Chapter 1: Collisions and Coffee
There’s nothing like the feeling you get on the last day of exams. All the tension and worry that knotted up over the last few days of cramming vanish, blown away on a breeze of good grades and the promise of a nice long break. Even if you failed miserably, there’s a sense of relief that the whole thing is over, for better or worse. The sense of levity in the air is almost palpable.
I shift my bag full of books and nod to Hanson and Carter as they’re swept away in the crowd. The throng of students flooding out from the university grounds is thinning out as we all separate off, everyone eager to get the summer started.
I, personally, am looking forward to some relaxation. Even for a Lucian, college can be stressful, and all I want is to spend the next week in a heavenly bubble of peace and quiet.
My cell phone rings and Natalie’s number appears on the screen, jabbing me back to reality. My sister probably has a million parties planned, and if she gets what she wants (as she usually does), my rest will have to wait. I turn on my Bluetooth.
“What is it, Natalie?” I ask, irritated.
“Hello, nice to talk to you too,” she replies caustically. “How were exams?”
“Fine. Why did you call?”
She sighs. “I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t made any plans for your break yet.”
I stifle a groan. Here it comes. “Actually, Natalie, I was just going to—“
“Because we’re going to have company,” she interrupts. “Important company that you can’t blow off. And I promised you’d be there.”
I rub the bridge of my nose as my head begins to pound. “I don’t suppose you can reschedule?”
She snorts. “How long will it take you to get here?”
Twenty minutes, if I head straight there.
“An hour or so,” I lie, pressing the Bluetooth to my ear as a rush of city traffic makes it hard to hear.
“You have one hour. Don’t be late.”
She hangs up the phone without another word.
Just as well. An hour will give me time to get a cup of tea or coffee, maybe a scone, and check my email. I’ve been incredibly lax this last week. Hopefully nothing important has happened.
I head towards the Starbucks, head bent over my phone as I pull up the email program. Two hundred and seventy three messages; wonderful.
Suddenly, I feel a painful jolt as something hard connects with my chin and a slender body slams into me. I drop my phone, which elicits a curse, and stagger backwards slightly. The girl who so rudely slammed into me is on the ground, desperately wiping at a book that now has coffee-stained pages. Her long auburn hair hangs down over her face like a curtain, so I can’t make out her features, except that she’s extremely pale, but in a natural, vibrant way. Her lemon yellow dress is cute, almost girlish, knee-length satin in a straight line that hides her curves.
“It’s ruined,” she says morosely, rubbing her fingers over the soggy paper.
“Yes, well maybe you should look where you’re going.” I bend over to pick up my phone. The battery’s popped out, but the screen is all right, and it powers on when I put the battery back in. Thank goodness.
“I should look where I’m going?” she growls, still rubbing furiously at the stain, which only seems to make it worse. “I wasn’t the one with my head buried in my phone.”
No, she was the one with her head buried in her book. Plus, ran into me, but I decide it’s no use arguing with her.
“My apologies.” I try to sound sorry, but really it just comes out indifferent. I dig in my pocket and pull out a twenty pound note and offer it to her. “That should take care of it, I hope?”
“Keep your money,” she snaps, waving it away and standing. “I’ve got enough of—“
Her sentence dies in her mouth as her eyes, fiery with annoyance, lock on my face. Her expression goes slack, and I have to admit I gape back rather foolishly.
“Ian?” she whispers.
I swallow. “Amy.”
Chapter 2: Awkward Subjects
We stare at each other for a while, and then my brain switches back into gear. I clear my throat. “What are you doing in London?”
“Shopping.” She still looks shocked, and her voice comes out flat.
I raise my eyebrows. “Really?”
She shrugs. “Recent events require a change of wardrobe.”
Recent events? Oh, why hadn’t I checked my email?
We stand there in silence again as I try desperately to think of something to say. She looks so different, but then again, it has been four years since I’ve seen her. Her face has lost some of its softness, her features becoming more pronounced, with that delicate Irish beauty; large eyes, small nose, round rosebud lips, high cheekbones. Her hair has darkened too, turning into a sort of chestnut brown with a reddish tinge.
