Searching for Perfect
SHE HAD TO get out of here.
Genevieve MacKenzie bent at the waist and tried to gulp in air. The filmy, delicate veil brushed her face like a dozen fingers bent on tickle torture. Panic clawed at her gut, and she reached up and ripped off the pearl-encrusted lace, placed her hands on her knees, and prayed for sanity.
She was getting married. Right now. In five minutes. Her family stood outside the door, excited and chattering as they waited for her to emerge in all her pristine white glory. David posed at the front of the church in his tux, with the priest and his best man flanking his side. She imagined his beautifully tousled golden hair, killer smile, and sparkling green eyes. Perfect, as usual. While she was getting dressed, a delivery had arrived at the house. Two dozen white roses with just the faintest tinge of pink in the centers. The card read: I cannot wait until you are finally mine.
Her bridal party sighed with pleasure. Her twin sister, Isabella, rolled her eyes and clutched her neck in mockery of gagging to death. She’d been quietly shushed by the others while everyone held their breath, hoping she’d remain manageable until at least after the ceremony. It had been a rocky road between the sisters, so that Izzy even bothering to don a bridesmaid dress was a miracle. Gen’s best friend,
Kate, hurriedly put the roses in water until they stood straight and proud in the center of the dining room table amid a group of giggling, excited women. Her sister Alexa teased her husband about not receiving a thing on her big day, which brought on a tirade of groaning from Nick and her dad whining about how reality television had given women false expectations of real romance.
Gen kept smiling, murmured the correct responses, and held the card in a death grip. Then she ran to the bathroom, trying desperately not to vomit.
Not the best reaction for a bride-to-be. Of course, she chalked it up to nerves, ignored her nausea, and got her ass into the stretch limo. She nodded and responded to her chattering bridal party. As the limousine gobbled up the miles and sped toward the church, her brain clicked over the final details, worrying if she missed anything. David hated sloppiness of any sort, and with almost three hundred guests, it was an important enough event to guarantee press and some high-society attendees. She’d wanted a wedding planner, but David insisted on keeping it private and personal. Of course she agreed; it would be nice to say they did it all themselves instead of relying on a stranger. Exhaustion beat into her bones, but Gen pushed it back. Yes, she’d done absolutely everything, triple-checking each detail for the past few days nonstop.
From the apricot bridesmaid dresses in silk so light the fabric shimmered, to the exquisite ribbon-wrapped orchids, the bridal party was breathtaking. The venue had been almost impossible to secure without the right contacts on just a year’s notice. The castle in Tarrytown boasted stun
ning gardens, soaring architecture with vaulted ceilings, a banquet hall to rival Buckingham Palace, and French cuisine. Sure, she would’ve rather been married at Mohonk Mountain House near her parents in a more relaxed, fun atmosphere, but at least David agreed to the church ceremony. And she’d won the argument insisting Izzy stay in the wedding. David may not approve of her, but Gen stood her ground, and now her entire family was by her side.
The limo pulled in. She ducked her head against the flash of photographers, and Kate helped her with the massive pearl-encrusted train spilling onto the sidewalk. The Vera Wang gown was ridiculously pricey and reminded her of someone else, but it was the stuff princesses and brides were made of. Lace, tulle, diamonds, and pearls. Too bad she couldn’t breathe.
She kept it together in the back room of the church while her mother cried, straightened her veil, and told her she’d never been more proud. Alexa beamed with joy, and her beautiful niece, Lily, looked like a fairy princess with her basket of petals and mini ballroom dress to match the bride’s. Her other niece, Taylor, glowed in her junior bridal dress, a delicate pale pink exactly like the center of the roses. Gina, her sister-in-law, winked and announced the bride needed a moment alone before walking down the aisle. Gen almost sagged with relief, and finally the door shut. Blessed silence filled the room.
Everything was perfect, just like it should be.
Perfect. Like David always wanted it.
Gen panted and tried to get herself together. The murmur of voices and organ music drifted from the door. She
stumbled to the gorgeously painted stained-glass window of Madonna and child and yanked on the knob. Stuck. Dizziness threatened. Crapola, she needed air, right now. Her French-manicured fingers wrapped around the old-fashioned handle and pulled frantically. Light exploded off the pristine diamond weighing down her knuckle. Finally, a few inches opened up and she bent her head toward the gap, sucking in hot air. Why, oh why did she have to wait until now to completely freak out? Maybe all the wedding stress had finally gotten to her. She’d open the door, walk down the aisle with her head held high, and say her vows. She loved David. Who wouldn’t? He treated her like a queen, told her every day how much she meant to him, and pushed her to be better. Always better. They’d be the envied power couple of their time—surgeons who saved lives, attended charity functions, and changed the world. They were madly in love.
I can’t wait until you are finally mine.
A shiver crept down her spine. She looked down at the flawless three-carat diamond ring that shimmered around her finger. A symbol of ownership. Once she committed herself, it would truly be forever. He’d never let her go.
The inner voice that had been squashed for so long in fear of retaliation rose up from her gut and screamed one last word. Gen clutched at the windowsill. Ridiculous. She couldn’t run.
Right? People only did that in the movies. Besides, she couldn’t do that to David.
The past two years with David had taught her to sift through her rioting emotions and connect with the core of rationality that hid in every person’s center. Her fiancé despised messiness, impulse, and decisions based on emotion. He cited death and destruction time and again, until she’d finally managed to quiet that crazy voice that had once sung in freedom, slightly off-key but always joyous. Gen figured she’d beaten it back so hard, in fear and determination, that she’d never hear from it again. But of course, with her lousy luck, it had taken this moment of all moments to reassert its independence and general brattiness.
Run before it’s too late.
Her brain spun in a mad rush. Not much time left. Once her family came in, it was over. They’d calm her down, term it bridal jitters, and escort her down the aisle. She’d marry David. And she’d never be the same again.
Which would be good, right? She wanted marriage. Forever. Commitment. With David.
Gen looked behind at the closed door. The action she took in the next few seconds would set her on a course that would change the rest of her life. She didn’t have time to go over the checks and balances, advantages and disadvantages, and make a neat statistical chart. Instead, she dug deep into her gut that had served her well when faced with a child bleeding on her table: life-and-death decisions that even David couldn’t make her stop because it made up the center of her soul. A future surgeon. A woman. A survivor.
Gen didn’t waste another moment.
Breathing hard, heart pounding, she shoved the crank
around and around until it wouldn’t budge another inch. The window gaped halfway open. The judging eyes of baby Jesus beamed down at her. She could do this. For the first time it paid to be Hobbit size. Gen stuck her upper body through the window, leaned forward, and wriggled her way to freedom.