Running through the books that Harlequin is re-releasing as eBooks, I'm choosing this one because it is the very beginning of my "Upper Haughton" adventure. These are the characters who started it all when their wedding plans hit the skids. Big time.
Her ghostly reflection stared back at her from the car window. On the surface, everything perfect. Her dress, her hair, her make-up.
'Nearly there, Willow. All set?'
She turned to father, distinguished in his morning suit, his top hat resting on his lap as the car, ribbons fluttering, drove in slow state towards a church filled with friends and family, all gathered for her big day. What would they do, she wondered, if she didn't turn up.
'Did you wonder? Before you married mum? Whether you were making a terrible mistake?'
'It's a big step. Nerves are to be expected.' Then her father frowned. 'Or is there something more?'
'I don't know. Maybe. ' Then, 'If I hadn't been offered that wretched job ...'
The letter to Toby Townsend lay on the hall table. She'd kept putting off posting it. She'd meant to do it last night, along with the thank you letters for wedding presents; like the juicer, the clock to count the hours that she'd spend dusting a house she'd loathed on sight.
She'd had to smile and smile to keep her feelings bottled up, so as not to hurt Mike's father. Not to hurt Mike, who'd been so overwhelmed by the generosity of the gift of the house that he'd been quite lost for words. And somehow the letter hadn't quite made it into the box.
'Tell me, Willow, if Mike had rung last night and said "let's forget the wedding", how would you have felt?'
'Relieved.' The word, blurted out without hesitation, shocked her. She said it again. 'Relieved.' And this time she knew it was true. Not because she didn't love Mike, but because she didn't want this life. As the car began to slow she said, 'Don't stop!'
The driver grinned. 'You girls do like to make a man suffer. Once more round the block is it?'
'Yes, once more round the block. Dad, I can't do this to Mike. Can I? He's in the church now, waiting for me --'
'If you're really that unsure, my dear, then I think you must.'
'Mother will never forgive me.'
'This has nothing to do with your mother. This is your life.'
'But the reception --'
'It won't be wasted. People will still need to eat.'
Was that the only reason she was going through with this? Concern about wasting some food, upsetting her mother? 'Tell Mike --' She stopped. What? That she loved him? That she loved him but she couldn't marry him? Better to say nothing ...
'Leave it to me, sweetheart.' He squeezed her hand. 'Drop me off at the corner, driver, and then take my daughter home.' He got out, held the door for a moment. 'Willow, about your mother ... Maybe it would be a good idea to disappear for a few days.'
* * *
Was that why he was doing it? Going through with the wedding? Taking on the Chronicle? Not to disappoint his father. One life, Cal had said. He had one shot at getting it right. He didn't have time to waste it living other people's dreams.
And Willow? What about Willow? He loved her. She was the best thing that had happened to him in years, but she wanted a career. He wasn't stupid. She'd been aching for him to say she should take that job at The Globe. He'd seen it and part of him had wanted to say, go for it, don't waste a minute of your life. But there was another, darker side that was all screwed up, that reminded him that she was the one who'd insisted on marriage. Well, she'd got it. She couldn't have it all.
What kind of start was that? How soon before they'd both be wishing they were somewhere else?
Out of sight someone was playing the organ, quiet incidental music, a counterpoint to the quiet rustling as the wedding guests took their places, exotic hats surreptitiously angled as women glanced sideways at him, tipping close as they whispered to each other.
The sun was shining in through the stained glass, spattering the marble steps with red and blue and gold. But he felt cold and the scent of flowers in the vast arrangements either side of the aisle was making him feel slightly nauseous.
How much longer? He glanced at his watch. Willow was late. Last minute nerves? Suppose she didn't turn up? How would he feel? Devastated or just relieved?
'Don't look so worried, Mike, I haven't lost the rings.'
'Cal, what would you say if I told you I don't want to do this?'
Cal looked at him as if he was about to say something flippant, then he frowned. 'Is that a serious question?' His face must have been answer enough, because he said, 'For the last week you've looked like a man on the way to the gallows. I thought it was the Chronicle --'
'It was. That and Josie's juicer.'
'What has a juicer got to do with it?' He waited, but when no further explanation was forthcoming he took in a deep breath. 'You'd better make up your mind what you want, Mike. The minute Willow steps foot in this church you're committed.'
'I'm already committed. I can't --'
'For heaven's sake, if you've got real doubts you must. Get out of here. Now.'
'Tell her ...' What? What could he possibly say? That he loved her? But that this life was not the one he'd ever wanted to live. 'Tell her father that I'll pay for all this ...'
'Sure. Now go. I've got things to do.'
What happens when two people love each other, but want completely different things from life? Download HIS RUNAWAY BRIDE and find out what happens next. Or leave a comments and you might the lucky one to win a paper copy. If you do, don't forget to come back next week and check to see if you've won!