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The Mysticke Krewe of Theseus: Midnight Blue

Novel By: Priscilla Darcy
Romance



Tinsley Stewart has abruptly decided that she can't get married. Although it would have been better to make the decision earlier than an hour or so before her wedding. Fleeing a life she's decided she doesn't want, Tinsley goes in search of a better one, and, as a restaurant critic, lands in the mecca of food-writing: New Orleans.

Tucker Trenier, stumbling home to New Orleans after a long absence, is startled to find a woman living in his house. And even more startled when the air between them is immediately electric. And a bit more startled to discover that she possesses a ring that matches the one-of-a-kind family heirloom that he wears.

As Tinsley and Tucker, in the midst of Carnival season, try to figure each other out, they have no idea that, a century earlier, the original owners of their matching rings played out a tragedy that Tinsley and Tucker are fated to fix.

The first of a planned trilogy, this split-setting novel is completely self-contained. View table of contents...


Chapters:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Submitted:Mar 30, 2007    Reads: 747    Comments: 5    Likes: 1   


One

Tinsley Arabella Stewart was a vision. She knew this because her mother and the wedding planner were repeating it to each other over and over, nodding sagely every time they said it. A vision! A vision! Tinsley looked at her reflection in the mirror, wavery through the fog of the veil, and gasped, "I can't breathe."

"Just an absolute vision, darling!" exclaimed her mother.

"I..." said Tinsley, suddenly terrified she was going to faint and ruin the vision.

"Oh, for God's sake," muttered Savannah, gathering up great folds of the rust-colored dress she was wearing and stepping through the sea of Tinsley's train, trodding accidentally on some priceless silk.

"What are you doing?" snapped Tinsley's mother, while the wedding planner made sounds of incoherent horror.

"She can't breathe." Savannah began forcing the tiny pearl buttons down Tinsley's back out of their constraints. "You made the dress two sizes too small."

Tinsley took a deep, grateful breath, as the boning built into the bodice began to loosen around her.

"I wanted someone in this wedding to have a figure," sniffed Tinsley's mother.

"For the last time," proclaimed Savannah, loftily. "I am not fat. I am pregnant. There is a difference."

Rosalea Stewart lifted her eyebrows in that imperious manner she had perfected. "For your sake, darling, I do hope the baby weighs fifty pounds."

Savannah did not even spare her a glance. She pronounced, grandly, after ascertaining that Tinsley no longer looked in danger of fainting, "Everyone out of the room."

"What?" exclaimed Rosalea Stewart, in disbelief.

"You heard me. I have to give Tinsley her something borrowed."

Rosalea folded her arms. "You can do that with us in the room."

"Please don't fight," said Tinsley, wearily. Savannah was her best friend, the natural choice for matron of honor, but Tinsley wished at that moment that she had gone with the cousin she barely knew that her mother had favored, because then there would be no arguing, and Tinsley would not feel on the verge of a breakdown. She liked to think that she felt this way because of the squabbling between her mother and her matron of honor.

"See?" demanded Savannah. "You are ruining Tinsley's day."

"I'm ruining Tinsley's day?" said Rosalea, grandly, drawing herself up to her full height. She had always been tall-statuesque, she preferred-and she towered over Savannah. Savannah, frowning, looked not the least bit intimidated. She looked ready to do battle. Savannah had been born a redhead, and bottles of mahogany dye being poured into her hair hadn't changed her temper much.

"Why don't you go check on the guests?" Tinsley suggested. "I want to make sure everything's perfectly in place."

"Oh, I checked," said the wedding planner.

"Why don't you double-check?" Tinsley kept her voice sweet as the fondant frosting on her wedding cake.

"Tinsley, I'm sure everything is perfect-" her mother began.

"Get out," Tinsley snapped, finally.

The wedding planner made one of her small exclamations. Her mother looked taken aback.

"I need a second," Tinsley said, trying to keep her voice even. "Savvy will help button me in a couple of minutes. I just need a couple of minutes without people hovering over me."

"If you get angry, Tinsley, you will flush," her mother reminded her.

"Not angry." Tinsley smiled brightly just to show her how not angry she was. "Not at all. Just a couple of minutes with Savannah."

