The Goodbye Bride

By: Denise Hunter

He’s only a phone call away.

Lucy punched his cell number into the handset, trying to ignore the frowning manager and the prying eyes. She supposed it wasn’t every day a person saw a bride in a diner.

Zac must be fretting about her, she thought as the phone rang. She did hope he wasn’t waiting at the chapel. She glanced at the clock on the diner wall. No, it was too early for that. The wedding didn’t start until five thirty.

My wedding day. What happened to the past month?

She pushed the questions away. Needing Zac more than ever, she dialed the Roadhouse.

Zac Callahan lined up the shot, drew back the stick, and struck the cue ball. It rolled forward, spinning across the green felt, and kissed the solid blue ball, which shot off at an angle and sank into the corner pocket.

The bystanders erupted in cheers. Wagers always had a way of upping involvement.

“Of all the luck,” Beau said.

Zac straightened to his full six-four height. “Luck’s got nothing to do with it, big brother.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Beau surveyed the table, his near-black eyes narrowing in a frown.

Zac had left him nothing. With the rest of his evening on the line, he wasn’t leaving it up to chance. Marci, one of his servers, had called in sick, and the crowd was picking up. He was going to need the extra hands.

“I can’t wait to see you in that apron,” Zac said.

“Not happening.” Beau’s dark hair hung forward as he took a shot and missed.

His new fiancée, Eden, consoled him with a pat on the arm and mouthed to Zac, I’m so there.

“Zac, you’re wanted on the phone!” his hostess called on her way past the poolroom.

He set down the cue stick and pointed at Beau. “No cheating.”

Beau gave a Who, me? face as Zac headed toward the counter. The restaurant was already half full because of the Red Sox game on TV. The crowd gave a hearty shout as the tying run crossed home plate.

Zac paused a moment to watch, then continued on his way. He patted Sheriff Colton’s shoulder as he passed and avoided the booth where Morgan LeBlanc sat with a friend. He’d had a couple dates with Morgan, and they were going out again soon. He tried to work up some excitement about that and failed.

He slipped behind the counter and snapped up the handset. “Zac speaking.”

“Zac! Oh, thank heavens.”

Adrenaline flushed through his body, tingles zinging across his skin. His shoulders went rigid. He hadn’t heard her voice in seven months. That sweet Southern drawl that used to give him palpitations. Now it made his heart stop in its tracks.

“Something awful’s just happened. I—I fell, and I don’t rightly know where I am. Can you come for me?”

He rubbed his forehead, his thoughts spinning. “What?”

“I don’t want to be late, and I’m already just sopping wet, and my hair—”

“Late for what?”

“That is not funny, Zac Callahan.” She sounded near tears. “My head’s cranking, and I—I need you to come fetch me.”

“Lucy, you’re not making any sense. Why are you even calling me?”

There was a long pause. “Are you kidding me?”

He remembered that day seven months ago, returning from his weekend trip. The unanswered calls, the unanswered knock at her door. Being worried, calling her landlord only to find her apartment empty and Lucy gone.

His fingers tightened on the handset. “Call somebody else. You’re not my problem anymore.”

She gave a little gasp. “Why are you being so hateful?” The last words wobbled.

Why was he—? He pulled the phone from his ear, scowled at it, and put it back in place. “You’re the one who left, Lucy. If you need a ride, call a cab.” He started to hang up.

“Wait, Zac! Please. Oh my gosh, you can’t do this to me. I hit my head and there’s a great big lump and my head is pounding and I need help. I need you.”

His gut clenched hard. How many times in the recent months had he longed to hear those words from her lips? She sounded so . . . confused. So lost. And it wasn’t like she had any family left.

And you’re a great big sucker, Callahan.

“Please. I don’t know where I am or what’s going on. You have to help me.”

He leaned back against the bar. “Lucy. You need to go to the hospital. You must have a con—”

“I can’t go to the hospital!”

Zac dragged his palm over his scruffy jaw, remembering Lucy’s phobia. He’d never be able to talk her into an ER visit over the phone. Even when she’d torn a tendon in her ankle, she’d refused to go. An EMT friend of his had treated her in his apartment upstairs.

If she really had a head injury, it could be bad. She could even have bleeding on the brain or something.

He sighed hard, knowing he sounded put out and not caring. He really was a sucker. “Where are you?”

“I—I don’t know. Hold on. Don’t hang up.”

A shuffling noise sounded in the phone. He strained to hear over the clamor of voices and clanging of silverware.

On Lucy’s end a woman rattled out a street address.

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