Weddings From Hell, Page 1Jeaniene Frost
Weddings From Hell
About Maggie Shayne
Happily Never After
About Jeaniene Frost
Ghouls Night Out
About Terri Garey
The Wedding Knight
About Kathryn Smith
Other Books by Maggie Shayne, Jeaniene Frost, Terri Garey and Kathryn Smith
About the Publisher
It was an ordinary Saturday afternoon. Seven-year-old Kira wore bib overalls of faded denim, a striped T-shirt, and copper-red braid that hung all the way to her butt. Her feet were bare, pant legs rolled up nearly to her knees as she waded in the lake. It was too early, Dad said, to go in for a real swim. But wading in the shallows was okay. The water felt just fine to Kira, and she wondered if she should “trip and fall” all the way into the water. Once she was wet, her parents wouldn’t see any sense making her get out.
She glanced at the shore, where dandelions were like yellow polka-dots in the lush green grass. Her mom was spreading a plastic tablecloth on the picnic table. It was red and white checks. Kira thought it was silly to bother with a tablecloth at a picnic, but her mom liked things the way she liked things, so she didn’t voice her own opinion on the matter. Probably, Kira thought, there were important reasons to use a tablecloth at a picnic—reasons she was just too young to understand yet.
Her dad was standing at the grill, with a big two-pronged fork in one hand and a long-handled burger-flipper in the other.
“Darlin’?” Mom called, her Scottish accent clear, even in that one word. She’d managed to get the flapping tablecloth to stay put by laying her purse on one end, and Kira’s shoes on the other.
Dad turned toward her, and when he caught her eye, he smiled.
“Could ya get the cooler from the car? And while ya do, why not move the car outta the sun, so t’willna be like an oven by the time we’re ready to leave.”
He looked at the parking lot, just up the hill from where they were picnicking, on the shore of Cayuga Lake. “I don’t see any shady spots. Do you?”
“Right there, love, beneath the shading arms of that oak tree,” she said, pointing.
He followed with his eyes, and spotted the place she had in mind. “Okay,” he told her. “Whatever you say.”
Kira grinned, because she heard something in his voice that told her he thought moving the car was about as necessary as a tablecloth on a picnic table. But he would never say so out loud. Mom liked things the way she liked them, and there was no point in arguing.
She had skin like cream and hair the same color as Kira’s, but wildly curly where Kira’s was straight. Her eyes were green, as green as emeralds, her father used to say.
She’d left Scotland to find a husband, and vowed never to go back. She didn’t talk about why not, or what had happened there that had made her so very unhappy. And since Kira didn’t like seeing her mom unhappy, she didn’t ask. She wondered, though.
Dad moved the car to the spot Mom had dictated, then got out and fetched the giant red cooler full of food from the trunk. It was as he carried the cooler around the car and down the hill, that the car began to roll forward.
It started slowly. So slowly, that Kira wasn’t sure it was really moving, at first. Mom didn’t notice it. She stood by the table with a roll of masking tape she’d unearthed from the depths of her purse. She tore off one strip and then another and then another, using each of them to hold the tablecloth to the table, tucking the tape underneath so it wouldn’t show.
Dad didn’t notice it either. His back was toward the car as he strode down the hill carrying the huge red cooler with the white top.
But it was moving. It was. It was rolling slowly—then faster, right down the hill toward Kira’s parents. She found her voice, shouted, “Mamma! Pappa!”
But instead of looking at the danger trundling toward them, that only made them both look toward her.
“The car!” she cried, and she pointed at it. “Look out!”
Her father turned to look, just as the car rolled past him so close that the mirror on the side knocked the cooler right out of his hands. Mamma turned slowly, and Kira heard her dad shouting her mother’s name.
She must have seen it, Kira thought. But not in time.
Kira closed her eyes tight just before the inevitable happened. And by the time she opened them again, the car’s nose was in the water.
She lifted her gaze to see how bad things were, even though she was afraid to look. The red cooler lay on its side, its white lid open, their picnic spilled all over the grass. Macaroni salad and rolls and the chocolate cake she’d helped her mamma frost that very morning, lay ruined and broken. Pappa was on his feet, holding one arm across his chest as if something were wrong with it, even as he stumbled down the hill. He had the most horrible look on his face.
Kira looked for her mamma. The picnic table was crushed. She could see a bit of blue beside it, and that must be her mamma’s dress. Kira came out of the water, sloshing step by step.
Other picnickers had come running by now, gathering around, looking and pointing. Someone shouted “Call an ambulance!” and others went running to obey. But mostly they were just looking.
Kira crept around the table. By then her pappa was on his knees beside Mamma. And she heard her mother’s voice, weak and slurred.
“It’s the curse. It’s the curse. Oh, Paul, how could ya?”
“There’s no curse. You’re gonna be fine,” Pappa said.
“I’m dying. You have to tell her, Paul. When she’s older, tell her. Before it’s too late, warn her. Tell her, Paul.”