Her mother looked reluctant. Her mother did not like to give Savannah any victory in their ongoing war. But she said, not sounding at all convinced, "Alright, darling. If it's what you want."

"It is what I want. Come and get me in a couple of minutes."

Her mother and the wedding planner left, and Savannah shut the door behind them and said, "You should have eloped, Tins. This is ridiculous, don't you think?" Savannah was wandering over to the other end of Tinsley's large bedroom, toward the purse she'd left there, went digging through it.

Tinsley stood by the mirror and regarded her reflection and tried to stay calm. She wasn't going to cry. She wasn't going to have a fit. She wasn't going to-"I can't get married," she blurted out.

"I don't blame you for feeling that way at present," Savannah remarked, cheerfully, coming over and holding out a small gift-wrapped box. "But you'll-" Savannah looked at Tinsley's face and said, immediately, in startled surprise, "Tinsley."

"I don't love him, Savannah."

"Tinsley-"

"Oh, I've made a mess." She collapsed to the floor, the skirt around her settling in stiff peaks of meringue. She looked up at Savannah, who was gaping down at her. "What am I going to do, Savvy?"

"You...You...Tinsley, why didn't you tell me?"

"I thought I loved him, Savannah. I really did think I loved him. I thought I wasn't excited about marrying him because, well, it meant I had to see my mother a lot. I thought I would stand in my wedding dress and look in the mirror and be so excited to be getting married and instead I can't breathe." To punctuate her point, Tinsley took a deep, searing breath. She looked up at Savannah, who was still staring fixedly at her. "Tell me I have cold feet. Tell me I'm overreacting."

Savannah frowned. She threw up her hands. "Oh, Tinsley! Why didn't you tell me this sooner?"

"What?"

Savannah marched over to the door and turned the old-fashioned scrollwork key in its lock. "What are we going to do about it now?"

Tinsley was completely bewildered by this reaction. "What?"

"I'm happy you've come to your senses. Truly I am. But I wish you'd done it before 500 guests arrived."

"Come to my senses?"

"I was worried you loved Parker. That's why I didn't say anything. But, Tinsley, you're settling with him. You've always been settling with him."

"Why didn't you tell me that?" Tinsley demanded in disbelief.

"I didn't want to fight with you. And if you ignored me, if you got married, I didn't want it to be that you would never invite me over your house because you were scared I was-"

"I can't believe you didn't tell me!"

"Oh, and now you're going to fight with me because I didn't tell you," Savannah groaned. "I knew it was no-win situation."

"I thought I'd be okay," Tinsley said, dazedly. "I thought everything would click into place. And I'm looking at you and I'm thinking of when you were in my place and I was in your place and, Savannah, you were off-the-walls happy. You glowed. I'm...red and splotchy." Tinsley looked in chagrin at her reflection in the mirror, then back up at Savannah. "I can't marry him, Savannah. What should I do?" She practically wailed it.

Savannah walked away from her, over to her purse, and came back with her cell phone, flipping it open.

"What are you doing?" Tinsley asked, curiously.

"Giving you your something borrowed."

Matt Parker had been seated practically in a fireplace. And he was convinced he'd been given the most spindly of the spindly white chairs the guests were provided. He loved his wife dearly, but you did pay a price to be married to her. She seemed to make enemies instinctively. The cell phone in his pocket vibrated. Frowning, Matt reached into his coat and pulled it out. His frown deepened at the S blinking up at him. Was she testing him? Was she really that convinced that he wouldn't listen to her and shut his phone off?

Matt replaced the phone, ignoring it. It vibrated again, and he ignored it again. Did she really think he was that stupid? Matt leaned gingerly back against his chair and surveyed the crowd around him. They were all chatting enthusiastically to each other. No one seemed interested in talking to Matt. Matt appreciated that.

The fifth time his cell phone vibrated, Matt decided he'd had enough. If Savannah wanted to have it out, they were having it out. He snatched the phone out of his pocket and stormed off into the room behind him, a conservatory being used for adulterous assignations of various sorts. "Are you in labor?" he demanded, as soon as he answered the phone.

"Thank God you don't listen to me," she replied.

"I do listen to you."

"Thanks for making me call you five times before you decided to talk to me. It was a stupid tactic, Matt. I knew your phone was on as soon as it started ringing instead of going directly to your voicemail."

