Genre = Contemporary Romance, Romantic Comedy, Over 30 Romance
Commissioned in White
Length: 62,700 words / 250 pages
Don’t you just love weddings? Everyone does—well, everyone but the Larson brides. Read this book to find out just how bad the big white moment can be.
What do multiple weddings finally getting to happen, a new career for Ellen and an art gallery opening have in common? They’re all in this new light-hearted addition to the Art of Love series. Packed with lots of resolution and the wobbly path to matrimony for some of Larson brides, this romantic comedy about weddings will have you laughing from beginning to end.
** For max enjoyment, reading the previous 3 books is highly recommended.
“Are you sick again?” Brooke asked, watching Carrie push the hair back from her face as she walked into the kitchen.
“I’ve been nauseated since yesterday. I tried the Chinese restaurant down the street from the gallery. I guess the cashew chicken didn’t agree with me,” Carrie said, getting a glass of ice water from the refrigerator. “Please don’t tell Michael. He hovers and worries if I complain about the least little thing. I even hide my menstrual cramps from him.”
Brooke snorted at the woman’s complaints. She had never received any sympathy for a physical ailment from any male ever. “Do you even realize how lucky you are?”
Carrie nodded. “Well aware. Michael is an excellent husband, but he’s not perfect. I tell myself I just have to work around those one or two really annoying things.”
Brooke laughed as she sipped her coffee. “Do you see Shane much these days? I haven’t seen him since I picked up his drawings. When Reesa showed up, he kicked me out.”
Grinning, Carrie shook her head and came back to sit at the table. “Not much. Of course, he and Reesa have some adjusting to do. Shane’s given notice at the condo, but they haven’t moved him completely out yet. I think they’re still sneaking away to it now and again to have sex.”
“I guess you have to be creative with a house full of children. How are they transitioning to being married?” Brooke asked. “They barely knew each other. I still can’t believe they actually made it legal so quickly. I would be scared to marry someone that quickly.”
Carrie sighed. “No one really knows how it’s working out. I think they have a lot to deal with only having known each other a couple of months. Not that Shane cares, but I have my suspicions that Reesa is still reeling. Oh, she never complains, but when I mention Shane around her, she still has a deer-caught-in-the-headlights look in her eye.”
“Weren’t you like that with Michael?” Brooke asked, grinning.
“Pretty much a basket case,” Carrie admitted on a laugh. “That’s why I took one look at you sitting in my kitchen and thought the worst. On the plus side for them, I don’t think Reesa is nearly as resistant to Shane. She is in love with him. I think she’s just in shock because it all happened so fast.”
“Well, that’s understandable. Plus, even if you’re marrying the right man, who wants their wedding to happen in a courtroom in the middle of a custody hearing? I’ve never been overly romantic, but damn—that’s pretty rock bottom on the big-white-moment scale,” Brooke declared.
Both women sighed and drifted into silence.
“I hated my wedding to Michael,” Carrie said finally, breaking the quiet. “I was sick, scared, and absolutely sure I was making the worst mistake of my life, despite having finally confronted the fact I was in love with him and only him. I still don’t know how I ever stood there long enough to actuall y complete the ceremony. I think Michael in his dark suit cast some lust spell over my common sense.”
She heard Brooke laughing, but Carrie had to close her eyes and work to push the bad memories away. Never again, she promised herself.
“Yeah—I remember your wedding too. When Michael was harassing you, I had to practically hit him over the head with the reality of how bad off you were for him to get it,” Brooke said. “Both the younger Larson grooms could have done a lot better by their brides.”
“Well they didn’t get their lack of decorum from Will. Will is a sweetie. I’m sure Jessica and Will’s wedding will be the kind that every woman dreams of having,” Carrie said. “I just wish I didn’t have to go. I’m afraid I’ll get flashbacks and ruin it for them. It’s in the same church.”
“You’re a stronger woman than that,” Brooke said, laughing. “It’s not Will that worries me—it’s Mom. She’s scared to death. Did she tell you she almost passed out when she saw herself in her dress? She nearly squashed your mother-in-law who tried to catch her when she started falling.”
