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Leann Sweeney

A Wedding To Die For

1

My daddy always said that if you want to round up some liars head to a wedding or a funeral. So as I sat in a back pew at Seacliff First Baptist, I got to wondering how many liars were in attendance this afternoon. Seeing as how I’d been invited to the rehearsal dinner for this little shindig, I believe I’d already met a few candidates.

Thanks to a frigid wind sneaking between every door crack and window sash in the old church, my teeth were chattering like dice in a crap game. The building sat a few blocks from Galveston Bay and a blue norther had barreled through last night, leaving behind a genuine taste of winter.

Most of the hundred people in attendance, including me, still wore their coats, and I shoved my hands in my pockets. Leaning toward my sister, who had reluctantly agreed to come with me, I said, “Remind me never to get married in January.”

“You did get married in January,” she whispered.

“That never really happened,” I shot back.

“Oh, I forgot. Denial is Abby’s best friend.”

“Denial’s the perfect friend once you discover you married a greedy, womanizing alcoholic,” I answered.

Before she could respond, the gentle organ music abruptly crescendoed.

A bridesmaid swathed in Christmas green rustled down the aisle so fast you’d have thought she was trying to catch her own echo. This would be Courtney, a cousin of the bride. The one who liked margaritas. And wine. And studly groomsmen. Next came the other cousin, Roxanne, a stripped-down model of her sister—pallid as the moon, skinny as a bed slat, and suffering from a very bad hair day. She looked ready to cry, her spider mum bouquet trembling at her waist. If I had hair like that, I’d be ready to cry, too.

The maid of honor, Margie, looked, well... happy in contrast to everyone else, including the nervous lineup of tuxedoed men waiting near the altar. The groom kept pulling at his coat sleeves and even from where I sat, I could see sweat glistening on his forehead. He’d better watch out or it might freeze right there.

From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a woman in a beige wool pantsuit wearing this retro chocolate brown cloche hat. She tiptoed into the church and sidled behind the bride and her father, carefully avoiding Megan Beadford’s train. After the woman slipped into an empty pew on the groom’s side, I realized she had not signed the bride’s book on the lectern.

Didn’t she know you had to sign in at weddings? Ordinarily this detail wouldn’t have bothered me, but I had been assigned to oversee that book, a small task I suppose Megan felt I could handle after so far failing at what she’d hired me to do. The bride had wanted her biological mother here today, but though I’d been successful with several other cases in my new profession as an adoption PI, I still had no decent leads on Megan’s background.

So why am I an adoption PI rather than the mean-street variety? Because some things change you forever, lead you down the road you’re supposed to take. The events of last summer did that for me even though they nearly shredded my heart. Those wounds make my ticker beat a little faster, a little harder, and a little more urgently now. It all started when my gardener was murdered. I’d wanted to find out why. One thing led to another, and in the end I discovered that my adoptive daddy lied to Kate and me about our biological parents up until the day he died, learned that our birth mother had been murdered when she’d tried desperately to find the twin baby girls (me and my sister) who had been stolen from her. My daddy didn’t do the stealing, but he didn’t ask enough questions about the babies he was adopting, either.

And then there were the betrayals. We had a slew of those. Our aunt Caroline knew the truth and never spoke up. A dear family friend helped daddy with our illegal adoption and never came clean until I confronted him. But my ex-husband was the biggest liar and cheat of all, even more worthless than I’d realized when I divorced him. He had blackmailed my adoptive father, killed the one person who wanted to tell me the truth about our mother’s death, and then tried to murder me when I figured out exactly what he’d done. And all for money. That’s all I had ever meant to him—money.

But as horrible as all those things had been to endure, they had led me here today, to my new job as an adoption PI, to a real sense of purpose for the first time in my life. I might have come to this church as Megan’s friend, but the job she’d hired me for still hovered in my brain like a hummingbird buzzing in the background. She would get her truth if I had anything to say about it. People deserve the truth.

Just then the latecomer dropped her handbag, the long leather clutch bag falling with a thump onto the old oak floor.

“Is she carrying rocks to throw at the bride and groom rather than rice?” I whispered to Kate.

“Shhh,” answered my sister, who was staring over her shoulder.

Making a mental note to corral the lady in the hat after the ceremony, I followed Kate’s gaze and focused on Megan. She had seed pearls woven into her fine blond hair, and a cathedral-length veil billowed out behind her. The dress was ivory silk, an A-line devoid of sparkle or beads. This elegant simplicity suited her personality, and by the admiring smile on Kate’s face I guessed she agreed with me.

We had become friendly with Megan and her fiancé, Travis, in the last few months. Who couldn’t be friends with folks as sweet and innocent and full of hope as those two? When I’d first met Megan, I figured she was about sixteen, but she came to me with a copy of her birth certificate proving she was twenty years old. That piece of paper had been my only clue in the adoption search, mainly because Megan was adamant that her adoptive parents not know she’d hired me. Besides being sweet and innocent, she was also as stubborn as a two-headed mule, a trait we happened to share.

Kate and I tried to convince her not to keep secrets, arguing that maybe her parents would understand Megan’s need to find out about her past and would then help us with valuable details about the adoption. But Megan wouldn’t budge, saying she knew it would hurt their feelings. When her parents had told her she was adopted—they’d waited until she was a teenager—they requested she not look for her biological mother. But asking a teenager not to do something is sort of like asking a gator not to bite you. She couldn’t stop thinking about a reunion and finally hired me without their knowledge.

I may not have delivered on Megan’s request in time for the wedding, but we talked every week. When she mentioned that the woman who was supposed to do the wedding book delivered a premature baby last weekend, I volunteered to fill in. That’s how I’d ended up at that disaster of a wedding rehearsal dinner last night and this chilly affair today.

Mendelssohn’s overture began. Everyone rose to face Megan and her father as they slowly walked toward the preacher and groom. Once they reached the altar, the balding, stern-faced James Beadford kissed his adopted daughter and placed her satin-gloved fingers into Travis Crane’s outstretched hand. The bride and groom stared into each other’s eyes, then turned to the preacher.

Here’s where the lying starts, I thought to my cynical self.

Thirty minutes later, I did the driving while Kate directed us to the reception at the Beadford house. She was using the tiny map insertion from the invitation. The lady with the hat had gotten away from me during the crushing exodus after the ceremony, but I assumed there would be others besides her I would have to catch up with to sign the book—those folks who skip the ceremony and just show up for the booze and the food. I knew about those types because of my own January wedding several years back, the one I hadn’t really forgotten. The one I could only hope to forget in time.

I maneuvered my Camry through a sparsely populated upscale neighborhood ever closer to the ocean and finally came upon parked cars lining both sides of a dead-end street. Folks who had dragged their dress-up winter coats out of mothballs were walking up the hill to a monstrous white house at the end of the cul-de-sac. We’d found the spot. I turned the car around and parked down the block so we could make a quick getaway after we’d made nice with all these strangers.

My sister knew Megan almost as well as I did since she’d done a psychological profile on her, something Kate

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