What is an encore bride?
A woman who has made a previous trip down the aisle.
A tall waiter, looking like a classy penguin in a black and white uniform rushed over to pull out her chair. Once Jenny was seated, he took the folded napkin on her plate and shook it, laying it flat across her lap. “Would you care for a glass of wine, perhaps?”
Jenny smiled but shook her head. “Iced tea will be fine, thank you.”
The waiter left and Heather resumed scrutinizing her outfit. “Where did you get that ugly purse? It’s horrible!”
Jenny stared at her lap. “It’s not a purse, it’s a dog carrier.”
Heather’s face blanched. Quickly composing herself, she glanced around, presumably to make sure no one had overheard. “A what...”
Jenny pulled back the brown fabric and Princess sat up, sniffing the edge of the table.
“I can’t believe this. You’re embarrassing me!” Heather reached over and tried to shoo the dog back into her carrier, but Princess stayed put, her ears perked. “You and your pound puppies. When will you grow up, Jennifer? You’re thirty-three going on thirteen. You know very well you’re not supposed to bring that…that hairy thing in here.”
“Well, I just did,” Jenny replied wryly.
The waiter delivered their first course, a cup of shrimp bisque, and tactfully ignored the uninvited guest at their table.
Jenny sipped the tangy soup and changed the subject. “I can’t believe you’ve set your wedding date for the first week of June. That’s only six weeks from now. Do you realize how much planning you have to do?”
Heather nodded and took a sip of her cucumber water, letting her soup get cold. “I’ve got two full-time wedding planners working on it.”
“What’s the hurry?”
Heather gave her a dreamy smile. “We’re in love.”
Heather and her fiancé, Brandon Moore, performed the ten o’clock news together on a local television station. The entire Minnesota viewing area knew of their off-camera romance and the gossip columns had been speculating on the wedding date for months. Now that Heather and Brandon had finally announced it, their ratings had blasted through the station’s roof.
“My wedding planners had to pull a lot of strings to arrange our engagement dinner at the restaurant we wanted on such short notice.” She sighed. “I’m glad we were able to book it, but I have so much to do before tomorrow night.” Heather’s four-carat, heart-shaped diamond sparkled under the glow of the chandelier as she picked up her water glass. “I expect you to be there on time.”
Just say it...
“Heather, about the wedding...I really think you should find another bridesmaid.”
“Jenny, don’t start that again.” Heather put down her spoon and pushed her shrimp bisque aside. “You’re my only sister and now that Mom and Dad are both gone, all we have is each other,” she said softly. “Of course, you’re going to be in my wedding. I can’t imagine it any other way. And you’re not my bridesmaid. You’re my maid of honor.”
“I just don’t think I’m ready yet. I’ve been having—”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” Heather argued. “Yes, you are. You’ve been through a difficult period, but you’re strong.” She placed her hand over Jenny’s. “You’re doing great, Sis. Stay positive.” Heather cringed. “And get that dog’s tongue out of your soup! That’s gross!”
But Jenny merely gave Princess an affectionate pat on the head as she moved the dish away. “No, that’s good. Getting her appetite back means she’s starting to come out of her depression.” Jenny pulled a ribbon from the flower arrangement on the table and used it to gather the long fur on the dog’s head into a loose top knot. Then she fed Princess a nugget from her bag of treats.
After that, the conversation steered toward less controversial topics: Heather’s latest shopping trip, Heather’s house-hunting expeditions, Heather’s wedding preparations, and Heather’s quest for the perfect honeymoon. Jenny pretended to listen, but kept an eye on the clock on her phone, desperately waiting for the event to end. Thinking of Adam and their wedding had dampened her mood. Though she did her best not to show it, all she wanted was to go home, away from having to smile and act as though her life had not fallen off a cliff.
The fashion show commenced after their waiter served them coffee and dessert. Jenny and Heather oohed and aahed as pencil-thin models strutted around the room, giving everyone a close-up look at the latest trends in designer bridal dresses.
The last model approached their table wearing a strapless gown in ivory silk with a sheer cape and elbow-length gloves. She carried a huge bouquet of blush roses and ivory peonies with a rope of faux pearls wrapped around the stem.
“That bouquet looks heavy,” Jenny remarked as the model walked away.
“Heavenly, yes...” Heather replied as she made notes on her program. She looked up. “I almost forgot to tell you, Brandon’s best friend, Luke McCarran is going to be the best man. We’re seating you next to him at the engagement dinner and I expect you to be on your best behavior.”
Oh-oh. He must be a doozy if Heather has to lecture me about him beforehand.
Jenny stared warily at her sister. “Why are you hassling me about being nice to this guy? What’s the problem? Is he a dog hater or something?”
Heather gave her a stern look. “He’s a widower, like you, and he’s also going through a tough time right now.”
What was this? Heather and Brandon’s idea of Widow Match.com?
