Committed Book #3
Committed Book #3
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My life exploded in a matter of moments.
One bad decision led to another, and what should have been the happiest time of my life became the worst I ever experienced. I never wanted to fall in love. It just happened.
I’d do anything to avoid losing it, but I have to think for someone else now. It isn’t just me…but I will do whatever it takes to make things right.
I’m committed to it.
- Billionaire Romance
- Secret Baby
- Broken Hero
My life exploded in a matter of moments.
One bad decision led to another, and what should have been the happiest time of my life became the worst I ever experienced. I never wanted to fall in love. It just happened.I’d do anything to avoid losing it, but I have to think for someone else now. It isn’t just me…but I will do whatever it takes to make things right.I’m committed to it.
“So, you guys aren’t going to be able to make the wedding?” I glance between my mom and stepfather, feeling more than disappointed. I haven’t gotten to see them as much as I’d like to these days, between the craziness of work and the whirlwind of events leading up to the wedding. I’ve been looking forward to getting to see them for the weekend at the resort.
My mom shakes her head sadly. “I’m sorry, this flu has sidelined John, and I think I might be coming down with it.” My brow creases. “And I don’t think I’m up to navigating Jackson’s family for the weekend, especially not without John.”
“That’s fair. Tiffany will miss seeing you, though.” Throughout the years of co-parenting birthday parties and school events and weekends back and forth with the two families, Tiffany had always liked hanging around my mom. It had irritated me when I was a kid, but as we got older, it turned into something I appreciated—the fact that everyone in the family seemed to care about each other. Until the falling out over my first marriage, of course.
“I know. We feel so bad, but I’ve already let Tiffany know that as soon as they’re back from their honeymoon, we’d love to have dinner in their lovely home.”
I nod, glad that I don’t have to tell Tiffany the bad news.
Which brings me to the next thing that I’d wanted to tell my parents after the wedding. I’d planned to tell them with Madison, but the stomach flu she’d had was still bothering her. Now that I think about it, maybe something is going around.
“I have something I want to tell you. Can you get Dad?” My mom looks at me curiously suspicious but goes to get him.
A moment later, I hear my dad grunt, “Hey Alex. Well, don’t keep us waiting,” he says with a hint of laughter.
“I asked Madison to marry me,” I say, grinning from ear to ear. “And she said yes!”
“Oh my god! I’m so happy for you both. Madison is such a great girl. I’m so glad you’ve found someone who makes you so happy. I couldn’t be more thrilled that you’re marrying her!” my mom sings.
“I’m happy for you too,” John says. “Madison is wonderful. I’m glad that the two of you have found each other. A happy marriage makes all the difference.”
“You have to come for dinner as soon as you’re back for the wedding,” my mom says insistently. “Promise me, Alex. None of these excuses about work. Both you and Madison, over here for a celebration dinner. Next Saturday?”
I can’t help but laugh at her enthusiasm. “Of course, Mom,” I tell her. “I know Madison’s just dying to tell you guys about it too.”
It finally feels like, after all of the uncertainty and loneliness that followed my divorce, my life is finally coming together again. I thank my lucky stars every day that I was there when Madison walked into the bar in Miami, and that somehow we ran into each other again, that I just happened to be there on that day in New York. It feels like fate, like we are meant to be together…like all the bad things that came before just don’t matter now.
I love Madison and our life together. And I can’t wait to make it official—to make her my wife. It’s why I hate asking Madison to keep our engagement a secret during the wedding weekend. I want to shout it from the rooftops, but I also don’t want to upstage my sister’s big day. So regretfully, as I pack up my suit for the wedding, I glance over at her where she’s layering clothes into a suitcase, finally out of bed from her own flu bug.
“I think we should probably hold off on telling everyone about the engagement,” I say. “I only went ahead and told my parents since they aren’t going to be there. This is Tiffany’s weekend. I don’t want to upstage it with an announcement like that.”
Madison glances over at me with a distracted look on her face. She’s been like that a lot lately—distracted, off, not her usual self. But I’ve chalked it up to her settling into the new job and being sick on top of it. Not to mention the bullshit that Holly pulled at that party. She forces a smile onto her face, and I can tell she’s reluctant as she spins the ring around her finger.
“Should I take it off?” she asks, still toying with it.
“I don’t want you to,” I tell her sincerely as I come around the bed, reaching for her waist and pulling her against me for a kiss. The thought crosses my head that we could be a little late for the rehearsal dinner tonight. After all, the bed is right there…Madison laughs against my mouth, and the sound reassures me. She knows exactly what I’m thinking. “I never want to see that ring off your finger for the rest of our lives,” I tell her, pulling back a little and looking down into her eyes. “But we might want to leave it in the hotel safe, while we’re at the dinner and ceremony and reception. I really don’t want to detract from Tiffany’s day. And there’s no way anyone is missing that rock on your finger,” I tell her, feeling pleased with myself. I did a good job picking it out.
I kiss her again, savoring the feeling of her soft lips under mine. Lips that I get to kiss for the rest of my life. “Now hurry up and finish packing,” I tell her, giving her a quick swat on the ass as she turns away. “We’re running late.”
