As the DJ started King of Swing, Grace retreated toward the back of the reception hall. She had to get out now, while there was still time.
Avoiding the crowded bar, she charted a path around the dance floor. She was making good time until Mrs. Zimmerman ambushed her next to the table holding Liz and Matthew’s Art Deco wedding cake. “Well, well, well. Little Gracie McClellan. It’s been years since I’ve seen you.”
“Good to see you, Mrs. Z.” She kept moving, all too aware of the seconds ticking away.
“Where are you rushing off to?” Mrs. Zimmerman wanted to know. “They haven’t cut the cake yet, you know. No one leaves a wedding before the cake is cut.”
“And now,” the DJ intoned solemnly. “The moment all of you single ladies have been waiting for.”
Crap. She was out of time.
“I have to…bathroom…emergency.”
Mrs. Zimmerman would undoubtedly let all the other guests know how rude Grace McClellan had gotten, but Grace couldn’t worry about that now. She weaved around a flower girl, charged toward the back door, and—
She lifted her head off a tuxedo-clad chest. The butterflies fighting a death match inside her stomach made it clear who she’d bumped into even before she made eye contact. Nate Conner. AKA, the hottest groomsman in the known universe. Who was now blocking her only escape route.
She’d grown up next door to Nate, and they’d spent their early years building mud forts and pretending to be pirates. Then Nate had decided girls were icky. Before he’d grown out of that phase, his family had moved across town, and he’d disappeared from her life.
Fast forward to Liz’s engagement party last month, where Grace had spotted him across the room. Of course she’d said hello. The next thing she knew it was midnight and they’d been talking for six hours. In one evening, they’d forged the kind of connection she’d always dreamed of. And now she had to escape before she ruined everything.
“Grace McClellan.” Nate smiled, and the butterflies in her stomach morphed into stampeding rhinos. “Where are you going?”
“You know.” She waved a hand around airily, pretending she wasn’t about to have a panic attack.
“Nope. Not a clue.”
During her teen years, she’d been a fabulous liar, coming up with a new excuse for missing curfew every few nights. Unfortunately, it had been eight years since she’d had a curfew, and she was out of practice. She couldn’t think of a single reason for sneaking out of her best friend’s wedding reception right before the bouquet toss. Nothing except the truth. And no way could she share that with Nate.
“I’m, uh, going to take a walk?” she tried.
His smile widened. “You were sneaking out.”
“Fine,” she admitted. “I was sneaking out. I have…an emergency.” That wasn’t even a lie.
His smile disappeared. “Are you okay, Gracie? If you need a doctor—”
“No, no. It’s nothing like that.”
He looked so relieved, she heard herself saying the one thing she’d promised herself she would never, ever say to a real-live person. Especially Nate. “The thing is, Liz is about to toss the bouquet, and I have…sort of a phobia.”
Well, crap. That sounded just as ridiculous when she said it out loud as it had inside her head.
Nate didn’t look put off, though. He looked…intrigued. “This I’ve got to hear.”
Grace took a deep breath. No turning back now. “Two years ago, my friend Connie got married. I was dating Danny Finch at the time, and we were in love. At least, I thought we were. I plowed over three bridesmaids to get that bouquet, thinking it would push him to pop the question.” She studiously ignored the DJ, who was calling all the single women to the center of the dance floor. “I got the bouquet, but, instead of a proposal, I got dumped. I caught the bouquet at Lauren’s wedding and got dumped again. By the time Angie’s wedding rolled around, I’d learned my lesson. I stayed at my table, but her throw went long and the bouquet landed in my lap. There went my latest relationship. So you see why I have to leave.”
Nate leaned against the door. “If your boyfriend gets spooked by a few roses, you’re better off without him.”
“I don’t have a boyfriend.”
He looked unapologetically pleased to hear that. “Then what do you have to lose?”
You. Everything. “I just…I can’t take any more bad relationship luck.”
Danny would’ve laughed, but Nate gave her that slow, easy smile she loved. “You know what you need? A good luck charm.”
“Yeah. Too bad there aren’t any four-leaf clovers on the dance floor.”
“Here.” He placed a small circular object in her right hand.
“Is that your class ring?”
“It may look like a class ring,” he intoned solemnly, “but it’s actually a good luck charm that’s been passed down through generations of Connors.”
She examined the inside of the gold band. “It says Pine Hill High Panthers.”
“Exactly. This ring is such a powerful good luck charm, my family had to camouflage it to keep it out of the wrong hands.”
She hid a smile. “I guess I should put it on, then.”
She slid the ring over her thumb. The metal was still warm from Nate’s hand, and it made her feel like she was wrapped in a pair of strong, warm arms. Like she really was holding a good luck charm.
“Come on.” Nate took her hand.
His skin was even warmer than the ring, with a slight roughness she felt all the way through her body. What would it feel like if he—
“Hey!” She jerked Nate to a halt at the edge of the dance floor. While she’d been distracted, he’d been leading her toward her doom. “What are you doing?”
“You’ll thank me later.” He gave her a gentle nudge.
The next thing she knew, she was trapped inside a horde of single women. There was Liz, ready to toss her bouquet.
Panic flooded Grace’s chest. She let two bridesmaids cut in front of her, but it didn’t help. Liz launched the bouquet straight into her arms. She stared at the pink peonies and tried not to hyperventilate.
“That’s my girl!” Nate shouted.
Instead of running away, he was striding toward her. And, was he smiling? Yes. That was definitely a smile. For her.
She took a deep breath, then exhaled, letting out her irrational panic with the air. She’d had it wrong all along. Those bouquet-induced breakups had been the best luck of her life. They’d led her to Nate.
When the DJ played a slow song it seemed natural to dance with him. They moved together like they’d been dancing for years.
“What do you think?” Nate asked. “Did the ring work?”
“Then why are you smiling?”
She was smiling. The kind of smile she couldn’t stop, because it had taken over her entire face. “Because I don’t need the ring. You’re my good-luck charm.” She swayed slowly in his arms. “And I have a feeling my streak of bad relationship luck is over.”
Thanks for reading Runaway Bridesmaid.
Want more? If you liked Grace & Nate’s story, you’ll love Liv and Caleb in PRETTY IN INK.
Liv needs a fake boyfriend whose name matches her tattoo. But can she survive a month with her brother’s best friend without falling in love for real?
There are meddling brothers. And police interrogation rooms used in ways they were never intended to be used. And there just might be another hilarious bouquet-toss scene in there for you. 😉 Click here to check it out.