We both take a deep breath, and I say the only thing that comes to mind. “How are you and Jake?”
Unfortunately, she asks at the same time, “How are you and Clara?”
There’s an uncomfortable pause, and then I offer, “We’re all right.” Not strictly true, but that’s okay. She doesn’t want to hear the details of how my on-again off-again girlfriend is trying to get back together after our fourth break-up.
“That’s good,” she says, smiling. And suddenly, there’s a glimpse of my Amy, tucking her hair behind her ear and saying softly, “It’s good to see you, Ian,” with just enough shyness and uncertainty to make me sure she means it.
“It’s good to see you too,” I say. “It’s been… too long.”
She nods. “Four years. I don’t know how we got so out of touch.”
Simple. You disappeared to travel the world with Jake, and I… well, I let you.
“How’s Daniel?” I ask.
She rolls her eyes. “Oh, he hasn’t changed a bit. He’s graduated high school, but instead of college, he’s going to buy a video game company and live the bachelor’s life.” She shakes her head. “He’s such a dweeb.”
I can’t help smiling, feeling the tension drain away. This is normal. “Well, were you surprised?”
“No, just relieved.” She grins at me. “I was half afraid he’d follow his other dream.”
“What was that?”
“Becoming a ninja lord.”
We both laugh.
“I was just going in to have a cup of coffee,” I say. “Would you like to join me? Catch up?”
She tilts her head, considering it. “I really should say no. I have important dinner reservations, and your sister will murder me if I’m late, but you just dumped my coffee all over Macbeth, so….”
“You’re our important dinner guest?” I ask, surprised.
She quirks an eyebrow. “Yes I am. Sorry to disappoint.”
I shrug. “No, it's just... usually, when Natalie says ‘important’, it’s some nobility or her new fashion model or a business partner. I wasn't expecting you.”
Her brows lift even higher. “So because I'm not 'nobility' or a model or an uber-billionaire, I'm not important?"
I frown. "When you put it that way, it sounds rude."
"That's because it is rude," she explains.
"I wasn't insulting you. I'm simply saying that you don't fall into the same social class of Natalie's usual associates."
“It’s unbelievable how conceited you sound right now.”
“I’m not being conceited," I argue, exasperated. "I’m stating a fact.”
“Oh, so it’s a fact now that I’m unimportant?”
I sigh. This isn’t getting me anywhere. “Good Lord Amy. Not in the least. But when family comes over, Natalie always gives me warning in advance. I had no idea you were coming.”
Amy stops glaring at me, looking puzzled. “Didn’t you get my email?”
I groan. “No, I’ve been busy with exams and haven’t had the time to check. What was it about?”
She bites her lip. “Oh. Then you don’t know… about the wedding.”
“What we—” I start. But then I glance down at the hand that clutches her book, and I swear my heart stops when I see the small diamond ring glittering on her finger. “You’re engaged?”
Chapter 3: Ian-ness
The sickening dread in the pit of my stomach is a feeling I can’t even begin to explain to myself. Amy… and Jake… engaged?
She nods and says quietly, “I thought you knew. I emailed everyone their invitations last week.”
“Wait.” I hold up a hand, still waiting for the news to sink in. “How long have you two been engaged?”
She blushes. “Two weeks.”
“And you’re getting married already?” I ask incredulously.
She shrugs. “Jake didn’t want a long engagement. We’re hoping to get married within the month.”
My head is spinning with this sudden onslaught.
“Are you okay?” she asks, concerned.
I rub my forehead. “No… yes of course. It’s just a bit sudden, that’s all.” Understatement of the century.
A thought occurs to me. “Is that what you’re doing here? Planning the wedding?”
She nods, smiling a little. “Natalie was so excited when I told her, she wants to handle everything. She invited me to stay at the mansion with you two until the wedding.” She searches my face. “Is that all right?”
No. None of this is all right.
