Smoldering, страница 1
Table of Contents
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Black tears streak my face as I stand in front of the beautiful, oversized floor mirror that looks as though it belongs in a Restoration Hardware Magazine. Sheer, white curtains billow out from behind me as a cool breeze sweeps through the room. My mother will be pissed beyond belief when she sees that my makeup is ruined, but I could care less. This isn’t what I want. Granted, I’m sure I’m living some girls’ fantasy right now… but it’s not mine.
Gingerly, my fingers skim the soft white silk. White. Hah! The sweetheart neckline rests secure against my breasts. The bust is encrusted with jewels that are supposed to look like diamonds. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were diamonds. With the obscene amount of my money my parents have spent on this wedding I’m sure my dress costs just as much if not more. The bodice fits like a second skin, stopping just below my hips. Layer upon layers of silk fabric flow out and down, creating the perfect, elegant wedding dress. My black tresses are pulled back into a gorgeous up-do with the perfect spiral curls falling in just the right places. A tiara that I know has diamonds intricately placed on it holds my veil in place.
Only the best for dear old mom and dad.
My parents wouldn’t dare think of something less elaborate, not for their high society life.
Four hundred people at least, not that I care, sit, patiently waiting for me to make my grand entrance. Senators, judges, governors, actors, you name it; if they are worth at least ten million dollars, they are probably here.
With my father holding a seat in the House of Congress, it only makes sense that I marry someone that my parents see fit. As I stare back at myself in the mirror, I realize I don’t even know the person I’m looking at. Sure, it’s the same girl with the same high cheekbones, flawless skin, and long locks that I’ve inherited from my mother. My hazel irises are an exact replica of my father’s. My body looks the same, toned muscles and not one inch of body fat anywhere. After years of having the personal trainer from hell, you would expect those kind of results. I graduated from boarding school at the top of my class, and then Yale with Cum Laude and an outstanding four-point-zero grade point average with a Master’s Degree in Nursing. What more could my parents ask of me?
Oh yeah. Get married and follow in their footsteps. Of course, that entails marrying the next perfectly sculpted, polished political figure, have two-point-five kids, never see my husband, turn a blind eye to his infidelities, never interact with my children –except when necessary. All in all, live a fake life with fake happiness and fake love.
What I want is real.
I want a husband who comes home to me every night and tells me how much he’s missed me. I want to laugh and fight and cry and make up, but most of all I want to love. When I have children, I want them to know that I adore them, that they are my world. I want to watch them grow, tell them I love them every day, take them to their first day of school, tuck them into bed at night, protect them… cherish them.
A loud knock on the door pulls me from my thoughts as I turn to look who’s just entered my bridal suite. My best friend and maid of honor Jennifer looks at me with a bright smile that I know is just as fake as this wedding and the man standing at the end of the aisle waiting for me. The soft yellow of her strapless maid of honor dress looks perfect on her, especially with her flawless tan that not even an airbrush could re-create. She’s all-natural with curves that even I would die for. Not one thing about my best friend is fake. She’s as genuine as genuine gets and that’s why I love her. She keeps me grounded and is the most sincere person I’ve ever met.
“Why are you crying?” she asks.
“You know I don’t want this, Jen.”
She nods, plucking a tissue out of the box on the end table before she makes her way over to me. Gently, she lifts my veil and begins to blot away at the mascara that’s running down my face. “So? Why don’t we blow this joint?”
I would laugh, and I want to, but the thing is, she’s serious.
When my parents set me up with Todd, it was because of what benefits their image, not what makes me happy. Not that my happiness has ever mattered to them before. But on some level that little girl inside of me, dying for their attention and affection still does as they say.
“You know I can’t,” I reply in an exasperated tone. “You know he treats me like shit. It’ll only get worse when I’m legally bound to him.”
Jen rolls her eyes at my response. “Well then, let’s make you a married woman.”
“I don’t need you to be a smartass right now.”
“When have you ever known me not to be a smartass?”
I narrow my eyes, because dammit, she’s right, but what I need right now is for her to tell me everything is going to be okay and that eventually I’ll fall in love with Todd and everything else will fall into place.
“Look, Kels. I love you. You’re my best friend and like a sister to me. I have never lied to you and I’m not about to start now. Your parents are self-absorbed assholes who only care about themselves. Todd is a Class A douche bag and I want nothing more than to castrate him in front of everyone in that room out there. But if you can tell me that marrying him is worth all of this,” she waves her hand around the room, gesturing to my extravagant surroundings, “then I will support you, but don’t you fucking settle. You are an amazing woman. I could sit here and tick off all the awesome things that I love about you, but we don’t have time for that. If you don’t want to marry him, you let me know, and we’ll get the hell out of here and never look back.”
