The Stand-in Prince Charming
Lynsey knew the perfect man to take her to her best friend’s wedding . . .
OH, Lynsey, that’s wonderful.” Angie smiled with relief down the phone. “Rob and I were so worried you wouldn’t be able to face it after this latest trick. I told Rob he’d have to tell that idiot brother of his he couldn’t be best man rather than not have my oldest friend as bridesmaid.”
“But you couldn’t make him do that. Jason is his only brother, and –”
“Well, he shouldn’t have behaved so badly to you. You’ve put a really brave face on it this past month, but I know he badly hurt you, going off with that horrible bottle blonde.”
“But she isn’t a bottle blonde.”
“That’s the way it looks.” Angie’s tone was dismissive. “Anyway, I put my foot down and said she wasn’t coming to the wedding, so what does he do? Leaves it to the last minute then gets to work on big softie Rob. We all know he can never say no to his kid brother.”
“Don’t worry, Angie. I’ll be fine, honestly,” Lynsey assured her.
“I’m really glad you’re taking it like this. Remember, he isn’t worth a single tear, not one.”
“I know you’re right.” “Of course I am. And I tell you what, he’ll regret it,” Angie added with relish.
But even so, although she’d put on a cheerful face, Lynsey’s heart was still sore and there were tears in her eyes as she finished her lunch and hurried back through the little grassy area that abutted the auction rooms where she worked.
“All right, Lynsey?” Hastily brushing her hand across her eyes, she swung round to see one of the salesroom assistants behind her.
“Oh, hi, Graham,” she said awkwardly. “Yes, I’m fine.”
She felt him studying her. “Sure?”
“Yes, absolutely,” she replied, then bit her lip.
After all, Graham was the one who’d found her crying her eyes out the morning after Jason had sent the e-mail that had shattered her life. It was Graham who had sat her down in the warehouse and been a shoulder to cry on.
“He didn’t have the decency to tell you face to face?” he’d said contemptuously. “He’s a rat, Lynsey.”
Now, she gave him a watery smile.
“It’s just such a tangle, Graham. I’m Angie’s bridesmaid. She and I have been best friends since our first day at playgroup, and it would break her heart if I backed out. And Jason is Rob’s only brother. So . . .” She shrugged and her voice tailed away.
“Of course you can’t let your friend down. You’d regret it for ever.”
“I know. And I am getting over him – really, I am.” But she knew she was trying to convince herself.
They drew apart to let some warehouse workers carry in a beautiful Queen Anne chaise-longue.
“I think it’s my pride that’s making me so upset over the wedding. I’ve just found out his new girlfriend will be there, so I’ll look like Cinderella left high and dry in the chimney corner.”
“And no Fairy Godmother to fly in to the rescue.”
“With glass slipper at the ready!” She managed a watery smile.
“Well, you know what you have to do, don’t you?” Graham said.
“Apart from having a couple of stiff drinks
beforehand?” she teased.
He shook his head. “What you need is another man to accompany you. Show Jason that life’s wonderful without him.”
“Sauce for the goose, you mean?” Lynsey said slowly.
“For this particular gander, anyway.” He glanced at his watch. “I must go, or I’ll have old man Carruthers jumping on me.”
He patted her arm. “Trust me, Lynsey. Get yourself a stand-in Prince Charming for the wedding. After all . . .” he hesitated for a moment “. . . a pretty girl like you won’t find it hard.”
He was on his way out to the car park after work when she caught him up.
“Graham,” she said quickly, before she could change her mind. “Would you come with me to the wedding?”
“Of course I will, Lynsey.” He smiled down at her, his eyes kind. “We’ll show him.”
“Thank you, Graham.” “My pleasure.” He looked at her for a moment longer, an odd expression on his face. “Well, see you tomorrow.”
She reached her own car then realised she’d left her bag in the staff room, so she hurried back. As she passed Graham’s car she saw him on his phone, his door open.
He was so deep in conversation that he didn’t see her.
“No, sorry, I can’t make it Saturday,” she heard him say. “I know, but something urgent’s cropped up. I’ve tried ringing Fran but her phone’s off. Apologise for me and give her my love.”
Lynsey heard no more. Fran. His sister? No, he’d told her a while back he only had an older brother.
The flicker of anticipation she’d been feeling died, and when she returned to the car park he was gone.
A drum roll ended the dance, and the bridegroom spun his new wife round in a final flourish to applause and loud cheers, then led her off the floor, their faces radiant with happiness.
