Authors: Kristin Wallace
Traveling the globe in search of an idea meant the journey had to be made alone. Emily had been on her quest for the better part of a year. She'd eaten at more tables for one than she cared to admit. Walked untold miles along country lanes and bustling city streets by herself. She didn't mind solitude. Shoot, when she was knee deep into writing a book she didn't want anyone bothering her. She could go for days and not miss company.
Until recently, when she'd begun feeling as though she might die of loneliness.
Today qualified as one of those times. Her heart felt twisted and sore after her visit with Rachel. Emily didn't know how much longer the poor woman had but knew the end couldn't be far off.
She glanced at her watch. 12:22. She contemplated stopping somewhere for lunch, but somehow the idea of sitting across from yet another empty chair made her want to drop to the sidewalk and weep.
Such a reaction scared her to death. Emily Sinclair was a loner. She didn't need anyone.
“Emily!” a voice hailed from across the street.
She glanced up. Julia stood at the curb fanning her arm in a clear
gesture. Emily obeyed the emphatic command.
Four other women stood clustered nearby. A slender middle-aged woman, a younger blond carbon copy of the first, a willowy brunette andâ¦ Holy smokes!
“Addison Covington,” Emily said when she reached the group. “From
House of Fashion
Julia nodded. “Yep. She's one of my bridesmaids.”
Emily blinked, but the famous television star was still three feet away, looking even more stunning than she did on TV. “Addison Covington, the actress. She's standing right there.”
“I am indeed,” the blond starlet drawled. “You're the author.”
“You know who I am?”
“Mostly by reputation,” she said. “My fiancÃ©'s niece was raving about you the other night. Then there was the curious tale of a fire at the bakery, which turned out not to be a fire at all.”
Obviously, she'd never live down almost burning down the bakery. “I got distracted.”
Julia took Emily's arm and pointed to the other three women. “Rounding out my bridal posse, my stepmother, Grace, my stepsister, Sarah, and my best friend and maid of honor, Meredith Vining.”
Addison pushed out her bottom lip in a move, which should have been annoying, but instead served to emphasize her perfect
mouth. “I thought I was your best friend, and why does
get to be maid of honor?”
“I can't have someone more beautiful than I am standing beside me,” Julia said, tossing her red hair. “All eyes must be on yours truly.”
“Hey,” Meredith gasped, holding a hand to her heart.
“No insult intended,” Julia said.
Meredith snorted. “Keep going and I might develop a sudden case of laryngitis the day of your wedding. No singing for you.”
Emily burst out laughing. She loved watching the women banter back and forth. Despite the sarcastic jibes, she sensed a deep affection among them. Emily had a few close friends, but they didn't have the type of laughing, teasing relationship these women shared.
“Let's not forget our appointment,” Sarah said. “Karen is waiting to do the fittings.”
Julia hooked an arm around her sister's shoulders. “What would I do without you to keep me in line? Let's get inside then.”
Emily stepped back to let the women pass, but Julia paused. “Where were you headed?”
“Oh, I was going to grab some lunch and then maybe write.”
A smile of pure delight broke out across Julia's face. “Did you have a breakthrough with the writer's block? Good for you.”
“Ummâ¦ no ideas. I thought I should try, though.”
Julia's pleased expression transformed into a penetrating gaze, which left Emily with an urge to check and see if her nose had grown. “So, you've got the rest of the day to kill with nothing to do?”
“Well, that won't do,” Julia said. “Why don't you come with us?”
“To your fitting?” The idea of watching someone else try on a wedding gown sent shudders skittering through her. She took another step backward. “I wouldn't want to intrude.”
Julia took Emily's arm, effectively trapping her. “Nonsense.”
Before she knew it, Emily found herself standing in the middle of the dress boutique next door to
. A young blond woman hurried out from the back room at the sound of the bell over the door.
“Hello ladies,” she called.
A chorus of excited voices went up.
