Camden Wilde felt like a suspect in a police line-up.
A suspect dressed as a Jimmy Buffet tribute band reject, but still.
Yeah, they must have been a sight, the five big, bad Wilde brothers in their Hawaiian print shirts, khaki shorts, and flip-flops, standing side-by-side under a lone palm tree on the breezy Key West beach. But, damn, did all of the wedding guests have to stare?
Jude would pay for this. Big time.
The happy groom-to-be stood beside a priest who looked like the frontman of that Jimmy Buffet tribute band. Always antsy, Jude bounced a little on his feet as a tropical version of the bridal march started, his impatience to see his bride tangible.
Who would’ve guessed the youngest Wilde would be the first to take the plunge? Cam certainly hadn’t seen it coming, but without a doubt, it felt right. Libby was good for Jude.
Not that Cam wanted any of this marriage shit for himself. He’d done the whole loved and lost thing once before when his parents were murdered, and he damn well wasn’t gonna voluntarily sign up to put himself through that kind of pain again. He’d learned long ago he couldn’t stop himself from loving, but he could protect himself by keeping his distance and keeping any relationships he had short and sweet and purely physical. Hell would be icy for ten years before he went anywhere near an altar—unless, like today, he was standing up for one of his brothers.
But him, a groom? Never happening.
Jude, on the other hand, made a damn good one, Hawaiian print shirt and all. When Libby appeared at the end of the flower-strewn wood walkway, a glowing vision in a gauzy, pale-blue dress with her arm resting in the crook of her father’s, Jude went completely still and sucked in an audible breath. The look on his face could only be described as awed. He pressed his lips together, visibly fighting back emotion.
“It’s official,” Vaughn said under his breath. “Little brother is a complete sap.”
Cam elbowed his twin in the ribs. “Don’t be like that. It’s good to see him happy.”
“Happy’s one thing,” Vaughn muttered and squinted against the setting sun. “But if he starts crying, I’m gonna have to break his face on principle.”
“Twins,” Greer said out of the side of his mouth. “Shut up.”
Cam winced. He hated when Greer called them “twins” as if they didn’t each have a name. Vaughn grumbled something about “older fucking brothers” and Reece, serving as best man, sent all three of them a warning look as their conversation started drawing attention. Thankfully, not a lot. Most everyone focused on the center of the aisle, where Libby’s father handed her off to a beaming Jude.
The ceremony got underway and Cam let his gaze wander over the assembled guests, searching for his “date.” He found her in the last row of chairs, fidgeting in her tight-fitting sundress like she couldn’t wait to get out of it.
He could help her with that.
No. He immediately shut down that line of thought. Not appropriate. Not when it came to Eva Cardoso. She’d been his partner, and even though he no longer worked on the police force, it wasn’t kosher to think about her in any way but as a former co-worker and friend.
Forget that he’d been in love with her for the last five years. It still wasn’t right.
She noticed him looking at her and flipped him the bird, which made him grin. That was Eva all right. All steel and fire and no social grace.
The wedding ceremony was quick and sweet. And, yeah, maybe he choked up a little bit when the priest announced the new couple. There hadn’t been a Mr. and Mrs. Wilde since his parents died.
God, he wished they were here to see this. They’d both be so proud of Jude.
Cam followed his brother and new sister-in-law back down the aisle to a round of applause, his arm linked with a bridesmaid’s. But when he reached the end of the runner, he broke away with a murmured apology to the woman and walked over to where Eva still sat.
“Your brother and his wife look ecstatic,” she said as he approached.
Frowning a little, she watched Jude and Libby until they disappeared into their beachside hotel, where the reception was being held. “Is it wrong to be jealous of them?”
Cam opened his mouth, but found he had no answer. She was jealous of Jude and Libby?
She waved a hand. “Never mind. Forget I said that.”
Gladly, Cam thought and cast around for a topic that was a little less of a minefield. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a dress.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in a Hawaiian shirt,” she shot back.
“That’s because I don’t do Hawaiian anything. It’s Jude’s idea of a joke.”
“Well, I don’t do dresses.” She scowled and plucked at the skirt in disgust. “My sister bought it for me when I told her I’d be coming here for a wedding. It was either wear it or face her wrath when I get home. So just call me chicken. Bawk. Bawk.”
Cam laughed but wasn’t about to tell her that her sister had impeccable taste. The asymmetrical dress was just as edgy as Eva herself and the deep red color complimented the dark silk hair and bronze skin she’d inherited from her father’s Brazilian roots. The fabric hugged curves she usually hid and parted to showcase a long leg when she stood.
