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By Diana Duncan
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2004 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter One"You have stolen my heart with just one glance of your eyes." - The Song of Songs
"Another bad omen. You have to call off the wedding!"
Tessa Beaumont glanced up from her desk in alarm as her best friend and maid of honor, Melody Parrish, stormed into Tessa's office at Oregon Pacific Bank, a large garment bag flung over one shoulder. Tessa's stomach pitched. What now? "Mel? What's wrong?"
Her sapphire eyes snapping, Melody shoved the door closed with her foot. "Every time you progress with your wedding plans, something terrible happens. A freak fungus down south wiped out the orchid farm. Your photographer slipped on a stray gefilte fish at a bar mitzvah and broke his arm. The caterer went belly-up after food poisoning flattened three hundred gastroenterologists at a hospital benefit."
"Coincidences," Tessa soothed, setting her paperwork aside in a neat pile. "Stuff happens. And we found replacements."
Melody thrust the garment bag under Tessa's nose. "You think so? Well, maybe this will convince you."
Tessa glanced at the clock. It was after 1:00 p.m. They'd been two tellers short all week, and she hadn't taken a break or even lunch in days. She rose and circled the desk. "Ten minutes, then I have to get back to work."
Mel unzipped the bag. With a flourish, she whipped out two dresses and hung them on the brass coat rack beside the door. "I hope you haven't eaten."
Tessa's jaw dropped. Speechless, she stared at the ugliest ruffled white monstrosity she'd ever seen, accompanied by a hideous bluish-purple bridesmaid's dress. "Wha - what's that?"
"Lucille changed your order. Imagine my surprise when I picked up our dresses today."
"Oh, no!" Tessa hurried over to finger one of the hundreds of flounced organza ruffles on the horrible bridal gown. "I'll look like a refugee from Gone With The Wind. A hoop skirt, for Pete's sake. One misstep, and I'd give a whole new meaning to the term flash photography."
"Not if you were Little Bo Peep." Mel snickered. "At least your fashion holocaust is white. My 'elegant eggplant' number looks like a black eye. What was Lady Stalin thinking?"
"I don't know, but she went too far this time." With quick, efficient movements, Tessa zipped the awful dresses back into the bag. "These are going right back. I jumped at Lucille's offer to help with the wedding because my mother couldn't care less. But I refuse to let her bulldoze me."
"Yeah. Your future mother-in-law has the personality of a Zamboni."
"Well that's no reason to meekly lie down and let her shave my ... ah ... ice." Tessa tucked a wayward auburn curl into the gold clip at the nape of her neck. "I hope the bridal shop can deliver our original choices in less than two weeks."
Her friend grew somber. "That's the least of your worries. You know, you still have plenty of time to change your mind."
Tessa winced. "You think I should? I chose the candlelight empire satin gown because of the high waist, but I was afraid my big caboose sticks out way too far anyway."
"You've been comparing yourself with the models in those bride's magazines again, haven't you? There is nothing wrong with your butt." Mel sighed. "Not the gown. The wedding. Please don't marry Dale just because you think he'll give you the security you crave. Do you really want to spend the next twenty years trying not to rock the boat with Lucille?"
For a moment, the only sound was the muted hum of voices from the outer lobby. Then Tessa shuddered and forced a strained laugh. "You know better than to mention boats to me."
"Don't change the subject. You don't really love him. Admit it."
"I do love him. For two years, Dale has been my closest friend, besides you. The wild, passionate version of 'love' is just an attack of raging hormones. Ten minutes of pleasure - a lifetime of consequences. My mother for instance -"
"Yeah, you had a new 'uncle' every time you phoned home, but Vivienne is a bad example. Lots of actresses have revolving doors on their bedrooms."
But Vivienne's unfaithfulness had caused the death of the only person who had ever loved Tessa. Her dad. Her mother's flighty lifestyle was the reason Tessa had chosen a financial career. Numbers never lied, never changed and never let you down. "Dale and I are perfect together. He's an accountant and I'm a banker. We both enjoy books, music and playing in Lucille's charity concerts."
