NOTE:  These snippets are provided as a little bonus to my readers. Keep in mind that they have not been subjected to the same editing process as published works. There may be typos, rough language (Paul, for example, liked swearing a LOT more in my draft than my editor would allow!), sex scenes and unsatisfying/abrupt endings. That said, I hope you enjoy taking a peek at the stories that otherwise exist only in my mind, like this look at Bridget’s sister’s wedding.


“…Bridget?!?!”

Bridget Devoe’s lips curved into a smile that was half-pleased and half-exasperated as she answered her cell phone. She cradled the handset to her ear and shot an apologetic look toward the man who was sitting next to her in British Airways First Class.  They hadn’t been instructed to turn off their mobiles yet. The plane was still boarding- but this was the third call she’d received so far.

“Yes, darling?” she spoke into the receiver in a cheerful, patient voice that was in stark contrast to the caller- her husband Paul’s- agitated tone.

Have you taken off yet?”

“Not quite yet. I’ve just boarded.”

“Good!”

“Was there something that you needed?”

“Yes! I just remembered! I don’t have a key to that closet in the cellar!”

“Paul!” Bridget’s eyes rolled heavenward, even as her smile blossomed, “That’s where I put our winter clothes. You won’t have any reason to-!”

“But…what if there’s something that I’ve forgotten? Something that I need. You’re going to be all the way in Ireland!” This last bit was spoken with a hint of bitterness, “What am I going to do?!?”

“All of the keys are on the hooks in the pantry,” Bridget answered calmly. “They’re labeled. You shouldn’t have any trouble at all.”

“But what if I can’t find it?!?” Paul demanded, his voice sounding rough and vaguely panicked. “What if it isn’t there? Maybe you should wait until…”

“You could just call a locksmith, Paul,” Bridget said firmly, “Or chop down the door if it was that important- or just wait. I am going to be home in two weeks, dearest. It isn’t that long.”

“Not long for you!” Paul grumbled- and Bridget’s smile returned. This was the seventh time that her husband had called her since they parted at the security gate an hour before. He kept remembering “crises” that would prevent her from going away. Of course, none of the things that he had thought of were real problems. It would have been incredibly irritating, if not for how terribly obvious it was that Paul simply didn’t want her to go.

“I’m sure that the time will fly past,” Bridget appeased her husband in a cooing whisper. “You have that cooking demonstration at Mondavi that you were going to put on? And you wanted some time to work on the new cookbook…”

“I just have a bad feeling about this,” Paul muttered back, sounding like a pouty child. “I think that you should stay!”

“We’ve talked about that, darling,” Bridget said with a little sigh. “I know that you want me back at home- but it’s my only cousin’s wedding. She asked me to be a bridesmaid when we were both eleven! I can’t very well skip out!”

“She didn’t come to our wedding!” Paul fired back- only to be shot down.

“Yes, she did, ,darling,” Bridget reminded him. “She’s the girl standing next to Dixie in all the photos- as you well know– We’ve been planning this for ages.”

“Well, I don’t like it!” Was all he could reply to that.

“It’s not too late to come along!”

“Miss?”

Bridget looked up, frowning to see that she was being addressed by the stewardess. Caught up in her conversation, she hadn’t noticed that the flight door was closed.

“We’re taking off now, Paul,” Bridget told her husband, “I’m sorry, but I have to go!”

“But-!” Paul yelped, sounding truly anxious- but there wasn’t time for him to think up a new reason for his wife to stay.

“I love you, darling!” she said warmly, “I’m going to miss you a lot! I’ll call when I land at Shannon! Goodbye!”

She switched off the receiver before he managed his own reply.

Meanwhile, in the airport parking garage, Paul was left to stare at his quiet phone.

“Goodbye,” he said in a mournful whisper. He could scarcely believe it! Bridget had really gone!

..ooOOoo..

“And what would you like for dinner Miss…Mrs…Devoe, is it?”

Bridget smiled up at the stewardess standing at the end of her row. They had been airborne for an hour now. The map on her viewscreen showed that she was somewhere over Utah. It was time to put her dinner order in.

She referred to the menu that she had been given, trying to fight down an urge to smile. The airline was featuring their special “chefs menu” created by Eric Sloane- a cook who once worked for Paul (although he had been let go due to a disagreement about quality standards. Bridget assumed her husband would be amused that Sloane was now whipping up airplane food!). She skimmed the list again, faintly irritated with herself for how difficult it was to choose. A mere five years ago, she would have been delighted with anything on the list (a mere five years ago she would have been ecstatic simply to be sitting in first class. They could feed her crackers if they wanted!), but life with a five star chef had refined her palate. She couldn’t say that seared Chilean seabass on a bed of pomegranate risotto sounded like a very good idea at 40,000 feet.

“I’ll just have…the salad,” she said at last, “And the steak.”

“Of course,” the stewardess said, and then scurried away to warm the order up.

Bridget leaned back in her chair and stared out the window as she waited for her food. Her thoughts returned again to her husband. She wondered if he had tried to call her cell phone again? She was almost willing to bet that he had. Dear, silly Paul! She had never known him to act so…well, clingy. It was almost bizarre! For most of their married life, Bridget’s complaint had been that her husband was too distant and self-absorbed! She couldn’t count the number of times that he had climbed aboard an airplane, headed for parts unknown and not bothered to even tell her until he was gone!  In fairness, things had changed dramatically since they moved to California to take over the French Laundry restaurant. Paul practically worked next door now, and she saw him plenty of times throughout the day.  Paul had learned to rely on her a bit more as well.  Perhaps he relied on her too much? That certainly seemed possible- at least, it was if she judged by the panic that her trip had inspired, at least!

She wished that Paul simply would have joined her on the trip- and not just for his own peace of mind. Bridget knew that her husband wasn’t coming because he loathed her family. She couldn’t say that she blamed him at all. The two times that they had met, her father, mother and sister had behaved abominably. They never missed an opportunity to put Bridget down or to express their disbelief that she could have “trapped” anyone as wonderful as Paul. Her husband couldn’t stand the way that they put her down. It was probably safer that he stayed at home. Still, she would miss having him at her side. She needed him to counter her family’s snarky comments and, of course, she simply liked keeping him around! On top of everything else, she felt rather self-conscious to arrive at her cousin’s wedding without a date. She had been to enough of these events to know that very few of the guests would fly solo. She expected to be marooned at a reception table with her great Aunt Charlotte, stuck hearing the medical history of every memory of their family throughout the night!

..ooOOoo..

“Service please!” Paul Devoe felt like he was working on auto-pilot that evening at his restaurant, the French Laundry, in Napa California. That was a really bad plan. As one of the premier restaurants in the world, quality control was everything. Usually, no one was more on top of the game than Chef Devoe…but tonight was a special exception. He nodded gratefully when his sous-chef caught a mistake that was just coming across the pass.

“You…er…feeling well, chef?” the younger man asked warily.

Paul admired his courage. On an ordinary night, he would have risked getting his head ripped off for making the comment but, again, this was not an ordinary night. “Sorry…getting distracted,” he admitted sheepishly. “I’m just wondering what time Bridge is going to make it to Ireland…I don’t really like sending her so far on her own.”

“She’ll be fine,” the sous assured him, and then returned to the business of cooking. Paul tried to follow his example, but he continued to find it more difficult than usual. He wondered what they were feeding Bridget on the plane- surely nothing adequate! He should have packed her a snack…and what if she was sitting next to someone horrible, and couldn’t fall asleep? Bridget needed a lot of sleep. She might make herself sick if she didn’t get enough- and what if there was something wrong with the plane?! Paul couldn’t bring himself to even contemplate the possibility of a crash. He wasn’t sure when or how it had happened, but at some point over the four and a half years of their marriage, Bridget had become more than simply a pleasant enhancement to his life. She was essential. He didn’t see how he was going to survive two weeks without her near, much less a lifetime!  Maybe she was right? Maybe he should have gone along? Bridget obviously wanted him to. She hadn’t ever outright asked him to accompany her to her cousin’s wedding in Ireland (if she had, he didn’t know that he would have been able to resist), but she had certainly dropped plenty of hints!

Of course, Paul had the restaurant to look after. That was what he told her (even if he wasn’t doing a very good job of minding it tonight!) , but he was shocking himself now by wondering if that was strictly true? In the years before Bridget and his son, Tad, came into his life, Paul’s idea of a “vacation” was heading home from work without being the last one there. His restaurants were open for dinner and lunch, seven days a week- and Paul was there for every moment. He resented taking a day off for Christmas! Now, however, things had changed. After nearly losing his wife, Paul had realized that he needed to balance his family and his career. Moving to California had been part of those efforts. The Laundry was so famous (and so mind-blowingly expensive!) that he didn’t need it open all the time. They had dinner service five nights per week, brunch on Sunday, and were closed for the month of July (although it was only May). Of course, when he wasn’t at the restaurant, Paul had his other ventures (he still had Bridges Restaurant back in New York, and an interest in a bistro in London and a Chicago Hotel), his cookbooks, television appearances and guest lectures at culinary school. Still, it was a lot less than he used to juggle. He was still getting used to the concept of free time.

