Miranda Cruz hadn’t crossed his mind in years. Until he walked into the foyer at the Red River Lutheran Church for Cameron and Lorenda’s wedding. In a strapless, floor-length bridesmaid gown with a slit up to her thigh, she hurried past him without so much as a glance. Her black hair was up in some sort of fancy do at the back of her head with tiny white flowers tucked into it like pearls. Wispy, stray curls floated around her creamy neck as she entered a room on the left of the narthex.
Feminine giggles, sprays of cascading flowers, and flashes of silky dresses poured out when Miranda opened the door. Then the foyer went quiet again as it closed behind her.
A woman wearing a headset nearly tackled him to the floor before he could tear his gaze away from that closed door. Her clipboard, hefty build, and a stare that would cow a battle-hardened Navy Seal, said she was in charge. Because indeed, Cameron and Mitchell Lawson—two trained, active duty Seals—followed behind her like two baby ducks after their momma.
“Cameron, you okay, buddy?” Tamadge gave the groom a slap on the back. “You look a little pale.” Then he shook hands with Mitchell, Cameron’s identical twin brother.
“He’s fine,” the wedding planner snapped and pinned a boutonniere on Talmadge.
“Line up, gentlemen.” The wedding planner drill sergeant commanded. “And you.” She pointed to Cameron, a fine sheen of sweat appearing across his forehead. “Go take your place on the altar.”
Cameron hurried up the aisle to stand at the altar, hands clasped behind his back. The slight sway in his stance made Talmadge wonder if his buddy might pass out.
With every church pew full, soft bridal music filled the church.
“Where’s the other groomsman?” Scary Wedding Planner snapped.
The door across the narthex opened, and Langston stepped out. For the briefest moment, Talmadge caught a glimpse of Miranda fluffing the white train of Lorenda’s wedding gown. Just as Langston closed the door, she glanced up, and their eyes locked.
Talmadge’s training and instincts as a designer engaged. Nothing short of perfection, the pale pink of her dress contrasted with her sun-kissed skin and dark hair. Her flawless face and neck were in perfect proportions to her height and curves. She was a masterpiece.
“Mr. Brooks,” Scary Wedding Planner hissed at Langston. “Get in line.”
Langston slid into place behind Talmadge. “Sorry, I just wanted to give my sister a hug. She is the bride.”
Scary Wedding Planner glared at Langston, then gave Talmadge a run down of what to do and where to stand since he’d missed the rehearsal the previous week. She waved her clipboard at the reverend, who took his place next to Cameron. The door swung open and out stepped a parade of dusty pink silk dresses. Besides Miranda, Talmadge couldn’t say who was in those dresses, nice as they were, because her presence seemed to fill the place and overshadow everyone else.
Scary Wedding Planner pushed him to the door where Miranda stepped up to take his arm. She still had a youthful look about her. The gentle weight of her hand resting on his arm made something in his chest tighten. When he looked down at her bare shoulders and the hint of cleavage left exposed by the strapless gown, his vision blurred.
Quickly, he did the math in his head. Twenty. No! Twenty-one. Not a kid anymore. Still young, but now the three or four years he had on her didn’t seem like a big deal.
Her subtle perfume was so feminine and delicate that he imagined sitting on Bea’s porch swing with Miranda on a lazy summer day surrounded by a sea of blooming wildflowers.
“Go!” The wedding planner from hell whisper-yelled from behind them.
He’d never forget walking Miranda down the aisle, even if it was someone else’s wedding. He couldn’t help himself. He kept stealing glances at her. Half way to the altar she looked up at him, and the candlelight reflected off of her brown eyes and gave her bare skin an ivory tone. She smiled, and a dimple appeared on each cheek.
Something crashed into his chest at warp speed.
Miranda unhooked her arm from his so they could take their places on opposite sides of the altar, and that few feet between them seemed as wide as the Grand Canyon. He tried to focus on the bride walking down the aisle, the vows, the kiss, and the reverend presenting Cameron and Lorenda as Mr. and Mrs. Lawson. But all he could see was Miranda Cruz, like she was the only other person in the room. The subtle lighting cast a shimmering glow over her skin, and wetness glittered in the corners of her eyes as they followed their friends back up the aisle.
She’s still barely old enough to drink. He tried to reason with himself.
Really, he did.
All through the reception at Cotton Eyed Joe’s, when his friends kept shoving a fresh beer in his hands, he told himself she didn’t matter. He told himself to forget Miranda as his friends grilled him about the inopportune photos of him and Bridget in every checkout-stand news rag.
“We’re not dating anymore.” Hell, they hadn’t dated that long to begin with. Bridget just wanted the media to think they did, because it kept the paparazzi panting after her for another story and another click of the shutter.