Julian approached the guesthouse as an entourage of giggly young women
dressed in pink smocks and carrying black cases and travel bags of all
shapes and sizes passed him on the walkway. Becks had to be polished to
high gloss at this point. By no small chance, this house was also the farthest
from the site of the wedding. He got Rebecca’s agreement to get ready in
this location with promises of a special surprise in exchange for doing
so. Now, she would get her surprise, but she definitely wouldn’t be happy
Moments later, two tall, muscular men in dark suits came upon him. “We’re reporting for duty, sir,” the taller of the two men said.
“Very good. You know your posts.”
They nodded and retreated to their assigned locations.
Before entering the house, Julian took a moment to take in the splendor of the day. A vibrant shade of robin egg blue painted the cloudless sky, and a hint of a cool breeze tempered the warm summer afternoon. He filled his lungs with the light scent of the red rose boutonniere adorning his lapel, and with thoughts of happily ever after with Eve, strode into the dwelling.
Rebecca turned at the sound of the door closing. “Pookie, what are you doing in here?” She frowned. “You know, it’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding. Especially in her wedding dress.”
He looked at the spectacle Rebecca presented in pristine white. Who was she kidding in that getup? No wonder those women were laughing. Yards and yards of satin and lace covered her arms and gathered in a huge pile at her feet, and diamonds encrusted the bodice of the dress, dripped from her ears and neck, and dangled from the comb that held her up styled hair and equally white veil in place. Julian shook his head in dismay. What a waste, on so many fronts. She looked like a snowwoman in the dead of winter. Did she know it was summertime?
He took several steps forward. “Look, there’s no easy way to put this, so I’m just going to say it. I’m not marrying you.”
Rebecca erupted in hearty laughter. “Don’t be ridiculous, Julian.” She turned to the swiveling, full-length oak mirror at her rear. Her fingertips brushed against her heaving breast, left exposed by the deep cut of her dress. They glistened with what appeared to be silvery glitter. She smiled at her reflection. “You’re already in your tux, I’m dressed, and the wedding is starting in less than half an hour. Really, you should save these games for tonight.”
“This is no game, Becks. I’m not marrying you.” He folded his arms. “Did you really expect me to succumb to your threats of blackmail?”
She turned from the mirror. Her happy smirk no more. He knew a threat would be the next thing to pass her lips. “Pookie, do I have to remind you of --”
He shook his head. So predictable. “You don’t have to remind me of anything. I love Eve. I’ve always loved Eve, and I always will. You’re right that the wedding is starting soon, but you’re not going to be the bride. I’ll let you guess who will be, though.”
Fire flashed in her eyes and shocks of red colored her cheeks. “You’re lying!”
“No, I’m not.”
“You can’t marry Eve Russell!”
“Oh, but I can, and I will.” He checked his watch. “In twenty-four minutes to be exact.”
“I have over a hundred guests expecting me to walk down the aisle.”
“Actually, you don’t. All of your ‘guests’ were regrettably informed that the nuptials had been cancelled,” Julian explained. Simone gave him a helpful hand in delivering this news. With any luck, her congenial demeanor would remain when she discovered the identity of his bride.
Rebecca gathered the lengthy train of her gown and stomped over to him. Not intimidated, Julian held his ground. Angry eyes burned through him, but her fiery rage couldn’t torch his happiness. “Do you honestly think I won’t turn you in?”
“You could try, but no one would believe your story. I was so caught up in the idea of prison time that I didn’t give real thought to your proof.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh, that’s right, you don’t have any.”
“I have my word as an eyewitness.”
“Your word and a quarter might get you a pack of gum. My marrying Eve will make you look even more the scorned woman. Who’s going to believe a word you say? Besides, if you knew about my cruel intentions and didn’t say anything, that makes you an accessory. That means prison time for you, too.”
Tears gathered in Rebecca’s eyes. He wanted to feel sorry for her, but couldn’t muster an ounce of sympathy. She deserved this treatment and more.
“What am I supposed to do now?” Her lips quivered with emotion. “I left Jonathan to marry you.”
“I didn’t ask you to do that. You did so on your own.” He released a ragged breath. “Look, I’m not completely heartless.” Reaching into his breast pocket, he produced a white envelope. “There’s a check for fifty thousand dollars in here. Considering that’s more than a lot of people make in a year, I think it’s adequate compensation for your assistance, such as it was with your questionable taste, for helping me put this ceremony together. You can use it to tie you over until you find employment and get on your feet.”
“Find employment?” She gasped. “I don’t have any skills, except for in the bedroom. I’m a socialite, Julian. I go through fifty thousand dollars in a couple of hours. How am I supposed to live off that?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps, you can find an old, lonely, blind billionaire at the club.” He took another glance at his watch. “I have a few things to take care of before I say ‘I do,’ so you have to make a choice. You can either leave quietly with the two gentlemen I have waiting outside or spend the rest of the evening until tomorrow morning in this wonderful soundproof home while they stand guard outside. Whatever you choose, you won’t be able to interrupt my wedding, and you will no longer be a thorn in my side.”
“Gwennie will come looking for me,” she stated with unabashed confidence.
“I wouldn’t count on it. Of course, you’d be so caught up in yourself to notice you haven’t seen your daughter all day. See, Gwen got a letter from you this morning explaining an unforeseen problem with your dress. And since this wedding is to be the social event of the year and you have to look just so when you become Mrs. Julian Crane, you flew off to Paris to give an earful to and have another fitting with the designer, thereby postponing the wedding for another week. So, she and Ethan went out for the day. They’re not even on the grounds.”