One of the things that he usually did when he got home from the restaurant (while school was out, at least) was to spend a little bit of time reading or playing video games with his son, Tad. However, that wasn’t a possibility tonight. The boy was spending a few weeks with his maternal grandparents in Maine, which meant that Paul had the house to himself.

Once upon a time, Paul had liked living by himself. He loved the stillness and emptiness of his New York apartment. It was soothing after a day spent in the bustle and crash of a professional kitchen. Now, although he took a little comfort from the lived-in clutter of his house, the stillness was unnerving. He turned on the TV for noise as he peeled out of his chef whites and crawled into the shower before collapsing in bed.

He closed his eyes- but knew after only a few moments that sleep wasn’t going to come. He groaned and looked at the clock on his bedside table. It was only midnight. There was still another two hours before Bridget’s plane was set to touch down.

Paul told himself that he was being silly. He should get some rest and leave his wife be. After all, she was a big girl. She had gotten through the first twenty five years of her life without him and managed perfectly well. She was going to be able to maneuver the airport perfectly well. There wouldn’t be any hold up at customs…would there? Paul frowned. He thought he’d read that Irish people didn’t like the English very much. What if Bridget was hassled by the immigrations officers?

That worry kept Paul anxious until nearly one. After he dismissed it, he thought of something new to fret about. He had hired a car to take Bridget from Shannon airport to her hotel, Ashford Castle in Cong. What if the car didn’t show up, as ordered? Bridget would be marooned!

It was early in Ireland (barely six A.M.) but he managed to finally get someone from the limo company on the line. They assured him that the car would be ready, as planned. Since he was already awake, Paul double checked Bridget’s reservations (upgrading her from a standard room to a stateroom (the suites were all booked for the wedding) because, while he found it sweet and reassuring how Bridget hated spending his money (and she didn’t really have any of his own, now that they had both decided it was a bit unseemly for him to continue paying her as his nanny when she was also his wife), what was the point of staying at a castle if you weren’t going to live like a princess? He’d be damned if Bridget would be crammed into a tiny little view-less attic shoebox while her vile sister, Claudia would undoubtedly be living it up like a queen.

Claudia, the mere mention of his sister-in-law’s name made his lips twist into a smirk. He didn’t exactly fare well in the sister-in-law stakes. His brother Jack’s first wife, Meredith, was a world class bitch- but Claudia gave the girl a run for her money. Bridget’s older sister never seemed to miss an opportunity to belittle her sibling. He absolutely loved how it had crushed the other women when (despite her sister-ly predictions that Bridget was too fat and horrible to ever attract a husband), Bridget was married to him while Claudia was left an old maid! Maybe it was a good thing that he hadn’t gone to Ireland? If Claudia started on Bridget again, Paul didn’t really trust himself not to punch the other girl in the face!

It was nearly 2 AM by the time Paul finished double-checking all of Bridget’s arrangements. There were only a few more moments until Bridget’s plane was meant to land. He tracked its final progress on the airline website, breathed a sigh of relief at the notification that it had touched down- and then began dialing Bridget’s phone. He was on his seventh dial when it finally rang through.

“Hello?” she said, sounding tired and so far away that it tore at his heart.

“Hey, beautiful,” he purred back down the line. “You made it! Did you have a nice flilght?”

“Paul!” she said, sounding happy but exhausted. “Yes. It was lovely- but I didn’t really manage to sleep. I can’t wait until I get to the hotel!”

“How long will that take?” Paul asked, although he already knew the answer.

“Uhm…two or three hours, I imagine,” Bridget said, unhappily, “It depends on how long things take to tie up here…”

Paul told her that he had checked on the car and hotel (although he was mum about the upgrade), and kept her on the phone until she was forced to switch it off again in the arrivals hall.  It was a wrench to say goodbye. At least the sound of her voice had left him reassured. It was after three a.m., but he finally managed to drift off into sleep.

In Ireland, Bridget wished, almost as strongly as her husband, that she was curled up in bed at his side. Her seatmate snored! The entire trip across the ocean she had been forced to listen to the disgusting sound. She hadn’t managed so much as a catnap the entire time. She felt practically dead on her feet!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any time to go to sleep now. She had to make her way through arrivals (contrary to her husband’s fears, the process couldn’t have been easier. With a flash of her E.U. passport, she was waved through the checkpoint. All of her luggage arrived (on time, in one piece!) and she headed out to the curb, grateful for her husband’s thoughtfulness when she saw a uniformed chauffer bearing a sign that said “Devoe”.

She still hadn’t gotten used to travelling like a star (and still felt a bit like an imposter!), but she was still grateful for the experience as she sank into the soft leather upholstery of car and let the driver deal with her luggage. She only intended to close her eyes for a moment, but when she opened them, she was in the Irish countryside, rolling past field after field of vibrant green.

It wasn’t raining, although low-clouds hinted that wouldn’t last for long. Still the backdrop looked perfect when they drove past a high stone wall and the castle came into view.

Bridget had been raised in England. Castles were hardly beyond her realm of experience- but the sight of Ashford, all weathered stone set against the backdrop of the lake- still made her catch her breath. It was the perfect place for a wedding (not that her own wedding at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York hadn’t been just as beautiful as she expected her cousin’s to be) and she couldn’t wait to get out and to explore.

The limo pulled up to the front door. Bridget reached for the door handle but was too slow. The driver rushed around to open it and to help her out. He shooed her inside the building while he lingered to pass off her luggage to the bellhop.

“Mrs. Devoe!” the young woman at the reception desk smiled and welcomed her into a chair. “We’ve been on the phone with your husband this morning!”

Bridget smiled and nodded. She already knew that Paul had double-checked her reservation. Apparently, that wasn’t all that he’d been up to.

“We have a lovely stateroom for you,” the women informed her, passing over a heavy key. “And you’re all booked in the spa this afternoon.”

“But-!” Bridget protested. She had reserved one of the standard rooms on the third floor. She didn’t need anything extravagant while she was travelling alone- and she certainly hadn’t intended to avail herself of the spa! She told the receptionist, who let slip that Mr. Devoe had ordered a few tweaks.

“Your husband is very thoughtful,” the woman observed with a bemused smile.

Bridget nodded. She certainly wouldn’t disagree!

Still, she was too sleepy to really let the changes sink in. She would be grateful for any bed right now- even if it was in a broom closet! She passed on the offer for a quick tour around the facilities and asked to be shown to her room.

It really was fabulous. In addition to a massive four-poster bed, there was a sitting area furnished in antiques and a bottle of complimentary sherry on the mantle. The bathroom was almost more amazing than the room itself! It had cathedral ceilings! Slipping off her shoes (to change into the complimentary slippers), she was astounded by the heated floor.

“Will everything be okay then, Miss?” her guide answered. Bridget nodded her head. Then, she dismissed the woman with a tip. She stayed awake just long enough to collect her luggage from the porter, and then collapsed onto the mattress.

It felt like heaven: soft and deep. There was only one thing missing that would make it perfect: Paul.

Bridget’s sleep was restorative, but shamefully brief. She felt like she had barely closed her eyes at all when she was awakened by the ringing of her mobile.

Paul..” she muttered under her breath, with just a hint of annoyance. Honestly, if he was going to call her twenty-four hours a day, he may as well have come along! Still, she forced her voice to remain sweet when she picked up the phone, “Hello?”

“BRIDGET! There you are! Are you at the hotel? They wouldn’t tell us. I thought you were coming in this morning. What happened, were you late?!?”

“Mom…” Bridget answered weakly, wishing feverently that it actually had  been her husband calling her yet again.

“Well,” the older woman pressed, brusquely. “Have you made it?”

“Yes,” Bridget answered, sitting up quickly, afraid to slouch in front of her mother even when no one could see her. “I got in a little past nine o’clock.”

“You weren’t sleeping?!?” Mrs. Parker said, obviously appalled, “Good, God, Bridget! It’s the middle of the day…”

“I couldn’t sleep on the plane…” Bridget offered, weakly, well-aware that her mother wasn’t paying her any attention- and wouldn’t care about the predicament even if she had.  Mrs. Parker didn’t believe in jetlag. As far as she was concerned, lying in bed at noon- unless one was on the very cusp of death- was inexcusable laziness, a trait which she was more than willing to attach to her youngest child.

“Well, get up, girl!” Mrs. Parker barked, rather nastily, “We’re all meeting for lunch in the dining room…although, I suppose there’s no reason for you to rush. You can have fruit or something if you don’t make it. God knows you could still stand to miss a meal!”

Bridget swallowed, hard, trying to ignore her mother’s barbed remark. Despite the fact that Bridget had slimmed down quite a lot over the past few years, it was never enough to satisfy her reed-thin mother.

“I’ll get downstairs as soon as I can,” Bridget said quietly. She suffered through a few more last-minute instructions, and then switched off the phone.

It took a moment before Bridget felt calm enough to get out of bed. Hearing from her mother always left her unsettled- it was one of the reasons that she had originally left England to take a nanny-job half a world away. She didn’t have any clue how she was going to survive a full two weeks with her family, but she supposed that she was going to have to find out. She took a deep breath- and then stood up to get ready. Despite her mother’s cruel observation, Bridget certainly could not bear to skip another meal. Dinner on the plane the night before was inedibly bad, and she hadn’t snatched any breakfast that morning. She was famished, and so she wanted to hurry through her toilette.

