Читать книгу Keeper Of The Bride - Tess Gerritsen


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Tess Gerritsen

KEEPER OF THE BRIDE

One

The wedding was off. Cancelled. Canned. Kaput.

Nina Cormier sat staring at herself in the church dressing room mirror and wondered why she couldn’t seem to cry. She knew the pain was there, deep and terrible beneath the numbness, but she didn’t feel it. Not yet. She could only sit dry-eyed, staring at her reflection. The picture-perfect image of a bride. Her veil floated in gossamer wisps about her face. The bodice of her ivory satin dress, embroidered with seed pearls, hung fetchingly off-shoulder. Her long black hair was gathered into a soft chignon. Everyone who’d seen her that morning in the dressing room — her mother, her sister, Wendy, her stepmother, Daniella — had declared her a beautiful bride.

And she would have been. Had the groom bothered to show up.

He didn’t even have the courage to break the news to her in person. After six months of planning and dreaming, she’d received his note just twenty minutes before the ceremony. Via the best man, no less.

Nina, I need time to think about this. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m leaving town for a few days. I’ll call you. Robert

She forced herself to read the note again.

I need time…. I need time….

How much time does a man need? she wondered.

A year ago, she’d moved in with Dr. Robert Bledsoe. It’s the only way to know if we’re compatible, he’d told her. Marriage was such a major commitment, a permanent commitment, and he didn’t want to make a mistake. At 41, Robert had known his share of disastrous relationships. He was determined not to make any more mistakes. He wanted to be sure that Nina was the one he’d been waiting for all his life.

She’d been certain Robert was the man she’d been waiting for. So certain that, on the very day he’d suggested they live together, she’d gone straight home and packed her bags….

“Nina? Nina, open the door!” It was her sister, Wendy, rattling the knob. “Please let me in.”

Nina dropped her head in her hands. “I don’t want to see anyone right now.”

“You need to be with someone.”

“I just want to be alone.”

“Look, the guests have all gone home. The church is empty. It’s just me out here.”

“I don’t want to talk to anyone. Just go home, will you? Please, just go.”

There was a long silence outside the door. Then Wendy said, “If I leave now, how’re you going to get home? You’ll need a ride.”

“Then I’ll call a cab. Or Reverend Sullivan can drive me. I need some time to think.”

“You’re sure you don’t want to talk?”

“I’m sure. I’ll call you later, okay?”

“If that’s what you really want.” Wendy paused, then added, with a note of venom that penetrated even through the oak door, “Robert’s a jerk, you know. I might as well tell you. I’ve always thought he was.”

Nina didn’t answer. She sat at the dressing table, her head in her hands, wanting to cry, but unable to squeeze out a single tear. She heard Wendy’s footsteps fade away, then heard only the silence of the empty church. Still no tears would come. She couldn’t think about Robert right now. Instead, her mind seemed to focus stubbornly on the practical aspects of a cancelled wedding. The catered reception and all that uneaten food. The gifts she had to return. The nonrefundable airline tickets to St. John Island. Maybe she should go on that honeymoon anyway and forget Dr. Robert Bledsoe. She’d go by herself, just her and her bikini. Out of this whole heartbreaking affair, at least she’d come out with a tan.

Slowly she raised her head and once again looked at her reflection in the mirror. Not such a beautiful bride after all, she thought. Her lipstick was smeared and her chignon was coming apart. She was turning into a wreck.

With sudden rage she reached up and yanked off the veil. Hairpins flew in every direction, releasing a rebellious tumble of black hair. To hell with the veil; she tossed it in the trash can. She snatched up her bouquet of white lilies and pink sweetheart roses and slam-dunked it into the trash can as well. That felt good. Her anger was like some new and potent fuel flooding her veins. It propelled her to her feet.

She walked out of the church dressing room, the train of her gown dragging behind her, and entered the nave.

