No, I’m not getting married. I’m very happily single and enjoying that lifestyle, thank you very much. However, the title of this post refers to one of my books. This one, written under the Ellie Ferguson pen name, is a romantic suspense novel. With the upcoming holiday, which will be a very long weekend for a lot of folks, I decided to drop the price. It is now on sale for $0.99.
Weddings always bring out the worst in people. Or at least that’s the way it seems to Jessica Jones as her younger sister’s wedding day approaches. It’s bad enough Jessie has to wear a bridesmaid dress that looks like it was designed by a color blind Harlequin. Then there’s the best man who is all hands and no manners. Now add in a murder and Jessie’s former lover — former because she caught him doing the horizontal tango on their kitchen table with her also-former best friend. It really is almost more than a girl should be expected to handle. . . .
“. . . and while the official police statement is that they are pursuing a number of leads in the recent string of burglaries, unnamed sources within the department confirm that they have very little to go on. Detective Colton Dougherty, the detective in charge of the investigation, has refused comment, referring all questions to the public affairs officer for the Dallas Police Department. . . .”
The image on the television screen across the room changed from the studio shot to the exterior of one of the local strip malls. Police cars with their light bars flashing acted like beacons in the night, drawing a number of gawkers. Uniformed officers stood nearby to prevent the onlookers from getting too close. Detectives in dark slacks and white shirts, badges hanging from shirt pockets or chains around their necks, moved in and out of one of the stores. Normally, I’d not pay much attention to such film clips, but one of the detectives was familiar – too familiar, and I started in surprise before I could control it.
“Stand still!” my mother hissed around a mouthful of pins as she desperately held onto the hem of my dress.
I barely heard her. Instead, my attention was focused on the newscast. Colton turned to face the camera, his contempt for the reporters shouting questions clear. For a moment, he stood there, his expression hard, the fingers of his right hand drumming impatiently against his thigh. Another shouted question and he took a step forward. As he did, I leaned forward a bit, forgetting that I stood precariously balanced on a three-legged stool while my mother tried to pin the hem of the dress I’d be wearing in my sister’s wedding in less than a week.
“Jessica, stand still! Do you want me to stick you?”
Mother gave the skirt a little jerk and I shook myself. The last thing I needed was for her to know I’d been watching the news story – No, the last thing I needed was for her to know I’d been watching Colton.
Then I realized what she’d said and actually considered it. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t like pain. Under most circumstances, I go out of my way to avoid it. However, it was possible that if she stuck me, I’d awaken from this nightmare and discover that pink and purple taffeta hadn’t taken over my life. That had to be worth something, didn’t it? At least it was only for another week or so. Once my sister was married, the maid of honor dress from Hell could be relegated to the back of my closet where it belonged, never to be seen again.
At least until the glow of seeing her youngest daughter married dimmed and my mother once more embarked upon her campaign to get me married. That was yet another reason why I didn’t want her to know I’d been watching Colton on the TV. Still, I’d enjoyed three months of peace and I didn’t look forward to it ending. Maybe, before that happened, the gypsies would finally come steal me away. A girl can hope, can’t she?
“Sorry,” I mumbled, teetering slightly on the stool. As if looking like a harlequin wasn’t bad enough, now I had to worry about keeping my balance.
“I don’t know why you can’t just stand there like the other girls, Jessica.” As she pinned the hem of my dress, Mom’s fingers worked with the precision of a surgeon. Probably because she was one. “You’d think you weren’t happy your sister is getting married.”
“I am too happy!”
And I was, on a lot of different levels. Maryanne had been in love with Brett Boudreaux from the moment she first laid eyes on him in second grade. She’d made it her life’s mission to win him over. There had been times when she’d almost despaired of it ever happening. But my sister is both determined and resilient. Despite that, it had taken a pregnancy scare and the threat that she’d cut him out of her life and their baby’s before he finally came to his senses. Six weeks and a lot of convincing later, he asked her to marry him. Now she was getting her big wedding, and I couldn’t be happier for her.
“You’d never prove it by me, not the way you’ve done your best to avoid your duties as maid of honor.”
