As best man for his big brother’s New Year’s Eve wedding, Dale Harrison knew this year would be different. Winter in Alaska could be downright depressing. Business was slower in the winter, with more repair work than new boat orders. Sterling Boats was Dale’s pride and joy. He surveyed the partially built boat in his workroom. With the upcoming wedding and associated festivities, the winter might not be as depressing, but he wouldn’t have as much time to work on his beloved boats.
Ben Harrison nudged Dale from behind. “I hope you’ve got the room. The dressmaker will be in tomorrow around eleven o’clock. She’s the maid of honor too. Single
Dale smiled at his brother and led him to the cleared-out section. One of two grooms for the wedding, Ben had gone into the coast guard instead of the family boat-building business. Ben and his best friend were marrying a pretty woman they’d saved when a tourist boat capsized.
“Your future wife already did a hard sell on her friend. Getting some new women into town is great. We’ll keep an eye on your dressmaker. Where is she from?” The tradition of ménage relationships dated back to the founding of Sterling. Mining had created the town, which was located near Homer on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska. The fishing and wildlife tourism that kept the town alive attracted men, but the harsh lifestyle kept women from flocking there.
“Melody lives in Michigan. So at least the snow and cold won’t be a total shock. Don’t worry so much, Dale. She’s just going to sew here. Isabelle will be thrilled to have her friend around. The other two bridesmaids won’t be in until about a week before the wedding. Mel needs the time to do all the dresses. Isabelle had no luck finding anything that flattered her figure, and sleeveless dresses were out. I wasn’t allowed to see any of them, but I heard about it. I don’t care what she wears, but she wants to look perfect.” Ben hooked his thumbs through the belt loops of his jeans. “The space is good. Put up some plywood for privacy. Mel will freak if things get dirty where she’s working, and she’ll want to do fittings.”
The name finally caught Dale’s attention. “What’s her name again?”
“Melody Cameron. Why?” Ben asked.
“Nothing. Pretty. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, no matter how many women your wedding brings in.”
Expecting the perfect woman to fall into their laps was asking a lot. Dale counted himself lucky finding one great guy in high school. Then when they went to college in Anchorage, they’d found one more. Not that they all didn’t want a group relationship with the perfect woman. Although they’d had plenty of fun sharing a girlfriend now and then in college, it’d never worked out.
Having a woman around all the time would change things. “Jason and Ryan are bringing in some boards to tack up. It’ll be fine.”
“Isa is thrilled Ryan is doing the virtual wedding online. Not all her family can come. Hell, half of them think she’s crazy moving up here.” Ben chuckled.
“Moving up here or marrying two men?” Dale checked the space Melody would work in. An office chair and a large table were the only furniture in the area.
“Legally, she can marry one. So people who don’t get it don’t have to come.” Ben shrugged. Dale envied how his brother didn’t care what others thought.
Ryan and Jason carried a big section of plywood into the room. “There’s the lucky groom!” Jason said.
“Think the dress lady will mind if I put a camera in here?” Ryan asked.
Dale admired his men for a minute. Jason was the hunky engineer with mysterious hazel eyes, short brown hair, and big muscles. Ryan, on the other hand, was leaner with soft brown eyes and dark brown hair. They both wanted kids and the right woman. Deep down, Dale did too.
Still, he’d been lucky enough to find two men who loved the life and work he did. He should be content with that. Sometimes asking for too much was asking for trouble.
“Dale!” Ryan shouted.
Shaken from his reflection, he looked at the guy with the camera. “What?”
“You didn’t tell us all three of the bridesmaids were single.” Jason tapped nails gently into the edges of the plywood while Ben placed the sawhorses to keep the board in place. Ryan set his camera down and left the room.
He returned a moment later, a floor lamp in each hand. “We only need one.”
Dale didn’t like the direction the conversation was heading in. “Don’t get your hopes up! Two of them are just coming in for a week. They may not be our type. They might think Alaska is too rough a life or Sterling is crazy. Ménage isn’t for everyone. Besides, they have lives, jobs, and homes. Ben got lucky, but this is his wedding, not a bride-importation service.”