Lynsey swallowed, smoothed down the silk of her dress with unsteady hands and took a deep breath as the master of ceremonies spoke into the microphone.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, the best man will escort the lovely bridesmaid to lead us all into the next dance.”
Jason was holding out his hand to her so, with a cool smile that didn’t quite meet his, she slipped into his arms.
They danced in silence for a while, then, forcing herself to speak, she whispered, “Nice service, wasn’t it?”
“Very nice.” For the first time, their eyes met. “You look very pretty, Lynsey.”
“Thank you.” She smiled faintly.
Above their heads the strobe lights flickered back and forth, then for a few moments they were in shadow.
“Look, sweetie,” he said suddenly, a new urgency in his voice.
She stiffened, but he tightened his grasp.
“Can we start again?” he asked.
“What?” She almost lost her step.
“The moment I set eyes on you today it hit me. All my feelings for you came back, stronger than ever.” He held her even more tightly.
“I’ve been an utter fool. I should never have taken up with Rebecca.”
Be with him again? Just for a moment, the old attraction gripped her. How easy it would be to say yes, let’s be together again.
For half a dozen flurried heartbeats she said nothing.
“I’m sorry, Jason, but it’s too late. And be careful,” she added softly. “Rebecca’s watching us.”
The coloured lights flickered over them again, and looking past Jason’s shoulder at the ring of faces, she saw Graham, gazing straight at her.
He shot her an anxious look. She smiled back reassuringly.
The dance ended at last and, to a ripple of applause, she stepped away from him. “Thanks, Jason.” He nodded curtly. “Who’s this guy you’re with?”
She smiled in the gloom. “Oh, no-one you know. Go back to Rebecca. She’s waiting for you.”
“Home.” Graham drew up outside her flat.
“Mmm,” she murmured sleepily. “Would you like to come in for a night cap?”
“Thanks, but I won’t.” He smiled at her. “You look dead beat. I hadn’t realised what hard work this bridesmaid lark is.”
“It’s not too bad really.” She laughed as she vainly tried to smother a huge yawn.
“Look, Graham, I haven’t thanked you – really thanked you – for helping me out.
“I mean,” she went on lamely, “I know you had other plans. I overheard you in the car park on your phone. I hope, er, Fran wasn’t too disappointed.”
“Fran? Oh, I’ll see her tomorrow.”
“Yes, of course.” “She’s my cousin – just back from a gap year.”
“Oh.” Why was she so pleased?
“Anyway,” she went on quickly, “I really am grateful. I just hope you weren’t too bored.”
“Bored? Not for a moment.” He laughed. “I had a great time talking to Angie’s grandma. She dished the dirt on what you and Angie got up to as feisty four-year-olds.” “Oh, no!”
“Oh, yes. Like the time her parents had a party at their house and you were there having a sleepover, and Angie sneaked a bottle of bubbly.
“The two of you were found in the herbaceous border snoring like piglets, then spent the rest of the night being violently sick.” He laughed.
“And we’ve never been allowed to forget it. I’m just glad Rob didn’t entertain everyone with it in his speech today.” Lynsey giggled. “But she really fell for you, I think. I saw her hugging you when we left.”
“It was just as well. The girl on my other side – you know, Rebecca – once she’d sussed out that I haven’t a bean to bless myself with, superglued herself to Rob’s cousin on her other side for the rest of the meal.
“He’s some sort of financial adviser, from what I gathered. Finance certainly seemed to be his sole topic of conversation.” He paused.“i think if he’s not very careful, Jason is going to get his fingers burned with that young lady.” Lynsey nodded.
“I rather think he’s found that out already. I caught a glimpse of them over your shoulder during the last dance. She was looking really sour and he had a face like thunder.
“That’s another thing to thank you for, Graham. We were putting on such a great act by that time, I think he must have been fooled,” she finished.
He didn’t speak for a moment.
“Maybe he’s realised just what he’s lost,” Graham said eventually.
“Well, actually,” she began, “when we were dancing he asked if we could get together again. Said he’d made a terrible mistake.”
“Well, of all the –” Graham broke off, then went on tentatively. “And what did you say, Lynsey?”
“I told him no. You see, all at once, I suddenly knew that the man I wanted in my life would be kind and unselfish and considerate. In fact . . .”
She broke off. In the warm darkness, they were gazing at each other and she could feel his warm breath on her cheek.
“In fact?” he prompted softly.
Afterwards, Lynsey thought it must have been the effect of a wonderful day – and three glasses of champagne – otherwise it would have been very forward of her.
“In fact,” she whispered, “someone rather like you, Graham.”