I rolled my eyes and said a quick prayer for patience – or at least for the wisdom to keep my mouth shut. There’s one thing you can say about Dr. Faith Marie Jones. She always knows she’s right, no matter what the truth might actually be. For some reason, she’d convinced herself I was jealous of Maryanne and nothing I’d say would change her mind. All I could do was ignore her and hope she’d change the subject.
Unfortunately, Mom wasn’t wrong about me trying to avoid my “duties”. I had, and I felt guilty about it. Work had kept me busy, and Maryanne had chosen to get married the week before finals. Still, I could have made time for the different shopping trips and girls’ nights out she’d arranged for the bridesmaids. But, in my mind at least, begging out of those things had kept the peace because it meant I hadn’t been too tempted to kill one of the other bridesmaids.
“Oh, Jessie, you look absolutely adorable in your dress,” Janie Bickerstaff drawled from the doorway as she quickly snapped three photos of me teetering on the stool. Wonderful. By the time I got home, everyone on her email list some would have copies. See, this was why I had begged out of so many of the things Maryanne had planned. Janie and I had never gotten along. I still remembered with regret that grade school field trip to Burgers Lake when I’d talked myself out of drowning her because I knew it would upset my sister. I’d have done the world a favor if I’d acted on my impulse back then. Really I would have.
A sharp prick just above my right ankle cut off my quick retort. Just as well. This was Maryanne’s day and I wouldn’t spoil it by killing Janie where she stood in the doorway smirking at me. Besides, my mother would never forgive me for staining her new carpet.
However, there are other ways of dealing with persistent pests besides mashing them underfoot.
“I can’t wait to see you coming down the aisle, Janie. The pink and purple will look wonderful with your hair.” Her fire-engine-red hair straight from the bottle. She paled, gulped once and dashed back into the kitchen. Mom chuckled softly and shook her head. That pinprick might have kept me from giving Janie a verbal lobotomy, but the truth of the matter was Mom had no more use for her than did I.
“Mama, are you about through?” Maryanne called from the kitchen.
“In a minute, dear. I’m just finishing up your sister’s dress.”
For a moment, relief filled me. Janie and the other bridesmaids were going to do some last minute shopping and then go out for drinks and, maybe, dinner. That meant I could slip out and escape the crazy ladies before they moved from wedding talk to dissecting my love life – or lack thereof.
“Jessie.” Maryanne’s pretty face appeared around the door frame and my heart sank. Before they left, she wanted us all to have a drink together to toast the upcoming wedding. “What do you want to drink?” She looked so excited. I couldn’t leave, not yet. I was her big sister and her maid of honor. I’d spent my life being there for her. I couldn’t leave her now simply because wedding preparations scared the hell out of me. Besides, it was just a drink. How bad could it be?
“Iced tea, Tink.” I grinned as she glared at me. “I still have papers to grade.”
“Jessica, don’t call me that!”
“Sorry.” I winked and she grinned even as our mother gave my skirt a tug, reminding me to behave. Maryanne had been “Tink” or “Tinkerbell” since she’d been a baby.
“Jessie, you don’t hate the dress, do you?” Maryanne’s blue eyes were worried as she hurried to stand before me. Damn that Janie Bickerstaff. I’d lay odds she’d said something like that to Maryanne just to upset her.
“Of course not. You know all I care about is you being happy.” I meant it, too. She’d waited a long time for this day – well for a week from today – and I wasn’t about to ruin it by telling her she’d taken leave of her fashion sense. “Besides, your dress is so gorgeous no one is going to be looking at anyone else.”
“It is, isn’t it?”
Her smile seemed to light up the room and, ignoring our mother’s protests, I leaned down to give Maryanne a hug. “Now go make sure the others aren’t making too big of a mess in the kitchen. Or worse, getting into the wine you picked out for your dinner with Brett’s family tomorrow.”
Maryanne gave a soft squeak of concern and hurried back into the kitchen, the robe she’d put on after her own fitting fluttering behind her. Mom’s chuckle surprised me as did her look of approval when I glanced down. She placed one last pin in the hem and helped me off the stool. A moment later, she carefully eased the dress over my head and stepped back, spreading it across the back of the sofa until she could hang it up.
“Go keep those girls from destroying my kitchen, Jessie. You know what they can be like,” she commented as I slipped into jeans and tee shirt. “I’ll be along shortly.”
