Always Have, Always Will Sneak Peek
The Morgans have been part of my extended family for most of my life. Auggie has been my best friend since boarding school.
“Hey there! Almost ready?” I lean against the kitchen door, watching as he finishes up the rehearsal dinner cleanup for his sister’s wedding tomorrow.
Even tired and at the end of a dinner service, he’s affable and better looking than most men.
“Yeah, I need to recheck a few spots, and then I’ll be set to drive home.” He wavers a bit, his balance off.
Rarely does Auggie drink too much. The meal he prepared was off-the-charts delicious like all the others. I’ve never eaten a bad meal he’s prepared. “No worries. I’ll drive when you’re ready.”
Auggie shakes his head and makes one more sweep around the kitchen. “Let’s go. Billie is getting married tomorrow.”
“I’m excited for her. Aren’t you?”
He hasn’t mentioned any issues with Peter. “Of course. Peter is great.” His words come out a bit overexaggerated when he describes his future brother-in-law.
“How much have you had to drink?” I’m slightly more concerned now since I’ve only seen him overindulge twice. The first time was at winter formal in boarding school when Jenny Fordham stood him up, and the second was after Billie’s accident.
“Two beers, but that isn’t the problem. I didn’t eat enough during service.”
Now his condition makes more sense. I loop my arm around his waist and escort him to the car. Leaning him against the rear door, I open the passenger door and help him settle in.
“You smell tempting, Caro. Always have,” Auggie mutters softly after I secure the seat belt.
My heart seizes in my throat. He’s drunk. He doesn’t mean that. Does he? I have wanted to take my friendship with Auggie to the next level for the last few years. The most recent time we discussed it was almost two years ago after the gala for the arts. I don’t want to ruin our friendship for anything less than everything. His position is he isn’t ready to focus on anything other than opening his dream restaurant. Tonight his words strike a nerve. Always have.
Rounding the car, I inhale deeply to calm my heart rate. The ride to Cash’s is silent in words but not actions. Auggie takes my hand in his and draws circles with his thumb across the top of my hand. That feels…. Stop, he’s your best friend. He’s had too much to drink.
After shushing Auggie, I help him upstairs to his guest suite. Unfortunately, he can’t put himself to bed. I step into his room and guide him to sit on the edge of the bed. He immediately grips my hips. His hands are… perfection. Shaking my thoughts away, I focus on at least removing his shoes and shirt. Crouching before him, I untie his shoes. As I rise, he takes my hands in his.
“Thank you, Caro. I know better than to not eat before dinner service and especially before drinking even one beer, let alone two.”
“You’re welcome.” I pull my hands out of his and unbutton his shirt. He always wears an undershirt when he’s cooking. Apparently, tonight is the exception to this rule. As I move down the column, inches of Auggie’s hard, toned chest and abs are on display before me. I haven’t seen Auggie shirtless in at least five years. Wow! My scrawny, lanky best friend has been replaced with a fit man with ridges and a V-cut at his hips. “Scoot up and I’ll cover you.” My voice is raspy and needy if I’m being honest with myself.
Auggie slides to the top of the bed and slips beneath the covers. As I adjust them, he pulls me into his arms. He brushes his lips across mine before kissing me. In all the years we’ve been friends, nothing romantic or sexual has ever happened between us. The soft press of his lips on mine is heavenly. His kiss coupled with how my hand felt in his on the ride over here, I’m in trouble.
“Stay with me until I fall asleep like we used to,” he mutters.
He knows I can’t resist his offer. I step out of my heels, tuck them under the nearby chair, and join him on the bed.
“Thank you, Caro.”
“You’re welcome.” I turn to face him so I’ll know when he falls asleep.
He pulls me closer, burying his head into the crook of my neck. I attempt to ignore the rush of feelings he’s causing. Being here in his arms is beyond everything my imagination conjured up. The heat emanating off him warms me. My brain is warring with my heart right now. The temptation before me is too much. It takes significant inner discipline not to set my hands on his bare torso.
