Michelle was holding a pair of stockings in each hand, trying to decide which to wear for the day. “Don’t let him hear you say that. Any hint he thinks we don’t appreciate him is just trouble.”
“He’ll find a way to make your life worse than hell.” As the words were coming out of Saffron’s mouth, her friends turned to Renee, waiting for a disappointed reaction, but there was none. Renee couldn’t blame her friends for thinking the way they did. Matthew Parnell was one of the most powerful and wealthy men in New England who bathed in the admiration and respect he had earned over the years, while at the same time would not hesitate to have a bullet dispatched if he felt disrespected or threatened. Renee didn’t consider Alice’s statement as disrespectful, but the others were right. It was best if he didn’t hear it.
Renee gave a reassuring smile. “He won’t ever know it was said.”
Renee watched as Saffron started digging through her bag containing her wedding day essentials and smiled as she spotted the familiar packaging she knew contained at least a pound of marijuana. Drugs were one of her father’s main sources of income, and just because she was getting married didn’t mean organized crime in New England came to a halt.
Saffron scanned the bride for any imperfections and found a flaw. “Where are your mother’s earrings?”
Renee grabbed her ears to verify the missing jewels. “They’re in my bag. And before any of you say anything, the shoes wait until the last minute. I’ll be standing for at least an hour during the ceremony and I would like to be comfortable before I have to put them on.”
Her four friends turned back to their own primping as Renee dug through her bag to fish out her mother’s emerald tear drop earrings to complete her wedding day ensemble. Then she glanced down to the side of the vanity to make sure her shoes were, in fact, still there. As she was pulling the bobbles from her bag, there was the sound like a cannon being shot into something metal coming from outside. Renee, Michelle, and Saffron froze in place as Charlotte and Alice ran to the window to see if they could find out what was going on.
“There are people running down the driveway. I don’t—”
Before Alice could finish her sentence, Renee hiked up the hem of her dress and ran out of the bridal suite as fast as she could until she reached the end of the driveway, ignoring everyone and everything around her. She couldn’t see through the crowd of guests encircling some kind of dilemma. All she could see was smoke, all she could smell was copper, and all she could hear were muffled voices. Renee ran toward the swarm of people and briefly noticed her father, his captain, Mr. Crescent, and three of his associates standing away from the crowd like they didn’t care to get involved.
“Renee!” Charlotte yelled out as she was trying to catch up.
Hearing Charlotte’s call, a few of the wedding guests and reporters turned, half-heartedly trying to reach out and stop her. Renee pushed them aside and broke through the crowd, coming to a halt as disbelief washed over her. Christopher’s metallic blue truck was crushed by another truck on the passenger side. The only thing of note about the second truck that Renee could distinguish was the bloodied body folded over the steering wheel and the skull halfway through the windshield. There were men at both vehicles working desperately at what appeared to be a rescue. Renee watched as they succeeded in removing Tucker Wilson, Christopher’s best man, from the truck and laying him on the ground as Dr. Seaver and Dr. Michaelson ran from the crowd to examine him.
Renee could feel her father’s eyes on her, but she couldn’t look in his direction. Matthew Parnell may have been one of the most loved by everyone he rubbed elbows with, but he was also the person she fiercely loved more than anyone else in the world, and looking at him would only cause her to break down. He promised her the perfect wedding. He promised her that this would be the day she had always dreamed of. He promised.
Cameras flashed from all directions and chaos encircled her as Renee watched Christopher being pulled from the truck and set down for Dr. Michaelson to examine. Christopher’s hair was damp and red with blood, explaining the smell of copper in her nose. His bright green emerald eyes were closed as blood ran down his face. She saw the beginnings of bruises, swelling, and the rise and fall of his chest—she knew she did—and that was all the hope she needed.
Renee ran to Christopher’s side and sat next to him, staring at Dr. Michaelson, who could only look at Renee with heartbreak. “I can’t promise you anything. I’m going to do what I can until the ambulance gets here.”
Choking on tears that refused to fall, Renee nodded in understanding. She would not cry, because crying meant two things: weakness and finality. Renee watched Christopher’s chest rise and fall like he was begging for air as she cradled his head in her lap, trying to stay out of Dr. Michaelson’s way, but with a firm look, letting the doctor know she wasn’t going anywhere.
“I’m here, baby. Please stay with me.”
Christopher opened his eyes and looked at her with no confusion on his face; he knew it was her. All Christopher could do was gaze into her eyes and try to breathe as Renee faked a smile as best she could. “Dr. Michaelson is here and he’s going to make you better.”
Renee leaned down and gently kissed him. When he weakly returned her kiss, he looked in her eyes, deep and true, and the hope began to drain from her. Christopher let out a breath and a trickle of blood started from the corner of his mouth. Renee focused all of her attention on his face, willing herself to wake up from this nightmare.
Christopher reached for her hand and cupped it in his. In painful breaths he said, “Since the first time I saw you, I loved you. I always will.”
Christopher’s chest ceased to rise and fall. The understanding was immediately there and Renee began to shake as shock took her over. She didn’t know how long she had been holding onto Christopher before she was being involuntarily lifted to her feet to look into the eyes of her father. He gave her a sorrowful look as Renee fell into the safety of his arms. She made no sound, had no emotion, and just wanted to wake up from this nightmare. After a few minutes, her father kissed her gently on the forehead and spoke softly. Seeing Charlotte and Michelle approaching, Renee turned her head back in the direction of the accident to validate what she couldn’t believe to be true. Charlotte wrapped an arm around Renee, pulling her in the opposite direction, but Renee couldn’t move.
“She needs to leave,” Matthew said sternly.
Michelle and Charlotte helped Renee through the crowd of people, Alice and Saffron silently following behind. Heartbroken, Renee just wanted her father to hold her and tell her everything was just a bad dream. When she turned her head, everything suddenly changed when she saw it—and there was nothing subtle about it. Renee stopped walking to make sure she wasn’t seeing things as she watched the expression on her father’s face change. Matthew was no longer the man who had held her just minutes before; he was the man his business friends and enemies had gotten to know. He had turned away from the crowd to try to hide his expression from the cameras, the beginnings of a smile on his face. She could see the satisfaction appear on his face as he spoke, and then he did something that made Renee’s heart stop once more. He laughed and turned to light a cigar.
Renee’s thoughts immediately went from sorrow to complete disbelief. Matthew Parnell only smoked cigars for two reasons: to rub elbows with people in high places or when he was celebrating a job well done. Renee looked to her friends and knew they saw it too. She also knew they were smart enough to avert their eyes so they wouldn’t have to speak. Renee picked up the hem of her dress and walked back to the mansion to pack her bags and go home.