As the bride and groom whirled into the first dance at the sumptuously decorated Beacon Hill Crystal Club, TJ Bauer struggled to block memories of his own wedding. It had been more than two years since Lauren had died, and there were days when he was at relative peace with her loss. But there were also days like this when the ache was so acute that his chest balled into a painful knot of loneliness.
“Doing okay?” Caleb Watford approached, handing TJ a glass of single malt, one ice cube, just the way TJ liked it.
TJ had no intention of getting into it, so he nodded to the dance floor instead. “Matt’s one lucky man.”
Caleb watched TJ’s expression closely, as if he was debating whether or not to let the topic drop. “I’ll agree to that.”
“It was touch and go there for a while.” TJ forced his mind away from the memory of Lauren, reliving his good friend Matt Emerson’s frantic, ring-less marriage proposal to Tasha, her packed suitcases at her feet. “I thought she was going to say no.”
Caleb cracked a grin. “It all turned out in the end.”
TJ found his own smile for Matt’s good fortune. He was genuinely happy that his friend had found love. Tasha was smart, beautiful and completely down-to-earth. She was exactly what Matt needed in his life.
Caleb clapped a hand on TJ’s shoulder. “You’ll be next.”
“Not.” The cloud moved back over TJ’s emotions.
“You need to keep an open mind.”
“Would you replace Jules?”
The question brought silence.
TJ took a swallow of his drink. “That’s what I thought.”
“It’s easy to say never when she’s right here in front of me.”
Both men shifted their gazes to Caleb’s wife, Jules. She was radiant following the birth of her twin girls three months ago. Right now, she laughed at something her brother-in-law Noah said.
“It’s hard to get past the never part,” TJ said, struggling to put his feelings into words. He liked facts, not emotions. Emotions always tripped him up. “It’s not that I’m not trying. I am. But it always cycles back to Lauren.”
“I get it,” Caleb said. “At least I think I get it. I know I can’t possibly understand.”
“If I could flip a switch…” TJ let the sentence drop.
Intellectually, he knew Lauren wasn’t coming back. He even knew she’d want him to move on. But she was his true love, his one and only. He couldn’t imagine anyone taking her place.
“Give it some more time,” Caleb said.
“It’s not like I have a choice,” TJ responded, hearing the irony in his own tone. Time would march along no matter what he did or didn’t do.
The strains of the song wound down to an end, and Matt and Tasha moved toward them, all smiles. Her graceful tulle skirt floated over the polished floor. TJ never thought he’d see the tomboyish marine mechanic in full bridal attire. When she wore a dress instead of coveralls, she was quite stunningly beautiful.
“Come and dance with the bride,” she said to him, a tinkling laugh in her tone as she linked her arm with his.
“It would be an honor.” As the best man, he put a smile on his face and set down his drink, determined to keep his melancholy thoughts to himself.
“Is everything okay?” she asked as they swung onto the dance floor.
Other couples joined them, and the dance floor filled as the music swelled.
“Everything is great,” he said.
“I saw your expression when you were talking to Caleb.”
“Where did you learn to dance like this?” TJ appreciated her concern, but this was her day. She didn’t need to be worrying about him.
“What’s going on, TJ?”
“Nothing. Well, one thing. I’m a little jealous of Matt.”
“Now, that’s a big fat lie.”
He drew back slightly. “Look at yourself, Tasha. Every guy here is jealous of Matt.”
She shook her head and laughed.
“Except for Caleb,” TJ felt honor-bound to add. “And the other married guys… Well, some of them, anyway.”
Now she looked amused. “That was a very carefully constructed compliment.”
“It really went off the rails there, didn’t it?”
“You just kept getting deeper and deeper.”
“What I mean,” he said, “is that you make a radiant bride.”
“It’s a very time-limited thing,” she said.
It was his turn to laugh.
She put on a frown. “I can barely breathe in the corset, never mind walk in these heels. If there’s an emergency, somebody’s going to have to carry me out of here.”