Ben patted Dale on the shoulder. “Relax, little brother. I hope one of them is right for you guys. You’re smart not to have any expectations. Just do me a favor and keep an eye on Melody for car trouble or rookie mistakes, since she’ll be here longer.”
“Don’t worry. We’ve got it covered.” Jason kept tapping the nails in.
Dale nodded as Ryan worked on his tablet. The guy was a tech genius and always connected.
“Melody Cameron, a fashion designer from Michigan. They have a lot of fashion in Michigan?” Dale asked, looking for possible flaws in the woman. Why would a fashion designer choose to live in Michigan?
Ryan turned the tablet around. “Her Web site looks good. She specializes in custom gowns for the hard-to-fit bride. Just our type.”
Dale studied the pretty, plus-size woman smiling in her Web site photo. With pale skin and long, reddish-brown hair, she was surrounded by samples of her work. Seriously attractive. Damn, this best-man gig would be harder than he thought. “She might hate it up here. Even southern Alaska isn’t easy for everyone.”
Jason stepped away from the board, then plugged in the floor lamps for overhead lighting. “Natural lightbulbs should help, Dale. You’re getting a touch of SAD, and we don’t need you scaring off a friend of Isa’s. These lamps should help Melody deal with the darkness.”
Dale walked around the space where the dresses would be made. “We might need to add a space heater over here, with the boards blocking the airflow.”
“I’ll grab one from the office.” Jason headed out.
Dale glanced around the room and tried to think of anything else Melody would need. “Maybe we should get a box cutter and unload?”
“I don’t think we should touch anything until she’s here.” Ben looked at the wall, then went to the corner and picked up a hammer. “Maybe if we put a sheet up over this, it’ll look better?”
Dale liked that. “You’re right. The plywood will snag material, I’m sure. Keeping fancy dresses clean and safe won’t be easy.”
“According to Isa, Melody isn’t really shy. She’ll tell you what she needs.” Ben set the hammer down. “Don’t give up on the right woman. You’re thirty-two, not seventy-two. Just because you’re in a relationship with two guys doesn’t mean there isn’t a woman out there who would love all the attention the three of you can give. Maybe she’s not coming to this wedding, but every summer brings a new crop of tourists.”
Dale stood near the floor lamp outfitted with bulbs that simulated natural light, and soaked in the rays as well as his brother’s positive attitude. “I hope you’re right. No one needs to get hurt. The right woman is one thing, but I need to appreciate what I have.”
Ben turned and looked his brother in the eye. Dale felt the unspoken understanding of a sibling. Kids didn’t always value what they had until it was taken away. There was no way Dale would make that mistake.
* * * *
Cold and snow didn’t impress Melody Cameron. Michigan had plenty of nasty winters with lake-effect snow. Still, Alaska was different. The darkness flat-out sucked. Anchorage had all the amenities of a real city. But since getting off the plane in Sterling, she felt like she’d gone back in time. There were lots of log cabins and plenty of businesses, but not a restaurant chain or coffee-shop franchise to be seen.
“You had five boxes shipped in. They’re at the boathouse. Ben’s brother’s got space for you.” Isa drove the truck through calm streets.
“Thanks for picking me up. I couldn’t ship all the fabric, just in case.” Melody had to admit Isa’s future hubby was hot and Isa looked happier than ever, but Mel kept glancing at the boxes in the back. The trouble to get the stuff here made her paranoid.
“Don’t worry about it. Ben’s following in your rental, so you won’t be stranded anywhere. We’ll get you settled at the Sterling Inn, and you can start work tomorrow.”
For the first time, she hoped the work space had no windows. She didn’t want to be reminded of the lack of sunlight. She frowned at the dim sun hanging in the sky; a little light was better than none. “There’s plenty of day left, right? I’d rather put the stuff inside so there’s less risk of damaging anything. I have extra fabric, but I want to know it’s safe.”
“Sure. We’ll go right to the boathouse. Dale, Jason, and Ryan are good guys. If you need anything, let them know.” Isa made a right turn onto a road that led to a large lake visible in the distance.
Melody admired the view. There was an eerie glow on the distant ice, and the dark water looked ominous. No doubt if she wandered off in the wrong direction, she’d be in danger. Nature was awe inspiring, and here, there was a lot of it. With the dresses to make and the mostly dark days, she wouldn’t have much time for sightseeing. “Thanks.”
