The left side of perfect, p.1
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       The Left Side of Perfect, p.1

           Meghan Quinn
 
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The Left Side of Perfect


  Published by Hot-Lanta Publishing, LLC

  Copyright 2018

  Cover Design By: RBA Designs

  Cover Model: Diego Miguel

  Photo Credit: Silvie Rosokoff

  This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at [email protected]

  All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.

  www.authormeghanquinn.com

  Copyright © 2018 Meghan Quinn

  All rights reserved.

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Prologue

  **COLBY**

  A total whiteout.

  Snow blankets the venue, pops of green from the pine trees poke through the freshly fallen snow, and a clear path has been shoveled that leads to the last walk I’ll ever make as a single man.

  Coming up from behind me, Stryder claps me on back. “It looks cold as fuck out there.”

  I chuckle. “Yeah, a wedding in the mountains during winter might not have been the best choice.” And it wasn’t her first choice either, but after everything we’ve been through, we didn’t want to wait until summer.

  Not to mention I’m going on tour in a month and didn’t want to leave without making this official . . . without making her mine.

  “I’m kind of wishing I opted for flannel under these pants.” He shakes his mess dress pants just as Hardie comes barreling into the groom suite.

  He holds up a box and says, “Found them. Found the rings.” He pauses mid stride when he spots me.

  “Excuse me?” I cock a brow at Stryder who is glaring death rays at Hardie.

  “I mean . . .” Hardie starts to back away slowly. “I knew where they were all along. Stryder didn’t lose them.”

  I turn to Stryder who spins in my direction with an easygoing look on his face. “Want a shot? I’ve got whiskey.”

  I shake my head. “Nah, I’m good.”

  Just as I’m about to sit, Bent, Colt, and Rowdy all come charging through the door, flasks in hand, and their caps on backward.

  Great.

  “The groom,” they cheer, as they bring me into a group hug, including Stryder and Hardie.

  “We’re getting married,” Rowdy shouts.

  At the same time, all the boys repeat him. “We’re getting married.” They begin to jump up and down, cheering like a bunch of asshats, but I don’t blame them.

  Until that ring is on her finger and we’re sealing our future with a kiss, I’m not going to let out the pent-up breath I’ve been hanging on to for too damn long.

  I push my way past my boys and sit in a smooth-as-silk leather chair, observing the men who’ve been by my side through this challenging journey, in awe at how I got to this point.

  We’ve made it through the academy, ex-girlfriends, flight school, pregnancies, deployments, and every other factor you could think of that comes along with the military life. And some I never dreamed could happen.

  If you told me eight years ago that I would be sitting here on my wedding day, Stryder married to the girl I once thought was my forever, Hardie a father to Joey’s baby, and all my boys still alive after the multiple tours we’ve been through, I would have thought you were crazy.

  But we’re alive, living our damn lives to the fullest, and I’m an hour away from marrying my girl. How I got here, I would like to say I have no damn clue, but that’s not true.

  I know exactly how I got here.

  Through hard fucking work, through heartache, and through sheer luck.

  “There is going to be some serious shrinkage out there,” Colt says, looking out the window. “Way to choose the coldest fucking day of the year to get married, man.”

  I shrug, casting my eyes out toward the snow. An hour.

  One more hour, and then I get to start the rest of my forever.

  A forever I never expected to have, but one I’ll never take for granted.

  Not this time.

  Not ever.

  Chapter One

  COLBY

  “May I have the rings?” Stryder turns toward me, hand extended, a goofy grin on his face. From the depths of my jacket pocket, I pull out the bands Stryder and Rory bought together.

  Together.

  Five years. Even though it’s been five years since I found out about Stryder and Rory being together, I still have an odd feeling inside me when I see them together. I’m not sure I’ll ever get past that. She was my first love, the girl I thought I’d spend the rest of my life with. I was willing to give up everything for her, but she wasn’t willing to let me do that.

  I realize I probably owe her a thank you because she was right. I belong in the sky, and even though I loved her more than anything, I would have probably resented I wasn’t doing what I resolved to do so many years before.

  My job might be grueling and dangerous, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  “Here you go, man,” I say, handing Stryder the rings.

  When he asked me to be his best man, there was no way I’d say no. I knew from the beginning he needed me by his side. I’m his family. His ONLY family.

  There isn’t one Sheppard at the wedding, not even his brothers. Stryder says they couldn’t get the time off to be here, but I call bullshit. He’s the black sheep of his family, no longer in the Air Force, only in the reserves, and living his fucking life with Rory, running a training facility here in the Springs that matches up athletes with individuals with disabilities. It’s really taken off, and they’ve made a name for themselves.

