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No Match for Love series
About the Author
To Candice and Liz, my fantastic accountability partners. Without them, this story would’ve never been discovered or told.
How had she run out of ice cream? Keslee avoided eye contact with the few late-night grocery shoppers—she was in her pajamas, after all—and made a beeline for the freezer section. Reality TV wasn’t the same without Dreyer’s slow churned, and Survivor waited patiently at home on her DVR. Keslee scanned the selections: mint chocolate chip, fudge tracks, cookies ’n cream.
Her eyes stopped on rocky road. That had always been Jadyn’s favorite. Keslee’s index finger rubbed the spot behind her left ear where she’d gotten a tattoo of a red balloon in remembrance of her twin sister. Red balloons had been how they comforted each other when things got hard. Sometimes it was actual balloons, but usually it was pajama pants with balloons, or red candy in the shape of a balloon, or a dozen other things. Funny that Keslee hadn’t been brave enough to get the tattoo until Jadyn was no longer around begging her to do so.
You hate rocky road. She was more sentimental than usual with the second anniversary of Jadyn’s death approaching. But not sentimental enough to ruin her ice cream with almonds. Her eyes skipped over the rocky road and focused on the double fudge brownie.
[Oh no. _]Keslee turned around, willing the person to go away. _Shoo, fly. She didn’t want to deal with this tonight. In the twenty-two months since Jadyn’s death, she’d run into a few situations like this and had to inform people of her twin sister’s passing. It never got easier. At least last time she’d managed not to cry. Hopefully she’d be as successful now.
“It [_is _]you,” the man said. He reached out, clasping her to him in a hug. Keslee let out a yelp of surprise, and the man pulled back. “It’s me, Bryce. From band?”
Keslee’s stomach jumped like she’d just swallowed a pack of Pop Rocks. “I remember you.” Boy, did she remember. Short brown hair had replaced the shaggy mop from their high school days, and a five o’clock shadow now covered his face. But she could see the Bryce of seven years ago hidden beneath. Jadyn had been the one in band. Keslee had been in orchestra, but she’d still chatted with Bryce a time or two. Harbored a secret crush on him all through tenth grade.
Keslee wrapped her arms tightly around herself, hoping to hide her pajamas. Why hadn’t she worn a jacket? Oh yeah—ninety degree weather. But the matching Batman t-shirt and pajama bottoms were just embarrassing. “Bryce, listen—”
“I can’t believe it’s you.” He laughed. “At first I thought you might be Keslee, but then I saw the tattoo.” He motioned to her ear.
Keslee’s hand flew to the spot. Her hair, pulled back in a ponytail, left the tattoo exposed. The tattoo she’d made sure was a perfect replica of Jadyn’s.
“Did your parents ever forgive you for getting that? You always were a risk taker.”
Keslee tried again. “Yeah, about that . . .” How had Bryce not already heard?
“You know, I always meant to ask you out in high school.”
Keslee shifted, her crocs squeaking against the floor. So he’d had a crush on Jadyn. She wasn’t surprised. Every red-blooded male had been half in love with her. Jadyn had always been the bubbly, outgoing twin, up for any challenge. Like cliff diving in Hawaii, then getting caught in a riptide and drowning. I miss you, Jadyn.
“I promised myself if I ever saw you again, I’d ask you out.” Bryce’s gunmetal blue eyes practically sparkled with joy at seeing Jadyn again. Except Jadyn was dead.
This was getting out of hand, even if Keslee’s sophomore self was fan-girling inside. “Wow. I’m very flattered, of course.”
Bryce ducked his chin. “Sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed you’re single. Of course you’re dating someone.”
Keslee’s heart lurched at his expression. “It’s not that I’m not dating anyone. It’s just that, well. . .”
Oh, her heart! His lowered eyes and slumped shoulders caused a physical pain to shoot through her. If she yanked his soul out of his body and jumped on it with stilettos, he couldn’t look more disappointed.
[_What will it hurt if I pretend to be Jadyn for one night? _]
Keslee rejected the idea quickly. [_I can’t impersonate my dead sister. That’s twisted. _]If Jadyn were still alive, Keslee might have considered it. Switching places had been a common occurrence, even as adults. Jadyn had been a jokester like that.
But no. Just no.
“Forget I mentioned anything,” Bryce said quickly. She could see the shy Bryce from high school reappearing, the one who’d hidden behind his trombone and plumed shako hat. “I should probably go.”
She couldn’t let him be crushed. Really, what would it hurt to be Jadyn for one evening? In fact, it would be sort of nostalgic. A brief connection with her sister. Keslee would go on the date and be intentionally boring. Then Bryce could go on his merry way, content his life was complete without Jadyn in it. It would be kinder than telling him the truth and having him live his life with “what ifs.” Plus, he’d stop looking at her like she’d used his heart for target practice.
The fact that she could live out her high school fantasy at the same time was simply a bonus.
“Bryce, wait,” Keslee said.
He turned back around, his eyes hopeful.
Keslee folded her arms tighter around her waist, mostly obscuring the Batman logo. “I would love to go out with you.” Her cheeks burned red in a very un-Jadyn-like way. “I mean, if you’re asking.”
“So you’re single,” Bryce said.
“I’m very single.” So is Jadyn. Probably. Can you date in heaven?
“Awesome.” A dimple appeared in one of Bryce’s cheeks. Keslee wanted to caress it with her index finger. She’d always loved that dimple. “How about Friday?”
Yes! Of course. Anytime. _]Keslee nearly said the words aloud, but stopped herself. [_What would Jadyn do? “Let me check my calendar,” Keslee said. Crap. Now she’d have to look at her phone. Which she had stuffed in her bra since her pajama pants didn’t have pockets. She turned away, trying to shield Bryce’s view with her shoulder. She quickly pulled it out, already knowing that Friday evening was a big fat blank. It was the first Friday in months she wouldn’t have a wedding to oversee. She’d planned on spending the night reading, but she could move that to Saturday morning. “Looks like I’m free,” Keslee said.
“Great. Let me get your number and address.” Bryce pulled out his own phone—a flip phone, seriously?—and they exchanged contact information. “I’ll pick you up at seven,” he said.
“I look forward to it.”
He laughed. “It’s [_so _]good to see you again. Today’s my lucky day.”
“Mine too,” Keslee said. Her stomach was already a bundle of nerves. [_This is silly. Why did I agree to this? I’m not Jadyn. _]Keslee was definitely not the impulsive twin. Except for the tattoo. And, okay, pulling the phone out of her bra. But that was only because she’d been caught off guard.
“I’ll see you on Friday, then.” Bryce pulled her into another hug. This time Keslee allowed herself to savor it. His arms were strong, just like she’d always imagined them to be, and he smelled like apple cider. Keslee slowly wrapped her arms around him, hugging him back.
“I’ll text you sometime this week,” Bryce said, pulling away.
“I’d like that.”
“Bye, Jadyn.” Bryce gave her a crooked grin and walked away.
Keslee leaned against the doors of the freezer section, her heart thundering in her chest. Had she really just agreed to a date with her high school crush while impersonating her sister? In her [_Batman _]pajamas? She must be insane. She turned around and grabbed a carton of double fudge brownie ice cream.
As she waited in line to pay, Keslee couldn’t help thinking that, insane or not, this was the most she’d looked forward to a Friday in a really long time.
Back in junior high, there was a blue-eyed, spikey-haired boy. He was on the swim team, and Keslee and Jadyn had both been twitterpated with him, especially when he was gracefully diving into the lane between theirs at practice.
About a month into the new school year, Keslee and Jadyn bickered over the boy. He’d walked Keslee to class, but eaten lunch with Jadyn. The argument had turned into a full-on fight, and Keslee and Jadyn spent nearly a week avoiding each other. Not an easy feat considering they shared a few classes and a bedroom.
It was Jadyn who’d broken down and apologized first. That’s when they’d come up with The Pact, the one that made a boy one hundred percent off limits if they both liked him. It was the only fair way to handle the situation and preserve their relationship.
Keslee chewed on a lock of hair as she waited at a red stoplight. Back in high school, she had been disappointed when Jadyn voiced a preference for Bryce. Keslee had admitted to liking him too, and they’d both stayed true to The Pact.
And now Keslee had a date with him.
The light turned green and Keslee eased her foot onto the gas, turning into her apartment parking lot. [_A date with Bryce. _]She shook her head. That was the last thing she’d expected tonight.
Keslee and Jadyn had never discussed the finer points of The Pact. Like whether or not death nullified it. And whether or not you were breaking it if, while on the date with the boy you both liked, you were pretending to be the other twin.
Keslee killed the engine and grabbed her carton of ice cream. She trudged up the steps to her apartment. [It’s fine. Jadyn wouldn’t want Bryce to live with regret. _]Keslee opened the apartment door. The date with Bryce was a good thing. She’d be boring and Bryce would get over his schoolboy crush on Jadyn. Hopefully he’d be boring enough to help her get over her schoolgirl crush on him. It was a win-win situation. _Probably.
Keslee pulled the top off the ice cream and dished herself a generous bowl. Then she curled up with her favorite blanket and started Survivor.
A date. As Keslee watched the survivors panic after the previous episode’s tribal council, she wondered what she’d even wear Friday. She hadn’t been on a date in . . . well, too long. A year, maybe? All her nice clothes screamed “business lunch.” Not exactly the vibe she wanted to broadcast.
Wait, what was she thinking? She was supposed to be repelling Bryce, not attracting him. For both their sakes. Nothing sucked more than the pang of regret. She learned that all too well after Jadyn drowned.
The front door opened. Keslee paused the DVR and smiled at her roommate, Summer. Keslee could tell from the raccoon eyes that Summer was exhausted. Her dark curls had frizzed like a troll doll’s, and her dress was creased and wrinkled from a long day.
“How were parent-teacher conferences?” Keslee asked. “Did Michael’s parents show?”
Summer kicked off her shoes and dropped her backpack on the kitchen table. “Yes, and surprisingly it didn’t go too badly. Hopefully his behavior will improve after tonight.”
