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Glen Loch, NY
An affair to remember.
That had been the guarantee that Adair MacPherson had given to Rexie Maitland and her parents when they'd signed the contract to hold their daughter's wedding and reception at Castle MacPherson.
And she intended to deliver. She had to. There were already two big X marks in the failure column of her life. She didn't need a third one.
Adair pressed a firm hand to the nerves jittering in her stomach. The first step on her way to her goal, the wedding rehearsal scheduled for today, had gotten off to a rocky start. The high-strung bride had gone into a panic attack when the groom-to-be hadn't arrived on time. But Adair's aunt and business partner, Viola MacPherson, had warded off a full meltdown with a cup of herb tea. And the tardy Lawrence Banes, a suave, sort of George Cloo-ney lookalike with a good fifteen years on the bride, had finally arrived, full of apologies.
Pulling off the Maitland/Banes wedding on Saturday was crucial to the launch of her new business plan, one that would establish the reputation of Castle MacPherson as a premier wedding destination in the heart of New York's Adirondacks. Adair swept her gaze around the garden.
The setting was perfect. The gray stone castle she and her sisters had grown up in stood on a rocky promontory at the far eastern end of Glen Loch Lake. Three stories high and rectangular in shape, it sat tucked between two mountains, boasted spectacular views, and its gardens, thanks to her Aunt Vi, had graced the pages of several gardening magazines.
The Maitland/Banes wedding would take place beneath the stone arch her several-times-great-grandfather Angus One had built for the stolen bride he'd brought here from Scotland. Now the tardy Mr. Banes was standing beneath it flanked by the minister and his best man. The maid of honor and the flower girl had lined up just behind the arbor that marked the entrance to the gardens. The mother of the bride, Bunny Maitland, had taken her seat in the first row of chairs, and just in front of the stone arch, Aunt Vi sat, her bow poised over her cello, ready to play on signal.
Everything was perfect, except that the bride-to-be was holding Adair's hand in a death grip.
"I don't know if I can do this," Rexie whispered.
Ignoring her plummeting stomach, Adair took a deep breath and spoke in her calmest voice. "This is only a rehearsal. You have to save those nerves for Saturday."
"I know." Rexie, a pretty twenty-two-year-old blonde and heir to the Maitland fortune, smiled tremulously. "I can't seem to help it. I need to know that I'm doing the right thing. I have to know that the legend will work."
"It will." The power of the legend and the stones was the one thing in her life that she still had absolute faith in. She might be a bit shaky on her ability to keep this wedding on track, but she had no doubt that the stone arch her ancestor Angus One had built for Eleanor Campbell MacPherson had the power to bring true loves together.
This was the young woman's second go at matrimony. A little over a year ago, her first husband had left her to return to his family's horse farm in Montana. Then Rexie had met Lawrence and six months ago, after reading an article on the history of the MacPhersons and the legend in the New York Times, she'd contacted Viola to ask about scheduling her ceremony and reception at the castle because she wanted a guarantee of success this time around.
The Times article had created quite a buzz because it had dug up all the rumors that had circulated over the years about the missing sapphires that Eleanor MacPherson had worn in her wedding portrait. The writer had even reprinted an image of Mary Stuart wearing a similar necklace and earrings at her coronation and posed the theory that Eleanor's dowry of jewels had been given to her by the Queen of Scots.
Adair could have kissed the Times writer for stirring everything up and giving her the idea for a new business plan.
She took Rexie's other hand in hers. "You are not going to fail this time."
That was the mantra Adair recited to herself each morning. Not that she'd ever failed at marriageshe hadn't had the chance. Six months ago she'd come home to Aunt Vi and the castle to lick her wounds, and they were still fresh. The five-year plan she'd so carefully crafted when she'd finished her MBA had gone south. One day she'd been on the fast track, and the next, the company she'd worked for had downsized and derailed her. Her pink slip had been quickly followed by an email from her boyfriend, Baxter DuBois, terminating their personal relationship, as well.