She grunted. “Well, I see you thought of everything.”
“Yeah, I did.” He extended the envelope. “You can take this.”
Rebecca snatched the envelope and tossed it to the floor. “I don’t want fifty thousand dollars. I want the Crane billions. You can’t ditch me, Julian! I will not be made the laughing stock of Harmony while you marry Eve Russell on my wedding day. With the wedding I planned!” she shrieked, thrusting her finger into her chest.
“I could have left you at the altar, but I decided to be gracious.” He retrieved the envelope and returned it to his pocket. “Now, not only will you not have the Crane name and billions, you’ll be minus fifty thousand dollars. I neither have the time nor inclination to argue with you, Rebecca. I’m about to marry the love of my life. You and your problems aren’t even a blip on my radar.” He straightened his bow tie and strolled to the door.
“You can’t just leave me here!”
Julian turned to her. “There’s food, bottles of water, and any other beverage you might want in the kitchen. You have a top of the line entertainment system here with tons of movies, and there’s also a bathroom. You don’t need anything else.” He turned to the door and quickly turned back. “Oh, an don’t worry about trying to call anyone, there’s no phones, and I made certain if you have your cell phone, you won’t be able to get a signal. Enjoy your day, Rebecca. I’m certain I’m going to enjoy mine.”
The door closing behind him muffled Rebecca’s squeals of protest. Julian
exhaled. One problem solved, the only thing remaining was Eve’s discussion
with her girls. He looked up and whispered a prayer. “Please, God, let
things go well with them.”
“What are you doing here?”
Whitney’s hand slipped from the doorknob to the guesthouse as she turned to the familiar voice. “Simone,” she said with a smile, unable to conceal her happiness at seeing her sister again.
Simone looked absolutely stunning in a lavender halter dress with her dark tresses piled high atop her head. It struck Whitney as ironic that her sister’s dress color matched that of the stylish slip dress she chose for the occasion. It gave her hope that their bond wasn’t completely broken. “I didn’t know you would be here.” She attempted to give her a hug but Simone stepped away.
Though a light breeze hung in the air, the trembling of her body had nothing to do with the cooling wind, but everything to do with Simone’s icy gaze. “I can say the same thing about you,” Simone said, eyeing Whitney up and down. “I thought you were in L.A. laying up in bed with Chad.”
Whitney sighed. She didn’t want to argue with Simone. She hated her sister still harbored such resentment. Especially since things with Chad were hardly wonderful. “Don’t be that way.”
“What other way is there to be?” Simone snapped. A harsh breath followed as her hands found her hips. “You haven’t said why you’re here.”
“Mr. Crane wanted me at his wedding. He flew me over on his private jet and everything. I didn’t expect I’d run into family here, but I am glad to see you. You look really beautiful.” Simone rolled her eyes. “So, uh, how are you about Mom and Dad?”
“How am I? Does it matter? They’re divorced, no thanks to you. Look, I’m not happy about it, but it’s done.”
“Simone, whether you believe it or not, this divorce wasn’t my fault.” Whitney expelled a long breath. “It is hard to accept, but if they weren’t happy together, I guess it was time for them to move on.”
“It’s time for everybody to move on. Sorta like you with Chad,” Simone remarked, her tone bitter. “You say Julian invited you to the wedding, fine, but what are you doing outside this house?”
Whitney looked down at the rose petals covering the walkway and the white ribbons and red and white roses that decorated the door. “This is where the bride is getting dressed. I saw Julian a little while ago and he said to come over, that Rebecca wanted to see me before the wedding and I should just go in.”
“Julian told you Rebecca was in there?”
“He didn’t say his bride?” Simone questioned.
“Yeah, he said his bride, but since he’s marrying Rebecca it’s the same thing.”
Simone scoffed. “Goes to show what you know. Julian isn’t marrying Rebecca.”
Simone’s anger and the scent of all the roses had obviously gone to her head, Whitney surmised. “Of course he’s marrying Rebecca. Everybody in the world knows that.”
“Everybody in the world thinks that.” Simone patted her hand against her chest. “I know different. Julian and I had a wonderful talk today. He’s a really nice man.”
“I agree. I’ve said as much before. We became friendly in the elevator.”
“Well, Julian wanting to be your friend shows he still has some shortcomings.”
Whitney sighed. Why did she even bother?
“Anyway,” Simone continued, “he told me all about his great love and how this wedding is a surprise for her. By now he’s probably broken the news to Rebecca, so your services are not needed here.” She moved to stand before the door, blocking Whitney’s path inside. “The last thing his bride needs is a little slut like you being underfoot.”
Whitney’s hands balled to tight fists. At her zenith where Simone’s putdowns were concerned, she pushed her way past her sister and grabbed the handle of the door. “I don’t know anything about Julian marrying some other woman, but he asked me to go in there and that’s what I’m going to do, and if you don’t like it, tough!”
She grabbed the handle and pushed open the door as Simone followed directly on her heels. Whitney froze where she stood when she spotted Eve dressed in gorgeous off-white dress. A wedding dress. The abrupt stop propelled Simone right into her back.
“Ow,” Simone yelped. “Why did you…Mom?”
Eve walked over to them, her hands extended. “Girls, we need to have
a little talk.”