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Skirting The Issue
By Heather Macallister
Harlequin EnterprisesCopyright © 2002 Harlequin Enterprises
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThere was nothing like a wedding to make a single woman assess her options. And Samantha Baldwin had options. She was hiding from one of them now.
"Sam! There you are." She cringed. How had Kevin found her? "The bride's about to throw the bouquet."
"Thanks for the warning." Caught behind the proverbial potted palm artfully disguising the hallway to the women's rest room, Sam downed the last swallow of her champagne and snagged another glass from a passing waiter.
"Won't it be difficult to catch the bouquet with your hands full?" Kevin, her boyfriend, her blond-haired, blue-eyed, what-a-wonderful-catch boyfriend, the very boyfriend who traveled to the wedding with her all the way from San Francisco to Seattle - even though she had told him not to - smiled archly. Sam didn't even know he knew how to smile archly. Kevin wasn't an arch sort of man. He was a veterinarian.
"Silly me." Looking him right in the eye, Sam quaffed the glass and handed it to him. "Oh, please," she said at his raised eyebrow. "The glasses are small and only half-full."
"I just want you to be sharp and alert." It was a cue. She knew she was supposed to ask him why she should be sharp and alert. Then he'd reply that it was so she could be sure and catch the bouquet. Then she'd ask whycatching flowers was so important, and he'd ... he'd ...
And there the screen in Sam's mind went blank. Or rather, she knew what was on the screen, she just wished she was in a different theater.
There were two shows running in Sam's mind. Showing on the screen with Kevin was the happily-ever-after, white-picket-fence, puppies-and-kids movie. A qualified thumbs-up, especially surrounded as she was by all the wedding vibes this weekend.
But showing on another screen was the promotion-and-corporate-success-in-New-York movie. Two thumbs-up. And in the audience, applauding wildly, was Sam's mother.
Kevin took her arm - really, there was no need; the glasses were small, a couple of swallows max - and gently, but insistently steered her toward the ballroom.
Sam swallowed dryly, since Kevin avoided the wait staff.
"Holy cow!" Kevin was given to animal imprecations. "Look at that mob."
"They can't all be wedding guests." But there they were all crowding around Kate and her bridesmaids, Chelsea, Gwen, and Torrie. Sam felt cheered. The odds of her not catching the bouquet had just gone up.
At the realization, she looked up at Kevin guiltily, then back at Kate.
The other bridesmaids, all friends of Sam's from college, were also newlyweds and they all glowed disgustingly. No, it wasn't disgusting, but they were all so happy it made her wish for that happiness, too. The way they looked at their husbands - and the way their husbands looked back at them ... Sam squeezed Kevin's arm and he looked down at her in almost the same way. He was a good man, a kind man - he cured little kids' sick puppies, for heaven's sake. But he also had a quirky sense of humor, played a ruthlessly wicked game of poker, and was perfectly willing to walk out of a movie he didn't feel was worth his time.
She should love him. What was wrong with her that she didn't love him?
But she didn't. At least not enough to give up the chance of the promotion she was recently offered. And not enough to ask him to wait while she went to New York to compete for it. Because ... because what if she got it? What if she became the east coast convention sales manager for Carrington Hotels? She'd have to move to New York. Kevin had a thriving veterinary practice in San Francisco. He'd have to really, really love her to relocate to New York.
And he'd deserve someone who really, really loved him back.
Sam squeezed his arm again and as he smiled down at her, she waited for the gooey feelings she knew Kate and the others felt for their husbands. She felt ... fondness. And a little irritation because she didn't feel more.
That was it, then. She'd made her decision, the one she'd come all the way from San Francisco to think about. She'd intended to come alone, but Kevin had surprised her. Would it have made any difference if he'd stayed behind as she'd asked? She'd half-seriously quoted, "absence makes the heart grow fonder" at him, but he'd countered with, "while the cat's away, the mouse will play." The animal theme again, but honestly, she'd set herself up for it.
And speaking of setups ... while Sam was pondering her future, Kevin steered her through an incredibly aggressive throng of single women until she'd reached a decent field position, one well within bouquet-throwing range. Then he'd kissed her on her cheek and got the heck out of Dodge.
Sam watched Kate search the crowd, her face lighting with radiant bliss - truly, she looked like the women in those diamond ads - when she found her husband. At her nod, Brock approached the bandleader, and then came a remarkable announcement: the bride would be throwing a skirt, not a bouquet.
Well, now. Sam edged toward the side. This she had to see. Oh, sure, she'd heard the rumors about this great skirt. Kate and her bridesmaids all swore they met their husbands while wearing it. Others must have heard about it, too, because as the bride and her attendants climbed the circular dais, they were practically mobbed.
Kate stepped forward and scanned the crowd. Taking a deep breath, she tossed the skirt high into the air, right toward the spot where Sam had been standing.
Then it seemed to float in the air, drifting left, as though caught by a draft from the ventilation system. It twirled and fluttered. It may have even glinted.
Then it dived. Straight toward Sam. Like she had a homing beacon attached to her, or something. Whatever, Sam ducked and waved her arms to fend off the attack. The crowd pushed and shoved, grasping for the black fabric. Sam backed up, and felt one of the white folding chairs against her calf. She lost her balance and grabbed blindly, hoping to prevent her fall. She grabbed a fistful of air - and the skirt. Astonishingly, the thing nearly molded itself to her hands, but it didn't prevent Sam from a hard landing on the dance floor. She sat, dazed, her legs splayed in front of her, the skirt in her hands.
The single women of Seattle gave a disappointed groan. Make that a menacing groan.
"Sam ... You caught it! Way to go!" Kevin made his way through the knot of resentful women.
"But I didn't mean to catch it," Sam said. But she knew nobody heard her and wouldn't believe her if they had.
Kevin stood behind her and struggled to haul her upright by taking hold of her beneath her arms, almost like he was wrestling with a ninety-pound German shepherd.
Sam didn't weigh ninety pounds, but she was no German shepherd, either. She waved him off with skirt-covered hands and got to her feet.
Excerpted from Skirting The Issue by Heather Macallister Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.