They parked outside a huge building. She exited the truck, then opened the back door. Before she turned around, she saw the reflection of three handsome, solidly built men in the window. No distractions!
She slid the box containing the material for Isa’s dress out of the backseat.
Ben pulled up in the rental. As he exited the car, he said, “Melody Cameron, this is my brother Dale, and his boyfriends, Jason and Ryan.”
She turned, clutching the box. Three good-looking men smiled at her. Dale gave a polite nod. The other two looked eager to help. Isa had talked about the trio a lot, but Melody hadn’t expected them to actually be attractive.
“Let us give you a hand.” Jason tried to take the box.
She wasn’t used to help. However, she couldn’t move the boxes by herself in this cold. Reluctantly, she let him take it. “Please be careful.”
“I’ll be careful; I promise. We can fly to Anchorage anytime we need to, as long as the weather holds. If the worst happens, you can get more.” Jason grazed her hand with his gloved one.
She let go of the box, then dug into her pockets for the good leather gloves she’d brought. “Thank you. I have a lot of work to do, and I can’t afford to lose time.”
Dale looked her over with ice blue eyes, then went around to the other side of the vehicle. “Well, we better get inside before it starts to snow.” He opened the door and pulled out another box.
“The boxes you shipped here are inside. I’m doing a virtual wedding; I hope you don’t mind,” Ryan said. He pulled out a camera from his pocket.
“I told her about that.” Isa handed Mel the keys to her rental and warned, “Drive carefully here. Let’s get inside and let the men bring in the luggage. We’ll warm up faster if you stop guarding the material.”
Mel’s face flushed as she followed Isa inside. The heat felt good. Unfortunately, the warehouse space wasn’t much. Wiping her feet on the mat, she inspected the room. Boxes were lined neatly along the back wall. The table and chair would help, but the old wooden floor with its dirt-filled cracks was a potential problem.
As the men brought in the rest of her stuff, she opened the boxes. While she dressed mannequins in one corner, she could avoid looking at the men. She’d been so busy with sketches and logistics she never imagined the men would enter her thoughts. Isa had gone on and on so much Mel figured they had to be too good to be true. Isa hadn’t exaggerated.
“You don’t need to get to work right now,” Isa said as she helped her with a mannequin. “I appreciate you coming up early and helping. Few of the dresses in the boutiques had sleeves, and the ones that did were hideous. No one designs them like you. I hate dragging you up here a month before the wedding, but arm flab isn’t good in pictures.”
“If you had found a dress you loved, I could’ve made you a jacket or wrap. But with your bridesmaids being plus-size, it’ll be better this way.” Melody was thrilled to help her friend. The four women had been close since college, especially Mel and Isa. Besides, the custom dressmaking business had fallen off since the recession hit.
She’d tried to convince Isa she could sew the dresses at home and then ship them up. However, Isa, ever the micromanager, wanted to see them in progress and didn’t want to risk the Alaskan winter weather delaying the dresses. She’d insisted Melody work locally. Isa had offered to pay Mel well, but Mel couldn’t accept. Now Melody thought she might have been set up to meet these men. It didn’t matter, though. The work would keep her too busy for distractions.
“I wanted a Cameron original. Winter has been mild so far. Doesn’t mean we won’t get an awful blizzard.” Isa smiled and twirled.
Melody laughed at her free-spirited friend. “I’m glad you’re so happy. Taking a trip to Alaska is exactly something you’d do. However, falling for two men and moving here?”
“It’s sort of normal around Sterling. Jimmy is working right now. You’ll meet him later.” Isa opened a box. “The material is so pretty!”
“Let me help,” Dale offered.
Mel rushed over. “Don’t touch. No oily or dirty fingers near the dresses.”
“Sorry, I’ll be careful.” He backed away.
“I won’t get in your way. I’ll be locked up in here for at least a couple weeks while I’m turning them into fabulous gowns. Then we’ll have fittings and the bridal shower. There’s plenty of work for me to do. I’ll try not to be any trouble.” Independence was her motto. Still, she was in unfamiliar territory.
