Battling the Best Man: A Harmony Falls Novel, Book 2 (Crimson Romance)

BOOK: Battling the Best Man: A Harmony Falls Novel, Book 2 (Crimson Romance)
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Battling the Best Man
A Harmony Falls Novel, Book 2
Elley Arden, author of
Crashing the Congressman's Wedding

Avon, Massachusetts

This edition published by

Crimson Romance

an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.

10151 Carver Road, Suite 200

Blue Ash, Ohio 45242

www.crimsonromance.com

Copyright © 2014 by Elley Arden.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, corporations, institutions, organizations, events, or locales in this novel are either the product of the author's imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The resemblance of any character to actual persons (living or dead) is entirely coincidental.

ISBN 10: 1-4405-7233-X

ISBN 13: 978-1-4405-7233-3

eISBN 10: 1-4405-7234-8

eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-7234-0

Cover art © 123rf.com and istock.com/Philartphace

To Susie, who has been the Alice to my Kory for ten fabulous years. Thank you for loving me, laughing with me, and supporting me. My life would be terribly dull without you.

Acknowledgments

Every so often in a writer’s life, a person comes along and changes “the game.” For me, that person is the incomparable Tara Gelsomino, who made me reach deeper than I ever thought possible and brought polish to my writing that I didn’t know I needed. I am better because of her.

I also want to acknowledge my husband, whose medical career provided the details for Kory’s career. He answered every random text, email, and verbal question with punctuality, professionalism, and a smile. He treats his patients with the same level of respect, and I am proud to be his wife.

Contents
CHAPTER ONE

What was it about weddings that made perfectly sane people act like lunatics?

Kory pressed her bare back to the padded chair, adjusted the wide black belt strangling her ribcage just below her breasts, and fluffed the ruby red crinoline skirt, trying to get comfortable at the bridal table. She wouldn’t be caught dead in this dress for any occasion other than her best friend’s wedding. And now that the beautiful wedding part was over, Kory was subjected to this…people she’d known her whole life bumping and grinding all over the dance floor.

The principal?
Kory cringed as she watched Russell Stonewall hike up the polyester fabric of his pants so he could squat lower as some song from an era long before her birth urged him to shake his booty. She looked away, scanning the crowd for a reasonable distraction only to find her mother wiggling her breasts and strutting around Kory’s rhythmically challenged father. This was so not reasonable. Kory pushed fingers to her lips to halt the dry heave that arose.

The bride and groom danced on the outskirts of the chaotic circle. Alice floated on a pure white puff of crinoline as she sang the song word for word to Justin, one hand wrapped around his ruby red tie. He was laughing at the performance, and Kory found her lips twitching, too. God, those two were made for each other, and seeing them happy was worth any amount of discomfort Kory had to endure being back in her hometown.

“Your mother can groove.” The deep voice added too many ooh’s to groove as it slithered down the table, invading Kory’s personal space.

She crossed her arms and tossed Will Mitchell a humorless look. She’d been trying to avoid him all weekend, but was failing miserably. They’d shared a rehearsal followed by a dinner, and a two-hour photo shoot followed by a cramped limousine ride. It was damn near impossible for the maid of honor to avoid the best man.

What were the odds her best friend would marry the brother of her high school nemesis? Kory had happily avoided Will for the past twelve years, which had been surprisingly easy since high school graduation what with her stifling training schedule and hundreds of miles between them. She’d only come home for the occasional holiday, having parents who preferred she stay in Chicago and conquer the medical world. Alice and Justin’s whirlwind courtship hadn’t left much time for socializing when Kory had been home, but she was certainly getting her fill of Will now.

“What’s wrong, Doc? Too much education to appreciate a little dancing?”

No. Kory just had no desire to look like a fool shimmying in a disco ball-lit fish bowl. She didn’t get the allure of participating in something she wasn’t very good at. It seemed like wasted time. Not that sitting here, trying not to be dragged into meaningful conversation with the smuggest asshole she’d ever met was any more productive.

“I don’t see you up there,” she said.

“True.”

Silence filtered between them along with a sense of satisfaction that she’d shut him up so quickly. He’d never been easy to beat. Back in high school, Will had managed every science fair win; every standardized test high score; and the pièce de résistance, valedictorian. Try as she might, she could never top him. She’d been a merit scholar and the most academically decorated female graduate in the history of Harmony Falls High School.

“What more could you want, honey?” her mother used to ask.

Juvenile or not, Kory had just wanted to beat him. She didn’t want her accomplishments quantified by her gender. She didn’t want to be the best female anything. She wanted to be the best. Period.

She blinked, and those scenes from the past dissipated. Her medical degree trumped his MBA, didn’t it?

