Untie the Knot - Book cover

Untie the Knot

Flora Nocturna

2: Chapter 2

The next three weeks pass in a blur, and soon, too soon for my taste, I find myself in the middle of the noisiest wedding reception of the century.

A lot had to be improvised, but with Mum’s track record, she had everyone lined up pretty quickly.

And in some short-lived moment of enthusiasm, I even allowed my mother to buy me a dress for the occasion.

Needless to say that by the end of the ceremony, I’m already cursing myself for having said yes to this piece of emerald chiffon that makes me look like an upturned tree.

The worst thing is it’s accompanied by matching high heels. I never wear high heels, because I believe they were put on this earth as an instrument of torture.

So here I am, pitying myself in my fancy dress and ridiculous updo, hoping for this evening to be over quickly.

Unfortunately, as the daughter of the bride, I have nowhere to hide.

So I suffer through speeches and hugs and overenthusiastic small talk that make me wish my dress came with one of those cute little fans, so I could hide my embarrassment behind it.

My mother and her new spouse, Richard, who’s at least five years her junior, are going wild on the dance floor.

Lucy and Dave are trying to shove their tongues down each other’s throat, right where everyone can see them.

I turn away in disgust before I say something improper and take refuge on a luxurious chaise longue right beside the heavily laden buffet tables.

I’m able to observe everything without putting myself on the spot.

I park my margarita at the edge of the table right beside me so I can keep an eye on it.

Sinking into the fluffy upholstery with a sigh, I kick off my shoes and wiggle my toes in relief at the newfound freedom.

I really hope this is the last time my mum gets married. I couldn’t stand another one of those torture sessions.

My eyes go briefly to the couples dancing, and when I spot Lucy and Dave, I’m reminded that there is yet another wedding for me to endure.

I massage my little toe, which has become numb with all the unfamiliar pressure. I really need to make sure to convince Lucy to go for a casual wedding. No constricting dresses and no high heels.

But knowing Dave and his stuck-up family, chances that I’d get my wish granted are probably close to null.

I bunch up my dress so I can fold my legs to sit cross-legged. I don’t care if it’s elegant or not; my knees are already thanking me for giving them a break.

I fiddle with the elastic band of my corsage to pull it from my wrist, since it has been bothering me for hours.

I wish they would abolish this stupid tradition of tying flowers to a rubber band so they eventually wilt and look sad due to the lack of water.

I love flowers, but I’d rather have them alive and with their roots buried deep inside the earth.

“Stupid corsage,” I mutter under my breath when I can’t get it off my wrist because it has gotten tangled with the lacy ribbons adorning it.

I slide my finger through the rubber band to loosen it, but it suddenly snaps.

The whole thing shoots through the air like a floral bullet toward a group of people standing on the opposite side of the buffet.

Oh, shit!

“Watch out!” I cry before I clasp my hand to my mouth in horror and silently pray for the ground to open up and swallow me whole.

There’s too much noise, loud music, and everyone talking and laughing. My warning cry goes unheard, and my misguided missile hits one of the guys square on the back of his head.

Crap, crap! Can’t there be one wedding where I don’t make a fool out of myself?

The guy freezes, and the people beside him interrupt their conversation to look at him with narrowed eyes.

Maybe they’ll just pretend nothing happened. They seem to look snobbish enough to be experts at meaningless small talk.

I nibble at my fingernails while I assess my unintentional target.

I have no idea who he is, but he’s tall and lean, and his expertly tailored black suit looks sinfully expensive, even from behind. Everything screams rich and wealthy.

With my luck, he’s probably some business relation of my mother’s. And serious businesspeople aren’t exactly known for taking lightly to being hit over their heads.

Everyone who watches Netflix knows that.

I look around in rising panic. Why are there no noisy and misbehaving kids when I need them? All weddings have those, and they usually can be found close to where the food is.

I mean, it would be completely legitimate for me to blame some random out-of-control seven-year-old for throwing flowers at innocent wedding guests, right? This is an emergency after all.

I bury myself deeper into the seat, hoping that my bunched-up dress hides my face from view.

The guy just now seems to have realized that something hit him, because he’s rubbing his hand over the back of his head and through his short black hair.

He looks down at the floor, and there, beside his undoubtedly expensive Italian leather shoes, lies my pathetic weapon of choice, a bouquet of tiny buttercups.

He picks it up, and for a moment he only stares at the flowers in his hands. Maybe I’m lucky and he doesn’t bother anymore with it.

But then the heavily bejeweled lady beside him looks around and—oh, heck no—she is pointing in my direction.

Even the elderly stern-looking man on his other side is craning his neck to get a look at the supposed culprit of the flower attack.

“Oh, snap!” I mutter and check my options. I could dive under the buffet tables or try to jump over the backrest.

Sadly, none of them are viable options due to my stupid dress. I would only get tangled and make everything worse by possibly ripping it apart.

Stripping at my mother’s wedding is definitely not an option. So I stay put and embrace the inevitable.

