May, Sophomore Year College
* * *
Her fiancé burst into laughter, and Lulu Cavanaugh turned to watch him across the crowded restaurant. Surrounded by her dad and his football cronies, Trace was totally in his element.
Happiness spread through her in a dizzying rush. That tall, gorgeous, life-of-the-party man had chosen her to spend his life with. And she didn’t know how she’d gotten so lucky.
I’ll never be alone again.
The thought came out of nowhere, delivering a stark relief that nearly buckled her knees. She thought about all those New Year’s Eves when her sisters—gorgeous and glittering—would race out the door with their boyfriends, leaving her home alone. The Valentine’s Days when her roommates would get dressed up for romantic evenings, leaving her in a cloud of perfume.
From now on, she’d never feel that painful loneliness again. Because tomorrow she’d marry Trace Heller.
Look at him.
How in the world did I get a guy like that? Starting linebacker for Penn State, big man on campus, he was genuinely nice, smart, and funny. Everybody liked him—professors, students…the cafeteria staff had a smoothie ready for him every morning at six a.m.—and it wasn’t even on the menu. He was the golden boy.
And he’s mine.
An arm settled around her shoulders and snugged her in close. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so happy.”
Lulu tucked her face into the crook of her older sister’s neck. “Thank you for being here.”
“What kind of thing is that to say? Of course I’m here.” The lead singer of an all-girl pop band, her oldest sister was in the middle of an international tour. She had virtually no control over her life—down to how she dressed and the color of her hair—so it really was a big deal. “You excited for tomorrow? Actually, knowing you, you’re probably more excited about the honeymoon.”
Joy bubbled through her at the thought of Tokyo, where she’d get to spend time in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants. Yet another reason to love her future husband—he didn’t mind her cooking on three of their vacation nights.
“I just want to get this whole production over with.” Lulu preferred a small, intimate wedding, but Trace and his family had fought her hard on that. They had hundreds of people they absolutely could not “snub.”
Her fiancé came by his outgoing nature honestly—his parents and siblings were all big-time extroverts. They lived on a cul-de-sac in Iowa that threw weekly summer block parties, and their house was party central during football season.
She’d conceded, of course. Lots of people found her quiet intensity a turn-off, so if he accepted her, she could absolutely respect his big personality—even when it meant she didn’t have his full attention in public.
When it meant she had to walk down the aisle with four hundred people watching her.
Trace lifted his arms, executing a sexy swivel of his hips, as if dancing to a Snoop Dog song. He’s the brightest light in any room. His welcoming grin served as an invitation. Come party with me. We’ll have a blast.
A red dress in her peripheral vision grabbed her attention, and she found her younger sister in a heated conversation.
As Stella drained a champagne flute, her boyfriend’s big hand closed around her wrist and tried to pull the glass away from her mouth. Nobody tamed the gorgeous, wild seventeen-year old, though, so she twirled out of his reach. Stella wobbled on ridiculously high heels, but Griffin grabbed her, wrapped an arm around her waist and hauled her up hard against him. He lowered his mouth to her ear, and her expression turned sultry, wicked, before she elbowed him in the stomach and freed herself. Just as he turned away, Stella fisted his dress shirt and jerked him back, cupping his neck and kissing him like they were alone in her bedroom.
God, they were a fiery, passionate couple.
“She’s drunk,” Gigi said.
“I know, and it’s so weird.” Normally, Stella would be here for her. Her best friend and fiercest protector, her younger sister stuck by her side to make social situations easier. “Why would she do this at my rehearsal dinner?”
“Oh, come on. She’s afraid of losing you.” Gigi made it sound so obvious.
But that’s ridiculous. Stella made friends everywhere she went—everyone loved her. She didn’t need Lulu. “She knows better than that.” Lulu had a smaller social circle—Trace, her family, and a few close friends—but she was fiercely loyal and kept them for life. “She’s going to feel like crap tomorrow.” When I’ll need her.
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