Authors: Nancy Warren
The Almost Wives Club
© Nancy Weatherley WarrenAll Rights Reserved, except where otherwise noted
Five Brides–One (Cursed) Wedding Dress
Evangeline is the celebrity wedding gown designer to the stars and the elite who can afford her perfect creations. Kate Winton-Jones is set to marry one of California’s most eligible bachelors and is one of the lucky brides Evangeline has agreed to clothe for her special day. But, when the demanding designer fires one of her seamstresses during the final fitting of Kate’s dress, the seamstress curses Evangeline and the dress. And that’s when things start to get interesting. Kate’s perfect life begins to unravel. Is the dress really cursed? Or is Kate getting a lucky escape from marrying the wrong man? And is fate throwing the right man in her path?
Join five women as the dress passes through their hands and they end up joining The Almost Wives Club.
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Kate Winton-Jones was trying not to breathe. If she sucked too much air into her lungs, dress pins attacked her torso like battalions of tiny bayonets. Two seamstresses were currently at work on the final fitting of her wedding dress, and the yards and yards of silk and tulle and the hundreds of tiny seed pearls had to be perfect. As perfect as the wedding of the year between Katherine Winton-Jones and Edward Carnarvon III was destined to be.
There was absolute hush in the fitting room of Evangeline’s signature store on Rodeo Drive as the two women knelt on either side of her and took in the seams at her waist.
“I don’t know how you came to lose so much weight right before your wedding. The dress was already fitted,” her mother complained. “It was very thoughtless of you, Kate. This is no time to diet.”
“Not a diet,” she whispered, trying to talk without inhaling. “Stress.”
Her mother wore one of her many Chanel suits, this one a pale green. A fat string of pearls encircled her neck and her hair was salon fresh. “Nonsense. What kind of stress could you possibly have?”
Kate could have explained about the constant pressure of trying to come up with funding to continue the after school program for at-risk girls that employed her, but her mother hated hearing about her work. Her job might not be glamorous or high paying, but what she was doing was important.
She put a hand to her waist, surreptitiously shifting a pin that felt as though it were trying to remove her appendix. The flash of her three-carat diamond ring caught the light and sparkled in the triple mirror like a tiny lightning storm.
The doors opened behind them and in strode Evangeline, the gown’s celebrity designer. Kate could have sworn the temperature in the room dipped a couple of degrees.
“And aren’t you the most beautiful bride?” Evangeline announced in her clear British accent.
The seamstresses both flinched as the designer studied their work. Kate had the stab wounds to prove it. “And that dress is gorgeous on you. Ab-so-lutely gorgeous. You look like Grace Kelly with that exquisite fair coloring and the hair.” Kate had worn her blond hair long ever since she could remember. “You’re wearing it up? As we agreed?”
“Yes.” Evangeline had sent them to a special salon for a consultation.
“Good. You’ve got that lovely, long neck. My inspiration for the dress was a lily. Gorgeous,” she repeated.
“Oh, Evangeline, you’re the gorgeous one,” Kate’s mother gushed. Evangeline had been a London model and actress who became more famous for the men she dated than the products she helped sell. She’d been involved with minor royalty, lived with a movie star, and married and divorced a couple of business tycoons. Nearing forty she’d left the modeling and acting to pursue fashion design. Evangeline specialized in wedding gowns and lingerie so exquisite and so expensive that Kate would be tempted to hang it on the wall like a piece of art if she actually owned any. The designer turned down more bridal commissions than she accepted and it was an open secret that she’d only design her fabulous gowns for attractive women. There had been a nerve-racking meeting where Kate had been required to appear before Evangeline, with photographs, and walk up and down in front of the designer. At the end of the session, the woman had smiled coolly and said, “Thank you. I’ll let you know.”
Instead of losing her commissions, her rudeness and critical standards as well as the outrageous prices made her gowns more desirable. Evangeline’s signature creations had clothed royalty, daughters of prominent politicians, and movie stars as they walked down the aisle. One star had reportedly eloped after Evangeline refused to design her a gown. Subsequently the TV show she’d starred in for three years had her character killed off.
Evangeline’s perfect complexion creased for a moment. “Oh, dear,” she said, drawing closer. “What happened to your breasts?”
All eyes went to Kate’s unimpressive cleavage.
“She’s dieting,” her mother said, sounding desperate. As though Evangeline might snatch back the dress if her daughter couldn’t even fill the bra cup.
