Authors: Lelaina Landis
By Lelaina Landis
Text copyright 2013 Lelaina Landis
For Tonya, my soul sister,
(on the other side of that thin wall)
The limousine would pull up any minute now, and Sabrina knew
exactly what would happen then. Molly would scramble out, makeup half finished,
the back of her hair still set in curlers. The bride and her maid of honor
would rush to the altar just in time, and it would be one more near-calamity
that the two friends would laugh about later.
Sabrina paced the walk of the Victorian mansion. Her ankles
were already wobbling under the impossibly high heels of her sandals, but the
movement was the only way she could stir up a breeze in the afternoon’s dead
heat. Using her hand to block the glare of the bright November sun, she
squinted toward the parking lot.
She had never known Molly to be on time, and Molly’s fiancé
had refined showing up at his druthers to a fine art. Their tardiness would not
impress the two hundred of Austin’s best shod who sat in Green Pastures waiting
to see Molly wed Sebastian Cole of the Peyton Heights Coles.
“Damn it, Molly, call and tell me you’re on the way,”
Sabrina begged as the time on her cell phone changed to 3:46. The phone
vibrated in her hand. UNKNOWN CALLER registered on the display.
“Can you hear me, Brini?” Molly was on the other end of the
line. “I have something to—”A loudspeaker bawled in the background, drowning
out the rest of her sentence. Sabrina tried to discern the language. It
definitely wasn’t English.
“What’s going on, Molls? You’re seriously, unfashionably
late. It’s almost four o’clock!”
“Really?” Her best friend sounded surprised. “I suppose I
got the time zones mixed up.”
Now Sabrina heard the clamor of voices in the background and
had a bad feeling.
“Look, Molls,” she said. “There are two hundred people
sitting in the reception room sprouting hemorrhoids. Your future
mother-in-law’s Botox looks like it’s about to fail. Can you and groom-errant
possibly get to your own wedding?”
“That could be a major problem.”
getting married today, aren’t you?” There
was a stretch of silence, and Sabrina heard the loudspeaker blare again.
Suddenly she pictured Molly, runaway bride, standing in a crowded bus terminal
“There’s been a change in plans, Brini,” Molly said.
“Sebastian and I won’t be coming to Green Pastures.”
Sabrina swallowed her disappointment. The wedding was off.
Her best friend had been fascinated by romantic love ever
since the two women were children. Sabrina had wanted to mix sulfurous
concoctions with her junior chemistry set while Molly wanted to make Barbie and
Ken fall in love. Then boys came into the picture — bad boys — and
had broken Molly’s heart time and time again. Just when it seemed as though
Molly would fritter her love away, along came taciturn Sebastian, five years
her junior, who reciprocated her crazy adoration. Sabrina could almost hear the
film score swell in their presence.
“What happened, Molls?” she asked. “Please don’t tell me you
let Cybil Cole get to you.”
“Oh, you don’t know the half of it,” Molly said in an
ominous tone. “First she picked out those terrible bridesmaid’s dresses. They
are terrible, aren’t they?”
“Straight to consignment. I won’t lie.” The dress was an
uninspiring shade of martini-olive green that brought out the sallow tones in
Sabrina’s skin, and its dropped waist emphasized her vertical challenge.
“Then she reserved the Cotillion Room, and the next thing I
knew, the invitations were mailed. I’m thirty-six years old, Brini. I wanted a
simple wedding, not a coming-out party.”
“Did you talk to Sebastian about it?”
“Yes.” Molly sighed. “I finally mustered up the courage to
tell him how I felt. We were on the same page — well, about the wedding,
at least. I didn’t tell you because you didn’t need to hear about my silly
problems. It would have been horrible timing, what with you and Jackson
splitting up right after that ill-fated cruise of yours.”
Ill-fated indeed. Sabrina glanced at her bare ring finger
dispassionately. She wanted to tell Molly that she’d abandoned most of her
problems on the Polar Star, along with a broken iPod and her least favorite
“Your problems are
silly,” Sabrina told her
firmly. “I wish I knew what to say. I adore Sebastian, even if he is a bit
peculiar. I’m so sorry it didn’t work out.”
“What are you talking about, Brini?” Molly sounded confused.
