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By BRANDILYN COLLINS AMBERLY COLLINS
Zondervan Copyright © 2010 Brandilyn Collins
All right reserved.
Chapter One I've been dreaming of this day my whole life!"
My mom and my long-lost father were finally marrying. For the first time, we'd be a family-a real family, living under the same roof. From now on I could come home from high school to a mom and a dad. How I'd begged God for this. How I'd yearned for it, ever since I was little and wondered where my father was. Who he was. Now I wanted to shout and sing and dance.
And I would, except, as maid of honor, I was dressed to the nines in beautiful coral silk, and I didn't dare get sweaty.
Instead I gently cupped my hands around Mom's cheeks. We smiled at each other. Then my throat started to tighten. Uh-oh. My mouth wavered, and so did Mom's. Tears filled our eyes.
"Oh, no!" I pulled back and waved my hands in the air. "No, no, no, I do not want to cry!"
We both were fully made up, as were the other bridesmaids in the room, Brittany and Kim. The wedding would start in forty-five minutes. This was not the time to mess up our mascara.
"Here, Shaley." My best friend, Brittany, thrust a tissue into my hand, then gave one to my mom. That's Brittany-always ready. "Blot. Carefully."
Mom and I smiled lopsidedly at each other as we pressed the tissues to the corners of our eyes.
I've seen my mom glamoured up for countless concerts and interviews. But I've never seen her so beautiful. Mom's designer wedding gown fit tightly at her slim waist, with beading all over, even on the long, satiny train. Coral-colored pearls rimmed the edges. Mom's blonde hair swept upward, a flower-topped veil hanging all the way to the floor as a gossamer layer over the train. She looked stunning. And not just because her makeup and hair were perfect. Because she was so happy on the inside. Gary Donovon, the high-school sweetheart who'd been wrenched from her life eighteen years ago, would become her husband today.
"Looks good." Kim, keyboard player for Mom's rock band-named Rayne after Mom-smiled as she took the tissue from my mother's hand and threw it away. "No more tears now."
Mom shook her head, her face lit with joy. "No more tears."
"What time is it?" Kim checked the clock in the huge bedroom, and my eyes followed. Three twenty. Forty minutes seemed like forever to wait.
We were in an incredible castlelike house and property covering eleven lush acres outside Santa Barbara, California. It was a second home belonging to movie producer Ed Schering, a friend of Mom's. The ceremony would take place in the house's seventy-foot-long great room. The reception would spill out to the gardens.
Ed had offered the estate as a secure, gated place for the wedding. No media could get near the place-unless they tried by helicopter. Which I wouldn't put past them, once they sniffed us out. The media had dubbed Mom and Dad's upcoming ceremony the "wedding of the century," but so far the date had remained secret from the public.
"Dad's ring had better come." I sidled to a window overlooking the rear gardens of the estate and nudged back a curtain. The person delivering the ring was supposed to swing around the driveway to the kitchen's back door, where I'd meet him. That ring was my responsibility. During the ceremony I'd carry it until giving it to Mom to put on Dad's finger.
Mom sighed-a quick breath of nervousness and excitement. "I don't want to go through a honeymoon without a wedding ring on my husband's finger." She faced herself in a full-length mirror and patted her already-perfect hair.
I moved to my cell phone, sitting on a dresser. "Maybe I should call the store."
Dad's custom wedding ring had been made too small-a surprising mistake for such well-known jewelers. We'd only discovered the mistake yesterday, when both wedding rings were delivered to our house in Southern California and Dad's didn't fit. We were just about to leave for the rehearsal at the estate, and the only thing we could do was contact a jewelry store in Santa Barbara this morning for a last-minute sizing. Wendell, one of Mom's bodyguards, had taken the ring to the store. The owners promised to resize it and send it back with a driver before the ceremony.
Which was now in thirty-five minutes.
Just as I picked up my cell phone, it rang. I checked the ID. Gary Donovon.
I pressed the button to answer. "Hey, Dad."
Seeing my dad's name felt good. For years he'd gone by a legal alias to protect himself and my mom. Since coming to Southern California, my father had taken back his original name. My mom liked that-it was the name she'd always known him by.
"Hi. How're all my girls over there?"
"Over there" meant on this side of the two-story great room. The men's dressing area was in a bedroom on the other side. Twin curving marble staircases rose to this second level, with a balcony and gilded railing running all the way around, providing a downward view into the magnificent great room. For the ceremony the men would go down the set of stairs on their side and line up below. We women would use the staircase on our side.
"We're fine. Mom's getting nervous. And we're still waiting for your ring."
"No sweat, we've still got plenty of time."
That sounded like my dad-laid-back, hard to rattle.
"Hear the noise out there, Shaley? I've peeked out. People are gathering, wanting a show."
Friends had come from all over, and I knew there would be quite a few recognizable faces from the music industry. All had been asked not to tell anyone where the wedding was taking place.
I smiled. "Rayne never fails to give 'em a show."
"Don't I know it."
"The guys all ready?" Morrey, the drummer for Rayne, and Rich, the bass player, were Dad's two attendants. Morrey, Kim's boyfriend, was best man. Ross, Rayne's manager, was also in their room, as well as Stan, Rayne's lead guitarist. Ross and Stan would meet Mom at the bottom of the stairs, one on either side, and give her away.
