Painted Lace by K.M. Neuhold

Chapter 1



Austin

I drag my fingers over the thick paper, tracing the silver embossed letters and trying to fight back the bile rising in my throat. I bounce my knee and swivel my chair so I’m facing the window. I’m not sure why I feel like that should help, but I guess it couldn’t possibly make me feel any worse.

I train my gaze out at the overly cheerful blue sky and take a deep breath before reading the invitation one more time.

The bubbly silver letters invite me to Join Us in Celebrating the Union of Harold Brewer and Martin Sacs on the Fourteenth of February. If I wasn’t so sure I was about to vomit, I might find it in me to giggle and wonder if my ex is really about to become Harry Sacs.

I have to admit, his new name suits him. I spin my chair back around and fling the invitation onto my desk, twitching only mildly when it lands haphazardly on top of my pile of orderly documents.

It shouldn’t be orderly. That invitation is a fly in my soup, it’s a big fat zit on an otherwise perfect ass, it’s...ugh, I reach out and straighten it so its edges are aligned with the rest of the stack and then glower at it.

Harry and I broke up three years ago. I shouldn’t even care at this point.

An irritating unsettled feeling crawls under my skin. I huff and yank open the second drawer on the left side of my desk, pulling out a package of Q-tips and a can of Dust-Off. The task of carefully cleaning my already pristine keyboard relaxes the tension inside me a fraction. And as long as I don’t think about that stupid invitation again or how Harry’s probably beyond happy with his soon-to-be husband, who’s probably not the least bit boring...dammit.

It’s not like I haven’t had time to process the news of the wedding. I got the save-the-date months ago. I guess I just secretly hoped they’d break up before they got around to officially sending invitations out.

I dart another glance at the invitation, disappointed to see it still sitting there, very much not a figment of my imagination, unfortunately. I should throw it out. I reach for it and hesitate.

Why did he invite me anyway? Sure, we were best friends growing up, practically inseparable until we broke up a few weeks before graduating college. But why would he possibly think I’d want to sit in a church and listen to him pledge his undying love to some guy who can’t possibly be as good a fit for him as I am?

Harry and I made perfect sense—we knew everything about each other, we had similar interests, he wasn’t quite as focused on order and goals as I was but not far off, and, okay, maybe our sex life was pretty boring but, so what? We made sense. Why couldn’t he see that?

There’s a knock at my office door and it swings open before I can respond. I’m not at all surprised to see Luke pop his head in, grinning at me. He’s the only person I’ve known as long as I knew Harry. The three of us grew up in the same cul-de-sac.

His eyes land on the invitation on my desk and his smile falters.

“Shit, I was hoping you didn’t get one.”

I give him a tight smile. “I got the happy news all right,” I say dryly. “What do you think the deal is with the lucky guy?”

“I don’t know.” He steps inside my office and closes the door behind him, striding over to the chair in front of my desk and plopping himself down. “You know I haven’t talked to him since you two broke up.”

Broke up. That sounds a lot more mutual than the reality of the situation. But I guess it wouldn’t be very like my best friend to use phrases like dumped your ass.

“Are you going to go?” I ask, reaching over and touching my stapler to make sure it’s properly aligned with the edge of the desk and then blowing out a frustrated breath. No matter how neat and tidy I make my desk, it’s not going to do anything to make me feel better.

“I doubt it,” he says. “You should go though.”

“What?” I squawk, nearly knocking my coffee mug over in surprise. “Why would I do a thing like that?”

“For closure. You’ve been hung up on that prick for way too long.” His eyes light up and he sits forward. “You should find a smoking hot date to take.”

I scoff. Right, I’ll just pull out my little black book and choose from the long list of gorgeous men who are lining up to date me.

“Fine, forget the wedding for a second,” Luke concedes. “You need to get laid. How long has it been?”

I mumble the answer under my breath, and he cocks an eyebrow at me. “A year.” I answer more intelligibly this time. “Or so,” I say, leaving a little wiggle room because I can’t remember the exact date of my last...encounter. My hand gets the job done just fine. And, if I’m being honest, sex with another person is never all that satisfying or worth the stress.