“I hope so, for your sake,” Keslee said. How Summer could spend all day teaching kindergarteners was beyond her. “I’ve been waiting to start The Bachelor until you got home. There’s ice cream in the freezer.”
Summer smiled. “I never say no to ice cream. Let me change and I’ll be right back.”
Ten minutes later, Summer settled next to Keslee with her own bowl of ice cream. “I didn’t even ask how your day was,” Summer said. “How was work?”
“No bridezillas melted down, so no complaints from me.” Keslee grinned. “But I’ve got something way better than work to tell you. I have a date.”
“What?” Summer let out a squeal. “Why have you kept that quiet for the last ten minutes? Who’s the lucky guy?”
“His name is Bryce.”
“I don’t even need to know what he looks like. I can tell from his name that he’s hot.”
Keslee laughed. “You’re a good friend, Summer. Trust me, he’s hot.”
“Okay, let’s hear it. Where did you meet him?”
“That’s an interesting story. I ran into him at the grocery store.” Keslee blushed. “I was wearing my pajamas and picking out ice cream.”
Summer threw back her head and laughed. “I’ve told you to stop going out in public like that. You must’ve been a real temptress to secure a date while wearing Batman pajamas. Maybe I should try it.”
Keslee’s gut twisted. If only it was her Batman jammies that had encouraged him to ask her out. If he had known she was Keslee, would he still want to catch up? “We sort of already knew each other. In high school. I had a huge crush on him.”
“This gets better and better.”
“Bryce was in band. He played the trombone, and I thought it was pretty much the sexiest instrument in the entire world. I never wished so badly that I’d decided to play the clarinet instead of the violin.” Keslee let out a dramatic sigh. “I used to go to all the school games to watch him play. Jadyn thought I was there to support her, of course—she was in band, too. But really I was paying attention to Bryce.”
“Were you two friends in high school?”
Keslee cocked her head to the side, considering. “We were friendly. We didn’t run in the same crowds, but we would nod at each other in the hallway. We were even lab partners once for biology and did a group project together for English.” The only time in her life she’d been eager for homework. “He was really nice, and did a lot of humanitarian work. He was always heading up food drives, that sort of thing.”
“He sounds amazing. I’m so excited for you, Keslee. Clearly he had a crush on you, too, or he wouldn’t have asked you out.”
[_If only. _]Keslee considered—just for a moment—switching topics and not telling Summer the whole story. But she couldn’t do it. Hopefully Summer wouldn’t be too judgmental. “That’s the thing. He didn’t have a crush on me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“In high school, he had a crush on [_Jadyn. _]At the grocery store, he thought I was her.”
Summer’s eyes widened. “What did he say when you told him?”
Keslee grabbed a lock of hair and started twisting. “I may or may not have neglected to clarify the situation.”
“What? Keslee, you [_have _]to tell him Jadyn’s gone.”
“What if I didn’t?”
Summer crossed her arms and let out a loud sigh. “Seriously?”
“Listen, okay? Bryce has had a crush on Jadyn since high school. If I tell him Jadyn’s dead, he’ll be devastated. You should’ve seen his face when he thought Jadyn was turning him down. He was crushed[, _]Summer. _Crushed. I couldn’t tell him she was dead.” [_Okay, I could’ve told him. But I _]really [_didn’t want to. _]
“So you decided to [_be _]her? I can’t even picture you having this conversation with him. You aren’t the type of girl who impersonates her dead sister for a date.”
“Hey, I didn’t judge you when you picked the unemployed loser with no personal hygiene as your last rebound boyfriend. I couldn’t take Bryce’s sad puppy dog eyes. If I tell him, he’ll think he’s missed his chance with Jadyn and be all regretful.”
“He [_did _]miss his chance.”
“Yeah, but [_he _]doesn’t know that. I’ll go on the date, be pleasant but bland, and we’ll never have to see each other again.”
“How has he not heard of her passing already? Keslee, this isn’t you. What happens when he tries to add Jadyn on Facebook? Or follow her on Twitter? When he can’t find her on any social media site, he’s going to get curious.”
“He had a flip phone, like it’s still 2005 or something. I don’t think he uses social media.”
“Okay, well, what about when he runs into someone else from high school, someone who knows Jadyn’s dead? What happens when he Googles her and finds news articles from the accident? Or her obituary? It’s kind of strange he hasn’t heard already.”
It was strange. And if she didn’t tell him, someone else would. Why did Summer have to be so freaking right? [_Stupid Pop Rocks in my stomach, clouding my judgment. _]She should’ve told him about Jadyn at the grocery store. Now things were going to be incredibly awkward. “You’ve made your point,” Keslee said. “This sucks.”
“Are you going to tell him?”
“Yeah, and now he’s going to think I’m some weird, creepy girl who gets her jollies from stealing the identities of the dead.” Keslee pulled the throw pillow from behind her back and buried her face in it. “I’m such an idiot. He’s going to hate me.”
“He won’t hate you.” Summer patted Keslee’s back. “Most likely.”
“How do you even deliver that kind of news?” Keslee tossed the pillow aside and grabbed her phone, scrolling through the contacts to Bryce. “I guess I can text him.” At least then she wouldn’t have to deal with the awkwardness face to face. Texting would be much less embarrassing.
Summer’s hand clamped over Keslee’s. “You can’t [_text _]him this kind of news.”
Keslee’s finger hovered over Bryce’s name. Dang. Summer was right. Again. A “hey, by the way I’m Keslee and Jadyn’s been dead for two years” text probably wasn’t the kindest way to inform Bryce his missed chance was gone forever. [_Hey, Bryce. Lol, just kidding. I’m Keslee, not Jadyn. And Jadyn’s dead. :( But I have a crush on you so let’s still go out Friday! TTYL! _]What a nightmare. She couldn’t text him.
“Should I call him?” Keslee asked. She stared at Summer, willing her to catch the [_please don’t make me call him _]vibes. “That doesn’t really feel right either.”
“Yeah, I don’t think you should call him.”
“Okay, then that leaves telling him in person.”
The Pop Rocks were back in Keslee’s stomach, only this time they were angry. “Oh my gosh, I have to tell him on our [_date. _]Why did I let this happen?”
“Tell him at the beginning, not the end, so he can leave if he wants to. And so he doesn’t have to waste his money on your meal under false pretenses.”
“Oh. My. Gosh.” Keslee flopped back against the couch. “This is going to be the most uncomfortable date in the history of the universe.”
“Is it really a date anymore?”
Keslee scowled. “Thanks.”
“Sorry. But you got yourself into this mess. Now it’s time for you to get yourself out.”
Jadyn had always been the type of girl who chose the perfect outfit for every event. She’d never stressed over what to wear on dates, because she already knew what to wear before her date even finished the invitation.
Keslee was not that type of girl. While everyone else was complaining over the uniforms they were forced to wear throughout their school years, Keslee secretly loved them. Because fashion? Not her thing. Not that it had mattered. One of the perks of being Jadyn’s twin was access to her vast wardrobe, and she knew which of her outfits would look perfect on you. And she was always right.
Since Jadyn’s death, Keslee kind of wished she could go back to uniforms.
Keslee threw a blouse and a pair of dress slacks aside in disgust. What exactly did someone wear on a date where they’d assumed the identity of their deceased identical twin? She flipped through her closet for the thousandth time. Nothing but power suits in varying shades of brown, blue, and beige. Well, and her Doctor Who and Batman pajamas. And a few t-shirts emblazoned with her favorite Marvel characters. Wedding planners were supposed to look professional, not alluring. Especially young ones. Brides tended to frown on overly attractive wedding planners.
Keslee walked across the hallway in her bathrobe and knocked on Summer’s door. “Sum, I need to raid your closet.”
Summer opened the door and looked Keslee up and down. “I don’t know. I think the robe and turban look works for you. Rock it. He liked the Batman jammies.”
Keslee rolled her eyes. “This is serious!”
Summer ushered Keslee inside. “I don’t know if my wardrobe is any better than yours.”
“At least kindergarten teachers have flowy skirts in fun colors.”
Summer opened her closet door. “Laundry is on the to-do list for tonight so the pickings are slim.”
Keslee riffled through the clothes, causing the hangers to slide on the rod. “Is this the type of date I should wear black for? I’m worried that if I wear black, it’ll seem too funeral-like. But if I wear bright colors, will he think I’m callous about Jadyn’s death? I mean, it’s been two years. But I still miss her.”
“You’re over-thinking this.”
Keslee sucked on a lock of hair, then realized what she was doing and quickly pulled it out of her mouth. “I’m telling Bryce I lied to him about my dead sister. I don’t think it’s possible to over-think this.”
Keslee chose one of Summer’s flowy skirts in a deep turquoise and paired it with one of her own white fitted tops. She decided she looked okay—dressy while still being casual, and subdued while still managing to show personality.
Not that Bryce would notice or care. Not after she told him she wasn’t Jadyn.
“Jadyn would never have worn this,” Keslee said, picking an invisible piece of lint off her blouse. “And she probably wouldn’t have chosen it for me to wear either.”
“What would she have worn?” Summer asked.
“Something much more daring. Stilettos and a tight party dress with a crisscross back. Something sexy without crossing over to slutty.”
“I wish I could’ve met her,” Summer said. It wasn’t the first time she’d uttered the sentiment.
“Me too. You would’ve loved her.”
The doorbell rang. Keslee’s breathing quickened. Her chest constricted as though a python were wrapped around her.
Summer gave Keslee a quick hug. “Tell him immediately. It’s only going to get more awkward as the night goes on. Are you sure you don’t want me to stay by your side for support?”
“No, that’ll make me even more nervous. I’m a big girl. I can do this.”
“Okay, I’ll hide in my bedroom until you leave. Good luck.”
“Thanks.” [_I’m going to need a lot more than luck, though. Like a giant hole in the earth to swallow me up. _]She would open the door and say it before they ever walked to the car. Give him an out right from the get-go.
