Serial Bride

Serial Bride

by Ann Voss Peterson

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After her sister vanished without a trace on her very own wedding day, Sylvie Hayes would stop at nothing to fi nd the only family she'd ever known. Then Bryce Walker appeared, claiming to have answers. One look at the striking attorney made Sylvie long for his help—and for his touch. Now, working with Bryce and his

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After her sister vanished without a trace on her very own wedding day, Sylvie Hayes would stop at nothing to fi nd the only family she'd ever known. Then Bryce Walker appeared, claiming to have answers. One look at the striking attorney made Sylvie long for his help—and for his touch. Now, working with Bryce and his most notorious client, an incarcerated serial killer who was shockingly linked to this case, made Sylvie wonder just how much she knew about her past…and just how likely a happy wedding day would be in her own future.

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Wedding Mission , #1
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Sylvie Hayes dug her polished nails into the tulle wrapping the stems of her maid-of-honor nosegay and stared down the church's long aisle. A blend of alstroemeria and autumn chrysanthemums smothered the altar. Faces peered expectantly from pews, a sea of humanity tied back with white lacy bows. The organ soared into Bach, rattling stained glass like thunder from an approaching storm — the cue to start her measured march down the aisle.

Where was Diana?

Her sister had said she needed a moment to check her makeup, to make sure everything was perfect for her wedding. But that had been over fifteen minutes ago. She should be back by now.

And where was the groom?

Sylvie squinted at the shadows to the side of the altar. Although she spotted the minister and best man, she couldn't see Reed McCaskey anywhere.

Sylvie and Diana might not know one another as well as twins who'd grown up in the same household, but since Diana had tracked her down six months ago, they had become close. Closer than Sylvie had dared to get to another person. And even though Diana's marriage would probably change things, she felt the connection they shared, the sense of the other she'd heard about in twins, would never go away. She'd feel an unexplained twinge of joy before Diana even had a chance to call her about good news. An insistent hum in the back of her mind when Diana was in trouble. That hum had been building to a crescendo over the past three months. Now it threatened to drown out the organ.

Sylvie turned away from the mouth of the nave and started down the long hall leading to the lounge where she and Diana had dressed for the wedding. She had to find her sister. She had to make sure Diana was okay.

Her heels clacked on the marble floor, matching the thump of her pulse. No doubt Diana was wrestling with her veil or some other detail. Or maybe she and Reed had argued. Whatever had happened, the alarm buzzing low in Sylvie's ears was due to an overactive imagination. Nothing more.

She quickened her pace.

She pushed her way into the lounge. The room appeared just as they'd left it. Makeup cases and dress bags cluttered the tables and draped to the floor. Photos from an instant camera smiled from a pile on one of the sofas. The spice of perfume still hung in the air.

But no Diana.

Was she preening in front of the mirror in the adjoining restroom? Sylvie crossed the lounge and opened the door. The vanity was vacant, the wide mirror catching no reflection but her own — a slip of seafoam satin, a fall of blond hair, the gleam of worry in light-blue eyes.

She ripped her gaze from the image and peered down the row of bathroom stalls. "Diana?" Her voice echoed off the white tile.

She gathered her gown in a fist. Bending low, she looked under the stalls. A wisp of white touched the floor in the large stall at the end, a dark shadow behind it. "Diana? Are you okay?"

Only the organ answered, its bass tones trembling through walls and centering deep in Sylvie's chest. She straightened and stepped down the row of bathroom stalls. Reaching the end, she grasped the handle and pulled.

A body lay face against the wall. Wetness glistened in black hair and trailed down the back of the tux. Motionless fingers clutched Diana's veil, the antique lace red with blood.

"Reed. Oh, my God, Reed!" She knelt beside him. Slipping her hand along the side of his throat, she felt for a pulse.

A thready beat drummed against her fingertips. He was alive. Thank God, he was alive. But he needed help. He needed an ambulance.

And Diana. Where was Diana?

The hum in her ears roared loud as a freight train bearing down.