I stare out the window to stay awake, forcing myself to push away thoughts which don’t reflect our relationship. We’re just friends. I’m not sure how much time passes, but I notice he’s sleeping. Slowly and with precise, careful movements, I slither out from his hold and tiptoe to my shoes.
“Good night, cuore mio. I love you. Always have. Always will,” Auggie murmurs as I near the door.
He feels the same way I do?
What do we do now?
Now what am I going to do? My best friend kissed me and told me he loved me as I settled him into his bed for the night. The problem, he’s drunk and half asleep. An even bigger problem is I’m in love with him too. I refuse to ruin Billie’s wedding tomorrow. I slip out of his door and down the hall with my heels in my hand. In the other guest suite at his brother’s, I flop onto the bed and attempt to get some sleep.
I toss and turn all night, wondering how to handle Auggie’s accidental spilling of feelings. Nothing about his circumstances has changed since the last time we discussed taking our relationship beyond friendship, when he put me squarely in the friend zone.
August has been my best friend since we were ten. On the first day of boarding school, my parents dutifully left me in my dorm room after assisting in making my bed. Whether luck or lack of female students my age, I was alone in my room. Billie, whose wedding I’m here to attend, was assigned the room next door. She’s a few years older than me. Her brother Auggie heard me crying as he was passing down the hall after walking Billie to her room for the night.
“Are you okay?” he asked crying ten-year-old me. Back then, Auggie was a shy boy with floppy hair and wide brown eyes.
I stood in the doorway looking him in the eye. “No. My parents left me here all alone. I’ve never been alone.”
“I’ll stay with you until you fall asleep,” he assured me.
“Won’t you get into trouble?” I whisper.
He shrugged. “Maybe, but I won’t leave you alone.” He stepped into my room, and I closed the door. “I’ll stay with you until you fall asleep, and I’ll come back in the morning for breakfast.”
“Thank you. I’m Caroline. What’s your name?”
“August, but you can call me Auggie. All my friends do.”
I climbed into the dorm room bed facing Auggie who sat on the edge with his hand over mine. I woke the next morning, dressed for breakfast, and found him waiting for me when I opened my door.
That was fifteen years ago. Ten-year-old Auggie may have been shy, but adult Auggie isn’t, at least with me. Now he’s six feet of lean, sculpted muscle—muscle which is now etched into my memory—with the same brown eyes. His hair is less floppy but more relaxed than his brothers. He’s a talented chef and one of the best men I know.
As sunlight streams through the blinds, I’m still confused how to handle him. The problem with my current situation is he is who I would talk to about this. If I have something to deal with, I talk to Auggie. Who do I talk to about him?
It’s going to have to wait; we’re here for his sister’s wedding, and I won’t bring it up. Rising from the bed, I step into the shower and dress to meet Billie. We stayed at his brother Cash’s home for the last few nights and will head back to New York tomorrow.
I pad to the kitchen in search of some coffee and something light for breakfast. Unfortunately for me, Auggie is already awake and sitting at the granite island in the kitchen.
“Morning, Caro. Did you sleep well?”
Keep your expression neutral. “Yes, thank you, and you?” If he’s on his game, Auggie will notice my speech patterns are off, but I hope he doesn’t.
“Honestly I don’t recall much after finishing dinner for the rehearsal. According to Cash, who just left for a run, you drove me here. I don’t even remember the ride here.”
“I brought you here, tucked you in, and went to bed.” I busy myself making a cup of coffee to go.
“What time do you need to be at Billie’s?”
I have at least an hour, but I can’t stay here with Auggie for long. Avoiding him as much as possible is going to be necessary until I figure out what to do. Do I tell him or not? He doesn’t remember sharing his feelings with me last night. Ugh! “I need to be there in an hour, but I’m going to pick up some food from the Perk, our friend Kelsey’s coffee shop, beforehand. When are the guys meeting at the ViewPoint?”
