Paige Parker smoothed her dark mahogany hair behind her shoulders and took a deep breath. On the other side of that wooden door, Randall Davenport likely waited. This was no time for her date to be late. Drat that Micah Travers! But that was life with medical interns. They worked long hours, and when you wanted them to be somewhere, they likely worked even longer hours. If Randall hadn’t taken the next two days off, he probably would have missed the rehearsal dinner as well.
Paige pasted a smile on her face and shoved the door open. Instantly, the sounds of cheerful conversations from around the banquet room made her wish she was at home. She loved her best friend Olivia, and Tony, her husband-to-be, was a wonderful guy, but Tony was Randall’s best friend and Olivia was Randall’s sister. Two very good reasons why Paige would no longer be able to avoid Randall, the biggest crush and worst mistake of her life.
Olivia rushed forward, hands extended, in a lemon yellow dress that screamed happiness and joy. Paige felt her smile become even more fixed.
“Paige! I thought you’d never get here. You look gorgeous. Is that a new blouse?”
Paige instinctively ran her hands down the blue floral print peasant top. Why was Olivia letting the whole world, i.e. Randall, know she’d bought a new blouse? Randall would think it was for him. It was, just not in the way he’d think. The feminine top was her armor. It gave her courage.
Across the room, Randall’s shining blue eyes met hers, and her heart skipped. Why did the man have to look like Adonis? Practically perfect. Wasn’t it enough that he stood over six feet? Did he have to have gorgeous blue eyes, pale blond hair, and a winning smile as well? He started toward them, but Paige returned her gaze to Olivia.
“Yes. I bought it yesterday. How’s the power mother-in-law?”
“Wonderful! Did you see all this?” Olivia waved her arm to point around the room. Twinkle lights hung from every nook and cranny, and long buffet tables offered a tempting array of foods.
“Is that shrimp?”
“Yes, and caviar.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. Looks like I’ll get to try that stuff at least once in my life.”
“Don’t bother. It couldn’t be nastier. Oh, here’s Randall. Play nice.”
Just before Randall reached her side, Paige felt someone else’s hand at her back, and a face loomed beside her. A kiss fell smoothly on her cheek.
“Hi, Paige. Sorry I’m late.” Micah was right on time, especially when he grasped her fingers in his. “Did I miss anything? This must be Olivia.”
Olivia’s mouth dropped, and Randall froze right in the middle of the room. His eyes went wide for the space of three seconds then hardened before he turned on his heel and walked to a group of men gathered around the groom.
Paige swallowed hard then turned to lift her face to Micah. “Yes. This is my best friend, Olivia. Olivia, this is Micah.”
“It’s wonderful to meet you, Olivia. Paige talks about you all the time.”
Olivia’s gaze traveled from Paige to Micah. “Thank you. I’m glad you could come. Just make yourself at home. The food is everywhere. My groom is over there. Tony Thornton.”
“Sure, I know Tony and Randall. We sometimes work the same shift at the hospital.”
“Oh, good. Go on over and say hi.”
With another smile for Paige, Micah joined the five men standing around Tony’s dad. Micah was such a pleasant-looking guy, with a full head of wavy brown hair, always a wide smile and kind brown eyes, and he kept himself fit. But he didn’t do anything for Paige. She’d wondered if something could develop if she spent more time with him. Seeing him alongside Randall squashed that idea. From past experience, she knew that when Randall glanced her way, everything in her rose up in answer. Micah flashed another look at her, and she waved, but she just plain didn’t care.
Olivia put her hand on her hip. “Who in the world is that, and why didn’t I know about him?”
“Just another resident at the hospital. I’ve known him for months. He’s asked me out a few times. I said no. Then I remembered this shindig. Seemed the perfect opportunity to get acquainted.”
“You mean it seemed the perfect time to get even with Randall for dating a slew of women.”
“Olivia, you wound me,” Paige said in mock horror. “Of course, I don’t care what Randall does. He’s never been mine to consider.”
“Right. Then why is he staring at you instead of the man who’s talking to him?”
