The wedding was, in one word, beautiful. There had been no mishaps, late arrivals or mismanagement at the Country Club and Sophia Mason was more than glad that everything had gone so perfectly. She was sitting at the table, wearing her beautiful wedding dress, watching Zoe Busiek smell the bridal bouquet which she'd caught earlier.
It was no surprise to her; she witnessed another wedding where Zoe had caught the bouquet. Zoe had once even joked that bouquets don't really mean anything to her since she'd caught them so many times and Mr. Right was still out of sight. She sipped from her glass of champagne, smiling at all the guests, while Peter stood a few feet away from her, talking to some of his friends.
She happily bobbed her head to the music as she watched Dan Lennox ask Zoe to dance with him. She smiled knowingly. She knew that Dan had had it bad for Zoe right from the start, though he never really had the courage to admit it. And she could tell from the way that Zoe looked at him sometimes that she had strong feelings for him as well. Anyone could see what great chemistry they had together. Even Peter once asked her why they didn't do anything about it. Sophia sighed. It was awful watching two people so greatly attracted to each other in denial.
"That was fun!" Zoe laughed as she got out of the car. "I haven't had so much fun since my friend Koko got married." Dan locked the doors of his car and walked her to the house. "Who's Koko?" he asked.
"Oh," she giggled, looking for her keys in her purse. "Ok, I was working as a waitress in a uh… strip club…"
"Waitress or stripper?" he teased her with a twinkle in his eyes. She rolled her eyes and continued. "Anyway, she was a stripper there… she told me that she was raised by two lesbians! I can't believe that she actually turned out to be straight." Dan raised an eyebrow and Zoe went on.
"So she met this guy on stage who couldn't stop staring at her big boobs -- I swear that they were fake -- and the next thing you know, they're in an Elvis chapel, getting married!" She started laughing. "I can't believe that he married her just because he liked her… fake breasts." He wisely made no comment as she unlocked the door. "Hey, you wanna come inside?" she suggested. "It's not that late."
"It's eleven pm, Zoe," he pointed out.
"Yeah, but I'm not really sleepy and the kids are already in bed, plus it's Saturday tomorrow, so we can stay up late." She flashed him a charming smile. "Come on!" she urged. "It will be fun."
Dan rolled his eyes and joined her inside, sighing. She shut the door. He'd frequented her house for the last couple of months after Marcos and her broke up. He had finally had a chance to get into her private life. He'd gotten to know the kids better and was glad to say that he liked them as much as they liked him. He'd even become closer to Zoe and the two had more than a business relationship now -- they'd become good friends. And he had fallen in love with her.
Zoe took off her shoes and switched on a dim light. "Shh," she whispered. "Be very quiet. I don't wanna wake the children up."
"Ok," he whispered back, amused at how childlike she could be at times.
He made himself at home in living room while she returned a few moments later with two cokes in her hand. He raised an eyebrow. "What, no beer?" he joked but she took it seriously.
"I don't keep alcohol in the house, I don't want the kids drinking," she replied with a straight face. He shook his head, opened the can and took a drink.
Zoe sat beside him on the couch, folding her shapely legs beneath herself and he tried not to look as her skirt rode up her thighs. She switched on the TV and turned down the volume. They sat together in silence, drinking coke, until he said, "Zoe, the kids are upstairs, I don't think you would wake them if you turned up the sound a little more." Zoe laughed at him and increased the volume. However, there wasn't anything good on TV.
When she pointed this out, he remarked, "Too bad. And I always thought they had adult shows on at this time of the night." He smiled as she laughed again and punched him playfully in the arm. They talked some more until he suddenly fell silent, seeming to be deep in thought about something.
"Dan, is everything all right?" she asked, concerned. "You seem preoccupied with something."
"No, no, it's nothing." But he didn't look at her; he kept staring at his empty can of coke.
"Do you want me to get you a refill?"
"What? God, no!" he chuckled. "Well, actually, I've been thinking about something… about us."
"Yes?" she sounded nervous, as Dan knew she would. But he went on. "I wanna ask you something and I don't want you to take it the wrong way," he said cautiously.
"Ok," her face seemed to go white… or perhaps it was the moonlight playing tricks.
Dan chose his words carefully. "I was just wondering… what if we'd met under totally different circumstances… if things would be different between us, you know?"
"Different how?" she asked.
"Different, as in, if we would be more than just colleagues or friends… you know, if we would be… lovers?" He met her eyes then, waiting for her reaction.
Zoe was quiet for a moment, frowning. "To be honest, I think I would rather that we just remain the way we are… right now," she swallowed.
"And why is that?" He wanted to know. She sighed.