The shop owner's gaze fell on Emily. “Have you added another bridesmaid, Julia?”
“No, she's an innocent bystander,” Julia said with a grin. “Karen, this is the famous E.J. Sinclair. We met in the library the other day and bonded over the periodicals.”
“Well, what an honor,” Karen said. “I confess I haven't read your books, but everyone is talking about you. Then there's the fire.”
Emily resisted the urge to stomp her feet in frustration. “Seriously? It was one cake and some smoke,” she said. “You'd think I'd started a three-alarm blaze.”
“I heard it was an inferno,” Addison said, fingering a yellow sundress in the window display.
The shop owner removed the dress from the mannequin in less than a second and held it up in front of Addison. “This will look lovely on you. It's your size, too.”
Addison gave her an evil eye. “Wicked girl. Did you put it here on purpose?”
Karen wasn't intimidated by the glare in the least. In fact, she winked. “A smart owner knows her customers.”
“Shameless.” Addison sought support from the other woman. “Does no one respect me anymore?”
“Emily might,” Julia said with a gleeful chuckle. “She doesn't know you yet.”
Karen laughed along with everyone else, but then went about redirecting the proceedings. “Okay, we have a lot to do today. I'm all set up. Are you ready to become a bridal party?”
Sarah responded with a squeal of excitement and a resounding yes. The other women laughed.
“I'm ready to marry Seth,” Julia said. “So if I have to endure this whole spectacle to be his wife, then I will.”
“Wow, don't jump up and down with enthusiasm,” Meredith drawled.
Julia rolled her eyes. “You know the ceremony is for show because the town expects it. I'd just as soon head to Vegas and be done with the matter.”
Sarah and Grace both gasped in horror.
“Don't ever say that again,” Sarah cried, clapping both hands to her ears.
Karen laughed. “Don't worry. Once Julia sees her wedding gown, she'll change her mind. Julia, come on back with me. Ladies, my assistant is collecting your dresses. She'll be right out.”
Julia disappeared into the back with the shop owner. In another moment, a dark-haired older woman brushed past the curtain carrying several zippered dress bags hooked over her arm. The other ladies converged on her with exclamations of glee. Emily would have been terrified to have three excitable women circling her like a pride of lionesses moving in for the kill, but Karen's assistant displayed no fear. With quick efficiency she handed out the dresses, and Addison, Meredith, and Sarah rushed to the dressing rooms to try them on.
Which left Emily alone with Julia's stepmother. Emily flashed a nervous smile and then occupied herself by scanning the racks of clothes.
“Why do I get the feeling politeness is the only thing keeping you here?” Grace asked.
Emily spun around. “What?”
“Julia used to get the same haunted expression on her face whenever the subject of weddings came up.”
“Haunted?” And here Emily thought she'd done a good job of hiding her discomfort. She thought about protesting and then figured her cover was blown anyway, so why pretend? “I'm all right.”
Grace opened her mouth to say something, but then the bridesmaids emerged from the dressing rooms. Emily drew in a breath of appreciation. So did the other women when they saw each other.
“Aren't we gorgeous?” Addison asked with a grin. “Julia is a miracle worker. She promised not to make us wear ugly dresses and somehow she pulled off the feat.”
All three wore gold raw silk, but each dress had a slightly different style. Addison's top was strapless and showed off her flawless figure and creamy shoulders. The gold tone complemented her ivory skin and burnished hair. Meredith's halter-style top lovingly hugged her willowy frame, making her look like a living, golden, Greek statue. Finally, Sarah's curvier figure was shown to perfection by a dress with wide straps and a sweetheart neckline.
Julia was going to have the most beautiful bridal party ever in creation.
“What did I tell you about trusting me with the dresses?” Julia called from the doorway.
A collective gasp went up. Clothed in pure white, she might have been Venus rising from the sea. Capped sleeves rested just off her shoulders, and the bodice wove together in a modest V, which still managed to show off enough cleavage to make Emily downright covetous. Gathered interwoven panels continued through the waist and hips, emphasizing a perfect hourglass figure. There wasn't much embellishment â no lace, no pearls, and no extra bows â but then Julia didn't need them.
