Patrick never stopped loving Declan, even if he did shove him away at graduation when they kissed. His alpha-type brothers and father, with all their firefighter history, would never accept him being bi, or understand his need to step outside of the family firm and be a cop.
So, he hides how he feels, and ends up losing the only man he’s ever really loved. The only reconciliation they tried was on the night he found out Declan was engaged, and he never imagined he’d have a chance to make things right. That is, until he receives a desperate phone call from Declan asking to be rescued. Through travel chaos and storms, Patrick finally reaches the venue in the Colorado mountains, but with an empty wedding room and no sign of Declan or the fiancé, he knows he’s too late.
All too familiar with rejection, jilted by his fiancé on his wedding day, and lost, Declan has no idea what comes next. He never imagined he’d be entirely alone after his former fiancé and the wedding party leave, or that an avalanche would trap him in the hotel over Christmas.
And worse? Patrick is in the hotel with him and won’t leave him alone. Sharing a room with his former best friend is the last thing Declan wants, but maybe nature has given him a sign that he needs to confront the past and find a way to move on with his life. If only it was easy to fall out of love with the man who holds your heart.
The day of the wedding
Declan wasn’t answering his phone or reading any of the hundreds of messages I’d sent him in the last two days since he’d called me. We hadn’t seen each other since the summer; not talked since he’d ghosted me, deleted me, decided enough was enough.
I couldn’t blame him.
I played his last message again, and again, until I knew it by heart, picked apart every detail, and heard every desperately sad hitch in his breath. I knew him; I should be there for him.
He needed me.
The message was long, rambling, and ended with a succession of beeps as he’d attempted to delete it.
Thank god he hadn’t managed to delete it at all. It was still here for me to listen to, and it shattered my heart every god damn time, because I had ignored him, too lost in my own misery that he was getting married to want to even listen to his voice.
His sexy, beautiful, voice.
“Hi, it’s uhm… it’s me… Declan, obviously… or not… uhm… I get you won’t answer this call, and that makes me so damn sad. I miss you. Look… I know things were said at the gallery opening, but I know you were trying to do the right thing with Lennox. It’s all you’ve ever done, looked out for me, wanted to find the best man for me.
I just hoped that, maybe, you’d see that it was you that I… no, that’s not what I wanted to say. I guess you’ve moved on, but I want to try for us to be friends again. I invited you to the wedding, but you never responded.
I miss you, Pads, I miss us, and when I sent you the invitation, I hoped that you’d call me, and you’d be my best man. I want to move on, but I can’t… shit… this is stupid, right? Because I could just as easily have called you. Fuck. Jesus, why is this so hard? I just wanted to let you know I’m okay. I don’t know why Lennox wants to marry me—apparently, he wants his brother at a wedding, and this was the only day, and it made sense for me to say yes.
I mean he said he wanted his brother at a wedding, not at our wedding, but I didn’t understand. I didn’t ask him what he meant by that.
What I have with him might not be perfect, but I’ll try my hardest to be happy, so don’t worry… but… god… I wish you’d accepted the invitation. I wish you were here to be my best man, my best friend, even if you can’t love me the way I used to love you.
I wish you could rescue me from this… No… Shit, ignore I said that, too.
My head is all over the place.
I don’t need rescuing. I’m doing the right thing, and you’re in my past now. Look… just… please stay safe eh? No taking down criminal gangs and ending up shot… I needed you to know—it’s important you know— that you’re my best friend, and I will always love you, Pads, and, fuck, I hope you’re okay.
I just wish you were here to help me make sense of things.
I think I’ve done the wrong thing.
I don’t know.
Shit. Ignore that as well. I’m okay.
Just yeah… I wish you were here Pads.
How do I delete this? I’m gonna delete this.
“Can you please drive faster?”
Bob-the-cab-driver didn’t answer, mostly because he was concentrating on not ending up in a snowdrift, and also it would’ve been the same answer he’d given me on the four occasions I’d already asked—that he was driving as fast as he could, and he assumed I wanted to make it to the inn alive.
I’d visualized the journey from the small local airport to the hotel because that was all I could look at on the many flights it had taken from Charleston, diverted to New York because of a snowstorm, stranded there, then through to Denver by train, car, and bus, then getting local flights. Leave the local airport, find a cab, head north, and on a good day the journey from door-to-door would be twenty-one minutes. Bob raised an eyebrow at me then concentrated on his driving. I sat back in my seat with an exasperated huff because if I was at the wheel right now, snow on the ground or not, I’d be pushing the speed limit. Of course, knowing my luck, I’d be pulled over by the cops before I even left the town, let alone made it up the mountain to the inn, but I had my ID, and I was still in the same suit I’d left Charlotte in, so I hoped they’d give a cop in service a pass when I told them the mad dash was a matter of life and death.
I wouldn’t tell them it was mostly a matter of love, because who would even rush madly cross-country this close to Christmas, through the snow, for love?
Bob navigated around yet another drift, and I hung onto the door as we swerved before the tire chains caught, and we were once again heading down the only road leading to the hotel. There were banks of snow on either side, but I should count my lucky stars I’d finally outrun the storm that had crippled the East coast and made my journey to this small mountain outside Denver near impossible.
