The Wedding Guest (Colorado Billionaires Book 5) (2 page)

BOOK: The Wedding Guest (Colorado Billionaires Book 5)
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Madlyn returned the hug and nodded. “You're so right. It’s been way too long. I just can’t imagine what I'm going to do when you get all busy with your charity balls over the Christmas season. How will I ever get to see you?”

As they sat down Vicky said with a hint of concern, “How are you doing?”

Madlyn looked away. “I’m fine. Honest.” She put on a brave face. “After all, it’s been three whole months. Time to stop moping around and get on with life.”

Vicky gave her a knowing look. “Still no attempt to communicate?”

“No, but to be honest, it’s better this way. If he were actually staying in touch, I would be harboring the false hope that he didn’t really turn out to be a total jerk.”

Vicky laughed. “Good girl. You’ve still got your sense of humor.”

Madlyn said wryly, “Sure, call it humor. I’ve been chuckling my way through multiple episodes of
Forensic Files
, learning how to commit the perfect crime. You know, just in case John is stupid enough to return to Eagle’s Toe.”

Vicky laughed again.

Madlyn’s expression softened. “Thanks for being there,” she said. “I don’t know how I would have survived that first month without you. But really, you didn’t have to leave town. I would have stopped crying on your shoulder if you’d told me how annoying I was.”

“You were not annoying,” said Vicky. ”Jason’s business dealings demanded that I play the charming wife. When I married him, I had no idea I would be traipsing all over the country. Thank goodness my mother was willing to stay with Jason’s grandmother. Dolores is beyond the point where she can be left alone.”

Madlyn broke a cookie in half. “I’ve missed you terribly.”

Vicky took her time selecting a cookie from the plate. “Well,” she said slowly, “there may be a way for the two of us to spend four or five days all by ourselves on a short vacation. All expenses paid by my generous husband. How does that sound?”

Madlyn stared at her friend in disbelief. Her eyes grew big as pie plates. “Are you kidding? Where would we go? What would we do? And when? I don't know if I could get away right now, what with the shopping season in full swing,” she said.

Vicky looked a little guilty. She gazed upward at the ceiling and said to her friend, “Well, it seems that Jason's cousin from Spain is getting married in New York State. Jason's family and Maria's family are very close. Their parents were first cousins on the Darby side, so the kids spent much of their childhood together, either here or in Spain, before Jason’s parents were killed. And even afterward, Jason went over to visit every year. So he really wants to be there for Maria. However, his business obligations won’t let him travel right away. He has to stay in San Francisco until he can wrap up the deal he’s working on. He won’t be able to get to New York until the morning of the wedding. So it would be you and me traveling together. We’ll have three days before the wedding to hang out, go shopping, and see the sights. How about it?”

Madlyn could hardly believe that this cool, composed, high-fashion example of measured womanhood was the same piano nerd she’d shared a gym locker with in eighth grade. She was suddenly aware of her own style, her harlequin outfit in comparison to Vicky’s tailored look. The thought of being compared to the swanlike Vicky for the next week and ending up the ugly duckling every time set off alarm bells in her mind. Besides, she was a small-town girl, and the Big City held no attraction for her. She was about to turn down the offer when Vicky leaned across the table and grasped her hands.

“Please say yes.” Vicky twisted her face into the humorous caricature of a pouting, hopeful child, the expression that always made Madlyn laugh. Then she used her “little girl” voice. “Pwease, pwease, pwease? With Gummy Bears on top? Don’t wet me dwown in a sea of wich witches.” She tilted her head to one side and contorted her pout into a perfect half-circle.

Madlyn burst out laughing.

Vicky tented her hands over her face and giggled conspiratorially, just like the eighth grader Madlyn had thought she’d never see again. That made her decision inescapable.

“Yes,” said Madlyn. “I’ll go.”

CHAPTER THREE

Hidden Oaks Bed and Breakfast, Pawling, New York

Wednesday, November 18, 7:50 a.m.

K
irby Banks sat up in bed and complained, “What is that awful noise?” He pushed his dark blond surfer mane out of his eyes, then scratched at his chin.

Brewster Denton, his valet, emerged from the ensuite bath and extended a phone blasting Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell.”

“It’s the unflattering ringtone you’ve programmed in for Vanessa Vann.” He handed Kirby the phone. “You slept through her first two attempts to reach you.”

