Winter came early to Minerva, Virginia. Even the oldest residents couldn't remember snow falling before Christmas, but on Thanksgiving night the mercury dropped. By the time the last turkey platter had been washed and piece of pumpkin pie consumed, the snow had begun to fall. It was an anomaly, one of those nonevents that have everyone buzzing for a day or two because there really isn't anything else to talk about. Then Susannah Greer blew back into town on Thanksgiving night and gave everyone a different topic to discuss over their morning coffee. If the editor of the Minerva Daily News hadn't been so preoccupied with announcing "Winter Comes Early!" on Friday morning, he might have run a headline saying, "The Home Wrecker is Back! Hide Your Men!"
Of course, no man would have her dressed as she was, looking like an ice princess in a white bridesmaid's dress. Susannah smiled wryly as she studied her image in the full-length mirror at the Bridal Boutique. The dress was lovely, emphasizing the dark red tones of her long hair and making her brown eyes look dramatic, but it was just so darn . . . white. The other bridesmaids got to wear black dresses, but the maid of honor—her—looked like the bride runner-up.
"In the event the bride is unable to fulfill her duties," she muttered under her breath.
"I can't believe you're here," screeched the bride-to-be as she burst into the dressing room and wrapped Susannah in a bear hug. "I thought I'd have to send Brad out there to drag you home."
Susannah felt a moment's guilt. "Out there" was Seattle, about as far away from Minerva as she could get without leaving the country. She hadn't been back to Minerva in four years. Liz had visited her twice, but not once had Susannah made the trip back to her hometown. Unlike Liz, who was six years younger and whose memories weren't as tinged with bitterness, she couldn't move on with her life as long as she was mired in her past.
"Hey, sis," Liz said, meeting her gaze in the mirror. "I'll be an old married lady like you by tomorrow."
At the reference to her marriage, Susannah instinctively looked at her ring finger. The weight of her diamond and platinum wedding rings was nearly unbearable, and she tried to distract her sister to avoid the topic.
"So, everything ready to go? Bridesmaids organized? Groomsmen clean and sober?"
"Brad and Derrick are picking up the other groomsmen from the airport tonight and Brad's sisters have already had their last dress fitting," Liz said.
At the mention of Derrick, Susannah flinched. She hadn't seen Derrick Frost in four years. If she never saw him again for the rest of her life, it would be too soon. Unfortunately, her luck simply didn't run that way.
"How is the dick—I mean, Derrick? He must be working on his fourth wife by now, right?"
Liz sighed. "As far as I know he's only been married once. I don't even think he has a date for the wedding."
Susannah tried to ignore the little jump in her pulse rate. "The better to bed the female wedding guests. Not that being married would stop him."
"He's the best man, Suzie Q," Liz said. "Please try to get along."
Susannah bit back her retort that the only thing he was "best" at was giving a woman an orgasm and breaking her heart at the same time. Once upon a time, she had been hopelessly infatuated with Derrick Frost, the star quarterback of Minerva High School. She'd been a lowly sophomore when he was a senior, but by then they had developed a strange and special friendship based on a shared love of horror flicks—and the fact that they lived next door to each other.
In the span of one year, her mother had abandoned her and Liz and Derrick had gone off to college before she ever got up the nerve to tell him how she felt about him. They spent time together during the summers, but it was never the same between them once she was living across town with her grandparents and trying to be a mother to her sister. By the time Derrick returned to Minerva to settle down—with both a Juris Doctor and a new bride—Susannah had been on her way to graphic design school in Seattle.
Derrick had arrived back in Minerva in June and she had been gone by August, but one hot night in July their paths had crossed at the only dive bar in town. Susannah had been celebrating her birthday with girlfriends, and Derrick had looked awfully sad sitting by himself at the bar. By the end of the night, they were at her apartment, having earth-shattering sex.
For a few weeks, they'd had a tumultuous, wild, secret affair. When she asked him about his marriage, he only said it had been a mistake and he wasn't ready to settle down. It had been enough for her. She had never felt so alive as she did during those few weeks with Derrick, but the feeling came at a very steep price. Derrick's wife had found out and told everyone. Derrick wouldn't answer her calls and then time had run out and she had to leave for Seattle. His silence, more than the rude comments of ¬people she'd once considered friends, had destroyed her belief in "happily ever after." Not that she deserved a fairy-tale ending, she told herself bitterly. She had seen what infidelity did to her parents' marriage and then managed to break every rule she believed in anyway.
She looked at her sister, so wide-eyed and hopeful that marriage would provide the stability their dysfunctional childhood never had. She ruffled Liz's auburn hair the way she had a thousand times during those difficult years after their father had run off with his mistress and their mother had left Minerva to follow her newly divorced boyfriend to New York. Susannah couldn't fault Liz for trying to find her own happiness, she just didn't believe in the possibility for herself.