It ought to be the happiest day of my life.
It ought to be
It was both. It was neither. It was...confusing.
Kelly Richmond Vincent, soon to be Kelly Richmond Vincent Preston, sighed as she
stared out the window of the small anteroom at the chapel.
She just wanted to get it over with.
"What's the sigh for?" Scott asked. "The
wedding or the funeral?"
Kelly gazed at her brother who lounged against the door, looking every inch the
suave, careless playboy he pretended to be. She
hesitated, not knowing how to answer. Finally, she said, "Yes." The answer fit her mood and the situation.
Scott grinned, then dropped his pose to sling an arm around her shoulders. "What d'ya say we skip out on both and fly to
beach. Doesn't matter. We'll just go, far away from this cold Colorado
winter and all this...stuff."
God help her. For one brief moment, she
actually considered it. The idea definitely
appealed to her wild side. But years of being
responsible, of doing the right thing, were too much to ignore. "I can't.
You know that."
Scott hugged her tighter. "Why
She leaned into the hug. "Because
I'm the one getting married...and burying a husband."
He grinned. "Better not let anyone
else hear you say it that way. It sounds
"You know what I mean."
"Yes, but why on earth did you schedule them on the same day?"
"I didn't. Spencer did." She had organized the memorial service for her
first husband, but her fiancÚ had made all the wedding arrangements, telling her all she
had to do was show up and look beautiful. "It
was the only time we could both get away from the office.
The fact that they're on the same day is just coincidence."
"A bad one"
He broke off and moved away from Kelly as their mother hurried into the room,
beaming. Grace Richmond had no reservations. She adored Spencer and was eager to have him for a
But she stopped dead when she saw her children's faces. "What's wrong?"
overwhelmed Kelly. Why am I doing this?
It's insane. She couldn't
handle it. "I-I'm not sure this is such a
A look of alarm crossed her mother's patrician face.
"Of course it is, dear. Why would
you think otherwise?"
"I don't think I'm ready yet." Not
to marry again, not to say good-bye to Chaz forever, not to deal with this horrible day.
"Nonsense," her mother said bracingly.
"All brides feel that way. You'll
get over it."
Odd, Kelly hadn't felt that way at her first wedding....
Grace Richmond patted her daughter's hand as if by doing so she could pound some
sense into her. "You've promised Spencer
you'll marry him. You can't back out now. He's waiting for you at the altar, for heaven's
Kelly gazed down at her hand. She could
sure use a hug right now, but other mothers hugged. Hers
patted. "I know." But she didn't move.
"It's Charles, isn't it?" her mother asked, her exasperation plain.
Annoyance flashed through Kelly and she pulled her hand away. "Chaz, Mother.
He goes by Chaz." Or rather, went.
"It's been over five years since his plane went down in the Amazon," her
mother said, obviously confused as to where Kelly's problem lay.
"I know." She'd spent these
five years and all her savings searching for him. Fruitlessly. "It just feels like I'm betraying him."
Scott looked sympathetic, but her mother's expression turned concerned. "You're doing the right thing, dear. He couldn't possibly be alive after all this time. And the judge declared him legally dead last week. There's no impediment to your marriage."
Intellectually, Kelly knew that, but emotionally was another thing entirely. For five long years, she had never given up, never
stopped hoping she'd find some trace of Chaz. How
could she just...quit?
"And you promised Spencer"
"I know, Mother." She had promised, and Spencer had helped see her
through the tough times, both personally and professionally.
She owed it to him.
Mother was right. Spencer was a kind,
thoughtful man. He would make a wonderful
And she really needed to start a new life, one without the constant worry she had
lived with since Chaz had disappeared. He was
dead. Everyone said so, even the law. She just needed to accept it so she could get on
with her life.
And Spencer would never let her down, never hurt her like Chaz hadhe was far
too considerate. She definitely needed some
stability and consideration in her life, someone who put her needs above his own. Yes, marrying Spencer was the right thing to do.
Her decision must have showed on her face, for her mother brightened. "You'll do it, then?"
