In less than twenty-four hours, I’d be a married woman.
I was no Meghan Markle, but this wedding was kind of a big deal. The Whiskey Bayou Gazette had dubbed it the “Wedding of the Decade.” If you read past the headline, it was apparent that it was more for titillation than because it was a BFD, as my Aunt Scarlet liked to remind me. It had been alluded to that my hasty nuptials were due to the fact that I was in the family way. Which was the Southern way of saying I got knocked up. I’m not, by the way.
The second not so subtle mention of my nuptials in the Gazette referred to my previous wedding. Two hundred people watched me get stood up at the altar the last time, so it seemed like overkill to me to mention it again, but news was slow this time of year.
My name is Addison Holmes, and I have a tendency to make headlines on a fairly frequent basis. I work at the McClean Detective Agency as a private investigator. My license is still new and shiny, and I had a couple of highly publicized cases under my belt. My skills were improving, and mixing skills with sheer dumb luck seemed to be a winning combination. And my near-death experiences were getting fewer and farther between.
That pretty much brings us up to date and explains why I’m standing in the parking lot of the First United Methodist Church in Whiskey Bayou. My friend, bridesmaid, and sometimes sidekick, Rosemarie Valentine, was with me, along with FBI Special Agent Matt Savage. It was hard to go anywhere without Rosemarie. She was like a puppy, though she was mostly house-trained. As for Savage, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure why he was with us, but he wasn’t really on board with the whole wedding thing, so I figured that had more to do with it than anything.
Savage coughed to cover his laugh, and I gave him the stink eye.
“Thanks for reminding me,” I said, shivering beneath my coat. I was almost positive my shivers had everything to do with the weather and not the feeling of impending doom. Almost.
It was the coldest winter Savannah had seen in a hundred years. I wasn’t one to criticize, except when it was important or about someone I knew, but I was confused by the reports of global warming. It was two degrees, and we were supposed to get snow. A lot of snow. In Georgia. Either Mother Nature was drunk, or Al Gore’s tiny jogging shorts had cut off the circulation to his brain.
It did look rather bleak Beverly said he’s been in and out. Morning is the best time to catch him. Do you think he’ll talk to you?” I asked Savage. The cold must have affected my thinking process because one look at his face made it very clear Savage had no plans to talk to him.
He just smiled at me, like that was going to have any effect on me whatsoever. I mean, sure he had that cute dimple at the corner of his mouth and he was giving me that look he always had right before he wanted to kiss me. But I was an engaged woman, and all that kissing stuff was off the table. He was nothing more than an incredibly hot, muscle-bound…co-worker. Who had a life I knew absolutely nothing about.
“I don’t know what’s happening here,” Rosemarie said. “But I feel like a dark spirit has descended over this place. It’s giving me the chills. I say we go home and you can find a new place to get married.” She made the sign of the cross and that gave me the chills.
“Stop it,” I said. “You’re not even Catholic. And this has nothing to do with me getting married. He hired me to do a job, and that’s what I’m doing.”
“Keep telling yourself that,” she said, and crossed herself again.
I was feeling the wedding day pressure and Rosemarie had just hit my last nerve. I launched myself toward her. Savage grabbed the collar of my coat like a puppy, and I almost strangled myself.
“Slow down there, tiger,” he said. “Are you sure you want to get married?”
“Stop asking me that,” I said, shaking myself loose. “You’ve got to move past me. I know that you’re mildly attracted to me, and on another level, I’m sure I give you a glimpse of the lighter side of this job. I know you’re mired in the muck of the horrible things people do to one another on a day-to-day basis. And here I am, like a zoo animal, ready to amuse you when you’re bored.”
“Shut up. You know what I mean.” I was starting to get flustered, but I was having trouble closing my mouth. “Plus, you’re a fantastic kisser. And I’m not so bad myself, so I see the appeal there.” For some reason, I wanted to make sure I didn’t take away from the compliment I’d just given him about his kissing, so I reinforced it with a, “Really, you’re very good.”
“I appreciate that,” he said, grinning.
Rosemarie was staring at me wide-eyed, as if I’d lost my mind. Maybe I had.