Bridget wished that she had time for a shower. She felt grotty from travel and sleep, but a glance at the clock told her that would be quite impossible. She changed her clothes (into a smart little designer suit that Paul had bought her for a present the last time they flew back to New York), pinned back her hair, and then hurried out the door.

Bridget?!?

Once again, Mrs. Parker’s voice had the effect of making Bridget cringe. She could almost read her mother’s thoughts: what was she doing practically running through the halls? She slowed to a more dignified pace and lifted her chin. “Mother….and daddy,” she nodded her chin at her parents, and then mouthed hello to a few more relatives that she recognized. Her sister was notably absent.

“What on earth  were you doing coming from that wing?” Mrs. Parker said, frowning. “That’s where all the suites are. I thought your room was upstairs!”

“Paul switched it for me…” Bridget admitted, feeling a strange mix of pride and shame. She knew that her parents were, undoubtedly, green with envy that she had such an impressive room. At the same time, she could almost sense what was coming next.

“A suite?!? Just for you?” The tone implied that Bridget was far from worthy of such an extravagance. “Is he actually going to join you later, or just trying to buy you off?”

Bridget was honestly too stung by the remark to reply. Paul wasn’t trying to buy her off! He was simply being thoughtful! She said as much, earning only an obnoxiously knowing smile from her mother, who announced that she was famished and herded them all in to the restaurant.

The maitre’d led them to a table. A pair of missing seats, directly to Bridget’s left, caused her to remark on her sister’s absence.

“Oh…Claudia is around,” Mrs. Parker said, with a strange look flitting across her face. “She and her beau were sleeping in, I imagine. They arrived here last night, you know.”

“Claudia’s beau?” Bridget repeated, slowly. She didn’t know that her sister had a new boyfriend- at least, not one that was serious. That was Bridget’s one consolation. She had never been the prettier sister, and never attracted a fraction of the male attention that Claudia managed, but when she did capture a man’s attention, she generally held it. Most of her relationships were long term- whereas Claudia, pretty as she was, seldom landed a second date.

“Well, fiancé, practically,” Mrs. Parker said in an oily tone. “He hasn’t asked her yet, officially, but it’s a matter of time. They’ve looked at rings, and Claudia is talking about a wedding in Mallorca this September. I thought you already knew. Didn’t your sister tell you? She’s been giddy now for months.

“No,” Bridget answered firmly. She almost never spoke to her sister.  Claudia could have been married six times and Bridget would not have known. Surely her mother knew that. The Parker sisters were very far from what one might call “close”.

“Oh…well, I’m sure they’ll be down soon enough.”

“What’s this one like?” Bridget said as she glanced over a lunch menu, trying not to think about how delicious everything looked. She’d have the salad. She always did when her mother was around.

“Oh…well…same as ever, I suppose- but with a better job now. He’s been promoted quite a few times now.”

“Mmmmmm,” Bridget murmured, not really listening to what her mother had to say. She already had a good idea of the sort of man her sister would want to marry: someone old and rich. It was unspoken, but rather obvious, that Claudia had made it her mission in life to outdo Bridget in the husband stakes. She wouldn’t get the proper sense of triumph over her sister if she bagged anything less than another millionaire.

Bridget ordered her salad, and ice water, and set about resisting the bread basket as her mother chattered on about the rest of the family, while her father kept his nose buried in the London Times. Most of the wedding party was arriving that day, and Bridget was looking forward to catching up with a lot of the people that her mother was talking about.

“It’s a shame that Mr. Devoe isn’t here to meet everyone,” Mrs. Slater mused, “I don’t think more than half of the family even believes that he’s real!” she twittered, heavily implying that she still found it rather difficult to comprehend that Bridget had landed such a prize.

Bridget didn’t smile. She took a sip of her water and looked away- and then groaned when she saw that things were about to get worse. Her sister, Claudia, had just stepped through the doorway- well, stumbled was more like it. She was hanging so heavily off of the man that accompanied her that she was barely moving by the power of her own feet.

Bridget rolled her eyes as her sister continued peppering kisses all over the man’s face- heedless for the other diners. Somehow, she managed the feat while still moving forward. The couple was only ten feet away when they finally broke apart and Bridget was able to see her new Brother-in-Law to be for the very first time.

She gasped and did a double take.

“Bridget!” The man said in a warm, but embarrassed tone.

She scarcely trusted her tongue to try and form words. The shock was that extreme. It was a miracle when she heard herself stutter: “R-Richard?”

Claudia was with Bridget’s ex-fiance!

Bridget was glad that she had limited herself to tiny, lady-like bites of her salad. If her mouth had actually been full of food when she first laid eyes on Claudia and Richard she would have either choked or spit it out. As it was, she sputtered. Her eyes fairly bulged out of her head as she stared, speechlessly toward her sister and former lover.

If anyone noticed her odd expression, they didn’t remark on it. Bridget felt as if she was having an out-of-body experience as her former lover bent forward and dabbed a kiss on her cheeks.

“Look at you! Same old Bridget!” he said, cheerfully- although, surely he knew how deeply his words were cutting? Surely he remembered that ‘same old Bridget’ was the woman that he had left in her blackest hour? She could scarcely believe that he had the gall to address her at all- much less as if they were all old friends!

A glance at Claudia assured Bridget that, regardless of whether Richard were truly as clueless as he seemed, Bridget’s sister knew exactly what she was doing. She was staring down at Bridget with a smug, oily smile that grew when Mrs. Parker spoke again.

“Yes, same old Bridget!” she said brightly. “It’s a shame that you didn’t see her when she first got married. She had lost so much weight! You wouldn’t have recognized her!”

Bridget’s fingers curled white-knuckled around her fork. She had only gained back half of the weight she had lost! That was a stellar accomplishment for someone married to a world-class chef.

Luckily, Bridget’s family didn’t want to spend the entire luncheon torturing her. After a few more moments of discussing how much fatter Bridget was now than when she had gotten married (and making snide remarks about her absent husband, “I honestly don’t know how she expects to keep a man like that interested anyhow if she isn’t going to look after herself!”, “Well, at least she’ll get some money out of it when he looks for greener pastures. I looked over the pre-nup myself. It’s ironclad. We aren’t going to be saddled with her, at least!”) they moved on to making Catty remarks about cousin Sara’s wedding.

“I have your dress upstairs in our room,” Claudia said, leaning heavily against Richard’s shoulder, “I do hope it fits…I’m afraid that I had to guess on the measurements.”

“I’m sure that it will be fine,” Bridget whispered, without raising her eyes to meet her sister’s face. She choked down a few more bites of her salad, sat in agony while the rest of her family savored their dessert (Bridget wouldn’t dare to have a sweet in front of her mother!), before she finally managed to break away.

Bridget’s one consolation was the murmurs of surprise/jealousy from her family when she broke apart to go toward the suites (thank God for Paul’s meddling!). She walked until she was out of view. Then, whether it was childish or not, she broke into a run. Tears were streaming out of her eyes by the time that she reached her room.

Bridget’s fingers were shaking almost too badly to undo the lock. She had just managed it when, from inside her handbag, she heard her cellphone ringing again.

She flipped it open on auto-pilot- although her greeting was barely audible over the sound of her sobbing.

“H-hello!” she sniffled.

There was a beat of silence, and then, “BRIDGET?! God, what’s wrong!?!”

“PAUL!” Bridget spoke his name with a rush of relief. He was the only person that she could bear to hear her carry on- the only person who might understand.

“What is it, baby?” he said, sounding sick with worry, “What’s happened?!”

“N-nothing,” Bridget stuttered, and then , she wasn’t able to hold it in anymore. “Y-you were right!” she moaned, “I shouldn’t have come! My family is so awful!” she took another shuddering breath, and then let go, recounting every barb and spilling every story to her astonished husband’s ears. The only thing that she left out was Richard. She didn’t think her husband would appreciate hearing about her ex-fiancé- and she hadn’t quite figured out how she felt about it yet, anyhow.

“I want you to come home!” Paul said, gruffly when Bridget had finished.

She sniffed, but shook her head. “I can’t!”

Bridget!” he said, his tone now pleading. “Those people are monsters. They don’t deserve to have you there. I’ll have a car there to pick you up in an hour and a first class ticket back to L.A. tonight!”

“No!” Bridget said, a little stronger. “I can’t Paul. I can’t let them win! That would be so humiliating!”

Would be humiliating?” he said, sounding genuinely baffled.

“I just…can’t,” Bridget said, unable to explain to him why she couldn’t give up- why she couldn’t stop believing that someday she was going to show them all how far she had come. She wouldn’t give Claudia the satisfaction of running her off-even if seeing Claudia and Richard together was like stabbing a knife through her heart.

“Bridge!” Paul said, sounding very sad and upset. “I wish I was there with you!”

“I wish that you were here too!” Bridget sniffled- and let slip her mother’s prediction that Paul was tiring of her and that was why he hadn’t come along.

“Baby! You know that isn’t true! The restaurant-!”

“I know. The restaurant,” she cut him off in a clipped tone and clenched her eyes tightly. She took a few steadying breaths, and then glanced at the clock. “I should get off the phone. I’m sure we’ve spent a fortune.”