That gave Matt pause.

"Tinsley and I have an emergency."

Naturally. They followed his wife as frequently as enemies. "Oh? And you want me involved in the scheme?"

"That's exactly why I married you, darling."

"Sometimes I do suspect," remarked Matt, drily.

"Get the car. Drive it around to the back."

"What?"

"But do it surreptitiously."

"Surreptitiously?" he repeated.

"Yes. Don't let any of the Stewarts see you."

"Where am I driving the car?"

"I told you. To the back. There's an old stable they've converted to a garage for all of Trey's toys. There."

"And then what do I do?"

"Hurry up, will you?" snapped Savannah, and hung up on him.

Matt sighed and tucked the phone back into his jacket, then looked around the conservatory. No one was paying the least attention to him. Probably no one would notice if he walked right out the front door and asked the valet for his car. But if someone did notice him, he would never hear the end of it.

So he walked toward the back of the house, through the ballroom that was crowded with tables for the reception to follow the wedding. The doors to the verandah were standing open, letting in the warm air of the Indian summer. Matt jogged down the verandah steps, began walking around the house.

His phone vibrated again.

"I'm coming," he said into it.

"Where the hell are you?"

"You told me to be surreptitious. I-" He tripped over an extension cord that was lighting the Japanese lanterns strung around the lawn and swore.

"What's the matter?"

"I'm going to get myself killed in one of your schemes someday."

"Don't be silly. Hurry up." She hung up on him again.

Matt's father had been married six times. His deathbed advice to his only child was to never get married. Then Matt had met Savannah Lyons, and he had ignored his father's advice, and normally he was phenomenally happy. Normally.

"I need my car," Matt said to the valet, handing across the ticket.

The valet had clearly expected not to be bothered for a few hours. But he jogged away in search of the car.

Matt's phone vibrated again. "I'm still alive," he said into it. "In case you were worried."

"What are you doing?" Savannah demanded.

"Do you know how many people are here? The valet is searching for our car in the-Ah. Here it is. I'll be right there."

"Well, it's about-"

Matt hung up on her, gave the valet some money in exchange for the keys, and slid into the car, nosing it around the back of the house to an old fieldstone structure that he supposed fit Savannah's description.

Then he got out of the car and stood in bewilderment. What the hell was he supposed to be-

A bride came dashing toward him, around the corner of the main house, veil and train flying riotously out behind her. It had to be Tinsley, because he knew of no other brides, and, as she came to a breathless stop in front of him, he saw that it was Tinsley. She was clutching a dainty pair of white satin heels in one hand and a bulky black purse in the other, and the tiara on her head had become dislodged in the run, tipping crookedly in Tinsley's blinding blonde hair.

And she looked more radiantly ecstatic than he thought he had ever seen her.

"Tinsley, you look beautiful," he told her, sincerely.

"That's so sweet of you to say. Savannah said I could take the car."

"Oh." He handed her the keys in confusion. "But where are you going?"

She hugged him. "Thanks, Matt," she said, before sliding in his car and driving away with it.

His cell phone vibrated. He pulled it out and said, "Hey."

"So?"

"I gave Tinsley our car. Is that what I was supposed to do?"

"Yes," she told him, warmly. "Exactly what you were supposed to do."

"And where, exactly, is Tinsley going?"

"As far away from your no-good cousin as she can get."

"I think that's a great idea. You know I think that's a great idea. But Rosalea Stewart is going to kill you."

"I can take Rosalea Stewart any day of the week," Savannah sniffed.

"And twice on wedding days?" Matt drawled. "Let's pretend you need back-up. Where are you?"

"Tinsley's room. Walk around the back of the house."

Matt did so, spotting his wife immediately on a small delicate wrought-iron balcony. "Your dress is like a beacon," he said, his voice laced with amusement, because he knew how much his wife hated the dress.

"Shut up."

Matt hung his phone up, as he came to the front of the balcony and tipped his head back to look up at her. "Let your hair down," he called.

"Climb up the trellis," she said, not looking the least bit amused.

Matt glanced at the trellis working its way up the house. "I think I'll just stand here and wait for your hair to grow."

His wife looked displeased. "Tinsley climbed it."

