Sunday, March 18, 2012

Excerpt from COMMISSIONED IN WHITE

This excerpt is from Book Four of the Art of Love series. I wrote this book to get all the current characters to a good pausing place because I knew it was going to be many months before I could return to writing the next book for it. So this book is full of weddings and also contains the gallery opening. Along the way I managed to lay the groundwork for the next two books in the series. I hope you enjoy this short excerpt. It explains why I kept referring to this book as the "wedding book" in all my tweets and posts while I was writing it.

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CHAPTER 1

Despite his questionable friendship with Steve Lipton, Will sat on the groom’s side of the church, smiling at the picture Jessica made in her soft green dress standing next to a beaming Susan in her white bridal gown.

The view of the hot maid of honor was definitely better over here. Maybe that was reason enough to pretend alliance with the groom, Will thought, smiling again.

While he was sincerely happy for Steve and Susan, his mind couldn’t help daydreaming about him and Jessica. They were three weeks away from their own wedding, and Will was anxious for the time to pass.

He was ready to be married again and didn’t care who knew it. He was ready to make love to Jessica while the gold bands Michael was making for them gleamed in the soft lighting they preferred in the bedroom.

When he pulled his attention from the future back to the present, he saw Susan turning to hand Jessica her massive bouquet of gold roses. The roses suited her, he thought. Susan was just as bright and lovely as the flowers.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Groom, you may now kiss your bride,” the minister said with smile.

Steve pulled Susan up to him, his fingers digging into her lace covered hips. He bent her backwards with the force of a kiss that went on so long the minister cleared his throat twice before Steve finally relented and let her go.

Susan stumbled back a little, and a laughing Jessica reached a hand out to steady the back of the smaller woman she cherished as friend.

The grinning groom gave the jaded maid of honor a wicked look over his new wife’s head. Jessica rolled her eyes at him, but grinned back, happier for Steve and Susan than she had words to express. She had followed her heart in introducing them and had never regretted it for a moment.

The recessional music started up and Steve took his wife’s hand, tucking it lovingly into the curve of his elbow.

Jessica allowed Steve’s best man to do the same for her, but she looked at a grinning Will and winked as she walked down the aisle trying not to trip on the long trail of her gown. She was walking a bit unsteadily in the three-inch spikes Susan had insisted she wear, despite the fact that she towered half a foot over both the best man and the groom.

It wasn’t quite the “hoot” Susan had planned on it being for the wedding, but wanting to be a good sport, Jessica thought about other instances where it might be fun to wear the shoes with Will. Those thoughts put a smile on her face as they all trailed out.

Later, Jessica was standing in the receiving line shaking hands when she felt familiar fingers trailing gently down her spine and across one satin covered hip. Turning her head, she found herself eyeball to eyeball with a smiling Will, totally caught off-guard when he leaned forward and touched his mouth hotly and possessively to hers.

“Wow—sexy kiss. And in public no less,” she whispered. “What was that for?”

“Because you look amazing and I don’t want other guys getting ideas about hitting on the maid of honor. I saw the way the best man was looking at you,” Will said.

Jessica laughed softly. “He’s married, doofus. So you got all demonstrative for nothing.”

“Are you taking me home with you?” Will asked dryly.

“I imagine,” Jessica said, her tone as ironic as his. “Since you’re sleeping in my bed every night.”

“Then it was not for nothing,” Will said, keeping his voice soft and low in her ear. “You can consider it foreplay, and I’ll make good on it later.”

“Well, you’re in rare mood,” Jessica said sweetly, turning reluctantly to the bride and groom as they stepped away from the line of well-wishers at last.

The very tired groom stepped up and kissed Jessica boldly on the mouth, hugging her close even as Will frowned at him.

Steve just smiled harder and counted more blessings.

“I will never in my life be grateful enough to you for introducing me to Susan. I am the happiest man you’ve ever seen today,” he said, picking up his bride’s hand when Susan stepped forward and leaned into both of them for a giant three-way hug.

Jessica held nothing back from the couple, sniffling as she embraced both of them. “Well, this is what it’s supposed to be like. Gold roses, shiny rings, beautiful clothes, and weeping, jealous friends. All weddings should be as great as this.”

Steve and Susan laughed, pulling away from Jessica as they all struggled to recover from the emotional outburst.

“Three more weeks, and then you’re next old man,” Steve said, joking to distract himself. He swung his gaze to Will who wasn’t frowning anymore, but still looked a bit concerned. “Think you’re going to feel less jealous when you have your woman branded at last?"

Will pursed his lips and looked at the younger man thoughtfully. “Not sure yet. I’m waiting to see how it works out for you. You don’t exactly inspire me with confidence, Lipton.”

Steve laughed at Will’s dry wit. The more he got to know the man, the more he liked him. “I’ve got it easy, Larson. You—on the other hand—need to brush up on your Shakespeare. Did you ever read Taming of the Shrew?”