“We’ll make another one,” Paul growled, but Bridget wouldn’t be persuaded to stay on the phone. Now that she was all cried out, she was feeling foolish and tired. She figured that she might as well have another nap and take some time on her appearance for dinner before she let her mother have round 2.

“Goodbye, Paul…you’ll…you’ll call me tomorrow.”

“Of course,” He said warmly, before adding, “I love you, Bridget.”

“I know.”

“No. I still don’t think you do,” Paul said, suddenly very serious. “I worry that you still believe the crap those people (he could never bring himself to refer to the Parkers as Bridget’s parents) tell you-that you aren’t worthy of being loved. You’re exquisite. The most beautiful, unique, brilliant, gripping, dazzling woman that I’ve ever met. Anyone who says anything else is a fool or a liar- probably both! ”

“Oh, Paul!” Bridget sighed, feeling much better than she had a moment before.

“You wouldn’t let them put down my food?”

“Never!”

“Then don’t let them trash talk my Bridget!” he said firmly, earning a tiny giggle from his wife. “Seriously, baby. You’re a hundred times more precious to me. I can’t bear to think of you so sad and far away.”

“Well, I miss you.”

“I miss you too…”

They said goodbye again, and Bridget forced herself to hang up the phone. She didn’t feel perfect but, at least, it was better than before. As long as she knew that Paul was waiting for her, she thought that she could face anything that her family had to offer…although, she hoped that she wasn’t tempting fate!

..ooOOoo..

“UN-FUCKING-BELIEVABLE!” Paul hissed to his empty house as he hung up the phone. “THOSE WORTHLESS CUNTS. THOSE DUMB FUCKS!” he ranted to himself for a solid five minutes before he managed to calm down. Paul was careful not to let his wife see the extent of his anger- but it wasn’t possible to keep his almost-volcanic rage trapped inside. He was well aware that plenty of people didn’t particularly like their in-laws, but he would be hard-pressed to find another set of people that he DESPISED with such utter passion. As far as Paul was concerned, Bridget’s family didn’t deserve to live. It seemed impossible to believe that his sweet, perfect wife had been born from such hideous people!

They treated her like total shit- like something worse than shit, if that were possible.

Then again, he was forced to acknowledge, here lately, he wasn’t doing much better himself.

She sounded so lonely on the phone! She obviously needed him so much- but he had remained behind, determined to babysit foie gras while he left his wife on the hot plate half a world away.

He didn’t know how to defend his actions. The only excuse he could muster was simply that he hadn’t expected her to really go. He kept expecting her to back out if he refused to come- but she had gone, and she claimed that she wasn’t returning. That only left one real choice.

“Jean-Baptiste?” Paul said, getting his maitre’d on the phone (in some restaurants, the maitre’d managed the restaurant floor. As far as Paul was concerned, the man was his personal slave, “I need you to book me a ticket to Ireland.”

“Ireland?”

“Shannon or Dublin- whichever flight leaves sooner, and I’ll need a car…I want to go today.”

..ooOOoo..

Paul loved Bridget.

If he ever doubted it before, he realized it when he found himself, ten hours later (with three hours sleep the night before), half-way across the ocean, squashed in the middle of a row in coach.

Paul hated kids (at least, kids who weren’t Tad).

That fact was also indisputable, thanks to the stinky, slobbery, SCREECHING pair of twins whose mother was sitting beside them. They hadn’t let up from the second that the plane took off. When one of them settled down, the other started off. The mother tried fussing with them for a while. After three hours, even she had given up. Somehow, despite the abdominal racket, she managed to get to sleep.

“Would you like the chicken or the lamb?”

Paul looked up as the gruff, ancient-looking stewardess leaned over the twins to offer his entrée selection.

“Lamb?” Paul said, screwing his face up in horror. He loved a nicely prepared rack of lamb…but somehow he guessed that wasn’t what was on offer.

Unfortunately, the stewardess failed to note his tone. She slapped a plastic tray full of lumpy brown goo in front of him.

“Nice service…” Paul muttered under his breath. She should give lessons to Jean-Baptiste.

He knew better than to attempt to taste his dinner, but his curiosity got the better of his common sense. He peeled back the cellophane, stabbed his plastic fork into something that looked like it might be meat, and then popped it into his mouth…

…and almost retched.

He had never been so grateful for the air-sick bag!

FUCK ME!” he hissed under his breath, ignoring the dirty look that he got from his seatmates. He was so glad that he wasn’t poor! He couldn’t imagine eating garbage like this every time that he had to fly!

Paul shoved the tray away and tried to ignore the fact that he hadn’t eaten anything since the croissant that he’d had for breakfast- but his stomach wouldn’t play along. He wasn’t the type who liked to skip meals, and so it was only a few minutes before he cracked. He scavenged the salad and roll out of his dinner (nothing memorable, but not really bad) choked down a chalky-tasting brownie, and finished off with a very strange piece of squishy yellow cheese before flagging down the waitress and buying enough miniature bottles of booze to last the rest of the flight.

Unfortunately, the drink didn’t help. It only made him thirsty. Dehydration made him even more tired than he’d been before. By the time that he got to Shannon, he was dead on his feet- but there was still miles to go before he reached the castle.

Thankfully, JB had been able to secure a limo- the same one that had taken Bridget the day before. At least he didn’t have to share that ride with a pair of squalling babies. He snuggled down into the premium leather seats and was almost asleep when the car pulled to a stop.

“Finally!” Paul slurred (booze and exhaustion were taking their toll). He tossed a few Euros at the driver and then staggered into the hotel. “Paul Devoe,” he said firmly to the lady at the desk. She opened her mouth- no doubt to tell him that she had no such reservation, but he cut her off. “It’s in the name of my wife, Bridget- you spoke to me on the phone yesterday morning. We did the upgrade to a Stateroom suite?”

The girl behind the desk hesitated, no doubt recalling the hotel policy to never ever confirm guests to someone who wasn’t on the books, but Paul projected such an air of confidence that she finally gave in.

“Of course, Sir,” she said timidly, reaching behind the counter, “That’s room 203. Would you like another key?”

Paul grabbed the key, grateful that something had gone easily, and then accepted directions to the room (he was in no fucking mood for a tour!). His body felt like a clockwork toy winding down as he came closer and closer to the end of the hallway (the room was the last on the left). Hopefully, Bridget wouldn’t object to letting him have a nap (ideally, she would join him!). Relief was only 50 yards away…thirty….twenty….ten….

Paul moaned in relief as he opened the lock and wrenched the handle. He flung open the door to find…

“BRIDGET?!?”

Paul blinked, hoping that the sight that met his eyes when he first flung open the door was a hallucination, but terrible certain that it was not.

Bridget was standing in the center of the room, tugging at her hair, her eyes nearly swollen shut from crying and gasping for breath through her sobs. She blinked at Paul in disbelief- but it didn’t staunch her wailing.

Paul rushed forward.

“Baby? What’s wrong?!?” he demanded, tugging her into his arms.

There was a sound of ripping fabric.

Bridget started crying harder and tried to wriggle free- making the tearing sounds worse.

Getting the hint that she wanted free, Paul dropped his arms to his side. Bridget turned toward a mirror  that hung on the wall, surveyed her appearance, and then sank down into the floor.

“Baby?”

“It’s ruined!” she choked.

At first, Paul didn’t know what she meant. After a moment’s careful consideration, he figured it out.

Bridget was wearing a blue chiffon dress that he had never seen before.

Well, she was kind of wearing it. The zipper in the back hadn’t closed any further than her waist. It hung gaping in the back- and the seams down the sides had split, so that little patches of Bridget’s creamy flesh bulged out.

It was obviously vastly too small. He wondered why on earth she had tried to squeeze into something so tiny.

Then, it twigged. This had to be her bridesmaids dress.

Fuck…”  Paul muttered under his breath as the pieces fell into place. The whole point of Bridget’s coming to Ireland had been to stand up in her cousin’s wedding. She had sent her measurements to her sister months ago to order the dress. Paul didn’t think that Bridget had gained any weight since then (not that he would have minded). He didn’t know what had gone wrong…unless. “Dumb cunt!” he growled, also inaudibly, as he worked out the final clue.

Paul felt fury bubbling up in his gut. The surge of angry adrenaline was overriding his tiredness. He stalked toward his wife again and tugged her up off of the floor.

“Claudia did this.”

“No!” Bridget squeaked, “I must have made a mistake when I-!”

“No!” Paul growled. “There wasn’t any mistake.”

Bridget gulped- but she didn’t try to deny him. She blinked rapidly, and a few more crystal tears fluttered onto her cheek.

Paul frowned, and then took a deep breath, trying to reign in his anger and offer his wife the tenderness that she so obviously needed.

“I’ll fix it.”

“Fix it?” Bridget laughed, bitterly. She looked in the mirror again and bit her lip. “No…” she rasped. “There isn’t any way. I…I looked at the seams…”

NOTE:  These snippets are provided as a little bonus to my readers. Keep in mind that they have not been subjected to the same editing process as published works. There may be typos, rough language (Paul, for example, liked swearing a LOT more in my draft than my editor would allow!), sex scenes and unsatisfying/abrupt endings. That said, I hope you enjoy taking a peek at the stories that otherwise exist only in my mind, like this look at Bridget’s sister’s wedding.

