Always A Bridesmaid (Left At the Altar) (9 page)

BOOK: Always A Bridesmaid (Left At the Altar)
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"Hi, we're here to pick up a wedding cake for Fiona Campbell," Zach said.

The cashier behind the counter grimaced. "We didn't expect you quite so early. We're not done decorating it."

"How long will it be?" Dani asked.

"At least half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes."

He checked his watch. "If it's any longer than that we won't make it in time for the rehearsal."

The cashier nodded. "I'll ask the decorator to put a rush on it." She excused herself and hurried into the back.

"Do you want to wait here, or should we try to find a coffee somewhere?"

Dani swallowed, and forced her gaze away from the cupcakes. Unfortunately, it landed on the cheesecake. "I think we should get out of here."
Before I jump over the counter and make a fool of myself.

He followed her gaze, then steered her out the door. "Are you okay?"

She felt her face flame in embarrassment. What a joke he must think she was. Too weak to be in the same room as baked goods.

"I'm fine."

"Hey, I was pretty tempted by the cupcakes too."

"Yeah, but you probably would have stopped at one." She hadn't felt that kind of over-powering temptation for a long time. But then, it had been a particularly stressful weekend, complete with large doses of Chantal. And Zach. And it wasn't over yet.

"There's a coffee shop across the street," he said, gently guiding her with a hand on the small of her back. "Why don't we sit down for a few minutes?"

They claimed a table in front of the sunny window and a young waitress took their order for coffee. Dani sat facing the window, glad she didn't have to look at the muffins and doughnuts in the display case.

Their coffee was delivered and she stirred a small plastic container of low-fat milk into hers. She sipped the hot liquid carefully, grateful the craving for cupcakes had subsided. It usually did if she managed to delay long enough without giving in.

"Are you okay?" he asked again.

"Yes, I'm fine." She made herself smile, even though she knew she was blushing. "Just battling old demons."

"I know what you mean. I used to smoke."

"You smoked?" Somehow he didn't strike her as a person who would willingly fill his lungs with carcinogenic substances. He was too smart for that.

"You don't have to look so horrified," he said with a grin. "It was stupid, I know. I started smoking in university because I thought it helped me deal better with stress. Before I knew it I was hooked."

"How did you manage to quit?"

"I joined a smoking cessation group. The first few weeks were hell, and then finally the cravings started to weaken. But every once in a while, even after being smoke-free for five years, I'll see someone smoking, and I'll think how great it would be to light up again. So, I can relate to the cupcake addiction."

She felt herself relax. "I appreciate you telling me. Unfortunately, unlike smoking, I can't give up eating entirely. Every day I have to face the pastas and breads and all the other things I love that tend to put an extra layer of padding on my butt."

"You must be winning the battle. You look great. Especially your butt."

She looked away, her face heating with her blush. She wished he'd stop saying things like that when they weren't true. It only embarrassed her and made her feel patronized. Worse, it made her doubt the truth of everything he told her.

How would he react to the news that he'd inspired her greatest weight loss? Until his wedding last year, her diet had hit a plateau. But after the humiliation of popping out of her dress in front of him, she had redoubled her efforts to lose weight. Part of it was not wanting to face that kind of embarrassment again, and part of it was wondering if a man like Zach would ever look at her the way he'd looked at Chantal.

Despite a couple of ardent kisses, she didn't have an answer to that question. Maybe she never would.

In addition to losing the weight, the ill-fitting bridesmaid dress had also crystallized her determination to do something else about her figure. Something drastic.

Restless, she finished the last of her coffee and got to her feet. "We should go. The cake should be ready by now."

She started for the door without waiting for him and was halfway across the street before he caught up. He grabbed her arm.

"Are you okay? Why are you running away?"

She couldn't look at him. "I'm not running away. We're in a hurry, remember? Let's get this stupid cake and get out of here."

