Evan watched Crystal walk down the stairs in her satin gown, her face glowing, and his heart compressed. God, but he loved her. His hands shook at the thought she’d be uttering her wedding vows in front of a minister and a huge congregation of family and friends in a very short time.
Too short a time.
He’d spent all last night thinking about it. Realizing this was his last chance. If he didn’t do something now, then the events that had been so long in the planning would proceed, and the future would be set.
And he would be miserable.
He had to talk to her. He had to tell her how he felt. Explain why he hadn’t told her sooner. Why he was ruining her wedding day. And probably ruining their relationship forever.
But he had to do something. Because in less than an hour she would marry another man—Evan’s best friend.
And Evan couldn’t let that happen without speaking up and telling her how much he loved her. Because maybe … just maybe … she felt the same way about him.
No matter what Evan did, his friendship with Brent was probably over. And certainly, if Crystal turned Evan down … oh, God, please don’t let her turn me down … things would always be strained between them. But he had to know. He could not spend the rest of his life regretting not telling her. Not at least reaching out for the happiness he so desired. Being with the only woman he had ever loved.
She laughed at something her older sister, Renee, said to her, then they both disappeared into the study. The wedding was taking place at her family home, a big old sprawling house on the lake, with a couple of acres surrounding it. The groom wouldn’t arrive for another thirty minutes, so Evan knew he had to make his move now.
Damn it, he wished he’d talked to her sooner. He’d had months to speak up, but he hadn’t wanted to do anything to hurt his friendship with Brent or to potentially hurt Crystal’s happiness. But as the wedding had drawn nearer, he’d realized that his happiness was every bit as important as Brent’s. And Crystal deserved to know how Evan felt about her. She might turn him down, but at least she would be offered the choice. If she chose Brent, Evan would understand, no matter how much it shattered his chance at happiness. He would respect her choice. But he had to at least offer that choice.
His hands shook and he curled them into fists. Renee left the study and Evan took a step forward. For a split second, thoughts of abandoning this insane idea flashed through his brain, but he quelled them and took another step, then another, until he was almost at the door.
“Hey, Evan. You look absolutely dashing in that tux.”
His gaze shot to Renee, who walked toward the door with a glass of water in her hand.
“Uh … are you taking that in to Crystal?” he asked, feeling like an idiot asking the obvious.
She grinned. “Yeah. You know, you look as nervous as the groom probably does.”
“It’s a big day,” he said, repeating what he’d heard echoed around him all morning.
He’d been here for two hours helping to set up and hoping to get a chance to talk to Crystal, but she’d been off to the hairdresser, then holed up in her room getting ready. He had never intended to leave it to the final moments to talk to her.
“Do you mind if I take it in?” he asked. “I wanted to talk to her before things begin.”
“Want to wish her luck?” She handed him the glass. “Sure, go ahead. I’ll go find the bouquets and distribute the boutonnieres to the guys.”
Renee turned and headed toward the big country kitchen at the front of the house.
Evan sucked in a deep breath, then knocked on the door.
* * *
Crystal stared out the sliding doors that led to the large wooden deck overlooking the lake outside. She’d grown up in this house, enjoyed the pleasures of living in a big rambling home with lots of room to play with her friends and her three siblings, all older than her.
Sunlight glittered on the rippling water. It was a beautiful day for a wedding.
Her wedding. She could hardly believe it.
Soon she and Brent would be husband and wife. She smiled at the thought of walking down the makeshift aisle, among all her friends and family, and joining with the man she loved. And she had loved Brent for a long time. She couldn’t believe this day was finally here.
Her stomach quivered, and she patted it. Nerves. Not due to second thoughts about the life-altering events of today. She just worried that something might go wrong. Of course, that was every bride’s fear, but it kept niggling at her no matter how much she tried to brush it aside.
