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My Darling Bride: Chapter 11


I walk into the store the next day with my head down. I got here earlier and opened, but once the staff arrived and we seemed slow, I popped down to the secondhand store a block over to look at summer baby clothes for Londyn. I found a sturdy pair of sandals for when she starts walking and a pink ruffled-bottom bathing suit. I’m smiling when I hear Babs calling my name.

I come to a dead stop in the rotunda, my mouth gaping at the flowers. Bouquets are everywhere: on the steps leading up the stairs, in the sitting areas, on tables, on the checkout counter, on top of the bakery case, overflowing from every corner, and spilling out into the aisles. Roses, carnations, daisies, gardenias, and a whole host of other flowers I can’t even begin to know litter the space with vibrant colors. It’s like stepping into a garden in the middle of the store. The sweet scents mingle together and waft up around me in a fragrant haze.

“What the hell?” I murmur under my breath as I do a spin. I was only gone for half an hour. One of the delivery guys brushes past me and sets another vase on the staircase, then heads back outside to the van.

I grab one of them by the arm, a young guy in his teens. “Excuse me, who sent these?”

“They’re for some guy’s fiancée, Emmy.”

“That’s me.”

He grins. “Congrats. We’ve got another van coming, miss. I gave the note he sent to Babs.”

Everyone seems to know Babs. I’m not surprised he’s already found out her name.

“Did you say there was another van?” I ask loudly, then take a breath and settle. “No. Just no. It’s already a forest in here. We can’t take any more flowers. I need room for customers. I need room to work.”

The delivery guy fidgets. “Um, you don’t want them?”

I wave my arm around the store. “I have enough. What do you think?”

He gives me a lopsided grin. “I think someone must be crazy about you.”

Hardly. He’s just making a point. And all because Kian left me calla lilies.

Babs dashes toward me, smiling for all she’s worth as she waves a white envelope. “Aren’t they just gorgeous? Girl. What did you do to that man that he sent these? You must be a tiger in the sack. Roar!” She claws the air and does a little hip thrust.

Oh dear. I rub my temples as I turn to the delivery guy. “Do me a favor, please. Deliver the rest of them to the nearest hospital, and ask them to give them to patients who don’t get visitors.”

He looks uncertain.

“Please. They’re my flowers, and that’s what I want.”

He nods and turns away from me to make the phone call.

Babs pouts. “What? You’re not taking all of them? Are you crazy? The man loves you. He just wants you to know.”

Not true.

“I need some decaf tea,” I say as I head to the kitchen, with her following on my heels.

“Do you want the note?”

I take it from her hand and rip it open.


You need another favorite flower. No more calla lilies.

Your future husband

I whip out my phone and send him a text.

With what you spent on flowers, I could have bought a small car.

But not a Lamborghini. Did you pick a favorite yet?


Then I’ll send more tomorrow.

I groan aloud as I grab a croissant and take a bite. My future husband is a stubborn man.

I sent the last of them to the hospital for the sick people. Flowers eventually wilt and die, and then I’ll have a huge mess to clean up. I think you might be jealous of the secret flowers someone left me, I send.

Please. He’s not worthy. Pick. A. Flower. Darling.

I’ve been called Darling my whole life. Is that going to be your nickname for me?

Yes. It suits you.

Okay, Creamy.

Which flower?

I go back out into the store and gaze around. A large pink-and-orange bouquet full of roses and peonies is on the counter, and I touch one of the silky petals. It smells divine.

Peonies, I text back.


I groan louder this time as I type. They make me happy. I like their shape. Enough?

Peonies it is. See you soon.

Shaking my head, I go to my office.

It’s late in the afternoon and I’m going through invoices when Babs pokes her head in. her shoulders slumped. Her makeup is a complete mess from crying, and one of her lashes is missing.

“Everything okay?” I ask gently. Even though the sale isn’t final yet, Terry cleaned out his office earlier today and left to go fishing. She hasn’t recovered.

“Are you free? Your sister is here.”

Jane sneaks through the door. “Of course she is. I don’t need an appointment. And why does the store look like a florist? I could barely get in the front door.”

“Yes, they’re from Graham. It’s fine, Babs. Thank you,” I tell her.

Babs nods, sniffing. “All right. Do you still want me to give away a bouquet with each fifty-dollar purchase?”

“Yes,” I say. “And tell the staff they can take whatever they want home.”

She sighs. “Fine. I’ll bring you both some tea.”

