Promise Harbor Wedding Book 2
April 2, 2013
Sometimes you have to get lost before you can find yourself.
Greta Brewster McBain in a bind. Two, if she’s really counting. First there’s the can-barely-breathe, bridesmaid’s dress from hell. Second, the stranger who just carried her “perfect” brother’s fiancée out the church door has made it impossible to tell her own mother about her own divorce.
Rather than confirm her reputation as the family screw-up, Greta takes a drive to clear her head.
Trapped in a hole and unable to reach his cell phone, Hank Mitchell is resigned to becoming a permanent part of his own archeological dig when help arrives—in the form of a woman who looks like a Gone With The Wind refugee. Behind the ruffles and lace, though, is something he appreciates: a woman who isn’t afraid of a little dirt.
Their instant connection draws Greta into the eccentric world of the Hotel Grand, where she impulsively trades her hoopskirts for an apron. Soon things are getting hot, not only in the hotel kitchen, but in Hank’s arms...
Warning: Contains hot moonlit sex, a melancholy turtle, two wisecracking seniors, and the world’s ugliest bridesmaid dress.
Promise Harbor, Massachusetts
Greta shifted slightly, trying to hold her bridesmaid bouquet and at the same time move the Crinolines from Hell away from the backs of her knees. This was undoubtedly the most ghastly bridesmaid dress in the history of mankind. The puke-green flounce around her shoulders stood out in a stiff ruff, while the paler green skirt looked a little like an inverted umbrella, thanks to the Crinolines from Hell. At least the length of the skirt meant that she could wear running shoes instead of the four-inch heels Bernice had originally proposed.
Bernice Cabot was a bridesmaid too, but somehow she’d ended up in charge of the bridesmaids’ wardrobe rather than the bride, Greta’s sister-in-law-to-be. Greta didn’t really know Allie all that well—when they were kids, Allie had spent all her time with Greta’s brother Josh, and Josh never wanted to be around his snot-nosed little sister. The age difference got in the way. Greta had a feeling Allie had asked her to be matron of honor just to be polite.
She wasn’t sure why Bernice had chosen the bridesmaids’ dresses rather than Allie herself, but she really hoped it wasn’t because Allie liked Bernice’s taste. They were undoubtedly the worst dresses Greta had ever seen, let alone worn.
She could still feel the crinolines’ bite through her satin slip, even after she’d managed to shift them slightly to the side (and when had she last worn a slip anyway? Middle school?). Gosh all hemlock, weddings were fun! Maybe she should just avoid them in the future. After all, she’d had her own experience with marital train wreck. Maybe she’d developed some kind of wedding jinx.
Her brother, Josh the Perfect, stood at attention as he watched her future sister-in-law, Allie the Even More Perfect, float down the aisle. In contrast to her bridesmaids’, Allie’s dress was gorgeous. Maybe because Allie had managed to choose her own dress instead of turning the task over to Bernice. However, Allie’s shoes were…interesting. They had huge, green, artificial flowers on the toes. Every time she took a step the edge of her dress seemed to catch on them. Just on a wild guess, Greta figured Bernice had had something to do with those shoes. They showed her touch.
Just now Bernice was standing behind Greta, trembling with ecstasy in her very own bubblegum-pink version of the most ghastly bridesmaid dress in the history of mankind as she watched the bridal procession. The woman had a serious Gone With the Wind fixation. All three bridesmaids looked like they were ready for the barbecue at Tara. Or at least a barbecue at Pittypat’s Porch.
For some reason, neither Josh nor Allie looked particularly happy, certainly not as happy as they should have been on the first day of the rest of their lives. Maybe they were both nervous. Maybe Allie’s wedding foundation garments were as uncomfortable as the ones her bridesmaids had been forced to wear so that they’d look more like Miss Scarlett. Those seventeen-inch waistlines were a bitch.
Greta’s mother gave a discreet sniff in her seat at the front of the church as Allie reached Josh’s side and handed off her bouquet to Greta. Greta’s mother had been sniffling for a week. She must have gone through a case of Kleenex by now. Between sniffling and muttering “Lily would be so proud” every five minutes, her mother probably hadn’t had time to notice the atrocity her daughter was wearing.
Greta studied Allie. She could swear her sister-in-law-to-be was swaying slightly. Granted, the bride had had one hell of a bachelorette party the night before, but she couldn’t still be drunk. Could she? She looked really pale, too, so pale her makeup looked a little like a mask.
Josh leaned toward her, whispering. Probably sweet nothings, although judging from Josh’s expression they were more likely to be sour nothings. Or worried nothings. Her brother looked sort of pale himself.