A knock sounded at the door. Renee would be returning with water, but she wouldn’t knock. Could it be Brent? As much as she’d love to see his smiling face, it was bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding. That’s why she’d asked her mother’s friend and neighbor, Georgia, if Brent and his sister, Lily, could stay at her house last night.
“Yes?” she asked, not willing to risk answering the door.
“Crystal, it’s Evan. May I come in?”
She smiled. Evan. He was Brent’s best friend, and over the past two years, she had gotten to know him well. He was a real sweetheart. And sexy as all get-out, but she felt guilty for even noticing that.
Geez, I’m not dead. There’s nothing wrong with noticing. It’s doing something about it that’s wrong.
The door opened and Evan peered into the room. He slipped inside and closed the door behind him.
God, he was gorgeous. And every time she got near him, her insides quivered. She patted her stomach again.
It’s okay to notice. It really is okay to notice. That had almost become a mantra for her. So she felt an attraction to Evan? She loved Brent. And that wouldn’t change, no matter how many men made her heart go pitter-pat.
She’d just thought that once she found her true love, the pitter-pat thing wouldn’t happen anymore. But this was the real world, not storybook land. The reality was that an attractive man could make her take notice.
But she loved Brent.
“I brought you this.” Evan handed her a glass of water. “Renee was bringing it to you.”
“Thanks.” She took the glass from his hand, ignoring the ripple of awareness that quivered through her when their fingers touched.
It’s okay to notice.
* * *
Evan’s stomach twisted, but he had no time to let nerves slow him down. If he started thinking about how close he and Brent were, how much damage this would do to their deep friendship, then he knew he’d back down. But he had to do this. For the good of their relationship. If this went unspoken between him and Crystal, it would eat away at him and their friendship until it all fell apart.
“I … uh … wanted to talk to you, if you’ve got a few minutes. I mean, I know the wedding starts soon, but—”
Another knock sounded at the door.
“Yes?” Crystal said.
Renee popped her head in the door. “Crystal, Mom wants to go over some details with you again, and Dad’s anxious to use the den. I think he wants a quick drink before the ceremony. He’s nervous … it’s so cute. I think I can hold Mom off—they’re things you’ve been over a dozen times already—but I suggest you make yourself scarce or you’ll keep being interrupted.” She smiled brightly. “Maybe take a walk. That’ll keep you calm and relaxed.”
“In my dress?”
Renee came into the room with a robe draped over her arm and dangled a pair of sandals in front of her. “I would think you’d be more concerned about those high heels, so I brought you these, and a robe.” She closed the door behind her.
“I’ll walk with you, if that’s all right,” Evan said.
He would be more comfortable—or rather, less uncomfortable—talking to her about this somewhere other than her family home.
“That’s a great idea. You can run interference.” Renee turned and winked at him, as though they shared a secret.
Damn, did she know? He’d met Renee once in San Diego, when she’d come to visit Crystal, then he’d spent a little time with her over the past week while he and Brent had been staying in her hometown of Emerald Haven, Oregon. Had she somehow figured out his feelings for Crystal?
“I wouldn’t mind getting some fresh air,” Crystal said, “but Evan has to be here when Brent arrives and—”
Renee waved away her words. “That’s almost half an hour from now. Don’t worry about it. Just go for your walk.”
Crystal glanced at Evan, but Renee just smiled. “Evan, turn around, okay?”
Evan felt his face drain of color as he realized Crystal was going to strip off her wedding gown right here in the same room as him. He turned around as instructed. The sound of her zipper gliding down, then the rustle of fabric, made his breath come quicker.
“Okay, done,” Renee said. “You can turn around again.”
Evan turned to see Crystal now wearing a long white satin robe and sandals.
* * *
Crystal watched Renee hang her gown on the satin hanger she’d brought with her, then turned to Evan. “Okay, let’s go.”
She followed him to the sliding doors in the den that led to the deck so they could slip away without being pulled into last minute preparations. As she stepped outside, the soft breeze brushed across her...