Authors: Ella Cari
Copyright 2015 Ella Cari
This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be resold. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems – except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews – without permission in writing from the author.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Image courtesy of lozas at bigstockphoto.com
Table of Contents
"Are you sure you want to do this, Delilah?"
I glanced over my shoulder, taking in the deep frown of the woman behind me. Her black eyes glittered like ebony stones. The redheaded woman would have died and gone straight to heaven if I told her I truly wasn't sure about going through with this nightmare.
"I don't have a choice." I quipped back, letting her whip me around to face the mirror before me.
Her fingers expertly danced down my back, roughly tightening the corset laces of the delicate gown. She showed no mercy.
I grimaced, struggling to inhale, "You know that."
"At least the girls did a good job on your make up." She replied icily, voice dipping with bitterness. She wanted to be where I stood, showered with attention and money and jewels. I would have given it to her if I didn't need it so badly myself.
Although I'd been avoiding staring at my reflection, I glanced up hesitantly. My lips were painted red, cheeks pink, eyes blackened with mascara and eyeliner. I looked nothing like myself. I looked like a doll, painted and pressed and ready to be played with.
"They could have done something more with your hair, though." She muttered as she pinned the veil onto my scalp, roughly scraping the sensitive flesh.
"Are you doing your best to hurt me?" I complained, meeting her dark stare in the mirror.
"I should ask you the same thing." She responded coldly.
With a frown, I averted my gaze, taking in the tall walls of the bridal suite. Moments ago, it'd been filled with women frolicking about and chattering excitedly about the upcoming nuptials. They'd helped me get dressed, put my shoes on, done my makeup and hair.
None were excited that billionaire heir Sebastian Fox was going to be permanently off the market however, and none were less enthused than his jealous personal assistant, Juliet Peters.
"Did they make you sign a prenup?" She asked, crimson eyebrow arching. Her eyes were locked on me like a predator's, analyzing my every moment, every twitch of my face.
"Yes." I said simply, grabbing at the unopened bottle of champagne in the ice bucket, if I were going to spend any more time with this insufferable woman, I needed some help.
She snatched the bottle, placing it back down, "Good. I suggested it." She smirked, "No drinking before your big moment, dear." She added nastily.
From somewhere beneath our feet, the tremor of organ music began to play.
Our eyes met once more, both wide and surprised, shocked by the realness. Up in this fantasy suite, with beautiful paintings, small sculptures and flouncy chairs, it was easy to forget the fact that I was here for my own wedding.
If I'd been asked two weeks ago if I thought I'd be married any time soon, I would have died with giggles.
Yet, here I was, about to become Mrs. Fox.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Juliet asked again, whipping out the cellphone hidden in her cleavage, "I can call you a cab right now. You can be out of the state in minutes."
I took a deep breath, trying not to let my nerves win out. I couldn't tell the vicious woman how much I truly wanted to take her up on that offer.
I was terrified to do this. I was terrified to marry a man I didn't truly know, I was terrified to become part of his massively wealthy family, I was terrified to uproot my life and move into his huge estate.
Everything, that was all, I was terrified of everything.
"You're pale." Juliet said smugly, easing her phone back into her dress as she smiled at me. She’d had no intention of rescuing me, she just wanted to watch me struggle.
She was so pleased with my uncertainty, with my trepidation. It positively filled the woman with utter glee. Vile. Juliet Peters was vile to the core.
"I'm fine." I said, "It's just hard to breathe in this dress."
The assistant hummed, tapping a finger on her chin, "I suppose someone might have gotten your measurements a bit wrong." The corners of her mouth twitched, giving away who that mysterious 'someone' possibly could have been.
I ignored her comment, smoothing my hands over the delicate, fine fabric. I never would have imagined myself in a dress like this. It was fit for a queen or someone royal, not for a petty little flower shop girl.
"We don't have any more time to waste, you know." She said impatiently.
While normally, Juliet would have been perfectly content with me being late for my own wedding, she was acting as the coordinator here, and any tardiness on the bride's behalf would be chalked up to a fault of her own.
And Juliet Peters prided herself on not having any faults.
"Let's go then." I whispered breathlessly, holding the layers of dress up as I trudged after her. I cast one last glance at the fairytale suite, sighing mutely before facing forward.
She stopped at the edge, reaching out to take my arm. Hesitantly, I allowed her to take my hand and ease me down the long red velvet lined stairs.
Towards the end of the stairs, my feet shot out from under me, sending me lunging down the rest of the stairs and bringing Juliet with me. We collapsed in a flustered heap on the grand tiled floor of the huge chapel.
