Valentine Babies by Mona Risk

Chapter One

“Go now. And smile for heaven’s sake,” the wedding coordinator sputtered against Roxanne’s ear. “It’s your sister’s happiest day.”

The Mendelssohn Wedding March chimed through the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington, Kentucky.

Roxanne Ramsay plastered a wide smile on her face and clutched her poinsettia bouquet to stop the trembling of her hands. God only knew how happy she was for Madelyn and Nick.

But why did she have to receive that horrible email yesterday? Two days before Christmas. Last night, she’d claimed to suffer a twenty-four hour bug to avoid the church rehearsal and dinner. Honestly, she didn’t have to fake stomach cramps. Her guts had twisted the moment she read and re-read the missive announcing Nabil’s death. Alone in her room in the big empty house, she’d cried her heart out.

A new bout of tears invaded her eyes. She blinked furiously and shuffled forward. Had the aisle lengthened all of a sudden? Gliding on the white carpet, she thought she’d already covered a mile. Behind her, the four bridesmaids progressed at the same snail’s pace.

Finally Roxanne reached the altar and sidled to the left. The fresh pine scent of the Christmas trees decorating the church mingled with the sweet fragrance of white roses in two vases adorning the altar. A delightful smell. Her stomach heaved.

Oh God, no. She braced herself and swallowed. The nausea passed.

The ushers and bridesmaids smiled as Nick took Madelyn’s hand. Roxanne’s face hurt from the effort of stretching her lips. In the first row, Mom sniffled and wiped her eyes with a lacy handkerchief. Could the sister of the bride cry as freely without attracting attention?

Why should she smile? There was no groom and no happy ending in her future.

When they all faced the altar, she allowed herself a few tears. Nabil’s handsome face popped into her mind. Afraid she’d burst into a torrent of sobs, she bit hard on the inside of her cheek.

“Since when were you such a mushy one? You’re crying even more than Mom,” her sister Heather mumbled in her ear.

“Sorry. It’s a… a special moment.” She exhaled and almost hiccupped. Please, God, help me stop crying.

“Still people are wondering,” Heather muttered in the same hushed tone.

“What people? We’re facing the altar. Father O’Brien is too busy reading his holy words.”

“The man standing next to the wheelchair of Nick’s dad hasn’t stopped staring at you.”

Roxanne’s head spun to the right. That gorgeous groomsman in a black tux and neatly combed brown hair?

His hazel eyes captured her gaze. She hadn’t attended last night’s rehearsal and hadn’t met Nick’s friends. His frown relaxed and he smiled. She tried to avert her eyes, and then threw another glance in his direction. He winked.

Her nerves already a shambles, she burst out laughing and caught his silent chuckle.

The bridesmaids gasped. “What is wrong with you?” Heather chastised.

“The rings, please,” the priest said. He waited for an instant, surveyed the bridal party, and scowled at each of the ten members. None of them responded. “St. Anthony, help us. Who has the rings?”

The dashing groomsman was still staring at Roxanne and grinning.

“Greg?” Nick grunted. “Where are the rings?”

“Oh, sorry. Here.” Greg extracted the rings from his pocket and handed them to the priest. Turning toward the bride and groom, Greg assumed a more serious expression but kept Roxanne in his line of vision.

“You may kiss the bride.” Father O’Brien exhaled and finished the ceremony.

Roxanne lowered her head. No more kisses for you. Never again. A few tears escaped her.

Beside her, Heather hissed and handed her a tissue. Roxanne wiped her eyes and caught Greg’s gaze. He wasn’t smiling anymore. Astonishment puckered his forehead. He raised an eyebrow, silently questioning her. She turned to admire the newlyweds. Finally, Nick released his bride after an endless and nerve-racking kiss.

Thank God, it was over. The nightmare was over. I mean the wedding.

“It’s almost over. You can stop crying.” Greg scooted next to her and arched a quizzical eyebrow. He pulled a tissue from his pocket and handed it to her.

“It was only a couple of tears.” Carefully, she dabbed the wet spots on her face and raised her head for his evaluation. “I hope I don’t look awful. My makeup?”

“Makeup is stable.” He grinned widely. “You look lovely.” He tucked her hand under his arm and they proceeded down the aisle. Behind them, the cortege of bridesmaids and ushers followed. “By the way, I am Greg Hayes. I work with Nick at St. Lucy’s hospital, in Fort Lauderdale. And you are Roxanne, right? The sister who was sick last night.”

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