The bridal couple was watching for them, and waited at the edge of the dance floor. “I was wondering where you two ran off to.” Julie laughed, and Lance winked at Brooke.
“We’ve been wanting a chance to dance with you two,” Julie said.
“Will you let me borrow her for a dance or two?” Lance asked, a friendly grin on his face as he met Chase’s eyes.
“You know I’m not going to say no to the groom,” Chase asked.
Lance held out his arm to Brooke. She took his elbow, and he led her onto the dance floor. Chase felt a stab of jealousy when it was Lance’s hand at Brooke’s waist, her hand in his.
“You will dance with me, won’t you?” Julie asked, a plea in her eyes.
“I’m not going to turn a beautiful bride down,” he said, smiling in a way that he knew was charming.
She blushed, and he wondered if he’d overdone the charm.
“Oh, you. I bet you say those things all the time.”
“Only to one girl,” he admitted. “And I don’t think she believes me.”
“So Brooke tells me you were widowed, Chase.”
Without pausing in their dance, he said, “Yes. I was widowed two years ago. My wife had cancer.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You know Brooke suffered a huge loss, also.”
“Yes, I know. I heard about it when it happened, it made the local papers. I felt pretty bad for her at the time, but we weren’t friends then, so I didn’t make any effort to acknowledge her loss.”
“She said she had a crush on you in high school.”
Chase was amused. “Did she tell you that I kind of had a crush on her, too?”
Julie smiled. “She said you told her you thought she was cute.”
“But she doesn’t believe me, does she?”
“No, she doesn’t think of herself that way. She’s always been shy and never realized how beautiful she is.”
“She is beautiful,” Chase said, his eyes drifting to Brooke.
` “Do you love her, Chase? I mean, really love her?”
He met Julie’s questioning eyes with a steady gaze. “I really do.” The bride looked so excited. “But I want to be the one to tell her.”
“Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Lance spoke to Brooke as they started to dance.
“I want to thank you again for introducing me to Julie.”
Brooke smiled. “It was Carl’s idea, first. I thought it was great. Julie is such a sweetheart, and Carl thought so highly of you.”
“It was yours and Carl’s marriage that convinced me to give it a try,” Lance said.
Brooke looked up at him. “Really?”
“Carl was proud of you. He always called you his partner, said you were a team.”
A pang went through her heart. Carl had told her that often.
“We were a good team. We worked hard to raise the kids and buy our dream home.”
“He treasured you, you know.”
“I didn’t know that,” Brooke said. “And even if he’d told me, I’d have had a hard time believing him.”
“Why is that?”
“I always wondered if Carl was faithful to me.”
That made Lance pause in the dance steps. He looked incredulous.
“Carl would never have cheated on you, Brooke. He loved you.”
“It was his secretary. I worried that they were having an affair.”
Realizing that there were some eyes on them, he commenced dancing again. “I admit, it was hoping on her part. It was a delicate situation, and one the senior partners were aware of. Around the time of the accident, they were working on a solution to give her a different position.”
“I wondered how Carl felt about her.”
“It aggravated him, honestly. He was a family man. You and the kids came first.”
Brooke felt tears slip down her cheeks.
“It means so much to me to hear that, Lance.”
They returned to the edge of the dance floor and switched partners.
As Chase led Brooke around in a slow waltz, he asked,
“What did the groom say to you to make you cry?”
“It doesn’t really matter.”
“It matters to me.”
“He told me that Carl didn’t cheat on me.”
“He knew that for sure?”
“Yes. He and Carl were good friends and worked together. He said that the secretary wanted it to be more, but that in his words, it aggravated Carl. The firm was working on a plan to give her a different position when the crash happened.”
“I can’t imagine anyone cheating on you.”
She pulled back and looked up, until their eyes met. He held her gaze steady.
“You really mean that, don’t you?” She seemed so surprised.
“I’m a straightforward guy, Brooke. I say what I mean, I mean what I say. I’ve grown up since high school. I know I was a real jerk back then, but having a family changed me.”
Tears formed in her eyes.
“Now I’ve made you cry.”
“No, you’ve made me happy,” she said.
Chase wanted to spend the rest of his life making her happy. He knew that, now. It may take him a lifetime to convince her how truly special she was, how much she meant to him. But he was willing to take that risk. She’d opened up his heart to love again.
He didn’t know how long the music played, or how long they danced. All he knew was that the night was magical, and Brooke felt so right in his arms. His heart was bursting with love for her, and he couldn’t wait until they were alone, when he could tell her, and show her, how he really felt.
At last the music stopped. Lance led Julie over to them. “We’re ready to call it a night,” Lance said.
“Are you going to come and help me change, Brooke?” Julie asked.
“That’s the plan,” Brooke said. She looked at Chase. “Will you be all right for a little while?”
“We won’t be long,” Julie said, smiling at Chase as though reminding him of the secret they shared.
After the bride and Brooke left, Lance said, “Julie told me something very interesting about you and Brooke.”
“Yeah, well, if it’s what I think it is, then it’s true.”
Lance put his arm around Chase’s shoulders. “She’s a treasure, that’s what her husband always said. Can I get you a drink?”
Chase shook his head. “I don’t drink alcohol.”
“Not even at weddings?”
“No. I did enough drinking in my teens and early twenties to last a lifetime.”
“Same here, but it’s my wedding, and I feel like celebrating. Come with me, I want to introduce you to a couple of guys.”
He stopped in front of a couple of men who wore tailored suits and had an arrogance about them.
“This is Aaron and John. They’re partners at the firm I work with, and they knew Brooke when she was married to Carl.”