Keslee took a deep breath at the front door, then opened it. Her breath stuttered, and all words left her mind. Bryce looked fantastic in a sport coat and a blue button-down shirt that matched his eyes. He smiled, and the dimple popped in his cheek.
“Wow,” he said. “You look amazing.” He wrapped her in a hug. Keslee could barely contain the shiver his touch evoked. It was all she could do to focus on what he was saying.
“So do you,” Keslee said. [_Don’t stroke his dimple. Or his hair. _]If double fudge brownie ice cream was a person, it’d be Bryce.
She had imagined this moment—the first date—a hundred times in high school. Keslee shut the front door and followed Bryce to his car. He’d upgraded from the beat-up Oldsmobile he had driven back then to a dark blue Mazda that looked fairly new. It was nice without being ostentatious, with leather seats and a backup camera. Bryce turned on the car and soft jazz music filled the vehicle.
“Nice,” Keslee said.
Bryce blushed, switching to a station playing Top 40. “Sorry, I meant to change that. Now you’re going to think I’m an old man.”
Keslee laughed. She definitely wasn’t thinking that.
[_Crap. _]She wasn’t thinking at all. This wasn’t a [_real _]date. How had she gotten into his car without telling him about Jadyn? Her plan had been solid. Why hadn’t she thought to account for the fact that she could barely form a sentence around Bryce, especially when his dimple appeared?
She should tell him now. No, this wasn’t the kind of news you delivered while someone was driving. The date was likely to be a train wreck. She didn’t need to add an actual wreck to that. She’d have to wait until the restaurant now.
She should make small talk. Maybe ask him about his job. In high school, when he hadn’t been holding his trombone, he’d been carrying a camera around. Had he gone into photography? Did he teach music? Was he something completely different, like a data analyst or an accountant? She should ask about where he lived. What he did for fun on the weekends. She should definitely tell him Jadyn was dead before they got out of the car, but after he’d come to a complete stop.
The sick feeling in her gut grew. He was going to hate her after tonight.
“So, have you kept in touch with anyone from high school?” Bryce asked.
“Not really.” Obviously he hadn’t either, or he would’ve heard about Jadyn’s death.
“Me neither. I did hear Mr. Thompson passed away.”
“That’s too bad.” [_Tell him now! _]
“Yeah, and so young, too. Not even sixty.” He shook his head. “He was a great teacher.”
Keslee had never been his student. He’d been Jadyn’s algebra teacher, not hers.
Bryce continued to chat as they drove downtown. Keslee tried to keep up her end of the conversation, but knew she failed abysmally. Bryce started shooting her strange glances the closer they got to the restaurant. Italian. Jadyn had hated Italian, but it was Keslee’s favorite. Bryce pulled up to the front and handed his keys to the valet. A valet? Keslee had imagined sitting in his car in the parking lot to tell him. Now she’d have to wait until they were in the restaurant.
Bryce gently rested a hand at Keslee’s back as he guided her through the front doors. Her stomach spasmed at his touch and her palms felt damp. She willed her mind to stay clear. This had gone on long enough. She had to tell Bryce. Before they ordered dinner.
They followed the hostess to a table. Keslee winced when she saw a candle flickering as the centerpiece. Bryce must’ve really liked Jadyn. He’d gone all out. This restaurant was posh.
Bryce helped Keslee into her chair, then sat down across from her.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “You seem a little distracted.”
Keslee set her menu down, her hand trembling. She was going to tell him. Now. “I have been. I’m sorry.”
“Hard day at work?”
She’d spent most of the afternoon trying to calm down a freaked out bride. But that was easy compared to this. It was time to come clean. Now.
“There’s actually something I have to tell you,” Keslee said. [_Please don’t hate me. _]
Bryce raised his eyebrow and took a sip of water. “Okay.”
“Bryce . . .” She took a deep breath. There was no easy way to say this. Best to let it out, before she got lost in his eyes and forgot her purpose. “Jadyn died two years ago.” She twisted her hair around her finger. [_Two years. _]She held her breath against the sudden wave of grief.
Keslee watched Bryce’s Adam’s apple bob as he continued to drink. Saw his eyes widen. And then he choked, jerking his hand so that the water splashed down his front. He set the glass down quickly. Keslee grabbed the cloth napkin off her lap and handed it to him.
“Jadyn’s dead? But then, that means . . .” His eyes met hers.
She nodded. “I’m Keslee.” She waited for a reaction, an explosion, something.
He blinked, breaking eye contact.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you at the grocery store.” Keslee stumbled over her words as she rushed to get the explanation out. “I tried, but then you were so happy that I couldn’t tell you.” She closed her eyes against the moisture, the corners of her heart still raw. She missed Jadyn so much.
Keslee took a deep breath. Relating the story never got easier. “A trip to Hawaii. She went cliff diving and got caught in a riptide. By the time we reached her, she was already gone.”
Bryce leaned away from Keslee, as though trying to escape. She tried to catch his eye, but he looked away. His fingers shook as he fiddled with the soggy napkin. “I . . . I don’t know what to say.”
The waitress appeared, notepad in hand. “Are you ready to order?”
“Give us a few minutes,” Bryce said.
The waitress glanced between them, as though just sensing the discomfort. “Of course, sir.” She quickly walked away.
“We don’t have to eat dinner,” Keslee said. “My roommate can pick me up, and you can go home.”
“No, let’s eat.” Bryce cleared his throat, pulling at the collar of his shirt. He stared steadfast at a point just beyond her left ear. “I asked you on a date.”
“You asked Jadyn.” And you can’t even look at me.
The tips of his ears turned red. “I guess I shouldn’t have assumed you were her. But you have her tattoo.” His voice shook. Keslee wouldn’t have noticed if she wasn’t listening closely.
“Yeah.” She realized she was fiddling with her hair, and quickly dropped it. “I got that a few weeks after she died. Red balloons were kind of our thing.”
“You should’ve told me. About Jadyn, I mean.”
[_Well, sure. But then I wouldn’t have the pleasure of this humiliating evening. _]“I didn’t want to be the one to tell you she was gone.” She looked away. “Not a very good excuse, I know.” _And your stupid eyes and stupid dimple kind of ruined my ability to reason. _
Bryce cleared his throat. Nodded. “I didn’t give you much of a chance to correct me. I’m excited to see you again, too. I feel like I know you almost as well as I know Jadyn—[_knew _]Jadyn. She couldn’t stop talking about you.”
Keslee’s heart fluttered. Jadyn had talked about her, and Bryce remembered.
What was she doing? [_Stop it, Keslee. _]If there’d ever been a chance Bryce would like her, she’d ruined it.
“Two years.” Bryce ran his fingers through his hair. “I had no idea she was gone.”
“I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it.”
“I was in Uganda on a humanitarian mission right around that time. I got home a year ago.” He ran a finger around the rim of his glass. “I’m not great at keeping in touch with people, anyway. I wish I’d known. I would’ve liked to attend her funeral.”
Keslee opened her mouth to respond, but the waitress reappeared. Neither of them had looked over the menu, but Bryce ordered and so did Keslee. She picked the cheapest item, even though it wasn’t something she particularly liked. Bryce shouldn’t have to pay for this date, but she knew he would. He was that kind of guy.
She should’ve told him about Jadyn over the phone.
“Wow. Gone.” Bryce shook his head.
The awkwardness overwhelmed Keslee, like too much salt in a cookie. “I know.”
“Not that I’m disappointed to be out with you,” he quickly said. “If I’d known you were Keslee and not Jadyn, I still would’ve asked you out.”
[_Right. _]And now Bryce’s eyes were suspiciously red. Was he going to cry? Fantastic.
“So . . . tell me about your life,” Bryce said.
“Oh.” Keslee blinked. She really hadn’t planned for conversation after she dropped the bomb. “Um . . . there’s not much to tell.”
“When did you move back to town?”
“About two years ago.”
“Did Jadyn move with you, or was it after she died?”
So that’s how the night was going to go—fielding painful questions about Jadyn. “After,” Keslee said, her words clipped.
“What was she doing before she passed away?” The words were nearly a whisper. “Did she get to model like she wanted to?”
“A little.” Where was the food? Keslee had never wanted a date to end so badly.
From there, the date went downhill fast. Keslee tried to be friendly and polite, and Bryce seemed to try, too, but the stiff awkwardness hung in the air. Bryce kept asking questions about Jadyn, sending daggers through Keslee’s heart—because it hurt to think of her, but also because it was obvious who Bryce preferred. He drove Keslee home immediately after the date. She wished he’d stay in the car, but wasn’t surprised when he got out to walk her to the door.
“Thanks for dinner,” Keslee said.
“Sure.” He didn’t move in for the token end-of-date hug. Keslee couldn’t blame him. Bryce gave an awkward wave. “Well, have a good night.”
“You, too,” Keslee murmured. But Bryce was already walking away. It didn’t escape her notice that he hadn’t promised to call. She couldn’t blame him. That had, hands down, been the most uncomfortable date in her life.
At least the date accomplished one thing. It was definitely over with Bryce.
By Monday morning, Keslee had resolved to forget her date with Bryce had ever happened. She’d learned her lesson. Never again would she impersonate her sister. Two years without Jadyn, and a lifetime left. The thought hurt more than almonds in ice cream.
Summer, sympathetic, spent Saturday at the mall with her in an attempt to cheer Keslee up. Now it was time to put Bryce behind her—all the way behind, way back where she wouldn’t accidentally have to remember the humiliating date.
Keslee rode up the elevator to the fifth floor. She loved everything about her job—the romanticism, the coordinating of events, making brides’ dreams come true. She walked into her office and set her purse on the desk. She’d barely turned on her computer when there was a knock at the door. Keslee’s boss entered, an absent smile on her face. Candice was an older woman with gray hair and a no nonsense attitude. “Hey, Keslee. Have a good weekend?” she asked.
[_Not really. _]“Sure. And you?”
There was a muffled voice from the hallway. Candice leaned out the door, answering a question, then turning back to Keslee. “What? Oh, my weekend was fine. I need a favor.”