I don’t want to marry him. Hell, I don’t even love him, actually I detest him, but I loathe disappointment more. My loyalty to my family over my heart? That’s the million-dollar question these days.
“I have to go through with this,” I whisper.
She nods as she sighs. “I thought you’d say that.” Her hands drop from my face and she plasters on her bright smile again, showcasing her perfectly white, perfectly straightened teeth. Reaching around me, Jen grabs the mascara off the vanity before she looks back at me. “So with the decision made, let’s get you fixed up.”
Just as she makes the first sweep of the perfectly curved wand against my eyelashes, I ask quietly. “You know why I have to do this?”
“Yep.” It’s a one-word answer that speaks volumes. “Your loyalty to your family knows no bounds.”
“Jen, I can’t have you mad at me right no—”
A swift knock on the door interrupts
“Were you… crying?” my mother asks like it’s the most ridiculous thing she’s ever heard of.
“Tears of joy, I hope,” my father adds before I can even say anything. So, instead of answering either of them, I nod in agreement.
My parents come to stand in front of me, completely ignoring the fact that Jen is in the same room. They have never liked her. My mother called her rude, unladylike, and trash after I introduced them while in my sophomore year in college. We’ve been best friends ever since. Jen isn’t poor by any means. Her family is highly respected since her great grandfather was a member of the Supreme Court before passing away five years ago. It amazes me that our families run in the same circles, yet her family is one of the most down to earth I have ever met.
When Todd proposed nine months ago, my mother was over the moon. I only said yes because I didn’t want to disappoint my parents. It’s bad enough that, when I was conceived, they were aiming for a boy to follow in my father’s footsteps but wound up with me instead. I don’t know what’s worse, ending up like my father or like my mother.
A day after the proposal and my acceptance, my mother began planning my wedding. My only stipulation was that Jen be my maid of honor and her family was to attend. As long as I was granted those two wishes, my mother could have everything else. She fought me tooth and nail, but eventually I offered an ultimatum. Either give me what I want or I call off the wedding. If I could have taken a picture of my mother’s face after I said my piece, I would have had it blown up and hung in my living room to remind myself every day that I actually defied her on something and it felt fantastic.
“See, Thomas? I told you she was happy about marrying Todd.” My mother’s words interrupt my thoughts, and that’s when I realize that I’m smiling. If only she knew the reason behind my smile.
“Well, look at that, we only have three minutes. I’m just going to get my bouquet and meet you outside,” Jen says, pulling my attention back to her. Leaning in, she kisses me on the cheek and whispers, “Don’t forget what I said.”
I nod quickly, hoping my parents didn’t hear her. My mother takes Jen’s place as the door to the suite clicks shut. Grabbing the ends of my veil, she starts pulling it over my face. “How you ever convinced me to let that girl be a part of this wedding is beyond me,” she states.
I sigh loudly, not wanting to rehash this shit again.
“Why can’t you have decent friends? Not trash like her.”
And that sets me off. “Don’t start. This is my day and I will not have you referring to the one person who has been there for me more than you have as trash,” I bite out.
She shakes her head turning to look at my father. “Do you see what we’ve raised?” she asks, as if I’m not standing right there in front of her. And in that moment, I have an epiphany.
No matter what, I will never be good enough for them.
“Jane, dear, will you leave me alone with my daughter?” my father asks, dismissing her question completely.
Her eyes go wide and she looks like a deer caught in headlights. I want to laugh but know nothing good will come of it. “We will talk about this later,” she seethes before storming her way out of the room.
A small chuckle escapes me as I look at my father.
“You look so beautiful.” His words catch me off guard and I’m left speechless. His hazel eyes stare at me like it’s the first time he’s really seeing me, and a slow smile spreads across his face. “Todd is a lucky man.”
My shoulders drop with that statement as my head falls forward. I stand there defeated. He lifts my chin with his thumb and forefinger. “You don’t love him.” It’s not a question, more like he’s finally realizing this all on his own.
“No, daddy, I don’t,” I reply with a gentle shake of my head.
That garners my attention. “So why would you and mom make me go through with this?” I ask, hoping that he feels some remorse.
“Because you are loyal to your family and do as we say. You may not think Todd is good for you, but we do. We know what we’re doing. You need to trust in us.”
“But you don’t underst—”
“It’s time to go,” my father states, cutting off my rebuttal as he sticks his arm out for me to take. With one hand, I lift the front of my dress, and with the other, I grab onto the crook of his elbow as he escorts me out of the room.