“Well I would’ve like to be consulted,” I say, my shock coming out as irritation. “I’d been hoping for a little peace and quiet, but I guess that’s out of the question now.”
She rolls her eyes. “I apologize. I’ll try to keep my wedding preparations from interfering with your nap schedule.”
I snort. “Unlikely. Two girls playing Barbie’s Dream Wedding is guaranteed to be a lot of mess and hassle.” I groan. “In fact, I’ll probably get more rest on the roof.”
“I have neither the time nor patience to deal with you right now.” She turns on her heel and stomps away, calling after her, “Your sister sent a limo for us. You can pay for the coffees to go.”
I'd run my hands through my hair if I didn't know that it would make me look like a hedgehog. Frustrated, I open the door and step inside the shop.
“Two cappuccinos,” I tell the boy at the counter, grabbing some sugars and creams. “And two chocolate scones.”
The boy nods at where Amy stands at the edge of the street, opening the door of the limo idling at the curb. “Is that your girlfriend? She’s hot.”
I sigh. “Just make it quick.”
Stewing, I slide into the limo seat, wishing I could sit in the front to avoid being in a confined space with that jerk. It was such a surprise meeting him like this, he caught me off-guard. I hadn’t had time to prepare for his… his Ian-ness.
I’d expected some awkwardness at seeing him again, but I hadn’t thought I would have to deliver the news of the wedding personally. I’d also been harboring the teeniest, tiniest hope he’d changed. But no luck. In fact, he’s almost as bad as he was during the clue hunt—an obnoxious pig, albeit a drop-dead gorgeous one. But what else would I expect from a man just finishing up his master’s degree in business and already running a foreign trade empire? He’s the ultimate bachelor and oh, doesn’t he know it. He practically radiates conceit. His silky black hair has just the right amount of muss, his creamy coffee-colored skin doesn’t have the slightest blemish and those eyes…. Ugh.
Yep, Ian Kabra is definitely still a heartbreaker. But I’ve had enough heartbreak to last me three lifetimes, and my anger wanes slightly, heart fluttering at the thought of the ring on my finger, and Jake’s face when he proposed. Of course, the college dorm hallway wasn’t exactly the most romantic place in the world, but he was so adorable it more than made up for it. I can’t wait for the wedding, for my fairy-tale life to begin.
Ian comes out of the shop and hands me my coffee and scone. “There you go, love.”
I frown. I thought he dropped that nickname years ago.
“Where to, Mr. Kabra?” the driver asks.
“Home,” Ian says briefly. “And quickly.” He glances at me. “We have important dinner reservations.”
I roll my eyes, and take a sip of my coffee. “Too little, too late.”
He grins. “Oh, don’t bother. We both know you can never stay mad for long.”
I snort. "Oh, do we now?"
"Yes. As I recall, your record of grudge-holding was rather unimpressive. After all, it didn’t take much time for me to wear you down in Korea."
I shoot him an outraged look. He’s really bringing up Korea? Now, of all times? “OK, I’m ignoring you now.”
He smirks. “You can try.”
"Watch me." I turn my head to look out the window.
Ian gives me about ten seconds of silence.
"So when is your professor arriving?" he asks, his tone a mixture of amusement and derision. "I assume he is coming. Unless he couldn't afford the plane ticket."
He's baiting me, but it's not going to work. Unlike him, I am a mature adult.
"You know, love, I never fancied you the sort to go for the bumbling fool. I'm sure there's a certain level of endearment to his simple-minded awkwardness, but really, how could you settle for such a dreary, mundane life?"
I grit my teeth. Not. Going. To work.
"Although you were dating that Evan character as well, so perhaps that is your type."
Evan? That’s it. That crosses lines. That is not acceptable.
“For the record, Mr. Kabra,” I hiss, whirling around to face him, “my fiancée is three times the man you will ever be. He is brilliant and kind and he loves me to the point of distraction. He might not be a billionaire, or a genius, or a Cahill—” I spit the word out like a bad taste “—but I adore that about him. The Cahills have brought me nothing but heartbreak and ruin, and when I take my vows, there isn't anything that will make me happier than knowing I have washed my hands of the Cahill family for good.”
