Tomorrow, I will probably forget all about him. This afternoon will feel like a dream or a hallucination. But for right now I…I don’t think I can watch him get married.

Steeped in disbelief, I press the handle of the exit down. Turning to take one last, stupid look over my shoulder, I pause when I see a woman jogging up the aisle. She’s not the bride, but in that teal, ruffled nightmare of a dress, she screams bridesmaid. Her face is white as a sheet, a bouquet of flowers limp at one side, a folded note in the opposite hand. I take my fingers off the door handle, noting that everyone around me has started to murmur amongst themselves. What is going on?

The groom inclines his head, leaning down so the harried bridesmaid can reach his ear. Finished speaking, she hands him the note, closing her eyes as he unfolds and reads it. He’s very still. Something is definitely wrong, but he seems more concerned about the bridesmaid’s obvious upset, even patting her on the shoulder with a steady hand as he reads. Gentle giant.

I flinch at my own thoughts. They simply cannot be coming from me. Men are meant to be pleasant diversions from time to time. They all want one thing and I take a twisted pleasure in proving that. Proving I don’t want anything more, either, and sending them on their way. Reminding myself of how I operate doesn’t help now, though. As the groom—Elijah’s—face turns more and more grave, I grow restless. I want everyone to stop whispering.

Finally, the bridesmaid turns and leaves the way she came, sniffling into her forearm. Elijah tucks the note into his pocket and faces the congregation alone, appearing almost thoughtful. No one is whispering now. They’re all made of stone, waiting to see what the robust military man in the tuxedo will say. “I’m very sorry you all came out on a Sunday. It would appear…no one is getting married today, after all,” he drawls, his deep voice resonating with southern gentility. At his announcement, there are gasps from every corner of the aisle, women fanning themselves with almost fanatical fervor. Camera flashes go off. Elijah isn’t immune to the sudden activity. Or the fact that he’s just been jilted. No, he doesn’t seem to know what to do with his hands, a forced, wry smile playing around his lips. “I hope your wedding gifts came with a good refund policy.”

His attempt at a joke is met with a smatter of uncomfortable laughter, but mostly silence. I think. It’s hard to hear anything over the wrenching in my breastbone. Yeah, I didn’t want to watch him marry my cousin for some weird reason. But there’s zero satisfaction in watching him get left at the altar. None. I’ve never seen someone look more alone in my life.

I watch as Elijah turns to his groomsmen and rolls a shoulder, his eyes averted. And in that tiny slice of time, I know exactly what he’s going to do. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll marvel over how easily I read Elijah in a room full of people who should know him better than me. But for now, I don’t waste time slipping out the side exit, getting swallowed up in warm March wind and the scent of salt air. I weave through the parked cars to find my ancient Honda, breathing in time with my steps.

Moments later, I watch from my idle at the curb as Elijah strides out of the church, then comes to a dead stop. He looks straight ahead at nothing, the powerful cords of his neck standing out in the hazy, southern afternoon sun. Heartbroken? Angry? I can’t tell a single thing, except that he wants to escape. Now. But before I apply my foot to the gas, I give myself a mental slap in the face. A cold, hard reality check.

Rich, powerful, handsome. Unattainable. This is the same kind of man my mother fell for. Fell hard. Everyone inside that church remembers how that ended, too. It tore apart two halves of a family, leaving one side to flourish in their wealth and the other to fall from grace.

Elijah Montgomery DuPont, the next mayor of Charleston, heir to southern immortality might have been left behind by his bride today, but someday soon? There will be another one.

She won’t be a Potts girl. She will never, ever be me.

It costs me a surprising effort, but I paste on my most dazzling smile and pull up to the curb at the bottom of the church steps. By now, guests have begun filling the church doorways, slinking out one by one in the distance behind Elijah.

When I roll down the passenger side window, I get Elijah’s attention all to myself for the first time and it hits me like that gale, hurricane wind—only nine times stronger. He’s so inviting up close. A man who could double as a human shield. Or a furnace. He’s just radiating warmth and capabilities, like he’s someone to depend on. Oh God. I’m losing my freaking mind.

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