Stealing the Groom

By: Sonya Weiss

She unbuckled the seat belt and moved to get out of the car.

He closed his fingers gently around her arm to prevent her from leaving. “Hold on a second,” he said as much to himself as to her, fighting a battle with bitterness she couldn’t see.

An image of his father, the man love had broken and driven to find solace in the depths of a bottle, flashed in Chad’s mind.

The drunken rants, the pleading, the crying on the phone, begging for his wife to return.

He’d loved Chad’s mother so desperately that it had destroyed him when she’d left him for another man. He’d spent exorbitant amounts of money trying to win her back. Instead of focusing on Walker Industries, he was consumed with his ex. Made bad business decisions, one right after the other.

And as a result, his father had almost destroyed the company.

After his father drank himself to death, Chad began putting Walker Industries back together slowly, piece by piece, but hadn’t been out of business school very long and running the company had been an adjustment. He felt the burden of trying to protect the jobs of the people who worked for him on his shoulders every day.

Protecting his family’s business was challenging enough. Having to protect his heart, too, might just break him.

Chad had sworn to himself he’d never be like his father. Love would never destroy his life. He wouldn’t allow it.

If he became romantically involved with Amelia and then something went wrong to cause the loss of her friendship, the one thing he couldn’t buy, the one thing he treasured most…

No, he couldn’t risk that happening. She’d always been his safe place to turn when the world knocked him down. With her, he wasn’t Chad Walker, millionaire businessman. He was simply the boy she’d grown up with. If he fell in love with her and she broke his heart, he might never find all the pieces.

Amelia pulled away, rubbing the skin where his hand had been. Her eyes held a touch of anger. “Forget it, Chad. We won’t get married. It was just a foolish what-if moment. I wasn’t serious.”

With those words, Amelia slammed from the car.

Chad shoved the door open and followed her.

Halfway to the wood shelter housing the rest stop concessions, Chad reached Amelia’s side. “Let me finish what I started to say.”

He matched his stride to hers and stopped in front of the soda machine. He took the change she offered and automatically selected a root beer, passing it to her when it dropped from the machine.

He slid more coins in and retrieved a Pepsi for himself.

She wagged the brown can back and forth. “See? This proves my hypothetical point about you not marrying Claire.”

“A can of root beer proves your logic?” She stayed silent.

Chad didn’t know what had gotten into Amelia lately. Usually, whenever she visited their hometown, they’d play a few rounds of basketball, catch a few sports games, laugh, talk, and enjoy each other’s company. They were buds.

Since her arrival this time and learning about his plan to marry Claire, she’d acted nervous and edgy. Bit snappish too. Downright grouchy, come to think of it.

And this whole kidnapping plot was outlandish, even for Amelia.

Maybe she’d been working too hard. Or was exhausted. Other than her sporadic visits home, this was Amelia’s first extended vacation in three years. As her friend, he should see to it she took the time to relax. Maybe a little one-on-one time together would get her back to her old self.

Maybe he could feel like his old self again, too, before he had to return to his wedding arrangement with Claire.

He smiled and nudged Amelia’s arm. “Come on. I agreed to tag along on this adventure and here we are stuck at a rest stop. Let’s go ahead to your destination. We’ll stay up all night talking like old times. What do you say? Does that sound like a plan?”

Chad put air quotations around the word “plan” and Amelia gave a reluctant smile.

Then her smile slowly dissipated. “What about Claire?”

“I need to call her. No matter how much you dislike her, I can’t just ditch the ceremony without any kind of explanation. Hopefully she’ll understand the mix-up and we can try again tomorrow. After all, it’s not like she’s marrying me for love.”

For a long few seconds she didn’t answer, then finally said, “Okay. We’re going to the cabin in the mountains my grandfather just bought. According to Google Maps, it’s a few hours away. If you’re so determined to call Claire, you should go ahead and do it. You can from the limo. I promise I won’t disconnect the call this time.”

She turned away from him, finished off the soda, and tossed the empty can into the trash and walked purposefully away. He caught up with her and slung an arm around her shoulder, drawing her closer to his side. He looked down at her and her lips parted, curving into the beautiful smile she’d always had.

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