My name is Amanda Conrad and I. Am. A doctor.
When my cousin Liv whisked me away to South Africa to be maid of honor in her super-secret celebrity wedding, I was about to begin a five-year residency at NYU and was on my way to becoming a plastic surgeon. My plans definitely did not include a rock-star best man sweeping me off my feet.
But what happened in South Africa needed to stay there—he'd return to his touring and I'd start my residency, with our fond memories of a whirlwind, fairy-tale week. But now nothing feels right—I'm questioning my once solid plans, and I can't stop thinking about him. Our lives are so different… Am I ready to risk everything I've worked for since I was thirteen—and put my heart on the line? To dream bigger than I ever thought possible? To believe I can have it all? That's the thing about growing up...sometimes you have to be brave enough to redefine happily ever after.
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.89(d)|
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By Katie Delahanty, Karen Grove
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Katie Delahanty
All rights reserved.
Amanda Conrad @BootsMD
I'm sorry, but at least 10% of the time a doctor is looking at a patient thinking "OUCCCCCHHHH!"
Berkeley Dalton @BerkeleyBrtside
@BrightsideBP @BSDrummerTed The band's all here ... just missing the rhythm section. Can't do it without you. #SeeYouSoon
Mark VanCleer @BrightsideBP
@BerkeleyBrtside We be jammin' late-night style. On our way!
It's dark when we arrive at Point of Grace, Berkeley's grandparents' vineyard in Stellenbosch, but Paps and Ouma — as we are directed to refer to them — are waiting for us on the front porch of the old colonial farmhouse. Paps holds a mosquito net–covered tray containing dainty cordial glasses filled with cognac. It being winter in South Africa, malaria is not a concern, thus no shots were required prior to our last-minute journey, but it is quickly clear that shots are required to enter the house.
"Wet your whistle," he says in a heavy South African brogue, his blue eyes sparkling. "Rules of the house: sundowners must be had, even though you missed the sun. And help yourselves to wine and sandwiches in the dining room."
Accepting my glass, I join my cousin Liv's friends, Parker and Blair, inside the great room. Taking in the high thatched ceiling held in place with wide wood beams and dotted with slowly turning paddle fans, it's all I can do not to sink my aching limbs into one of the overstuffed couches next to the fire. Despite the comforts of the private jet we've just arrived on, I didn't have much luck sleeping. My mind was too busy running circles around all that is left to do at home. I'm scheduled to start surgical residency in ten days, and I should be moving from Pittsburgh to New York right now. But how often does your best friend and cousin whisk you away to South Africa for her top-secret wedding to a rock star? And not just any rock star, Berkeley Dalton, lead singer of Berkeley & the Brightside, who also happens to be playing the lead in The Keystone, the most anticipated movie of the year. This wedding is going to be celeb-central, and I'm certain nothing this exciting will ever happen to me again. For once, my new life will have to wait.
"This place is incredible," Blair says, gesturing toward the glass doors lining the front of the house that open to the porch and the vineyards beyond. "I can't wait to see the view in the morning."
"It will be positively exquisite," Parker says, his gaze traveling over Blair's shoulder. "And likely even more scrumptious in the afternoon."
Blair follows his stare straight to last year's "Sexiest Man Alive," Tux Nicholas, his perfect profile silhouetted against the fire. "I'm sure everything looks prettier during the magic hour," she says. "And I suppose we can't have a certain someone glimpsing you in the wrong light."
"What can I say?" he replies. "I know my angles, and I need my beauty rest. If I'm not careful, I won't just turn into a pumpkin, I'll be squash."
Taking a sip of cognac, the burning liquid momentarily enlivening my senses, I look past Tux and watch Berkeley introduce Liv to his grandparents, his eyes shining with pride as he presents his bride-to-be. Paps sets down his tray, first embracing his grandson, then pulling Liv into his arms as well. Not wanting to wait, Ouma swats him away, taking her turn with the couple.
