There should be a rule book, she decided. Or at the very least, a tastefully done pamphlet.
The Bridesmaid Rules
. Fiona McCrae zipped along the cove road, too distracted to even glance across Pelican Bay at the lighthouse perched majestically out on the tip of Pelican Point.
Too much to do. Too much to plan.
What on earth had she been thinking, taking this on?
“A list of basic, common-sense rules,” she said, warming to the subject as she made the turn toward the Point. She would have been quite happy to draw up that list, if anyone asked. She could think of a half dozen without even trying.
Bridesmaid Rule No.1: No one should have to be a bridesmaid more than once in a year.
“Especially if said bridesmaid has yet to become a bride herself.” She smiled wryly. “And the single-ladies crowd goes wild.” She made the universal hordes-cheering sound, and held on to her amused smile as she wove her way ever closer to home base.
Hmm. Bridesmaid Rule No. 2 . . .
“No bridesmaid should ever be expected, asked, or guilted into being the wedding planner.” Actually, she thought, that should probably be Rule No. 1.
If there was such a rule book, being a bridesmaid twice in six months
the wedding planner for both events would be in serious breach of the bridesmaid code. On top of that, this time she was also the maid of honor. And she
been honored when her older sister had asked her to play that most special role in her big day. She'd done the big, sloppy cry, in fact. They both had. And there hadn't even been adult beverages involved.
At the time, Fiona had blamed still being joy-buzzed from watching her big brother tie the knot barely three months earlier. And now, suddenlyâtoo suddenly to her mindâit was Hannah's turn to walk down the aisle.
Weddings were a happy thing. A thing she should be thrilled about. Downright jubilant. So what if her family was falling in love all around her while her life was falling apart?
Okay, so maybe
was being a bit melodramatic. Except selling off her award-winning interior design business in Manhattan to move, lock, stock, and fabric sample binders, back to her hometown of Blueberry Cove, Maineâall without exactly firming up her new business modelâpretty much felt exactly like that. She still couldn't believe she'd really made the leap, taken the plunge. “Jumped off the cliff,” she added sardonically as she pulled in between her sister-in-law Alex's ancient truck and the big red pickup parked in the small lot outside her childhood home.
Fiona gasped as she cracked the car door open and the icy coastal breeze snatched her breath away. She wedged her booted foot out first to keep the door propped open, trying not to bang it into the truck as she climbed out, lugging the heavy satchel behind her. It was filled with an assortment of samples, swatches, wedding books, and magazines she'd carefully selected, along with a stack of planners she'd already begun assembling, the combined weight of which felt as if she'd packed up the proverbial kitchen sink.
She edged her way out between the vehicles, but didn't give the truck much notice otherwise, assuming it belonged to yet another of Alex's long list of sub-contractors. The renovation work on the old lightkeeper's cottage was the last part of the Pelican Point restoration project that Alex had been working on for close to two years now. Fiona did glance out at the Point then and took a moment to admire the beautifully restored stack of two-hundred-year-old stone that was the McCrae family lighthouse. But only a moment.
No time for dawdling! There was a wedding to plan
! “In seven freaking weeks,” she muttered under her breath.
Seriously. There should be rules
. Fiona hauled the oversized canvas tote up higher onto her shoulder and dipped her chin down, tucking it into the scarf she'd wrapped repeatedly around her neck. It was a vain attempt to keep the wind that clipped relentlessly over the rocky promontory from whipping her cheeks to an even more chapped pink than they already were. In all of her daydreaming about moving back home to the Cove, how was it she'd managed to so utterly forget what the cold weather did to her fair skin?
She needed to get a tube of rehydrating cream to keep in her purse. And one for her car. And every other bag she carried. If she applied it a dozen times a day, she might have a slim chance at not resembling a cherry-cheeked elf at her sister's December wedding. And that was another thing.
Who gets married at Christmas? Who wants to have their wedding anniversary compete with Santa?
