Read False Start Online

Authors: Barbara Valentin

False Start (31 page)

Jemma squinted into the brilliant sun as she left Holloway's Photo Shop, after lusting over equipment on her dream list. If only she had a sugar daddy to pay for a new camera and printer. She could charge for prints and be set with the extra income she needed. She briefly pondered wealthy men in the area, jokingly of course.

Sort of.

Her phone whistled, alerting her to a missed call. She must have slipped into a shopping trance while ogling the new camera.

She pulled it from the side pocket of her purse and checked the display, snorting in disgust at the sight of Dalton's work number. Though he'd stopped with the guilt trips and mind games several months before, her stomach lurched at the thought of a revival. Her finger wavered over the delete button. But morbid curiosity won out yet again, and she pressed play.

"Hi, my name is Herbert McCallister, and I'm calling on behalf of my daughter, Kate. She's getting married on June third at seven o'clock. I know this is the eleventh-hour, but I do hope you have an opening. Kate gave me your business card, and her husband-to-be, Dalton Blackwell, recommends you highly. I am willing to pay you handsomely for the last minute inconvenience. Please call me back at 555-2627. I look forward to hearing from you."

"Why?" She barked at her phone, as though it were Dalton's voice on the message. "Why would you recommend me?" Without thought, she typed in his cell number.

He answered on the first ring. "I thought I'd be hearing from you."

"Seriously, you'd recommend me to your future father-in-law? He's your boss even! To take pictures at
your wedding
?" The last two words came out a little harshly. He deserved much worse. The betrayal from months ago stirred anew in her heart and gut.

"Well, you are the best photographer in the area."

She snorted in response, but pride hitched her chin a notch.

"Besides," he continued, "I knew you'd
do it, since you're still in love with me. Obviously, I've moved on, and you need to realize it."

"I need to realize it? I'm pretty sure that happened the moment I saw you doing your secretary. How is she these days? Did she ever get that bad taste out of her mouth? You know, from me catching you with her." Sarcasm oozed from her words. She paced along the walk outside the photo shop, anger bubbling through every cell in her body.

"I made a mistake, one mistake, and you'll never let me live it down. I can hear the hurt in your voice. Don't torture yourself even more by watching me marry the love of my life."

"What you're hearing is sarcasm. And, you seriously think that would bother me?" she barked.

He laughed. "I believe your angry tone says it all."

"I don't have any problems seeing you get married. I might feel a little pity for your bride, but that's on her."

"Uh-huh, sure," he mocked.

"And as a double bonus, I'll be making money off of your sorry ass. I'll see you on your big day." She swiped the phone off, really wishing it was an old school landline she could slam down in his ear.

With shaky hands, she slipped her phone into the side pocket of her purse then fished through the main compartment for her worn, well cared for, planner.

"Let's leave this to chance, shall we? If by some miracle the date is open, I'll call Mr. McCallister back. If not…" she muttered to herself as she flipped the thick book open, pushing past loose notes and reminders until she found June third. She stared at the date, remembering now the call a month back from a bride who'd cancelled her June third wedding. Leaving Jemma wide open.

She pulled her phone back out and hit redial on the missed call. She battled the conflicting thoughts, waffling between what-the-hell-am-I-doing and take-
-Dumbass-Dalton, including every gray shade in between.

After getting clearance through his secretary, Mr. McCallister answered. "Ms. Keith, does this mean you have an opening?"

What the hell am I doing?

She inhaled a deep breath. "Yes, I had a cancellation for that date."

"It must be fate," he said, relief wavering in his voice.

Fate? Or punishment for everything she'd ever done wrong in her life?

Mr. McCallister proceeded to tell her what he was willing to pay for the last minute inconvenience.

, Dumbass Dalton! And
new camera and printer.

Really?" she muttered, regaining her composure. "How could I turn down an offer like that?"

"Exactly what I was going for," he chuckled.

Switching back into professional mode, she said, "If you could give me the bride's phone number, I'll take care of the rest." She dipped her hand back in the depths of her purse and dug for a pen.

He rattled off her number. "It sounds like we will be in good hands, with the glowing recommendation my future son-in-law gave you."

"Well, that means a lot to me, sir." She bit down on her lip to keep the cynicism from her voice. "I'll get in touch with your daughter in the morning and set up a meeting."

 "Thank you. I look forward to seeing your finished product."

After saying their goodbyes, Jemma hung up and stood there in a daze. Conflicting emotions swirled through her until she turned and stared at Holloway's store front. She walked back inside, directly to the front counter.

The sales clerk looked up and smiled. "Back for more demos?"

She returned his grin, though hers was probably more along the maniacal side. "Nope, I'd like to open an account and charge the camera and printer I was just looking at. I'll have a deposit check soon and be able to pay it off in June."


*  *  *


After signing her life away, and giddily watching them sack up her new things, Jemma somehow made it to her car. Her brain flipped between the excitement of new equipment and the conflicting emotions of the wedding she'd just agreed to photograph. She drove the short distance to her apartment, parked her car, and climbed the stairs in a near zombie state. She laid her things on the couch and flung herself onto her bed, bouncing twice before coming to rest. Her thoughts switched to the next day's task of calling the bride.

How in the heck am I
gonna handle this one?

Jemma guessed Kate had no knowledge of her and Dalton's prior relationship. Jemma's alter egos began a boxing match. Her professional, common sense side—which her mother nurtured—would keep her word and follow through with everything she'd promised on the phone. She would call, make the arrangements, show up for the wedding, take the photos, refrain from killing Dalton, and all would be great in the world. However, her father had also had a hand in raising her. The side he'd instilled would follow through with everything else, but lie in wait for the perfect moment to cause the most chaos, ruining the wedding after Kate's daddy-dearest forked out all of his cash. Either way, she'd get the money to pay off her equipment.

Silver lining?

"Mikey's right; I
psychotic." Jemma's voice echoed off of her high ceiling.

At least both sides agreed to make the phone call in the morning. The rest could be decided after the shock wore off.




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