"Tinsley climbed that in her wedding dress?"

"Tinsley's always been a good climber." His wife shrugged.

"I guess so," said Matt in amazement.

"I thought you wanted to give me back-up. I thought you were concerned about Rosalea Stewart killing me. And your unborn child." She gave him a meaningful look.

Matt gestured helplessly toward the trellis. "Do you know how much I weigh? Compared to Tinsley? That's not going to hold me. That's going to go tumbling off the wall and kill me."

"Don't be so dramatic. Hurry up."

Matt, sighing, pulled at the trellis. It seemed to hold. He began climbing it. "Do you see? Do you see the things I do out of love for you?"

"I am taking note," she assured him, as he came even with the balcony and clambered over its railing. "You're still alive!" she exclaimed, in mock surprise.

Matt tipped one edge of his mouth up into his most wicked, most adorable, most Savannah-slaying smile. "You look absolutely stunning, darling," he told her.

Savannah glared at him. "I don't want to talk about the dress. I look like a pumpkin." She rubbed at the mound of her stomach to emphasize the point.

Matt regarded the dress. "Why do women do this to their best friends? You made Tinsley look like a cucumber."

Savannah was shocked. "You didn't like Tinsley's dress?"

Matt changed the subject. "What's going on here? What happened?"

"She doesn't love him, Matt. And she's sitting on the floor there, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and what was I supposed to do? She doesn't love him. Not the way I love you. And maybe she'd be okay not loving someone that way. But he doesn't love her. He doesn't. You came, you did this for me, because you knew it was Tinsley, and you knew that I love Tinsley, and you love me, and it really is that simple for you. Parker would never do that. Parker would never help me out."

"It's nothing personal against you," Matt noted. "Parker doesn't help anybody out."

"I had to get her out of here, Matt. I couldn't have her marry him. I just couldn't. She's my best friend. She needs something better."

"Of course she does. Of course you're right. But you couldn't have figured this out a little earlier?"

She sent him a tremulous smile. "Better late than never, right?"

"Tinsley!" Rosalea Stewart's voice roared into the bedroom. "Tinsley, are you almost ready?" The doorknob jiggled. "Did you lock this door?"

Matt looked from the door to his wife, eyebrows raised, impressed. "Good thinking."

"I am not an amateur, Matthew Parker. We need to buy Tinsley time."

"Tinsley!" shouted Rosalea Stewart, pounding on the door now. "Open this door!"

"Just a second," Savannah called, sweetly.

"How long do you think that's going to hold her off?" Matt inquired, lazily. "She probably has locksmiths on standby for just this situation."

"Oh, I didn't think of that." Savannah gnawed on her lower lip, then stepped forward, walked over to the door, and opened it, smiling beneficently at an astonished Rosalea Stewart. "Did you want something?" she asked, politely.

Rosalea Stewart narrowed her eyes. "You have killed my daughter, haven't you?"

"I tried, but she puts up a good fight."

"I don't find you amusing."

"Matt finds me hysterical."

"For the record," Matt contributed, "that's not really true."

Rosalea Stewart blinked at him for the first time. "How did you get up here?" she demanded.

Matt smiled blandly.

"Enough of this." Rosalea strode into the room, shouting. "Tinsley! We really must go! Parker is waiting."

Matt looked down at the high polish of his shoes. Savannah steadfastly studied her nails.

Rosalea blinked around the room, shouted her daughter's name again. But it was quite obvious that no blushing, be-satined bride was there.

Rosalea whirled immediately to face Savannah, finger raised as she jutted it at her. "What have you done with her?"

"Let's not get violent here, ladies," said Matt, with nevertheless an edge to his own voice, as he stepped between Rosalea's thrusting finger and his wife.

"Your wife has kidnapped my daughter." She poked her finger into his chest.

"That doesn't seem likely to me," Matt replied.

"Then where is she?" Rosalea screeched.

Savannah shoved at Matt, ineffectively. Matt did not often assert the fact that he was bigger and stronger than her but he was choosing that moment to become as immoveable as a statute. Savannah stepped around him instead. "I did not kidnap Tinsley. Tinsley has come to her senses."

"Come to her senses?" Rosalea's voice was so high-pitched that Matt winced. "What do you mean?"

