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Witch in the House
Like a lemon drop on speed, the maid of honor darted across the front of the church, her yellow toe-length dress rustling with every step. The guests' heads swiveled in unison as they tracked her agitated progress through the opposite archway, after which they turned to each other and resumed whispering. Not calm, smiling, happy-to-see-these-two-finally-going-to-tie-the-knot wedding speak, either.
Mason Kincaid, the groom, handled it like a pro; ten minutes earlier, he'd retreated to the choir loft in the back of the church. Only his best man knew where he was, and that was because he'd followed him. Something about doing his job.
Mason was standing shoulder to shoulder with Anthony now, feet spread comfortably, hands in the trouser pockets of his tux, watching another lemon drop rustle across the nave below.
"There goes another one," he remarked.
Organ music played softly in the background, as if it were quite normal for bridesmaids and groomsmen to buzz back and forth across the church before the ceremony, half of them chattering on their cell phones, the other half comparing notes while frantically waiting for call backs.
"Yellow dresses, black tuxes," Anthony mused over the swarm of activity. "Looks like a hornet's nest, my friend."
"Please. Don't say that in front of Brenda." Mason raised his arm, absentmindedly lifting his sleeve and pronating in one smooth motion.
"I think you can get tennis elbow from that," Anthony said.
"Checking your watch every thirty seconds. What? Don't tell me you thought Miss Terminally Latewould be on time once in her life."
"Yes," Mason said, nodding with absolute certainty, turning the bezel on his watch, as if doing so would somehow make Brenda more aware of the time. "We discussed it at the rehearsal last night."
"And in the car on the way to dinner." Mason felt the need to substantiate his statement because Anthony was shaking his head with a look that said, You poor sap. "On the way home, too. She swore she wouldn't be late."
He never knew whether to worry about Brenda when she wasn't on time or wring her neck when she finally arrived, but constant repetition had dulled the tendency to worry. Except this time she'd promised. She'd never promised before.
All her friends were here. All she'd talked about for weeks was "her day." She loved fresh bouquets, candlelight, and ribbon. Her apartment had turned into a veritable testing lab for all three in her quest to mix the right sizes, right widths, right textures, blah blah blah. More than once, Mason jolted awake thinking he was the star attraction at a funeral.
It wouldn't have been so bad if Brenda had consoled him, but forty-two long, lonnng days ago she'd gotten the crazy idea that "waiting until our wedding night" would somehow make it more special. This, after five years together.
He had to hand it to her, though. Every female guest—and several of the men—stopped in surprise just this side of the door, oohing and ahhing at the end result. The small, intimate Pensacola church normally inspired hushed hellos and quiet whispers, but today it was transformed into a vibrant, living hothouse, plush with cascades of white and yellow roses, mile upon mile of white ribbon, and row upon row of white tapers.
And just think, after today, life would go back to normal. After a week of sex, sun, and scuba diving, Brenda would move into his condo, not a candle, flower, or ribbon in sight.
Five forty-five. Fifteen minutes to go. She'd promised.
Candle flames flickered and fluttered along the center aisle as ushers escorted a few last-minute, wide-eyed guests to their seats.
Mason's four-year-old niece broke out of safekeeping and tore down the aisle, her new Mary Janes raising a clatter on the narrow wooden steps as she climbed to the loft. Mason turned toward the uncontrolled sobbing that punctuated each step before Lily launched herself into his arms and buried her head against his neck.
"Aw, did seeing all those -people scare you, sweetheart?" Mason crooned. He cuddled Lily against his chest, patting her tiny back.
Hand him a Glock and point him in the right direction, and he was a fierce adversary, a warrior. Hand him Lily, though, all warm and trusting and smelling of baby shampoo, and paternal emotions arose out of nowhere to throw him a curve. Every time. When he looked at strangers' kids, he didn't feel warm and fuzzy and think about having his own. Not even when he had sex with Brenda.
Used to have sex, he amended.
"Tell you what," he said softly, aiming to console the little girl. "You don't have to walk up that big, long aisle if you don't want to."
Quietly, Anthony sang, "Brenda's gonna kill you."
"She's only four." Mason fell into a slow, automatic sway, soothing his nap-deprived little niece. "You'd better let my sister know I have her."
Anthony handled that by cell phone, ending the conversation with, "He's right beside me. Really. He's fine."
"Don't tell me. She was afraid I took off."
"She says it's in my job description to make sure that doesn't happen."
Mason grinned, as if Anthony would even try. After all, they were guys. They had a bond, an obligation to respect each other's freedom. They left most of the this-is-for-your-own-good bullshit to parents and siblings.
"Hate to disillusion you," Mason said, "but I believe you're supposed to ensure a clean getaway if I change my mind."
"No way, man. Brenda'd hunt you down like last time."
"She didn't hunt me down. And what do you mean, like last time? We were on a break."
"She did hunt you down—you're just too stupid to know it. She found out where you'd be and paraded another man in front of you. I warned you; you told me to stuff it. You fell for it hook, line, and sinker. This ringing any bells?"Witch in the House. Copyright © by Jenna McKnight. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.