Grace took a shaky breath and dabbed at her eyes. “Oh, Julia.”
“It's gorgeous,” Meredith said.
“Phenomenal,” Addison added.
Julia plucked at the skirt. “So, I look pretty?”
Sarah stepped forward and touched her sister's cheek. “Not pretty. Radiant.”
“It's not too much?” Julia asked, waving a hand at her chest. “The old ladies won't hyperventilate and whisper
as I walk down the aisle?”
Meredith moved to Julia's side now. “They'll be whispering all right. About how lucky Seth is.”
“And probably cursing you for putting them all to shame,” Addison said.
Julia regarded her stepmother, doubt still evident in her eyes. “Grace?”
Grace beckoned over. “Come here.”
With a rustle of silk and taffeta, Julia crossed the room.
“Close your eyes,” Grace said.
Julia obeyed again, and then Grace turned so they were both facing the mirror. “Now open them.”
Julia's violet-blue eyes filled. “Oh myâ¦”
Grace smiled through her own tears and smoothed a gentle hand along Julia's hair. “Yes, my dear. Oh my. Which will probably be Seth's reaction. We might not even make it through the ceremony before he whisks you away.”
Julia laughed. “Then I'll take it.”
“I should hope so,” Karen said, though the words were delivered with a wide smile, so no offense could be taken.
Julia flew across the room and wrapped her arms around the designer. “Thank you. You are a genius.”
“With you as a subject I couldn't miss,” Karen said.
Julia faced the mirror again and stared. “It's a wonder I don't get struck by lightning wearing one of these.”
The others laughed, but Emily frowned at the odd comment.
Sarah must have noticed the reaction. “Julia was anti-marriage before she fell in love with Seth.
Right. Emily remembered Julia mentioning her aversion to the married state the other day.
“With good reason,” Julia retorted.
“As I recall, you said you were allergic to weddings when I asked you to help run
,” Sarah said.
“I can sympathize,” Emily said with a dry chuckle, then immediately wished she'd kept her mouth shut because all four women were staring at her.
“So, our famous author has a bit of a dark past,” Addison drawled.
Emily tried to laugh away the moment. “Dark? Not hardly. I've just never seen myself getting married. I have my career, and it takes up so much of my time. I'm not sure a husband would understand.”
Addison didn't seem to want to let the matter drop. “I find it curious that your all-encompassing career still allows you to travel around like a vagabond. It's been a long time since your last book, too. I remember you now.”
For some reason, Emily's heart started pounding. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, I remember when you were the hottest thing in the publishing world. America's answer to J.K. Rowling. I even went to one of your book launch parties in L.A. You were a celebrity, and then you disappeared.”
Like darts, the barbs pierced her skin, and Emily blinked hard, trying not to cry in front of these strangers.
Julia laid a hand on Addison's arm. “Lay off. Obviously, Emily is going through something right now. She'll find her voice again.”
“I know, but does she?” Addison asked, her expression softening. She faced Emily again. “Do you know why you can't write?”
“Writer's block,” Emily said. Her hands were shaking so she shoved them in the pocket of her jeans.
“You've got some kind of block, and one guess says it has something to do with a wedding.”
Good grief. Stripped bare in a matter of minutes.
“My advice is to figure out what's got you tied up in knots and deal with it,” Addison said.
“Sure thing, I'll get right on it,” Emily said, hands closing into fists.
To her surprise, Addison threw back her head and laughed. “Well, what do you know? She's got spunk after all. Maybe you do have strength enough to survive.”
Emily didn't know how to keep up. She opened her mouth, but couldn't come up with a rejoinder of any kind.
Addison seemed to realize she'd gone too far and offered an apologetic smile. “Sorry if I came on a bit strong.”