Read The Groom Online

Authors: Elise Marion

The Groom

BOOK: The Groom
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Copyright
 
 

Bottom Drawer
Publications

www.bottomdrawerpublications.net

 

This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to an actual person,
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely
coincidental
.

 

The Groom

Copyright © 2013 Elise
Marion

 

First Edition October 2013

Published in Australia

 

Digital ISBN: 978-0-9923696-0-6

 

Also available in paperback:

ISBN: 978-0-9923696-1-3

 

Cover Art by Mumson Designs
© 2013

[email protected]

 

Background cover image is courtesy of
stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cover content used for illustrative
purposes only, and any person depicted is a model.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this
book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic
or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage
and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except
where permitted by law. To request permission and for all other inquiries,
contact Bottom Drawer Publications by email: [email protected]

 
 

Praise for

ELISE MARION

 
 

For
The
Gift

 

“Elise has
done yet another wonderful job. Her writing is poignant, the emotional aspects
of the book are strong, and the story is steamy.”

Carly Fall,
author

 

“Elise
Marion delivers an enthralling, tempting, and sensuous story that is perfect
for Valentine’s Day or any other day when you need a great love story.”

Hope with
Change Blog

 

For
The
Secret Life of Avery O’Dea

 

“I've read
Elise Marion's paranormal romance and historical romance books before and I'm
definitely loving this contemporary romance she wrote. =) She definitely is one
amazing writer who can write books that keep you hooked from beginning to end.”

Book Lovin’
Mamas Blog

 

“This was
the first time I've (read) a story by the author Elise Marion and it won’t be
the last. She has several titles that I am dying to get my hands on. Well done
Ms Marion, I am officially a fan!”

Not Now …
Mommy’s Reading Blog

 

“Elise
writes with a breezy style that gently leads the reader from one thought to the
next, providing obstacles without truly steering you to the direction you
“should’ take. What appears to be a light-hearted read can be so much more as
you start to identify with the characters and see the world they occupy in a
different light.”

I Am, Indeed
Blog

 

For
My
Ex-Wife’s Wedding

 

“Elise
Marion is an excellent writer and her characters come to life on the page.”

Mickey J.
Corrigan, author

 

“I would
definitely recommend this short story and it made me want to read more of
Elise's work!”

Emma, Goodreads

 
Dedication
 
 

Writing a book is a journey, a long
one that can bring out both the best and the worst in a writer. It is for that
reason that I want to thank my husband first, for putting up with my pregnancy
hormones and mood swings (half of which related to the mental birthing pains
that came with crafting this story). As always, your love and support have made
this journey mean everything to me.

 

I’d also like to thank the readers
and fans of
My Ex-Wife’s Wedding
. It was your feedback and questions
about the poor sap left standing at the altar that forced me to further explore
Lyle’s character. I am so glad I did. He is anything but second best, and I
appreciate you for inspiring me to prove that.

 

To my “writer besties” R.K. Ryals and
Carly Fall, as always I thank you for your listening ears, your advice and
willingness to critique paragraphs and even whole chapters without notice and
on the spur of the moment. R.K., I live for your virtual hugs. Carly, your
snark and sarcasm often get me through my day. I love you both.

 

To Sam and Suz of Bottom Drawer
Publications for believing in me and this story, I thank you most of all. Thank
you for challenging me so I could stretch myself to make this story all it
could be.

 
Acknowledgments
 
 

The author
would like to acknowledge the creators of the following songs for their valued
contribution of song lyrics toward Kat and Lyle’s singing:

 
 

Amel Larrieux
for “Your Eyes”

Jessie J for
“Who You Are”

Guns N’ Roses
for “Sweet Child O’ Mine”

Elton John
& Bernie Taupin for “Benny And The Jets!”

Corrine Bailey
Rae, John Beck, & Steve Chrisanthou for “Put Your Records On”

Otis Reading
for “Love Man”

Eddie Cooley
& Otis Blackwell for “Fever”

Freddie Mercury
for “Somebody To Love”

Chapter One

_________

 
 

“ROUGH
DAY?”

