But now he had Alexa Monroe to come along with him and play the adoring girlfriend. He’d forgotten to tell her that adoring part, but maybe he could help that along some by playing the adoring boyfriend and she would get a clue? Shit, he really was going to have to buy her a hospital wing or something.

“I can’t believe you, Alexa. Where are all your cute dresses?”

Alexa’s “meeting” was with Maddie—first at Alexa’s house so Maddie could inspect her closet, then at the closest mall when her closet was not miraculously stocked with black-tie-optional dresses. Alexa had opened her mouth to plead that she had too much work to do for a shopping excursion in the middle of the day, she could just wear her one little black dress that was sort of wedding appropriate, but when she saw the look on Maddie’s face, she closed it. There was no point in arguing with Maddie when she had that look.

“I have a million cute dresses!” Alexa said as she drove them out to the mall.

“Yes, yes, of course you do,” Maddie said. “Cute WORK dresses, but those don’t count right now. You need cocktail dresses. Don’t you ever go to weddings? I know you do, so where are all of your dresses from those?”

“I’ve been to ten weddings in the past three years,” Alexa said. “I’ve been a bridesmaid in seven of those. I never get to buy cute dresses for weddings; they are preselected for me. And when do I ever need a cute non-work dress except for weddings?”

“What about the other three weddings?”

“I wore that black halter dress that you vetoed to two of them, and to the third I wore a fantastic gold sequined dress that I rented for the weekend.”

Maddie sighed.

“I remember that dress. It looked incredible on you. Well, obviously this mysterious date happened at just the right time. We clearly need to build up your cocktail dress wardrobe. Okay. Now, who the hell is this guy you’re going to a wedding with?”

When she told the story without all the adrenaline and champagne, it sounded even more ridiculous. She finished just as she pulled into the packed mall parking lot. What were all of these people doing here in the middle of the afternoon? Shouldn’t they all be at work? Shouldn’t she be at work?

“This is crazy. Why am I doing this? I should not be dragging you all over town in the middle of the workday and spending money on dresses to go to a wedding with some dude I talked to for fifteen minutes in an elevator yesterday. What am I thinking?” She pulled into a parking space and reached for her phone.

Maddie took the phone away from her.

“Nope. You’re not allowed to cancel. I’m not letting you talk yourself out of this opportunity for a practice, no-stress date that just landed in your lap.”

Alexa sighed and opened her car door.

“The thing is, Mad . . . this guy is out of my league, okay? He’s hot, he’s funny, he’s flirty, and he’s a doctor. I’m your standard short black girl with big boobs and hips who can barely look him in the eye without looking away. I don’t even have the right clothes to wear on a date like this—this is how far out of my league this is!”

The problem with trying to talk about this with Maddie was that the words “out of my league” had never applied to Maddie. She was at least six inches taller than Alexa, with a body like a Barbie doll, light brown skin that always seemed to glow, and hair that looked perfect no matter if she left it curly or blow-dried it straight. Alexa, on the other hand, was short, what people who liked her called “curvy,” and had more than once turned down social invitations because she didn’t have the energy to deal with her hair.

Maddie steered her toward the entrance.

“That’s exactly why you have to go. Nothing is riding on this! Look: you don’t know this guy, he doesn’t live around here, none of this matters. Don’t overthink everything like you always do. You’ll just dress up, eat free food and drink free drinks, and look fucking hot the whole time if I have anything to do with it.”

Alexa rolled her eyes.

Maddie smacked her on her arm.

“Ow! What was that for?”

“I saw that eye roll, and you will look hot, I promise you. And plus, you’ll get two great dresses out of the deal.”

Alexa opened the Nordstrom door and gestured for Maddie to precede her.

“I have one weekend where I don’t have a ton of work to do, and this is how I waste it?”

Maddie threw her arm around Alexa.

“You’re not wasting anything. It’s practice, remember? Plus, from those text messages you showed me, this dude will freak out if you bail on him now.”

When Alexa saw the armfuls of dresses that Maddie brought into the dressing room, she thought about bailing again.

“Maddie, these don’t look—”

“Don’t argue with me. Try them on.”

She was officially an unwilling participant in that Pretty Woman shopping scene. Except she was going to have to use her own credit card at the end of it.

She sighed and stripped down to her bra and panties and pulled the first dress on.

“No, next.” Maddie barely glanced at her in the dress before she vetoed it and pulled another dress from a hanger. “How’s it going with your arts program?”

Maddie knew everything about the program Alexa had proposed to the mayor that morning: a pilot for an arts and writing diversion program for at-risk youth. Alexa had been wanting to start something like this in Berkeley for years, and now she was finally trying to make that dream a reality. It would be a place for teens who had gotten into some trouble to come and find their gifts, to find adults who believed in them, to work hard on something they loved to do, and to get their feet on a different path.

“Well, I proposed it to the mayor this morning, but he didn’t say much. I’m not sure what he thinks. I’m worried.”

She posed in front of the mirror in dress number two. She sort of liked it, but Maddie shook her head.

“Was Theo there? What did he say?”

“That this is just how he is and I should wait and see, et cetera. And I’m sure he’s right. I’m just impatient. You know how important this is to me, Mads.”

“I know.” Maddie unzipped dress number three without even commenting on it. “I bet Theo is right, though. You know how your boss can be.”

When Maddie looked at her in the fourth dress, she smiled and pointed to the shoes that she’d ordered Alexa to bring along with her. Then she spun her finger in a circle, forcing Alexa to twirl. When Alexa caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, her eyes widened.

“Holy shit, I look hot.”

“Mmmhmmm, what did I say?” Maddie had that smug look on her face, but Alexa couldn’t even be mad at it.

How did one little dress make her look like a movie star? It was red, with a neckline that showed just enough cleavage, and a full skirt that floated as she twirled and somehow made her waist look tiny.

“Mads, isn’t this color too bright for a wedding? Doesn’t it make my hips look too wide? Isn’t it too . . . boob-y?”

Maddie shook her head.

“Nothing, it’s too nothing. It may be too expensive, but we’re not going to worry about that right now. This is an emergency. It’s the perfect color on you, and your hips are just the right amount of wide. And all that ruching around the waist means you don’t have to wear Spanx. I know how much you hate them. Do you or don’t you look hot in that dress? Did I not tell you I’d find you one?”

“You don’t have to be so smug about it,” Alexa said, still staring at herself in the mirror.

“Yes, I do. Okay, well, that’s obviously your dress for the wedding, and thank God you have the perfect shoes for it, those gold ones you bought to wear with the gold sequined dress. Now we just need to figure out tonight.”

Twenty minutes later, Alexa handed over her credit card for both dresses and tried not to wince at the bill.

“Thanks for this, Mads,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“I don’t know what you’d do without me, either,” Maddie replied.

Drew went into the bathroom at the church just so he could check his phone for the millionth time without being so obvious about it. His desperation was back in full force—he could tell from his four texts to Alexa over the past hour and a half. Texting a woman this many times was unlike him, but this stupid wedding had him on edge. She’d replied only to the first one where he’d tried to be cool, just confirming she was coming with a “see you then,” and the last, where he told her they were about to leave the church for the restaurant (“on my way”).

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