I love long drives—something that we don’t get often living in the city, and I’ve been looking forward to the trip out to the Hamptons for weeks now. I rented a luxurious, comfortable Range Rover—a splurge, but one that will make the trip more fun—made a road trip playlist, and I can’t help but grin at Madison as she settles into her seat and we take off onto the highway.
But after a while, it becomes clear that Madison doesn’t seem to be having as much fun as I am. I stop halfway through singing along loudly to one of my favorite songs to glance over at her, where she’s nibbling on a cracker and sipping ginger ale, watching the scenery go by. “You seem quiet.” I wonder if she’s anxious about the weekend. Or maybe still sick? It feels like we haven’t talked as much this past week as we usually do. “Are you feeling sick?”
“Just tired,” she says quickly. “It’s been a long week.”
That’s all it is. Just tired, like I am—like we all are. “It has,” I agree. “I’m looking forward to a few days off. By the way, have you heard from Alyssa?” I switch to the next song, my brow furrowing. “She hasn’t answered any of my calls or texts, and when I asked Mom why she just picked up and moved back out of nowhere, she said that’s just how she is.”
Madison coughs, choking on a bite of cracker as she looks over at me. “Sorry,” she manages. “Um, no. No, I haven’t heard anything from her.”
“It’s weird that she would just pick up and move out like that,” I say as I look out over the road. “I thought she was happy living with us.” It’s not that I’m brokenhearted that Alyssa moved out, exactly—I like my privacy, and I know Madison does too. I never wanted another roommate. But as annoying as I know Alyssa found my rules sometimes, our parents are even worse. I have no idea why she’d move back there.
“I did too,” Madison says. “But you know how she is. She’s reckless. She gets an idea in her head and runs with it.”
I laugh at that. It’s the most succinct description of Alyssa I’ve heard in a while. “I was too, at that age,” I admit. “Maybe she’s just getting it out of her system.”
“I hope so,” she agrees.
It’s almost dark by the time we get to the resort. I’ve been here before, but of course Madison hasn’t, and she’s looking around with wide eyes the entire time as we drive up and park out front. I tip the valet as the bellboy unloads our bags, and Madison surveys the lobby with her eyes the size of dinner plates as we walk in, and I check us into our room.
The room is one of the nicest I’ve stayed in here, and Madison immediately goes to check out the bathroom. I see her looking at the massive jacuzzi tub as I peek at her through the door, and a wave of desire washes over me as I remember that afternoon in a different bathtub with her.
I glance over at the bed. We are here early…
Madison comes out of the bathroom, crossing the room directly to me and tipping her chin up for a kiss as she wraps her arms around my neck. I let out a small sigh as she pulls me into her, and I bend down to kiss her, feeling that sense of peace that I always do when she’s in my arms, as if everything is right with the world when she’s there.
She lays her head against my chest, looking around the room. “This is amazing,” she says, a touch of laughter in her voice. “Sure we can’t get married here, too?”
I laugh, kissing the top of her head. I’ve definitely thought about it. But I want something different, something more uniquely “us.”
“Sure,” I tell her, kissing her again. “If my dad will pay for it. But I’d rather have a smaller wedding and pay for it ourselves. Then no one but us gets a say in how we do it.”
Honestly, I couldn’t care less where we get married or how we do it. I just want the people I love most there, watching and celebrating with us as I make Madison my wife. The thought of it fills me with happiness, and I look down at Madison as she turns in my arms, her face reflecting the same thing. “I like the sound of that,” she whispers.
I slide my hands over her waist, her hips, pulling her closer still to me as I kiss her with purpose, sliding my tongue over her lower lip to taste her as she moans softly, her breath warm against my mouth.
Fuck being at the rehearsal dinner on time, I decide, backing her slowly towards the bed as I run my hands over her body. “Come on,” I say, lifting her slightly and setting her on the edge. “Let’s see how soft this bed is.”
I can’t get enough of her. Even afterward, as we get into the shower sweaty from lovemaking, I can’t keep my hands off of her. Madison pushes me teasingly away as I bend to kiss her neck, my hands on the curve of her waist that I love so much. “You’re going to get my hair wet,” she complains, but I can tell she doesn’t mind.
“So?” I reach up to squeeze her breast lightly.
“So I had a blow-out this morning, so it would be easy to style for tonight!” She grins at me. “You’re insatiable,” she accuses playfully, and I grin.
“For you? Always.” I squeeze her breast again, my fingers lingering on her nipple, and she lets out a small sigh as she leans into me for just a second before stepping out of the shower.
I take my time getting ready since Madison still has to do her makeup. I can’t help but think about what it will be like to get dressed for my own wedding, Madison in a different part of the hotel, getting ready to say our vows to each other. I’ve never dreamed about a wedding, even with Holly. It seemed like a lot of stress and unnecessary money spent. I was more of your typical groom with her. But with Madison, I’m genuinely excited to plan the day, anticipating the love and happiness that I know we’ll be surrounded with. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been married before; it feels like it’s entirely new and different.