Lyle Cummings glanced up from the
surface of the gleaming bar top and into the eyes of the petite woman moving
around behind it. She was holding a frosted beer mug in one hand and
controlling the Miller Lite tap with the other. Sympathy flashed in her stare,
causing Lyle to jerk his own gaze away as if stung. He didn’t want her
sympathy. All he wanted was peace, and . . .

“Single malt scotch on the rocks
with a twist.”

He knew that his request had come
out more like a raspy, barked command but Lyle didn’t care. Today of all days,
he had the right to act like a jackass.

An understanding nod followed,
and the bartender quickly moved to fill his order. She sat the scotch in front
of him and accepted his debit card.

“Would you like me to start a
tab?” she asked as she swiped his card.

“Yes.”

Hell yes. Today was also a day
for getting drunk.

Plastered.

Shit-faced.

Wasted.

He wrapped his fingers around the
perspiring glass and inspected the bruised knuckles of his free hand. Mottled
splotches of blue, purple, and green marred his sun-bronzed skin, and swelling
edged the bruise with a ring of deep red. Lyle’s fingers curled into his palm
as he downed the scotch in a few long gulps, the fire racing through his gut
elevating the adrenaline rush he felt at the thought of smashing Jack
Thompson’s face in. A few drops of blood stained the cuff of his white dress
shirt and the sight of it sent primal satisfaction through Lyle’s gut. It was
the only pleasure to be salvaged from the disaster that should have been the
happiest day of his life. Well that and . . .

“Another,” he rasped, sliding the
empty glass back toward the bartender.

She arched an eyebrow at him
while reaching for a clean glass. “Who’s the unlucky guy?” she asked, nodding
toward his bruised knuckles.

Lyle grasped his newly filled
glass. “Nobody.”

She laughed. “Looks like Nobody
took quite a beating.”

That’s not all he took
, Lyle thought. The reminder of the earlier events caused his rage
to flash back to boiling point; Jack Thompson may have been on the business end
of his fist, but ultimately the other man had won. Even now, Jack was riding
off into the sunset with his Holly and probably felt not an ounce of guilt over
what he’d done. And why should he? Holly was everything a man could want in a
woman. Jack had lost her once to divorce. It was unlikely that he was going to
be stupid enough to repeat the mistake after winning her back again.

A frown pulled at the corners of
Lyle’s mouth as he stared down into the contents of his glass. The bartender
reached across the wooden top and clasped his injured hand. Lyle flinched and
snatched it away, glaring at her with narrowed eyes.

“I was just going to offer you
some ice,” she said gently. Lyle felt like an ass when he saw the bundle of
paper towels clenched in her small fist. He tried to offer her a smile as she
pressed the ice-filled towels against his knuckles, but it turned into a
grimace as the ice came in contact with his flaming skin.

“You should stick around,” she
said warmly after he’d taken over with the ice. “We have live music on
Saturdays.”

She placed another filled glass
in front of him and Lyle took it, nodding his thanks and looking away, freeing
the bartender to wait on her other customers. He took his time with this drink,
the tentacles of the first two already reaching out through his body with warm
intent. He hadn’t noticed much about his surroundings since arriving, but he
took stock of them now as he drank.

The lighting was dim, which was
good because if someone in the room knew him, Lyle didn’t want to have to deal
with that. The pitying eyes of the bartender were one thing; the probing stares
of people who were expecting to see him with a ring on his finger and a bride
on his arm would be enough to make him want to go somewhere and splatter his
brains across the wall. The bar was long, wrapping in a serpentine pattern
around half of the room. At least three other bartenders worked the gathered
patrons, who sipped beer and munched on peanuts while waiting for the music to
start. Conversation filled the room in a dull buzz.

