The Bridesmaid's Checklist by K.T. Castle Book Tour and Giveaway :)
The Bridesmaid’s Checklist Book 2
Kassandra is unable to decide the best way to help Marisol, especially when her relationship with Josh reaches a level of commitment she wasn’t expecting. Both girls will have to remember the past in order to move their relationships forward.
Destiny is full of surprises, and sometimes, the plans you have aren’t laid out on the path set before you.
Join Kassandra and Marisol as they remember how they planned Sol’s wedding while they solve together the difficulties in the present.
She was calmer after she revealed her true intentions to me, but we didn’t discuss her options much more; we both knew that this was a decision she had to make on her own.
An hour later, Josh and Micah returned. We knew they’d already had dinner, since anyone could see red thick tomato sauce smudged all over the toddler’s face. The boys had hunted some chicken soup and green salad for us girls, relieving me of my cooking duties.
After having her soup, Marisol said her farewells. Michael texted her that he was on his way home, and she wanted to be there to greet him. She took some leftover pizza and salad for Michael’s dinner. Josh helped her out with Micah, who’d fallen asleep watching cartoons in my room.
It was a surprise to see Josh so helpful with the rowdy toddler. I didn’t know he liked children, and it surprised me even more that he was actually good with them. I finished cleaning the kitchen, and Josh came back to hug me from behind. “How about I rub your shoulders before I go home?”
“That sounds wonderful,” I said as he stepped back so I could continue with my last task.
“You’re really tense, babe,” he informed me. “What had Sol so upset?” He moved away and leaned against the kitchen counter.
He crossed his arms before commenting, “I thought that would be something to be happy about. I know I’d love to knock you up.” My boyfriend said naturally, as if we’d had a conversation of the sort recently—or at all.
We’d only dated for six months, so the baby subject had never been discussed before. To be honest, I’d never in my life even thought about babies. I was about to ask Josh what exactly he meant by his comment when he distracted me with another question.
“Michael isn’t happy about her being pregnant, or what?”
“Michael doesn’t know yet,” I explained, doing my best not to show the panic I felt at his mention of us having babies. I wasn’t ready for that at all, but this was really about Sol and Michael, not us. “And, please, don’t tell him. I probably shouldn’t have told you anything.”
“Sure, that’s for them to talk about.” At least we agreed on that, but I was still stock on his revelation.
“Josh,” I asked as calmly as I could manage, trying to control the arrhythmia suddenly overtaking my body, “what exactly did you mean by the knocking-me-up comment?” I stopped wiping the microwave so I could look at him and size up his reaction.
“Nothing much,” he nonchalantly answered, his gray eyes clear with honesty. “Just a silly comment.” Then he crossed his arms over the broad chest I loved so much and gazed back at me as if he was gauging my own reaction in return.
I didn’t know if he’d meant anything by those words or if he was just trying to shake off the whole topic—maybe because of the doubtful vibes I was sending his way. I turned and walked to the sink, rinsing the cloth I used to clean the kitchen and placing it next to the wide metallic bowl. “You’d like to have a baby.” It was meant to be a question, but I expressed it as a statement.
“Sure. Why not?” Josh answered with complete honesty. “I’d like to have a baby in the future.”
I exhaled deeply. That made me feel a little better, even if he hadn’t said he wanted to have a baby with me in that future. I walked to the living room, made myself comfortable on the light couch, and took a few seconds to think clearly.
It was rational for anyone to think about having children in the future, wasn’t it?
“I didn’t even know you liked children,” I said. He joined me on the sofa and turned me around so he could massage my shoulders as he’d promised.
“I didn’t know it myself, so of course you didn’t know.” Josh cleared his throat while his hands did their magic. “I thought my nephew was the only kid I liked, and he’s older now. Playing video games with him is the highlight of our relationship. But I’ve been spending some time with babies recently. Nat’s girl is so cute, there are no words to describe her. And Micah—he’s super fun. We had a good time together today.
“My sister got pregnant in her early twenties,” he continued, “so I was still a teenager when Elliot was born. I guess that’s why I didn’t have that much time to enjoy him. He’s twelve now—a real teen nightmare. Of course, being the cool uncle and playing Playstation with him always helps.”
“Oh.” I mean, what else could I say? I knew so little about his family. I already knew he had a sister who was a single mother, but I didn’t know his nephew was a teenager. He rarely talked about them, so I thought he wanted to keep our relationship lighter than ‘meeting-the-family’ status, and I was perfectly fine with it.
