“Nothing’s out of place, I promise.” Mercy smoothed an invisible strand of hair for her best friend, and met her gaze in the mirror. She patted down another non-existent strand—though she wasn’t sure if it was to reassure Liz or herself.
“I know. I just—” Liz stood and paced from one end of the hotel room to the other, the long train of her wedding dress draped over one arm, to keep from dragging. “You know?”
“I do. I get it.” Or, Mercy understood the theory. It was Liz’s wedding day. Liz had met an amazing man—who happened to be almost as painfully wealthy as she was—and was pledging to spend the rest of her life with him. Of course she was nervous. Mercy couldn’t see herself making this kind of commitment, but most girls dreamed of this day, and Liz’s had been planned to perfection.
Big, but not too big. A dress worth more than Mercy’s battered Honda. An all-day gala in Salt Lake’s greatest and grandest five-star hotel. A skiing honeymoon in Park City, a gift courtesy of Liz’s brother.
The groom didn’t have any family, and Liz only invited those closest to her. Mercy and Liz grew up in Park City, about twenty-five miles from their current location, and while Mercy couldn’t wait to get out of the state when she turned eighteen, Liz stayed where life was familiar. She said she’d moved around enough as a kid, and she wanted some stability.
George offered that. God, had they really only dated for six months?
Mercy grabbed Liz’s wrist, to stop her. “You’re about to spend all day on your feet. Sit.”
“I can’t. I’d rather breathe right now.”
The dress was tight. And hand-beaded. Flowing lace and satin. This George guy really let Liz go all out. Mercy hadn’t met him yet—she’d flown in late last night—but if Liz loved him, he had to be special.
“Think about something else. Anything. Like all the incredible sex you’re going to have on your honeymoon,” Mercy said.
Liz laughed, and her spine seemed less rigid than seconds earlier. “Do you think we can get away with doing it on a gondola?”
“Like you’re going to leave your room long enough to ski? We both know you’ll be screwing like bunnies for the next ten days.”
“You’re so right. He does this thing with his tongue—”
“No details.” Mercy didn’t have a problem with the graphic conversation, but Liz got this kind of sweet, sappy longing in her voice whenever she brought up doing it with George, and it pinged something inside that Mercy refused to acknowledge.
Liz stuck out her tongue. “Prude.”
“Yeah, okay. That’s me.” They both knew Mercy was anything but. She’d founded her company, Graceful Exhibition Advertising, on the tagline Grow your adult website to impressively visible sizes.
Liz’s smile faded into something more serene, and she looked Mercy in the eye. “Thank you so much for being here.”
“Of course. I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Plus, this dress is gorgeous.” She gestured at her fitted blue satin gown. Elegant instead of gaudy. It hugged her body and almost gave her curves.
“I’m being serious, Mel.”
From anyone else, the nickname summoned bad memories. From Liz, it made Mercy smile. “Me too. I can tell you’re happy, and you deserve it.” Even if she weren’t looking forward to the chance of hooking up with one of the groom’s friends after the reception, and despite the fact she put a client proposal on hold for a couple of days to be here, Mercy wouldn’t have things any other way. Liz had earned a little joy in her life, and this was a good start.
Someone knocked and seconds later said, “Liz, it’s me.”
Mercy’s blood turned to ice in her veins. Ian was Liz’s older brother; he was giving away the bride. Mercy knew he’d be here, but she’d hoped to keep the interaction to a minimum.
Liz shuffled across the floor double time and yanked the door open. “Get in here. What’s up?” She shut off the rest of the world as soon as he stepped inside.
This wasn’t fair. Mercy tried not to look. Wasn’t going to stare. Twelve years—that made him thirty, for Hell’s sake—and he looked a billion times better than she remembered. Which was saying a lot. Dark hair the same color as Liz’s barely brushed his ears. His sturdy jaw was clenched. And if most men looked amazing in a tux, regardless of their normal appearance, his elevated him to a god-like status. Or she was exaggerating the tiniest bit. Maybe only Greek-hero level. But not like Hercules or anyone impressive. A minor hero no one heard of, like Actaeon.
His gaze lingered on Mercy, tracing her frame, and her cold skin heated to scorching. He shook his head, as if to rattle something loose, and turned back to Liz. “You’re going to want to sit down for this.”
“I’m not sitting until I absolutely have to.” Liz tapped her stocking toes on the carpet. “What’s up?”
“No, really. You need to sit, and you need to breathe. Undo a couple buttons on the dress if you have to.” Ian’s voice took on a hard edge.
“With a lead-in like that, you know you’ve killed whatever potency your news has, right?” Mercy tried to keep her tone light, despite the concern creeping into her gut.
He gave her a weak smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
Liz grabbed his arm. “Stop. Tell me what you want.”
“There was a disturbance outside. Hotel security stopped it, but a couple of the guests caught it on camera, and now the video making its way around the party.” He held up his phone for Liz to see.
Silence stretched into the room. Sounds filtered from the tiny speakers. Mercy struggled to make out the crackling voice, but she caught phrases like I’m his wife, and already married, and you’ll pay, you fucking whore.
Liz sank to the floor. A series of tiny noises, like stitches tearing, mingled with her Oh, fuck me.
“Was that what I think it was?” Mercy asked.
Ian pocketed his phone. “George Debson’s wife showed up and started screaming about how Liz would never get away with marrying him. She’d lose everything. You caught the gist of it.”
