“Did you say man and wife?” she clarified. “Man. And wife. As in, he remains a man but I will now only be referred to as something that belongs to him—no longer able to have my own identity and existing solely as someone’s wife?”
I heard Max’s voice rise above the din of confused murmurs. “Does anyone smell rain?”
James reached forward and patted Chloe’s arm above where I held her hands, wearing a fatherly smile. “I understand, sweetheart . . .” he said, turning his eyes to me for help. “Isn’t this the version of the ceremony you requested, Bennett?”
Her head whipped to me, eyes blazing. “What?”
“Chloe,” I said, and tightened my grip on her hands. “I understand what you’re saying and we’ll make the adjustment. They asked me if I had any ceremony preferences and I only—”
She took a step back, shaking her head as if she couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “You?!” she shouted in the world’s most enormous overreaction, and I was actually a little impressed by how much anger and contempt she was able to form into a single word. “You gave him that? Those are the vows you chose?”
“I didn’t choose those lines specifically,” I said, horrified, albeit admittedly a little turned on by the furious rise and fall of her chest. “But that section was in the—”
“I don’t need you to explain anything to me. He’s reading from some ancient text that promotes the bullshit idea of patriarchal ownership. A version you picked out. I’ve been to church, Bennett. ‘Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands?’ Fuck. That. I didn’t put myself through college, and grad school, and an internship all while putting up with your condescending ass just so I could lose my identity and be known only as the little wife. And another thing,” she said, taking a much-needed breath and turning toward Kristin, who, could only stand there, frozen, lips parted in concern as if she were worried moving could trigger more Chloe rage. “What the f**k kind of mom-and-pop cleaners drops off thousands of dollars’ worth of dresses and tuxedos looking like they just came out of some frat boy’s duffel bag?”
Excitement, lust, and the thrill of anger blurred the edges of my vision. “What the f**k do you mean by my condescending ass? Maybe if you’d put as much effort into your personality as you did into behaving like a raging bitch all the time, I would have been a little more pleasant to be around!”
“Ha! And by pleasant, do you mean bringing you your coffee and stupid little chocolate Danishes and pretending not to notice the way you were staring at my tits?”
“Maybe I wouldn’t have stared at your tits if they weren’t in my face all the time.”
“Maybe they wouldn’t have been in your face all the time if you didn’t call me into your little hellhole of an office for every little thing. ‘Miss Mills, I can’t read the handwriting on this expense report. Miss Mills, I specifically asked that these documents be collated by ascending date, not descending. Miss Mills, I’ve dropped my pen, perhaps you could bend over and retrieve it from the floor near my chair because I’m a giant f**king pervert!’”
“I never said that last one!” I shouted.
She got right in my face, br**sts pressed to my chest and eyes full of fire as she met mine. “But you thought it.”
Fuck yes I did. “I also thought about firing you about seven hundred and fifteen times. Let’s hope I made the right choice not acting on that instinct, too.”
“You are such an egotistical asshole,” she growled.
“And you’re still a man-eating shrew!” I shouted back. And God, this was so familiar and felt so f**king good, it was exactly what we needed. I wanted to throw her down, pin her to the sand, and tear through her clothes so I could bite and mark the skin underneath.
I pushed a hand into her hair and she knocked it away, gripping the fabric of my shirt instead to pull me down, kissing me too hard and for too long and with way more tongue than was appropriate considering where we were. A fact I’d only become aware of as the sound of catcalls and horrified apologies began to float around us.
“I think . . . I think they’ve had a lot of stress in the past few weeks,” my mother murmured.
“Jesus this is awkward,” said someone else.
“Are they just going to have sex right here or . . . ?” That one was definitely George.
By now, Chloe had wrestled me down to the ground and was starting to climb onto my lap.
“Okay!” My father’s voice cut through and I straightened onto one knee, trying to disentangle my hands from Chloe’s hair and hers from my belt. “I think we’re good here. Kristin? The cars should be out front; it’s time for the rehearsal dinner. Let’s go, everyone!”
I felt like my skin was going to ignite. Bennett sat beside me in the car, scrolling through emails on his phone, as calm as he’d ever been in his life. After the rehearsal exploded into chaos and dry humping at the altar, I’d gone upstairs to change, splash some water on my face, and take a few minutes to collect my sanity. But once I was back beside him, I wanted to find something else to yell at him about. I wanted to get into another huge, knock-down, drag-out fight. Unfortunately for us, fighting meant sex and we’d both agreed to the stupid f**king abstinence rule.
Instead, we sat in heavy silence, the memory of the disastrous rehearsal sitting between us like a thick fog.
He cleared his throat and without looking at me, asked, “Did you bring your pills?”
I looked over at him and smacked his hand holding the phone. He slid it back in his pocket, chastised.
“What did you just ask me?”
I turned in my seat to face him, fire and ice sliding into my arteries and pumping into every part of my body. “Are you f**king kidding me right now?”
“I’ve been taking the pill for ten years without your help, traveling almost half of every week for the past year and a half, and managing to pack them for every goddamn trip without the Bennett Ryan Checklist, and you think you need to verify on how responsible I’m being now?”
He blinked away, pulling his phone back out of his pocket. “A simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ would have sufficed.”
Turning his head to me, he said very quietly, “It sounds like you might be playing with fire, Miss Mills.”
Heat slid down my torso and up my thighs, meeting at the juncture between my legs as I realized he was intentionally provoking me. No matter how calm he looked, he was just as worked up as I’d been. I shifted in my seat, hissing, “Controlling ass.”
I leaned in, punctuating each word with a jab of my index fingertip to his chest. “You. Imperious. Overbearing. Tyrannical. Prick.”
