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By Toni Blake
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Toni Blake
All right reserved.
Her whole world at the moment consisted of warm sun and cool sand, the gentle shush of the tide. Palm fronds rustled in the breeze behind her, and before her lay nothing but blue ocean and the calm, straight line of the horizon.
She'd come here to relax. Unwind. Escape.
No, wait--not escape. Where had that come from?
She'd come here to prepare. Yes, that was better. It was a . . . transitional period.
The period when she would transform from her normal, fun-loving self into someone's wife. But not just someone. A respected attorney. Who was also an investor--"gifted at it," her father said--and thus had more money than God.
She hadn't the faintest idea how she was going to be that kind of wife--the kind who hosted garden parties and Sunday brunches, the kind who could hold a glass of wine in her hand all evening at a cocktail party without ever getting tipsy and giggly. Kat was fairly famous among her friends for "tipsy and giggly."
But those days were behind her now--they had to be. Hence the transitional period, the sun and the sand. It truly was tranquil here. Her father had only bought the private island off the Gulf Coast of Florida last year, so they hadn't made any improvements yet, but once she and Ian were married,maybe she'd suggest they make a gift to her parents--perhaps a new beach house, a new dock for the boats. People said money couldn't buy happiness, but Kat knew better. Nothing would make her father happier than a shiny new beach house, courtesy of his daughter and new son-in-law. She could almost feel his smile beaming at her already.
A vision flashed in her mind--her, in a few years, as a mom, corralling a little boy and girl on this same beach. The children were adorable, exploring, occasionally picking up a sand dollar or a broken bit of shell. They all wore light colors, whites and pastels. She and the little girl sported straw hats and flowy sundresses. Somewhere in the distance, her father and Ian grilled steaks and drank martinis while her mother festooned a picnic table with brightly colored place mats and arranged peach-colored napkins in a fan shape to bloom from stemmed glasses.
Why did such a lovely image make her want to throw up?
She liked kids, after all. She spent each and every Saturday afternoon with kids at The Kiln, teaching them to throw pots. A messy and sometimes semidisastrous pastime, but pottery was her passion. She loved sharing it with children who weren't as fortunate as she'd been and who needed a distraction from the harsher realities of their lives.
And she liked steak and martinis and decorative napkins, too. Who didn't?
So what was wrong with this picture?
She sighed, thinking.
It wasn't that she didn't want to be married. She did--she always had. Sure, everyone thought of her as Crazy Kat, party girl extraordinaire--but deep inside, all she'd ever really wanted was commitment, someone to build a life with, a world with.
And she loved her parents, and she loved Ian's parents, and you really couldn't find a guy who was more respected or even better-looking than Ian. He was a catch--everyone said so.
So that settled it, once and for all. There was nothing wrong with the picture.
She was simply going to suffer a steep learning curve in terms of being a sophisticated wife, that was all. And really, it shouldn't be that much of a stretch--she'd been masquerading as a sophisticated daughter all her life and gotten by okay. And Ian didn't love her because she was sophisticated--he loved the real her, even the party her. He'd once told her that. So this was all going to be just fine.
A damn good thing given that the wedding was only seven days away.
The trill of her cell phone jarred her from her thoughts as she plucked it up from the sand next to her lounge chair, then mentally prepared herself to lie in case it was her mother, expecting to hear the sounds of slot machines behind her. "Hello?"
"Viva Las Vegas, baby!" No, just her lifelong best friend Nina--and it was Kat who heard the whirring sounds of electronic gambling in the background. "I'm coming to you live from Caesar's Palace!"
"So you guys made it in okay," Kat said, envisioning her five best buds partying without her in Sin City.
"Yeah, and--" Nina stopped, just briefly. "Oh. My. God. The hottest soldier in the entire Roman army just walked by!"
"Down, girl," Kat said dryly, at once sorry to be missing the fun but at the same time so removed from it that it didn't matter--she had bigger things on her mind.
"In a few minutes, we're going to walk over to Treasure Island and try to pick up some pirates. Swarthy ones, with scars. God, I can't believe you're missing this, Kat. Honestly, if I live to be a hundred, I still won't believe you actually bailed on your own bachelorette party." Nina let out a long, slow sigh, and then--if Kat wasn't mistaken--took a slurping sip from a beverage undoubtedly high in alcoholic content. "Are you sure you won't change your mind?"
"Too late now. I'm here, and you're there."
Nina's voice dropped so that Kat could barely hear her over the sounds of the slots. "No. I meant about the wedding."
Now it was Kat's turn to sigh as her stomach twisted. Why couldn't Nina just let this go? She was marrying Ian, and that was that. "Would you please drop it already?"
"You don't love him."
Here we go again. "Of course I love him. I've known him my whole life."
"I've known you my whole life, but that doesn't mean I'm marrying you. You know Ian's not pendant-worthy."
Excerpted from Swept Away by Toni Blake Copyright © 2006 by Toni Blake. Excerpted by permission.
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