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One and Only

By:Jenny Holiday

Acknowledgments

Zoe York spent a lot of time helping me understand the Canadian Forces, both in terms of logistics and overall culture. She was a great help in making Cam’s experience in the reserves (and the way his dismissal would have gone down) ring true. You gotta love a friend who can talk you through a military trial. Any errors, of course, remain my own.

Sarah McDonald, who is younger and cooler than I am, let me take inspiration from her life as a bridesmaid.

My friends Sandra Owens and Emma Barry read early drafts and provided enormously helpful feedback. They also administered pep talks when required, as did my friend Audra North, aka the Dominant Rooster. Sometimes a book takes a village—this one sure did—and I have a pretty amazing village.

My agent, Courtney Miller-Callihan, remains a steadfast advocate, friend, and Skype-walker. Long live Mermica.

My thanks to Caroline Acebo for buying this series. And, finally, to Lexi Smail for inheriting it with such enthusiasm and for really making it sing (and also for being better at counting than I am).


Chapter One

TUESDAY—ELEVEN DAYS BEFORE THE WEDDING



Jane! I thought you were never going to get here!”

“I came as quickly as I could,” Jane said, trying to keep the annoyance out of her tone as she allowed herself to be herded into her friend Elise’s house. She exchanged resigned smiles with her fellow bridesmaids—the ones who had obviously taken Elise’s “Emergency bridesmaids meeting at my house NOW!” text more seriously than Jane had. Gia and Wendy were sprawled on Elise’s couch, braiding some kind of dried grass–type thing. Wendy, Jane’s best friend, blew her a kiss.

Jane tried to perform her traditional catching of Wendy’s kiss—it was their thing, dating back to childhood—but Elise thrust a mug of tea into Jane’s hand before it could close over the imaginary kiss. Earlier that summer, Elise had embraced and then discarded a plan to start her wedding reception with some kind of complicated cocktail involving tea, and as a result, Jane feared she and the girls were doomed to a lifetime of Earl Grey. Their beloved bridezilla had thought nothing of special ordering twenty-seven un-returnable boxes of premium English tea leaves. She also apparently thought nothing of forcing her friends to endure the rejected reception beverage again and again. And again.

“Jane’s here, so now you can tell us about the big emergency,” Gia said. “And whatever it is, I’m sure she’ll figure out a solution.” She smiled at Jane. “You’re so…smart.”

Jane had a feeling that smart wasn’t the word Gia initially meant to use. The girls—well, Gia and Elise, anyway—were always telling Jane to loosen up. But they also relied on her to solve their problems. They liked having it both ways. She was the den mother, but they were forever teasing her about being too rigid. Which was kind of rich, lately, coming from Elise, who had turned into a matrimonial drill sergeant. Jane put up with it because she loved them. Besides, somebody had to be the responsible one.

“Well,” Jane teased, “this had better be a capital-E emergency because I was in the middle of having my costume for Toronto Comicon fitted when you texted.” She opened the calf-length trench coat she’d thrown over her costume at the seamstress’s when Elise’s text arrived. It was the kind of coat women wore when seducing their boyfriends—or so she assumed, not having personally attempted to seduce anyone since Felix. She should probably just get rid of the coat because there were likely no seductions in her future, either.

“Hello!” Gia exclaimed. “What is that?”

“Xena: Warrior Princess,” Wendy answered before Jane could.

“I have no idea what that means, but you look hot,” Gia said.

Jane did a little twirl. The costume was really coming together. The seamstress had done a kick-ass job with the leather dress, armor, and arm bands, and all Jane needed to do was figure out something for Xena’s signature weapon and she’d be set. “It was a cult TV show from the 1990s,” she explained. Gia was a bit younger than the rest of them. But who was Jane kidding? The real reason Gia didn’t know about Xena was that she was a Cool Girl. As a model—an honest-to-goodness, catwalk-strutting, appearing-in-Calvin-Klein-ads model—she was too busy with her fabulous life to have time to watch syndicated late-night TV. “It’s set in a sort of alternative ancient Greece, but it’s leavened with other mythologies…” She trailed off because the explanation sounded lame even to her fantasy-novelist, geek-girl ears.

