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Julia London

The Bridesmaid

Dedicated to every traveler stranded with me for eight hours when O’Hare International Airport shut down because of storms. Except the guy who took up two seats with his backpack and carry-on, and three plugs for his computer, cell phone, and iPad. Not him. Everyone but him.

Happy travels, Julia

Chapter 1

It was bad enough that the dress was a poufy plantation ball gown number, complete with a sash and apron in a disturbing shade of peach, but it also wouldn’t fit in Kate’s suitcase. Which meant she was going to have to carry it on the plane. Which she had explained to Lisa when they’d shopped for the bridesmaid gowns six months ago.

“But I love it!” Lisa had said, and had made Kate turn around one more time on the little pedestal in the bridal salon.

It was puzzling to Kate. Lisa was her cousin and her best friend. She was pretty and so very stylish. Kate had always wished she were as stylish as Lisa. She’d always admired the way Lisa went after things she wanted, her generosity and kindness, her fabulous sense of humor. But Kate did not care for the way Lisa tended to flip out at the first sign of pressure, or the way she’d latched on to a vision for her wedding that defied logic.

Lisa wanted a plantation wedding. In Seattle. And of course Lisa had bought a slinky mermaid wedding gown for herself. But for her sister Lori, and Kate, her maid of honor, she’d insisted on the peach monstrosities, with clunky platform shoes. Plus, she had the most appalling idea that Kate and Lori would wear their hair in French twists from which peach ribbons would cascade. “Like morning mist,” Lisa had said dreamily.

“Like morning puke,” Kate’s little sister Cassidy had bluntly countered.

Kate had complained to her mother, whose sister had given birth to Lisa and Lori. But Kate’s mother was only mildly sympathetic. “It’s Lisa’s wedding. If she wants that kind of dress, she can have it. When you get married, you can make her wear purple or something.”

As there was no prospect of that in sight for Kate, revenge purple didn’t seem like a real option.

“And besides, I happen to like peach,” her mother had added.

Kate hated the dress, but this morning, she hated it with a passion so strong she might have launched missiles, because she couldn’t even get the damn thing into the garment bag—the pink garment bag—for the flight from New York to Seattle. It was too poufy.

Kate glanced at the clock; she had an hour before a car arrived to whisk her off to the airport. She still had so many things to do. She was not the most organized person on the planet.

She was shoving another pair of shoes into her suitcase when her cell phone rang. “Hi, Mother,” she said, hurrying to turn down the TV blaring in the background. “Can’t talk long, a car is coming.”

“I was calling to see if your flight was on time.”

“Yep,” Kate said as she frantically sorted through her jewelry box. At least she thought the flight was on time—she hadn’t gotten any alerts on her phone. “Why?”

“I’m worried about that storm.”

“Storm? What storm?” Kate turned around to her TV. The weatherman was gesturing to a big swath of purple across the middle of the country. It was nowhere near New York. “Are you talking about that?” Kate asked, pointing to a TV her mother couldn’t see. “That’s Kansas. Or Missouri. One of those corn states.”

“It’s a huge late-season snowstorm between you and us. Everything is shut down. It’s global warming, you know. Greenhouse emissions.”

Every inch of rain, every snowflake was now classified as global warming by Kate’s mother. Nevertheless, the storm was not in New York. “It’s okay,” Kate said impatiently. “They’ll just fly over or around it. Not to worry, Mom! I’m on my way!”

“I hope so. It would be devastating if the maid of honor didn’t make it. Lisa would explode and die, I think. And it seems like every time you fly home, something happens.”

“I have flown home once since I moved to New York, and there was a thirty-minute delay. That’s just part of flying these days.” Kate had moved to New York six months ago to take a job as an assistant editor at a big publishing house. It was a dream job for an English major. Kate had dreamed of being in publishing since high school, when she’d read A Clockwork Orange. Until that book, she hadn’t understood how lyrical and powerful storytelling could be, and after that book, she wanted to be a part of it. The pay for assistant editors sucked, but Kate loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it. And she loved New York. “Listen, I really have to go,” she said.

“We’ll see you at the airport. Have a safe flight, honey.”

Kate clicked off and threw her phone and charger in her purse. And then, through some miracle of physics, managed to shove the bridesmaid dress into the hanging bag, which ballooned to twice its size. Kate cursed Lisa once more, slung her tote bag over her shoulder, wrangled the unwieldy garment bag under her arm, and began to lug her suitcase down to the street from her third-floor walk-up.

* * *

Missy Weaten gave Joe a kiss on the cheek. “Call me when you get back to New York, okay?”

“You bet,” Joe said, and half fell, half stood from her car at the train station. Bleary-eyed, he watched her as she drove away. He wondered what exactly had happened last night between them. He was fairly certain nothing had, given his high state of inebriation several hours ago, but then again, he was Joe Firretti. He was a red- blooded man, and when opportunity presented itself—even when Missy Weaten presented herself—sometimes, things happened.

He noticed an elderly couple staring at him. He gave them a half smile, ran his fingers through his hair, then straightened his suit coat. He pulled his bag behind him into the train station.

He was not really the type to get wasted the way he had last night. But his pals from work had taken him out for a spectacular send-off. He was on his way to a new job, a fantastic job. A job that came along once in a lifetime. Joe knew it. The financial firm where he worked knew it. The financial firm in Seattle that had extended the very generous offer of employment knew it. Joe would be heading up the technology side of a major international bank.

He had not intended to leave quite this soon for Seattle, but then the bank’s head honcho had flown in from Switzerland, and they’d told Joe it was imperative that he meet the CEO while he was available. So Joe had moved his departure up a week. He’d put a deposit down on an apartment and had arranged to have his things picked up and moved to Seattle the next week.

Hoozah.

He stepped up to the ticket machine, rubbed his face with his hands, and glanced at his watch. He had three hours before his plane left, plenty of time to get to Newark and get through security.

He bought his ticket, made his way down to the train, and climbed on board. He wished he’d eaten something. Last night had been a whirl of bars and restaurants and blonde women and no food that he recalled. He hoped he hadn’t said anything to Missy to make her think that after two years of her coming on to him, he’d changed his mind. Just to make sure, he’d email her later and thank her for the send-off, then move on.

He was moving on; yes, he was. That’s what Joe wanted. He was almost 99 percent sure that’s what he wanted. He knew he wanted a bigger opportunity, something great. He knew he wanted to advance in his career. He wanted… something. Something. Joe wasn’t quite sure what it was, but he felt as close to “it” as he ever had.

At Newark, he made his way into the airport in the middle of a great blob of humanity. Jesus, it was crowded. He maneuvered his way up to the airline kiosk, past grandmas with their belly bags, past crying babies

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