When Madison steps out of the bathroom, slipping her earrings in, I can’t help but whistle teasingly at her. She’s wearing that green dress again that I love, and I grin as she walks up to me. “You look beautiful, future Mrs. Scully,” I tell her as I bend down to kiss her.
“What if I want to keep my last name?” Her eyes are sparkling when she looks up at me, and I laugh.
“Then you can,” I say, kissing her again. “But, I do like the sound of that.”
The rehearsal dinner is in full swing when we head downstairs. Madison looks nervous as we move through the room, putting food on her plate as we make our way through the buffet line, but only picking at it. She usually is comfortable and warm around my family. I wonder if she still doesn’t feel good. The only thing I can think of is the mess at Tiffany’s bachelorette party, and that it’s made her worry that everyone will be angry with her, or Tiffany won’t want her here. I want to reassure her, but I also don’t want to bring it up if that’s not it, so I don’t say anything.
Tiffany doesn’t look as if she has a care in the world, though. She practically floats over to us, and she immediately gives Madison a huge hug, which I hope will cheer Madison up. Madison thanks her for inviting her, and Tiffany clearly has forgotten and forgiven everything, because it’s evident that it was never even a question.
As Madison goes to refill her glass of water, I turn to Tiffany and hug her as well. “I’m so happy for you, Sis,” I tell her sincerely. “This is an awesome party.”
“You have Dad to thank for that,” Tiffany laughs. “And Mom for helping to plan it. I could never have pulled this off all on my own.”
“It’s great. And you look so happy.”
“I am,” Tiffany says, beaming. “Philip has been so sweet, and I can tell he’s so happy to be marrying me. None of that ball-and-chain joking crap. One of his groomsmen tried to joke about it, and he shut it right down.” She laughs. “It feels good to have someone be excited to spend the rest of their lives with me.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” I tell her, and she raises an eyebrow.
“Oh? Is there something I don’t know?” she asks, giving me a mischievous smile.
I press my lips together tightly. I want to tell her, but Tiffany is awful at secret-keeping. The whole family would know in an instant. “Maybe,” I say cagily. “But this is your weekend. Let’s focus on you.”
Tiffany rolls her eyes, but grabs my arm, dragging me towards Jackson and Cassandra. Madison catches up to us as we walk towards them, and I see Jackson talking to a business associate, looking dapper as always in a tailored suit. I clean up well, but I don’t think I’ll ever achieve my father’s level of polish.
He glances at us, and the expression on his face almost looks nervous. What is going on with everyone? Weddings make people anxious, I guess, but it feels as if everyone except for Tiffany, so far, has been on edge. Madison shivers next to me, and I glance down at her with concern. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah,” Madison says quickly. I see she’s abandoned her plate of food. “Just a little cold. I should’ve brought my wrap.”
“I can go up and grab it for you,” I offer. I want her to have a good night, and she seems more on edge than ever.
“No, that’s okay,” she says, shaking her head. “I’ll be fine, I promise.”
Cassandra looks beautiful standing next to my father, in a floor-length dark green dress. They’re a striking couple, they always have been. I think of my mom and John more when I think of Madison and I, but still, I can’t help but admire my father’s success, and the elegance of him and Cassandra together.
“Good to see you finally made it, Son,” Jackson says, grinning at me. “And you too, Madison.”
“This is a lovely party,” Madison says, but her voice is a little stilted, not her usual boisterous happy self. I take the last sip of my drink and glance down at it. “I’m going to go get a refill,” I tell Madison. “Dad, do you want anything?”
“Sure. Another scotch, if you don’t mind. Macallan 12.”
I glance down at Madison. “You’re not drinking tonight? No wine or anything?”
She shakes her head quickly. “My stomach still isn’t great. I’ll just stick to water.”
I’m halfway to the bar when I hear a voice that I’d hoped I could avoid for the entire weekend. “Alex!” Holly calls out, and I turn to see her pushing her way through the crowd.
Shit. I set the glasses down on a passing waiter’s tray and veer off course, heading towards the men’s room. She can’t follow me in there, and maybe she’ll get distracted before I come out.
No such luck. She catches up to me right before I reach the door. “Alex!” she says again. “I need to talk to you. Please.”
There’s no one around I can pretend to need to talk to instead. I turn to face her, sighing with frustration. “What is it, Holly?” I glare at her. “I know you have to be here for whatever insane reason, but I was hoping we could just each pretend the other didn’t exist for the day.”
To anyone else, she would be absolutely gorgeous, her hair pinned up in an elaborate updo and wearing a crimson red dress that clings to her slender shape. She stands out in a crowd—of course, being beautiful has never been her problem. But I couldn’t care less how she looks on the outside. I know what she’s truly like, and I’ll never be able to look at her in that way again.
“Are you really going to marry Madison?” she asks, her voice low and sharp. I have to stop myself from laughing at her audacity, that she thinks she deserves to know, how she could even ask me. Before I answer, she can already read my face. “Really, Alex?”
