Authors: Cheryl Bradshaw
New York Times &
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, businesses, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any similarity to events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
First edition October 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Cheryl Bradshaw
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted, in any form, or by any means whatsoever (electronic, mechanical, etc.) without the prior written permission and consent of the author.
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You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.
It was the kind of fall evening couples sat on their wooden porch swings and marveled about. The sun’s delicate rays spread throughout Utah’s Zion National Park, radiating a soft, amber glow throughout a multitude of Fremont cottonwoods. Isla Everley filled her lungs with fresh canyon air and embraced the cool breeze that tickled her pale, freckled skin.
Isla tried to look up, to meet her future husband’s gaze, but she couldn’t. Today was her wedding day, the day she would shed the Everley name forever and become someone new: a Davenport. She was happy. The happiest she’d ever been. And yet, her hands wouldn’t stop trembling.
In an attempt to conceal her nervousness, Isla slipped her fingers in between the folds of satin on her wedding gown and tipped her head forward, allowing her long, copper-colored locks to cascade in front of her. Sensing her trepidation, her groom, Nathan, reached forward, his hand grazing hers, thumbs softly rubbing across the inside of her palm. Isla closed her eyes and wished their captive audience, the ones who’d come to support them, would all just fade away. She’d never been good with crowds, and today was no exception.
Isla and Nathan had met while attending college in Cedar City, Utah. After dating for a year, he got down on one knee at a local park, the same place where they first met. She refused him, stating that although she loved him, she wasn’t ready. She needed more time. He was patient. He gave it to her. When the second year passed, Nathan proposed once more. Again, she denied him, this time saying she wanted to finish college first.
Isla graduated two years later, and Nathan’s third proposal came with an ultimatum: Isla could accept his offer, or it wouldn’t be extended again. After four long years, Nathan had grown tired of waiting. To his amazement, Isla said yes, and the two entered a new phase, the start of an engagement that stretched out for an entire year.
Months before the wedding day, the couple had decided on a small ceremony, with only their closest friends and family in attendance. Representing Isla’s side would be her mother, father, and brothers, Evan and Brand, followed by a meager gathering of some of her closest friends. Her entire party would easily fit into the first two rows of chairs. The same couldn’t be said for Nathan’s rambunctious brood. And now, as Isla snuck glances at the crowd, she noticed Nathan’s extensive group had filled the remaining seats to capacity and then fanned out into several smaller crowds of people loitering at the back.
The unexpected wrinkle in the number of guests had all been Sallie’s doing. Sallie was Nathan’s mother, a woman with a gift for always valuing her own desires over those of others. Isla could describe Sallie perfectly using a single word: pushy. This behavior didn’t blend well with Isla’s quiet, reserved nature. Aside from Sallie’s obnoxious ways, Isla saw her as a loud, narrow-minded extrovert who had a habit of cutting Isla off in any conversation, no matter how insignificant. Sallie often masked her crime by patting Isla on the arm and saying, “Now, honey …” followed by a lecture on why Sallie’s point of view really
Even now, standing several feet away from her future mother-in-law, Isla could almost hear Sallie in her ear, ranting about the elderly pastor, the wobbly chairs, the sticky summer heat. It was always something.
The words, “Do you Isla accept Nathan as your partner in life …” returned Isla to the present moment. A hush filled the air. Everyone watched, waited for her response. Nathan squeezed her hand, and she braved the sea of onlookers once more before her eyes stared forward, meeting his gaze.
“I do,” Isla said.
Nathan slipped a two-carat, amber-colored diamond onto Isla’s finger and smiled, offering his promise to remain by her side as long as she lived. The ceremony concluded with the customary kiss followed by an onslaught of family and friends rushing to the front, all of them eager to congratulate the new couple.
But not everyone was in such a hurry.
As Isla broke from her brother Evan’s tender embrace, her eyes rested on a flash of red flickering in the distance. She leaned to the side, struggling to get a better look. Behind the crowd, a young woman dressed in a wine-colored gown leaned against a tree, her arms crossed in front of her. Isla made eye contact. The woman grimaced, averted her eyes. Something about the woman seemed familiar, but Isla couldn’t place her.
Do I know her?
