Ivy came out of her sister's closet and held out her arms.
"How do I look?"
"You look great," Isabella said, as she sewed a button on to a shirt she was fixing for Stephen.
"You didn't even look," Ivy complained.
Isabella finally looked up and sighed. "I don't have to look to know you'll look great, because, one, you look amazing in everything you wear. And two, I made the damn dress."
Ivy smiled and went back into the closet to grab a pair of shoes.
"Thanks again," she said, rushing out. She went and gave Isabella a loud, smacking kiss on the cheek before hurrying to the door. "I'm late, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Have fun with 'the anti-Duke'."
Ivy rolled her eyes and slammed the door.
Isabella had been calling Branford that ever since their trip up to the ski lodge. This was her second date in a week with him and things were...not how she expected them to be.
During their first date, she'd been thinking of Duke so much that she eventually told Branford that she wasn't feeling well and needed to go home.
Now she was determined to give it another shot with him.
This was all Izzy's fault anyway, Ivy thought to herself. If that heifer hadn't have bumped her during the bouquet toss at Isaiah and Tessa's wedding, forcing Ivy to catch the bouquet, her mind wouldn't be in shambles right now.
That's where the whole 'You're next in line to get married, Ivy' bullshit had started. She'd heard it all night after that from an endless number of family members.
And then she and Duke had to go and kiss.
She still hadn't talked to him since they'd left the lodge. She didn't know what to say and was afraid of what she'd do. She didn't know how to bring up the subject and clear the air, since she was still so confused about how she really felt about the kiss.
Ivy was a mess.
She caught a cab to the restaurant she'd agreed to meet Branford at. When she got to the hostess stand, she gave the woman his name.
"He hasn't arrived yet, but I can seat you," she said.
Nearly an hour later, Ivy sat at the table, still alone. She checked her phone and there was no text from Branford, explaining why he was late.
Annoyed, she dropped her phone back into her purse and grabbed her bluetooth headset. She noticed the blinking light on the device and realized she had an incoming call.
She placed the earpiece into her ear and jammed the button to accept the call.
"Hello," she growled.
Ivy's eyes grew wide at the deep chuckle that seemed to make her nipples hard instantly. Did his voice always sound this damn deep and sexy?
"At least you're finally answering my calls."
"I can't talk right now, Duke."
"Then why'd you answer?"
Ivy sighed. "I thought you were Branford. He's late."
"And you haven't left already?"
Usually she would have. In fact, she was preparing to do just that. But Branford chose that moment to enter the restaurant.
"Vee, we need to–"
"Duke, now is not a good time."
"Ivy," Duke said, firmly. "We need to talk."
Ivy sighed and lowered her voice as Branford. "I'm checking out a house tomorrow with the realtor my mom set me up with. I'll text you the address later. You can meet me there tomorrow."
"Fine," Duke said. "Have fun with Mr. Missionary."
Before she could say anything, Duke hung up. She took her earpiece out and shoved it back into her purse. Turning her glare toward Branford, she said, "You're late."
"I know, I'm sorry," Branford said. "There was an emergency at work. I would have called but there was no time. I came straight here after I showered."
"If you were two minutes later, I would have been gone."
"I had to do an emergency surgery," Branford said as he sat down and began to chatter on and on about work. That was one of the problems from their last date. She got the feeling that the man liked to hear himself talk. And while he was busy running his mouth, Ivy's mind began to run away from her.
When he offered to drive her home later after dinner, she accepted.
"So you live with your mother?" he asked, when he walked her to the door.
His tone annoyed her slightly, but she chose to ignore it.
"No," she said. "I'm just staying here while I'm in town. Though I will be looking at some properties soon."
Properties she'd asked Duke to check out with her. She wondered how things would go tomorrow when they finally addressed the kiss.
"Good," Branford said, bringing her focus back on him. "A woman of your age should look at having property of her own."
She gave him a tight smile and nodded.
He took a step forward, putting his body close to hers.
"I'm sorry about tonight," he said. "Perhaps there's some way I could make it up to you?"
His apology sounded sincere, so she decided to give him another chance.
"The town's holiday festival and tree lighting ceremony is next weekend. I haven't been in years."
He gave her a smile that she was sure made women all over Sweet Rapids weak in the knees. Yet she found herself standing steady.
"That sounds great," he said, leaning forward. She knew he was about to kiss her, in fact she'd been waiting on the moment. She closed her eyes, lifted her face and felt his lips connect with hers.
And felt nothing.
He moved to pull away, and Ivy grabbed his necked and deepened the kiss. Maybe they hadn't done it right, she desperately thought.
When her tongue touched his, Branford broke the kiss off.
"Whoa. Slow down, beautiful. We've got plenty of time," he said with a wink. "I'll call you later."
Ivy couldn't speak, so she simply nodded and watched him walk back to his car.
After he drove away, she looked up to the sky and blew out a breath, a white puff of air forming before her eyes.