“But knowing who my dad was has to be a shitty reminder,” Nick protested. “That can’t be easy.”
“It’s definitely surprising. I am a little shocked, but I’m so, so sorry to hear what happened to your father and mother,” Calla rushed on, her blue eyes shining. “I know what it’s like to lose someone, and that couldn’t have been easy on you.”
Nick closed his eyes. “You’re apologizing?” His voice sounded strangled, and I squeezed his leg. “There’s nothing you need to apologize for.”
“There’s nothing you need to apologize for either,” she insisted, her voice ringing with sincerity. “I get why you didn’t say anything, but I want you to know that knowing who your dad was doesn’t change the way I think of you.”
“I . . .” Nick’s voice was hoarse, and I leaned into his side. The arm around the back of the booth curled around my shoulders. “That’s a . . . major relief to hear.”
“Part of me wants to punch you for thinking that it would change a damn thing,” Jax said.
Nick chuckled as he dragged his other hand along his jaw and then dropped it on the table. “Yeah, I sort of want to punch myself, but once so much time had passed, it just became harder to say something.”
“I get that.” Calla reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “You know, what happened—the fire? It destroyed a lot of lives. Not just mine or my family, but yours, too.” Her gaze flickered to mine. “A tragedy is a tragedy, no matter what, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t define who we are and it doesn’t weaken us. It makes us stronger. It took me a long time to figure that out.” She glanced at Jax and smiled. “I had help in that department.”
Nick’s arm tightened around me and I rested my cheek on his shoulder. I smiled faintly at her and whispered, “So did I.”
An older dark-haired woman who was sitting in the front row of the ballroom bounced the cooing four-month-old baby on her knee. The tuffs of red hair were a dead giveaway.
Ava Hamilton was absolutely adorable in her little white dress and headband. She had lost her shoes and one sock at some point, and I wasn’t sure how long she was going to last before those giggles turned into cries, but I had grabby hands. I wanted to hold the baby. There was a dull twinge in my chest, but it was . . . it was okay.
The woman holding her reminded me of Teresa, all dark hair and bright eyes, and I figured she must be the groom’s mother—Mrs. Hamilton.
I watched Ava’s chubby fingers open and close as she grasped at air until a tall older man caught my attention. He was walking down the wide middle aisle that separated the two sections of chairs, his stride stiff and awkward. The cut of the man’s black suit and even his trim hair screamed money.
His steps slowed as he approached Mrs. Hamilton. She looked up, shock splashing across her pretty face before she replaced the surprise with a smile. Her lips moved but I had no idea what she was saying.
The man was staring at Ava, and all I could see was his profile. His face was pale, his expression taut, and his shoulders rigid as he knelt beside them. Mrs. Hamilton turned Ava toward him. She said something and the man nodded. Then she handed Ava over to him.
My breath caught as I watched him take the baby in his arms and hold her close to his chest as if she were something very fragile. Mrs. Hamilton was speaking to him, but I had the impression that all the man heard and saw was Ava. His hand trembled as he smoothed it over the wisps of red hair.
“Who is that?” I asked.
Beside me, Roxy squinted as she looked up front. “I don’t know,” she said as I straightened the hem of my lilac skirt. “I’ve never seen him before.”
Whoever the guy was, it seemed he must know either Avery or Cam pretty well. Eventually he handed the baby girl back to Mrs. Hamilton and then rose. He walked back up the aisle, his movements less strained.
I sighed as my gaze flicked back to Mrs. Hamilton. “I want to hold the baby,” I said.
“I’m sure she’ll let you,” Roxy replied, straightening her glasses. They were blue today, matching her dress.
“I’ve never met her so I think it’s totally creepy for me to just shuffle up there and be like, ‘Can I hold the baby,’ while making grabby hands at the kid. I’d probably make her start screaming bloody murder.”
Roxy giggled. “Good point.”
I pouted, but before I could change my mind and make an utter fool out of myself while traumatizing a wee baby, the guys returned from whatever they were doing, which I’m sure involved giving Cam an incredibly hard time.
Nick sat beside me as Reece took his seat on the other side of Roxy. Although I’d already seen Nick in his suit, I couldn’t stop myself from checking him out, because he looked so damn good all dressed up.
He leaned into me, stretching his arm along the back of my chair. Tipping his chin down, he whispered into my ear, “If you keep looking at me like that, we’re going to miss the wedding.”
“And why would we miss the wedding?” I whispered back.
His hand curled around my bare shoulder. “Because we’ll be making use of that room upstairs we rented for the weekend. Or the nearby bathroom. There’s also a closet down the hall that’ll give us enough room.”
I bit down on my lip, enticed more than I should have been by that idea. “You are so bad.”
“And you . . .” He kissed my temple. “ . . . are freaking gorgeous in that dress. Have I told you that yet?”
My lips curved up as I reached over, wrapping my hand around his. “Yes. A couple of times.”
“Well, add one more to that list.” He squeezed my hand. “You look stunning.”
Reece sighed. “You two are going to give me diabetes.”
“Shush it.” Roxy planted her elbow in Reece’s side. “You’re just as sickeningly sweet, so don’t even pretend.”
I laughed, mainly because Reece didn’t deny it. Somewhere behind us, music started playing and the heavy wood doors opened. We turned in our seats as Cam made his way down the aisle, looking as handsome as always. His normally messy hair was styled and he looked good in his black tux with light blue accents. As he passed us, Nick fist-bumped him.
I turned to Nick slowly. “A wedding fist bump?”
“Seemed legit,” was his response.
Shaking my head, I giggled, and then had a huge aw moment, because Cam stopped by his mother before he went to the archway decorated with blue roses and baby’s breath, bent down and gave his baby girl a big mushy kiss on her chubby cheek.
“Damn,” Roxy murmured. “There just went my ovaries.”
Reece sent her a long look.
“What?” she whispered. “I can’t help it.”
Grinning, I watched as the bridal party made their way down the aisle. First up was Jase, Cam’s best friend, and Teresa, Cam’s sister, and both of them looked like they stepped off a runway. There couldn’t be any couple as striking as those two were, and I figured they would be married sooner than anyone expected.
Next was Brit and Ollie, and my smile spread seeing them. Wearing the same pale blue strapless gown as Teresa, Brit was stunning with her cap of blond hair, but it was Ollie who stole the show. Somehow, even in a tux, he managed to look like he was at the beach. His hair was shorter than when he was in college, but he still had that surfer look about him. They separated once they reached the archway.