Cam tried to keep his voice light as he reached over and flicked the end of the halter neck’s tie. “Looks good.”
Her dark eyes narrowed at him. “Are you trying to be funny? ‘Cause I gotta warn you, I’m armed.”
He looked her up and down and about swallowed his tongue at the possibilities.
Something sparked behind her eyes. Recognition. A trace of heat. Panic. She backed away from him in a quick step, knocking into one of the folding chairs at the edge of the aisle. “Uh, we should probably go inside.”
Cam shook himself and glanced around. They were the only ones left on the beach.
Inside. Where his brothers were probably waiting on him. Right.
He held out an arm. “Shall we?”
She ignored the gesture and bent over to pull off her sandals. “Will there be beer at this reception?”
He scoffed. “My brothers are here.”
“Ah, good point.” Her dark eyes crinkled at the corners as she grinned up at him. “Race ya in, Wilde. Winner buys first round.”
She didn’t give him a chance to respond, but took off like a thoroughbred, all graceful long legs with her dark hair streaming through the air.
Cam couldn’t move, could only watch her, his heart pounding and his mouth as dry as the sand under his feet.
He was so fucked.
Eva weaved through the crowd gathered on the hotel’s patio, her heart thundering and not from her sprint across the beach. She didn’t dare look behind her to see if he was following, and that pissed her off. She needed to put on her big girl panties. Actually, at the moment, she’d be happy with any panties, big girl or not. The dress hadn’t allowed for anything more than a thong, and she was counting down the hours until she could get out of the uncomfortable thing.
Annnd she was stalling.
Fuck it. She stole a glance over her shoulder and let out a breath of relief when all she saw was a crowd of nameless wedding guests. No Cam.
What the hell had that all been about anyway?
One moment it had been a typical conversation between her and Cam—and then it wasn’t. She’d started getting weird vibes from him and had felt…hot. She’d looked at him in that ridiculous shirt with his dark hair mussed by the ocean breeze, his perpetual stubble darkened past a five o’clock shadow, that funny little quirk of a smile of his twisting his lips, and something changed. She’d had the urge to drag him up to her hotel room and put that perfectly made king-sized bed to good use. And maybe the glass enclosed shower. The sofa. The floor…
She brought those thoughts to a slamming halt.
She was no prude. She liked sex, and despite her recent dry spell, she liked to engage in it as often as possible. But, fuck, this was Camden Wilde she was fantasizing about. Her ex-partner. Her best friend. And she hadn’t even had a drink yet!
Which was something she definitely needed to remedy. Right now.
Eva wound through the schmoozing wedding guests to the white tent set up as a reception hall. The sun had dipped below the horizon, painting the sky in bright pinks and soft purples. Huge paper globe lanterns hung from the ceiling and gave off a welcoming yellow glow. Two long tables, decorated with breezy white linen and tropical flower centerpieces set every few feet, ran side-by-side on a low wooden dais at one end of the tent with the wedding party’s smaller table at the front. A few people had already taken their seats, but she didn’t know anyone, so she ignored them all and continued her search for a cold alcoholic beverage. The other side of the tent was an open stretch of sand that she assumed would be the dance floor once the DJ in the corner finished setting up his equipment. Until then, a quartet played soft guitar music on another low dais. It was nice, if not a bit snooze-worthy.
But no bar.
Must be out on the patio, which explained why so many people had gathered there. Steeling herself, she turned to continue her search among the gaggle of finely dressed strangers—and nearly ran into a broad chest covered with a Hawaiian print shirt. She stumbled a little, more from dismay that Cam had found her than from surprise. His big hand caught her arm to keep her upright, and she felt none of those strange vibes from him this time. Thank God. Whatever had happened between them on the beach must have been a fluke.
“Whoa,” he said. “Easy.”
“Shit.” She straightened and shoved his shoulder as relief and a strange sense of disappointment threaded through her. “Don’t sneak up on me like that, you jerk.”
“I didn’t sneak. I called your name, but you didn’t hear me. Cam’s looking for you.”
“Cam? Wait, is it refer-to-yourself-in-the-third-person-day? ’Cause Eva missed that memo.” The moment the words left her mouth, she felt like a complete idiot and squeezed her eyes shut for a second. “Dammit, you’re Vaughn.”
He grinned, and it was eerie how close that smile resembled his twin’s, except his had an edge of meanness to it that Cam’s didn’t. “People have been doing that all day.”
She eyed him. She’d always used the twins’ hair lengths to tell them apart when they were together, since Vaughn tended to let his grow long and Cam kept his shorter, but now Vaughn’s was just as short and even styled the same way.