I narrow my eyes, crossing my arms over my chest. “Yes,” I say coldly. “I’m in love with her, Holly. Real, true love. I can’t believe you even have the gall to come over and talk to me about this at all, but especially after the shit you pulled at Tiffany’s party. What kind of best friend are you?”
“Alex…” Her voice goes soft, and she looks up at me with wide, sad eyes. “I apologized to Tiffany, and I want to apologize to you,” she says quietly. “I mean it. I never got to apologize genuinely, and I was so angry about you leaving me…but I’m sorry for everything. What I did when we were together—I regret it every day. You were the best thing I ever had, and I lost you. I see Madison with you, and all I can think about is what I’ve lost. Please, Alex, there has to be a way we can fix it? I’d do anything to make things right with you…with us.”
I shake my head in disbelief. How can she think she has a chance at fixing things with me? “We were over a long time ago,” I tell her flatly. “I love Madison. I’m in love with her, and I could never be in love with you again. I could never trust you again after what you did. You need to move on, Holly.”
Her eyes turn hard in an instant, her chin lifting as she glares at me angrily. “Madison is far from the perfect woman you think she is,” she snaps. “Could you forgive her for hurting you? Since you can’t forgive me?”
I frown, looking down at her. “Madison would never lie to me or hurt me the way you did,” I tell her coldly. “I’ve moved on. I don’t think about you or miss you. I hope you find someone who will give you the kind of love Madison and I have, but that isn’t going to be me. I’m sorry.”
Holly is silent for a long moment, and when she speaks again, her voice is flat and cold. “Well. You have bad luck with women, Alex,” she snaps, and then turns on her heel, stalking off to disappear into the crowd.
Christ. I rub my hand over my face, blinking rapidly. I didn’t expect Holly to be a beacon of sunshine, but I also hadn’t expected her to corner me and beg for me back. All I can do is hope that I got through to her because I don’t want to deal with this all weekend. The last thing I want is to have to keep fending off my ex-wife.
I try to put it out of my head as Madison and I make our way around the room, and I introduce her to members of the family that she hasn’t met yet. “Next time we see any of these people, I’ll be introducing you as my fiancée,” I tell her softly, pulling her close against me as the crowd thins out for a moment.
Madison looks up at me, leaning in for a quick kiss. For a second, I think I see a glimmer of sadness in her eyes. It’s on the tip of my tongue to ask her what’s wrong, but then we pass by Holly, and I feel myself go cold just looking at her.
She smiles at us both, her expression smug. I don’t know what’s caused the change in her mood—after all, I just rejected her after she begged for me back. But she looks like the cat that just ate the canary, her eyes switching back and forth between Madison and me. “So nice to see you here,” she says to Madison, then glances at me and raises an eyebrow. “I’m sure you’re going to love the wedding. Especially tomorrow.”
“We wouldn’t have missed it,” I say coolly. “See you around, Holly.” I guide Madison away from her, back towards Jackson and Cassandra.
I hand Jackson the scotch he asked for, and he smiles at me. “Thanks, Son,” he says.
“Hell of a party,” I tell him, gesturing around us. “Throw one like this for Madison and me, yeah?” I nudge him jokingly, but he doesn’t quite meet my eyes.
“Of course, Son,” he says, but he looks distracted.
“Have you seen Tiffany?” Cassandra asks. “I haven’t gotten a single second with her all night.”
“She’s having the time of her life,” I tell Cassandra, smiling at her. “You planned a great party. You and Dad both. She looks like she’s going to float away.”
“I’m so glad.” Cassandra smiles so widely that she’s practically glowing. “I remember Jackson and my wedding in the Caribbean. We had the best party beforehand, and the reception too. All of our family was there; it was wonderful. You were probably too young to remember, but your mom brought you. She was there with John—I’ve always been so grateful for how our families blended together. Family is the most important thing. It could have been so different, but Katie has always been so sweet and gracious.”
“I’m glad the family is back to what it was,” I say quietly. “I know we had a rough patch there, but things are better now. I want it to stay that way.”
“I do too, Son,” Jackson says, and there’s that odd note to his voice again. Madison is very quiet next to me, and I feel slightly unsettled again, as if I’m missing something.
“I’ve got some business partners I want to introduce my Cassandra to,” Jackson says, patting me on the shoulder. “You and Madison have a good time.” He takes Cassandra’s elbow and steers her away, leaving Madison and I standing there.
I look down at Madison, who looks slightly pale as she sips from her water glass. “Does he seem off to you?” I ask, watching him and Cassandra disappear into the crowd. “Something feels wrong. A lot of people seem off tonight. You seem anxious, too.” I laugh shortly, looking down at her. “Don’t tell me there’s some secret I don’t know about.”
I can’t imagine what it would be, but Jackson and Madison both seem cagey, and then that nonsense with Holly earlier…
“Weddings are stressful,” Madison says, looking up at me. “I’m sure Jackson is just worried about it going off without a hitch. There’s always the possibility of drama when family is around each other. And Holly being here is probably stressing them out, too.”
