Book Two: The Barker Triplets
The moment Bobbi Jo Barker uttered the word ‘yes’, she knew it was a mistake. And just like the first time she’d reached for that damn bottle of tequila—back when she was just fourteen—she knew it would bite her in the ass.
But she wasn’t fourteen anymore, and she wasn’t dealing with the after effects of a cheap bottle of tequila. Nope. As her gramps Herschel would say, she was ‘all growed up’ and had been for a long time. So why the hell did she feel so scared?
Because you agreed to marry a man you don’t love.
Oh, right. There was that.
The panic that heated her insides reared its ugly head, and for a moment, Bobbi was afraid all was lost. She was afraid that she wasn’t strong enough to do what she needed to do—marry Gerald Dooley, the man who could give her what she wanted—so she reverted to an old childhood remedy. She closed her eyes and counted.
One. She inhaled and shook out her hands.
Two. She exhaled and shook out her hands.
She repeated the process twice and still her nerves were hopping so badly that she was afraid she’d pass out, and that just wouldn’t do. Not today. Not today.
A knock at the door made her jump and for a moment she was frozen, her eyes wild as they took in the reflection in the mirror. What she saw should have reassured her. It should have told her that everything was going to be fine. Women who looked like the one in the mirror always ended up on top, didn’t they?
She supposed that if she was looking in from the outside, she could appreciate the stark beauty of the designer dress, the simplicity of the hair and the dramatic scope of the makeup.
But she wasn’t on the outside looking in. She was here in the moment, living the dream, as most of the women in her hometown of New Waterford would say. And yet she felt as if she was asleep, walking through a nightmare—a nightmare of her own making, mind you—but a nightmare all the same.
And the thing of it was, she would be right.
Oh god, when had everything started to feel so wrong? Dumb question because she knew the answer and since she had told herself that he was off limits today, she pushed the thought out of her mind.
“Bobbi, can I come in?”
“The door’s open,” she said, happy to hear her voice was controlled. Not a hint of fear or anxiety in there. Nope. She had her shit together. This was good.
Today was going to be good.
She plastered a fake smile on her face and turned just as her sister Billie walked into the bedroom; a tall, slim vision in the crimson red dress Bobbi had ordered special from New York. Much to the chagrin of the local bridal boutique, but seriously, how could The Proper Topper, compete with New York couture?
“Wow,” Billie said, eyes wide, a grin on her face. “Sis, you look stunning. Like Hollywood stunning. Hell, you could give Betty a run for her money.”
At the mention of her other sister, Bobbi frowned, wondering where the third Barker triplet was, and as if reading her mind, Billie shrugged. “She’s good today. Quiet. Non-dramatic. And I don’t think she’s had a drop of liquor, though—” she glanced at the clock beside Bobbi’s bed “—it’s only three so things could change. There’s still time for her to get out of hand.”
“Don’t even think it,” Bobbi groaned, pressing neat, white tipped nails to her forehead.
Billie set her bouquet down on the bed—a trio of cream colored mini calla lilies that were all the rage in New York, or at least that’s what the bridal books and internet articles said—and crossed the room until she stood a few inches from Bobbi. The two sisters stared at each other in silence for the longest time, and when Billie cleared her throat, Bobbi held up her hand because she knew what was coming.
“Don’t say it Billie.” To say that her sister wasn’t fond of Bobbi’s fiancé, Gerald, was an understatement.
To say that Billie didn’t give two shits about Bobbi’s wishes was also an understatement.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Billie asked quietly.
“It’s not too late to change your mind.”
“Oh my God, Billie, can we drop this? It’s my wedding day for Christ sake.” Bobbi pushed past her sister and leaned into the mirror, fiddling with her pearl earrings—a gift from Gerald—as she sent major stink eye toward her sister.
Which Billie ignored. “But do you love him?”
Bobbi counted to three, even though she knew she should have kept on until at least ten, because her temper was beginning to boil. And the thing of it was, Bobbi prided herself on her control, on her absolute control of her emotions and the way she displayed them. But her sisters had always had a knack for getting under her skin, and these days it was Billie who continually pushed her. It was Billie who second guessed everything because, you know, the woman was in love, and that meant that she was an authority on the subject.
Billie Jo Barker and her happily ever after with Logan Forest.
Storybook romances didn’t happen for everyone. Bobbi had been down that road before and it had ended in disaster. Hell, disaster would be putting it mildly.
Bobbi took an extra breath—just to be safe—and turned to face her sister.
“Look Billie, I appreciate your concern but I wouldn’t be marrying Gerald if I didn’t love him.”
Wow. Good lie. She was getting good at this whole lying thing.