For a second, I see a flash of genuine anger in his eyes. But it’s gone instantly, and he says unconcernedly, “Well, I guess I can count you two out for the Christmas party then.”
The words find their target. That used to be my job; organizing the get-togethers, keeping the family in touch. But it doesn't matter. This is a small price to pay for the safety of my future children. In four weeks, I’ll leave the family and Amy Cahill behind, and I’ll start my new life as Amy Rosenbloom.
It’s the only thing Jake’s asked of me, and how could I tell him no?
Chapter 4: Frazzled Fiance
Ian spends the rest of the drive on his phone, emailing and doing business calls, wrapped up in his own world, while I stare out the window, soaking in the beauty of London. It’s amazing, and amazingly busy, a dizzying whirl of activity.
When the Kabra mansion looms into sight, it takes my breath away. The grounds stretch out in every direction, orchards and gardens and mazes large enough to get lost in. The house itself sits removed from the road, blocked off by enormous black wrought-iron gates. The enormous stone and marble mansion looks like a palace.
Natalie stands at the doorway, wearing a delicate white chiffon dress that makes you think of tiny finger sandwiches, iced cookies, and lemonade. Her dark hair is done in an elegant French twist, with a fashionably large, floppy sunhat giving her a lady-like air.
“There you two are,” she says, gliding towards us in impossibly high wedge-heeled sandals as Ian helps me out of the limo. Her voice is smooth as melted chocolate, but with an edge of irritation. “I’ve been waiting out here for almost ten minutes.”
“Sorry,” Ian says, without looking up or sounding like he actually means it. Natalie flashes him an annoyed look and then turns to me, wrapping her slender arms around me and giving me a hug.
“Amy, I can’t believe you haven’t stopped by in four years,” she says reproachfully. “Even before the clue hunt, we saw each other more often than that!”
“I’m sorry,” I say, eyes cast downward, chagrined. Even though she’s three years younger than me, she’s so confident and authoritative it makes her seem much older.
“Dinner will be served in twenty minutes,” she says, heading back inside. “That should give you some time to get settled in. Then we can catch up.”
Ian leans down, (he’s a good four inches taller than me, the top of my head just barely brushing his chin) and my skin breaks out in goosebumps as his lips brush against my ear. “I’m warning you, she’s incredibly bossy.”
I look up to glare at him, and find myself transfixed by his warm eyes, close enough to see the gold sparks dancing in pools of amber.
“Are you coming?”
Natalie’s voice breaks the spell, and blushing, I lean down to pick up my suitcase, but Ian grabs it first, handing it to one of the servants with a ‘tsk, tsk’ sound. “Ladies may have to carry their own bags in America, love, but here in Europe, things are different.”
“How lucky for me,” I say, unwilling to meet his eyes. Because even though he’s a self-absorbed, self-involved narcissist brat, Ian Kabra could make a dead girl’s heart beat faster.
Natalie shows me through the heavy double doors, the enormous cliché hall with marble floors and a high ceiling that makes every step echo, and giant curving twin staircases. She gives me detailed directions that I’ll never remember while we walk, pointing out Ian’s office door in the hall, the door leading to the dining room, living room, kitchen, balcony, gardens, until we get to my room. It’s on the second floor, which has a U-shaped hall lined with spare rooms connecting the two sets of stairs.
I’ve stayed in five star hotels, but the Kabras’ guest room beats them all. I gape at the plush carpeting, silk canopy, multiple sofas, flat screen TV, bathroom, walk-in closet, minibar, mini fridge, window seats, and balcony with French doors.
She says, “If you need anything, there’s a house com unit right there on the wall,” and adds off-handedly, “I also took the liberty of putting some clothes in the wardrobe. You know, just in case you decide you want to… well, just in case.”
She wiggles her fingers in good-bye and disappears down the hallway, calling after her, “Remember, dinner at six!”