Ryan took video of the room, panning slowly over the mannequins. “You couldn’t be trouble. I’d love to capture the progress of the dresses.”
She ran her leather boot over the old wood flooring. “That’s up to Isa. But could we get a clean tarp or something for the floor? I just want a little traction and something I can control the cleanliness of before I put any fabric out.”
Dale pushed his hood down, treating her to a better view of his jet-black hair and disapproving glance. He clearly wasn’t thrilled she was there. Maybe Isa had specifically and pointedly mentioned that Melody was single? A girl finds her man, or men, and suddenly wants everyone married. Mel had no intention of flirting…just working.
Jason took off his jacket and gave Mel a smile. “I’ll get something.”
“Thank you.” With Jason out of the bulky coat, Melody could admire his well-muscled form. Short brown hair, broad shoulders, a handsome face, and kind eyes—Jason was a hottie. She did her best to ignore the growing attraction as she watched him in action.
Ryan set down his camera to shrug out of his coat. He was leaner than Jason and Dale, with big brown eyes that matched his brown hair. He was the boy-next-door type and seemed very into his video work. Maybe all Alaskan men weren’t hunters or fishermen. Ryan grabbed his camera again. He pointed it at her, rather than at the stuff in the room. She could feel his gaze on her through the lens.
“We’ll see you at the Captain’s Catch for dinner. No arguing.” Isa hugged her. “Unpack. Just don’t get lost in work.”
“Okay, deal.” Mel turned to Ben and smiled. “Thanks, Ben.” She tugged off her gloves, then shimmied out of her Alaska-weather-approved coat. She finally felt like she could move, but would the men look at her as much when they realized the coat wasn’t the only padding on her?
“This tarp should do the trick,” Jason said as he came through the door. He set the bundled cloth down in the middle of the room. Dale stepped forward to help unroll it.
“Thank you. It’s perfect.” She walked around the edge of the tarp and reached for a mannequin. Jason rushed to help her. “We can store things along the walls, and I can work in this area.”
“The mannequins are all different sizes,” Dale observed as he set one carefully onto the canvas.
“Yes, because the bridesmaids are different sizes. I can add or remove layers of cloth and foam to get the dress size as close as possible.” She spotted the crate that housed her sewing machine. “Can you help me with this one?”
“Sure.” Jason jumped on the task, grabbing a crowbar from the table. He popped the lid free with a couple of quick yanks.
Dale glanced inside the box and chuckled. “We have sewing machines here. You could’ve borrowed one. Plenty of women in town sew.”
Melody laughed. “If they sew like I do, they won’t give up their machines for three weeks straight. I’m settling for nothing less than perfection for my best friend’s wedding.” Mel folded her arms over her chest and smiled proudly.
“We want it to be great too,” Ryan said. “Do what you have to do. We’re working on repairs and a new boat in the next room, so let us know if you need anything,”
“Do you have a radio I can borrow to drown out the noise you’ll be making? I’ll focus better.” She smiled at him.
Jason lifted the sewing machine out of the box and set it on the table. “I’m sure we can find one for you by tomorrow. Not much for stations, but it’ll be white noise.”
“That’s all I need.” Mel relaxed when Ryan turned the camera to the sewing machine, then to Jason.
Ryan pointed the camera at Dale. “So, best man, what do you think?”
Dale’s smile couldn’t quite hide a ripple of annoyance. “I think my sister-in-law will have the best wedding dress Sterling has ever seen.”
Ryan hit a button on the camera before kissing Dale on the lips. “Good answer.”
The affection between the attractive men triggered an unexpected arousal in Melody. Isa had told her they were in a bisexual ménage relationship. Hearing it over the phone or asking questions via text was one thing. Seeing it was different. Men together were hot. Their bisexuality opened up options Melody never imagined happened in real life. Maybe women like Isa were that lucky, but not Melody. It would take a little time for Sterling’s ménage-friendly reputation to sink in.
“Melody?” Jason came to stand beside her.
His body heat sparked a sudden craving for affection. “Yes?”
“You’re staring.” Jason grinned at her.
“Sorry. I’m still getting used to the ménage idea for Isa and that it’s normal here.” She turned to check on how her sewing machine had survived the journey. “I have a lot of gay friends back in Michigan, but they’re all couples.”
