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Coming awake, Emily Garner rolled her head to the side, her cheek finding a cool spot on the scratchy material of her pillowcase? Pillowcases weren't scratchy.
She wiggled her toes, encountering rigid confines. Sheets didn't usually confine her feet, either. Inhaling a breath, she realized she was still wearing that torturous strapless bra she'd borrowed from Izzy. The one with the underwire that made her lungs feel like an asthma attack in the offing.
Hmm. So she was still completely dressed. And, she realized, lying on top of a bed instead of in one.
Meaning last night she must havelast night!
Her heart jolted as last nightand what she'd done during its dark hoursflooded her brain. Eyes flying open, she jerked upright on the bed.
The blackout curtains covering the hotel windows gave the room a murky gloom. Sunshine peeked around the edges, confirming it had been hours and not mere minutes since she'd sat down on the bed after
The bathroom door swung open. Emily's heart jumped again as a dark figure loomed in the doorway, backlit by golden light and the curling steam from the shower, like the headline singer in the Vegas show they'd seen last night before she'd before they'd
"Will?" she whispered, her voice a croak. One hand pressed the bodice of her dress to her chest, while the other yanked at the hem of the spangly garment, another item from Izzy's wardrobe. "Is that is that ?"
"It's your best friend." The husky voice of Isabella CavelettiIzzysealed the identification as she stepped over the threshold.
Emily felt only slight relief. "It was all a dream, then?" she asked,voicing her foolish, foolish hope.
"Nope," Izzy said, walking between the beds. "It happened. And after we married the men, it appears we passed out on our new husbands."
New husbands. Emily mouthed the words as Izzy threw back the curtains. The sun caught her full in the face and she slammed her hands over her eyes with a whimper. "What were we thinking?"
Behind the shield of her fingers she could sense Izzy moving around the room. "We were thinking it seemed like a good idea at the time," her friend answered.
Emily swallowed her next childish whimper, because, good God, she was no child. She was thirty.
But that had started it all, right? She and Izzy celebrating her step into the decade of the big 3-0 during an annual librarians meeting held every September. After two days amongst other bibliophiles who seemed as dusty and as boring as an outdated set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Emily had agreed with her former college roomie and best friend that it was time for her to stop being the stereotype and start living a little.
And then two afternoons ago she'd bumped into Will Dailey, both on their way to the celebrated wave pool at the Jeweled Jungle Hotel & Casino. They'd never made it therethe chance meeting of an old friend was apparently enough turbulence for them both.
It certainly had set her world on end.
She dropped her hands and squinted at Izzy, who was frowning over her cell phone. "Oh, God, Iz. I didn't think we had all that much to drink."
Izzy shrugged. "We had enough. And that was on top of four nights of no sleep, two because we stayed up so late catching up, and the next two because we found ourselves wined and dined by men who each rate their own month in a firefighters' charity calendar. I think we can justly claim that last night we were under the influence."
Under the influence of what, exactly? In Emily's case, sentimentality was part of the mix. Will was a childhood friend, the summer boy she'd loved from twelve to seventeen. And then there was that "live a little" promise she'd made to Izzy, not to mention the normal nerves a woman might feel on the brink of starting a new jobin the same county where Will lived. She'd been made giddy by all of it.
"Does this bring back memories?" Moving closer, Izzy held up her cell phone. On the screen was a photo of Emily and Will. They were laughing for the camera, squeezing each other tight. She looked exuberant, and he looked
All grown up. Ruggedly handsome, with broad shoulders and chest, not to mention strong arms that had held her so close she knew the delicious smell of the skin at his throat. She sighed, and looked back at her own image. "I'd forgotten the veil."
"Remember? We rented them. But the wedding ring is yours to keep."
Emily's gaze dropped to her left hand. And at the sight of that shiny circle, she relived the whole evening all over again. The fun they were having, the crazy idea of honoring the old promise they'd made as kids to wed if they were unmarried at 30, the way that Izzy and Will's best friend, Owen, had leaped at the chance to be their attendants and then the impulsive, dizzying decision the other two had made to marry themselves. The truth was, the couples had both egged each other into the idea.
When they had returned from the chapel, the women had wanted to dash upstairs to their shared room to freshen up, still running on a combination of alcohol, adrenaline and impetuosity. The guys oh, God, their husbandshad said they'd wait for them at a table in the bar. "I was only going to sit down on the bed for a minute," Emily told Izzy.
Her friend nodded, flipping her phone closed. "Me, too. I couldn't find my lipstick, and I thought if I closed my eyes, I'd remember where I put it."
Emily now squeezed hers tight. "Okay, okay. We're in a bit of a jam, but Lordy, Iz, there's no one I'd rather be in a jam with than you."
"This isn't like appeasing the sorority's housemother after we forgot it was our turn to man the reception desk."
Izzy was moving around the room again, but Emily had a teensy little headache, so she lay back on the mattress to think while she studied the inside of her eyelids. "But hey," she said. "The good news is that we always wanted to be the maid of honor at each other's wedding."
"We didn't think that through either," Izzy called from the bathroom. "How could we both be the maids of honor? You went first last night, so I was the maid of honor at yours, but you were the matron of honor at mine."