Before she could stop herself, Paige looked at Randall. Once again, their eyes met, and he smiled, enough to let her know he caught her looking.
“See,” Olivia said, “he’s smiling at you.”
“You mean he’s gloating because we’re staring at him like every other woman in this room.”
Olivia looked around them. There were a number of women trying to catch Randall’s eye. “I’m sorry, Paige. It happens everywhere he goes. He can’t help it if he looks like…”
The two friends burst into laughter. Olivia wiped at her eyes, nodding. “Yep. He may be my brother, but even I know he’s a hottie. Poor man.”
“Poor man? I should be so lucky. It would be nice to have admirers everywhere I went.”
“Oh, stop. You just said Micah’s been asking you out for months. Why didn’t you say yes?”
“I have no idea.” Paige hitched up the hem of her blouse and pretended to study a loose thread. “Too busy?”
“I think you’re as hung up on Randall as he is on you.”
“He has a weird way of showing it. How many women has he dated this year?”
“None, since that day he kissed you in our apartment. This, I know for a fact.”
“Oh, who cares? Feed me and let’s get this rehearsal underway.”
Why did Olivia have to remind her of that kiss? In one instant, Randall had discarded all the armor she kept in place against him and trodden her heart into pieces. She recalled the electrifying atmosphere in the room that day. He’d asked why Paige and Olivia hadn’t informed him that Olivia had feelings for Tony. It made Paige so angry. If Randall hadn’t spent so much time elsewhere, he might have known what was going on with his own sister.
Paige had snapped at him. “It stopped being your business when you turned into a man-ho.”
Those radiant blue eyes of Randall had lit with a caustic fire as he pulled her against his chest. Then he bent his tall frame until his face was level with hers. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Paige.”
When she didn’t answer, he kissed her, so hard she felt his teeth against hers.
She had jerked away from him. “How dare you…you…you big… Argh!”
They stood there glaring at one another, then Randall bolted out the front door, slamming it behind him. Paige had run from the room, crying like her heart would break, leaving Tony and Olivia staring after her. A totally humiliating scene for which she was partly to blame. She should have never called Randall a man-ho.
And that kiss. He may have been angry, but it seemed like it mattered so much. Why would he say she didn’t know what she was talking about, then kiss her? She’d thought about it, and tried not to think about it, for weeks. And here she was trapped in the same room with the man who made her cuckoo.
She and Olivia walked to the food line and picked up plates. Tony appeared at Olivia’s side and whispered in her ear. Olivia gazed up at him in adoration. It was nauseating, but Paige hoped she felt that way someday.
When a hand touched the small of her back, she looked up, expecting to see Micah. It was Randall.
“Hello, beautiful. Want me to carry your plate back to our seats, or should I get you a drink?”
“No need. I have a date.”
“There’s assigned seating, and you’re sitting beside me.” That silky voice made her want to stomp her foot. The man was infuriating.
“I added a plus one to my invitation from Tony’s mom. I’m sure there’s a seat for Micah.”
“But will Micah make your blood pressure soar?”
She turned scathing eyes upward. “You’re a doctor. Why would I want high blood pressure?”
Before he could answer, she took her half-full plate and walked away. He was right. Her blood pressure was spiking.
When she found her name card on the tables, she noticed Randall’s name right next to her, but Micah was on her other side. She could manage to sit through one dinner without losing her cool.
Now that she’d escaped everyone, she cast a longing glance around the room. White twinkle lights weren’t the only decorations. Perfumed candles sat on the white tablecloths. Olivia had debated the merits of real candles or the ones operated by battery because she wondered if the aroma would interfere with eating a meal. It looked as if Mrs. Thornton had won. She opted for scented candles. The vanilla scent made Paige want to eat cake.
Randall settled in the seat beside her, leaning close as he placed a chocolate cupcake in front of her plate. “For the prettiest girl in the room. Are those vanilla candles driving you as crazy as they are me?”
“Yes. I was just thinking of cake.”
“Let’s eat it first.” He picked his up and peeled back the paper wrapper of a fluffy white cupcake before taking a bite. He rolled his eyes. “You’ve got to try it.” He held it out to her.
