A trip to the bathroom forced Wes awake. He rubbed a hand over his face before checking his watch for the time. He’d slept longer than he’d intended, straight through two hours, shy of the thirty minutes left in the flight. He scanned the place for the other groomsmen, thinking maybe she’d missed the flight, which would be a reason to postpone the wedding, and yes, he was grasping at straws as his pops used to say.
He located his cell to check for messages. There were none from Noah or Hailey, both of which would have notified him if her plans had changed. She was probably seated in one of the chairs behind him, a possibility, and a surprise. It would make her different from the many others he awakened to find staring at him. Friends of his band members and their girlfriends, or their girlfriend’s girlfriends. Creepy as fuck, and it always irritated.
He pulled his seat to its upright position, stood and lifted her arms high above his head in a stretch, ran his fingers through his hair, before turning to face the rest of the plane.
Yes, and surprise, surprise, Angie Johnson sat in the row of chairs behind him, feet up, earphones in ears and eyes staring down at a tablet.
She didn’t look up, giving him a moment to run his gaze over what he could see of her. The color of smooth milk chocolate was the skin visible to him. Nice face with nice cheekbones. She wore her hair in those long braids with small gold clips on several strands that framed her face and fell below, pooling just at the tops of her breasts, medium-sized he thought of those.
Curvy most likely was the rest of her, not visible, blocked by the tray table. It was how he remembered her, curvy, an inch shorter than Noah’s five eight, and attractive. Not in any super model gorgeous way, but easy on the eyes, nonetheless. He’d say hello after a trip to the restroom.
Angie didn’t look up as he walked past. He was not for her, so no use allowing herself to get caught up with anything this weekend beyond being a groomsman. Plus, Noah said, women were always after him, and he was guarded because of it. It was another thing Noah told her, and which she’d see first had with her ex. The women after him, not the guarded part. Her ex had been all in with being chased. No way, or better yet, hell no, would she be the woman that chased. Ever. He was so safe from her; he didn’t even know. She wished she could tell him that, but whatever. He’d eventually see it or not, cause time telling an all, she thought, refocusing her attention on her movie.
She was in the same position as when he left her, watching her movie, not sure why he was surprised, but he was. Not sure how to approach her either, distant was his usual go to with woman. “Angie Johnson,” he said, his smile slight, barely one at all. It was certainly not the one he was famous for, that’s for sure. That smile she’d seen a bunch of times on TV, in concerts at the end of a song, in that one movie, or on YouTube, the slow forming gorgeous smile that captivated women the world over. Nope, this was its smaller brother and, beyond his small smile, he kept his thoughts to himself. Neither appreciation nor dismay could she detect in the gaze that met hers.
“Wes Rhymes,” she said, removing the earbuds from her ear.
“My apologies. I didn’t expect to sleep so long.”
“No worries. Noah says you’re tired a lot.”
“That is true, I am,” small smile still.
“Nice to see you again. I didn’t see you all that much at graduation. And seriously, graduation feels like forever ago.” She said.
“Five or six years, I guess it was.”
“Yep. It feels like we’re meeting for the first time. Oh, and before I forget, thanks for the lift.”
“No problem. There isn’t anyone on the planet my brother thinks more of, or loves more than you. Of course, I’d give you a lift.”
“Still you didn’t have to, so thanks again.”
Elise interrupted whatever he was about to say, standing beside his shoulder, holding a glass filled one-fourth of the way up with something brown, whiskey maybe, she thought.
“Would you like one? It’s bourbon, small batch from Henriks, a small distillery outside of Memphis, has hints of aged oak and maple.” He said.
“Sure, that’s fine.” She’d never heard of Henriks, didn’t drink Bourbon with or without the hints of aged oak or maple, but a free drink was a free drink and not to be turned down, especially if it was as expensive as this one sounded.
“So Noah, huh? Getting married?” he said.
“I know, right? Surprise.”
“You are?” he asked.
“I am.” He said.
“It’s crazy fast and I’m not sure what to make of it, either. According to Noah, she’s an actress, Stardust Nevada, is her name.”