I breathed deeply and steeled myself for a return to the foolishness I’d hoped I’d left behind when I graduated from high school and did as she asked. Maybe it wouldn’t be too bad.
Yeah, sure it wouldn’t. It would be about as much fun as a root canal without Novocain.
Needless to say, I was wrong. A root canal without Novocain would have been so much more fun than the gossip-fest I sat through. Oh, the gossip wasn’t that bad, even though there is no more vicious animal on the face of the Earth than a bunch of women with time on their hands and other people’s business to discuss. At least as long as I was there, they didn’t try – too hard – to dissect everything they believed was wrong with my life. Of course, the fact most of them remembered how, at different times, I’d threatened to pound them into dust for being empty-headed little idiots might account for that.
So, for another hour I sat through wedding plans, honeymoon speculations and none-too-subtle hints about what married life and married sex would be like. Most was all good-natured fun. But some, mainly from Janie, who’d once gone after Brett herself, was more than a bit snide. Only Mom’s warning glances – and a sharp kick to my shin under the table – kept me from saying anything. At least Maryanne seemed oblivious to her friend’s intent. Still, if Janie kept it up, I’d be forced to say something. There was no way I would let her, or anyone, spoil Maryanne’s happiness.
Finally I was freed from the insanity when Maryanne and the other bridesmaids left to go shopping, never one of my favorite pastimes. Not that I didn’t feel a bit guilty for choosing not to go, but I really did have a stack of papers to grade. With peace once more filling the house, I helped Mom load the dishwasher before heading home.
“You were really good with your sister today, Jessie.”
“Huh?” I know. I’m a brilliant conversationalist.
“Janie,” she said simply.
“Mom, we both know that little bitch would like nothing more than to cause trouble. I won’t give her the satisfaction.” However, once the wedding was over, I planned to have a little chat with Ms. Bickerstaff about exactly what might happen if she tried any of her little tricks where Maryanne and Brett were concerned. I’d seen her destroy too many other relationships to sit still and let her have a go at Brett and Maryanne.
“So, Jessie, when are you going to quit waiting for Mr. Perfect?”
If I hadn’t just swallowed the last of my iced tea, I’d have sprayed it across the kitchen. Talk about being blind-sided. Now Mom watched me, a shrewd look in her light blue eyes. Crap. I’d expected the peace to last at least a couple of weeks after the wedding.
“Mom – “
“Jessie, it’s just that I worry about you.” She turned to face me, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “You haven’t been serious about anyone since Colton Dougherty, and that’s been, what, nine years?” Crap! Had she seen him on TV too? That would certainly explain this sudden change of topic.
Ten years, three months and twelve days. But who’s counting? Not me. No, siree. He wasn’t worth it.
“Mom, you don’t have to worry. Really. One day, the right guy will come along and then I’ll marry and give you a ton of grandkids to spoil.” I smiled, praying she’d take the hint and drop it.
“Jessica, you’re thirty-three. It’s time you quit waiting for Prince Charming. He doesn’t exist.” She cocked her head to one side, examining me as she might a patient just before opening him up on the operating table. “Unless you don’t like guys….”
For a moment, I stared at her, torn between the desire to laugh and the more perverse desire to confirm her greatest fear that her daughter might be gay. It was so ludicrous. All she had to do was look at the evidence and she’d see just how ridiculous it was. While I might not have had any serious these last ten years, I’d certainly enjoyed my fair share of men, and I do mean enjoy.
Part of me wanted to say, “Yes, Mom, I’m gay,” just to see her reaction. But I’m not into matricide, no matter how much she gets on my nerves. And there was no question how she’d react to such an announcement. She’d drop dead from shock and then, with my luck, she’d come back to haunt me, making it the goal of her unnatural life to find me a nice man to spend the rest of my so-called natural life with.
“Mama, I love you and I know you’re worried. But you don’t have to be. I promise I’m not gay. I like guys just fine. I simply haven’t found one I want to spend the rest of my life with.” I reached over and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Now, I really do need to get home and get those papers graded. See you tomorrow for mass.”
“All right.” She smiled and, to my surprise, gave me a quick hug. “Will you stop by Manny’s on your way home and pick up the order for Thursday’s dinner? It should be ready.”