“You and Brandon did that on purpose, didn’t you?” Jenny grabbed her phone and threw it into her purse. “It’s your sneaky way of trying to pair me up with Brandon’s best man, isn’t it? Well, I’m not falling for it!”
Heather kept her expression neutral. Heaven forbid that any of her adoring viewers would see her create a scene in public, but even so, her soft voice bordered on murderous. “You’re being ridiculous, Jenny! It’s a coincidence, that’s all. We simply thought you and Luke should get to know one another since you both have key positions in the wedding.”
“You mean, you thought if you got us together, we’d be so preoccupied with commiserating over our dead spouses that I’d be too distracted to have second thoughts about being in your wedding!”
“That’s not true! The two of you have a lot in common. What would be so bad about making friends with Luke?”
Jenny wanted to compare funerals with Luke McCarran about as much as she wanted a colonoscopy. “I know you mean well, Heather, but stop trying to set me up,” Jenny said. “I’m not interested in finding another husband. I am never getting married again.” Sipping her purse over her shoulder, she pushed back her chair and stood. She needed to calm down before she embarrassed her sister more than she already had. “Excuse me. I’m going to the ladies’ room.”
The model turned her back to the crowd and tossed the bouquet. It flew high into the air.
“Look out!” A chorus of horrified gasps prompted her to look up. She saw it coming down, shooting through the air like a missile, but she didn’t have time to move out of the way.
The bouquet hit her in the face then dropped into her outstretched hands.
Luke had just started on his salad when Heather’s sister arrived. Jenny Landon slipped quietly into her chair, ignoring the festivities as she set her purse under the table and spread her napkin on her lap. She studied the menu card with her head down, clearly trying to blend in so no one would notice her tardiness.
Curious, he pretended to be preoccupied with buttering his roll, while studying her out of the corner of his eye.
Blonde and petite, her features bore a remarkable resemblance to her sister’s, but the similarities ended there. Heather’s bone-thin frame looked great on camera, but couldn’t compare to the healthy, athletic build of her sister. Heather always appeared poised and meticulously groomed, ready to “go live” at any moment, whereas Jenny had a fresh-faced, almost careless air about her. Jenny’s golden hair hung long and straight and lightly mussed, as though the wind had whipped it about her shoulders. Instead of formal evening attire, she sat ramrod straight in black slacks and a white lace top. The rigidity of her posture suggested she didn’t want to be there. The sharp look in her deep blue eyes boldly stated she didn’t care if he knew it.
That one has quite the attitude...
Within moments, a server appeared at her side and filled her water glass. When he asked if she’d like something else to drink, she merely shook her head.
Jenny frowned at the strange-looking greens on her salad plate topped with tomato slices and drizzled with an onion-speckled dressing. “What the heck is this?”
“It’s a goat cheese and tomato salad,” he heard himself say. He didn’t know if she’d directed the question at him or simply thought aloud, but he’d answered before he could stop himself. His fork halted in mid-air as he studied her profile, taking in the delicate curve of her chin and the softness of her long, graceful neck. Through his business, he encountered pretty women every day, but for some reason, he couldn’t take his gaze off her.
She rolled her eyes. “What’s wrong with ordinary lettuce? Why does Heather always have to pick the weirdest items on the menu?”
“It’s actually very good, despite how it looks.”
She sounded upset, but he sensed her displeasure had nothing to do with the food. And though he knew better than to get involved in the personal issues of a total stranger, he couldn’t help wondering why she looked so unhappy.
Remembering his manners, he extended his hand. “I’m Luke McCarran, by the way. Brandon and I go way back, since high school.”
“I’m Jenny Landon,” she said and slipped her hand into his.
The moment they touched, he realized he’d made a mistake. The friction of her smooth skin against his rough palm took him by surprise, jolting his senses, and scrambling his thoughts. As his fingers curved around hers, he knew he should let go of her hand, but his brain wouldn’t cooperate.
She looked up, wide-eyed. “...s-sister to the bride.”
They froze, locked into each other’s eyes. His jaw dropped as he tried to speak, but he couldn’t utter a word. His mind had gone completely blank.
Then he saw the thick, purple and black stripe underlining her left eye.
His shock must have been obvious because she pulled her hand away and the mask of indifference returned. “It’s not what you think,” she stated in a challenging tone.
“Hey, I don’t think anything. Your life is your business.”
She glanced across the table at Heather. “I wish someone would convince my sister of that. I sure can’t.”
He almost choked on a tomato slice. “She did that to you?”
“Are you kidding?” Jenny let out a wry chuckle. “Heather can’t open her own wine bottles much less take me down.”
He had no idea how to respond to her “take me down” remark so he decided to simply keep quiet and concentrate on his funny-looking lettuce.
“I got in the way of a flying bouquet,” she said matter-of-factly and reached for a dinner roll.
He snatched up the wire basket and pulled back the cloth liner for her. “Someone hit you in the eye with a bunch of flowers?”