“Yep. He told me the same.”
“It’s an unusual name?”
“Not for an actress.”
“I guess not. I goggled her and nothing comes up. Not sure about the actress part.”
“It could be she’s an aspiring actress.”
Elise was beside his shoulder again, another drink in her hand, for Angie this time. “Thank you,” Angie said.
“You’re welcome. Is there anything else I could get either of you?” she asked.
“No, thanks. I’m good,” Wes said.
“Me too, Elise, thanks.” Angie said, taking a sip of her drink, stronger than her usual, but nice, she thought as it rolled smoothly down her throat, providing warming to her chest. “Noah said you’ve not met her.”
“No. I have not.”
“Me either, which is odd and I’ve most, if not all of Noah’s girlfriends, or those passing through friends, back when we used to hang.. She, he didn’t mention before last week. You?” she asked.
“Something’s up is all I can I think. It’s too sudden, too out of the blue, you know?” she said, happy to have someone to bounce that off of.
“I agree,” he said.
“I just hope she’s nice. You know. Cause if she’s not,” She said, thinking through Noah’s words from earlier. “There’s probably nothing to worry about, right? I can’t remember any before that weren’t nice. You think they met in Houston?”
“I don’t know. He asked me to stand with him, so I’m here.”
“Of course you’re going to do that. It’s the same for me. I’m with him, like he’s with me. Always.” She said, staring into her drink. “I don’t know if you know this, but Noah didn’t like my ex. At. All. Tried like hell to talk me out of marrying him. Really, he about drove me nuts with it. He agreed to be my bridesmaid, even though it went against his judgment, which is the reason I’m a groomsman. He helped with the wedding planning, with everything. And when my marriage went south, he drove down to Ft. Worth, and helped me move back to Austin. Who does that but family? He is the reason I’m here, the reason I’ll always be here.”
“You and Noah never thought to— ”
“—Be more than friends? Nah, but we did try once, or he kissed me once, not that far after he moved in with your aunt, and no.” She said, chuckling her gaze turned inward, he thought, watching her. “Friends is what we are, more like siblings I think.”
The pilot’s voice came over the intercom, interrupting. The plane was landing in ten minutes.
“So here goes nothing, I guess. It was nice meeting you again. Thanks for the bourbon and the ride.”
“No problem. You’re welcome,” he said.
* * *
Vegas at dusk was pretty, Angie thought, staring out the window of the plane, waiting for the door to open. She’d packed up at the pilot’s warning ten minutes ago. Wes was still in his chair, huddled over his phone, texting. His texting game strong, as she heard him responding to whatever showed up in his life on the daily, which by the number of dings was quite a bit. He looked a bit distracted when she walked past his chair, headed to the exit. “See you outside.” She said.
“Yep, give me five and I’ll be there, “his gaze moving back to his phone, just that quick.
He looked up again, after he thought her safely past, and yes, her lower half matched up to the top in curves—a little more muscular and firm was her ass in jeans, now that he could see it, following it as she rolled her bag to a stop at the door. Talkative with the same reservations as he about Stardust. More to see, he thought, shifting his mind back to his phone and the many messages and emails on it.
* * *
“Thanks for a making me feel at home. Elise,” Angie said, standing beside the door.
“You’re welcome. Hope it all works out for Noah.” She said, smiling.
“Me too,” she said, taking the steps down to another tarmac on another small runway for private flights.
Five limos were parked across from the plane, Angie counting as she waited for Wes. All but four of them were the traditional long stretch ones, Lincoln or Cadillacs maybe. The last one in line, and different from the rest, a stretch Mercedes Benz. It captured her attention, not because it was different, but because of the person standing in front of it, a young woman, the only woman holding a sign that she could see. Stardust, most likely, as she was casually strolling towards her. She couldn’t make out the words on the sign, just that there were two.
She was beautiful, this young woman, Angie thought. Long blond hair flowed down her back, a few tendrils floated softly around her face. She could be in movies and the reason she was an actress made sense, Angie thought, reading the words Two Groomsmen printed on the sign, when it was close enough to read.
