The Wedding Must Go On. Robyn Grady
The bell above the door rang and two women edged inside; from the age difference and resemblance, Nate suspected mother and daughter. He strolled over to a rack of dresses and feigned interest. Roxy might be difficult, she might play havoc with his equilibrium, but, even if her shop were raking in millions, he wouldn’t get in the way of a possible sale. People liked space. He imagined that went double for brides searching for a wedding dress.
So he thumbed through some size six to tens while going over the points of his plan for Marla and Greg yet again. Aside from needing to vacate Sydney for a few days, he wondered whether Roxy would entertain the idea of taking on such an active role or even if Greg and Marla would fall for it. Marla would then need to get past the mistrust and hurt those pictures had caused.
On the other side of the room, the women were involved in a hushed conversation. Eavesdropping wasn’t Nate’s style; however, the words he caught worried him enough to push scruples aside.
‘We won’t find anything,’ the daughter bemoaned. ‘It’s suburbia. You saw the sign. My God, she sews them herself.’
‘We’re here, Violet,’ the mother encouraged. ‘Let’s look a while. You never know what you’ll find.’
Coat hangers clicked down a steel rod. Satin and silk rustled, and Violet sighed. ‘No. No. No. No.’ A second, more impatient sigh. ‘A waste of time.’
Nate hadn’t a clue; women’s fashion wasn’t his forte. But ignorance and prejudging were two different beasts. Clearly Violet had made up her mind before entering the store. If she took off her blinkers, bet she’d find something worth another look. Perhaps even worth buying.
Roxy had said she needed every sale. Given she was at least prepared to listen to his plan, why not return the favour and see if he couldn’t help here?
With a dress in hand, he rotated around and, as impatient as that woman’s sighs had been, his was filled with satisfaction.
‘This is perfect. My God, she’ll love it.’ His smile big, Nate nodded a greeting then apologised to the ladies. ‘Sorry. Thinking aloud.’
Curious, Violet looked around. ‘Is your fiancée in a dressing room?’
‘I asked her to meet me here. I can’t wait till she sees this dress.’
One of the mother’s pencilled eyebrows lifted. ‘I’ve never heard of a groom choosing his bride’s gown.’
‘Emma’s been everywhere, including interstate. She was thinking of having one made and a friend recommended this place. She was so disheartened. She’d even talked about calling the whole thing off.’
The daughter gasped. ‘No.’
‘She’s the woman of my dreams,’ he said. ‘I want to have babies with Emma. Lots of them.’
Now Violet and her mother’s eyes were shining with approval, so Nate hammed it up. He hadn’t been given his senior production’s lead in Ali Baba for nothing.
‘I never thought I could love someone like I love my Emma. I just need to help her find that perfect dress.’
‘That’s what this place is called,’ Violet whispered in her mother’s ear loud enough for Nate to hear. ‘The Perfect Dress.’
‘It is a pretty gown,’ the mother agreed, taking more notice of Nate’s impromptu choice.
‘Don’t ask me how I know but I do.’ With an enamoured air, he shrugged. ‘My Emma will look like an angel in this.’
Having moved to another rack, Mother drew out a gown.
‘Sweetheart,’ she called. ‘Look. This beading is exquisite. Did you say the owner sews these all herself?’
Violet examined the dress, draped it close. When she began to sway back and forth, searching for a mirror, Nate intervened again. A sign hung over the entrance to a nearby corridor.
‘The change rooms are that way,’ he said with a slant of his head.
But now Violet had found the price tag and told her mother, ‘I know you said not to worry about cost, but …’ When Violet mouthed the amount, Nate overheard and near fell over. Did women honestly spend that much on a single dress?
Fortunately, Mother didn’t bat an eyelid. She dashed away Violet’s concerns with a wave of her diamond-clad hand and both women had trundled off when Nate’s ears pricked at a persistent pssst. He pivoted around.
Hiding behind that door, Roxy was madly waving him over. Nate hung up the dress and crossed the room—not fast enough, it seemed. Her hand shot out and hauled him inside.
‘What are you doing?’
Gathering himself as she shut the door, he lengthened his neck and straightened his tie. ‘Drumming up business.’
She looked as if he’d admitted to eating chocolate-covered tarantulas for lunch.
‘You can’t lie like that.’
‘It’s not lying.’ The way he saw it, ‘I’m creating an opportunity.’
Horrified, she leaned back against the door. ‘I hate to think of the opportunity you’ve concocted for Marla and Greg.’ Gathering herself, she pulled up tall. ‘You can’t come waltzing in here and making up stories. This is my place of business. I depend on my reputation.’
‘How did I harm your good name?’
‘If those two ever find out and take it further, the legal term I think is fraud.’
‘They’ll never find out.’
She held the bridge of her nose. ‘Maybe I should go out and just come clean.’
Outside, the desk bell pinged. Roxy jumped, called out, ‘I’ll be right there,’ then glanced down at the gown she still wore.
Which, frankly, looked great on her. The white satin suited her skin’s natural glow. The sweep of her waist in that bodice was hypnotic.
Not that he would allow himself to be concerned with any of that. He was here to get his plan on the table and any bugs ironed out before they went ahead with Operation Back Together.
He said, ‘I thought you were changing.’
‘I couldn’t get a hold of the zip.’ She whirled around. As the train slapped his shin, he was presented with a tantalizing rear view. ‘You’ll have to help.’
Alarm bells—red and flashing—went off in his head. An invitation and bare flesh equalled temptation. Sure, what Roxy proposed seemed innocent enough but, in essence, she was asking him to help her undress. To open himself up and be vulnerable to the call of his baser urges, which he had trouble enough containing where Roxy Trammel was concerned.
He held up his palms. ‘I’ll pass.’
‘You can’t pass.’
Believe me, ‘It’s safer I don’t.’
‘I trust you not to do any damage.’ When he didn’t budge, she groaned and muttered, ‘Okay. Time to get this out in the open.’ Her fists finding her hips, she rotated again. ‘I won’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy the kiss we shared that night because, while I’m loath to admit it, I did. And I admit my reaction was … enthusiastic. But if you think I’m so desperate that I’d use sex to manipulate a marriage proposal, think again. And if I were to do such an abhorrent thing—’ her nose rose a regal notch ‘—it wouldn’t be with you.’ She hesitated, then went on. ‘In fact, I’ve been kissed since and, frankly, yours pales in comparison.’
Nate’s gape turned into a smirk. And she called him a liar. He knew just how much she’d enjoyed that kiss. Almost as much as he had.
Still, if she could play this Arctic ice-shelf cool, couldn’t