“Don’t make me kill you both over this sexist conversation,” Jessica said, a warning note in her voice. “Steve, take my overwhelmed friend who is also your lovely bride to the champagne table and get her something to keep her from fainting. If she hits the floor, you are dead meat.”

“I’m fine,” Susan said, patting Jessica’s arm. “Can I have my flowers back, please?”

Jessica separated the huge bridal bouquet from her discreet triple strand of single roses, handing the fragrant mass to Susan who immediately pressed her face into them and inhaled. Since Steve looked like he was going to kiss her again, or even worse, so Jessica turned the love-struck bride toward the food table with a little push.

“Go—both of you. Get a little something to sustain you. I’ll be along in a minute. Your mushy love vibes are getting to me.”

The bride and groom wandered off, too bemused with each other to make rational decisions about much of anything.

Jessica sighed as they walked away. She sure hoped she held it together better when her time came.

“Am I in trouble?” Will asked. “Steve started the discussion.”

Jessica snorted. “Yes he did, but you are not innocent. Would you really brand me if you could?”

Will lifted Jessica’s hand and tucked it into his elbow, guiding her forward. “I’m in a church and don’t want to lie, so let’s just go have some champagne, too.”

“Will,” Jessica chastised, her fingertips stroking his firm bicep as they walked. “There is no one else that even interests me.”

He was fifty-three and the most masculine man she had ever known. Truth was he had already branded her. Maybe it didn’t show to the world, but she had hoped by now he knew.

Will turned a wicked smile to the woman he was never going to be one hundred percent sure of, but that he was going to spend the rest his life satisfying in every way he could.

“Reassure me all you want, but we’re still going through with the wedding. You insisted Ellen set up the whole dog and pony show, and we’re going through with it, no matter how sweet you talk.”

“You know you are the one who needs the ceremony, not me. And I am not trying to talk you out of getting married—or the wedding,” Jessica protested. “I can’t help that I had a small anxiety attack when I tried on the dress. You can’t assume I’m reluctant about getting married just because of that. Carrie had the same reaction, I heard.”

“Carrie was pregnant. What’s your excuse?” Will asked, holding her gaze.

“Bride nerves,” Jessica said firmly. “Plus I gave my retirement notice for January. I’m starting part-time at the gallery during Christmas. Should I go on? Since I’m turning my life upside down, I think I’m entitled to a few nerves about being a bride.”

“Don’t forget we’re also moving into the new house this week,” Will said, grinning at her resignation.
Jessica sighed. “I hadn’t forgotten. That’s why I’m letting the new art teacher sub my classes. He’ll take over full-time after Christmas. I hate moving, but I’ve already accepted that there’s no way around the work.”

“The kids are still going to help,” Will said, patting her hand. “And the new bed arrives tomorrow. Shane’s going to help me assemble it. You’re going to love diving into that monster every night with me.”

“Are you going to soundproof it like Shane did theirs?” Jessica asked dryly.

Will grinned widely and laughed at her amusement. “Why would I do that?” he asked, releasing Jessica’s hand to retrieve a couple glasses of champagne for them. 

He handed one to Jessica and waited until she had lifted it for a sip.

“Besides, who’s going to hear us making out? I like the noise. I find it inspiring. Not to mention, I’d love to brag to my son about moving the bed,” Will said.

Jessica choked on her champagne, bringing the bride’s and groom’s attention immediately to her. Her face flamed with embarrassment at their stares, but it was because of what Will had said. He had developed the annoying habit of trying to shock her, and she fell for it nearly every time.

“Larson, I can’t believe you managed to embarrass a woman who never loses her cool in public. What in the world did he say to you, Jessica?” Steve demanded, hearing his wife snickering at his side, the champagne already helping to steady her.

“Do I pry into your private conversations?” Will demanded in return. “No—I do not. Just go back to seducing your bride, Lipton. Leave my woman alone.”

Steve and Susan both laughed at Will’s pretense of consternation.

Jessica lifted an eyebrow. “Your woman?

Will lifted his chin and sipped his champagne as he held Jessica’s gaze over the rim of the glass. “Want me to tell Steve what I said?” he challenged.

Jessica hooked her arm through Will’s, no longer trusting that he wouldn’t call her bluff. “That’s me. I’m his woman,” she said cheerily, laughing at Susan who giggled at her caving in to Will.

Steve just looked at Jessica in shock. “So I just have to ask you this—you’ve dated so many men—why on earth did you click with Larson? He’s a good ten years older than your average guy, not to mention the man reeks of macho.”

“I assure you Will never reeks,” Jessica said off the cuff, shrugging and leaning her head against Will’s. “But he does make me laugh.”

Steve rolled his eyes and shook his head, not believing her statement at all.

