Wedding Bell Blues

By: Meg Benjamin

Cal grinned happily. Pete gritted his teeth.

Docia turned to the other side of the booth. “You want to come, Janie? Lee’s got some new tapas to try out for the reception.”

Janie shook her head. “Not tonight. Mom’s waiting dinner for me.”

“I’ll come,” Allie said, decisively. “I need to talk to Lee anyway. We have to firm up the cake logistics. You want to come, Steve?”

Beside her Wonder gulped down the last of his Spaten. “Taste testing with Lee? Any time.”

Janie stood to let them slide out of the booth as Cal and Docia joined them. Cal turned back to Pete. “Come on down when you finish here.”

For a moment, Pete thought he saw a flash of concern in his brother’s eyes. His jaw tightened. Cal was four years younger—his little brother, no matter how tall and broad he’d turned out to be. Concern from him wasn’t acceptable. “Yeah, okay,” he growled. “Shouldn’t take long.”

Cal’s brow furrowed, then he shrugged. “Okay, then, see you later.”

Docia was already headed for the door, Allie at her elbow. Pete watched Cal catch up to her so that he could open the door before she got to it. She turned slightly to look back at him, her lips curving up in a faint smile as their gazes met.

Well, goddamn. He hated being jealous of his little brother.

Across the table, Janie Dupree cleared her throat.

Pete started. He hadn’t noticed she was still there.

Janie gave him a smile that didn’t entirely reach her eyes and wasn’t nearly as charming as Docia’s. “I thought maybe the two of us should touch base, just to make sure we’re taking care of all the things that need to be done before the wedding.”

Pete picked up his bottle of Bud, feeling a slight prickle around his conscience. “What ‘things’ would those be?” He took a long pull, letting lukewarm beer slide down his throat.

Janie’s smile tightened to a thin line. Her eyes narrowed further. “You mean you weren’t kidding? You really haven’t got a clue about what you’re supposed to do?”

“I know what I’m supposed to do,” Pete snapped. “I’m supposed to stand next to my baby brother, carry the ring for him and stay out of the way. Like I said, if he needs anything else, he’ll let me know.”

Janie looked down at the table top, tapping her fingers in a tight rhythm. “Carry the ring? Do you even know what their plans are about a ring bearer? Why do I bother to ask—obviously you don’t. At one point they were going to use Cal’s dog.”

The beer bottle almost slipped through Pete’s fingers, but he managed to catch it before it hit the table top. “His dog? That rodent?”

Janie’s eyes blazed. “Pep is not a rodent. He’s a sweetheart. He may be a Chihuahua, but he’s got the heart of a tiger.”

Pete raised his hand, leaning back slightly. “Okay, okay. He’s a champ. But you’re telling me they’re going to have the dog carry the ring instead of me?”

“They talked about it.” Janie shrugged. “I think they changed their minds. The point is, you need to find that stuff out. It’s your job.”

Pete’s shoulders tightened. His job. Actually, his job was handling a case load that would have flattened the average county attorney. His job was putting low-life assholes where they couldn’t do any more damage and making sure they stayed there. His job—which he currently wasn’t doing because The Wedding had demanded all his time.

“My job,” he said through gritted teeth, “is to do anything Cal asks me to do and otherwise stay out of the way, like I said.”

“You’re not going to help at all?” Janie’s hands were spread on the table in front of her. Her eyes bored into him like laser beams—he figured he should have been a pile of ashes by then.

He shrugged. “Hey, if you think something needs to be done, go to it. Doesn’t look like you need any help from me. You’re doing a hell of a job here, tiny.”

He watched Janie Dupree’s hands turn to fists. She almost looked like she might slug him. For a moment, Pete wondered if that last crack had gone too far. She wasn’t all that short. Maybe five feet or so. Instead of slugging him, she pushed herself up from the booth and stood looking down at him, her lips a grim line. Then she turned and stalked toward the door.

Oh well, just another client he’d disappointed. These days that was par for the course.

Janie kicked a piece of gravel out of her path, then worried that it might have hit the parked car next to her. Damn it, she couldn’t even get mad effectively.

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