Home > The Fiancee Farce

The Fiancee Farce
Author: Alexandria Bellefleur


Chapter One


A few stray petals fluttered to the floor as Madison van Dalen née James’s bouquet soared through the air. The confection of sherbet-colored orchids and draping Dutch roses tumbled flowers over stems, missing the grabbiest hands, hurtling instead toward the deserted end of the dance floor.

Deserted, save for Tansy.

The wainscoting bit into the small of her back as she hugged the wall, her accelerating pulse pounding out a rhythm of no, no, please no, not her as the bouquet’s distance dwindled, dwindled, disappeared. Tansy flinched, eyes shutting and arms rising reflexively, cushioning the flowers’ fall.

Damn it.

A gasp rose from the crowd. Heat crept up the front of Tansy’s throat, her underarms and the creases of her inner elbows damp with flop sweat. Everyone—all three hundred of Tucker and Madison’s closest friends and family—was going to be staring. Looking at her. What a nightmare.

Tansy cringed and braced herself for the stares, the inevitable glares from those who thought catching a falling floral arrangement meant something. She cracked one eye open and—

Okay, odd. No one was glancing in her direction, not even her stepmother, Katherine, the one responsible for dragging Tansy out onto the dance floor despite her many, many objections that she really, really didn’t see the point because what were the odds of her catching the bouquet, anyway?

Famous last words.

It was like Tansy didn’t exist, like she hadn’t had the misfortune of catching the bouquet, as if the toss had never happened. At least two dozen guests had gathered, gawking not at her—thank God—but instead at the center of the dance floor, where Ashleigh, Tansy’s stepsister, clutched her face, eyes brimming with tears. She looked pissed, jaw set, one hand fisted at her side as if poised to exact retribution from the bridesmaid beside her, who was sheepishly massaging her elbow.

“Ashleigh.” Katherine scuttled across the room and grabbed her daughter’s face, tilting it toward the light with a grimace before whisking her off the dance floor. Katherine craned her head over her shoulder, frazzled eyes locking on Tansy. Her lips moved, mouthing what looked like the word ice followed by a please and then a hurry that jolted Tansy into action.

In the time it took for her to wind her way through the maze of tables, dodging pint-sized ring bearers and drunk groomsmen, flag down a bartender, and retrace her steps all the way across the Grand Ballroom of the Seattle Yacht Club, a deep purple bruise had begun to bloom along the crest of Ashleigh’s cheek. Tansy winced and held out a linen napkin full of ice cubes embossed with Tucker and Madison’s initials. Fancy.

Ashleigh snatched the cold compress, pressing it to the corner of her eye with a sharp hiss. Her one good eye narrowed, gaze dropping to the bouquet clasped lightly in Tansy’s left hand, flowers trailing the floor. Ashleigh’s lips thinned.

Thanks for the ice, Tansy.

Not a problem, Ash. Happy to help.

Tansy sighed. In an alternate universe, maybe. In this one? She wouldn’t hold her breath.

Across the table, Madison’s younger sister, Jackie, smiled sweetly and pointed at the flowers. “Look at that! Congrats, Tansy.”

“It was nothing.” Tansy tucked the bouquet beneath her chair, out of sight, out of mind. “I didn’t even mean to catch it.”

Jackie’s smile went sly. “Who knows? Maybe you’ll be next.”

“To what?” Ashleigh asked, lowering the compress.

Jackie nodded to the front of the room, where Tucker held up a butter knife, studying his reflection, and Madison sipped surreptitiously from a flask before tucking it back inside the bodice of her ball gown. Tansy dared anyone to find two people more perfect for each other. “Next to get married.”

An awkward laugh, too loud and too high-pitched, burst from between Tansy’s lips. To be next would require her to be dating someone. “Let’s not get carried away.”

“Speaking of”—Ashleigh cocked her head—“where is your girlfriend? I’m beginning to think she doesn’t exist.”

Tansy swallowed a groan. Actually dating someone.

“Don’t be silly. Of course she exists,” Jackie argued. “Tansy wouldn’t lie.”

“Have you met her?” Ashleigh asked.

Sweet, guileless Jackie looked offended on Tansy’s behalf. “Tansy’s not a liar.”

Tansy averted her gaze, fidgeting with the stem of her champagne flute, trying not to squirm or cringe or do anything that remotely screamed guilty. This entire conversation was treading into dangerous territory she wanted desperately to avoid.

“I meant the girlfriend.” Ashleigh rolled her eyes. “It’s been, what? Six months? And no one’s met her? Does she know you’re dating?”

Katherine’s sigh was full of reprove. “Ashleigh, darling, be nice.”

Ashleigh’s eyes made a slow, pointed sweep across the room, landing and lingering on Tucker. “All I’m saying is, it wouldn’t be the first time Tansy deluded herself.”

Tansy’s back teeth clacked together, her face burning and blood simmering. As tempting as it was to tell Ashleigh exactly where she could shove her barbed comments that weren’t nearly as clever as she thought they were, all Tansy really wanted was to get through tonight unscathed, hopefully without drawing any more attention than she had already. Telling Ashleigh off would only achieve the opposite.

“You want to dial it back, Ash?” Jackie frowned. “You’re being a real bitch tonight.”

“Are you going to ask the earth to stop spinning next?” Tansy muttered under her breath. “You’d probably have better luck.”

Ashleigh’s eyes flared minutely before narrowing. “What was that?”

Whoops. So much for keeping her thoughts to herself. Tansy cringed. Maybe she was a little chagrined that Ashleigh had heard her, but she wasn’t sorry for what she’d said, and now that it was out there, she refused to take it back. “You can think whatever you want, but I’m not delusional.”

Desperate, maybe, and she might be lying to everyone else, but these days, she was nothing if not brutally honest with herself.

A storybook wedding? Someone to sweep her off her feet?

Never going to happen. Tansy knew it; she’d accepted it; but that didn’t mean she relished everyone else knowing it.

It had been bad enough when Tucker and Madison had started dating and he had begun attending most family gatherings. But after he’d proposed? The thought of attending a lifetime of family dinners and parties not unlike this one, trying in vain to ignore Tucker’s leering eyes and his smug little smirk, the smile that once made her stomach flutter and the reason why every butterfly now felt like a red flag was just—it was too much.

Maybe it was latent self-preservation kicking in, too little, too late, but as soon as she’d learned that Tucker had proposed, every last atom in her body had recoiled at the thought of celebrating his and Madison’s engagement. She’d begged off with a bad case of the stomach flu, then skipped out on three consecutive dinners, claiming she was too tired, too busy with the bookstore’s virtual events and supply chain snafus. All tiny, harmless fibs. But then Katherine had called and told Tansy no more excuses—no more behaving like a recluse; if Tansy wanted to be a member of this family, she needed to act like it. It was Tucker’s birthday, the entire Van Dalen family would be there, and Katherine had it in her head that wealth rubbed off. Unless Tansy had a decent reason for missing the party, Katherine wanted her there. Tansy’s father would’ve wanted her there.

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