August 10, 2000
"Oh come on Nic, you have to have a bridal shower, it is tradition."
"No...it's ridiculous." Nicole, the bride refused once again for what seemed like the hundredth time to having a bridal shower because she knew if her best friend had anything to do with it, there'd be strippers, one at least. The last thing she wanted was to get wasted, and then groped, all for the excitement of the sex deprived women in her party. She was getting plugged regularly by her fiancé, the toe curling, mind-bending licks, sucks, fucks, in the shower, on the table, against the wall, between the babies naps, in the truck and anyplace else where the urge hit them. Their sex life was back on, and nothing short of mesmerizing. Nicole didn't care that Brian's attendants were planning on having some woman's ass grinding his crotch. She knew Brian and believed he'd call order their intentions. She wanted a sober husband, which was her only request. And she'd kill his best man Greg if he threw up alcohol at her wedding.
"Whatever, you're having a shower...now where's my god babies?" Peyton couldn't wait. This was an event that she was sure to get some enjoyment out of. She checked her watch and it was a few minutes shy of noon. The first wedding rehearsal of the three-day lock-in event was just two hours away. That gave her time to secure all of the necessities, pack her trunk, and be on her way to the hotel.
"Playing, I think Mama took them for a stroll around the hotel, you know for what she calls relaxing them, but you know it'll surely get them wound up and over stimulated."
"Hmm, where's your handsome groom?"
"With his dad...some father-son bonding time." Nicole replied while fussing with her soft curls, pushing them behind her free ear. She still couldn't believe that on this very special day, her best friend was doing any and everything to put her best game face on. Joel and Peyton were divorcing. And no matter how much Peyton pretended that there was still hope for reconciliation, Nicole knew better. They'd been coming unglued for over a year. Truth be told, the countdown to divorce began at launch. They were attracted to each other but married for the wrong reasons and after three years, they could no longer hide the fact that they'd made a huge mistake.
"Ok...well I have to pick up few things at the store, and I'll be there for rehearsal."
"Jonathan may not make it for dinner tonight." Nicole shot in.
Peyton sighed. "Nicole...please."
"I'm just saying. When are you two going to stop this foreplay you're doing and get down to it. He likes you, you like him. Sweetie, Joel and you are over. And I don't want you moping around when a wonderful chance is waiting for you. Jonathan has always had a crush on you."
"He's an asshole." Peyton seethed.
"Yes...you keep saying that. But a blind man could tell you two are attracted to each other."
"No...he's soon to be your brother-in-law. I can't. Besides, I don't think he's available. Isn't he dating Dr. Prakash?"
"They're friends. How many times have I told you that?"
"Well they seem rather close."
That was no lie. Jonathan and Amaria were friends and had been since med school. But their relationship was platonic. Anything romantically interpreted was merely their strong appreciation for each other's intelligence. Any thought of them being involved could border incest.
"Twenty bucks says he brings her to the wedding."
"I'm serious. There is something going on between them, or something is budding. I can't say for sure, but I'm not going there with him anyway, so why are we having this conversation. I don't even like him!" Peyton grumbled, angry at herself for going this way in conversation about a man who she liked more than she wanted to admit, but knew was a mistake, an even worse one than the one she made marrying Joel.
"Your denial is completely acceptable at this phase of your recovery. Have you signed your divorce papers yet?"
Peyton sucked her teeth. "You had to bring that up."
"You need to get the closure if that is what you need and then sign the papers P. The faster you do this, the faster you can start to heal. You are my best friend, my sister. I love you. And I don't want to see you wasting away, pining over the lost. You need to allow yourself to feel this. It's not abnormal to grieve the lost. It's just healthy for you gain some perspective."
"Thank you Dr."
"I know. I know. But he said if he could get away, he'd be here for the wedding. We just need some time together. He's mad because he thinks I put you first."
"Peyton, that's not all of it and you know it. He doesn't want kids. You told me yourself. That's not going to change. You want kids. And there's nothing wrong with that. You can still have that you know. You're a young, beautiful, sexy, intelligent woman. I promise you the moment the word gets out that you're single again, the men will be lining up."
"I don't care about that. I need to be focusing on school and getting prepared for the state licensing."
