“Where the fuck do you get off coming into my house like that like you own the whole fucking world?” Gretchen demanded, ignoring the fact that Orlando looked severe at that moment. “You know, you’re getting married tomorrow, and we both have to get up early. I don’t see why this couldn’t have waited until later!”
In a burst of action, Orlando grabbed her by the shoulders roughly and she tried not to gasp. “Don’t you think I know that?” he snapped, voice almost at a growl. “Yes, I’m getting married tomorrow—I’m quite aware of that fact as it’s plastered just about every fucking place. And don’t you dare ask me where I get off, Gretchen! I should be asking you the same damn thing.” Gretchen frowned a bit, enough for him to continue. “Don’t act so goddamn innocent, Gretchen. You remember that night we stood in this very house and kissed.”
“You kissed me,” Gretchen insisted hotly.
“Oh no, Miss Thomas. You see, it takes two to make a kiss work, and if my memory serves me correctly, you worked just as hard as I did.”
“So what”—Gretchen pushed him away—”if I did? There is such a thing as being caught in the moment, as we were. We’ve kissed a dozen times on set and it didn’t mean a damn thing. I don’t see how that meant anything different.”
Laughing sardonically, Orlando turned and shook his head. “If you think that, Gretchen, you’re obviously not as smart as I gave you credit for.”
Silence hung in the air. Gretchen caught her breath and took a step backward. “What are you saying?” she asked. “Are you saying that there’s something between us?” The irony of it made her ire rise. “How dare you insinuate that the night before you go before a priest and my whole fucking family and say that you’re gonna vow to love my sister forever until death do you part? Huh?” she pressed when he didn’t answer. “You had better get the fuck out of my house right now before you do something you regret, Orlando Bloom.”
Obviously her words did nothing to calm him down. A moment later, he had her by the shoulders again. She placed a hand on his chest to try to push him away, but he was stronger than she was, surprisingly, since he was drunk.
“Too late,” he growled, and surprised her by pulling her closer to him.
The kiss was nothing like the aforementioned one; this one was fraught with frustration and lust and fury. Gretchen tried to resist as Orlando’s mouth crushed hers, but, well, she couldn’t. She couldn’t think any longer. She just couldn’t think.
Except for that one realization: they were gonna be in trouble later.
They collapsed to the floor. Orlando’s hands, while they were a bit forceful, were exploring her body and sending off waves of pleasure. She couldn’t deny that it felt good to be touched, and she wondered what he felt like. As his hot mouth trailed down her neck, she lifted his shirt and skimmed up his strong, muscular back with her hands. He felt exactly as she had imagined.
Gretchen felt a pain like nothing she had felt before as he entered her roughly. He didn’t know. She had never told him the truth, nor could she open her mouth to say it now. But she knew that he would figure out somehow.
She tried to enjoy it. It was what she wanted, after all. Orlando was inside her. But the pain ruined it. And the circumstances. How was she supposed to like having sex with her sister’s fiancé?
When he climaxed, the feeling blew her away and she found herself trembling in the aftermath.
They lay there for a moment. Gretchen struggled with her emotions while Orlando took in the lavender scent of her hair and how the smell of her skin mingled with his. He sat up, feeling dazed. He had done it. He had hoped that the experience would heal him in a way; he was too close to it to tell if it had worked. He inhaled and combed a hand through his hair when–
Gretchen’s sobbing filled the air, along with the metallic smell of blood.
Ohmigod. I made her bleed. I hurt Gretchen. I made her bleed.
He panicked once at the realization, then again when he realized what it really meant.
She had been a virgin.
Paling, Orlando leaned over to comfort her, but she pushed his hand away. Eyes wide and apologetic, he watched as she stood and followed suit. Yelling and cursing and sobbing, she pushed him out despite his apologies and slammed the door in his face.
He stared at the door, listening to her, on the other side, crying. Heavy hearted and ashamed, he walked to his car and got inside.
Meanwhile, Gretchen cried and bled. While the latter stopped after a while, she found that she couldn’t stop crying.
The wedding was set for that afternoon.
Gretchen, who had crawled back into bed after Orlando had left, knew she was in no condition to attend the ceremony. She was sore, bruised, and angst-ridden. She knew if she called Jessica, she would rush over to see what was wrong with her.
She didn’t want Jessica to know.
She limped to the shower. Under the taps, she laughed and cried at the same time, getting a look at the bruises on her arms. What a shame. She was a pitiful sight, she was.
She stood there until the water cooled. She stepped out into her steamy bathroom and grabbed her robe. When she entered her room, Aisuru meowed in questioning and Gretchen patted her head idly. She was deep in thought. It was nearly noon, now. She guessed she had enough messages to fill her voicemail box, but that didn’t concern her now. She knew she wasn’t going to her sister’s wedding. It was not humanly possible.
So where was she going to go? She couldn’t hide out here, that was for sure. Jessica was going to send someone over to check up on her soon, and she didn’t want to be there for that.
She rushed to the closet and hurriedly dressed in jeans and a blue T-shirt. She put her hair up and grabbed her cell phone. Turning it on, it told her that she had thirteen missed calls and eight new messages.
Oh. Well. Time to go.
She walked to her little quiet room where she kept her passport and spied the note that Henry had written on her desk. An idea brimming in her brain, she snatched up the envelope with the address to his London house on it.
Gretchen was going to see a dear friend.
She grabbed her car keys and her cell phone on the way out the door, dialing the number to the airport so she could get a plane ticket.
* * *
To: Moira-Selene Thomas O’Lara (email@example.com)
From: Gretchen A. Thomas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Subject: I’m sorry
Sent: Today 12:27 p.m.