Kira had made her way closer, and stood right beside her parents. Mamma’s middle looked almost flattened, and there was a lot of blood on the skirt of her blue dress. Her legs lay all twisted and cockeyed, and they didn’t move at all. It was almost like her mamma couldn’t feel how messed up they were. Her skin was so white. And her eyes looked far away.
She gazed at Kira. “It isna Pappa’s fault,” she told her.
“I know.” Kira sniffed and wiped her nose. “I should have yelled sooner.”
“No, baby. This wasna your fault, either.” Weakly, her mamma lifted a hand and touched Kira’s cheek.
“’Twas fate, darlin’. An’ now I’m goin’. Not ’cause I wanna, but ’cause I’ve no choice in the matter. But I’ll be with ya always, lass. Always my bonny, bonny girl.”
“But Mamma, I don’t want you to go.”
“Like an angel, love. I’ll be watchin’ over ya like your own guardian angel.”
“No Mamma! No!”
But Mamma’s eyes fell closed, and her hand, cold and white, fell away from Kira’s cheek and landed with a final thud in the grass.
For the first time in her life, Kira heard her father cry. And then there were sirens and more people. Paul Monroe wrapped his little girl in his arms, and carried her a few steps away to let the paramedics have room to work. But Kira knew it was already too late. Mamma had gone. Kira knew it, had seen it and felt it when it happened.
Mamma had gone. And she’d blamed it on a curse. Kira wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, or whether it could even be true. All of the grownups who surrounded her for the next several weeks—her grandparents and aunts and uncles—all on her pappa’s side, of course—she didn
’t know any of her mamma’s family—told her that there were no such things as curses.
And for a little while, she believed them. But only for a little while. Once Pappa shot himself in the head, she realized that curses were very real, and very very bad.
Kira answered the telephone without knowing that the call would change everything. She picked it up with a cheery “hello.” As if everything was fine.
As if there hadn’t been a shadow haunting her ever since she’d been a well-adjusted seven-year-old. As if she hadn’t been forcibly ignoring the secrets that were constantly whispering in her mind, beckoning her. Come find us, Kira. We’re waiting for you….
“Would this be a Miss Kira MacLellan?”
She shivered. His accent was thick and so very much like her mother’s had been, that it caused her throat to close up and her eyes to burn. But there was something beyond that. Something familiar, that made her stomach clench up tight. Swallowing with difficulty, she drew a breath. “It’s Kira Monroe. My mother was a MacLellan.”
“And so’re you, as you always will be. But that’s neither here nor there, is it now?”
“I…have no idea. Who is this?”
“My name’s Ian Stewart. I’m a solicitor, calling from Scotland on behalf of your great aunt Iris MacLellan. It’s my sad duty to inform you of her passin’. And sorry I am to be tellin’ you of it. She was a fine woman.”
“I’m sure she was, though I never met her. I never even knew I had a great aunt Iris.”
“Ah, you’ve a raft of relations here in Scotland. An’ it’s long past time you should be meetin’ ’em. Better late than never, I suppose.”
“The viewing will be on Thursday next. We’ve delayed it a bit to give you time, what with the distance you’ll be travelin’.”
“I’m sorry Mr.—”
“Stewart,” he said quickly. “But you must call me Ian. I’m practically family myself.”
“I’m not going to be able to make it for the funeral.”
“Oh, but you have to make it within two days of the funeral, at the very least. The readin’ o’ the will is to be held then. And it’s required ye be present or your inheritance will be divided between those who are.”
“Aye. It’s substantial. More than three million pounds.”
She blinked. “What’s that in dollars?”
“Ahhh, let me see then…oh my. At today’s rate of exchange, that would be six million dollars, give or take.”
She pulled the telephone away from her ear and stared at it.
“Miss MacLellan? Kira? Have ye fainted dead away, then?”
Blinking, she brought the phone back to her ear. “Is this some kind of a joke? Or one of those international scams or something? Are you going to ask for my social security or bank account numbers next?”
He laughed. It was a warm, deep sound that stroked her senses through the shock and disbelief currently taking up most of her attention. “Are you as lovely as you sound, Kira MacLellan?”
“I…” Her face heated at the compliment that sounded sincere, though it couldn’t be. She hadn’t even met the man. He was a stranger on the phone. And yet it felt like more.
“I suggest ye place a call to a solicitor of your own choosin’. Give him my number here. He’ll be quite able to verify this is all legitimate.”
“I will, believe me.”
“And glad of it, I am. Once you’ve done that to your satisfaction ring me back. I’ll help you get your travelin’ arrangements in place. All right, then?”
“Sure,” she said, not believing it for a minute.
“All right, then. Have a lovely day.”
Kira hung up the telephone and the whispers that had long since haunted her called her closer. So she turned toward the bedroom of the small efficiency apartment she rented in the small-town city of Cortland, New York. It was on Main Street, which was convenient, since her job tending bar at Hairy Tony’s was only a few steps away, and her classes at the State University of New York were within bicycle distance.
