your wife or husband, getting to see his girl and his guy dressed up and making vows.
“Ha! Nailed it,” Evan said, right as Andre heard a group gasp from the crowd.
The groom was now in the middle of the dance floor, flat on his ass. His bride had toppled with him and was straddling him in a sea of white tulle. Both of them were laughing hard. Evan kept snapping.
“I got the whole thing,” she declared, triumph in her tone. “These are going to be amazing. Look how freaking adorable they are.”
Andre smiled and stepped up behind Evan. “You’re adorable. And picking up Jace’s sadistic side. Poor guy falls and you’re all excited.”
She peered back at him with a smile, those pale blue eyes sparkling under the lights of the hotel ballroom. “This will be their favorite shot of the night. I guarantee it. The best moments are always the spontaneous, unexpected ones.”
“In photos and in life,” he said, leaning down to give her a quick kiss.
“Is that right?”
“Yep. I still thank that jellyfish for stinging you the day we met. Where would I be today if Jace hadn’t dragged some strange, half-drowned girl up to our hotel room that night?”
She cocked her head. “Probably still silently pining for your best friend and on the way to some Shakespearean tragedy of unrequited love and lust.”
“Word,” he said, wishing he could pull her to him and really kiss her. But he didn’t want to risk her looking unprofessional. She’d already been on edge because her normal assistant, Finn, had a family thing and couldn’t be here tonight. Apparently, this new couple was very high society and had a big network of friends that Evan could pick up new business from. He gave her elbow a squeeze. “Need another bottle of water?”
“That’d be fantastic. I’m just going to—”
“Andre?” a voice interrupted from his left.
He stiffened and released Evan’s elbow as he turned toward the sound. He wasn’t at all prepared for what greeted him.
A leggy Latina in a dark green dress was heading their way, her brows lifting higher as she got closer. “Oh, wow, it is you.”
Before Andre could force his mind to start working again, Martine threw her arms around him in an enthusiastic hug. He kept his arms at his sides. “Uh, hey . . .”
“I can’t believe it’s really you,” Martine said, leaning back and giving him a unabashed head-to-toe evaluation. “I’d heard you moved to Dallas, but this city’s so darn big.”
Apparently not big enough. Andre moved back a half step and attempted to form some sort of acceptable expression. Evan lifted a brow from behind Martine’s shoulder—not accusatory but curious. Andre cleared his throat. “Martine, what are you doing here?”
“I work with the groom.” She pushed her long, dark hair over her shoulder, revealing a strapless dress that put her cleavage on full display. “I’m the HR director at Harris and Hill. What about you?”
“I’m just helping Evan out tonight.” He nodded at his girlfriend. “Her assistant was unavailable.”
Martine turned a beaming smile Evan’s way.
“Evan,” Andre said, searching for the right words. “This is Martine Velasquez. We—”
“Were engaged a few years ago,” Martine said, holding her hand out to Evan. “Before he decided he liked boys instead and broke it off.”
Well, then. Martine had never been one to be tactful.
Evan’s lips rolled inward, her gaze sliding to his. When he gave her a go-ahead nod, she smiled and he sensed a bit of predator in it. “I’m Evan Kennedy, Andre’s girlfriend.”
Martine blinked, her smile freezing on her face. She turned to Andre. “Your girlfriend?”
Andre sighed. He saw the flash of hurt there and didn’t relish it. Martine had always been a good woman—beautiful, smart, kind. At one point, he’d thought he loved her. But he’d been struggling with his sexuality on a daily basis back then, both his attraction to men and his burgeoning interest in dominance and submission. He hadn’t been able to share any of that with her. She’d been after the perfect life—husband, kids, house in the suburbs, and being active in the local Catholic church.
And part of him had wanted to give that to her. But a few weeks before the wedding, he’d gone to a kink club to exorcise his demons. Instead, it had opened Pandora’s box inside him. He’d only planned to observe that night, but he’d found himself on the verge of cheating. He hadn’t during that visit, but he’d broken it off with Martine a few days later. He’d told her he thought he could be gay even though he knew that wasn’t quite it. Gay had been something she couldn’t argue with, though.
She’d been devastated, he’d felt lost, and his family had freaked out—even though they’d never known the real reason for the breakup—because they’d loved Martine. He hooked his thumbs in his pockets. “Yes, my girlfriend.”
“I also have a boyfriend,” he said with a shrug.
Lines appeared between her brows. “So, like, you’re dating around?”
“He is not,” Evan said, a bite to her tone, which was so un-Evan-like that Andre knew Martine was pushing buttons. “We’re all in a committed relationship.”