 

“…Bridget?!?!”

Bridget Devoe’s lips curved into a smile that was half-pleased and half-exasperated as she answered her cell phone. She cradled the handset to her ear and shot an apologetic look toward the man who was sitting next to her in British Airways First Class.  They hadn’t been instructed to turn off their mobiles yet. The plane was still boarding- but this was the third call she’d received so far.

“Yes, darling?” she spoke into the receiver in a cheerful, patient voice that was in stark contrast to the caller- her husband Paul’s- agitated tone.

Have you taken off yet?”

“Not quite yet. I’ve just boarded.”

“Good!”

“Was there something that you needed?”

“Yes! I just remembered! I don’t have a key to that closet in the cellar!”

“Paul!” Bridget’s eyes rolled heavenward, even as her smile blossomed, “That’s where I put our winter clothes. You won’t have any reason to-!”

“But…what if there’s something that I’ve forgotten? Something that I need. You’re going to be all the way in Ireland!” This last bit was spoken with a hint of bitterness, “What am I going to do?!?”

“All of the keys are on the hooks in the pantry,” Bridget answered calmly. “They’re labeled. You shouldn’t have any trouble at all.”

“But what if I can’t find it?!?” Paul demanded, his voice sounding rough and vaguely panicked. “What if it isn’t there? Maybe you should wait until…”

“You could just call a locksmith, Paul,” Bridget said firmly, “Or chop down the door if it was that important- or just wait. I am going to be home in two weeks, dearest. It isn’t that long.”

“Not long for you!” Paul grumbled- and Bridget’s smile returned. This was the seventh time that her husband had called her since they parted at the security gate an hour before. He kept remembering “crises” that would prevent her from going away. Of course, none of the things that he had thought of were real problems. It would have been incredibly irritating, if not for how terribly obvious it was that Paul simply didn’t want her to go.

“I’m sure that the time will fly past,” Bridget appeased her husband in a cooing whisper. “You have that cooking demonstration at Mondavi that you were going to put on? And you wanted some time to work on the new cookbook…”

“I just have a bad feeling about this,” Paul muttered back, sounding like a pouty child. “I think that you should stay!”

“We’ve talked about that, darling,” Bridget said with a little sigh. “I know that you want me back at home- but it’s my only cousin’s wedding. She asked me to be a bridesmaid when we were both eleven! I can’t very well skip out!”

“She didn’t come to our wedding!” Paul fired back- only to be shot down.

“Yes, she did, ,darling,” Bridget reminded him. “She’s the girl standing next to Dixie in all the photos- as you well know– We’ve been planning this for ages.”

“Well, I don’t like it!” Was all he could reply to that.

“It’s not too late to come along!”

“Miss?”

Bridget looked up, frowning to see that she was being addressed by the stewardess. Caught up in her conversation, she hadn’t noticed that the flight door was closed.

“We’re taking off now, Paul,” Bridget told her husband, “I’m sorry, but I have to go!”

“But-!” Paul yelped, sounding truly anxious- but there wasn’t time for him to think up a new reason for his wife to stay.

“I love you, darling!” she said warmly, “I’m going to miss you a lot! I’ll call when I land at Shannon! Goodbye!”

She switched off the receiver before he managed his own reply.

Meanwhile, in the airport parking garage, Paul was left to stare at his quiet phone.

“Goodbye,” he said in a mournful whisper. He could scarcely believe it! Bridget had really gone!

..ooOOoo..

“And what would you like for dinner Miss…Mrs…Devoe, is it?”

Bridget smiled up at the stewardess standing at the end of her row. They had been airborne for an hour now. The map on her viewscreen showed that she was somewhere over Utah. It was time to put her dinner order in.

She referred to the menu that she had been given, trying to fight down an urge to smile. The airline was featuring their special “chefs menu” created by Eric Sloane- a cook who once worked for Paul (although he had been let go due to a disagreement about quality standards. Bridget assumed her husband would be amused that Sloane was now whipping up airplane food!). She skimmed the list again, faintly irritated with herself for how difficult it was to choose. A mere five years ago, she would have been delighted with anything on the list (a mere five years ago she would have been ecstatic simply to be sitting in first class. They could feed her crackers if they wanted!), but life with a five star chef had refined her palate. She couldn’t say that seared Chilean seabass on a bed of pomegranate risotto sounded like a very good idea at 40,000 feet.

“I’ll just have…the salad,” she said at last, “And the steak.”

“Of course,” the stewardess said, and then scurried away to warm the order up.

Bridget leaned back in her chair and stared out the window as she waited for her food. Her thoughts returned again to her husband. She wondered if he had tried to call her cell phone again? She was almost willing to bet that he had. Dear, silly Paul! She had never known him to act so…well, clingy. It was almost bizarre! For most of their married life, Bridget’s complaint had been that her husband was too distant and self-absorbed! She couldn’t count the number of times that he had climbed aboard an airplane, headed for parts unknown and not bothered to even tell her until he was gone!  In fairness, things had changed dramatically since they moved to California to take over the French Laundry restaurant. Paul practically worked next door now, and she saw him plenty of times throughout the day.  Paul had learned to rely on her a bit more as well.  Perhaps he relied on her too much? That certainly seemed possible- at least, it was if she judged by the panic that her trip had inspired, at least!

She wished that Paul simply would have joined her on the trip- and not just for his own peace of mind. Bridget knew that her husband wasn’t coming because he loathed her family. She couldn’t say that she blamed him at all. The two times that they had met, her father, mother and sister had behaved abominably. They never missed an opportunity to put Bridget down or to express their disbelief that she could have “trapped” anyone as wonderful as Paul. Her husband couldn’t stand the way that they put her down. It was probably safer that he stayed at home. Still, she would miss having him at her side. She needed him to counter her family’s snarky comments and, of course, she simply liked keeping him around! On top of everything else, she felt rather self-conscious to arrive at her cousin’s wedding without a date. She had been to enough of these events to know that very few of the guests would fly solo. She expected to be marooned at a reception table with her great Aunt Charlotte, stuck hearing the medical history of every memory of their family throughout the night!

..ooOOoo..

“Service please!” Paul Devoe felt like he was working on auto-pilot that evening at his restaurant, the French Laundry, in Napa California. That was a really bad plan. As one of the premier restaurants in the world, quality control was everything. Usually, no one was more on top of the game than Chef Devoe…but tonight was a special exception. He nodded gratefully when his sous-chef caught a mistake that was just coming across the pass.

“You…er…feeling well, chef?” the younger man asked warily.

Paul admired his courage. On an ordinary night, he would have risked getting his head ripped off for making the comment but, again, this was not an ordinary night. “Sorry…getting distracted,” he admitted sheepishly. “I’m just wondering what time Bridge is going to make it to Ireland…I don’t really like sending her so far on her own.”

“She’ll be fine,” the sous assured him, and then returned to the business of cooking. Paul tried to follow his example, but he continued to find it more difficult than usual. He wondered what they were feeding Bridget on the plane- surely nothing adequate! He should have packed her a snack…and what if she was sitting next to someone horrible, and couldn’t fall asleep? Bridget needed a lot of sleep. She might make herself sick if she didn’t get enough- and what if there was something wrong with the plane?! Paul couldn’t bring himself to even contemplate the possibility of a crash. He wasn’t sure when or how it had happened, but at some point over the four and a half years of their marriage, Bridget had become more than simply a pleasant enhancement to his life. She was essential. He didn’t see how he was going to survive two weeks without her near, much less a lifetime!  Maybe she was right? Maybe he should have gone along? Bridget obviously wanted him to. She hadn’t ever outright asked him to accompany her to her cousin’s wedding in Ireland (if she had, he didn’t know that he would have been able to resist), but she had certainly dropped plenty of hints!

Of course, Paul had the restaurant to look after. That was what he told her (even if he wasn’t doing a very good job of minding it tonight!) , but he was shocking himself now by wondering if that was strictly true? In the years before Bridget and his son, Tad, came into his life, Paul’s idea of a “vacation” was heading home from work without being the last one there. His restaurants were open for dinner and lunch, seven days a week- and Paul was there for every moment. He resented taking a day off for Christmas! Now, however, things had changed. After nearly losing his wife, Paul had realized that he needed to balance his family and his career. Moving to California had been part of those efforts. The Laundry was so famous (and so mind-blowingly expensive!) that he didn’t need it open all the time. They had dinner service five nights per week, brunch on Sunday, and were closed for the month of July (although it was only May). Of course, when he wasn’t at the restaurant, Paul had his other ventures (he still had Bridges Restaurant back in New York, and an interest in a bistro in London and a Chicago Hotel), his cookbooks, television appearances and guest lectures at culinary school. Still, it was a lot less than he used to juggle. He was still getting used to the concept of free time.

One of the things that he usually did when he got home from the restaurant (while school was out, at least) was to spend a little bit of time reading or playing video games with his son, Tad. However, that wasn’t a possibility tonight. The boy was spending a few weeks with his maternal grandparents in Maine, which meant that Paul had the house to himself.

