Melanie peeked around the pillar of the old plantation house to the engagement party gathered near a gazebo. Even now, it was hard to see them together: her ex and her childhood best friend. Two years ago, when Mama had gotten sick, Melanie had left her hometown. Long-distance relationships weren’t for everyone, especially David—apparently.
“Busy plotting their demise, Smellanie?” A deep voice sounded to her left, and Melanie sprang away from the pillar with a shriek.
Jordan took her place, leaning back with a laugh. “You always did startle easily.”
“Do not call me that!” She spoke through her teeth to the boy, now a man, who had dubbed her smelly at a birthday party when she’d unknowingly stepped in dog droppings.
“Calm down.” His green eyes swept down her summer dress then quickly away to the party. He cleared his throat. “So, just like we planned. You make Heather see this is a bad idea. I’ll see if I can talk some sense into David.” He rolled his eyes at the mere mention of his little brother, then started across the yard.
“Jordan, wait.” She caught his arm.
He turned so quickly his foot caught on the walk, and he fell against her. Pinned between Jordan and the pillar, Melanie gasped for breath.
“Whoa, Mel, you okay?” Strong arms surrounded her mingled with the fresh, clean scent of cologne. Jordan looked down at her, his brow furrowed. “Well, you’re not bleeding.” He inspected the back of her head, his warm breath sweeping past her ear and sending shivers down her spine.
“Fine. I’m fine.” She cleared her throat and brushed the chills from her arms. Had he always been so handsome?
“Ah, Mel…” He narrowed his eyes to their left. “We’ve got an audience.”
There under the gazebo, Jordan’s mother stared wide-eyed, then the old woman cracked a grin and whispered something to another woman.
Oh, no. Great Aunt Pearl was the gossip queen. She would have rumors flying by the end of the night.
Jordan looped his arm through hers. “I guess this is as good a start as any. Did I tell you I put you down as my plus one?”
She spoke around a forced smile. “Jordan Bancroft, how dare you. That was not the plan.”
“Just fulfilling your dreams, Smellanie.” He winked.
“Don’t call me that.”
Several family members in the group glanced their way. David’s narrowed eyes focused on her, his smile fading. Was he feeling guilty because of his past indiscretion, or was he just jealous of Jordan?
Melanie managed a real smile when she sat on a white chair beside Jordan and began visiting with old acquaintances. So much had changed since high school, but the Bancrofts were still just as friendly. There were comments about her finishing school, then her rise in her father’s company. Thankfully, no one asked about her history with David.
Melanie released a shaky breath and sipped iced tea.
Several tables over, Heather caught David’s arm, her gaze on Melanie as she seemed to convince her groom to follow her.
Oh, no. They were headed her way! Melanie scooted her chair back.
Jordan stuck his foot out to stop her. “Giving up already?”
How had she forgotten this side of her ex-boyfriend’s big brother? Always antagonizing.
“Knock it off, Jordan.” The chair wouldn’t budge. Melanie dug an elbow into Jordan’s thigh and set him howling, then she made a run for it.
She managed several good strides and only twisted her ankle twice before resorting to walking on her tiptoes. When she was at a safe distance, she bent and unbuckled her strappy heels.
Jordan stood near a table talking to David and Heather. The trouble maker. He headed her way, thick arms swinging.
“I’m going home, Jordan.” She wrestled with the dainty buckle of her other shoe, nearly toppling herself in the process. “I don’t care that David cheated on me anymore.” Words she’d been telling herself for the past six months—since she’d learned of the engagement—finally felt true.
Jordan knelt and unfastened her shoe, his fingers brushing her skin. “So…you’re not still in love with him?”
“No,” she replied softly.
“But…” Jordan rose and handed her the shoe. “…he broke your heart, and you haven’t dated since.”
“True. But, maybe it was for the best.”
Jordan stared at her, his head inclined as though catching every word. Why was he here, following her retreat when his family was waiting for him to join them?
She set one hand on her hip. “Why do you disapprove of David and Heather?”
“Huh?” He blinked. “Oh, ah…” He shook his head, looked back toward his family, then at her. “I don’t know. Listen, Mel, when Mom needed your address for the wedding, I didn’t think you’d actually answer your old number from high school. When we got to talking, I realized how much I missed you.”
“I missed you, too.” Her heart thundering in her chest, Melanie pushed away the nagging feeling she’d felt when she and Jordan had talked long into the night last week. It had been nice to have someone to laugh with. Someone to make plans with. She’d wondered, just for a second, what it would be like to be the woman Jordan always made plans with, then she’d pushed the absurd notion aside. But now…
“If you’re not in love with him, maybe you could find a reason to stay.” He clasped both of her hands, tugging her closer.
Barely breathing, Melanie held tight. “Like what?”
“You’re going to make me beg, aren’t you?” His smile wobbled, and he swallowed. “I’d be honored if you attended the wedding with me. Be my plus-one.”
Melanie eased onto her tiptoes and kissed his cheek. “You know, we could have avoided a scene if you’d started with that instead of calling me Smellanie.”
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