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Authors: Ginny Baird

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BOOK: The Calendar Brides
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“I’m sure I would have loved her back.”

He held her gaze and his eyes shone. “I’m so glad you said yes.”

“I’m so glad that you asked me.”

“So, the ring? It’s all right? We don’t need to get it sized or anything?”

“It’s perfect,” she said, meaning it absolutely. “I’ll cherish it forever.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Seven

 

Bev

 

Bev studied her reflection in the triple mirror, pivoting to examine the drape of the dress. It was stunning with a beaded-pearl train. The only problem was its low scoop neck. “Don’t you have anything with a higher collar?” she asked over the dressing room wall.

The attendant, who’d brought her an array of choices in approximately her size, responded that she’d go check.

Bev brought her fingers to the jagged red scar with a frown. It was just above her collarbone, a rude reminder of her one unhappy memory from Rome. She’d never told her family about the incident. She was just grateful she’d lived through it.

Bev had gone to the police, but they weren’t much help. Since she hadn’t gotten a look at the perpetrators’ faces, they had no real descriptions to go by. Two men had accosted her on motorbikes, one on either side, while she’d traversed a narrow street. She’d worn a small purse in a diagonal line across her torso, hanging from her right shoulder. It was the sort many European women carried at the time, and she never kept much of value in it. She’d heard the roar of the bikes speed toward her, but before she could turn or run she’d seen something glinting in the sun. It wasn’t until she felt the sharp tear at her neck that she realized it had been a knife meant to cut the strap of her purse, which was suddenly yanked from her. Bev shrieked and brought her hands to her throat as the men raced off. Blood seeped through her fingers, and she felt faint. She later learned that it was fortunately only a flesh wound and she would recover completely, except for the scar. Bev stared at her reflection, seeing her hands had reflexively flattened against the wound.
 

Someone knocked at the dressing room door.

Bev tentatively popped it open and peeked out at the attendant, who held up two fresh choices. One was reminiscent of a Victorian style with a high lace collar. The attendant smiled and lifted them for her inspection. “Will one of these do?”

 

Later that afternoon, Bev found herself in a doctor’s waiting room. She’d been reading up on new forms of plastic surgery, and had decided to finally ask an expert’s opinion to see if anything could be done. Elizabeth Bailey was a popular surgeon located in the neighboring town. The community was two and a half times larger than Chandelier, with more cosmopolitan eateries and shops. It also housed the closest high-level hospital, with which Dr. Bailey was affiliated. She was reputed to be the best, so getting in to see her took time. Bev had made this consultation appointment eight weeks ago, long before she and the others had made plans to become calendar brides. She’d saved up enough money by now from her job at the bank to afford a procedure, and it appeared health insurance would cover a large portion of the cost.

“What are you in for?” There was a musical lilt to his voice that sounded distinctly un-American. Bev had been so lost in her thoughts, she hadn’t seen another person come in and take the seat catty-corner from hers. She turned and found his eyes upon her. They were incredibly blue—nearly azure—offset by dark lashes and brows and a rich crown of curly golden brown hair. The bridge of his nose was lightly freckled. Broad lips turned up at the corners.

“Pardon?”

Without prompting, he reached for the right leg of his sweatpants and hiked it up to his knee. His leg was nicely toned, his calf having the definition of a runner’s. But from the hilt of his ankle all the way up to just beside his knee was an angry purple scar. “Train wreck,” he explained.

“It doesn’t look
that
bad,” Bev said, thinking to herself that it looked awful. Far worse than hers.

“No, I meant that literally.” He ran his hand across the length of it. “Istanbul.”

“How horrible. Exciting. No! I meant—”

“It was horribly exciting, though I’m not anxious to repeat it. I can tell you that.” The pants leg rolled down, and he looked up. “How about you?”

Bev self-consciously adjusted her scarf.

“I’m sorry if that’s too personal. I don’t have the brains God gave an animal cracker half the time.”

Bev laughed, taken by his accent and his charm. “I have something under here,” she said, indicating the scarf.

His eyebrows rose in sympathy. “Bad, is it?”

Bev didn’t know why, because she’d never chosen to show it to anyone, but she suddenly felt her fingers tugging at the fringe of her scarf.
Why not?
she asked herself. It was almost like confessing to a stranger on a plane. What were the chances she’d see him again? Besides, he’d already shown her his.

He leaned closer and Bev caught a whiff of him, all masculine and musky like a heady spiced soap. “You mean that little line?” He rubbed his cheek in an evaluating fashion. “The truth is I can barely see it.”

The scarf shot up and Bev’s cheeks warmed.

“Sincerely. It’s very hard to notice. You don’t really need the scarf.” He sat back in his chair and his blue eyes twinkled. “Not when you have such lovely dark eyes as a distraction.”

Was this gorgeous guy actually flirting with her, scars and all? “Where are you from? I was going to say England but—”

“Scotland, love.” When he said the word
love
Bev’s heart fluttered. “Though I’ve been gone from it awhile.”

“Oh? What do you do?”

“Take photographs. You know, for those glossy picture magazines, the sort that profile lions.”

“And tigers and bears?” she couldn’t help but say.

“Sorry, I missed that film.”

“No you didn’t, or else you wouldn’t have caught the reference.”

“You’re a very bright woman.”

“And you’re a clever guy.”

“Ah, clever…” He rolled back his shoulders, mulling this over. “I like the sound of that.”

“Where are you traveling next?”

“The world is my oyster. Don’t you know?”

“Can you really write your own agenda?”

“Couldn’t always, but mostly can now. A few of my shots… Well, I suppose you could say they were well received.”

“Your work sounds thrilling.”