Once upon a time, Paul had liked living by himself. He loved the stillness and emptiness of his New York apartment. It was soothing after a day spent in the bustle and crash of a professional kitchen. Now, although he took a little comfort from the lived-in clutter of his house, the stillness was unnerving. He turned on the TV for noise as he peeled out of his chef whites and crawled into the shower before collapsing in bed.

He closed his eyes- but knew after only a few moments that sleep wasn’t going to come. He groaned and looked at the clock on his bedside table. It was only midnight. There was still another two hours before Bridget’s plane was set to touch down.

Paul told himself that he was being silly. He should get some rest and leave his wife be. After all, she was a big girl. She had gotten through the first twenty five years of her life without him and managed perfectly well. She was going to be able to maneuver the airport perfectly well. There wouldn’t be any hold up at customs…would there? Paul frowned. He thought he’d read that Irish people didn’t like the English very much. What if Bridget was hassled by the immigrations officers?

That worry kept Paul anxious until nearly one. After he dismissed it, he thought of something new to fret about. He had hired a car to take Bridget from Shannon airport to her hotel, Ashford Castle in Cong. What if the car didn’t show up, as ordered? Bridget would be marooned!

It was early in Ireland (barely six A.M.) but he managed to finally get someone from the limo company on the line. They assured him that the car would be ready, as planned. Since he was already awake, Paul double checked Bridget’s reservations (upgrading her from a standard room to a stateroom (the suites were all booked for the wedding) because, while he found it sweet and reassuring how Bridget hated spending his money (and she didn’t really have any of his own, now that they had both decided it was a bit unseemly for him to continue paying her as his nanny when she was also his wife), what was the point of staying at a castle if you weren’t going to live like a princess? He’d be damned if Bridget would be crammed into a tiny little view-less attic shoebox while her vile sister, Claudia would undoubtedly be living it up like a queen.

Claudia, the mere mention of his sister-in-law’s name made his lips twist into a smirk. He didn’t exactly fare well in the sister-in-law stakes. His brother Jack’s first wife, Meredith, was a world class bitch- but Claudia gave the girl a run for her money. Bridget’s older sister never seemed to miss an opportunity to belittle her sibling. He absolutely loved how it had crushed the other women when (despite her sister-ly predictions that Bridget was too fat and horrible to ever attract a husband), Bridget was married to him while Claudia was left an old maid! Maybe it was a good thing that he hadn’t gone to Ireland? If Claudia started on Bridget again, Paul didn’t really trust himself not to punch the other girl in the face!

It was nearly 2 AM by the time Paul finished double-checking all of Bridget’s arrangements. There were only a few more moments until Bridget’s plane was meant to land. He tracked its final progress on the airline website, breathed a sigh of relief at the notification that it had touched down- and then began dialing Bridget’s phone. He was on his seventh dial when it finally rang through.

“Hello?” she said, sounding tired and so far away that it tore at his heart.

“Hey, beautiful,” he purred back down the line. “You made it! Did you have a nice flilght?”

“Paul!” she said, sounding happy but exhausted. “Yes. It was lovely- but I didn’t really manage to sleep. I can’t wait until I get to the hotel!”

“How long will that take?” Paul asked, although he already knew the answer.

“Uhm…two or three hours, I imagine,” Bridget said, unhappily, “It depends on how long things take to tie up here…”

Paul told her that he had checked on the car and hotel (although he was mum about the upgrade), and kept her on the phone until she was forced to switch it off again in the arrivals hall.  It was a wrench to say goodbye. At least the sound of her voice had left him reassured. It was after three a.m., but he finally managed to drift off into sleep.

In Ireland, Bridget wished, almost as strongly as her husband, that she was curled up in bed at his side. Her seatmate snored! The entire trip across the ocean she had been forced to listen to the disgusting sound. She hadn’t managed so much as a catnap the entire time. She felt practically dead on her feet!

Unfortunately, there wasn’t any time to go to sleep now. She had to make her way through arrivals (contrary to her husband’s fears, the process couldn’t have been easier. With a flash of her E.U. passport, she was waved through the checkpoint. All of her luggage arrived (on time, in one piece!) and she headed out to the curb, grateful for her husband’s thoughtfulness when she saw a uniformed chauffer bearing a sign that said “Devoe”.

She still hadn’t gotten used to travelling like a star (and still felt a bit like an imposter!), but she was still grateful for the experience as she sank into the soft leather upholstery of car and let the driver deal with her luggage. She only intended to close her eyes for a moment, but when she opened them, she was in the Irish countryside, rolling past field after field of vibrant green.

It wasn’t raining, although low-clouds hinted that wouldn’t last for long. Still the backdrop looked perfect when they drove past a high stone wall and the castle came into view.

Bridget had been raised in England. Castles were hardly beyond her realm of experience- but the sight of Ashford, all weathered stone set against the backdrop of the lake- still made her catch her breath. It was the perfect place for a wedding (not that her own wedding at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York hadn’t been just as beautiful as she expected her cousin’s to be) and she couldn’t wait to get out and to explore.

The limo pulled up to the front door. Bridget reached for the door handle but was too slow. The driver rushed around to open it and to help her out. He shooed her inside the building while he lingered to pass off her luggage to the bellhop.

“Mrs. Devoe!” the young woman at the reception desk smiled and welcomed her into a chair. “We’ve been on the phone with your husband this morning!”

Bridget smiled and nodded. She already knew that Paul had double-checked her reservation. Apparently, that wasn’t all that he’d been up to.

“We have a lovely stateroom for you,” the women informed her, passing over a heavy key. “And you’re all booked in the spa this afternoon.”

“But-!” Bridget protested. She had reserved one of the standard rooms on the third floor. She didn’t need anything extravagant while she was travelling alone- and she certainly hadn’t intended to avail herself of the spa! She told the receptionist, who let slip that Mr. Devoe had ordered a few tweaks.

“Your husband is very thoughtful,” the woman observed with a bemused smile.

Bridget nodded. She certainly wouldn’t disagree!

Still, she was too sleepy to really let the changes sink in. She would be grateful for any bed right now- even if it was in a broom closet! She passed on the offer for a quick tour around the facilities and asked to be shown to her room.

It really was fabulous. In addition to a massive four-poster bed, there was a sitting area furnished in antiques and a bottle of complimentary sherry on the mantle. The bathroom was almost more amazing than the room itself! It had cathedral ceilings! Slipping off her shoes (to change into the complimentary slippers), she was astounded by the heated floor.

“Will everything be okay then, Miss?” her guide answered. Bridget nodded her head. Then, she dismissed the woman with a tip. She stayed awake just long enough to collect her luggage from the porter, and then collapsed onto the mattress.

It felt like heaven: soft and deep. There was only one thing missing that would make it perfect: Paul.

Bridget’s sleep was restorative, but shamefully brief. She felt like she had barely closed her eyes at all when she was awakened by the ringing of her mobile.

Paul..” she muttered under her breath, with just a hint of annoyance. Honestly, if he was going to call her twenty-four hours a day, he may as well have come along! Still, she forced her voice to remain sweet when she picked up the phone, “Hello?”

“BRIDGET! There you are! Are you at the hotel? They wouldn’t tell us. I thought you were coming in this morning. What happened, were you late?!?”

“Mom…” Bridget answered weakly, wishing feverently that it actually had  been her husband calling her yet again.

“Well,” the older woman pressed, brusquely. “Have you made it?”

“Yes,” Bridget answered, sitting up quickly, afraid to slouch in front of her mother even when no one could see her. “I got in a little past nine o’clock.”

“You weren’t sleeping?!?” Mrs. Parker said, obviously appalled, “Good, God, Bridget! It’s the middle of the day…”

“I couldn’t sleep on the plane…” Bridget offered, weakly, well-aware that her mother wasn’t paying her any attention- and wouldn’t care about the predicament even if she had.  Mrs. Parker didn’t believe in jetlag. As far as she was concerned, lying in bed at noon- unless one was on the very cusp of death- was inexcusable laziness, a trait which she was more than willing to attach to her youngest child.

“Well, get up, girl!” Mrs. Parker barked, rather nastily, “We’re all meeting for lunch in the dining room…although, I suppose there’s no reason for you to rush. You can have fruit or something if you don’t make it. God knows you could still stand to miss a meal!”

Bridget swallowed, hard, trying to ignore her mother’s barbed remark. Despite the fact that Bridget had slimmed down quite a lot over the past few years, it was never enough to satisfy her reed-thin mother.

“I’ll get downstairs as soon as I can,” Bridget said quietly. She suffered through a few more last-minute instructions, and then switched off the phone.

It took a moment before Bridget felt calm enough to get out of bed. Hearing from her mother always left her unsettled- it was one of the reasons that she had originally left England to take a nanny-job half a world away. She didn’t have any clue how she was going to survive a full two weeks with her family, but she supposed that she was going to have to find out. She took a deep breath- and then stood up to get ready. Despite her mother’s cruel observation, Bridget certainly could not bear to skip another meal. Dinner on the plane the night before was inedibly bad, and she hadn’t snatched any breakfast that morning. She was famished, and so she wanted to hurry through her toilette.