Oh, how she wanted to take a bite after him. When his lips curved into that smile she loved so much, she leaned forward and took a huge bite.
“Hey! I said a bite not the whole thing.”
“You can have my chocolate. You know it’s going to be good.”
She lifted it toward him, but the smile left his face as he focused on her mouth. Was he going to kiss her? In front of all these people? Her heart rate went wild. Randall reached a finger for her mouth and wiped some frosting off her lip then shoved it in his mouth. “Mmm, now that’s good. Want more?”
“Starting with dessert, Paige?” Micah’s voice came right in time. In one more minute, she would have forgotten where they were and planted a kiss on Randall’s enticing mouth.
She laughed self-consciously. “It’s those candles. They smell too much like cake.”
“What’s better…vanilla or chocolate?”
“We were just about to find out.” Randall wrapped his hand around her wrist, the one still holding the chocolate cupcake. He took a bite then dropped her hand. “Hard to say. I may have to get two more. Paige?”
She managed to sample the chocolate as if testing cake was the only thing on her mind and not how tasty Randall looked with chocolate smeared on his lips. “Chocolate. Definitely the chocolate.”
Tony dropped in the seat across from them and raised a chocolate cupcake of his own. “Chocolate is always better.”
“That’s why I came prepared.” Olivia sat beside him, setting a plate holding four chocolate cupcakes in front of him.
Micah looked around the group. “Is this some ritual I don’t know about?”
“Tony is addicted to chocolate,” Paige said, smiling.
“And his mother likes to indulge anyone who says they like anything.” Olivia pointed at Tony’s parents at the end of the table. “He told me never to say I like squash because we’ll have it at every family meal for the rest of our lives.”
Micah laughed. “Really?”
“Really,” Randall said. “She found out I like canned ravioli, and now there’s always a case of ravioli in her pantry for when I come by.”
“I didn’t know that. I love ravioli.” Paige tilted her head so she could look up at him. When they were seated, she barely felt the twelve-inch difference in their heights.
“What? That I like canned ravioli or that Mrs. Thornton keeps it in her kitchen just for me?”
“Canned ravioli. I’m not surprised you’ve got yet another woman wrapped around your finger.”
“But not you,” he whispered.
Micah shook his head, laughing. “You do have a lot of the nurses wrapped around your finger, Davenport.”
“That’s because I’m a superior doctor.”
“That’s because you wink at all of them.”
Paige rose and walked to the buffet. She had no desire to hear more about Randall’s conquests. She grabbed a plate and filled it with whatever her hand reached, just to keep busy. It wasn’t until Randall sidled up to her and pointed that she paused.
“You like snails?”
She gawked at the plate. If she told him no, he’d know she was upset. If she told him yes, she’d be eating snails.
He sighed. “Paige, I have never winked at a nurse, maybe years ago, but not recently, not since…us.”
“I don’t know what you mean. There is no us.”
“Deny it all you want, but I haven’t flirted with another woman since the day I met you.”
She turned so she could read his eyes. He sounded so sincere. “That was over two years ago. You can’t even count the number of women you’ve dated since then, can you?”
She could, because he’d made sure she knew about every one of them.
She set the plate down and grabbed another one. This time she chose items that appealed to her palate.
“How would you like to go to a concert next Friday?”
“I’ve got a date.”
The incredulous tone of his voice set her nerves on edge. “Micah is a very considerate guy.”
“Yes, he is. You deserve someone like that.”
He walked away, and Paige did her best not to give in to the tears burning her eyes. When she’d added five helpings of olives to her plate, she sighed. She couldn’t eat that. She scraped them off and started over again.
For the rest of the dinner, Randall didn’t speak to her. He talked with everyone around them, but not to Paige. Even when his elbow or his knee grazed against her, he said nothing. Paige wanted to rail at him for the accidental contact, but she knew his large frame made it difficult not to bump against people. By the time they reached the rehearsal, her nerves were more than heightened.
Pastor Sam stood at the podium, waiting. Randall extended his arm, and Paige rested her fingers lightly in the crook of his elbow. In sync with the melodic sound of the organ, they took measured steps.