Carrie put her head in her hand and laughed. “I heard about it. Now I’m sorry I didn’t go. I’m being a real weenie about all things bridal. At least she didn’t barf on Ellen. That’s what I did.”
Brooke laughed, imagining Carrie being sick on the meticulously groomed woman. “You know, getting married doesn’t even phase me. I never dreamed of getting married or having babies or any of that. I did dream of finding some great guy who would love me madly, but I’d be just as content not marrying at all. Since I got that from Mom, I understand her reticence to make a legal agreement. Marriage is so not sexy, unless you want a family. Then I guess it’s a good idea.”
“Or maybe if the guy is very rich and good-looking,” Carrie volunteered, her gaze teasing.
“Or maybe if the guy is absolutely outstanding in bed and it gets better every time,” Brooke pitched in, her own gaze twinkling.
“Or if you want to make sure other women know the man is committed only to you,” Carrie said firmly, her turquoise gaze thoughtful.
At that moment, Michael slid the patio door open and stuck his head inside. “What does a hard-working artist have to do to get a cold beer around here?”
Carrie rose slowly, got a bottle of beer from the refrigerator, popped off the top, and carried it to the door. “See that band on your finger, Michael Larson? It means you’re mine, so don’t forget it.”
“Okay. No argument from me,” Michael agreed, sneaking a look at Brooke, who only arched a manicured eyebrow. “Have I done something to indicate otherwise?”
“No. I just felt the need to confirm it,” Carrie said sweetly.
Michael nodded, his eyes crinkling as he smiled. “Consider it confirmed then and in front of Brooke as a witness. If I’ve passed the daily devoted-husband test, can I have my beer now?”
Carrie looked at the beer still in her hand with a bit of shock. She held it out to her husband, confused by his knowing look.
“Good thing I love you even when you’re being crazy,” Michael said, smooching the air, and shaking his head as he slid the patio door closed again.
“Was he mocking me?” Carrie demanded as she swung back to Brooke.
“I couldn’t tell,” Brooke said, grinning at the bickering she was trying not to envy. “Michael’s so arrogant about his relationship to you, I’ve started thinking it’s normal.”
“He is mine,” Carrie said, resuming her seat at the table.
“Good thing you went through with the wedding then,” Brooke said, nodding vigorously as Carrie started to giggle. “It’s a lot harder to control a man when you’re not sleeping with him every night.”
Despite his questionable friendship with Steve Lipton, Will sat on the groom’s side of the church, smiling at the picture Jessica made in her soft green bridesmaid dress standing next to a beaming Susan in her white bridal gown. While he was sincerely happy for Steve and Susan, his mind couldn’t help daydreaming about him and Jessica.
They were three weeks away from their own wedding, and he was anxious for the time to pass. He was ready to be married again and didn’t care who knew it. He was ready to make love to Jessica while the gold bands Michael was making for them gleamed in the soft lighting they preferred in the bedroom.
When he pulled his attention from the future back to the present, he saw Susan turning to hand Jessica her massive bouquet of gold roses. The colorful roses suited her, Will thought. Susan was just as bright and lovely as the flowers.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Groom, you may now kiss your bride,” the minister said with a smile.
Steve pulled Susan up to him, his fingers digging into her lace-covered hips. He bent her backward with the force of a kiss that went on so long the minister cleared his throat twice before Steve finally relented and let her go. Susan stumbled a little, and a laughing Jessica reached a hand out to steady the back of the smaller woman she cherished as a friend.
The grinning groom gave the jaded maid of honor a wicked look over his new wife’s head. Jessica rolled her eyes at Steve, but grinned back, happier for Susan and him than she had words to express. She’d followed her heart in introducing them and had never regretted it for a moment.
The recessional music started up and Steve took Susan’s hand, tucking it lovingly into the curve of his elbow. Jessica allowed Steve’s best man to do the same for her, but she looked at a grinning Will and winked as she walked down the aisle trying not to trip on the long trail of her gown.
