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Discretion was not Ainsley Danville's strong suit.
Which was why she was standing at the back of the Newport Presbyterian Church—the second of three bridesmaids who were all wearing silky poufs of lavender organza—and waiting for the wedding coordinator to cue her entrance. Ahead of her, a bower of roses lined the doorway like a dowager's perfume, thick and thorny with fragrance. Pachelbel's "Canon in D" gushed from the pipe organ in a waterfall of chords, beckoning the bridesmaids forward and down the aisle. The flames of a hundred candles lent an eerie glow to the dark interior of the old church, lighting a sure path to disaster.
Ainsley clenched the nosegay of pink rosebuds in her hands and watched as her elder sister, Miranda, the first bridesmaid, started down the aisle. Ainsley craned her neck to catch a glimpse of the groom. If he had any sense, he'd be halfway to Canada by now. But no. There he was, her cousin scott, looking slightly less geeky than usual, so hopeful and eager to see Molly, his bride, it was heartrending. He was about to make a terrible mistake. Ainsley knew it in the depths of her matchmaker's soul. And it was her fault.
She had wanted to be a matchmaker for as long as she could remember. Well, actually, she'd started out wanting to be everyone's fairy godmother. While other little girls dreamed of being Cinderella, Ainsley had practiced waving her sparkly plastic wand and sending the transformed ella off to the ball, where she would meet the man of her dreams a prince who would fall madly, instantly in love because he'd been cunningly placed in her path by her wise fairy godmother. That was the way happily ever afters really happened.
Ainsley had suspected it for years, long before she began reading everything—non-fiction, fiction, biographies, cultural histories—anything with even a slight relevance to the art of courtship and marriages. She'd weathered her family's teasing and a lot of snickering from friends. But a matchmaker is what she wanted to be and, as if her own fairy godmother had arranged it, she had discovered a mentor in Ilsa Fairchild of IF Enterprises, an elite, very selective matchmaking service located in Providence. Just a hop, skip and jump from Newport. Ainsley had invested her considerable energy into lobbying for a position at IF, and to everyone's amazement—even a little to her own surprise—Ilsa had taken her on as an apprentice.
Ainsley couldn't have been more excited. Or more enthusiastic. Finally, she was going to have a career of her own. Finally, she was going to be a bona fide matchmaker. Finally, her overprotective brothers and sister would have to stop treating her like a baby and admit she was capable of so much more than being "cute." The position with IF Enterprises was perfect in every way and it suited her to a tee.
Except for her ongoing struggle to keep a lid on her enthusiasm.
If only she'd been discreet and told people her job was in personal relations, as Ilsa had advised her to do. If only she hadn't informed the family, bragged, in fact, that she'd taken an apprenticeship with the most exclusive matchmaker in New England. If only she'd kept her mouth shut about IF Enterprises and her dream-come-true job, then she wouldn't be standing at the back of a church right now watching her cousin prepare to marry the wrong woman.
"Ainsley ?" The wedding coordinator—a largish woman in a purple smock—hissed at her to get her attention. "You're next. Remember left foot first. Count your steps just as we practiced."
But Ainsley had no recollection of last night's rehearsal. She'd been too busy trying to think of some way to sabotage the wedding and stop the marriage from taking place. Obviously, no good plan had occurred to her because here she was, about to imitate the rhythmic steps that had taken Miranda three-quarters of the way to the altar already.
Miranda had paid attention last night.
Miranda always paid attention.
Miranda did everything to perfection. If she'd wanted to stop this wedding, none of them would be here now.
"Ainsley!" The coordinator hissed at her again, propelling her under the rose bower with a firm hand on the back of the organza bustle. Ainsley nearly stumbled, but caught herself and took the first fateful step—with her right foot. "Left foot!" The coordinator's whispered reminder had her switching rhythm in midstride and coming even closer to losing her balance. If she'd thought that falling flat on her face would do anything more than merely delay the bride's entrance, she'd go sprawling here and now. She looked back over her shoulder and saw Molly, in her bridal white, hovering in the bride's room doorway, looking excruciatingly nervous, but committed.
