“I thought I might find you out here,” he said quietly as he took a sip of his own champagne.
Mollie snuck a look out of the corner of her eye. He’d come looking for her? She hadn’t thought anyone had noticed she’d slipped away.
“I messed up the toast,” she said quietly.
“Nah,” he said, stretching his long legs out in front of him and slouching down a bit to get comfortable. “Just think how many people you educated on the mating ritual of parasitic worms. They should be you.”
Mollie groaned. “It was supposed to be romantic. I did a paper about them for my systematics and biotics diversity final. They’re unusual because they’re bonded for life. Most organisms sleep around or, you know, the male dies after mating—”
Jackson winced, and Mollie wished she could wither and die just like a male bee.
Mollie knew she had lots of useless trivia in her head, but she didn’t normally go spouting it out like this. Not that she was a smooth talker or anything, but she was usually pretty quiet and normal, if a bit nerdy.
But tonight she felt . . . off. Starting with the fact that the dress Madison had picked for her was the exact color of Mollie’s complexion, so she looked like a mole rat. And then there was the fact that she’d tripped a bit as she’d been going down the aisle, courtesy of the five-inch stilettos her sister had insisted on.
Add in an awkward maid-of-honor speech where she’d gone on for a good five minutes about worms and how they mated for life, just like the bride and groom, and . . . oh Why had nobody stopped her?
Mollie scrunched down on the bench with a moan as she took a sip of champagne. “Madison’s going to kill me.”
Madison was in a mood anyway. She’d been a bridezilla from the moment Jackson had put a ring on it, but Mollie had figured when the actual day came around, her sister would relax.
She’d been pissed about the flowers being ivory instead of true white to match her dress. Had bitched about the fact that Lily, one of her bridesmaids, had styled her hair in a way that was too close to the bride’s style.
Then Madison had vented about how the bracelet Jackson’s mother had shyly presented as Maddie’s “something old” was dumpy.
one had gotten under Mollie’s skin. Mrs. Burke was the closest thing to a mother that either of them had. Their own mother had died of an overdose years ago, and Mollie would have given a kidney to have a surrogate as lovely and kind as Jackson’s mom.
“Maddie won’t kill you,” Jackson said, putting an arm around the back of the park bench and smiling down at her. “She loves you, even if she doesn’t get your whole triple-major, science-camp vibe.”
Mollie withheld a snort. That was an understatement. She loved her sister, but the closest Madison ever got to science was her monthly chemical peel.
Still, Mollie felt a fierce need to make sure that Jackson Burke knew she was an adult. “I’m twenty. I do go to science camp.”
He lifted an eyebrow, and Mollie pointed her champagne flute at him. “Okay, I to go to science camp. But not the one who used the word ‘lactation’ in relation to a mermaid.”
“Hey, you’re not the only one who took bio in college.”
“But you were a communications major. Journalism,” she said.
He gave her a surprised look, and Mollie looked away, mentally kicking herself. That was exactly what Jackson Burke didn’t need—another groupie stalker.
She snuck another glance and saw that he’d slumped even farther, matching her own crappy posture, and Mollie was surprised to see that he looked . . . exhausted.
“Are you okay?” she asked. Because she couldn’t not ask. Not after she’d seen the weariness around his eyes, the slight tension in his shoulders.
Jackson turned his head so their eyes locked and he frowned before returning his attention to the mermaid. “Nobody ever asks me that.”
Her heart squeezed at the lost note in his voice. It was strange to think of someone as big and important as Jackson Burke being lonely, but somehow . . . somehow she knew he was. Even here, among all these people, he was somehow alone. Apart.
Lauren Layne is the USA Today bestselling author of more than a dozen romantic comedies. She lives in New York City with her husband (who was her high school sweetheart–cute, right?!) and plus-sized Pomeranian.
In 2011, she ditched her corporate career in Seattle to pursue a full-time writing career in Manhattan, and never looked back.
In her ideal world, every stiletto-wearing, Kate Spade wielding woman would carry a Kindle stocked with Lauren Layne books.
For a list of all her works, please be sure to check out her official website!