"Tinsley didn't love Parker. And Parker didn't love her. And if you thought at any time at all about your daughter instead of your bank account and social standing-"

"How dare you let your wife speak to me this way?" she demanded of Matt.

Matt looked startled to be drawn into the argument.

"Is there something wrong?" asked the wedding planner, in the sweet, sing-song, kindergarten-teacher voice she always used with them. She paused in the open doorway, looking at the tableau in front of her curiously.

"Tinsley is gone!" Rosalea announced, dramatically.

"Gone?" Martin Stewart, Tinsley's father, looked a bit interested as he poked his head into the room. "How could she have gone? Nobody saw her leave."

"Your tie's a bit crooked, darling," Savannah said to Matt, reaching out and tweaking it a bit.

"Thank you," he replied.

Rosalea looked like she would have dearly liked to throttle them both.

"You must find the beautiful bride," said the wedding planner, happily, as if Tinsley had clearly just gone out for a stroll. "We are ready to walk down the aisle." She gestured to Martin.

Martin looked at her with weary disinterest. He felt as if he spent his life surrounded by crazy people. They did not surprise him any longer.

"I know!" Rosalea looked triumphant. "I will go get Trey. He's the only person in this family Tinsley will listen to."

Martin Misselthwaite Stewart III, otherwise known as Trey, stared at the man his sister was going to marry in a very short period of time and hated him. Parker was showily reading Machiavelli, holding the book up in a dramatic manner, so that Trey could not miss it. Trey strongly doubted the idiot was reading Machiavelli. Trey thought if he walked over there and looked over Parker's shoulder, he'd be looking at the Playboy Parker was concealing.

Trey knew Tinsley had wanted him involved in the wedding. But didn't she think it suspicious that her future husband had no friends or relatives to ask to be his best man? No one but the brother-in-law-to-be he'd barely exchanged two words with?

Rosalea Stewart swooped in to the library, her dove gray dress fluttering about her with purpose. Her piercing blue eyes were focused on her son. And Trey had thought his day couldn't get any worse.

"Come here," she said to him, then turned and marched out of the room.

Trey, lifting his eyebrows in surprise, followed her.

She was striding up the stairs.

"Where are you going?" he asked.

She paused and leaned over the railing at him. "Tinsley wants to talk to you."

"Oh," said Trey, and followed her up the stairs.

His father, the wedding planner, and Matt and Savannah Parker were all standing in a knot outside his sister's open bedroom door. They were tensely, threateningly silent. Savannah looked supremely innocent. She must have just done something terribly offensive.

Savannah met his eyes, clearly trying to communicate something to him. Trey had no idea what she was trying to say.

"Go and get your sister," his mother said to him.

Trey stared at her. "Okay," he said, slowly, and headed toward the bedroom door.

"No, she's not there, you idiot," Rosalea snapped at him. "If she were there, I'd go get her myself."

Trey had long ago learned not to lose his temper with his mother. "Well, where is she, then?"

"You must ask them." Rosalea's arm swept dramatically toward Matt and Savannah Parker. Matt Parker was looking at his cufflink. Savannah was still looking beseechingly at Trey. "They have allowed Tinsley to escape."

"Escape?" Trey looked from Savannah to his mother. "What do you mean?"

"Savannah filled her head with horror stories about marriage," Rosalea spat out in disgust.

"I am very unhappily married," Savannah contributed.

"As everyone knows, my dear," Matt assured her.

"And Tinsley ran off. It's just a case of cold feet. You must go after her and get her to come to her senses."

"Why me?" asked Trey. "Why don't you go after her and drag her bodily up to the altar?"

"She is wearing her wedding dress," his mother replied, plainly exasperated by how stupid her son was.

"So you want me to retrieve Tinsley and bring her back here, but make sure her mascara doesn't run in the process?" Trey clarified.

"Exactly. And you're the only one in the family she'll listen to."

"You're absolutely right," Trey agreed, plainly startling his mother, who blinked at him in astonishment. "I'll be back," he said.

There were two universal truths that society knew about Trey Stewart: he was as darkly handsome as they came, and he lacked a serious side. But Savannah could have sworn that he sent her a private wink as he turned to leave.