"He loves her so much," I say, riveted by the scene before me. "I can feel their heat from across the room. It's like he can't get close enough to her."
In my periphery, I see Parker and Blair smile at each other.
"They're electric," Blair says. "It's pretty intense sometimes."
"It's surreal. Like I'm in a movie." Lightheaded, I feel the room swirl around me in a colorful fog. "Maybe it's all the famous faces."
"Celebs combined with jet lag. It's quite the cocktail." Parker swallows his cognac for emphasis. "But isn't it romantic? Our tiny plane swooping over the runway to clear the zebras before we landed so Berkeley could carry his bride to their wedding? I'll have to write that into the episode of The One where the groom takes the last three 'fiancées' to the island before choosing his wife — not even I can make this stuff up."
"Isn't The One a reality show?" I ask.
"You have much to learn, dear." Parker sighs, then cocks his head to the side, observing me. "Though you do have potential ..." He nods, seeming to come to a decision. "If you need help navigating the celeb-infested waters this weekend, I offer my services. I may be a writer for horrendous people by day, but I dabble in 'Fairy Godfather' for the deserving by night."
"Oh, I don't know, I'm not in the market for love ... No time. Maybe you should focus on Tux. I'm sure he would clear the runway for you." I tease him about their recent affair that accidentally leaked to the press, "outing" Tux.
"Boots. Keep your voice down," Parker whispers, gripping my arm. "That's over. It was just one night, and I'm sure he needs this trip to recover from the circus and restore his sanity. Whatever happened between Tux and me should never be spoken of again. See. Much to learn."
"Isn't this crazy?" Liv asks, joining us before I can respond. Her face flushed, she links arms with me, and I put my head on her shoulder.
"I can't believe everyone is here, that Berkeley and I are really getting married." She looks around the room, swaying a little, and I'm afraid she might pass out. "We have a ton of work to do."
"Everyone is here to help," Parker says. "Don't you worry your pretty little head about a thing. We've got you covered."
"It's going to be beautiful." I clasp her hand. "And it'll be less daunting in the morning."
"Right now we need some sleep," Blair says. "Then, look out, Africa. Hashtag BerkLivia is in town!"
"Oh, no." Liv moans. "Do we really need a hashtag?"
"Yes. As your newly appointed publicist, I can confirm you do. At least you will when we officially leak you to the press," Blair replies. "Do you prefer Hashtag Olkely?"
"No. I do not." Liv laughs, rubbing her eyes.
"Room assignments!" Jodi, Berkeley's mom, announces, making us all jump. "I worked these out on the plane. I hope you don't mind, but we'll have to double up to accommodate everyone. And house rules: the bride and groom won't be rooming together until they've made it official." She smiles at her son, batting her eyelashes.
He frowns at her in return but doesn't put up a fight, and I catch him wink at Liv.
"Too much information!" Berkeley's dad quips, covering his ears.
"Mom," his sister, Mia, complains. "It's the twenty-first century."
I look around at the pretty faces that comprise Berkeley's family. Liv is marrying into such a charmed group. She fits right in.
"Berkeley, you'll be in the barn with Mark and Ted and the rest of the guys when they get here," Jodi continues, elbowing her husband and ignoring her daughter. "We have plenty of beds out there that are used only during the harvest, so it can be the groomsmen's dorm. But it's too cold and too late to set up tonight, so take one of the couches on the third floor." She turns toward us. "Liv, you and Boots can have my old room at the top of the stairs ..."
Knowing my assignment, I fantasize about burrowing under the covers.
"... and Parker and Tux in the bunks down in the wine cellar." Jodi finishes rattling off the names of everyone who was on the private plane.
Parker pales, audibly gasping. Spine rigid, he grabs Blair's arm for support.
I sneak a peek at Tux, who appears unaffected by the news. His perfectly bowed lips close in a pleasant smile, his eyes remain fixed on Jodi, without even the hint of a side-eyed glance in our direction.