“I need to be there for pictures at three. Are you okay?”
Damn! This is going to be harder than I anticipated. I haven’t hidden my emotions as well as I thought. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“Caroline, you would tell me if something is bothering you, right?”
“Of course. I’m fine. I’ve got to get going. I’ll see you at the ceremony.” I grab my cup, loop my arm through my tote, and head out the front door. The moment the rental car door closes, I let out a harsh breath. I’ve successfully controlled my feelings for August Morgan for the last few years knowing he didn’t feel the same. Now I have confirmation, it isn’t the case, even if he doesn’t remember saying the words out loud.
After stopping at the Perk to pick up the pastries, I drive to Billie and Peter’s gorgeous home. I step inside and follow the laughter to the back yard.
“Morning, ladies. I brought sustenance.”
A chorus of laughter and hellos encircle me as I approach. Billie, Noelle, Della, and Savannah are sitting in Adirondack chairs facing the water. Della is Billie’s bestie, half sister, and matron of honor. Noelle is married to Cash, and Savannah is engaged to Sam—Cash and Sam are Billie’s other two brothers. Noelle is pregnant with twins, and she’s glowing. She’s due in about two months.
Set on a hill, Billie’s yard is complete with magnificent water views. When Peter proposed, he gave her a stunning ring and this home.
A mimosa slides into my hand as I take my seat beside Noelle. I sip my drink and gaze at the view. While trying to clear my head, I miss some of the conversation.
“Caro, are you okay?” Savannah asks.
“Of course, why?”
“I asked what happened with Auggie last night.” Savannah repeats a question I didn’t hear simply because I was trying to avoid thinking about Auggie and the turmoil in my head and heart right now.
“I helped him to bed and went to sleep myself,” I answer truthfully. Sharing what he said isn’t the best choice, especially now. We’re here for Billie.
“I would love to know what he’s waiting for. You two are perfect for each other,” Billie adds.
Me too. I shrug and polish off my drink. “I’ll be right back.” I slip into the bathroom and splash water on my face, not only to prepare for the rest of the day but to clear my thoughts. I need to focus on everything except Auggie. It isn’t going to be easy. Not only do I have to see him dressed in a tuxedo, but I have to dance with him at least twice too. Refusing other dances might look suspicious but not extraordinarily odd since we’re nothing more than friends.
I rejoin the ladies in the yard. Hours later after laughter, delicious pastries, hair appointments, and bridal party photos, we’re whisked to the hotel for Billie’s wedding.
There are precisely two women I’ll wear a tuxedo for, my sister and Caroline. I’m a chef, so getting dressed up isn’t something I relish. I prefer to wear a chef’s coat in a blazing-hot kitchen. Preparing the rehearsal dinner was a compromise. I offered to prepare the food for the wedding, but my sister refused. She didn’t want me to work her wedding but to attend as her brother instead.
I’m waiting with my brothers, as well as Tommy and Peter, for the procession to start. Tommy is Peter’s roommate and friend from college. Billie chose the ViewPoint for its spectacular view of the Nubble Lighthouse and control of the guests admitted to the property.
The procession music begins, and I look up to see Caro in the doorway. She’s stunning with curls flowing over her shoulders and down her back. Her hourglass figure fits expertly into the dress Billie designed for her. Billie allowed the wedding party to select their own custom dress if she could choose the color. Even when we met at ten, I knew Caroline was special.
Today I simply can’t take my eyes off her. Her gaze lifts to mine. The look I see in her hazel eyes isn’t as happy as I would expect. She has a smile on her face, but it isn’t reaching her eyes—something only I would notice. She’s upset about something. I admonish myself. I knew something was off this morning.
I only look away when Cash elbows me.
“You sure you don’t have feelings for her?”
“Not now, Cash.”
“You should tell her,” he whispers.