"True...I can't disregard the importance that you should focus on you. So, I'll let you go. I need to speak with Mía before rehearsal."
"Ok girl. Love you, bye!"
Rehearsal was over, and everyone gathered in the dining room. Not only was Peyton getting Jonathan propping from Nicole, but his father was making innuendos that his other son could use a wife. All of this talk was dulling her mood. And she'd packed the divorce papers away for the weekend anyway. Next week, she'd deal with that, but for now it was painfully obvious that Joel wasn't coming. He never promised, suggesting it wasn't a good idea and would give her false hope. He loved her, but they wanted different things. He was clear from go, he wasn't ready for a family. He hoped that school and Nicole's twins would sustain her need to hijack his sperm. He never said never, just that he didn't want to be traveling from one base to the next dragging his children in tow, uprooting them from their stability.
Everyone dined on prime rib, russet potatoes, sweet baby corn, cabbage greens, and for desert apple pie or cheese cake. Suddenly the fever of the event weighed against the divorce papers, making Peyton full of anxiety and so she ate very little. She hadn't really eaten much all day, only drank several glasses of Chardonnay. She wanted to feel the numbing effects of the alcohol. Everyone around her seemed so entrenched in the occasion and she felt lonely in the room full of people, laughing and giggling.
"Excuse me every one" Marla Shipman announced from the microphone. "You can't eat another bite, so let's get on the dance floor and work some of that prime rib off so you'll fit in your dresses and tuxedos. Okay."
Peyton didn't feel like dancing. But if she sat out, she'd stand out so she took a sip of water and followed the crowd to the tiled floor. Dressed in a lycra taupe tank wrapped dress and matching taupe four inch high heeled sling backs, which showed off her well toned legs she glanced around painting her best effort of a smile on her depressive face. Her smoky brown eyes illuminated behind her flawless eyeliner and smoke gray eye shadow. Her blond and brown silky tresses were pulled into a French roll, as thin wispy ringlets cascaded down to her shoulder. Had it not been for the inner turmoil she felt, she likely would have noticed that the men-single and married alike, had eyes glued to the arch of her shapely hips that bloomed out from a tiny waist.
"Ok, everyone partner up." Marla clapped her hands from the deejay's table.
Brian stood behind Nicole, his arms wrapped around her, kissing her neck softly. Mía Rodarté the wedding planner came strolling into the dining room arm in arm with Jonathan Charles and this sight nearly made Peyton hurl. They'd been canoodling like old chums. Peyton could feel her ribs part and her heart explode through her chest. She sighed and walked right into Greg's grasp, leaving Heyden's seething glare to die on her footsteps which were too slow, far outpaced by Peyton's intent. Greg was fine, and she'd tasted his lips before so the attraction was on ice. Now she needed it to thaw so she could feel nothing for Joel's divorce papers or Jonathan's arm piece. It made sense that Peyton and Greg rehearse together; after all they were the maid of honor and best man.
"Hey sexy!" Greg held her tight, one hand on her waist the other clasped in hers.
The deejay cued the music as Peyton fought the impulse to cry. One man in her head and the other still lingered in her heart. Greg as sweet as he could be was doing little to brush aside the ghost of either.
When the music changed up, with Nicole and Brian being idolized in the center of the ballroom, Jonathan could see Peyton and the meeting of their eyes caused her stomach to tie in a knot. Mía was enjoying him too well, pulling at his arm as if he was her date. Jonathan spun her out, and her laughter drowned poor Peyton as everyone began to take notice and step aside watching the seasoned ballroom dancers light up the space.
"Excuse me..." Peyton felt nauseous and a need to escape the thick air.
"Sure..." Greg let go. And she retrieved her purse, double timing it, holding her mouth running from the room, all amidst the show. She could have sworn she saw Jonathan enjoying it much to her grief. Who the hell was she kidding? Joel was long gone, and this very moment she realized that it was loneliness that kept her from signing the papers. She had no right to lay any claim from the shadows to Jonathan Charles while still married to Joel. Heyden noticed her sudden absence but didn't bother to say what she thought it was that caused her rush out. Instead Heyden made an excuse when Nicole inquired about the absence of her best friend and Maid of Honor.