She wore cowboy boots, brown with a trace of sky blue in the design. The sky blue in her boots a perfect match to the blue of her dress, the free flowing kind Angie associated with the Free People clothing brand and out of her price range. She checked it out frequently on the off chance she’d find something at a price she could abide. A sky-blue ribbon band circled the crown of her head, completed her outfit. It was a nice look, Angie thought, admiring her oversized wind catcher earrings, to go with her long legs and yeah, Noah had reverted to type.
“Stardust?” Angie said.
“Yes, and you’re Angie.” Her mouth said, smiling at Angie, while her eyes were busily scanning the tarmac, coming to a stop on the plane behind her.
“I am. Nice to meet you.”
“You too,” Stardust said, eyes on the plane now. “Is he inside?” she asked, all giggly fan girl excited is what Angie chalked her demeanor up to. “My brother-in-law Wes Rhymes.” Stardust added, hands and sign clasped to her breast. Her eyes still turned in the plane’s direction.
“You think I should go to him? I’m not sure. Noah might be mad if I don’t make a fuss. He’s something to make a fuss over, don’t you think?” She said, twisting the sign in her hands in indecision. “What would you do if you were me?”
“—You’re right. I’ll go meet him. Noah sent me to welcome him. So, that’s what I’ll do.” She said, thrusting the sign into Angie’s body, where it hit her midsection before falling to the ground.
“Okay, Houston, we might have a problem,” Angie said to herself, picking up the sign from the ground, watching Stardust make a dramatic dash up the airplane steps, like she was Scarlett O’Hara from that Gone with the Wind Movie.
Wes was exiting just as she stepped inside and what followed was straight up from a comedy, Angie thought. An accidental running in to each other, that ended with Stardust in Wes’ arms. Girl child had some serious moves, Angie thought, continuing to watch as Wes took a step back and Stardust somehow followed, hands on his triceps, staring into his eyes, before placing a soft quick kiss on his lips.
“Uh oh,” Angie said, watching the surprise, or maybe it was shock, registering on Wes’ face. Yep, she understood his shock. She walked the few steps back to the plane to put herself into hearing range, cause she was nosey like that and if homegirl kept this up, fiancé or not, she would have to say something or not, wondering again at Noah’s don’t give her grief comments. He didn’t mean this? Trying to get with his brother? Did he? No, he did not, she decided, cause all else was what the hell and hell no, continuing to watch.
“My new big brother,” Stardust said, her arms surrounding him as she gazed into his eyes. “I’m Stardust Nevada. Your brother’s fiancé, soon to be wife.”
“Hey,” Wes said, in a tone Angie had not heard before. Bland, with no intonation and what the hell must he think. Unreadable to her anyway, and now minus even the small smile, was his expression as he tried to unwrap his brother’s fiancé’s body from his.
“I’m sorry. I’ve shocked you. I’m so excited to see you is all! You look so much like your brother. Soooo handsome. Soooo fine,” she said, eyeing him as one eyes their favorite candy. Something he was used to, just not from his brother’s fiancé and his heart sank, cause this was a problem.
“I’ve offended you,” she said, pausing for a second. “I didn’t mean to. I can come on strong. It means nothing. It’s just my way, unfortunately for some. For others, not so much,” she said, her smile mischievous. “Noah is always cautioning calm, but I’m so thrilled you’re to be my brother-in-law. A famous one at that one of the best blues guitar players in the world. Of course, I’d be excited. Who wouldn’t?” she said, reaching for his suitcase with one hand, which he expertly moved out of her reach. Impressive, Angie thought, watching still. Dude had been here before, she thought.
Not to be deterred, Stardust slid her arm into the crook of his. “How was your flight?” She asked, leading him off the plane. She had to separate from him, taking the steps first, then smiling and watching his descent as if he were Jesus come to visit, Angie thought, heartsick on Noah’s behalf, watching his fiancé lust after his brother, watching still as Stardust slid her arm in his again as soon as his feet touched land.
“The flight was good.” Wes said, shooting a quick glance in Angie’s direction, standing beside the airplane a few feet away, watching them. Stardust continued to cling to him, chattering up a storm as they walked over to her.