“Not just a bunch.” She selected a parmesan-encrusted roll and began to break it apart. “A big honkin’ monster of a bouquet studded with crystal hearts the size of lug nuts. It had a rope of pearls wrapped around the stem, making it so wide the model could barely get her hands around it. I saw her toss it into the air, but I didn’t notice it coming toward me until it was too late to get out of the way.” She stuffed a piece of roll in her mouth. “The sucker felt like a bowling ball dropped on my head.”
He almost choked again, but this time it took all the strength he could muster to keep a straight face.
“I should never have allowed Heather to talk me into going to that bridal show with her at the convention center, but she’s convinced I have to be her maid of honor.”
“What’s wrong with being the maid of honor?”
She looked boldly into his eyes. “Maybe I don’t believe in happy endings.”
The sudden flush staining her cheeks gave him the sense she would rather get another shiner than participate in her sister’s wedding. Sibling rivalry or jealousy perhaps?
“It’s not the first marriage for Heather,” Jenny said as if reading his thoughts. “So, what’s the point? She paid for a Hollywood production the first time around. You’d think she would simply want to quietly get hitched and get on with her life.” She stared intently at her sister sitting at the head table. “Not Heather. She’s spending a fortune to roll out the red carpet again.”
The more she talked, the more discomfort seeped into her voice and it gave him pause. Jenny’s reasons for avoiding the bridal gig amounted to more than a little inconvenience. She held a deep emotional aversion to this wedding.
A server appeared and silently removed their salad plates. Then another server delivered the main course of filet mignon et crevette, a steak and shrimp combo.
Luke decided to let the matter drop and get busy slicing into his mouth-watering filet. He’d been salivating over this part of the meal ever since he sat down to eat, and he planned to savor every bite.
“So, what do you do for a living?” Jenny asked in between bites. “Cameraman? Soundman? Are you in the television industry, too?”
“No, I’m not,” he replied, cutting off a piece of his luscious steak. “I own an auto repair shop and a towing business. I gather you don’t work at the station, either.”
“No way,” she said, brushing it off with a laugh. “I’m not the type to sit behind a desk. These days I’m a foster mom.”
“How many children do you foster?”
“Not children. Dogs.”
When he didn’t respond, she turned to him. “The—the dogs help me cope.”
The softness in her voice made him wonder what she’d been through and why she’d turned to animals for comfort. He knew it was rude to ask, but he suddenly had to know. “Why is that?”
“When my husband died, I... sort of went off the deep end. I was angry, I felt like a victim and I took it out on everyone else, especially my family. I wouldn’t listen to anybody’s advice. Instead, I did just the opposite of what everyone wanted me to do.”
He stopped eating and stared at her in amazement. “That’s exactly what my son is going through. He lost his mother a year ago and he hasn’t come around yet.” Luke put down his fork. “Liam seems to be getting worse as time goes on, not better.”
Her expression softened. “I imagine it must be difficult for a little boy to lose his mom.”
“Actually, he’s fifteen,” Luke replied, “but it has been a tough transition for him. His mother was only thirty-six when she passed.”
“Does he have a dog?”
“No,” Luke said, wondering what difference that would make. “His mother had severe allergies to animal hair.”
“Dogs love you unconditionally, Luke,” she said, her eyes widening in earnest. “Your son needs one to fill the emotional gap in his heart.”
He shook his head. “I really don’t see how a dog would—”
She placed her hand on his arm. “I’m a volunteer at the Blue Sky Rescue Animal Shelter on Tuesdays and Fridays. I see firsthand the good that adopting a pet does for people. Take it from me, owning a dog will cheer up your son and help take his mind off himself.”
“Thanks for the advice,” he said, distracted by the softness of her touch. “I’ll give it some thought.”
When coffee and dessert arrived, Heather and Brandon began opening a small pile of gifts, most of which were “naughty” items. Each time Heather unwrapped another one, the room broke into laughter and hilarious “wedding-night” jokes.
Bored, Luke checked the time on his phone. He’d devoured his curd-filled lemon cake and wanted to leave. He pushed back his chair, intending to quickly say his goodbyes and be on his way when Brandon’s booming voice pulled him up short.
“I’d like to make a special toast to Luke McCarran, my best man, and a good friend.” Brandon stood and walked around the table, stopping between Luke and Jenny. He held up his glass. “Here’s to you, old man.”
When the laughter died down, Heather pushed back her chair and stood holding up her stemmed water glass. “Now it’s the maid of honor’s turn!”
Jenny gasped; her face paled, her expression stricken as though Heather had just pronounced her death sentence.
Brandon held up his glass. “Let’s make a toast to Jenny Landon, Heather’s maid of honor!” His other hand landed lightly on Jenny’s shoulder.
“I can’t do this,” Jenny said, her shaking voice barely a squeak. “I simply can’t do this!” She snatched her purse and bolted from the room.
A sudden hush fell upon the group.
Luke stared in shock as he watched Jenny run away, wondering what had just happened.
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June 1 – 20