He’d mentioned to me that I should meet his sister once or twice, but there’d always been something else to do. Maybe he wasn’t that interested in me meeting his family, but I knew why I didn’t want him to meet mine. Knowing them, they’d make the situation much more formal than it should have been, and I didn’t want Josh to get the impression I was out to tie him down. Our intentions with each other were clear, but the formality and future path of our relationship was a whole other topic. I didn’t know if he was ready for something like that; I knew that at the moment, I definitely wasn’t.
“I still don’t get it, though.” Josh completely changed the subject and therefore my train of thought. “Why is her pregnancy a problem?”
“Marisol hasn’t worked since Micah was born,” I explained. “She’s the best financial manager I’ve ever met. Sol’s great at her job, banks were always throwing money at her to work for them, but most of all, she really enjoyed working with numbers. She was really truly happy. Not that she isn’t right now,” I clarified. “She’s completely in love with Michael and Micah. I don’t think she’d have it any other way. But she was happy to go back to work, to feel fulfilled in her professional life. Now that Micah’s in preschool, she accepted a proposal from a bank she used to work for. Marisol’s super happy getting her chance to work with all those numbers. And she feels that a new baby will change it all. Somehow, she thinks that Michael and her family will pressure her into staying at home with the baby. She’s terrified of that.”
“That’s why she was so upset.” Josh seemed to really understand Marisol’s situation—seemed completely sympathetic. “But there must be other options,” he added. “Besides, a new baby should be a source of joy in any family. I love how children light up a place.”
OMG. I had never expected something like this from a man like Josh. A man I saw with so many different women, I once considered him a womanizer. A man who worked in the fashion world at a modeling agency, scouting models at bars and pubs. A man who kept telling me he was so in love with me. And now he mentioned babies and how wonderful they are.
It was too much for me right then.
“Whether they’re planned or not, having a baby is a big deal. People should be happy about it,” Josh continued, voicing his opinions in a parallel universe I never thought existed.
Yep, too much. I needed to stop this conversation.
“I’m sure,” I said, trying to stop any more ‘how wonderful are babies’ comments. “You know what, Josh? I’m really tired.” I stood and ran from his loving ministrations. “This whole thing with Sol completely drained all my energy and I have an early day tomorrow. Do you mind if I go to bed now?”
“Oh, sure, gorgeous,” he said. “I completely understand.” Josh walked to the door and I followed him closely. “I’ll see you tomorrow, then.” The way he said goodbye sometimes made my body physically reluctant to let him go. His kisses completely melted me, and he knew just how to ignite my body so I couldn’t do anything but want him. Tonight, though, I felt like being alone, and I really needed him to go.
“Will you meet me tomorrow at my place?” he asked as his mouth left a trail of kisses down my neck. “Or should I come back here?” His hands had already unbuttoned my shirt, exposing one of my breasts, and his skilled fingers played with my nipples.
“You’re the devil,” I said, pushing him against the door. He dropped his hands and gave one his most deliciously impish smiles. “Stay away from me.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow and let you know,” I answered.
“I love you, baby,” he said.
I kissed him lightly and closed the door behind him as he left. It might have been silly, but at that moment, I was really thankful that I was on the pill.
From Chapter 9Boston, Massachusetts. Seven years, two months ago.
The enrollment packet sitting on my desk mocked me.
UMass Graduate School
The end of May brought with it my last semester of college. I still felt remarkably uncertain about what I’d be doing with my life, even though I had plenty of options. Making a decision was the hard part.
Sitting around me, the other students in the classroom eagerly jotted down notes, listening intently to the talk given by the graduate school admissions team. Dr. Cadwell had insisted that I attend a friendly talk about the opportunities the University of Massachusetts had for further education. So, of course, I went, as did most of the other students he’d spoken to about the lecture, especially the girls. Dr. Marc Cadwell was a hottie; he was an intelligent man and a wonderful teacher, but many of us took his lectures because we enjoyed the eye candy. Tall, he was built like an athlete, his light blond hair styled with care—not in the latest trend but in a way that still suited his masculine features. His neatly trimmed stubble most definitely added to the fact that eighty percent of his students were female, and it made him look like the heroes of the romance novels Denise always talked about. Personally, I though his most attractive feature was his eyes—the clearest, lightest blue I’d ever seen. Even hidden behind his refined-looking eyeglasses, they called to me in a way most students never wanted to feel about their teacher.
