This was previously published in 2016 as part of a Kindle World. This edition has been re-edited and additional material added.
From NYT-USA Today Best Selling Author comes a story of a cop, an antique Cadillac, and a bride on the run from her mob fiancé. What could possibly go wrong?
Relocating from Chicago to Texas, cop Shade Gruber agrees to drive his grandmother’s prize car to his new home in Diamond Lakes. He expects some car issues. He doesn’t expect to pick up a runaway bride.
Bride Victoria Vaught dashes from the church thirty minutes before the I Dos. Stranded in her bridal attire when her car breaks down, she starts walking, desperate to get as far from Chicago as possible.
Their road to love is filled with twists, turns and bumps…and a flogger! Hanging on to the one you love can be a roller coaster ride with surprising results.
Read an Excerpt
Copyright © 2019 Cynthia D’Alba
All rights reserved — Riante, Inc.
Despite the moniker hung on him by his parents, Shade Gruber had never had trouble picking up women. Tall. Short. Blonde. Brunette. Thin. Not so thin. Didn’t matter to him. He loved them all.
However, in all his thirty-four years, he’d never picked up a woman walking down the road in a wedding dress. And not just any wedding dress. The bell-shaped skirt took up about one-third of his lane, the once-white hem now black from dragging along the pavement. A long train of veil flowed down from the tiara on the bride’s head to the skirt’s hem.
His mind flashed to the late model Jaguar on the side of the road he’d passed a couple of miles back.
He pulled alongside the bride. His eyebrows lifted in surprise. Of all the runaway brides in the world…“Howdy. Need some help?”
She stopped walking and glanced toward him. “Why would you think a woman walking on a country highway in a horrific wedding dress while wearing Spanx and high heel shoes would need help?” She blew out a puff of air that lifted her wilted bangs off her forehead.
Spanx? He couldn’t imagine what that was.
“Well, okay then,” he said. “Have a nice evening.” He let his vintage Cadillac convertible roll forward about a hundred feet to give her time to change her mind.
She hiked up the front of the dress and jogged to the passenger side, her heels clacking on the road’s pavement. Panting, she blew her hair off her forehead again. With the convertible top and windows down, Shade had been enjoying his drive in the cool, fall evening air. Now, all that openness allowed the renegade bride to pop the lock on the passenger side, open the door, and climb into the rear seat, scraping stiff lace over his head in the process. As his hitchhiker positioned herself in the middle of the seat, the massive volume of tulle and satin spread out around her.
“Oops.” She leaned forward until she could get a hand on the open door and closed it with a slam. Then she settled back with a sigh.
Shade put the car in drive and pulled back onto the highway. “Where you headed? That your car on the side of the road back there?”
“Where am I headed?” she repeated. “Let’s just say…not Chicago.”
He nodded. “That’s probably good since you were walking south.”
“Where you headed?”
“Texas. Never been there. Texas,” she said again, as though rolling the idea around in her mind. “Yeah. That works.” Her dress rustled as she scooted to the edge of her seat and rested her arms on the backs of the front seats. “Why are you going to Texas?”
“New job.” He glanced over at her and back to the road. “Why are you?”
“Like I said, it’s not Chicago.”
“So, did you cut out before the vows or after?”
She scoffed. “Give a girl some credit. Before. First chance I got, I was out the door with his car keys in my hand and running.”
“Hmm. Should I be on the lookout for cops hunting a woman in a bridal gown who’s wanted for grand theft auto?”
She laughed. Her laugh was a deep-bellied chuckle that tugged at his gut. Not a good idea. Not with this woman.
“He wouldn’t. Let’s just say he and the law don’t do favors for each other.”
“Got a name?” He looked over in time to see the fleeting moment of panic on her face before she schooled it back into a carefree expression.
“What do I look like my name should be?”
He thought about that for a minute, not quite sure how to answer since anyone in his line of work in Chicago knew her and her family, if not personally, at least by reputation.
“Well, let’s see.” He racked his brain for a name to give her. “Liza?”
“You think I look like a Liza?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“Liza.” She repeated the name as though trying it on for size. “Okay. Liza works. You can call me Liza. You got anything to listen to other than twangy country?”
