There are people who refuse to get out of your life no matter how miserable you make them.
For Beth Fanelli, that person was Finn McNabb. The same Finn McNabb who was sitting this very moment at table twenty-seven, the very table she and her friends had been assigned. She swigged her champagne.
“I’m going to kill the wedding planner,” she said to Harris Stembridge.
“Not if I get to her first.”
“Why? And how do you know it was a her?”
“No gay male wedding planner worth his sel de mer would have let that girl wear that bridal gown. She looked like a float in a Sicilian first communion parade. Is that why you want to commit homicide?”
They stood in an entrance to the Grand Ballroom in Aspen’s Hotel Jerome, with its antlered chandeliers and authentic historic charm. The table in question was a stone’s throw away, and Finn sat in profile to Beth and Harris. Even though she hadn’t seen Finn in five years, she knew it was him as surely as she knew she would slip off her sadistically painful sandals once her feet were under the table and out of sight.
“The seating chart sucks. See that guy at our table?”
“The hottie? Honey, I would’ve thought you’d pay the wedding planner extra for that specimen. If he turns out to be gay, you’re going to have to remind me I’m taken. That’s what Alonso gets for visiting his family in Mexico all month.”
“Oh, he’s not gay.”
“Your gaydar works from here?”
“He’s my ex.”
Harris’s crystalline blue eyes opened wide and his square jaw dropped. He looked like a human exclamation point. “Shut. Up! Amanda never told me you were previously wed.” He sipped his champagne.
“We split five years ago when I was what? Twenty-six? And I never thought I’d see him again. It wasn’t a terrible divorce. Just your basic irreconcilable differences, from getting hitched without thinking it through. But I never in a million years thought I’d see him again, especially not here.” She blew out a breath. “Crap on a cracker.”
“Do you want to leave?” Harris asked.
This was why their mutual friend, Amanda Brunswick, counted Harris as one of her best friends, and why Beth was considering doing the same. He was the best kind of good egg.
She shook her head so abruptly, her dangly earrings tapped her cheeks, annoying her. “We’re both grown-ups. He’ll probably be as surprised to see me as I am to see him. It’ll be fine. I’ll be fine. It’s just going to be temporarily awkward.”
“Would you like me to be your date?”
“I thought you already were.”
“I mean a real date. A straightie.”
Beth stared at Harris’s GQ-worthy face. She took in his coiffed golden-blond hair, near-perfect bone structure, and lightly tanned skin that he cared for with a small battalion of beauty products. Any woman would run through a brick wall to have him as a boyfriend—if he were straight. But he had trained as an actor and could pull it off for a few hours. This could be the perfect dose of confidence she needed. And it could work because none of the guests knew Harris. Yes. She would face down Finn with Harris on her arm. She would let Finn know that she was just fine, thank you very much.
Except for the part about how it sounded ridiculous, immature, and made her feel weak, like she didn’t have the courage to face her ex-husband for a few hours in a social setting. She was better than that. In addition, last time she checked, they weren’t starring in a telenovela.
“Tempting,” she said. “But we’re not in high school. Plus, no offense, but speaking of gaydar, he would make you in a heartbeat.”
“I’m a great actor! Ask Grady. Why do you think he talked me into becoming a chef? He was afraid I’d get all the great roles and leave him in the dust.”
“You’re too good-looking.”
“Ah. Point taken. Game, set, match.”
She smiled and took a deep breath.
He grinned, showing his even white teeth and devilish dimples. “You’ll be spectacular.” He offered her his arm, which was encased in the sleeve of a designer tuxedo. She slipped her hand into the crook of his elbow.
“Did you find our table?” It was Grady Brunswick, who appeared at Harris’s side as Amanda came up next to him.
Beth looked at Amanda. “Yes, and guess who’s sitting there?”
Amanda raised her eyebrows and tilted her head.
Amanda’s eyes widened to saucerlike proportions. “Finn Finn?”
Beth tightened her lips and nodded.
Amanda stepped closer to Beth and kept her voice low. “You’re kidding!”
“Dinner conversation could be more interesting than any of us suspected,” Beth said.
“Who’s this Finn guy?” Grady asked.
“Wow,” Grady said. “You okay there, Beth?”
