I am pretty buzzed by the time we’re done. Having to drown your aunt’s incessant droning on about the men she’d like to set you up with can bring anyone to alcoholism. Nothing stopped her from describing her friend’s grandson. Not even my insistence that I’m currently dating someone, which I’m not, or that I’m bringing him to the wedding, once again, a lie.
“You know, if you need a date for the wedding…” Jenny says as we stand outside waiting for a cab. I’m a terrible driver at the best of times, so driving when under the influence would be a colossal mistake, not just breaking the law.
“Gah, don’t remind me. I just couldn’t let Aunt B set me up on yet another date that would make me wish I had toes on my hands just for the entertainment value.” Goosebumps raise on my bare arms as the early evening wind whips my hair around, obstructing my view of the street. I push it out of my eyes and pull it into a haphazard, messy bun on the top of my head.
“Interesting concept… But I’m serious. Are you really bringing someone?” Jenny pulls her jacket on, making me wish I brought mine along.
“No,” I admit, rubbing my shoulders. The friction doesn’t help the chill that seeps into my body. “I’m half tempted to just put out an ad on Craigslist.”
“Well, I think I know of someone who could come as your plus one. It would save you from having to pick a total stranger on Craigslist. Knowing you, he’d turn out to be a total weirdo or a serial killer.” She’s not wrong. I have a knack for attracting strange men. But I’m also doubtful she’d find someone at such a short notice. “He’s already coming to the wedding and doesn't want to come stag either.” I swivel my body to face her.
“Seriously?” I narrow my eyes. The wedding is small. Very small. Few close friends and immediate family. Unless… Does she mean one of the guys from The Bleeding Hearts, the hottest band since the Beatles? If I can rope in one of the poor bastards to pretend to be my date for the week, Aunt B will surely get off my back about finding a husband and producing a litter of babies. At least for a short while. Long enough for me to figure out my own shit, hopefully. And let’s be honest, figuring out what to do with my life before getting a man involved in the mess that is Reagan Kennedy should definitely be on the priority list.
“Yeah. You could just pretend to be together and all your problems would be solved. Poof!” She makes an exploding motion with her fist.
“It won’t fly past Bertie,” I say, deflated. “She’ll catch on, Jen. You know she will.” Aunt B is a mastermind of deceit, cloaked in a persona of a feeble old lady. Last year, she had let it slip she’s been fooling us all for over a decade, pretending to be hard of hearing for the sheer entertainment value of seeing us all flustered when she’d repeat inappropriate things she’s ‘misheard’. That’s my aunt in a nutshell.
“Not if we don’t tell anyone else,” Jenny says, rubbing her hands. “We’ll be the only three people that know.” I guess it could work… potentially, if the guy gets on board with this. A sliver of hope latches onto that idea.
“So we’d be lying to everyone? Where the hell is that cab?” I look up and down the street. I’ve had enough interactions for the day, so getting home and face diving onto my bed seems like a splendid idea. Maybe a glass of wine, or two, will help with the mood I’ve recently been in. I can make life-altering decisions some other day.
“Lying is a bit of a strong word. Just not letting them in on the ruse.” Jenny shrugs, then jumps up and down in excitement, waving at a black jeep with tinted windows pulling up onto the curb. I guess Aiden, Jenny’s husband, is our ride. The tinted windows of the truck obscure my view.
“You know, that car is killing the environment,” I mutter, trying to calculate how much Carbon Dioxide it emits into the atmosphere.
“Not you too! I’ve already had a lecture from Sydney about our choice of car. For your information, it’s a rental, and we’re turning it back in tomorrow. We’ll exchange for a hybrid,” she huffs as both the driver’s and the passenger’s door open.
The breath is punched out of my lungs. It happens every time I see him. Or at least the handful of times I didn’t manage to wrangle myself out of being at the same event I knew he’d be present at.
But when I do see him?
I’m transported to seven years ago. The kiss. The overwhelming emotion of how right it felt to be in his arms. Then the feeling of betrayal that swallowed me whole when I realized I was being played. He was supposed to be my friend, someone I could trust. Instead, he made me into the ‘other woman’. I still remember how it felt to lie to Sarah all that year, while she happily dated the guy I developed a huge crush on.
A crush I hated with all my being.
Because he was a jerk of all jerks. A two-timing bastard with no spine. A lying, cheating son of a b-
I guess we’re doing the anger stage again. It happens every time I get over the initial shock of seeing Jason Cowley. These turbulent emotions always take a few seconds before I rearrange my face back to normal. Cool as a cucumber on the outside while inside my blood is boiling.
I turn on my heel and take a step in the opposite direction, ready to forget about the taxi and just boot it home, before Jenny grabs my shirt and stops me.
