Read an Excerpt
Kissing the Maid of Honor
A Secret Wishes Novel
By Robin Bielman, Wendy Chen, Stacy Abrams
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Robin Bielman
All rights reserved.
Desperate times called for wishing wells. Lucky for Sela Sullivan, her hometown of Cascade, Oregon, had one. For the past forty years the people of Cascade swore that five times out of ten, the "guardian of the well" would grant the wish if the wisher paid a price.
Suggested offering? A quarter. Sela held four in her sweaty palm, hoping to improve her fifty-fifty chances.
She sat on the edge of the round table wishing well and looked out over the cliff at the blue-gray ocean. Procedure also indicated she wait until the sun's first dip behind the horizon. This plan of action came from her best friend, Vanessa, whose wish for the man of her dreams had come true not a month after dropping her own four tokens.
Sela's wish included a man — but an entirely different focus.
By the looks of the descending sun, she had five, maybe ten minutes to go over the wish in her head. The right wording was crucial. She'd held the same general desire in her heart for the last ten years, but this time things were different and called for a higher power. This time she'd be face-to-face with the man, and she couldn't ignore him no matter how much she wanted to.
"Wishes don't go stale, do they?" she said into the cool May air. Maybe she'd better come back every day for the next month, just in case. She'd head to the bank tomorrow for a few rolls of quarters.
And singlehandedly fund the town's Fall Fling if that's what it took. Everyone knew the coins in the fountain were collected by the city controller and used for the annual event.
She knocked her running shoes against the stone base and, letting out a deep breath, willed the view from the bluff to calm her overactive nerves. And it worked. Until her best friend's — and bride-to-be's — voice cut into the silence.
Vanessa Watters sighed like she'd just run five miles. "Man, I don't remember that hill being so big the last time I was up here." She bent at the waist and put her hands on her thighs. "You didn't drop the quarters, did you?"
"Not yet. And since when are you so out of shape?"
"Since between work and the wedding plans I haven't had any extra time to exercise." She waved her hand in the air. "I'm good now. How are you? You ready to do this?"
"So ready." Sela slid off the well, turned, and peered down into the opening. "Should I speak into it or across it or what?"
"It doesn't matter. What matters is that you believe. Your heart's got to be in it or it definitely won't work. Oh —" She put a hand on Sela's arm. "And make sure you drop the coins all at the same time. That's what I did."
"Eyes open or shut?"
Sela leaned against the jagged stone, stretched her right arm over the well's opening, and closed her eyes. A small gust of wind blew the strands of hair, which always escaped her ponytail, into her face, but she ignored their tickle. And she refused to believe the unsettled air currents meant anything negative. The wind was not trying to tell her to blow off this foolishness. The wishing well worked, dammit. It had worked for Vanessa, and it would work for her, too.
"I wish ... I wish for Luke Watters to keep his distance from me as much as possible and for our interactions to be kept to a minimum." She opened her hand and let the quarters fall through her fingers. Only after they clinked did she open her eyes.
Ten years ago she'd wished for her best friend's brother to fall off the face of the earth into a fiery pit of eternal pain. A totally appropriate wish for a fifteen-year-old girl with a ruined reputation — and a ruined heart. After that, once she'd gained a little time and maturity, she'd simply wished to never see him again. And except for a brief glimpse five years ago when he'd come home for his dad's fiftieth birthday party, her wish had been granted.
She waited for the ground to shake or the well's deity to issue some sort of echo up the well's chamber to let her know her wish had been accepted, but all she got was silence. She turned and looked at her best friend with raised eyebrows.
Vanessa squeezed her hand. "I'll try to help as much as I can."
That was the last thing Sela wanted. It was bad enough that Vanessa was present for her wish. "No you won't. This is my problem and you are going to enjoy every minute leading up to your wedding without worrying about me. As your maid of honor, I declare that an order."
Vanessa leaned against the well and zipped up her cream-colored down vest. Paired with her black leggings and shiny, long, blond hair, she could easily be on the pages of a sportswear catalog. "You know, my brother's probably forgotten all about that kiss. I really think you need to just move on."
Easier said than remotely accomplished. Sela couldn't wipe the humiliation from her memory even if she were brainwashed. "So you've said a hundred times. But you weren't there, Ness."
The Valentine's Day Kissing Booth flashed in her mind. How the green of the baseball field matched the green of Luke's eyes. The varsity players had a booth every year before the season started to raise money for the team. She'd waited until it was Luke's turn and then cut in line, giving the girl behind her a five-dollar bill to keep her happy.
"You were his best friend's little sister, See. And his little sister's best friend! Plus, Luke was a jockass who kissed a ton of girls that day. Trust me, yours was nothing special."