“You just don’t seem like the settling down type,” I said against my better judgment. “You’re very tempting because you have that bad-boy, rule-breaker vibe. And all the crazy socks are weirdly sexy. And then your body…”
“I’m just saying that you need a woman who gives you hell,” I said. “Everything seems to come easy for you, and that includes women. The second I would’ve given in to temptation you would’ve dropped me like a hot rock. And then where would I be?”
“Not standing in single-digit temperatures in a church parking lot,” he answered.
“Right,” I said, nodding.
Rosemarie looked back and forth between the two of us and crossed herself again.
I rolled my eyes.
“What?” she asked. “I like it. I do it all the time. I saw that demon woman Patty Strobel at the Piggly Wiggly fighting over the last roll of toilet paper to prepare for the big storm. I tell you, she was going to punch Maggie Gerber right in the face. And you know Maggie is older than dirt. She would’ve disintegrated right there on aisle seven. But I made the sign of the cross and cast out the demon. Patti collapsed right there at Maggie’s feet.”
Rosemarie hmmphed and gave me the side eye. “I’d expect that from an unbeliever. Got an explanation for everything.”
“Let’s just get this over with,” I said. “I’m in a crisis. In case y’all haven’t realized it, we don’t have a preacher to marry us.”
“One person’s crisis is another’s opportunity,” Savage said.
Savage just smiled at her, and she unbuttoned her puffy yellow coat and started fanning herself. I couldn’t blame her. Savage’s smile was dangerous.
“I have a backup plan,” I lied. “Everything is going to be just fine. By this time in a couple of days I’m going to be a married woman.”
I looked at her, horrified. “I already have eyelashes. What are you going to do with my real ones?”
This wasn’t the first time she’d made comments about my wedding day preparations that absolutely terrified me.
“Let’s just get this over with,” Savage said. “If he’s here, I’ve got to arrest him.”
“I don’t want any part of that,” Rosemarie said. “The people in this town will skin you alive for arresting their favorite pastor. There’s got to be some rule about that somewhere. Are you allowed to arrest a man of God?”
Savage just stared at her blankly. “He’s a murderer.”
Savage took his gun out of his holster and held it down by his side in case anyone passed by. The citizens of Whiskey Bayou weren’t exactly known for being subtle.
Rosemarie was right. I was going to be the most hated woman in Whiskey Bayou. Everyone loved Pastor Charles.
Rosemarie and I followed Savage up the front steps to the big wooden double doors of the church. My heart hammered in my chest, and I was having a little trouble breathing. The truth was, I hadn’t stepped foot in this church since my previous wedding debacle.
“I’m all good. Nothing but happy thoughts about this place. I’m getting married. Nothing is going to dampen that excitement.”
“That’s the spirit,” Rosemarie said. “You just put all that other junk out of your mind. The past is in the past. I bet no one even remembers that you got left at the altar, or that they found your fiancé butt naked in the back of your honeymoon limo.” She giggled and then put her hand over her mouth. “I’ve still got the newspaper clippings in my scrapbook. They put those little smiley faces right over his junk and plastered him all over the front page.”
Savage’s lips twitched and I could see the laughter in the crinkle of his eyes.
She shrugged. “I don’t know. Every time I walk into this church it’s the first thing I think about. It’s like I can’t help myself. You’re always good for headlines.”
“Are we going to stand out here and reminisce all day?” I asked.
“It’s almost worth it,” Savage said with a sigh.
He opened the door and slipped into the dim foyer, and Rosemarie and I went in behind him. It took a couple of seconds for my eyes to adjust, but everything looked the same. Marble floors, stained-glass windows, and weird wood-and-iron light fixtures that would instantly impale anyone if they fell from the ceiling.
Savage slowly opened the sanctuary doors and we filed onto the red carpeted aisle. I could smell the linseed oil they used to polish the pews and the musty pages of the hymnals. Light filtered in from the floor-to-ceiling, stained-glass windows, and there was a giant cross that hung above the baptismal at the back of the pulpit.
My heart sank, and I looked over at Rosemarie. She crossed herself and held out her fingers in the sign of the cross toward me.
“No offense,” she said. “But you have the worst luck.”
I wish I could’ve argued with her, but she was right. There was a body hanging on the cross, and it didn’t belong to Jesus.