The Fianc?e He Can't Forget
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About the Author
CAROLINE ANDERSON has the mind of a butterfly. She’s been a nurse, a secretary, a teacher, run her own soft-furnishing business, and now she’s settled on writing. She says, ‘I was looking for that elusive something. I finally realised it was variety, and now I have it in abundance. Every book brings new horizons and new friends, and in between books I have learned to be a juggler. My teacher husband John and I have two beautiful and talented daughters, Sarah and Hannah, umpteen pets, and several acres of Suffolk that nature tries to reclaim every time we turn our backs!’ Caroline also writes for Mills & Boon® Cherish™.
The Fianc?e He Can’t Forget
Table of Contents
More praise for Caroline Anderson:
‘Photojournalist Maisie Douglas and
businessman Robert Mackenzie have been more or less amicably divorced for almost two decades, but the upcoming marriage of their daughter, Jenni, stirs up old emotions on both sides. Very young when she married him, Maisie—pregnant and disowned by her family—was miserable living in Scotland with Rob’s judgmental parents, and left after little more than a year. Maisie hasn’t found another partner, and neither has Rob. Can they find a way to trust each other again, after all this time? This lovely reunion romance is rich with emotion and humour, and all of the characters are exquisitely rendered.’ —RT Book Reviews on MOTHER OF THE BRIDE
‘ARE you OK?’
She wasn’t sure.Her heart was pounding, her legs felt like jelly and her stomach was rebelling, but it was Daisy’s wedding day, so Amy dug around and dredged up some kind of a smile.
‘Absolutely!’ she lied, and tried to make the smile look more convincing. She didn’t even need to ask how Daisy was. She was lit up from inside with a serene joy that was radiantly, blindingly obvious. Amy’s smile wavered. She’d felt like that once, lifetimes ago.
She tweaked Daisy’s dress for something to do and stood back. ‘Are you ready?’
Her smile glowed brighter still. ‘Oh, yes,’ Daisy said softly. ‘Do I look OK?’
Amy laughed indulgently and hugged her. ‘You look stunning. Ben will be blown away.’
‘I hope not, I want him here!’ Daisy glanced down at Florence, fizzing silently on the end of Amy’s arm, on her very best behaviour. She looked like a fairy in her pretty little dress and she was so excited Amy thought she was going to pop.
‘OK, darling?’ Daisy asked.
Florence nodded, her eyes like saucers, and for a second she looked so like Ben—so like Matt—that Amy’s heart squeezed painfully with the ache of loss.
‘Let’s go then,’ Daisy said, stooping to kiss her about-to-be stepdaughter, and with a quick, supportive hug for Amy that nearly unravelled her, she turned and took her father’s arm.
As they gave the signal for the processional music, Amy sucked in a deep, slow breath.
You can do this, she told herself desperately. Ignore him. Just keep your eyes on Daisy’s back, and you’ll be fine.
And then with Florence at her side, she fell in behind them, her eyes glued on Daisy as they walked slowly down between the rows of guests to where Ben was waiting.
Ben, and Matt.
Don’t look …
Matt’s hair was slightly longer than his twin’s, more tousled, the dark, silky strands so familiar that her fingers still remembered the feel of them. His back was ramrod straight, his shoulders broad, square, uncompromising.
She shouldn’t have looked. She should have kept her eyes on Daisy, but they wouldn’t obey her and her heart was pounding so hard she was sure he’d hear it.
Please don’t turn round …
He didn’t move a muscle.
He couldn’t see her, but he could feel her there, getting closer. She was behind him, over his left shoulder, and there was no way he was turning round to look. Just getting through the ceremony was going to be hard enough, without making it harder by rubbing salt into the wound her presence here had ripped wide open.
Not that it had ever really healed.
Ben’s hand brushed his, their fingers tangling and gripping for a second in a quick, wordless exchange.
Never better, and you’re lying, but thanks for being here.
You’re welcome. Wouldn’t have it any other way.
Out of the corner of his eye Matt saw Daisy draw level with Ben, saw him reach out to her. He could feel their love like a halo around them, the huge depth of caring and emotion threatening to swamp him. The sort of love he’d felt for Amy …
Hang on in there. You can do it. It won’t take long.
He heard Ben murmur something to Daisy, heard her murmur back, but he had no idea what they said. All his senses were trained on the woman standing behind Daisy. He could hear the rustle of her dress, feel the tension radiating off her, smell the slight drift of her achingly familiar perfume.
How could he be so aware of her? He closed his eyes, taking a moment to calm his thoughts, to settle it all down, to get the lid back on the box. There. He was fine. He could do this.
The ceremony began, and then it was his turn. All he had to do was to take the rings from his pocket and hand them over. Which meant he had to move, to turn—not far, but just far enough to see—
The lid blew off the box with the force of an explosion, and he dropped the rings in Ben’s outstretched hand and stepped sharply back to his place, his emotions reeling.
