“Come on, Spencer. Be a good sport and come out and play with me!” He tugged at her arm and managed to drag her out of the bedroom. “Besides, you said you were on vacation this week. Doing work is not a vacation.”
“Brian!” She tried to grab hold of the nearest table, lamp, or random piece of furniture and cursed Nick for not putting anything in his hallway. “Isn’t there anyone else you can go bother?”
He grinned as he yanked her down the stairs. “No one else has a pretty accent like yours, Spencer. It sure does remind me of the good old days,” he added, exaggerating his own accent. “I promise, if you come, you’ll get a special prize.”
“Oh, goody.” The sarcasm dripped from her words as she rolled her eyes and stopped resisting being dragged from the house and into his awaiting car. “And what would that be?”
“I can’t tell you that, now,” Brian said cheerfully, snapping her seatbelt on before climbing into the driver’s seat. “You’ll just have to trust me.”
Spencer folded her arms and slouched in the seat. “Already, I’m not having fun. Don’t you have some silly bachelor party to set up for Nick tonight?”
“Kevin and Howie got that end taken care of. I just have to pay for the booze. It’ll be a bachelor party Nick will never forget.”
“I bet he won’t,” she muttered and turned to stare at the window.
Brian ruffled her hair playfully. “Oh, come on, Spencer. You know it’s practically tradition to have one, especially for Nick. Heck, we all thought he’d be a bachelor forever. Imagine everyone’s surprise when they found out he was actually going to settle down.”
“Yeah. Nick Carter actually getting married. Imagine that,” she mumbled.
He winced a little when he realized the full effect of his words. “Crap. I’m sorry, Spencer. I didn’t mean-”
“It’s fine, Brian. That was in the deep, dark past, and, as I recall, everyone was shocked then, too.” Spencer sighed and shoved sunglasses onto her nose.
“Yes, but it was even bigger because you were pregnant, too. If you thought we were surprised that the kid was getting married, you should’ve seen how stunned we were that he was going to be a daddy.” Brian turned his car onto a road and started to follow the signs announcing the approaching attraction.
She shrugged. “I bet. If I could, I’d go back and change everything, except the part about Sydney. The only thing I’ll ever be grateful to Nick for is the fact that, without him, I’d never have had my baby.”
“Or had your heart stolen?” Brian didn’t bother looking over at her as he pulled into a parking lot. He knew the look on her face wouldn’t be so pretty.
“Maybe,” she said simply before her eyes widened behind her tinted lenses. “An amusement park? Brian.” She turned to stare at him, her jaw dropped. “You brought me to an amusement park? For what? The cheap thrills?”
He tugged her out of the car and marched them over to the ticket counters. “For the fun of it. Knowing you, you’ve probably never let yourself have fun in the last twenty years, huh?”
“That’s not true,” she said indignantly, then had to admit secretly that it was. She watched as he paid for two admission passes. “I’d better get a damn big prize for going on all those rollercoasters with you.”
Brian grinned at her, knowing she’d already gotten over her anger. “Have I ever gone back on one of my promises?” Before she could answer, he dragged her over to the gate, determined that she’d have the time of her life.
There was a bounce in his step as he jumped down the stairs as though he were ten again. As the days until his wedding dwindled, he was starting to feel less nervous and more excited. The bachelor party that his bandmates were throwing for him was that night and was definitely a big part of his growing excitement. He hadn’t gotten absolutely drunk in years, but he figured that, when a man was finally taking the plunge into marriage, he was entitled to get smashed.
Nick walked into the kitchen and stopped. Frowning, he looked around at the empty room and noted that there wasn’t anything cooking on the stove, no coffee in the coffeemaker, and, now that he stopped and listened, no sight or sound of anyone else in the house but him. It was obvious that he’d gotten too used too fast to the way Spencer always had breakfast cooking when he showed up in the mornings.
“Okay, weird.” He checked his watch, noted that it was just after ten, and wondered where both of his—Spencer was definitely not his, he corrected himself—where the women had gone. He spotted the note on the counter next to the coffeemaker and, grabbing it up, recognized Sydney’s handwriting.
Happy three days to your wedding!
Just wanted to let you know that I’m having breakfast with Mason and Baylee at their hotel, so I’ll probably see you later. Oh, and Mom went out with Uncle Brian, in case you were wondering. She left the makings for omelets in the fridge and said to flip the omelet after two minutes. Apparently, you’re good at burning stuff.
Okay, that’s it! Gotta run, so I’ll see ya later!
“Ha. Ha. Ha.” Nick scowled at the part about how he burned things and tried not to admit that it was true. Instead, he turned the coffeemaker on and, for all of thirty seconds, ignored the fact that Spencer’s truly incredible omelet mix was sitting in his fridge. His scowl deepened when he couldn’t hold out against temptation, and he dragged out a frying pan and the omelet batter from the fridge.