“There’s a new event center opening on 53rd. Magnolia Gardens. They’re having a preview tonight for all the event planners in the area. Liz was supposed to go, but she called in sick. Can you go instead?”
“Sure,” Keslee said. It wasn’t like she had any great plans for tonight anyway.
When Keslee got back from lunch, the event invitation was on her desk. She read over the information. Nothing too unique—a reception with refreshments, a brief presentation by the sales team, and then a tour of the building and grounds. Keslee had been to a few of these events before, and, while they were a little dry, they weren’t too painful.
At five o’clock, Keslee shut off her computer and left the office, taking the invitation with her. She knew the general area where the new event center was located, but she still entered the address in her GPS in case she got lost.
The event center was beautiful. Keslee instantly thought of a few brides who would be eager to book it for weddings next summer. The long driveway, framed with mature trees, had an English feel she knew they would love. Keslee followed the line of cars up to the building’s front entrance where a valet took her keys and drove away.
Keslee smoothed her hands over her brown pencil skirt, glad she hadn’t worn slacks to work today. The building’s exterior had an elegant, regal feel, with dramatic archways and romantic pillars. She handed the invitation to the doorman and walked inside.
Keslee looked around, taking in the grand entryway with a critical eye. The twenty-foot ceiling made it feel grand and expensive, a plus for many of her clients. She saw the curved staircase and knew it would be a favorite spot for bouquet tosses.
A waiter appeared, offering Keslee a glass of champagne and an hors d’oeuvre. Keslee thanked him and wandered into the grand ballroom, mentally making notes as she went. Impressive chandeliers. Romantic lighting. A large dance floor with room for a band.
Keslee turned around and nearly dropped her glass of champagne. Bryce. In a black suit and a blue shirt.
The shirt was the exact shade as the one he’d worn for their date last Friday.
Keslee’s cheeks burned with a blush. So much for never seeing him again.
“What are you doing here?” Keslee asked.
“I could ask you the same thing.” Bryce motioned to the building. “I’m head of the sales and marketing department here. I’m assuming you’re an event planner.”
“Wedding planner.” Keslee cleared her throat. “The building is eleful.” [_And I sound like an idiot. _]Seriously, was what she’d done so horrific that this was karma’s payback? “It’s elegant [_and _]beautiful.”
Bryce looked around. “The marble floors were imported from Turkey and the chandeliers are one of a kind, custom made.” He stopped. “Sorry, sales pitch . . . It’s a habit. I started working here a month ago. My boss from the charity I worked for in Uganda is related to the owner of this place.”
“Oh.” That was an unfortunate coincidence. Why did he have to work here? The place where so many of her brides would be dying to start their happily ever-afters? [_At least he’s in sales, _]she reminded herself. [_It’s not like he’s the event coordinator. _]With a little luck, she would be able to avoid him. Or he’d find a new job.
Bryce looked around uneasily, unwilling to meet Keslee’s eyes. “I’m really sorry about Friday. I don’t think I handled it all that well.”
Keslee held up a hand. She hadn’t thought she could feel any more awkward about their date, but having Bryce apologize for it reduced her to the size of an ant. “We both apologized a thousand times on Friday. I feel like such an idiot for lying. I swear I’m not usually like that. Let’s . . . Let’s forget it ever happened and start over.” [_Like maybe forget you used to have a crush on Jadyn. _]Because Bryce in that suit? Her cheeks flushed and she looked away. Attractive didn’t begin to cover it.
Maybe she wasn’t over him after all.
“Starting over. I like the sound of that.”
“Me, too.” Keslee held out her hand. “Hi, I’m Keslee. I have an identical twin sister, but she passed away two years ago.”
“Bryce,” he said, accepting her handshake. His fingers were warm, his grip firm without being painful. Bryce grinned, and her insides crumbled at the dimple that appeared in his right cheek.
Keslee was back in tenth grade with melting insides all over again.
[_Stop it, _]she commanded. What the heck was happening? Friday had been a complete disaster. Ten minutes ago, she would’ve been happy to never see Bryce again. But the second he’d shown up, butterflies had spread their wings in her stomach and she’d become a giggling sophomore hoping he’d notice her.
[He liked _]Jadyn, _not me. [_And now we’re working together. Sort of. _]Besides, she and Jadyn had The Pact. She couldn’t date him, even if she wanted to.
And she most definitely didn’t want to.
Who was she kidding? She wanted to. So. Much.
“Well.” Bryce cleared his throat. “I’d better go get ready. I’m giving the sales presentation.”
“Of course.” Keslee laughed. “You’re the sales guy. It makes sense you’re making the presentation.”
The uncomfortable grin returned. “Uh, yeah.”
And now she didn’t need to worry about dating him, because there was no way he was ever going to ask her out again. She was being such a spaz. Jadyn had always known how to tone down that side of Keslee.
“See you around,” Bryce said. He gave her a small wave and walked away.
“Later, dude.” [_Dude? _]Keslee threw back the rest of her champagne. This wasn’t a football game. As if their last encounter hadn’t been humiliating enough. If this wasn’t a work event, she’d be tracking down a waiter and demanding another glass. Life seemed determined to keep complicating things.
When Keslee came in to work on Tuesday morning, Candice was waiting for her.
“How was the reception?” Candice asked.
[_Awkward. Turns out the guy I fake dated works there. We ran into each other and had an incredibly uncomfortable conversation about how it’s okay I pretended to be my dead sister. _]
“The reception was great,” Keslee said. “They had a very professional presentation and the building is beautiful. I think a lot of our clients will be interested in booking the venue.”
Candice beamed. “Excellent. I’ve called for a staff meeting at three. Can you put together a presentation on Magnolia Gardens? I want all the other wedding planners to get an overview of what this venue has to offer so we can start showcasing it to clients.”
Keslee should’ve known that Candice would want a report. Why hadn’t Keslee paid more attention to Bryce’s words during the presentation last night instead of remembering how his lips used to move against the mouthpiece of his trombone? “I’ll have the presentation ready to go,” Keslee told Candice. Surely Magnolia Garden’s website had the information she needed. There was no way she was calling Bryce to ask for a repeat presentation.
For once, the universe was on Keslee’s side. Magnolia Gardens had an excellent website, and it helped her remember enough of the presentation to put together a decent slide show for the staff meeting. At least she wouldn’t embarrass herself at work. And she didn’t need to call Bryce.
She kind of wished she needed to call him. Almost.
At ten thirty, Keslee had an appointment with one of her newest brides. They were in the beginning stages of planning, but she already had a pretty good feel for Ivie’s likes and dislikes.
When Ivie entered the office, she beamed, sinking into the chair across from Keslee’s desk. “We’ve decided on a date,” she said.
Keslee looked up from her computer. “I know. February twentieth.” She pointed to her computer monitor. “It’s right here in your file.”
“We’re changing it,” Ivie said. “The new date is August twelfth. I’ve always wanted a summer wedding.”
Keslee nodded, clicking on the file to update it. Ivie wasn’t the first client to change the date. Besides, after working with Ivie for a few months, Keslee could tell the girl was flighty. “The weather should be beautiful in August,” Keslee said. “That gives us fifteen months to plan, which is plenty of time to make sure everything is perfect. And now we can do an outdoor venue if you want.”
“No.” Ivie shook her head, sending her blonde curls bobbing. “We want to get married August twelfth of [_this _]year.”
Keslee’s hand froze on the mouse. “That’s in three months.”
Ivie nodded. “Zak received new orders from the Army. They’re transferring him to Germany in September. All our family, all our friends are here. We want to get married before we move.”
Keslee fiddled with her hair, leaning back in her chair. Three months. That would certainly be a challenge. “Okay. This limits our options quite a bit, but we can make it work.”
“You can do anything. I trust you.”
Keslee hoped the trust wasn’t misplaced. She smiled, hoping she looked reassuring and not panicked. “With only three months, we’ll have to work fast. The first thing we need to do is secure a venue. I know you’ve expressed preference for Rose Cottage, but I can pretty much guarantee they won’t have any availability this close to August. They’re usually booked a year out.”
“I like Rose Cottage, but Zak isn’t a fan. If we have to change venues, we’ll change. We were driving downtown last week and that new place on 53rd looks ready to open. Zak absolutely [_loves _]the outside of that building, and so do I. It’s kind of got a European flair, which is perfect now.”
Keslee’s hand stilled. “You’re talking about Magnolia Gardens.”
“Is that what it’s called?” Ivie gave a dramatic sigh. “I [_love _]that name. It would sound so elegant on the invitations. Have you been inside?”
“Yes. I was there last night, in fact. I think you’d like it.” Keslee couldn’t decide whether that was a good or bad thing. Did she want to see Bryce again? Their last two encounters had been beyond uncomfortable, but she still felt all fluttery when he was around. “They’re opening next month.”
Ivie clapped her hands. “Great! They shouldn’t be booked, right? Not if they’re just opening.”
“New places are always really popular and fill up fast.” Keslee sighed at Ivie’s hopeful expression. “I’ll call and find out.”
Keslee looked up the information for Magnolia Gardens and called the front office. Bryce had said last night that they were already nearly booked for summer. Maybe they wouldn’t have an opening on August twelfth.
“Magnolia Gardens.” The voice was deep, gruff, and unexpectedly masculine. And very Bryce-like. [_No, it’s gotta be somebody else. _]Surely the head of sales had better things to do than answer phones.
“Uh, hi. This is Keslee Waters from The Frosted Bride. I have a client who is interested in booking your venue.”
There was no mistaking his voice now. Keslee’s heart galloped in her chest. She hoped Ivie couldn’t see her blush. “Hi, Bryce. I didn’t expect you to answer the phone.”
“Our scheduling coordinator doesn’t start until next week so I’m filling in. Uh, what day is your bride looking at?”
Right. Ivie. The wedding. “August twelfth. I know it’s soon, but we’ve had some extenuating circumstances arise and we’re moving up the wedding.”
“August twelfth is available,” Bryce said. “The Iris room is booked, but the Lily and Gardenia rooms are still open.”
