“I can’t do it, Jenny. I can’t go through with this.”
The warm dry autumn wind whipped Jenny Wright’s wedding veil up above her shoulders, fine lace grazing her cheek. Having lived the past ten years in Chicago, Jenny had forgotten the wind that whistled from Yellowstone, down through Paradise Valley, turning the ranching valley into a wind tunnel.
The wind snapped and crackled now, the gusts as much a part of Marietta as the iconic peak of Copper Mountain jutting behind the small, sleepy Montana town. Marietta had surged to life in the late 1800’s before nearly dying, when the copper boom proved to be nothing more than a hiccup and all the investors and prospectors packed up and moved away.
It’d been a hundred and twenty some years since then but it was still hard to make a living in Marietta.
It’s why she’d left town as soon as she’d graduated from high school. It’s why she’d been determined to never move back.
She’d only come home for her wedding. Only come home to make her family proud.
Jenny gently plucked the delicate veil from her small diamond and pearl earring before it tore. “I didn’t catch that, honey,” she said, smashing the sudden rush of adrenaline flooding her veins.
No need to panic, she told herself. It was so windy today, and others might not like the gusts, but the wind had blown all the clouds north, leaving the sky above Marietta a perfect brilliant blue, and the wind had made it hard to hear.
Because for a moment there, it sounded as if Charles said he wouldn’t marry her. But that didn’t make sense. He and his family were here. The guests were here. The minister was here, all in the church waiting.
Her stomach rose and fell. She swallowed hard, fighting a sudden rush of nausea. She hadn’t slept well last night, nervous. Excited.
Excited, she silently insisted. Not terrified. Or sad. She would never be sad. This was the right decision. This was the best decision. It was.
It had to be.
“Can you say that again?” she asked him, fighting her veil and tamping down the horrible rush of adrenaline flooding her veins. “I didn’t hear you, honey.”
She stared at his mouth, focusing on his lips, not wanting to miss a thing this time.
And looking at his mouth, she tried to feel reassured. Because she knew him. She’d worked for his company for years, first as an administrative assistant in Human Resources, then as a manager, before he’d hand picked her to be his assistant, and then his girl friend. His woman. It hadn’t happened over night. At least the love part.
The love part had been tricky, but she loved him now. He’d been in her life a long time, and he’d been good to her. Better than any man had been to her.
And just like that her chest squeezed and her eyes burned and her throat threatened to close.
Maybe it wasn’t the wild fierce passionate love you read about in books, but it was steady and kind, and based on respect. Mutual respect.
They were good for each other.
“Charles?” she whispered, fighting the awful aching lump in her throat.
He just stared at her, gray eyes shadowed. “Things got out of hand, Jenny. I’m sorry.”
“I don’t understand.”
He said nothing.
She bit down so hard into her bottom lip she tasted lipstick and blood.
Keep it together, she told herself. Keep it together. You can fix this. You can. You’ve fixed everything else in his life…you can fix this, too.
She masked her panic with one of her professional smiles. Thank God for a stressful career. The work load and deadlines had taught her to cope with pressure. She’d learned how to be strong. “I hear almost every bride and groom experience some cold feet. It’s natural.” She managed a lop-sided smile. “We wouldn’t be normal if we didn’t have a few pre-wedding jitters.”
“Jenny, I’m not going to marry you.”
She suddenly pictured her family—Mama, Daddy, Grandma, her sisters and the rest of her bridesmaids—dressed in their new, expensive and uncomfortable fancy clothes. This was a big day for the Wrights and they hadn’t wanted to disappoint. Scrubbed clean, perfumed, shoes shining, waiting in the church, fighting nerves of their own.
“I’m shocked,” she said calmly, her voice firm, composed. My God, she was good at hiding pain. Hiding her own feelings. Her needs.
But then, she didn’t assert her needs anymore.
Being Charles Monmouth’s assistant had taught her oh so very well.
End of Excerpt