Beth smiled at Grady. She loved that her friend had married such a stand-up guy, and according to Amanda, he was a grade-A husband. It also didn’t hurt that he was gorgeous, an international movie star, and she got to hang out with him.
“Mostly,” she said. “Yes. Yes. Or I will be after the initial stupendously uncomfortable ‘Hi, how are you?’ ”
“If that doesn’t work,” Harris said, “there’s a delightful and effective little diversion called an open bar.”
Amanda faced Beth and grabbed her shoulders, looking her straight in the eye. “You’re going to be fine. You have moved on. We’re here for you.” It was like old times on the circuit, when they would psych each other up for challenging classes in horse shows, or after a difficult riding lesson or fall. Amanda squeezed Beth’s shoulders, then smiled at her and let her arms drop.
“Thanks,” Beth said. “I can handle this; I was just temporarily caught off guard.
“Wait!” she said, turning to Harris. “How do I look?” She bared her teeth at him like a chimp. “Do I have anything in my teeth?”
“Spectacular, darling. Radiant. Do you think I’d let you go over there if you had so much as one of your gleaming mahogany hairs out of place, one speck of errant mascara on your cheek, one smidgen of lipstick beyond your lip line?”
“No, I guess you wouldn’t. Thanks.”
“You look great,” echoed Amanda. “He’ll eat his heart out.”
Beth drained her flute of champagne and let out a small burp.
Harris laughed and rolled his eyes. “Well, that might stop him.”
Beth took Harris’s arm again. In her head, the theme from Rocky began to play.
The foursome strolled through the crowded ballroom to table twenty-seven. Beth was grateful for Harris, because her legs were shaking. This was ludicrous! She never got this way. But this was Finn. There are seven other people at the table to talk to, including Amanda and Grady. A few pleasantries and you’re done. You don’t have to sit next to him. Dinner will be over in no time.
There were four open chairs at the table, in pairs. One pair was next to Finn. Grady and Amanda could take those. Perfect. She and Harris would sit opposite Finn. She wouldn’t feel pressured to talk to him much from there.
“Oh my God oh my God oh my GOD, YOU’RE GRADY BRUNSWICK!” screeched a gaunt woman in a gauzy flower-print dress, her graying strawberry-blond hair piled messily atop her head. She sat in the chair next to the pair Beth wanted. Great. Some starstruck, middle-aged hippie had to be at their table. The woman stood up. “You’re my favorite movie star. Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re here!” Her bony, freckled hands flew to her hair, pointlessly smoothing the nest there. “My sister is going to just die! It would do me the greatest honor of my life if you would sit next to me.”
Grady looked at his wife, then at Beth. He put on what Beth had come to think of as his “deal with the public” face and said, “Thank you. Uh, that’s very nice of you.”
The woman, clearly possessed, sat, grabbed his arm, and yanked. Grady plunked into the chair.
“Thank you so much, Mr. Brunswick. This is the best day of my life!” The woman looked pointedly at Beth, then at the empty chair next to Finn. “You can sit there.” Amanda gave Beth a big apologetic look and sat next to Grady, who was also sending huge apologies to Beth with his famous blue eyes.
Crap on a cracker. Crap on a cracker the size of Texas.
“Here, bella,” Harris said, pulling out a chair for her.
The chair Harris proffered was one seat away from Finn. Harris would sit next to him, bless his heart. Thankfully, Finn didn’t seem to have noticed Beth, not with the circus going on across the way. Grady was introducing himself around the table, which was also incredibly helpful.
“You can’t sit there!” It was Bird Nest, who was looking straight at Beth. Of course. Who else would it be? “Boy-girl, boy-girl. It’s a wedding, after all.” She beamed at Grady, who was talking to another guest. “Love is in the air.” The woman sighed and Beth thought she saw little red hearts circling the barbed-wire hair.
Beth wanted to chuck her evening bag—which she had borrowed from Amanda—at the woman. Now she was stuck. Harris pulled out the chair next to Finn for her.
“Shall I get you a drink? Or a bottle?” Harris whispered as she sat.
There was wine on the table, and she wanted him to stay put for moral support. “No thanks. I’m fine. Sort of,” she whispered back. She hoped—unreasonably—that Finn would never see her. She watched Harris pour a glass of white wine for her.