“No one’s called off the marriage, just the wedding! Sebastian’s with me right
now, in fact. We’re at Charles de Gaulle. It’s an airport.”
“I know what it is.” Sabrina spoke patiently. “Why?”
There was a pause, and then Molly screamed happily, “We’ve
eloped to Paris! Do you believe it? I’m in the City of Lights!” Sabrina held
the phone away from her ear while Molly squealed like a game show contestant.
“You’re really in Paris?” Sabrina asked once she put the
phone back to her ear. “I so do not believe this. Cybil and Shuck Cole are
going to bust guts.”
“Let them,” Molly said with pepper. “It’s my wedding, and I
want Paris. I need a favor, Brini. It’s minuscule, really. Make the
announcement to everyone?”
“Seriously, Molly? Send a text or a telegram if you don’t
feel like dealing with the in-laws. They aren’t mine!”
“But you quell the irate masses for a living,” Molly
reasoned. “You’re a great public speaker. I’ve seen you on television dozens of
Somehow Sabrina didn’t think that introducing the Honorable
Representative Theodore Ward at political events was on par with announcing the
cancellation of a wedding in front of the Coles and their ilk.
announcements,” she pointed out. “When
I try the warm and cuddly stuff, I sound like a hostess on QVC.”
“Please, Brini? I need you,” Molly pleaded.
“Molly Parker, if — and I did say
— I do
this, you owe me in a very big way.” Sabrina kept her voice stern.
“You’ll do it.” Molly sounded confident. “Face it, sister.
The only reason you agreed to be in this wedding anyway was because it was
Sabrina surveyed the mansion in front of her with dread. A
stain of perspiration had spread across the bodice of her hideous bridesmaid’s
gown. Austin weather was always unpredictable, but autumn was particularly
schizophrenic. Today, the heat had climbed into the mid-eighties. If she didn’t
find shade fast, she’d poach.
The well-tended St. Augustine grass that surrounded the
mansion was just as plush as it was in summer. Diva of all ground covers, its
thick network of roots was perfect for stabilizing croquet wickets and snaring
heels. She uttered an epithet and pulled her shoe free, sending a pair of
peacocks skittering toward the gazebo. She could hear strains of a harp quintet
coming from the mansion. Sabrina had attended many functions here and understood
what it represented.
Old school. And old money.
Sabrina had to admit that Molly had the right idea. A
fairy-tale wedding in one’s late thirties was a bit much. Sabrina’s own brush
with marriage had taken place on the cruise her best friend had so aptly described
as “ill-fated.” On his thirty-ninth birthday, Jackson, Sabrina’s ex-fiancé, had
asked her once again where she wanted to tie the knot. Sabrina, who had been
to distract herself from the
thump-thump-thumping of his biological clock, mused that a destination wedding
at sea would be fine. It had all seemed easy enough until he began pressing her
to pick an actual destination. Ambivalent about both Jackson and the wedding,
she had gone to her office one morning, spun the antique globe on her desk,
closed her eyes, and pinned her finger on the most formidable continent of them
But her brush with matrimony had occurred two months ago.
Practically ancient history in the grand scheme of life,
Sabrina reasoned. And it was rendered irrelevant, now that Molly needed her for
“Here goes nothing,” Sabrina muttered, wondering how the
hell she would tell a room full of guests that the bride and groom had bailed
on a wedding with a price tag well into five figures in favor of
on another continent. She looked through the French doors into
the Cotillion Room. A smattering of people remained in the seats in front of an
altar. The groomsmen had broken ranks and gathered around the champagne table.
She opened her clutch and frowned as she peered into the
tiny mirror on the liner. Her thick thatch of bangs had wilted from their side
part, and wet tendrils clung to her brow. The trendy young stylist she’d seen
had “touched up” her highlights with a heavy hand. The result was a conspicuous
platinum-on-brunette effect that made her look like a rave queen.
God, it was sweltering. The porch creaked as though the
house itself were complaining. Sabrina’s shoulders tensed as she heard a deep
exhalation. She tilted the mirror slightly to her right. A man’s broad shoulder
appeared in the reflection. She snapped the clutch shut and whirled around.
