It"s Naomi Clemons"s big day. Her dream wedding. And she"s outta here.
One moment. A chance meeting of gazes through the church window pane with someone familiar who radiates intrigue. Independence. It"s the final push Naomi needs to realize…she"s boring. A blonde, cookie cutter, well mannered trophy wife-to-be. How can she expect to lead a fulfilling married life when she"s never lived"
Special Forces diver Jason Bristow needs a beauty pageant coach. Not for himself"although the tattooed bruiser could definitely use some charm. For his little sister who he has returned to St. Augustine, Florida to raise. When a beautiful southern debutante lands on his doorstep, she awakens a hunger that won"t be ignored. If only she wasn"t planning on winning back the ex-fianc" she left at the altar"
Despite the potential for ruin, heat continues to build between Naomi and Jason beneath the sultry Florida sunshine, consuming them both. But they"re on borrowed time"and it"s about to run out.Books by Author:Tessa Bailey Books
I"m fifteen minutes away from marrying the man who ordered me the wrong white wine at our rehearsal dinner last night. There are definitely far better reasons to get cold feet, but the lemony Pinot Grigio clings to all sides of my throat now like a reminder.
He doesn"t know you.
I scan my reflection in the mirror, looking for flaws. The smallest thing counts. A flyaway blonde hair, a wrinkle in my custom Pnina Tornai wedding dress, my diamond pendant being slightly off-center. But no. I may as well have stepped right out of a bridal magazine. A real-life Photoshop job, primped, airbrushed and ready to be shipped down the aisle.
That"s exactly what this feels like. I"ve been packaged. My attributes were all selected from a pull-down menu. Pageant queen. Check. Hostess skills. A must for any Southern housewife! Writes a mean thank you card. Why, of course!
After all, I"m preparing to marry the next mayor of Charleston. The rest of my life will be lived beneath the finicky microscope of old money and my own peers, who judge twice as harshly. I"ve been groomed for this my whole life. Cotillion. Finishing school. Private tutors. Non-stop critiques from my mother. I am in this to win it.
But with ten minutes on the clock, I"m not sure what winning is anymore.
What. Is. Winning"
I fall onto a cushy divan"gracefully, of course"and force air to enter my nose and leave my mouth. In. Out. In the full-length mirror"s reflection, I watch my bridesmaids plow through a bottle of champagne behind me, speculating in hushed tones on what my wedding guests will wear to the big day. It"s the tip of spring, so yellows, blues and pinks are likely to make an appearance. They talk about it like the weather report. I should get up and join them, right" Any second now, they"re going to realize I"ve been quiet too long. I have been quiet too long. Where are my manners" They"re here for me. I should be thanking them for their support and handing out their Tiffany charm bracelets, but all I can do is think of Pinot Grigio.
I"m a Sauvignon Blanc girl. Everyone knows that.
A little hiccup leaves my mouth, but I disguise it with a polite cough and stand up once more, smoothing creases from the embroidered satin of my dress. I notice my maid of honor watching me with a wrinkled brow and give her a pinky wave, forcing a smile until she returns to a conversation that has now turned to which of the groomsmen are single.
Five minutes. Oh God.
The sick citrus flavor has now traveled to my stomach, stewing and gurgling. I haven"t thrown up due to nerves since my first pageant at age four. I won"t start now. I can"t. This is a thirty-thousand-dollar dress. A vomit stain wouldn"t exactly match the beading. And worse, my friends have eagle eyes. They would definitely notice and they would know. They would know I"m panicking. I can"t have that. The future mayor"s wife is a cool customer. Unflappable. She makes everything look easy. That is who I am. Not a jittery girl with back sweat.
Years of etiquette classes, a structured diet and a well-rounded social calendar have guaranteed the prominence I will acquire as soon as I say "I do." I should be grateful for the opportunities I"ve been given, even though there have been moments over the years"moments like right now"when I look around and recognize nothing. Or feel like a mannequin that has been styled and positioned by someone else. Here is an example to follow! Look how she holds her pose!
It has never been harder to hold the pose as it is right now. I can balance a book on my head and tap-dance simultaneously, but walking down the stairs and pledging my future to someone who only knows the mannequin is scary. I"m scared.
Because I"m not sure I know the girl trapped inside the mannequin, either. Who is she"
A flash of black outside catches my eye. Not exactly an eye-catching color, but among the pastels, the dark figure crossing the street outside the church draws me closer to the window. It takes me a moment to place the identity of the black-haired woman stomping up the church steps with a defiant expression, but when I do, my feet go from cold to frostbitten.
What is my estranged cousin doing at my wedding" Lord knows she wasn"t invited. Her side of the family hasn"t been welcome at so much as Sunday brunch in decades. I haven"t seen her in Charleston since we were in our twenties. Possibly longer than that, since we never ran in the same circles. My circle is currently popping open their second bottle of champagne"and an answering pop happens somewhere in my midsection as Addison pauses outside the church doors. Not hesitating, exactly. Just giving guests a chance to look at her. Encouraging them.