With white marble flooring and intricate architectural designs, I’m sure this place is beautiful. The Kennedy is one of the ‘it’ places to stay in Washington, D.C. Of course, my mother would choose this location to host the wedding. It’s regal, expensive, and screams high society. Since Todd sees himself running for office one day, this place would be ideal, but I could care less. This is not my dream wedding. I would have rather eloped to Vegas or something.
My five-inch Manolos click and clack against the floor and it’s the only sound I can hear besides the blood gushing in my ears. With every step I take, dread fills my stomach like a five-gallon paint bucket filled with lead. I’m yanked to a halt when I realize my father is tugging on my arm. Two colossal white doors stand in front of me, closed. I know beyond those doors is the man waiting to marry a complacent woman whom he knows nothing about.
“Are you ready?” my father asks, pulling me back to the present.
No. “As I’ll ever be.”
“Then act like it,” he says with a stern voice just as the doors open.
Immediately, a smile that I’ve been told is dazzling stretches across my face. Fake. Everything about this wedding is fake and I don’t know how I’m supposed to get through the rest of my life living this way.
As the string quartet plays the wedding march, my father begins walking me down the aisle to what feels like my death. I shift my focus to the man waiting for me.
A beautiful man that I’m sure any woman would consider herself lucky to have, but not me. At the age of thirty-one, he’s the youngest governor for the state of Virginia. He stands at six feet six in his custom-made black tux. Armani, I’m sure. His brown hair is short on the sides and longish on the top and perfectly styled. He wears a smile that used to excite me, but now does nothing for me. His brown eyes used to hold such warmth, but now they are cold and calculating. I watch his eyes flick to someone in attendance. It’s her, Claire Jones. One of my father’s colleague’s daughters and my soon-to-be-husband’s mistress. She’s already his fuck buddy so there really is no difference. A sinister smile spreads across his face when he notices that I’ve seen who he was looking at.
This is it.
This is what my life has come down to.
When Todd and I first met he seemed nice enough, but there was no real spark. A couple of dates turned into six months that turned into a year. Right after the one-year mark of our being together, he proposed to me in front of everyone at dinner. What I never told anyone was what he said after he proposed. Shivers ran down my spine as he hissed the harshest words ever spoken in my ear. “You will do right by me. You are my fiancée now, my wife in training, and train you I will.” Such sweet nothings to be whispered right after proposing. Right?
I can’t do this.
The minister’s lips move, I know he’s speaking, but I can’t hear a damn word he’s saying. People stand all around me, their smiles lighting up the room. But none of it matters. My heart beats rapidly within in the confines of my chest. The blood surging through my veins at rapid speeds makes me feel faint. I don’t register my hand being placed in Todd’s. Vomit lodges itself in my throat. Sweat beads on my forehead underneath my veil at the very thought that I’m about to do this, that I’m about to marry a man I don’t love, a man who doesn’t deserve me.
“We are all gathered here today,” the minister speaks.
What in the hell
“To join Todd Prescott and Kelsey Connor in Holy matrimony.”
This is my life.
The minister continues to speak, but I don’t care what he has to say.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Excruciating pressure on my fingers pulls me out of my thoughts and draws my attention to the man holding my hand. I wince from the pain. With a fictitious smile, he leans into me and whispers harshly, “Stop fucking embarrassing me.”
“Do you Todd, take Kelsey to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
I barely recognize the rest of Todd’s vows being read or recall a ring being slipped on my finger.
I can’t breathe.
I’m suffocating and no one seems to care.
Somewhere in the distance I notice my named being called. With wide eyes, I turn to the voice. “Huh?” I whisper.
“Are you okay?” Jen asks.
The concern in her voice brings me back to the here and now. I look over to Todd, who has a death grip on my hand. His lips are in a tight line, and his nostrils are flaring as if he’s trying to control his breathing and not flip his shit on me. I look out into the crowd and see everyone staring at me expectantly.
“Look at me, Kels,” Jen says, bringing my attention back to her. “Are you okay?”
I can’t marry Todd.
“Miss, would you like me to continue?” the minister whispers, leaning in.
Bless his heart, I can tell he’s trying his hardest not to embarrass me.
Once more, I scan the crowd full of people I don’t know. I look to the man whom I’m supposed to want to spend the rest of my life with, but can’t stand. My eyes find my best friend’s face, a face silently begging me not to do this, not to make this colossal mistake.
“Yes, she would,” Todd answers for me.
And in that moment, I finally realize I’m done. I’m done with my parents, with Todd, with this high society, bullshit life. I’d rather be poor than rich, happy than lonely, loved than cheated on.
Without a second to rethink my decision, I snatch my hand from Todd’s unrelenting grasp. Gasps can be heard throughout the room.