Grinning, I drop my suitcase and begin putting my clothes in the dresser. But I hesitate, and unable to resist, I open the closet.
It’s like throwing open the gates of heaven.
Row upon row of dresses, sweaters, skirts, and coats shine in fashion glory, in every imaginable shade and design, silks and satins and chiffon and cashmere, pastels and deep reds and greens and blues and purples and golds and…. And shoes. Soooo many shoes.
I shut the door before the accessories do me in. It’s not me… but oh how I wish it was.
My phone buzzes in my pocket, and I swipe the screen. Eight missed calls—Jake—and four text messages—also Jake—along with one from Dan. I scroll through the texts from my fiancée.
Did you get there safely?
Was the flight delayed?
Any problems with the Kabras?
Please call me
Sighing, I check Dan’s message.
For the sake of group sanity, I BEG YOU to call your fiancée. He’s totally freaking out and I can’t take it much longer. If I hear one more horror story about an airplane crash/Vesper attack/murderous Cobra kidnapping plot, I WILL KILL HIM. Then you’ll have to marry Ian… ;)
I roll my eyes. Despite being almost twenty, he’s still every bit a dweeb.
I dial Jake’s number, and he picks up on the first ring.
“Hey sweetie, are you okay?” he asks immediately.
I smile. Even after all these years, it still touches my heart how much he worries about me. “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m a little worried about you, though. My brother says you’re about to have a heart attack.”
“Well you said you’d call as soon as you got off the plane, so when you didn’t, I was… concerned.”
In the background, I hear Dan yell, “Amy, you’re marrying a paranoid freak!”
“What’re the boys doing?” I ask.
“Atticus is going through video game company shares, trying to explain to Dan why the company’s stocks are more important than whether it released Death Con 4 or Zombie Rebel Apocalypse.” I can practically hear him rolling his eyes as he speaks.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call you right away,” I say. “My phone was dead, so I stopped by Starbucks to get a coffee and let it charge, and I was just going to call you when I ran into Ian. Literally.”
There’s a pause on the other end.
“Was it… awkward?” he asks.
“Totally,” I sigh. “Especially since he didn’t know we were engaged.”
“He said he hadn’t checked his email in a week, so he had no idea about the wedding or anything.”
Jake lets out a long, slow breath of air. “Listen, Ames… maybe you should come back.”
Oh, no. Here we go again.
“No, I shouldn’t,” I say softly. “Nothing’s going to happen to me here, and you can come up and help us plan the wedding in four days, as soon as your seminar’s done. Remember?”
“Yeah, but I just don’t like to think of you up there alone with that guy.”
I cast my eyes heavenward. “First of all, Jake, I’ve told you a million times, we never actually dated. Secondly, he helped us defeat both the Vespers and Pierce, so he’s trustworthy on that level. Thirdly, he’s been running the family for us for four years, and lastly, we’re not alone. Natalie’s here.”
I hear Dan snort. “Yeah, the Queen Matchmaker. Like that’s any better.”
I want to yell at him to shut up, but the damage is done.
“Queen Matchmaker?” Jake sputters.
“Oops, battery’s dying, gotta go,” I say hurriedly, and hang up.
With the last remains of my ‘dead’ battery, I text Dan.
You just HAVE to be as UTTERLY UNHELPFUL as possible, don’t you? -_-
I try ^_^
I shut off my phone.
“Well, he hasn't changed a bit."
I whirl around to see Ian standing in the doorway, slouched against the frame, arms folded.
“Were you spying on me?” I demand.
He raises one eyebrow. “I believe the correct term is ‘eavesdropping’, or ‘waiting for you to come down to dinner’, but yes.”
My face flushes. “How dare you listen in on my private conversation?”
He rolls his eyes. “I don’t think that listening to your fiancée fuss like a mother with a newborn and obsess over our non-existent romantic past really counts as a ‘private conversation’, but… maybe you just didn’t want me to hear it.” He wiggles his eyebrows in a way that almost reminds me of Dan, and I don’t know whether to laugh or throw something at him.
