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Heavy footsteps rushed up the stairs behind Terry. Before he could be stopped, he softly rapped on the door.
"What do you think you're doing?" Nathan whispered in a menacing tone.
Terry whipped around to face his friend. "I know you think I'm blowing this out of proportion, but I'd do the same thing for you." He had known Nathan his entire life and loved him like a brother, but the you're-an-idiot glare he currently touted pissed him off.
"Don't look at me like that. Our best friend is in there, and I'm her man-of-honor. I promised her all traditions would be followed, and I'm keeping my word."
Nathan wasn't budging. Terry was forced to continue pleading his case. "Don't you remember when we were kids and Jody would talk for hours about her dream wedding? We both promised her come hell or high water that we would make that dream come true. That means all the traditions must be respected no matter how silly they seem. You may want to renege on that promise, but for Jody's sake I'm going to follow through."
"Terry, their ceremony is going to be a handfasting. It's not a traditional wedding."
"I know that. Even with a handfasting, it's still bad luck to see the bride before the wedding. I looked it up." Terry defiantly raised his hand to knock again, but Nathan grabbed him before he could touch the door.
"You do realize that Jared is in there with her, right?"
"Of course I do."
"Are you willing to have him take your head off over this?"
Trying to be brave, Terry pursed his lips. "I'm doing this for Jody. And besides, Jared knows what our plans are for tonight. How mad could he get?"
Nathan rolled his eyes as he harrumphed. "Fine. If you're going to be a stickler about this, move aside and let me handle it. I wouldn't want you getting hurt the night before we walk Jody down the aisle."
Three sharp raps thundered on the door. Nathan covered his eyes and strolled in like he owned the place. "You two lovebirds better be dressed because I'm about ready to remove my hand from my eyes."
Burying her head into Jared's shoulder, Jody snorted. "It's okay, Nathan. You can look. We're still decent." Jody's hair was tousled, and her shirt only had one button holding it together.
At the sight of Jared's bared teeth, Terry momentarily questioned the sanity of bursting in on the couple. The groom snapped, "Damn. I knew I should have locked that door."
Straightening his spine and digging deep to find the needed courage for his girl, Terry continued into the room. Laying blame as if two children had been caught necking in the backseat of a car, he exhaled an exaggerated "tsk tsk." Wanting to lighten the mood and never being known to miss an opportunity for a little good-natured witticism, he pointed at Jody and Jared and scoffed. "Well, Nathan, what did I tell you? It looks like we made it just in the nick of time."
The two men gleefully chuckled as the groom pulled the bride into a tight embrace. Looking as though he were ready for a fight, Jared's face turned beet red while he spoke through clenched teeth. "That's it, Monkey. Say your goodbyes. I'm going to kill them."
"Hey. That's not very nice." Terry's thumb motioned toward Nathan with the precision of an experienced hitchhiker. "I'll have you know that Nathan and I have just saved you from dooming your marriage. You know just as well as I do that a groom can't see the bride before the wedding. I'd think you'd be grateful to us. Besides, we have pizza getting cold and beer getting hot in the guest house. So you can say your goodbyes. Come on. Let's get moving. Tut tut." Two sharp claps of the hands emphasized his point.
Jody's voice took on a high-pitched squeak to refrain from laughing. "A-h-h, Terry, it warms the cockles of my heart that you're taking your man-of-honor duties so seriously."
Feeling vindicated Terry elbowed Nathan. "See? What did I tell you?"
Not so warmed, Jared zeroed a steely gaze on Terry. "Well then, Runt, I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but Jody and I have decided to buck tradition and spend the night together."
The use of Terry's nickname almost knocked him over. The childhood moniker Nathan had given him wasn't meant as a slight. Standing at an average height of five-foot, ten inches tall, he wasn't short in stature by any stretch of the imagination. But with Nathan having a good seven inches on Terry and Jared more than six, he was by far the smallest in this testosterone heavy crowd.
Jared wasn't the type of man to use nicknames or let new people into his life. After their rocky start, Terry had begun to doubt the possibility of ever having an amicable relationship with the man his best friend loved. But Jody was too important to both Terry and Jared for either of them to walk away. The use of his nickname was a gift from the groom even if it had been presented with an angry lilt.
"Oh no, you don't." Terry marched forward with mock anger and poked Jared in the chest — an action that never would have occurred before the use of his nickname. "As the bride's man-of-honor, one of my duties is to make sure that my girl, here, is taken care of. I insist that the traditions are followed." Cocky now, Terry tilted his head and pinched his lips to keep from smiling.
Nathan's posture stiffened, and his laughter died out before Jared could respond. "Wait a minute. Did anyone hear that?" With narrowed eyes, his attention shifted to the bedroom door. Walking purposely across the room, he poked his head into the hallway and called out, "Hello? Is someone there?"
A moment later his bearing relaxed, and a broad smile lit his face. "We'll be right down.
