A Degree of C Ch. 03byLSEiland©
Thank you for continuing to read A Degree of C. I am writing each chapter as they are posted and hope to submit the next chapter(s) faster than the previous one(s). Using italics seems to slow down the posting process, but I like using them to signify thoughts or put an emphasis on a word. I hope you like this chapter and decide to comment and/or rate the story. -LSEiland
Note: James = Ben (Remember, James is his middle name)
Also, Elle = Elise (Cara, and people who met Elise through her, use that nickname)
A myriad of thoughts rushed through Elise's mind as she stared at her reflection in the mirror. She and Ben had managed to rejoin the rehearsal separately, without any questions regarding their whereabouts for ten minutes or so. The dinner that followed also went off without a hitch and sans any awkwardness between her and Ben.
Incorporating his presence into her friendship with Cara might prove difficult. They had been in close quarters for hours now, but had not spoken since their groping session earlier that day. Quick glances had been exchanged, but Ben had honored Elise's wish to ease Cara into their fondness for each other.
This reflection period was a much needed breather for Elise, something Rachel clearly did not realize when she opened the door without knocking.
"Good thing I withheld my need to tinkle, Rachel." Elise gaped at her, before turning back around and pulling a tube of mauve lipstick from her clutch.
Not bothering to offer an apology, Rachel stated the need for her interruption. "We're keeping Cara occupied, but someone is at the door. I thought you'd like to answer it as hostess of this bachelorette party."
"Absolutely, just give me two seconds." Letting the incident slide, Elise touched up her lips before making her way back to the entrance of Cara's bridal suite.
Anticipating the two strippers she had handpicked for Cara's final night of singledom, she told the four other women in the room to gather around as she opened the door. They cheered in anticipation, but stopped immediately when Ben was revealed as the initiator of the knocks. He got a kick out of disappointing the women.
"What are you doing here, James?" Elise's tone admonished him for possibly spying on Marco's behalf.
"Hello to you, too," Hearing Elise address him by his middle name, be it in a sassy manner, turned Ben on in a way he could not begin to describe. "Sorry to interrupt, but I have a gift for my sister from her anxiety-ridden groom who wishes she would forgo the strippers."
Cara got up from the chair she was perched on to hug her brother and retrieve the medium-sized box he held in his hands. "Just reassure him that I will avert my eyes as much as possible and only share a bed with Elle tonight."
"Lucky you," Ben said without thinking. Cara gave him a puzzled look, but dismissed his comment as the desire to see what was in the box consumed her.
Elise focused on Cara as she unwrapped the box with care. She was just about to learn what its contents held when familiar hands began to pull her into the hallway.
"What are you doing?!" Elise was slightly startled, but did nothing to resist Ben's actions.
"That seems to be your question of the weekend." Closing the door behind them, Ben led her a few feet away, making sure they were out of earshot.
"I don't want you in there, either," he told her truthfully.
"Ben, we're not a couple. There's no need for you to take a cue from Marco."
They traded stares. Ben would make moves to pursue a relationship with Elise, but knew he had to make some changes first. Changes that he hoped would not scare her away. Before the weekend was over, he would pull her aside for a heart to heart.
"I'm working on changing that," he said as he approached her with the lustful look that had fast become her weakness.
He was about to make an attempt to kiss her again when the aforementioned male strippers passed them in the hallway. Ben and Elise watched as they were let into the bridal suite, which had once again erupted with spontaneous cheers and laughter. Rachel poked her head out of the door and gazed at them intently, seemingly curious about their abrupt disappearance.
"I seem to be missed. I'll see you tomorrow." Keeping an eye on Rachel's tortured expression, Elise left him and walked back to the room to join the festivities.
"Wow Cara, I didn't know you had that in you!"
The two ladies laughed about the debauchery that had just occurred in the adjacent room. Elise pulled the covers over herself and Cara as they settled into bed for the night.
"I have to say I even surprised myself, but I kept it clean...ish." Cara looked to Elise for confirmation that she had not gone too far.
"The "ish" definitely applies. Sweet Cara has a wild side. No wonder Marco put a BIG ring on it."
Once again, the two friends traded uncontrollable giggles and smiles.