He had to concentrate on Ben and Daisy. This was their day, and he and Amy were in the past. Gone.
But not, apparently, forgotten.
Not by a long way.
The ceremony was interminable.
Her whole body was shaking and she was finding it really hard to concentrate on anything but Matt. Crazy, since she worked with Ben almost every day and they were scarily alike. The most identical of identical twins, with one huge difference—she loved Matt with all her broken, guarded heart, and today was the first time she’d had to face him in four years—
Don’t go there!
She felt Florence wriggle at the end of her arm, and glanced down.
‘You’s squeezing me!’ she whispered, and she realised she had a death grip on the little girl’s hand. ‘Sorry,’ she mouthed, wincing, but Florence smiled up at her and patted her hand.
‘‘S OK, Amy, I know you’s scared,’ she replied in a stage whisper that made several of the guests smile, and in the row beside her Amy heard Florence’s mother give a quiet, despairing chuckle.
But then the ceremony was over, and Ben was kissing Daisy while everyone clapped and cheered, and Florence wriggled out of Amy’s loosened grip and ran to them. Laughing, Ben scooped her up and kissed her, too, and as Amy watched Matt turned slowly towards her and their eyes met and locked.
Time stopped. She felt the room start to swim, and she dragged in a quick breath, then another. Matt frowned, then moved swiftly, his fingers gripping her elbow. ‘Are you all right?’ he murmured, his voice low, gruff and painfully familiar.
She swayed against him. All right? Not in a million years, but she wasn’t telling him that. She straightened up.
‘I’m fine. Low blood sugar,’ she lied, and with a slight frown he let her go. Not that it made any difference. The skin of her arm was tingling from the touch of his fingers, her highly sensitised flesh branded by each one.
‘We have to sign the register,’ he said, and she nodded. They did. They should have done it years ago, but not like this. Not as witnesses …
‘Fine,’ she said shortly, and took that vital and symbolic step away from him before she gave into the urge to turn her face into his chest and howl.
He thought it would never end.
The smiling, the greeting of old friends and family, the meeting of new people. And of course there were people there who’d known Amy. People who should have been at their wedding.
‘Isn’t that …?’
‘Yes—small world, isn’t it? She and Daisy are old friends. How are you? It’s good to see you again …’
And on, and on, until he was ready to scream.
He drank rather more than was sensible, considering he had to make a speech, but every time he caught sight of Amy it was as if he’d been drenched in iced water and he felt stone cold sober. They sat down to eat at last, strung out in a line with Ben and Daisy and two sets of parents between them, and he was glad that his brother and his new sister-in-law had opted for a long top table instead of a round one.
Or maybe that was why they had, thinking ahead to this moment.
Florence was with Jane and Peter at another table, and he winked at her and she winked back, her little face screwing up as she tried to shut just one eye. It made him laugh, in an odd, detached way.
And then finally the food was eaten, the champagne glasses were filled and it was time for the speeches.
Amy didn’t want to listen to his speech, but she had little choice. None, in fact, but she loved Daisy and she’d grown increasingly fond of Ben, and this was their wedding and she wanted to be here for it. And Matt wasn’t going to spoil it for her, she told herself firmly as Daisy’s father got to his feet.
He welcomed Ben to their family with a warmth in his voice that made Daisy cry, then Ben gave a funny, tender and rather endearing speech about Daisy and the change she’d made to his life, thanked everyone for coming to share their day, and then with a grin at Matt he said, ‘Now, before I hand you over to my clone for the ritual character assassination I’m sure I’ve got coming, I’d like you to raise your glasses to two very special and beautiful women. One is my wife’s dearest friend, Amy, and the other is my precious daughter, Florence. I know Daisy’s appreciated their support and their help in giving us such a wonderful day to enjoy together. Amy particularly has worked absolutely tirelessly on the arrangements, and I think she’s done a brilliant job. And Florence has painstakingly decorated and filled the little favour boxes for you all, so we hope you enjoy them. Ladies and gentlemen, the bridesmaids!’
She was grateful to little Florence, who was kneeling up on her chair giggling and attracting all the eyes in the room, because it meant fewer people were looking at her while she struggled with her prickling eyes and the rising tide of colour on her cheeks.
And then it was Matt’s turn, and he was smiling engagingly at everyone as if he did this kind of thing all the time. He probably did, she thought. He’d always had a way with words.
‘You’ll have to forgive my deluded brother,’ he began drily. ‘Being the firstborn just makes him the prototype, and we all know they need refining, but I’m very pleased to be here today because after thirty-four years of arguments, black eyes, mind-blowingly foolish stunts and some underhanded, downright cheating, it’s been settled. I am officially the best man, and now we can move on with our lives!’