"Because… it's safer this way, Dan. I mean, Marcos and I…" She didn't need to finish the sentence. Dan knew that they'd stopped seeing each other after she rejected his marriage proposal which made him really happy.
"What are you afraid of, Zoe?" he asked directly, watching her expression.
"Our friendship is more valuable to me," she stated simply. He sighed, shaking his head.
She thought he would drop the topic when she suddenly found herself staring in his eyes and his lips dangerously close to hers. The sound of the can falling from her hands brought her back to reality. Dan took a deep breath and briefly closed his eyes, trying to hide his disappointment.
As Zoe picked up the can, she said, "It's getting late." In other words, she wanted him to leave. Now he was beginning to wish that he'd never even brought the topic up. As he got to his feet, he looked into her eyes. "Are you sure that this is what you want?"
"Yes, I'm pretty sure," she said softly. She watched as he left.
On Monday morning, Zoe walked out of the elevator, her blond curls flowing down her back. She looked around, wondering where Dan was and how she could avoid him. They hadn't spoken to or seen each other during the weekend and she'd laid awake that night, thinking about what he'd told her.
Had she ever thought if they'd become lovers? Of course she had! It was so hard to hide your attraction to a handsome man you worked with daily. She knew she had to be careful with him, now that she was sure that he felt for her the way she felt for him. Nothing must ever come out of it, she thought to herself. For her sake and the children's. She wouldn't risk getting involved with a man she could actually… love. Lost in her worries, she didn't notice Dan until she bumped into him. He was dressed in an expensive suit, as usual, with a calm and quiet look.
"Good morning, Zoe," he said politely, looking down at her.
"Uh… good morning, hi," she forced out a little smile and gulped. She didn't dare meet his eyes and quickly hurried to her desk.
"H--how've you been?" she asked.
He looked at her quizzically. "I've been all right," he followed her. "What about you?"
"Me?" she laughed nervously, still not looking at him. "Oh, you know me. Always great." There was a brief, awkward silence and Dan spoke up. "Zoe… about Friday night…"
Right then, Sophia came to them with a dazzling smile on her face. Zoe welcomed the distraction. "Hi, Sophia!" she gave the other woman a hug. "How was your honeymoon?"
"Short," Sophia replied, "nice but short. Anyway, drop all your cases and come into my office. I have an assignment that takes priority."
"Wow! Another case!" Zoe beamed artificially and Dan rolled his eyes. He knew that she was still a little freaked out about Friday night and he wanted to apologize but her attitude was kind of pissing him off right now. Soon they were in Sophia office, watching her go through some papers.
"So what's this new assignment about?" asked Dan.
"Have you heard of a honeymoon resort called The End of The Rainbow?" Sophia asked.
He quirked an eyebrow. "I don't think I have."
"Well, it's an exclusive honeymoon resort on the outskirts of Chicago… very isolated and very, very exclusive."
"How exclusive?" he asked.
"Only certain people are allowed to stay there," Sophia replied evasively.
"What kind of people?" Zoe asked with a little frown.
Sophia paused. "Let me explain everything first. During the last month, several accidents occurred there and clients are suing the owners. I met one of the owners just a few days ago and he told me that he suspects foul play… he feels that someone on in the inside may be working against him."
"Really?" said Dan. Sophia nodded.
"What is this place like, exactly?" Zoe leaned forward in her seat.
"Well, apparently, a couple can marry and have their honeymoon right there," Sophia told her. "This place does it all with so much class and style that it's very popular among young lovers who want to elope with fashion. The rooms are fantastic, the food is delectable and the newlyweds are treated with the utmost hospitality."
"Okay," Zoe rolled her eyes. "But what does that have to do with us?"
"I want you to go and investigate this resort," said Sophia. "Find out who's behind all these mishaps." Zoe smiled and clasped her hands in excitement.
"All right," she said. "I get to go and stay in this fancy resort. I don't think I mind this assignment at all." Seeing Sophia's solemn expression, the smile faded from her face. "What?"
"You can't go alone," Sophia stated simply. "Dan has to go there with you, this is a two-party thing."
Zoe froze. "Okay," she digested this piece of information. "And there's just one another thing you need to know… and this part you won't like." Sophia seemed somewhat apprehensive.
Dan held his breath. "What's that?"
"Well, the only people who are allowed to stay there are married people."
"You mean, Dan and I have to pretend to be married just to investigate the resort?" Zoe asked, wide-eyed. When Sophia shook her head, she sighed in relief, "Thank God. So we don't have to pretend that we're married."
The other woman continued. "Well, remember when I said about the resort being exclusive? I meant that the only people who can stay there are the ones who get married there."