That makes sense. I know that even though my family sided with her at first, they love Madison and are happy to have her here. And Holly adds tension to that dynamic no matter what. I wrap my arm around Madison’s waist. “I think I’ve had enough of this for tonight,” I tell her, catching sight of Holly again and wincing. “What do you say we make our way back up to the room?”
“I like that idea,” Madison whispers, and she leans up to kiss me softly.
I don’t know whether it’s the whiskey I’ve been drinking, or the general vibe of the party downstairs, or just my happiness despite that about my future with Madison, but the moment the door to our room shuts behind us I can’t keep my hands off of her. I bend my head to kiss her, pulling her hard against me as I reach for the zipper of her dress, letting the soft fabric slither over her body and down to the floor. She’s wearing pink lingerie under it, a matched bra-and-panty set, and it makes her look soft and innocent, her dark hair falling in waves around her shoulders.
I can’t get my clothes off fast enough. I’m hard as a rock as I step out of my suit, pulling Madison onto the bed and astride me, my cock brushing between her thighs as she leans down to kiss me, all of her thick dark hair falling around my face. I’m suddenly desperate to be inside of her, desperate to feel her enveloping me, for the pleasure and the intimacy of it. I kiss her hard, my fingers tangling in her hair, and Madison seems to feel the same way. She matches the intensity of the kiss, her hands clutching my face, running over my chest, her tongue tangling with mine as she reaches between us to guide me into her, her body squeezing around me the moment I start to slide inside of her as if she needs it as much as I do.
That thought pushes me on, making me even harder as I thrust up into her, my hands roving all over her body—breasts, waist, her flat stomach, her curvy hips. I grab onto her hips, squeeze her ass, plunging into her as hard as I can as she arches her back and drives herself down onto me. Earlier was sweet and slow, but this is different. It’s passionate, but it feels like there’s something else driving her, and I don’t know what it is. This is a different Madison than I’m used to, even when she’s crazy with lust the way she was after we came home from dinner when I proposed to her. It’s like she’s afraid this is the last time, and she’s desperate to have me.
It’s not enough. I grab her hips and roll her onto her back, managing to stay inside of her. I want to fuck her harder, pound into her, make her mine. But once she’s beneath me, I suddenly have the urge to slow down, holding myself inside of her for a moment so that I can feel how good she feels around me. I look down at her beautiful face, gently brushing her hair away from it as I whisper, “I love you.”
Her eyes are wide as she whispers it back, and she clings to me as I start to move again, her body pulling me deeper into her like the tide of the ocean. I want to keep going, but as I feel her shudder under me, her nails digging into my shoulders as she moans and cries out, I know I’m not going to last much longer. I hold off just long enough to feel a second orgasm come over her, to feel her legs and body tighten around me as she cries out my name, and then I let go, the climax making my whole body convulse as I come inside of her.
I don’t want to move. I’m sweaty and breathless, my body still shivering with the last wave of pleasure, and I’ve never felt so close to her, so in love. This is the rest of my life, I think, and I kiss her again before regretfully rolling off of her into the soft cocoon of blankets.
Sleep claims me almost immediately, but not before I catch one last glimpse of her sweet, satisfied face, her own eyes flickering closed as she curls against me.
Even getting ready for the wedding the next morning can’t keep me from cornering her in the shower, pinning her up against the wall as I kiss her and run my hands over her hot, damp body. “Just a quickie,” I whisper in her ear as I sit on the ledge in the massive shower, pulling her astride me and quickly plunging into her. I hear her gasp in my ear, the sound mingling with my groan as I feel her envelop me, and I’m true to my word. It doesn’t take me long at all to bring her to a shuddering orgasm first, my climax following hard on the heels of that as I feel her quiver against me with the hot water and steam all around us.
“If you’re going to be like that every time we go on vacation,” she tells me as we dry off, “I’m going to make sure we go on vacation more often.”
“Don’t threaten me with a good time,” I tell her with a grin as I walk stark naked out of the bathroom, making sure she gets a good look at me. I can feel her eyes traveling over me as I pass, and I feel a fresh shiver of desire.
We really should try to get away more often, I think to myself as I start to get dressed. Our sex life has always been good, but it’s easy to get distracted and lose a little of the spark with all of the stress and busy days and nights that come with our jobs. This weekend away has already made me feel closer to her than ever and made me want her more than ever. I could take her back to bed right now, and I feel myself get a little hard just thinking about it. If we didn’t have a wedding ceremony to get to, I’d keep her in bed all day.
But we have the rest of our lives for that. I think about our honeymoon, about having a week or more all to ourselves in Europe or some tropical location, with nothing to do but make love over and over again and occasionally venture out for food or drinks or some sightseeing. I decide then and there that if my father does offer to foot the bill for anything, I’m going to ask him that it be our honeymoon. A long trip away with Madison sounds like heaven.
When she comes out of the bathroom, I can’t help but smile, looking at her as she crosses the room in the blue dress she picked out for today and walking straight into my arms. I hold her tightly, bending to kiss her as I whisper, “I love you,” against her lips, and she whispers it right back, the scent of her perfume filling my nose.