“Bethany.” It was that voice. Finn’s voice. It wasn’t particularly memorable. It was deep enough, and pleasant, but unremarkable. But it was his. And . . . besides her grandmother, he was the only one who used her formal name. She wasn’t prepared for this, the stark intimacy of him saying her name. A lightning bolt danced through her center.
This was it. The moment of truth. They would face each other. She closed her eyes. We’re both adults, it’s been five years, just talk to the man. She smiled a polite, stranger’s smile, opened her eyes, and turned toward him.
He looked wonderful. Time had given him more laugh lines, but the damn things only made his eyes more twinkly. Over the years she’d sometimes entertained herself by imagining that his stomach had replaced his shoulders as the widest part of his body, that he sported a comb-over and was plagued by boils. Not a single aspect of her fantasy had come true. He wore a tuxedo—it looked expensive—and he still had the same broad shoulders she used to love to hold when they’d kissed. Damn, damn, damn! He looked great, with his stupid-great coppery-brown hair cut much shorter than the ponytail he’d worn when they were married. Even so, his hair was unruly and long enough to curl over the back of his collar. And his über-masculine nose. And his mouth, which tipped up on the left side so it always looked like he was one second away from smiling. And his scruffily sexy two-day beard. And his stupid eyes, those damn stupid, thoughtful, perceptive, aquamarine eyes that could make her feel like she was the most fascinating person in the world when they deigned to focus on her.
Crap on a cracker!
She gasped despite herself.
Finn’s lips were beaming a welcoming, crooked smile at her. It looked sincere. He was genuinely glad to see her.
“How nice to see you,” he said.
Before she could fully register this seemingly absurd fact, he leaned in and kissed her cheek. He didn’t seem flabbergasted in the least. He could be so cool when he put his mind to it.
Beth felt dizzy, but she needed to man up. This was Finn. Just Finn. She had been married to him once and now she wasn’t. He had nothing to do with her life anymore. He was just another guest. No big deal. No one special anymore. A man she had once loved who was now, for all intents and purposes, a stranger. She would be a polite dinner companion. Mature. Articulate. Worldly. She would be like Amanda. Her friend Amanda, who was right across the way and married to a big-deal superstar who was now also her friend by proxy. Which gave her more clout. She was terrific without Finn. She had moved on.
Finn was staring at her, still smiling. Then he took a breath and said softly, “You look great.” He held her gaze for a second more, then added, “Pardon me, where are my manners?” and introduced Beth to the woman next to him. “Kristen, this is Bethany. As it happens, we’re old friends. Bethany, this is Kristen. She’s a geologist.”
So he’s dating a geologist. Or maybe he remarried. And “old friends”? That’s what your ex-wife is? Beth smiled and exchanged brief pleasantries with Kristen-the-geologist. How could Finn be so casual? She knew he’d been surprised to see her, but he was like some Stepford creature—perfect, polite, and distant.
“Finn, this is Harris,” Beth said, gesturing.
“Charmed to make your acquaintance.” Harris reached to shake Finn’s hand.
“Nice to meet you,” Finn said.
Beth considered the telenovela route one last time. She knew Harris would go along with it and pretend to be her boyfriend. But upon further review, it was still an astoundingly dumb idea and she dismissed it. “Harris is an old friend of Grady’s,” Beth said to Finn.
“And his fantastic personal chef,” Harris said.
“I have no doubt,” Finn said, and Beth could tell that Harris was charmed because he leaned toward Finn in front of Beth. But that’s what Finn did. And Harris was susceptible to flattery about his cooking. Compliment him on a piece of toast and he’d add you to his will.
“What’s your favorite food?” Harris asked.
“Here we go,” Beth said. Then, to Finn, “He’ll make an entire meal for you. And Kristen,” she added, hoping the omission wasn’t too obvious.
Just then a server arrived with their salads, causing Harris to straighten.
Finn’s mouth—that same mouth she used to love to kiss, which is the thought that popped into her head because obviously her brain had not read today’s game plan—opened. He gestured to Kristen and said, “We just met. Sitting here just now.”
