Always A Bridesmaid
The Wild Rose Press
Ebook ISBN: B003E3603Q
[ Contemporary Romance, MF ]
After nine years, Breanna Parker has come home to be her sister’s maid of honor. Just her luck that the first person she runs into is her ex-fiance, Troy Youngwolf—the man who eloped with her ex-best friend and broke her heart.
“Well, well…Hell finally froze over,” Troy Youngwolf drawled as he blocked Breanna’s way.
An emotion that was almost relief washed over Breanna Parker, chasing away a flutter of panic as her ex-fiancé’s shadow mingled with hers. Tendrils of unwelcome awareness skimmed down her spine.
By sheer force, she willed her body to relax but couldn’t stop the smile that painfully stretched her lips. From the moment her older sister Sierra commanded her to return home to Coconut Springs to be her maid of honor, Breanna had dreaded running into this man. Now after eight long years the moment was here, and the dread could finally end. In a perverse way, she rejoiced.
Pivoting on her heel, she came face to face with the dream of her youth who had turned into the nightmare of her adulthood. Troy Youngwolf was the only man she had ever truly loved—or truly hated.
Early evening sun glinted off his blue-black hair, no longer long and flowing about his shoulders or caught at his nape with a leather thong like his Native American ancestors, but cut in a short, neat military style. A black muscle shirt strained over his strong chest, tapering into tight black jeans that gloved even more powerful thighs. Despite his new hairstyle, danger still radiated from his tensed muscles and flared nostrils.
Had the town bad boy grown up into a career criminal? She was glad she wouldn’t be sticking around long enough to find out. She had given up dangerous men when she’d left town and gone to work for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
Still, the weeks ahead loomed like an eternity and she cursed her stupidity for returning, even for her sister’s wedding.
What had Sierra gotten her into?
Determined not to reveal the depth of her dismay at seeing him again, she hoped her smile dazzled like the sun. She had a lot of practice presenting a happy front when she was dying inside, mostly because of him. She turned up the wattage of her smile before aiming her dart. “Youngwolf? I didn’t think you’d still be here. Daddy and Sierra never mention you.”
Troy’s sharp gaze cut into her as he hooked his thumbs through the empty belt loops of his jeans. A smile tugged at the corner of his chiseled lips. “Why didn’t you come home for Meg’s funeral?”
Meg’s name stole the breath from her lungs, paralyzing her, almost as much as his disapproving smile. She had loved Meg. She had hated her…almost as much as she had loved and hated the man who married her. Troy deserved the most blame for breaking her heart, however, much more than Meg. He had been her fiancé before marrying her ex-best friend.
She gazed down at her toes, anywhere but into his eyes, unable to meet his accusing gaze. “I couldn’t,” she mumbled around the lump in her throat and squeezed back fresh tears stinging her eyes.
“She apologized. She missed you.” Troy cupped her elbow.
And what about her needs?
He escorted her from the center of the sidewalk as if to avoid the curious gazes that seemed to be boring into their backs.
Her temper threatened to escape its tightly leashed bounds but she struggled to keep it checked. She couldn’t let him find out her secret. She just couldn’t.
His fingers burned through the thin material of her cotton sleeve, shooting frissons of awareness up her arm. When they bit into her flesh, she shook him from her body but could not erase the haunting memories. He had no right to touch her.
Her smile dissipated as cold and out of breath, she chortled mirthlessly. “Apologies can’t fix everything. Some things should be left alone and forgotten.” Lord knew she’d done her best to forget how her ex-fiancé and ex-best friend had destroyed her life. The last few years she had almost succeeded—until Meg died in a horrible car wreck, dredging up awful memories. Oh, she had forgiven them but forget? No…She wished.
“You’re a hard-hearted woman.” His cheeks tightened and his shoulders slumped ever so slightly.
She wondered if her imagination was playing tricks and she punished her tender palms with her sharp fingernails. Then she tilted her head to look directly into his black eyes. “Matter of fact,” she said dryly, “I forgave Meg long ago. You, too.”
“Then why all the years of silence?” He rocked back and forth on worn boot heels.
Much to her chagrin, the movement was reflected in the mirror-like glass behind him, accentuating his sexy backside. Broad shoulders, lean hips, and rippling strength mocked her in that reflection. Not even Tim, her ex-boyfriend, the very macho FLPD lieutenant was built this well, and he was buff.
She wished Troy Youngwolf was a stranger. Unfortunately, his familiar woodsy scent filled her nostrils and his words pounded inside her head. “Just because I’ve forgiven you doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten. You’re a stranger. I don’t know the man you’ve become.” The man she had loved with every molecule of her heart and soul died the same night as their baby. Still, the anguish pooling in Troy’s eyes tugged at her heart. Shadows flickered over the gold flecks that had once lit them with mischief.
“If it counts for anything, I’m sorry, Bree. Talk to me.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.” Talking couldn’t bring back their baby. Talking couldn’t change the fact he had abandoned her when she’d needed him most. Talking couldn’t fix anything. She was clueless how she could spend even a week in town, much less a month, with him breathing down her neck and not go crazy.