“Did you get some rest? Noah says you sleep on planes, mostly.” Stardust asked, pulling his attention back to her. “Noah had something to do, something he said he couldn’t get out of, which was fine. I sort of wanted to pick you two up on my own, you know, get to know you alone. I’m super stoked that you’re here for our wedding,” squeezing his arm, which had the effect of pulling his body closer to hers.
“Angie, have you met Stardust?” Wes asked, unreadable still, working again to disengage himself from the fiancé’s clutches.
“Yep?” Angie said, holding up the 2 Groomsmen sign for him to see, finding little humor in Stardust’s approach to her fiancé’s brother, and so much for hoping for nice, cause this with his brother did not belong in the nice category.
“He looks in person, just as he did in that movie Whiskey River Take Me Home,” Stardust said, gazing up at Wes, like she could eat him whole, holding his arm close to her chest still. She placed a kiss on his cheek and squeezed his arm again. “God, you’re handsome. Isn’t he handsome, Angie? And Noah said he was smart, too.” Stardust added, all-star-struck-gazing at him.
“Give us a minute,” Wes said, his gaze meeting Stardust, and the tone of his voice said it wasn’t a request he was making. “We’ll catch up to you at the limousine. I assumed one of those is for us,” he said, successfully extricating himself from her arms.
“Yes, sure course,” she said, reluctantly, Angie thought, finding her irritation growing.
He waited for a few minutes until Stardust was closer to the limo than she was to them.
“So, that’s a problem,” Angie said, eyes on Stardust as she walked away.
“Pretend to be my girlfriend.”
“Say what now?” cause that was so far from what she expected him to say.
“You heard me. I need cover until I can talk to Noah.”
“That’s your solution?”
“You have a better one?”
“Fuck off. I’m not interested in my brother’s fiancé. That could work, too.” Angie said, feeling peeved not only with Noah’s fiancé, but with big brother’s solution to the problem.
“Of course, that could work, too. But what if she’s just star struck? I’ve had that experience before,” he said, tucking a few strands of her braids behind her right ear, like she was his love interest or something. He was an excellent actor, Angie thought, feeling a tickle in her stomach being this close to him. “Some women do the star-truck thing when they first meet me and regret it later. Me telling her to fuck off, while might feel good now, could ruin my brother’s first wedding and my relationship with him. Would telling her to fuck off be worth it then?” He said, taking a step closer to her, like a few inches from her body closer. Dude was all lowered lashes and wait what she wondered, watching him brush her hair gently away from her face on her left side, and dang it looked like he would kiss her soon. His lips were so close. “My way buys us time.”
“It buys her time, you mean,” she said, sounding all Marilyn Monroe breathless and girl get a grip she thought, clearing her throat. “If she’s the bride, I can’t see the downside of ruining the wedding.” There, all breathlessness gone.
“Trust me, my way is better,” staring at her like he loved her or something. Like her ex used to do in the beginning.
“How about I blow up and you keep quiet then?”
“That’ll be our Plan B if Plan A fails,” he said, and dude’s lips were moving closer to hers. Was he going to kiss her, and would that be so bad? Up close he was some kind of appetizing.
It was quiet for a few seconds, which Wes attributed to Angie thinking it over. She was a combination ruffled with him so near, and angry with Stardust, which he understood. He felt the same, but making the best of this was his goal.
“What do I have to do as your girlfriend?” she asked.
“Play along, follow my lead, whatever,” he said, his hand back twiddling with her hair.
“Only because it’s for Noah.”
“It’s the only reason I’m asking. No offense,” he said before placing his lips just to the left side of hers. Probably from Stardust’s viewpoint, it looked like they were kissing. He was pulling away before she could blink.
“None taken,” she said, eyeing those lips. He smiled, the big one that he was famous for and wow, it was a bit to remember her name cause yeah dude was something. He took her hand with his, as if he’d done it all his life, Angie thought, shooting a quick glance at him. He was back to indecipherable just that quick. Really, his acting skills were impressive. They moved then, headed into who knew what.