“Oh.” That was all Beth said, because Kristen was pretty and smiled at Finn a lot and Beth had assumed they were together. Beth loaded her fork with salad and stuffed it in her mouth so she couldn’t put her foot there again. She knew she must look like a moose feeding in a swamp. She felt some vinaigrette drip out and dabbed at the corner of her mouth with a linen napkin.
Neatness has never been your strong suit. Finn knew this about her. For a split second she felt a surprising jolt as a long-dormant memory surfaced, Finn working on a stain on one of her blouses at a tiny sink during their honeymoon in Italy. She remembered how she had fallen more in love with him right then.
Harris busied himself with drizzling the dressing perfectly, leaving Beth to talk to Finn.
“Are you still in the horse biz?” Finn asked.
She nodded and chewed, feeling like a horse grazing in a lush pasture. Finn smiled, his damn eyes merry. He was having a grand old time. Finally she said, “Yes. Sort of. I’m not teaching much anymore. I’ve branched out into fashion.” Maybe he’d think she was a great big business success. “I have a clothing line for riders.”
He raised his eyebrows and drew his lips into a tidy bow. “Good for you.”
“And you?” she asked. “Still in construction?”
“More or less.”
What does that mean? But she wasn’t going to be coy. “What are you working on now?” she asked.
“I have a project going.”
“Residential or business?”
He was maddening. “Where? I’m not going to ransack the site.”
His mouth curved ever so slightly at this. “Missouri. Branson. Did you know they have all kinds of seismic building codes? There are earthquake issues in Missouri.”
He held his fork in his left hand, like a European. She used to love that about him. He never went so far as to mash his peas onto the back of the tines, but he regularly speared meat with his upside-down fork. Now he collected the last of the field greens on his salad plate. Suddenly a question leaped into Beth’s head like a jumper onto a bank on a derby course. Without thinking, she asked, “Did you know I would be here?”
He stilled his hands and looked at her. “What do you think?”
Another question answered with a question. “I don’t know. That’s why I asked.”
“No.” He ate his salad. Calmly.
Wait a minute. Finn and Melissa knew each other, but they weren’t great friends. “Why are you here to begin with? You only know Melissa because of me.” Gah, Beth! Stop talking!
He took a good long time to finish chewing and swallowing. Then he sipped his wine. Then he wiped his mouth. Then he looked at her straight on.
“As it happens, I did some work for Melissa and Nick. After . . .”
After the divorce. The words hung, unspoken, in the thin mountain air.
So he was still working in construction. Still, she wondered why Melissa had asked him, of all people, to build their house. Was it simple coincidence that he’d been on the crew? Beth patted her lips with the napkin again. Stop being like this, she scolded herself, then said to Finn, “That’s nice, that you helped with their house. I’m . . . sorry for all the questions. I’ll stop now. I was surprised to see you, and started firing away.”
“Bethany, you were never one to pull punches. It’s part of your charm.”
He grinned and she automatically smiled back.
The server appeared with the main course, which featured elk medallions, since the animals were plentiful in the state’s high country. Beth was grateful for the interruption. As they ate, the conversation flowed breezily around the table and included everyone. Amanda spoke politely to Finn, even though she hadn’t seen him since well before he and Beth had broken up. And Grady, who was used to public appearances but didn’t need to be the center of attention, entertained the table with stories about being an actor. Beth, now on her second glass of wine, started to relax.
This was going to be a piece of cake. No problem. Why had she worried?
Plates of fruit and assorted cookies were delivered to the tables to supplement the wedding cake. The DJ switched from mellow jazz to some livelier dance music. However, the bottles of wine at their table were empty, and Beth wanted an excuse to escape. She set off in search of the ladies’ room and the bar.
Finn was heading to his table when he heard a woman’s voice. He turned to see Amanda Brunswick sidling through various conversations to get to him. She was easily one of the most beautiful women in the room, with her long, golden-brown, wavy hair, broad smile, and tiger eyes. She had been one of his favorite friends of his wife’s, quiet and intense but warm and sincere. Tonight she had a new confidence about her, presumably because she had lived a rags-to-riches story over the past year; she had married Grady Brunswick and was, from what Finn gleaned from occasionally browsing the horse-show news online, collecting a bevy of blue ribbons at the big jumper shows with her mare, Edelweiss.