Trey and his bright yellow Lamborghini caught up with the maroon BMW easily. And Trey had to shake his head over that. Even fleeing her own wedding, his sister remained unfailingly practical and refused to speed. Trey honked his horn at her. He saw her eyes flicker to the rear view mirror, then back to the road. After a moment, the BMW veered over to the side.

Trey parked behind her and got out of the car, walking over to the driver's side. The car was still running, as if Tinsley was poised to take off at any moment. She'd at least rolled the window down to talk to him, and she regarded him warily. She had not even bothered to take her tiara off. It was tipped in the hair-sprayed nest she'd tortured her hair into. Trey smiled at her. "What's up?" he asked, casually.

"I'm not going back," she warned him.

"I'm not going to ask you to go back. Get out of the car."

"I'm not going back," she repeated, stubbornly. "I don't love him, Trey. I can't marry him. I'll be miserable. I'll be...Maybe it's cowardly of me not to tell him myself, but I think it's better if I don't-"

"I said that I'm not going to make you go back, Tins. But the Parkers are going to need their car." He held out the keys to the Lamborghini, dangled them in front of her.

Tinsley looked at them, then at the Lamborghini, then at him. Her mouth opened but she said nothing.

"I have seven more. I won't miss it. Matt Parker's got a wife he's going to have to rush to the hospital one of these days. Now, I do admit I don't look forward to driving a BMW, but you'll enjoy the Lamborghini, I promise."

Tinsley shut the car off, unbuckled her seatbelt, opened the car door. Then threw her arms around her brother's neck and hugged him so tightly he thought she might suffocate him. But he let her hug him. He hugged her back.

"Oh, thank you, Trey," she mumbled against his neck. "Thank you so much for-"

"I am your big brother," he cut her off, gently. "You should never have doubted, even for a minute, that I would be on your side."

"I didn't...I mean..."

Trey pushed her gently away, just a bit, so he could look her in the eye. "Take the car. Drive as long and as far as you like. This is your chance, Tinsley. Seize it. Have the time of your life. Promise me."

Tinsley smiled at him a bit mistily. "Look at that. You do have a serious side."

"Don't tell anybody."

She took the Lamborghini keys out of his hand and kissed his cheek fondly.

"Call me," he said.

"I'll be in touch," she assured him, slipping behind the wheel of his car.

He watched her fiddle endlessly, adjusting the seat and the tilt of the mirrors and the temperature control. Trey sighed. He was never going to get that car back to the way he liked it. But, when she was finally settled, she sent him such a brilliant smile that he forgot all about the car. She sent him a cheerful wave and pulled carefully off onto the road and drove away from him at a reasonable rate. Trey shook his head. She was not going to appreciate the Lamborghini.

He slipped into Matt Parker's BMW and pushed the seat back before executing a neat U-turn. The car really didn't handle badly. Trey's opinion of Matt Parker rose a bit.

He parked the car himself, in the spot in the family garage that his Lamborghini had recently vacated. Then he headed back into the house, upstairs, where everyone was still standing in the exact knot he had left them in.

"Where is Tinsley?" his mother demanded, chagrined that there was no bride following in his wake.

"Couldn't find her. These belong to you, I believe." He tossed Matt's car keys at him.

Matt caught them automatically. "Oh," he realized. "Thanks."

Rosalea looked from Matt to her son, eyes narrowed. "Trey, what did you-"

"Let's go find Parker and tell him he's not marrying into the family." Trey looked grimly delighted at the prospect.

His father caught his mood, tipped his head in dawning comprehension. "Do you have something on him, Trey?"

Trey didn't answer. He was busy half-jogging down the stairs.

"Oh, dammit," said Savannah, gathering up the skirts of her dress. "He's moving too quickly for me. We're going to miss the show."

Trey looked as if he was leading a small parade. He didn't bother to look back at the crowd trailing after him.

"But what are we...When will we...?" gasped the wedding planner, clearly incapable of comprehending this unprecedented crisis.

"Out of my way," said Savannah, hurrying past her.

"We're trying to see the show," Matt explained, drily, marveling at how quickly his very pregnant wife who could not be expected to do anything anymore was dashing after Trey.

