“Does anyone have some mascara? I thought mine was enough at home, but now that the lighting’s different, my eyelashes look stubby. It’s actually disgusting,” Aeva murmured, peering at herself in the mirror of The Tip-Top Café’s restroom.

The night of Aeva’s wedding party dinner had finally arrived. The younger Daltrar had been planning the get-together since she’d gotten engaged almost two weeks earlier. Members of the twelve person—not counting the bride, the groom, the flower girl, or the ring bearer—wedding party would meet and mingle, getting the chance to know each other better to ensure that the wedding day would go on without a hitch.

Layne Peabody, Aeva’s best friend, burst into the restroom. “I just saw about seven wine-fine men, so I’d say y’all better hurry up.”

Girlish chatter broke out in the restroom at the prospect of meeting single and attractive men, and the woman responsible for the opportunity clapped her hands to get her friends’ attention.

“Ladies. You all heard Layne. Now, I took it upon myself to make sure my man was fine because I knew his friends would be fine, too. I expect every single one of you to leave with a number. You’re welcome.” A smirk playing at her lips, Aeva and her gaggle of girls left the restroom and left Joelle alone with her thoughts.

She probably should have been excited about the chance to be in a room full of good-looking eligible bachelors…though they were probably fresh out of college. Men were men.

But Joelle just wasn’t into it. She’d planned on skipping the whole shindig, but Aeva had insisted so fervently that she didn’t have the heart to do so. Sighing, Joelle checked herself out in the mirror again. A lovely chocolate-skinned woman with a slim frame blinked back at her.

“Maybe I’m doing these boys a favor just by being here,” Joelle grinned to herself, tucking her shoulder length hair behind her ears. With one last deep breath, she made her way back out to the dining room.

“And this is Layne, my very best friend,” Aeva spoke from the head of the table.

Michael, who sat beside her, covered her slender hand with his own. “But she’s not the maid of honor, right?”

“No, her sister is,” Layne responded. “And speak of the devil.”

When Joelle walked into the room, she felt all eyes on her. She cleared her throat. “Hi, everybody. I’m Joelle, Aeva’s sister.” Looking down at the table, Joelle could see her name written in cursive in front of a tall, broad-shouldered man.

“Joelle,” her little sister smiled daggers at her, “You made it. Here, sit right in front of Ryan. He’s the best man.”

Joelle found her seat and settled in it. The man across the table peered at her intently. “Umm…hi, Ryan. I’m Joelle.”

“We’ve met before. Maybe you don’t remember…” his voice was deep. Deepest voice she’d ever heard before.

“We have? I’m sorry, my memory’s not the greatest—oh. Dr. Beaver?”

Her exclamation brought the table’s other conversations to a halt.

Michael beamed at the two of them. “You know each other already? That’s great! Where’d you two meet?”

“At the hospital,” both Ryan and Joelle spoke at once. They blinked at each other.

Joelle laughed nervously. “We met at the hospital.”

“You went to the hospital??” her sister said worriedly. “Are you okay?”

“No, not me. Kiah. She was sick, so Viv asked me to take her. I’m fine.”

Beside her, the girls turned their attention to Ryan. “You’re a doctor?” Cynthia, a dark-skinned natural girl, questioned with wide eyes. “That’s incredible.”

“A resident, actually. I’m not officially a doctor yet,” he replied with a smile. “But thank you.”

“Ryan’s the only guy at this table who actually has a real job,” Michael chuckled. “I guess that makes him the most eligible bachelor present.”

“Then it’s a shame that you paired him up with the most ineligible girl present,” another one of Aeva’s friends piped up. Coraline smiled a venomous smile, revealing an endearing gap between her front teeth. “Joelle here has been in a relationship for what—three years now?”

Joelle’s fingers gripped the napkin in her lap. She’d never liked Coraline. The girl had a mouth that knew how to serve up all things sweet and sour.