He’s already turning around and looking my way.

My heart stops in my chest. He’s young, much younger than what the suit he’s wearing suggests, and on top of an athletic body, he’s got the face of a Greek god.

Perfect.

This is like those cheesy cliché romances, where the clumsy girl catches the eye of some guy with out-of-this-world good looks so he can sweet-talk her with his incredibly witty lines until she falls for him.

Right. This is so not happening to me right now.

He holds up the flowers, looking at them with a curious glance, and after a curt nod toward his conversation partners, he makes his way over to me.

I would sell my soul for Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak right now, but all I can do is look away and feign interest in the buffet table beside me.

Maybe I should pick up the margarita and pretend that I’m completely drunk.

With a few determined strides, he crosses the space until he stands right before me. I can’t bring myself to look up at his face, so I stare at his shoes instead.

They are impeccable and spotless, of course. He holds out the corsage to me.

“I believe this is yours,” he says with a voice that wraps me like a blanket.

I swallow, searching my brain for words, anything really; even a yes would do.

“Y-yes, thank you.” I grab the flowers and bury them in the fabric of my dress.

“Were you trying to shoot me with buttercups?” His voice is laced with amusement.

Maybe I should stop staring at his feet. My throat is suddenly dry. Damn it, Penny, now is not a good moment to look stupid. He even knows the name of the flowers!

“I—I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…,” I stutter like a nervous schoolgirl who got framed for playing a trick on her teacher.

“It was an accident. I was just trying to take it off because it was itching, and then the rubber band ripped, and…I didn’t intend to shoot it. It just took off by itself.”

I finally look up at him, and for a moment I forget the world around me.

There is a sublime beauty to his face, his aristocratic nose and dark eyebrows giving him a somewhat somber appearance.

And while his determined jaw makes his face look angular, his brown eyes have an air of melancholy to them.

“I’m not upset; don’t worry,” he says, and his eyes crinkle when he smiles.

My vocal cords seem paralyzed. Why is it so hard to find the right words when I need them?

“May I join you?” He points at the empty spot beside me on the chaise longue.

“Yes, of course,” I say, gathering the skirt of my dress to give him space. My heart does a strange summersault when I feel the cushion dip under his weight.

“Thank you for saving me, by the way,” he says close to my ear, and goosebumps erupt all over my skin.

“Saving you?”

“Yes, from those vultures and vampires.”

“Vultures and vampires?” I repeat. Apparently, I’m not only stupid but also slow today.

“Haven’t you observed how they circle me and glue to me in hopes of draining me of my powers?”

I look at the bejeweled lady with her pretentious oversized hat, and at the thin elderly guy with his sallow skin. I can’t help but grin.

“And what powers would that be?” I ask, now a bit more relaxed and mildly curious about the man beside me.

“Oh, this and that. I like keeping it vague. Makes me sound more mysterious, doesn’t it?” He chuckles, and from the corner of my eye, I can see that he’s looking at me.

I fiddle with the petals of my ruffled buttercups. His gaze makes my cheeks heat.

I know that he’s probably judging my appearance.

Why did I have to kick off my shoes and sit cross-legged like a little girl on a piece of furniture that wouldn’t look out of place in a rococo French castle?

“Those flowers are exquisite, and their deep-red color matches your hair perfectly.”

He points at the flowers in my lap, moving his long fingers with such graceful elegance that I can’t help but stare at them.

“I…well, thank you,” I say, flustered, while I follow the motion of his hand as he casually rests it on his knee.

I bet my face must be the same matching red.

“That’s why I chose them. I’m a florist, you know. Meaning, I didn’t do the floral arrangements for the wedding, because that’s beyond the capacity of the small flower shop I work at.”

And apparently, I like to babble a lot.

“Buttercups are my favorites, and I love them all, but these Persian buttercups are a special variety imported from Holland.” The papery petals shiver when I touch them with my fingers.

“They’re called Butterfly Hades.”

He draws in a sharp breath, and his gaze sweeps up to my face, lingering on my mouth before traveling up to lock on my eyes. Specks of gold and green sparkle within their earthy brown.

Wiping my sweaty palms on the seat cushions, I try not to think of indecent things while I refuse to look away.

“What’s your name?” he finally says, and my gaze drops down to his perfectly shaped lips. I wonder how they’d taste.

“My name?”

“Yes, your name.” An amused smile tugs at the corners of his mouth. He must definitely think I’m an idiot by now if I can’t answer even the simplest of questions.

“I’m Penny, Penny Lane,” I say, preparing myself for the inevitable Beatles reference I know will come.

“Oh, so you are the bride’s daughter,” he says, only recognition but no hint of a joke dawning on his face.

“Yes, I am. Demi Lane is my mother.”

“I’m Haze, Haze Delacroix, and delighted to make your acquaintance.”

“Nice to meet you too, Haze.” I hold out my hand to him. Maybe this wedding will turn out to be not so bad after all.

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