Hot Shot(2)

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips


The choker tightened around her throat. She heard the distant sound of a riding mower and imagined her father's displeasure when he realized that the gardener at the neighboring estate had chosen this particular hour on a Saturday afternoon to cut the lawn. He would be annoyed that she hadn't thought to send the neighbors a note.

Cal's arm brushed against her own as she reached the altar. "You look beautiful," he whispered. The suntanned creases at the corners of his eyes deepened as he smiled.

The minister cleared his throat and began. "Dearly beloved…"

She knew she was doing the right thing by marrying Cal. She always did the right thing. Cal loved her. He was mature and thoughtful, and he would be a perfect husband. But the knot of misery that had been growing inside her refused to ease.

"Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"

"I do." Joel Faulconer's strong, handsome features were softened by the intense expression of fatherly pride that lurked about his mouth as he transferred her hand from his own arm to Cal's. He stepped away, and she could hear him taking his place in the second row of chairs.

The sound of the lawn mower grew louder.

Her maid of honor took the bridal bouquet, and Susannah's hand slipped discreetly to her neck. She looped her index finger just over the top of the Bennett family choker and eased it away from her skin. Cal was listening intently to the minister's words and didn't notice.

"I, Calvin James Theroux, take thee, Susannah Bennett Faulconer…"

The noise of the mower had grown so loud that others had begun to notice. Cal's nose twitched as if he had just caught a whiff of something unpleasant. Susannah stood quietly, her eyes steady, her mind unsettled.

And then she realized that the sound wasn't coming from a mower at all but from something else entirely.

She sucked in her breath and all the blood drained from her head. The minister was talking to her now. She couldn't concentrate. The noise was coming closer, moving around the side of the house and heading directly for the gardens. Cal turned to look, the minister stopped talking. Susannah could feel her skin growing damp beneath her breasts.

And then it happened. The peaceful gentility of the Faulconer gardens was shattered by the loud, vulgar roar of a big, black, twin-engine Harley-Davidson motorcycle shooting into view.

The bike barreled across the manicured lawn and cut past a statue of Andromeda. The rider's cry rang out over the noise of the engine, a primitive, atavistic cry.

"Suzie!"

With a choked exclamation, she spun around. The pulse at the side of her throat began to throb.

Her father leapt to his feet, knocking his chair askew. Cal curled his hand protectively over her wrist. The bike came to an abrupt stop at the far end of the aisle runner she had so recently walked along. Its front wheel crumpled the pristine fabric.

No, she thought. This isn't real. It's only a nightmare. Just another nightmare.

"Su-zie!"

He wore a black leather jacket and blue jeans that were taut across his thighs as they straddled the motorcycle. He had the dark, snapping eyes and high flat cheekbones of a full-blooded Comanche, although he was more Mediterranean than Native American. His skin was olive, his mouth thin, almost cruel. The breeze blowing off San Francisco Bay caught his shoulder-length black hair and tossed it away from his face. It blew long and free like a flag.

"What's the matter, Suzie? Forget to send me an invitation?" His voice rose over the roar of the Harley, and his dark, mesmerizing eyes speared through her skin.

A murmur went up from the guests, an expression of outrage, astonishment, and horrified delight at being present to witness such an outrageous scene. Could this person be one of Susannah's friends? None of them could imagine it. One of Paige's flings, perhaps, but certainly not Susannah's.

In the background, Susannah was dimly aware of her maid of honor muttering "Ohgod, ohgod, ohgod" over and over like a mantra. She found herself holding onto Cal's arm as if it were her lifeline. She tried to speak, but the proper words wouldn't form. She began to pull at the choker, and her long, aristocratic fingers shook as she attempted to free it from her neck.

"Don't do this, Suzie," the man on the bike said.

"See here!" her father shouted as he tried to disengage himself from the row of wrought-iron chairs and the rope garland that cordoned off the seats.