The Goodbye Bride

By: Denise Hunter

Chapter 1

Lucy Lovett had barely opened her eyes when she took notice of the pain hammering at the back of her head. She groaned, her fingers finding the tender spot, a lump that pushed up through her thick brown hair.

She closed her eyes again as other details registered. Her cheek, pressed to a cold, hard surface. A girdle-like squeeze in her middle. Pinched toes.

The squeak of shoes sounded somewhere in the distance, then a thud. Cool air whooshed over her.

Someone gasped. “Oh no! Miss? Miss, you okay? Oh mercy.”

Lucy opened her eyes, rolling over, the lump connecting with the hard surface. “Ow.”

Her gaze drifted over the water-stained ceiling tiles, then fell to the chubby cherub-like face of a middle-aged brunette.

“How many fingers?” the woman said.

Three thick fingers blocked Lucy’s vision.

“Whatever happened?” she asked.

“Oh dear, you don’t remember?”

Lucy’s gaze bounced around the room. Gray stalls, a speckled floor, two porcelain sinks, their rusty guts exposed from her vantage point. Her eyes lit on a yellow folded sign on the floor nearby. Caution!Slippery When Wet, it warned above a stick figure doing the slippety-do.

“I fell.”

Didn’t she? She must’ve. Why else would she be lying prone on the floor—wet, she realized now, as the dampness registered—with a lump on her head? She winced as her hand found the bump again.

“Can you get up? Oh, have you hit your head? Maybe we should call 911.”

“No!” Just the thought of the hospital had her sitting up. “See, I’m just . . .” Her eyes dropped to her lap and took in the frothy white skirt. She followed the delicate beading up the bodice to her bare shoulders. Her thoughts raced, searching for answers, but all she found were scrambled puzzle pieces.

“Well, who are you here with? I’ll let them know what happened.”

“I—I’m alone.” Wasn’t she? Why couldn’t she remember?

“Let’s call somebody then. Your groom perhaps? I’ll get some ice for that head, then we’ll call. He must be worried silly.”

The woman bustled out the door while Lucy tried to assimilate the facts floating through her ringing head. It couldn’t be her wedding day. That just made no sense whatsoever. It was over a month away. Maybe this was just her fitting. But why didn’t she remember a single thing? Why didn’t she remember getting into the gown or coming here or falling?

Think, Lucy. Think.

Her last memory was of cleaning up the restaurant with Zac the night before. He’d walked her to her apartment afterward, the cool fall wind ruffling his longish black hair. He’d slipped his coat over her shoulders, and they’d talked all the way to her door. There, under a puddle of light, she’d looked up into his handsome face, into his stormy gray eyes, and felt a pinch of fear. That niggling worry that something would go horribly wrong and she’d lose the one person she needed more than air.

A shuffling of feet sounded outside the door, pulling her back to the present. She was fine. She just needed to get up and find Zac. He’d help her make sense of all this.

Lucy pulled her knees in and braced herself against the subway-tiled wall. As she got to her feet, her eyes fell on the white satin heels pinching her toes. Heels she’d admired a few weeks ago on Kate Spade sling-back peep-toes with tiny demure bows. Shoes that were far out of her budget. She hadn’t ordered them. She’d settled on a cute (if not darling) pair of pumps from a Summer Harbor boutique.

She looked down at the shoes. And yet, there they were.

The door burst open, and Cherub reappeared with a baggie of ice. She helped Lucy to her feet, and Lucy set the ice against the lump. A jackhammer was going in her head, and she blinked against the pain.

“Let’s get you to a chair, honey. I think you should get an X-ray or something. You seem a little muddled.”

“I’m fine. But I need to call my fiancé.”

“Of course you do. My cell’s about dead, but the manager will let you use her phone. I think she’s worried about a lawsuit.”

The bathroom door opened to a bustling diner that looked straight out of the 1950s with red stools and a black-and-white tiled floor. Lucy didn’t recognize the place. A savory smell hung in the air, making her stomach churn.

She looked out the big picture window. The sun sparkled off the ocean in the distance, but the shops across the way were unfamiliar. Some corner of Summer Harbor she hadn’t set eyes on? Though the little town only had so many corners, and she thought she’d seen them all.

Cherub retrieved a phone from the frowning lady behind the counter and handed it to her.

“You call that fiancé of yours. I’ll be right back.” She disappeared into the ladies’ room.

“There was a sign,” the woman said, glaring. “Soon as you walked in the door. You couldn’t miss it.”

Lucy nodded, making her head pound harder. Her breaths were quick and shallow. She was sitting in a room full of people, but she couldn’t remember ever feeling so alone. Well, except the one time. But that was so very long ago. Way before Zac.

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