Excerpt – Weekend Wedding Deception

Please enjoy reading an excerpt from (A contemporary Romance with Suspense and Humor):

WEEKEND WEDDING DECEPTION

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BLURB

“Lies, Betrayals, and Second Chances…”

Guests have gathered for an elaborate weeklong house party before a wedding at the McAlister mansion, owned by billionaire Mr. James Farrington, patriarch of the family:

The worst thing that could happen to Abby Warren is to run into her ex-boyfriend Jack at her best friend’s wedding. When the man who broke her heart strolls in with Abby’s beautiful ex-roommate clinging to his arm, Abby is sure things can’t get any worse. Dateless herself, Abby is determined to immerse herself into the lavish, weeklong festivities at the McAlister mansion and meet someone new out of all the single, handsome men, no matter how much Jack’s being there haunts her.

Moving back to town to purchase his family’s old company, Jack McAlister has tried to wipe away memories of Abby any way he can. After what happened between them, and the trouble she caused him, he can’t stand the reminder of everything they once shared, nor the temptation of being near her and the jealousy evoked when other men surround her. However, when they come face-to-face, old feelings surface, making them both wonder how something so right could have ended so wrong.

As if dealing with Abby’s presence isn’t bad enough, his new girlfriend is clamoring for an engagement, and Jack soon becomes aware that he has business rivals—and someone who has an ax to grind and a bit of revenge…

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CHAPTER ONE

“I hope nothing bad happens this weekend,” Carly McAlister said wistfully.

Abby Warren sheared off a long-stemmed red rose and stuffed it into a silver vase. Dressed in a dreamy violet dress, she felt right at home among the flowers. She peered over the roses at her best friend and smiled warmly. “You know every bride is concerned about their upcoming wedding day. You’re no exception, but nothing will go wrong.”

The two women stood at the marble island in the kitchen of the McAlister family mansion outside the small town of Brookstone.

“Well, Abby, I can tell you that you never know what will happen at a Farrington-McAlister-Drake-Knight event. All those family surnames seem to draw trouble.”

The surnames represented a bunch of nephews taken under the wing of Mr. James Farrington, the rich and self-appointed patriarch of the family. They were distant cousins of his grandson Trent. Mr. James Farrington owned the family’s ancestral estate when he bought and saved the house from being bulldozed by a developer several years before.

The scent of roses permeated the room, along with delicious smells of food prepared by staff. Many of the guests would arrive that day—Wednesday. Then the formal party that evening would kick off the festivities leading up to the Saturday wedding.

“You’re so lucky to have your wedding here. Most women would die for such lavish parties,” Abby said as she snipped another red rose.

Dressed in a similar outfit to Abby’s, but in chartreuse, Carly nodded. “Uncle James always wanted a big family, and it is kind of him to throw these parties before my wedding. He said he wouldn’t dream of letting my mom pay for any costs associated with the wedding either. Well, now, what about you? Tell me, Abby—who is he?”

“Who is who?” Abby rolled her eyes, knowing she sounded like an owl. She’d expected these questions, as she hadn’t seen Carly in over a month.

“It’s been two years since Jack. There must be someone,” Carly pressed.

Abby drummed her fingers on the cool white-marble counter and avoided eye contact with her friend. “No. No one…”

“Abby, you’re talking to me.”

“All right,” Abby said, heat rising on her cheeks. “There is no one new, but Sam Preston asked me out. I went out with him—as a friend. He wants to be more, but I don’t know. There’s something about him that I can’t warm up to…”

“What don’t you like about him? He’s nice looking and he’s liked you since high school. He was always trailing after you.”

“But we’ve always been just friends…”

“So, you’re saying he doesn’t give you that special feeling?”

Abby’s shoulders drooped and she shook her head. “None at all. And I can’t force myself to have feelings if I don’t. I’m not sure I’ll go out with him again. It’s a waste of time for him—and for me.” Abby gave her friend a lopsided grin and added, “Dear Carly, not everyone will get what you have with Miles—a glorious love. You two are going to have the happiest marriage, and I, for one, am happy for you.”

“You’re only twenty-six and you act like it will never happen for you. Besides, you’ve been in love before, Abby. It will happen again.”

Abby turned back to the cut flowers and stuffed the long stems into a vase. “False love, Carly. He just wanted me in bed. Jack preferred my roommate for the long haul.”

Abby didn’t want to turn this into a question and answer session about her life, which had been shades of gray for the past two years since Jack McAlister, the love of her life, ditched her. Not long after he broke up with her, she learned he was dating her ex-roommate. However, even worse, Jack was Carly’s cousin, which meant she was likely to run into him when she spent time with Carly.

“I’m just glad Jack won’t be here, since, as you said, he’s out of the country, right?” Abby asked.

Carly cleared her throat. “Yeah. I did say that. You know, Jack’s been in the Middle East doing contract work for over five months. He and Monica—”

“Jack’s still with her?” Abby tried to keep that pain from overwhelming her. “That’s all I wanted to hear. Let’s not talk about them—ever—please. I’m just glad he’s on the other side of the world.”