The pit in Mercy’s gut filled with lead. It was a lot of information to process, for so few words. She watched Liz, concern growing as emotions flashed across her best friend’s face before it hardened into a stone mask.
Mercy knelt next to her. “Liz? Talk to me. Say something.” It wasn’t the silence that bothered her so much as the cold steel reflected in Liz’s gaze.
The one thing that distracted Ian from how drop-dead-fuckable Mercy looked in that dress—she was a dangerous temptation in her late teens, and this was a hundred times that—was Liz crumbling at the news she’d more or less been left at the altar. By a married man. At least when fate stuck the knife in, she twisted it hard enough to maim. Ian asked Liz when she got engaged to let him run a background check on the guy. Several times. She insisted they were in love and she trusted her fiancé. But I told you so could wait.
“Help me up.” Liz held one arm toward Ian and the other toward Mercy. Her tone was eerily flat, and her expression matched. They tugged her to her feet, and she turned her back to Mercy. “Get me out of this thing.”
Mercy was already undoing the dozens of tiny pearl buttons along Liz’s dress, one at a time. “Damage control. What’s on the list?”
“The guests already have an idea what’s going on.” Liz looked at Ian. He nodded. “Then someone needs to go out there and explain, and apologize,” she said.
“I’ll do it.” Mercy grabbed a robe off the back of a nearby chair and handed it over. “You find more comfortable clothes, and then we can deal with catering and other staff.”
The brisk tones creeped Ian out, because they meant Liz was shutting this away, to deal with later. At the same time, the synchronization between the two women was amazing. He knew they hadn’t seen much of each other all these years, despite their keeping in touch. It was hard to meet up, when Mercy refused to set foot back in the state before now.
But this exchange, both what they said and the words hidden between the lines, had the same smooth rhythm they shared when they were teenagers.
“Wait. You said she mentioned losing everything.” Liz looked at Ian. “Do you think she knows where the condo is?”
“You’re safer guessing yes than assuming no.”
“Shit. All my stuff is there.”
Of course it was. She moved in with George almost immediately after he proposed.
“You’ve got your luggage for the honeymoon, so it’s not all your stuff.” Mercy lifted her skirt enough to put on a pair of matching heels that made her grow almost to Ian’s height. “And you can always buy more.”
He wouldn’t stare at Mercy’s long legs. Shouldn’t acknowledge the way the satin stretched over her ass when she bent at the waist. Refused to follow the path of her hands when she straightened and smoothed her palms down her stomach. He stashed the thoughts. “I’ll head over to condo, Liz, and make sure your stuff is safe. See if I can grab a couple of guys to help me clear your things out before someone else does.”
“Thanks.” Mercy gave him a tiny smile, gratitude in her eyes.
Someone else knocked. “Excuse me, Ms. Thompson? Hotel management.”
Liz twirled her finger in the air, gesturing for Ian to turn around. He did, and the rustle of fabric reached his ears. Seconds later, she said, “Okay, let him in.”
He glanced over his shoulder, to see she’d pulled on the terrycloth robe and cinched it tight.
Ian opened the door, and a short gentleman stepped into the room. Another man stood in the hallway, arms crossed. “Ms. Thompson, I know this is a special day for you, and I’m sorry to interrupt”—the manager’s tone lacked sincerity—“but given the recent news, and that your fiancé’s card was declined, payment for your reservations needs to be re-secured.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Ian’s disbelief slipped out before he could stop it. “Do you have any tact?”
“I do. I also have a hotel to run, and a thousands-of-dollars’ bill that’s about to go delinquent.” The manager looked at him.
Liz’s chin quivered, and Ian realized her fragile façade was seconds from cracking. “My company has an account with this chain. We’ll switch the bill to our name,” he said.
“That’s nice.” The manager sounded as if it were anything but. “Do you want me to charge that to I-don’t-believe-you-dot-com?”
Ian pulled his wallet out, extracted a business card and a company credit card, and handed them to the man. “I’d like to you charge Thompson Advertising. Can we have this conversation someplace more private? I believe my sister has more important things to deal with.”
The manager’s demeanor shifted in an instant, at the sight of the black American Express card. “Of course. My office is down the hall.”
Ian turned back to Mercy and Liz. “I’ll call you and let you know what I find out about the condo.” He grabbed Mercy’s arm. “Can I borrow you for a second?” He tried and failed to ignore the rush of heat at the contact, as well as the quick gritting of her teeth before her expression slid back to neutral.
She looked at Liz, who nodded. “Yeah,” Mercy said. She followed him into the hallway.
“Keep an eye on her.” It wasn’t a request, and he knew Mercy would anyway, but he needed the reassurance. Ian and Liz’s parents died when Liz was nineteen, in the same accident that stole her high school sweetheart and baby girl from her. She’d withdrawn for years.
“Of course. After we’re done here, I’m taking her back to my hotel room,” Mercy said.
“Thank you. Give me your number, and I’ll text or call with any news.”
She spat out the digits, glancing over her shoulder at Liz. He typed in her information and sent her a note. She jumped and spun back toward him when a chime echoed from a distant location in the room.
“That’s me,” he said. “Now you have my number too. I’ll drop everything if I have to.”
“I know. And I mean it, thank you.” Mercy chewed her lip. How was that tempting, in the midst of this bedlam? Maybe the stress was getting to him.
He gave her one more nod, before following the hotel manager to his office. Liz’s whirlwind engagement to George had brought her back to life. If this guy broke his baby sister, Ian swore he’d hunt the bastard down, and make him suffer.