Old trees shaded the small lots, and detached garages opened into narrow alleys. She pulled the choir robe tighter as she moved blindly across the yards, from one to another. Her heels sank into the soil behind freshly planted vegetable gardens where marble-size green tomatoes grew on the new vines. The smell of pot roast wafted through an open kitchen window; the sound of a television game show came from another. Soon that same television would broadcast the story of former president Cornelia Case Jorik’s irresponsible daughter. In the space of one afternoon, thirty-one-year-old Lucy had blown seventeen years of good behavior. Seventeen years of proving to Mat and Nealy they hadn’t made a mistake by adopting her. As for what she’d done to Ted… She couldn’t have hurt him more.

A dog barked and a baby cried. She stumbled over a garden hose. Cut behind a swing set. The dog’s barking grew louder, and a rusty-haired mutt charged the wire fence that marked the next yard. She backed around a statue of the Virgin Mary toward the alley. The toes of her stilettos filled with pebbles.

She heard the roar of an engine. Her back straightened. A beat-up black and silver motorcycle spun into the alley. She ducked between two garages and flattened her spine against peeling white paint. The bike slowed. She held her breath, waiting for it to pass. It didn’t. Instead, it crept forward, then stopped in front of her.

The rider gazed into the space between the garages to the place where she stood.

The motor idled as he took his time studying her. One black boot hit the gravel. “’S’up?” he said over the engine noise.

’S’up! She’d crushed her future husband, mortified her family, and if she didn’t do something quickly, she would become the country’s most infamous runaway bride, yet this guy wanted to know what was up?

He had too-long black hair that curled past his collar, cold blue eyes set above high cheekbones, and sadistic lips. After so many years of Secret Service protection, she’d grown used to taking her safety for granted, but she didn’t feel safe now, and the fact that she dimly recognized the biker as a guest at last night’s rehearsal dinner-one of Ted’s odd assortment of friends-didn’t exactly reassure her. Even semi-cleaned-up in a dark suit that didn’t fit well, a rumpled white shirt open at the collar, and motorcycle boots that appeared to have received nothing more than a dusting, he didn’t look like anybody she wanted to meet in an alley. Exactly where she happened to be.

His nose was blunt, square at the tip. A wrinkled necktie poked out of the pocket of his ill-fitting suit coat. And that long, wild hair, all curls and tangles, looked like a finger painting of a van Gogh night sky made from a sloppy pot of black ink.

For more than ten years, ever since Nealy’s first presidential campaign, she’d tried to say the right thing, do the right thing, always smiling, forever polite. Now she, who’d long ago mastered the art of small talk, couldn’t think of a thing to say. Instead she felt a nearly irresistible desire to sneer, ’S’up with you? But of course she didn’t.

He jerked his head toward the rear of his bike. “Wanna go for a ride?”

Shock radiated through her body, shooting from vein to capillary, piercing skin and muscle into bone. She shivered, not from cold, but from the knowledge that she yearned to get on that bike more than she’d wanted anything for a very long time. Get on that bike and flee from the consequences of what she’d done.

He shoved his necktie deeper into the pocket of his suit coat, and her feet began to move. It was as if they’d detached from the rest of her body. She tried to make them stop, but they refused to obey. She came closer to the bike and saw a battered Texas license plate along with a dog-eared bumper sticker that covered part of the worn leather seat. The print had faded, but she could still make out the words.


The message hit her like a shock wave. A warning she couldn’t ignore. But her body-her treacherous body-had taken control. Her hand tugged on the choir robe. One foot came off the ground. Her leg straddled the seat.

He handed her the only helmet. She pulled it on over her wretched bridal up-do and wrapped her arms around his waist.

They shot off down the alley, the choir robe billowing, her bare legs catching the edge of the wind, his hair flying, whipping her visor.

She tucked the robe under her legs as he cut from one alley to the next, took a sharp right turn and then another, the muscles in his back flexing under the cheap material of his suit coat.

They rode out of Wynette and down a two-lane highway that stretched along a craggy limestone bluff. The helmet was her cocoon, the bike her planet. They passed lavender fields in bloom, an olive oil factory, and some of the vineyards that were springing up across the Hill Country. The wind pulled at her robe, exposing her knees, her thighs.

The sun dipped lower in the sky, and the growing chill cut through the robe’s thin fabric. She welcomed the cold. She didn’t deserve to be warm and comfortable.

They barreled over a wooden bridge and past a decrepit barn with a Lone Star flag painted on its side. Signs for cave tours and dude ranches flashed by. The miles slipped away. Twenty? More? She didn’t know.

As they reached the outskirts of a one-stoplight town, he turned toward a shabby convenience store and parked in the shadows at the side of the building. He jerked his head at her, indicating she was to get off. She tangled her legs in her robe and nearly fell.

“You hungry?”

Even the thought of food made her nauseated. She eased her stiff legs and shook her head. He shrugged and headed for the door.

Through the helmet’s dusty visor, she saw that he was taller than she’d thought, about six feet, longer in the leg than the trunk. With his wild blue-black hair, olive complexion, and rolling gait, he couldn’t have been more unlike the congressmen, senators, and captains of industry who populated her life. She could see part of the store’s interior through the window. He walked toward the cooler at the back. The female clerk stopped what she was doing to watch him. He disappeared for a few minutes, then reappeared to set a six-pack of beer on the counter. The clerk tossed her hair, openly flirting with him. He placed a few more items by the register.

Lucy’s shoes were rubbing a blister on her feet. As she shifted her weight, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the window. The big blue helmet swallowed her head, hiding the small features that always made her appear younger than her age. The robe hid the fact that prewedding stress had left her normally slender figure a little too thin. She was thirty-one years old, five feet four inches, but she felt tiny; stupid; a selfish, irresponsible waif.

Even though no one was around to see, she didn’t take off the helmet but lifted it slightly, trying to ease the pressure on the hairpins digging into her scalp. Normally she wore her hair almost to her shoulders, straight and tidy, generally held back with one of those narrow headbands Meg detested.

“They make you look like a fifty-year-old Greenwich socialite,” Meg had declared. “And unless you’re wearing jeans, ditch those stupid pearls. Ditto your whole stupid-ass preppy wardrobe.” Then she’d softened. “You’re not Nealy, Luce. She doesn’t expect you to be.

Meg didn’t understand. She’d grown up in L.A. with the same parents who’d given birth to her. She could wear all the outrageous clothes she wanted, dangle exotic jewelry around her neck, even have a dragon tattooed on her hip, but not Lucy.

The store door opened, and the biker emerged carrying a grocery sack in one hand, beer in the other. She watched with alarm as he silently stowed his purchases in the bike’s scuffed saddlebags. As she imagined him drinking the whole six-pack, she knew she couldn’t let this go on. She had to call someone. She’d call Meg.

But she couldn’t summon the courage to face anyone, not even her best friend, who understood so much more than the rest. She’d let her family know she was safe. Soon. Just… not quite yet. Not until she’d figured out what to say.

She stood in front of the biker like a big, blue-headed alien. He was staring at her, and she realized she still hadn’t spoken a single word to him. How awkward. She needed to say something. “How do you know Ted?”

He turned back to fasten the clasps on the saddlebags. The bike was an old Yamaha with the word WARRIOR written in silver across the black fuel tank. “We did time together in Huntsville,” he said. “Armed robbery and manslaughter.”

He was baiting her. Some kind of biker test to see how tough she wasn’t. She’d have to be crazy to let this go on any longer. But then she was crazy. A bad kind of crazy. The crazy of someone who’d fallen out of her skin and didn’t know how to crawl back in.

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