“I can only say I’m sorry so many times.” Frustration warbled in his voice. With that he spun on his heel and strode off, his footsteps hammering the sun-baked asphalt.
She couldn’t help watching him walk away from her anymore than she could stop her head from spinning at the unfortunate meeting.
On autopilot, Troy ended up in his office, muttering under his breath about the woman who still haunted his dreams. What had he done to tick off the spirits lately? He’d done a lot to make amends for breaking Bree’s heart, not that she’d ever believe it.
“What’re you doing here, Sheriff? There a problem?” Patsy Kelly, one of Coconut Spring’s deputies, eyed him as she poured a mug of steaming hot coffee.
Reed thin, barely topping five feet tall, and pixyish with a cropped, flaming orange mop-top, his deputy reminded him of a hyperactive carrot. Dark freckles dusted most of her face and arms. She was so slight of build criminals often made the mistake of thinking she was weak. She was anything but.
Her lips quirked into a crooked grin. “You look like someone dropped a piano on you. Get called out in the middle of the night again last night?”
“Yeah. I mean no. Nothing’s wrong.” There was no problem Kelly or any of the rest of his staff needed to worry about. Behind him, the door slammed rattling the walls and causing one of his certificates to crash to the floor.
He swore under his breath, picked up the cracked frame and shoved it in his desk drawer for repair later. Flopping into his big leather chair, he leaned back, kicked up his feet on the desk, and linked his hands behind his head. A picture of his daughter and deceased wife caught his attention so he leaned forward to scoop it up.
Almost in a trance, he stared for a long time at the picture of happier days. The woman in the picture should have been Breanna. But then he wouldn’t have Xan and he would never wish that. “We caused one helluva mess, didn’t we? You, me, and Bree.” Would Meg still be alive if events had played out differently? Would Breanna be the one with his ancestors now if he’d married her as planned?
He didn’t like the turn of his thoughts and scowled. He was just about to swear aloud when Patsy entered his sanctuary without invitation and pushed a mug of steaming black coffee at him.
“Why so pensive? You’re not normally broody.” Patsy perched on his desk and stared him straight in the eye.
How much, if anything, should he reveal? He set the picture on his desk. Patsy had moved to town after the Breanna episode and didn’t know about their romantic past. At least not from him.
He decided not to bring his problems into the office even should the town’s gossip mill grind out the dirt. Surely Breanna would hightail it out of town soon as she could. That was her normal pattern. Then the gossips would die down again.
Yet his breath hitched in his throat. When he could spit out the words without choking on them, he mumbled, “Just ran into an old acquaintance is all.”
He picked up the football standing on his desk and tossed it aimlessly into the air several times. A keepsake of his high-school days. Another damned reminder of Bree.
This time he let himself swear under his breath. Everything reminded him of Bree, Why hadn’t her family warned him she’d be swooping into town? Of course, she’d come home for her own sister’s wedding. The very wedding that was turning his quiet, no-problem little town into a three-ring circus.
Patsy smirked. “Would that be of the female or male variety?”
He scowled at the nosy officer and punched the pigskin. “Does it have to have gender?”
Merriment danced in Patsy’s hazel eyes and she nodded, even as she stared at the bouncing football. “Female. I thought so. It’s past time you got yourself another wife and settle down for your little girl’s sake. She needs a mama. And you need someone for company in that big old bed of yours to keep you from getting so grumpy.”
His scowl deepened as his fingers drummed the arms of his chair. He could figure out for himself Xan needed a mother. He would decide if and when he wanted someone to share his bed. He could also figure out that Breanna Parker was the last person who would apply for the job. “You make a damn fine deputy. But butt out of my personal life.”
The crinkly lines around Patsy’s eyes smoothed and she stood and waltzed to the door. She waved her hands in the air as she spoke. “I can see I hit a nerve. I’m here if you wanna spill your guts. It helps sometimes.”
He wasn’t comfortable discussing his feelings. He’d dealt with Bree’s desertion. But why did she look at him with so much hate? The mystery was one he didn’t want to ponder but couldn’t seem to stop thinking about. “Thanks.”
A few minutes later, Patsy barged into his office, breathless, tugging her hat onto her head. “Got problems downtown. A couple of Sierra’s wedding guests are loaded and tearing up Riley’s. I may need backup and Biff’s on another call.”
Swearing loudly, he shoved his chair away from his desk. Rising, he gathered himself to his full height. He raked his fingers through his hair and mumbled, “Why can’t Sierra elope?” Why couldn’t either of the Parker women do things easily? Both were a pain in his backside. He shrugged into his holster, checked his pistol and put on the safety. In four long strides, he was across his office, muttering. “Let’s break it up.”
“Yes, sir!” Glee echoed in Patsy’s gravelly contralto. She glowed and her eyes flashed fire.
He suspected she enjoyed all the excitement. She should’ve been a big city cop. He could easily envision her on one of those cop TV shows hamming it up.