“Aww. That’s right,” Aeva twisted her lips and look at Ryan. “I hope you don’t mind. Besides, there are other beautiful and single ladies in the wedding party.”

“Not counting the one right by my side,” Michael lifted her hand to his lips.

A ripple of sighs and guffaws exploded around the table.

“Can you guys get a room?”

“Cheesy!”

“Quick! Somebody get me a bucket to toss my cookies in.”

Mike grinned. “Whatever. When you guys find a love like this, I’m sure you’ll be doing a lot worse than me. Love changes people.”

“Here’s hoping that the changes aren’t physical. I like my honey’s six-pack,” Aeva lifted her glass. As the others clinked their glasses, Joelle took the chance to escape.

What was she even doing at that table? Everyone there was under twenty-five, with the exception of Ryan. And he seemed perfectly comfortable. Outside, she leaned on the railing overlooking the parking lot.

“You forgot your drink,” the voice interrupted her thoughts. Joelle turned around to see Ryan standing there, two glasses in hand.

“Oh. Thank you,” she laughed, reaching for the one to her left and downing it within seconds.

Ryan watched, his brow furrowed. “Careful…how’d you know which was yours?”

“One, this is apple cider. Two,” she rotated the glass to reveal a lipstick smudge on the glass. “MAC Makeup, Vegas Volt,” Joelle laughed. “I should know; I spent $14.50 on it.”

“Fourteen dollars for lipstick? That seems excessive.”

She shrugged. “Beauty is pain. Physical and financial pain.” Her back turned to him again, Joelle’s eyes were drawn to the night sky.

“You didn’t tell your sister about your breakup.” It wasn’t a question, but it wasn’t a statement, either. Ryan wasn’t sure why he’d said it himself; it wasn’t any of his business.

Joelle spun around to face him, or rather, his chest. She gathered in that short second that he was over six feet, making her feel tiny at five foot six. “How do you know about my breakup?”

“Well, it was the same day of Kiah’s checkup. You and that guy—your ex, I presume—were talking in the hallway.”

“So you were eavesdropping?” her eyes widened.

“No, not eavesdropping. You two weren’t exactly whispering. It would have been easy for anyone to overhear what you were saying.”

She didn’t respond. Instead, Joelle drummed her fingers on the wire railing, silently willing him away.

“I know it’s none of my business, but I think you should tell the truth,” Ryan asserted. “My aunt has this saying: you can’t hold water in a glass pitcher once it’s broken…or something like that.”

“…what?”

Ryan ran a hand over his forehead, trying to find the right words to say. “What I mean is that a secret can only last so long. Keeping things hush hush will only make the situation worsen until everything just blows up in your face. People will find out, and it’ll be even worse because you lied about it.”

“So who’s going to tell?”

His brow furrowed, taken aback by her sudden question. “Excuse me?”

“Who’s going to tell people that we broke up? Jaxson? Me?” Joelle paused to peer into his strange light eyes. “Or maybe you’ll do the honors?”

“I wouldn’t do that. Why could I? Like I said before, it’s none of my business.”

“So it behooves me to inform you that you have no right to tell me what to do in this situation. If things blow up in my face, they blow up in my face. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, Dr. Bevereaux.”

“Ryan, please.”

Joelle offered him a tight smile. “Ryan. So, if don’t mind, I’m heading back inside before the bride sends out a search party for the two of us. You should come, too. Wouldn’t want to keep everyone waiting, now would you?”

The woman sauntered off before Ryan could say another word. It seemed as though he’d seen another side of her. This Joelle Daltrar and the one he’d met at the hospital were not the same. With a laugh of disbelief, Ryan strolled back inside after her.

“Oh! There you two are,” Aeva pushed back from the table to stand when Joelle and Ryan entered the room again. “Just in time for a game of ‘Never Have I Ever.’ Hurry, come sit down.”

<<Part 3 || Part 5>>

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