Shaking things up.

A small laugh puffs out of me, creating condensation on the window.

Where has she been? What has she been doing while I prepared to be the keeper of someone’s social calendar? She left Charleston for New York years ago, all by herself. That much I do know. Looking at her now, that innate defiance in her every movement…I bet whatever she did since leaving South Carolina, she did it for herself. On her own terms. She’s been living. That much is clear.

Addison frowns and glances up at the window, but I duck back before she sees me. My heart beats wildly in my throat. What would Addison see if she looked at me? Exactly what I am. A pampered Southern belle with the appropriate amount of friends. An inner circle of four, an immediate network of thirty-two and a broader outer circle of two hundred and fifty. A blonde beauty queen whose interests include scrapbooking, creating signature cocktails for parties and fancy gift-wrapping. My long-lost cousin would probably laugh at me.

Maybe she should.

When I look back down at the church steps, Addison has disappeared into the church, leaving a stir in her wake. And for the first time in my life, I understand envy. I’ve never caused a stir. Not once. I’ve inspired approval. Matching sweater sets don’t exactly drop jaws, do they?

“Naomi,” calls my maid of honor, Harper. “I promised your mother we’d have you walking down the aisle at three o’clock sharp. We should head down.”

A bridesmaid leans a lazy hip against the liquor cart, jostling the bottles. “Yes, let’s not cross the woman. I want to make it to the reception with my limbs intact.”

Despite the cyclone brewing in my belly, my tinkling laugh fills the room. “Ladies, would you mind terribly if I have a moment alone with Harper? We’ll be down in a shake.”

“Of course,” chirp three bridesmaids, far too brightly.

What am I doing? This impromptu meeting is not on the agenda. A quick glance at the clock tells me I am now late for my own wedding. If my mother has to come up the steps, she will be breathing fire, and that’s the last thing I need right now. We don’t want to keep Elijah waiting. No. No, we never want to do anything to upset this perfectly perfect ideal life I’ve landed. This is what I’ve always wanted. Wifehood to a rich, respected man. A military hero who inspires sighs of envy and pride when he walks down the street.

A good man. An honest man who will stay true to his vows. A kind, compassionate human being. That is Elijah Montgomery DuPont, the next mayor of this fine town. He just happens to think I prefer Pinot Grigio. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, though, isn’t it? I spent hours getting coiffed for the rehearsal dinner last night and he looked right through me. Sure, he kissed my cheek and nodded as I spoke. Made sure I arrived at my assigned seat without injury or assault. I love Elijah.

He just doesn’t love me. And after seeing Addison Potts outside on the church steps, I know exactly why. Where my cousin is vivacious and exciting, I’m a cookie-cutter, boring-as-beige debutante who’s never lived outside of the staunch parameters laid out for her. I haven’t experienced anything, unless someone planned it for me. I’m not interesting or worthy of anyone’s undivided attention. My fiancé is probably standing in front of the altar right now, dreading the next fifty years of eye-glazing conversation about the country club and charity planning committees.

Me. I’m going to be inflicting the boring.

Oh Lord. No. I can’t do it. I don’t want to do it.

I have to get out of here. I have to save Elijah.

And, more importantly—I think I have to shed my outer mannequin shell and go do some living. I’ve existed these last two and a half decades for my parents. Now I’m going to dedicate the next five to a husband without knowing what I really have to offer beyond small talk and juice cleansing tips? What do I want from the future? I don’t even know. But I have to go experience more before I’m sure it’s this.

“Naomi.” Harper waves a hand in front of my face. “I’ve been calling your name, honey. What did you want to talk to me about?”

“I’m not going down there,” I whisper, wide-eyed.

Well, now. There it is. My first dropped jaw. “What now?”

My gaze bounces around the room, cataloguing everything I need to take with me. Purse. My car keys are zipped in the inner pocket. I definitely need those because my suitcase is in the trunk, my laptop and honeymoon clothes inside. As long as I have those things, I won’t need to go home and risk my mother hog-tying me and dragging me back to the church.

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