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From Ex to Eternity

By:Kat Cantrell

From Ex to Eternity - Kat Cantrell
One

Even the sandpipers were getting more action than Cara Chandler-Harris.

But she was working at this Turks and Caicos resort instead of frolicking in the crystal-blue surf with a nearly naked, oiled companion. Cara would be the sole designer showcasing her fairy-tale-inspired wedding dresses to two hundred industry professionals at a three-day bridal expo. The wedding-dress fashion show was one of the premier events and Cara Chandler-Harris Designs, which was still in its fledging stages, was poised to explode with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for exposure.

Adding testicles into the mix would only drive her to drink.

Cara swept a glance over the woman in white silk standing before her in the Ariel wedding dress and repositioned the model to face forward. Wincing as she knelt for the four hundredth time, Cara stuck another pin through the lace-trim edging of the mermaid skirt.

“Don’t forget her heels will be five inches. Not four,” her assistant, and sister, Meredith, reminded Cara as she handed her another pin. “And yes, I checked with the airline again. The missing bag with the shoes in it will be here by four o’clock.”

“Thanks, honey. I took her heel height into account. Is Cinderella ready to go?” Cara glanced at her sister.

Meredith nodded and flipped her long ponytail over her shoulder. “Won’t need more than a slight waist alteration. I did good matching the models with the dresses, don’t ya think?”

She had and knew it. Meredith wore her designer’s assistant role like a second skin. Cara smiled. “Worried I’m going to fire you for ripping Aurora’s sleeve?”

“Nah. I’m more worried about stuff I’ve done you don’t know about yet.” With a saucy, cryptic grin, Meredith handed Cara the final pin and hummed under her breath as she tapped out something on her phone.

“You know I hate that song,” Cara mumbled around the pin in her mouth.

“That’s why I sing it. If little sisters aren’t annoying, what are we good for?”

“Herding the rest of the girls into place. We only have three days until the expo starts and we haven’t even done one run-through.” Her lungs already felt tight to be so far behind schedule. Good God Almighty. Missing luggage, torn dresses and a room with a faulty air conditioner. And it was only their first day in Grace Bay. “Why did I let you talk me into this?”

Cara had no idea how her name had come up to the powers that be who’d selected her for this event. Yes, a small handful of Houston brides had marched down the aisle in her dresses in the eighteen months she’d been in business, and yes, all of them had graced the pages of glossy society magazines. Yes, Chandler and Harris were both names everyone in Houston knew. But still. Grace Bay was a long way from Houston.

“Because you recognize my brilliance. Stop stressing. Plans can be altered.”

“Dresses can be altered. Plans are carved in granite, and hell has a special level for those who mess with mine.”

Meredith waved in two more visions in white who had appeared at the entrance to the pavilion, both barefoot, like the others. All of the models’ shoes were in the missing bags.

“Where’s Jackie?” Cara glanced back at the empty entrance.

“Puking her guts out,” one of the girls responded with a ladylike shudder. “I told her not to drink the water.”

Cara frowned. “The resort water is purified.”

“Then something else is wrong with Jackie,” Meredith said and rubbed Cara’s shoulder. “A virus. It’ll pass.”

“It better. She has to be on stage in six days.” A virus. Which could easily be transmitted to everyone else. Cara eyed Jackie’s roommate. “How are you feeling, Holly?”

The willowy blonde in the French-lace concoction called Belle stared at Cara blankly. “It’s not catching. Jackie’s pregnant.”

Now seemed like a really good time to sit down. Cara dropped onto the heavy tarp covering the sand, while the other girls squealed over Holly’s announcement.

Meredith settled in next to Cara. “I didn’t know. About Jackie. I would have—”

“It’s not the end of the world. Women get pregnant. Women work while they’re pregnant. All the time.”

Her sister hesitated and then said, “I’ll wear the dress for the run-through.”

Thank God Meredith hadn’t asked if Cara was okay. She’d had her fill of those kinds of questions two years ago, after her own pregnancy fiasco. Designing dresses had pulled her out of that misery and she didn’t ever want to talk about it again.

“You can’t wear it. The bust is too small and I can’t alter it that much. Not here. Not in a few hours.”

But the Asian-themed dress called Mulan wasn’t too small for Cara.