It would have been sweet if the feeling she had was the result of pregnancy, but it was grief that coursed through her veins. Everyone was happy, except her. She hadn't seen Jonathan Charles in weeks, but her attraction to him was stronger than ever and being this close to him, seeing him with another woman was like a knife cutting through the layers of her skin. She rinsed her mouth, awaiting saltines and ginger ale from the catering staff. She didn't want another thing to drink, eying that she'd reached her limit and yet all she wanted was for this pain to go away.
For years she'd cultivated a lie. Jonathan was right when he said that she'd married Joel as a possession she could throw out and use by convenience. And seeing Jonathan this evening, laughing and staring at another woman forced her to see just how wrong he was for her as well. He wasn't interested in her for anything more than sex, likely. But months had passed since she'd had some really good sex. She could punch herself for having feelings for him. Mía could have his ass, she thought. And yet her eyes were still wet from crying, unsure if the mourning she felt was for Joel absence or for Jonathan apparently ignoring her.
Later that evening, Peyton sat at the drink well. Jonathan, Brian, and Heyden's father John came down from his shared suite with his soon-to-be ex wife. He saw her sitting alone at the hotel bar. He then spied his son Jonathan across the way who quickly approached his father. "Make sure she gets to her room safely Jonathan." John asked his son. "She's been sitting there a while now. I asked the bartender to cut her off."
She hadn't noticed that father and son exchange of hugs, for it was all over her shoulder and her eyes hadn't seen anything since the last Amaretto Sour emptied from her glass. The bartender offered her a glass of water, but she refused cursing. Finally she apologized and accepted it. She had taken a nap in her room following her emotional exit from the banquet hall. The bar was two hours to close, when Jonathan took leave of his father and walked up, eying her somber mood some more before taking a seat next to her. She hiccupped. Glanced quickly in his direction and turned back to her glass of water which was now empty and the bartender had grimaced when she asked for a third Amaretto Sour, he still wouldn't comply.
She felt his presence, looking him up and down. She could smell his essence savoring the clean scent of his cologne. She frowned before turning on the sales pitch. "Can you buy me a drink? This sphinx of a bartender has cut me off. Asshole!" She spat, rolling her eyes.
"I think you've had enough, don't you." Jonathan observed.
"Oh not you too..." her eyes rolled, and she scooted her stool away, intent on clearing the small space and ceremoniously wanted him to know he was either buying or flying, because she wasn't into chatting with him. He hadn't done anything wrong or so he thought. But miraculously he'd found his way to her shit list for life, it seemed.
She stepped off the stool, barely standing and fell into his arms, righting her stance. "You ok?" Jonathan sincerely offered his form.
She stared sexily into his brown eyes and he into hers, as he pulled a loose strand of hair from her eyes. "If you asked me tonight...I don't think I could say no." Tear fell from her lid, she didn't blink it away.
Jonathan wanted her so bad he had tried using the bubbly Mía Rodarté, the wedding coordinator's infectious personality to blind him of his attraction for Peyton. Those digs his dad made to him about moonlighting at Oakwood after shifts at the Village in order to avoid dating seriously was going to age him too fast. Commitment phobic and certainly smothered by his mother blanketing him with sentiments of Amaria Prakash had him getting it from both parents. Jonathan thought he needed to get them focused on each other and not on him, but then he figured once they hooked up they'd express him straight to a mail order bride to get him hitched quickly. He'd pass on both a mail order and his best friend Amaria. Mía was simply a distraction. His attention was and has always been on Peyton DeFrance Frasard, screw the Manning part she hyphenated. He wanted her still, but sans Joel Manning.
"I don't think I could ask. But let me walk you to your room. It's not safe for any lady to be alone at a bar. Trouble could find you." He smiled offered her his arm and she accepted it hooking her arm in his.
She was passed out. Jonathan scooped her into his arms. She felt so good there. A hit of her soft fragrance infused with alcohol seeping through her pores was intoxicating to him. His key was in hand as he stood her to her feet, his body pressed against hers holding her up to the wall as he opened the door to his suite. She mumbled something unintelligible to him but he laid her against the twin bed, ignoring her protests. Peyton raised up lurched forward. Jonathan held the bucket to catch whatever contents she retched.
"Oh...no. I'm okay." She tasted the salty watery sensation in her jaw, feeling her stomach contents squeeze up into her diaphragm and then settle.