Life was going the way it had nearly always gone. Boring, and slow, and with no real direction, but it was going. She made enough to pay her bills, and take the occasional class, though she had no real goals. It was as if she’d been marking time, or killing it, waiting for something to come along that would tell her what it was she was supposed to be doing. Or, more accurately, not really waiting for that. More expecting it, but not with any sort of excited anticipation or eagerness. She liked her slow, boring life. She’d had enough drama as a child to last her a lifetime.
She stood in front of the closed closet door for a long moment, before she finally worked up the nerve to open it. And then she reached up onto the top shelf and moved things around until she found the shoebox, way in the back. Warily, she pulled the box down, carried it with her to her full-sized bed, curled up with her back against the padded headboard, and stared at it.
Her mother’s belongings hadn’t amounted to much. Her father had sold most of them in the days following her death, probably in preparation for his own. At his funeral, there had been a woman sobbing as if her very heart had been broken. Kira asked everyone there who she was, but no one knew. She’d stayed in the back of the crowd at the cemetery, and left as soon as anyone ventured near her.
It was only in hindsight, as a teenager, years later, being raised by her father’s parents, that she’d begun to understand. Her father had been having an affair. Her mother had known that at the end. She remembered her words, “How could ya, Paul?” All the signs had been there, she’d just been too young to see them.
With hands that trembled, she took the lid off the shoebox, and looked inside. A black velvet box held her mother’s wedding band and engagement ring. Another held a favorite gold necklace with a butterfly suspended from its chain. There was a stack of letters and postcards, all bound together with a rubber band, and it was that bundle Kira reached for now. She’d never read them. She’d been afraid to. Something hidden, deep inside her, made her nervous about those letters.
But now, she reached for the rubber band, to remove it for the first time in eighteen years. And just as her fingers touched it, it snapped in two, and she jumped, so startled that the letters fell from her hands, and onto the bed.
She sat motionless, frightened by the way the band had snapped as if on its own, even while she told herself she was being silly. It was nothing. Coincidence.
Without touching the letters that fanned out on the bedding before her, Kira scanned their return addresses. Most of them had come from Scotland. And all of the surnames were MacLellan. She’d never met any of her mother’s relatives, had never even heard her mother speak of them.
She didn’t know why, but decided it was time to find out. Given that phone call she’d just received, and the constant gut-level curiosity that had dogged her for years, it was time. Her urge to delve into her mother’s closely guarded secrets had always been outweighed by the irrational fear of what she might find.
Six million dollars, however, was a powerful motivator. And as much as her practical brain told her it couldn’t possibly be for real, her belly told her it was.
Kira picked up one envelope, flipped it over and paused. It was still sealed. Frowning, she checked another, and then another. None of them had been opened.
What had happened to make her mother turn so completely against her own family?
Because of the curse.
She ignored the voice that whispered in her mind. There was no curse. Her mother had been dying, her brain misfiring, her words coming from some irrational place inside her. She’d asked her father. He’d said there were no such things as curses.
Drawing a breath, she chose the envelope she would open. It was from Iris MacLellan, and the postmark date was April, 1981. Before she had even been born. She slid her thumbnail beneath the env
elope’s fold and sliced it open, and swore a chorus of breathless whispers spilled out with the sheet of vellum.
For a moment, she went still, looking around the room as if in search of those whisperers. But of course, there was no one there.
Straightening her spine, she unfolded the letter. A scent of lavender wafted from it, touching her face along with what felt like the slightest breath of a breeze. Impossible, of course. Her emotions were heightened, and the long sense of dread and fear of curses were making her imagination play tricks on her.
Adjusting her focus, she read the letter.
My Dearest Mary,
I write you in this, the month you are to be wed, to beg of you, child, do not make this mistake. Do you not recall how your own ma, my own dear sister, met her end? The way her poor, drowned body washed up on the rocks below the cliffs? And how your Da disappeared, never to be seen again? And never still, not to this day. The curse of the MacLellan brides is real, Mary. You cannot run away from it, even if you run halfway ’round the world. It will find you, lass. And you’ll die at your husband’s hand. Please, listen to me. Come home, dear Mary, and resign yourself to living the life of a spinster. ’Tis the only way to ensure you’ll live at all.
Your loving aunt,
Blinking slowly, Kira lowered the paper to the bed.
Her mother hadn’t been hallucinating or out of her mind as she’d been breathing her last. She’d been speaking of something that was real—at least to her it was. Maybe she hadn’t believed in this curse of the MacLellan brides before the accident. But once that car had rolled over her body, crushing the life out of it, she must have believed then.
And apparently, she thought the curse would be handed down to her, to Kira. And if that was the case, Kira thought, she really needed to know exactly what it meant. Was every MacLellan woman who married, destined to die by her husband’s hand? Could it be true?