Kirby blew out a frustrated breath. “God help me.” Once he was composed, he forced a civil tone into his voice and took the call. “Vanessa, how nice to hear from you. Again. This morning.” He rolled his sea-gray eyes.

Vanessa laughed, a high staccato that was beginning to grate on Kirby’s nerves. “I just wanted to let you know that you don’t have to miss me after all. One of the bridesmaids fell ill, and I’ve been invited to take her place. We’re the same dress size and everything. Isn’t that lovely?”

Kirby’s face fell. “Oh. Gee, that’s great.” Then he had a horrific thought. He motioned to Brewster in a panic. “You realize that the B&B is full to the gills. The closest hotel is….”

Brewster mouthed silently, “Twenty miles.”

Vanessa cut him off. “Don’t worry, darling. All of the bridesmaids are staying at the Manse. I won’t be out in the cold. Unless….” Her voice became dangerously flirtatious. “Unless you want me to share with you at the B&B.”

Kirby crossed his eyes and made a face. “I’m already sharing with Brewster, so don’t give up your room at the Manse, okay?”

Vanessa laughed again. Kirby held the phone away from his ear. He didn’t quite catch what she said next.

“...don’t you think, darling?”

“About what?”

“Oh, Kirby, you’re so funny. I’m having daddy’s driver bring me over from Scarsdale this afternoon. I’m sure we’ll have lots of time to visit and plan. See you later.” She hung up.

Kirby frowned at the phone. “Plan what?” He looked to Brewster for help. “What is she up to this time?”

Brewster raised a brow. “Undoubtedly the same game she’s been playing since she met you. She has set her sights on you, and word is from the girls in the kitchen that she plans to marry you within the year.”

“What? That’s ridiculous. I’ve never voiced any interest in the two of us getting hitched. I’m only nice to her because I went to school with her brother.” Kirby scratched his head, ruffling his hair. His gorgeous hair and the cleft in his chin had misled many of the women he’d met into thinking he was too handsome to be straight. Unfortunately that misconception had not extended to Vanessa. As for his muscular chest, that was the fault of genetics, not any weightlifting obsession on his part. He scratched lazily at his chin. “Guess I have to shave for the duration of this wedding thing.”

Brewster snorted with amusement. He’d somehow gotten showered, shaved and dressed while Kirby was still in dreamland.

Kirby plumped a pillow behind his head and narrowed his eyes at Brewster. “By the way, what’s all this ‘girls in the kitchen’ talk? Have you been watching the BBC again?”

Brewster chuckled. “No, I overheard the staff gossip when we were at the Manse yesterday. I don’t have time to gossip myself. I’m far too busy making you look presentable and getting you places on time.” He tapped his watch. “Speaking of which?”

Kirby grumbled. “That luncheon isn’t until one.”

“Quite. But the B&B serves coffee and breakfast only until 9:30.”

“All right, all right. I’ll be ready in fifteen minutes.” Suddenly remembering something, he glanced about the room, then ran his hands softly over the castoff bed covers. “Where’s Pearl?”

From the bathroom came the sound of smashing glass.

The two men chorused, “Curse you, Pearl!”

Pearl the cockatiel squawked with glee as she flew into the room. She perched high on the drapes and scolded the two men. “Lazy bones! Lazy bones!”

Brewster sagged a bit. “I’m so sorry, sir. I’ll clean it up at once.”

“It’s my fault,” said Kirby. “I left my glass on the edge of the sink last night. How many do we owe the management so far?”

“That’s the fourth one since we arrived.”

“Ask for paper cups. This could get expensive.” Kirby gazed up at the bird, but his focus was elsewhere. “How is Uncle doing? Have you heard anything new?”

Brewster shook his head. “Still the same, I’m afraid.” He paused at the bathroom door. “No one would fault you if you wanted to be by his side.”

“No one but Uncle. He wanted me to be here for Ray’s wedding, so here I am.”

“If I hear anything, I’ll let you know at once,” said Brewster. He disappeared into the bath.

Kirby heard the sounds of glass being deposited in the plastic trash bin. He addressed the bird. “You’re a rascal, you know. Why do you smash glass?”

“Lazy bones!”

“All right, all right, I’m getting up. Bossy bird. If Uncle hadn’t sent Brewster to me when he did, you’d probably be skewered and broiled by now. I don’t think Uncle’s cook liked you very much. And I can see why. Knocking glasses and dishes off the counters. Naughty bird.”

“Naughty bird! Naughty bird!”