  I stopped by the facility a few days ago and watched Stryder as he expertly trained the athletes, joking and pushing them to their full potential with grace and understanding. I’ve never seen him so happy, not even when we used to go jumping. It was as if the clouds parted and he truly found what he was supposed to be doing with his life. He took his Air Force training and Rory’s passion, and turned it into a place of solitude and fun where people like Bryan, Rory’s brother, can train and compete at a higher level without being judged or looked at as if they were less than other athletes. Their mission to provide high-endurance training for those with developmental disabilities is, in one word, amazing.

  I’m proud of Stryder, and I know Gramps would be proud too.

  Hands at my side—the military habits drilled into my every position—I watch as a small tear trickles down Rory’s face when she looks at Stryde
r after putting the ring on his finger.

  She looks gorgeous today, absolutely stunning in a flowy dress with some kind of flower detail attached to the skirt. The flowers match the flower crown in her hair, and she looks like a Grecian goddess. Stryder is a lucky guy.

  “Your love will experience its up and downs and it will be tested, but remember this: you are each other’s best friend. You are not only in love, but you truly like each other.”

  The reverend pauses, and next to me, Bryan, Stryder’s other groomsman, cheers spontaneously, causing everyone including the bride and the groom to chuckle.

  The reverend smiles at Bryan and then says, “It is my pleasure to introduce, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Stryder Sheppard. You may kiss the bride.”

  Not wasting any time, Stryder wraps his hand around Rory’s neck and brings her lips to his. The crowd cheers, I clap, and when they turn toward the crowd, they excitingly hold their clasped hands in the air as they walk down the aisle to a classic Creedence Clearwater Revival song, Proud Mary. Must have been Bryan’s choice. I smile to myself, and when it’s my turn to walk down the aisle, I move to the middle where I offer my arm to Ryan, Rory’s best friend.

  She glances up at me, a smile on her lips.

  “Well, well, well, we finally get a moment alone. Beautiful ceremony, wouldn’t you agree?” She’s always been outspoken, fun, and the life of the party, just like Stryder.

  “Yeah.” I bite the inside of my cheek and then say, “Never got that text.”

  In a very dark moment, when I was drowning my sorrows at a bar learning to let go of Rory, I ran into Ryan. I was drunk enough to feel wobbly in the legs, but not too drunk to notice when someone was in trouble. The guy she was with was acting aggressively toward her, so I stepped up, and insinuated she was with me. The guy backed off and Ryan thanked me for the help by taking my number and promising me dinner. I was on temporary duty in Colorado Springs at the time, so a home-cooked meal would have been nice . . . even if it was from Ryan . . . who’s a hot mess in the kitchen.

  But I never got that text.

  I shrugged it off, not really caring since I was never really friends with Ryan. But now that she’s here, hanging on my arm, I have no qualms in calling her out, especially since we’ll be spending the next hour taking pictures together with Stryder and Rory.

  “Just jumping right in with that?”

  I shrug.

  “Ah, see that you’re still the silent type. Maybe that’s why I didn’t text you, because I didn’t want to spend the night talking to myself.”

  We follow Rory, Stryder, and the photographer to the back of the venue with Rory’s parents and Bryan. Together as a family, they start taking pictures, leaving Ryan and me off to the side.

  “I would have talked.”

  She steps away but keeps her eyes trained on me, giving me a once-over. Last time I saw her, her hair was brown, but now it’s back to its original blonde, long and twisted low at the nape of her neck in a bun with a few strands casually framing her heart-shaped face.

  Her hands rest on her hips, the navy-blue Grecian-style dress draped down the length of her body, a small slit on the side that barely reaches her knee. “You’re really fixated on this, aren’t you?”

  “Nah, didn’t care too much. A homemade dinner would have been nice, though.”

  “I can’t cook.”

  “Neither can I,” I answer honestly. I either eat out, or I make myself scrambled eggs, and that’s about it. Rory taught me how to make meatballs once but hell if I can remember how to do that. All I know is I enjoyed crushing the beef between my fingers. I get by with limited knowledge in the kitchen.

  She chuckles. “Well, aren’t we a pair?” She turns to watch Stryder and Rory together. Apparently not giving a shit about the even bigger elephant in the room, Ryan asks, “Is this weird for you?”

  “I have a flask in my jacket pocket, so you tell me.”

  She lifts her bouquet and pulls out a mini bottle of alcohol. She wiggles her eyebrows at me. “Thought maybe we’d both need this since we have to sit through having all these pictures taken with them.”

  “Smirnoff? That’s what you brought with you?”

  “It was all I had. Don’t judge me.”

  “I’m judging.”

  Playfully she whacks my arm. “You shouldn’t be judging me. It was innovative. I carved out a little space in my bouquet for this bottle. If anything, you should congratulate me on this genius idea.”