“I hope so.” Billie cocked her head to the side and arched her eyebrow in that way she had…that way that irritated the crap out of Bobbi. It meant that she was about to say something that would piss Bobbi off. “I just—” she bit her lip and shook her head. “—I just don’t feel it, Bobbi. Not like before. Not like…”
“Not like Shane?” Bobbi bit out, angry that her sister had made her say his name. He was off limits. He had to be off limits, especially today. Didn’t Billie know that?
Billie’s expertly made up eyes narrowed, just a bit. “Yes,” she said slowly. “Not like Shane.”
“Well that would be a good thing because whatever it was that I had with Shane nearly destroyed me, Billie. You know that.”
“I just want you to be happy,” her sister said quietly.
A vein began to throb over Bobbi’s left temple. She didn’t have to see it to know it was there and she frowned, her blue eyes stormy as she gazed back at her sister. Her sister who was madly in love with a man and anyone with an eye in their head knew it. How could you not? The looks and touches, and kisses and touches, and fucking looks were plain old nauseating.
“Billie, there are lots of kinds of love.” She cleared her throat and tried again, “Not everyone loves the same and not every love is the same.” Oh God, was she even making sense?
“Uh huh,” Billie said dryly.
“Not everyone needs a mad, passionate, sort of thing.”
Bobbi took a moment to calm herself. To fight for that control that she desperately needed because all she wanted to do was smash her fist into Billie’s perfectly made up face. But then that would ruin Billie’s makeup and that wasn’t part of Bobbi’s vision of the perfect wedding day.
I can’t do this.
She tried again, “Not everyone wants that sort of distraction.”
“Distraction?” Billie retorted. “Is that what we’re calling it? Distraction? Wow, you make love sound so clinical, so freaking not important. Whatever happened to mad, passionate, animal magnetism hot-as-hell love?”
“It’s overrated.” The comeback popped out before she could stop it and one look into Billie’s eyes had Bobbi wishing she had more control over her own tongue.
“Really?” Billie flicked a long piece of hair over her shoulder. “What about sex? How is your sex life with boring I-match-my-boxers-to-my-dress-shirt Gerry? Does he even bring you to orgasm? Does he even know how?”
“Billie Jo Barker, that is none of your business!”
But her sister just shook her head and stepped back. “I didn’t think so.”
Bobbi’s fists clenched so tightly that she winced as her nails dug into the soft skin on her palms. When her sister had the good sense to glance down, Billie took another step back. Her sister may have been the super athlete, the Olympic star, the girl who could skate circles around any guy on the ice, but when it came to down and dirty fighting? No one could take Bobbi.
“I bet you haven’t had sex with him in weeks.”
Bobbi stared at her sister, suddenly and utterly defeated because, truthfully, she couldn’t remember the last time she had been intimate with her fiancé.
Not since Shane had come home.
God, could she not think of him already?
Something hot prickled the edges of her eyes and she flew to the mirror, grabbing a tissue and dabbing at the corners frantically. “Shit,” she whispered hoarsely.
A hand on her shoulder was almost too much and she drew in a quick, jagged breath before turning to her sister.
“I’m getting married to Gerald today, Billie, and I need you to be there for me. Can you do that?”
Bobbi sounded so cold even to her own ears. So damn cold and lifeless.
For a moment Billie said nothing and then she nodded. A quick, jerky kind of thing and grabbed her bouquet.
“I love you, sis, and I want you to be happy. But you’re right. There are all sorts of love, I guess, and if marrying Gerry Dooley—”
“His name is Gerald,” Bobbi ground out. “Not Gerry, or Gerry Berry, or Gerry the guy-who-matches-his-boxers-to-his-dress-shirt.” She nailed her sister with ‘the’ look. “It’s Gerald.”
“If Gerald is the one to make you happy, then I support you 100 percent.”
A bittersweet smile tugged at Bobbi’s mouth. “Okay, thanks.” She blew out a long, hot breath. “You’ve got dad?” His memory had been better as of late and his bad days fewer than a month ago. Dementia or Alzheimer’s or whatever the hell you wanted to call it, seemed to have paused in its assault on Trent Barker.
Billie nodded. “Yeah, he’s having a good day. He’ll be waiting at the church. Logan has him.”
“Okay,” Bobbi said brightly, that fake smile she had tucked into her back pocket, secure and in place. “I’ll see you at St. Paul’s.”
Billie nodded and moved toward the door, pausing before she opened it. “It’s never too late to change your mind.”
And then she was gone.
Bobbi stared at the door for so long that her vision began to blur and when she finally pulled herself together, it was time to leave.