Fortunately, when they arrived at the bakery, the clerk had the cake boxed and ready to go. Zach paid for it and carried it to the SUV. Dani opened the back hatch and helped him slip it inside before carefully closing the hatch again. A few minutes later they were on the highway headed back to the city. Tense silence filled the van, pressing on her heart. She didn't want to spend the rest of the weekend at odds with Zach, but she didn't know what to say to make things better.

"I saw you with Jonathan this morning, up in the sunroom," he said suddenly, his eyes on the road ahead. "It was a very intimate picture. Have you known him long?"

She stared at him, stunned by his question and the fact he'd seen them together. "No, I just met him this weekend." She hesitated a moment. From their conversation earlier about the number of girlfriends Jonathan had had, it didn't seem as if he knew he was gay. "Have
you
known him for very long?"

"I've met him a few times before, but I can't say I know him well. Most of my information comes second-hand from Todd." He gave her a quick glance. "You two got chummy pretty quickly."

She weighed her words carefully, not wanting to betray Jonathan's confidences, even to Zach. "He was upset. He'd just had a fight on the phone with his--with someone very close to him."

He didn't reply. For several miles they drove in silence, Zach staring straight ahead. Finally she couldn't stand the silence any longer.

"For a couple of people who really aren't a couple, it sure feels like we're having a fight. If we are, please let me know so I can sharpen my tongue and get in a couple of zingers."

Though he continued to watch the road, she saw his mouth curve in a smile. "Your tongue is sharp enough."

"I don't want to argue with you. I've got my hands full with Chantal this weekend." She held out her hand. "Friends?"

He glanced briefly at her before shaking her hand. "Friends."

She relaxed, glad they were once again on a friendly footing.

Her relief was short-lived.

"As I recall, you were about to tell me all about your love life just before we got to the bakery."

She shifted uncomfortably. "There's not much to tell."

"When someone says there's not much to tell, that's when I know they're hiding something."

"I'm not hiding anything. It's just embarrassing to talk about."

He glanced at her again. "Sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you."

She sat quietly for a few minutes, watching the scenery go by through the side window. He'd told her intimate details about his relationship with Chantal. The least she could do would be to find the courage to do the same.

"I had a series of boyfriends when I was younger, but none of them were what I'd call keepers. Most of them were fellow nerds, guys who liked to play video games as much as I did. I only had one serious boyfriend before I was twenty-one," she said, without looking at him. "In university."

"What happened?" he said, when she didn't continue.

She swallowed and ran her damp palms over her pants. "Apparently, I was much more serious than he was. It was Valentine's Day and I was so excited to have a real boyfriend for the first time that I went overboard. I bought him chocolate and a bunch of stupid little gifts, like a teddy bear with his name embroidered on the front. Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday that year, and my friend June was going to be away for the weekend, so I convinced her to let me borrow her dorm room."

"You naughty girl," he said with a grin.

"Yeah, well, more stupid than naughty. I invited him to June's dorm room and greeted him at the door wearing a red silk nightie. He took one look at me and the candles and wine and told me I'd misinterpreted our relationship. Actually, I think his exact words were 'Oh for God's sake! This is too much!' And then he ran like the hounds of hell were after him."

"What did you do?"

"Well, after bawling my eyes out, I tried to call him to apologize, but he wouldn't take any of my calls. He avoided me for days. When he finally did talk to me, it was to tell me he didn't want to see me anymore. I was too clingy."

"I'm sorry. That must have hurt."

"At the time, it did. But you know what they say, 'That which does not kill you makes you stronger'."

"Whoever he was, the guy was a jerk."

"Thanks for saying so. What really ticks me off is that I gave my virginity to that jerk. It's not like I can get it back."

"Then he was even more of jerk than I thought. He didn't deserve you." He glanced at her, his mouth turning down in frown. "You aren't seeing anyone right now, are you? I can't believe I didn't ask you that before I dragged you into this charade."

"No, I'm not seeing anyone right now. I wouldn't have played along if I was." She was definitely a one-man woman. "I haven't dated anyone seriously in over a year."

"That's a long time. How come?"

