The Honeymoon Prize

By: Melissa McClone

a honeymoon novella

Chapter 1

The breeze off San Diego Bay ruffled the hem of Adelaide Sinclair’s borrowed white dress. She stood at the wedding arbor in the County Administration Center’s Waterfront Park, holding a single yellow rose, her pulse racing faster than an F/A-18 taking off from Miramar.

Don’t lock your knees.

Passing out during the lunchtime ceremony would be a total wedding faux pas. Not what she needed when she already felt like a complete fraud, fake, liar. Her stomach churned, trying to wash away the guilt.

Clicks sounded—photographs being taken by her friend Emily Rodgers. The digital images weren’t fun shots to be shared via Instagram, but pictures to place in a fancy white album, a remembrance of the wedding day.

Air rushed from Addie’s lungs. Breathe. But less and less oxygen seemed to go into her lungs. Uh-oh.

Do. Not. Lose. It.

Nick Cahill, a close friend since kindergarten, stood next to her. The wind blew the ends of his wavy light brown hair, making him look like a model. He wore black trousers, a slightly wrinkled white dress shirt and a black bowtie. He looked so handsome and groom-like. Well, of course he did, given he was the groom.

Her groom.

He’d been her best bud until middle school, an intermittent crush through high school and her platonic male BFF since then. She never thought she’d be adding her groom to the list.

Addie’s forehead throbbed. Her heart ached. A lump burned in her throat.

I can’t believe this is happening.

Once upon a time, like most little girls, she’d dreamed of marrying her own Prince Charming. She’d imagined a wedding ceremony on the beach at the Del—the Hotel del Coronado—within walking distance from her grandmother’s house where Addie had grown up, hearing waves rolling to shore and seabirds overhead during the ceremony, feeling hot sand beneath her feet and surrounded by loved ones.

But dreams, like life, didn’t always turn out as one planned. She hadn’t finished college. She hadn’t found true love. She hadn’t been able to keep her grandmother alive any longer. The weight of the past four months pressed down on her shoulders and her eyes stung.

Instead of getting married on the beach, she stood in the city park by her friend Nick’s side, listening to noise from the traffic on busy Harbor Drive and a siren somewhere off in the distance. Emily was their sole guest, spending her lunch hour being both a witness to the civil marriage ceremony and the wedding photographer. There wouldn’t be a reception. No first dance, no tiered wedding cake, no bouquet toss, no champagne toast. The only pictures would be the ones Emily took with her new digital SLR camera.

Not that Addie had much of a choice.

With no money, no job and no place to live, Nick’s plan to be married in-name-only for the next five years so he could keep his job, and she could get back on her feet sounded like a gift from heaven. But after exchanging vows and rings with a man who didn’t know the meaning of the word commitment, the desire to be marrying her Prince Charming grew stronger by the second.

Stop. Addie should be . . . grateful. G-R-A-T-E-F-U-L.

Nick’s suit of armor might be tarnished, but he was her white knight today, her hero, rescuing Addie like he was still a Special Forces soldier, only without his Green Beret. A good thing her heart knew not to fall for a heartbreaker like him. The women Nick dated were endangered species that vanished quickly. As his friend, she’d remained a part of his life much longer, twenty-two years and counting. One day, she would find her Mr. Right and marry for real. Until then she needed to . . . chill.

So what if she was putting her dreams of having a family on hold for another five years? That would make finding true love more special.

A smile tugged on her tight lips despite the chaos in her life and her swirling emotions. Thanks to Nick’s generous offer, she would no longer have to sleep on Emily’s couch or spend the day at the library using free computers to apply for jobs or search vending machines for spare change to fill her empty wallet.

His no-sex, married in-name-only proposal had saved her after being attacked by her family of vultures hell-bent on selling her late grandmother’s Coronado cottage—a tiny, teardown perched on a million-dollar piece of property. A house promised to Addie after being Grammy’s caregiver for the past nine years. Too bad promises weren’t worth as much as a piece of Grammy’s cottage pie.

Her grandmother’s wishes had been ignored by Addie’s aunt and mother, neither who visited over the years or contributed to Grammy’s care or attended the funeral. Addie had consulted an estate lawyer about challenging the will, but the slim chance of winning wasn’t worth the expense. Not fair, but then again, life wasn’t.

“You may kiss the bride.”

The Commissioner of Civil Marriage’s words rattled around Addie’s brain.

Kiss. The. Bride.

Addie’s stomach plummeted to the tips of her sparkly silver knock-off Toms, her something new purchased for the wedding. How could she have forgotten the kissing part?

She balled her hands, wishing her one true love stood next to her instead of her best bud. If only this ceremony involved two people exchanging meaningful vows with intent, not a sham with a divorce date decided upon.

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