He nodded to her. “Amanda.”
“Care to dance?” she said. He heard another motive just beneath the surface of her request.
“I’m waiting for them to play a minuet.”
Amanda laughed. “In that case, let’s go check out the lobby.” He let her lead the way out of the ballroom. In the Old West-meets-contemporary-comfort decor and furnishings, they found a conversation nook with a bay window and sat next to each other—but not too close—on the cushion.
Amanda formed a line with her lips, then spoke. “Finn. I’ve always liked you.”
Finn opened and closed his mouth. This was going to be one of those talks.
She went on. “Beth is, as you know, very important to me. She’s my best friend. I don’t know everything that happened between you two, and I’ve only heard Beth’s side of things. So I don’t pretend to know the whole truth at all. I don’t think you’re a bad guy. And one can’t know what happens inside someone else’s marriage. I just don’t want to see Beth get hurt. I know she seems to be tough on the outside, but you know how she is. If you came to this wedding with any ulterior motives . . .”
Finn was surprised to hear this, and even more surprised at how her eyes darkened as she spoke.
She continued, “. . . just . . . don’t hurt her. She didn’t put me up to this; she doesn’t know I’m talking to you. She hasn’t told me anything that would lead me to believe you’d do anything to harm her. But I’m her friend, and I’m being proactive here. No offense but, let’s face it, this is the first time she’s seen you since the divorce, and it’s bound to be awkward at best and awful at worst.”
He sighed and raised his hands, palms up. “I would never intentionally hurt her. Why would I? Amanda, I didn’t like getting divorced. I hated it. Believe me, I have nothing against Bethany.”
She leaned back against the window frame and stared at him, her chin lowered. She was gauging his honesty! For Pete’s sake.
She nodded and bit her lower lip. “Okay, then.” She lifted her chin, sighed, and smiled. “Let’s get back to the party.” She stood and he followed.
Well. He walked behind her. She’s protecting her friend.
Harris stood next to Beth on the balcony where Beth had gone to cool her bare feet on the flagstones. Her sandals were so pretty, yet completely at odds with every bone in her foot. “Did he say anything to you? Because if he did, believe it or not, I can defend your honor. I’ll start with verbal barbs, and if we get into a debate over, say, whether or not you can wear white after Labor Day, I’m all over it. But even if it comes to fisticuffs, I simply channel the imaginary love child of Suze Orman and Jillian Michaels and I’m a force to be reckoned with. If I can get Grady to join in, well, sister, watch out.”
Beth laughed. “No, he didn’t say anything.”
She paused. “He was always a nice guy, you know?” She was staring at her left hand on the railing—her left hand, which had no rings on it—and then started to get wistful, which was simply not going to fly. “But we’re both adults, we’re at a wedding, and I want cake. Have they cut the cake yet?”
Harris grinned. “My, but aren’t we the little carb trollop? Okay, if you want to let that trim figure broaden into another zip code, who am I to stop you?”
She shot him a killing glance. “Why do I put up with you?’ ”
“Where to start? Advice on clothes, shoes, makeup? Real estate? Cleaning products? How to peel garlic?” He grinned at her—his resistance-melting, Harris grin—and offered his arm. “Shall we go indulge? I shudder to think of the extra cardio I’m going to have to endure tomorrow, but I must admit, cake sounds carb-tacular.”
Beth picked up her sandals—nobody would care if she was barefoot now; they were all drunk and dancing—and took his arm. The evening was looking brighter, with or without cake.
Back in the ballroom, Finn was weighing his options. The geologist was sitting at the table and he didn’t want to have to talk to her, because he sensed she had her sights set on him. Instead, he leaned against a pillar near the bar, watching guests dance. Some looked like they could compete on one of those talent shows on TV, others like they were having seizures.
But back to his dilemma. He was going to be around these people for the next couple of days. Destination weddings meant activities, meaning that if he chose to participate, he’d see them. He could leave now, before the schmaltzy parts of the reception, if they were going to have a garter toss and the rest of it. He was already astounded at how much all this had affected him. He hadn’t been to many weddings since his divorce, but maybe because Bethany was here, this one was mounting a surprise attack. Although they had eloped, he had always wanted a proper wedding, mostly because he knew Bethany had. But they’d run out of time. At the end of their yearlong marriage, instead of figuring out a guest list, they’d figured out how to divide their belongings.
