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Marnie Price took a deep breath to assess the situation and her options. This was not the time to react thoughtlessly. After a moment to think, she did what any rational, reasonable, adult woman would do in a situation like this.
She pulled the wine bottle from the ice bucket and filled her glass right up to the rim.
Despite the fact she'd had several already tonight, she remained frustratingly sober. It was a happy occasionCassie was married and bridges she'd thought burnt beyond repair were slowly being mended. She should be happyand she was, by God, she really was.
Except, at the same time, she wasn't. She'd started the day by cleaning out her desk at work and ended it with finding out her friends had been lying to her for years and that years of estrangement had been all her fault. In the middle, she'd gone to a wedding and found out her brother was sleeping with Ginaagain.
Mercy, when losing your job wasn't the worst thing that had happened to you, the day officially sucked.
Hence the need for more wine. Lots more wine.
Her mother was probably spinning in her graveladies didn't overimbibe, much less in publicbut this was New York City, not Savannah, and Marnie had intentionally given up the quest to be a "lady" years ago.
Old habits were hard to break, but she could drown the Southern guilt in another glass of Chardonnay.
The large table in the corner of the trendy Tribeca Terrace held the remains of Cassie and Tuck's small wedding reception, and Tuck had pulled Cassie to the dance floor a little while ago. It didn't take a genius IQ like Cassie's to see that they would be off to their wedding night very soon. Carter and Gina and Mason and Reese were also on the dance floor, doing that slow sway that said both couples would be leaving soon as well to a happy night themselves.
Marnie sighed into her glass. None of her friends had walked the easy path to happiness, but that was what made their stories so wonderful. The passion. Passion might be messy and difficult, but the proof it was worth it was right in front of her. And that's what she wanted. If she'd wanted a predictable and staid and unremarkable life, she'd have stayed in Savannah.
But the pairing off of the others had left her alone at the table with Dylan Brookes. Their party of eight had really been three parties of two and two parties of one, but that hadn't been too obvious or strange until everyone else coupled up. Being an extra wheel was awkward enough, but this situation took awkward to a new place.
Dylan had stood as Tuck's witness today, but it was just plain weird to have him around. Tuck was Dylan's best friend, but he was also Reese's cousin, and he'd met Cassie at what would have been Reese and Dylan's weddingexcept that Reese had practically jilted Dylan at the altar in favor of Mason. It had been quite a mess. Reese and Dylan seemed okay with it now, but everyone elseincluding herfound the situation awkward at best.
Watching your ex-fiancée canoodle with the guy she threw you over for had to be uncomfortable, but if Dylan had a problem with that, he'd done a good job of hiding it.
He was currently typing something on his phone, and if he was feeling like an extra wheel, it didn't show.
Either he was a very good actor, or he simply didn't care. Marnie wasn't sure if she should envy him or pity him.
The music wasn't overly loud, but it was thankfully loud enough to not make the conversational silence at the table too noticeable. Not that she was in the mood for small talk, anyway. There was just way too much circling in her mind. She needed to process it all.
No one wanted to ruin Cassie's celebration, so conversations had been hushed and behind bathroom doors, everyone trying to bring her up to speed without involving the entire party or casting a pall over it. The result was information and emotional overload, and the beginnings of a massive headache.
By the time she finished this glass, she could head on home without anyone thinking it was odd. There was wine in her fridge, and drinking herself into oblivion seemed the best way to finish out this horrid day. Tomorrow would be soon enough to try to make sense of it all.
"I think I'm supposed to ask you to dance."
The comment caught her by surprise, as Dylan hadn't said much to her all night, choosing to talk to Tuck and oddly Carter mostly. "Excuse me?"
Dylan half pointed in the direction of the dance floor, where Reese was making gestures over Mason's shoulder that did seem to translate into: "You two, dance."
The last thing she needed was a pity dance from him. "Thanks, but no."
"No, thank you."
