I rolled my shoulders in an attempt to relieve some of the tension. My hands were clasped together in front of me. I didn’t know what else to do with them. I was feeling just a little uncomfortable with all eyes on me. The tux felt like it was shrinking by the second. It was choking me out. The music that was only supposed to play once while our guests took their seats started over again. It made me want to gag. It felt like I was in a never-ending elevator.
My gaze fixed on the doors at the back. I waited for them to open and for my bride to come through. I kept waiting. And waiting. I wasn’t surprised Ashley was taking her sweet time. She was a bit of a diva. I casually glanced at my watch. She was thirty minutes late for her own wedding. I wasn’t expecting her to be prompt, but come on.
I didn’t really care about the wedding, but I did care I was standing at the altar with a priest by myself, looking like a damn fool. I didn’t even know the guy. I hadn’t gone to church a day in my life. This was all my mother’s doing. She wanted the big, over-the-top wedding to impress all of her rich friends. Ashley’s mother had her own demands. Between the two of them, it was a race to see who could come up with the most ostentatious idea. I went along with it because I didn’t care.
It was only money.
The wedding was part of my life plan. I worked my ass off and made a lot of money for myself. I built an empire and had more money than I could ever need. The next step was to get married. I needed the perfect wife and Ashley checked most of the boxes. I had the money to give her whatever she needed to keep herself occupied. My goal was to have a couple of kids. The wife could do what she wanted once I had the children. An heir and a spare and then I retired and died.
That was the life plan. I hoped there would be some fun in between, but the fun was a bonus. It wasn’t part of my life plan. I was focused on goals. Goals could be measured. Fun, not so much. I wanted to look back on my life and see my climb to the top. I wanted my children to have children that would all carry my name and remind the world of my success.
The whispers from the three hundred guests were growing louder. My eyes drifted over the venue that was decked out in white roses and gold accents. It was all very extravagant. There were members of the press lingering near the back with their fancy cameras directed at me and the spot where my bride should be. The wedding was the event of the year in the Hamptons’ crowd. Guests from all over the country were in attendance. It was a who’s who in the New York City social circles. My mother was convinced she was the Queen of England and I was her darling prince marrying his princess.
Except the princess was missing in action.
I could feel my patience wearing thin and my mother’s disapproving glare burning a hole straight through me. I wasn’t the one that was late. I was exactly where I was supposed to be, wearing the tux they picked out for me. Between Ashley and our mothers, they planned it all. I was simply told when to show up.
I stood at the front of the venue and found myself thinking about what I needed to do when I got back from the honeymoon. Two weeks away from my company was brutal, but it was part of the plan. My people could handle things. When I got back, I was going to have back-to-back meetings for at least a week. Hopefully, if things worked out like I planned, Ashley would get pregnant on our honeymoon. She would be busy designing a nursery and shopping for the baby. She wouldn’t care that I was spending all that time at work.
I was lost in thought when I caught my father glaring at me. He was pissed. I considered making an announcement that I wasn’t the one holding things up. My dad was trying to lecture me with just his eyes. Weirdly enough, it was working.
Where is she? What did you do? You better make this right. Our family is going to be laughed out of town. This is going to be all over the front page of every newspaper in the state!
I offered my father a slight shrug. There wasn’t a lot I could do. If she stood me up, she stood me up. Big fucking deal. I had an inkling this might happen. Last night we exchanged a few texts, but none of them included a guarantee she would meet me at the altar. In fact, for the last few weeks, she’d been very distant. We both said we loved each other but I honestly couldn’t say I meant it. I didn’t believe she did either. I liked her. We got along and we had the same goals and dreams. Getting married suited both of us. She was a beautiful woman who came from a good family. She was the wife a powerful businessman needed. She knew how to dress, what to say and threw some pretty amazing dinner parties.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. Penelope looked embarrassed as she gestured for me to follow her. “Excuse us.” I waved to the audience. “It seems my bride is delayed.”
We disappeared out a side door. “What the hell is going on?” I asked my sister, who looked like she wanted to be anywhere but where she was.
“Ashley.” She gnawed her lower lip. “She’s gone. She’s not here.”
“I saw her car pull up and I’m not going to lie, I caught a glimpse of her.” I didn’t believe in bad luck. Luck didn’t play into anything. I was in control of my future.
“She left.” Penelope was my younger sister and easily one of my best friends. We were an odd couple to say the least. I was focused on work and wasn’t really a people person. Penelope was a beautiful, young socialite that could walk into any room and make a friend.
“What do you mean she left?” I asked.