Some weird sound — a combination of an irritated huff and a nervous chuckle — came out of her mouth. "Gee, thanks. That makes me feel a whole lot better." She toed a rock with her scuffed shoe and sent it soaring over the cliff with a kick.
"You know what I mean." Vanessa bumped her shoulder. "My brother didn't mean to hurt you."
"But he did."
Even though she and Luke had argued and made fun of each other because he was the jock and she was the nerdy science girl, she'd still had a huge crush on him. It had started when she was nine and he was eleven and he'd tossed her his homerun baseball after a game. He'd hit homeruns before, and hit a ton after, but that didn't matter. It was the first time a boy had given her something. The first time he'd nodded at her like he really noticed her.
She'd never admit it, but she still had the ball tucked away in a drawer in her bedroom.
The day of the Kissing Booth, she'd forgotten all about how they mixed like oil and water. How they baited and ridiculed each other. She was secretly more in love with him than ever and was going to show him that she might be a sophomore, but she was just as mature as the senior girls he dated. She'd marched up to the booth, handed over her five bucks, and then wrapped her arms around his neck.
He'd smiled at her. His know-it-all smile that said he'd make sure her first kiss — damn him for knowing that — was one she'd never forget.
Everything around her had faded to nothing when she'd leaned in, pressed her lips to his, and poured her entire heart and soul into the kiss. She wasn't sure what to expect; she just wanted to prove she could kiss equal to, if not better than, anyone else. But wonderful sensations immediately bombarded her. Their mouths fit together perfectly. The gentle glide, the warmth of his touch ... she'd almost stopped breathing. Needed his air. So she'd coaxed his lips apart and let her tongue —
"Stop thinking about it," Vanessa said in her second-grade-teacher voice.
Sela sighed. "Fine. You're right. It's in the past." Only she still couldn't quite forgive him or get the scathing words he'd said aloud out of her head, always wondering throughout adulthood if the guy she was with thought her lips were as cold and mushy as a corpse's, too.
But worse, once Vanessa had heard what happened, she'd cornered Sela and demanded the truth: Did Sela really have a crush on her brother? Because Vanessa couldn't handle it if she did. Sela had said of course not and promised Vanessa she didn't have to worry, because she never wanted to see or talk to Luke again.
And she'd meant it at the time.
But now, sometimes, when she saw something about Luke in the media or his family talked about him, her heart would skip that familiar beat and she felt like a liar.
"Come on. I'll buy you a hot chocolate." Vanessa linked their arms.
Sela blinked away her memories, swallowed the bad taste in her mouth, and fell in step beside her best friend. "Okay. Besides, it's not like he'll be here more than a few days anyway. With his busy photography schedule and all."
Vanessa stayed unusually quiet.
"What's wrong?" Crap, she hadn't meant to say anything to hurt Vanessa's feelings. She really sucked as a maid of honor. Here she was thinking about herself and worried about something that happened forever ago when she should be focused on the biggest wedding in Cascade since Mr. and Mrs. Watters.
From this moment on, she swore she'd be the best maid of honor ever. The only thing on her mind? Vanessa.
And she'd start with the bachelorette party next weekend.
"He's here," Vanessa said.
Sela tripped over a rock and almost face planted. She steadied herself with a hand to Vanessa's arm and slowed their steps down the steep dirt trail. "What?"
"He got here this morning. He decided he wants to be around for all the pre-wedding festivities."
I repeat: Best maid of honor ever. Vanessa deserved nothing less. She was the sister Sela never had. Besides, festivities with the guys, not the girls, right? Although if she knew Luke, he'd dote on Vanessa to be sure everything was perfect for her.
He might have been gone for the past nine years, but growing up he'd always taken his big-brother role seriously. And according to Vanessa, he still called and talked to all three of his younger sisters regularly.
She plastered a happy smile on her face. She could be around Luke. She'd just keep her distance. "That's great. I know how much you guys have missed him," she finally said.
"There's one other thing. And it only just happened so I couldn't have told you any sooner."
A lump lodged in Sela's throat. Her friend's worrisome voice sounded worse than the drill at the dentist's office. "Do I need to grab another four quarters?"
"And all you've offered to buy me is a hot chocolate? Throw in a cookie dough cupcake from Crem's and you can tell me I have to walk down the aisle with Luke."
"You have to walk down the aisle with Luke."
Sela stumbled to a stop. She swallowed down the string of curse words begging to be set free and instead said, "Lucky him." Because in that instant, she decided the only way she'd get through this was to show Luke Watters that she hadn't given him a second thought.
Vanessa turned and put her hands on Sela's shoulders. "What's going on in that head of yours?"