Marnie had a brief flash of irritation at the relieved sigh in his voice as Dylan turned back to Reese and shrugged. Reese's lips pressed together in annoyance before she peeled herself off Mason and stalked over to the table.
"You need to dance, Marnie."
Reese seemed to think for a second. "Because it's bad luck for the bride and groom if the guests don't dance."
Reese should really know better than to try that. In three years at Simmons College, fourteen of her sorority sisters had walked down the aisle. There wasn't a wedding tradition or superstition she didn't know inside and out. "You made that up."
She shrugged. "Doesn't matter. I think it's bad luck."
"Well, I don't think Dylan really wants to dance," she countered. "And it's bad luck to dance with an unwilling partner."
She could tell Reese was trying to decide if that was an actual superstition or not. Finally, Reese cut her eyes in Dylan's direction. "But he will be willing if you just say yes. This is a celebration, and you two are sitting it out. I think that's a little rude, don't you?"
Reese knew right where to hit. The desire not to be rude was ingrained into her very soul and hard to ignore. Marnie weighed her options. Once Reese got an idea, it was nearly impossible to change her mind. She was a peacekeeper, a smoother-outer, the perfect hostess who wanted everyone to participate and have a good time. Reese had been born on the wrong side of the Mason-Dixon line; for a Yankee, she could channel a Southern matriarch with the best of them. Marnie could give in gracefully now or be politely and lovingly badgered to death.
"Fine." She took a long swallow from her glass and stood. Dylan, wearing a look that might have been boredom or annoyanceit was really hard to tell whichpushed to his feet, as well. Talk about rude
"Excellent." Reese smiled as Mason pulled her back into his arms.
Marnie let Dylan lead her to the dance floor, his hand at the small of her back, and she caught at least one or two jealous looks being shot her way by other women. She totally understood why. Dylan Brookes was smart, successful and handsome, and the news he was back on the "eligible bachelor" list had brought a cheer to the lips of nearly every unmarried woman in the city looking to marry well.
Dylan looked every inch the Park Avenue aristocrat he waswhich seemed a ridiculous contrast to the all-American frat-boy good looks of his best friend, Tuck. He radiated a suaveness, like he belonged in a tuxedo drinking dirty martinis at swanky events. Even tonight, with his dark hair slightly mussed, collar open and shirtsleeves rolled up over tanned forearms, the adjective that sprang to mind was "debonair."
Her departed mother might be mollified now, as Dylan Brookesthe smart, rich, well-connected and respected attorney and philanthropistwas exactly the kind of man Miss Marnie Suellen Price, the only daughter of Marshall and Alma PriceGod rest their soulsof Savannah, Georgia, was supposed to dance with.
And she hadn't danced with that kind of manintentionallyin over five years.
She knew Dylan's typeshe'd grown up surrounded by men just like him. Well-bred, well-read, and well-groomed, raised with every perk money could provide and trained to step right into their daddies' shoes and run the world. Bloodless, boring, and usually arrogant, but disguised under a thousand-dollar suit.
But she'd suck it up for one dance.
Dylan took her right hand in his, placed his other at her waist, and they moved gently to the music, both of them staring off into the distance.
God, this was worse than junior prom. A good foot of space separated their bodies. She bit her lip to hold back the snicker as the memory flooded back. Peter Stevenson, son of Savannah's mayor and the young man lucky enough to win the Price family seal of approval as a proper escort, had had sweaty palms. Looking back, it may have been the first time he'd ever actually laid hands on a girl. They'd kept that respectable distance between them all nightup to and including the chaste and proper good-night handshake on her front porch. And she'd been both satisfied and pleased, convinced it was proof Peter respected her.
Even now, she could still hear Gina's bark of laughter at the recounting of that story, and her sincere judgment of "How very pathetic." Even after everything that happened, Marnie had always been thankful to Gina for opening her naive eighteen-year-old eyes to the real world.
"What's so funny?" Dylan's question caused her to jump and brought her back to the present.
