Writers begin with a grain of sand, and then create a beach.
“If anyone objects to this marriage, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace.”
Avery Alyssa Sunshine stood at the back of the church, her practiced gaze sweeping over the large crowd sitting in the pews. The church was small and intimate, with soaring ceilings and elaborate stained-glass windows, giving the guests a taste of old-school religion and tradition. The lilies were creamy white and bursting with bloom. The faint scent of incense hung in the air. And her bride looked perfect—from the flowing trail of her sheer lace veil to the elaborate pearl-encrusted train that filled the chancel. The bride and groom gazed at each other with evident love, their beaming faces a reminder of why she loved her job as a wedding planner.
And then it happened.
“I object.” The lone male voice boomed in the air.
The crowd gasped, and the bride jerked around, china-blue eyes filled with horror.
No. No, no, no . . .
Dressed in a sharp black suit, the man stood up, arms extended as if in a last-minute plea, which it was. Avery glimpsed only the back of his head, his golden-blond hair a bit long and brushing the nape of his neck. “Susan, I tried to move on, but you’re the only one I’ve ever loved. I can’t let you marry him if there’s still a chance for us.”
For one endless, horrifying moment, everything went dead quiet. Avery froze, her mind unable to compute this disaster since it was brand new and fell under the heading of Shit That Hasn’t Happened Yet, Thank God.
Nothing like an on-the-job education.
The bride’s face turned from horror to fury. Her teeth ground together, and her perfect rosy complexion flushed dark red. “You bastard!” she hissed through the delicate veil. “You cheated on me.”
Another gasp from the crowd. The priest’s jaw dropped. It was like the entire church was filming a rom-com and everyone knew their lines except Avery.
Oh, hell no. This was not going to become a Runaway Bride situation. Not on her watch.
She whipped out her phone and sent the text her sisters dreaded: Code Red. Code Red in the church.
The groom dropped his future wife’s hand and shot her a puzzled look. “Baby, who is this guy? Do you still have feelings for him?”
Avery shot into action, knowing there was precious little time to save the wedding. Launching down the aisle in her three-inch heels, she reached the interloper in seconds, and before he could make another earth-shattering plea, she firmly yet politely placed a hand on his arm. “Sir, please come with me,” she said quietly, smile pasted in place. “Let’s talk about this in private.”
The bride let out a distressed cry, and the sudden hushed dialogue between the bride and groom echoed from the high ceilings and bounced straight to the ears of the crowd. Right on cue, Avery’s sister Bella popped out of the private room to the side of the altar and headed toward the organist. Within seconds, the beautiful strains of “Ave Maria” floated in the air, followed by the singer’s soaring soprano.
Avery prayed the interloper wouldn’t fight her—she didn’t want to tackle the guy in the aisle—but he seemed to realize actually breaking up a wedding wasn’t as much fun as in the movies. With a ducked head, he began to follow her out of the church.
Whispering soothing phrases to the cheater, she guided him into the small room where the brides are usually held before the ceremony, and shut the door behind them. She pointed to the bench. “Have a seat. I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name?”
The man rubbed his head with both hands, messing up his too-long hair even more. “Ben Larson. I’ve known Susan since college. We promised to marry each other, but I was too young. I think we’re meant to be together.”
Her mind clicked through the guest list, snagged on the name, and brought up her mental notes. Ben Larson—an old college friend who’d broken up with her after college and recently reconnected. He helped out her mother, who’d pressured Susan to invite him. Was supposed to attend with his girlfriend.
Dammit. She hadn’t seen a red flag on this one.
The slight scent of beer on his breath indicated he’d had a few before the ceremony. A disjointed puzzle slowly came together: Ben breaks up with his current girlfriend. Feels sentimental, maybe a bit scared over still being alone. Has too much to drink, decides to attend the wedding alone, and in a spectacular, stupid move, impulsively convinces himself he still loves Susan.
“I understand, Ben,” Avery said in a warm voice. “Hang on.”
Bella would have quietly taken the bride and groom aside by now to mediate a discussion. The crowd needed one last distraction to buy them some time. Quickly, Avery tapped out a text to her other sister, Taylor.