“Well, don’t lose any more weight.” She put her hands under Kate’s cleavage and, while all eyes stared at her chest in the mirror, Evangeline pushed her small breasts up until they filled the vacuum. It seemed they all held their breath as the designer studied the result. She nodded briskly. “I’ve got some nice little gel falsies. We’ll pop them in and plump you right up.” Then she removed her hands and the breasts were allowed to fall back into insignificance. The designer snapped her fingers to one of the kneeling underlings. “You. Go fetch the gel pads.” The woman scrambled up and out of the room.
Her mother put her finger up and scolded. “Make sure you eat something when you go out for dinner with Ted tonight.”
To the designer she said, “Do you think you’ll be able to come to the wedding? It would mean so much to us.”
“I’ll try,” the breezy voice said. “I always like to see the girls in my gowns.”
Naturally it would add glamour to the event if Evangeline turned up, especially if she came on the arm of her current suitor—a gorgeous young movie star from Barcelona.
She turned back once more to Kate, her dark hair swishing over her shoulder like a shampoo commercial. As many times as Kate had seen her on TV and in magazines, she was still taken back by the sheer beauty of the woman. Perfect almond-shaped eyes in a dazzling purple blue that looked as though a sapphire had mated with an amethyst, flawless skin, lustrous hair, white, even teeth and a body that made Kate feel completely inadequate.
Her perfect lips thinned slightly as she ran a critical eye up and down Kate’s form.
“No more dieting,” she instructed. Then, to the assistant still kneeling, she snapped, “you’ve spoiled the line. Pin it again.”
Kate felt the woman’s fingers tremble as she removed half a dozen pins and re-pinned the seam that traveled from Kate’s ribcage to her hip.
“Quickly. I haven’t got all day.”
Kate sucked in a quick breath as a pin pierced a vulnerable spot. Possibly her liver.
To her horror, she saw a spot of blood form, a bright ruby dot marring the perfect expanse of white satin. The seamstress tried to cover the spot with her hand but Evangeline yanked her hand away. “You stupid cow,” she screamed, her normally upper class accent slipping. “You’ve ruined it. Get out! You’re fired.”
Kate’s mother fluttered like a frightened hen. “Cold water, no soda water, no, wait—salt?” she muttered.
“It was an accident,” Kate said, jumping to the defense of the poor woman who probably needed the horrible job.
But no one was listening to her.
The seamstress rose, her face dull red with anger, her dark brown eyes burning. She held a pin as though it were a weapon and pointed the sharp end at Evangeline. She screamed something in a language that might have been Russian, and then, in English, shouted, “You are evil woman and I curse you. And I curse this dress!” Then, she threw the pin, red tipped with Kate’s blood, to the floor, spat on it and ground the pin into the royal blue carpet with her heavy black shoe.
There was stunned silence as she stomped out of the fitting room just as the second assistant rushed in with the gel pads, holding them out like an offering. Evangeline took them. “Thank you,” she said, there was a pause as though she were trying to think of the girl’s name and then she gave up and took the pads. “Don’t worry,” she assured Kate. “We’ll fix the seam so that unfortunate spot is invisible.”
Then she pushed her hands down the bodice, slipped a clammy pad under each meager breast and rearranged Kate’s cleavage.
When she stepped back, she nodded.
“Lovely,” she announced. And then, as though the unfortunate incident of the cursing had never taken place, she was gone.
The remaining assistant reached for the row of tiny buttons that would release Kate from the dress. She looked for a second as though she might cry, then, before she touched the dress, she muttered something under her breath and made the sign of the cross.
Ted took her to Truffaut, a trendy bistro whose décor was heavily influenced by French cinema and California colors. The menu featured dishes like escargot with artichoke, but also offered more traditional fare, which was why Ted liked it.
“Thank for you for suggesting a dinner for the two of us. I feel like I’ve barely seen you with your crazy work schedule and the wedding madness,” she said as they walked in holding hands.
Ted turned heads. She doubted he even knew it, but at six foot three with his dark good looks and a commanding air about him, no doubt bred in the Carnarvon genes over the centuries, people noticed her fiancé. She felt good on his arm, safe. Maybe he wasn’t the most exciting man she’d ever known, but he loved her. He understood her family pressures because he had so many of his own. She believed they would help each other, form a bond and build their own family.