For some reason, he remembered packing his architecture textbooks in a box as a thunderstorm raged outside and he’d wept. It was the only time he’d cried during the whole ordeal. Why am I thinking of that now?
Just then, Grady appeared before him as if he’d been conjured to interrupt Finn’s memory. “How’s it goin’?” the famous actor asked.
Finn had to look up at him, but only slightly. Grady was about an inch taller than he was. The man hadn’t said or done anything to pose a threat, but Finn’s defenses went up automatically. It was a caveman response. “Not bad. You?”
Grady looked around. “Can’t say I enjoy these. Can’t wait to ditch this,” he indicated his tux. “I end up wearing them so often, it’s like a uniform now.”
They made more I-hate-weddings small talk before Grady said, “I’m going to say something that’s going to seem out of left field. I’m also going to say something that I mean very seriously. Beth is a friend of mine, and an even better friend of my wife’s. I don’t know anything about what went on with you two, and it’s none of my business. But Beth, here and now, today, is my business. Don’t hurt her. That’s all I’m going to say about it. I mean it, though. Don’t hurt her, or you’ll have to answer to me.”
Was everyone at the wedding going to have a talk with him? When had he become the villain? “I have no intention of hurting her.” And then, because he felt cornered, he added, using Grady’s most famous character’s name, “You don’t have to worry, Braxton.”
Grady laughed, held his palms up toward Finn, and said, “Fair enough.”
Finn strolled to the bar and got another club soda. Kristen-the-geologist appeared next to him. He somehow doubted she wanted to talk about rock formations.
“Hi there,” she said. He took in her straight black hair and blunt bangs. She had brown eyes and wore burgundy lipstick. Hers was a severe beauty, and she was working it. From the way her “hi there” came out, she had also been working on a bottle of wine. Great.
“Kristen,” he said. Just over Kristen’s head, he saw Bethany and Harris cross the room and take up residence on the dance floor. He took in Bethany’s hair, which was the color of semisweet chocolate morsels and hung down her back. This was new—he used to love running his fingers through her short blond bob, but the darker color suited her, as did the length. Finn was more interested in watching Bethany, but Kristen demanded his attention.
“Where’d you wander off to? I was looking for you.”
“Ah. Well. Talking to some old friends. Can I get you something?” he said, indicating the bar.
“Ooh. Sure. White wine.”
The bartender obliged. The three of them chatted about nothing in particular for two songs.
The bartender returned to tending bar, and Kristen-the-geologist asked Finn, “You staying at the hotel?”
He hated to tell her. “Yes.”
“Me, too! Do you have a good view from your room?”
“Nah,” he said, not knowing what the hell the view from his room looked like. He hadn’t opened the curtains.
“Maybe you could show it to me anyway.” She said this quietly. He sensed she didn’t do this often—come on to men—and he didn’t want to hurt her. He also had zero interest in spending time with her in his room. Or anywhere.
And then, like a misguided angel sent to save him, Harris appeared. He was a little sweaty, but Finn knew how Bethany could be on the dance floor. He smiled at the memory of his relentless dancing-queen ex-wife.
Harris was breathing hard. “Dude,” he said. “She’s a machine. Is she taking human growth hormones? Does she sleep in a hyperbaric chamber? We’re at eight-thousand feet and she’s not even winded.”
“Welcome to my world,” said Finn. He half-smiled. “Or . . . my former world.”
“I’ll see you later, Finn,” Kristen said. She held his gaze and winked before sauntering off and, it seemed to him, exaggerating her hip sway. Probably for his benefit. Sorry, sweetheart. Don’t waste your time.
He turned back to Harris. “Want a Gatorade?”
“Give it some vodka for company and I’m there.”
“What do you drink? I should’ve warned you about Bethany’s dancing. ”
Finn raised a hand toward the bar. Harris got a whiskey and the two men stepped aside so other thirsty dancers could get to the libations.
“McNabb, that’s your last name?” asked Harris.