Ivie’s expression was eager. Keslee gave her a thumb’s up. [_I’m talking to Bryce! _]It felt fantastic and awful all at once, like mixing chocolate and freshly squeezed lemonade.
It’s neither awful nor fantastic. This is about Ivie, not you. “Great. Can we schedule a time to come by and do a tour?”
“Of course,” Bryce said. “Name a date and time, and we can make it work.”
Keslee put a hand over the mouthpiece. “They still have two rooms available on August twelfth. When do you want to go look?”
“Can we go tomorrow?” Ivie asked. “I’m off work at two.”
Keslee uncovered the mouth piece. “How about tomorrow afternoon?”
“I can do four o’clock,” Bryce said.
“Four o’clock it is,” Keslee said. Ivie clapped her hands together.
“I’ve penciled you in,” Bryce said. “I look forward to seeing you again, Keslee.” His voice was deep and sexy.
Keslee shivered. “We’ll see you soon,” she agreed, and hung up the phone.
Ivie let out a squeal and jumped out of her chair, rushing to hug Keslee. “Thank you!”
Keslee smiled weakly. [_I look forward to seeing you again. _]Had Bryce meant that in the general sense, or in the I’m-secretly-in-love-with-you-and-will-be-eagerly-awaiting-your-arrival sense? She really hoped the latter. But after their last two disastrous encounters, could he really be excited to see her again?
I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
Keslee had never dreaded a client meeting so much. With an entire night to obsess over seeing Bryce, she’d convinced herself she would once again come out of the encounter looking like a fool. She’d trip and fall, or stumble over her words, or bring up that awful date. She drove slowly toward Magnolia Gardens, doing her best to stretch out the time it would take to get there. Naturally, because she wanted[_ _]to be delayed, she hit every green light and encountered no traffic whatsoever.
Why did she still care about Bryce’s opinion, anyway? Sure, he had spent his Saturdays in high school playing the trombone at a retirement center. Yes, he’d been on the honor roll. He’d taken a girl with special needs to the winter formal because he knew she had a crush on him. He’d been a very sexy Doctor Who one year for Halloween.
But that was high school. She wasn’t sixteen anymore. For all she knew, now he could be a complete jerk.
Except he wasn’t. Not even close. Because a jerk wouldn’t have been nearly as nice about the lying-about-her-dead-sister thing.
Keslee’s stomach wriggled and squirmed with anxiety, while simultaneously her traitorous mind anticipated seeing him again. In high school, she’d considered him practically perfect. But the adult version of Bryce was even better.
Despite trying her best to be late, Keslee arrived at Magnolia Gardens ten minutes early. She waited in her car for Ivie and Zak to arrive, her fingers nervously drumming against the steering wheel in time to the music.
We can both be professional. Bryce had proved that with how kind he’d been both at the reception and over the phone. There was no reason they couldn’t put their awkward date behind them and be friendly colleagues. Maybe even friends. Or more than friends.
[_Stop it, Keslee. _]They would be friendly colleagues. Nothing more.
Ivie and Zak arrived with three minutes to spare. Keslee greeted them, and they all walked into Magnolia Gardens together.
Ivie sucked in her breath as they entered the front doors. “It’s beautiful.”
“Very nice,” Zak agreed.
That’s when Bryce appeared. He strode down the spiral staircase, looking impeccable in his suit and tie. Briefly, Keslee imagined what he’d look like in a t-shirt and jeans. [_Yummy. _]She hadn’t seen him in anything but a suit since reconnecting. He’d even been in one at the grocery store.
“You must be Ivie and Zak,” Bryce said, extending his hand toward both of them.
“This center is absolutely gorgeous,” Ivie said.
Bryce smiled. “Thank you. We’re proud of it. We feature three reception halls, each with their own private dance floor and outside garden space. Even if we have three events running simultaneously, you’ll feel like you’re the only party in the building.”
“Sounds wonderful,” Ivie gushed.
“I’ll be guiding your tour today,” Bryce said. He gave an apologetic smile. “We’re still running at about half-staff, so I’m filling in. Our official grand opening isn’t for another two weeks. Most of the employees start Monday.”
“Thank you for letting us in early,” Zak said. He grabbed Ivie’s hand and squeezed. “We really want to get married before I’m transferred to Germany.”
“My pleasure,” Bryce said. Keslee followed at the back of the group, trying to listen to Bryce’s words instead of focusing on how his lips looked while he formed them.
“I’ll give you two a few minutes to discuss things,” Bryce said at the end of the tour. “Keslee, can I have a word with you?”
“Of course,” Keslee said. She glanced at Ivie and Zak, whose heads were close together in conversation, and followed Bryce a discreet distance away.
“Keslee, I feel like a jerk,” Bryce said.
Keslee raised an eyebrow. “Why?”
He rubbed a hand over his face. “I was so caught up in my shock over Jadyn’s death that I didn’t even stop to think about how it’s affected you. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose your twin.”
Keslee blinked, her eyes brimming with tears despite her best efforts to stop them. [_It’s like losing part of your soul. _]But she was learning how to get by without Jadyn. She missed her, but not with the same breathless intensity she had for the year immediately following her death. “It’s been hard. Jadyn was so vivacious and strong. Everyone loved her.”
“Everyone loved you in high school, too.”
Keslee blushed. “Right.” She had always been [_Jadyn’s twin _]and never simply [_Keslee. _]“I feel awful about lying to you,” Keslee said.
“You’ve already apologized.”
“Yeah, but I feel like it’s not enough.”
“We agreed to start over. Can we try to be friends?”
“Friends,” she agreed. She bit her lip. Maybe she and Bryce still had a chance.
“If you ever need to talk about Jadyn, I’m here for you. Whatever you need. You have my number. Feel free to use it.”
Did he really want to be friends, or did he only want to talk about Jadyn? Was he using her as a replacement? Maybe Bryce wasn’t such a nice guy after all.
[_You’re being ridiculous, Keslee. _]Bryce had paid for her meal after she lied to him. He’d done humanitarian work in Uganda, for heaven’s sake. He was a textbook nice guy.
Bryce walked over to Ivie and Zak. “Are you ready to make a decision today?” Bryce asked.
Ivie nodded, her face shining with excitement. “We love it, and can’t wait to get married here.”
Zak patted his pocket as though searching for a wallet, exaggerating the movements. “Where do I pay?”
“I do have one question for you,” Bryce said. He glanced at Keslee, then back at Ivie and Zak. “Since we’re just getting off the ground, we’re hoping to closely observe the experiences of a few different events and use them for marketing purposes. If you’re interested, I’d love to have you represent the wedding side of our events venue. We’d be honored to have a military couple as part of the campaign. If you decide to accept, we’ll offer you a thirty percent total discount on your event.”
Ivie’s eyes flicked to Zak’s, wide and excited. “What would we have to do?” she asked.
“Not much,” Bryce said. “Let our photographer take a few pictures throughout the process. Maybe spend an hour or two answering questions in front of the camera for a television commercial spot. We might not even use the footage. Mostly you just have to let us observe what you’d already be doing.”
Keslee felt equal parts excitement and panic. She fiddled with her hair, focusing on Ivie and Zak. Would they accept? She loved the idea of spending more time with Bryce. She was also terrified by it.
“We accept,” Zak said, and Ivie eagerly nodded.
“Fantastic.” Bryce shook Ivie’s and Zak’s hands, but his eyes were locked on Keslee’s. “Looks like we’ll be seeing a lot of each other over the next three months.”
The next week, Keslee spent most of her time working on Ivie and Zak’s wedding. She spoke on the phone with Bryce twice, and each time her stomach gave a [_zing _]as she listened to his husky voice.
But it was the daily texts that really had her feeling all glowy and warm. Sometimes they were simple, things like [_what’s your favorite soda? _]Other times they were more flirtatious, and usually corny, like [_are you a Dalek? Cause you’ve been rolling through my mind all night. _]And sometimes they were deep. Questions like [_what do you miss most about Jadyn? _]
Why did Jadyn have to have liked Bryce? If she hadn’t, he’d be fair game.
[But he doesn’t want you, he wants Jadyn, _]Keslee reminded herself time and time again. _He misses her, and you remind him of her. And that was the real issue.
But Bryce was texting Keslee, not Jadyn. And he only brought up Jadyn when asking Keslee how she felt about something. Mostly he asked Keslee a hundred questions about herself and flirted outrageously, texting all sorts of nerdy pickup lines. Every time she giggled over one of them, she’d remember he liked Jadyn first and her stomach would drop.
On Friday, two weeks after her fateful date with Bryce, Keslee went with Ivie to Magnolia Gardens for a tasting. All their catering services were on-site, which was convenient since Keslee knew most of her regular caterers would be long booked for August.
When they got to Magnolia Gardens, Bryce was nowhere to be seen. “Where’s Bryce?” Ivie asked, echoing Keslee’s own internal question. He’d always been present before.
“He got called away for a meeting, but he’ll be by in about an hour,” the chef said. “Have a seat and we’ll bring out the food. We’ll start with appetizers.”
Keslee sat with Ivie and offered opinions on the food when asked, but her mind kept straying to Bryce. [_I want to go out with him again, _]she realized. [_On a _]real [_date, where he knows he’s out with me and not Jadyn. _]
But would that be betraying Jadyn and The Pact?
If Jadyn were here, she probably wouldn’t care. She’d be dating some doctor or attorney. Maybe even be married.
He was off limits. Part of it was honoring The Pact. But mostly she couldn’t shake the thought that Jadyn had been his first choice.
“Sorry I’m late.” Bryce breezed into the room. He almost looked dressed down, with only Dockers and a button-up shirt sans tie. His shirt sleeves were rolled halfway up his forearms. He looked . . . sexy. “We had a new employee orientation for everyone this afternoon.”
“Does that mean that, starting next week, we won’t be seeing much of you?” Ivie asked. Keslee held her breath, waiting for the answer.
“You aren’t getting rid of me that easily.” The words were directed toward Ivie, but his eyes were on Keslee. Her stomach burned with heat. “I’m seeing this wedding through to the end. The new event coordinator will have to find her own clients.”