Bridget wished that she had time for a shower. She felt grotty from travel and sleep, but a glance at the clock told her that would be quite impossible. She changed her clothes (into a smart little designer suit that Paul had bought her for a present the last time they flew back to New York), pinned back her hair, and then hurried out the door.

Bridget?!?

Once again, Mrs. Parker’s voice had the effect of making Bridget cringe. She could almost read her mother’s thoughts: what was she doing practically running through the halls? She slowed to a more dignified pace and lifted her chin. “Mother….and daddy,” she nodded her chin at her parents, and then mouthed hello to a few more relatives that she recognized. Her sister was notably absent.

“What on earth  were you doing coming from that wing?” Mrs. Parker said, frowning. “That’s where all the suites are. I thought your room was upstairs!”

“Paul switched it for me…” Bridget admitted, feeling a strange mix of pride and shame. She knew that her parents were, undoubtedly, green with envy that she had such an impressive room. At the same time, she could almost sense what was coming next.

“A suite?!? Just for you?” The tone implied that Bridget was far from worthy of such an extravagance. “Is he actually going to join you later, or just trying to buy you off?”

Bridget was honestly too stung by the remark to reply. Paul wasn’t trying to buy her off! He was simply being thoughtful! She said as much, earning only an obnoxiously knowing smile from her mother, who announced that she was famished and herded them all in to the restaurant.

The maitre’d led them to a table. A pair of missing seats, directly to Bridget’s left, caused her to remark on her sister’s absence.

“Oh…Claudia is around,” Mrs. Parker said, with a strange look flitting across her face. “She and her beau were sleeping in, I imagine. They arrived here last night, you know.”

“Claudia’s beau?” Bridget repeated, slowly. She didn’t know that her sister had a new boyfriend- at least, not one that was serious. That was Bridget’s one consolation. She had never been the prettier sister, and never attracted a fraction of the male attention that Claudia managed, but when she did capture a man’s attention, she generally held it. Most of her relationships were long term- whereas Claudia, pretty as she was, seldom landed a second date.

“Well, fiancé, practically,” Mrs. Parker said in an oily tone. “He hasn’t asked her yet, officially, but it’s a matter of time. They’ve looked at rings, and Claudia is talking about a wedding in Mallorca this September. I thought you already knew. Didn’t your sister tell you? She’s been giddy now for months.

“No,” Bridget answered firmly. She almost never spoke to her sister.  Claudia could have been married six times and Bridget would not have known. Surely her mother knew that. The Parker sisters were very far from what one might call “close”.

“Oh…well, I’m sure they’ll be down soon enough.”

“What’s this one like?” Bridget said as she glanced over a lunch menu, trying not to think about how delicious everything looked. She’d have the salad. She always did when her mother was around.

“Oh…well…same as ever, I suppose- but with a better job now. He’s been promoted quite a few times now.”

“Mmmmmm,” Bridget murmured, not really listening to what her mother had to say. She already had a good idea of the sort of man her sister would want to marry: someone old and rich. It was unspoken, but rather obvious, that Claudia had made it her mission in life to outdo Bridget in the husband stakes. She wouldn’t get the proper sense of triumph over her sister if she bagged anything less than another millionaire.

Bridget ordered her salad, and ice water, and set about resisting the bread basket as her mother chattered on about the rest of the family, while her father kept his nose buried in the London Times. Most of the wedding party was arriving that day, and Bridget was looking forward to catching up with a lot of the people that her mother was talking about.

“It’s a shame that Mr. Devoe isn’t here to meet everyone,” Mrs. Slater mused, “I don’t think more than half of the family even believes that he’s real!” she twittered, heavily implying that she still found it rather difficult to comprehend that Bridget had landed such a prize.

Bridget didn’t smile. She took a sip of her water and looked away- and then groaned when she saw that things were about to get worse. Her sister, Claudia, had just stepped through the doorway- well, stumbled was more like it. She was hanging so heavily off of the man that accompanied her that she was barely moving by the power of her own feet.

Bridget rolled her eyes as her sister continued peppering kisses all over the man’s face- heedless for the other diners. Somehow, she managed the feat while still moving forward. The couple was only ten feet away when they finally broke apart and Bridget was able to see her new Brother-in-Law to be for the very first time.

She gasped and did a double take.

“Bridget!” The man said in a warm, but embarrassed tone.

She scarcely trusted her tongue to try and form words. The shock was that extreme. It was a miracle when she heard herself stutter: “R-Richard?”

Claudia was with Bridget’s ex-fiance!

Bridget was glad that she had limited herself to tiny, lady-like bites of her salad. If her mouth had actually been full of food when she first laid eyes on Claudia and Richard she would have either choked or spit it out. As it was, she sputtered. Her eyes fairly bulged out of her head as she stared, speechlessly toward her sister and former lover.

If anyone noticed her odd expression, they didn’t remark on it. Bridget felt as if she was having an out-of-body experience as her former lover bent forward and dabbed a kiss on her cheeks.

“Look at you! Same old Bridget!” he said, cheerfully- although, surely he knew how deeply his words were cutting? Surely he remembered that ‘same old Bridget’ was the woman that he had left in her blackest hour? She could scarcely believe that he had the gall to address her at all- much less as if they were all old friends!

A glance at Claudia assured Bridget that, regardless of whether Richard were truly as clueless as he seemed, Bridget’s sister knew exactly what she was doing. She was staring down at Bridget with a smug, oily smile that grew when Mrs. Parker spoke again.

“Yes, same old Bridget!” she said brightly. “It’s a shame that you didn’t see her when she first got married. She had lost so much weight! You wouldn’t have recognized her!”

Bridget’s fingers curled white-knuckled around her fork. She had only gained back half of the weight she had lost! That was a stellar accomplishment for someone married to a world-class chef.

Luckily, Bridget’s family didn’t want to spend the entire luncheon torturing her. After a few more moments of discussing how much fatter Bridget was now than when she had gotten married (and making snide remarks about her absent husband, “I honestly don’t know how she expects to keep a man like that interested anyhow if she isn’t going to look after herself!”, “Well, at least she’ll get some money out of it when he looks for greener pastures. I looked over the pre-nup myself. It’s ironclad. We aren’t going to be saddled with her, at least!”) they moved on to making Catty remarks about cousin Sara’s wedding.

“I have your dress upstairs in our room,” Claudia said, leaning heavily against Richard’s shoulder, “I do hope it fits…I’m afraid that I had to guess on the measurements.”

“I’m sure that it will be fine,” Bridget whispered, without raising her eyes to meet her sister’s face. She choked down a few more bites of her salad, sat in agony while the rest of her family savored their dessert (Bridget wouldn’t dare to have a sweet in front of her mother!), before she finally managed to break away.

Bridget’s one consolation was the murmurs of surprise/jealousy from her family when she broke apart to go toward the suites (thank God for Paul’s meddling!). She walked until she was out of view. Then, whether it was childish or not, she broke into a run. Tears were streaming out of her eyes by the time that she reached her room.

Bridget’s fingers were shaking almost too badly to undo the lock. She had just managed it when, from inside her handbag, she heard her cellphone ringing again.

She flipped it open on auto-pilot- although her greeting was barely audible over the sound of her sobbing.

“H-hello!” she sniffled.

There was a beat of silence, and then, “BRIDGET?! God, what’s wrong!?!”

“PAUL!” Bridget spoke his name with a rush of relief. He was the only person that she could bear to hear her carry on- the only person who might understand.

“What is it, baby?” he said, sounding sick with worry, “What’s happened?!”

“N-nothing,” Bridget stuttered, and then , she wasn’t able to hold it in anymore. “Y-you were right!” she moaned, “I shouldn’t have come! My family is so awful!” she took another shuddering breath, and then let go, recounting every barb and spilling every story to her astonished husband’s ears. The only thing that she left out was Richard. She didn’t think her husband would appreciate hearing about her ex-fiancé- and she hadn’t quite figured out how she felt about it yet, anyhow.

“I want you to come home!” Paul said, gruffly when Bridget had finished.

She sniffed, but shook her head. “I can’t!”

Bridget!” he said, his tone now pleading. “Those people are monsters. They don’t deserve to have you there. I’ll have a car there to pick you up in an hour and a first class ticket back to L.A. tonight!”

“No!” Bridget said, a little stronger. “I can’t Paul. I can’t let them win! That would be so humiliating!”

Would be humiliating?” he said, sounding genuinely baffled.

“I just…can’t,” Bridget said, unable to explain to him why she couldn’t give up- why she couldn’t stop believing that someday she was going to show them all how far she had come. She wouldn’t give Claudia the satisfaction of running her off-even if seeing Claudia and Richard together was like stabbing a knife through her heart.

“Bridge!” Paul said, sounding very sad and upset. “I wish I was there with you!”

“I wish that you were here too!” Bridget sniffled- and let slip her mother’s prediction that Paul was tiring of her and that was why he hadn’t come along.

“Baby! You know that isn’t true! The restaurant-!”

“I know. The restaurant,” she cut him off in a clipped tone and clenched her eyes tightly. She took a few steadying breaths, and then glanced at the clock. “I should get off the phone. I’m sure we’ve spent a fortune.”