“Well, McNabb,” Harris said, still somewhat out of breath. “I’ve grown rather fond of our little Bethany, as you call her. And I’m here to tell you here and now, in the Elke Sommer Ballroom of the Hotel Jerome—”
“That you’ll break my legs if I hurt her,” Finn interrupted.
Harris tilted his head. “Yes. How’d you—”
“So far almost every guest has told me the same thing. You, Amanda, Grady. I’m waiting for the flower girl. Look, I’m not here to cause trouble. What’d she tell you about me that’s got all of you rattling sabers?”
Harris sent him a look. “Honey, you’ll know if I rattle my saber. But to answer your question, nothing. She’s been quiet as a Prius. But it’s a little like bringing a box of nitroglycerine and a match together. Or drinking orange juice after eating champagne truffles. Not a good idea. You might be as harmless as a declawed Persian, but we don’t know you. We know Beth and we like her the way New Yorkers like Cronuts. All I’m saying is, don’t cross our Cronut.”
“I have no intention of crossing anyone’s Cronut. Whatever that is.”
“It’s a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. I shun them—this girlish figure doesn’t happen by accident—but they’re a gourmet craze. The only thing missing is putting them on a stick and deep-frying them, and I’m sure some enterprising vendor with a funnel cake concession will take care of that.”
“Tell you what. I’ll do what I can to avoid her. How’s that? Will that keep you and Amanda and Grady and everyone else in the state of Colorado happy?”
Harris eyed him. “I don’t see the need for any rules and regulations beyond don’t cross the Cronut. You keep that one commandment and we’ll all be the very happiest of campers.” He leaned in. “Don’t think for a moment I mean that literally. This gay doesn’t camp. Never has. Never will. Which is a feat in this state, since you can’t swing a Birkin bag without hitting a camper. Although—thank God—Aspen’s a veritable haven of civility and culture in an endless wasteland of rock climbers and cyclists. I can walk down the street and browse Chanel, and an attractive bartender will make me a mojito instead of handing me a Red Bull.”
“I take it you won’t be fly fishing with us tomorrow?”
“Fishing’s different. Fishing can result in food, and food I can do and do well. And when it’s done, I can go back home immediately instead of sleeping on an air mattress, besieged by insects and being an Atkins snack for a mountain lion. Oh, look.”
Finn followed Harris’s gaze to the dance floor, where Bethany was dancing with Grady. A small dart of jealousy stung him. Didn’t see that coming. Shake it off. He’s married, and she’s not yours anymore.
“He seems like a nice guy,” Finn said, still watching them. Still wishing they’d stop dancing together because married or no, Grady was a very handsome man and Finn could tell Bethany liked him. And that wasn’t even counting the formidable movie star part.
“He is, for the most part,” Harris said.
Finn decided he ought to look at Harris and stop torturing himself. “For the most part?”
“Scratch that. He’s the nicest guy in the free world. He makes Tom Hanks look like Rasputin. I have to talk trash about him or his head will get too big.”
Throughout these sentences, Finn thought Harris was looking at him too intently, as though he could read his mind. Could he tell Finn was jealous of Grady? Was his expression broadcasting this particular insecurity about his ex-wife? I need to be more careful, just in case.
Finn asked, “Will Grady and Amanda be around for the weekend’s activities?”
“I think so, or at least some of them. Since they live here in the summer, they might pass on a few things they can do whenever they want, but I believe they’re planning on dining with the lot of you. In fact, one of the activities is a cocktail party at Aspen Creek—that’s Grady’s place. Well, Amanda’s, too, now. You should come for that—if only to see the family manse.”
Gazing out of the corner of his eye, Finn was relieved—more than he wanted to admit—to see Bethany and Grady returning to the table. Bethany was laughing, throwing her head back, which meant she was having a great time. Which was great. Wasn’t it?
Harris was saying something about Grady and Amanda’s house, but Finn hardly heard him. He was watching Bethany, who said something to Amanda standing next to her. Without thinking, he said to Harris, “Excuse me, will you?” He ordered a gin and tonic and another club soda. Then set sail for his ex-wife.
Finn came up behind Bethany and said, “You nearly killed Harris. He might press charges.”