Ivie grinned, and Keslee’s own lips turned up. She couldn’t help it.
“What did I miss?” Bryce asked.
“The lobster bisque, and it’s divine,” Ivie said. “I definitely think that’s my choice of soup. I’m sure Zak would agree.”
“And where is the groom-to-be?” Bryce asked.
Ivie heaved a sigh. “I wish I knew. He’s somewhere doing something for the Army.” She made a face. “I hate that he can’t tell me more than that.”
“We’ve done a pretty good job picking the food without him,” Keslee said. She took a comically loud slurp of lobster bisque. “Yummy.”
Bryce pulled over a chair and settled down. “Don’t leave me out of the fun.” He motioned to a guy who had appeared in the corner. “That’s our photographer. He’ll be taking some photos while you taste everything. Try to ignore him and act natural.”
Soon Ivie had chosen all the food. “Sorry I have to rush off,” she apologized to Keslee. “I can’t be late for my own bridal shower.”
“I understand,” Keslee assured her. “Go. I’ll make sure we get all your food choices taken care of on this end.”
Ivie grinned. “I can’t wait for this wedding.”
Keslee wasn’t sure she wanted the wedding to ever end. Once it did, what excuse would she have to be near Bryce? Were texts enough to keep their friendship building? She followed Bryce upstairs to his office. Who else would talk to her about sci-fi and geeky music humor?
“It shouldn’t take long to get this all entered,” Bryce said, sitting down at his computer.
“The food was delicious.”
Bryce flashed a grin. “Only the best for Magnolia Gardens. I knew immediately when I interviewed here that I wanted the job. This place is so beautiful, it sells itself.” He lowered his voice. “Don’t tell the owner that, though. He might decide my job isn’t as valuable as he thought it was.”
“Even beautiful, amazing reception centers need a little help from marketing and advertising to get noticed.”
Bryce took Keslee’s hand in his. “It’s been nice working with you these last couple weeks.”
Keslee’s breath hitched in her throat. “Uh-huh. Like Batman and Robin or something. Saving weddings together.” She wanted to facepalm herself for making such a lame comment.
Bryce ran his thumb over Keslee’s knuckles. “You’re definitely Batman in that scenario. You’re really good at your job. I can tell Ivie adores you.”
[_Bryce adored Jadyn in high school. _]Keslee abruptly pulled her hand away. “I try to give all my brides a positive experience. A wedding should be magical, not stressful.” Keslee pushed back from the desk. “Call me if you have any questions.” She quickly hurried from the room.
[_Stupid, stupid, stupid. _]Keslee shook her head at her idiocy. She couldn’t believe she’d run away. Jadyn might be dead, and Bryce might have missed his chance with her, but that didn’t mean Bryce couldn’t like Keslee for herself.
[_Why did he have to like Jadyn? _]Keslee heaved a sigh. [_He could like me now, too. He’s texting me. _]If only Jadyn would tell her it was okay to date Bryce. That his motives were pure or whatever. Angels surely had access to that sort of information, and Jadyn was doubtlessly content dating some sexy pirate in heaven. Keslee doubted The Pact was still in force on Jadyn’s end.
“Keslee, wait!” She stopped while Bryce ran across the parking lot. He stopped in front of her, breathing heavy. “Is everything okay?”
“Of course,” Keslee said.
“You seemed upset or something.”
“It’s nothing.” [_Do you like me, Bryce? Me, and not Jadyn? _]
Bryce reached out, taking Keslee’s hand in his. Again. Keslee pursed her lips. If he didn’t stop touching her, she was going to explode. “You can tell me anything, Keslee.”
Keslee closed her eyes. [_I can’t do this! _]she told Jadyn, wherever she was. [_I like him too much. If he’s using me as a replacement, I’ll be crushed. _]
“Hey.” His voice was soft and husky. Bryce nudged Keslee’s chin up with his finger. “Talk to me. I want to help.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“I want to. I [_really _]like you, Keslee. I want to get to know you better. In fact,” if possible, his voice dipped even lower, “I’d like to take you on a date, if you’ll let me. A real date, where you’re Keslee and I’m Bryce, and we aren’t super awkward and uncomfortable the whole time.”
Keslee wanted that, too. She was pretty sure Bryce was being genuine.
[_Jadyn, if I’m about to make a big mistake, tell me! _]
Keslee tilted her chin up so that she could look into his eyes. And that’s when she saw it. A red balloon. Her fingers flew to the tattoo behind her ear.
The balloon floated lazily toward the clouds, a cheerful drop against the darkening night sky. [It’s okay, _]Jadyn seemed to tell Keslee. [_I’m fine. And he likes _]you[. Go out with him._]
Keslee tore her gaze away from the balloon and focused on Bryce. “I’d love to go out with you.”
Keslee glanced at Bryce. He grinned back, the dimple deepening in his cheek. Her heart fluttered. She couldn’t believe she was on a date. With Bryce. And not as Jadyn, but as herself.
“Aren’t you going to tell me where we’re going?” Keslee asked. Bryce hadn’t said much other than to dress casually and plan for a day spent outdoors.
“Not yet,” Bryce said. “You’re gonna love it, though. Promise.”
Keslee grinned, her nerves slowly disappearing. “If you say so.”
They turned off the freeway and began climbing along the canyon road. Buildings gave way to leafy trees with an occasional waterfall cascading off the mountain. Keslee began to recognize the road as they wound their way toward the popular resort.
“Hiking?” she asked.
He grinned. “You’ll never guess.”
Bryce parked at the resort, and they got out of the car. Keslee gasped at the breathtaking view. The resort sat against the backdrop of a lush green mountainside. She’d only ever been here in the winter to ski.
Bryce pulled a baseball cap onto his head, then settled one onto Keslee’s.
Keslee batted her eyes and struck a pose. “How do I look?”
Bryce grinned, tapping her nose with a finger. “You look adorable.”
Keslee blushed. “Thanks.”
Bryce took her hand and tugged her, not toward the resort like she’d expected, but away from it. They crossed the parking lot and followed a paved walkway through tall grasses, toward a line of trees.
“Are you going to tell me where we’re going now?” Keslee asked.
Bryce pointed to a hill in the distance. “We’re doing that.”
Keslee followed his finger, her eyes landing on a hill dotted with people. Was that a track? “What is that?”
“It’s called the Alpine Slide. You ride down on carts.”
“I’ve heard of this.” A faint squeal pierced the air as in the distance someone flew down the mountainside. Keslee laughed.
“Are you excited?”
Keslee grinned. “Absolutely.”
A few minutes later, Bryce stopped at a ticket booth and bought them both all-day passes. They waited in a short line and then boarded the ski lift that would take them to the top. Keslee stared in awe as they rose over the treetops. The mountainside was unusually green due to the rainy spring.
“Look!” Keslee pointed as a family of deer pranced down the mountain. “This is amazing.”
“I’ve never been on the Alpine Slide, but I thought it sounded like fun.” He wrapped his free arm around her shoulders.
Keslee allowed herself to snuggle closer to him. “I agree.”
Keslee and Bryce laughed and admired the scenery during the short ride to the top of the hill. Then they waited in another line for the slide. When it was their turn, Bryce helped Keslee into the cart, which kind of looked like a snow sled, before sitting behind her. He wrapped his arms around Keslee’s waist and she leaned into him, her hands clutching at his. She looked down the hill, which suddenly seemed a lot longer, and a lot steeper.
“Ready?” Bryce whispered in her ear.
She took a deep breath and nodded. “Ready.”
Bryce pulled up on the cart’s brake and they careened down the track. Keslee let out a squeal as warm air rushed past her face and the trees went by in a blur. The force of the ride pushed her against Bryce. His arms tightened around her and she laughed.
The end of the track was nearing fast. Keslee’s fingers dug into Bryce’s arm. She closed her eyes, certain they were going to crash. But Bryce pulled the break just in time. Keslee opened one eye, then the other. A small child stared at Keslee, two fingers in his mouth and a red balloon tied to his arm. A mere foot of track was left in front of Bryce and Keslee.
“I thought we were going to crash,” Keslee said.
“‘Random chance seems to have operated in our favor,’” Bryce quoted.
Bryce grinned, and that darn dimple would’ve buckled her knees had she been standing. “Of course. And for the record, I knew we weren’t going to crash.”
Bryce jumped out and held a hand out to Keslee. She placed her hand in his and stood up. Bryce didn’t let go. Instead, he led her away from the track and back toward the ski lift, still holding her hand.
“Did you like it?” Bryce asked.
“I loved it. Near-death experience and all.”
“Watch out!” someone yelled from behind.
Bryce grabbed Keslee, pulling her out of the way as a bicyclist sped past. Keslee stumbled into Bryce. She didn’t notice the bench along the side of the trail until Bryce’s knees hit the back of it and he fell. His arms instinctively tightened around Keslee’s waist and he pulled her down with him, onto his lap.
Keslee gasped, quickly sliding off Bryce’s lap to sit beside him.
“Are you okay?” Bryce asked, his anxious face hovering inches from hers.
“I’m fine,” Keslee said. “That bicyclist was a maniac! Doesn’t he know that the walkway is only for pedestrians?”
“I thought we were going to fall and I would crush you. Didn’t realize the bench was here.”
“I’m tougher than I look.” Keslee grinned, slapping him lightly on the chest.
Bryce’s hand captured hers. She was suddenly all too aware that his face was mere inches away. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered.
Keslee hiccuped, her stomach muscles expanding and contracting in excitement. Her cheeks flamed. Jadyn never would’ve done something so awkward at such a moment. “Who do you see when you look at me?” she asked. “Keslee? Or Jadyn?”
“Only Keslee.” He leaned down, and she thought he was going to kiss her. But his lips grazed her cheek instead. Her heart sank, but only a little. There was still time for a kiss before the date ended. She was becoming more and more convinced he liked her for herself, and that made it hard to be disappointed.
