Friday, July 25, 2008

Jilted by Leigh Ellwood

"I'll be right down," Dara Winter called over the rail separating the lofted stairwell from the airy downstairs foyer. "Let me get my gloves."

She walked into her bedroom, and quickly the white satin, arm-length gloves she'd planned to retrieve were forgotten. Instead, the Ghosts of Engagements Past demanded her attention, as they were currently arranged in an arc before her.

Only they weren't ghosts, but muscle-hardened flesh and blood. Scowling lips, folded arms, and ramrod postures greeted her this morning, invoking a discomforting sense of doom that wiped the smile off Dara's own face.

"Big day, huh, Dara?" the closest to her challenged. "Bet you never expected to find one of us here, let alone three old flames."

"What...?" Dara's heart leapt into her throat.

"We meant to send cards," the man continued, "but figured something like this deserved a more ... personal salutation."

She said nothing, only stared, then blinked, as though lamely attempting to wish them away by not acknowledging them immediately.

"This is the curse of neglecting to acquire something borrowed and something blue," the front man snickered. "I didn't see anything here that tells otherwise, which is surprising, considering your history with cast-offs."

Dara did not look happy; that was apparent. Who could blame her? "On the day of my wedding, of all days, this has to happen?" She watched the faces of the three, studying their reaction to her. Could they detect the surprise, fear, and fury flitting as one new emotion across her features on a whirlwind tour of her nerves? She didn't know how to react to something like this, and it showed.

Her voice, she imagined, would put things better into perspective.

"How did you get in here?" Dara demanded. "This house has been full of people since Friday, and I was just up here twenty minutes ago when I got up. No way in Hell that you three crawled up the trellis on the side of the house.

Indeed, the intricate white wooden grid that trained ivy along the house's exterior toward the roof was frail. Any one of them would have cracked it on the first step. The three men together would have easily rendered it to toothpicks.

"Look," she continued, flouncing toward the widest window in the room. "I had the window locked all night. You couldn't have come in that way."

"Who says we did?" another of the visitors challenged.

"How did you get in here?" she echoed. "You're too large to be missed."

This was the truth. Big men, they were. Strong and cut with identical lantern jaws and thick veins roped around biceps. One in every flavor--blond, brunette, redhead--dressed in jogging shorts and T-back tanks. It looked like the set of Alpha romance cover model convention had been relocated here.

And yet, not one drop of sweat to indicate any had been out for a run and decided at the last minute to spoil her big day. To think they were able to spoil her nuptials without much effort or strain ... and look so damn delicious.

Of course, the real physical exertion was yet to come. There was going to be a struggle, she knew, and she swallowed hard just contemplating the consequences.