Brighter Than the Sun Page 87

He’d leaned in and whispered in her ear, “Every princess needs kick-ass earrings to wear with her tiara.”

She managed not to burst into tears on the spot. Barely.

A light knock on the door sounded and Zoe looked up, her brow furrowing. Everyone who should be in the bridal room was present and the men had been banned, so who on earth would be knocking?

The other women exchanged huge grins and were practically jiggling with excitement. Zoe just shook her head, wondering what on earth they’d cooked up now.

But when the door opened, Zoe forgot all about makeup, hair, her tiara or whether everything was perfect. Tears gathered in her eyes and then she ran, nearly tripping over the long train. She wobbled drunkenly and then hurled herself into Rusty’s arms.

The two women hung on to each other, laughing and crying all at the same time.

“I’m glad I told the makeup artist we’d be needing a major touch-up before go time,” Sophie said dryly.

But all of the women had tears in their eyes as they surrounded the two hugging women and then converged on them until it was one giant group hug. Finally Zoe pulled away long enough to examine her friend.

“You came,” she said tearfully.

Rusty waved a hand down the gorgeous dress and then pointed out the heels.

“I’d never let my girl get married without me standing up for her,” Rusty said teasingly. “And . . . Joe made me promise to wear a dress to his wedding, and I told him I’d even wear heels if he actually got you to marry him, so here I am.”

Zoe hugged her again. “I’m so glad you’re here. This day couldn’t be any more perfect now. I wanted you to be here so much. You’ll be my maid of honor, of course.”

Rusty hugged her back. “You don’t think I’m wearing this getup for my health, do you?”

“You look beautiful,” Zoe said truthfully as she examined Rusty closely.

It had been eight months since Rusty had left, and she looked . . . different. She’d always been beautiful, but now she was gorgeous. Her hair was longer and fell in waves of soft curls down her back. She’d gained a little weight, filled out more, her curves more pronounced. A consistent complaint that Rusty voiced was that she had no hips, ass or boobs, but evidently she was an extremely late bloomer because her figure was absolutely lush now.

Rusty blushed, and to someone who didn’t know her well it would appear she was happy, content, in a good place. But sorrow was engraved deep in her eyes. She was quieter and more resigned, a direct contradiction from the sarcastic, irreverent, ever-teasing girl who had somehow disappeared during her absence.

Zoe squeezed her hand, trying her best not to do further damage to her makeup by crying again.

“Does everyone else know you’re here? Oh my God, they’re going to be so happy to see you, Rusty!”

Rusty looked away, guilt flashing in her eyes. “Mom knows,” she said quietly. “And Dad. And of course all the women,” she said, smiling in their direction. “But I swore them to secrecy and threatened not to come if they told anyone else.”

She sobered as she once again took in the faces of all the women gathered. “I’m sorry for putting y’all in that position, but I just couldn’t . . .” She broke off, flushing with embarrassment.

Rachel, who was perhaps the sweetest, most empathetic woman in the group, wrapped her arm around Rusty’s shoulders and squeezed.

“Don’t apologize, Rusty. Let’s face it. Men are morons. Granted, some of them are bigger morons than others, but they’re all dense as a fog.”

Laughter rang out, breaking the awkwardness. Even Rusty smiled and gave Rachel a grateful look.

“There’s one other thing before we get this started,” Rusty hedged. “I have a favor to ask of all of you.”

“Name it,” Zoe said with no hesitation.

“I’ll stay for photos right after the ceremony, but then I want to make my exit as quickly as possible and I need you all to help act as a buffer.”

Left unsaid, but understood by all, was that the buffer was meant for Sean. Since he wasn’t part of the actual wedding party, he wouldn’t be in the church while pictures were being taken, which granted Rusty the opportunity to dodge him as soon as the photo session was done.

“Leave Sean to me,” Rachel said smugly. “We’re pretty tight and all I’ll have to do is pretend to feel a little ill because of my pregnancy and I’ll have his full attention. You can make a run for it while I try not to vomit on him.”

The image was so hilarious that they all began laughing again, many wiping tears from their eyes, prompting groans as they realized the makeup artist was going to be very busy if they were going to start the ceremony on time.

“Come sit with me while I get my makeup redone,” Zoe urged. “I want to know everything that’s gone on for the last eight months.”

Rusty rolled her eyes. “Trust me, it’s boring.”

Zoe snorted. “As if you could ever be boring.”

• • •

SEAN sat in the pew and shifted uncomfortably as he loosened his tie. He checked his watch, frowning, as were the men standing up for Joe and especially Joe himself, because it was already ten minutes past time to start. Joe looked nervous and edgy. Hell, he appeared to be sweating.

He wanted to give Joe shit for being such a nervous wreck but he could well imagine his fear of Zoe changing her mind or something happening at the last minute that would cause him to lose her. He knew that feeling all too well. Joe would get his happy ending, though. Sean was still holding out for his.

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