So the marriage was going to take place, despite Ainsley's misgivings. She'd done all she could, had said as much as she dared, had hinted at her doubts—as a professional and a loving cousin—to both Scott and Molly with no results. She hadn't confessed her part in the matchmaking, but she had tried to explain her concern to her siblings. As the three of them typically did, they'd discounted her qualms and assured her there was nothing to worry about. Scott and Molly were perfect for each other. Two peas in a pod. Two nuts in a shell. Two bugs in a bottle.
Which, of course, was the problem.
There was nothing for it now, but to hope they would have a brighter future than she could imagine for them. So as the music swelled around her, Ainsley put a smile on her face and did her own version of the bridesmaid's shuffle—step-pause, step-pause—letting her hips sway just a little under the yards of shimmering lavender organza.
Miranda, who looked stunning as always, had reached the front and was making her final turn. Eldest brother, Matt, was standing tall and straight next to Scott. He smiled encouragingly at Ainsley as she reached the midway point. Andrew, Ainsley's twin, stood next to Matt, looking handsome, but uncomfortable in his tuxedo. He winked at her and her heart sank all over again. Even Andrew didn't understand why this match was so wrong or why she was so worried about it.
But no one would listen to her and now it was too late. It had been too late from the minute she'd set up that first, disastrous introduction of possibilities for Scott. Or more probably, it had been too late from the moment she'd confided excitedly to him that she was working for IF Enterprises and he'd asked her, begged her, to set up a match for him.
And she had.
Despite Ilsa's cautioning her from the start that she needed to learn some basic tenets of matchmaking before taking on any clients. Despite knowing on one level or another that she was acting on impulse as much as intuition. She'd been certain, though, that she knew the right woman for Scott. Bubbly, extroverted and warm, Shelby would have been the perfect foil for Scott's shy, introverted and intellectual self. Ainsley had been positive that once the two met, the result would be an instantaneous attraction and a match truly made in heaven.
And she hadn't necessarily been wrong. Just unfortunate in where she'd set up that initial meeting. A bit unlucky with the timing, and tardy in stepping forward to rectify the mistake. Scott wound up at the wrong table in the restaurant and, within an hour, was head over heels in love with a quiet mouse of a woman named Molly instead of meeting Shelby as Ainsley had intended.
Two unbelievably short months later, here they were, Scott and Molly, about to be married.
Two-thirds of the way down the aisle, Ainsley realized how few guests had actually shown up to witness the ceremony. Of course, there'd never been any question of the wedding being anything other than small. Molly didn't have family, except for her ancient Aunt Beatrice, who was too elderly to travel but who'd sent the couple an enormous soup tureen shaped like a swan. Even Miranda had wondered aloud what use Molly and Scott would have for a soup tureen, since neither of them had any friends. Well, at least, not any close friends, which was why the bridal party consisted of Scott's four cousins and his two younger sisters.
Another reason this match was all wrong, Ainsley decided as she reached the front and made her final turn, was that the bridal party was out of balance. There was one more bridesmaid than groomsmen. Miranda had tried to fix the problem because she disliked odd numbers, but Scott's father—who wasn't that happy about the wedding to begin with—had declared quite firmly that he wasn't paying for some stranger's tuxedo just to even out the bridal party. Scott had said he didn't care, and Molly had agreed because she and Scott agreed about everything.
Which was the main reason this marriage was a bad idea.
Two people shouldn't expect to be everything to each other. But Molly and Scott seemed to believe it was possible and perfect. Neither of them possessed much in the way of social graces, so there was little hope either of them would expand the social circle of the other. They were both shy. Both inhibited and unassertive. Between them, they possessed barely an ounce of backbone.
Scott and Molly had too much in common. Ainsley could see that very clearly. While she wouldn't go so far as to predict that happiness was an impossibility for them, she could not believe it was very likely, either. They'd grow bored with each other, stifled in the narrowness of their lives.
Ainsley was only an apprentice matchmaker, but she knew there was a reason opposites attract. She understood that familiarity could, and often did, breed contempt. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this marriage wouldn't set the world on fire or, more important, either one of its counterparts. But no one other than Ainsley seemed concerned.
Then again, she was the only one who knew what a mismatch she'd inadvertently put together. She was the only one who felt guilty for bringing about this ill-fated romance.
Emily, the older of Scott's two sisters and still young enough to consider her curly red hair a curse, looked worried as she reached the end of the aisle. "Molly tore her dress," she said to Ainsley in a whispered aside as she stepped into the maid of honor's place. "She stepped on her train."
A bad sign.