Authors: Lexxi Callahan
Solving For Nic
For my husband who never thought twice about me taking this detour
For Sarah Frantz who showed me the way.
This book may be self-published but I certainly did not do it by myself.
I would never have finished without the support, hand holding, butt kicking, critiquing and generosity of Penny Watson. (
) Thanks, Penny!
I also want to thank my beta readers. Michele, Dabney, Eagle, Sharon, and Teri-Beth. You guys, rock! Thank you so much!
Thank you to Silva Ami for the Italian translations.
And my editors, Kim, Rahab and Lynda. Your input was invaluable.
A note from Lexxi
Solving for Nic
is book two in the Southern Style series. It is not meant to stand alone. If you have not read
Sweetened with a Kiss
you may want to read it first or check out the cast of characters at the end of this ebook.
He’d brought a date?
Lizzie Sellers closed her eyes as shock and disappointment slammed into her. She took a deep breath and steadied herself. Tripping was not an option, so she stepped carefully into the sanctuary and started down the aisle.
Parts of her chipped off and died with each step. By the time she reached the dais and took three careful steps, she was light-headed and her chest throbbed from the crazed racing of what was left of her heart.
She turned, hit her mark, and found Nic Maretti in her line of sight. She couldn’t look away from him, or the arm he’d casually draped behind the stunning redhead seated next to him.
He was so beautiful; his lean face a collection of hollows and angles. His sculpted mouth was at odds with his hard jawline. The combination of perfect features, tobacco brown hair and warm brown eyes was fascinating, but it was his confidence that drew her. He was always so sure of himself. The world couldn’t touch him and he owned any room he occupied.
Now, his slow appraisal burned a trail along her skin until the redhead spoke to him. He glanced away from Lizzie and smiled at his date. Nic was damned dangerous when he smiled. His whole face creased and relaxed into an unearthly beauty.
She shuddered in relief when the music changed. Everyone stood and turned as Jen appeared in the doorway on Jared Marshall’s arm. She was breathtaking in the sheath dress they had poured her into earlier. It had taken Lizzie fifteen minutes to fasten the covered buttons that ran the full length of the gown. Stefan was going to have a meltdown when he discovered there wasn’t a zipper on Jen’s dress. Lizzie couldn’t help but smile. She almost forgot about Nic for a whole second.
Jen met her eyes and her expression dimmed. Lizzie straightened and pasted a bright smile on her face. It hurt but it worked. Jen smiled back and turned to Stefan. They really loved each other and Lizzie loved them. She refused to let the melodrama of her persistent, childish crush on Nic Maretti ruin this day.
It was time to grow up.
She wasn’t his type. He liked to dance with her, tease her, but he wasn’t interested. They had nothing in common. The pretty bridesmaid dress and killer shoes did not change who she was. She was not Nic’s type.
The ceremony didn’t take long. Stefan had refused a full Catholic Mass because he wasn’t going to “stand up in a tux that long.” He’d won the battle but lost the war when it came to the receiving line. When the ceremony was over the entire wedding party was trapped in the vestibule shaking hands with an endless line of guests since no one had sent their regrets.
Lizzie gritted her teeth again, smiled and shook hands with yet another well-meaning aunt who asked when she planned on settling down and getting married.
“You’re not getting any younger, dear.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Lizzie wanted to point out that she was only twenty-one. She was also in a five-year graduate program and didn’t have time to date. Of course, then she’d have to explain she was in the theoretical mathematics program at Princeton and no she wasn’t going to teach math in high school. If she did try to explain what it meant, her great aunt’s eyes would glaze over. Everyone’s eyes always glazed over. She had stopped trying a long time ago. People preferred her when she was cute and ditzy.
Her aunt moved on. She was shaking hands with one of her mother’s cousins when Nic stepped into her peripheral vision. She didn’t know what she said or what her cousin said, because Nic and the redhead were speaking to the Bride and Groom.
As Nic and his date approached, it was impossible to keep him out of her periphery. Before long he was all she could see. Her heart stopped for a second then snapped back at triple speed. Nic Maretti should be illegal. He wasn’t as tall as her father or brother, but he’d always seemed larger than life to Lizzie. He was six feet of European elegance in a custom-made Italian suit with a date who would be home on any red carpet. They matched in height and sleek perfection. There was an unspoken intimacy between them, knowing looks and half smiles exchanged, charming everyone they met.
Then he focused on her, as a mild smile tugged at his sculpted mouth, finishing off what was left of her. Without realizing what she was doing, she turned and walked away. She was almost to the reception hall before she fully grasped what she had done. Now she registered his faint surprise and the frown creasing his forehead when she was about to turn away from him. She ducked into the nearest ladies room grateful to be alone for a minute.