"Yes. Just...give me a minute,
"Of course, dear."
Grace Richmond hurried away and Scott raised an eyebrow as he handed her a glass of
water. "You sure about this?"
"Yes...no. I don't know." She gazed into the glass and shrugged helplessly. "I'm all mixed up."
"Good ol' Spence isn't helping either, is he?"
He had been a bit insistent on their marrying as soon as possible, but... "He means well.
He just wants what's best for me."
"So long as it's him," Scott said dryly.
There was some truth in that, but she couldn't let it slide. "No, really.
He's been very good to meand very patient.
He helped me get promoted, helped me search for Chaz, and"
"Helped you right into his waiting arms."
"That's not fair, Scott. I've been
faithful to Chaz the whole time." And to
Spencer's credit, he had understood. Despite
the fact that he had been pursuing her for at least four of those years her husband had
"Oh, I see," Scott said in an enlightened tone. "You're just marrying this guy so you can
finally get some."
Kelly choked on her water. Trust Scott
to say the unexpected. She slugged him in the
arm. "Hardly." Though she did miss the sex she and Chaz had
"Then why?" Scott asked in a puzzled tone.
"He's nothing like Chaz."
Scott had always liked Chaz. Then
again, Chaz had charmed everyone...except Mother, of course.
"Because he's nothing like Chaz. I don't want another Indiana Jones wanna-be as a
husband, gallivanting all over the world and leaving me behind to wait and worry. I couldn't go through that again, and Spencer won't
do that to me. He's handsome, intelligent,
"Bland, boring, blah," Scott finished for her. "How can you stand to be with him after
Living with Chaz had always been an adventure...when he was home. But his search for elusive archeological finds led
him to remote and dangerous parts of the world. "Life
with Spencer will never be as exciting as it was with Chaz," she conceded. "But that's a good thing. He's...comfortable.
Safe. Reliable." Everything Chaz was not. "And he thinks I'm exciting."
Scott hooted. "Well, that should tell you something right there."
She hit him again and grinned despite
herself. "I'm not boringI just
appeared that way in comparison to Chaz." Who
wouldn't? He was so vibrant and alive.... Or, at least he had been. It was still difficult to think of him as dead.
"That's true," Scott conceded. "You've
changed since he disappeared. You managed to
cast off our mother's finishing school look and become your own person. You look snazzy."
She grinned at him. "Thanks. A lot of that is due to Spencer, you know." He'd taken her in hand to jazz up her image, make
her look the part of a fashion-magazine editor. She
owed him a great deal.
Scott sighed. "Well, if that's
what you want, I hope he makes you happy."
"Thank you," Kelly said with tears in her eyes. "That really means a lot."
Scott gave her another hug but released her when their mother returned.
Mother paused, obviously uncomfortable with their display of emotion. She handed Kelly a bouquet of red and white
hothouse roses. "They're ready for you
"All right, Mother. Let's
go." Kelly rose and took Scott's arm.
Spencer Preston waited for her at the front of the small chapel, next to the
minister. Tall, blond, elegant, and very
classy, he was the epitome of the GQ
manand a credit to Pizzazz. He smiled at her and her doubts disappeared.
This is right.
This is what I needa fresh start.
But as her mother and Scott took their places as
witnesses to each side of them, Kelly couldn't help but compare this wedding to her first.
At Chaz's insistence, their wedding had been a big, splashy affair, not to mention
a great deal of fun. She'd worn a frothy,
expensive dress with miles and miles of train and had hundreds of guests. It was wonderful.
She'd felt like a princess in a fairy-tale wedding, and Chaz made a wonderful
Contrast that with the one this morning when she wore just a simple knee-length
ivory dress with a touch of her signature red. There
would be no levity in this wedding, and there were only the five of themthe
minister, her mother, Scott, and the two of them plighting their troth.
Whatever the heck that meant. Just what
was a troth anyway, and how did you plight it?
