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Authors: Karen Welch

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BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
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She took
his hand, squeezing it gently.
 
“I’m glad
I know.
 
It wasn’t so much finding out
you’re married that upset me.
 
It was
realizing you’d kept the truth from me.
 
I thought we’d always been honest with each other.”

“I
don’t expect you to forgive me.
 
My only
hope is I haven’t destroyed your faith in men.
 
I did try to warn you I wasn’t the man for you.”

With a
gaze so unwavering it sent chills down his spine, she said firmly, “I’m still
not convinced that’s true.
 
I just have
to figure out where we go from here.”

 

Chapter
Thirty-three

 

Kendall
had never been more grateful for routine and responsibility.
 
While part of his mind remained in turmoil,
the need to meet his obligations kept him moving.
 
Lessons, rehearsals and Reggie dominated his
waking hours and if he failed to sleep at night, at least he had the next day’s
duties to look forward to.
 

He saw
Peg twice during the days leading up to the wedding, once at a dinner on
Wednesday evening hosted by Reggie’s parents and then at the rehearsal on Friday
afternoon.
 
Judging by her appearance, he
felt sure she was suffering as much as he was; a thought which was strangely comforting.
 
At least she hadn’t yet decided he wasn’t
worth the worry.
 
Selfish as he knew that
to be, he needed to believe they could go on caring for one another on some
level.
 
Peg now knew him better than
anyone.
 
That she hadn’t immediately
condemned him on learning the truth gave him hope she might at least remain his
friend.

By 10 a.m.
on Saturday, when he arrived at the church sporting his rented morning coat and
prepared to perform his role as best man, he was running on pure
adrenaline.
 
He’d finally composed what
he hoped was a suitable toast to the bride and groom over a half-eaten breakfast,
dressed with extra care lest in his sleep-deprived daze he drop a cufflink down
the drain or fail to achieve a presentable knot in his tie.
 
If his eyes were a trifle glazed and his hands
less than steady, he could always say he’d been infected with the groom’s palpable
wedding day jitters.
 

His
first sight of Peg, exiting a limousine in front of the church with Adelaide
and Agnes, escalated his anxieties even further, but he was determined to keep
up a good front.
 
Exquisitely decked out
in now radically remodeled gowns, both Peg and Agnes were standing on the
sidewalk adjusting their skirts and examining one another for flaws.
 
Kendall was taken by the strong resemblance
between the two, dressed identically down to their hairstyles.
 
He watched as Agnes removed her glasses and
tucked them in the tiny drawstring purse each girl carried.
 
When they turned to face him, he couldn’t
resist a smile.
 

“You
both look stunning.
 
I must say the dress
shop pulled off nothing short of a miracle.”
 
Their dresses, white with a bare minimum of pink dots and stripped of
the offending ruffles except for a flutter at the shoulder and a flounce around
the hem, set off each slender figure to perfection.
 
Their hair, styled in elegant u-shaped twists
at the back, sported sprays of delicate pink and white flowers in place of the
detested pink hats.
 
In the bright
sunlight, they seemed to shimmer, no doubt responsible for the tears welling in
his eyes as he gazed down at them.

“Kendall,
is that you?”
 
Agnes squinted and Peg
laughed softly.

“Of
course it’s him, Agnes.
 
Surely you can
see that far?”
 
Taking her arm, Peg
steered her cousin in the direction of the steps.
 
“Good morning, Kendall.
 
You look pretty good yourself.
 
How’s the groom holding up?”
 
If her eyes hadn’t been as dull as his own,
he might have been deceived by the brightness of her tone.

“Surviving.
 
What about the bride?”

“Maeve
has never been more in her element.
 
The
center of the universe has always been her place of choice.”
 
Lifting her skirts, Agnes clung to Peg with
her other hand.
 
“Someone please warn me
if I’m headed for a wall.”

Thankful
for the distraction, Kendall held the door for the two of them to pass through
side by side.
 
“Don’t tell me you’ve
succumbed to vanity, Aggie?”

“Hardly.
 
But fighting with Maeve today seemed pointless.
 
Peg swears she can get us both through this
ordeal.
 
Mother says we could pass for
twins, but I can’t see well enough to verify that.”
 

“You
look beautiful, both of you.”
 
Finally
able to catch Peg’s eye, he thought he detected a glimmer of warmth.
 
“You girls are supposed to wait in there, I
believe.”
 
Nodding toward a door down the
corridor, he turned to Adelaide, just coming up the steps.
 
“I thought the mother of the bride was merely
a bit part.
 
Aunt Adelaide, you’re going
to steal the show in that hat.”

It was
true, Adelaide, despite a few wrinkles and her graying hair, was radiant
beneath the brim of a pale blue confection crowned by silver roses.
 
“Maybe I’ll catch the bouquet and run off
with the best man.
 
What do you say,
Kendall?”
 
The sparkle in her blue eyes
made him chuckle until under her breath she added, “What on earth have you done
to Peg?
 
The girl hasn’t slept a wink all
week, from the look of her.”

An
innocently raised brow and a shrug were the best he could manage, but he turned
for a surreptitious glance in Peg’s direction.
 
It was true, she was pale and there were darkened smudges evident
beneath her eyes, despite her carefully applied makeup.
 
Closer inspection revealed the slight droop
to her shoulders, as well.

“Maeve
and Michael are right behind us.
 
How’s
Reggie?”
 
Proceeding down the hallway,
linking her arm through his, Adelaide went on
sotto voce
.
 
“And you don’t
look much better, my dear.
 