His tongue caught between his teeth as he concentrated, he poured the milky yellow batter onto the steaming pan and winced when some of it popped out onto his hand. “Ouch, ouch, ouch!” He stuck his hand under the tap, then dug out a spatula from a drawer. He checked the time on his watch and, after two minutes had passed, he carefully flipped the omelet and applauded himself for not dropping it on the floor.
As he began to time the next time he had to flip the omelet, the telephone rang. He picked up the receiver, one eye on the frying pan, and answered. “Hello?”
“Hello. May I speak with Spencer Wilde please?”
Nick didn’t recognize the man on the other end nor did he have any idea why someone would call his house to find Spencer. “Uh, I’m sorry,” he began, “Spencer isn’t here, right now. I could take a message for her, if you want.”
“Oh, well, that’s okay. She hasn’t been answering her cell phone today, and Sydney told me she was staying with her this week.” There was a pause. “Is this Nick?”
Nick frowned. “Uh, yeah. It’s Nick. Who is this?” Part of him wondered if Spencer had a boyfriend she hadn’t mentioned. That thought flew out of his head when the man answered.
“Well, son. This is her father, Flynn.” There was a slight pause. “I bet you never thought you’d see the day when you spoke with me again.”
The truth, Nick thought, was the truth, no matter how you tried to pretty it up. “Not to sound like a jerk, sir, but you’re right. I didn’t. Um, I guess I should ask how you are.”
Flynn chuckled a little, hearing the wariness in Nick’s voice. “Nickolas, twenty-two years ago, you were terrified of me, and, apparently, that hasn’t changed.” He paused. “I’m doing well. Had some knee surgery a couple months ago. At my age, I’m lucky I can actually walk. I lost my Mary two years ago, so it’s a bit more difficult to get along. I manage, though.”
“I didn’t know your wife, uh, passed away,” Nick replied, remembering how sweet Spencer’s mother had always been to him, even when he hadn’t deserved it. There had been times when he’d wished he were her son, but he’d lost her when he’d ended things with Spencer. “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t know.”
“Well, I don’t suppose Spencer would’ve told you,” Flynn replied. “Anyway, how are things going down there? I can’t imagine either you or my daughter were pleased to find out she’d be staying with you this week.”
Nick sighed a little. “No, sir, I can’t say we were. Sydney tricked us pretty well.”
Flynn laughed now. “Well, that’s my granddaughter for you. Not to mention, I do remember hearing that you pulled plenty of pranks on your bandmates when you were Sydney’s age. She had to get it from somewhere.”
“Yeah, I guess she did.” Nick smiled a little at the thought that maybe Sydney had inherited more from him than just his blue eyes and his height. “Spencer and me, we’re dealing with each other. We stopped fighting, so I guess that’s a pretty good thing.”
“I’d say it is. I hear you’re getting married, and I can’t imagine any man would want to fight with his ex-fiancée right before his wedding.” Flynn was quiet for a moment. “Before I say congratulations and wish you all the best of luck—which I do honestly mean—I want you to know that, as angry as I was that you broke my little girl’s heart all those years ago, I’ve never hated you, Nickolas.”
Nick’s brows shot up. “Really? Why not?”
“Because, as much as you made her cry, you also made her happier than I’ve ever seen her in her entire life. She loved you so much, and, in all the years since then, she’s never been even half as happy as she was with you.” Flynn sighed. “There’s not much I can do as her father to find her that happiness again, but I thought you should know that I always liked you. You weren’t what I’d expected my daughter to want for herself, but I can tell you that I wasn’t disappointed that Sydney turned out to be your daughter. You were a good man, and, from what Sydney’s told me over the years, you’ve gotten better. So, congratulations on your upcoming wedding and may you have all the best of luck.”
For several moments, Nick was speechless. He’d always thought Flynn Wilde hated his guts, and he’d never blamed the man for doing so. After all, the Wildes were a proper, conservative middle class family from Nashville, and he’d been the crazy celebrity that was sleeping with their daughter.
“Wow,” he said finally. “Thank you, really. I’m shocked that you never hated me because I wouldn’t and didn’t blame you if you did. And thank you for the well wishes. I’ll be sure to pass them along to my fiancée.”
“You do that, son. I’d better get going or I’ll be late for an appointment. Let Spencer know I called, will you?”
“Yeah, of course. Thanks, Mr. Wilde.”
“It’s not a problem, Nick. Take care.”
When he’d hung up with Spencer’s father, Nick leaned back against the counter and shook his head. It was a little difficult for him to believe that Flynn had just said all that to him and that he’d never disliked Nick. This week with Spencer, Nick thought, was giving him all sorts of surprises, and he wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of them.