“What’s waiting for you at the other end?” he asked conversationally, as if it were okay to take his eyes off his driving.
“Why do you need to be at The Rainbow Inn so quickly?”
“No, wait. What? I need to get to The Retreat.”
“Yeah, same place, just we call it The Rainbow Inn because…” He flapped his hand, and I wasn’t sure what he meant, although I thought he might be feigning a limp wrist, and that got my back up immediately. Still, I didn’t have the energy to answer his questions about why the need for speed, fixated on the idea of getting to The Retreat before the worst of all things happened and I lost Declan forever. “Yeah, so why you going there?”
I used to love you.
“It’s complicated,” I offered in the well-worn tradition of offering nothing and hoping the person asking the question backed off.
“Aah.” Bob laughed. “Girlfriend trouble, huh?”
“No.” Please, just look at the road, then you can drive faster.
“Wife trouble?” He frowned into the mirror.
I needed him to stop the questions right now—not getting to the hotel in time was messing with my head, but I didn’t want to die before I’d had a chance to talk to Declan—not when I’d gotten this far. “Best-friend-who-is-a-guy trouble.”
“Ahh, so the best friend is the one with the girl trouble?”
Jesus. “Please, can you drive any faster?” I checked my watch again, and there was only ten minutes to go until the wedding started.
Six hundred seconds to let him know I’d been wrong, that I did love him, and he needed to know that before he married Lennox.
I was selfish, fucked-up, and grieving; and I’d been so stupid, hiding parts of myself so my family wouldn’t disown me, when in doing that I’d lost everything.
I held my breath as Bob rounded a tight bend, swerving to avoid a truck heading our way, and skimming so close to the snowbank I could’ve reached out and grabbed a handful of the white stuff.
Bob didn’t seem fazed, humming along to Mariah, bopping his head to the Christmas beat, yet still managing to keep the car on the road. How the man could sing, chair-dance, and drive was beyond me, but it was all too fucking scary, so I closed my eyes and focused on what I was going to say to Declan when I got there.
“We’re nearly there,” Bob announced.
I leaned to the side to stare through the front window past the banks of snow and got my first glimpses of The Retreat.
It was an old building—rustic and with a lot of wood—set back into and sheltered by a rocky overhang, and there was so much stone it was as if it had been built right into the side of the mountain. A circular driveway had us up to the front door. I thrust a pile of bills at the driver, not caring if I’d given him way too much.
“Good luck, son! Go get her!”
Clearly, he hadn’t heard a word I said, and I didn’t bother to correct him again.
“Thank you.” I grabbed my duffle, exited the car, and ran, jumping the steps to the front door three at a time and barging my way through so fast a man standing just inside tumbled backward into the wall in surprise.
“Sorry, I’m looking for the wedding hall.”
He shook his head and shrugged, probably still in shock at the sight of the idiot in a worn, crumpled suit who pushed past him. There was a small line at the reception desk, but I bypassed everyone, slamming my hand down on the counter and frightening the women behind it. “The hall with the wedding, where is it?”
“Sir, there’s a line.” She was so startled her eyebrows vanished under her bangs, and she gave me a thorough once-over, and her eyes widened. I knew I was disheveled, exhausted, and travel-rough. Come on, just tell me where Declan is.
“Sorry, please, I don’t mean to be rude, I just need the hall with the wedding.”
Someone tapped me on the shoulder, a woman in a ski cap. “I think it’s that way.” She pointed toward an area behind reception. I nodded my thanks and sprinted so fast past a few small boutiques that, I swear, I left scorch marks on the wooden floor. I went through the double doors with more care, not wanting to flatten anyone standing on the other side, and found myself in a corridor, with doors to the left and right. Where now? I glanced at my watch, seventeen minutes past eleven, and in my heart I felt that maybe I was just too late.
“The wedding!” I shouted, not thinking through what I was doing, and rounded on someone who’d followed me through double doors. “The wedding?” I repeated as the same woman who’d tapped me on the shoulder, sans ski cap, gestured to the middle door and the discreet sign to the side that said Essex Hall in small letters. I schooled my features into what I assumed was a pleasant smile of thanks, but the woman took a hurried step back, and I guessed my smile needed some practice. I didn’t have time to apologize, and steeling myself for what I needed to do, I thrust open the doors and stepped into a vast high-ceilinged room. All I could see was white from flowers and ribbons, and I shouted as loud as I could.
“Stop the wedding!”
The room was empty. Beautifully decorated with pale roses and fairy lights draped everywhere, there was no one there. I slumped to the nearest chair, every breath I’d been holding sweeping out of me, and emotion knotting in my chest.
I couldn’t rescue him.
I couldn’t tell him I loved him.
I was too late.
V.L. Locey – Checking it Twice
USA Today bestselling author RJ Scott has written over one hundred and fifty romance books. Emotional stories of complicated characters, cowboys, single dads, hockey players, millionaires, princes, bodyguards, Navy SEALs, soldiers, doctors, paramedics, firefighters, cops, and the men who get mixed up in their lives, always with a happy ever after.
She lives just outside London and spends every waking minute she isn’t with family either reading or writing.
The last time she had a week’s break from writing, she didn’t like it one little bit, and she has yet to meet a box of chocolates she couldn’t defeat.