She’d been both surprised and delighted when Ted suggested a dinner only for the two of them. In the midst of all the black tie and watch-your-language-and-your-step events, this evening was an oasis where they could spend some time with no one but the two of them. With only three weeks to go before the wedding, and his busy work schedule, this would be one of the last times she’d really have him alone before they were married.
“I thought we should spend some time alone before we get swept up in the craziness,” he agreed.
She snuggled against his arm. She was in good hands with a man who thought of everything. “You’re so smart.”
He smiled down at her. “Smart enough to marry you.”
The waitress seated them at one of the best tables, but Kate was used to that. Ted was one of those people who always got good tables. It was as though an invisible crier marched ahead of him everywhere announcing his status.
When they were seated, he pulled out his reading glasses to choose a bottle of wine. She perused the menu, but, in spite of her mother and the dress designer telling her to eat, she wasn’t very hungry. Stress stomach was the culprit. She’d suffered from it on and off since college. When she was stressed her stomach burned and she didn’t feel like eating. She was the fundraising coordinator for the after school program for at-risk girls, and money was tight. On top of writing grant proposals and trying to find funding to keep the lights on, she suffered the guilt of knowing the cost of her wedding dress could fund the entire program for several months.
She loved those girls, and while the salary wasn’t much, at least it gave her enough to pay her rent and eat. Although she was from a wealthy family, Kate herself didn’t have money. Her father had died when she was a teenager, suffering a heart attack on the golf course. Fortunately, he’d left her mother well provided with a trust fund, and he’d already set aside money for Kate’s education. After college ended, she was on her own. Fortunately, Kate could manage money better than her mom and she had a small nest egg saved as well as a paid-off car.
One of their major funders had been rethinking their commitment to the program. She was working to keep their enthusiasm high as well as scrambling for other funding just in case. Plus, there was the stress of getting married. She’d never realized how much was involved in a wedding. As soon as the ceremony was over and she and Ted were relaxing on their honeymoon, everything would be fine.
She glanced up at Ted. Kate had no plans to divorce. This was it for her. There were moments when she wondered how you could possibly know what someone would be like twenty or thirty or fifty years hence. Then he turned his attention on her and reached for her hand. “What do you think? Found anything that looks good?”
She thought maybe soup and salad. The burning was too uncomfortable for more. It was the prenup of course. She’d had two appointments today. First, she’d been invited to visit the law firm that handled Ted’s family’s business and sign the prenup that her family’s lawyer had already approved. Then she’d gone straight from there to her final wedding dress fitting. She understood intellectually that Ted and his family were worth a great deal of money and the lawyers had to protect the family assets. But it still felt as though something died inside her when she’d signed that cold, legal document setting out exactly what she’d receive in the event of divorce.
She wasn’t even married yet and already they’d prepared for divorce.
“The leek and potato soup looks good, and a spinach salad, I think.”
He glanced at her in concern. “That wouldn’t fill a sparrow.”
She decided to be honest. If you were planning a lifetime with a man you should be able to be honest. Not that she’d ever witnessed much of that in her own family but she firmly believed in the principle. “That prenup kind of upset me,” she admitted. “It’s like we’re talking about divorce before we’re even married.”
Ted put down the menu he’d been studying and removed his glasses so he could give her his full attention. “If it was only me marrying you I wouldn’t have consented. But I have a commitment to my family. I didn’t earn the assets, I merely manage them.”
“I know. But I’m not marrying you for your family assets.”
“And, since we’re never getting divorced, who cares? It’s a piece of paper.” He kissed her hand.
Okay, she was being foolish. Everything was going to be all right. Of course it was. They loved each other.
She glanced around the restaurant. It was a busy Friday and the place was packed. Tables of two catered to the romantic set like her and Ted. There were a few groups of couples dining together. Her attention was drawn to a table of young women laughing, a pitcher of margaritas on the table in front of them.
At the bar one couple seemed to be waiting for a table and beside them was a single guy drinking a beer.
When the waitress came for their order, Ted said, “The leek and potato soup and the spinach salad for the lady, and I’ll have the prime rib. Bring her soup to start, and I’ll have the foie gras as an appetizer.” He ordered a bottle of California Pinot Noir.
He tapped his fingertips against the tabletop while they waited as though he was impatient. The bottle of wine came and he tested it and pronounced it fine, then the waitress poured them each a glass.