Greta had managed not to drink as much as the other bridesmaids the night before. It wasn’t that she was trying to stay sober, but the stuff they were serving in that bar came in colors not found in nature. And she sort of remembered the bartender from elementary school. Being served drinks by the terror of the dodgeball court didn’t strike her as a good idea.
Rev. Morgan cleared his throat. “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to unite this man and this woman in holy matrimony.”
“Oh, hell no.”
What the fuck? Greta swiveled toward the back of the room, along with everybody else in the church. She could approve of the sentiment in general but not when it was applied to her big brother’s wedding in particular.
“Gavin?” Allie blurted.
Greta narrowed her eyes. She sort of recognized the guy standing in the aisle, but not exactly. He was from the harbor—that much she was sure of. Named Gavin, according to Allie-the-Even-More-Perfect. Probably the same age as Josh and Allie, which made him too old for Greta to have hung out with in the past.
On the other hand, right now he looked a little like a refugee from the North Woods come to claim his mail-order bride. Beard, hair down to his collar, jeans, T-shirt, hoodie that was turning gray at the elbows. On second thought, he looked a lot like the Unabomber. Greta found herself edging discreetly to the side.
Josh’s expression was somewhere between shock and fury. “This is Gavin?”
Allie gave a jerky nod.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Josh snarled at the interloper.
Oh come on, it’s obvious what he’s doing. He’s breaking up your wedding. Greta studied the Unabomber wannabe more carefully. Maybe the guy was another marriage survivor trying to stamp out the whole practice. Or maybe he’d been left off the invitation list. Hell, if that was the problem, Greta would gladly have given him her own.
“I’m here to talk to Allie.”
Greta took another look at the North Woods refugee. Much as she loved her brother, she had to admit this Gavin had a certain…something. Which, of course, made his current actions even worse. Hunky guys were supposed to move on to the next girl instead of moving in on someone who was already taken.
Josh stepped between his fiancée and his competition. “We’re kind of in the middle of something.”
“Yeah, this can’t wait.” Gavin looked past Josh to Allie. “I need to talk to you. Now.”
Allie’s eyes were wide and she looked even more pale. Faint-at-any-moment pale. Greta stiffened. If Allie fainted, whose responsibility was it to catch her? Greta’s own hands were currently full of two bouquets. She wondered if she could toss them to one of the other bridesmaids in time to keep her almost-sister-in-law from hitting the floor.
On the other hand, given how much Allie had had to drink the night before, there was also a very good chance she might be throwing up soon. Greta really considered taking care of that to be somebody else’s responsibility. This wasn’t anything she’d seen discussed in the various wedding guides she’d consulted before her own little trip down the Aisle Straight to Heartbreak. Nobody had said the matron of honor was in charge of cleaning up after the bride’s mistakes.
Gavin started toward Allie, but Josh moved to block him. “I don’t think so, Gavin.”
Greta relaxed. At least one of the guys could catch the fainting bride if worse came to worst. And wherever Allie might be throwing up, it wouldn’t be anywhere near Greta. She went back to studying Gavin-the-interloper. Definitely hunky. He seemed to have that whole tough guy with a heart of gold thing going. The opposite of her ex, the shifty guy whose heart was actually made out of polystyrene.
She glanced at the front pews. Her mother had dropped her Kleenex for once. Her bright blue eyes were wide, her red lips pursed in a grimace. Greta guessed this wasn’t her idea of proper wedding procedure. She widened her survey to include the rest of the church. Holy crap, people were actually taking pictures of this fiasco. It looked like they were all going to end up on the Internet. Once this video hit YouTube, it should go viral in a matter of seconds.
“Listen, I can do this here in front of the whole town. I don’t mind. I’m leaving here with Allie one way or another. But I think keeping some of this private might be appropriate.” Gavin leaned around Josh to look at Allie. “I have some things I need to say before you say I do to another man, Al.”
So now he wanted privacy? After stomping down the aisle in front of the entire population of the harbor? Well, at least no one could suggest the guy didn’t have a pair, probably brass-plated too.
Josh sighed, lowering his own voice so that only the people at the front of the church could hear. “Don’t do this, Gavin. Haven’t you messed with her enough? Just let her be happy.”
“That’s exactly what I want to do. Is that what you want?”
“I’m standing next to her in a tux in front of a minister. What do you think?”
Greta half expected them to whip out their junk for a quick comparison. The wedding was rapidly descending into a shouting match.
“I think that if you don’t let her talk to me, you know that she’ll always wonder. You don’t want that, do you? To have your wife wondering about another man?”
Good question, actually. Greta shifted the bride’s bouquet to her other hand so that she could move a little closer. This was better than Lifetime. Who knew her brother’s life had this much drama? Josh had always been Mr. Responsible, Pride of the Brewsters. He never screwed up. It was a rule. And now it looked like his life was headed south, not unlike Greta’s.
