The Perfect Bride - By Kerry Connor Page 0,1
regain her balance, throwing her arms out, flailing wildly.
Just as the intruder came at her again, hands thrust out, and shoved.
The push sent her careening backward faster, harder. She went straight into the doors behind her, the impact loosening the latch holding them shut and throwing them open. The wind burst in and grabbed at her as if with greedy fingers, grasping at her hair, tugging at the dress, stealing the breath from her lungs. The room seemed farther and farther away as she continued to stumble, lurching onto the balcony.
Terrified, she tried to find her equilibrium, recover her senses, see what was in front of her...
She didn’t even realize what was happening as she landed hard against something behind her. She didn’t register what it meant when hands closed around her and quickly lifted her off her feet.
She didn’t understand until the last possible moment, when she was hoisted upward and propelled right over the edge of the balcony.
And then she was plummeting, diving relentlessly downward, in free fall, faster and faster.
All the while the howling wind screeched in her ears, drowning out the sound of her own screams.
Jillian Jones had spent hours studying pictures of Sutton Hall, but she still wasn’t prepared for her first glimpse of the place in person. One moment she was driving up the long private road that led to the estate, the next the trees framing the driveway suddenly cleared and there it was, the massive building looming in front of her.
She automatically eased her foot off the accelerator and stepped on the brake, bringing the rental car to a gradual stop. Her heart pounding, she stared up at the house she’d only seen in those photographs—and in her nightmares.
It was beautiful. In spite of everything, she couldn’t help but recognize that much. The immense structure rose three soaring stories above the earth. Its gray stone walls appeared as solid and ancient as the mountains behind it and seemed to stretch as far. Each of its corners met at a round tower, giving it an appearance more like that of a castle than a simple mansion.
It was exactly as Courtney had described it, like something out of a fairy tale.
Unfortunately, as Jillian had been reminded all too recently, not all fairy tales had happy endings.
It was hard to believe it had only been a month since her best friend had come here to plan her wedding, believing she would have that fairy tale.
Instead, Courtney had left in a body bag.
Eric, Courtney’s fiancé, was still inconsolable. This was supposed to be the happiest time of his life, and instead it had become the worst.
The guilt welled inside her again, bringing tears to Jillian’s eyes. She did her best to choke back the feeling, but was unable to shake it completely.
She should have been here. That was the maid of honor’s job, to be there for the bride. But she’d been swamped with work, having recently launched her own freelance graphic design business. After months of effort, she’d finally begun to build a client list and had projects she’d needed to finish. Not to mention the idea of dealing with flowers and dresses and seating charts had seemed like her worst nightmare. She’d even suggested to Courtney that she might want to choose someone else to be her maid of honor, someone who knew a lot more and possessed a great deal more interest in wedding arrangements than she did.
“It’s a job for the best friend,” Courtney had said. It didn’t matter that they lived on different sides of the country and only got to see each other a few times a year, if that. Ever since they’d met in Mrs. Parks’s first-grade class at Thompson Elementary, they’d been best friends, as good as sisters. “Don’t worry, I won’t make you do any girlie stuff. All you have to do is be there for me.”
But Jillian hadn’t been. The only thing Courtney had asked of her, and she’d failed.
Courtney had been alone here for a week finalizing the arrangements before the rest of the small wedding party was scheduled to arrive. And that was exactly how she’d died. Alone.
The official determination was that Courtney’s death had been a tragic accident. She’d been on the balcony outside her room on a windy night, had come too close to the edge and fallen over.
Which was a load of crap, Jillian thought, the now familiar anger rising. Courtney had been afraid of heights. She never would have