“Xena basically goes around kicking ass, and then she and her sidekick get it on with some lesbian action,” Wendy said, summing things up in her characteristically concise way.

“Really?” Gia narrowed her eyes at Jane. “Is there something you’re trying to tell us?”

“No!” Jane protested.

“Because you haven’t had a boyfriend since Felix,” Gia went on. “And you guys broke up, what? Four years ago?”

“Five,” Wendy said.

It was true. But what her friends refused to accept was that she was single by choice. She had made a sincere effort, with Felix, whom she’d met halfway through university and stayed with until she was twenty-six, to enter the world of love and relationships that everyone was always insisting was so important. Felix had taught her many things, foremost among them that she was better off alone.

“You know we’ll love you no matter what,” Gia said. “Who you sleep with doesn’t make a whit of difference.”

“I’m not gay, Gia! I just admire Xena. She didn’t need men to get shit done. We could all—”

A very loud episode of throat clearing from Elise interrupted Jane’s speech on the merits of independence, whether you were a pseudo-Greek warrior princess or a modern girl trying to get along in the world.

“Sorry.” Jane sometimes forgot that most people did not share her views of love and relationships.

“I’m sure this is all super interesting, you guys?” Elise said. “But we have a serious problem on our hands?” She was talking fast and ending declarative statements with question marks—sure signs she was stressed. Elise always sounded like an auctioneer on uppers when she was upset. “I need to grab my phone because I’m expecting the cake people to call? So sit down and brace yourselves and I’ll be right back?”

Jane sank into a chair and warily eyed a basket of spools of those brown string-like ribbon things—the kind that were always showing up tied around Mason jars of layered salads on Pinterest. She wasn’t really sure how or why Elise had decided not to outsource this stuff like normal people did when they got married. The whole wedding had become a DIY-fest. “What are we doing with this stuff?” she asked the others.

“No idea,” said Wendy, performing a little eye roll. “I’m just doing what I’m told.”

Jane grinned. Although she, Wendy, Gia, and Elise were a tightly knit foursome, they also sorted into pairs of best friends: Jane and Wendy had grown up together and had met Elise during freshman orientation at university. They’d picked up Gia when they were seniors and Gia was a freshman—Elise had been her resident assistant—RA—and the pair had become fast friends despite the age difference.

“We are weaving table runners out of raffia ribbon,” Gia said. She dropped her strands and reached for her purse. “Slide that tea over here—quick, before she gets back.”

“God bless you,” Jane said when Gia pulled a flask of whiskey out of her purse and tipped some into Jane’s mug. If the “emergency” that had pulled Jane away from her cosplay fitting—not to mention a planned evening of writing—was going to involve table runners, she was going to need something to dull the edges a bit.

Elise reappeared. Jane practiced her nonchalant face as she sipped her “tea” and tried not to cough. She wasn’t normally much of a drinker, but desperate times and all that.

“I didn’t want to repeat myself, so I’ve been holding out on Gia and Wendy?” Elise said. “But there’s been a…disruption to the wedding plans?”

I love you, but God help me, those are declarative sentences. Sometimes Jane had trouble turning off her inner editor. Job hazard.

“Oh my God, are you leaving Jay?” Wendy asked.

“Why would you say that?” Elise turned to Wendy in bewilderment.

Now, that was a legitimate question, the inner editor said—at least in the sense that it was meant to end with a question mark. The actual content of Wendy’s question was kind of insensitive. But Wendy had trouble with change, and Elise pairing off and doing the whole till-death-do-us-part thing? That was some major change for their little friend group. Jane might have had trouble with it, too, except it was plainly obvious to anyone with eyeballs that Elise was head-over-heels, one hundred percent gaga for her fiancé.

“I’m kidding!” Wendy said, a little too vehemently. Elise looked like she might have to call for smelling salts.

“Take a breath,” Gia said to Elise, “and tell us what’s wrong.”

Elise did as instructed, then flopped into a chair. “Jay’s brother is coming to the wedding.”

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