It was time. The moment he’d been dreading was finally upon him.
Right on cue, a waiter appeared by his side and, picking up the glass of champagne from the tray, Arlo tapped it imperiously with a spoon.
Instantly the conversations around him subsided into silence and, moving purposefully through the crowd, he made his way over to the stage that had been set up for the band.
‘Thank you. Most of you already know me. But for those that don’t my name is Arlo and Davey is my cousin. I know pretty much everything there is to know about him. But today isn’t just about Davey. As you all know, today is Davey and Serena’s tenth wedding anniversary.’
There was a small smattering of applause and a few cheers and he waited until they died away.
‘And I was there, as most of you were, ten years ago, when they made their vows. Vows they have kept faithfully.’ Turning towards his cousin and Serena, he forced his mouth to soften into a smile. ‘As we all knew they would. Their vows were the real deal. Made with love.’
A love he envied and feared in equal measure.
He cleared his throat. ‘The kind of love that is an ever-fixed mark—that hasn’t changed and won’t change with the passing of time or be shaken by storms.’
As he looked out across the mass of faces his eyes connected with Frankie’s and he felt as if his heart was dropping away from his body, remembering what he’d said about love to her.
‘And that love is why we love them. Why we love spending time with them. Why we’re all here tonight.’
The words tasted bitter on his tongue. Each one a reminder of how he’d failed in his own marriage—a marriage that had served only to prove that his parents’ rapturous, unfettered joy in one another was beyond his reach.
Someone coughed and he returned his attention to his audience.
‘To sum up: money might make the world go round, but Davey and Serena are proof that love is the coin of the realm. Their love for one another, for their beautiful son Bertie, and for all of us.’ He raised his glass. ‘And now we have a chance to honour that love. So please raise your glasses and join me in a toast to Davey and Serena. For making it all look so easy.’
Everyone chanted out the names and then there was a huge cheer. He felt a relief that was more intoxicating than any champagne flood his veins.
It was over.
‘Thanks, mate.’ It was Davey, his face trembling with emotion. The two men hugged.
Beside him, Serena was wiping tears from her eyes. ‘I knew you’d make me cry.’
Pulling her closer, Arlo kissed her forehead softly. ‘Then you can tick that off the list.’
Serena was a legendary list-maker—particularly when it came to organising events.
‘Now, go and enjoy your party. Take Davey out on the dance floor. That’ll put a smile back on your face.’
It was Frankie. The relief he’d felt moments earlier faded as he looked into her eyes. She looked happier than he’d ever seen her, and somehow sadder too.
She hesitated, seemingly on the point of saying something, and then changed her mind. He felt a sudden, overwhelming urge to hold her close, to steady his body against hers. Maybe that would stop this feeling of everything slipping beneath his feet.
‘Would you dance with me?’ he asked abruptly.
Her eyes found his and she nodded slowly. Taking her hand, he led her onto the dance floor. He held her close, letting the scent and the softness of her skin envelop him, so that by the end of their second dance his body was rock-hard.
She felt it. Of course she did. And, watching her blue eyes widen and flare, he leaned forward and nipped the soft skin of her throat.
‘Can we go upstairs?’ she whispered. ‘I need you now.’
He didn’t bother to answer. Instead, he took her hand and led her off the dance floor. He was dimly aware of people’s faces. Dimly aware that their hunger must be visible to anyone looking. But all he cared about was getting across the ballroom and up to their bedroom as quickly as possible.
This was what he wanted—what they both wanted. It was all they needed from one another.