"We're ready and bored," Dad said. "Let's just start now, get this thing over with."
"Dad!" I pulled the cell from my ear and gave Mom a look. "He says he wants to get this thing over with."
Mom cocked her head and raised an eyebrow. Brittany shot me an oh, good grief look.
"Hey." Dad's voice filtered through the phone. "I didn't mean it like that!"
I laughed. "Then you're just going to have to wait."
"Okay, okay. But I'm tired of pacing around. I'm about to call Wendell to bring up a deck of cards."
"Believe me, once you see Mom come down those stairs, it'll be worth the wait."
He made a sound in his throat. "I bet she's gorgeous."
"Double gorgeous. You're gonna fall over just seeing her."
"You're killing me! That's it, no more waiting. Let's do this thing now."
I rolled my eyes at Mom. "I'm hanging up on you, Dad."
My finger punched the end button. I set my cell phone back on the dresser.
"Hey, Shaley." Brittany pointed to the flowers in her hair. "You still have to put yours on."
"Oh, I forgot." I hurried to the table we'd set up along the wall. All of our bouquets lay upon it, resplendent in shades of coral and white. My hair accessory lay beside them. Each bridesmaid's hair piece was made of three rosebuds, one coral to match our dresses, and two white-a special symbol between Mom and Dad of their love.
"Want some help?" Brittany asked.
"No, I've got it."
As I fiddled with attaching the flowers to the right side of my swept-up hair, I could see Kim and Brittany in the mirror's reflection. "Might as well save our feet," Kim said. She and Brittany sat down on the oversized bed. "You want to sit, Rayne?"
Mom spread her hands. "In all this?"
"We'll help you. Take that big armchair."
Kim and Brittany moved to help Mom back up to the chair. They lifted her veil, lowering her slowly down to sit on the train without wrinkling it. The veil they draped over the back of the chair. Satisfied, they sank back down on the bed.
There. The flowers felt secure in my long brown hair. The beautiful rosebuds were the final touch. I surveyed myself in the mirror. My eyes, blue like Mom's, were clear now, and the makeup hadn't smeared. The dress, hitting just above my tanned knees and with a bow in back, fit great. I still had to put my matching coral heels on, but I'd do that last minute.
Nothing more for me to do. But I couldn't sit. Like my dad, I could only pace and check the clock.
Excitement pinged around inside me. And worry. Where was that ring?
My cell phone went off. I snatched it up and checked the ID. Frowned. "Who's this?" I read off the number.
"That's local," Mom said. "Maybe it's the ring."
I answered the call. "Hi, this is Shaley."
"This is Luke Walsh, security guard down at the gate. We just let Pogh Jewelers' van through with the ring. The guard up at the house will wave him around to the back."
"Oh, thanks!" I tossed my phone onto the bed and turned to Mom. "The ring's here!"
Relief showed on her face.
"Want me to go?" Brittany slid off the bed.
"No, it's okay. I'm getting that ring and then not letting it out of my sight." Still barefoot, I headed for the bedroom door. "Back in a flash."
Once in the hall I veered left, toward a back staircase that led down to a maid's quarters and the huge kitchen. I wound my way through the kitchen and the busy catering crew preparing for the reception. "You lost?" a woman asked me.
"Nope." I smiled. "Just picking up something."
Off the kitchen sat a pantry and a short hall leading to a back door, through which all party supplies were unloaded. Apparently Ed Schering threw a lot of parties.
I stepped outside to a sunny afternoon, the driveway pavement warm beneath my feet. At that moment a white van with Pogh Jewelers on the side appeared around the corner. It stopped about twenty feet away from me. At first I waited, thinking the driver would come a little closer. But when he opened the door, engine running, I went out to meet him.
"Hi. Thanks for coming." I half squinted at him, the sun in my eyes.
"No problem." The driver wore a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead. He dipped his chin in a nod but never raised his eyes to mine. I caught the merest glimpse of his face as he strode past me toward the rear of the van. "I got it back here."
A little ring box stuck in that big back area? Odd, but whatever. I just wanted to get it and go back inside. "Okay."
I followed him behind the van and stood back as he opened the double-wide doors. He glanced to the right, then left. I caught a quick look at his profile. He was ... maybe in his fifties? Low-hanging jowls and pudgy. His eyes were small, his lips full. Something about him looked familiar.
Have I seen this guy before?
Quickly, he leaned into the van and picked up something. Swung around.
He jumped toward me and hooked an arm around my neck.
His arm tightened.
I struggled. Opened my mouth to scream.
A large cloth smashed against my nose and lips. "You're mine now, Shaley." His words spit like fire.
No. No! I gasped in moist air and choked. Tried to hold my breath. My feet kicked, my arms swung.
The world wavered and dimmed.
Terror shot through me. My eyes opened wide. I fought with all my might. The man pressed the cloth harder against my face.
In a flash I saw the back of the van-empty. No ring box.
My muscles turned to water. I sank against the man's chest like an unstrung puppet.
Excerpted from Final Touch by BRANDILYN COLLINS AMBERLY COLLINS Copyright © 2010 by Brandilyn Collins. Excerpted by permission.
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