Sheridan’s nails dug deep into Julian’s flesh. Even through the fabric
of his tuxedo, he was certain she had drawn blood. He shared his sister’s
excitement about the nuptials, but the only woman he wanted scratching
his body from unbridled happiness was Eve.
Facing the assembled, Julian pasted a tight smile on his face and eased a step closer to his sister and away from Father Lonigan. “Sheridan, dear, you’re hurting me,” he whispered through gritted teeth.
She readily loosened her grip on his arm and gave it a soothing caress. “Oh, Julian, I’m sorry. I’m just so thrilled for you. I swear, if I wasn’t six months pregnant, I’d be jumping up and down and doing a jig.” Her eyes bore into his. “You’re serious, right? You’re really going to marry Eve?”
“Yes, I’m really going to marry Eve.” He smiled. “You’re really happy about this, aren’t you?”
“Julian, I’m positively ecstatic!” Sheridan exclaimed, her beaming face corroborating her obvious delight.
Members of the congregation raised a curious eyebrow her way. Luis was about to advance, but she shook her head and mouthed ‘I’m fine,’ then assured Father Lonigan of the same when he made his inquiry.
“I’ve always liked Eve, and felt very close to her,” Sheridan continued, her voice softer. “She’s been my doctor for forever, but she’s also been a very good friend to me, always so nurturing. Now she’s going to be my sister, and I couldn’t be happier.”
“Nor could I,” he added. “You know, Eve’s loved you since you were a child. You probably don’t remember, but she used to read bedtime stories and sing lullabies to you.”
Sheridan paused for a moment. Recognition glowed in her eyes. “Actually, Julian, I do remember. She always came around at night. Oh, I can’t believe I forgot. She suddenly stopped coming around and not soon after you married Ivy. I was what, two or three years old? I asked Father about the lady, your friend that was so nice to me, but he never answered me, and told me to never bring her up again, especially not to you.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“So, uh, how are her daughters with this? I can’t imagine they’re too happy. Especially given the way T.C. feels about you.”
“I’ve spoken with her daughters, and I can’t say they’ll cheer our union, but they won’t stand in the way of Eve’s happiness. I flew Whitney in from L.A., so both her girls are here in Harmony and they’re both on the grounds. Whether or not they’ll stay for the ceremony is another story. Eve has assured me that regardless of their reaction, our wedding would go on as planned.” His heart swelled at the thought. He closed his eyes, sighing. “At long last, we’ll finally be husband and wife.”
Sheridan rested her hand on his shoulder and gave him a bright smile. “If Eve is one-tenth as happy as you are right now, you two will have a blissful marriage indeed.”
“One dreams are made of,” he concurred. In the next moment, the string
quartet began the bridal processional. Julian turned his attention to the
open space between the deep green manicured shrubbery, the path that would
lead his bride to the altar. His heart raced in anticipation. Soon, all
of his dreams would be coming true.
Eve clasped her bountiful bouquet of white roses, lilies, and baby’s breaths as a harp rendition of ‘Here Comes the Bride’ began to play. She drew a deep breath.
Simone covered her hand. “Getting cold feet?” she asked.
“No,” Eve said with a shake of her head. “This all just feels so surreal.”
“Not just for you. I imagine the guests are feeling a bit out of sorts right now. Did you hear the gasps of surprise when Mrs. Bennett made her way down the aisle?”
Eve laughed. “I wasn’t that bad, was it?”
“Well, I’m sure they’re on to the fact something’s not quite right. I mean, Ms. Hotchkiss and Mrs. Bennett aren’t exactly bosom buddies.” Simone laughed. “They thought Mrs. Bennett walking down the aisle was a surprise…they don’t know the half.” Simone stroked Eve’s bare arms. “Your song is playing, Mom. You’d better get going.”
“Wait. You’re not going with me?”
“With you?” Simone repeated.
“Yes. To give me away doesn’t sound quite right, but I want you with me, Simone. I want you to escort me as I walk down the aisle.” Eve read the hesitation on her daughter’s face. “You don’t want to?”
Simone sighed. “Mom, it’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just…this is a big deal, and you know I’m not exactly thrilled with the idea of you marrying Julian.”
“No, but you understand I love him and you accept my decision to spend my life with him. That means everything.” Eve waited few minutes, and then said, “So?”
“It wouldn’t be like I was giving you away, more like giving you my blessing, right?”
Eve smiled, sensing her daughter warming up to the idea. “Yes, exactly.”
“Okay, I guess it wouldn’t hurt for your guests to see me walk down the aisle with you. In fact, I think it would help soften the blow of surprise.”
“I think you’re right,” Eve said, linking her arm with Simone’s. If
Whitney were on her other arm, this moment would be perfect. She shook
off her disappointment. This day was still perfect, she was about to marry
Julian. “Let’s go stun the citizens of Harmony.”
Whitney streaked blindly down the cement pathway. The heat of the summer air slashed across her face like an angry whip, while the truth her mother shared moments before ripped away the shred of hope she kept in her heart that their family could someday be whole again. She made no attempt to clear away the tears that filled her eyes, choosing instead to have the evidence of her broken dreams spill freely down her cheeks. Her mother and Julian Crane? How could this be happening?
Her pounding heart lurched when Fox grabbed her by the arm, effectively stopping her sprint from the truth. “You scared me,” she said, trying to catch her breath.
“I’m sorry.” He cupped her chin. “Hey, why are you crying? And why are you running in this gorgeous dress and heels. You’re going to hurt yourself?”