When Carly’s forehead wrinkled, Abby frowned. The gesture reminded her so much of Jack. Carly had the same black hair and had also inherited the same vivid green eyes. That reminder caused Abby’s heart to ache with loss all over again.

“I just don’t know what happened with you two,” Carly blurted. “Seeing each other since high school, then in college…afterward. I thought you two were destined to be together forever, like one of those great romances in the movies.”

“Jack didn’t believe in our fairytale. Did you know, he never once told me that he loved me—he said everything else, except those words. He probably thought I was a pain in the neck, and he didn’t feel the way I did. Maybe that’s why we broke up so many times.”

Abby and Jack had met in high school when she was a freshman and he was a senior. Even though sparks had flown between them that year, she had been too young for him. He told her that what she felt was ‘puppy love’ and teased her about staring at him with her ‘flashing blue’ eyes. Still, he’d spent time talking with her at school events. She had never hidden her interest, and when he dated older girls, she tried her hardest to hide her hurt.

Then Jack had gone off to college. Abby caught up with him at Ohio State in her freshman year. He was ready to graduate when she began, but this time things changed between them. During that first year, Jack had seen her as the woman she had become and they’d dated. Their first time together had been the start of a hot and heavy romance.

Jack had been her first lover and the love of her life. However, at the end of the year, once again, they separated. He moved on to graduate school in California, while she continued college in Ohio. Her heart had been broken with the loss.

After graduation, when she had a job and an apartment, they saw each other again and picked up where they’d left off and their romance continued for a blissful two years. Nothing could separate her and Jack again—or so she thought—until Monica Stevens became her roommate. Then Monica began hinting that Jack wasn’t as devoted as he seemed.

Even so, during that time, when they were together everything seemed fine. Then Abby got a leave of absence and left for Europe with her family for a three-month vacation. While she was there, she had to call Jack with news that she was sure he’d take badly—

“I’m sorry, too, that you two broke up,” Carly said, startling Abby and bringing her back to the present. “We could have been real cousins if you married Jack. And I’m so sorry you were hurt by him.”

Abby flicked her friend a wan smile. “I don’t hold that against you, Carly,” Abby said, teasing, “but after I wrecked his brand new car and drove it into that creek, with his laptop in the trunk… Well I’m sure that didn’t help his feelings for me. And you know Jack and I always had an on-again, off-again relationship anyway. Besides, he never wanted children, and I did.”

“You know that’s probably because Jack raised his brothers when his mother wasn’t around. He was jaded about all the responsibility involved with kids. That was hard for him, but I’m sure he will eventually want his own family.”

Abby shook her head. “I don’t think so, and that makes him perfect, for the perfect Monica. She never liked kids. Wouldn’t want her body changed by a pregnancy or her lifestyle curbed by raising children. No. If I never—ever—see Jack again, that will be too soon for me. And if I do see him, I can assure you I’m over him, and it would be no big deal after all this time.”

“Are you sure, Abby? That it would be no big deal?”

Abby threw a sideways glance at her friend. “At one time, Jack was my knight in shining armor, but that knight sure got tarnished when he took a tumble off his horse. I learned he’s not to be trusted. In my mind, Jack is all but forgotten. I’m doing fine without him…really.” It was all a lie, and she knew it. “Here, let me finish the next vase. I know you have things to do.”

“Yeah, I have to double check the menu. I want everything to be perfect. The staff here is making the cake.”

“Okay, just give me something I can do to help after I finish this vase.”

“Just place these four vases where you think they’ll look good in the living areas. Take this one, then come back for the others. We have a few more to fill and then we’re done.” Carly gave Abby a cheesy grin. “These roses are my favorite color. And with your light hair, you should look smashing in the red gown.”

Abby chuckled. “Yeah—blood red.”

“It’s more scarlet, like the roses. When you go out there, please keep your hands tightly on the vase—”

“Because I’m a klutz?”

“No—well maybe a little—but once you step through that door, you’ll see what I mean, so have a good grip on those. You have never seen the amount and quality of eye candy my cousins present when they’re all in one room. And tonight everyone is dressed to kill in formal wear. Most of my cousins are already here.”

“I’ve met a few of them over the years.” Including the cad, Carly’s cousin Jack, Abby thought bitterly.

“Well, I would set you up with one of them, but, honey, I don’t want you to get hurt. They’re all heartbreakers, so stay away. I will be surprised if any of them get married—except Alex, who already has. However, he’s so miserable. He’s certainly warned the rest of my cousins off marriage.”

Abby chuckled. “Then you’re saying look, but don’t touch…”

“Exactly. They’re all confirmed bachelors and playboys. All lethal to women’s hearts.”

“You can be sure I’ll heed your warning. I’ve already been burned by one of your handsome cousins, remember?”

“Yeah, Abby, and I don’t want you hurt again. But I can’t figure out what happened with you two, but I could have sworn Jack really loved you.”