  “Was it your idea?”

  “I mean”—she toes the ground—“I might have seen the idea on Pinterest along with a recipe for beer cookies that tasted like vomit.”

  “Beer cookies?” I shake my head and take the little bottle from her. Twist the cap, tilt the bottle back, and swig. I hand it back to her, leaving half the bottle. “Even I know better than to think beer cookies would taste good.”

  “They were for a boyfriend I was trying to impress.”

  “Impress or poison?”

  “Impress.” She laughs. “Although after our breakup, I should probably say poison. Teach all future suitors: if you mess with me, you get poisoned.”

  “It’d keep me away, that’s for damn sure.”

  She finishes the rest of the little bottle and returns it to her bouquet. She pats it and says, “I can recycle it later.”

  “Get drunk and save the earth. Sounds like a good combination to me.”

  “Ryan and Colby, can we get you over here for a few pictures?” the photographer calls out.

  “That’s our cue.” Ryan pokes my cheek with her index finger, looking sincerely at me. “Don’t forget to smile, because these pictures will last forever.”

  “Scowling not in the job description of best man?”

  As we walk over, she says, “I would normally say no, but given the bride is your ex-girlfriend, one scowl is allowed.”

  “One scowl? Damn, better make it a good one.”

  * * *

  “I’m not doing anything stupid.”

  “Come on.” Ryan pulls on my arm. “We have to.”

  “We really don’t.”

  Groaning, Ryan turns behind us to Rory and Stryder. “What are you two doing?”

  “It’s a surprise.” Rory beams.

  “Oh my God, did you choreograph something?”

  “No,” Stryder says quickly.

  Rory bounces in her heels. “Sort of.” Stryder rolls his eyes.

  I give my friend a pointed look. “Come on, man. What the hell?”

  Stryder shrugs his shoulders. “I mean . . . she said yes to marrying me, so I’d pretty much do anything at that point. It’s nothing super special, and we met in the middle when it came to choreography. At first, she wanted us to have an entire dance production when we were called into the reception, which included you doing a variation of the worm.”

  This time, I stare Rory down. She casually shrugs. “What? It would have been fun.”

  “Just be glad I was able to nix that idea.” Stryder pats me on the back.

  “But you guys are doing something special?” Ryan cuts in. From the way she looks so jittery, I can tell she’s getting anxious.

  “Yeah, I mean, it’s tradition, right? Whenever the bridal party is introduced during the reception, you have to do some fun dance move.”

  “Not necessarily. You can just walk onto the dance floor. Wave. That’s it,” I say, not wanting to “dance” in front of a bunch of people I don’t know.

  “Booo.” Ryan pokes my chest. “Turn around, give me a piggy back.”

  I raise an eyebrow. “Forget it.”

  She huffs. “Are you still salty about the text?”

  No. But I might have had a few shots already, and I’m feeling playful. “Maybe.”

  She dramatically rolls her eyes and thumbs in my direction. “This guy,” she says to Stryder and Rory, “came barreling in like a knight in shining armor, scared my date away with his Air Force friends, and then held it over my
head as if he gave me the best orgasm of my life and I never repaid him.”

  “Not cool, dude.” Stryder shakes his head.

  “Wait, you two hooked up?” Rory asks, looking maybe a little too excited.

  “No,” I answer curtly.

  “Ha, no, we did not hook up.” She grips my shoulder. “Hooking up with this ice cube? Impossible.”

  * * *

  “You know we’re sitting next to each other at the table too, so you’re going to have to talk to me again at some point.”

  I hold on to her tightly, my hand on her trim waist, the other hand holding hers as we sway back and forth on the dance floor, Rory and Stryder next to us, Rory’s parents off to the side as well.

  “We had to do something,” Ryan continues. “Everyone expects it, and since you wouldn’t agree on anything, I had to go rogue.” She pauses and then says, “Basically what this comes down to is you being stubborn so you only have yourself to blame. When you push me to the point of having to go rogue, that’s on you, pal.”

  I stay silent, my eyes starting to play tricks on me with the lights above.

  “You can’t be mad at me.”

  Maybe I can a little. Nah . . . I can’t be mad. Irritated, just a tad.

  “Hello, anyone in there?” Ryan asks, tapping on my head with her index finger. “I know there is a voice box inside this”—she grips my sturdy body—“in this massive body. What do you bench? Ninety-five pounds?”

  My brow pinches together as I pull away to look her in the eyes. Is she serious? “What? No. I bench two-eighty.”

  Knowingly, she points her finger at me, a smile playing on her lips. “Ha, I knew I could get you to talk to me again.”

 
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