Mel snorted, making her short blond locks bounce. "I admit, I've never had a relationship longer than two dates, so I'm the last person to give advice. But don't settle for blue-eyed bland. You deserve the best."
"Maybe Dale isn't as exciting as 007, but he's loyal, responsible and sweet, and he loves kids. I'm getting my heart's desire." She frowned. "In two weeks, I'm going to marry Dale and have a family of my own. Children to cuddle. A dog shedding hair on the carpet. Noisy, bustling holidays. And nothing on this earth will stop me."
"Okay, have it your way. I just don't want you to wake up in thirty years and realize you've wasted your whole life with a man who doesn't trip your trigger."
Tessa chuckled. "Gee, don't hold back. What do you really think?"
"After twenty years, you're more than my best friend - you're like my sister. We've been soul mates since our teary eyes met that first awful day of boarding school and I want you to be happy."
"No tears, see? I am happy. Very happy. Everything is on track and according to plan." She glanced at the clock again and a groan slipped out. "Except I'm out of time. Trask has been on my case all week because we're so far behind. And he'll relish throwing it in my face at the promotion interview."
"He's lucky to have you. Any woman who alphabetizes her spices and arranges her canned goods by expiration date is a pillar of organization." Mel grabbed both Tessa's hands in hers.
"I'm telling you, this dress fiasco is another sign. Mark my words, Tessie, Dale is not your destiny. If you don't wise up, The Man Upstairs will resort to something drastic."
Her friend's pronouncement resonated in the throbbing pulse at Tessa's temples. Dale is not your destiny.
A shiver crawled up her spine. She shoved the eerie feeling aside. Practical and steady, she didn't believe in destiny. A person made her own fate, and her course was perfectly charted and firmly set. She wouldn't let anything thwart her lifelong dream for a family and security. Not now, not when it was finally within her reach. Tessa gave her friend a reassuring smile. "It'll be fine. Everything will run smooth and well-oiled from now on, you'll see."
The door flew open and her vault teller, Carla, burst inside. "Sorry to interrupt, but everything just went to hell. We've got customers lined up to the door. The cash shipment arrived, and needs to be verified. The kiosk ATM isn't working again, the newbie on window three is having a panic attack, and Darcy went home with that flu that's going around." She groaned. "Oh, and Mr. Trask pitched a fit because he didn't get your weekly report yet. He wants it ASAP."
Tessa sighed. As operations supervisor, her job was to ensure the branch ran efficiently, especially during Mr. Trask's frequent absences. With customers up the wazoo and another teller gone, she'd have to keep Carla at a window and manage the vault herself. That meant spending an hour after work trapped in the vault counting stacks of bills. And she had a dinner date with Dale and Lucille to discuss wedding plans. At the thought of confronting Lucille, her heart sank. According to Modern Day Bride, newlyweds fought about three major topics: money, sex and in-laws. She grimaced. Her hopes to be the exception didn't look promising.
"Give the newbie a pat on the back, tell her to take a deep breath and focus on one thing at a time. Then go back to your window. I'll count the cash."
Carla shook her head. "That's my job. You've already got your hands full."
"Maybe so, but I need you out front."
"Don't you think you should go out front? That newbie looks pretty shaky, and with Darcy sick, we're now three tellers short. And don't forget, today is payday for the biggest companies in town. I'd better do the count."
Tessa frowned. Carla usually obeyed without question. "Exactly why you belong at a station. I'll get it done as fast as possible, and I can pop out if needed in the meantime."
"But - wait -" Carla's brown eyes widened in near panic.
"I know how much you despise manning a window, but it can't be helped. Buzz if you need me."
Her face clouded with reluctance, Carla departed, and Tessa turned to Mel. "I've gotta run."
Excerpted from Bulletproof Bride by Diana Duncan Copyright © 2004 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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