Savannah walked into the study just in time to watch Trey snatch a book out of Parker's hand and toss it against the opposite wall with a solid thwack that startled her. Trey-polished, urbane, frivolous Trey Stewart-was angry, she realized.

"Get up," Trey snapped at Parker.

Parker blinked up at him in bewilderment. "What?"

"Get up. Get out."

"Trey!" his mother gasped in astonishment. "You needn't be so...Parker." She stepped around her son, smiling benevolently. "What Trey is trying to say-"

"I'm saying exactly what I'm trying to say," Trey interjected, his voice low and calm. "My sister's come to her senses. Thank God. I get to escape being related to you. She gets to escape being married to you. So you can get up and get out."

Parker looked unimpressed by Trey. He looked at Rosalea. "I don't understand. What's going on?"

"Tinsley's-temporarily-"

"It isn't temporary," Trey told Parker. "She's left you."

Parker blinked. Then he stood up. "What?" he roared.

Trey looked amazed. "You're upset? I can't believe you're upset."

"Why wouldn't I be upset? Tinsley's gone? She's gone? She's left me at the altar? Do you know how many people are out there? Waiting for me to get married?"

"Waiting for you to get married?" said Rosalea, taken aback.

"Yes!"

"What do you care how many people are out there?" asked Martin, nonchalantly. "You're not paying for it."

"I have a reputation to protect, Martin. A reputation to think about. And your daughter's ruining it with her lower-class, petulant-" Parker ended in an incomprehensible gurgling noise as Trey's forearm connected with his throat, ramming him up against the wall.

Savannah gasped.

"Trey!" his mother shrieked. "You're choking him!"

Reluctantly, Trey lowered his arm. "How dare you-"

Parker tried to move quickly, but Trey moved like lightning, countering the punch Parker was trying to throw.

Parker howled in pain, lifted his hands to his nose, which was spouting a generous amount of blood.

Savannah gasped again.

"Trey Stewart's right hook," commented Matt. "I was always told it was vicious."

Trey was shaking his hand, where a bit of blood was bruising over his knuckles. He looked at Matt and grinned. "Way too many bar brawls. I thought my reputation preceded me. Which only goes to show how absolutely stupid you are." Trey looked back at Parker.

"You broke my nose!" Parker accused.

"Did I?"

"He's getting blood all over the carpet!" Rosalea fretted.

"I put up with you," Trey informed Parker, "because she seemed to think she was in love with you, and I wasn't about to upset Tinsley by telling her how very unworthy you were of her love. But I know about Suzanne, Parker." There was yet another gasp out of Savannah. "And I know about Cindy and Lulu and Sally, too. I know about your disgusting assignations at the Loverly Motel. So don't stand here and call my sister 'lower-class.' You've had a hell of a lot worse, Parker. And I know for a fact that you never had any better. If I hear you say anything negative about Tinsley...Or if I hear that you've said anything negative about Tinsley...well, you've seen my right hook. It is pretty vicious. Wouldn't you agree?"

Parker gulped. He looked like he was trying to come up with something to say.

"You cheated on her?" Martin stepped forward. "You cheated on my daughter? With women named Lulu?"

"There was one named Pixie, too," Trey supplied, helpfully.

"Pixie?" Martin rounded on his son. "And you knew about this? You knew about this and didn't say anything?"

"I..." Trey looked helpless, gesturing with his bruised and bloody hand. "I didn't know what to do. I didn't know who to tell. I didn't want to upset Tinsley as much as-"

"No, you were right," Savannah informed him. "I didn't want to tell her, either."

Trey looked at her in surprise. "You knew, too?"

"Not about the women. To be honest, I really can't believe about the women. I didn't think there would be that many women lining up to sleep with him."

"That is true," Trey conceded.

"But I knew she was marrying beneath herself, and I didn't tell her because I didn't want to upset her, either. So I know where you were coming from."

"Well, you're the one who convinced her to leave. So we all need to thank you, really."

"I can't believe no one told me anything." Rosalea put her hands on her hips.

Trey didn't even bother to answer her. He cast her an ironic glance, then looked at Parker. "Are you still here?" he inquired.

Parker looked uncertain. Then, hands still cupped around his nose, he walked slowly out of the room.

"Well," remarked Savannah. "That was one of the most interesting things I've ever seen."





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