Zoe and Dan were nervous and they exchanged glances. Then he spoke up. "So what does that mean for us?" He was afraid of the answer, but he asked anyway. Sophia sighed.
"It means that you're going to have to let them marry you off there." The fraud investigators' mouth dropped open.
"You can't be serious!" exclaimed Zoe. "I mean… get married? To him?" She made a face.
"Hey," protested Dan. "I'm sitting right here."
"Sorry," she mumbled and turned to Sophia. "What about already-married couples who wanna have second honeymoon?"
"Oh, I already tried that," Sophia said. "But I was told that a couple has to marry there to stay for a honeymoon."
"So it's an official marriage contract?" Dan tried to stay calm.
"Well, they have a priest and a registration office, so I'm guessing that they mean business." Everyone was silent in the office for a few moments.
Then Sophia said, "Look, at least you can enjoy the comforts of the honeymoon resorts." She smiled a little. "I even booked you a room that has a couch so you wouldn't fight over sharing a bed." She suppressed a smirk.
Zoe and Dan started at her, open-mouthed. "You're serious about this, aren't you?" said Dan. "This isn't a joke -- you actually expect us to do this for real." Sophia sighed and Zoe glared at her.
"Listen, it's just an assignment, don't take it too personally…"
"How can I not take it too personally?" Zoe exclaimed, fuming. "For God's sake, I'm literally going to be Mrs. Lennox." She trembled at the very thought.
Dan was not sure how he felt about having a Mrs. Lennox. "So what happens later?" he asked. "An annulment?"
Sophia nodded. "You know that the marriage can be annulled unless it's consummated." There was another silence. And Zoe said with a resigned sigh, "We're stuck with this, aren't we?"
"Pretty much," Sophia nodded. "Anyway, like I said -- unless you consummate it, the marriage can be annulled… you're going." With that, Sophia closed the manila folder that lay before her on the desk with a quick flick of her wrist before standing and striding from the office, leaving her former partners staring after her before their eyes met and they quickly feigned interest in the papers before them.
"Aunt Zoe, why do you have to leave?" Hannah whined, upset. Zoe sighed and bent down to face her little niece. "Because I'm going for an undercover assignment, honey," she explained.
"Is this gonna be dangerous?" Cliff asked skeptically.
"Of course not!" Zoe said. And then she frowned. "I hope not."
It was six in the evening and she had been so busy packing for her trip that she'd forgotten about making dinner. Thankfully, Taylor had already ordered some Chinese food. It had been two days since she'd received this assignment and she was still not very easy about it. She hadn't really talked to Dan about it but she could bet that he wasn't looking forward to this either.
"Ok," Zoe faced her seventeen-year-old niece. "I'll be gone for a week and Jeannie will be staying with you and Sophia will be checking on you from time to time. And don't try having any parties while I'm away, Taylor."
Taylor rolled her eyes and said, "I wouldn't dream of it, Aunt Zoe."
"And keep the door and windows locked when you go to bed at night and call me if you need anything ok?" The doorbell rang right then. It was Dan. "Hi, Zoe," he said, "are you ready to go?"
Zoe stiffened a bit and forced out a little smile. "In a minute." She turned to her nieces and nephew. "I love you." She hugged and kissed them. "Take care… bye."
Soon, she was in the car with Dan, with him behind the wheel, driving to the honeymoon resort. "I hate leaving the kids alone," she sighed, leaning her face against the window. He glanced at her. "They're not alone," he pointed out. "Jeannie is there, right?"
"Yeah, but you know, I've never been away from them for so long. I just hope we can get over with this case soon."
He paused, not knowing what to say. He drove on silently for a few minutes until they passed all the traffic jams. Then he said tentatively, "There's an audio tape in the player if you wanna listen."
Zoe sighed and pressed play. It was getting dark now so she had to fumble a bit. Soon, the beautiful voice of a woman filled the car. She frowned. "It's French," she pointed out.
"Ah, oui," he smiled. "Mylène Farmer -- my all-time favorite."
Zoe was puzzled. Dan listening to French music was a reminder of his art-stealing history in France and this was the first time she'd seen him smile at such an allegory. She knew he was sensitive about that part of his life and he didn't really want to talk about it. So she decided to talk about something else.
"What's this song about?" she asked. He glanced at her, amused.
He thought for a moment and said, "It's called Désenchantée. It means 'Disillusioned.' It's about… how you can lose your faith in the world and only find comfort in indifference. And at the same time, you still want to find… to believe that there's still hope for us all."
"Ah," she said, waiting for him to continue. When he didn't, she said nothing more. But she now understood why he liked the song. He could obviously relate to it.