The bright Spring sun snuck through the vast windows, casting a cheeriness around the room. Every other conference attendee seemed interested and excited about being a prospective student in the master’s program, and I felt like the odd woman out. The most difficult decision was whether or not I should go back home or give Boston a few more years of my life, and my heart felt torn in two.
Babushka and Dzed expected me to come back to L.A. And I missed them dearly. I had spent my summers studying in order to advance in the program so I could go back home sooner. But I also remembered exactly why I’d decided to study in Boston. I followed the track to independence taken by most teens—to leave the house right after graduating from high school to spread my wings, become an adult, and start my life. No, I didn’t have parents who were kicking me out the door as soon as the ink on my diploma dried; my grandparents wanted nothing more than for their granddaughter to study close to home and stay with them. Especially somewhere I could potentially meet a nice Russian man to marry. That had essentially been the determining factor in which college I chose.
Babushka had been smothering me. I loved her with all my heart, but after graduation, all her conversations revolved around my single status. She constantly asked if I’d met anyone, failing to hide her disappointment when I hadn’t. Even if I had, the conversation would have then moved to whether or not he was Russian. I tended to run as far as I could from Russian boys, and I blame that on her. She’d set me up with so many of her friends’ grandsons, it had scared the hell out of me. So, for my own sanity and though I missed her every day, I needed to put some space between us.
It might have been silly, but I’d always felt a little awkward living with my grandparents, and I’d be lying if I said part of that didn’t have to do with the color of my skin. Babah and Dzed were as white as white could be, and I wasn’t. My father was African American, my mother was white Russian, and I fell into the caramel-colored middle. This had gotten me a lot of odd compliments over the years—and yeah, I’d also been called derogatory names, but I refused to validate those. Somehow, I once thought I would feel more at ease if I lived with someone who looked like me. But that wasn’t always the case.
Grandma and Grandpa Hope were wonderful people—intelligent, elegant, and charming. Five minutes into a conversation with them, one couldn’t help but instantly fall in love. They were everything a person could want in their parents, even more so when they happened to be one’s grandparents.
After my parents died, Grandma and Grandpa offered to take care of me in Boston, but the judge decided it was best for me to remain in my hometown and continue my life as normally as possible. Babushka and Dzed had even moved into my parents’ house to ease the load of changes to my life at five years old. The Hopes had to settle with holiday visits, and for the first few years, they came to see me in L.A. When I got older, I went to visit them, and I always enjoyed the Boston visits, treasuring the few moments a year I got to spend with them.
Being with Grandma Hope, though, was completely different than being with Babah. The woman spoiled me rotten; we went shopping at the upscale boutiques, she bought me simple, girly jewelry, and I ate whatever I wanted. The visits were wonderful and short. Leaving their house with no rules to return to a controlled life with Babah left me wishing I never had to leave.
What I didn’t understand back then was that, for the Hopes, my visits were always a celebration, a type of holiday. They were so thrilled to have me for a short time, they’d do anything I wanted. It took some time to get used to the fact that it wouldn’t happen every single time I came to stay. Regardless, when it came time for me to choose where I wanted to get my degree, I decided it would be Boston. And I could be close to my other grandparents. Granted, it wasn’t as magical as I’d envisioned it, but it had been a good decision; I had the opportunity to get to know my father’s parents better than I ever had when I was younger.
I fell completely in love with them. They allowed me my independence, and I could always count on them to let me use their laundry room and have a home cooked meal ready when I visited. They were interested in my studies, congratulated me on my grades, and asked about who I dated without overstepping any of the boundaries I’d established since moving into UMass’ dorms. It turned out, though, that I had become what Babushka and Dzed had raised me to be—a nice Russian girl. My coloring might have been more similar to the Hopes’, but my heart was certainly fonder of my old Russian grandparents.
Suddenly, the large classroom felt too crowded, too sunny, too suffocating. I looked around once more to assess whether or not I was the only one feeling this way. Thick drops of sweat crawled down my neck to my lower back, and I realized I was breathing a little too heavily. I made a conscious effort to inhale and exhale slowly, so my heart wouldn’t pound out of my chest. My hands felt a little numb; I opened and closed them to pump the blood around. Maybe I’d been sitting still for too long. Maybe I wasn’t getting enough oxygen to my brain. Maybe I was having a panic attack.
