“Have I told you how beautiful you look tonight?” he whispered into my ear.
I shivered when his breath floated over my skin. “Numerous times. Laying it on thick, aren’t you?”
He spun me in his arms, drawing me against him, reminding me of that kiss. My lips still tingled from the memory.
He lowered his head until his forehead touched mine. “I’m being honest with you. You are beautiful.”
My breathing erratic, I felt his words in my soul. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—” I looked away from his intense stare, trying to find my bearings. “This is just overwhelming.”
“You mean seeing me as a man, not just a friend?”
I was mesmerized by his gaze—caught, unable to move away.
Aubree approached before I could answer, pulling me away from Max. “I can’t believe you kept this a surprise.”
Hugging her, I said, “It’s gorgeous like you are. I’m just so happy for you.”
I was conflicted from my conversation and kiss with Max and the surprising longing and desire for what Aubree and Troy had when I’d never been in a rush to settle down and get married.
Other guests pulled Aubree and Troy away, congratulating them.
Max kept his hand on my back, declaring to anyone who was looking that he was my date for the evening.
Gia encouraged everyone to take a seat so dinner could be served. Max left to check with the kitchen while I helped Gia set up the projector.
“Everything okay?” I asked when Max returned, draping his wrist over the back of my chair.
He leaned over, speaking softly into my ear. “Seems to be.”
His words were innocuous, but the way he’d leaned over felt intimate.
Alex played the cello softly in the background as dinner was served. From time to time, someone commented on the pictures on the wall, telling a story that went along with it.
Once dinner was cleared, the cake was served, and then guests stood by the bar as a bartender I hadn’t met before served more drinks. A few couples moved toward the makeshift stage in the back of the room to dance.
Max held his hand out to me. “Would you like to dance?”
Placing my hand in his, I said, “Sure.”
As I followed behind him, my cheeks felt warm, and I didn’t think it was from the champagne. Once he found a spot, he turned, pulling me easily into his arms.
“This is nice,” he murmured against my temple.
I liked it too much. His heat and touch surrounded me, his breath against my skin. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it was all part of an act or if he felt something had shifted between us. There was an awareness that hadn’t been there before.
Max tightened his grip on my lower back, pulling me against him.
Dropping his forehead to mine, he asked, “Do you think we’re expected to kiss?”
“My parents are watching.” I could feel their curious gazes across the room.
He chuckled softly. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that and that they aren’t.”
“Fine with me.” His head lowered to mine in a soft touch of our lips that made my body ache for more.
When he pulled back, his breath mingled with mine. “Was that persuasive enough?”
“I’d say so.” Any kiss that had every nerve on high alert, and muscles quivering for more, was good.
He spun me in a circle, the lilting notes of the familiar song drawing me in as much as Max was.
“I don’t remember you having this much game with women,” I teased.
“To be honest, I don’t usually put in this much effort. But when I focus on something important to me, I’m all in.”
“And our relationship is important to you?”
“You needed me, and I’m always going to be there for you. I can never repay you for everything you’d done for me over the years, especially when we were kids.”
When his grandfather’s treatment stopped working, it was like our worlds came crashing down. Neither of us ever had someone close to us die before.
“What happens when you meet someone? It’s unrealistic to think we’ll have the same relationship when that happens.”
His expression pinched. “I could say the same about you. When you meet the guy you’re going to marry, he won’t want me hanging around.”
That hurt more than I expected. “You’re my best friend.”
“No man worth your time will want me in the background.”
“Are you saying they’d be jealous of you?”
“And for good reason.”
Was he saying that because he was attracted to me? Between the champagne and the warmth of the room, I felt light-headed.
“No man will want to share you or believe that we’re just friends.”
“But we are.” Over the years, people questioned whether we were platonic, but that was just curiosity. It didn’t mean they thought it was impossible.
“It’s rare for a man to have a friend who’s a woman—one he hasn’t tried to get into her pants.”
My face heated at the memory.
“And now we’re pretending we’re more.”
I shook my head. “It’s all for show. It doesn’t mean anything.”
He raised a brow.
The alcohol was making me tipsy. I had to concentrate not to step on his feet as we moved around the small dance floor.
My chest ached at the thought of not being close to Max. I couldn’t imagine not calling him first with good news or wanting to spend my downtime with him. “I can’t imagine that.”
“You will when you meet someone. That person will fill that place in your life, and he won’t want me in the way.”
“I don’t know.” The idea of me meeting someone seemed far off, especially when I was in Max’s arms, and it was feeling all too real.
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