Sylvie watched the paramedics wheel the stretcher down the long church hall and out to the waiting ambulance. Reed was still unconscious. The white sheet cupped around him as if he was a child tucked into bed. Thick black straps hugged him to the gurney.

She wrapped her arms around her own middle, trying to warm herself, trying to feel strong. Stains marred the long seafoam silk of her gown, rust-colored smudges of Reed's blood.

"You're the one who found him?" a cigarette-roughened voice asked from behind her.

She turned around and faced a man with hard eyes and the jowls of a bulldog. "Excuse me?"

He let out an impatient sigh. "I need you to answer some questions for me. I'm in charge of this case. Detective Stan Perreth."

Her stomach lurched. She'd never met Perreth, not in the flesh, but she'd heard enough stories about him to inspire a bout of nausea. On one of her first visits to Madison, the detective had hauled Reed in front of a review committee for a punch Reed had delivered when Perreth's wife, a 911 dispatcher, had come to work with a battered face and a walking-into-a-doorknob explanation. Bad blood ran deep between the two men.And Perreth was now in charge of finding out who had attacked Reed and taken Diana?

"The first officer to the scene said you found Reed McCaskey."

Sylvie forced a deep breath. Surely Perreth could see beyond the bad blood. Surely he would do his job despite his personal feelings. "Yes. I found him when I went to check on my sister."

"Did you touch anything? Move anything?" She thought back, trying to reconstruct what she'd done. "I checked his pulse. I ran out into the lounge. I went through Diana's bag to find her cell phone." And she'd grabbed her own purse. Had she touched anything else? She couldn't remember.

He held out a hand. "Give me the phone." Sylvie looked down. Sure enough, the phone was still clenched in her fingers. She handed it to Perreth.

Perreth gripped it gingerly, his hands encased in clear plastic gloves. "Did your sister voice any doubts about this wedding?"

"No. I don't think so, anyway. She's been looking forward to marrying Reed as long as I've known her."

"Did she and McCaskey have a fight?"

"A fight?"

"I'm trying to figure out what happened here this afternoon. Answer the question, please."

"There was no fight. They were both excited about the wedding. Anxious to get married."

"Anxious." He scribbled the word in his notebook. Sylvie had an uneasy feeling about where he was heading. "You're taking this wrong. They were happy. They loved each other. They were eager to be together, to start their new life."

He nodded, but she got the feeling he was still concentrating on the word anxious.

Had she chosen that word subconsciously? Maybe she had. Diana had been anxious the past few months. But not about her love for Reed. Not about her marriage. At least, not that Sylvie was aware of. "I don't think you're understanding me."

He glanced up at her from under bushy brows. "Oh?"

"Diana and Reed were in love. They wanted to get married."

"Did you notice any tension between them recently?"

Back to the same track. Like a bulldog worrying over a bone. "Between them? No."

"But you noticed tension."

What was she supposed to say? She couldn't lie.

"Diana seemed tense about something, yes. But not about her marriage."

He nodded, but she wasn't at all sure he had heard what she said. Not all of it, anyway.

"Where does your sister live?"

"She has an apartment on Pinckney Street. In the old Mueller building."

"Apartment number?"

"Three B."

He jotted it down. "Good, we'll get a warrant and take a look."

Unease niggled at the back of her neck with the force of a toothy bite. "If looking in Diana's apartment will help find her, I can let you in."

"Do you live with her?"

"No. I'm just visiting for the wedding." She'd been considering moving to Madison. To live near her sister. She could just as easily wait tables up here. Or maybe get a more fulfilling job. But she hadn't yet taken the plunge. "Diana gave me a key, though."

"No good. You don't have legal standing."

"Legal standing?"

"We need permission from someone with legal standing."

"Why?" The buzz in Sylvie's ears grew, making it hard to think. The only time she'd heard the term legal standing was on an episode of Law & Order. And then it had been used to argue the admissibility of evidence — evidence used against someone charged with murder. "You think Diana did this? You think she hurt Reed?"

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