The tallest, most massive man she’d ever seen stood mere
feet away, looking at her with hooded eyes of an indeterminate pale shade —
obviously a member of the wedding party, given his formal attire. She had been
paired up with Jace, one of the dishier Cole cousins. With his patrician nose
and widow’s peak, the best man could have strolled out a men’s cologne ad. Except
that Jace always carried around a bag of marijuana — his preferred
contraband — and disappeared from functions for hours only to return
red-eyed, muttering nonsense.
This meant that the tall man standing beside her was either
an usher or a groomsman, although Sabrina didn’t know which. Molly and
Sebastian had declined a rehearsal dinner at the eleventh hour, insisting that
the attendants could play it by ear. Sabrina hadn’t known their real reason
until now. The happy couple had probably been busy hunting for passports.
She didn’t know that menswear shops carried tuxedos in
Linebacker, either. The tall man’s bowtie hung around the collar of his shirt,
which was already wrinkling. He caught her glance and winked. Something about
her must have amused him, because a slight smile pulled at his lips.
“What?” she asked.
“Just admiring the view.” He returned his gaze to the south
lawn. “Where I grew up, you don’t see this kind of green in early November.
This time of year, we’re getting out the lip balm and snow chains.”
He looked back at her with a high-beam smile. He wasn’t the
sort of man who usually caught her eye, but there was something about him that
made her body stir. Broad, flat cheekbones. Plush lips. A slightly crooked nose
that told her he’d been on the receiving end of several well-aimed punches.
Dark auburn hair dusted the shoulders of his black jacket. The strange hue
contrasted wildly with a complexion that was much too fair and fine for someone
so muscled and masculine. Sabrina found herself wanting to stretch up to touch
his cheek to see if his skin was as soft as it looked.
She preferred conventionally handsome men with lean runners’
builds. Men who silently suffered the choke hold of a bowtie. The specimen in
front of her, leaning over the railing as though he owned the place, struck her
as one-night-stand material. A rowdy good time.
She surreptitiously checked his hand for a wedding band.
So why hadn’t he at least given her an appreciative once-over? Then she
remembered the uninspiring dress that camouflaged her finer female assets.
Whoever he was and wherever he came from, this man was not
her type anyway.
She quickly looked away.
“Never seen a state where Indian summers last this long,” he
commented, sliding his elbows off the railing. “I suppose somebody’s got to
keep breweries in business.”
She watched him retrieve two bottles of Dos Equis from a
large delivery cooler by the service entrance and neatly pop the caps of both
on the scrolls of an ornate wrought iron baluster. Then he spoke again.
“So I assume you got the inside scoop on why Molly and
Sebastian went AWOL.”
“How do you know about that?”
“Voices carry with the right acoustics.” He nodded his head
at the veranda below. “There’s not going to be a wedding today — at least
you?” Sabrina studied him.
“Where are my manners?” He placed the beers on the handrail.
One of his large paws completely enveloped her much smaller hand. Now that he
was closer, Sabrina noticed that his cheeks and nose were peppered with
freckles and that his eyes were a grayish green.
“Gage Fitzgerald, backup for the best man. Jace won’t be
gracing us with his presence unless we happen to catch a whiff of him standing
downwind.” Then he gave her a sly glance and added, “I suppose attendant
designations aren’t important at this point anyway.”
The name teased Sabrina’s memory. She
finally recalled Sebastian mentioning an old university friend. The Irish
surname explained the combination of dark red hair and creamy skin. Sabrina
tried to pick out a regional accent, but there wasn’t one that she could
discern. Just a rich, rumbling timbre that was rather pleasant.
“Pleased to meet you. I’m—”
“The bride’s best friend, Sabrina March, right?” His smile
grew wider. She pulled her hand from his grasp. “I thought so,” he went on.
“Sebastian couldn’t have painted you any better.”
“Really.” Sabrina wasn’t sure she wanted to know what
descriptors Sebastian Cole, literary savant and two-time Fulbright scholar, had
plucked from his arcane lexicon. Comparisons to fictional characters were
“Here. It’s on the house.” Squinting into the sun, Gage
absently passed her one of the beers. Sabrina accepted it reluctantly. The
thought of tossing back a cold one when it was still daylight was totally
inappropriate. And extremely enticing.