Excerpt – Lori Wilde

The Stand-In Groom

Wrong Way Weddings: Book 3

If he had to hang around a shop like Lenora’s Bridal Salon, at least he was only waiting for his mother, Nick Franklin consoled himself.

He didn’t ever plan to get married, but he was bemused by his widowed mother’s whirlwind courtship. Who would’ve guessed she’d meet a great guy and start planning a wedding in eight months?

Shifting his weight from one leg to the other, Nick crossed his arms over the flaking sports-team logo on his faded navy T-shirt.

“Wouldn’t you like to sit, sir?” asked Joyce, a middle-aged clerk, dressed as though she were twenty in a miniskirt and clunky wooden platforms.

Looking at the few scattered chairs upholstered in cream satin with fussy gold-and-white carved legs, he politely declined. He felt idiotic enough waiting here for his mother to have a wedding suit fitted without plopping down on one of the pretentious little seats.

He couldn’t be happier it was his mother, not him, getting married. Sue Bailey Franklin had been lonely since Nick’s father died a few years ago and being CEO of Bailey Baby Products wasn’t compensation enough for putting up with her crotchety father, Marsh Bailey.

Her fiancé, David Gallagher, was a nice guy. Nick liked him and so did his twin half-brothers, Cole and Zack Bailey. What he didn’t enjoy was being the designated flunky for his mother while she ran around putting together the wedding.

Ordinarily she didn’t need or want a chauffeur, but unfortunately she’d taken a bad fall from a horse a month ago. She and David had met taking riding lessons, but the romance had gone a lot better than the riding. After two surgeries, her broken right ankle was still wrapped up too much for her to drive.

Nick restlessly shifted again. Considering how much he hated to stand around doing nothing, he could cross being a bodyguard off his list of potential careers. In fact, he wasn’t even close to zeroing in on what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

His mother popped her head through a curtained doorway, cell phone propped under her ear as she leaned on her crutches.

“Sorry, Nicky.” She managed to cover the mouthpiece. “I have to talk to a sales rep. Trouble with distribution on the tub safety seats. I’ll be in Lenora’s office if you need me. Then just a few more tucks in the jacket, and we’ll go.”

He couldn’t imagine the ivory silk suit fitting any better than it did now on his slender mom, but he sighed, resigned.

A tall, willowy blonde entered the shop. Nick perked up. Waiting would go a little faster with a gorgeous woman like that in the place.

Female companionship was what he’d missed the most last year when he’d worked on a Great Lakes ore freighter.

Not that working for his brothers was an improvement over life on the boats. The men on the freighter had given Nick a hard time as the college-boy newcomer until he proved how adept he was at anything mechanical.

Unfortunately, he had a lot more to prove to his bossy brothers, who still thought he was a slacker for deciding not to finish college until he had a firm career goal. Right now, he wasn’t much more than a gofer for their construction business.

Both Cole and Zach had changed since he first went away to school. Once they’d been wild and single, definitely his role models. Now Cole was a diaper-daddy since the birth of his twin sons, and Zack, of all people, was besotted with his wife, a local TV personality. Nick still couldn’t believe they both had become so domestic.

At least their grandfather, Marsh Bailey, wasn’t pressuring him to get married the way he had the twins. It wouldn’t do any good if he did. Nick knew he wasn’t interested in marriage.

He liked variety too much. All he wanted to do was get Marsh off his back about getting a life, which to the old man meant settling on a career.

He still smarted remembering what Marsh had said about his shaky college career. To his mother’s credit, she didn’t add much to the criticism coming from the men in the family, but she had been disappointed. It made Nick doubly glad she had David to distract her.

Meanwhile, he was working on the career thing. Nick liked construction work well enough when one of his brothers wasn’t using him as an errand boy.

The shop’s other customer had pulled a wedding dress from one of the racks and was holding it at arm’s length studying it. Her hair was short, revealing the back of her neck in a way that made her look vulnerable.