“It’s because you look somewhat civilized now,” she told him.
He ran his hand through his dark hair, mussing the gelled locks on top so that they fell into his blue-gray eyes instead of continuing to lay flat. If she didn’t know him any better, she’d think he was embarrassed about the haircut.
“It’s just for the wedding,” he said. “Libby said I looked like a thug and didn’t want me scaring off her bridesmaids.”
“She’s a smart woman. Now, excuse me, but I need a drink.” She stepped aside to go around Vaughn, but his hand still held her arm and he wasn’t letting go. She looked down at his tanned fingers, then back up at him and quirked a brow.
“I kinda need my arm back.”
“Yeah, in a minute.”
“Got something on your mind you wanna share, big guy?”
“I don’t share.”
“And I’m not surprised by that. Still, I do need my arm back.”
He said nothing more. She gave him her best bad cop stare and tried to wait him out, but the damn man had been a SEAL, and he had the patience to out-wait an apocalypse. There was no way she’d win this battle, so she finally gave up trying.
“All right. I’m over this pissing contest we got going on. Either let me go or you’re going to be singing soprano for a while. How about that?”
He released his hold and had the grace to look a little ashamed at the red marks he’d left on her skin. “Just…be good to him or we’ll have problems, got me?”
No. No, she didn’t get him at all. Eva watched him stride away and shook her head, feeling as if he’d just hauled off and socked her in the jaw.
What the hell did he mean by that?
She trailed after him to the patio and watched him clap the back of a handsome dark-haired guy carrying a cane. The two bullshitted until a blond man joined them and handed the guy with the cane a bottle of beer. There was some more BS-ing, followed by another back slap for each of the two men, then Vaughn broke away from them and found his twin. Eva winced when he nodded and pointed in her direction—Cam had obviously asked if Vaughn had seen her. For all of a half second, she thought about ducking back into the crowd, but that was ridiculous. Cam was her best friend and, technically, her date for the night. She wasn’t going to be able to avoid him forever.
Big girl panties, she reminded herself and plastered on a smile as Cam started toward her. He also got waylaid by the two men, but he easily excused himself from them and finally made it across the patio.
“There you are,” he said and handed her one of the two bottles of beer he held. “Loser buys first round, right?”
“Right.” She clinked the neck of her bottle against his. “You’ve gotten slow since quitting the force.”
“Yeah, that’s what riding a desk all day does for a guy.”
And cue the awkward silence.
Minutes ticked by, and they stood side-by-side without saying a word, studying the crowd. Cam seemed to want to say something, but stopped himself and took a slug of his beer instead.
Desperate to break the silence, Eva nodded to the blond guy and the one with the cane. “Who are they? I didn’t see them at the wedding.”
“The one with the cane is Gabe Bristow, and the other guy’s Quinn. They were in the area, so Vaughn told them to stop by the reception if they got a chance. They were on the teams with him.”
That piqued her curiosity and she studied the two with renewed interest. “SEALs?”
“Used to be. Now they run a private group that specializes in hostage rescue. And the woman coming up to them?” He motioned his beer toward a woman with long, golden brown hair. Her yellow dress flowed behind her as she hurried through the crowd. “That’s Gabe’s wife, Audrey.”
Audrey tugged on her husband’s shirt and motioned for him to lower his head so she could whisper in his ear. Gabe laughed at whatever she’d said and pressed an affectionate kiss to her forehead.
Eva glanced away from the pair, only to see Jude and Libby standing hand-in-hand a short distance away, a fortified unit against the exhausting wave of well-wishers. There was so much love and trust between them, it hurt to look at.
A pang of longing struck Eva in the chest with such force it took her breath away. What was so wrong with her that she couldn’t find the kind of strong, lasting relationship those two couples had?
Must be hereditary. Certain people had to be genetically predisposed to happy marriages—the kinds of people raised in normal households, who had soccer moms and doting fathers. Not people like Eva, raised by an irresponsible mother who fell for whatever loser showed her the least bit of attention. Then one day the loser would leave and Katrina Bremer would fall further into depression and drugs until the next one came along. After witnessing what each new heartbreak did to her mother year after year, Eva supposed she’d never be able to give up enough control to put her own heart in a man’s hands.
Cam’s hand landed on her shoulder, startling her back to the present, and awareness seeped from the skin under his palm into her chest and belly, warming her from the inside out.
Oh, shit. Not this again.
He was her best friend. Best. Friend. She wasn’t supposed to light up like a firework every time he touched her. What the fuck was wrong with her?