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"SADIE, STOP FIDGETING. You're a bride. You're supposed to be serene and dignified," Claudia said.
Sadie grimaced apologetically. "Sorry. I just wanted to see," she said hopefully.
"Well, you can't. Not until I've finished," Claudia Dostis said firmly, returning to the task of lacing the corsetlike back of Sadie's ivory-silk wedding gown.
Sadie sighed and nodded, and her other bridesmaid, Grace Wellington, smacked her lightly on the shoulder.
"That includes your head, too," she said. Grace was trying to anchor a frothy veil into the upswept mass of Sadie's honey-blond hair.
"Does this mean I have to go back to bride-training school?" Sadie asked meekly.
"If you're very still for the next twenty seconds, we'll put in a good word for you," Claudia said.
They were her closest friends, as well as her work col-leagues and she trusted them implicitly, so she made a big effort to calm her nerves and stand docilely for the next few minutes as they continued to fuss. Finally, she felt a last tug around her middle, then Claudia let out a sigh.
"Me, too," Grace said.
They both stepped back and surveyed her with satisfaction.
"Nice work with the veil," Claudia said to Grace. "Not so shabby on the dress work, either," Grace said, re-turning the compliment.
Sadie raised an amused eyebrow. "Does this mean I finally get to look?"
Grace and Claudia grabbed a shoulder each and gently turned her around to face the freestanding mirror in the middle of her bedroom.
The woman facing her was a stranger, an elegant fairy princess in floating ivory silk, her blond hair swept into a sleek, sophisticated updo, her neck long and slender, her pale skin flawless, her largebrown eyes dramatic and sexy.
"Wow. Is that really me?" Sadie squeaked.
"Yep. Gorgeous, as always," Claudia confirmed.
Sadie blushed at her friend's compliment, but a frown creased her forehead as her gaze inevitably drifted to her chest. It was pathetic, but she would probably never be one-hundred-percent happy with the size of her breasts, she admitted to herself. Too much baggage. Too long waiting around for the damned things to arrive in the first place. Who didn't develop breasts until they were nineteen, for Pete's sake? It was a form of cruelty, as far as Sadie was concerned.
"What's wrong? You hate the way I did the veil, don't you?" Grace asked, her clear green eyes clouded with concern.
Sadie pushed the old, old worry way. She was a B cup. Per-fectly respectable. It was because she was nervousthat was why such an old, dusty preoccupation had reared its ugly head.
"It's perfect, thank you. I was just wondering if I should have gone with a white dress instead of ivory," she fibbed.
Claudia made a rude noise. "Even ivory is pushing it, lady," she said knowingly.
"Hey!" Sadie said, pretending to be offended. "Are you implying I'm not a virgin?"
"I hope you're not," Grace said. "I'll have to take down all that stuff I wrote about you on the toilet wall."
They all giggled like idiots, then Sadie caught sight of the time and a jolt of adrenaline rocketed through her. The car would be here in twenty minutes.
"You guys had better get dressed," she advised.
"Remind me again how you talked me into this dress," Grace muttered as she unzipped the long, figure-hugging, strapless red sheath that had been tailor-made for her bombshell figure.
"Let me see, Because I am Bridezilla, and I must have my way?" Sadie suggested lightly.
"And because you were outvoted two to one," Claudia said as she slid into her pint-size version of the same dress. Although she was petite, Claudia's figure was still feminine, and the red fabric clung to her curves. With her olive skin and almost-black Greek eyes, she looked stunning.
Sadie turned from contemplating Claudia's dark beauty to see that Grace had pulled on her dress and stepped into her stiletto heels. Red silk outlined her classic hourglass figure, zooming in dramatically at her tiny waist, and then out again for her fan-tastic, sexy hips. She looked likeVeronica Lake and Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe, all rolled into one sexy, hot mama.
"Hubba, hubba." Sadie hooted approvingly.
Grace blushed a fiery red to match the dress. "I look like an overcooked hot dog," she said gruffly. "If one of these seams gives, duck for cover."
Sadie laughed and shook her head. They looked beautiful. Red had been the ideal choice for both of them, and the classy dress set off their different figures to perfection.
"I think we need more champagne," she said, moving across to where the last bottle rested on ice. She and Grace had already guzzled a whole bottle while their hair and makeup was being doneClaudia being a staunch teetotalerbut Sadie figured the alcohol would help settle her growing nerves.
She was getting married! Her mind turned briefly to Greg Sinclair, the handsome blond man she would soon call hus-band. She wondered what he was doing, how he was feeling. Was he as nervous-excited as she was? Would it be cheating to call him before the wedding?
Resisting the temptation to jinx things by making a quick phone call, Sadie concentrated on working the cork loose from the champagne bottle as Claudia and Grace put the finishing touches on their hair and makeup.
She had to stifle a smile as she heard Claudia bossily telling Grace to not even think about putting on the heavy black-framed retro glasses she habitually wore.
"Banned from the wedding," Claudia announced firmly. She was going to make a great producer on Ocean Boule-vard, Sadie knew. She sighed happily to herself as she poured out the champagne. Her life was so good right now. It had been cool enough working with Grace for the past two years as script producer to her script editor on Ocean Boulevard, the daytime soap that currently consumed her working hours, but now Claudia would be joining them as producer of the show. It didn't get much betterdoing something she loved for a living with her two closest friends by her side. And, in under an hour's time, she would be married to an amazing, funny, clever, gorgeous man.
"Pinch me, quick," she said to Grace as her friend came over to collect a glass of champagne.
"Sure," Grace said, obliging with a gentle nip on Sadie's arm. "Better?"
