Everything's just so beautiful: the ceremony, the reception, the band. You did a wonderful job, dear."
Callie's smile never faltered as she murmured her thanks and handed her empty flute of champagne to a passing waiter. After nearly a year of preparation anything less than perfection would have been unacceptable. It had been a crazy year, but planning her little sister's wedding had taken Callie's mind off her own broken engagement. The radiant smile on Jessica's face more than made up for the sleepless nights and headaches.
"Dance with me."
Before she could protest, Callie was gathered up in a pair of strong arms and spun out onto the dance floor. She recognized the song as one of her favorites. Jessica had insisted on having a big band to play nothing but old standards to fit in with the wedding's nostalgic feel. The groom's cousin-slash-best-man had found the most amazing Sinatra-esque singer to go with the band.
"Good choice with the music, Mike. I don't know where you found this guy, but I've got to get his card. He'd be perfect for Mom & Dad's anniversary party next year. We were having a horrible time getting someone Jess liked. You're a miracle-worker."
Mike's only response was a wordless grunt as he gently pushed Callie's head down onto his shoulder. "Dance."
Callie rolled her eyes at his caveman tactics. He'd flown in from New York City two weeks before the wedding and had been an absolute godsend. While Jessica was busy with her future-in-laws, Mike helped Callie with last-minute errands, the rehearsal dinner, and generally keeping the insanity at a minimum. He was equal parts charming and exasperating and he quickly, surprisingly, wormed his way into her heart.
"Mike, thanks for all your-"
Mike clamped one hand over her mouth and held it there until he was certain she wouldn't try to talk. "I don't want to talk about the wedding or the clean up or anything else. I just want to dance with the most beautiful woman in the room."
"You're supposed to save compliments like that for the bride."
"Dance." As if to emphasize his point, Mike twirled her twice before pulling her back into his embrace. The other dancers seemed to fade away as they swayed to the slow rhythm. Mike rested his chin on the top of her head, his warm breath tickling her hair as he sang along with the music. "Keep that breathless charm. Won't you please arrange it? 'Cause I love you, just the way you look tonight."
If Callie hadn't been so focused on her dance partner and the way his husky timbre sent shivers down her spine, she would have noticed the speculative gleam in Jessica's eye. It would have prepared her later in the reception for the bouquet that sailed through the air to land in her hands with startling accuracy. As it was, her preoccupation with her growing feelings for Mike had her missing the knowing glances exchanged between family and friends as they all mentally cleared their calendars for another Chase-Hardy wedding.
Several hours later, Callie fingered the delicate blooms of the bouquet, her eyes following Mike as he waltzed with his grandmother. She'd never been a big believer in love at first sight but was beginning to rethink her opinion. What else would explain the butterflies in her stomach, the way her pulse sped up and how she'd cried last night at the thought of him going home after the wedding?
Maybe it was the wedding. They were known for turning the most cynical people into romantics, weren't they? Could be a combination of sappy love-songs and good champagne. That wouldn't account for the past two weeks, though. Damn.
"You're thinking too hard." Jessica's soft reprimand brought Callie out of her musings. Jess wrapped an arm around her sister's waist. She gestured towards the packed reception hall with one gloved hand. "I can't thank you enough, Cal, for all of this. You, as clichéd as this sounds, are the best sister ever."
"I'd say anytime but I don't particularly want to do this again."
Jessica laughed at the look of abject terror on Callie's face. Truth be told, Jess was glad the whole thing was over with. She didn't know how she would have coped without Callie or Mike. She opened her mouth to thank Callie again, but realized that the older woman's attention was elsewhere. With thinly-veiled amusement she watched her sister watching Mike. "Maybe I'll get to return the favor."
Callie tore her eyes away from Mike to glare at Jessica. "What? Return the favor? I don't think so, kiddo. Not for me. Not any time soon. Or, you know, ever. Callie and relationships don't mix. Besides, there hasn't been anyone on the radar in forever. I'm not looking, either, so… no. I'm perfectly content in my role as perpetual bridesmaid."
"You're thinking too hard," Jessica repeated with another burst of laughter. She kissed the tell-tale wrinkle on Callie's forehead. She hadn't heard Callie babble like that in years. It was nice. "You don't have to be afraid. He'll make you happy." Leaving Callie to think about what she'd said, Jessica let her new husband guide her back to their table.
Afraid? Who said she was afraid? Sure she'd been wary after nearly being left at the altar, but who wouldn't be? She'd turned down all those blind dates simply because she'd been busy with the wedding. If Jessica was reading more into it than that it was her own fault for being such a hopeless romantic.
Real convincing Cal. Not even you believe that one. Callie glanced down at the bouquet in her hands. Jessica was right. As usual. She handed the bouquet to the nearest woman and made her way to where the band was taking a short break. Flashing a bright smile, she caught the singer's attention and made her request. While the band got ready, Callie weaved through the crowd searching for a familiar dark head.
She tapped Mike insistently on the shoulder until he broke off his conversation and turned around. His eyes were hooded as he waited for her to speak. After the way she'd disappeared once their dance was over, she could hardly blame him. No more running away. Deciding that actions were better than words, she grabbed his hand and pulled him onto the dance floor.
Surprise flashed in his eyes when she linked her arms around his neck and rested her head on his chest but he didn't miss a step. He'd been kicking himself since his foolish revelation during their last dance. He had let the romantic atmosphere and the sweetness of her perfume get the better of him. "Callie, listen..."
"Shh. I don't want to analyze this. I don't want to talk about logistics or jobs or timing. I just want to -"
"Dance?" It wasn't what he wanted but he would take what he could get. The song held no significance, just one that happened to be playing when she wanted to dance.
Callie pursed her lips in annoyance. Figures he'd interrupt her big speech. Ugh. Enough stalling. This was it. Time to take the plunge. She sucked in a deep breath and hummed along with the music before picking up with the first verse. "I can only give you love that lasts forever. And a promise to be near each time you call. And the only heart I own for you and you alone."