After that, they had a fabulous date. They spent nearly two hours sliding down the hill. When their faces were flushed from the heat and shirts sticky with perspiration, they trudged back to the lodge and ordered frozen lemonades to help them cool down. Keslee had never enjoyed herself so much on a date. The glimmer in Bryce’s eyes told her he was enjoying himself just as much as she was.
Eventually the date came to an end, and Bryce drove her home. Keslee let him hold her hand as they walked slowly up the steps to her apartment.
“I had a great time tonight,” Keslee said as she leaned against the door.
Bryce leaned into her, brushing her hair behind her ear. “I had a great time too.”
Keslee stared into his blue eyes, breathless. Bryce slowly leaned down and brushed his lips against hers. Keslee took hold of his arms to steady herself. That was all the encouragement Bryce needed. His hands threaded in her hair as he deepened the kiss. Keslee moved her mouth against his, her heart soaring.
“Jadyn,” he whispered against her lips.
Keslee froze. She put her hands on his chest and pushed him back. “What did you call me?”
His eyes were clearing. “Keslee,” he said quickly. “I meant to call you Keslee.”
“You called me Jadyn.” Keslee held a trembling hand to her lips. He’d been using her as nothing more than a stand-in to fulfill his high school fantasies after all.
“I didn’t mean it. It was an accident. Please—”
Keslee turned around, fumbling with her key. It took two tries to properly insert it into the lock. She twisted the knob and threw the door open.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it, I swear.”
“Don’t call or text me.” Keslee slammed the door in his face.
A fist pounded on the door. “Wait. I’m sorry. Give me another chance. Please, Kes.”
Keslee leaned against the door and sank to the floor as her shoulders shook with sobs.
Keslee spent all night crying on Summer’s shoulder. Summer called Bryce all the right nasty names and tried her best to make Keslee feel better.
[_Jadyn. _]She couldn’t believe he called her that. Keslee’s heart twisted every time she remembered. She’d almost believed he liked her for her, and not for who she looked like on the outside.
It had been hard to lose a twin. Impossibly hard. It was made even worse by the fact that every time friends and family looked at Keslee, it reminded them of what they’d lost. She knew they loved her. But they loved Jadyn, too, and when they looked at Keslee, they saw both twins.
Apparently Bryce only saw one of them. Jadyn.
After a long and sleepless night, Keslee finally got out of bed at six a.m. If she couldn’t sleep, she might as well go for a walk and try to clear her head. She quietly got dressed and stepped onto the front porch.
Keslee stumbled, nearly falling over a six-pack of her favorite soda, Dr. Pepper. She looked around, but didn’t see anyone. She bent down and picked up the soda. Taped to the top was a piece of paper.
[_The Leaning Tower of Pisa is considered one of history’s greatest mistakes. It took one hundred seventy-seven years to build and began to lean only ten years after completion. But now it’s a huge tourist attraction and millions of people a year admire the structure. Not all mistakes have to turn out bad. _]
Keslee set down the pack of soda in disgust. Did Bryce think he could minimize what he’d done by comparing his mistake to a famous architectural landmark?
Keslee stewed, her feet slamming against the pavement as frustration propelled her into a jog. She alternated between a jog and a run, the adrenaline too much to contain with a simple walk. What a jerk.
[_He forgave you, _]a tiny voice reminded her.
[_Fine, _]she told the voice. [_I’ll forgive him. Eventually. But that doesn’t mean I have to date him. _]
Back at the apartment, the soda still waited for her in the exact same spot. She gave it a glare and opened the apartment door, then paused. It wasn’t the soda’s fault Bryce was a jerk. In the spirit of forgiveness, she carefully picked up the Dr. Pepper and went inside, pulling a can from the six-pack ring.
When Summer woke up, they decided to go grocery shopping. They were running dangerously low on a few essentials, like ice cream and the ingredients for Rice Krispie treats.
“We can take my car,” Keslee said as they stepped out of the apartment.
When they got to the parking lot, Keslee stopped. Sitting on the hood of her car was a small cooler. Keslee strode forward and yanked the lid off. A giant sized Hershey bar—her favorite—was nestled among freezer packs. Columbus mistakenly discovered America when he was trying to find India. Instead of finding a new trade route, he introduced an array of new foods to the European diet. Like chocolate. Maybe it wasn’t such a mistake after all?
“He also introduced small pox to the Native Americans,” Keslee muttered. She cursed her love of chocolate. It was hard not to forgive Bryce when he gave that as an offering.
“Huh?” Summer said. “What’s that?”
Keslee shoved the candy bar at Summer. “He thinks he’s being clever or something. There was a pack of my favorite soda on the porch with another note this morning.”
Summer read the note, then grinned. “He knows you pretty well. Dr. Pepper and Hershey’s?”
“We’ve known each other a long time.” Although he’d only learned those two things about her more recently, through texts.
“I bet he doesn’t know any of this stuff about Jadyn.”
Keslee frowned. “That doesn’t matter. Are we going shopping or what?”
Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, Keslee found four more packages. Despite her best efforts, her heart started to soften. There was a gift card to her favorite ice cream parlor with Thomas Edison’s quote about not failing, just discovering how to not make a lightbulb. A TARDIS key chain with a reminder that penicillin was accidentally discovered by Sir Andrew Fleming. Tickets to a movie theater with a short history lesson on how chocolate chip cookies were created after Ruth Wakefield ran out of baking chocolate and tried to substitute semi-sweet. The last package was a picture from their date on the Alpine Slide. They both looked so happy, so alive. The note said: Calling my (hopefully future) girlfriend by her sister’s name is a pretty big mistake. But it’s one we can recover from, if you’ll give me a chance. I may have said Jadyn, but I promise, all I was thinking about was Keslee. Let me make it up to you.
“Give him another chance,” Summer encouraged. “He sounds really sincere, and it was an honest mistake. You [_do _]look like Jadyn, and that’s the girl he’s been crushing on for the last seven years.”
“Exactly.” Keslee blinked back tears. “Don’t you think what he said when we kissed means something? He’s using me as Jadyn’s replacement.”
“Let him prove you wrong,” Summer encouraged.
Keslee hesitated, then shook her head. “No. It hurts too much.”
“He forgave you for pretending to be Jadyn. Forgive him for calling you by her name.”
“I’ll forgive him, but I won’t date him. Drop it, Summer.”
Keslee knew she couldn’t avoid Bryce forever. On Monday, she had an appointment at Magnolia Gardens with Ivie and Zak to finalize the table centerpieces. She prayed with everything she was worth that Bryce wouldn’t be there. He had said the new employees were starting Monday.
But he’d also said he would see this wedding through to the end. She had a feeling he wouldn’t pass up the chance to corner her.
Bryce was waiting for them in the showroom when Keslee arrived with Ivie and Zak. His eyes locked onto Keslee’s, apologetic and full of regret. Keslee’s heart thudded and the Pop Rocks jumped to life in her stomach.
[_No, _]she commanded herself. She would accept his apology. But she was no one’s stand-in.
Keslee tried to remain present while Ivie ooed and ahed over centerpiece choices. Keslee complimented Ivie on her vision for the event and offered suggestions when Ivie started to veer in a less than aesthetically pleasing direction.
“I think that will look beautiful,” Bryce complimented when the selection was finalized.
“Great,” Ivie said. She turned to Keslee. “You can finish this up, right? I’m meeting my bridesmaids for dinner.”
Keslee swallowed hard. “Sure.”
When the door shut behind Ivie and Zak, Bryce’s hand immediately fell over Keslee’s. “Did you get my notes?” he asked.
Keslee pulled her hand away. “Yes. And I didn’t think they were very funny.”
“I wasn’t trying to make you laugh. I am [_so _]sorry, Keslee. What I did? It was rotten. But it was an honest mistake. I don’t know what I was thinking. Obviously I wasn’t. Please, give me a second chance.”
Keslee wanted to so badly. But how could she trust he was in the relationship because of her and not Jadyn? She shook her head. “I can’t.” The tears brimmed in her eyes. “Please, let’s hurry and finish this up so I can leave.”
“Your favorite part of wedding planning is the clients,” Bryce said.
Keslee looked up, startled.
“You like organizing events, but what you really like is making couples happy. You’ll bend over backwards to make sure their wedding day is perfect. I’ve seen it in the way you work with Ivie.”
“What does this have to do with anything?” Keslee asked.
“You push the clicker on your pen an obnoxious number of times when you’re thinking really hard about things. Your favorite music is country, but the modern stuff, not the old-timey twang. You like Hershey bars, but only if they don’t have almonds in them. In fact, you don’t like nuts in anything. Ice cream is your go-to dessert.” Bryce took Keslee’s hands in his, and this time she let him. “You’d rather sit at home and watch reality TV than go to a club or party. You’re nerdy, but in a cute way. You love Doctor Who and Star Trek, but only the original series, not the new movies. You think Batman is the coolest of all the superheroes even though it’s totally Spiderman. You suck on your hair when you’re nervous, but always notice after a moment and stop yourself. It’s [_you _]I want to get to know better, Keslee. It’s [_you _]I’m crazy about. Jadyn was a crush I had a long time ago. Even back then I barely knew anything about her.” He squeezed her hands.
Tears pricked Keslee’s eyes. Everything he’d listed was unique to her, and didn’t describe Jadyn at all. He [_did _]see her. And he liked her. Her! Not Jadyn. She had no idea he’d noticed so many little things about her. “I was worried you were using me as Jadyn’s replacement,” Keslee said. “That you liked her, not me. We look the same. When you called me her name, it ripped me apart.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “I’ve been thinking about that all weekend. I am [_so _]sorry. I can’t imagine how that feels. All I can do is prove to you that it’s [_you _]I want to date. It’s you that loves waffles and hates pancakes, just like me. We like the same movies. Have the same sense of humor. Both feel passionate about our jobs. You’re here and beautiful and I’ll do anything to make this up to you.”
“Anything?” Keslee asked. “Even admitting Batman is better than Spiderman?”