That's when she'd moved back to the castle. Now with her aunt's help and the power of Angus One's stone arch, she was determined to turn her family home into the wedding destination spot in upstate New York.
And the success of Rexie's wedding was key. Mr. and Mrs. Winston Maitland III resided on Long Island but also owned homes in Boca Raton, Florida, and Vail, Colorado. They had the kind of social contacts that could make the reputation of Castle MacPherson.
Or break it.
"I've seen proof of the stones' power in my own father's life," Adair said. "He's kissed two women beneath the stone arch, and if he were here, he'd tell you it was the stones that gave him two chances of finding his true loves. He considers himself a very fortunate man."
Adair held back a little on the details. Her father had taken the loss of her mother so hard that even after he fell in love with Professor Beth Sutherland, it had been a dozen years before he married her. But seven years ago she and her sisters, along with Beth's three triplet sons, had stood beneath the arch while her father, A.D., and Beth had exchanged vows.
"And your father's happy?" Rexie asked.
"Yes. There's real power in the stones. When we were growing up, my sisters and I believed in it so much that we used to write down our dreams and goals and bury them in a metal box beneath some of the loose stones. It was my mother's old jewelry box so it had three different compartments and we all used different colors of paper."
She'd nearly forgotten about that box, Adair realized. On the night of her father's wedding, she'd even written down a particularly erotic fantasy involving Cam Sutherland and buried that, too. She hadn't thought of it in years. And she hadn't seen Cam or his brothers since the wedding. They'd been finishing college that year and each had been focused on career plans that kept them very busy. Last she'd heard, Cam was working overseas for the CIA. For an instant his image flashed brightly into her mind and she could see him just as he'd looked that daythe dark, unruly hair, the blue eyes that had always held a dare.
And Cam Sutherland was the last thing she needed to be thinking about right now. If she didn't get this wedding rehearsal on track, an "affair to remember" was going to take on a whole new, horrible meaning.
She focused on the hint of panic in Rexie's eyes. And a solution suddenly occurred to her. "Look, why don't we tap into the power of the legend right now?"
"This is just a rehearsal and you won't actually say your vows, but why don't you kiss Lawrence? If you do that today while you're beneath the stone arch, then you should be all set. In the legend, it's the kiss that does the trick."
"Really?" Rexie shifted her gaze to where her groom-to-be waited. He was on his cell phone.
"It's guaranteed," Adair assured her. "Why don't we start? Everyone is in place."
"Except for my father," Rexie said, her lip trembling. "He's taking another call on his cell."
"Mr. Maitland?" Adair spoke in a low tone, but she kept Rexie's hand firmly gripped in hers.
The bride-to-be's father held up one finger, but he never stopped talking into his phone. Winston Maitland, a tall stocky man with thinning gray hair, had pretty much had his cell glued to his ear since he'd arrived. So had the groom-to-be for that matter. The jerks. Adair wanted to shake both of them.
That was when she heard it. Just the whisper of thunder. Damn. Keeping Rexie's hand in a death grip, she angled her head just enough to catch sight of a cluster of dark clouds at the far end of the lake.
A quick glance around told her that so far she was the only one who'd noticed. The sky overhead was bright blue, the garden bathed in sunlight. She sent up a quick prayer that the storm would stay put.
Alba, the white whippet mix her aunt Vi had recently brought home from a shelter, rose from where she'd plopped herself a few feet away on a patch of sun-drenched grass. She shot a look out over the lake, and whined. Adair followed the direction of the dog's gaze and so did Rexie. The clouds were rolling closer.
"Look. It's going to rain," Rexie said. "That's not a good sign. Maybe we should postpone this."
Adair tightened her grip on Rexie's hand. "No. It's still quite a ways off. We just have to get started."
Alba whined again, then made a beeline in the direction of the castle, the bell around her neck emphasizing her departure.
Not a good sign.
Though Alba was deaf, her other senses were spot-on, and Adair was willing to bet she could sense the approaching storm. So could the mother of the bride, Bunny Maitland, who sent her a worried look.