The other half of the room was
filled with round, cloth-covered tables and wooden chairs. Waitresses bustled
in and out of the crowd in short skirts and white tops, pens in their hair and
comfortable shoes on their feet. Lyle’s stomach rolled and clenched with nausea
at the smell of nachos and greasy hamburgers. He took another sip of scotch and
sighed in relief at the feel of fire burning the nausea away. Just then, he
didn’t care if he ever had another bite of food again in his life. If he could
just crawl into the bottom of the liquor bottle and curl up in the fetal position,
he could die somewhat happy . . . or, at least, numb.

Jutting out from the back wall
was a stage hosting a microphone stand and a couple of speakers. A red velvet
curtain separated the stage from whatever was going on backstage. Lyle tipped
his glass back and stood, deciding that listening to some bartender’s sister’s
band sing the blues was the last thing he wanted right now. Another drink,
preferably in a quieter location, was just what he needed.

“Closing out the tab?” the
bartender asked as he stood and dropped a few dollars in the tip glass. He
nodded.

“Yes, thank you,” he said,
holding up the makeshift ice pack. “Have a nice—”

Lyle’s sentence was cut off by a
man’s voice. A burly bouncer in a tight black T-shirt was on stage, announcing
the act for the night. He could barely hear him because of the catcalls and
whistles coming from the audience. Every man in the room seemed to lean forward
in anticipation as the curtains parted to reveal the figure of a woman holding
a guitar. She walked forward with a bright smile, her skin bathed in the glow
of the spotlight as she took a seat on the stool.

Lyle felt frozen in place as she
strummed on her guitar and opened her mouth to sing. Her voice was like velvet,
a purr that wrapped itself around him tightly and squeezed, flooding his
insides with warmth and . . . something else—he
wasn’t quite sure what. He felt himself moving, and somewhere in the back of
his mind realized that he’d backed toward the stool he’d left seconds ago and
was sitting down again. The bartender giggled as she slid another scotch across
the bar toward him.

“I told you,” she said. “Katrina
draws the biggest crowds we see all week. I’ll just keep that tab open for
you.”

He nodded absently but had long
lost his grip on what the bartender was saying to him. His gaze zeroed in on
the woman behind the microphone. Her skin was the shade of smooth caramel, her
eyes dark and fathomless and rimmed by a fan of dark, spiky lashes. Glitter
sparkled on her eyelids and hair, which was a wild, curly, deep mahogany
curtain spilling over her bare shoulders and back. It seemed like a breathing,
living thing, that head full of hair, just begging for fingers to be run
through it. It flowed from her scalp in wild spirals that cradled a
heart-shaped face. Even from this distance, she was stunning. If Lyle had to
sum her up using only one word, it would have been “luscious.” Everything about
this woman was abundant and full, from her pouting lips to the thick cascade of
her hair to the curves blossoming beneath her flowing, strapless, colorfully
patterned dress. Gold jewelry winked in her ears and around her throat, as well
as a matching thumb ring. A red heart was tattooed on the back of her hand, the
black scrawl in the center illegible at this distance.

Everything about her soothed and
calmed, from the sound of her alto voice, heavy and thick like maple syrup, to
the serenity painted across her face as she sang, eyes closed, even, white
teeth gleaming in the light from the stage as she smiled. Every man in the room
was in her grasp, leaning forward, silent and still as death, enraptured by the
siren and her song. Lyle was right there with them, ensnared, unable to move
for the peace that flooded him at the sound of her voice.

When the first haunting melody had
ended, she launched into the next and Lyle ordered another drink. When the
friendly bartender served it, she slid a white business card across the bar to
him and held out her hand, eyebrow raised. Lyle gratefully took the card for a
taxi company and handed over his keys. He had come here to numb his pain, and
the scotch was working along with the music to achieve that effect. Why ruin it
by stopping his drinking binge to drive home? Lyle slipped the card into his
pocket and leaned back against the bar, a good buzz working through his blood
as the alcohol worked its anesthetic effects on his mind and heart.

