Read an Excerpt
There Goes the Bride
By Crystal Green
Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Crystal Green
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt should have been the perfect wedding.
Through the misty haze of sentimental, goodbye-single-life tears, Daisy Cox clutched her $300.00 bouquet of orchids, the bodice of her Vera Wang original gown siphoning air from her lungs. Surrounded by thousands of dollars worth of lilies and roses, serenaded by the most expensive string quartet money could buy, she should have been walking on air.
Instead, she was choking on it. Especially when her gaze skimmed over her fiancé, Peter Tarkin.
She shut her eyes, listening to the drone of the preacher's voice. When she blinked open again, her husband-to-be was still there, as Dracula-dapper as ever, his midnight-black tuxedo and silver-templed coif at odds with the late-September sunlight dappling through the church's stained glass.
Silently, she willed him to step into the light. Maybe he'd turn to dust, liberating her from the worst decision she'd ever made in her entire, misspent life.
Daisy glanced at Coral, her maid of honor. Her big sister. Tears glistened down Coral's ruddy cheeks, and Daisy couldn't help thinking that they were tears of relief.
The preacher was on a throbbing-veined, ecstatic roll. "Love is a precious thing, a fragile blossom braving the cold of winter and the heat of summer...."
Daisy breathed deeply, calming herself, feeling the ten extra pounds she'd gained during the past two months straining against the satin of her dress. Do something, she told herself. This is the first moment of the rest of your life.
"Excuse me," she said, her voice a thin whisper.
The preacher stopped mideffusion, his mouth agape.
For a blind moment, Daisy considered pretending like she'd merely hiccuped. Then the ceremony could continue, everything hunky-dory, just as smooth and unruffled as a cup of cream. Just like Peter's life. But when her fiancé narrowed his eyes, reminding her that he'd pressed his fingers against her throat only this morning when she'd expressed doubt about marrying him, Daisy's spirit kicked her body into gear.
Today had been the first time he'd laid a harsh hand on her. And it would be the last, too.
She stepped up to the dais, facing the good citizens of Kane's Crossing. Daisy didn't know them very well, but from what she remembered of this town, they wouldn't mind if she did something stupid. Something that would stoke their gossip fires for the coming autumn.
Well, she was about to oblige them.
She cleared her throat and smiled, drawing on all her years of beauty-pageant experience. Walk a straight line - posture, posture - flash those pearly whites, swivel, pose ... Once upon a time, she'd been crowned Miss Spencer County, and it hadn't been for nothing.
Coral was watching her, that you're-up-to-something-no-good-young-lady purse to her lips.
Daisy kicked up her smile a notch; it went from maudlin-sweet to Vaseline-bright. "I want to take a moment to thank so many people. Like the caterers. You all are going to love the shrimp salad and prime rib. And thank you to the wedding planner. Beautiful work, Adele."
As the planner waved and wiped her eyes, Daisy went on to thank every one from the photographer to the limousine driver, noting how Peter's brows were knitted. She'd seen that expression before, and she hadn't appreciated the threat that had accompanied it, hadn't appreciated how yesterday's verbal intimidation had become this morning's choke hold.
I wouldn't call off this marriage, he'd said one day when she'd confessed her cold feet to him. You'll be very sorry if you do.
Now Peter started to interrupt her, but Daisy cut him off, plunging into her final acknowledgments.
"Thank you to my sister, Coral, for loving me all these years, for raising me and making so many sacrifices. I love you, sis."
Coral smiled, deepening the crow's feet around her wary, faded bluebonnet-colored eyes.
"And, finally, thank you to Liza Cochrane, my bridesmaid." Daisy paused, her heart racing with nerves and anger, as she locked eyes with the woman Peter had insisted be in the wedding party. The woman her future husband had ...
Just the thought of it made her want to cry with helpless embarrassment.
"Liza," she said, "thank you for sleeping with the biggest mistake I never made." Amidst a general gasp from the congregation, Daisy dropped the bouquet at her bridemaid's feet, as if it were a used tissue and Liza was the missed garbage container. The arrangement landed with a thump, hammering home the silence.
Daisy didn't look back, not even when Peter called to her in his low, controlled tone. Not even when she heard Coral reassuring him that she'd return. Daisy merely strolled out the front door and down the stairs, skirt bunched in both hands.
When she heard the growing mumble of voices inside the church, followed by the cacophony of bodies rising to their feet, she quickened her steps. Then she ran.
Past Pioneer Square with its stoic Kane Spencer statue watching her skirts fly. Past Darla's Beauty Shop, where this morning she'd gotten her curls tamed into a style that flattered her tiara headdress and veil. Past Meg Cassidy's bakery, where her wedding cake had been fashioned by the town "witch's" talented hands.
A Chubby Checker tune blared from the building, and Daisy skidded to a halt, backtracking. Through the window, she could see a crowd of people decked out in party hats and smiles, hugging and dancing amidst streamers and light.
Daisy peered down Main Street, recognizing Peter as he marched out of the church, followed by a throng of Kane's Crossing curious.
Without another thought, she ducked into Meg's bakery.
Excerpted from There Goes the Bride by Crystal Green Copyright © 2003 by Crystal Green
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.