She lowered her head and slumped her shoulders as the conversation in the guesthouse continued to play in her head. A strangled sob lodged in her throat. “Fox.”
“Whitney, what’s wrong?”
“I can’t even believe it. My mother is… She just told me that…”
His hands moved up and down her arms, exciting her body while calming her racing heart. His touch inspired an amazing wealth of contradictions in her body. She tilted her head to meet his gaze.
“I guess you know,” he said.
The butterflies in her stomach stopped dancing. She stepped away from him. “What?” This could not be happening. She shook her head, not wanting to believe his words. “You knew about this? That my mother and your father were--”
“I’m sorry, but, yes, I figured it out. You know, Whitney, the wedding has probably already started.”
“I don’t give a damn!”
“You don’t mean that.”
“The hell I don’t!” she snapped. “My parents were married over twenty years and got divorced two days ago! Now, my mother is marrying another man. Your father! A man my father hates more than—words can’t describe how much my father hates Julian. And my mother is going to marry that man. How could you not tell me about this?”
“It was not for me to tell. Besides, your mother didn’t find out about this wedding until today, she could have said no, but she didn’t. Why can’t you just be happy for her?”
A stunned gasp fell from her lips. Was he crazy? “Be happy for her?”
He nodded. “Yes! Whitney, you know my father and I don’t exactly have an ideal relationship, in fact, we don’t really have a relationship at all, but the one thing I can say without hesitation is he loves your mother. You like my father, Whitney. You’re always saying what a nice guy he is.”
“That was before I learned he destroyed my parents’ marriage.”
“You don’t believe that. You told me you didn’t think anything could keep your parents apart if they wanted to be together. Now, you’re blaming Julian? Is that fair?”
“Is it fair that my father is alone and my mother is moving on so fast, like she never cared about him or us?”
Fox shook his head and groaned. “You’re doing it again, Whitney. You’re making this about you, and it’s not. Your mother and my father love each other. They loved each other before we were even born, and even before your mother knew your father. Today is about them. It’s not about you, your sister, or your father. You don’t have to be over the moon about this marriage, but I know you love your mother, and if you’re not here for her, you’re going to regret it.”
Tears filled her eyes and trickled slowly down her cheeks. She sniffled. “I don’t want to betray my father.”
“Loving your mother and supporting her is not betraying your father.” He brushed the wetness from her cheeks. “Please, don’t cry anymore. It kills me to see you cry. Look, we’ll sit in the back, and leave as soon as the ceremony is over, okay?”
She shook her head. “Fox, I don’t…”
He extended his hand to her. “Please, come with me.”
Whitney extended her hand half the way before pulling back. “Wait. You said you figured it out about my mom and Julian.” She narrowed her eyes in wonder. “How?”
“I’ve seen them together a couple of times and, well, it was clear they were close. And then it’s the way my father looks at your mother with such reverence, loyalty, and adoration in his eyes. Like he hangs on her every breath. He never looked at my mother like that. I figured he was madly in love with the good Dr. Eve months ago. When I mentioned as much to him, he banned me from Harmony. When I heard about his marriage to Rebecca I was suspicious, then your folks came to L.A. and told you about the divorce, and Father invited you to his wedding with words that his bride would want you there. I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to put everything together.”
“That’s why you insisted I come back to Harmony.”
“Yeah. I didn’t know your mother was clueless about the marriage until I talked to my father last night.”
“That explains his talk about how I would feel about my parents moving on.” She grunted. “Fox, you should have told me.”
“I’m sorry, Whitney. Don’t be angry with me, okay? I don’t think I can handle that.”
For reasons she couldn’t explain, her heart raced at the admission. “Why not?” Whitney asked.
Fox said not another word as he cupped her face between his hands and brought his lips down on hers. His mouth was warm against hers, his lips soft, and caress tender. Whitney surrendered to the moment, parting her lips and welcoming him inside as his seeking tongue sought sanctuary in her mouth. His hands fell to her waist, pulling her closer to his lean, muscular frame. The intensely masculine scent of his aftershave flooded her senses, and the rhythmic pounding of the bulge lodged against her pelvis engulfed her entire being with a fiery need. Her knees went weak. The unexpected quake shook her back to reality.
She pulled away and covered her tingling lips with a shaky hand. Her heart raced like she just finished a monster rally for match point. What in the world had she done? “That—that shouldn’t have happened,” she stammered.
“No, it should have happened a long time ago,” Fox affirmed, his face flushed and breathing as erratic as her own. He brushed his knuckle against her cheek and gave her a bright smile. The butterflies in her stomach stirred once more. What was he doing to her? Whitney closed her eyes, trying to make sense of the myriad of emotions Fox elicited in her. What about Chad? They had a strained relationship, but they hadn’t broken up.
Fox took his hand in hers. “Right now, we have a wedding to attend, but later on we’re going to talk. There’s a whole lot I need to say and a lot you need to hear.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “Come on, let’s go.”
Whitney wanted to turn tail and run. Fox seemed so calm, so sure of
everything, but she couldn’t share that feeling. A wave of dread joined
the butterflies in her stomach. As upset as she was that her family would
never be a true family again, a smaller and less vocal part of her shared
her mother’s happiness. Julian loved this woman from his past with his
whole being; her mother was that woman and loved him just as much. This
wedding wasn’t a bad thing. Logically she knew that. So why couldn’t she
shake the feeling that all hell was about to break loose?