There was a ripple of laughter round the room, but then he went on, ‘On the subject of twins, we didn’t get to bed very early last night. Ben, Daisy and I ended up delivering two rather special babies shortly before midnight, and I found myself wondering, will those little girls have as much fun growing up as we did? Because it wasn’t all fights. I always had a friend, a playmate, someone to lean on. Someone to swap with. We did that quite a lot—in fact, Daisy, are you sure that’s Ben? You wouldn’t be the first person to fall for it. I think Jenny Wainwright’s still confused.’
‘No, I’m quite sure, he’s much more good-looking!’ Daisy said, laughing and hugging Ben.
It sounded silly, but Amy absolutely understood how she felt. The similarities were obvious. The differences were more subtle but they were definitely there, not only in their looks but in their characters, and her reaction to them was utterly different.
Ben could talk to her and she just heard his words. Matt talked, and her soul seemed to tune into his—but right now, she didn’t need that spiritual connection that seemed to call to every cell in her body. She didn’t need to feel the rich tones of his deep, warm voice swirling round her, that slight Yorkshire accent teasing at her senses, and with an effort she made herself listen to what he was saying.
She was glad she did. He was very, very funny, but also very moving. He told tales of their childhood escapades, but also their closeness, their enduring friendship, and finally he wound up, and she felt her heart hammer because she knew—she just knew—he was going to look at her and she was going to have to smile.
‘Now, my job—as the best man,’ he added with a grin, ‘is to thank Ben for his kind remarks about Daisy’s beautiful bridesmaids, and I have to say he’s right, Florence is the cutest little bridesmaid I’ve ever seen. And as for Amy …’ He turned to face her, as she’d known he would, and his smile twisted a little. ‘Well, it’s my duty and privilege to escort this beautiful woman for the rest of the day, so sorry, guys, you’ll have to find someone else to dance with. She’s all mine. There have to be some perks to the job.’
Amy tried to smile as he tilted his glass to her, drained it and sat down to cheers and applause, but it was a feeble attempt.
She was dreading the rest of the party. She would have to dance with him, and there was no getting out of it. As chief bridesmaid and best man, that was their role, but the irony wasn’t lost on her.
As far as she was concerned, Matt wasn’t the best man—he was the only man.
And when the chips were down, when she’d needed him most, he’d walked away.
‘Good wedding—the hotel have looked after you well. It’s a great venue.’
Ben smiled. ‘Isn’t it? We were really lucky to get it at such short notice. Good speech, by the way. Thank you.’
Matt frowned slightly, feeling another stab of guilt. ‘Don’t thank me. I wasn’t there for you last time. I should have been.’
‘No. You were absolutely right at the time, neither of us should have been there. I shouldn’t have married Jane, and you weren’t exactly in the right place to worry about me. You had enough going on with Amy. Matt, are you really OK with this?’
Matt met Ben’s eyes briefly and looked away. ‘Yeah, I’m fine.’
‘She still loves you.’
He snorted rudely and drained his glass. ‘Hardly. I think she’s finding it a little awkward, that’s all. She’ll be fine.’
Or she would as long as he kept avoiding her.
Ben made a soft, disbelieving noise and caught Daisy’s eye. He nodded and looked back at Matt, his eyes seeing far too much for comfort. ‘We’re going to cut the cake now, and then have the first dance. And then—’
‘I know.’ He pretended to straighten Ben’s cravat. ‘Don’t worry, I won’t renege on my duties.’
‘I wasn’t suggesting you would. I was just going to say be kind to Amy.’
He looked up at Ben again, his older brother by mere moments, and laughed. ‘What—like she was kind to me?’
‘She was hurting.’
‘And I wasn’t?’ He gave a harsh sigh and rammed a hand through his hair. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll be good. You go and cut your cake and have your dance, and I’ll play my part. I won’t let you down.’
‘It’s not me I’m worried about,’ Ben muttered, but Matt pushed him towards his wife and turned away. He didn’t need to scan the room for Amy. His radar hadn’t let him down. She was right there, by the French doors out onto the terrace, talking to two women that he didn’t recognise.
One was visibly pregnant, the other had a baby in her arms, and for a moment his heart squeezed with pain. Ahh, Amy …
She could feel him watching her, the little hairs on the back of her neck standing to attention.
He was getting closer, she knew it. She’d managed to avoid him up to now, and she’d known it was too good to last.
‘Excuse me, Amy—they’re going to cut the cake and then have the first dance.’
And then it would be time for the second dance, the one she’d been dreading, and she’d have to dance with him and look—well, civilised would be a good thing to try for, she thought as she turned round to face him.
‘OK. I’ll come over. Give me a moment.’