"Head off to bed whenever you're ready," Jodi says. "But feel free to stay here, too. There's plenty of wine and snacks. The farmhands are bringing in your bags."
"Are you okay?" Liv whispers to Parker. "You can stay with us if you want. Right, Boots?"
"Of course," I say. "I can sleep anywhere. I'm used to sleeping jackknifed into the rickety lounge chair in the residents' room while doctors hash out lab values and CT scan results. Any corner of this house is like the Four Seasons to me."
"That won't be necessary." Parker puffs up his chest. "If he's okay, I'm okay."
"Are you sure?" Liv confirms.
"It's not like he's going to sneak into my bed in the middle of the night with a stolen bottle of Pinotage and some pumpkin-pie-spice-scented massage oil — instinctually knowing what vanilla and cinnamon does to me, of course — and I'm certainly not going to sneak into his. It's fine."
Liv smiles and squeezes his arm. "Okay. In that case, I'm going to head up. It's been a long couple of days, and I wasn't sleeping well before we left."
"Go," Parker says. "You deserve it."
"I just want to say good night to Berkeley ..." She scans the room for her fiancé, who is in the dining room with his arm around his grandmother.
"I'm going to follow your lead," I say, grateful for an exit route. "Except for the Berkeley part. I'll see you up there."
I'm almost asleep beneath the down comforter when Liv crawls into the giant bed next to me. We really could have fit three of us in here.
"What took you so long?" I mumble, making sure it's her through half-slit eyes. "Never mind." I groan, pulling the covers over my head. "I don't want to know."
"Not that." She giggles, playfully swatting me with a pillow, and I wake up a little. "Too many people around. Not that it matters, we practically had sex in front of the entire Keystone crew on the last day of filming. I can't believe that was only yesterday."
"What?" Suddenly alert, I sit up. "Bedtime story, please."
"Not tonight. It's a long one, and I'm still trying to process everything." She snuggles under the covers.
"Hollywood has made you mean." I sink back against the pillows in a huff.
"I'm sorry. I'll give you the dirty details tomorrow. I'm too tired tonight."
"Tomorrow then. I'm holding you to it."
"I promise." She hooks her pinky with mine to prove it, and we both stare at the ceiling.
"So much has changed," she says, just as my eyes start to grow heavy again. "I always dreamed of being a costume designer, and now I might become an actress ... And can you believe we're in South Africa? What are we doing here?"
"Getting you hitched, my dear." I turn my head to face her. "It's fast. I never knew you were this impulsive."
"Me neither. Berkeley keeps me on my toes, but I love it." She rolls onto her side, propping her head up on her hand, her long blond hair cascading over the pillow. "It feels right, like this is how it was meant to be. I know it's been a whirlwind, and we haven't known each other long, but I can't imagine my world without him now — it's like he is the first piece of a puzzle and everything builds from him, do you know what I mean?"
"Sort of. I feel that way about graduating from medical school, like everything I've been doing — all the hard work and sacrifice — has been leading to this moment, and my life starts now. I imagine you could feel that way about a person, too."
"You definitely can." She flops back onto her pillow. "I'm too excited to sleep."
Reaching to the nightstand, I switch off the light. "Let me help you with that. Good night, Gladys," I say, affecting a British accent.
"Good night, Ovid," she replies, responding to my use of our old bedtime nicknames from when we were little and pretended to be English orphans. "Sleep tight."
"Don't let the bedbugs bite." I roll onto my side and close my eyes, listening to the creaking old house settle in for the night, backed by rhythmic snoring from another room.
Thus begins new chapters for both of us ... maybe that's how I should start my speech ...