She was walking a bit unsteadily in the three-inch spikes Susan had insisted she wear, despite the fact that she towered half a foot over both the best man and the groom. It wasn’t quite the “hoot” Susan had planned on it being for the wedding, but wanting to be a good sport, Jessica thought about other instances where it might be fun to wear the shoes with Will. Those thoughts put a smile on her face as they all trailed out.
Later, Jessica was standing in the receiving line shaking hands when she felt familiar fingers trailing gently down her spine and across one satin-covered hip. Turning her head, she found herself eyeball to eyeball with a smiling Will, totally caught off-guard when he leaned forward and touched his mouth hotly and possessively to hers.
“Wow—sexy kiss. And in public no less,” she whispered. “What was that for?”
“Because you look amazing and I don’t want other guys getting ideas about hitting on the maid of honor. I saw the way the best man was looking at you,” Will said.
Jessica laughed softly. “He’s married, doofus. So you got all demonstrative for nothing.”
“Are you taking me home with you?” Will asked dryly.
“I imagine,” Jessica said, her tone as ironic as his. “Since you’re sleeping in my bed every night.”
“Then it was not for nothing,” Will said, keeping his voice soft and low in her ear. “You can consider it foreplay, and I’ll make good on it later.”
“Well, you’re in a rare mood,” Jessica said sweetly, turning reluctantly to the bride and groom as they stepped away from the line of well-wishers at last.
The very tired groom stepped up and kissed Jessica boldly on the mouth, hugging her close even as Will frowned at him. Steve just smiled harder and counted more blessings.
“I will never in my life be grateful enough to you for introducing me to Susan. I am the happiest man you’ve ever seen today,” he said, picking up his bride’s hand when Susan stepped forward and leaned into both of them for a giant three-way hug.
Jessica held nothing back from the couple, sniffling as she embraced both of them. “Well, this is what it’s supposed to be like. Beautiful roses, shiny rings, amazing clothes, and weeping, jealous friends. All weddings should be as great as this,” she said, meaning it sincerely for them.
Steve and Susan laughed, pulling away from Jessica as they all struggled to recover from the emotional outburst.
“Three more weeks, and then you’re next, old man,” Steve said, swinging his gaze to Will who wasn’t frowning anymore but still looked a bit concerned. “Think you’re going to feel less jealous when you have your woman branded at last?”
Will pursed his lips and looked at the younger man thoughtfully. “Not sure yet. I’m waiting to see how it works out for you. You don’t exactly inspire me with confidence, Lipton.”
Steve laughed at Will’s dry wit. The more he got to know the man, the more he liked him. “I’ve got it easy, Larson. You—on the other hand—need to brush up on your Shakespeare. Did you ever read Taming of the Shrew?”
“Don’t make me kill you both over this sexist conversation,” Jessica warned, her tone only succeeding in making both men grin at her. “Steve, take my overwhelmed friend, who is also your lovely bride, to the champagne table and get her something to keep her from fainting. If she hits the floor, you are dead meat.”
“I’m fine,” Susan said, patting Jessica’s arm. “Can I have my flowers back, please?”
Jessica separated the huge bridal bouquet from her discreet triple strand of single roses, handing the fragrant mass to Susan who immediately pressed her face into them and inhaled. Since Steve looked like he was going to kiss her again, or even worse, Jessica turned the love-struck bride toward the food table with a little push. “Go—both of you. Get a little something to sustain you. I’ll be along in a minute. Your mushy love vibes are getting to me.”
The bride and groom wandered off laughing together, too bemused with each other to make rational decisions about much of anything. Jessica sighed as they walked away. She sure hoped she held it together better when her time came.
“Am I in trouble?” Will asked. “Steve started the discussion.”
Jessica snorted. “Yes, he did, but you are not innocent. Would you really brand me if you could?”
Will lifted Jessica’s hand and tucked it into his elbow, guiding her forward. “I’m in a church and don’t want to lie, so let’s just go have some champagne too.”
“Will,” Jessica chastised, her fingertips stroking his firm bicep as they walked, “there is no one else that even interests me.” He was fifty-three and the most masculine man she had ever known. The truth was William Larson had already branded her. Maybe it didn’t show to the world, but she had hoped by now he knew.