I know this isn’t the right thing to do but it’s gotta be done and you know why. I am on a plane on the way to someplace where I will be safe but I can’t tell you where. Please tell everyone that I can’t make it to the wedding. I love you. Tell Dylan and Morgana Auntie Retchen loves them and will visit soon.
I Love You,
* * *
At the church, the bride’s room was in an uproar.
Everything was thrown askew in Gretchen’s absence. Since the length of the bridesmaids’ walk down the aisle depended on the number of them, the whole procession was affected. Luckily, Sienna was in attendance and offered to stand in Gretchen’s place.
This solved the surface problem, but the deeper issue of Gretchen’s absence still hung in the air. The sides were clearly drawn. Most thought Gretchen was being selfish and sophomoric, but Moira-Selene and Claudia-Michelle felt much sympathy for their little sister. This nearly caused an argument between Claudia-Michelle and the blushing bride, one that Jennifer had to prevent. (Jennifer herself was on the fence on the matter. She wasn’t going to choose sides. She mostly had her late sister in mind and knew Samantha would be angry with her if she did.)
Jessica disappeared to ask the boys if they had heard from Gretchen, and Danie, obviously driven by nerves, almost got into another verbal altercation with Claudia-Michelle. Moira-Selene lifted her daughter into her arms and left the room.
The tension was almost too much for her to bear and she wasn’t going to subject her daughter to the drama. She lowered them both into a nearby chair and tried to let the stress seep out of her. Three-year-old Morgana Isolde O’Lara sat placidly in her mother’s lap as a tall, dark-haired man strolled up and stopped in front of them.
Moira-Selene sighed at the sight of him. “I’m guessing she’s not there.”
Michael O’Lara, better known as Mick, shook his head and knelt down in front of them. “I had to keep Eric from breaking and entering. He was threatening to climb in through her bedroom window. Then Dylan noticed her car was gone.” Moira-Selene cursed inwardly. Before she could ask, Mick added, “Dylan’s with your cousin Cassandra. He was anxious about where Gretchen was and she calmed him down.”
As Moira-Selene soaked all of this in, Mick reached over and placed his hand on her knee. “I’m guessing you want me to check and see if she booked a flight somewhere.”
Moira-Selene’s mouth curved tiredly and she leaned over to kiss him. “You know me all too well—” Her phone beeped and she paused, frowning.
“What’s the matter?” Mick asked.
Moira-Selene frowned at the LCD screen that told her she had a new e-mail. Shifting Morgana, she opened her e-mail account on her phone and saw the message. Her stomach sank, and she clicked on the subject line: I’m sorry.
Moira-Selene read the e-mail as a deep grief filled her. Morgana could sense her mother’s despair as everyone bustled around them. With troubled gray-blue eyes, she asked, “Auntie Retchen, Mama?”
Pursing her lips together from the tears that threatened to spill over onto her cheeks, Moira-Selene could only nod. Suddenly Abigail appeared, looking too anxious for a girl her age.
The two locked eyes, then Abigail said simply, “You know where Aunt Gretchen is.”
“Not exactly,” Moira-Selene clarified, and told her about the e-mail.
* * *
“Hey. Where the hell is Gretchen?” Jessica demanded.
The sound of that name made Orlando’s heart skip. She had directed the question to Ace, who was standing nearest to the door, but her voice had the tendency to carry, even over the chatter that was going on among his friends in the little room they occupied inside the church.
Ace shrugged. “I’m not sure. I haven’t seen her since yesterday afternoon.”
Jessica eyebrows furrowed and she strode inside of the room where some of the cast of the Lord of the Rings were having fun with their cummerbunds. Jessica set her teeth and stood in the middle of the melee.
“Hey!” protested Elijah.
“Shut up, would you? I’m looking for Gretchen. Have you seen her?”
“What do you mean?” Elijah countered, frowning. “We thought she was with you doing the girly thing.”
Jessica rolled her eyes at the girly thing comment then shook her head. “Whatever.” She shifted to Orlando. “Have you seen Gretchen?”
Orlando nearly had a heart attack right then and there. There was no way in hell he would be able to hide the fact that he had slept with Gretchen the night before. Jessica was far too shrewd.
He was miraculously saved from answering by Abigail bounding into the room. The ten-year-old was clad in an orange-red dress and wore a rather anxious expression. Everyone paused and looked at her expectantly when she paused beside Jessica.
“Aunt Jessica,” Abigail began.
Jessica peered down at her as Orlando breathed an inward sigh of relief. “What is it?”
“It’s Aunt Gretchen,” Abigail responded. “She’s not coming.”
With that revelation, Orlando lost whatever breath he had. Ace whirled away from the mirror where he had been fixing his tie. Jack and Johnny Depp strode into the room, stopping short when they sensed the underlying tension in the room.
Jack peered from Orlando, then at Jessica (whose face had gone completely white), and finally down at Abigail. With a perplexed expression, he asked, “Wait—why do I feel like I’m suddenly at a funeral? Did somebody die? Is Hugh Grant going to make a guest appearance?”
At that moment, Jessica got her wits back, and the color came back into her cheeks. A familiar, dreaded gleam came into her eyes—one that indicated some asses were thoroughly going to be kicked. “When I get my hands on my little sister, someone will be.” With that, she stalked out of the room.
Pause. Jack blinked. “I still feel like I am no closer to figuring this out than before.”
“You and me both, mate,” murmured Johnny in agreement.
“Aunt Gretchen sent Aunt Moira an e-mail saying that she was very sorry but she couldn’t be at the wedding,” Abigail explained to the oblivious masses. “Uncle Eric went and knocked on her door but she didn’t answer. The car was gone so he assumed she went somewhere.”
“Has anyone else heard from her?” Ace wanted to know.
Abigail shook her head. In their shock, all the guys started talking all at once. Orlando sat in silence as they chattered around him.