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The Bridesmaid's Reward
By Liz Fielding
Mills & BoonCopyright © 2003 Liz Fielding
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Dodie? What's happened? Calm down! Deep breath ..."
Dodie Layton, having bombarded her best friend with an almost incoherent appeal for help, took a long, slow breath, as ordered, but her heart continued to race and her legs remained nothing but jelly.
She nodded, although since this was a telephone call Gina wouldn't be able to see her.
Gina knew her well enough to fill in the gaps, however, and said, "Good. Now, tell me all that again. Slowly."
"I've got six weeks to lose two dress sizes and transform myself from Miss Blobby into Bridesmaid of the Year," she said, editing her first garbled rush of information to its essentials.
"You are not a blob. You're ..."
"Cuddly?" Dodie offered while her best friend gamely sought for a kindly euphemism to cover her generous curves, the width of her bottom, thighs that gave cellulite a bad name. "That is not a comfort. My sister-the thin, beautiful, young one -"
"You've only got one sister."
"- the one who's been nominated for every film award going in the last twelve months. Star of stage, screen and telly. Loved by everyone -"
"Listen, I know your sister. I remember her when she had zits and braces on her teeth -"
"- is getting married." Gina, silenced by this stunning piece of gossip,gave her the opportunity to cut to the chase. "And I've been cast as chief bridesmaid," she finished.
"Oh, disaster!" Dodie wailed, reaching for the toast she'd been buttering when her mother rang with the big news. Along with strict instructions to reduce her dress size pronto and a promise to put details of the very latest diet - guaranteed to work practically overnight-in the post. Since she was far too busy to bring it over. Obviously.
Dodie tucked the telephone beneath her ear while she sloshed on an extra thick layer of marmalade before taking a bite. She'd cut down on the calories later; right now she needed sugar for the shock.
"I don't suppose I need to ask who she's marrying?" Gina asked, her attention now fully focused on the really important matter of hot gossip. "The diary columnists have been salivating for weeks over rumours that the on-screen lovers were doing it for real. When's the big day?"
"I can't tell you the exact date. It's a state secret, apparently, but early May seems to be favorite." She groaned again. "I've got six weeks, Gina. I need to jog. I need weights. I need aerobics," she said, spluttering toast crumbs everywhere as she wondered what had happened to all those resolutions she'd made on New Year's Day. "I've got to do all those things I've been putting off for ever and -"
"What you've got to do is stop talking with your mouth full and get a grip."
"Right," she said. She wasn't about to disagree with the only person in the world who could get her into shape in time. She swallowed the toast. "I can do this," she said firmly. "In fact my heart's beating so fast with the excitement that I'm losing calories just talking to you."
"I'm sorry to disillusion you, but for any loss of weight the raised heartbeat needs to be the result of exercise."
"Oh, well, you know more about this than I do. Which is where you come in."
"Oh, right. All becomes clear."
"Look, do you want to come to this wedding or not?" Dodie demanded, stooping to outright bribery.
"The guest list is going to be a Who's Who of the film and theatre world. Actor knights. Pop stars. Starlets in wildly unsuitable dresses hoping to make the front page. Why would your sister ask me to her wedding?"
"I get to ask someone. As in 'and partner.'"
"Er, isn't that supposed to be a bloke?"
"That's a very un-PC comment, Gina," she said primly. "This is a showbiz wedding. And anyway, I haven't got a bloke." She was planning to keep it that way. "Besides, I wouldn't want a man along cramping my style. I mean, isn't the chief bridesmaid supposed to arouse feelings of unrestrained lust in the best man? Traditionally?"
"I'd heard that rumour, although personally I've never seen one worth getting excited about." Dodie didn't say anything. "Oh, right. I think I'm beginning to understand the unlikely attraction of wearing some hideous satin, frill-covered concoction. And why you're even considering getting toned up for the occasion. Come on, give. Who is it?"
"The best man, do you mean?" she asked casually, as if this wasn't the reason her heart was quivering like a greyhound in the slips, throbbing like a Ferrari in pole position at Monaco, pounding like ... like the entire drum section of the Royal Marine band at the Edinburgh Tattoo. And for a moment she had to grip the back of a handy chair-this kind of excitement was really too much to deal with over breakfast. "The best man is going to be Charles Gray."
Being human, she took a certain amount of pleasure in the resulting stunned silence that positively vibrated down the telephone line.
"Charles Gray?" Gina responded finally, with gratifying awe. "Heartthrob and sex god? The man every right-thinking woman wants to find under her tree on Christmas morning wearing nothing but a smile and a condom? That Charles Gray?"
"Yes. Total fantasy." And she sighed. "Absolutely perfect, in fact. One day of enchantment without any messy long-term reality to ruin the effect."
"You plan on turning back into a pumpkin at twelve o'clock?"
"On the dot. And I'll be a lot more careful with my shoes than Cinderella. I mean, let's be honest, what are the chances that she lived happily ever after with a man fixated on her feet?"
"I'd never given it any thought," Gina admitted. "And of course your eagerness for me to wave my magic wand and turn you into a princess for the day has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Martin will see the pictures in Celebrity magazine and realise that he could have been there, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous? Imagine the caption ... Mr Martin Jackson, partner of the bride's lovely sister, Miss Dodie Layton, chatting to composer and well-known art collector, Sir Thingummy Whatsit ..."
Reminding her about Martin didn't have quite the effect Gina would have wished. Far from being amused, Dodie was only reminded just how undesirable she was. Casting a hopeless look down at herself in her working clothes-barrage balloon jogging pants that had never been jogged in and a T-shirt that appeared to have shrunk in the wash-she groaned.
"I'm just fooling myself, aren't I? It'll never happen. I'm going to look like a lumpen fool amongst all those toned, tanned and skinny celebs. As out of place as a lily on dung heap, in fact." As the reality of the situation sank in she broke off and grabbed another slice of toast. "Charles Gray being the lily."
Excerpted from The Bridesmaid's Reward by Liz Fielding Copyright © 2003 by Liz Fielding. Excerpted by permission.
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