"I like the live version better, actually," he said suddenly.
"Huh?" she was confused.
"Oh… the song." He smiled at her and asked, "Have you checked out the brochure of the honeymoon resort? I kept one in the glove compartment."
"Let's see it then," Zoe brought it out and opened it. She tried to ignore how Dan's hand kept brushing her knee every time he reached for the brake and the worse part was, she made no attempt to move her leg.
"Um, I can't see it in the dark," she pointed out and he switched on the ceiling light. She smiled her thanks. "Well," she studied the brochure, "we get a free massage. And there are Jacuzzis in all the rooms."
"Sounds like fun," he grinned. He remembered how badly he had wanted her on Friday night and he hadn't been able to get her. Now he was getting married to her… and he still wouldn't be able to get her. Damn it.
"We can eat either in the main dining hall," she continued, "or in the privacy of our own room."
"I think I'll go for the second option," he said. "I've never been one for crowds." Zoe looked at him and smiled.
He looked so boyish and charming in the dim light, she was sure that he never had any trouble picking up women. She loved the way he smiled at her when he was happy or amused and how his brow creased when he was deep in thought about something and how his hand felt against the bare skin of her thigh… Oh, my God! Where did that thought come from? Be careful, Zoe. You don't want to ruin this assignment by acting on your impulses or thinking forbidden thoughts.
"Did you get the wedding rings?" she asked nervously, reminding the both of them about the really bad part of their assignment.
"Uh, yeah," he said. He smiled at her as he handed her a little black box. Zoe opened the box and found a lovely gold ring. She took it out and compared it to a ring on her finger.
"It seems the right size," she said. "The company's paying for this, right?" She didn't wait for his answer and continued, "I didn't know that they'd be into antique jewelry."
Dan was silent for a moment before he cleared his throat and explained, "Actually these are my parents' wedding rings."
She was astonished. Why would Dan give me his mother's wedding ring? she wondered with a frown. "So… what about wedding clothes?" she asked tentatively. "I mean, we already have our blood tests and marriage license, I'm surprised that she managed to do this so quickly." She rolled her eyes.
"Sophia told me that we could just take some of our best clothes, you know? After all, we are eloping." He gave her a saucy smile and she chuckled.
"What?" exclaimed Zoe. "That's it? I'm getting married and we have no wedding clothes? Change your direction, mister, 'cause we're going shopping!"
Dan sat on the couch comfortably, looking at his wrist watch for the tenth time in thirty minutes. He took another drink from his Seven Up and sighed. He'd arrived at the shopping center with Zoe an hour back and he couldn't understand why she was taking so long to choose a gown.
"Are you done yet, Zoe?" He tried not to sound impatient. She was standing in front of him, admiring herself in the huge mirror. She was wearing a nice wedding gown with frills and lace… something Dan did not like at all.
He wondered whatever happened to her reservations about their make-believe marriage; obviously he hadn't expected that she would even be worried about wedding clothes; he'd just packed up one of his best suits, which was incidentally very new since he'd just bought it last week and hadn't worn it yet under these circumstances but then again, he would be a fool to expect that she would pass up a chance to go on a shopping spree using the company credit cards.
"No!" She sounded irritated but she didn't look at him. "And why the hell are you looking at me? Don't you know that the groom isn't supposed to see the bride before the wedding?" He could see her scowl in the mirror.
Dan sighed, "Zoe, it's not a real wedding."
"I don't care!" she said, stubborn. "It's still a wedding… and not just any wedding -- it's my wedding."
Dan didn't know what to say to that. So he decided to keep his mouth shut. It was getting late, the time was eight o'clock already but he wouldn't bother telling her that. Would she care that they had to make it to the resort as soon as possible as they had a big day ahead? He excused himself and went for a little walk.
A part of him still couldn't believe that he would be getting married tomorrow, although it wouldn't be a real wedding after all. Somehow he wished that it were. He knew he loved Zoe though he was naturally apprehensive about marriage. He couldn't help feeling a stab of pain that in twenty-four hours he would legally be her husband and they wouldn't be able to have a husband-wife relationship. Just then, Zoe hurried to him, dressed in her usual attire with a huge smile plastered on her face.
He raised an eyebrow. "So you finally decided to stop tormenting the salespeople," he said.
She rolled her eyes. "Don't be such a cynic!" she chided him. "I got the perfect wedding gown! I am so happy!"
"Well, great, so let's get back to the car." He said a prayer of thanks under his breath when they were finally on their way to the resort.
"You know, Sophia and I were talking yesterday," said Zoe, "and she told me that we'd have to come up with stories about how we met… you know, that sort of thing."
