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From Here to You (Crash and Burn #1)
Author:Jamie McGuire

From Here to You (Crash and Burn #1)

Jamie McGuire



For Mama Dawn and her pumpkin, Kelsey





Chapter One





Darby




The cold porcelain of the toilet felt like ice against my bare backside as I sat hunched over the white, billowing taffeta and tulle of my wedding dress. The faucet was running, nearly drowning out the sound of my soon-to-be sister-in-law and maid of honor, Stacy, pounding on the door. I pinched each end of the white stick between my fingers, watching as the second pink line darkened before my eyes.

The back restroom of the First Free Will Baptist Church in Fort Hood, Texas, could barely fit the toilet and sink, but suddenly there were two people inside the tiny room, and the walls were moving in closer by the second.

“Darby?” Stacy called again. “You’re not getting sick, are you? Shawn won’t wanna have to deal with throw-up on his wedding night.”

“For better or worse, remember?” my bridesmaid Carly said. I didn’t have to see her to know she was annoyed with Stacy.

My sister-in-law was a female version of her brother. Blunt, snarky, and generally grumpy, and that was before she was comfortable enough to show the extent of her cruelty.

I closed my eyes, holding the stick to my chest. Mascara thickened the tears puddled high on my cheeks. Shawn and I had met almost exactly a year before, just a few months after he’d been stationed at Fort Hood. Remembering the way I felt when he walked into Legend’s Pub was what had helped me forget how bad the fighting could get, the times he’d pushed me to the floor, shoved me against a wall, choked me, or slapped my face, to that almost-quiet moment in the church. Shawn had gotten so good at groveling, I’d agreed to marry him after the last desperate apology and promise to change. I clasped the pregnancy test tighter. I couldn’t afford bad decisions anymore. They no longer affected just me.

My right hand gripped the stick as I picked my cell phone off the sink counter and tapped the display with trembling fingers. Mama picked up after one ring. She’d moved to Baton Rouge just after I turned eighteen, exactly two years after the accident. I was the only person she disliked more than Shawn.

“I knew it. I knew you’d call. What? Do you need money?” she asked.

“Mama,” I chuckled nervously. “Have I ever asked you for anything?”

She sighed. “Frank’s family is visiting, and I’ve got things to do. If you don’t need anything, why’d you call?”

“The um, the wedding is in a few minutes. I wish you were here.” The only sound on the other end of the line was her breathing, and I imagined the lines around her lips from smoking since she was fifteen deepening as she refused to speak. I held the back of my hand that held the pregnancy test against my forehead. “How is Frank?”

“He’s still off work. His back, you know. He moved in last month. Why?”

“Oh,” I said, thinking about her two-bedroom apartment and how crowded it would be.

“And Johnny, too.”

“Johnny. His…son? Isn’t he thirtysomething?”

“Yep, got a divorce.” She blew into the phone, and I remembered sitting deep in my chair as a child, avoiding the low-lying haze of cigarette smoke always present when Mama was home. That was no place to raise a baby. She was right. The phone call was a waste of time.

“That’s great. I’m happy for you, Mama.”

“Yep.”

“I should probably, um…”

“Yes. Go.”

I pressed End, and stood, placing the stick on the counter next to my phone. The faucet squeaked when I turned the knob. The cold water felt so good running over my fingers, freeing, as if I weren’t stuck in the tiny bathroom trying to figure out how to leave with Shawn’s baby growing inside of me. I thought about my options, and as grateful as I was to have them, the thought of walking into a clinic was too much. So was being tethered to Shawn for the rest of my life, the bond of a child more secure than any wedding ceremony.

The suds slid off my skin and down the drain. The reflection in the mirror caught my attention, and I froze. Most days I didn’t recognize myself, but the fear and hopelessness had made a home in my eyes. My tears had pulled black lines down my cheeks. Honey-blond waves had escaped from my bun, poking out from beneath my veil and framing my mess of a face, the same one that had won Miss East Texas just four years before. I wasn’t sure I remembered how to smile like that anymore. That girl was gone.

In less than twenty minutes, Shawn would be standing at the end of the center aisle, waiting for me to promise in front of his family and half the base that I would love and obey. No one would know about the child I was carrying, and even if they did, they had no clue that the added stress would only make Shawn’s already short temper even more frightening.

I reached for a paper towel and used it to wipe away the bright red lipstick from my lips.

“Darbs?” A softer knock sounded. “It’s Carly. Can I come in?”

I swiped the stick off the sink and opened the door, letting Carly slide through. She quickly shut the door behind her before Stacy could squeeze her way in. “It’s just so small in here, sweetie. So sorry,” she said to Stacy while closing the door in her face. The lock popped into place when Carly pressed the button in the center of the knob, and she leaned her back against the door. Between my dress, me, the toilet, and the sink, I wasn’t sure how Carly could fit inside, but like all things—she made it work.

“Jesus, she is obnoxious,” Carly hissed. “Her bratty kids are in the other room stuffing chocolate in their mouths in full view of their worthless father. How much did you pay for the flower girl dress and that kid’s tux? They’re covered in chocolate. Are you sure you want to attach yourself to that for life?” When I didn’t answer, she blanched. “Oh, God. You don’t.”

“I called Mama.”

“Oh, shit,” she said, clearly not worried about swearing in a church. Her sweet, Southern drawl barely made it a cuss word. “To tell her you’re backing out? Is she coming to get you?”

I shook my head and stared at myself in the mirror. “No one’s coming to get me.” My voice sounded as broken as I felt.

Carly fussed with my hair. “Listen, if you want to do this, we’ll fix your face and you’ll look beautiful.” Recognition flickered in her eyes. “Darby…stop me if I’m out of line, but, honey, my car is right outside the side door. I’ll grab your things when no one is looking, and I’ll take you wherever you want.”

Carly didn’t say anything she didn’t mean. She was a stunning blond Southern belle with glistening green eyes, a tan year-round, enough bleach on her hair to do ten loads of laundry, and shimmery everything. She’d been married to her husband, First Lieutenant J. D. Bowman, for eight years, and they had two beautiful blond little girls. J.D. was a good man and a strong officer in the army, but Carly ran their house, and no wife at Fort Hood was more respected. She made a killing selling makeup, and her parties were more like women’s empowerment retreats. She’d tried talking me out of marrying Shawn as soon as she’d found out we were engaged. She’d also hosted our engagement party.

“I don’t know. Everyone’s waiting.”

“No one would wonder why, Darby. We all know what happens at your house. You can walk away from this guilt-free.”

Stacy began pounding on the door again, my entire body jerking in reaction.

Carly licked her handkerchief and wiped the skin beneath my eyes. “If this is what you want, I’ll go get you some of my lipstick, because you need a little color. If it’s not, I’m going to get my keys, and I’ll be waiting for you outside.”

“What about your kids? What about J.D.?”