She shook her head at her irreverence and reminded herself to pay attention. Besides, she shouldn't complain. Since she was so newly widowedlegally,
anywaya small ceremony was infinitely more suitable.
The minister asked if she would take Spencer to be her lawfully wedded husband. She murmured the correct responses, then Spencer
did the same, and she was officially Mrs. Spencer Preston.
Okay, it's done. I can't back out now.
There was relief in that thought. Now
she could get on with her life.
Spencer kissed her, then smiled. "Finally,
Mrs. Preston." Gathering her into a
possessive embrace, he smiled while her mother took pictures, then they all went to lunch
Later, as they left the restaurant, Spencer gazed at her tenderly and asked,
"Are you sure you want to do this next part?"
How sweet of him to ask. She laid a
hand against his cheek. "Yes, I'm sure. I need to get this behind me before I can start on
our new life together."
He gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. "I
understand. Are you sure you want to do it
"I'm sure." It wouldn't be
right to show up at Chaz's service with her beaming new husband in tow. Or her gloating mother. That's why she'd asked Scott to make sure they
didn't come. "I'll be fine. And I'll meet you afterward...where?" She suddenly realized she had no idea where they
were to spend their wedding night or their honeymoon.
She had put so much time into the memorial service, she didn't know what plans
Spencer had made.
"I'll have a limo pick you up afterward," he whispered. "We're staying at the Pourtales in Colorado Springs. Since
Candace has only given us a week off, I thought we'd spend the whole time there."
She raised one eyebrow and smiled. "Impressive." A luxurious five-star hotel and no jet lag to worry
about since the hotel was only about an hour's drive.
It certainly sounded good. And
it was nice of their mutual employer, Candace Everett, to give them time off from their
jobs at Pizzazz magazine on such short notice. Especially since they were right in the middle of
the search for a new Pizzazz Girl...and it was rather obvious that Candace had her eye on
Spencer for herself. "Sounds wonderful. I'll meet you there."
After they left, Kelly put on a navy duster that completely concealed her light
dress and drove across Denver to another chapel at a funeral parlor. She was cutting the time a little close, but she
had arranged everything in advance so she wasn't worried.
Until she got there.
Prominently displayed at the front of the chapel was a beautiful polished mahogany
casket with a huge spray of flowers covering the top.
She pulled the funeral director, Mr. Throckmorton, aside and pointed at it
accusingly. "What is that?" she
The tall, gaunt man gave her a puzzled look. "It's a casket."
"I can see that," she snapped. "Why
is it here?" This was just supposed to be
a memorial service. Chaz's body had never been
found, so she couldn't imagine whator whowas inside.
He looked disapproving. "In these
cases, we've found it helps those left behind to have a focus for their grief. A physical
object to concentrate on."
"Well, I don't want it," Kelly said.
It was just too... creepy. "Get it
out of here."
His expression turned mournful. "Your
guests have already begun to arrive. If I take
it away now, how will it look?" He
gestured toward the chapel, inviting her to look. "See
how comforting they find it?"
She glanced into the chapel and groaned. He
was right. People were clustered in small
groups in the pews, whispering and sniffling as they cast sad glances at the coffin.
Rent-a-body. God, how ghoulish. "Well, I didn't ask for it and I'm not going
to pay for it."
"The sisters of the dearly departed requested it," Throckmorton informed
her. "They have already arranged
It figured. They had always butted in
where they weren't wanted. Irreverently, Kelly wondered how the occupant of the
casketor rather, his loved onesfelt about it.
"Well, can you at least tell me who's in it?" At his pained expression, she added, "Never
mind. I don't want to know."
She had just wanted to say good-bye to Chaz with a minimum of fuss and bother, but
the memorial service was going awry already and it hadn't even started yet. Her jaw clenched, Kelly stalked toward the front
pew, looking neither right nor left, determined not to make eye contact. She didn't want to talk to anyone. Not about Chaz, not about anything. She had planned this as her own good-bye to him,
and she didn't want to share it with anyone else.