“Can be, but it’s lonely.” His gaze locked on hers. “What do you do? Other than watch old movies with scary witches in them.”

Bev laughed. “I’m in banking.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“It isn’t really, but it pays the bills.”

“That’s a plus.”

“It also funds my travels.”

“Travel much, do you?”

“I have done.”

“Oh? Where?”

“D’Amato!” The nurse’s voice rose like a rude awakening. Bev couldn’t believe she was getting called into her appointment now. The Scot noticed her glance that way.

“That you?” he asked.

Bev reluctantly got to her feet. “That’s me.”

“Well, that’s a shame, now, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. When had she ever met someone this fascinating in Chandelier? The answer was—
never.
He’d hinted he was single, and that he didn’t even have a girlfriend. But since when had anyone as dishy and exotic as this man been interested in her?
Same answer!
Bev gathered her things and held out her hand, trying to sound polite but not overeager. “It was really nice chatting with you.”

He shook her hand and his touch lingered. “I’d like to have the opportunity again, if you would? I mean, to hear about your travels and such?”

She nodded, probably one too many times and the corners of her mouth felt damp. Bev hoped she wasn’t drooling. “That would be great.”

“D’Amato?” the nurse charged again.

“Coming!”

The man fished in his pocket and pulled out a business card. “The name’s Will. Will MacKay. I hope you’ll give me a ring.”

Bev took his card, her whole face firing hot. “Bev D’Amato. And, I will, Will.” She nearly tripped on her own feet following after the nurse. …
will,
Will? Really?
But when she looked back at him he was smiling.
 

“Going to count on that!” he called after her.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Eight

 

Jane

 

Jane backed down the attic ladder clutching a dress bag to her chest.

“Here, let me take that,” Richard said, extending a hand. She passed him her wedding gown and he smiled, dimples settling at either side of his mouth. He had short springy hair that was mostly brown, but in summertime held flecks of gold. Behind dark-rimmed glasses, his hazel eyes were a kaleidoscope of color. Some days they appeared light brown. On others, they looked blue. Today, Jane was convinced they were pale green. But perhaps they were just picking up the seaweed hue of his argyle sweater vest.

Richard held out his free hand to help her off the ladder. “So?” he asked, light eyes inquisitive. “Have you thought about what you’ll say?”

“About?”

“Us, Cookie.”

Jane’s cheeks warmed and she was glad none of her cousins were around to see. Or, hear the silly endearment, about which they would have teased her mercilessly. Of all the women in the D’Amato clan, Jane was the most no-nonsense. She was also, as her sister Susan claimed,
as cool as a cucumber.
She didn’t even break a sweat. Hadn’t ever. Not even while running high school cross-country. She smiled slyly. “I plan to say it’s always been a dance between us.”

“Ha-ha!” He passed her back the dress with a grin. “Just don’t put in any details about the tango, eh?”

Even after all this time, his accent still got to her, sending warm shivers like a current down her spine. Richard was part Brit and part American. He’d spent his formative years in the UK, where he’d attended boarding school.
 

“Don’t worry, Richard.” She gave him a quick peck on the lips. “Your secret’s safe with me.”

He surprised her by pulling her into a hug, dress bag and all. “All of them?” he asked, his voice husky. He lowered his mouth to hers, and there was desire in his eyes.

“Every last one,” Jane breathed.

“Darling,” he said, stroking her cheek, “I’m so glad you came into my life.”

“Actually, you walked into mine.”

“Wasn’t it more like waltzed?”

Before she could verbally agree, he’d covered her mouth with his, sweeping her away in his passionate embrace. Richard deepened his kisses and Jane’s body steamed, from her head down to her toenails, and in some very specific regions in between. The hanger slid from Jane’s fingers. And somewhere near her ankles, the garment bag pooled. “Richard…” she mouthed, a furnace burning inside her. “We can’t. There’s not time.” But already her fingers were in his hair, threading through his marvelous curls. The glasses came off and he carried her to the couch, where he laid her down gently.

“There’s always time,” he said clambering on top of her.

Jane delighted in the weight of him, the solidity of his frame…the heat of his touch as it trailed from her lips…to her neck…then the open collar of her plaid flannel shirt. He kissed her again and she whimpered, feeling his response through the denim of their jeans.

“Okay,” she conceded breathlessly. “You’ve got five minutes.”

He shot her a delectable grin and slid a hand between them, unhitching the top button of her jeans. “Something tells me that in five minutes, you’ll be begging for five minutes more.”

“You’re impossible,” she said, as his lips met hers.

“I’m afraid you’ve got that part wrong.” He pressed back her hair to kiss her forehead, and then her eyebrows, one at a time. He trailed a finger down her nose, then cupped her chin in his palm. “I’m entirely possible. What’s more, I’m entirely yours.” And then, he took every effort to prove it.

 

“Hello? Am I in the right place?”

Jane looked up from her desk, where she’d been busily typing at her computer. She worked at Cotillion Real Estate, where your dream house was
just a waltz away
, and had a contract offer to get out by noon. “I’m sorry?”

“You’re the leasing agent, right?” His face was open and expressive yet held an intellectual appeal. Perhaps it was in the way he wore those dark-rimmed glasses.

Jane glanced around the room, seeing she was the only employee there. The others were either showing properties, or had gone out to lunch. She stood and smoothed her ebony hair, which fell past her shoulders and was as straight as a stick. Her cousins sometimes accused her of using a flat iron, but that’s just how it was, in contrast to all of their locks that had natural body. At least she had the better nose, elegant and patrician. It was her best feature. She tweaked it now, as she did sometimes when she was caught off guard. “Jane D’Amato.” She held out her hand and approached him.

BOOK: The Calendar Brides
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