"Rainy is downstairs. Come on." He snapped his fingers several times to urge everyone to get moving. "Let's go. I'm dying to meet her."
Jody rushed to the bed and grabbed Jared's duffle bag. Handing it off to Terry, she offered her softest apologetic expression to the man she planned on spending the rest of her life with. "Sweetheart, it looks like we're outnumbered. Tradition won out. Beer and pizza are in your near future."
Resigning himself to the night's sleeping arrangements, Jared only grunted.
* * *
Rainy didn't have long to wait until the foursome made their entrance down the massive log staircase. Raucous laughter preceded them. The atmosphere around the beautiful bride sparkled with joy as she clung to her groom's arm.
"Rainy! I'm so glad you could make it tonight."
"I hope you don't mind that I let myself in. I kicked the door, but no one answered. My arms were full, and I was afraid I'd drop my present."
"Of course not." Head bobbing in the direction of the men standing behind her, Jody offered a devilish grin. "These three were just leaving. We'll have the whole place to ourselves."
Releasing Jared, Jody moved forward to embrace Rainy. Certain people in this world knew how to hug. They offered up a piece of themselves when doing so which made the gesture even more tender and authentic. Jody was one of those people.
"Are you kidding? I wouldn't have missed this girl's night for anything in the world."
"Let me introduce you to my friends before they scurry off and do whatever it is that men do the night before a wedding." Bubbling with excitement, Jody clamped onto Rainy's arm and maneuvered her forward. "I can't believe this is the first time I've had all of my favorite people in the same room."
Until this moment, Jared had been the largest and, Rainy admitted to herself, the most extremely well-built specimen of a man she'd ever had the pleasure of meeting — definite drool worthy. But Jody currently tugged at the arm of an enormous barrel of a man, pulling him forward with ease. This guy is a freaking wall.
"I'd like you to meet Nathan. He's Jared's best man and will also be walking me down the aisle."
The gigantic man acknowledged Rainy with a nod and surprised her with a hundred-watt smile. Reaching out, he cupped her offered hand in both of his with more tenderness than she would have ever thought possible. It didn't take long for Nathan's shimmering aura to surround Rainy, filling her with personal tidbits about himself — everything from his life history to personality traits were revealed in a split second. This man was the living definition and spirit of the term 'never judge a book by its cover.' For one so large, Nathan had a heart of gold. She almost swooned. He's a gentle giant. It was a rare occasion to come across someone so giving and compassionate, especially considering his tremendously intimidating bulk.
"Nathan, this is Rainy. Since Jared and I moved to the Flagstaff area, we've become close friends. She's been mentoring me with my psychic gifts and has been kind enough to agree to officiate our handfasting ceremony tomorrow."
"Pleasure, ma'am. It's nice to finally put a name to a face. Every time I talk with Jody, she mentions you and how much you've helped with keeping her abilities in check. As someone who loves her, I'm eternally grateful for everything you've done."
"Please, call me Rainy. It's nice to meet you too, Nathan. I've heard so much about you that I feel as if we already know each other. Jody's an exceptionally gifted person and a quick study. All the credit for her growth goes to her."
After exchanging pleasantries with Nathan, Rainy's attention shifted to the smallest man in the group. Her heartbeat started to stampede in her chest as he cautiously stepped forward. Trying to school her features so the others wouldn't notice anything amiss, she forced a smile. Just as she did, the man tripped over his own feet and landed on his hands and knees directly in front of her. The duffle bag he carried flew from his grasp and hit Rainy squarely in the midsection. With a loud oomph, she toppled to the floor. Talk about being knocked off your feet. She had a difficult time keeping a straight face.
Jody rushed to Rainy's side and helped her up. With one fist, Jared took a tight hold on the scruff of the man's neck, easily pulling him to his feet.
"Rainy, are you all right? I'm so sorry."
Laughter at the absurd introduction bubbled up as she dusted herself off. "I'm fine. Don't worry yourself about it."
On a deep exhale, Jody introduced the klutz who'd stolen Rainy's breath. "This is Terry. He's my man-of-honor. He's going to be pulling double duty at the wedding too. Along with Nathan, he'll also be walking me down the aisle. Let's hope he's a little more agile tomorrow."
The close proximity with this man resulted in an unfathomable effect on Rainy's body — one she'd never experienced before. Trying to keep the raging emotions in check, she analyzed the sensations while doing her level best not to expose any uncertainty to the others in the room.
This man sparked a sense of déjà vu. Momentarily rendered dumbstruck from the rampaging emotion, she was unable to mentally grasp the meaning behind her soul's apparent recognition of this person. The life-altering change she'd been expecting crept into her mind. Could this man be behind the transformation I've been preparing for? Rainy allowed her extrasensory abilities to take over and curl on the air between herself and the man standing in front of her.