“More like lucky bird.” He found his clothes for the day carefully laid out, his shoes shined. “Brew, how did I ever get along without you? Are you sure you don’t mind being palmed off on me?”

Brewster emerged from the bathroom with a small bowl of water in one hand and a bowl of birdseed in the other. He assumed a stony expression as he replied, “As I’ve told you a hundred times over the last eight years, I couldn’t be happier. Besides, you know your uncle dotes on you. You’re his namesake.”

“But it must be awfully boring for you. No big parties, no socialites, no political bigwigs.”

“I’m not bored at all, sir.” Brewster placed the bird’s bowls in the large white cage in the corner. Colorful bird toys and a swing hung from the ceiling of the cage. The paper in the bottom had already been changed. Once Brewster removed his hand from the cage, Pearl swooped down and began chirping noisily and scattering seed with vigor. “Besides, as your uncle put it, what good was I to a man who could barely get out of bed? He said if he was going to pay my salary, I should at least work for it. So here I am.” A faint smile betrayed his fondness for his ailing employer.

“I know, I know. The old stinker. Someday, I hope to pay your salary myself.” He glanced at his reflection in the swivel mirror by the dresser. “Hey, isn’t this what I’m wearing to the wedding?”

“Oh, no, sir. For the wedding, you’ll be dressed to the nines.”

“No escaping that, I suppose. But I expected to go casual today, and you’ve got me dressed at least to the eights.”

Brewster raised a patient brow. “We both know, sir, that I’m here to help you learn some of the ins and outs of old money. Your uncle gave me specific instructions.”

“Just promise me you won’t throw out my jeans and running shoes.”

Brewster chuckled under his breath.

Pearl squawked and used her beak and claws to crawl up the side of her cage.

Brewster eyed her like a doting parent. “I’ll bring you some scrambled egg from breakfast. Meanwhile, eat your seed like a good bird.” He glanced at his watch. “They’re serving now, sir. Would you prefer I bring your coffee and toast upstairs?”

“You would love that, wouldn’t you? No, my friend, if I start letting you treat me like I’m something special, I’m afraid I’ll start believing it.”

“But sir, you
are
—”

Kirby cut him off. “Let’s go eat.”

CHAPTER FOUR

Wednesday, November 18, 8:05 a.m.

F
orty-eight hours after Vicky issued her invitation over lunch, Madlyn awoke in the Hidden Oaks Bed and Breakfast. She lay in the warm bed, trying to remember where she was and how she’d gotten there. The high ceiling and sculpted moldings, pale colors, tall windows, and fluffy bedding were nothing like her bedroom, so she knew right away she wasn’t at home.

From across the room she heard the sound of soft breathing, and the whirlwind trip came back to her in a rush. The breathing she heard came from Vicky, who was still asleep on the smaller bed by the west wall. She remembered the luxury of flying first class for the first time, and how stunned she was when Vicky apologized to her for not having access to the family’s private plane.

They’d arrived at La Guardia at 7:30 local time and were met by a town car and chauffeur, sent by the groom. It was dark, and as a result, Madlyn had no idea what the scenery looked like outside the car. Her only impression was of the thick, rushing traffic all around them, from the City up the Hutchinson River Parkway, all the way to Route 22. Route, shmoute, it was all the same to Madlyn. She knew they were heading north, because Vicky had told her the wedding would take place in Pawling, which was about sixty miles north of Manhattan. But for all Madlyn knew, they could have been traveling across the Martian landscape, if Martians communicated with car horns.

Monday had been spent rescheduling the girls at the boutique to cover her absence, then packing and agonizing over what to take. Tuesday was a very long day of travel, and she’d dozed off in the town car. By the time Vicky gently shook her awake, she felt completely disoriented. The chauffeur had helped them with their luggage, and the B&B owner had waited up for them to give them keys and a brief list of the rules of the house. They’d found their way around the side of the historic home to the private entrance to their own little annex, where by mutual agreement, they’d climbed into their pajamas and crawled into bed.

Now she lay there, awake but not ready to leave her cozy bed. The light coming through the windows was soft and gray, not at all like the bright morning sun of Eagle’s Toe. She could feel the dampness as well. She was definitely not in Colorado anymore. A chill chased the last of the cobwebs from her brain, and as quietly as she could, she got up and headed for the shower.

BOOK: The Wedding Guest (Colorado Billionaires Book 5)
7.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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