“Nope.” Good Lord. How could she call Tim McGraw twangy?
“You didn’t tell me your name,” she said.
“You didn’t ask. And any woman with a lick of sense wouldn’t get into a car with a strange man. For all you know, I’m a highway serial killer.”
She blew off his comment with a tsk. “Give me a break. You’re in an antique Cadillac that’s been totally restored, so getting blood on these white leather seats is out of the question. You’re driving with the top and windows down, meaning I can climb out anytime I want. Plus, your hands are on the wheel, and I’m in the back. Be hard to make me do anything I didn’t want to.”
“Unless I had a gun.”
“Well, that’s true, I guess. But maybe I’ve got a gun, too. You ever think of that? Maybe I’m going to rob you, and the whole wedding dress is a costume to get guys to stop.”
He nodded. “Good point. Are you?”
“Am I what? Going to rob you?” She started laughing again and that gut tug returned. “If you’ll buy me a hamburger and some fries, you’ll be safe.”
“You got any money on you?”
She scoffed again. “Seriously? They don’t put pockets in these damn dresses. Unless I wanted to shove some bills between my boobs, where would I put money?”
“So you were driving a stolen car––”
“Borrowed car,” she corrected.
“Stolen car,” he continued, “without a driver’s license or any form of identification running from a groom you decided at the last minute that you didn’t want to marry.”
“Borrowed,” she insisted. “And if I couldn’t stash any cash on me, where would I hide my driver’s license?” She slid back on the seat. From his rearview mirror, he saw her cross her arms and get a stubborn look on her face. “And I didn’t decide at the last minute. I’ve always known I didn’t want to marry Gui… I mean, him. I just hadn’t found the right time to tell him.”
Shade burst out laughing. “You couldn’t find the right time to tell him until an hour before the wedding?”
“Oh, lady. You are a piece of work. Your family is probably pretty frantic right now. Don’t you think you should call and let them know you’re okay?”
“Oh, hell no. They’ll have the call traced in seconds. I’m not going back.”
He wondered if she realized how much she was revealing about her life and her family. His uninvited guest was not named Liza. She was Victoria Vaught, daughter of billionaire real estate developer Victor Vaught. As a former detective in the Chicago Police Department, keeping up the societal ins and outs of Chicago’s elite hadn’t been on Shade’s radar. However, Victoria Vaught, aka Vivi, had quite the party-girl reputation. She’d been a guest of the Chicago drunk tank on more than one occasion. Usually, she was in and out before all the paperwork was finished. The advantage of connections and lawyers on retainer.
“Don’t look back here for a minute. I have to get these damn Spanx off me. They’re cutting off the blood circulation.”
She might as well have told him not to think about pink elephants. He let his gaze drift from the road to his rearview mirror.
She pushed the massive volume of tulle and satin up until she could get her hands under the hem. Then, twisting and tugging, she pulled something from around her hips and down her legs. The way she worked that tight whatever-it-was down her hips reminded him a lot of the girdle his Grandma Gruber used to wear to church on Sundays.
“Finally,” she said with a long, loud sigh. “Damn things are medieval torture devices. I swear.” She flipped the beige elastic girdle over her head and into the road behind them. “There. I feel so much better.”
He met her gaze in the rearview mirror. The wind had jerked stray strands of her auburn hair from her fancy hairstyle. Pieces whipped around her face, making her appear younger than she was and as carefree as her reputation that preceded her. “So we can add litterbug to your list of accomplishments.”
She laughed. “Why not?”
In a minute, a shower of bobby pins scattered along the highway behind the car. When she jerked the veil from her head, and he figured it was going to follow the girdle and hair pins, he said, “Stop. Don’t throw that out.”
“I’m not a private eye, but if you’re worried about your fiancé following you, you’re leaving a great trail of breadcrumbs. First the car. Then the girdle––”
“Girdle,” he continued. “Now, there are new hair pins on the road. If you throw out that veil, you might as well take my knife and whack off pieces of your dress to scatter behind us.”
She wadded up the netting. “Good point.”