The pews were deserted. Garlands of white carnations draped the aisles, and the altar was adorned with airy sprays of pink roses and baby’s breath. The stage had been beautifully set for a wedding that would never take place. But the lovely results of the florist’s hard work was scarcely noticed by Nina as she strode past the altar and started up the aisle. Her attention was focused straight ahead on the front door. On escape. Even the concerned voice of Reverend Sullivan calling to her didn’t slow her down. She walked past all the floral reminders of the day’s fiasco and pushed through the double doors.

There, on the church steps, she halted. The July sunshine glared in her eyes, and she was suddenly, painfully aware of how conspicuous she must be, a lone woman in a wedding gown, trying to wave down a taxi. Only then, as she stood trapped in the brightness of afternoon, did she feel the first sting of tears.

Oh, no. Lord, no. She was going to break down and cry right here on the steps. In full view of every damn car driving past on Forest Avenue.

“Nina? Nina, dear.”

She turned. Reverend Sullivan was standing on the step above her, a look of worry on his kind face.

“Is there anything I can do? Anything at all?” he asked.

“If you’d like, we could go inside and talk.”

Miserably she shook her head. “I want to get away from here. Please, I just want to get away.”

“Of course. Of course.” Gently, he took her arm. “I’ll drive you home.”

Reverend Sullivan led her down the steps and around the side of the building, to the staff parking lot. She gathered up her train, which by now was soiled from all that dragging, and climbed into his car. There she sat with all the satin piled high on her lap.

Reverend Sullivan slid in behind the wheel. The heat was stifling inside the car, but he didn’t start the engine. Instead they sat for a moment in awkward silence.

“I know it’s hard to understand what possible purpose the Lord may have for all this,” he said quietly. “But surely there’s a reason, Nina. It may not be apparent to you at the moment. In fact, it may seem to you that the Lord has turned His back.”

“Robert’s the one who turned his back,” she said. Sniffling, she snatched up a clean corner of her train and wiped her face. “Turned his back and ran like hell.”

“Ambivalence is common for bridegrooms. I’m sure Dr. Bledsoe felt this was a big step for him—”

“A big step for him? I suppose marriage is just a stroll in the park for me?”

“No, no, you misunderstand me.”

“Oh, please.” She gave a muffled sob. “Just take me home.”

Shaking his head, he put the key in the ignition. “I only wanted to explain to you, dear, in my own clumsy way, that this isn’t the end of the world. It’s the nature of life. Fate is always throwing surprises at us, Nina. Crises we never expect. Things that seem to pop right out of the blue.”

A deafening boom suddenly shook the church building. The explosion shattered the stained glass windows, and a hail of multicolored glass shards flew across the parking lot. Torn hymn books and fragments of church pews tumbled onto the blacktop.

As the white smoke slowly cleared, Nina saw a dusting of flower petals drift gently down from the sky and settle on the windshield right in front of Reverend Sullivan’s shocked eyes.

“Right out of the blue,” she murmured. “You couldn’t have said it better.”

“YOU TWO, WITHOUT A DOUBT, are the biggest screwups of the year.”

Portland police detective Sam Navarro, sitting directly across the table from the obviously upset Norm Liddell, didn’t bat an eyelash. There were five of them sitting in the station conference room, and Sam wasn’t about to give this prima donna D.A. the satisfaction of watching him flinch in public. Nor was Sam going to refute the charges, because they had screwed up. He and Gillis had screwed up big time, and now a cop was dead. An idiot cop, but a cop all the same. One of their own.

“In our defense,” spoke up Sam’s partner, Gordon Gillis, “we never gave Marty Pickett permission to approach the site. We had no idea he’d crossed the police line—”

“You were in charge of the bomb scene,” said Liddell. “That makes you responsible.”

“Now, wait a minute,” said Gillis. “Officer Pickett has to bear some of the blame.”

“Pickett was just a rookie.”

“He should’ve been following procedure. If he’d—”

“Shut up, Gillis,” said Sam.

Gillis looked at his partner. “Sam, I’m only trying to defend our position.”

“Won’t do us a damn bit of good. Since we’re obviously the designated fall guys.” Sam leaned back in his chair and eyed Liddell across the conference table. “What do you want, Mr. D.A.? A public flogging? Our resignations?”

“No one’s asking for your

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