“Even that,” Bryce agreed. “Long live Batman.” He leaned forward, capturing her lips with his. Keslee let herself sink into the kiss. His five o’clock shadow rubbed against her face in a way that made her skin tingle. “I’m here for you, Keslee,” he whispered against her lips. “Jadyn may have been the one I thought I liked, but [_you _]are the girl I’m falling for.”
Keslee claimed his lips with hers once more.
Keslee looked around the Gardenia room at Magnolia Gardens with a satisfied smile. Ivie and Zak had just left, amid a shower of rose petals, to start their lives together as husband and wife. The day had gone perfectly, and the pure joy and happiness on Ivie’s and Zak’s faces was worth the craziness of the last three months. This was the part of wedding planning Keslee loved most—seeing all her hard work and the bride’s vision come together in a perfect day that the couple would cherish for a lifetime.
But while the bride and groom may have left, a handful of party-goers were still taking advantage of the open bar. Keslee reminded the bartender to close up shop at midnight, then sank into a chair. Her feet ached after a long day and she wanted a few minutes to sit before cleanup began. She still had a long night ahead of her.
Hands rested on her shoulders. She looked up, and Bryce’s lips settled on hers. She grinned, wrapping her arms around his neck as he stood above her, and they spent a few pleasant moments kissing. The last couple of months as his girlfriend had been heaven.
Bryce took Keslee’s hand and tugged her to her feet. “Dance with me.”
Keslee let him lead her to the dance floor. The song was fast-paced, but Bryce pulled her close and they swayed together at a much slower tempo.
“The ceremony and reception were beautiful,” Bryce said. “The photographer got some great shots for the ad campaign.”
“I’m glad. I have a feeling I’ll have a lot more brides come through here in the future.”
“I hope so. You did a fantastic job today.”
“Thank you. Ivie and Zak were happy, and the guests seemed to enjoy themselves. That’s all that really matters.”
Bryce pulled Keslee closer. “All that really matters to me is you.”
Keslee blushed, burying her face in Bryce’s shoulder to hide her flaming cheeks. She still couldn’t believe she was lucky enough to be Bryce’s girlfriend.
“We’ve had a good time the last couple of months, haven’t we?” Bryce asked.
Keslee looked up, catching Bryce’s eye. “I think so.” She bit her lip. “I haven’t been this happy since Jadyn was alive.”
“I’m glad you’re so happy.” Bryce cleared his throat. Swallowed hard. Looked away. His fingers tightened around her waist, and they stopped swaying. “I’m not very good at this kind of thing. But Keslee, what I’m trying to say is . . . I’ve fallen in love with you. You own me, heart and soul.”
Warm tingles started in Keslee’s scalp and spread throughout her body until they reached her toes. Keslee took Bryce’s face gently between her hands. “I love you too, Bryce.” Then she kissed him.
Summer spoke around the bobby pins in her mouth. “Just a second, I’ve almost got it . . .” She stood on top of a Queen Anne chair, towering over Keslee. Without her heels, Summer’s flowing red Grecian-style dress pooled around her feet, looking like rose petals resting on the cream-colored chair cushion. She placed another bobby pin and Keslee felt it prick her skull. “Sorry,” Summer said. “There. Tell me what you think.”
Keslee slowly turned and faced the full-length mirror in one corner of the bride’s room at Magnolia Gardens. The veil was perfect, placed just at the crown of her head and trimmed in delicate lace. With trembling hands, she smoothed down the white satin of her dress.
“It’s perfect,” Keslee said. “I feel like a princess.”
Summer wrapped an arm around Keslee’s waist, and their eyes met in the mirror. “You make a beautiful bride.”
Keslee laughed, repositioning the jeweled belt at her waist. “I’m not used to being on this side of weddings.”
“Well, it suits you.” Summer grabbed a tissue from the vanity. “I swore I wasn’t going to cry. I’m still furious at you for forcing me to find a new roommate.”
“I know.” Keslee hugged Summer close. “I’ll miss you, too.” Of course they’d still see each other, but it wouldn’t be the same. “As soon as we finish remodeling the house, I’m inviting you over for a movie night. Promise.” Just yesterday, Keslee and Bryce had closed on a cute little house in the suburbs. It was small, but had a fantastic den in the basement. As soon as Keslee and Bryce returned from their honeymoon, they would start remodeling.
“If you’d told me a year ago that you’d be marrying Bryce today, I would’ve called you crazy,” Summer said. “I thought for sure lying about Jadyn would end in disaster.”
[_It almost did, _]Keslee thought. She was so glad neither she nor Bryce had let it ruin their potential. “Bryce keeps assuring me that it’s a great ‘how we reconnected’ story for the grandkids.”
Summer snorted, then grabbed another tissue and dabbed at her eyes. “It’s definitely that. I really am so happy for you.”
Keslee smiled. “I know.” She glanced at the grandfather clock on the wall. “Ten minutes. We need to make sure the last of the guests are taking their seats, and that the ushers close the door five minutes before the ceremony. The photographer should be in place at the front, and the minister at the end of the aisle.”
“Keslee.” Summer grabbed her hands and held her gaze. “You’re the bride today. The wedding planner has it all under control.”
Keslee put her hands to her cheeks, feeling their flushed heat. “You’re right. Sorry. It’s hard to switch from wedding planner mode to bride mode.”
“Here.” Summer grabbed her small red clutch off the vanity and opened it. She shook a mint from a container and held it out. “I might have borrowed your wedding day grab bag idea. Don’t you always give your brides one of these before they walk down the aisle?”
Keslee took the mint and placed it on her tongue. “Yes, I do. Maybe you should quit teaching kindergarten and become a wedding planner.”
“Not a chance.”
There was a knock on the door, and Liz entered—one of the wedding planners Keslee worked with at The Frosted Bride. “It’s time,” she said.
The walk from the bride’s room to the gardenia room was a blur. Keslee waited outside the double French doors with her father as Summer, along with her three other bridesmaids, walked down the aisle. Then the wedding march began. Keslee took a deep breath, and the doors opened. The Pop Rocks weren’t just jumping in her stomach today—they were giving off more of a Mentos-and-Coke feeling, really.
Keslee’s heart fluttered in her chest as she took her first step down the white aisle strewn in wild flowers. She was aware of the guests standing to either side of her, their smiles wide and encouraging. But her attention was focused on Bryce. He stood underneath a canopy of red balloons at the end of the aisle, in a black tuxedo and red vest and tie. What Keslee knew—and the guests wouldn’t find out until the reception—was that Bryce had a Superman shirt on underneath his tux. He looked as inviting and tasty as Dr. Pepper, a Hershey’s bar, and double chocolate fudge brownie ice cream all rolled into Batman jammies and reality TV. Keslee’s heart nearly exploded with happiness. There was sadness, too—just a tinge—that Jadyn wasn’t standing at the front as maid of honor. But she couldn’t help thinking that this was how it was supposed to have happened all along. Maybe, just maybe, Jadyn had been the one to orchestrate her meeting with Bryce at the grocery store exactly one year ago.
At the front of the aisle, Keslee’s dad kissed her cheek, then placed her hand in Bryce’s. Fire ignited at his touch, flowing hot through her veins. Even after a year, he still had that effect on her. His eyes met hers and that dimple appeared in his cheek, the one that she’d never been able to resist.
The minister invited the crowd to sit and the ceremony began. Keslee and Bryce gazed into each other’s eyes and recited their vows. Before she knew it, the minister was pronouncing them husband and wife. Bryce wrapped an arm around Keslee’s waist and pulled her forward, his lips soft and gentle on hers, but a hidden passion seething just beneath the surface.
“I love you,” he whispered in her ear. “Thank you for making me the happiest man alive.”
“I love you, too,” Keslee said.
He kissed her one more time, then they turned to face the crowd. Everyone rose to their feet and cheered as Keslee and Bryce made their way back down the aisle.
Keslee’s finger brushed against her tattoo as they headed toward the gardens for pictures. Bryce glanced over at her and grinned, the dimple popping in his cheek.
She might not have been Bryce’s first choice. But she was his first love.
That was more than enough.
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This story originally appeared in an anthology with eight other authors—the Sweet and Sassy Anthology: Hidden Identities. Thank you so much to my fellow anthology authors! They gave me fantastic feedback on the story and helped me make it shiny and pretty. Thanks to Candice and Liz, without whom there wouldn’t even be a story. Candice helped me brainstorm an idea and then she and Liz encouraged me to submit when I wasn’t sure if I should. And they kept me focused and motivated every step of the way. And most of all, thanks to my husband and kids, who gave me the time I needed to write and polish this story. I love them for supporting me as I follow my dreams.
&Lindzee Armstrong& isn’t an identical twin, but she does have identical twin boys that keep her on her toes. Constantly having to explain to people which child is which, and how she knows that, partly inspired this story.
Lindzee is married to the most supportive man in the world, who regularly takes care of the twins while she escapes with her laptop to chase her dream of being a writer. When she has time for hobbies, Lindzee is a reality TV junkie, loves cross-stitch, and sometimes even finds time to play the piano. She thinks nuts in desserts are yucky and has an obsession with double chocolate fudge ice cream, and wishes she liked things like running or yoga.
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Copyright © 2015 by Lindzee Armstrong
Published by Snowflake Press
All rights reserved. This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this book can be reproduced in any form or by electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the express written permission of the author.
Cover Design by Novak Illustrations
Interior Design by Snowflake Press
Edited by Cindy C. Bennett
Print ISBN 978-0-9863632-3-8
Library of Congress Control Number 2015908567
When wedding planner Keslee gets asked on a date by her long-lost high school crush, Bryce, everything should be perfect. But Bryce mistakes Keslee for her deceased twin sister, Jadyn. And Keslee doesnâ€™t correct him. Talk about awkward. To make matters worse, she learns theyâ€™ll be seeing a lot more of each other because Bryce is the marketing director at the venue where Kesleeâ€™s new client has chosen to get married. Keslee knows the charade canâ€™t last much longer, and fears sheâ€™ll lose Bryce forever when she tells him the truth.