Sadie grinned and slid an arm around her friend's waist. "Where would I be without you guys?"
Claudia joined them, and she slid an arm around her waist, too. Across the room, the mirror reflected their images back at them and Sadie couldn't help smiling. What a mismatched setClaudia the pocket-rocket, string-bean old her and Grace the va-voom vamp. "I love you guys. Thanks so much for doing this with me," she said.
Claudia and Grace squeezed their arms tighter around her waist, and she had to stare at the ceiling for a few seconds and blink like crazy to avoid crying.
"Suck 'em back in, Sadieno brides with panda eyes on our shift," Claudia said encouragingly.
Sadie laughed, the humor helping to restore her equilibrium. Bang on time, the doorbell rang.
"God, the car's here already," she said, her nerves ratchet-ing up a notch.
The next five minutes were spent in a bustle of activity as they gathered all the items Grace and Claudia considered nec-essary to maintaining her appearance through the ceremony and receptionincluding the rest of the bottle of champagne. Her bridesmaids spent another five minutes out in the street dis-cussing the best way for Sadie to sit on her skirt, until finally Sadie stepped past them and squished herself into the seat.
"Easy," she said when they stared at her, scandalized.
The church was a ten-minute drive away, and she sat back and tried to let the sunny blue sky soothe her. It was useless, howeverher brain was like a hamster on a wheel. What if she forgot her vows? She'd always been hopeless at remembering lines. And what if she tripped when she walked up the aisle and her skirt flipped up andGod! Had she even remembered to put underwear on? She clapped a hand to her hip, but was unable to feel anything through all the layers of fabric.
She turned to Claudia on her right. "Did I put underwear on? Can you remember?" she asked urgently.
Claudia patted her arm reassuringly. "You need to stop thinking, sweetie," she said firmly.
Sadie opened her mouth to protest, then her sense of humor caught up with her and she collapsed into laughter.
Which was why she almost missed seeing her uncle Gus standing out front of the church, frantically waving the driver on as they approached. At the last minute, however, as the car swept past the church, she registered the formally dressed man gyrating like a maniac on the sidewalk.
Swiveling in her seat, she craned her neck to look out the rear window and confirm it really was Gus, and that they really had driven straight past the church.
"Um, hello?" she said, leaning forward to tap on the glass dividing the back of the limo from the driver. "Wasn't that the church back there?"
"Yeah, but we got waved on. I'm going to do a lap," the driver explained.
Sadie sat back with a thump and stared first at Claudia and then Grace.
"What the hell?" she finally asked.
Both her friends were looking equally confused.
"Maybe they're waiting on something," Grace suggested. Sadie bit her lip. A horrible, dark thought slithered into her mind and she tried not to look in its direction. It was useless, howevershe worked on a daytime soap. She'd written or helped plot this scene too many times over the years. Happy bride, perfect day, laughterthen disaster. Dead groom. Groom gravely ill due to car accident. Revolt in groom's far-off European principalityshe'd done them all over the years.
"Can we go back, please?" she asked the driver anxiously.
"I don't want to do a lap of the church."
"But" the driver objected.
"You heard the bride. Turn the car around," Claudia ordered, her producer's voice firmly in place.
Sighing audibly, the driver spun the wheel and the car turned back toward the church.
As they approached from the opposite direction, Sadie could see her uncle had been joined by her pale-faced aunt, Martha.
His shoulders were slumped and he shook his head as they dis-cussed something intently.
"Oh shit," she whispered under her breath. Another series of worst-case scenarios flitted across her mind: groom runs off with best friend. Bomb threat on church. Groom turns out to be bride's secret brother.
"I know what you're thinking, and I know it's hard to rein in that imagination of yours because of what we do for a living, but this is not Ocean Boulevard," Grace said firmly. "It's probably something lame like the priest has had too much altar wine, or Greg's allergic to his boutonniere."
Sadie took a deep breath and forced herself to let go of the awful, over-the-top scenarios racing across her mind. Grace was right. She was overreacting. She wouldn't go borrowing troubleshe'd simply face whatever was wrong and deal with it.
Her uncle must have heard the car, because he turned and frowned as the limo came to a halt.
Despite her vow to herself, Sadie leaned across Claudia to push the door open, unable to wait for the chauffeur to do it. Claudia slid out instantly, turning to help Sadie drag herself and her silk train from the car. The click of heels on the pavement told her that Grace was circling the car from the other side, but all Sadie's attention was on Gus.
"What's going on?" she asked. She was clutching her bouquet in a death grip, her knuckles white.
"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Gus said, and Sadie knew then, without a doubt, that she was about to have a Soap Wedding.
Behind her, she heard Grace's swift, shocked intake of breath, and Claudia muttered a four-letter word.
"He's not here?" Sadie guessed, taking a stab at which soap cliché she was about to get sucked into. Of course, she could rule out a few right from the start. To her knowledge, Greg was not the prince of some far-flung European country. And she was pretty sure he wasn't her brother, given that he was the spitting image of his father. Also, her two best friends in all the world were standing behind her, so neither of them had run off with him.
"He had a note delivered," Martha said, handing over a plain letter-size envelope.
Sadie stared down at it for a long moment before passing her bouquet to Grace. Her hands were trembling as she slid a finger beneath the seal and tore the envelope open. There was a single piece of paper inside. Greg had gone to the trouble of printing it, she saw, rather than writing it by hand. She had a flash of him mulling over the composition of the letter on his notebook computer, adding and deleting words as he pondered how best to break it to her. He obviously hadn't mulled for too long, however. The note was devastatingly short.