Bring in the champagne. Need five more minutes.
Avery always made sure there were a few trays of poured champagne ready to go for any crisis. It was the ultimate distraction.
Her sister texted back. Allowed in the church?
Don’t care. Go.
Snapping her gaze away from the phone, she studied the cheating interloper in front of her. Time to de-bomb the situation. “Ben, did you and your girlfriend break up recently?”
A ragged sigh. His lips curved downward in a bit of a sulk. “Well, yeah, but that has nothing to do with this.”
“I think it does. Don’t you think if you had these feelings for Susan, you would have said something sooner? Maybe it’s not Susan you truly miss. Maybe it’s . . .” She trailed off, looking for help.
“Yes, Melissa. You see, Susan always considered you a good friend, especially to her mother. She appreciates that relationship, but never believed you were meant to be together. Now, Melissa, I bet she was a better match. It must’ve been hard losing her.”
He nodded, looking miserable. “Yeah, it was. I got scared. Was afraid she’d end up hurting me, so I broke up with her first. Stupid, huh?”
“Sometimes we do stupid things because we’re afraid. But I think if you’re brave enough to stand up in church and proclaim your feelings, you’re brave enough to go after Melissa. The one you truly love.” She paused for a beat. “Don’t you?”
He looked up. His eyes sparked with a hint of determination. “Yeah, I do. You’re right. I gotta get her back.”
“I agree.” Already, she was on her phone, getting an Uber to the front of the church. “A black SUV will be out front to take you where you need. To take you to Melissa.”
“I have my car.”
She shook her head. “No, you’ve had a few beers, and you want to make sure you practice your speech on the way over. Now, come with me. We’ll go out the side door.”
“Thanks.” Worry flickered over his face. “Hey, I didn’t mess up Susan’s wedding or anything, did I? Can you tell her I made a mistake? That I love Melissa instead?”
“Of course, I’ll fix it. Off you go.”
She pushed him out the door and dragged in a breath. Smoothing her hair, she composed herself, reentered the church, and assessed the situation.
Guests happily sipping champagne while the soloist kept singing her heart out.
Bride and groom smiling at each other again while Bella looked on.
Priest holding his stance at the altar, Bible open, ready to continue.
Bridesmaids and groomsmen standing still, probably due to Taylor threatening them if they uttered a word or took a step off the line.
Avery met her sisters’ gazes. They nodded. Order had been restored.
Bella escorted the couple back front and center the exact moment the last lingering note of music trailed off.
The priest smiled and skipped over the question he’d already asked, smoothly transitioning to the most important part of the ceremony. “And now, repeat after me . . .”
The vows were recited.
And once again, Avery relished a rush of satisfaction knowing she’d managed to provide the happily ever after her job required.
“That was intense.”
Avery glanced at her youngest sister, who’d uttered the declaration. They were settled in the private room at Sunshine Bridal. Taylor sprawled on the blush-pink leather couch, deliberately leaving no room for anyone else. She’d already ripped off her standard uniform of black skirt, dark tights, and pearl-colored silk blouse, replaced with jeans and a tank. Bella squished herself into the smallest chair in the official war room, always the first one to make a sacrifice. Avery was too tired to be noble, so she sank down in the last chair, the perfect oversize-recliner outfit with a cup holder for the usual needed cocktail.
Avery carefully peeled off the heels that had been molded to her feet and winced at the pain. She’d forgotten to bring her Tieks to change into. After the explosive ceremony, she’d been vibrating at a high intensity, focused on making sure no other errors slipped past her. The midnight reception had run well past, and they’d just finished up distributing payments and closing down shop.
It was 3:00 a.m.
She was too old for this crap.
“My head won’t stop pounding,” Bella moaned. “Who plays endless hip-hop at a Catholic wedding?”
Avery snorted, swallowing past the dryness in her throat that no amount of water seemed able to take away. Not after an eighteen-hour workday with no time to sit. “I think that’s discriminatory. We asked the DJ to bleep out all the expletives.”