As surprised as he was, though, at the fact that Flynn Wilde had always liked him, Nick couldn’t help but think that Spencer’s father had been wrong about the fact that Spencer had loved him. If she’d loved him, wouldn’t she have told him? Women were always talking about their feelings, but Spencer had never talked about love. If she’d loved him, Nick thought, it wouldn’t have been easy for her to walk away from what they’d had. He had been in love with her, and it had been hell for him to leave her.
Flynn was wrong, Nick decided. He had probably just figured that—
His thoughts trailed off as he sniffed the air. With a yelp, he rushed over to the stove and stared at the charred, burnt mess that his omelet had become. Cursing under his breath, he dumped it into the trashcan. Spencer would probably be angry that he’d ruined her omelet mix, and he winced at the eventual, inevitable look on her face when she found out.
“What a wreck,” he whispered as he scraped the pan clean. “Sorry, Spencer. Guess your omelet wasn’t meant to be. Just like us.”
When Brian pulled his car up Nick’s driveway at dusk, he and Spencer were laughing over the giant bear he’d won for her from one of the carnival games. It was large, purple, and very fluffy. Every time someone pulled its arm, it would say something like “Do it harder,” “Faster,” or “Yeah, baby, that was great!” Needless to say, Spencer and Brian were dying with laughter at the inappropriateness of such a stuffed animal.
“I’m glad they never made those when our kids were younger,” Brian said in between giggling. “I don’t know how I’d ever have been able to explain to Bay what the bear was saying.”
Spencer squeezed the bear to her. “I don’t think I’ll ever throw it away. Next time I’ve had a bad day because some annoying defense attorney got his client off easy, I’ll pull this guy out.”
“Oh, yeah. Good idea!” Brian chuckled as he checked his watch. “Hey, when you go in, can you send Nick out? I didn’t realize how late it was. Kevin wanted Nick at his party by nine, and I’m supposed to bring him.”
Her laughter died down almost instantaneously, and she unbuckled her seatbelt. “Sure. Thanks for today, Brian. You were right. I needed that.” She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Have fun tonight.”
“I’m sure we will.” He winked. “Say hi to Sydney for me. I’ll see you soon!”
Spencer dragged her bear out of the car and waved to him over her shoulder as she walked up to the house. She tried not to let the good mood slide off her as she pushed open the front door. As much fun as she’d had riding all the rollercoasters with Brian and beating him at half of the games they’d played, she wasn’t quite ready to face the emotional rollercoaster that was Nick Carter.
As soon as she’d stepped inside, he came down the stairs, and her pleasant mood vanished.
“Oh, hey.” He glanced up from buttoning his shirt as he reached the first floor. “I was wondering where the hell Brian had taken you. Kevin said I had to go to the party with Brian. Is he outside?”
Spencer nodded. “Yeah, he’s waiting for you.” Tucking her bear under her arm, she started past him, but he stopped her.
“A teddy bear? Did you go shopping all day or what?” He tugged the bear away from her and squeezed it playfully.
She shook her head and pulled it back. “For your information, we went to that new amusement park on the other side of the city. It was pretty great, but, like I said, Brian’s waiting for you outside. You don’t want to be late for your moronic male ritual, do you? Can’t waste a single minute when you could be drinking too much, telling stupid stories, and getting lap dances all night long.” She rolled her eyes. “Is Cara okay with this ridiculous party you’ve got tonight?”
Nick narrowed his eyes as his temper began to simmer. “Look, I don’t say anything about whatever you spend your time doing, and you don’t get to criticize me for what I do. Besides, a bachelor party is, like, necessary before a guy gets married and shackles himself to one woman for the rest of his life. And, for your information, Cara is the one who thought it would be fun if I had a bachelor party with the guys.”
“Well, good for her. I’m surprised, with that attitude you have about marriage, that she wants to even go through with marrying you.” Spencer shook her head. “Why bother getting married, Nick, when you so obviously don’t believe in the beauty of that sacred bond with another person? I’m surprised you got off your selfish pedestal to actually propose to her.”
“I proposed to you, didn’t I? And, before you go off about why the hell I’m getting married, maybe you should ask yourself why you didn’t make that ‘sacred bond,’” he gestured quotation marks in the air, “with another guy. Wasn’t there anyone good enough for Miss Priss? God, you’re so uptight and obnoxiously snobby that no man in his right mind would want to spend his life with you.”
Spencer battled back her tears and lifted her chin. “Then why did you?” she shot back.
Nick stared at her for long moments before he shook his head. “Fuck this. I’m not going to waste my time arguing with you when I could be at my super terrific bachelor party.” He stalked out the door and just barely resisted the urge to slam it shut.