She considered it for a moment then decided no, she didn’t.
“What is it?” her brother asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Evan, do you see that woman?”
He scanned the crowd. “Where?”
Isla pointed. “In the red dress, leaning against the tree.”
“Which tree? They’re everywhere.” Evan made a visor with his hand to mask the evening sun, looked again. “I don’t see anyone.”
“She’s right …”
Isla looked again. The tree in question had been vacated. Her eyes darted around, scouring the area. The woman was gone.
“Isla, are you all right?”
“I … yes. I just thought—”
“What do you say, wife? Ready to go inside?” Nathan swooped in, draping an arm around his new bride. “You don’t mind if I steal her away, do you, brother?”
Evan laughed, stepped back. “She’s all yours,
Isla looped her arm through Nathan’s, smiling back at Evan as she walked away. On the outside, she appeared calm and content. Happy. Inside, a storm was brewing.
Reagan Davenport had mixed feelings about her brother marrying Isla. She wasn’t against the marriage, but she wasn’t for it either. A year her junior, Nathan was twenty-six. Why the rush? In her opinion, marrying before the age of thirty was out of the question.
Over the past several years, Reagan had tried everything she could think of to get to know Isla on a personal level. No matter how far she went out of her way, Isla kept her at arm’s length, just like she did the rest of the family—all except for Nathan.
When Isla did speak, a sentence or two was the most she ever managed to get out. Eye contact? Forget about it. Whenever Reagan met Isla’s gaze, Isla quickly looked away. While it bugged Reagan, it was far from the thing that irked her the most. She hated the way Isla talked, her voice soft and low, like a whisper. Most of the time Reagan couldn’t piece Isla’s words together enough to grasp the sentence she was trying to convey. And when she asked for clarification, an embarrassed, red-faced Isla always clammed up. End of conversation.
Reagan had a name for people like Isla: sketchy. She didn’t trust her. How could she be expected to trust someone she knew so little about? She’d tried discussing the matter with her brother, but he just shrugged it off saying she needed to give Isla a break. “It’s not Isla’s fault she’s shy,” he’d said. “Her parents are quiet people. That’s how she was raised. She isn’t used to a family like ours. Give her time.”
Almost half a decade seemed like more than enough.
With the wedding reception in full swing, Reagan reclined back onto the uncomfortable, slatted chair at the head table and pretended to ignore the brooding set of eyes fixed on her from the opposite end.
As much as she hated to admit it, he was a stunning specimen of a man, albeit more slender than she preferred. He made up for his lean physique with his wavy, reddish-brown hair and above-average height. With her own height coming in at a lengthy five foot ten, it wasn’t easy finding a guy who wasn’t intimidated when the occasion called for heels. Evan was at least five or six inches taller, which, from Reagan’s point of view, was absolute perfection.
At the moment, perfection was staring right at her.
If he thinks he’s going to get me to dance to this rap crap, he has another thing coming.
Reagan leaned back in the chair, reminisced about the night she first met Evan. It was at Nathan and Isla’s engagement party. Evan had shown up with a leggy, long-haired brunette who could blink faster than an auctioneer negotiating the highest bid on a steer at the county fair. An hour into the party, the brunette vanished. Evan struck up a conversation with Reagan, and for a while, they talked about everything from politics to books. Much to Reagan’s chagrin, the brunette returned and whispered something into Evan’s ear, prompting him to rise from his chair and walk away.
No parting comment.
And though she’d never admit it, his insolence still aggravated her to this day.
Reagan sipped her second glass of white wine and admired the way Isla’s dress swished back and forth on the dance floor. Isla looked nervous, as usual, but Nathan didn’t let her apprehension stop him from sweeping his bride into the center of the room. Reagan had to admit, no matter how she felt about Isla, her brother looked happy, like he always did when the two of them were together.
At the next table was Isla’s younger brother, Brand, whose spiked, jet-black hair had Reagan wondering how he was related to this fair-haired, freckle-faced family. Three empty plastic cups were stacked on the table in front of him, and he was hard at work on his fourth. A non-social type like his sister, the open bar seemed to be the only thing keeping him there. He caught Reagan staring and lifted his glass. She half-smiled and looked away. A few minutes later, he took two more drinks for the road and stumbled out of the reception hall.
