Authors: Rachel Branton
Tags: #lds, #Christian, #karen kindgsbury, #Romantic Suspense, #ariana, #Romance, #Suspense, #a bid for love, #clean romance, #dee henderson
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Tell Me No Lies
All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.
Tell Me No Lies
Published by White Star Press
P.O. Box 353
American Fork, Utah 84003
Copyright © 2012 Nunes Entertainment, LLC.
Photo image copyright © 2012 by Fotolia
Front cover design copyright © 2012 by An Author’s Art
Back and spine design copyright © 2012 by White Star Press
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded, reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Thank you for supporting the author’s rights.
ISBN 13: 978-1-939203-04-5.
First electronic release January 2012. Last updated October 2012.
blinked to hold back the tears, stunned by what I was hearing.
No! I don’t believe it.
But I did.
Hurt followed the disbelief, growing to an agony that urged me to physically lash out at Sadie, my best friend and bearer of the terrible news, but I was frozen in place, as though my heart had stopped pumping blood to my suddenly useless limbs.
Besides, it wasn’t Sadie’s fault.
Oh, Julian. How could you?
Sadie put a hand on my shoulder, but the sympathy in her eyes did little to comfort me. “I’m sorry, Tessa. I really am. I didn’t want to tell you, but . . .” She sighed and continued in a whisper, “I would want to know if it were me.”
Her words released me from my mute state. “I need to be alone.”
“Of course. I understand. Call me if you need me.” Sadie stepped close and hugged me while I stood without moving. I barely noticed her departure.
My eyes wandered the room of my childhood, only recently familiar again since I’d come home to Flagstaff to prepare for the wedding. Mother had insisted on dinners and celebrations, and because Julian and I planned to live in Flagstaff, where he would work in his family business, it only made sense for me to leave the job at my father’s factory in Phoenix several weeks early. I missed the job and my friends the minute I’d left, but Julian and I were ready to take the plunge into matrimony—or so I’d thought.
The door to my walk-in closet was open, and I could see the wedding dress I was to have worn in just over forty-eight hours. Bile rose in my throat, and a tear skidded down my cheek. I brushed it impatiently away. I wouldn’t cry for a man who had betrayed me.
Since tonight we were having the rehearsal dinner, last night had been Julian’s bachelor party. Sadie’s brother had been at the party and had told her all about Julian disappearing early with a woman whose hands had been altogether too familiar with a man who was about to be married.
I slumped on my bed, covered with the homemade quilt my grandmother had made, my eyes still locked on the white satin dress. Drenched in lace and small pearls, it had a sweetheart neckline and a gorgeous chapel train. The dress cost seventeen hundred dollars and had taken three weeks of daily shopping to find. My mother had been with me every one of those days, which had been a torture in itself.
I bit my lip until I tasted blood.
I’d met Julian Willis when I’d come home to visit for the Christmas holiday, though if the truth be told, my visit had more to do with my horse, Serenity, than seeing my parents. At my mother’s insistence, I’d tagged along on their invitation to attend a party thrown by the Willises. I hadn’t minded going, once I met Julian. If his blond good looks and toned physique hadn’t won me over, his attentiveness and charm would have. After countless trips to Phoenix on his part and numerous weekends home on mine, the inevitable had happened: we’d fallen in love. He asked me to marry him, and I said yes.
Two weeks later, my father and Julian’s had negotiated a business arrangement to take effect after the wedding. The Willis family owned a huge frozen food conglomerate, and my father produced a line of breakfast cereals, where I managed the swing shift. With the help of the Willises, our business would expand to new markets my father had never before reached. I wasn’t sure what the Willises were getting out of the deal since our business was stable but not growing. Maybe they would simply have in-laws who were up to their standard of living.
Not that we’d ever been poor in my lifetime—thanks to my grandpa who’d worked himself into an early grave to create that first bowl of sugar-coated cereal. I still missed him terribly.
What am I going to do?
The awful thing was that a part of me wasn’t all that surprised. Julian was attractive, thoughtful, and a big flirt—a hit with ladies of every age. Half of the marriageable women in Flagstaff had chased him at one time or another, and before we’d met he’d had a bit of a reputation—one he’d assured me was complete fabrication.
I won’t marry a liar and a cheat.
Every woman deserved better than that. I wondered if I’d purposely been blind or if he’d been good at hiding things. Perhaps his betrayal had been a momentary lapse, but if so, what did that say about our future? If I couldn’t trust him now, how could I trust him for the next sixty or more years?
Maybe it’s all a mistake.
I latched onto the idea. Yet in the next minute I had to discard it. Sadie had been my best friend since kindergarten, and I’d trust her with my life. There was no way she would have spoken unless she was certain it was true. More likely she hadn’t told me everything she knew, not wanting to hurt me further.
A knock on the door startled me from my thoughts. “Who is it?”