"Hey, he loves more than my sexual prowess." Clarifying Marco's attraction was important to Cara.
"Yes, I've noticed that." Elise yawned and closed her eyes, trying to succumb to sleep.
"Speaking of noticing things, you and my brother are getting along quite well."
Falling asleep was not a priority for Cara, not when she needed to inquire about a few observations.
"We're being civil, if that's what you mean. It's obvious that James and I both want you have the best possible wedding, Cara. No drama." Elise hoped Cara did not feel her tense up when the conversation took an incriminating turn.
"You are two of the three most caring people I have ever met, but I know it's more than that." Cara sat up suddenly and turned the bedside light on. Looking Elise dead in the face, she began to speak again, "My brother wants you, Elle. The way he looks at you- it's almost animalistic."
Determined to make sure Cara remained oblivious to Ben's interest in her, she retorted, "Cara, you're exaggerating. Ben has just met me for the first time, he's probably just curious. Our reputations have preceded us." Please let her buy that, Elise thought.
Elise waited for a response. Cara was struck silent as realization washed over her face. A minute had passed before she grinned at Elise and finally spoke, "You just called my brother by his middle name..."
Shit! Elise knew her ruse was over.
"I've never disclosed that bit of info with you because my family never calls him that."
"I probably picked it up from one of the groomsmen." One more try couldn't hurt.
"It's a possibility, but I don't need to hunt down his boarding pass to know he's the guy from the plane..." Cara thought of ways to support her claim as she brushed her hair out of her face. "You two disappeared earlier today, you're constantly glancing at each other, Luis and Tony haven't made a move on you, and he said I was lucky for getting to share this bed with you. My brother, James, is the guy!"
A lengthy exhale was a sign that Elise was ready to own up to what Cara already knew to be the truth. "Okay, he's the guy. Why didn't you tell me he was flying in yesterday- and would be on the same flight?"
"Ahhhhh!" Cara could not believe it. "I didn't tell you, because I didn't know. He was scheduled to fly in the night before, but switched flights because of a work conflict. His new itinerary was never shared with me." A crude thought made Cara chuckle, "My brother likes chocolate, who knew?!"
"Cara!" Elise shot her friend a "simmer down" glance.
"I mean that in a good way. You know that." Happiness radiated from Cara. Dare she wonder if her honorary sister could become her sister-in-law in the future? It could happen.
The big day was finally here. Cara and Marco's wedding ceremony would begin in less than twenty minutes. While Cara was calm and ready to walk down the aisle, Elise was a mess. The problem had nothing to do with her friend's nuptials and everything to do with Ben. She would be left alone with him once Cara and Marco departed the reception to embark on their honeymoon. Something about that worried her. Like yesterday in the restroom, she was not scared, just nervous about what might transpire between her and a dangerously sexy man in a lavish hotel full of fluffy beds.
Focusing on Cara as her makeup and hair was being touched up for the last time, Elise asked about something that had been on her mind since the night before.
"Cara, what was in the box that Ben delivered to you?" The cat was out of the bag, so Elise did not feel the need to continue calling him James. His first name fit the man her was with her, confident and loaded with sex appeal.
"Honestly, a bunch of smaller boxes."
Confused, Elise asked her to elaborate. She complied right away.
"One big box held three other boxes, each smaller than the one before. The smallest box contained a key- to what, I'm not certain at this point. A house is my guess."
Elise's mouth hung open. "That man is unbelievable... and sickeningly romantic."
"Some words were included. A Cure for Sick Days was inscribed on an intricately-designed steel keychain that accompanied the key." Making eye contact with Elise, Cara silently solicited her input in deciphering the inscription.
Each woman let the phrase sink in, but was not 100% sure they understood the true significance of Marco's choice of words.
- - - - - - - - - -
The bridal suite gave off a Zen vibe. The groom's suite, however, resembled a comedy club. Luis was in the middle of testing some new material on his pals. The nonstop laughter was evidence that his upcoming stand-up gigs would be very entertaining for his fans.
"Alright, enough- you're killing these guys," Marco stifled his own laughter as he attempted to lower the noise level in the room.