Her cotillion instructor would be horrified to know that she was neglecting the most basic rules of etiquette by ignoring her dance partner. But since she doubted Dylan would be happy to hear himself compared to her nervous seventeen-year-old prom date, she rapidly searched her mind for something appropriate to say.
She'd met Dylan a few times in social situations after he and Reese moved from coworkers to cou-pletheir engagement party, that Thanksgiving she'd had lunch at Reese's parents' housebut she'd never really spent much time talking to him. She knew all about his career achievements, giving her a specific picture of Dylan, and she'd always been a little sad Reese had engaged herself to someone so dry, staid, and frankly unexciting. And if there was more to hima hidden fire, exciting depthsReese had never shared that information. Reese was just so private about things that there hadn't been much girl talk deconstructing their relationship during their infrequent lunches in the city.
So while she kind of knew Dylan, she couldn't say that she knew him well. And what she did know wasn't all that helpful at the moment.
The obvious seemed the safest conversational course. "Just thinking what an odd couple Cassie and Tuck are, but yet they're so happy together."
Dylan nodded. "You ladies did a good job with this party. I know they both appreciate it."
She grabbed the conversational rope gratefully. "Tuck yes, and Cassie wouldn't care unless Tuck did. We just couldn't let her get married without some kind of celebration. It just seems wrong not to. It's one thing not to have the big white wedding, but just a run to the courthouse wasn't nearly enough."
Dylan nodded, and that topic was finished. How long is this song?
She laughed. "It just seems like I've been neck-deep in weddings since June "
"I know the feeling. I'm rather tired of them myself."
Damn it. I shouldn't have brought that up. "My apologies. That must be a sore topic."
Dylan shrugged. "Not really."
Her curiosity got the better of her manners. "Does it not bother you?"
"Does what bother me?"
"Being around Reese. Seeing her with someone else like that." Seeing Reese so openly cuddly with Mason made Marnie realize that she'd never really seen Reese act openly affectionate toward Dylan when they were engagednor vice versa. Reese and Dylan had made a good-looking pair, but it would be a stretch to call them a "couple" based on their behavior.
"I'm not a huge fan of witnessing large amounts of PDA from anyone, but beyond that, no."
Maybe that explained the lack of showy affection between them when they were together. "Well, you've been very understanding and decent about it."
His eyebrows went up. "There was another option?"
She tried to picture Dylan in a jealous rage or even a mopey lovelorn depression. Neither image worked. "I guess not."
"We're friends and I wish her well. I just hope she's not making the same mistake twice"
It was rude to interrupt, but "You think Reese and Mason are a mistake?"
"For her sake, I hope not. But the odds aren't good."
She rushed to defend Reese. "I'd say that after all they've been through, their odds are pretty damn good. They love each other"
Dylan actually snorted.
"What? It's true."
"Yes, and love is probably the worst reason there is to get married."
That threw her off her game. "What other reason is there?"
"You're a romantic." His tone clearly said he saw that as a fault.
That wasn't entirely true. She had no starry-eyed misconceptions about the realities of relationships, but to just dismiss love outright? "For thinking love is a good reason to get married?"
"Love is ephemeral. Good marriages need a stronger foundation than that for a solid and successful partnership."
Ugh. She'd heard variations of that before. But even being taught that marriage was about creating a strong family foundationusually with the wife playing the helpmate to her husbandlove was still at least given lip service in the equation. "So you think that Mason and Reese won't have a solid and successful partnership? Simply because they're in love?"
"Would you marry someone just because he was good in bed?"
The bluntness of that question quite literally caused her to stumble. Dylan's hand tightened against her back as she regained her balance, and she wondered if Dylan had tried to shock her on purpose. No, Dylan wasn't the type. Gina might try to bait and shock, but Dylan She couldn't really picture it. "Like love, it shouldn't be the only reason to get married, but it's a damn important one."
Dylan merely smiled at her response, and she could almost feel the metaphorical pat on the head. It had been a long time since anyone had patronized her like that, and she wondered what Reese might have said about her to make him think.