 

_____

 

Katrina carefully lowered her
acoustic guitar into its pink, velvet-lined case and snapped it closed. She
left the backstage area of Parson’s Bar and Grill and toted it to the bar,
which was now winding down for the night. Only a handful of customers remained,
which was good because she was exhausted and not really in the mood for
schmoozing. While she appreciated that people were so enthusiastic about her
singing and often wanted to tell her so face to face, Katrina was looking
forward to one of Angie’s famous burgers.

“Great set tonight, Kat,” Angie
said from behind the bar. She paused in the middle of wiping down the counter
to slip an envelope into Katrina’s hand. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”

“Dana’s Shoe Emporium, here I
come,” Katrina joked as she stuffed the envelope into her hobo-style handbag.
She slung the purse onto a barstool next to her guitar case and accepted her
dinner with a grateful sigh.

“Ang, you are so good to me,
girl.”

Angie smiled but didn’t respond.
She simply went back to wiping down the bar. Katrina dug into her burger as
Jake, Angie’s husband, bouncer and co-owner of Parson’s, took a stool beside
her. Jake leaned over the bar and kissed Angie before settling down to tally
the receipts for the night.

Katrina had known the Parsons for
years, and not only was their business arrangement solid, so was their
marriage. Katrina didn’t have a lot of constants in her life, but the Parsons
were definitely written on the pages of her existence with permanent ink.

 
She and Angie had met in high school,
connecting over their mutual love of music. The two didn’t have much else in
common. Katrina had been wild and rebellious, Angie the straight-laced good
girl. The daughter of a professor, Angie had been queen of the nerds, while
Katrina was more likely to be found cutting class. The two had met in choir
class after finding themselves seated together in the alto section. Their voices
had harmonized beautifully, and from there they’d struck up conversations
during class about their favorite artists—which had resulted in them both
ending up in the principal’s office on numerous occasions. Katrina always joked
that she had been the one to turn Angie into a bad girl.

When Katrina had joined a band
looking for a guitar player and singer, she’d talked Angie into filling the
vacant position of bass guitarist. Her father hadn’t approved, citing music as
a “waste of time.” But Angie hadn’t cared, and the two had spent their senior
year playing punk rock and experimenting with neon-colored highlights.

After graduation, Angie had done
Katrina proud by shrugging off her father’s plans for her life, marrying a
Marine and turning down a full scholarship to go to culinary school. All so
they could follow their mutual dream of opening a bar and grill where live
music could thrive. The moment she graduated and he finished his four-year
commitment to the military, they’d settled down and opened the bar. For a while
they’d lost contact, but when Katrina had needed a fresh start, Parson’s was
where she’d turned up. Angie and Katrina had picked up where they left off as
if their time apart had never happened.

 
When they first asked Katrina to sing at
Parson’s a few times a week, she’d done it on a lark. Always looking for
something new and fun to do, she’d said yes, not knowing at the time she would
become as much a part of Parson’s as the scratched bar top and the mini-skirt
wearing waitresses.

She sipped her soda slowly and
sighed, leaning against the back of her barstool. Jake looked up at her and
smiled, an action that faded swiftly as his eyes connected with something over
her shoulder. Katrina frowned.

“What’s wrong?”

“Creepy guy. On your six.”

Goosebumps pimpled along her
skin. She felt eyes on her now and dreaded turning around to find one of her
father’s hired goons.

“Shit,” she whispered as she
turned just enough to find the guy in her peripheral vision. Big, beefy,
wearing a three-piece suit and tie . . . definitely the
kind of brute her father would send after her.

“Want me to get rid of him?”

Katrina smiled and shook her
head. Jake was a big bear of a man—his career as a Marine had sculpted
his body into prime physical condition. Knowing what he did about Katrina’s
background, he was just as protective of her as he was over his own wife. She
stood and rubbed a hand over Jake’s scruffy, closely shaved hair.

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