My speech. The thought of it jerks me into consciousness as a pit of dread forms in my stomach, knowing that as maid of honor I will be required to perform a toast at the reception. Given the short notice, it's what I should have been working on during the flight. Normally I would have spent weeks preparing for such a moment, honing the sentences until they conveyed the perfect mix of humor and sentiment, were a reflection of Liv and everything there is to love about her. It's unlike me to procrastinate, but I haven't been able to begin. If I could deliver a collection of facts and statistics I'd be fine, but she deserves more, and every time I picture the A-list crowd awaiting my Oscar-acceptance-caliber speech I freeze, certain I'll never be able to speak from my heart in front of such an audience.
Willing myself to relax, I let my mind wander through memories, hoping my subconscious will kick in and write my speech for me. Remember playing "Annie" in Grandma's basement ... building haunted houses in Liv's bedroom ... the time she had too many drinks and Berkeley rushed to her side to take care of her ...
I start to drift off, my spine sinking into the soft mattress and my limbs succumbing to gravity. I wonder what it would be like to be looked at the way Berkeley looks at Liv ... Silly. Startling awake, I remind myself that I'm a doctor first. Like my dad said when I was a little girl who wanted to be a ballerina, "You can always be a doctor who dances, but you can never be a dancer who doctors. Pass your boards and you can do anything."
Priorities straight, I shut my eyes tight.CHAPTER 2
Mrs. Bloom @PsychicMom1
Love is in the air, on the breeze, and in the wine ... drink it up!
"Thanks for the ride, Paps." Having driven me down to the clearing in the vineyard where the ceremony will take place tomorrow, he helps me unload the last of the boxes containing the flowers and ribbons meant to adorn the twisted grapevine altar.
"You're sure you don't need help?" he asks. "I'm not much for tying bows, but I know a thing or two about making the vines behave."
"Need? Probably." Somehow decorating duty has fallen to me, even though I'm the last person who should be trusted with such important artistry. My mom would have been a better choice — she can magically make a pile of weeds look chic — but she's not arriving with my family until later this evening. Unfortunately, I didn't inherit any of her skill. I can make an incision that barely leaves a scar, but when it comes to crafts, I have two left hands. "But it's okay. I know you're busy. You go get ready for sundowners. I'm looking forward to tonight's tasting. I'll need a big glass of wine when I'm done."
A wide smile travels his lined face straight to his bright blue eyes, and I catch a glimpse of where Berkeley gets his charisma.
"You're a lady after my own heart. Don't stay down here too long. It'll be dark before you know it."
"Oh, I wouldn't miss sundowners for anything, not even an invitation to the chief resident's dinner," I reply.
He winks and waves, clearly having no idea what I'm talking about, before climbing back into the Jeep and trucking up the hill, leaving me alone with the daunting task at hand.
Standing back, I study the scene in front of me. Where to start? It's peaceful out here, unseasonably warm, with a slight breeze ruffling the grass. The vineyard behind the arbor that Liv and Berkeley will be married under is dormant for winter, its rows of leafless vines disappearing into valleys beneath sweeping pink skies and snow-capped mountains beyond. Even though the grapes aren't in season, it's breathtaking — a landscape portrait ripe with the promise of new life. Unaccustomed to slowing down, I savor the quiet. Not that I should slow down; I have work to do.
Carly — wedding coordinator extraordinaire who is married to Haynes, Berkeley & the Brightside's manager — gave me specific instructions for decorating the arbor, and I pick up a bolt of tulle, tucking it under my arm. Noticing a stack of chairs laying nearby, I unfold one to stand on. The chair's legs stick in the mud, the clearing having been recently hosed down to prevent dust tomorrow. Unfurling the netting, careful not to let it drag in the dirt, I toss it over the tops of the vines, winding it around and securing the sides with pink and orange ribbons. Next I tackle the flowers, dotting the vines with puffy pink peonies, orange dahlias, and camellias. As a final touch, Carly wants me to dangle flowers and ribbons from the top of the arbor that will sway in the breeze above the happy couple.
Excerpted from Believe by Katie Delahanty, Karen Grove. Copyright © 2016 Katie Delahanty. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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