“We’ll make another one,” Paul growled, but Bridget wouldn’t be persuaded to stay on the phone. Now that she was all cried out, she was feeling foolish and tired. She figured that she might as well have another nap and take some time on her appearance for dinner before she let her mother have round 2.

“Goodbye, Paul…you’ll…you’ll call me tomorrow.”

“Of course,” He said warmly, before adding, “I love you, Bridget.”

“I know.”

“No. I still don’t think you do,” Paul said, suddenly very serious. “I worry that you still believe the crap those people (he could never bring himself to refer to the Parkers as Bridget’s parents) tell you-that you aren’t worthy of being loved. You’re exquisite. The most beautiful, unique, brilliant, gripping, dazzling woman that I’ve ever met. Anyone who says anything else is a fool or a liar- probably both! ”

“Oh, Paul!” Bridget sighed, feeling much better than she had a moment before.

“You wouldn’t let them put down my food?”

“Never!”

“Then don’t let them trash talk my Bridget!” he said firmly, earning a tiny giggle from his wife. “Seriously, baby. You’re a hundred times more precious to me. I can’t bear to think of you so sad and far away.”

“Well, I miss you.”

“I miss you too…”

They said goodbye again, and Bridget forced herself to hang up the phone. She didn’t feel perfect but, at least, it was better than before. As long as she knew that Paul was waiting for her, she thought that she could face anything that her family had to offer…although, she hoped that she wasn’t tempting fate!

..ooOOoo..

“UN-FUCKING-BELIEVABLE!” Paul hissed to his empty house as he hung up the phone. “THOSE WORTHLESS CUNTS. THOSE DUMB FUCKS!” he ranted to himself for a solid five minutes before he managed to calm down. Paul was careful not to let his wife see the extent of his anger- but it wasn’t possible to keep his almost-volcanic rage trapped inside. He was well aware that plenty of people didn’t particularly like their in-laws, but he would be hard-pressed to find another set of people that he DESPISED with such utter passion. As far as Paul was concerned, Bridget’s family didn’t deserve to live. It seemed impossible to believe that his sweet, perfect wife had been born from such hideous people!

They treated her like total shit- like something worse than shit, if that were possible.

Then again, he was forced to acknowledge, here lately, he wasn’t doing much better himself.

She sounded so lonely on the phone! She obviously needed him so much- but he had remained behind, determined to babysit foie gras while he left his wife on the hot plate half a world away.

He didn’t know how to defend his actions. The only excuse he could muster was simply that he hadn’t expected her to really go. He kept expecting her to back out if he refused to come- but she had gone, and she claimed that she wasn’t returning. That only left one real choice.

“Jean-Baptiste?” Paul said, getting his maitre’d on the phone (in some restaurants, the maitre’d managed the restaurant floor. As far as Paul was concerned, the man was his personal slave, “I need you to book me a ticket to Ireland.”

“Ireland?”

“Shannon or Dublin- whichever flight leaves sooner, and I’ll need a car…I want to go today.”

..ooOOoo..

Paul loved Bridget.

If he ever doubted it before, he realized it when he found himself, ten hours later (with three hours sleep the night before), half-way across the ocean, squashed in the middle of a row in coach.

Paul hated kids (at least, kids who weren’t Tad).

That fact was also indisputable, thanks to the stinky, slobbery, SCREECHING pair of twins whose mother was sitting beside them. They hadn’t let up from the second that the plane took off. When one of them settled down, the other started off. The mother tried fussing with them for a while. After three hours, even she had given up. Somehow, despite the abdominal racket, she managed to get to sleep.

“Would you like the chicken or the lamb?”

Paul looked up as the gruff, ancient-looking stewardess leaned over the twins to offer his entrée selection.

“Lamb?” Paul said, screwing his face up in horror. He loved a nicely prepared rack of lamb…but somehow he guessed that wasn’t what was on offer.

Unfortunately, the stewardess failed to note his tone. She slapped a plastic tray full of lumpy brown goo in front of him.

“Nice service…” Paul muttered under his breath. She should give lessons to Jean-Baptiste.

He knew better than to attempt to taste his dinner, but his curiosity got the better of his common sense. He peeled back the cellophane, stabbed his plastic fork into something that looked like it might be meat, and then popped it into his mouth…

…and almost retched.

He had never been so grateful for the air-sick bag!

FUCK ME!” he hissed under his breath, ignoring the dirty look that he got from his seatmates. He was so glad that he wasn’t poor! He couldn’t imagine eating garbage like this every time that he had to fly!

Paul shoved the tray away and tried to ignore the fact that he hadn’t eaten anything since the croissant that he’d had for breakfast- but his stomach wouldn’t play along. He wasn’t the type who liked to skip meals, and so it was only a few minutes before he cracked. He scavenged the salad and roll out of his dinner (nothing memorable, but not really bad) choked down a chalky-tasting brownie, and finished off with a very strange piece of squishy yellow cheese before flagging down the waitress and buying enough miniature bottles of booze to last the rest of the flight.

Unfortunately, the drink didn’t help. It only made him thirsty. Dehydration made him even more tired than he’d been before. By the time that he got to Shannon, he was dead on his feet- but there was still miles to go before he reached the castle.

Thankfully, JB had been able to secure a limo- the same one that had taken Bridget the day before. At least he didn’t have to share that ride with a pair of squalling babies. He snuggled down into the premium leather seats and was almost asleep when the car pulled to a stop.

“Finally!” Paul slurred (booze and exhaustion were taking their toll). He tossed a few Euros at the driver and then staggered into the hotel. “Paul Devoe,” he said firmly to the lady at the desk. She opened her mouth- no doubt to tell him that she had no such reservation, but he cut her off. “It’s in the name of my wife, Bridget- you spoke to me on the phone yesterday morning. We did the upgrade to a Stateroom suite?”

The girl behind the desk hesitated, no doubt recalling the hotel policy to never ever confirm guests to someone who wasn’t on the books, but Paul projected such an air of confidence that she finally gave in.

“Of course, Sir,” she said timidly, reaching behind the counter, “That’s room 203. Would you like another key?”

Paul grabbed the key, grateful that something had gone easily, and then accepted directions to the room (he was in no fucking mood for a tour!). His body felt like a clockwork toy winding down as he came closer and closer to the end of the hallway (the room was the last on the left). Hopefully, Bridget wouldn’t object to letting him have a nap (ideally, she would join him!). Relief was only 50 yards away…thirty….twenty….ten….

Paul moaned in relief as he opened the lock and wrenched the handle. He flung open the door to find…

“BRIDGET?!?”

Paul blinked, hoping that the sight that met his eyes when he first flung open the door was a hallucination, but terrible certain that it was not.

Bridget was standing in the center of the room, tugging at her hair, her eyes nearly swollen shut from crying and gasping for breath through her sobs. She blinked at Paul in disbelief- but it didn’t staunch her wailing.

Paul rushed forward.

“Baby? What’s wrong?!?” he demanded, tugging her into his arms.

There was a sound of ripping fabric.

Bridget started crying harder and tried to wriggle free- making the tearing sounds worse.

Getting the hint that she wanted free, Paul dropped his arms to his side. Bridget turned toward a mirror  that hung on the wall, surveyed her appearance, and then sank down into the floor.

“Baby?”

“It’s ruined!” she choked.

At first, Paul didn’t know what she meant. After a moment’s careful consideration, he figured it out.

Bridget was wearing a blue chiffon dress that he had never seen before.

Well, she was kind of wearing it. The zipper in the back hadn’t closed any further than her waist. It hung gaping in the back- and the seams down the sides had split, so that little patches of Bridget’s creamy flesh bulged out.

It was obviously vastly too small. He wondered why on earth she had tried to squeeze into something so tiny.

Then, it twigged. This had to be her bridesmaids dress.

Fuck…”  Paul muttered under his breath as the pieces fell into place. The whole point of Bridget’s coming to Ireland had been to stand up in her cousin’s wedding. She had sent her measurements to her sister months ago to order the dress. Paul didn’t think that Bridget had gained any weight since then (not that he would have minded). He didn’t know what had gone wrong…unless. “Dumb cunt!” he growled, also inaudibly, as he worked out the final clue.

Paul felt fury bubbling up in his gut. The surge of angry adrenaline was overriding his tiredness. He stalked toward his wife again and tugged her up off of the floor.

“Claudia did this.”

“No!” Bridget squeaked, “I must have made a mistake when I-!”

“No!” Paul growled. “There wasn’t any mistake.”

Bridget gulped- but she didn’t try to deny him. She blinked rapidly, and a few more crystal tears fluttered onto her cheek.

Paul frowned, and then took a deep breath, trying to reign in his anger and offer his wife the tenderness that she so obviously needed.

“I’ll fix it.”

“Fix it?” Bridget laughed, bitterly. She looked in the mirror again and bit her lip. “No…” she rasped. “There isn’t any way. I…I looked at the seams…”

“I’ll fix it,” Paul said again, his mind already racing to think of what he might do. Something of his confidence must have reassured Bridget, because she nodded weakly.

She continued peering into the mirror sadly for a few minutes. Then, as if she’d just received an electric shock, she jolted and spun back around.

“PAUL!” she gasped, “You’re HERE!”

END OF SNIPPET (I know! Sorry!)