“Chad is my best friend—it’s not the same as stealing,” Amelia Snyder whispered in response to her sister Ann’s warning. Besides, how was she supposed to steal the groom if he never showed?
Amelia crouched by a row of evergreen bushes on an incline above the majestic red-brick church and aimed her binoculars at the limousine pulling into the long circular drive.
“Finally, he’s here,” Amelia said, darting a look at her reluctant partner in crime. The close sister bond between them was the only reason why Ann was here, by her side, offering support as she always had.
When their parents were killed in a car accident almost fifteen years ago, her oldest sister Abby had just turned seventeen, Ann was fifteen, and Amelia was ten. Even when the siblings didn’t agree, they were always there for one another.
“Thank you for helping me with my plan,” Amelia said, giving her sister’s hand a little squeeze.
Ann clamped her lips tightly together, her way of showing disapproval for what she’d referred to repeatedly as “Amelia’s Folly.” “We should forget this wild scheme and go inside. We still have time to change into our dresses before the ceremony begins.”
Ignoring her older sister, Amelia focused all her attention on the scene below. Her sister didn’t understand what was at stake if this wedding proceeded to the “death do us part” ending.
Camouflaged in the thick, prickly underbrush, Amelia kept her gaze glued to the entrance of the imposing building, afraid to blink lest she miss something important.
She had one shot to save her best friend from a life of sure misery. She didn’t intend to blow it.
With a little bit of luck, the element of surprise would be on her side. She’d be in the limousine with Chad and on her way out of their quiet little town of Sweet Creek within seconds.
Though she hadn’t slept more than six hours combined the last two nights, alternating between worrying over her sister Abby and worrying over Chad, her senses were on full alert. She knew the ramifications if she didn’t succeed.
Chad would end up miserable married to Claire, the bridezilla. She would bleed him dry financially and drag his name through the mud. His finances and his reputation would be ruined. He’d become a broken man exactly like his father. Bitter. Angry.
Well, Amelia wouldn’t allow it, not if she could help it.
She couldn’t forget how Chad was the boy who’d punched the bully teasing her after her parents’ death. The one who’d taken her to prom when her date had chicken pox. The one who taught her to how to fish, how to change a tire, and how to defend herself against boys who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
She had to do whatever it took to prevent Chad’s life from spiraling downward.
Therefore, failure was not an option. Friends did not allow friends to marry the wrong woman.
And without a doubt Chad Walker would marry the wrong woman unless Amelia took matters into her own hands. If she didn’t act fast—in the next twenty minutes—she would have to go into the church, change into the dress she’d brought along, and watch her best friend ruin his life.
Okay, so maybe stealing the groom was a little drastic, but she’d tried everything else.
But he’d held steadfast in his decision. Even if he’d looked a little sick to his stomach doing it.
Due to some of his father’s unwise business decisions before his death, Chad’s family’s company was at risk and he’d do anything he could to save it. Even offer himself up as the sacrificial lamb.
“All this skulking around is ridiculous, Amelia. Just tell Chad you love him so I can get out of this heat,” Ann said, breaking the stillness of the moment.
She wiped the perspiration away from her eyes and settled her plump form more securely on the in-need-of-rain ground. “May is too hot a month to sit around outside and play I Spy.”
“Who said anything about love? Our grandparents and his have been friends forever. You know how Chad and I were always thrown together at the holidays and vacations our families shared. We’re friends, Ann, and as his friend, I’m simply worried about his future if he marries that barracuda.”
She’d told Chad as much, except she’d left off the barracuda part.
He’d thanked her for watching out for him, and then assured her that his heart wasn’t on the line because his upcoming marriage was simply a business arrangement.
She’d been too stunned to reply.
Business arrangement? Amelia had wanted to pursue the conversation, but his fiancée had called him on his cell phone at the exact moment to whine about ruining a pair of shoes.
Amelia had heard the woman’s nasal voice before Chad switched off the speaker.
Oh, the horror of a pair of ruined shoes, Amelia scoffed inwardly. Claire was the most materialistic woman she’d ever known. The woman could smell money the way trained police dogs could sniff out contraband.
A fat bumblebee hovered around Amelia’s head and she shifted her weight, ignoring the droning buzz as she kept her gaze focused on the limousine.
Though it was a very small wedding with only family and a few friends—unlike the event-of-the-decade reception she was sure Claire would have preferred—she needed the parking lot completely cleared before she could act. The fewer witnesses, the better. She knew Chad’s family was already at the church, so Chad should be alone.
“Seriously, you’ve gone overboard this time.” Ann waved her hand to ward off a bevy of gnats and lifted her shoulder-length brown hair away from her neck with a sigh of frustration. “This is probably the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.”
“I haven’t done anything yet.”
“The yet is what worries me,” Ann muttered, letting her hair fall back into place. “How I let myself get talked into tagging along on this fiasco I’ll never know.”
“Whatever. You know you secretly love the drama. Plus someone will need to tell everyone Chad has run off with me—after we’re safely away from here, of course.”
“If you say so.” Ann pulled at the thick material of her blue jeans. “I should’ve put on a pair of shorts.”
“Shh,” Amelia said, “I need to pay attention.”
So far, there was no sign Chad was attempting to exit the limousine. Maybe he was having second thoughts. Amelia’s hopes crept upward. She wouldn’t have to resort to such drastic measures if Chad would pull a disappearing act on his own.
Then she could enjoy the rest of her long-awaited vacation secure in the knowledge that her best friend was safe from the clutches of yet another woman hungry for his wealth. Amelia frowned. At least until the next gold digger surfaced.
There was always someone waiting in the wings to try to take advantage of him. Women flocked to him because of his good looks and then stuck around once they realized his net worth.
The driver’s side door opened, the black paint glinting in the sun. Chad’s aging chauffeur lumbered from the car and headed toward the back intending to open the door for Chad.
Leaving the car running.
Amelia’s heart pounded.
Now or never…