"Nothing." Sela gave her a quick smile. "This is supposed to be one of the best times of your life and I'm sorry I was so caught up in my own stupid feelings. I'm fine with this. All that matters to me is making your day special."
"Thank you." Vanessa dropped her arms, tugged Sela back to her side, and they continued walking. "That means a lot to me. Hayden's best man isn't going to make it back from his tour in the Middle East after all, and so Luke is stepping in."
Maybe after a few strategic walks around her dog, Beckham, Luke would step in something else. Shit. She really hated that thoughts of Luke had her thinking like a rebuffed teenager again.
"What did Hayden finally decide? Cummerbunds or vests?" She loved that Vanessa was anything but a bridezilla — especially when it came to her adorable fiancé.
"Vests," Vanessa practically crooned. "He looks amazing."
A wave of happiness came over Sela as they reached their cars. Nothing was more important than love, and seeing Vanessa so enamored with Hayden gave her hope that one day she'd find her own soul mate.
"By the way," Vanessa continued. "I read your latest column. It was brilliant, as usual. I had no idea the scent of doughnuts turned a guy on."
She grinned. No one but Vanessa knew she was the woman behind the women, life & love column of Cascade's local newspaper. Her latest post, "How To Sniff Out If He's Marriage Material," had spurred a lot of discussion.
"Glazed doughnuts and cheese pizza can lead to lots of fun between the sheets," Sela said.
"You are so not good for my diet."
"Next week's has nothing to do with food." She unlocked her car and purposely kept the topic to herself. She knew it drove Vanessa crazy.
Vanessa cocked her head as if she were waiting for more. "Fine. Don't even give me a hint."
"That is a hint."
Vanessa pfftted. "You amaze me, you know that? Long shifts at the hospital, then hours in front of your computer."
"Thanks." A surge of pride welled inside her. She loved working as an RN but was passionate about writing, too. Hours spent researching and coming up with fun topics to help the single women of Cascade know they weren't alone in their pursuit of happily ever after were the highlight of her busy weeks. Her fan base was growing, and with it she hoped the notice of a larger, more influential news source or magazine. More than anything, she wanted her anonymous gig to get picked up by a national publication.
"Oh, and Ness?" She leaned out the driver's side window. "Thanks for coming all the way up here. I know I've put you in sort of a weird position."
"Everything is going to be okay." Vanessa paused at her open car door. "You'll see. My brother does like you, you know."
"What's not to like?" she tossed back. Besides her kisses, that is.
Her chest constricted like it always did when the shocked look on Luke's face flashed through her mind. Her most embarrassing moment had been very public and she still had a hard time reconciling that. Even though she'd kissed plenty of guys since, and the boyfriends she'd had would never complain, a part of her still worried about being humiliated all over again.
But she'd get through this. She'd keep herself busy with maid of honor stuff, enjoy the wedding day, and then Luke would leave town and she'd forget all about him.
For good this time.
* * *
Luke Watters let the icy-cold ocean wash over his feet. He could stand in the soft, wet sand for hours watching the placid tide roll in and out. The question was whether or not he'd ever get back in the water.
The question pissed him off.
One accident, and fear had taken up residence inside his head. He'd always lived on the edge, starting in high school with mountain biking and hang gliding; nothing gave him a bigger rush than outdoor sports with a hint of danger. He'd taken that passion with him to Princeton, joined the rowing team, but jumped at every other chance to participate in outdoor adventures.
When it came time to pick a career, he followed his other passion — photography. Combining the two was a no-brainer, and now his photos glossed the pages of national magazines, newspapers, blogs, and books. His closest friends were pro surfers, skiers, mountain climbers. He traveled the world, dated women with the same fearless mentality. His life was exactly what he wanted.
Until six weeks ago.
He stepped forward and took a slow, deep breath, letting the salty air fill his lungs. The beach stretched abandoned on either side of him. Alone, and still he felt like a chickenshit.
Six weeks ago he was in Tibet on an expedition with a pro kayaker shooting pictures of him negotiating some of the roughest river rapids in the world. Luke needed an overhead shot, so they'd constructed a makeshift bridge over one of the largest rapids. The bridge hadn't held and Luke crashed into the water.
The river had ravaged his body and tossed his six-foot frame around like he weighed nothing. Thanks to the numerous boulders in the water, he'd suffered three broken ribs, a punctured lung, deep cuts to his torso and thighs, and a concussion. It was a miracle his travel companions had pulled him out alive.
"There you are!"
He turned to see his sister Vanessa trudging through the sand, her eyes narrowed on him.
"Mom sent me to make sure you're okay," she added. "It's time for brunch."
Excerpted from Kissing the Maid of Honor by Robin Bielman, Wendy Chen, Stacy Abrams. Copyright © 2013 Robin Bielman. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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