Martine’s dark eyes rounded. “You’re all . . .”
Andre touched her arm. “It was nice to see you, Martine. I’m glad you’re doing well. But Evan’s working, and I don’t want her to miss any important shots.”
He put his hand on Evan’s lower back and steered her toward the crowd that was forming as the bride and groom got ready to make their exit to the limo. “Come on, bella. Got to get the parting shot.”
She glanced over at him, frustration clear in the set of her mouth. “I’d like to get the parting shot with Ms. Old Flame back there. She was looking at you like she had some right to you. You never told me you were engaged.”
“She looks like a freaking swimsuit model,” Evan said under her breath.
“And you look like a goddess,” he said, curving his hand around her side. “Don’t give her another thought.”
But the scowl on Evan’s face said she was going to think about whatever she damn well pleased.
They finished up the wedding without talking much more. There was too much to do, and Evan flipped into focused work mode. Andre held the camera bag, staying out of the way, and watched the happy couple wave their good-byes. The guests were blowing bubbles instead of throwing rice, and the bride and groom were smiling in that blissed-out way that only comes when everything feels right in the world and you see nothing but sunshine in your future. Andre didn’t realize he’d sighed until he heard the voice next to him.
“I second that sigh. There’s nothing like a wedding to make me both happy and sad at the same time.”
He tensed and turned to find Martine giving him an abashed smile.
“I mean, I know it’s been a long time, but I still think about it sometimes. What our wedding would’ve looked like. What our life would’ve been like.”
He took a deep breath. This conversation was making him more than a little uncomfortable, but he had to remember that he was the one who’d screwed this woman over. She hadn’t done anything wrong. It really had been a case of “it’s not you, it’s me.” And waiting until a few weeks before the wedding to figure that out had been a dick move. “It would’ve been a mistake, Marti. I’m sorry for how long it took me to figure that out, but we wouldn’t have worked.”
She let her gaze follow the bride and groom’s progress instead of looking at him. “You don’t know that. Yes, if you’d really been gay, it wouldn’t have worked. But”—she nodded toward Evan, who was vigorously snapping away with her camera, her back to them—“clearly you’re not opposed to women.”
He wasn’t going to stand there and talk about kink and his preferences and why the bisexual thing would’ve been the least of their incompatibilities. It wasn’t the appropriate place, and it wasn’t Martine’s business. “Are we really going to do this right now?”
She pursed her lips, and he was reminded of how pretty she was. When he’d first asked her out in college, he’d been shocked that she’d said yes. She’d seemed out of his league. And as it turned out, she was, but not in the way he’d thought.
She huffed. “Andre, you can’t tell me that being in some strange three-way relationship is what you want. Was all that talk we had about having kids and raising a big family just blowing smoke? I thought you wanted to be that dad who’s the little league baseball coach and who buys a big house with land so there’s room for kids to play.”
He frowned and adjusted the camera bag again. Those plans he’d had back then seemed dusty and distant now. He’d grown up in a strict but loving household, one of four kids, extended family nearby. He’d always loved having that network of people around, and had once upon a time thought he’d re-create it with someone like Martine. But he hadn’t known who he really was back then. That traditional life had no place for him.
He crossed his arms, feeling colder than he had a few minutes before. “Things change. We grow up. What you think will make you happy and what actually does are often two different things.”
“And are you happy?” she asked, not pulling any punches. “Even though you don’t have those things you thought you wanted?”
His gaze moved back to Evan, and now she was looking his way, a questioning expression on her face. He could tell it wasn’t anger but more an offer to come over to help extract him from the conversation. He smiled and lifted a hand to her as if to telepath, It’s all right, bella, I’ve got this.
He turned back to Martine. “I’m very happy.”
No, he didn’t have that big family or a house with land. He had a condo in the city, a job that challenged him, and two lovers who he’d move the earth for and who’d do the same for him. He didn’t need anything more than that.
Martine sighed, and the smile that she offered him was genuine, but her eyes held sadness. “I’m happy for you then. Truly.”
“Thank you,” he said, feeling like a jerk again. “And you seem to be doing great, too.”
She gave a little laugh. “Oh, am I giving off that impression? Well, that’s good. Glad I’m pulling it off.”
“Is it wrong?”
She waved a dismissive hand and took a sip of the champagne she held. “Lord, look at me, this is why I shouldn’t drink at weddings. I get all maudlin. No, I’m fine. I have a great job. My family is doing well. I just bought a house in Southlake. I have nothing to complain about.”
But she didn’t have someone. That’s what wasn’t being said. “I’m glad you’re doing well.”