All this because I couldn’t make a life-changing decision? I needed to get a grip. There were more complicated things in life, one of them being that I’d now added love to the equation. Not the kind of love that came from family—the kind of love that filled your body with heat and made your heart sing. I had Edward in my life now, and I didn’t even want to start thinking about the ramifications our relationship could bring to my future. Even though my heart seemed to favor Los Angeles over Boston where family was concerned, Edward had entangled himself forcefully in a new part of my heart, occupying space and making sure he conquered all of it.
“Let’s talk about our future together,” had never been a conversation he and I ever came close to discussing. We weren’t there yet. Or, at least, I didn’t believe we were.
He had a year left before finishing his MBA and was contemplating the possibility of opening his own club. Boston was his first choice, but I already knew L.A. was option number two. A friend of his in California was trying to convince him to come back so they could work together, expanding his successful scouting business and looking into opening a bar to further enjoy L.A.’s nightlife. The business opportunities Edward had in Boston came with some big investors, but his friend in Los Angeles seemed to be more like family.
Any decision I made would affect more than just myself—Grandma and Grandpa Hope, Babah and Dzed, and even Edward, who seemed to have clawed his way into how I made my decisions lately. Still, there was no way in hell I’d be the girl who let her boyfriend make her decisions for her, and the indecision scared me.
The room was unbearable now, feeling smaller by the minute. The light was too bright and the lecture too loud, echoing in the cramped space and depriving me of the ability to think. I was sure there was a problem with the ventilation system; the air had to be thin. I felt nauseous. I had to step out.
As quietly as I could, I moved around the wooden tables, grateful that all the event’s guests faced the front, their eyes on the presentation, and ignored me completely.
The moment I opened the door to the auditorium and left the conference, the air seemed rich with oxygen, filling my lungs so I could breathe normally. The fresh breeze calmed my overheated skin, which still felt clammy. The sounds of nature and murmurs of people passing by were a welcomed change from the voice trying to convince me how my future would benefit should I apply to the graduate program.
A warm hand pressed on my shoulder before I heard the question. “Ms. Hope, are you okay?”
I turned around and found the comforting smile of my teacher. “Professor Cadwell,” I said in surprise, then took a deep breath. “I’m okay. I just needed some air.”
“I can see.” His piercing blue eyes sparkled at me. “Have you slept at all?”
I didn’t think many of my classmates had slept in weeks this close to graduation. I certainly hadn’t. When I wasn’t studying or working on my thesis, I was in front of my computer, working on the document that would define my future. And then, of course, there was time spent with Edward.
“A little,” I told him. “Do I look that bad?”
“No, not at all. You always look good. But for a second there, you turned green. I thought you might faint.”
Now that I thought about it, it might not have been concern about my future that had given me so much anxiety. I was definitely a little sleep-deprived, to say the least, and then my stomach made a big production of reminding me that I hadn’t eaten anything all day. “Apparently I also forgot to eat.”
“That’s a bad combination,” Dr. Cadwell said with a smile. God, he was beautiful.
“It is,” I agreed. “I should probably go grab a bite and then try to chill for a bit. I have to work on my thesis.”
“You should.” He took a moment to just look at me, then added, “Do you mind if I join you for lunch?” That took me completely off guard. “There’s a bistro a few blocks from here. Are you okay with walking?”
“Walking’s fine,” I answered, not really understanding that I’d just agreed to have lunch with one of my college professors.
“Then let me help you with your bag, and we’ll go grab a bite.”
We walked mostly in silence. I didn’t exactly know what to do, as I was about to have lunch with the hottest teacher in history. Part of me felt as though I should have checked with Edward first, but the other part of me reasoned that this was a friendly lunch with one of my professors, nothing more.
When we arrived at the bistro, Dr. Cadwell opened the door and directed us to the counter to place our orders, recommending the portobello hamburger. I chose a Niçoise salad instead, not wanting to agree with him on everything. Somehow, it felt important that I didn’t. I chose a table at the far corner of the place, away from any windows, and I made sure there was ventilation close by. My body still needed the air.
Our conversation was light and amicable at the beginning. We discussed trivial things like the weather—nothing too serious or uncomfortable. With each passing minute, I felt more at ease with our impromptu get-together. But I should have known that when a teacher asked a student out for lunch, it wasn’t because he wanted to discuss anything else but school.
“What did you think about the presentation?” he asked. “Are you interested in the master’s program?”
“To be totally honest, I can’t make up my mind.” I played with the rings on my fingers, having nothing else in front of me to eat because I’d devoured my salad already. Talking about my plans for the future still felt uncomfortable, and I was sure he could tell that that had been the source of my near panic attack earlier.
