Jeremiah 31:3 …Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.
What did it say about Izzy Tanner—that she had been happier with her sister living on the hurtful side of a bad marriage? They had always been complete opposites, but at least before Vivie moved to Walden Beach they had seen each other more often and talked on a regular basis. Things had been more equal between them. Well, not equal. Vivie had always been everything pure and lovely, and Izzy… just wasn’t. And never would be.
Now everything revolved around Vivie’s future husband, Bo Manning. Which was as it should be. Vivie was a saint. She’d earned the right to be happy. And Bo made her happy. Despite the disheartening gap that continued to grow between her and her sister, she loved Vivie more than anyone else and wanted nothing more than for her to finally have what she deserved.
Izzy made her way through the throng of women making over Vivian as she readied for the wedding, in search of her liquid courage. She zeroed in on the pink plastic cup with seashells glued to it. She’d picked the gaudiest one she could find. Wouldn’t do for someone else to mistake her cup for their own. A long sip from the plastic straw made everything right again. The cherry Coke soothed her tightened throat and the bourbon sent a calming warmth through her limbs.
The closer it got to time for them to head to the sanctuary, the more her stomach churned. She could blow any minute now. A beach wedding would have made more sense. For one thing, the reception would be held there. The groom-to-be had a nice home with an ocean view. He’d hired a deejay and had a makeshift dance floor set up. He’d even prepared some of the food himself. Plus, Vivie loved the beach.
But no, Izzy was forced to darken the doorsteps of a church—something she had successfully avoided for over twenty years. If the whole building didn’t implode the minute she walked in, it would be a miracle.
“Doesn’t your sister look lovely?” Her mom put an arm around Izzy’s shoulders and squeezed. “Just goes to show, it’s never too late to find love.”
Izzy looked at the bride, hoping her mom didn’t smell the whiskey on her breath. Someone like Jackie Tanner would never understand why anyone might need a little something to help them through a difficult time. The woman had never lacked confidence. “She’s beautiful. I helped pick out the dress. What do you think?”
The white material of the simple gown flowed with every movement. One side was strapless while the other had a row of ruched fabric roses lining the wide strip over her shoulder. The skirt stopped just at the ankle, making it perfect for the dancing to come later. And it suited Vivian more than any other she’d tried on.
“You picked it out?”
Izzy looked at her mother, hesitating to answer. Maybe she had been wrong about the dress being the right one for Vivie. “Yeah. You don’t like it?”
“No, it’s perfect. It just doesn’t look like something you would choose.”
Oh. She got it now. She was being measured and judged. Again.
Normally, it didn’t bother her. Her sharp tongue could deliver a cutting remark that would put the judgmental person in their place. But this was her mom. Exceptions were made when it came to family, so she kept her mouth closed this time.
Her back stiffened when her mother’s gaze traveled down the length of the dress she wore. “Did you pick this one out too?”
Izzy’s dress was made in the exact style of Vivian’s, except hers was coral and the hem stopped just above the knee. When she’d helped pick out the dresses, Izzy had put her own sense of style aside and focused on what she thought her sister would want instead. It was Vivian’s day, after all.
“Yes.” Brace yourself.
“I love it. You should wear stuff like this more often. And this color looks good on you.”
Izzy didn’t need a translator to know what her mom really meant. Even with one bare shoulder and a shortened hemline, this dress was conservative compared to what she usually wore. Her mom’s remark was meant as a hint as to how she should dress.
Vivie’s new roommate, Felicity Sutton, held up five fingers and had somehow forced her mousy voice to rise above the drone. “Five minutes, y’all.”
As much as Izzy didn’t like the woman, she was glad for the interruption. Careful not to breathe out, she kissed her mother’s cheek. “I’ll see you out there in the sanctuary.”
Just saying the words caused the twisting sensation to return in her gut. She lifted the plastic straw up to her lips and took in another long draw.
You can do this. The ceremony will be over in minutes. Pretend you’re somewhere else. It might do better to pretend she was someone else. She didn’t belong here.
Vivian’s daughter, Aimee, was the last to leave the Sunday school room they were using as a dressing room. Pregnancy had already given her a belly, causing her to lean slightly as she gave her mom a hug. “Momma, I’m so proud of you for doing this. I know y’all will be happy together. Bo is a good guy.”
Yeah, one of the few left on the planet.
“I know. It’ll be great.” Vivie patted Aimee on the cheek. “Could you do me a favor? Make sure your pawpaw knows it’s time. I’ll be heading to the vestibule right behind you.”
Vivian looked about two minutes from falling apart. Izzy took her by the hands, hoping to offer her reassurance. “Are you nervous?”
“Yes. I know this is right. I know God means for me to be with Bo. But after…”
She didn’t need to finish that statement. Her first marriage had been a disaster. Cold feet were to be expected. Izzy rubbed her thumbs across the backs of Vivie’s hands. “He is no Craig. You couldn’t ask for better than Bo. But if you decided to back out, I made sure my Mustang didn’t get blocked in. I can have you out of here in no time at all.”