She seated herself and stared determinedly aheadanywhere but at the stupid
casket. She wanted to grieve for Chaz, but
all she could do was wonder who was inside that mahogany creation. Some starched-up businessman? Someone's grandmother? Elvis?
She stifled a grin. That last thought
was a classic Chaz reaction...and he was probably looking down and laughing hysterically
right now. Trust him to have a great time even
at his own funeral.
Damn, she missed him. Missed his
laughing blue eyes, his extravagant gestures, his joy of life. Why did you
have to leave me? she cried inside.
Immediately, she tamped down the thought. She
was here for closure so she could move on to a new life, not open five-year-old wounds. She heard a stir come from the front of the chapel
and raised her eyes gratefully. The service
ought to help.
She listened politely as his family minister said a few words, then asked Chaz's
sisters and cousins each to speak. Chaz's
sisters expounded on his loving attitude and his cousins on his adventurous and charming
ways. Kelly tried to take their sentiments in
the spirit they were intended, but couldn't help but remember how his family had
complained about his careless familial attitude and how uncharming they had found his adventurous ways.
The last cousin had just started speaking when Kelly felt someone sit down next to
her. It was Scott, with a concerned
expression on his face.
"Kell, I have to tell you something," he whispered.
"Shh." This was not the time. Chaz's family didn't care much for her and she
didn't want to give them any reason to criticize her deportment at Chaz's memorial
Unless Scott was about to tell her something that would make it worse. "Mother isn't here, is she?" she asked in
"Not now," she whispered fiercely. If
it wasn't about Mother making a scene, it could wait.
"Kell, you really need to listen"
"Hush." Why was he pushing
this? Scott wasn't usually so insensitive. Annoyed, she whispered in a snappish tone, "If
you don't be quiet, I'll tell Mother what really happened to her favorite Aubusson."
"You wouldn't." He actually
"Only if you don't be quiet."
"But it was such an ugly rug,"
Scott murmured. "And the guys down at the
pool hall think it adds such class...."
No, he was not going to cajole her into smiling this time. She gave him a glance that said clearly, "Shut
up or else."
He shrugged. "Okay, it's your
No, it was Chaz's. And nothing was
going as she'd planned. She turned a polite
face to the cousin who finished with a maudlin statement and the minister asked if there
was anyone else who wanted to say anything. He
knew better than to look at Kelly. She'd made
it very clear she wanted to say her good-byes in private.
A deep voice came from the back. "I'd
like to say something."
Kelly glanced up and frowned as the man made his way toward the front. What kind of idiot came to a memorial service
dressed in khaki? With that deep tan and full
beard, he must be one of Chaz's archeologist friends.
Ah, that explained it.
Scott leaned closer and whispered, "I really need to"
She whipped around and fixed him with a killing glare that made him back off with
his hands raised. What the hell was the
matter with Scott? She would have understood
it if he had tried to disrupt the wedding, but not the memorial service. He had liked Chaz.
With Scott now suitably cowed, Kelly turned back to face the front and gazed at the
man at the podium. He did look familiar. She knew she had seen him before, but couldn't
quite place him. She was sure his hair used to
be brown, not sun-streaked blond like that...and something else wasn't quite right. The full beard?
It nagged at her. She knew she
ought to know him, but who was he?
The man didn't bother introducing himself. Instead,
he nodded at the elaborate casket and said in a rich voice full of humor, "I just
have one thing to say. If Chaz Vincent's body
was never recovered, who the hell is in that box? Elvis?"
She knew that voiceintimately.
Kelly shot to her feet as her mouth dropped open and shocked exclamations rippled
throughout the room. Those bright blue eyes,
that grin, that voice...
Chaz grinned at her and spread his arms wide. "Hi,
honey. I'm ho-oome."
Joy filled her. Her husband was alive!
Horror filled her. Her husband was
waiting in the Pourtales honeymoon suite.
Ohmigod, what do I do? Reaching out blindly, she found Scott there to
"I tried to tell you..." he muttered.
The combination of emotions was too much. As
a mish-mash of feelings roiled through her, Kelly did the only sensible thing.