Matron. Matron? A married woman? That didn't feel real. And married to Will well, the idea was the stuff of teenage dreams. When she'd seen the opening for the position in California's Ponderosa county, it had caught her attention because Will's hometown of Paxton was there. But when she'd applied for and later accepted the job, she'd never seriously thought of seeing him again. Not seriously. He'd dropped out of her life at seventeen, the last time they'd been together at summer camp in the Sierras.
Her thumb worried the gold circling her left ring finger. Besides that he was a firefighter, she still knew little of his life in the last thirteen years. But they'd had plenty of time to enjoy each other's company in the past two days. People watching at the hotel's pools, walking the Strip after dark, whooping it up with Izzy and Owen on more than one dance floor, though never stopping by the slot machines or the game tables. It hadn't seemed like they needed anything but each other to feel lucky.
But what were they going to do now? It was a true tangle, not only because she and Izzy had stood up the mentheir husbandsthe night before, but because Emily was well aware this wasn't some child's joke or college prank but an adult issue that the four of them were going to have to face head-on. Surely the men were having the same kind of cold-light-of-day second thoughts.
Will and Owen were both Paxton firefighters and Emily was moving to a town nearby, but Izzy consulted with libraries all over the country. Her stuff was scattered amongst friends from California to Connecticut, and Emily wasn't even sure she paid rent anywhere in between. It was hard to imagine Izzy settling in one place, let alone settling down
But worrying about what Izzy was going to do was just an excuse not to think about her own life and what she had to face.
Thank God Izzy wouldn't let her get away with that. "I love you, Iz. I'm so glad you're here with me now."
Emily opened her eyes to look at her friend, who was standing beside the other bed, her suitcase stuffed full and zipped tight. Guilt was written all over Izzy's pretty, olive-skinned face and her brown eyes slid away from Emily's.
She jerked up again, now struck by the reason her friend had been so purposefully moving about the room and bath that they'd been sharing. "Isabella Caveletti, what are you doing?"
Izzy, chic as always, had on a sleeveless, black linen pantsuit and low heels with sharp toes spiky enough to serve as Cupid's arrows. "II have a flight out. You know that. I'm expected in Massachusetts tomorrow morning. The town of Lawton needs my help."
" I need your help. We all need help. For God's sake, we got married last night!"
"I can't deal with that right now," Izzy said, her face flushing. "I have a job to do, and and "
"What's Owen going to think? What's he supposed to do?" What am I going to do? Emily wanted to cry, but she was afraid if she finally released those words she'd fall completely to pieces.
"Owen will figure things out. You can give him my cell number or, on second thought, don't. Tell him I'll call him. Soon. After this job is wrapped up. Or the next one."
Emily stared at her friend. She'd never seen Izzy flustered or panicked, not even when she'd attracted an outraged mob of librarians at the conference this week, the vocal group incensed by the sight of her prominent lapel button: "Dewey" with a red slash through it. Librarians clung to their decimal system tighter than a miser to cold, hard cash.
Speaking of hands were Izzy's shaking?
Emily stood up from the bed and crossed to her friend. "Iz " She rubbed the other woman's upper arm. "What's the matter?"
The brunette let out a trembling laugh. "Besides the obvious? That we got married last night? Do you do you think there's a chance we can get the marriages annulled?"
Emily sighed. "I suppose. It's not like we, well, it's not like we had sex with them."
Izzy's shoulders slumped. "Right."
"What?" Emily narrowed her eyes. "Izzy "
"Gotta go." In a flurry of movement, the other woman hugged Emily, snatched up her bags, and ran for the door. "Talk to you soon!"
"Izzy!" But Emily was left in the room with only the closed door and the framed notice that she had an 11:00 a.m. checkout time.
And the realization that she was all alone. Again.
The idea struck her hard.
All alone, like she'd been for the past eight months, since her mom, her only relative in the world, had passed away.
But instead of allowing the loneliness to well inside her, she focused her thoughts on the problem at hand. What was she going to do now?
The only answer that occurred to her was to follow Izzy's lead. But she couldn't do that, could she? She couldn't sneak out of the hotel, sneak out of Las Vegas, sneak out of Nevada.
Gathering together her resolve, she reached for the hotel phone. She didn't have Will's cell number, but the hotel could connect her to his room.
He didn't pick up.
And he didn't pick up ten minutes later either, after she'd packed her bags.
All right, she bargained with herself. She'd try once more, and if she got no answer she'd leave a message. She practiced it out loud to get it right: "Will, Em here. Hey, I had to head out. Let's catch up in Paxton to sort through things."
Her tone was bright. Perky even. Not a word reflected the turmoil she felt inside or the relief that she could postpone their inevitable showdown.
After leaving the message and hanging up the phone, she did as she'd wanted to all along. She did what Izzy had done and hightailed it out of town. Making a convenient leap of logic, Emily told herself that the car trip to California, in the company of all the belongings she was bringing to her new job, was the best way to figure out how to handle the fact that she was now married.
And to figure out why she'd gotten herself into such a mess in the first place.