The curse of average breasts.

Meredith had gotten Mama’s gorgeous Chandler mahogany hair, the voluptuous Chandler body and the gracious Chandler mannerisms. Cara favored Harris blood, and Daddy was well-known for brains and business savvy, not his beauty. Neither Cara nor her father was dog-show worthy, but Cara certainly couldn’t have claimed the Miss Texas crown like Mama and Meredith.

Cara staggered to her feet. “I’ll wear it.”

She’d worn it in the past. Not one dress with her name on the label escaped the Cara Test. When she finished the initial piece-together, she stood in front of the full-length mirror and said, “I do.” If the words brought misty tears to her eyes, then the dress was right.

Except she always cried, because she created fantasies of lace and silk and happily-ever-after for someone else. Cara was just a glorified seamstress. A single seamstress.

She left Meredith and the chattering models in the pavilion and tottered through the sand to the concrete path leading into the heart of the resort. Twin five-story buildings lay on the outer perimeter and an enormous infinity pool dominated the space between. The pounding clamor of hammers rent the air, and scores of workers shouted to each other as they put the finishing touches on the renovations being executed for the resort reopening at the end of the week. The bridal expo was only a part of the festivities.

She skirted the pool, waited five minutes for the elevator, gave up and climbed the three flights of stairs to Jackie’s room, near her own. Cara fetched the miserable girl some soda from the mini-fridge, then slipped into the dress flung haphazardly on Jackie’s bed. Cara bit her lip and didn’t say a word. Morning sickness sucked, and a dress that had taken Cara countless hours to envision and create likely rated pretty low on the list of Jackie’s concerns.

The dress fit. Jogging, a low-carb diet and an extreme amount of willpower for everything except cabernet kept Cara’s weight rock-steady. Cabernet calories didn’t count.

The mirror taunted her but she didn’t glance in it. Couldn’t. Her reflection would only show what she already knew—she was always the bride, but never married.

Cara returned to the pavilion—barefoot, because her feet were already killing her and the broken elevator clearly hadn’t been fixed yet despite the manager’s promises. Cara had worn stilettos all day. Heels were as much a necessity as makeup and jewelry. A Chandler-Harris female did not leave the house unless fully dressed. But after the many problems she’d dealt with today, the last thing she wanted to do later was climb stairs in heels again.

She spent the next few minutes demonstrating to the girls how they should walk down the runway. To their credit, no one made a crack about how modeling was their job. If anyone had dared give Cara design instructions, she’d tell the person where to go, how fast and what to do upon arrival.

This was her life, her career, and nothing was going to keep her from replacing her dream of getting married with a flourishing wedding dress design business.

As Cara stood at the end of the runway going through a couple of more points, the girls shifted restlessly.

“Yummy,” Holly whispered to Meredith, her eyes trained on something over Cara’s shoulder. “That is one very well-put-together man.”

Meredith’s eyes widened to the size of salad plates. Cara spun, an admonishment on her lips designed to rid the pavilion of Yummy Interrupting Man. Whatever she’d been about to say died in her chest, and its death throes nearly coughed up her breakfast.

“Uh, Cara,” Meredith whispered. “About that thing I did. The one you didn’t know about... Surprise!”

Keith Mitchell, the devil in a dark suit, stood in the middle of her pavilion. He crossed his arms and cocked his head. His piercing gaze swept Cara from head to bare feet, lingering on the wedding dress. “Now, this looks familiar.”

“Well, well, well. As I live and breathe.” Cara fanned herself in mock Scarlett O’Hara style and did her best cat-with-a-canary smile. Stretching those particular muscles stung her face. “It’s my very own runaway groom. Still got on your Speedy Gonzales shoes?”

Keith glanced at his fifteen-hundred-dollar Italian lace-ups. “They’re functional.”

“Lucky for you, sugar.” She nodded. “There’s the door. Use it.”

He grinned, white teeth gleaming. “Sorry to disappoint you, honey, but I’m afraid this is my show.”

“What show?” She waved at the wedding dresses and swallowed against the grapefruit in her throat. Keith Mitchell. What in the world was he doing in Grace Bay? “You’re here to volunteer as my replacement model? I might have a dress in the back in your size.”

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