The music lulled to a softer, gentler tune with Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” It was the kind of song Reagan loved when she had someone special in her life and couldn’t bear hearing when she didn’t. She scooted the chair back and stood up, hoping no one would notice if she slipped outside for a few minutes. She made it halfway to the door when a hand tugged on her dress from behind.
“Care to dance?”
She turned, smiled. “Why aren’t you still dancing with your new wife?”
“She’s ready for a break,” Nathan admitted.
Reagan tipped her head to the side. “I’m sure that’s true, but what’s the
“Isla saw you headed for the door. She thought you looked upset and suggested I ask you to dance.”
“You seem surprised.”
Reagan walked with her brother to the dance floor. “You excited for the honeymoon?”
“Can’t wait. Look,” he said, “Isla
trying, Reagan. She wants the two of you to be closer.”
Reagan was stunned. “She told you this? She actually used the word
? What changed?”
“Dealing with the wedding planner, the last minute changes, the mishap with the flowers … it wasn’t easy for her. When you stepped in and put all the fires out, it meant a lot.”
“I had no idea.”
A finger tapped Nathan’s shoulder from behind. “Mind if I borrow your sister?”
Nathan glanced to the side then twirled Reagan into the arms of Evan. “Not at all. I need to finish packing and check on Isla. See if she’s ready to go. We’ll stop back in, say goodbye to everyone before we leave.”
It bothered Reagan that no one seemed to care about what
wanted. She didn’t feel like dancing with Evan. Now she felt stuck, obligated. Evan, on the other hand, seemed thrilled with the idea. Reagan stretched her arms out, indicating they’d be dancing like there was a foot-long ruler between them. Evan looked amused. He slipped his fingers around her waist, yanking her body forward until her chest pressed against his.
He has some nerve
She looked around.
Her mother was watching.
mother was watching.
It wasn’t the time to make a scene.
One song. One song and I’m out of here.
“The night’s about gone, and I haven’t had the chance to talk to you yet,” he said.
What is there to talk about?
“Where’s the model?”
“The woman you were with last time I saw you.”
“Sabine? We weren’t together then, and we’re not together now.” When Reagan didn’t respond, he added, “I’m single, in case you’re wondering.”
“Good for you. And I wasn’t.”
“You sure?” he laughed. “Seems like you want to know.”
Reagan leaned back, staring into his playful baby blues.
“What?” he winked. “Too soon?”
She released her hand from his neck and raised a finger, halting it in the air in front of him. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do here. If you’re feeling aroused because we’re at a wedding and you think I’m up for a one night stand, I’ll have you know I’m not that kind of—”
Evan reached out, smacking their bodies back together again, gripping her waist tighter than before. His hot breath filled her ear. “I would never take advantage of you, or any woman. If you knew me better, you’d know that.”
Reagan felt like the temperature in the room had been cranked up. She could feel the fabric of her dress sticking to her skin, the roots of her long, brown hair sweating. “Why? I’m not your type because I’m a size ten and not some less-than-zero stick?”
It wasn’t until the words shot out of her mouth that she realized what she’d said. She turned away from him, hoping to hide her embarrassment. It was too late.
This time it was Evan who stepped back. “What the hell is your problem?”
Without looking at him, she answered, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“All I wanted was one dance with you before the night was over. I had no intentions of slipping you a key to my room.” He released her. “You know what—I’m sorry I bothered.” Shoving his hands into his pockets, he walked away, leaving her in the middle of the dance floor. Alone.
For the next twenty minutes, Reagan stood against the wall, wondering if he’d ever come back, ready for the night to be over. Once Nathan and Isla said their goodbyes, she’d return to her room for some much needed sleep. In the morning, she’d find Evan, apologize, even though she didn’t really want to.
Reagan glanced at the time on her phone, realized how late it was.
Nathan and Isla should have left by now. Where are they?
Before she had time to figure out the answer to that question, Nathan entered the room, his head darting left then right.
“What is it?” Reagan asked. “What’s wrong?”
“I can’t find Isla. She wanted to change before we left. I checked the room. She’s gone.”