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Page 9

Charlie’s gaze met mine, and he gestured helplessly as he replied, “When you think about how many couples divorce, it’s crazy that anyone wants to try it in the first place. A fifty-fifty chance. What guy in his right mind would go for those odds?”

“Those are the general odds,” I said. “Those aren’t your odds.” Seeing his bewilderment, I said, “People get married for all kinds of wrong reasons: infatuation, fear of being alone, unplanned pregnancy. Does any of that apply to you or Sloane?”

“No.”

“Then when you cut those people out of the equation, your statistics are a lot better than fifty-fifty.”

Charlie rubbed his forehead with an unsteady hand. “I have to tell Sloane that I need more time to be sure about all of this.”

“More time?” I echoed dazedly. “The wedding ceremony is going to start in forty-five minutes.”

“I’m not canceling. I’m just postponing it.”

I stared at him incredulously. “Postponement isn’t an option, Charlie. Sloane has planned and dreamed about this wedding for months, and her family’s spent a fortune. If you call it off at the last minute, you’re not going to get another chance.”

“We’re talking about the rest of my life,” he said in rising agitation. “I don’t want to make a mistake.”

“God help me,” I burst out. “Do you think Sloane has no room for doubt? This wedding is an act of trust on her part too. It’s a risk for her too! But she’s willing to take a chance because she loves you. She’s going to show up at that altar. And you’re seriously telling me that you’re going to humiliate her in front of everyone you both know and make her a laughingstock? Do you understand what that’s going to do to her?”

“You don’t know what this is like. You’ve never been married.” As Charlie saw my face, he paused and said uncertainly, “Have you?”

My fury faded abruptly. In the process of planning and coordinating a wedding, especially one on this scale, it was easy to forget how terrifying the process was for the two people with the most at stake.

Taking off my glasses, I shook my head. “No, I’ve never been married,” I said, cleaning the glasses with a tissue from my bag. “I was jilted on my wedding day. Which probably makes me the worst possible person to talk to you right now.”

“Hell,” I heard him mutter. “I’m sorry, Avery.”

I replaced the glasses and balled the tissue in my fist.

Charlie was facing a life-altering decision, and he had the look of a five-month hog on butchering day. I had to make him aware of the consequences of what he was doing. For his sake, and especially for Sloane’s.

I cast a longing glance at the empty glass in Charlie’s hands, wishing I could have a drink, too. Hunkering down on the ottoman, I said, “Calling off this wedding isn’t just canceling a social event, Charlie. It’s going to change everything. And it’s going to hurt Sloane in ways you haven’t considered.”

He stared at me alertly, his brow furrowed. “Sure, she’ll be disappointed,” he began. “But —”

“Disappointment is the least of what she’s going to feel,” I interrupted. “And even if she still loves you after this, she won’t trust you. Why should she, when you’ve broken your promises?”

“I haven’t made any promises yet,” he said.

“You asked her to marry you,” I said. “That means you promised to be there when she walks down the aisle.”

As a heavy silence descended, I realized that I was going to have to tell Charlie Amspacher about the worst day of my life. The memory was a wound that had never fully healed, and I wasn’t exactly eager to rip it open for the sake of a young man I didn’t really know. However, I couldn’t think of any other way to make the situation clear to him.

“My wedding was supposed to happen about three and a half years ago,” I said. “I was living in New York at the time, working in bridal fashion. My fiancé, Brian, did equity research on Wall Street. We’d gone out for two years, and then we lived together for another two, and at some point we started talking about getting married. I planned a small, beautiful wedding. I even flew my deadbeat dad up to New York, so he could walk me down the aisle. Everything was going to be perfect. But on the morning of the wedding, Brian left the apartment before I woke up, and called to tell me that he couldn’t go through with it. He’d made a mistake. He said he thought he’d loved me, but he didn’t. He wasn’t sure he ever had.”

“Damn,” Charlie said quietly.

“People are wrong when they say that time will mend a broken heart. It doesn’t always. My heart stayed broken. I’ve had to learn to live with it that way. I’ll never be able to trust anyone who says he loves me.” I paused before forcing myself to say with stark honesty, “I’m so afraid of being dumped again that I’m always the first to leave. I’ve broken off potential relationships because I’d rather be lonely than hurt. I don’t like it, but that’s who I am now.”

Charlie stared at me with concern and kindness. He looked like himself again, no longer spooked. “I’m surprised you stayed in the wedding business after being jilted.”

“I thought about quitting,” I admitted. “But somewhere inside, I still believe in the fairy tale. Not for myself, but for other people.”

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