Abby held up a stopping hand. “No! Jack must have been into me for only one thing. He liked that well enough. At least until he met my roommate—you know, the beautiful and perfectly pulled together Monica. She was just too tempting for him. And I didn’t seem to matter after that.”

“Are you kidding me? You’re much prettier than she is, and from what I hear, she’s had a ton of help in the looks department, so much so that Monica is bordering on plastic. She has to work hard to maintain her expensive coordinated designer outfits and beauty routines, too.”

Abby raised her chin. “Carly, you’re just saying that because you’re my friend.”

“No, I’m not.”

Abby shrugged. “Well, it doesn’t matter who Jack sees. He was the one who broke up with me. He always said he was a realist and didn’t believe in fairytale romance—and now neither do I.” Abby winced at the pained expression on her friend’s face, yet restated, “I don’t.”

“I’m sorry for you then—not the fairytale part—but for how you feel about love.”

“Don’t worry about me, okay? I’m just glad you’re happy. Perhaps I should go out with Sam on a real date…” Was there something wrong with her? Jack had moved on two years ago. It was time for her to do the same now that she’d lowered her expectations.

“Abby, just don’t settle. Okay? You loved Jack.”

“Maybe one day I’ll believe in the fairytale again—or not. Maybe I’ll never get married.” With that, Abby headed for the door with the flowers.

Carly called out, “Be careful with the roses—”

“I will, but don’t worry so much. The only one who turns me into a klutz is Jack. And, thankfully, he’s not here.”

Abby stepped into the living room filled with soft jazz music.

Her gaze immediately found Carly’s handsome cousins gathered around a table, sitting or standing.

Wow, Carly wasn’t kidding. They were all drop-dead gorgeous.

Some of them, Abby had met before. They were all the more striking in their crisp white shirts, black jackets and bow ties.

Then the group shifted and one man came into view.

Abby’s heart skipped a beat.

Jack! No. It can’t be.

She halted. Tall, and strikingly handsome with hair darker than any midnight sky, there was no doubt Jack stood across the room. Her throat constricted.

Then a woman stepped beside him. Monica! Abby’s ex-roommate.

Too much blood rushed to Abby’s head and the silver vases tumbled to the ground with a loud crash. All eyes turned to her. She pivoted and fled back into the kitchen.

Abby clutched Carly’s arm. “J-J-Jack…”

“Oh, no. He’s here already?” Carly squeaked.

Abby reared back, her eyes filling with tears. “You knew. Why didn’t you warn me?”

“I was trying to break it to you…that a few days ago he changed his plans and said he’d be here for the wedding, but I didn’t know he’d arrive four days before the wedding.”

Trembling all over, Abby hugged herself and tried to catch her breath. “I’ll go home. I-I’ll come back right before the wedding. I promise I’ll be here for you on Saturday, Carly.”

“Please, don’t leave. I want you to be here with me for all the fun activities, too.”

Abby was torn. “I don’t know, Carly…” If she left now she would miss everything they’d planned for the long weekend. And thinking about her reaction to Jack, she’d probably only reacted so strongly because she’d been surprised. These past two years, she had learned to control her feelings, to be numb to the hurt he’d caused. Could she tolerate being in the same room with him at functions over the next few days for the sake of her best friend? Could she? She had been devastated by him, but it was time to grow up.

“He doesn’t know you’re my Maid of Honor,” Carly confided. “When Miles’s brother David broke his leg, Jack’s plans had changed, and he was available again. You know we originally wanted Jack in the wedding party. He was unavailable with those contracts he had to fulfill in the Middle East. And he and Miles are such good friends…”

Abby’s shoulders drooped. “You mean Jack’s the Best Man? That’s even worse, Carly! I’ll have to stand up with him at the ceremony and participate in some activities with him.”

As she considered that, the pain of her loss and of how much she had loved him hit like a rogue wave again. Tears slid down her cheeks.

Carly handed Abby a paper towel. “Oh, I’m so sorry. I was afraid to tell you. Thought you might bail on us, but you’re not a coward, Abby, are you? I need and want your support and I’ll make it up to you. Promise.”

At the look on her friend’s face, Abby sucked in a deep breath to settle her nerves. “No, I’m not a coward…but I admit that seeing Jack is a stunner.”

Carly seemed to relax on an exhale, as if she knew Abby wouldn’t desert her. “You’ll stay, won’t you?”

Abby blotted her eyes and nodded. Then she smiled through her tears. “Do you think I can avoid him the entire weekend? Hide behind the houseplants perhaps, duck below tables of food?” she quipped lightly, trying to ease her friend’s concerns.

“You’ll probably knock them over.”

“I’m sorry I dropped the flowers.”

“Don’t worry. Martha will clean up the damage, but I am worried about you.”

Resolving that she would bolster her courage and her pride and get through this debacle, she straightened her shoulders. “We’re all adults here. We’re not in high school. If he can move on, so can I, Carly. I don’t know why I haven’t already.”

And really, why hadn’t she? The big question was how would she get through this long, long, week of parties and the wedding on Saturday with Jack in the same house?

 

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