“Where are you going?” she asks. “Our ride is here! I figured you wouldn’t want to leave your car on the other side of town, so I asked Jason to come and drive you back.” My boiling blood turns to ice as I process her words. No way in hell am I spending alone time with public enemy number one.
“I forgot I’ve got another ride,” I mutter, trying to get out of her iron grasp.
“No, you don’t,” she hisses. “I have no idea what it is you hate about my brother, but it’s high time you put it aside.” Internally I roll my eyes so far back I cross into another dimension. Oh, hey there, Rhysand. Why don’t you up and leave Feyre and just come snuggle with me in some dusty old Inn. Mmmkay?
“Reagan.” Jason steps into my line of vision. His piercing blue eyes are looking straight into mine. Like a deer caught in the headlights, I’m suddenly rendered immobile. So much so, that when Jenny finally lets me go, I don’t move a muscle. Instead, I stand there like an imbecile, letting the devil magic me into submission yet again.
“Lucifer.” I finally manage, hoping with all my heart that my voice comes out steady and clear. A corner of his lips turns up, transforming his whole face into a wet dream. Oh, for fuck’s sake, Reagan! Get it together. I narrow my eyes at him then smirk, flicking an imaginary piece of fluff off my shoulder.
“Looking gorgeous as always,” he has the audacity to say as he takes a step in my direction. My feet are still rooted in the same place and firmly stand by their decision that movement is not on the plate for them while Satan’s eyes are on me. So, like an adult, I scratch my nose. With my middle finger.
Whatever. It feels good.
Jenny throws her hands up in the air and mutters something under her breath, then walks over to us, Aiden right behind her. “Unless you two can find a date to my best friend’s destination wedding in the next two weeks, you better work your shit out. Otherwise you can enjoy yet another date set up by Aunt B,” she points in my direction. “And you,” she whirls to Jason. “You can just enjoy Aunt B’s company.”
I almost burst out laughing. Almost, because the picture in my head is too good. Jason running away from Bertie. Getting groped and harassed for a full week straight. Except then I have an image of yet another boring date. This time one I can’t get out of for a whole week. I’ll chew my arm off.
But a prosthetic arm is better than spending a week pretending Jason is my date.
“No way in hell,” I say, just as Jason says, “What do you mean?”
“She means she fell and hit her head,” I reply through my teeth.
“Kitten, you fell?” Aiden is instantly by her side. Checking her over. Jesus, overreacting much? “Are you okay? Is the-” she punches him in the stomach before he finishes his thought.
“Sorry babe, a nervous tick.” She smiles sweetly at Aiden, who’s clearly confused, but shrugs it off. Tucking her into his side as he looks at Brutus, the betrayer. “I was thinking you two could pretend to be each other’s dates for the wedding. That way, Aunt B will get off both of your backs. You know, she wouldn’t step into the path of love. She’s too much of a romantic to do that.”
“Not happening.” Not with Satan.
“That’s a great idea!” Jason says.
“No, it isn’t!” I disagree.
“Oh, but it is. It’s perfect! No one would suspect!”
“No one will have to because it’s not happening!”
“Shall we just leave them to this?” Aiden whispers loud enough for the whole city to hear. The guy has no clue how to whisper.
“Reagan,” Jenny says calmly. “Think about it. It’s just a week and you’ll get Aunt Berta off your back for at least a couple of months, maybe even longer. Isn’t that worth it?” I hesitate.
“But I hate him,” I pout.
“Hate who?” Sydney asks, walking through the door, Aunt B, trailing right behind her, carrying a cat carrier with Gizmo inside.
“She hates florists, don’t you, Shnookums?” The bastard next to me says, then puts his bastardly arm around me. Who the fuck is Shnookums? “Reagan,” he tilts his head and lovingly gazes at me, “was just saying how there’s this one florist in particular she hates. But I was trying to explain that maybe that florist is not so bad, and maybe he really needs her help. Err… buying flowers from him. Because the alternative is him having to close his florist business forever and work as a gigolo for the rest of his days.”
“Would serve his two-timing ass right,” I mutter.
“Shnookums?” My aunt latches onto the one thing I wish she disregarded.
Jason looks pleadingly at me, his face breaking into sweat under the scrutiny. I’m tempted to let him sweat, but I have to admit the plan is not terrible. Plus, how hard can it be? All we have to do is sit next to each other at a few events and donezo.
I sigh. “I guess the cat’s out of the bag, then. Jason, my Tiny Love Muffin, is my date to Sydney’s wedding. Sorry we didn’t say anything sooner, we didn’t want to take away from the wedding,” I finish, hoping I won’t burn in hell for the lie. Especially since that will mean I’d have to spend eternity with Jason, the king of hell.
“Tiny Love Muffin?” My aunt asks. I make a pained face and put my thumb and index finger close together. Aunt Berta’s eyes grow huge just as Sydney squeals and runs up to us, hugging us both.
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