“Let’s go watch my sister get married, shall we?”
The wedding is being held in a chapel at the back of the resort grounds, tucked away nicely at the edge, and I squeeze Madison’s hand as we approach. “Find us a spot in the family section of the pews, okay?” I ask her. “I’m going to go check in on the groom and my dad for a second.”
“Sure,” Madison says, leaning up to give me a quick peck on the lips.
I find Philip and my dad in the back room of the church, waiting to come out to stand by the altar. Philip looks appropriately nervous, tugging at his tie as Jackson brushes off his suit jacket.
“Ready for the big day?” I ask him cheerily as I approach. “You look a little pale. No cold feet, right?”
“Not a chance,” Philip assures me. “I just hope your sister doesn’t come to her senses about marrying me,” he laughs.
“Nonsense,” Jackson says firmly. “You’re going to be a great husband for my daughter. And I wouldn’t say that to just anyone.”
“In fact, he’s said the exact opposite to several of her boyfriends,” I chime in. “Loudly, where they can hear it.”
Philip grins. “I’m glad you approve,” he says sincerely, looking at Jackson. “I’m grateful to have you and Cassandra as my in-laws. Lots of men aren’t so lucky.” He casts me a sideways look. “And you’re not bad as a brother-in-law, either,” he says jokingly.
“Glad I make the cut,” I shoot right back. Jackson steps aside, cocking his head for me to follow him.
“I’m thrilled you made it, Son,” he says.
I frown. “Of course. There was never a chance I wouldn’t.”
“I know. After what happened with…”
“Let’s not say her name,” I suggest, laughing shortly.
“Of course. But I know you didn’t feel supported. And it’s good that the family can come together now. Weddings are a fresh start. A chance to start over, to put things behind us…” He trails off for a moment and then puts a hand on my arm. “I hope you know how much I love you, Son. And how happy I am for you and Madison. Truly. I wouldn’t have wanted things to work out any other way.”
I smile at him, but inwardly I wonder what’s going on. It isn’t like Jackson to be so sentimental. He’s a good dad, but he’s never been the affectionate type, not even when I was younger. It could just be the emotion of the wedding making him like this, but I can’t shake the feeling that everything over the last several days adds up to something deeper, something that I’m missing. But that doesn’t make sense. Everything is good. The wedding is going off without a hitch. Madison and I are getting married. I think of John’s stomach flu, and a shiver of fear goes through me. Could someone be sick and they’re not telling me? I push that thought out of my mind. No, it’s all going to be okay. I’ve got to stop being paranoid.
“I’m glad things are getting back to normal, too,” I tell him. “I just needed some time.”
I can’t read the expression on his face as he looks at me. “I just hope you know, Son, that no matter what, I love you. You’re one of my greatest gifts.”
He hugs me then, a quick, one-armed embrace, but a hug nonetheless. “Let’s get your sister married,” he says, stepping back and straightening his suit jacket, the normal poised Jackson that I’m used to returning.
“I should go find Madison. I’m sure she’s got a spot for us,” I say. “Congratulations on becoming part of the family, Philip,” I tell him as I pass. “We’re all happy to have you. Always have been.”
The minute I find Madison, I slip my hand in hers as we watch Philip take his place at the altar as the ushers keep helping everyone find their seats. I see Jackson walking to speak to Cassandra in the front row, and he looks at us, that same expression that I don’t quite understand on his face. Madison leans her head against my shoulder, and I kiss the top of it. “I can’t wait to be up there waiting for you, whenever we get married,” I tell her.
“I can’t wait to marry you,” she whispers, and the words flood me with happiness.
The one moment I’m dreading comes shortly after when the music changes and the wedding party starts making their way down the aisle. As Holly passes, I see her look at Madison, a spiteful glare she keeps on her, followed by a smug grin. When she looks at me, though, I can see the envy on her face, resentment. I pull Madison a little closer to me, determined to ignore her. I won’t let her ruin this weekend for us or anyone. I meant it when I said that. I’m in love and happy, and all I can be is happy that Holly showed me her true colors before I wasted any more time married to her.
As Tiffany walks in, I forget all about Holly. She’s glowing in the sunlight, absolutely beautiful in her wedding dress, and I’m almost misty-eyed thinking about Madison in a gown like that, floating down the aisle towards me. My heart beats a little faster in my chest just thinking about it, and I suppose this must be the way it feels when you finally find the person meant for you. All the things you once thought were stupid and overdone now seem right. I can’t wait to marry Madison.
Jackson is escorting her, and he walks her up to Philip, kissing her on the cheek under her veil as he places her hand in his. He steps back to join Cassandra, but not before looking over at us again, and then quickly away. He almost looks guilty or sad, and I can’t understand it.
I wonder if something is wrong between him and Cassandra. It would explain how he’s acting, especially if he said something to Madison about it. A wedding at a time like that would be hard. I’ve wondered a few times if he’s strayed and if Cassandra found out about that.
