The Worst Best Man
Aiden Kilbourn and Frankie Baranski revitalize entire city block
Aiden Kilbourn’s wife wears Target dress to ribbon cutting
Aiden Kilbourn’s wife chokes on sausage at inaugural event
ONE YEAR LATER
“Those are ridiculous,” Frankie insisted, pointing at the oversized shears Aiden held in his hand.
“A big ribbon-cutting calls for big scissors,” he said, slinging an arm around her shoulder. He’d left his trademark suits home today and wore jeans and a simple white button down. If it weren’t for his panty-dropping face of perfection, he could almost pass for a normal human being.
“What?” he asked, noting her attention.
She grinned. “Just feeling a little extra lucky today.”
“You should. It’s not every wife who can talk her husband into buying her a city block.”
“Us,” she reminded him.
“Us,” he agreed, squeezing her shoulder.
“I’m pretty impressed with us,” she said eyeing the street. “A grocer, a coffee shop, a sandwich place, a tiny brewery, and a small business development center open all on one day? You’re going down in neighborhood history.”
“You mean like Saint Franchesca?” he teased.
“Well, obviously you won’t be as revered as me. But close,” she predicted.
In just over a year, the little strip of street in Brooklyn had gone from ignored and dilapidated to rejuvenated. There was a lively jazz band playing on the restaurant’s patio, and the street was roped off with one big, red ribbon. Neighbors and business owners spilled out onto the sidewalks, ready for the festivities to begin. Aiden had hired local restaurants and food trucks to feed the crowds for the neighborhood’s first ever block party. Proceeds would go toward the grant program managed by the brand-new business center, where Franchesca had an office and about six weeks of work ahead of her already.
“Shall we do the honors?” he asked, nudging her toward the end of the street.
“Let’s do this.”
They tag-teamed the speech with a natural rhythm. Frankie’s parents and brothers waved from the front row. They talked about community and neighbors and pride, and then, together, to the raucous cheers of the crowd, they cut the ribbon.
The press was there in large numbers because it was a Kilbourn project. But Frankie didn’t mind the attention. Not when they had, for the most part, learned to treat her like any other entrepreneur. No one dared to ask her who she was wearing anymore.
After the ribbon was cut, the speech made, and the doors opened, Frankie and Aiden walked arm in arm down the revitalized street, mingling and munching, tasting and touring. They ate hot sausage from a food truck, drank Pilsner samples from the brewery, and toured each business with each owner. Frankie pinched herself and Aiden repeatedly just to make sure this wasn’t one big, beautiful dream.
No, it wasn’t, Frankie thought with satisfaction as she sunk her teeth into the Bratwurst Wagon’s bestselling foot-long sausage. She had played a role in the redevelopment of an entire city block. Something that would benefit both the neighborhood and the business community. And Aiden had stood with her, guiding her, and trusting her throughout the process. She loved him desperately for it.
Her phone vibrated in the pocket of her smart sundress, and she pulled it out.
Aiden: You’re giving me ideas with that sausage in your mouth.
She laughed, nearly choking, and then, spotting him in the crowd, made a private show of shoving as much of it into her mouth as possible.
“Mrs. Baranski,” someone said, shoving a phone into her face. “Care to comment on the predicted revenue of your project here?”
The sausage and bun turned to sand in her mouth, and she started coughing.
Aiden was at her side in a moment, slapping her on the back.
“Sorry,” Frankie gasped, tears stinging her eyes. “Too much sausage in my mouth.”
The journalist, a woman in a trim blazer and glasses, gaped at her.
Aiden covered his laugh with a cough. “I’d be happy to answer any of your questions while my wife finds a drink of water,” he said smoothly.
Frankie, still coughing, decided it was in her better interest to wash down the sausage wad with more beer to calm her butterflies. The public part of their big day was drawing to a close, but she had one hell of a surprise cooking for Aiden, and there was a good chance he would hate it. She took a steadying breath. He had to love it. If she had to love the expansive wardrobe he’d bought for her and the embarrassingly beautiful stash of jewelry and books and kitchen toys, he had to love her surprise.
She paused at the glass doors of the shiny new small business development center and traced her fingers over the lettering on the door. All her dreams had come true, thanks to the man who teased her about sausage. And she wasn’t going to let him down. No, Aiden Kilbourn would have no choice but to be proud of his MBA-wielding, small business genius wife.
She ducked inside and found her parents, Hugo and May, huddled in the conference room over the cookie tray. Her brothers, Gio and Marco, were racing desk chairs around the four cubicles on the opposite side of the front desk. She’d hired a receptionist, a part-time employee, and an intern. Between the four of them, and the ever-growing list of resources Aiden was developing, they’d make a dent in the small business needs of Brooklyn Heights.
She glanced at the sign-up sheet on the front desk. Next week’s workshop on business expenses and other accounting questions was already booked solid.
“There’s our beautiful, amazing daughter,” May announced as if it had been weeks rather than minutes since she’d last seen Frankie.
Gio cut Marco off with his chair and dumped his brother onto the floor.
“You guys break it, you bought it,” Frankie said, nudging Marco with her foot.
“Get your ass off the floor, you juvenile delinquents,” Rachel snapped, bouncing little Maya on her hip. Frankie’s niece was wearing a t-shirt that said My Aunt is Awesome.
Frankie liberated Maya from her mother’s arms and held her aloft. She squealed in delight and clapped her little hands.
“Two of my favorite ladies,” Aiden noted, poking his head in through the front door.
