Gwyn gave her grocery list a last once-over, and then, satisfied she'd collected everything, looked up and sideways at the giant of a man accompanying her. "I'm done," she said.
Her brand new bodyguard nodded but said nothing. Gwyn tightened her grip on the shopping cart handle. She made a u-turn in the canned goods aisle and headed for the front of the store, wondering how long it would take to become accustomed to having someone shadow her. A week? A month? Personally, she doubted she would ever get used to the silent, watchful presence.
"It's best to ignore me," Guy Armand had told her when she'd tried—and failed—to keep up a running conversation with him in the vehicle on the ten-minute drive to the store. "Pretend I'm not here, and you'll adapt faster than you think."
Except it wasn't that simple. First of all, it went against Gwyn's very nature to ignore someone dogging her every footstep, and second, at roughly six feet, four inches tall and two hundred and fifty pounds, Armand would be a difficult man to ignore under any circumstances. She reached the checkout counter and began unloading the cart. As distracted as she was by Guy's presence, a part of her brain still managed to focus itself on that evening's dinner menu. With Alwen, Steffan, Sean, and Amy all there, it effectively doubled the number of mouths she had to feed—no, more like tripled, given they were all adults with far bigger appetites than her kids. Did she have enough ground beef for the barbecued hamburgers? Maybe she should have picked up extra potatoes for the salad. Wait. Was she supposed to feed Guy as well? Was that something you did for a bodyguard?
She turned to ask him, but her gaze landed on the magazine rack and she froze, staring in shock at the prominent, unmistakable photo of herself adorning the front pages of three separate tabloids. Hands clutching the bodice of her wedding gown, the greater part of one breast on display for the world to see, the words Cinderella Exposed! stamped in bold black above her head.
Mortification burned its way up from her toes to engulf her. Her surroundings receded in a rush that left her swaying on her feet. A hand clamped over her elbow, and Guy Armand's face swam into focus. His mouth moved in speech, but Gwyn couldn't hear it over the buzzing in her ears. Distantly, it occurred to her that she wasn't breathing. She should probably make that a priority...
She closed her eyes. Focused. Drew a thin, shaky breath. Another. A third. The world slammed back in on her in a jumble of noise: too-loud music from the store's hidden speakers, the screams of an unhappy child, the smell of roasting chicken from the deli counter. Guy's sharp voice.
The cashier's impatient one.
"Madame, est-ce que je peux fini, s'il vous plait?"
Can I finish, please?
Guy's voice again.
"Ms. Jacobs—Gwyn—are you all right? Do you need to sit down?"
Gwyn looked down and saw she still clutched the bag of potatoes. Cheeks scorching, she mumbled an apology and set it on the conveyor belt. The cashier rolled her eyes and rang it through.
"Do you want to leave?" Guy's gruff question told her he'd seen the photo, too. That it hadn't been a horrible figment of her imagination. "We can send someone back to finish the order."
She shook her head. Whispered, "No. No, I'm fine. Really. I'll just pay, and then we can get out of here."
Her bodyguard didn't appear convinced, but he stepped aside, and carefully averting her eyes from her image, Gwyn moved forward to where the cashier tapped bright green fingernails on the counter. The girl's gaze rested on Gwyn's face, slid past her to the tabloids in the rack, returned. Widened. The green fingernails stopped tapping. In slack-jawed silence broken only by the snap of her gum, she readied the machine for Gwyn's debit card, finished the transaction, and handed over the receipt. Then—finally, blindly—Gwyn made her much-needed escape, trusting Guy to pick up the grocery bags and follow.
"Well?" Gareth asked his mother. "What do you think of her?"
It was mid-afternoon, and the first chance he'd had to speak with his mother alone since she and his father had arrived the day before. Between dealing with kids and catching up on family news—and then the meeting with Guy Armand this morning—it had been an intense twenty-four hours. This, a few quiet moments, made for a welcome calm in the midst of the storm of excitement.
Alwen smiled over her shoulder as she put away the last of the lunch dishes. She'd insisted on washing up after sending Steffan and the kids to the neighborhood park with one of Armand's associates. Gwyn—in the company of Armand himself—had been dispatched to the grocery store with a list for their first all-inclusive family dinner, with Sean and Amy both in attendance as well.
"She's perfectly lovely," she said. "And the children, too. You've a fine family there, Gareth."
Despite the warmth of her words, however, her smile flickered just a little, and her gaze didn't quite meet his. Gareth frowned. He rested against the counter, his hands braced on either side.
"But?" he prompted.
His mother didn't immediately reply. Instead, she closed the cupboard door, then folded the tea towel and draped it over the oven handle. At last she faced him. She tucked a lock of gray hair into the twist from which it had escaped.
"We've always been honest," she began, "with one another, I mean."
"And I expect us to continue."
Alwen sighed. "Your father and I can't help but notice...the two of you—you and Gwyn—you're all right?"
Gareth frowned at the question. "Of course we are. What in the world makes you ask that?"
"Whenever talk of the wedding pops up, Gwyn becomes...quiet."
"Ah. That." He relaxed. "She's feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything, but she's fine."
His mother raised an eyebrow. "No bride is so overwhelmed that she won't talk about her own wedding, Gareth Connor. Every detail we've had so far has come from you and the children. Have you not noticed?"
Gareth's frown returned as he tried to think back over the conversations held since his parents' arrival. He hadn't noticed. "Has it?"
"She's mute on the topic." Alwen shook her head, frowning back at him. "It's not right. And that business with Mr. Armand this morning. The poor girl looked positively green around the gills."
That, he had definitely noticed. His mouth twisted. "An unfortunate part of marrying me, I'm afraid, but only temporary. Once the wedding is over—"
"If the wedding is over."
He stared at his mother, startled. "I beg your pardon?"
Alwen crossed her arms. "Gwyn has the look of a doe on the verge of bolting, and you're not paying attention to the signs."
Gareth shook his head. "I know you mean well, Mum, but I think you're reading far too much into this. There's a lot going on in Gwyn's life right now. Managing the wedding, having the kids home from school for the summer, working, meeting you and Dad for the first time. If she's quiet, it's because she's distracted...and probably tired. It would help if she'd let me hire a housekeeper."
"Have you asked her?"
"To hire a housekeeper? She refuses."
"Not that. Have you asked her how she is?"
"And what does she say?"
"She says she's fine, not that it's any of your business." A note of irritation crept into his voice. He loved his mother dearly, but really? "I believe her. Not that that's any of your business, either."
His mother crossed the kitchen to stand in front of him. Shaking her head, she reached up to pat his cheek. "Gareth, dear, a woman who is a fortnight away from marrying the man she loves had better be a great deal more than just fine. Ask again, and this time, listen with this" —she placed a hand over his heart— "instead of your head."
Down the hall, the front door slammed open.
YOU ARE READING
Forever After (Ever After #2)Romance
Wedding bells are in the air, but single mom Gwynneth Jacobs and Hollywood mega star Gareth Connor are finding that the road to matrimony is anything but smooth. Each thinks they're doing what's best for the other, but with everything from the papar...