Angrily, she shot back upwards, much more used to the stilettos than I was. She grabbed me roughly by the elbows, pulling me and my white cupcake dress so I was standing once more, albeit wobbling back and forth.
"Delilah, are you going to even be able to make it down the aisle?" She snapped, flinging her red curls over her shoulder.
"Only if you're lucky." I spat back, wincing as I rubbed my elbow.
Juliet rolled her eyes, roughly fanning out the long train of white fabric that clung to my body. The dress had literally been made for me, studded with diamonds and rhinestones. I was basically a walking chandelier.
"I don't understand why Sebastian picked you." The redheaded bombshell hissed angrily, half under her breath. For a moment, I almost doubted I was supposed to hear the words.
Her short, chiffon pink dress clung to her body in all the right ways, but it was me who was in the lacey white gown. It was me who would walk down that aisle, it would be me who made the handsome twenty nine year old billionaire my husband.
"If Sebastian's father ever finds out that this whole thing was nothing but a lie..." She began suddenly, black eyes wide as a deer’s, biting her pink lip uncertainly.
She wouldn't tell the old man that his son barely knew his bride to be, she'd be just as incriminated as the rest of us. She’d planned this wedding, after all.
"He won't find out." I said quickly, glaring at her briefly. Though my intense stare was nowhere near as threatening as her own, I could only hope it silenced her.
Sebastian needed me to marry him, and I needed his hand in marriage just as badly.
Had it really only been a few days ago that he'd suddenly asked me to marry him? It felt like months, or even years, really.
A low hum of music wafted from beneath the thick doors, sounds of rustling as the people stood from their seats. It was almost time.
I took a deep breath, blinking my eyes furiously to try and stay focused as black dots speckled my vision. My heart thrummed viciously against my chest, threatening to batter open my ribs and take off right out of his huge chapel.
The doors swung wide open, people turning to gaze at the billionaire's bride. Juliet reached over, thrusting the red bouquet of roses back into my clammy hands. I clutched the flowers, swallowing the huge lump in my throat and trying to smile elegantly. I’d looked at magazines every day, trying to memorize how they gazed forward so regally, smiling with posh sincerity. I could only imagine I looked like a beast trying to recreate it.
I couldn't let these people see through me, too much depended on this marriage. I couldn't let them see how nervous I was, I couldn't let them see my fear.
Slowly, my gaze travelled down the aisle, where my fiancé waited for me. He stood stiffly, emerald eyes meeting mine, face frozen, lips slightly parted.
Hesitantly, I took a step forward, trying not to panic or break out into a cold sweat. I could feel the careful stares of Sebastian's parents as they watched me.
It was time to stand with my new husband, it was time to become his bride.
How had this happened? Thinking back, it was like a fog, or a dream, maybe even a nightmare.
The day that would change everything started out like every other.
As per the usual, I was running late to work.
Not that it mattered, of course, there was never anyone lined up to buy flowers in the morning. Sometimes, I would even go all the way around the block just to check out the competing flower shops down the corner. They always seemed bustling enough, though their shops looked just as quaint and pretty as my own.
From down the street, as I stood in line to buy coffee from the corner stand, I gazed at my tiny little storefront. At the end of a square, the pink letters spelled out 'Flowers,' with bright pastel curtains in the windows and healthy looking flower pots spread out on the front terrace. It was a gorgeous little shop, it always had been. Even my terrible ownership of the place hadn't ruined that picture perfect aspect of it.
I took my coffee from the man, slowly turning to walk back towards the building. My parents had purchased it the year I was born, twenty seven years ago. It'd been a dingy little coffee place back then, and they'd completely transformed it into to the charming florist that it was now. I had photographs somewhere of my mother with her huge pregnant belly and huge beaming smile standing in front of the shop mid transformation. In one, my father's fingers blurred the edges.
All of the huge renovations that my parents wanted to do complete, however, took money that they did not have. Still though, they pursued their dream. Ever since then, they'd been working on pulling themselves out of the gaping hole that was their debt. My birth had not helped them in anyway. They'd put their noses to the grindstone, though, working tireless and endlessly year after year. Their hard work paid off eventually and they were poised to finally break even when I suddenly lost them both.
Just that day, there were talks of opening a second shop or expanding the first. Then, there was nothing.
I was only twenty years old then, it was hard to believe that it had been seven years since their passing. They'd gone out on their usual Saturday night date and simply never returned. I got the call from the police at two in the morning.
My parents left the shop to me, of course, with the confidence that I could continue their dream. It was true that I loved working with the flowers. In fact, I was fairly positive I enjoyed my time around the plants much more than any people. However, I was young, and while I knew how to care for the plants and flowers, I did not know how to run a business. I faltered, struggled, and by the time I managed to figure everything out and get our business sorted, it was too late.