With one more glance in the mirror, she grabbed her clutch bag and headed downstairs, where she paused in the foyer and glanced outside. It was February 14th, Valentine’s Day, which she supposed was totally cliché, but when Gerald had suggested a fast engagement, she hadn’t said no. In fact, she’d moved their original date up to February from May because deep down, she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to go through with it.
For a second she stared at her hands, at her shaking fingers, and felt the panic butterflies begin to take flight in her stomach. Oh God, not now. She had to go through with this. She had to.
It was all part of her plan. A plan that had seemed perfectly smart and good and fine until Shane Gallagher had walked back into her life. Though technically he wasn’t in her life, he was more or less on the fringes of it, but still…
“Oh honey, you look so grown up it breaks my heart.”
Bobbi glanced down the hall and smiled, her heart turning over at the sight of her gramps. Herschel Barker was dressed to the nines in a white tuxedo, his hair all slicked back and dapper, and he had grabbed his black walking stick. He would say it was for looks only, but she knew that his right knee was killing him—the cold and damp wasn’t good for his arthritis.
When he scooped her into his arms and hugged her tightly, she let his warmth and love envelop her body. And when she withdrew, his strength fueled her enough that it was easy to smile at him. It was easy to think the day was going to be good and wonderful and everything that a wedding day should be.
In that moment she truly believed that she was doing the right thing. So what if she didn’t exactly enjoy sleeping with her soon-to-be husband? Marriage wasn’t all about the sex. Hell, just from listening to some of her older girlfriends, she’d gleaned that marriage wasn’t always about the love either. It was about feeling secure and in control.
Then why do I keep circling back to the sex thing?
“Damn you, Billie,” she muttered.
“Are you ready?” Herschel smiled warmly and offered up her snow-white wrap. Bobbi shrugged into it and nodded, taking her gramps’ arm and following him out into the cold, Michigan afternoon.
The car was parked out front, already running and warmed up, and it was only a few seconds later that she was inside. And though Herschel must have had the temperature set to some ungodly setting, she was cold. Her hands trembled and her teeth chattered.
But that was normal right? That was just nerves.
There was no music or noise in the car as Herschel carefully maneuvered out of the driveway and headed downtown, toward St. Paul’s. It was in the older section of New Waterford, across the bridge, and it was there that each of the Barker girls had been christened and made their first communions.
It was also the church where their father had married their mother, and though she’d long been dead, their love had been real. Bobbi squeezed her eyes shut as photos from a past long gone shot into her mind. Images of her mother and father laughing, loving, touching, were all she saw and it took a lot of effort for her to push them away.
“We’re here, darlin’.”
Bobbi leaned back in the car, her gaze on the steps leading up to the church. The walkway had been well shoveled and salted. There wasn’t even a hint of ice, though the glare from the late afternoon sun made everything look cold and harsh.
A shiver rolled over her slight frame when she spied Gerald’s large SUV parked a few feet ahead. Red bows hung off the back end and one had fallen free, no doubt ripped from its mooring by the crisp wind that buffeted the vehicle. Her eyes focused on it and she thought that it looked like blood in the snow.
“Bobbi, are you ready?”
Her heart took off at the sound of her grandfather’s voice and her throat was so dry she didn’t think she could answer. Movement caught her periphery and she glanced back up at the church, her eyes on Billie as her sister waved, gave the thumbs up, and then disappeared back inside.
For several seconds the only thing Bobbi heard was the rough intake of her breath and the heavy beat of her heart.
She glanced up into the rear view mirror, saw the concern and questions in Herschel’s eyes.
“Um.” She licked her lips and closed her eyes. “Gramps?”
“What is it Bobbi? Are you alright?”
“No,” she whispered, afraid she was going to pass out because it was so hard for her to breathe. She tugged on the edge of her faux fur wrap and wiped beads of cold sweat from her brow.
“Would you be able to…”
But she couldn’t finish her thought. She couldn’t say it out loud.
Herschel turned around, his faded blue eyes intent as he spoke softly, his tone gentle. “Anything, sweets.”
Oh my God, what am I doing?
“Would you be able to keep driving?”
Herschel stared at her for a few more seconds and, for his part, not a speck of shock showed on his face. He didn’t say another word. He turned around, cranked the tunes until Big & Rich filled the silence, and as the country duo sang about saving a horse and riding a cowboy, Bobbi felt something inside her break. It broke fast and hard, and maybe it should have hurt like hell, but it didn’t.
She leaned back into the seat and closed her eyes, her body like an elastic band that had just been let go. Was it relief? She didn’t know and at the moment she didn’t care. She counted to ten, shaking out her hands while her eyes stuck to the back of her grandfather’s head.
Herschel Barker took off as if the hounds of hell were on his heels, and the old Crown Vic disappeared into the harsh sunlight, leaving nothing behind but tire tracks in the snow.