Now down to ten minutes, the five men in the wedding party were putting on their tuxedo jackets when someone knocked lightly on the door. Ben's heart leapt as he anticipated seeing Elise in her bridesmaid gown. He had been forced to accompany his sister and Rachel to a bridal boutique when the dresses were picked out, and now wished he had talked them into a slightly sexier style.
Designated as the door answerer for the day, Ben walked over to the doorway and opened it swiftly. Unfortunately, he would have to wait a little longer because Rachel was standing before him.
"Hi, guys... James..." Rachel fluttered her lashes at him.
Everyone in the room knew about Rachel's crush on Cara's brother. She had been trying to get his attention for the past year.
"Hey... Rachel." Trying not to seem disappointed, Ben invited her into the room. He stood by the door as she walked over to Marco.
Rachel could be described as the cheerleader-type. She was tall and slim with long vanilla blonde hair and blue eyes. She was definitely Ben's type, or so she always thought. Somehow he had never been into her. A fair-weather friend had once told her that he said, and she quoted, "Rachel would be a catch if she wasn't so spoiled." Rachel often wondered why letting her father continue to pay her bills, at 26, was considered a bad thing.
"Congratulations, again, Marco. I have a special note to you from Cara. She told me to tell you that it's for your eyes only, and to remember her words as she walks down the aisle."
"Her instructions are understood. Tell mi amor I'll be waiting." He reached for the letter, smiling at the sentiment.
"I will." She smiled back as she handed the note to him.
Rachel made her way back to the door and winked at Ben as she exited the room.
Once again, Elise found herself standing in front of a mirror. This time, she was in another public restroom touching up her makeup for the reception. She had not seen the reception space yet, but was sure it would be breathtakingly beautiful.
The wedding had been utterly romantic. The space resembled a lush meadow. Greenery and wildflowers filled the room without overwhelming the guests or wedding party. The highlight of the ceremony was watching Cara walk down the aisle in her strapless lace A-line gown. Its ivory color perfectly complimented her alabaster skin.
Marco looked just as good as his bride. He and his groomsmen wore modern black two-button tuxedos with crisp white shirts and black bow ties. Trying to steal Marco's thunder was Ben. If it was not Marco's wedding day, Elise would have easily given him the best-dressed prize. Ben's striking features and signature slicked-back blonde hair set him apart from the rest of the men. Honestly, Elise had trouble keeping her eyes off him- and distracting her body from wanting to ravage him the second it got a chance to.
- - - - - - - - - -
Cocktail hour was underway. Ben opted to avoid the bar and sample some of the hors d'oeuvres that were laid out on various tables. He spotted Luis and Tony sampling the groom's signature cocktail, but the person he had been scanning the crowd for was missing.
The mental picture Ben retained from watching Elise during the ceremony was doing a number on his libido. She had been wearing the same strapless champagne lace cocktail dress that the other bridesmaids wore, but looked light-years better than they did. Even Elise's hairstyle excited him. Her curly black hair had been swept softly into an up-do that he adored.
Ben's idea of a perfect Saturday night involved being nestled between Elise's legs. Whether it was his cock or tongue delivering earth-shattering orgasms until the early morning hours did not matter to him. Any pleasure she would allow him to give her would be a blessing. This woman already has me wrapped around her finger, Ben declared as he stuffed a spicy shrimp tartlet into his mouth. Even food was failing to calm his loins.
Elise's laughter filled the reception room, or at least Ben thought so. He was amazed at how attuned he had become to her voice in such a short time. He was already able to pick her out of a crowd.
With the reception well underway, most of the guests had vacated their tables to take advantage of the spacious dance floor. Ben would ask her to dance, but for now he would let her enjoy what little time she had left to spend with Cara.
- - - - - - - - - -
Cara and Elise were burning up the lavender illuminated dance floor. The best friends, along with the rest of the bridesmaids, were having way too much fun dancing to the upbeat songs the DJ was playing.