Frankie grinned at him. “How’s it going out there, Mr. Mayor?”
“Everyone is eating, drinking, and shopping. I’d call it a success,” he said, his eyes dipping to the V-neck of her dress.
May bustled out of the conference room and whacked her sons on the head. “Stop acting like wild animals,” she snapped.
“Why can’t you act more like Aiden?” she demanded. “Look at him behaving.”
When she turned to point at Aiden, Marco and Gio flipped him off.
May spun to shoot her sons a fierce frown, and Aiden used the opportunity to return the one-fingered salute.
Frankie and Rachel shook their heads and laughed.
“You two did good here,” Hugo announced from the doorway of the conference room, a cookie in each hand.
“Thank you, Dad,” Frankie said. “I think we’re going to do a lot of good things here.”
“Maybe you can show your mother how that Book Face Twatter works,” he mused.
Gio snorted. “Frankie’s real good at the Twatter.”
Using the baby as cover, Frankie flipped Gio off.
Aiden plucked Maya from Frankie’s arms and jiggled the little girl in the air before pressing a kiss to her chubby little cheek.
“Think you have a few minutes to sneak away?” Frankie asked. She was going for casual, but the words came out strangled.
She saw the spark in his eyes, knew he thought she had other intentions.
“I always have time to sneak away,” he said, his voice husky.
“Hand over my baby before you say anything gross in front of her,” Marco demanded.
Frankie grinned. A year into the marriage, and neither she nor Aiden had put the brakes on in the fucking-like-rabbits department.
Aiden gave the little girl another kiss and turned her over to her father. He slid his arm around Frankie’s waist and pulled her into his side. “What did you have in mind?” he whispered.
“Let’s go for a little walk,” she suggested, pulling him toward the door.
She’d told no one what she’d done, and the secret was eating her soul. When they’d married, Aiden had opened an account in her name and dumped an obscene amount of money into it so Frankie never felt like she needed to ask for anything.
She’d refused to touch it on principal. Until now.
“Where are we going?” Aiden asked gruffly as he let Frankie pull him down the block, away from the festivities.
“You’ll see,” she said vaguely.
They followed the street west before skirting north and then west again into the historic district until Frankie came to a stop in front of a two-story brown brick building. It had a garage flanked by two doors.
“And what are we doing here?” Aiden asked indulgently.
Frankie pulled the key out of her pocket and took a deep breath. “Hopefully, being really happy and not yelling at me at all.”
She felt the weight of his gaze as she slid the key into the lock.
“Franchesca,” he said her name softly, questioningly.
She tossed him a shaky smile and gave the door a hard shove. It creaked open on rarely used hinges.
Aiden followed her inside.
Thick, worn floorboards drew the eye from the front to the back of the large space.
She waited while Aiden prowled, examining plaster walls and the rickety staircase up to the second floor. Everything was dirty and dusty. It was an abandoned construction zone. The beginning of a kitchen was tucked into a corner. But the back of the building with its series of arched windows that stretched from floor to ceiling were the wow factor.
Frankie waited, gnawing on her thumb while Aiden stood before one of the windows and stared out across the greenway to the murky summer waters of the river. Beyond it, the Manhattan skyline loomed.
“Well? What do you think?” she asked, breathlessly.
“Why don’t you tell me exactly why we’re here, and then I’ll tell you what I think,” he said, eyeing her with that probing look.
“I bought it. For us.” She blurted the words out. “You’ve been saying you wanted to look for a place here, close to the development center and my family. It’s a carriage house or was before someone started the renovations. They ran out of money and sat on it for a few years. Your dad thinks we got a great deal on it—”
“My father?” Aiden asked, swiping his hand over his chin.
It irked her that she couldn’t read him. Frankie nodded. “Ferris helped me set up a corporation so I could buy it without you knowing. Surprise?”
He stared at the view once again and then returned to her face. Aiden started toward her.
“Tell me what you’re thinking before I die. Do you like it? Do you hate it? I thought we could renovate it together. The Greenway is literally in our backyard, and we’ve got the square footage for a couple of bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs. The roof is sound. We could have one of those cool rooftop terraces…”
He reached her and gripped her hips, pulling her against him.
“Aiden, seriously if you don’t say something right now, I’m going to freak out,” Frankie said.
He didn’t speak. He kissed her instead. A soft, sweet slide of tongues. A leisurely sampling that left her knees weak.
“You’re not yelling,” she said as she pulled back. Her hands fisted in his shirt.
“It’s perfect, Franchesca,” he said softly, nudging her chin up. She felt the knot in her stomach loosen. She met his gaze, saw the softness in his eyes.
“We can still keep your penthouse,” she began.
“Our,” he corrected her.
“Our,” Frankie repeated. “But this will be nice too… eventually. I mean, it’s kind of a pile of crap right now but—”
“I love that you did this,” Aiden said, cutting off her rambling. He started to sway from side to side to music only he could hear. Frankie followed his lead, hypnotized by the love she saw in his eyes. “We’ll make it our own. We’ll watch the fights with your brothers here, host Thanksgivings here. You and I will curl up on the couch at the end of the day and eat Chinese food and complain about the fortune cookies. We’ll argue about everything. You’ll break dishes. I’ll eat everything that you cook. We’ll escape from it all here. You and me.”
Frankie felt tears prick her eyes. He was painting her a picture of their future together, and she’d provided the canvas.
“All in,” Frankie whispered to him.
He brushed a thumb across her cheek. “All in, my Franchesca.”