I do hope the
two of you aren’t going to be at dagger’s point today.”

“No
need to worry,” he whispered, watching until the girls had entered the door up
ahead.
 
“Just a slight
misunderstanding.
 
And to answer
your question, Reggie’s a disaster.
 
Already tossed his breakfast.
 
I’m sure he’ll be fine once things get
going.”
 

He had
been prepared for the lengthy ceremony.
 
Catholic weddings always seemed to go on forever and with two hundred or
more people receiving the Eucharist, he knew it would last well past even the
normal hour-long Mass.
 
But as he sat
just feet from Peg, distracted only by the need to nudge the groomsman next to
him each time the poor chap threatened to nod off, he realized he hadn’t
expected to be so affected by the service.
 
Out of the corner of his eye, he was aware of her sitting ramrod
straight, head high, beautiful, graceful, and in his view unbearably tragic.
 
Was she thinking, as he was, that they would
never have the opportunity to exchange those vows, to stand together, gazing
tenderly and tentatively into one another’s eyes beneath the priest’s raised
hands?
 
Or was she reliving how he had
hurt her, deceived and misused her, and planning to dismiss him from her life
once their responsibilities to Maeve and Reggie were done?
 
Her fixed expression, the frozen smile on her
lips and her unseeing focus, revealed only that she was holding herself under
admirable control while whatever emotions raged beneath the surface.
 

By the
time they posed for photographs, Kendall had decided to accept his sentence,
offer Peg a pledge of grateful friendship, should she graciously choose to
accept it, and retreat to a life of penitent solitude.
 
He intended to wish her every success, a man
worthy of her love, and a future filled with nothing but happiness.
 
The next three months would be a torment he
knew he’d earned.
 
His only hope was that
Peg wouldn’t suffer as well.
 
All this
was circling in his mind as he arrived at Claridge’s for the
reception,
braced to endure the hours until he could slink away to nurse his shattered
soul.
 

It was
only when Peg took the seat next to his at the head table that he began to hope.
 
“How are you holding up?”
 
She hadn’t looked him in the eye, but she did
lean close enough for him to catch a whiff of her perfume.

“Well
enough.
 
Just have to get through the
toast and my job is done.
 
How are you
doing?”

“All
right.
 
I’ll just be glad when it’s over.
 
Poor Agnes is threatening to run away before
the dancing begins, but I told her we could count on you to take care of both
of us.”
 
Finally turning to face him, he
saw the gleam in her eye, not quite a challenge but definitely defying him
to.
. .what?
 
Turn her
down?

“Of
course.”
 
He cleared his throat, beating down the joy
stirring in his chest.
 
“You’d really let
me dance with you?”

Her
smile was sympathetic.
 
“I’d be furious
if you didn’t ask me, so I figured I’d ask you first.
 
But you have to dance with Agnes too.”

“Of
course.”
 
He studied her for a moment, noting again how
pale she was and the taut lines in her face.
 
“Are you feeling all right?
 
Not
under the weather are you?”

“Just
tired.
 
I’ll be fine.
 
Oh, look, here come the newlyweds.
 
Maeve does make a beautiful bride, doesn’t she?”
 
As they stood for the grand entrance, Kendall
was aware of a camera flash in their direction, one of the photographers capturing
the candid moment.
 
He wanted a copy of
that shot, the two of them standing shoulder to shoulder smiling in their
wedding finery, something to remind him of their brief time together.
 

 

By two
o’clock the wedding meal had been eaten, the cake cut and all the toasts made.
 
The ceremonial first dance had been danced,
Maeve waltzing with Michael, who as senior male relative acted in her father’s
place.
 
Reggie circled the floor with his
mother before the wedding party joined in.
 
Kendall did the honors with Agnes, who complained of a pounding headache
after going for hours without her glasses.
 
Peg, in the arms of Reggie’s cousin, didn’t look much happier.
 
At the end of the dance, both girls excused
themselves and he wondered briefly if they might not be planning to sneak out
the back door.
 

“Well,
shall we?”
 
Appearing at his elbow, Peg
seemed a bit shaky, but her gaze was soft and warm as she looked up
questioningly.

“Of
course.”
 
Leading her onto the floor, he asked again,
“Are you sure you’re feeling all right?
 
We don’t have to dance if you’d rather sit this one out.”

“I’m
fine.
 
There’s nothing wrong with me
except my timing.”
 
When he stared
blankly, she grimaced.
 
“It’s that time
of the month.
 
I’ve had horrible cramps
all morning.”

“I’m
sorry.
 
Can I get you some aspirin?
 
Or maybe you could find a quiet place to lie
down for a bit.”
 
Now it was Peg who
stared, and he smiled.
 
“Devoted son,
remember?
 
Poor Mother has always
suffered cramps every month.
 
Migraines, too.”

“You
really are a most unusual man.
 
I shouldn’t
even have said anything like that, and here you
are
understanding
.
 
And no thank you
to the aspirin.
 
I tried that earlier and
right before we went down the aisle, I lost my breakfast.”

“You
poor girl!”
 
Reflexively, he drew her closer.
 
“How have you been otherwise?”

“I
haven’t gotten much sleep.
 
But I’ve done
a lot of productive thinking.”

He
hesitated.
 
A crowded dance floor was
hardly the place for this conversation.
 
“Have you?”

She
nodded slowly, gazing over his shoulder.
 
“It doesn’t matter, Kendall.
 
It
doesn’t change anything.”

His
knees shaking, he missed a step as he drew back, trying to see her face.
 
“Peg, of course it does.”

BOOK: Shannon's Daughter
8.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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