Maid of Dishonor Online - Heidi Rice

PROLOGUE

Hillbrook College Campus, Upstate New York, ten years ago.

‘It sounds awesome, Marnie, but Carter and Missy shouldn’t get overwhelmed by all the glamour of their wedding and forget the important part—that they love each other.’

Reese’s words of whimsy drifted into Gina Carrington’s consciousness—through the cloying perfume of hyacinth blossoms that infused the back porch, and the haze of one too many glasses of vintage champagne—and didn’t improve her melancholy mood one iota.

Can we get off this topic now, please?

Her cheeks heated as a heartening flash of temper pierced through the hollow feeling of loss that had dogged her for days. Ever since she’d made the biggest mistake of her life. And in a life filled to bursting with mistakes of one sort or another that was quite an achievement.

‘That won’t be a problem. They’re devoted to each other and they have been for years. When Carter proposed, Missy and I stayed up all night talking about how wonderful it was that we’d be sisters for ever.’ Marnie laughed at her own observation, the high musical lilt clearing the fog from Gina’s head like a knife slicing through flesh.

Funny to think she’d once enjoyed the sound of Marnie’s laugh. Marnie had been so anxious and serious and unassertive when she’d first arrived at Hillbrook. It had taken them all a while to realise her perfect Southern manners had actually been a disguise for extreme terror. Gina had loved hearing that smoky laugh in the months that followed because it had come to symbolise Marnie’s emancipation from the people she herself had described as ‘the family that feminism forgot’.

But Gina wasn’t loving it much now.

‘So what’s Missy’s dress like?’ Reese asked, still humouring her.

‘Just so perfect,’ Marnie purred, her Southern accent thicker than molasses. ‘It’s ivory silk. She’s going to be a traditional bride.’ Marnie flashed a smile Gina’s way. ‘I know not everyone here approves, but I think it’s so romantic that her and Carter have decided to stay pure until their wedding night.’

Wasn’t it just.

Gina’s stomach heaved up towards her breastbone as she plopped her champagne flute on the porch table. ‘Is anyone getting another bottle? I’m not sure I can stand to hear any more about love’s young dream without alcoholic fortification.’

Cassie jumped up from her seat on the rail. ‘It’s gotta be my turn,’ she said in her broad Aussie accent. ‘I’ll go.’ She sent Gina a bland look that only made Gina feel more miserable.

Cassie knew what had happened a week ago when Marnie’s big brother Carter Price had come to visit. And in typical Cassie fashion had been completely pragmatic about it. ‘I don’t see why you should feel guilty—he’s the one that’s engaged to be married.’

But as Cassie headed off to the kitchen, obviously keen to escape from the tension that had been building all night and only Marnie seemed oblivious to, Gina knew Cassie the super nerd felt uncomfortable. And while Cassie would never judge her, Gina knew it took a lot to make Cassie uncomfortable in a social situation, because normally, unless a discussion involved gamma-ray bursts or cosmic radiation or some other esoteric astronomy principle, Cassie tended to disengage from social situations.

Gina turned to find Marnie watching her from her deck chair, the light blush on her cheeks a symptom of her confusion. She was probably wondering why Gina was being such a cow about the wedding of the century. Her brother Carter’s marriage to her best friend, Missy, had been Marnie’s hot topic of discussion for months—and Gina had enjoyed teasing her about the impending nuptials, but always in a good-humoured way.

But that was before last Saturday night, before she’d met the Sainted Carter, and set out to flirt him into a puddle of unrequited lust. Only to discover that Marnie’s big brother wasn’t the overbearing, self-righteous and boringly judgmental Southern gentleman he’d pretended to be, but a sweet, sensitive, and seriously intense Southern hottie who was as screwed up about his place in the world as she was.

The evening had started out as a joke, played at Carter’s expense, but in the end the joke had been on Gina. How could she have known the Sainted Carter would be the first man to show her that sex wasn’t always about physical gratification? That sometimes your feelings could actually become involved? And how could she have known that, when he looked at her the next day, with the disgust at what they had done together plain in his face, he’d also be