Elaine Crawford didn’t so much as enter a room as sweep into it. She was the epitome of grace and elegance. Even at eight o’clock on a Thursday morning, her hair was styled in an elaborate twist that was both attractive and left her beautiful neck bare.
“My, Sadie was in such a hurry this morning. I’ve never seen her run off so quickly. Did you two have a disagreement?”
I shook my head, unwilling to trust my voice.
My mother’s eyes didn’t leave my face. “What happened? We can’t be losing your maid of honor at this late date.” She smiled to show she was teasing, but there was a warning under the words.
“Sadie and I are fine.”
“Wonderful.” She walked to the closet and peered inside. “You’re going to look like a princess in this dress. Even without you in it, I could stare at it all day. Julian won’t be able to take his eyes off you.”
I gave her a weak smile. I did love the dress—a good thing, since it had taken so much time to find one we both agreed on. My mother wasn’t a woman to give up on any goal, and her goal had been to find a dress that not only would I agree to wear but that would make people sigh with admiration for years to come.
She rambled on, going over a last-minute menu change and reminding me we needed to pick up my father’s tuxedo. “I hope Lily’s man comes dressed appropriately,” she said, almost as an afterthought.
“Mario’s wearing a suit. Lily said he looks great.”
“I wish you hadn’t insisted on their coming.”
“Lily’s my sister. Of course she’ll be at my wedding.”
“You weren’t at hers.”
I didn’t say anything. Lily had done what she felt she had to, and I’d been happy for her.
“He will never amount to anything,” my mother added.
“And you think Julian will?” I couldn’t hold it back any longer, though I knew my mother was the worst person to confide in. She’d never been the kind of mother to bake cookies, to take her kids to the park, or sit and discuss school and boyfriends. As teenagers, Lily and I had agreed that she was like Mary Lennox’s mother in the
—too occupied with her own life and goals to really care about her daughters. “Well, you’re wrong. I just found out he cheated on me. Maybe more than once.”
My mother didn’t gasp. She didn’t hug me and ask me how I knew. She showed no sympathy for me or anger toward my fiancé. She simply stared.
“I can’t marry him,” I said.
That brought her to life. “Of course you’ll marry him. It’s you he loves, no matter what you’ve heard.”
Something in her demeanor tipped me off. “Wait. What do you know about this?”
“I know that Julian is good for you. He’ll take care of you. His family’s business is doing well, and our contract with them will do wonders for our company as well. Your company someday.”
“You knew? All this time, you knew?”
“It was one thing for my mother to disown a daughter because she’d married a man she didn’t approve of, but I couldn’t believe she’d want me to commit my life to man who cheated before he was even married.
“How long has it been going on?” I asked. “Does everyone in town know?” I could imagine it now, people wagging their tongues and in the end sympathizing with Julian because he was oh-so-handsome and exciting, as if that excused everything.
Not in my book.
“The truth is,” my mother said, “marriage is little more than a business arrangement. Eventually you will realize that, and then you will understand this is a problem you can overcome. Besides, Julian will see the error of his ways. He’ll always come back to you.”
I hadn’t even known he’d left me. I shifted on the bed, searching for something to make her see reason. “Would you have married Dad if he’d been cheating?”
“I would and I did.”
I gaped at her. I knew my parents’ marriage wasn’t perfect. Growing up, Lily and I had often clung to each other at night as they’d argued loudly in their bedroom. I’d been glad to escape to college, though it had hurt me to leave Lily behind. But she was far more resilient and determined than I ever was, never wavering from her dreams of leaving and building her own life. It was she who’d fallen in love and eloped in the middle of the night two years ago when she was only eighteen. She’d waited until I came home for the Fourth of July and awakened me during the night. I’d never forget how happy she looked. “I love him so much!” She’d told me. “He’s like the air that I breathe. He’s a hard worker, and I know we’ll make it. You don’t have to worry about me anymore.”
They had made it, at first, while both were working, though they were in school full time. They’d even bought a big, old, run-down house to fix up. Then the scholarship money ran out, and now Lily was expecting and so sick she had to quit her job. Worse, she’d filled every vacant space in her house with teenage girls who had nowhere else to go except the street or back to the unloving homes from which Lily had rescued them. In a few years, Mario would finish school and be able to support them, but for now they survived on love, what little money I could spare, and the funds I begged for them from my parents.
Now thinking of how Lily’s face lit up every time she talked about Mario, or whenever he entered the room, and how careful he was of her, made me strong. I wanted that for myself.
“I can’t go through with the wedding,” I told my mother. “I’m sorry.”
“At least talk to Julian. He’ll make it right. I know it.”
I knew it, too, and that was exactly why I didn’t want to talk to him. When I was with Julian, he was all too persuasive. He should have been a televangelist, because he could convince anyone of just about anything. Since he’d been over sales in his father’s company, he bragged that the business had doubled in profits.