Will turned a wicked smile to the woman he was never going to be one hundred percent sure of, but whom he was going to spend the rest of his life satisfying in every way he could. “Reassure me all you want, but we’re still going through with the wedding. You insisted Ellen set up the whole dog and pony show, and we’re going through with it, no matter how sweet you talk.”
“You know you are the one who needs the ceremony, not me. And I am not trying to talk you out of getting married—or the wedding,” Jessica protested. “I can’t help that I had a small anxiety attack when I tried on the dress. You can’t assume I’m reluctant about getting married just because of that. Carrie had the same reaction, I heard.”
“Carrie was pregnant. What’s your excuse?” Will asked, holding her gaze.
“Bride nerves,” Jessica said firmly. “Plus, I gave my retirement notice for January. I’m starting part-time at the gallery during Christmas. Should I go on? Since I’m turning my life upside down, I think I’m entitled to a few nerves about being a bride.”
“Don’t forget we’re also moving into the new house this week,” Will said, grinning at her resignation.
Jessica sighed. “I hadn’t forgotten. That’s why I’m letting the new art teacher sub my classes. He’ll take over full-time after Christmas. I hate moving, but I’ve already accepted that there’s no way around the work.”
“The kids are still going to help,” Will said, patting her hand. “And the new bed arrives tomorrow. Shane’s going to help me assemble it. You’re going to love diving into that monster every night with me.”
“Are you going to soundproof it like Shane did theirs?” Jessica asked dryly.
Will grinned widely and laughed at her amusement. “Why would I do that?” he asked, releasing Jessica’s hand to retrieve a couple of glasses of champagne for them.
He handed one to Jessica and waited until she had lifted it for a sip. “Besides, who’s going to hear us making out? I like the noise. I find it inspiring. Not to mention, I’d love to brag to my son that he’s not the only man that can move that size bed.”
Jessica choked on her champagne, bringing the bride and groom’s attention immediately to her. Her face flamed with embarrassment at their stares. Will had developed the annoying habit of trying to shock her, and she fell for it nearly every time.
“Larson, I can’t believe you managed to embarrass a woman who never loses her cool in public. What in the world did he say to you, Jessica?” Steve demanded, hearing his wife snickering at his side, the champagne already helping to steady her.
“Do I pry into your private conversations?” Will demanded in return. “No—I do not. Just go back to seducing your bride, Lipton. Leave my woman alone.”
Steve and Susan both laughed at Will’s pretense of consternation.
Jessica lifted an eyebrow. “Your woman?”
Will lifted his chin and sipped his champagne as he held Jessica’s gaze over the rim of the glass.
“Want me to tell Steve what we were talking about?” he challenged.
Jessica hooked her arm through Will’s, no longer trusting that he wouldn’t call her bluff. “That’s me. I’m his woman,” she said cheerily, laughing at Susan who giggled at Jessica caving in to Will.
Steve just looked at Jessica in shock. “Unbelievable. So I just have to ask you this—you’ve dated so many men—why on earth did you click with Larson? He’s a good ten years older than your average guy, not to mention the man reeks of macho.”
“I assure you Will never reeks,” Jessica said off the cuff, shrugging and leaning her head against Will’s. “But he does make me laugh.”
Steve rolled his eyes and shook his head, not believing her statement at all.
“Jessica—I thought you said it was because Will was really, really good in bed,” Susan proclaimed enthusiastically with a wide blurry smile.
Will laughed softly, grinning like a fool while Jessica nabbed the second empty flute from the now tipsy bride’s fingers. Steve bit his lip but grinned back, giving him a thumbs-up sign when the women weren’t looking.
“Okay—I think we’ve all had enough champagne for now. Let’s get some canapés or something to soak up that buzz,” Jessica said, leading the bride to the next table.
“Hell of a thing to hear about another man’s expertise on your wedding day,” Will said sadly, stepping close so only the groom could hear him. “Sorry about that, Lipton. Hope your ego isn’t too bruised. I wouldn’t want you to disappoint your bride tonight.”