“More to the point, who makes the big decision to get married at Christmas, when it's already only two weeks away from Thanksgiving?” She'd tucked her chin so far down behind the heavily wrapped scarf that speaking out loud caused the wool fibers to laminate themselves to her heavily balmed lips.
Lovely. Just lovely. Bridesmaid Rule No. 3: It has to be at least above freezing to have a wedding.
And while she was at it,
No. 4: There should be at least a six-month minimum wedding planning rule. Better yet, nine. Hell, make it a year.
“But seven weeks from saying yes to saying I do? Insanity.” She spluttered at the wool fibers now sticking to her teeth and tongue, too, as she clambered up the wide stone steps.
It wasn't sour grapes, either. These were salient, perfectly rational points, all of which Fiona planned to put forth to her sister. And she would. Just as soon as she divested herself of the luggage-sized satchel she was grappling with, and scraped the scarf off her face. She'd be completely non-confrontational, of course. She'd merely explain, in a calm, rational, don't-piss-off-the-starry-eyed-bride manner, that it would make so much more sense to have a lovely spring wedding. Coastal Maine was beautiful in the spring. Well, if you overlooked the mud that resulted from all the snow melting. Followed by all the heavy seasonal rains. Not to mention the occasional crippling late snow storm. Okay, so maybe she'd go the nine-month minimum wedding planning rule. All the better, really. A summer wedding would be perfect. Just as it had been for Logan and Alex.
Plotting how she'd open the delicate-but-had-to-happen conversation, she banged her way to the side door off the wraparound porch that hugged the gabled, shake-shingled house that had been home to generations of McCraes. Surely she could make Hannah see reason. “Knock, knock!” she called out as she let herself in. She shoved her body and the tote into the small mudroom, then heard a loud thump overhead, mixed with muffled voices, followed by laughter.
“Alex?” she shouted through the scarf, which was still half-draped over the lower part of her face as she tried to maneuver herself around to reach for the door that led to the kitchen. There was another thump overhead and more laughter. Good. She'd recruit Alex into her change-the-date mission. Strength in numbers.
“You'd better not be upstairs having crazy, naked, newlywed sex with my brother,” she called out as she finally managed to nudge the kitchen door open. Grunting, she pushed harder when she and her bag got wedged in the narrower kitchen doorway. “Because that is an image I do not need to have burned into my corneas today.”
She should have put her satchel down and taken her scarf and coat off in the mudroom before trying to head inside.
Me? Plan ahead? Why start now?
She made one last determined push, sucking in air, as if it would somehow make even the satchel thinner, and finally popped through the door like a parka-clad spitball. She made a loud
sound as the center work island broke her staggering trajectory. “Hannah?” she half shouted, half wheezed, as she slumped over the canvas tote she'd slung onto the new marble countertop before it slung her back onto her ass.
She needed to start working out again. All right, ever. And she would. That was part of why she'd come home after all. Okay, so perhaps not specifically to get into shape, but in the slower pace of life that was Blueberry Cove, surely she would have time for things like jogging and yoga.
Things she also had sworn she'd do when she'd moved to the big city, she reminded herself, recalling her gilded visions of getting all lithe and lean on her daily runs through Central Park, topped only by the fabulous friendships she'd surely make with her newfound fellow-artist gal pals in her thrice weekly yoga classes in the Village. Yeah, somehow those items had never made their way onto her daily agenda.
Of course, she was older now, wiser, with her priorities clearly straight, proven by her recent exit from a stressed-out city piled high with even more toxic clientele, and she was returning to her healthier, more serene, simple-life roots. She tried to feel cheery at the thought of shopping for a yoga mat and cute running shoes.
Then again, she thought, it was winter. And in Maine that meant it was dark. A lot. And pretty damn cold. Jogging in the cold and dark seemed unwise. In fact, it seemed wrong, really, to have to work out like that at all in the winter. Ask any Mainer and they'd tell you that surviving a New England winter was pretty much the equivalent of participating in a full-contact sport in and of itself.
