Here's an unedited excerpt:
Nick Stafford’s hands trembled as he straightened his tie. He needed to be at The Estate, a well-known Atlanta wedding venue, early before all the guests arrived. His gift for the bride had to be delivered in person. It was a gift with special meaning to her, and he’d spent hours coming up with the two lines he’d written in the card. He wanted to put it into her hand himself, even though he knew he wasn’t supposed to speak to the bride.
Rather than have someone else drive him, he took his own car. The peace and quiet of being alone was necessary for his sanity before the ceremony began. His stomach clenched with anticipation and anxiety, yet he couldn’t wait to get there.
Only a handful of cars were already in the parking lot of the Buckhead venue known for its beautiful weddings when he arrived. Nick parked and entered the eighteenth-century antebellum mansion through the beveled glass double doors and absentmindedly gazed at the artwork lining the walls as he passed through one of the front salons.
“Are you here for the wedding?” a tuxedo-clad man asked when he saw Nick stop and gaze into the ballroom decorated in white and peach, Cherilyn’s favorite color.
“I’m here to deliver a special gift to the bride. Can you tell me what room she’s in, please?”
“Sure. The ladies are in the bridal suite upstairs on the right. You’ll hear them cackling.” He laughed and went on his way.
“Thanks, man.” Nick proceeded up the steps, turned to his right and stopped outside a closed door where he could hear the sound of women’s voices. He swallowed hard and knocked. A woman he didn’t recognize partially opened the door and peeked out.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, I’m here to deliver a gift to Cherilyn Vernon.” He struggled to keep his voice from shaking.
“I’ll take it,” she said with outstretched hands.
“Sorry, I have to give it directly to the bride. You understand, right?”
“I guess.” She turned her back to him. “Cherilyn, there’s a man here who says he has a gift he can only deliver to you.”
“Ooh, really?” The bride’s voice rose in expectation. “Tell him I’ll be right there.”
“She’s coming. I’d ask you in, but there are ladies getting dressed in here.”
Nick held his breath and waited. A few seconds later, a rustling sound preceded the door opening wider. He lost his breath when Cherilyn appeared looking like a vision in a strapless gown with sparkling jewels adorning her ample cleavage. When she saw him, she merely stared, tongue-tied.
“Cher, I know this is inappropriate, but I had to come and bring this to you.” She stared down at the box he held out to her. “Please open it.”
She still hadn’t spoken, but she took the gift from his hand and removed the top. A soft gasp escaped her as she stared down at the elegant white gold pendant of the Eiffel Tower that captured the tower’s distinctive beauty. Round diamonds brought the brilliance of the tower's lights to life. He’d taken three-hundred dollars from his already anemic bank account to buy the necklace.
Tears immediately sprung to her eyes. She stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind her. “What does this mean, Nick?”
“It means you’re getting ready to make the biggest mistake of your life.” His eyes drank in the sensuality of her full-figure in the form-fitting strapless gown. “It means I still love you, and I don’t believe you love Derrick. He was just your rebound man. If you don’t marry him today, I promise you we’ll go to Paris, and I’ll marry you beneath the Eiffel Tower just the way you’ve always dreamed. Please don’t do this, Cher.”
The door suddenly opened, and Cherilyn’s mother stared at him open-mouthed. “How dare you come here, Nick! Leave now, or I’ll have security escort you off the property.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Vernon, but I had to speak to her before she did this.”
Her nostrils flared. “How dare you!” she repeated with mounting rage. “I’m going to find security.”
Cherilyn held up her hand. “No, Mommy. Please close the door. I need to talk to him for a minute. Her mother glowered at her and turned away muttering under her breath as Cherilyn closed the door again.
“You wouldn’t return my phone calls, Cher. What other choice did I have? I’ve called you every day for the first two months, and you wouldn’t return my calls, so eventually I gave up.”
She blinked as though she were bewildered. “Why are you doing this? It’s been almost a year.”
“Because I can’t let you marry him. I messed up. I know that, baby.” His heart thundered in his chest. “I panicked at the thought of added responsibilities on top of medical school, but I was wrong. If you can look me in my eyes and tell me you don’t love me anymore, I’ll leave.” He knew the answer by the way she averted her gaze from his face.
“I can’t do that to Derrick. He’s a good man.”
“Look at me, Cher. I’m sure he is, but if you still love me, you’re doing an awful thing to Derrick by marrying him. Your marriage would be a lie.”
A tear cascaded over her cheek. “Please go away, Nick.” She shoved the box into his chest. “I can’t. We have two-hundred guests waiting upstairs. I can’t! You need to go, please.”
He pressed the box into her hand once again. “Wear it until I can replace it with a ring.”
She swallowed a loud sob then shut the door in his face.
Coming late Winter 2016...