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At first, when Allison Cabot realized that her bridegroom wasn't just late, stuck in Boston's rush-hour traffic or locked in battle with a recalcitrant tuxedo, it felt like a dream. One of those ridiculous over-the-top nightmares, the kind you recognize as fiction even while you're sleeping, because nothing that bad ever happens to you in real life.
Oddly, she felt no anger, certainly no pain, though someone shoved a tissue into her hand as if they expected her to dissolve into a puddle of tears. Instead, she felt numb. She floated about an inch above the floor, bathed in the sweet scent of altar roses, watching the drama play out while she waited to wake up.
Maybe, she thought, she had finally absorbed a little of her father's elegant WASP restraint. Public displays of emotion were unacceptable for the Cabots. Play through, play through, that had been Ripley Cabot's motto, whether Allison was coping with her mother's death or a broken toe at soccer practice.
Or getting jilted at the altar.
While she was floating peacefullythe lobotomized bridesomeone else sent the two hundred wedding guests home. Probably Bitsy Bohannon, her best friend and wedding planner. Bitsy looked like a golden fairy but had the field instincts of a five-star general.
It was Bitsy who had come back into the dressing room afterward and asked Allison what she wanted to do next.
"Actually," Allison had said, after considering the matter for a minute, " I'm hungry. I'd been looking forward to that filet mignon at the reception."
Bitsy's blond, angel-wing eyebrows had risen slightly, but she didn't seem to find the comment cold-blooded.
"Me, too," she'd said."Let's feast." That had been an hour ago. Since then, they'd sat together at one of the ten blue-silk-draped tables in the Freedom Ballroom of the prestigious Revere Hotel and shared a tender nine-ounce steak, a bowl of creamy herbed asparagus and two bottles of Bollinger Grand Année.
They weren't drunk, but Allison was definitely feeling less straitlaced than usual. And less peaceful. Anger was starting to bubble to the surface. There might be other emotions, too, deeper down in the mix, but she hoped she could, for once, be as strong as her father would have wanted. A high-strung child, she'd disappointed her dignified father so often: when she cried for days over her dead gerbil; when she asked for a night-light to banish the monsters she imagined hid in her shoes; when their housekeeper resigned and Allie tearfully chased the woman down the street, begging her to come back.
he'd even tried to break Allison of her habit of wishing on stars, a piece of nonsense he believed she'd inherited from her superstitious Irish mother.
Eileen Oâ€™Hara Cabot had died when Allison was only three, so if she was was responsible for her daughter's emotional lapses, it must have been by way of DNA.
Today's fiasco would have been the ultimate disappointment for him.
Poor Allison, never quite a beauty, now a shade past her prime, falling for such an obvious cad. So foolish. Though her father had been dead only five months and she missed him every minute, she was almost glad he hadn't lived to see this humiliation.
Of course, that also meant he hadn't lived to see his grandchildren.
Assuming she ever got around to providing any. After today, that looked more unlikely than ever.
Twisting one of the blue ribbons from the centerpiece around her finger, she surveyed the sumptuous hotel ballroom. Each chair was covered in blue silk, tied at the back with a knot of white roses. Allison could almost catch the sickly sweet smell of petals wilting, fading. She glanced down at her own hand, as if she might be able to see it aging, too.
"You know what?, She looked at Bitsy. "I think I've wasted my life."
Bitsy had been concentrating on making an effigy of Lincoln Gray out of the fruit from the tables" centerpiecesBitsy's answer to any emotional dilemma was to create something. They hadn't discussed it, but Allison knew it was Lincoln by the white-grape hair, which did look strangely like Lincoln's shiny blond curls.
Bitsy frowned, a cluster of grapes dangling from her fingers. "That's ridiculous, Allie. Wasted your life? I know you're hurting right now, but"
"No." Allison waved her freshly manicured hand with the pink-diamond polish that exactly matched her brand-new silk bra and panties. It was hard to remember how seriously she had taken all these details about four hours ago. She felt as if she'd been punked.
"Not because I'm hurting. I'm not hurting." Bitsy nodded, though she didn't quite meet Allison's gaze.
"I'm not," Allison insisted. "I'mokay. I'm embarrassed, of course. But mostly I'm mad."
Suddenly, after an hour of numb near-silence, Allison needed to talk. And anger seemed safe. Anger, the one emotion even her father had indulged in.
"Look at this dress! You know what a Vera Wang costs. And four million roses."
She scowled toward the music platform, where a graceful gold harp stood silently waiting for the show that would never go on. The string quartet would have to be paid, too.
"Heck, I spent a thousand dollars on that stupid ice sculpture alone. I figure every drip of that swan's beak costs me about a buck-fifty. If Lincoln didn't want to marry me, couldn't he have said so before I blew a fortune on the wedding?"
Bitsy laughed and glanced over at the swan, who did appear to be drooling. She seemed about to say something, but then closed her mouth around a cluster of fancy toothpicks, which she was using to hold fruit-Lincoln together.
Allison knew what Bitsy's unspoken thought was. Lincoln had wanted to marry her, all the way up until last night, when, succumbing to her lawyer's pressure, Allison had asked him to sign a prenup. he'd signed it without blinking and he'd even kissed her afterward. That was how good he was.
She'd never guessed that he was also signing the death warrant for their marriage.
Bitsy hitched up her sky-blue gown so that she could kneel and adjust the angle of the watermelon she'd propped on one of the chairs. "Still, even though you may have wasted a small fortune. Why on earth would you say you've wasted your life?"
Allison drummed her fingers on the edge of the table. She gave Bitsy a small smile. "Because, although a situation like this calls for a little justifiable homicide, I don't know a single hit man. I don't have one recipe for undetectable poison." triple-riveted one up, admiring how crystal chandelier. "With blades."
Allison took one last good look at the figure propped on the satin chair. "I almost hate to ruin it," she said. "He's prettier than Lincoln."
That wasn't true, of course. The man she would have married today, if he'd bothered to show up, was blond, blue-eyed, bronzed and."
And that was just the Bs.
But this effigy of Lincoln was bizarre, voluptuous and oddly beautiful. Honeydew head, watermelon body, white-grape hair and blackberry lips. His face was a sickly green and his kumquat eyes were slightly crossed.
Appropriate for a man who was about to get stabbed in the heart.
Allison squinted, her hand on her hip, the knife's lethal blade carefully pointed out, so that she wouldn't rip the lace overlay that draped across the tulle skirt of her gown. This sucker was going to fetch a fortune on eBay.
"Okay, I've got only six knives, so let's decide where the bull's-eye is," she said. "Right between the kumquats? Or should I split the strawberry heart?"
Bitsy nudged Lincoln's body so that he sat up straighter. "Let's say two points for the kumquats. Four points for the strawberry." She smiled, her blue eyes catlike and evil as her gaze slid to the very bottom of the watermelon. "Ten points for the banana."
Allison hadn't noticed the small banana and the sight of its puny yellow curve made her laugh for the first time today. She was still laughing as she tossed the first knife so, unfortunately, it hit the back of the chair, handle first, and clattered to the ground.
She grimaced toward Bitsy. "It's that repressed WASP upbringing," Bitsy said. "Not a shred of killer instinct left."
"I told you I'd wasted my life," Allison agreed sadly.
She took more time with the next tosses. "You are" the knife grazed a lump of grape hair, then slid to the floor" a sleazy bastard" she missed the effigy entirely "Lincoln Gray." That one embedded itself deeply in the chair's gold satin upholstery.
Oh, heck. Repairing that was going to cost a pretty penny. And she only had two knives left.
"Mind if I try?"