She smirked. “Yep, fantastic. But hey, maybe we could have lunch sometime or something. Catch up. I haven’t seen your sister or the rest of your family in ages. I’d like to hear how everyone’s doing.”
He rubbed his lips together and glanced at Evan again. He was so ready to get out of here.
“Come on, I’m sure your girlfriend knows I’m not a threat,” she teased and set her drink down on a nearby table to dig in her purse. She handed him a business card. “What’s grabbing a sandwich with an old friend?”
He took the card. “Thanks, but I work weird hours, so lunch isn’t always doable.”
“What do you do?”
“I’m a detective with the Dallas PD.”
Her eyebrows lifted, impressed. “So the bad boy now catches the bad guys?”
He sniffed. “Something like that.”
“Well, I’m sure we can find a time at some point to connect.” She stepped into his space, and before he realized what she was doing, she planted a kiss on his cheek. “See you soon, Andre.”
Not if he had anything to do with it. He didn’t hold any bad feelings toward Martine, but he also knew the woman was a determined one. And he got the feeling her idea of “old friends reconnecting” was very different from his.
A few minutes after Martine strolled away to talk to a group of older ladies, Evan sidled up next to him. He took the camera from her hands and she rolled her neck. “So do I need to cut a bitch? Because my back hurts, the plate of hors d’oeuvres they gave me made me nauseous, and some va-va-voom woman is trying to hone in on my guy. I’m ready to scrap.”
Andre chuckled and wrapped an arm around her waist. “No need for fighting. My virtue is safe from her.”
“What was she talking to you so intently about then?” Evan asked, her blue eyes more tired than normal.
He pushed her bangs to the side. His girl was working too much. “She was wondering how I could possibly be happy.”
Evan snorted. “Meaning without her?”
He rubbed his hand along Evan’s back, his own weariness settling in. “Yes and no. She knew a different version of me back then—one who wanted a big family and a house in the country. You know, all those dreams that change and shift as you figure out who you are.”
Her lips lifted at the corner. “Farmer Andre?”
He laughed. “Oh, hell, no. My sister got my dad’s veterinarian genes. Taking care of animals and crops and shit—way too much work. I just wanted the open space.”
“And the family?” she asked, her tone a little too nonchalant.
He smiled and bent to kiss her. He knew kids were a touchy topic for Evan. She’d had to place a baby for adoption when she was a teen, and it still haunted her a bit even though it had been the right decision for her at the time. “I have a family, bella. You and Jace are my family. My heart and my house are full. I don’t need anything else.”
She sighed and laid her cheek to his chest, but he couldn’t tell if it was a happy sigh or not. “Can we go home now?”
“Yeah, sure. You okay?” he asked, running a hand over her head.
“Not sure. That food really messed with my stomach. Remind me to never eat sushi in a landlocked state.”
“Words to live by.” He let her go and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Let’s get you home and into bed.”
She gave him a wan smile. “Always trying to get me into bed.”
“You know it.” But the humor in his voice didn’t match the concern that filled him when she turned and one of the ballroom lights illuminated her face. Evan always had a fair complexion, but she looked particularly pale tonight, the spots beneath her eyes taking on a bruised tone. Bad sushi or not, one thing was clear: she was worn the fuck out. He and Jace were supposed to take care of her, and they obviously hadn’t been doing their job.
Even though they were both dominant and liked to control things, they tried not to interfere with Evan’s schedule. Her work was her passion. But she also could go overboard and work herself to death, which was completely unnecessary. She’d grown up in a situation where every penny made was precious, but that wasn’t her life anymore. They didn’t need the money. She didn’t need to run herself down.
Andre tucked all of the lenses back into the right bags and helped Evan collect her tripod and the rest of her equipment, then led her out to the car. By the time they got home, she was sound asleep in the passenger seat. He took a moment to watch her—dark lashes over pale cheeks, the rise and fall of her breath, the way her lips curved into an almost smile when she rested. His bella, quietly beautiful in a way that Martine could never hold a candle to. This girl filled him up.
He lifted her out of the car and carried her upstairs, passing Jace, who’d apparently fallen asleep on the couch waiting up for them. Andre smiled.
No, he didn’t have what he’d thought he wanted.
But he definitely had what he needed. And if he sometimes got pangs for things he used to want, that was okay, too. He’d make those sacrifices a thousand times over to be with these two people. No one could have it all. And he had more than he deserved.
After he tucked Evan into bed, he pulled Martine’s card from his pocket and tossed it in the trash. That past had no place in his life anymore.