So, technically, she was already working out. She would be like a boxer, punching her way through a tough coastal winter, while simultaneously focusing her creative mind and spirit on plotting out the best way to apply her well-honed design skills to suit the needs of the sure-to-be sweeter, kinder, gentler clientele she'd find in the Cove.
Come spring, she'd be all bulletproof from winterizing herself, her new business model would be successfully created and implemented, and she would happily jog herself skinny all while feeding her inner creative soul in a local yoga class. When you looked at it that way, it was all simply a part of a bigger training regimen, really.
Feeling somewhat better about herself now, she disentangled herself from the satchel strap, then began mentally rehearsing a summer-weddings-are-so-beautiful speech while she looked around for something to scrape the wool scarf out of her mouth. Deciding to get herself unwrapped first, she fished out the end of the scarf, already feeling her fair skin chapping even as she stood there, the warmth of the kitchen creating something of a sting in her thawing cheeks. The struggle with the scarf started almost immediately. It was as if her curls had begun actively weaving themselves into the knitting, becoming one with every loop and knot.
So, she was more wrestling with the scarf than unwrapping it, really, swearing somewhat creatively, possibly a wee bit passionately even, by the time a deep male voice that was quite decidedly not her big brother's baritone spoke from far too close behind her.
“I've got bolt cutters in my truck. We could just cut you out.”
Fiona froze. Stock-still. And not because of anything having to do with the coastal winter weather or being out of shape. She wasn't breathing hard. In fact, she might never draw breath again. It had been, what, ten years? Longer. She'd lost track.
Or, more truthfully, you've blocked it from your memory banks.
Blocked it back when the owner of that voice had left Blueberry Cove for college in Boston, excited to get started on fulfilling his dreamsânone of which included coming back to his hometown. At the time, blocking her memory files had seemed the only way she'd ever survive not having him in her daily orbit ever again.
She felt his big, broad palms cup her shoulders, turning her slowly around to face him, and stupidly squeezed her eyes shut, as if that would change this sudden new reality. All it did was delay the inevitable.
“Fireplug?” he said, as the top half of her face became visible when he pushed the curls from her forehead and the scarf from where it was now haphazardly draped diagonally across her face. There was sincere surprise in his voice. “Is that you inside all that sheep's clothing?”
All of the air came back into her lungs in one big, sucking gasp. Emphasis on the sucking. Her cheeks burned again, only the sting of remembered humiliation coupled with the memories of her pathetic, unrequited crush on her brother's best friend, who'd only had eyes for Hannah, farâfarâoutstripped anything a Maine winter could do to her fair skin.
They were both many years older now, she reminded herself, and that meant wiser as well. Although she didn't feel wiser at the moment. At the moment, she felt instantly thirteen again, pining after a guy who'd barely noticed her, and when he had, had seen her as nothing more than the nuisance kid sister of the girl he was trying to impress.
Of course, that girl was now engaged to another man, and for all Fiona knew, her childhood crush was married himself, with a bundle of kids stashed somewhere. Hell, for all
knew, so was she. Which meant, yeah . . . the distant past was just that. Distant. And past.
She prided herself on taking an extra moment to steady herself and let her breath ease out, then slowly back in again, before opening her eyes. Okay, so she was still half-tangled in a woolen neck scarf and she wasn't exactly making eye contact with him, but it was a start. A mature, grown-up start. Between two, mature, grown-up people.
So why is your heart racing like it's the first time a man has ever touched you? More to the point, why are all your other more mature body parts clamoring for him to touch a whole lot more than your shoulders? You're both potentially married with kids, remember?
Only she wasn't married. Didn't have kids. Not even the dimmest of prospects of either on the horizon. A horizon that, at the moment, was completely consumed with a big, tall, rugged reminder of all that she didn't have. Had never had. A reminder, it should be noted, who still had his hands on her.