The Stand-in Prince Charm­ing

Lynsey knew the per­fect man to take her to her best friend’s wed­ding . . .

The People's Friend - - Contents - by An­nie Har­ris

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.”

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