“Hello,” Chase said, suddenly starting to sweat. They didn’t hold their hands out for a handshake. He felt as if they were sizing him up. He saw by the look in their eyes that he fell short. And not physically, for one was shorter than him and the other one about his same height. He could look them in the eye, and he did.
“So what do you do for a living, Chase?” the one named Aaron asked.
“My family owns a heating and cooling business.”
“What are the profits like in that line of work?”
“Excuse me?” Chase couldn’t believe the question.
Lance couldn’t, either. “That’s not a question you ask someone you just met.”
“I don’t mean what you make, personally. I’m asking from an investment standpoint. What are your stocks going for?” Aaron’s look told Chase that he already knew the answer.
“We don’t sell stock,” Chase said. “It’s a small company,” he admitted, and saw their lack of approval.
John was a little older, had some gray in his dark hair. “As a firm, we felt bad that Carl left her with nothing. We unfortunately never pushed Carl to invest in a retirement account. We thought he had life insurance, besides what the firm carried on him.”
Someone called out to Lance, and he left Chase alone with the two attorneys.
“It’s too bad she had to sell that home. They both worked so hard to save up a down payment and buy it,” Aaron said. “I know it tore her up to take the kids out of their school. It’s the same one Carl had attended when he was a kid. Expensive one, though.”
When Chase took a good look at the expression on Aaron’s face, he realized he was baiting him. He was rubbing Brooke’s former financial status in his face. He had a few things he’d like to say, but he kept them in. Maybe they knew Brooke better than he did. At least, they’d known her husband well. It was clear they had no respect for Chase, though.
He saw Brooke walk in with the bride, who was now dressed in a short white dress. Brooke hadn’t changed out of the bridesmaid dress. As she walked towards him, he saw again how elegant she looked. Her hair was pulled up, with a few curls around her face. The rose color of the bridesmaid dress brought out a pink color in her cheeks.
But it was on the diamond necklace that his eyes rested. It was as though he were seeing it for the first time. It was a symbol of the status she had with Carl. Partner in the law firm, fancy home, expensive private school. It was a life that he could never afford to give her.
“Hello, Brooke,” Aaron said.
“Hello, Aaron. How are you?”
“I’m good. How is small town life?”
Brooke smiled. “I’m enjoying it.”
“I can tell,” he said, nodding towards Chase.
Chase saw the anger flash in her eyes, but she quickly recovered. “It’s been a good move for me and the kids, in a lot of ways. They’re adjusting well to their new school. And I enjoy being close to my family again.”
“How is Carl’s mother doing?”
“She is still pretty broken up about the accident. Financially, she is managing, though. I’m sure she will work through her grief.”
“Looks like you’ve worked through yours.”
Brooke bit her lip. Then she looked at Chase.
“Julie and Lance are leaving now. I think we can go, too.”
He put his arm around her waist. “Sounds good to me.”
“Take care of yourself, Brooke,” Aaron said, as they walked away.
Chase stood back while Brooke hugged Julie. Julie turned to him, smiling. He could tell she was a happy bride, and probably happier since he’d admitted how he felt about Brooke. “Oh, you come here and give me a hug!” she said.
He stepped forward and hugged her awkwardly.
“Save me a dance at your wedding,” she whispered. Unfortunately, after a couple of glasses of wine whispering wasn’t easy, and a quick glance at Brooke showed her surprise.
He didn’t respond to Julie’s comment, not then, and not as they rode the elevator up to the suite. If Brooke noticed that he was unusually silent, she didn’t comment on it, herself. Maybe she was tired. And her feet had to be killing her in those high heels.
He saw that the main room in the suite was empty. “I think Mom and Brinley have gone to bed,” Brooke said, pointing towards the closed door that led to the bedroom. She sat on the bench beside the door and slipped off her heels. He saw her rub her feet, a pained expression on her face.
“It’s been a long day,” she said.
“I’ll go to my room now, I guess.”
“If you want to come back up after you change, we can have a cup of coffee.”
He grinned. “I think that’s how this whole relationship started. A few dances, then you invited me in for coffee.”
She smiled. “I guess I’m just a forward kind of girl.”
He put his arms around her. “No, you’re not. I could have said no to the coffee, but in fact I wasn’t ready for that night to end. I was glad you asked.”
“I wondered. I wasn’t ready for the night to end, either. I just felt like we were getting reacquainted when you drove me home.”
“I’ll get changed, and then come back up. If you’re sure your mom won’t mind.”
“She’d be fine with it. It’s not like you will be spending the night up here.”
He started to leave. She turned her back to him.
“Can you get the zipper for me?”
His hands felt a little shaky as he gripped the zipper on the back of her dress and carefully drew it down to her waist. He leaned down and planted little kisses along her neck and shoulder. He heard her sigh.
Her hair was still swept up in the elegant style, and he found the pins that held it. Carefully, gently, he removed the pins and her hair fell in elegant waves to her shoulders. He wrapped his arms around her, and she leaned back against him.
His heart began pounding. “I love you,” he said softly.
She turned in his arms and looked up into his eyes. He held her gaze steady while she studied him. He saw her slow smile as she realized he meant it.
Her arms slid up around his neck. “I love you, too.”
His eyes fell on the diamonds shimmering at her throat. She was used to finer things, having been married to an attorney in a big firm. He was a blue-collar worker, with a middle-class salary. He’d never be able to afford a necklace like that.
The sparkling diamonds seemed to mock him.
He couldn’t help himself. He stepped away.
Her eyes met his with confusion.
“I don’t think this is going to work out.”