Elise was just beginning to break out her best moves when the music changed. An electronic dance hit had morphed into a song more suitable for a slow dance. Marco had already cut-in for another dance with his new wife. Instinctively, Elise looked around the room for Ben, the only man she cared to be close to in that moment. Nowhere to be found, she was about to walk off the dance floor, when someone grabbed her hand from behind. She spun around to see Luis. The few words they had said to each throughout the night had been kind, so she accepted his request to dance.
"You're a hard lady to get ahold of tonight," Luis said as he pulled her respectively close.
"Oh yeah... well I guess anyone that has been vying for my attention tonight has had to play second fiddle to Cara. I don't get to see her often, so she has been my priority this entire weekend."
Elise got her first good look at Luis at they swayed to the music. He was very good-looking, which one would think was a requirement to be one of Marco's groomsmen. All of the women at the reception would agree that they were a fine lot. She was admiring his darker skin-tone when someone asked to cut-in. She just barely saw Tony wink at his friend as they waited for her to make a decision.
"Sure," replied Elise, who was ironically unsure if she wanted to dance with him.
Unlike Luis, Tony had not previously introduced himself. Actually, she would say he had seemed very standoffish in her presence.
"I know we haven't had a chance to speak, but I wanted to say hello before the night ended. I'm Tony, friend to most of the other groomsmen."
Elise wasn't sure what to expect during this dance, but quickly warmed up to Tony's charm. This man consciously embodied confidence and charisma on another level.
- - - - - - - - - -
Two inquisitive eyes were trained on Tony and Elise as they settled into their second slow song. Nonstop smiles and chuckles were being traded back and forth. While he had never been a jealous man, Ben did not relish knowing that Elise could possibly be susceptible to Tony's game. He weighed whether or not he should cut-in, like his friends had.
- - - - - - - - - -
Dancing with Tony proved to be very entertaining for Elise. She was listening to funny anecdotes about his and Ben's childhood adventures. The two had been very mischievous little boys. He was in the middle of yet another story when she concentrated on the man before her.
In just over five minutes, she learned that Tony was from Brooklyn, where he grew up in a large Italian family. He was now a very prominent businessman who regularly negotiated company takeovers all over the world.
Looks-wise, Elise could tell that Tony was a handsome man who was accustomed to getting what he wanted. His Italian heritage was evident in what she guessed what his natural tan. His shiny black hair was slightly wavy. Unlike Ben, he was clean shaven. Something the two men shared was their height and build. Both Tony and Ben had noticeably fit physiques which ensured they would look great in just about anything.
- - - - - - - - - -
Losing the battle with his will, Ben decided to break up Tony and Elise's dance. He was just about to abandon his temporary post in the back of the room when Cara linked their arms together, keeping him in place.
"Relax. Elle is just being friendly." She looked into his eyes, conveying that she knew about his feelings.
"She told you?" He was astonished by Cara's boldness.
"Not willingly..." she gave him a sly smile as she continued, "but I'm glad she did- and I'm glad you've fallen for her." She squeezed his arm. "I know you're worried about Tony's wiles, but she only has eyes for you."
"Did she say that?" Ben was still in the dark when it came to Elise's handling of yesterday's revealing conversation.
"Not exactly, but I can sense it. Just give her another minute. You'll see." Cara leaned up and kissed him on the cheek just before she walked away.
In what seemed like less than thirty seconds, Ben was shocked when Elise looked straight at him and smiled brightly. He watched as she said one last thing to Tony and made a bee-line for him.
The reception was still going strong when Elise decided to call it a night. She had spent the rest of the evening sitting at a table with Ben. The two were lost in conversation when Marco and Cara came over to say their goodbyes before making their retreat official to the rest of the guests.
- - - - - - - - - -
Seizing the last opportunity to chime in on Ben's life for a while, Marco pulled Ben aside to give him some unsolicited advice.
"Judging the way you've been cozied up with Elle for the last half hour, she must be the woman you were telling me about."
"Yeah, I never expected her to be best friends with my sister, but I'm warming up to the idea. It's nice to be close with someone that can tell me more about her."
"Yeah, I can see how that would be helpful." Marco decided this was the right time to cut to the chase. "I assume you've been up front with her."
Ben wasn't liking being in the middle of another inquisition from Marco.
"I haven't told her yet, if that's what you're asking. I will do so before anything serious happens between us."