She tried to dredge up some sense of outrage over Gavin Whatever His Name Was and failed completely. She’d had a suspicion Josh and Allie weren’t all that right for each other to begin with, their personal perfection notwithstanding. They were affectionate enough, but not…hot. Not can’t-wait-to-tear-your-clothes-off passionate. Of course, who was she to talk about passionate? She’d practically had to make an appointment for sex with Ryan.
Watching Allie chug a ridiculous number of really awful drinks the night before had cemented her impression—Allie just wasn’t behaving the way a full-on, joyous bride should behave. Of course, that could have been because Allie was a lot more level-headed than Greta herself had ever been. You’d never see her running into something like a bad marriage. Except now it seemed like she had. Maybe Greta and her sister-in-law-to-be had more in common than she’d ever realized.
Josh blew out a long breath and shoved his hand through his hair. Greta wondered if she’d ever seen him look that frustrated before. Then he half turned toward his fiancée. “Allie?”
Allie turned toward Gavin the Hunk. She looked like she was trying to gather her wandering thoughts together again. “What would I wonder?”
“You’d wonder what I had to say to you so badly that I would fly over four thousand miles so I could rush in here to stop your wedding.”
Allie stared at him for a very long moment, then shifted her gaze to the congregation that waited breathlessly for whatever the hell she was planning to say. There wasn’t a sound in the church beyond the occasional snap of a camera shutter. Greta repressed the urge to scratch at her crinoline again.
“Allie?” The Hunk looked faintly worried.
“You’re too late,” Allie whispered.
Greta took a closer look at her almost-sister-in-law. She still looked immaculate, although slightly green around the edges—still more than perfect. But there were tears in her eyes. Well, crap.
In Greta’s considered opinion, Josh was toast.
“Bullshit,” Gavin Whoever He Was said. He stepped forward, dodging around Josh, bent and scooped Allie into his arms, then headed for the side door, looking sort of like Rhett carrying Scarlett up those stairs. Bernice Cabot was probably ecstatic.
“Gavin!” Allie gave a couple of halfhearted kicks, but he seemed to have tightened his hold.
“Just a damn minute—” Josh started.
“Give me a chance,” Gavin said, turning back again. “Let me talk to her. Let me tell her what I came here to say. Then if she wants to come back, I’ll walk her down the aisle myself.”
And leprechauns will sing while unicorns frolic in the ferns. That was probably the single most outrageous request Greta had ever heard somebody make at a wedding. It was also probably a mark of her own attitude toward marriage that it didn’t seem that far out of bounds.
Sure. Go off for a trial honeymoon with somebody else. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back for a second try with groom number one.
On the other hand, the Hunkster was clearly delusional. Did he really think Josh would wait around while another guy made a pitch to his fiancée, and then take her back, no questions asked? Did Allie think that? Did anybody but the Hunkster really believe this was a workable idea? Greta leaned forward to see what would happen next, balancing the bouquets on her hip.
Josh stared at Allie, who had stopped struggling for the moment. Greta stole a glance at her mother. Her face was rigid with shock, the hand with the Kleenex curved into a fist at her side. Terrific. Greta had a feeling she’d be doing damage control with Mom as soon as this was over.
Gavin the Hunk murmured something in Allie’s ear. In this case, it probably was sweet nothings, given the faint smile that drifted across her lips as she whispered something back.
Josh took a breath to say something else, but the Hunkster apparently felt the same way Greta did about the whole scene. Time for it to be over. He turned and strode toward the side door of the sanctuary, Josh’s fiancée still cuddled in his arms. Mrs. Gurney, the pianist, obligingly opened the door for him—Greta figured she could kiss her wedding music fee good-bye.
The moment seemed to hang suspended in silence. Josh stared after his fiancée. Greta’s mother stared after her future daughter-in-law. Or the woman who had been her future daughter-in-law until five minutes ago. At the moment, the prospect of Allie and Josh ever getting married seemed pretty remote.
Then Josh turned and stomped after them, throwing the door wide without Mrs. Gurney’s help. Greta hurried after him, the two bouquets still clutched in her hands. Behind her the cell phone cameras clicked away, apparently recording every moment of this debacle for future reference. Greta managed to refrain from whirling back to flip off the photographers. She figured that would only make things worse.
Greta heard Josh cry “Wait,” as she opened the door.
The Hunkster turned on the sidewalk outside the church, Allie still cradled in his arms while Josh strode near them, glowering. Greta wasn’t sure she’d ever seen her brother glower before.
Josh balled his hands into fists at his sides. “What the fuck, Allie? Are you leaving with him?”
Gavin narrowed his eyes. “Allie called me last night.”