She turned back to Katie and Laura, and after a second she felt him move away, and her shoulders sagged a fraction.
‘Amy, are you all right, honey?’ Katie asked, juggling the baby with one arm so she could hug her.
She returned the hug briefly and straightened up, easing away. ‘I’m fine.’
‘Well, you don’t look fine,’ Laura said, her eyes narrowing. ‘Are you sick? You’re awfully pale.’
‘I’m just tired. It’s been a busy week. I’d better go.’
She left them, letting out a soft sigh as she walked away. She’d never told them about Matt, and she’d asked Daisy not to discuss it. The fewer people at the wedding who knew they had history, the better. It was hard enough facing his mother, who’d given her a swift, gentle hug and patted her back as if she was soothing a child.
She’d nearly cried. She’d loved Liz. She’d been endlessly kind to her, incredibly welcoming, and she hadn’t seen her since—
‘Amy, we’re going to—Gosh, sweetheart, are you all right?’
Daisy’s face was puckered with concern, and Amy rolled her eyes.
‘Daisy, don’t fuss, I’m just tired. We didn’t go to bed till nearly one and the cat was walking all over me all night. And we’ve been up for hours, if you remember.’
‘I know. I just—’
‘I’m fine,’ she said firmly. ‘Matt said you’re going to cut the cake.’
‘We are. Amy, are you sure you can do this? If you want to leave—’
‘I don’t want to leave! It’s your wedding! Go and cut the cake, and we can have champagne and cake and dancing and it’ll be wonderful. Now shoo.’
Amy turned her round and pushed her towards her husband, who held his hand out to her and drew her into his arms for yet another kiss.
‘They do seem genuinely happy together.’
She froze. How had he crept up on her? She hadn’t felt him approaching—maybe because she’d been so intensely aware of him all day that her senses were overloaded.
‘They are,’ she said, her voice a little ragged. ‘They’re wonderful together.’
‘She’s very fond of you.’
‘It’s mutual. She’s lovely. She’s been through a lot, and she’s been a really good friend to me.’
‘Which is why you’re here, when you’d rather be almost anywhere else in the world.’
‘Speak for yourself.’
He gave a soft huff of laughter, teasing the hair on the back of her neck. ‘I was,’ he answered, and despite the laugh, his voice had a hollow ring to it. ‘Still, needs must. Right, here we go. I think Ben’s going to make a bit of a speech to welcome the evening guests before they cut the cake.’
He was still standing behind her, slightly to one side, and she could feel his breath against her bare shoulder, feel the warmth radiating from his big, solid body.
The temptation to lean back into him—to rest her head against his cheek, to feel him curve his hand round her hip and ease her closer as he would have done before—nearly overwhelmed her. Instead, she stepped away slightly, pretending to shift so she could see them better, but in fact she could see perfectly well, and he must have realised that.
She heard him sigh, and for some crazy reason it made her feel sad. Crazy, because it had been him that had left her, walking away just when she needed him the most, so why on earth should she feel sad for him? So he was still alone, according to Ben. So what? So was she. There were worse things than being alone. At least it was safe.
‘Daisy chose the music for our first dance,’ Ben was saying, his smile wry. ‘It has a special meaning for us. While we’re dancing, I’d like you to imagine the moment we met—just about thirty seconds after the kitchen ceiling and half a bath of water came down on my head.’
And with that, they cut the cake, the lights were dimmed and the band started playing ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’.
There was a ripple of laughter and applause, but then they all went quiet as Ben, still smiling, drew Daisy into his arms as if she was the most precious thing he’d ever held.
Damn, Amy thought, sniffing hard, and then a tissue arrived in her hand, on a drift of cologne that brought back so many memories she felt the tears well even faster.
No, she wasn’t. She was far from OK, she thought crossly, and she wished everyone would stop asking her that.
He sighed softly. ‘Look, Amy, I know this is awkward, but we just have to get through it for their sakes. I don’t want to do it any more than you do, but it’s not for long.’
Long enough. A second in his arms would be long enough to tear her heart wide open—
The dance was over, the music moved on and without hesitation Matt took her hand, the one with the tissue still clutched firmly in it, led her onto the dance floor and turned her into his arms.
‘Just pretend you don’t hate me,’ he told her, with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes, and she breathed in, needing oxygen, and found nothing but that cologne again.
Holding her was torture.
A duty and a privilege, as he’d said in his speech?
Or just an agonising reminder of all he’d lost?
She had one hand on his shoulder, the other cradled in his left, and his right hand was resting lightly against her waist, so he could feel the slender column of her spine beneath his splayed fingers, the shift of her ribs as she breathed, the flex of the muscles as she moved in time to the music. She felt thinner, he thought. Well, she would. The last time he’d held her, he thought with a wave of sadness, she’d been pregnant with their child.
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