I settle for saying coolly, “Are you going to stand here and flirt with an almost-married woman, or are we going to dinner?”
“Please, lead the way.” He sweeps an arm out, but doesn’t move, so when I walk through the door, we’re dangerously close. I smell leather and cologne, not the heavy stuff that most men use which clogs the air, but a vague, intoxicating scent, like mystery and money and bottled attraction all rolled into one.
Uch. Why couldn’t he have been a fat, hairy, stammering idiot?
Chapter 5: Out of the Loop
As I follow Amy down the stairs, steam practically pouring out of her ears, I can't help grinning to myself. So, Jake is worried, is he? Well, he should be. What kind of idiot lets a woman like Amy go spend four weeks with a man she used to… er… be close with? Especially when that man is me.
At the foot of the stairs, I almost start to head for the sitting room, that's how long it's been since we've used the dining table. Natalie and I usually just have Blakely bring the food to the sofas, so we can eat and work at the same time. But tonight she's in full gear, napkins and all. She's even sitting to the left of the head of the table, despite the fact that she hates when I sit above her, so I assume that means I'll be taking point on this tonight. Right.
Before I take my seat, I stop to pull out a chair for Amy. She shoots me a murderous look that says very clearly she doesn't plan on falling for any of my tricks and charms, and then sits down. But as I told her earlier, she's not very good at staying angry with me.
“So, let's get right to it,” Natalie says, ignoring the plate Blakely sets down in front of her. “You and Jake already took care of the invitations, which were… lovely.”
I shoot her an amused look.
“But now we need to take care of the rest of the details. I see the church you picked out is in Massachusetts?” She tries to sound off-handed, but her face conveys her disappointment.
“Oh, yes.” Amy blushes. It still looks quite cute on her. “Jake and I picked it out. It's not too far from the school or the house, so it seemed convenient.”
“Perfect,” I say cheerfully, winking at Natalie. “Natalie is all about convenience. Isn't that right?”
She shoots me a withering glare that, like Amy's, comes only from years of experience with a brother. “Absolutely.” Her tone is utterly flat.
“You know, I bet there are some wonderful caterers in Massachusetts,” I continue, still beaming at her. “Maybe some little sandwich deli, or a nice pizza parlor.”
“And Dunkin Donuts could make the cake! I hear they have excellent ice cream cakes. We could even—”
“Oh, cut it out,” Amy laughs, drawing my attention back towards her. “I know exactly what you're doing. Natalie, I'm sure our choice of both invitations and a church was awful, but I'm afraid Jake and I aren't nearly as sophisticated and tasteful as you.” She gives me a 'behave yourself' look. “And besides guests, location, and the best man, no other plans have been made. We leave it entirely in your hands.”
Natalie visibly relaxes. “Oh, thank heavens. If you had suggested Subway, I'm fairly certain my head would have popped off.” She straightens, and her face is all business. “Now then, the first thing to worry about is the dress. We can try Herod’s tomorrow, but this might require bringing in a special designer. Thankfully, I have plenty of those. Do you prefer Swiss, Italian, or Austrian?”
“Italian… I think.”
“Excellent, I'll call Bianca in the morning. Next, we need a decorator. The good ones are always so hard to get a hold of last minute, but I know some people. In fact, I think Gwen has a cousin, or maybe it's an aunt, I don't recall. Whoever she is, she's supposed to be a huge name in France.”
“Who's Gwen?” Amy asks, puzzled.
Natalie and I stare at her.
“What?” She frowns. “Is she someone famous or something?”
“Gwen,” Natalie repeats slowly. “Gwen de Villiers.”
Amy still looks confused.
“Jonah's fiancée?” Natalie sounds almost disbelieving.
Amy's eyes widen. “Jonah's engaged? Since when?”
“Since last March.” I study her.
She goes pale. “Last March? But that's… over a year.”
“And they've been dating for three. You really haven't heard of her?” I ask incredulously.
She shakes her head.
“They're getting married next month.” Natalie's voice goes soft. “Didn't you get the invitation?”