Jabs in his lower back from behind suggested she’d stashed the material in the footwell behind the driver’s seat.
“You have anything to wear other than a wedding dress?” he asked, fully aware of her probable answer.
“Nope. I was delivered to the church in my dress so there was nothing I could grab. Well, I suppose if I’d been thinking I could have swiped a choral robe.”
“Your escape wasn’t well planned.”
“Hells bells. My escape wasn’t planned at all.” She scooted to the front of the seat and rested her forearms on the seat backs again. “I know you must think I am a horrible person, running away from my wedding, but it was the only way out that I could see. No one in my family believed me when I mentioned calling it all off. I was assured again and again I was experiencing pre-wedding jitters. But that wasn’t it.”
“And this guy you were going to marry?”
“Worse than my family.”
“Why didn’t you run sooner?”
Her sigh was long and loud. Even with the consistent road noise and wind, he could hear her frustration.
He wasn’t personally acquainted with her father but, unlike his daughter, he had a reputation for hard-nose dealings. If this wedding was something her father wanted, then he would stop at nothing to see that it came off.
“This is going to sound so stupid that I’m sure you’ll think I’m making it up, but once I mentioned having second thoughts, I was never alone again. My car disappeared to the dealership for regular maintenance. There were daily parties or lunches that I was driven to and driven from. My fiancé, or rather ex-fiancé, is rather wealthy and well known. I always had bodyguards with me.”
Glancing in the rearview mirror again, he saw her hands fold into fists.
“So between my family, him, and bodyguards I did not want, the only time I was alone was in my bed.”
Shade thought only a foolish man would let this beautiful woman sleep alone.
She gathered her long hair in her hand and held it to keep strands from continuing to slap her face in the wind. He leaned over and pulled a Chicago Cubs ballcap from under his front seat and handed it to her. “Here. This might help.”
“Thanks.” She pulled it down over her head. “Hey. I just realized you never did tell me your name.”
“Shade. Hmm. What’s your first name?”
“No kidding. Your parents named you Shade?”
“What’s your last name?”
She was quiet for a while.
“So your parents didn’t like you?”
He burst out with a loud laugh. “No, my parents liked me just fine. I was named after my Grandpa Gruber.”
“Grandpa Gruber. That sort of works.”
“Thanks. I’m sure your approval would have pleased him.”
She chuckled. “So, Shade Gruber, how far are you going tonight?”
He shrugged. “’Til I get tired, probably. You have someplace in mind you’d like me to drop you off?”
With that, she scooted back, slid down on the seat and crossed her arms.
His trip continued for the next ninety minutes without additional comments from the backseat. At one point, she was slumped to the side and he was fairly certain she was asleep.
It’d been early evening when he’d found her, almost sunset. It was getting close to eight now. The sun had set in the west and dropped off the horizon, requiring the use of the car’s headlights.
The night was cloudless, which allowed any of the daytime warmth to dissipate rapidly. He was getting somewhat chilly in his jeans and long-sleeve Henley. Surely his guest was also. A glance in the mirror confirmed what he’d assumed. The dress she wore had layers of material but wasn’t made to keep anyone warm. She was slouched low, attempting to find shelter from the air rushing in through the open windows and top. Her arms were crossed, and he might have seen a slight shiver in her shoulders.
He pulled into a gas station and rolled to a stop. Once he got the gas flowing, he opened the trunk, and pulled out a long-sleeved flannel shirt and a couple of jackets. He put on the lighter weight one, saving the heavy fleece for her.
“Here,” he said, dropping the shirt and other jacket into the rear seat. “This should keep you warmer, not to mention hiding the runaway-bride outfit.”
Her teeth might have been chattering a little, and for some reason, his heart chattered in response. He didn’t need this complication, not Victor Vaught’s daughter. She was trouble with a capital T. The sooner he could send her home, the sooner he could forget her.
“Listen, you really can’t go all the way to Texas with me. I’m glad to give you a lift and drop you wherever you want, but I’ve got a long drive ahead of me, not to mention a couple of stops along the way.”
“Is it the dress? You don’t want people who pass us to think we’re married or something?”
End of Excerpt
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