My office is a good size, with a couch, my desk, and two big filing cabinets. Jane plops down on the couch and picks up a decorative pillow, her fingers threading through the tassels on the corners. She looks pale and ashen, as if she didn’t sleep well. Still, she manages to be pretty, even in joggers and a ratty Clash shirt.

“What’s going on?” I ask, settling back in my chair. She barely spoke to me last night after we came home. She read some books to Londyn, put her to bed, then went to her room. Andrew, on the other hand, forced me to watch football on ESPN. Apparently, if I’m going to marry Graham, I need a better grasp of the game.

She looks down at her hands. “I just wanted to see you. And talk. I was bitchy yesterday, and not cute, sisterly bitchy but ugly, bitcherly bitchy. I’m sorry I was rude to Graham. You are your own person, after all, but I don’t know him very well, and it makes me nervous.”

“Graham was an unexpected surprise. You reacted.”

“Hmm, yeah.” She chews on her lip.

“So? He sent me lots of flowers. He’s rich. I could do worse.” I shuffle papers around on my desk so she won’t realize my anxiousness.

“Let’s forget about him for a moment.”

“Okay. What’s up?”

Her eyes get a faraway look in them. “I woke up this morning, thinking about the past. Remember when we were little, and you played those hiding games with us—to protect us? I mean, I was a toddler, but I knew you were taking us to safe places.”

My throat tightens. “Yes.” The closet, the attic, under the bed . . .

Her hands clench around the pillow. “I remember the night you ran with us to the neighbor’s shed. I only recall it because Charlotte’s Web was on TV, and I didn’t want to miss it.”

“Your favorite book.”

Her eyes flick up at me. “It’s our favorite, me and you and Andrew.”

“If the Darling family had a crest, it would be a pig and a spider.”

“Even though you’d read the story to us tons of times, I kept thinking that Wilbur was going to die in the show, and you kept telling me he wouldn’t.” Her lip quivers, and tears glisten in her eyes. “Then Dad hit Mom right in front of us. I couldn’t see the TV because of them, and then you did what you always did—you snuck us out of the room and went to the shed next door. It was dark and cold and smelled like gasoline.”

Oh, sweet Jane . . .

My heart breaks.

“Mr. Brenner kept his lawnmowers there,” I say softly.

“You cleared us out a spot, or maybe it was already cleared out, but you made us a bed out of something . . .”

My lashes flutter as I recall the wooden shed that thankfully never had a lock on it. “Drop cloths, I think. He kept paint in there too.”

A wry sound comes from her. “Somehow you’d managed to grab my stuffed pig on the way out, and you gave him to me and said that as long as we had Wilbur, we’d be okay.”

I nod. It started a tradition with us. The pig went where we hid. As long as we had Wilbur with us, he’d take care of us. To this day, we still have him, and if any of us need bolstering, he gets to be in our room.

“You hugged us so tight while you talked about Charlotte and how wise and clever she was and how she saved Wilbur’s life. She was a self-sacrificing, devoted friend to those she loved. She taught Wilbur about life, how to appreciate it. She taught him about friendship. You kept telling us that story for years.” A tear escapes and traces down her cheek. She hurriedly wipes it away. “You are my Charlotte. You’re my friend, my confidante, my mother. Bryony left us. I don’t even think of her, you know. She’s like a ghost in my memories, and I know Gran helped us, but without you, I would have seen terrible things, and you saved us from that.”

She takes a tissue off my desk and dabs at her eyes. “I know other things. That you’ve done your best to take care of us, especially after Gran had her stroke. You came to every PTA meeting, you went to every baseball game of Andrew’s, and you nursed Gran, all while trying to work and have a life of your own. You were there when I started my period, when Andrew got his tonsils out, when we both got lice. You cried with me when I got dumped at the middle school dance. You’ve barely dated, and you never let your heart get too involved. Maybe because of us. Maybe because of our parents. I don’t deserve you, I don’t.”

My breath hitches. “You’re my little Janie. I’d do anything for you.”

“I know you would, and I’m sorry I haven’t been myself since Londyn, but I’m trying my hardest.” A shuddering breath comes from her. “I saw my agent a few days back. She has nothing for me, and I don’t even care about the lack of modeling gigs. I just want . . . I just want to be as good with Londyn as you were for me. I want to be a good mom. I want to make good choices. I’m afraid I’m not good enough.”

I’m not even aware that I’m crying until I feel the wetness on my cheeks. “I love you, Jane, and you’re a wonderful mother. You’re giving Londyn a real, solid family, something we didn’t have. She’s going to have a better beginning than we did.” Regret is bitter in my mouth. “I’m so sorry you remember that night. I really hoped you and Andrew missed most of what happened in that house.”