I shake my head and look over at Peter. I liked him from the beginning. He balances our sister out, and he never questioned her need to forgo the money our parents left her. Someday she’ll find the perfect use for it.
Our sister is walking down the aisle alone in a custom design she created herself. Despite having learned her true parentage recently, she decided not to choose between her biological dad and our mother’s husband. Both my father, Warren Morgan, and her father, Giovanni Salvatore, are present and sitting side by side in the front row. Per my sister’s request, our mother, Margaux, isn’t here. Frankly I’m shocked she heeded her request. She kept Billie a secret from even Giovanni until Billie was eight. Camille, Giovanni’s wife, is sitting beside him holding his hand.
After their vows and a kiss which would certainly be deemed inappropriate in a church, Billie and Peter walk down the white runner with their hands intertwined. We follow them down the aisle. While the bride and groom head off for pictures, the bridal party convenes in a suite for hors d’oeuvres until it’s time for us to join them.
Immediately, I guide Caroline over to the edge of the room. “Can we talk?”
“Now isn’t the time. I don’t think it’ll be a short conversation.” Her voice cracks when she replies.
“We will talk today.”
She nods and walks away.
I have no idea what I did wrong, but I need to fix it. She has been a constant in my life since I was young. It can’t change now. She’s my best friend, confidant, and biggest supporter. Ever since our first day of boarding school, we’ve been inseparable. She attended college while I was in culinary school. We have a weekly dinner date and talk at least two or three times a day.
We join Billie and Peter outside for photos. Then we’re escorted inside to line up for introductions. I offer Caro my arm, which she reluctantly takes.
“You look beautiful,” I murmur near her ear.
“Thank you,” she pushes out softly. “You look pretty good yourself, all spiffed up. The last time I saw you in a tux was—”
“Senior prom, well a full tuxedo anyway. I skirt the rules at the galas.”
She laughs softly. The DJ announces our names, and we follow our instructions for some silly dance Billie created and step to the edge of the dance floor. Billie and Peter literally waltz around the hardwood. The sheer joy plastered on my sister’s face convinces me she’s truly happy.
Halfway through the song, the wedding party surrounds the bride and groom. We join the waltz and spin around the dance floor. Caro has been my date on more occasions than I can count. I’ve danced with her many times before. However, something is different today. I can’t pinpoint it, but the air around her is off.
“Will you come outside with me once we’re finished here?” I whisper near the shell of her ear. For the first time in all these years, I notice her physical reaction to me. I feel her shiver in my arms and wonder why.
I’ve never wanted a song to end so fast in my life. Instead of leading Caro to the head table, I take her hand and lead her outside. Normally she would pull her hand away. Today she doesn’t. It’s the first time the softness of her hand is apparent to me.
“Caroline, please talk to me. What happened between us last night?”
She exhales sharply. “Do you remember anything from last night?”
“I remember you talking to me in the kitchen and you calling me out on not eating enough. You always take care of me. I recall getting into your rental. The next thing I recall is waking up at Cash’s this morning.”
Pain crosses her features, as if everything I said or did to her in my inebriated state flashes through her mind.
“You have never been unable to talk to me, Caroline.”
“We have had this conversation at least twice. I can’t keep doing it. Is there ever going to be a time when you’re willing to choose me?”
What the hell did I say to her last night? What the hell did I do? “You deserve everything I have. I don’t know if I can give it to you, at least not yet.”
“Will you ever be ready?” Her words come out soft, as if she’s terrified of how I’ll answer.
“I don’t know.” Once the words leave my lips, I lose the woman who means the most to me in this world.
She turns and starts to walk away from me.
“Don’t go,” I plead.
“There’s no reason for me to stay anymore.”
I reach for her hand, tugging her closer but not against me. The look on her face makes me believe I divulged my true feelings for her last night, feelings I’ve been fighting for at least the last three years. Hell, since I was too young to know what they meant.