Adair tried for a serene smile. The clouds were still a good distance away, she assured herself. Time enough to panic once the lightning started. She waved to get her aunt's attention.
Viola MacPherson had moved to the castle after Adair's mom, Marianne, had died. She'd been four, her sisters three and one. Their father had buried himself in his painting, so it was their aunt who'd raised them. She'd given up her job at the nearby college and devoted her life to creating a home for them while providing a haven where their father could continue with his landscape painting.
Now in her late fifties, Viola looked and projected the energy of a much younger woman. Adair had inherited her aunt's tiny stature as well as the curse of naturally curly red hair. Viola's cascade of ringlets was gray now, and she managed them by pulling them back from her face. She favored long skirts or wide-leg pants and tunics that went with her gypsy look.
At a signal from Adair, Vi began to play Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."
Thunder sounded faintly in the distance.
Refusing to look out over the lake again, Adair directed the flower girl to start down the short path that led from the rose garden to the stone arch. When the little girl was halfway there, Adair gestured to the maid of honor.
"Daddy's still on his phone," Rexie whispered.
"Mr. Maitland." Adair spoke in a low tone.
Frowning at Adair, the man stuffed his cell in a pocket and moved to his daughter's side. "That was an important call."
Adair smiled at him. "And this is a very important moment for your daughter. Go."
Thunder rumbledcloser this time.
Rexie and her father were halfway to the minister when the dark clouds settled like a lid over the garden with such speed and finality she wondered they hadn't heard a loud clang.
Lightning flashed behind her just as Rexie and her dad made it to the shelter of the stone arch. Adair hurried up the path, grabbing Bunny's arm on the way. Together they power-walked to join the rest of the wedding party.
Cello in hand, Aunt Vi was the last to make it before the next crack of thunder sounded. Then for a moment, no one spoke as they huddled shoulder to shoulder and watched nature put on a powerful show. Lightning crisscrossed the sky at times so bright Adair found herself blinking. The intermittent explosions of thunder made her wonder if this was what it might be like to be trapped in a bunker during an attack.
And her mind flashed back to the night of her father's wedding. There'd been a storm like this that night, also. The Sutherland boys, Reid, Cam and Duncan, had flown in just for the wedding and then gone back to their colleges right after the ceremony. She and her sisters hadn't seen them since that long-ago summer when the boys' mother, Beth, had been a visiting professor at nearby Huntleigh College and she'd gotten her father's permission to use the library at the castle for the research she was doing for a historical novel she was writing on the MacPherson clan.
That was the summer when Adair's fascination with Cam had begun. Because she'd hated him. He'd been a relentless tease, always pulling her curls and calling her "Princess" because she lived in a "castle." And he'd constantly nagged her to try things she'd never tried beforelike climbing over the stone arch.
There were days during that summer when she'd wanted to strangle him.
But strangling hadn't been on her mind the night of her father's wedding to Beth Sutherland. Because in the twelve years that had passed, the Sutherlands had changed. Drastically. From annoying, know-itall ten-year-olds to attractive young men.
What hadn't changed had been her fascination with Cam. It had flared immediately from the instant he'd arrived at the castle that day.
They weren't kids on a playdate any more. And while their parents had been pledging their vows beneath the stone arch, her eyes had locked on his, and she'd wanted him in a way that she'd never wanted anyoneor anything. It had thrilled her, terrified her. And it had fueled the fantasy that she'd committed to paper and put into the special metal box that she and her sisters had hidden away in the stone arch.
Lightning flashed again and the thunder roared, instantaneous and deafening, refocusing her thoughts on the present.
Vi whispered in her ear. "This isn't good."
Adair had to agree with her aunt. In all her years growing up at the castle, she'd never seen a storm like this one. And it had to happen the day of Rexie Maitland's wedding rehearsal.
They were so tightly packed in the space that Adair had to crane her neck to meet Rexie's eyes. Panic was what she saw and she felt an answering surge in herself. Pushing it down, she kept her voice calm and spaced her words to fit in between the claps of thunder. "We should go forward with the rehearsal."