“Madison,” a sharp voice said from behind her. “What do you think you are wearing?”
Madison turned on her heels, steeling herself. Goosebumps pebbled her flesh, and she cursed her natural instincts to run and hide. She was not afraid of the woman in front of her. She couldn’t be. And yet, fear coated her.
“What is that atrocity on you? It is hugging your hips and makes you look even wider than you are. Than you could possibly be. The number of cupcakes you eat makes you wide enough. You don’t need to accentuate it.”
They were in a corner with Madison’s father blocking the two of them. Nobody could really overhear, but she was still embarrassed.
“This isn’t the place, Mother.”
“Don’t you dare talk back to me. And how dare you force Lincoln to invite us when you should have been the one to invite us?”
“What? This isn’t even my event. Of course, Lincoln should have invited you. This is his night.”
“We are family,” Mother snapped. “That is not how things work. You are our daughter. You were the one that was supposed to get us here. Instead, your cousin had to take time out of his precious day with his deviants in order to invite us when we should have already been on the guest list.”
“First, you’re not making any sense. You’re contradicting yourself. Second? Don’t use that word.”
“What? Deviants? We are talking about his proclivities,” her mother snipped. “I don’t understand why people are so accepting.”
“It’s not your place to understand. It is not your place to talk about it.”
“What did I say about talking back to me? You’re lucky we’re in public, or I would wipe that smile right off your face.”
Madison let out a sigh. She stood up to her mother often, but Mother didn’t care. She had only gotten worse the older she got, and as Madison remained unmarried.
“Anyway, since you’re here and you won’t bother to come over for dinner so we can talk to you, we’re just going to have to deal with this now.”
“I’ve been busy. It’s a very busy time for my store.”
“Yes, your precious little store. Where you just have to indulge in everything you bake.”
“Stop it,” Madison snapped.
“Whatever.” Her mother waved her hand again before she snapped her fingers. “Guy.”
Guy? What? Who the hell was she talking about? A guy?
A man wearing a custom-cut suit and a winning smile came over, his bright green eyes flashing. He had perfectly coiffed hair. A single strand delicately flopped over his forehead before he whipped it back, a careless gesture that could have been sexy in any other case.
All Madison felt was meh.
Meh because she had a horrible feeling about this.
“What’s going on?” Madison asked, worried.
“This is Guy. Guy, this is the daughter we were telling you about. I wish she had worn the dress I sent over, but there’s nothing we can do about that now. This is going to be the woman you’ll marry.”
Guy smiled, and Madison just blinked, grateful that she wasn’t drinking anything or she would have likely choked.
“Excuse me?” Madison asked, confused, angry, and really fucking worried.
“Honey, you’re fat. No one is going to love you. Or even want you. And while I understand that that is a curse on our family now, we have found a way to get you to the next stage of your life. As I said, this is Guy. He comes from good, respected family stock, has a great job, and will take you in hand. He is going to be the man you marry.”
Madison just blinked, confused, horror sliding over her. Her mother had called her those things before. But marriage?
What. The. Fuck?
“What?” Madison gasped.
“Don’t worry. It happens all the time. There are still arranged marriages these days. We found you the perfect match because, apparently, you’ve been spending too much time on whatever you’ve been baking,”—baking being code for eating, no doubt. After all, her mother was never subtle—“to find yourself a man.”
“No. You can’t just tell me who I’m going to marry.”
“Do not embarrass me,” her mother whispered.
“You’re the one who’s embarrassing me.”
“You will do this. For once in your life, you will do what I tell you and make us proud. Do not be such a disappointment.”
Before Madison could say anything, before she could truly understand what was happening, an arm slid around her waist and squeezed her hip. She froze, knowing that touch.
Remembering that touch.
“Madison, baby, there you are.” And then Aaron Montgomery kissed the side of her temple and grinned down at her.
Madison blinked up at him, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water.
“Excuse me,” her mother snapped. “This is a private conversation.”
Madison looked up as Aaron raised a single brow. “Not too private, considering I could overhear you,” he growled. Although his voice sounded completely pleasant, Madison heard the warning there.
“Aaron,” she whispered.
“No, no, Madison. I think it’s time we stop holding our secrets back.”
Confused, she just looked up at him.
“Secret?” her mother snapped. Like always, her father simply stood there, quiet.
Madison felt like she should hate them both. But they were her parents. She had tried for so long to be good for them. To understand why they hated her so much.
But it was a lost cause.
“I wanted to talk to you both first,” Aaron began. “But I asked, and she said yes. Madison and I are getting married.”
Madison blinked, her brain going blank. Her mother gasped, and her father looked nonplussed.
“Married?” her mother whispered, her tone incredulous.
“Married.” Aaron looked down at Madison and grinned.
He was such a good actor. Madison saw the warmth in his eyes, even slightly doused by the anger that was also there. “I’m going to marry your daughter, Mrs. McClard. And that means that guy over there? He’s not needed.”
“Madison, this can’t be true.”
Madison heard the anger in her mother’s tone. Knew her mom thought that Aaron could never want a girl like Madison. She braced for the words.
“Yes, yes we are.”
The lie came out of nowhere, and yet it felt right. And also like a horrible mistake. But she kept her gaze steady.
“That can’t be true,” her mother continued. “Who would want a girl like you?”
And there it was. Aaron’s jaw tightened at those words, and Madison looked over to her mother and raised her chin. “Aaron did. And, yes, he’s my fiancé.”
And on that note, with that lie, she knew for certain it had been a horrible mistake. However, the look of pure astonishment and hatred in her mother’s eyes made it all worth it.
At least she hoped to hell it had been a lie.
Carrie Ann Ryan. Seduced In Ink: Montgomery Ink Boulder. (Kindle Locations 206-265).