“My mail goes straight to Jake's office.” She fumbles with her napkin, and stands up. “I'm sorry, I'm just a little tired. Jet-lagged. Is it all right if we
continue this tomorrow?”
My sister looks at her, and something like regret or pity flashes through her eyes. “Of course. How foolish of me, I really should have let you get some rest as soon as you arrived.”
“It's fine.” Amy hesitates. “Good night.”
“Good night,” I reply, watching her. She doesn't even look at me.
Her footsteps echoing through the hall is the only sound. Then Natalie says quietly, “I didn't believe it.”
I glance at her. “What?”
“When Daniel said she'd been completely cut off from the family.” Natalie exhales, and it sounds like a small sigh. “I didn't believe him. I didn't think it was possible for Amy. The Cahills were always so important to her.”
“Things change.” I put a piece of meat in my mouth, but even as I chew I don't taste anything. When I glance at Natalie, she's staring at her lap, not touching her plate. “What's wrong?”
“It's just...” She doesn't look up. “We had four weeks together. I thought we were finally going to catch up, go back to the way things were after Pierce.” She fingers her dress. “We were so close back then. She was… like the big sister I never had.”
I don't say anything.
She laughs bitterly. “That's a joke.”
“It's not her fault,” I say, putting my hand over hers. “It's Jake. He doesn't want anything to do with us.”
“But don't you see?” She looks at me, eyes glistening. “When she marries him, she's gone. He'll take her away from us, and she won't be our Amy anymore. She'll be Amy Rosenbloom, and we might never even see her again.”
I open my mouth to say something, but just then her phone rings.
Natalie takes a shuddering breath, pulling herself back together, and picks it up. “It's Gwen.”
Gently, she pulls her hand out from under mine, and stands up. When she walks out, I'm left alone with a cold piece of prime rib and a bitter taste in my mouth.
Chapter 6: The Spazz-Case
Left, right. Up, down. Back, forth.
As I lay sprawled on the couch, watching my sister’s fiancé wear holes in our living room rug, a million regrets run through my mind.
I wish Evan hadn’t died.
I wish Ian hadn’t been a jerk.
I wish Kurt had gotten up the nerve to ask Amy out.
I wish Ian hadn’t been a jerk again.
I wish Jake would take a long walk off a short dock.
I try to rub the knots out of my forehead. “Jake, believe it or not, Amy was actually able to tie her own shoes before you started dating her. She’s a big girl, she can take care of herself.” I’m going to be old and gray by the time I turn twenty.
Atticus, my soon to be brother-in-law, is sitting across from me with his wiry African-American form sandwiched between two enormous piles of books and buried under the assortment of cables attached to his laptop. Despite the fact that he shaved his cornrows, ditched the glasses, and started dressing like a teenager instead of a college professor, he remains a nerd at heart.
“She called you,” Atticus reminds him wearily.
“Late!” Jake runs a hand through his hair, which by now looks like a porcupine is nesting on his head.
“Her phone was dead,” I sigh. “She told you that.”
“Maybe she was being held at gunpoint,” Jake gulps. “Maybe she’s a hostage and they’re forcing her to say exactly what they want so they can use her in some nefarious plan!”
Why, God? Just why?
I grind my teeth. “For the umpteenth time, Ian and Natalie are loyal. They helped save Amy’s life!”
“Maybe Isabel faked her death! Maybe she’s masterminded the whole thing, inviting Amy over so she can take over the Cahill family and—”
“We saw her die!” I groan. “She blew up!”
“Maybe she came back from the dead!” Jake points a finger accusingly as if this is all my fault. “You saw what the serum can do. What if she’s invincible? She might very well be roaming this earth right now, as an undead!”
I take a deep breath, trying to hold back a scream. “I’ll tell you what is not happening to her. She has not been sitting on a couch for two freaking hours listening to a nerd with questionable sanity ramble about horror scenarios that sound like a Stephen King novel!”
OK, so maybe I was kind of shouting at the end. Jake ignores me.