Their marriage has never been my ideal; it’s always my mother and John that I’ve looked up to. Jackson and Cassandra remind me more of what Holly and I were like…except Cassandra isn’t a lying bitch. Still, I hope that things are okay between them. Their marriage certainly isn’t as loving or affectionate as it once was. Maybe they’ve grown apart.
I’m pulled out of my thoughts by the start of the ceremony, and I squeeze Madison’s hand as Tiffany and Philip begin their vows. I run my thumb over the back of her hand as we listen to them make their promises to each other, and I can’t help but think of the ones I’ll make to Madison, someday soon.
Promises to love, to cherish, to honor, to be faithful…I can’t think of anything more natural when I’ve found a love like this one. There’s no other woman for me, no love that could feel better than this one. I pull Madison close as the preacher pronounces them man and wife, and they kiss—a kiss full of passion and love—and turn to walk back down the aisle as husband and wife.
I feel her squeeze my hand when it’s our turn to follow the bridal party out, her fingers wrapped tightly around mine, and that feeling of reassurance washes over me again.
After today things will go back to normal, and Madison and I can start planning our future together. Everything will be just fine.
The reception is a buzz of people everywhere. Madison and I wander through the crowd, picking at appetizers and talking to family members, waiting for the bride and groom to come back from taking pictures. When they enter, everyone stands and claps, the cheerful music playing loudly as they walk through the door with Jackson and Cassandra, Philip’s parents, and the bridal party behind them. I’ve never seen my sister look so happy, and Philip is beaming next to her. Even Madison seems more relaxed, coming back from the bar with a drink in her hand and a Manhattan for me. Cassandra is holding onto Jackson’s elbow as they walk in, whispering something to him, and he smiles at her—a real, genuine smile.
Maybe my earlier fears were for nothing.
Madison and I are seated with Jackson and Cassandra and Philip’s parents, and as the waiter comes around and pours the wine for the first course, I lean across the table. “The wedding was perfect,” I tell Jackson. “Cassandra did a hell of a job helping Tiffany plan it.”
Cassandra blushes and waves a hand at me. “Oh, I didn’t do much,” she says. “We hired a wedding planner.”
“Tiffany says you helped a lot. Anyway, it’s a perfect wedding.”
I glance over at Madison, who is toying with a bite of appetizer.
“Hmm? Oh, yes. Of course,” she chimes in. “The wedding is gorgeous, and this sort of thing is definitely not my strong point,” she laughs. She doesn’t quite meet Jackson or Cassandra’s eyes, and I look at her with concern. But I don’t want to ask if she’s okay in front of the rest of the table, and maybe embarrass her, especially if she’s still feeling sick.
Jackson looks away before I can say anything else, starting a conversation with one of my uncles who walks by, and I turn my attention back to Madison. “I hope Dad’s okay,” I say, feeling that anxiety rise again. “He seems different, like something’s wrong. I just don’t know what.”
“I’m sure it’s just the wedding stress,” Madison says quickly. “And maybe thinking about the bill for the open bar.” She laughs, and I can’t help but join in. I can only imagine how astronomical it’s going to be, with the top-shelf liquor that I saw there earlier. “I plan to take full advantage of it,” I tell her. “And then maybe you, later.” I give her a wink, and she returns a small smile.
Dinner is served then, cutting short the conversation, and it’s nothing short of amazing. Madison seems to be enjoying it, and I’m glad. It’s a sign that she’s feeling better, but I can’t help notice Cassandra looking at her carefully. Maybe she’s picked up on how different Madison has seemed this weekend too.
Madison loves my family, but she’s never been around this many of them at once, and most of them she’s never met before, or only met briefly. It makes sense that she’d be nervous about it, I remind myself. Madison doesn’t have a large family or a wealthy one, and all of this probably makes her feel out of her comfort zone. I just need to be supportive, and she’ll go back to her normal, happy self once we’re home.
But then she sinks down in her chair a little, closing her eyes, and I can’t help but worry all over again. “Are you okay?” I can’t resist asking.
“I’m fine,” she says quickly. “That bug I caught did a number on me.”
It occurs to me that she might not feel well enough to dance, but when the dinner plates are whisked away and the music starts, she leans her head against my shoulder as we watch Tiffany and Philip walk out onto the dance floor. “I can’t wait to dance with you in a little while,” I murmur to her, hoping that she’s feeling the same way. “I love dancing with you.”
She makes a small noise, and I squeeze her hand. “If you’re not feeling up to it, that’s okay, too,” I tell her. “We don’t have to stay too late if you’re feeling sick again.”
“No, I’m okay,” she says quickly. “Just a little tired and overwhelmed is all. A lot of new people.”
See? She’s just nervous. Nothing is wrong.
Jackson and Cassandra go out to the floor to join the other couples and for Jackson to dance with Tiffany, and when they return, they’re both breathless and laughing. It eases some of my worries about their relationship when Jackson jokes about not having done it in a long time, and Cassandra just smiles and suggests that they take dancing lessons on their own at some point. He gives her a warm smile, whispering something back to her, and I think that even if there are problems, maybe tonight will help heal them.