“Jessica—I thought you said it was because Will was really, really good in bed,” Susan proclaimed with a wide blurry smile.

Will laughed softly, grinning like a fool while Jessica nabbed the second empty flute from the tipsy bride’s fingers.

Steve bit his lip but grinned back at Will, giving him a thumbs-up sign when the women weren’t looking.

“Okay—I think we’ve all had enough champagne for now. Let’s get some canap├ęs or something to soak up that buzz,” Jessica said, leading the bride to the next table.

“Hell of thing to hear about another man’s expertise on your wedding day,” Will said sadly, stepping close so only the groom could hear him. “Sorry about that, Lipton. Hope your ego isn’t too bruised. I wouldn’t want you to disappoint your bride tonight.”

“Are you kidding me? I am so attracted to the woman I married that every time I’m with her I just want to crawl inside and never come out,” Steve declared. “And now I can do it legally.”

Will reached out and took the still half-full champagne glass from Steve’s hand. “TMI, Lipton. You’re obviously as tipsy as your bride. Have you eaten?”

“Who needs food? I’m living on love, my friend,” Steve said, laughing at having embarrassed Will again.

“Well, I don’t want to hear anymore about your love life, so let’s go get some food for my sake,” Will ordered, grabbing Steve’s arm to steer him to the table.

“You know, I really like you, Larson. Because of you I don’t have to feel guilty anymore about being so freaking happy with Susan. You going to love Jessica forever?” he asked.

“Yes, Lipton. I love her. You can quit worrying that Jessica’s going to end up a shriveled-up old maid. She dated twenty guys between the two of us. Now man up and go be a groom,” Will said, laughing. “You’re as bad as my sons.”

“I’m forty-four, not that much younger than you,” Steve said, protesting.

“You handle your drink like a kid,” Will told him, picking up several crackers and pressing them into Steve’s hand. “Eat these and don’t talk until the alcohol wears off some.”

“Yes—Daddy,” Steve teased, popping the crackers into his mouth one at a time.

“Can we go home now?” Will whined the question to Jessica as she came back to his side, making the bride and groom both laugh.

Jessica patted his cheek and sighed. “No—they have to toss the bouquet and the garter, and then they have to cut the cake. Another hour, honey.”

Will sighed in resignation. “Oh, alright.”

“Man up, Larson. You have to do this in a few weeks yourself,” Steve told him, highly entertained by the big man’s irritation.

“Yes, but we’re doing the wedding-lite version,” Will said. “All the commitment ceremony, but with half the traditions that take forever. We’ll be in and out of the church in under an hour.”

Susan giggled and walked over to fiercely hug a surprised Will. “You are so funny. No wonder Jessica likes you so much.”

Susan pressed her woozy, happy face into Will’s chest, causing him to sigh heavily again. “Uh, Lipton. . .I think your bride needs a hug,” he said to Steve over Susan’s head.

When she leaned even more intimately into him, Will ended up holding Susan more firmly as he tried to restrain her champagne enthusiastic embrace.

Shaking his head and grinning, Steve popped a piece of cheese into his mouth and gently unwound a very tipsy Susan from Will. He pulled his wife into his own arms, kissing her temple and murmuring how much he loved her into her ear. Her hands rubbed his back, and slid to his backside to squeeze. When Steve could trust himself to speak over his giddiness, he raised his head and mock glared at a totally embarrassed Will.

“Go get your own wife,” Steve ordered harshly, fighting not to laugh at Will’s instant glare back.

Will rolled his eyes, and turned his glare on Jessica. “We need new friends. If I wanted this kind of grief, I’d hang out with my sons.”

Jessica smiled at the frustration on Will’s face, but also knew he wasn’t really mad.

“Sweetie, we are making new friends. That’s why we’re having dinner with Ellen and Luke tonight,” she said dryly, watching Will’s chin drop to his chest.

She bit her lip to keep from giving in to her amusement.

“You just had to remind me, didn’t you?” Will protested.

Jessica let herself laugh then, and held out a cracker to Will. “If you eat, you don’t have to talk to happy drunks.”

Will took the cracker and popped it into his mouth, not saying another word.

Jessica stepped into him and hugged hard. But standing there looking at the beaming bride and groom, Jessica ended up battling the now familiar butterflies she got every time she thought about committing herself forever to the man in her arms. When the guilt came, she chastised herself for being afraid.

On the plus side, she knew Will would always be there for her. The man would absolutely love her until the day she died—probably even after that. But on the negative side, she’d have to divorce Will to get rid of him. She couldn’t just get fed up with his macho nonsense and look for another man.

Not that Will would ever let her do such a thing. Just the thought that he had that much control over her future sent the butterflies into a mad dance as they tried to escape. Oh God, she thought, this whole marriage thing is getting way too real.

“I definitely need more champagne,” Jessica said firmly, looking for the fastest way to calm the butterflies before she passed out.

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