I was right back in the hole, struggling every day to pull in enough business to make profits again. At first, the regulars stayed true to the store. In the end though, the magic seemed to have left with my Mom and Dad. I was losing more and more customers by the day.
Constantly, I received calls from the bank, from our accountant, and from debt collectors. Looking at the ledgers every day was the most stressful part of my life.
At the time, I was sure that I had ruined everything. I was going to have to sell my parent's shop, I was going to have to sell off their dream.
That day, the day everything changed, I sat right on the ground in the middle of the shop, just breathing in the sweet scent of gardenia and lavender that lined the shelves. Through the years, the smell of dirt and the musk of flowers became like a security blanket. It reminded me of my childhood, of better times. If I closed my eyes, I could almost pretend I was a little girl again. My parents were right in the back, counting sacks of potting soil for the daily inventory.
When my eyes opened again, I was still alone, and still very much an adult.
A stack of letters sat beside me. Though it was rather pathetic, I barely ever checked the mail anymore. All that it ever contained was more and more bills that I could not pay. Today, though, a small card from a distant cousin sat atop the red letters. 'Happy birthday, Delilah,' scrawled over the top, bright red heart to match the cheerful words.
My birthday was approaching, though this one would not be a jolly affair. I had no real income to spend on myself. I'd become so absorbed in the business that friendships were as scarce as the money, and I was so absorbed in worry and grief over losing the flower shop that I had no happiness to spare either. I hadn't celebrated a birthday in years, not since I'd lost my parents. It only reminded me of the pain of losing them.
Our wares were getting thinner and thinner. I could no longer afford to have dozens of roses growing, I could no longer afford the huge variety that my parents used to offer. Perhaps that was why our business was shrinking, though I could do nothing to correct it. No bank would offer any more loans, I had spent all of the money I had in my account.
I was useless and pathetic. My parents had been wrong to trust me. They must be rolling with utter disappointment in their graves.
My legs splayed out in front of me, covered with patches of dirt and fertilizer. I inspected the dirty patches, frowning. I don't know why I even tried anymore, no one bought the plants that I spent so much time tending and talking to and growing. This would be one of my last days in the shop, I'd already gotten multiple notices of foreclosure, it wasn't going to be long until I came to open the shop one day and found red notices all over the padlocked front door.
In my lap, I held a newly transplanted sunflower pot. The flower was tall, hardy, and strong. It stretched upwards, hopeful of finding a new home. I hugged the pot, pitiful as could be. The plants would die, just like my parent's dreams for this place. I must've looked like a huge mess, tears welling in my eyes as I clung to a flower pot.
Outside, the sun cheerfully shone through the windows of the shop, illuminating the rows of pinks and oranges and reds that lined the sparse shelves. The afternoon had no idea of my misery, it had no idea how much I just wanted it to rain and rain forever.
What would I do with myself once the shop closed? My childhood, my adulthood, my everything was wrapped in the green leaves here. Perhaps I could get a job at a rival florist across town. It would be so strange, working at a flower shop that I didn't own. Beggars couldn't be choosers, however, I would have to do what I needed to.
Perhaps, sometime in the future, I would be able to once again buy this place. That was my only hope now, I believed. I could only tell myself I wasn’t abandoning the shop forever, just for a little while. It still stung to think that, but not as much.
I sniffled loudly, rubbing a hand over my nose as tears trickled down. The oblivious sunflower danced cheerfully as the air conditioner blew air over it.
"Stupid thing." I muttered, glaring at it, "Can't you see how much trouble we're in?"
It didn't respond to me, still swaying lightly, little leaves trembling in its utter joy of existence.
I jerked up to my knees, disgusted with the plant’s perceived happiness, or maybe I was just going insane, after all, I was attempting to communicate with inanimate objects now.
As I did so, the corner of the pot caught on a tear in my jeans, plummeting roughly to the side. The entire ceramic pot crashed hard on the ground, sending a thousand little shards of sharp porcelain skittering across the floor. The sunflower lie in a pile of its own dirt, once healthy steam bent at a nasty angle.
A strangled, dramatic cry leapt in my throat as I grabbed the plant, unable to see through the hot tears that boiled in my eyes.
"I'm sorry!" I cried, grabbing the flower into my hands, as the dirt sifted through my desperate fingers, "I'm sorry!"
"Let me take it." A deep voice suddenly said, black tailored suit suddenly dropping into my vision, "Isn't there something we can do?"
Slowly, through my bleary vision, my gaze met the green eyed concern of my future husband.