“Are you kidding me? I am so attracted to the woman I married that every time I’m with her I just want to crawl inside and never come out,” Steve declared. “And now I can do it legally.”
Will reached out and took the still half-full champagne glass from Steve’s hand. “TMI, Lipton. You’re obviously as tipsy as your bride. Have you eaten?”
“Who needs food? I’m living on love, my friend,” Steve said, laughing at having embarrassed Will again.
“Well, I don’t want to hear any more about your love life, so let’s go get some food for my sake,” Will ordered, grabbing Steve’s arm to steer him to the table.
“You know, I really like you, Larson. Because of you, I don’t have to feel guilty anymore about being so freaking happy with Susan. You going to love Jessica forever?” he asked.
“Yes, Lipton. I love her. You can quit worrying Jessica’s going to end up a shriveled-up old maid. She dated twenty guys between the two of us. Now man up and go be a groom,” Will said, laughing. “You’re as bad as my sons.”
“I’m forty-four, not that much younger than you,” Steve said, protesting.
“You handle your drink like a kid,” Will told him, picking up several crackers and pressing them into Steve’s hand. “Eat these and don’t talk until the alcohol wears off some.”
“Yes, Daddy,” Steve teased, popping the crackers into his mouth one at a time.
“Can we go home now?” Will whined the question to Jessica as she came back to his side, making the bride and groom both laugh.
Jessica patted his cheek and sighed. “No—they have to toss the bouquet and the garter, and then they have to cut the cake. Another hour, honey.”
Will sighed in resignation. “Oh, alright.”
“Man up, Larson. You have to do this in a few weeks yourself,” Steve told him, highly entertained by the big man’s irritation.
“Yes, but we’re doing the wedding-lite version,” Will said. “All the commitment ceremony, but with half the traditions that take forever. We’ll be in and out of the church in under an hour.”
Susan giggled and walked over to fiercely hug a surprised Will. “You really are funny. No wonder Jessica likes you so much.” She pressed her woozy, happy face into Will’s chest, causing him to sigh heavily again and her to giggle more.
“Uh, Lipton… I think your bride needs a hug,” he said to Steve over Susan’s head.
When she leaned even more intimately into him, Will ended up holding Susan more firmly as he tried to restrain her champagne-enthusiastic embrace.
Shaking his head and grinning, Steve popped a piece of cheese into his mouth and gently unwound a very tipsy Susan from Will. He pulled his wife into his own arms, kissing her temple and murmuring how much he loved her into her ear. Her hands rubbed his back and slid down his backside to squeeze. When Steve could trust himself to speak over his giddiness, he raised his head and mock glared at an even more embarrassed Will.
“Go get your own wife,” Steve ordered harshly, fighting not to laugh as he grinned harder at Will’s instant glare back at him.
Will turned his glare on Jessica. “We need new friends. If I wanted this kind of grief, I’d hang out with my sons.”
Jessica smiled at the frustration on Will’s face, but also knew he wasn’t really mad. “Sweetie, we are making new friends. That’s why we’re having dinner with Ellen and Luke tonight,” she said dryly, watching Will’s chin drop to his chest.
She bit her lip to keep from giving in to her amusement.
“You just had to remind me, didn’t you?” Will protested.
Jessica let herself laugh then, and held out a cracker to Will. “If you eat, you don’t have to talk to happy drunks.”
Will took the cracker and popped it into his mouth, not saying another word.
Jessica stepped into him and hugged hard. But standing there looking at the beaming bride and groom, Jessica ended up battling the now familiar butterflies she got every time she thought about committing herself forever to the man in her arms.
When the guilt came, she chastised herself for being afraid. On the plus side, she knew Will would always be there for her. The man would absolutely love her until the day she died—probably even after that.
But on the negative side, she’d have to divorce Will to get rid of him. She couldn’t just get fed up with his macho nonsense and look for another man. Not that Will would ever let her do such a thing. Just the thought that he had that much control over her future sent the butterflies into a mad dance as they tried to escape.
Oh God, Jessica thought, this whole marriage thing is getting way too real. “I definitely need more champagne,” she said firmly, looking for the fastest way to calm the butterflies before she passed out.