Instead of gaining insight into his thoughts and feelings, a bizarre sensation of being awakened from a deep winter hibernation caused Rainy's body to hum with the renewal of spring. What the hell does that even mean? She had to restrain herself from shaking her head to loosen the cobwebs that had suddenly clouded her brain.
Exasperated by the strange circumstance of this meeting and lacking her usual self-assurance, Rainy timidly offered her hand. When their eyes finally met, his gaze bore into hers and filled with what she could only perceive as utter confusion. As if unsure how to react, Terry's attention quickly turned downward to stare at her extended palm.
For the first time in Rainy's life, she stood across from someone and didn't have the slightest idea what was going through his mind or how he felt. None of his life's stories breezed into her awareness. His wants, his needs, not a single thing about this man came to her psychically.
While it was never her intent to intrude on other people's privacy, her extrasensory abilities always revealed people's innermost secrets within moments of meeting them. Not with this man. He was the first person she'd ever met that was a complete mystery. Terry. His name rolled on a loop through her head while she tried to get a feel for him.
Before either one of them could figure out how to proceed, Jared bopped Terry on the head none too gently. "Hey, Runt. Watch your manners."
"I'm s-sorry," he stuttered without looking back up. The instant Terry took Rainy's hand, a mixture of intense emotion bombarded her senses. Not his, but hers which left her even more rattled. Bliss blended with sorrow. Hope mixed with disbelief — all of which were neatly tied together in a great big bow of anticipation. While they'd never met in this lifetime, her soul recognized him. Terry must have felt it too because he finally raised his head. A penetrating gaze searched for answers in her eyes.
Before Rainy had a chance to catch her breath, Nathan came up behind Terry and punched him in the arm. "Well, ladies, I hate to cut this short, but it's time for the men-folk to take their leave. We better get out of here before Terry does any further damage. He looked down at the man-of-honor. "Hey, numb nuts, if you think you can handle it without knocking any more people down, why don't you grab the bag? I may have to cart Jared out of here in a fireman's hold."
Rainy could see what she thought was irritation flicker over Terry's face, turning his features crimson, as he grabbed the overnight bag and fled from the room.
In the blink of an eye, the extraordinary moment was broken but far from forgotten.
* * *
"Teach me something else!" Jody poured the remaining sparkling wine from the second bottle of the evening into the special chalices Rainy had given the couple as a wedding present.
"Okay. H-m-m. Let me think." Rainy tapped her chin. "Try this one. Cá bhfuil an leithreas, le do thoil?"
Dreamy eyed, Jody sighed from the beauty of the language and took the time to write it phonetically on the pad in front of her. "That's beautiful. I can't wait to whisper these sweet little nothings in Jared's ear on our wedding night." Turning her attention toward the notepad, Jody spoke the phrase to the best of her ability. Adding a sultry lilt, she cooed, "Caw wil on leh-riss, leh duh hul." Pen in hand, she looked expectantly toward Rainy over the brim of her goblet. "What does that phrase mean?"
Grinning, Rainy took a sip of wine. "Where is the toilet, please?"
With a mouth full of champagne, Jody could either spit the bubbly beverage all over the counter or choke on it. Being polite she choked. A few moments later, she got her breath back. "Well, maybe I'll keep that little nugget in the wings for when we go to Scotland where toilet phrases will be more useful."
"Actually, this is Irish Gaelic. From what I understand, it's a bit different than the Gaelic spoken in Scotland. People in Ireland call the language Irish.
"We've pretty much covered the extent of my vocabulary. Cheryl, my assistant, is fluent. She's been trying to teach me but not having much luck, I'm afraid. The poor girl's been patient, but my attention span only seems to extend to the romantic phrases."
Rainy tossed a bit of cheese to Wilma, Jody's beagle. Fred, Wilma's brother, piped up and howled a demand for the same treatment.
Jody began thumping the countertop with her newly manicured fingernails. When Rainy glanced up, her friend sported a quirky drunken smirk. One eyebrow rose as her chin came to rest on a tightly clenched fist. "I'm hoping I've plied you with enough wine that you're ready to spill the beans. I've been waiting for the last three hours for you to mention Terry. You've been very cool about what happened when you met him."
She should have figured her star pupil and friend would have recognized the world tilting on its axes during the introductions. Jody was perceptive. Opening another bottle of wine and topping off her goblet, the corners of Rainy's mouth curled. "Why, Jody, I don't know what you're talking about."
"Pfft. Don't give me that. I saw those sparks flying. What gives?"
"Your friend, Terry, he's charming. I'll give you that." The evening's champagne intake had Rainy relaxed and more openly curious about the man than she'd intended to be. Her lips, now slightly numb, puckered while trying to figure out the best way to approach all her questions. They'd been rolling around in her mind from the first moment she laid eyes on Terry.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Ruthless Spirits"
Copyright © 2018 Sandy Wolters.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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