“No, don’t be. Please. I don’t want you to feel bad. I want you to know that I’ve watched you my whole life. You give and give to others, sometimes to the detriment of yourself.” She pauses. “Which brings me to Graham. Something was just off last night in the kitchen with him. Maybe no one else would notice, but I’m the girl you raised. I know when something isn’t right with you. And since when have you ever called any guy ‘honey bunny’?” She spears me with her eyes, a fierceness there I haven’t seen in months. Part of me is thrilled, but the other side of me senses danger.

She stands and paces around my office, a determined look growing on her face. “You agreed to marry him in a week, and I can’t figure out why. You barely know him. Kian asked you, and you knew him for a year.”

“Kian cheated, tracked, and choked me.”

“I know, I know, and I’m glad he’s gone, but the thing is you didn’t even tell me you were dating someone. Please. Emmy. I need you to tell me what’s going on. I need to know if you’re sacrificing yourself somehow . . .”

I glance down at the gorgeous diamond on my finger, and my hands clench. I can’t find the words to answer her—without lying.

“How does he take his coffee?” she asks me abruptly.

I sputter. “I, um . . .”

“Not fast enough. When is his birthday, and you have to give me the right answer because I googled it.”

My stomach drops as we stare at each other.

“I have no clue,” I admit ruefully.

“What’s his middle name?”

I groan inwardly. Dammit. I twist a piece of hair around my finger. “Graham and I, we got caught up in the physical side of things and haven’t really talked much about the little things.”

“Why are you twisting your hair? No, don’t answer that because I already know why. You only twist your hair when you’re lying.”

I huff. “I don’t.”

“You do, Ma.” She smirks. “I knew something wasn’t right. What is so special about Graham that my beautiful, kind sister would marry him—without really knowing him?”

My eyes meet hers. “Jane—”

I stop when the door opens, and Babs brings in a tray with teas and blueberry scones.

She eyes us both. “You two need anything else? Shot of vodka? I’ve got some in Terry’s office.”

I shake my head. “No, we’re good.”

“Are you sure?” She probably sees the traces of our tears.

Jane and I nod.

Babs fidgets. “Um, wanna hear something funny?”

“Sure,” I say. Anything to deflect from me and Graham.

“Someone just came in and asked for a book on how to turn himself invisible.”

Jane squints. “No way. Was he an adult?”

Babs smirks. “Oh yeah, and totally stoned. He smells like wacky weed. I told him we have a book called The Invisible Man, and I may have told him that we have an invisible section, but he’d have to find it on his own. Last I saw, he was feeling along all the walls on the second floor.”

There’s a beat of silence; then we all three burst into laughter. “God, I adore this place,” I say.

Babs’s eyes grow misty. “I hate that Terry is leaving, but I’m happy the buyer is keeping the store open. I gripe about some of the customers, but they’re still lovely and make my day, except for the man who only comes in so he can poop in our restroom. I guess I need to go tell the stoned fellow to stop looking for the invisible part of the store.” She sighs. “I’d really rather sit in here with you two and chat, but we’re still down employees.”

Jane’s eyes flare as she looks at me. “Do you need help here?”

“Yes, please,” I say in a pleading voice. She’s worked here on and off a few times.

Babs squeals and claps her hands. “Can you start today?”

“Andrew has Londyn for a few hours, so yes,” Jane says.

Babs sighs. “The two Darling sisters together. It’s almost two perfect, especially since Graham is the owner of the store—”

She halts her words with a wide-eyed look in her eyes. “Oops. Sorry, Emmy. You said to keep that under wraps until it was time to announce to everyone, but I figured since she’s your sister, she’d want to know that he bought the store.”

Jane blinks. “Wait a minute. Graham bought the store.” She glances at me, searching my face for answers.

Why does my sister have to be so tenacious?

“The sale goes through next week.”

Babs nods. “Yep. He bought it for Emmy.”

“Did he?” Jane murmurs, watching my face.

“Can you give us a minute, Babs?” I say, and she tells me yes and then heads back out into the store.

As soon as the door shuts, Jane turns to me. “Are you marrying Graham because he’s buying the store? What is going on?”

I exhale, my mind churning with how to lie to her.

“Charlotte would tell Wilbur if she needed help. I’m here, Emmy. Let me shoulder this . . . whatever it is with you. Please. Please. I can’t take the worry inside of me. I know something is wrong.”

I rub my face with both hands and groan. “Sit down. I’ll explain everything.”


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