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Manhunting In Mississippi
By Stephanie Bond
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAlways a bridesmaid ... and always broke. Fighting the phone cord, Piper Shepherd glanced in the mirror at the yellow satin dress she held draped over her torso. With her cropped, dark hair, the ruffled netting around the shoulders made her look like a molting bird in a nest, but it would do. "Personally, Justine, I think lemon yellow would be stunning for an August wedding."
Her friend sighed at the other end of the phone, obviously unconvinced. "Mother says yellow won't stand out in the outdoor photos. Besides, didn't Barb have yellow for her bridesmaids' dresses?"
Piper winced. "Did she?" She tossed the dress on her bed, then withdrew a long, off-the-shoulder lavender gown from the closet and held it under her chin. A sloshed usher had ripped off a ribbon rosette during someone's reception, but the dress was serviceable. "How about lilac?"
"Hmm," Justine mused, tapping her fingernail against the phone. "Nah, I don't think it would complement Stewart's carrottop. Besides, didn't Sarah use lilac?"
Piper frowned. "Did she?" She tossed the dress on top of the other one and withdrew an emerald organza mini with a sequined cape. "Green would look great next to Stew's red hair - maybe something short and snazzy to catch the sunlight?"
"I don't think so," Justine said slowly. "Green makes me look sallow. Besides, didn't Joann use green?"
A low throbbing started in Piper's temple. "Did she?" She discarded the dress, then pivoted back to her closet and flipped through the hangers. "Mauve?"
"Hmm, wasn't that your mom's color?" Piper grunted. "For which wedding?" "To Roger, I think."
Biting back a disrespectful remark, Piper forced her fingers to travel on. "Ruby? Teal? Metallic gold?"
"Jan, Tina and Jennifer."
Piper jammed her hand through her short hair.
"My God, Justine, how on earth do you remember who used which color in what wedding?"
"I just do," Justine said, and Piper could picture her friend's thin shoulders shrugging. "But then I've always loved weddings - unlike you, Piper. If you'd spent less time moaning about the high heels and more time checking out the groomsmen, you'd be getting married, too. Out of twenty-three of us, you're the last one, you know."
Piper frowned. "Not true - Tillie is still single." Not that being in the same company as their chubby, hypochondriac sorority sister was anything to boast about.
"Uh-uh, she got engaged three weeks ago - haven't you heard?"
Piper yanked down the phone cord, unaware she had managed to wind it around her neck. "Who to?" she croaked, then unwound herself with an impatient twist.
"She spent so much time at the clinic, she managed to snare a doctor - her diamond is a freaking boulder."
For an instant, Piper experienced a pang of panic. Even allergic, insomniac, headachy, PMS-ing Tillie had snagged a man - and a rich one, to boot. She sighed and glanced at her watch. She'd promised her grandmother she'd be over to help box up some things for her upcoming move.
"Piper, are you there, or is your life passing before your eyes?"
"I'm here," she snapped. "And thirty-one doesn't exactly make me eligible for a discount at the bingo parlor."
Justine sighed dramatically. "People are beginning to talk, Piper. You would tell me, wouldn't you, if you were, um ... you know."
"I don't know what the heck you're talking about."
"You know - gay."
Piper dropped the phone, then chased it across the floor as the spiral cord contracted to pull it home. "No, I'm not gay!" she yelled as she dived on the handset, juggled it and finally wrestled it to her ear. "How could you even think such a thing?" she barked into the phone.
Her friend tapped her fingers against the receiver again. "Piper, I can't remember you ever having a lasting relationship with a man. A few dates, yeah, but were you ever serious about anyone?"
Piper pursed her lips and fidgeted with the cord. "I guess I'm picky."
"I'm telling you, Piper, you'd better start hunting for a man before all the good ones are gone."
"Justine, you're two hundred miles away in Tupelo where the men are plentiful and passable. I'm in Mudville - when you visited, did you happen to see anyone who would put me in the manhunting mood?"
"You've got a point." Her friend hummed in sympathy. "You really should move to the city - any city."
"Except Blythe Industries can't find cheap labor to run their plant in the city."
Justine scoffed. "Oh, and no other company in all of Mississippi could use a food scientist?"
Piper pursed her lips. "Maybe - but then I'd be farther away from Gran, and you've got to admit, I have a terrific job."
"True - most women wouldn't have to be paid to design desserts."
"Well, it's not all fudge sauce and whipped cream, Justine. It's harder than it sounds."
"Yeah, yeah ... bottom line, Piper, you can't let your career or your family get in the way of finding your soulmate, your dream man - your hero."
Excerpted from Manhunting In Mississippi by Stephanie Bond Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.