"Good to know," she said. "Because I expect all my money to be Venmoed to me by tomorrow." "I'll see what I can do," he said, then did the whole hand over the mouthpiece while talking to a make-believe secretary. "What? Okay, I'll be there in one second. Prep OR—"
"—Seven," Annie said in harmony with him, and he went silent. "Remember I was there when you invented OR seven to get off the phone with your ex?"
"Which is why I'd never be stupid enough to use it on you. I really am needed in the OR," he lied. "Gotta go."
"Don't you dare hang...up on me," she said the last few words to herself because he'd already hung up.
Annie dropped the phone on the couch and wondered, not for the first time, when it would finally be her time to belong. She wasn't greedy. One person would be enough.
Her grandparents had belonged to each other. Her parents, to their patients. Which was why she'd been so understanding of Clark's late hours, his dedication to his career. Because in that world, she knew where she fit. Now she felt like she was in a free fall, spinning out of control, unsure where she was going to land.
If Annie didn't come up with an escape plan—and STAT—she was going to be stuck in wedding hell. A ridiculous thought, since she was no longer even a bride. But the universe didn't seem to care.
Kicking off her shoes, Annie reached back for the next eyehook. Either her arms were too short, or the hook was too low, but she was willing to bet her last piece of pepperoni and green olive pizza that even Houdini couldn't liberate himself from this dress.
Gripping the cream silk and lacy cups with both hands, she pulled the bodice to the side. It didn't budge. She gave a hard tug while sucking in her belly, then again while jumping in the air.
"Shit!" The stupid thing had been so easy to put on and now she was afraid she'd have to cut herself out. "Shitshitshit!"
She'd relocated far away from everyone she loved and everything she knew to steer clear of Clark's wedding. Cut her long black hair—much to her mother's horror—into choppy layers that framed her face. Worked thirty-six-hour shifts to avoid answering the phone and reassuring her parents that she was fine—and her mother that she did not look like a boy. Which meant reassuring herself that she was fine.
And there she was, so not fine, stuck in some other person's wedding.
Even moving one hundred miles from her past hadn't changed the trajectory of her future. It was as if she were still back in Hartford instead of making her fresh start in Rome—Rome, Rhode Island not Italy. Which explained the missing four thousand miles on her travel itinerary.
Sadly, when the temp agency e-mailed her a job offer in Rome, Annie had been head deep into a pity party for one—hosted by none other than Jose Cuervo. So she'd responded with a resounding yes. Which was how she'd arrived at this remote cabin on the banks of Buzzards Bay in historic Rome, Rhode Island, instead of a villa on the River Tiber.
Yup, Annie was living in the one state that was shockingly less diverse than Connecticut. Her ex-fiancé wanted her opinion on what lighting would make the first kiss most romantic. And her wedding was moving forward with a replacement bride.
"I guess if the medicine route doesn't work out, I could always start my own business," she said to the moose head that hung above the fireplace. "I'll trade in my PA for a PPA, Professional Practice Fiancée, and give men lessons on being a proper husband."
She'd make millions. She was already five for five in the happy-couples department.
Huffing her hair out of her face, she bent at the waist and tugged the fabric toward her head while making a shimmying motion with her torso. Finally! With a small tearing sound, which she'd feel for years to come, the dress fell to the floor.
Sweaty and overheated, she closed her eyes and let her hands dangle toward the floor. "What is up with my luck?"
"I've been asking myself the same question. In fact, I'll give you twenty bucks if you promise not to stop," an unexpected male voice said—from inside her house!
A lump of terror materialized in her throat as every horror movie Annie had ever watched came rushing back.
Telling herself it was still Clark on the phone, she opened her eyes and squeaked.
A big, broad figure loomed behind her—in her bedroom doorway. Even from her upside-down between-the-legs view, he looked mean and menacing, and very ax-murderer-esque.
Her heart pounding as if it were going to shake apart, she gripped her stiletto and whirled around. As a weapon, it wasn't quite as lethal as she'd like, but she leveled him with her most intimidating glare. A glare, Clark had said, that could scare small children, ward off vampires, and cause even the most impatient of patients to take a seat.
Clearly, ax murderers were immune. Or hers was, because he lifted a single brow and she swallowed—hard.
Huh. Simple, but effective.
"Who the hell are you?" She took in his bare chest, boxers, and bedhead—no sign of the ax. "And why are you sleeping in my bed?"
His eyes took in her attire while his lips kicked into a crooked smile. "I was about to ask you the same thing, Goldilocks."
This excerpt ends on page 14 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book First Comes Scandal by Julia Quinn.