Maisy Carmichael wrapped a boa around Gilbert Hoover’s neck and pressed her fuchsia-clad body against him. Gross didn’t begin to describe it. Kory sighed and reached a sweaty hand to her head, digging at a bobby pin Maisy had cranked into place several hours ago. Painful—this whole damn thing was painful. Minus Alice being happy, of course. And that was what Kory had to remember, not that she was uncomfortable in this dress and ridiculous hairstyle, not that people in this town had no shame when it came to dancing, and not that she was sharing a table with the man who, after all these years, still managed to drive her nuts. It was like some bizarre switch got tripped when she was in his proximity, one that managed to warp her love for healthy competition into something crazed. Heck, she’d about clobbered the guy with her bouquet when he’d managed to win that dumb bridal party scavenger hunt in the limo on the way here. It had been awfully suspicious that he just happened to have a penny in his pocket from the year the bride was born. Was he really that good or was he just that lucky?

He was a Mitchell, after all.

Kory glanced down the table, where he lounged seemingly in mid-execution of a formidable Ben Affleck impression—aloof but oddly attractive. It annoyed the crap out of her. His chair sat too far from the table, and he reclined in it, legs long and slanted, left arm slung along the back of the chair beside him. He was slouching, literally slouching, and that struck her as particularly annoying since he was a thirty-year-old dressed in a tuxedo.
Sit the hell up
, she wanted to say, but she bit her bottom lip instead and turned her gaze back to the dance floor.

Four beats of the music later, he was sliding into the chair beside her.

“How’s Chicago?”

“Windy,” she answered, her tone clipped. What she really wanted to say was, “Amazing, teeming with vibrant life and opportunity—things you don’t have here.” Because after all the time and effort the Mitchell family had put into saving this town from economic decay and population decline, the reminder they still had so far to go was bound to irk him. Irking him would feel good. But saying all that meant saying more to him than she wanted to, so she kept it short, but hardly sweet.

“You’re doing some medical training thing, right? Alice mentioned it. How’s that going?”

Medical training thing?
Somehow Kory managed not to roll her eyes. “It’s a traumatic brain injury fellowship, and it’s challenging.” In the best way possible. The move away from Harmony Falls to a major city had afforded Kory challenges and experiences she never would’ve found in this closed-minded little town, where the mailman had once informed her that men were doctors and women were nurses. As furious as that had made her, she considered the source. These people bought chewing tobacco in bulk and thought the first day of buck was worthy of a holiday. In one short month she’d be graduated from fellowship and ready to take her place as assistant medical director of the in-patient rehabilitation unit at the world-renowned Chicago Northern Rehab Institute. She’d have a prestigious title, a fat salary, and too many cultural experiences to count.

Beat that, Will Mitchell.

“So…uh…how much calculus do you use on a daily basis?”

She looked at him through squinted eyes, a pinch in her chest telling her exactly where this was going. “Excuse me?”

“You know, calculus? We were in that class together in high school.” His grin turned wolfish as he gave her a very obvious once over. “Let me tell you. If you’d looked like this back then, I never would’ve passed.”

Kory glared at him. Did he seriously not remember what had happened in that class? They’d
both
tested out of the usual Algebra classes offered to ninth-graders at Harmony Falls High—the only two in their class to do so. In Calculus, he’d been like a ten-year-old, poking his pencil between her shoulder blades, tugging on her ponytail, and cracking gum in her ear—but Kory hadn’t minded. Will had been one of the cutest boys in the class and his playful teasing had made her feel special, like they were friends, facing a senior-level math class together. She’d found the attention from an attractive, smart, and charismatic guy charming.

Not charming, however, was the way it escalated. Unlike Kory who didn’t even like to raise her hand in class, gregarious, funny Will had been able to fit in quickly and easily with the senior boys. After a few weeks, his new friends started teasing her too, but without the playfulness Will had. Instead, they cracked overtly sexual jokes that made her crazily uncomfortable.
Kory, what do math and my dick have in common? They're both hard for you.
That one had brought her to tears. Anger at their taunts and disappointment that Will—whom she’d thought was her friend—hadn’t stood up for her but had laughed along with them made her even more withdrawn. The teacher and principal got involved and punished the boys, but it had been as if Kory was punished, too. Despite her ability to handle the classwork and her protests, the principal had also transferred her back to Honors Algebra. Will had remained in calculus, the only freshman in a senior-level class. And she hated him for it.

Once, when Will was without his entourage, he’d stopped her in the hallway between classes, and she’d suspected he was going to apologize, but she’d walked away before he could say a word—she’d felt too betrayed to accept an olive branch. He’d barely spoken to her after that, which was probably best. By then, Kory didn’t trust him, and she had vowed revenge, working extra hard to beat his scores.

Thankfully, things were different now. Dr. Kory Flemming was successful in a male-dominated field, which meant she hadn’t so much as blushed in years. Whatever Will had hoped to accomplish by bringing up the calculus topic tonight wasn’t going to happen.

With a shove, she pushed away from the table and stood. “Calculus,” she said with a bitchy grin. “I remember it well. I learned a valuable lesson in that class.”

BOOK: Battling the Best Man: A Harmony Falls Novel, Book 2 (Crimson Romance)
4.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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