The whole room is full of love and happiness, and I can’t help but think of how it will feel when it’s my turn to do this with Madison and have a night like this of our own. How amazing it will be to finally be able to call the woman I love so much, my wife.
Holly stands up at the bridal party table, tapping her fork against a glass. “Everyone, everyone?” she calls out. “I have something to show you all tonight, something that will really make the night memorable. Are you all ready?”
There’s a general buzz of agreement through the room, but I have to stifle a small groan and not roll my eyes. It’s probably some montage of photos or videos. Even though I’m enjoying myself, I can’t wait until this is all over because once it is, there’s no reason for either of us to ever see or talk to her again.
A fresh start, Jackson had called weddings. It’ll be a brand new start without Holly in my life.
The video starts off exactly as I expected. Sweet photos of Tiffany and Philip together, grainy cell phone video clips of them laughing and kissing, Tiffany making cookies while Philip takes a video of her, Christmas card photos, pictures of them adopting their first kitten.
I need more pictures of Madison and me together. More pictures of her like this for our wedding. Candid ones. I make a mental note to catch her doing cute things around the apartment that I can get photo evidence of. I squeeze Madison’s hand a little tighter, my heart full of love for her. She lets out a small sigh, her head tucked in the crook of my neck, and I consider whether or not we could just go back up to the room when the cake cutting is over.
The screen goes black abruptly without an end, or an official ending, and a small hum of disappointment goes through the room. People look around, trying to decide if they should clap or not. I expect Holly to scramble to fix whatever went wrong. Holly is meticulous and would never end her best friend’s wedding video with a cut to black. There has to be something wrong, but instead of her hurrying to fix it, she saunters over as if she has all the time in the world, and I can see there’s a smirk on her face. It must be some sort of surprise ending she’s waiting on. Holly has friends in several industries, and with her journalism work, I wouldn’t be surprised if she had someone in her editing department come up with something special.
The screen comes back to life, but this time it’s slightly grainy video footage from a security camera in an elevator. What the hell is this? There are two people in the elevator, a man and a woman, and the woman is pressed up against the wall, her legs wrapped around the man’s waist as he supports her, her dress up around her waist, his pants open. As Holly turns the volume up, their gasps and moans echo through the reception hall.
What the actual fuck? I stare at Holly, who isn’t budging. What the hell is going on? I feel Madison stiffen next to me, sitting up with a small cry as the video keeps playing. I can’t figure out why the hell Holly is playing someone’s sex tape at her best friend’s—and my sister’s—wedding reception. Is she outing Philip cheating on Tiffany or some shit? It makes no fucking sense.
Tiffany looks horrified, and she turns towards Holly, whispering something urgently. Holly just shakes her head, and we hear her say clearly: “Just wait.” I’m about to stand up and go and turn this shit off.
“Holly, you were supposed to be giving a speech! What the hell is this?”
And then the woman in the video moans: “Oh god, Jackson.”
I’m frozen. I can’t move. I can’t think. I feel for a moment as if I’m going to throw up because I know that voice. I know that moan. It sounds just like the one I heard this morning in the shower riding me to one of the best orgasms of my life while I whispered how much I love her in her ear.
This can’t be happening. It’s not true. It can’t be.
And then the man turns his face towards the camera, and it’s clearly my dad’s face. My father’s face. I can’t see the woman, but I don’t need to. I know exactly who it is.
It’s Madison. My fiancée. And she’s fucking my dad.
The tape is still playing, the moans getting louder and louder. I’m going to be sick. I turn abruptly in my seat to see Jackson staring at the screen, his face white as a fucking ghost. If there were any doubt in my mind as to whether or not it’s true, they’re dashed in this moment, because it’s apparent from his face that it’s him.
My fiancée is fucking my dad. On tape. In front of my entire family.
Holly’s words come crashing back to me—“Could you forgive her?”
That fucking bitch! She planned this. That’s why she found me last night.
But right now I don’t know who I hate more, her or Madison, because I’ve known for a long time that Holly’s a lying bitch.
But two seconds ago I was planning the best day of my life with Madison in my head.
And now she’s screaming out my father’s name as she comes on his dick.
I’m going to throw up.
I see Cassandra stand up, her face turning from shock to horror and then to icy fury as she slaps Jackson across the face, the sound echoing through the room.
“Turn it off!” Tiffany yells, standing up. “Holly, turn it off!” I hear her yelling, but I don’t see what happens because I’m still looking at my father, reeling from the slap, and Cassandra storming out of the reception hall. He leaps up from the table, glancing at me with frightened eyes before dashing out after his wife, looking like a man going to his execution.
I shove back my chair. My entire body is stiff; I’m so angry as I get up.
“Alex!” I hear Madison say. “Alex, please, wait!”
I don’t listen. I don’t care. I have to get out of here before I lose my mind, before I have to hear that video for one second longer.
I know I’m never going to be able to unsee or un-hear it. In one second, my entire world is destroyed.
Everything I wanted, everything I had, everything I believed in.
Completely, entirely crushed.