My back hit the floor of the limo hard enough for my breath to escape in a gust, and Bennett’s weight was on me fully, his c**k pressing into the neglected space between my legs. Shoving my skirt up my hips, he rocked up against me hard, his mouth covering mine and forcing my lips apart so he could run his tongue inside and across my teeth. I felt more than heard his groan, the sound vibrating along my tongue and down my throat; my mouth, my hands, my pu**y felt the emptiness acutely. I wanted him everywhere.
I arched into him, pulling his hair so hard he grunted in pain and with one hand grabbed my wrist, pinning my arm above my head, while reaching between us with the other.
It took two vicious tugs for him to tear my panties off—after all, why wear the skimpy, flimsy ones when I didn’t expect him to touch me in southern regions anyway?—and then he was pulling down his fly, freeing his cock, and positioning himself against me.
“Please,” I begged, struggling a little for him to release my hand just so I could put both of my hands on his ass and drive the sex from below.
“Please f**k you?” he asked, sucking at my jaw, my neck. “Please make you come?”
His lips moved over my neck, sucking, tasting. “You don’t deserve it right now. I just want to . . .” He looked down at me, nostrils flaring. “I want to—”
“And the couple of the evening has arrived!” I heard a muffled voice say out of nowhere.
We didn’t even know we’d been stopped at the curb until the door to the limo flew open and Max stood, smiling down at us before his face fell in horror and he slammed the door shut again. Outside on the curb, I heard him proclaim, “Looks like the happy couple just need a moment to finish a conversation!”
Bennett scrambled off me, shoving himself back into his pants, tucking in his shirt and glaring at me. I sat up, pushing my skirt back down and grabbing the shredded tatters of my underwear.
With a pissed-off growl, I threw them at him. “Seriously Bennett? Can’t you keep the fetish in check for one f**king night?”
He shook his head, retrieving them from where they’d landed on the seat before tucking them into the inside pocket of his jacket.
I took a minute to check my hair and makeup in my compact mirror while Bennett bent over, elbows on his knees, and tugged at his hair. “Fuck!” he shouted.
“I thought so, too,” I grumbled. “Now I’m not so sure. You’ve reduced us both to cavemen.”
Almost in unison, we took several deep, measured breaths. I leaned to the door, looking back at Bennett with my fingers poised on the handle. “Ready?” I asked.
He let go of his hair and turned to look at me. He studied my hair, my face. He let his eyes drop to my breasts, my legs, before moving back to meet my eyes.
“Almost.” He slid closer, framed my face in his hands before covering my mouth with his. He pulled my lower lip into his mouth, sucking. Never closing his eyes, he looked straight at me, gaze turning from hard and cold to warm, adoring. Releasing my lip, he repeated, “Almost,” and then kissed down my chin, my neck, and back up to give me one more, lingering kiss on the mouth.
He was apologizing for being an ass. My apology was letting him do it.The Bali Hai restaurant was miles away from the Hotel Del on Coronado, but it was one of Bennett’s favorite places in San Diego. Located on the northernmost tip of Shelter Island, the restaurant boasted an amazing view of the entire harbor as well as much of Coronado. The building, which was reminiscent of the Pacific Rim–Polynesian style tiki décor, was two levels, with a famous restaurant upstairs and the large, private event room on the ocean level.
I stepped out of the limo to the now-empty curb (apparently Max had decided it was better that the guests greet us inside instead) and burst into a giddy smile. Although I’d seen photos and had heard all about the restaurant’s well-executed menu and world-famous mai tais, I hadn’t seen the site yet; Bennett had wanted to organize this dinner for me, much as I’d organized the honeymoon. We’d rented out the entire first floor, and already the party spilled out onto the deck outside. A bar was set up overlooking the water, and another bartender was busy mixing drinks inside. Waiters carrying appetizers walked among the crowd, and every member of our wedding party and family was here for this dinner before the big day. As we stepped deeper into the room, all of our guests turned to cheer.
It was sweet . . . these people were all family and our closest friends, but at my side, Bennett smiled stiffly, thanking everyone. I couldn’t exactly blame him for feeling the heavy awkwardness. Who knew how many of these people had just caught a glimpse of Bennett over me, pinning my arm to the floor of the limo, about to ram his c**k into me?
At least all of the guests tonight were family or wedding party. They were contractually obligated to pretend like they’d never seen a thing.
As the shouts of welcome died down, I heard the distinctive voice of Aunt Judith rise above the sudden silence as she practically yelled, “That man could f**k me back into my twenties.”
Murmurs and uncomfortable laughter broke out around her but, bless her heart, she didn’t look even a little mortified to have been caught verbally molesting the groom loud enough for everyone to hear. She simply shrugged and said, “What? He does. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about. Our Chloe better have some tricks up her sleeve is all I’m saying.”
“Well, you don’t see my face tattooed on his arm,” I whispered, smiling sweetly up at Bennett.
With a scowl, he pulled me deeper into the room, making a beeline for the bar. “The mai tais are very strong,” he cautioned me before leaning forward and ordering one for himself. “I mean, there isn’t anything but alcohol in them.”
“You say this like it’s a bad thing.” I pressed into him, wrapping my arms around one of his. Smiling at the bartender, I said, “I’ll have the same.”
“There sure is a lot of driving this week,” Bennett’s uncle Lyle grumbled as he walked up behind us. “Why can’t we just stay put is what I’m asking.”
I felt my eyebrows rise in question as I looked up at Bennett. Not only were we paying for his entire family to stay in the Del; we’d also hired cars to drive everyone wherever they needed to go. He squeezed my side in a patient reminder: our family is crazy.