Big city… He wondered what Bree had been doing down in Ft. Lauderdale all these years.
nowing Breanna as he did, she hadn’t pined away alone. Seeing how gorgeous she had grown up to be, he didn’t doubt there would be a flock of men after her. Was it possible for a beautiful woman to be alone in a place like Ft. Lauderdale?
He on the other hand longed for a peaceful vacation. He would need it the second Sierra’s wedding shenanigans ended. His aunt and uncle kept inviting him and Xan for a visit to New Mexico. It was about time Xan became acquainted with her family and her heritage.
Coconut Springs wasn’t even a speck on the map compared to Ft. Lauderdale. In less than five minutes they witnessed two men diving through Riley’s front bay window and the shower of glass that followed.
Patsy jumped out of the cruiser before it finished rolling to a stop. She ran over to the troublemakers, flashed her badge and yelled, “Break it up.”
Troy followed, shaking his head as he examined the men to make sure they hadn’t killed one another. These shenanigans were going to stop. Sierra and her friends didn’t run his town. When Rayford, the bar’s proprietor, stepped over a chunk of his wall, Troy turned to look at him.
“You’ll be paying for all the damage you caused here tonight.” Rayford shook a fist in the air. His face was puffy and red around the snowy white bandage stretching across his recently broken nose. Thin white hair stood out in clumps about his skull, as if he’d been pulling it out in frustration. “You set foot in my place again, I’ll press charges and have the sheriff here lock you up.”
Troy nodded to Patsy. Wasn’t it bad enough that Sierra’s wedding had lured Breanna back? He swallowed the sigh tickling his chest. “Read them their rights. Then register them in the station hotel.” Even though Rayford wasn’t pressing charges they had broken at least a couple laws.
Back at the station Patsy booked the prisoners.
“…we’re staying at the Parker Ranch,” one of the prisoners said.
War drums pounded in Troy’s aching forehead. It figured. Why did Breanna’s sister have to be a clown? The damned things gave him nightmares.
“I’ll take it from here.” Anxious to end this torture, he stabbed Sierra’s number into the phone.
In a chipper voice, Breanna answered, “Parker Ranch.”
His heart raced and he cursed. Is this how it was going to be? He’d run into Bree every time he turned around? The only thing that made him smile was knowing she wouldn’t like it any better than he.
“Put Sierra on,” When his voice came out gruffer than he’d intended, he winced. At this rate, the woman would know she was getting to him. Background noise threatened to drown out her words. He thought he heard a modem beep as if she was signing online. Carrie Underwood’s country twang sang in the background, and he recognized it as one of the new songs that Patsy had been playing at her desk over and over. “She’s in bed with a migraine. I’ll tell her to give you a ring tomorrow,” Bree said coldly.
Chills coursed through him but he tamped them down. “I’m sorry she’s got a headache but tell her it’s official police business. This can’t wait.”
“Police?” Disbelief wavered in Breanna’s voice. “You?”
He suppressed a growl and massaged the back of his neck. He tried to keep his voice steady.
I’m Sheriff.” Breanna’s laughter tinkled in his ears.
“I really did die and go to hell.”
Insulted, he grunted. “No one told you?”
The music ended and there was a long silence. Finally, she said, “My family knows better.”
Her words were said so lowly he almost didn’t catch them. His stomach clenched. Had he really hurt her that badly? As badly as he was hurting?
“I just arrested two of her houseguests. Tell her to come down first thing in the morning so we can release them into her custody.” His voice grated on his own ears and he wondered what it sounded like to her. He paced the floor in front of the snoring prisoners and glanced at his watch. Ten ‘til midnight.
“Sure thing, Sheriff.” The phone connection died.
He glared at the silent instrument still in his hand. She hadn’t even wished him a good night. Sheriff? Not even Troy or Youngwolf? Muttering under his breath, he slammed it down. If Bree’s coldness was any indication what life with her would be like, he’d been lucky to miss it. If only he truly felt that way, he could get on with his life and stop catching his breath every time the phone rang.
Trouble in paradise?” Patsy said in a singsong voice, her brow arching, faux innocence shining from too-wide eyes.
He wasn’t fooled. Of course she’d been listening despite pretending to be doing paperwork and minding her own business. Too exhausted to call her on it or deal with anything else, he muttered, “Tell Biff not to release those two to anyone before I get in tomorrow.” He had a couple things to say to Sierra Parker.
“I’m glad I’m not Sierra,” Patsy said, avoiding eye contact.
One of the prisoners opened his eyes, blew him a kiss and winked. “Goodnight, Sheriff Dearest. Sweet dreams.”
“Give the lady any trouble and you’ll deal with me,” he growled, eager to escape the troublemakers. Patsy’s chuckles followed him into the muggy night where a full moon glistened overhead. What a damn waste that full moon was as he had no one to share it with. Breanna Parker sure wasn’t reapplying for the job. He cursed himself and kicked at a big rock in his path, sending it skittering at his car.