Vivie smiled and shook her head. Izzy was only half-joking and they both knew it. But she also knew Vivie wouldn’t take her up on the offer. Once she made it up in her mind that God told her to do something, no one could convince her to veer from that path. Despite the fact that Izzy didn’t trust God with her own future, she admired Vivian’s faith.
A knock sounded on the door just before their dad stuck his head through. “There’s my two girls. Are you ready for this?”
Vivian met their father across the room and gave him a hug. He put his arm around her and smiled at Izzy. At seventy years old, Haywood Tanner still looked good in his uniform. He had served in the Army for twenty years before becoming a mail carrier. He and their mother had moved to Colorado after he retired five years ago, making it easier for Izzy to ignore their disappointment in how her life had turned out.
They were headed for the door when Vivian pivoted to look at her, panic coloring her features. “The flowers! And do you have the ring?”
Izzy hurried across the room to retrieve the bouquets. It was a wonder that Vivian hadn’t picked someone else to be her maid of honor. Any one of her friends would have been better suited for the job. She checked to make sure Bo’s ring was still tied to her bouquet. She could just picture the thing slipping from her fingers and rolling out of sight beneath one of the pews when it came time to hand it over.
Don’t screw this up, Izzy.
Her gaze caught on her gaudy cup of courage. It was tempting to take one more swig, but if she did, it might become obvious that she’d been drinking. Her limbs were already beginning to feel like rubber.
She handed Vivian her bouquet and then followed the two of them into the vestibule. Felicity peeked out at them as soon as they arrived. She motioned for Izzy to come forward and then opened the door wider.
This is happening too quickly. I’m not ready.
It became harder to take in a decent breath as panic set in. She could hear her own heartbeat. Why does it have to be in a church?
“Are you okay?”
She looked at Vivian and the concern she saw there set everything right again. She could do this for her sister. A nod of her head was all she could give due to the tightening of her throat.
Izzy took a couple of steps into the sanctuary. She scanned the front of the church trying to find a focal point.
Anything besides the preacher. Whatever you do, don’t look at him.
Bo looked past her, no doubt trying to catch his first glimpse of Vivian in her wedding dress. Then her eyes locked with the groomsman.
Of all the people Vivian had become involved with here in Walden Beach, Izzy felt most comfortable around Bo’s son, Gabe. Even though he claimed to be a Christian, with his tattoos and motorcycle, he seemed like her kind of people. He and his girlfriend had just announced that they were expecting their second child together and they didn’t seem to be in a hurry to march down the aisle.
Izzy breathed a sigh of relief. She had made it to the front of the church without stumbling or throwing up. The vows were said, and she handed off the ring without dropping it. If she could just make it back out of the sanctuary, she’d be home free.
Her nerves were as frayed as her favorite pair of Levis—minus the comfort. But she had gotten through the worst of it. Now to the reception. Izzy unscrewed the lid of her cup and dumped the watered-down contents at the edge of the parking lot. No drinking and driving for her. She’d get a refill once she got to the beach. But not too much. She wouldn’t lose control in front of her family.
The warmth of the mid-September sun had heated the interior of her car to a toasty level. For now, it felt like a wonderful embrace, chasing away the chill of being in church. However, the sun was on its way down, and she’d soon be hunting for something warmer to wear. Shouldn’t be a problem since Bo’s place was right down the beach from where she and the rest of her family were staying.
She relaxed back in her seat and pulled her phone from the small purse she’d bought to match the dress. No missed calls. Only one text message from Cade.
He had gotten way too casual about asking for what he wanted. It was time to end things between them. She shook her head and deleted the text. There wasn’t really anything to end. If she ignored him enough, he’d go away. That’s the way it worked with guys like him.
Her thumb hovered over Holden’s name for only a few seconds before she convinced herself that it was okay to call. After all, he managed her restaurant. She had every right to call him for an update.
“Izzy, I thought you’d be at a wedding right about now. What’s up?”
Her family were the only ones who called her Izzy. Everyone else in Bethel Ridge knew her as Blaze, but Holden refused to call her that. When he’d first come to work for her three years ago, he called her Elizabeth. It was only after meeting Vivian that he shortened it to her childhood nickname.
“The wedding’s over now. I’m about to head to the reception. How did things go today?”
“Same as always.” There was a long pause before he spoke again. “You know I’d call if something came up, right?”
Her shoulders slumped. “I know. I just…” wanted to hear your voice, “…thought I’d check in.”
“Everything’s fine. I’ll see you when you get back. Goodnight, Izzy.”
After ending the call, she let her hand drop down to her lap. Thinking about—talking to—Holden Armstrong was her one guilty pleasure. He was too wholesome for her, and there’d never be more than a working relationship with him. But it didn’t hurt to occasionally imagine what could be.
The parking lot had almost emptied out in the little bit of time it had taken to make that call. She should already be at the reception. But there’d have to be a stop at the store on the way. She was almost out of cherry Coke.