Consolation Prize (Forbidden Men Book 9)

By: Linda Kage

COLTON’S CHAPTER | 1





Damn, I loved wedding receptions.

Parties must’ve been in my blood because I seemed to flourish at them. There was just something about the noise and energy and hint of wild abandon that got my engines revving. And no better place could I make a spectacle of myself, projecting the image I wanted everyone to see, than in a busy, crowded room like this.

Oh, the things you could hide behind a loud, boisterous personality at a loud, boisterous party were truly amazing.

“I know what you’re all thinking,” I drawled into the microphone I carried as I meandered back and forth behind the wedding party’s table to address the crowd. “Why the hell did a specimen as lovely as Sarah Arnosta settle for my loser of a big brother when she could’ve had all this, right?”

As I splayed a hand down the side of my tux jacket, motioning to myself, my brother Brandt twisted in his seat to punch at me, muttering curses as he swung. But I only chuckled and ruffled his hair before dodging out of his reach. “Well, all I can say to that, my friends, is love must be blind.”

My answer drew a laugh from the crowd. I grinned and waited for the sound to die down before I got serious. “Or maybe Aristotle said it best when he wrote, ‘love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies,’ because despite the fact I am obviously the far more handsome and charming brother, Sarah made the right decision.” Setting a hand on the bride’s shoulder, I grinned at her affectionately. “She recognized the missing part of herself nine years ago when she met Brandt, and there was no separating either of them from that point on.”

When she reached up to squeeze my fingers, I leaned down to kiss her cheek. “For all of us who watched your romance bloom into what it is today, it felt as if it took you guys forever to realize you were meant to be more than just friends. But patience truly must be a virtue richly rewarded because you two have hit the jackpot. This right here, what you have between you, is a love-till-death-do-us-part if I ever saw one. I’m so happy you guys finally figured it out. And I’d say good luck to you, but I know you don’t need it. You already have what you need to make a great life together. You’ll be just fine. I love you both. You’re my inspiration.”

Lifting my fluted glass full of champagne, I called to everyone, “Here’s to fifty years of wedded bliss for Brandt and Sarah, and fifty more after that.”

Everyone drank with me, cheers and applause ringing through the hall behind my toast. My brother rose from his seat to give me a quick, hard man-hug as he said into my ear, “Thanks, bro. You weren’t even as annoying as I thought you’d be.”

“That was for Sarah’s benefit, not yours.” I teasingly jabbed a fist toward his gut and laughed when he flinched away from me.

“Whatever. You’re such a pipsqueak.” He jostled my arm and grinned as he stepped back because his wife had swiveled her wheelchair around to face me.

When Sarah held up her arms for her own hug, I knelt down to give her a warm embrace.

“Thank you, Colton. That was lovely.”

“Anything for you, beautiful. You make him happier than you can imagine.” I kissed her cheek one more time and then handed the mic over to Reese, the matron of honor who wanted to give her own toast.

As she spoke, I plopped into my seat next to Brandt, relaxing enough to sling an arm over the back of my chair so I could twist my torso and survey the people sitting nearby on my right. They were all family, even the ones who weren’t blood relatives. They’d helped raise me into the guy I was, and I loved each and every one of them.

A part of me recognized how much I didn’t deserve their affection and support, and that part appreciated every little piece of love they’d ever tossed my way. Yet another part of me was scared shitless, afraid of losing them and eternally certain they’d realize someday they could do so much better, and they’d cut me loose. That part remained an asshat, determined not to show how much he cared about them because everyone knew the moment you let people see what you cared for most, it became your biggest weakness and you were bound to lose it.

When cheers rose and everyone drank, I realized I’d spaced out through Reese’s entire toast. Whoops.

I drank with them anyway and kept guzzling until I drained my glass. Noel had said this one glass was the only alcohol I was allowed tonight, but...yeah right.

Glancing around to make sure no one saw I was empty, I rose to my feet and started toward the waiter nearest me who still had a tray full of untouched champagne. Chin-bobbing and calling out a greeting to people I passed to blend in, I reached the guy in seconds and exchanged my glass for a new one smoothly, without anyone noticing.

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