"I met a very handsome man through work, a lawyer with another firm. We worked together to iron out the estate of one of my clients. His client, the granddaughter, was contesting the inheritance she'd received."

"She wanted more?"

"Believe or not, she wanted less. She felt that a portion of the estate should go the family of her grandfather's illegitimate child."

"Interesting. So you and the lawyer started dating?"

"Yeah. I was really impressed with the way he'd handled the case and helped the families work out a solution. He was caring, compassionate, funny, everything I wanted in a potential boyfriend. I guess you could say I was smitten."

"Smitten, eh? Sounds serious."

"I thought we were. Unfortunately Jerry didn't. After being together for several months, I discovered he was seeing another woman, the daughter of a diplomat, at the same time he was dating me." She didn't add that this woman was tall, blonde, and thin, not to mention gorgeous. She'd been devastated when she'd discovered Jerry had cheated on her, but she'd learned a valuable lesson from him. Never give your heart away unless you're absolutely sure the other person feels the same way. Since then her heart remained intact, locked up tight behind a wall of defenses.

"I'm sorry. I know how that hurts."

"Yeah, I guess you would. Thanks."

She watched his profile as he drove, his strong chin, his long, straight nose, his beautifully sculpted cheekbones. She was struck by a longing so strong it made her eyes burn with tears. She'd give anything for him to kiss her passionately again and really mean it.

But she'd learned the hard way that good-looking men like Zach gravitated to equally good-looking women like Chantal. Not mousy girls like her. She made herself look away.

"I can't believe you haven't had a serious boyfriend since then," he said.

She deliberately added a lightness to her voice she didn't feel. "Don't get me wrong. I've dated. I just haven't found anyone I want to invest more time in than a few casual dates." Better to keep things light and uncomplicated. That way she couldn't get hurt.

"I'm sure you'll find some lucky guy who'll appreciate what a great girl you are."

"Right. The men are lining up to date me. I have to beat them off with a stick."

"I'm serious! You're smart and funny and attractive. You're going to find somebody great one of these days."

"Oh, sure." Dani swallowed, desperately trying to hide the hitch in her voice. "One of these days." She quickly changed the subject, a good defense being a good offence, and all that. "What about you? I don't imagine you've been living like a monk for the last year."

"You'd be surprised."

"Seriously? The girls in Ottawa must be totally off their game to let a guy who looks like you slip through their fingers."

"Everything's not all about looks, you know," he said. "There has to be something more than that to attract two people to each other--some chemistry, some magic, and a definitely a whole lot of trust."

"I suppose that's true. To a point."

"It's very true. Take it from me. Chantal is a beautiful woman, but without trust we had nothing."

She kept her thoughts to herself. Chantal had betrayed Zach's trust on several occasions, but it was her beauty that kept him going back to her. He might still go back to her. She couldn't let herself forget that.

The GPS signaled the turnoff into the city. For the next half hour Zach was too busy negotiating city streets to engage in much conversation.

They arrived at the hotel and Zach pulled up to the front door. They unloaded the box with the cake along with their suitcases. Dani stayed in the lobby with their things while he parked Camp's SUV.

A harried woman pounced on her a few moments after she arrived in the lobby.

"Are you Daniella?"

"Yes. Are you Fiona's wedding planner?"

"I am." She stuck out her hand. "Sonya Peterson. Is that the cake? How does it look?"

"I don't know. We were in too much of a hurry to inspect it."

The wedding planner grimaced. "I just hope Fiona likes it. There's no time for a new one if she doesn't." She signaled the concierge who brought over a trolley to transport the cake to the ballroom. "Thank you for picking it up."

"You're welcome. I'll keep my fingers crossed."

Sonya waved as she hurried away with the cake. She was very glad she didn't have to deal with stressed out brides in her line of work.

A few minutes later Zach arrived in the lobby. "We'd better hurry or we're going to be late for the rehearsal."

They grabbed their suitcases and took the elevator to the tenth floor where Todd's parents had rented a suite. Todd answered their knock immediately.

BOOK: Always A Bridesmaid (Left At the Altar)
4.7Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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