She whipped her head around like a mustang spotting a wolf and flattened her palm over her heart. “Like how you just nearly killed me? Jesus, Finn, you’re like a ninja.”
“Sorry. But a herd of elephants could have snuck up on you.” He smiled at Amanda. “Hey, Amanda.” He handed Beth the gin and tonic. “Thought you might be thirsty after your murder attempt.”
He sat in the chair next to her. “Seriously. They’re putting him in an iron lung right now.”
She laughed, hesitated, then said, “Thanks.”
Finn frowned. “Damn, I should’ve known—you just want water. You want my club soda?”
“No, it’s fine.”
“No, I forgot—you hate sparkling water. Be right back.” He stood.
“Finn, it’s fine.”
“Uh-uh.” He looked at her like a stern father staring down a toddler. “Stay put.” He strode toward the bar.
“Fine! Be that way!” she called after him, but he could hear the laugh effervescing in her voice.
He returned with water, which Bethany gratefully accepted. Finn sat next to her and attempted to chat with Amanda, Grady, and Bethany over the music. The whole time, he willed the celebrity couple to leave so he could be alone with his ex. Amanda and Grady were still newlyweds; Shouldn’t they be off necking somewhere?
Bethany grabbed her hair and fanned her neck, sending the sweet floral scent of her shampoo Finn’s way. Holy hell. The perfume must’ve jostled a memory loose, because he suddenly wanted to press his lips against that damp, soft skin on her neck and tangle his hands in that hair. Now he really wanted Amanda and Grady to go.
Bethany said to him, “Hey, I didn’t see you on the dance floor. Afraid I’d embarrass you? Scared you wouldn’t keep up?”
He barely recovered from his fantasy, but he managed to say, “You’re heartless. You’ve already forgotten what you did to poor Harris.”
“Nobody was holding a gun to his head. He could’ve left whenever he wanted.”
“Dancing with you is like staring at a solar eclipse—by the time you realize you should stop, the damage is done.”
“You never had a problem keeping up.” She gave him her slyest smile. Which made him want to adjust his trousers.
“I never danced with you eight thousand feet above sea level, either.”
“Wanna give it a go?” Her gray eyes were alight. She was practically impish.
He smiled, lifting one side of his mouth. “Why not? Right now?”
She smiled a challenge back at him. “Hells yeah!”
He laughed. This was pure Bethany.
He got to his feet. He wanted to offer his hand, but instead he pulled out her chair for her. Less skin-on-skin contact was safer. And to think he was stone-cold sober.
The DJ was playing eighties songs, which was fine by Finn. When he caught up to Beth, who had eeled her way to the middle of the crowded floor, a Michael Jackson song was ending. “It’s Raining Men” started, and every woman within a twenty-five-mile radius screamed and converged on the dance floor. It was a veritable rave. Finn was besieged by screeching females fueled by alcohol. Everyone was feeling the love, and unfortunately for Finn, it seemed they all unleashed it right at him. He was their darling. He was trying to be polite, but some of these gals were ruthless. One twerked at him, backing herself up until she made contact. He tried to back away, but someone else had pressed her vibrating butt to his. He was trapped.
He looked at Bethany, who had been shoved a few feet away. She was laughing so hard, she’d stopped dancing. She stood there, hand covering her mouth, shaking, tears rolling down her cheeks. He raised his hands in a gesture of defeat and shook his head.
“You’re too sexy for this song!” she shouted.
After the initial enthusiastic flurry, the group’s collective hedonism dissipated as the next song began—Madonna, when she had a mole. Finn ended up dancing in the midst of the throng, and whenever he turned to face Bethany, the cluster turned with him. The consolation prize of not getting to dance with just her was that he got to watch her move in that cobalt-blue dress that clung to her behind and ended midthigh. He’d always liked her ass. Her rider’s legs were still strong, with defined calves and trim ankles. He’d always liked them, too. He’d been attracted to her physically from the moment they’d met. That had never been a problem between them. The memory of a long rainy afternoon spent in bed flitted through his mind. Watching that long dark hair of hers sway and bounce with the music, he wanted to feel those tendrils brush against his face.
Good God, now he was thinking about kissing her. His ex-wife. Maybe love really was in the air. Or was it simply poor judgment?