Preston has said we’d look for a house after the wedding. Chicago was near Kate and my parents. And Emma would go back there eventually, I hoped. Like Rhys, it was a touchy subject and every time Adam approached her with coming home, Emma tensed up.
“That would be pretty awesome.”
“Come on girls, your turn.” A plump little woman in her sixties clapped her hands at Emma and Kate. “Time to see how you look in your bridesmaids’ dresses.”
“Make sure you come show me!” I said.
“Duh,” Emma called back and winked. “Thank God you ditched the parasol idea.”
“It’s not too late to get them,” I called after her.
I had my two friends in my wedding, my father was getting the health care he needed and my parents wouldn’t lose their home. And I was standing in a gown on the brink of marrying the one man I’d ever felt this insane about.
“I love him,” I whispered.
No ifs. It was a fact. My stomach turned and I palmed my belly. Taking a deep breath, I willed away the heartburn I’d been dealing with over the past couple of weeks. Between the fast pace of all this planning and the inevitable stress, my body was suffering. I just hoped this little stomach bug went away before this weekend. I smiled. I told myself the same thing I had the past few weeks: It’s nothing I can’t handle—
Dizziness suddenly swept over me and I jerked forward, almost falling off the platform.
“Oh, dear, you alright?” The seamstress grabbed my arm and steadied me.
“Yeah,” I swallowed, putting the back of my hand against my mouth. Nausea crept over me, leaving my skin feeling cool and sticky. I wanted to throw a fit because this was ridiculous—almost a month and these flu symptoms were still hanging around. “I just feel a bit dizzy.”
She helped me sit down. “Poor thing. I know in my first trimester I was dizzy and sick all the time.”
My eyes snapped to the woman. “Excuse me?”
She looked at me with shock and worry on her face. “Well…you’re…you’re pregnant, aren’t you?”
I shook my head furiously. “No.”
“Oh…” She looked at my stomach. “Are you sure?”
My mouth just hung open. I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry. Maybe feel insulted? I had been getting sick lately, but that was the bug. Right?
“I’m on the pill.” I blurted out. It was the only thing that made sense that I could cling to in that moment.
“Well, maybe go chat with your doctor, because I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m going to have to take your dress out a good inch. Unless you’ve been giving into a doughnut addiction?”
My skin was already cold but now the mist of sweat that broke made me freeze. Out of nowhere, a hot flash skated over me, drowning out the iciness in my veins and replacing it with fire. I was certain I would pass out. I mentally ran though the checklist of my symptoms the last several weeks: Nauseous, bloated, and my br**sts hurt a little. Vomiting and dizzy spells.
“You don’t look so good,” a snotty voice said.
Stopping in the middle of The Strauss Hotel lobby, I looked up to find Darlene smiling at me. She, Charlie and John all lived in the city, but, “Why are you here?” My voice was flat and a cold sweat covered my entire body. Darlene was the last person I needed to see right now.
“Oh, I was just popping in to catch you actually.” She glanced at her diamond-encrusted watch. “I thought you’d be done dress shopping a while ago. What happened? Make a detour?”
Her insinuating tone and smirk drained the little blood left in my face. She couldn’t possibly know…could she? I had left the dress fitting early and Preston’s driver took me straight to the doctor. Preston told me once not to put anything past Darlene. The fact that she knew my schedule was beyond unnerving.
“What do you want, Darlene?”
People shuffled around us in and out of the front doors. She stepped several paces to the closest corner, away from the bustling comers and goers. Part of me wanted to complete my mission and run upstairs to find Preston instead of deal with her right now. But again, that evil grin splitting her face had me uneasy.
I moved to her. “What?” I snapped.
“So moody.” She glanced at my stomach. My pulse raced and those dizzy spells I had been having kicked into high gear. Standing upright was taking the majority of my focus.
“You shouldn’t be so testy with me when I came here to give you a friendly heads up.”
I shook my head.
“John is waiting for you in the office upstairs.”
I glanced at the elevator.
“Oh, don’t worry,” she examined her nails, “Preston isn’t here.”
“Whatever reason you’ve found to take a personal interest in mine and my fiancé’s schedule needs to stop. We’re getting married and you need to accept that.”
“Are you?” She nearly giggled with glee. “Well, I suppose you must be getting married since that is what the whole contract entails.”
My stomach bottomed out and a fresh flash of cold coated my bones.
“I knew you two were up to something. I just didn’t think Preston had to buy his women now.” She scoffed. “I guess that’s what fishing for losers with a bad history will get you.” Her eyes trailed the entire length of me, and if looks could kill, hers would maim. “You settled pretty cheap, don’t you think? Only five million? Needless to say John was very upset when I told him and gave him a copy of the contract.”
She tilted her head and glanced at my belly again. “Not that any of it matters now.” No woman had ever smiled as big as Darlene did in that moment.
The world was spinning way too fast, and I couldn’t get a grip. Couldn’t get my feet to completely touch the ground. Couldn’t even muster words to fight back. My mind was spent, terror and uncertainty had already been circling, but now blood-chilling fear that I was on the brink of losing everything I held dear was crashing down.
When her leer didn’t leave my waistline, a spark of raw ferocity boiled over in my chest.
“You are a sad, disgusting woman.” I stepped closer. “Don’t ever come near me or Preston again.”
She blinked rapidly as if shocked I had spoken. Her throat worked hard on a swallow and she straightened her stance like my words literally knocked her down a peg.