“We’re not gay. We’re bisexual. We just haven’t found the right woman yet.” Jason grabbed the empty box from the floor. “I’ll move these out of your way. We’ve got a closet in the back. Nothing will get tossed.”
“Great. I really appreciate the help.” Bisexual. I have to remember to use that term
. These men seemed to be stressing their willingness to share a woman. Isa had mentioned women were the minority in Sterling. Maybe I can have a little fun. A girl does need some playtime.
“Don’t worry,” Ryan said. “And you’ll get the hang of Alaska. There’s a lot to adjust to. The darkness will be weird, but I’m sure you’ll find a way to keep warm at night.” He winked at her, then headed after Jason.
She got that flirtatious hint loud and clear. Instead of forcing Dale, the quietest of the three, into conversation, she unpacked her sewing kit. The men might be glad to have new meat around, but they stared at her like she was prime rib.
Dale took the empty box from her. “Don’t mind them. They’re thrilled to have more women in town for the wedding. A lot of people are excited.”
“I checked the census. Two thousand people don’t make a tiny town. There have to be women here.” She shook her head.
“Sure. I grew up with them in school and everything. Most marry young and move away after college. If one of the few remaining hasn’t clicked with us by now, she probably isn’t the right woman. Anyway, don’t take the flirtation you’ll get here too seriously. You’re the new blood. Jason and Ryan don’t mean any harm. If you feel uncomfortable, put them in their place.” Dale lifted a full box onto the table, then opened it for her.
For a second, she was annoyed. Did he think she didn’t get hit on and would misread flirtation because she was a size twenty? Then she realized she had been a little overwhelmed by the group approach. If she was outnumbered in the town as well, Dale’s advice might be sound. Maybe he was just being nice in his weird, quirky Alaskan way. “I can handle forward men. A coordinated trio would be a new experience.”
“A lot of women like the attention. Mining and fishing bring people here, so naturally, there are more men than women. Men have to be more competitive to win a woman. But they certainly value their woman once they win her. Isa is lucky; you’ll see.” Dale cracked a real smile.
She unloaded sketches she’d done of the dresses, followed by shoes that matched the bridesmaids’ gowns’ fabric. “I’m sure you’re right. Ben seems nice. Hopefully, we can agree that your brother is very lucky to have Isa.”
“Damn right!” Dale nodded at the shoes. “You thought of everything.”
“I hope so.” She smiled and surveyed the room. “Things cost a lot more here. I’d rather take my time and be careful with what I have. Flying back to Anchorage, or even having something brought in, would be a pain.”
“Welcome to Alaska. We always make the most of what we have. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. We’ll find a way to get you what you need. The wedding is a big deal for the town. People will help.” Dale picked up some empty boxes and headed out as Jason and Ryan entered.
She felt the change in the room as the two flirts returned. “Is the wedding really that big a deal?” she asked them.
“Yeah, lots of friends and family coming in.” Ryan held up an expensive-looking video camera. “Mind if I put this in here to capture the whole thing? I can do a time-lapse effect to let everyone see the dresses and your hard work.”
Melody hated being on camera. For the wedding, how could she say no? Isa’s grandmother was too frail to make the trip up. The Web site would stream the wedding live and also show the activities leading up to the big day. People could replay it wherever they were. It wasn’t only ingenious. It meant the world to that ninety-year-old woman on dialysis.
“Sure, a camera is fine. We’ll need to rig something for privacy when I do fittings, though.”
Ryan gave a dismissive wave. “Jason will figure it out. He’s a genius at throwing things together.”
Jason hugged Ryan playfully. “I’ll have it for you before the fittings.”
Eventually, she would forget a camera was there. “Sounds good. So the bridesmaids won’t be the only single girls in town. Isa had me worried,” Mel said, trying to make small talk.
Chuckling, Jason shook his head. “Most of the guests will be family. Don’t worry. Even Alaska doesn’t have an official bride-hunting season.”
She laughed but sensed he was only half-kidding. Deep down, she had a feeling that eighteen hours of darkness wasn’t the biggest challenge she would have in Alaska. The way the two men were looking at her, staying on deadline might be tricky.