“I asked Matthew to find out what was taking so long. He went to her dressing room and it was empty. She’s gone, Arch. I’m sorry, but she’s left you at the altar.”
I couldn’t explain what I felt in that moment. Disbelief. Embarrassment. Mostly, I was pissed. “I’ll call her.”
“I’ve tried. A hundred times. I had her friend call her. She’s gone. Go. I’ll make the announcement in a few minutes. It’ll give you time to get out of here.”
“Fuck.” I jerked at the stupid bowtie that was cutting off the blood flow to my brain. “I fucking knew she would pull something like this.”
Penelope put her hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
“Mom is going to lose her shit.”
“I’ll deal with Mom.” She gave me a hug. “Go home. I’ll take care of this and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“I’m fine, Pip. That’s probably wrong, but I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine. Now, go. Take my car.” She handed me her valet tag.
“Don’t bring Matthew.”
She smiled. “I won’t.”
Her fiancé, Matthew, was a dick. I didn’t like him, but I tolerated him. The whole family did. I was fresh out of tolerance. The last thing I wanted to deal with was the guy I thought was a sleazeball and not good enough for my little sister. Matthew acted like he was God’s gift to the world and my sister was lucky to have him. I might have been biased, but my sister was a ten and Matthew was barely pushing a six. He was punching way above his weight. He acted like she was the lucky one to have him.
The valet gave me a strange look when I handed him the ticket, but thankfully, he said nothing about the fact the groom was going out the back before the wedding started. My beach house was only a few miles from my parents’ sprawling estate where the reception was being held.
The moment I was through the door, I lost the jacket, cufflinks, and cummerbund, dropping everything on the floor as I walked to the bar. I poured a glass of the Macallan scotch I loved. I took the first drink, letting the smooth liquid scorch its way down my throat. It landed in my empty belly, spreading warmth through my body. I unbuttoned the top few buttons of the shirt and stared out the window at the ocean beckoning to me. The sun was low on the horizon, casting orange and pink splashes across the sky. I kicked off my shoes and peeled off my socks, leaving them where I stood.
With the bottle in one hand and my glass in the other, I stepped outside, following the wooden footpath down to the shore. I flopped down in the sand, not giving a shit I was in very expensive tuxedo pants. I couldn’t figure out whether to be pissed or bummed. The answer was at the bottom of the bottle and I intended to get to it.
“I thought I would find you out here.” Penelope, still in her blue evening gown, sat on the sand beside me. She reached for my glass and took a drink before giving it back to me.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“As you would expect. Don’t worry about it. This was a dry run for Mom. She’ll know what not to do for my wedding.”
“Like count on the bride showing up?”
“I’m sorry,” she said with a sigh. “She was kind of a bitch anyway. I think you dodged a bullet. The divorce would have been messy. You would probably lose your beach house and at least one of your cars. You would lose the house in Maine and who knows what else?”
“When do you leave?”
“What?” I asked with confusion.
“For your honeymoon.”
“Very funny,” I muttered and refilled the glass.
“You need to go. Don’t sit around here sulking. Go sit on a beach with a waiter delivering fruity drinks with umbrellas while you soak up the sun. It’ll give time for things to die down around here. Do you really want to deal with Mom and Dad?”
“No.” The two weeks off was already scheduled. “Maybe I will go.”
“Hey, maybe I’ll go with you! Yes! That will be so much fun. I’m already a Ryatt.”
“You expect me to take my sister on my honeymoon? Don’t you think that’s a little weird?”
“I’m not going to act like your bride,” she said, snorting. “I could use the chance to get away. And you and I haven’t hung out in a long time. It’ll be fun. Please, Archer.”
I looked at her and saw her quietly begging. We weren’t the kind of family that talked about feelings, but I could see she was stressed. “Fine.”
“Right now?” I asked as she jumped up.
She reached for my hand and pulled me up. “Yes. It’s not like you have to wait for your flight. Call the pilot. I’m going home to pack. I’ll meet you at the airstrip.”
“I’m not sure I can get a flight crew ready tonight.” Despite my protests, I followed her back to my house.
“You can do anything. You’re Archer Ryatt.”
She wasn’t wrong. “Fine. What about Matthew?”
She waved a hand. “I’ll tell him I’m going.”
“What if he wants to come along?”
“No. I need a vacation from my life, including him.”
“I’ll make the call.”
My suitcases were already packed. I was a planner. All of the planning in the world didn’t mean shit when the other party had a change of heart. I hoped this little getaway wasn’t another mistake. But the idea of sticking around and listening to my parents and dealing with the looks of pity did not sound pleasant.
A solo honeymoon was sad, but it was the better of two evils.