He was even more attractive than I thought he was up close. I liked his mahogany-colored hair and the way his blue eyes crinkled up with sympathy and anger as he looked at the nightmare before us. His eyes were a couple shades darker than Quaid’s and far less world-weary and sharp but they were a pretty, clear blue and that made my heart kick hard when they turned my way. I was used to being around heavily tattooed men, but this guy had most of the guys I knew beat hands down in the ink department. Both sides of his neck sported swirling designs and the back of each of his hands were marked with impressive artwork. When he cocked his head to look at me questioningly, I noticed he even had ink etched into his skin behind his ears. He was colorful, beautiful, and softly spoken. His mellow demeanor was at serious odds with his tough-guy exterior and it made me like him even more than I thought I would. I decided then and there that I hated his bitchy girlfriend even more for all the times she kicked him around for the entire neighborhood to see.
“It’s such a bummer. I hate that this happened to you guys. Brite is the best.”
I nodded absently and looked over my shoulder where a nondescript sedan had pulled up to the curb in front of his house. There was a lone female driver that seemed to be looking at something on her phone and nothing about her screamed bad guy so I turned my attention back to my attractive and tattooed companion.
“How’s the wedding planning going?” I was secretly praying that he was going to tell me that the she-beast had been abducted by aliens but no such luck.
He shrugged and muttered, “It’s going. No one told me that it was going to be so hard. I feel like there should be a handbook or something. We’ve always been together, so it seemed like the next logical step for us to take. I didn’t know it was going to be more like taking a leap out of a plane without a parachute.”
I coughed to clear my throat and gave him a look out of the corner of my eye. “Do you ever stop and think that if planning the wedding is so hard, how difficult the marriage is going to be?”
He stiffened next to me and I saw his tattooed hands curl into fists by his sides. “We’ve been together since high school. Things weren’t like this until we got engaged.” He looked at me almost to see if I thought his words were convincing. They weren’t.
“Most of us aren’t the same people we were in high school. Hell, I’m not the same person I was a couple months ago. We grow and we change. I think the key is that if you’re with someone you do that growing and changing with them.” Kind of like Quaid and I had been doing with each other the last couple of months. He had definitely opened my eyes to things I needed to see in a different light but I knew I had done the same for him. I knew that he had to know that he was completely lovable and worthy regardless of how big his TV was or how much money he had invested. He was so much more than his possessions, and I hoped that instead of resenting where he came from, I helped him realize it was a part of him that had enabled him to accomplish all the things he had. Without him, I would still be clinging to the ledge of guilt and blame, refusing to let go. Because of him, I was climbing and had my eyes firmly on anyplace that wasn’t rock bottom. I was trying to reach the top.
Wheeler didn’t comment but he did look over his shoulder at his house and then back at me with his rust-colored brows furrowed.
“Kallie used to be the sweetest girl in the world. She never had a mean thing to say about anyone and she was always happy. I had it really bad at home so her cheer and her infectious attitude was my escape, not to mention her folks took me in even when they knew what I was doing with their daughter when her bedroom door was closed. I needed her. I don’t think I would have survived high school or gotten to where I am today without her. She never minded that I spent more time with my cars than her and she was always my biggest supporter. We moved in together and I put a ring on her finger and it seemed like overnight all of that changed. We’re getting married in a few months and all I can hope is that the girl I fell in love with shows up to meet me at the altar.”
I cringed because I was pretty sure that girl didn’t exist anymore and this very nice boy was going to make the biggest mistake of his life if he tied himself to the shrew he currently shared his life with. It wasn’t my business and I wasn’t sure that it was my place, but I couldn’t do nothing. I wasn’t ever doing nothing again; that was one lesson learned. So I put a hand on his arm and told him solemnly, “I know you don’t know me and that my reputation with the people we both know probably doesn’t inspire any kind of trust in me, but I have to tell you that every day you leave for work a red Honda pulls into your driveway and stays until about an hour before you get home from work. I don’t know if you have a cleaning service or if your girl has a friend over all the time, but to me it’s shady as hell, and you seem like a really nice guy so regardless if you believe me or not, I’m telling you that the chick that lives in that house with you is not the girl you are describing.”
I thought he would balk or laugh off the accusation but instead his shoulders slumped and his head dropped forward like it suddenly weighed a thousand pounds. He lifted his hand and rubbed the back of his neck while staring at the concrete between the toes of his battered checkerboard Vans.
I nodded even though he wasn’t looking at me. “Every day.”
He heaved a deep sigh and then turned his head to look at me. “I caught her cheating on me once before. We broke up and she spent six months promising me it would never happen again and she did everything to convince me that the girl I loved was back. As soon as I proposed all of that went down the drain, and we were back to how it was when we were broken up.” He swore and tossed his head back so that he was looking up at the sky. “How hard do you think it is to cancel a wedding?”
That surprised a chuckle out of me. “Probably easier than planning one with that human nightmare has been. Look, I don’t know who the car belongs to or what is actually going on under your roof when you’re not there. But I have heard the way she talks to you and how unappreciative she is, so regardless if she’s been unfaithful or not, I promise you can do better.”
He sighed and I really wanted to hug him. He totally had the moody, broody thing down and it really, really worked well for him. Once he ditched the she-beast, he was going to be single for exactly zero seconds. The women of Denver knew a catch when they saw one, me and my own terrible taste in men obviously excluded from that group. Though my body had no trouble knowing that Quaid was an absolute keeper, it was my head and my heart that needed to figure their shit out.