This was her fault. She’d addressed the wedding invitations. She addressed his to Nicolas Maretti and guest. She should have been prepared for this. No one went to weddings alone. Of course he would bring a date. Of course his date would be gorgeous. It was Nic. He was only seen with stunningly beautiful women. They probably wouldn’t stay long. He’d have other plans. Plans she refused to contemplate, otherwise her skin might peel off.
It was stupid. She had no right to feel this way.
The first time she saw Nic was at her brother’s best friend’s wedding. Rogan had married Nic’s sister, Angie. Lizzie had refused to be a bridesmaid so she was sitting with her parents when Nic Maretti walked down the aisle to sit in the reserved seating on the bride’s side. From the second he’d passed by wearing a gunmetal grey English-cut suit, Lizzie had lost her mind. She’d never seen anyone like Nic before. She didn’t think men like that existed in real life. And when he asked her to dance later that evening, she’d been so shocked she forgot to decline and suddenly found herself on the dance floor.
It was devastating being so close to him. Every second of that dance was tattooed on her soul. She could still remember how spicy he’d smelled, the feel of the expensive suit under her fingertips, the heat of his fingers curled around hers and the way his other hand didn’t stay at her waist. He’d curved it around her rib cage and his fingers had burned across the skin the back of her dress left bare.
In the space of one song, with a simple box step and kiss on the cheek, Nic had wiped away every other man on the planet. They were all shadows. He’d walked away and Lizzie had spent the rest of the night trying to sort out what had happened. He’d pulled her out of her safe little world, into a reality she hadn’t expected existed. She hadn’t quite recovered her footing when she saw him again, less than a year later at his nephew’s christening.
He’d asked her to dance again and had kept her on the dance floor for another song. She’d been sure she’d hear from him. She'd let herself hope. He hadn't so much as emailed her. Instead, three days later, she'd seen him plastered all over a gossip blog with Miss Texas. Then a few weeks later with Miss Arizona. Then a few weeks later with some Senator's daughter. Then the daughter of a Texas oil family.
She’d been crushed. Then furious at herself for being crushed. It wasn’t like she didn’t know his reputation for breaking debutante hearts while making obscene amounts of money without appearing to do any work. He was no Prince Charming and while she didn’t necessarily want Prince Charming, she didn’t want Casanova either.
She didn’t want anyone. She didn’t have time. Her course load was bad enough, but they also expected her to teach next year. This crush slash obsession whatever-it-was thing she’d had for Nic had to go. She couldn’t let some overblown girlish fantasy continue to eat away at her like this. Because that’s all it was.
Time to put away childish things.
Besides, there was no way the real Nic would ever measure up to the ideal she’d built in her head.
Maybe she’d ask him to dance this time. Prove to herself that he was nothing special once and for all. He’d brought a date. She couldn’t ask him to dance but she could find Adam and stay close to him. His band, Sugar Coma, was playing at the reception. He and Jared would switch up singing and playing lead guitar so they could take breaks. She’d dance with both of them.
Who needed some too old, too slick, drop-dead gorgeous playboy, when she could have a scorching hot rock musician who did want her? Girls lined up for blocks to get into Trick’s when Adam played. They went to great lengths to get a glimpse of blue-tipped black hair and dark blue eyes. Adam had been asking her out for months. Well she was going. Starting tonight, Nic no longer existed.
He was a cloudy childhood memory.
“What was that about?” It was a minute before his PA’s question penetrated Nic’s brain as he stared at the space Lizzie no longer occupied.
“I have no idea.” He no more understood Lizzie’s reaction than he did his own feelings of guilt and worse, disappointment. He was also annoyed, because he didn’t do guilt or disappointment, or anger. Except he was angry. How the hell had she tied him in such a complicated knot of emotions by walking away?
“Nic.” Pam nudged him and he shook hands with the groom’s parents without missing a beat.
“Glad you came, Nic.” Mac Sellers shook his hand, his grip too hard before giving him a huge grin with lots of warning behind it. “My daughter’s dance card is full tonight.”
Nic didn’t flinch. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Good to have you with us.”
“Okay,” Pam said, as they cleared the line. “Now what was that about?”
Nic shrugged. “He warned me off her four years ago.”
“She was seventeen, it wasn’t necessary.”
Pam laughed, grabbing two glasses of wine from a passing server and handed him one. Nic accepted the glass reluctantly.
“Relax. All the wine tonight is from De Santis Farms, compliments of you.”
He relaxed and sipped the wine. “Thoughtful of me.”
He spotted Angie across the reception hall, standing next to her husband, Ben Rogan. Their son, Zachary had been the ring bearer. Rogan had Zachary on his shoulders and Angie was talking to a bridesmaid. They were trying to reconcile and it appeared to be working. Nic hoped it lasted this time.
A flash of pale green caught the corner of his eye. Lizzie was standing near the bandstand talking to a musician. Nic stiffened when the boy with blue-tipped hair pushed one of her gold curls behind her ear. She smiled at the boy, laughing at something he said, then she leaned in and patted him on the chest.