When he threw himself into Brian’s car and scowled out the window, Brian’s brows shot up. “Whoa, buddy. What’s wrong with you? You’re supposed to be happy about the bachelor party, not pissed off.”
“Spencer,” Nick muttered, and Brian immediately nodded in understanding.
The rest of the car ride was spent in silence while Nick brooded.
A busty blonde in two skinny swatches of red silk ran her hands along Nick’s shoulders and bit his ear when he slid dollar bills under her G-string. He toasted her gleefully with his who-knew-how-many drink of the night. He was well past buzzed and on his way to being falling down drunk. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out why Kevin had insisted that Brian bring him to his bachelor party.
The all-male social event of Nick’s year was being held in the enormous basement of one of Howie’s many properties. Everyone from the Backstreet Boys’ stage crew, band, and several members of their management team were present, along with the few friends the five men had in common. It was a pretty safe bet that just about everyone, except for Brian, AJ, and Howie’s son, Jacob, who was underage, probably couldn’t even remember their own names.
Nick stumbled across the room to where Howie, Brian, and AJ were lounging and watching all the action. He giggled as he passed a slinky brunette doing a lap dance for a very drunk Kevin. This was, in Nick’s opinion, the best bachelor party ever.
He flopped into a chair next to Brian and raised his glass in a toast. “This is the best fucking bachelor party I’ve ever had!”
“It’s the only one you’ve ever had,” AJ snickered.
“Whatever, whatever. You guys are the bestest friends a guy could ask for. I mean, we’re way old, but this party is off the hook, man!” Nick’s words were rather slurred, and Brian tried not to laugh.
“Glad we could help,” he replied and took the glass from Nick’s hand before Nick dropped it.
Nick tossed his arm around Brian’s shoulders and grinned foolishly at the three men. “You know, I was in a fucking awful mood when I got here. Now, I’m super duper happy. Women are so weird, you know. Spencer pissed me off really good before, but, now, it’s women that put me back in the mood.” He tried, unsuccessfully, to wiggle his eyebrows suggestively at one of the exotic dancers. “I mean, I’m about to marry a really awesome woman, who shares my love of comics and drawing, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life with her. I should be through the roof, right?”
Howie nodded. “Sure. Of course. Aren’t you happy?”
“Well, hell yeah, I am!” Nick gestured wildly, and Brian ducked to avoid being smacked in the face. “But then, Spencer comes along and wrecks the whole thing for me. I thought Cara was it, ya know?”
AJ, Howie, and Brian exchanged glances before AJ spoke. “And now?”
“Fuck man, I don’t know.” Nick shrugged exaggeratedly. “I thought I was way over Spencer, like, twenty years ago, you know? I mean, after all that shit went down during the pregnancy and all, I thought, that’s it. I’m never taking that bitch back. And, for twenty years, I did just fine. Then we had that stupid charades crap, and that stripper bit? Whoa.” He shook his head. “Who knew Spencer was hot shit under those stupid suits she wears? I sure as hell didn’t.”
“She’s always been pretty, Nick,” Brian offered helpfully.
Nick nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, hell, yeah. And sex with her was, like, whoa times infinite.”
“You had sex with her?!” All three men were shocked.
“Well, duh. Where do you think Sydney came from? It sure as hell wasn’t the stork,” Nick told them.
Brian shook his head. “Nick, did you have sex with Spencer this week?”
“What?” Nick’s expression looked stunned for a moment before he giggled. “ ‘Course not! We piss each other off too much to bang each other again. I was talking about before and how sex with her was, like, heaven. It was…an experience.” He closed his eyes, and AJ snickered at the expression on his face.
“Okay, and then what?” Howie asked, interrupting Nick from his zen thoughts of sleeping with Spencer.
Nick’s eyes popped open, and there was a sly smile on his face. “And then I kissed her in the rain the other night.” His face took on a sloppily drunk, foolishly dreamy quality as he remembered the incident again. “Oh, yeah, I kissed her. She’s, like, the only woman I ever saw fireworks with. You know those fireworks?” he asked the other men. “The ones behind your eyelids and they’re all like whoa. I used to always get them with only Spencer.”
“And you got them again?” Brian asked.
“Definitely. It was that whole experience again, but…” His face fell a little. “Can’t go around kissing the ex, right? I’m getting married!” He leapt up off the chair and stumbled back into the party. “I gotta celebrate my freedom while it lasts!”
When he was happily grinding with one of the dancers, Howie, Brian, and AJ all exchanged knowing looks and sighed. It had been inevitable that putting Nick and Spencer together in one place for a prolonged period would result in something happening. They just hoped that, when the dust settled at the end of the week, no one would be hurt too badly.