I’d forgotten about dinner Thursday. Dinner with both families and Brett’s best man, his college roommate. The frat boy I’d have to walk down the aisle with after the wedding and who was, according to my sister, a self-described lady’s man. Wonderful. Oh well, if I could put up with the bridesmaid dress from Hell, I could handle one overgrown boy for an evening.
Ten minutes later, I sped away from my parents’ house, thinking of little except how much I wanted a nice bottle of wine. Better yet, a bottle of really good single malt. I deserved it after resisting the impulse to strangle Maryanne with her veil for making me wear that monstrosity of a dress. Not to mention wanting to lock Mom in the basement, never to be heard from until she gave up on the notion of trying to manage my life. And I didn’t even want to think about what I’d like to do with the oh-so-perfect Janie Bickerstaff.
Of course, the main reason Janie was being such a bitch, besides that being her natural state, was that she was supremely pissed Maryanne had the audacity to have a sister. Worse, that sister was me and Maryanne had asked me to be her maid of honor. I really should have drowned Janie when I’d had the chance. No one would have minded. After all, it would have strengthened the gene pool, and several marriages would have been saved.
The neon sign over Manny’s Fine Wine and Spirits called to me like a beacon as I pulled off the freeway. Seemingly on its own, my battered Mustang turned into the parking lot. Not that I objected. Manny’s is on the way home and it’s cheap. Besides, I intended to treat myself this once.
Or, better yet, I might just let him put the bottle on my parents’ account.
I parked the Mustang near the door and got out. Looking around, I frowned slightly. Usually by this late on a Saturday, the parking lot is full to overflowing. But not today. Besides my Mustang, there were only four other cars visible.
My frown deepened. The red “CLOSED” sign hung from the top of the door. That most definitely wasn’t right. Was possible the insanity of the fitting had carried over for a full day and it was now Sunday? It could have driven me into a short catatonic state. No. A quick check of my watch confirmed not only that it was almost five thirty but also that it was still Saturday. So why wasn’t Manny open?
I ignored the warning bells going off in my head – heck, they’d been going full force during the fitting as Maryanne’s friends became more and more excited over our harlequin dresses. Somehow, the insanity of the wedding plans had either rendered them colorblind or fashion-sense deprived or both. This was just the residual warning. Besides, it was possible Manny had simply forgotten to flip the sign when he opened up this afternoon.
The door swung open under my touch. The bell hanging from the top of the door jangled loudly. I paused. Why hadn’t Manny or one of his sons called out a greeting?
“Manny?” The bell jangled again as the door closed behind me.
Sound exploded. I smelled cordite. Shit. Someone had just shot a gun. At me. I dove for cover, hitting my elbow on the corner of a display shelf. What the hell?
Glass shattered and I slid on my belly farther down the aisle, looking for cover. Why was someone shooting at me?
It’s a dream. That’s it. I’ll wake up soon and none of this will have happened. No harlequin dress, no one shooting at me.
Another shot rang out and I did my best infantryman-crawling-through-the-trenches impression as I slithered even farther from the door. Part of me wanted to close my eyes and make-believe I wasn’t there. No, when someone’s shooting at you, closing your eyes tends to have a very permanent result, and I’d be damned if I didn’t look the bastard in the eyes before he killed me.
Footsteps raced toward the front of the store. At least I thought they did. Of course, the way my heart pounded made it hard to tell. I hunkered down behind a stack of boxes. Surely at any moment, I’d hear the bell at the front door. The fact my ears were still ringing from the gunshots wouldn’t prevent that, would it?
I climbed to my knees. One corner of my mind registered that I was hiding behind boxes of my favorite single malt. Well, at least I wouldn’t have far to go to pick up a bottle. Hell, at this point, I might just make it a case.
Lungs straining for air, I forced myself to take a quick look. . . . .
Great, just great. Bad enough I have to put up with the bridesmaid dress from Hell, now the Devil himself has decided to pay me a visit.
I backpedaled in fear as a red-faced monster stared back at me.
I didn’t move fast enough. The devil cursed and lashed out.
There was pain. Of course there was pain. The devil’s not the sort to ask you to tea or speak nicely.
Everything went dark.