Go on! Pace yourself to death!
Normally, I’d have ditched Jake long ago. Possibly even gotten him tickets and sent him on the first flight to London. But Amy made me promise (after begging, threatening, bribing, and much blackmail) that I would not let him out of my sight. At this point, I’m considering a leash.
I hadn’t really been thrilled about the engagement from the start.
“I just don’t know what you see in him,” I’d grumbled, watching Amy pack her suitcase. “The dude’s a meltdown waiting to happen.”
“For once, Dan, could you be supportive of one of my relationships?” she’d replied, rolling her eyes.
I’d shrugged. “Not my fault you have bad taste in men.”
Which had earned me a withering glare.
Honestly, I’ve been pretty laid-back about it. I don’t really hate Jake, I just don’t like him. He earned the eternal rank of Idiot when he bought me an encyclopedia for my sixteenth birthday.
But I’m okay with Amy marrying him, as long as he makes her happy. He can be the dorky relative who gets targeted for pranks at the family reunion. I grin, remembering all the fun I’d had with Ian and Natalie, before Ian decided to get all scary and muscle-y and Natalie got…. Well, gorgeous.
Rosenbloom family reunions ain’t got nothing on the Cahills.
My phone rings, and Jake jumps, but I shout, “It’s not Amy!” and he goes back to pacing.
Rolling my eyes, I stand and walk out of the room, holding the phone to my ear. “Yeah, what’s up?”
“Hey dweeb,” teases a familiar voice.
“Gwen.” I sigh. “Thank goodness.”
“Wow. You must be really bored.”
“I’m on Jake-sitting duty.”
“Yeah, Natalie said the poor guy was a bucket of nerves.”
“That does not even begin to cover it. He thinks an undead Isabel is holding Amy captive.”
I hear Jonah’s fiancée make a sound like she’s choking back a laugh, which results in a coughing fit. “An undead Isabel?”
“Now you see what I have to deal with!”
“Poor baby.” She doesn’t really sound like she means it.
“Yeah well at this point, I’d rather talk about wedding plans.”
“Good because that’s exactly what I’m calling you about.”
I groan. “I didn’t mean it!”
She giggles. “Duh. But listen, Jonah and I have been thinking, and we really want Amy to come. I’ve never met her, and he hasn’t seen her in years. Is there any way we can get her away from Jake, just long enough to come to the ceremony?”
I wince. “They’re not even married yet, and he’s hyperventilating over a four-day trip.”
“Wow. He’s a catch.”
“Yeah. But I mean, you gotta cut him some slack. He had to deal with the Vespers and Pierce, and when Amy took that serum….” I shrug. “He just doesn’t like to let her out of his sight.”
She sighs. “Well you’re going to be there at least, right?”
“Pssh. You think I’m going to miss my man Jonah’s wedding? Not for the world.”
“Thanks.” Her voice is soft, almost small, and I feel bad. Amy made it to Sinead and Hamilton’s wedding, as well as Nellie and Sammy’s. I wish I could explain to Gwen it has nothing to do with her; that if Amy met her, they’d be best friends in minutes.
“Hey, did you get the invite to Amy’s wedding?” I ask as an idea comes to me.
“Yeah. We’re already packed. Why?”
“Because you are going to charm her socks off, and if I know my sister, there’s no way she’ll miss her maid of honor’s wedding.”
“Wait, but I’m not the maid of honor.”
“She doesn’t have one yet.” I know this for a fact, because two days ago we spent all of five hours discussing this dilemma. “So call Natalie, get some plane tickets—”
“Dan, you’re a genius!” She cuts me off. “Good luck with the spazz-case!”
And then she hangs up.
I shake my head, grinning. One bride-to-be’s problem solved; now back to Jake.
I shoot Amy a quick text.
In the interest of giving you a happy and fruitful life, I’ve decided drastic measures must be taken. So if Jake suddenly and miraculously vanishes… well you can blame me, because he’s probably a frozen lump of dead in Siberia. ________________________________________________________________________________________
The thought cheers me up.