"You sure." Jonathan asked.
"Well, there's the bucket, just in case. How much did you have to drink?"
"H mm, I..."
"Never mind, I don't know why I bothered asking. It's clear you lost track." He was angry with her for not speaking to him as if they were strangers. He was tired of the way she fawned all over Greg, an action he found too familiar from her. It reminded him of her displays with Joel.
"Excuse me?" She sat up again, rubbing her temple.
"What is wrong with you?" He felt she was drinking away something and could have slipped off into a precarious situation. Why couldn't she just pull herself out of her own way of walking right off a cliff? He wanted her, but not as some afterthought-but as his. He didn't know how long he was going to be able to pretend he felt nothing but a stir in his loins.
"Can you not yell?" She warbled. Why was she bothering to have a conversation with him?
She grimaced, shooting daggers from the weight of his disdain. Her head was heavy and she felt the room spin. Every sound, including a mouse pissing on cotton was amplified.
"I thought you were a lady?" He frowned, throwing his luggage onto a bed to retrieve his shaving kit.
"Fuck you! Get out!"
"This is my room, there's the door. If anyone is leaving it's going to be you!"
"Fine!" She grabbed her purse and snatched herself to her feet, rummaging her purse for her card key. "What the hell did you do with it?"
"Do with what?"
"My key, you ass!"
"You know what...I'm really getting sick and tired of you taking your issues out on me. I brought you here only because I didn't find your key in your purse."
"You looked through my goddamn purse?" She cursed him.
"Would you keep your voice down? You'll have security in here."
"I can raise my voice if I want, you don't tell me what to do, and you're not my goddamn daddy. I hope security does come in here. I'd love to see you explain why I'm in your room and you're in a bath robe." She fought back.
"I know you want to, likely your problem." He seethed under his breath. " And by the way I don't fuck drunken pussy! And also 'you're welcomed' since it's clear you haven't the faculties to recall how you got here."
"Why didn't you leave me in the bar then, if I'm such a drunken whore?"
"I never called you a whore Peyton!"
"But you were thinking it." She volleyed.
"What I think and know are likely miles apart. You're too beautiful to let this eat a whole in you. Maybe now, you can see that you need more."
There he went delving out advice and pointing out her inefficiencies where her marriage to Joel was concerned. She hated when he did that. It was if he was sitting on the sidelines waiting for her marriage to implode.
Steam had been emitting from his ears, but now he was cooling. The wedding of his brother and wife, Peyton's best friend was less than forty-eight hours away. If anything happened to her he'd be the blame. He was angry at her bitchy mood and he'd said some things ordinarily he wouldn't have said. He was good at taking her insults. But she wasn't feeling well tonight and he knew it had to do with the falter of her own marriage while standing in the paint of someone else's. It wasn't the words he wanted to say, but she had this way of drawing out the worst in him, even when he was trying to be a gentleman. She couldn't just say thank you. Obviously toting baggage that had nothing to do with him, his shoulders sunk to the sound of her tears. Damn!
"I'm sorry...Peyton, wait." He tried to apologize, feeling remorse for his high handed manner. She was obviously in a bad way and screaming at her wasn't going to make her heal up her wounds in one night. She needed time. He needed her.
"You're right. I am a drunken bitch." She burst into a crying fit. "Just let me go."
"No...you're not a bitch. Wait." He grabbed her tiny wrist pulling her back into the room. "I apologize. Ok." He wanted her, to be all over her body, feeling the softness pressed into his, fingering the folds and plunging deep. He'd wanted this since the moment he laid eyes on her. She wanted him too and yet she kicked the feelings aside, pulling Joel into the picture for the convenience of throwing Jonathan off the scent of her.
"Just leave me alone."
"Let me walk down to the office with you. Better yet, call them from my extension to report the lost. They'll have someone up here to open the door for you."
He was being nice. She didn't want to be this close to him. The last thing she needed was feeling this much passion when she clearly had behaved as a slut. She sighed, and burst into more tears. Jonathan pulled her into his arms, and without resistance she wanted the warmth of his chest. His bronzed skin was perfect. Toned abs she could feel through the towel. He comforted her tenderly. This was the place she'd never ventured to before and it felt so good, so right.