A few early birds sat in the white chairs that filled the elegant ballroom, so Nick took a seat in the back to wait for the start of the ceremony. He wanted to be near the door so he could make a quick exit once the wedding ended. He sat at the inside end of the row. The disdain on Mrs. Vernon’s face was burned into his mind. Not long ago, he had been one of her favorite people. Now she despised him for breaking up with Cher the way he had. If there had been some other way to handle this, he would’ve done it, but her daughter had completely shut him out after the last night they had been together. The memory of what he’d done to cause their break-up put an ache in his chest every time he replayed it in his mind.
“Do you realize we’ve been together for more than two years?” she’d asked him after they finished their dinner of homemade smothered chicken, rice, sautéed spinach and biscuits.
Cherilyn was a superb cook. She wasn’t one of those girls who agonized over every bite she put into her mouth for fear of gaining an ounce.
“Right. We met in January at Ryan’s New Year’s Eve party. I hadn’t been out anywhere in ages, because I was studying for the second phase of my licensing exam.”
“Are you happy with our relationship the way it is?” she asked, studying him intently.
“Sure I am. Aren’t you? I don’t think there are two people more compatible than we are.”
“That’s true, and it’s why I feel like we should be thinking about going to the next level.”
His eyes widened. Did she mean what he thought she meant? They were already sexually involved, so she obviously wasn’t talking about that. “Right now, we should stay right where we are. With school and all, this is not the time for me to make any major moves.”
She clasped her hands together and stared at them, lowering her lashes quickly. When she lifted her gaze, pain flickered there. “How long do you plan for us to stay where we are?”
“I don’t know, baby. Does it matter? I thought we were happy together. I am.” He smiled. She returned a blank stare.
Cherilyn spoke calmly, with no lighting of her eyes, no smile of tenderness. “Nick, you know I want to get married. I never made any secret about that. How would it change anything?”
“That’s what I want to know. How would getting married change an already great relationship?”
An expression of tired sadness passed over her features, and she sighed. “It would show me that you are serious about us. I’m not just a place to stop when you want to do your laundry or get a home-cooked meal, or get your rocks off.”
He hadn’t meant to hurt her, but the damage was already done. “I don’t think of you that way, Cher. You’re the only woman in my life, and I like it that way.”
“But I’m still not good enough for you to marry?”
“You aren’t the problem. It’s my life at the moment. School is about to kill me, and I still have years of residency facing me.”
“And you don’t think having a wife to help you would make your life easier?”
This time he was the one with the blank stare.
She rose from the sofa and clicked off the television. “My mother was so right. What reason would a man have to commit to a woman who’s already giving him everything? You should go now.”
“Baby, come on. I’m just trying to be realistic about where I’m at right now.”
“Right.” She stood with her hands on her voluptuous hips. “You’re going home, and I’m not playing wifey anymore. Lock the door on your way out.”
He gaped at her retreating back as she carried the dishes into the kitchen. “Cher…”
“Good night, Nick.”
Looking back on that night, Nick realized everything she’d said was true. Being with her had become so comfortable that he’d taken it for granted. Her sweet nature and sense of humor calmed him after he’d had a grueling day. And she’d been there for him with the pleasure of her incredible body and her culinary skills. He was ashamed for lying to his family and telling them he and Cherilyn split because she thought he was getting too serious. He would’ve looked like a fool for letting such a wonderful woman get away.
Soft music began to play, and it played for a good twenty-five minutes with no appearance of anyone in the bridal party. The low hum of whispers gradually rose as the guests started giving restless glances over their shoulders. Everyone seemed to realize this delay was more than a bride being fashionably late, and their speculation was confirmed when the groom appeared at the front of the room with the best man at his side.
He looked visibly shaken. Nick held his breath as Derrick’s words came haltingly. “I’m sorry…but…but there’s not going to be a wedding today. Please enjoy the food and drink…and please return your gifts. I’m sorry.” The best man escorted him through a side door with his arm around the groom’s back as though he were holding him up.
Nick rushed out of the doors before he was detected by any guests who might know him. Little did they know he was as shocked by the turn of events, as they were. Cherilyn hadn’t given him any indication that she was having second thoughts. He’d needed to get away before the groomsmen or Cherilyn’s father spotted him. Mr. Vernon liked him when he and Cherilyn were dating, but their breakup had surely changed his opinion. He strode out of the ballroom as fast as he could without drawing attention to himself. Once he closed himself in the car, he took out his phone and sent a text to Cherilyn before he passed through the front fountain garden and left the property. Can I come by your place? We need to talk ASAP.
Contemporary women’s fiction/romance author Chicki Brown has been featured twice in USAToday. She was the 2014 B.R.A.B. (Building Relationships Around Books) Inspirational Fiction Author and also the 2011 SORMAG (Shades of Romance Magazine) Author of the Year. Chicki was also a contributing author to the Gumbo for the Soul: Men of Honor (Special Cancer Awareness Edition).
A transplanted New Jersey native who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, Brown still misses the Jersey shore, the pizza and the hot dogs.
Nia Forrester, Beverly Jenkins, Iris Bolling, Lisa Kleypas, and J.R. Ward are among her favorite authors.
Amazon Central Author Page: http://amzn.to/l2kjXQ