“That one’s nice,” he said. He’d startled the blonde as she examined the voluminous dress under the watchful eyes of the clerk—or maybe here salespeople were called bridal consultants.

“I guess it is,” she said uncertainly, handing it over to the older woman. “I might as well try it on.”

Weren’t brides supposed to be enthralled by those big swishy tents called wedding gowns? At least his mother had too much taste to try to look like a cake ornament. He approved of her simple ivory silk suit, even though he was seething with impatience to get out of there.

All he had to do while he waited was think, so he welcomed the distraction. He had a lot on his mind, mainly what he planned to do with the rest of his life.

If he had it to do over, would he still blow off his business degree at Michigan State? Probably. He’d only been a semester or so away from graduating when he dropped out, sure he’d never make a go of it. His grandfather had gone ballistic, but he’d pulled some strings to get him into Alvirah College in central Michigan. Nick went reluctantly and made sure he didn’t last a semester there.

He grinned. It hadn’t been hard to get expelled from the conservative liberal arts school, which had been his intention as soon as he realized how wrong the place was for him. For the sake of keeping peace in the family he gave the place a chance. Not that he was afraid of Zack and Cole, even when they threatened to kick his butt so hard he’d land in the next state. In his short stay at Alvirah, he felt as if he were back in high school getting in trouble for cutting classes and making out with his girlfriend in the janitor’s closet.

His education came to an abrupt end when he led a protest against a strict new curfew. It was bad enough they locked up the girls at night, but he hadn’t had to be in at ten since middle school. Marsh hadn’t been sympathetic to his grandson’s protest for civil liberties, and Nick’s ears still burned when he thought about that lecture.

But it sure had been fun taking the college president’s Cadillac apart and reassembling it in the lounge of the girls’ dorm. Nick had had to bribe a local mechanic to help and borrow his dolly to get it done in one night since his college buddies were mechanical klutzes. To Nick’s credit, he’d taken full blame and refused to name his accomplices.

Okay, it was a dumb stunt, he thought, looking at his watch for the hundredth time. Working on a lake freighter with some really rough characters had convinced him he did need to get a life. He just hadn’t figured out what he wanted to do. Cole and Zack had struck out on their own in spite of all the pressure to go into the family baby-products business, but he didn’t see construction as a permanent niche for him

The blonde came out of the dressing room trailing enough gown to hide six men under the skirt—not a bad place to be now that Nick thought of it. She posed in front of a really large three-panel mirror, but he could tell by her frown she didn’t really want to walk down the aisle in a satin tent.

“It is so becoming on you, Ms. Moore,” the salesperson gushed.

“I don’t think so.”

Good for her. He hated to see a customer intimidated by a snooty clerk. Even his mother, who headed a corporation and held a couple hundred jobs in her hands, wavered a little when she came eyeball-to-eyeball with a bullying salesperson.

Ah, he saw the problem. Blondie was fiddling with the neckline. It was a little low, but he thought she filled it out just fine. She wiggled the top, obviously not satisfied with it.

“It is so lovely,” the clerk purred.

“I think I’ll try the eyelet,” she said decisively.

He liked a woman who could make her own decisions.

“I agree. I don’t think that one is you,” he said.

“Really?”

Was that a flash of anger in her bright blue eyes? Was she annoyed by his comment or with the whole process of trying to imitate a fairy-tale princess?

“Definitely not the style for you.” He flashed her a big smile, but she didn’t seem impressed.

“I think you should reserve your comments for your own fiancée,” she said.

“I don’t have one.”

“You hang around bridal salons for kicks?”

The girl had a tongue. Even though she was an engaged woman, he was glad she wasn’t a wimp.

“I’m waiting for my mother to get fitted. She’s the bride,” he explained.

“Oh.”

Not much she could say to that, and she went off with the clerk trailing behind her carrying another dress.

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