Professor Cadwell pushed a side of fries to the middle of our table, and I grabbed a couple without giving it a second thought. “How so?”
“I don’t really know if I want to continue studying or not. And it sounds like a lot of work.”
This made him laugh. “I don’t think you’re the least bit scared of hard work.” He took his glasses off and placed them on the table. I wished he hadn’t; now those shockingly crystalline eyes pulled me in like a magnet I couldn’t fight. “As a matter of fact, I bet your thesis is already finished and you just keep adding more to it because you’re a perfectionist and you can’t find it in you to stop pushing yourself.”
“Oh, no. Not at all.” I avoided looking straight at him and opted to concentrate on the fries between us. “I’m not even halfway through, and I know time’s running out.”
“I could give it a look if you want. But knowing you, Ms. Hope,” he said, giving my hand a light pat, “I’m pretty sure you don’t need any help.”
“That would be great, Professor. Thanks.”
“Don’t mention it.” He took a cleaning cloth from his backpack and rubbed his glasses with it. “Do you mind if I call you Kassandra? It seems fair now that we’ve shared a side of fries.”
“I’m so sorry,” I said, looking down to see I’d just eaten half his fries. “I didn’t realize…”
“That’s fine,” he said with a smile, obviously enjoying the blush creeping up my neck. “As long as you don’t take a bite of my steak. Have as many fries as you want. Maybe then you’ll agree to call me Marc.”
“Thanks… Marc.” It was easier to look at him now, since he’d replaced his glasses, and his eyes seemed less penetrating and deep behind the lenses.
“My pleasure. That salad didn’t look particularly filling.” I just smiled and glanced at the table, feeling silly for having thought the salad would impress him. “Anyway, I have been meaning to talk to you for a while,” he confessed. I glanced up at him, wondering what he meant, and then he added quickly, “About the master’s program.”
We spent the rest of the meal discussing the many advantages of getting a master’s degree and how Dr. Cadwell—Marc—felt I was perfect for it. He thought I had the brains and dedication needed to overcome the challenge and be successful. His high opinion of me was definitely flattering. More than anything, his passion for the program made me interested in participating.
“UMass should get rid of that crowded conference and just let you talk to the students instead,” I told him. “If anyone could convince me to apply to the program, it would be you.” I smiled, trying to joke around a bit now that I felt more at ease. “Do you get a commission or something if I enroll?” I laughed at my own joke and grabbed the last fry from the dish in the middle of the table. When he didn’t laugh with me or reply in any way, I looked up and noticed him blush for the first time since we’d met.
“There’s no commission, Kassandra. Only the satisfaction of knowing you’ll continue studying and possibly attending my classes. That in itself is enough of a reward.”
“Oh.” What else could I have said to something like that?
“I’m sorry, Kassandra. I haven’t been completely honest.” Marc looked at me, his astonishingly gorgeous eyes fixing me with more than interest. “As great as it is to talk to you about the graduate program, I had more selfish intentions of joining you for lunch. I really wanted to ask you out for dinner. On a date.”
Time stopped for a minute or two as I digested what he’d just said. It was quite possibly a fantasy come true, something every girl—and maybe a few boys—from our class had put on their college bucket lists but never imagined would actually happen. But the excitement of it was dampened by the fact that Edward and I had been dating for four months.
“So, what do you say? Can I take you out for dinner?”
“I’m sorry, Marc. I’m going out with someone.”
“The guy from the business program?”
“You know him?” It surprised me at first, but then I remembered that Marc’s graduate classes were part of the Isenberg School of Management, where Edward studied for his MBA.
“I’ve seen him with you. I didn’t think it was... serious.” The way he said the word stoked my curiosity, and if I’d been braver, I might have asked him why he’d made such an emphasis.
Instead I only managed to say, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” He smiled. “I’m a patient man. I can wait. “Before I could even start thinking in another direction, he added, “How about dessert, then? I think that’ll make me feel better.”
K.T. Castle loves reading, writing, and painting. She's on a quest to find the words, forms, and colors to materialize the worlds and people of her imagination. She loves reading Romance, especially Young Adult, New Adult, Contemporary, and Paranormal. She never saw herself as an incurable romantic, but lately, that's what she finds herself musing about. Love is found everywhere, regardless of whether it comes from a nice person or an ass—mundane or even vampire.