Greta blinked. Well, hell. As the matron of honor she should probably have confiscated Allie’s phone. But who knew she had that in mind? Most brides-to-be drunk-dialed the guy they wanted to yell nyah, nyah, nyah at, not the guy they wanted to have carry them up the aisle. The fact that Allie even had someone she wanted to carry her up the aisle was maybe an indication that the wedding itself wasn’t such a great idea.
Josh straightened, staring at Allie. “You did?”
Allie squeaked. She was losing perfection points by the second.
Gavin Whoever squared his already-square jaw. “She called and told me that she’d always love me.”
Oh, way to rub it in, Hunkster. Now Allie groaned, closing her eyes. Greta had the feeling a groan or two wouldn’t be enough to make her brother back off.
Josh folded his arms across his chest. “Allie? Is this true?”
There was another of those long pauses. “Well…” Allie murmured.
Josh shook his head. “Jesus Christ. Were you drunk?” He sounded like he was gritting his teeth.
“Maybe a little.”
A little? Oh, Allie was losing those perfection points right and left now.
“You called Gavin the night before our wedding and told him you’d always love him?” Josh was staring at her as if he’d never seen her before.
Allie licked her lips. “Not exactly,” she said. “I didn’t tell him to come or anything. I didn’t say that I loved him.”
“Allie. We’re getting married,” Josh said flatly. “You don’t just change your mind at the last second about something like this.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
Right. Greta wasn’t a lawyer, but she had a feeling that defense wasn’t going to fly.
“That’s all I need to hear.” The Hunkster tightened his grip on Allie again, then headed down the sidewalk.
Greta pressed her lips together, watching a muscle dance in her brother’s jaw. All of a sudden she really wanted this to be over. Let it go. Just let it go. She swallowed. Even with her own hard-won cynicism about marriage, it would be tough to top the last ten minutes in terms of marriage disasters.
Behind her, she heard someone catch her breath. Great. Apparently, she hadn’t been the only one to follow them out of the church. Greta pivoted quickly—ready to tell whoever it was to go back inside and shut the hell up—and saw Devon Grant, Josh’s ex, standing a few feet away.
Only judging from the way she was looking at Josh right now, she wasn’t all that ex after all. Her dark brown eyes were wide, and she chewed on her lower lip as she watched the drama unfold in front of her.
Greta took another in a series of deep breaths. This was getting way too complicated anyway. She turned and slipped back inside the church. Let them figure it out for themselves—she was totally done.
Her mother stood in the middle of the aisle . Her lace fascinator had shifted forward over one eye and her navy taffeta was definitely showing creases. Greta figured if Mom had had an RPG, Gavin Whoever would be a grease spot by now.
She raised an eyebrow at Greta. Greta shook her head. The muscle in Mom’s jaw danced like just like the one in Josh’s jaw.
The noise level in the church grew to deafening. Then Mom pushed her fascinator back into place, her lips narrowing to a very thin line, like a general preparing to lead her troops on a suicide charge. She turned to the wedding guests, clapping her hands for attention.
“All right, everybody,” she called. “There’s food at the Promise Harbor Inn. It’s all paid for. Go on and enjoy yourselves. There’s no reason everybody has to have their day ruined. I feel a headache coming on.”
She raised her head, surveying the crowd imperiously, then swiveled on her heel toward the same side door everybody else had used, throwing it open and then slamming it behind her without looking back.
As the noise level in the room rose to deafening again, Greta stared down at the bridal bouquet still clutched in her hands, wondering exactly what she was supposed to do with it. If she threw it to the crowd, would the person who caught it be the next one to have a traumatic breakup? Probably best not to find out.
She knelt and placed the bouquet in front of the altar, sort of like an offering, although she wasn’t sure who it would be an offering to. Maybe the god of chaos.
Then she straightened again, glancing at the door where her mother, brother, prospective sister-in-law and various significant others had just disappeared. She had no intention of following them. Whatever was happening outside wasn’t anything she wanted to be a part of.
And this probably wasn’t the best time to break the news to her mother about her own divorce.
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Meg Benjamin is an award-winning author of contemporary romance. Her Konigsburg series for Samhain Publishing is set in the Texas Hill Country. Book #3, Be My Baby, won a 2011 EPIC Award for Contemporary Romance. Book #4, Long Time Gone, received the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Indie Press Romance. Book #5, Brand New Me, won the Holt Medallion from Virginia Romance Writers and was nominated for Book Of the Year at Long and Short Reviews. Meg lives in Colorado with her DH and two rather large Maine coon kitties (well, partly Maine Coon anyway). Her Web site is http://www.MegBenjamin.com and her blog is http://megbenj1.wordpress.com/. You can follow her on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/meg.benjamin1), Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/megbenjamin/), and Twitter (http://twitter.com/megbenj1). Meg loves to hear from readers—contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.