“Wedding is tomorrow, Paige. What are you going to do now that Olivia has moved out?” Randall’s hand covered hers, warm, strong.
“I haven’t decided.”
“Just like you haven’t decided which hospital offer to accept?”
“If I accept an offer for permanent employment, it’s none of your business. I happen to like the extra pay I get floating from one hospital to another.”
“You could move in with me. I have plenty of room. That place of yours and Olivia’s is a little claustrophobic.” Paige tripped, but Randall’s grip kept her off the floor. “What’s the matter? Can’t see yourself living with a man-ho?”
“And this is exactly why I called you that. I would never live with a man without being married!”
“That’s what I’m asking. Paige, will you marry me?”
They’d reached the end of the aisle, and the preacher was watching their exchange with interest. Certainly, he hadn’t heard that ludicrous proposal. Paige yanked her hand away from Randall, wanting nothing more than to slap his handsome face, again. He rubbed her the wrong way. Olivia thought it was frustrated physical attraction, but Paige knew Randall brought out the worst in her. And she just plain hated him making fun of her all the time. First, she was too short, and now he was teasing her about marriage?
“Paige?” his dreamy voice demanded an answer.
“That’s good, Paige.” The preacher smiled benevolently, obviously ready to get the proceedings moving forward. “Now just step over here to my right, and Randall will walk back down the aisle to get Olivia.”
Paige took her place and kept her gaze at the rear of the church where Olivia waited. She could feel Randall’s eyes burning into her, but he finally turned away to get Olivia.
Tony cleared his throat. “Paige, are you ok?”
She met his eyes, narrowed with concern. No way would she mess this up for Olivia and Tony. She pasted on her fake smile and shrugged. “Isn’t this great! Your mom did a lovely job.”
“This was all Olivia. She wanted a simple ceremony, but she let Mother have her way at the reception. I shudder to think…”
Paige managed to laugh. “It will be like a fairy tale.”
“Olivia seems dead set on keeping our lives settled on terra firma.”
“A little magic is nice, Tony. I can’t wait to see it.”
Randall and Olivia reached the front of the church, and the rehearsal continued. As much as Paige wanted to leave, she couldn’t disappoint Olivia. When the time came for her to perform her maid-of-honor duties for real, she hoped she could remember what to do. All she could think about now was Randall and that ridiculous proposal. Why would he ask her to move in with him and then say it was a proposal? She didn’t understand. What did he want?
Pastor Sam clapped his hands together and smiled. “That’s it. Fairly straightforward. I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
Paige bolted for the exit where Micah waited.
“Paige!” The sound of Randall’s voice did nothing to slow her progress. “Paige, I meant what I said.”
Paige hunched up her shoulders and shoved through the double doors, with Micah following behind.
As soon as they were out of sight, she turned toward him and slowed her steps. “Thanks so much for coming tonight, Micah. I enjoyed it.”
“Me, too. I didn’t realize we were all so well connected.”
He could only be referring to her and Randall. “Oh, Olivia? I’ve known her for years. Didn’t you know Tony and Randall were roommates during med school? Normally, I’d say let’s get some dessert and coffee, but I think we’ve had enough sugar tonight and you have a shift in the morning. Don’t you?”
He nodded, but she could tell he still wanted to spend time with her. The doors opened behind them, and she placed her hand on Micah’s arm.
“Why don’t we go?”
They walked arm-in-arm to the parking lot, and she stopped at her car. “I guess I’ll see you soon.”
“When will you be back at Memorial?”
“Not ’til mid-week. After the wedding, I go on call for Baptist Hospital.”
“Would you like to see a movie? I’m off Tuesday.” Micah leaned a little closer, making Paige want to back against the car.
“I’d love to, but I’m coming off a twelve-hour shift. Maybe some other night?”
“I’ll text you my schedule. The next time we’re off on the same day, let’s do something…even if it’s a picnic in the park.”
“A picnic sounds fun. Good night.”
She jumped in her car before he could say or do anything else. He looked like he wanted to kiss her, and the only person she wanted to kiss was Randall.
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