"Hmm," Dan was deep in thought. And then he cleared his throat and said in a very serious tone, "It was love at first sight." Zoe gasped at him for a moment. Then she burst out laughing.
"What?" he was confused.
"Love at first sight?" she exclaimed, still laughing. "You actually believe that it can happen?"
"Well," he fumbled for words, "maybe… anything's possible."
"This coming from a guy who criticizes me for being unrealistic," she rolled her eyes, clinging to her shopping bags. Dan winced, not wanting to think of what else she'd bought with the company's money. "Well, you come up with a story then!" he exclaimed.
Her eyebrows came closer together, her forehead creasing -- a sure sign that she was deep in thought. "Ok," she said finally. "We met at work."
"Hah! Very unimaginative."
"Well, at least it's a more realistic story than your love-at-first-sight tale. Let's see you trying to come up with something more realistic and better than my idea."
There was a brief silence. And then he said, "We met at work and it was love at first sight." Zoe chuckled and rested her chin on her fist. Dan cast a warm smile at her. They arrived at the resort twenty minutes later, exhausted from the journey.
As the valet took care of their car, they walked inside the beautiful building, admiring the lovely setting and natural scenery. "It's so beautiful here," Zoe commented and Dan nodded his agreement.
"I'm starved," he said. And he was also nervous. They were finally here. Would they be able to go through with this whole deal? "I wonder what they're serving here for dinner."
"Oh, they mentioned some of the dishes in their brochure," she piped in and rattled off the names of some very exotic food. When he commented that they sounded too sophisticated for him, she smiled and said, "So you would just prefer a cheeseburger with fries, huh?"
He grinned at her as they approached the receptionist. "You know me so well."
"Which is why we should get married," she retorted good-humoredly. They laughed.
"Welcome to The End of the Rainbow honeymoon resort," the receptionist smiled at them. She was a friendly brunette woman of about thirty years old and she had sparkling green eyes. "We hope you'll enjoy your stay here."
Dan smiled back at her and asked for their reservation. After the bellboy took their luggage to their room, the manager of the resort came to greet them with open arms. Zoe looked quite happy and relaxed all this time but when the manager told them that they would have to stay in separate rooms, she panicked and looked at Dan.
"It's ok," he smiled at her reassuringly. "You know where you can find me."
The manager agreed with her and led her away to her quarters, while Dan went to their honeymoon suite with one of the valets. Zoe was frustrated. She'd been led to her bridal quarters an hour back, the manager telling her that the resort still liked to follow some traditions of marriage, such as the groom not seeing the bride before the wedding because it supposedly brought back luck.
She couldn't help rolling her eyes at that but it still felt creepy. Why should she care about such superstitions? This was just a pretend-marriage, right? She took a deep breath and finished her tuna sandwich. The room she was staying in was pretty all right. It was white with a comfortable single bed, a bathroom and a television set. She was staring at the images of Buffy and Angel on the screen but she wasn't actually paying any attention to it.
Her mind was on other more important things. Like how would she be able to pull this off? It was one thing to pretend to be married for an assignment, and quite another to actually get married for an assignment! Would she and Dan look at each other the same way after this? Taking a sip of her soda, she dialed Dan's number on the phone and was pissed off when she was told that that number was forbidden to her. Apparently these people thought that couples shouldn't also speak to each other before their wedding.
Thankfully she had her cell phone with her and she was relieved to hear Dan's voice on the other end. "Hey," she smiled softly and then she frowned and shook her head. She had to be professional. "What's up?" she cleared her throat.
"Oh, nothing much," he sighed. "Just finished dinner. What about you?"
"Same here. So did you find anything?"
"Uh… no, not really because believe it or not, the bellboy speaks no English." He sounded annoyed and she laughed.
"Yeah, well, no luck here either," she told him. "The only thing I learned is that we have to stay in separate rooms before our wedding because we don't want bad luck!"
Dan chuckled. "Imagine that," he remarked. "This resort marries off eloping couples and they still want to uphold some traditions." She smiled a little. A lot was going on in her mind right then. "Zoe?" his voice broke into her thoughts. "Are you there?"
"Yeah, I am," replied Zoe. "Dan… do you think we'll be able to pull this whole thing off tomorrow?"
He was quiet for a moment. "I don't know… I guess we'll have to." The fact that he was also nervous made her feel a little better. "You should get some sleep," he suggested. "We have a long day tomorrow."
Zoe laughed. "Ok, thanks, will do. Good night, partner."
"Good night, future Mrs. Lennox," he retorted in good humor and she rolled her eyes. Zoe hung up and lay on the bed. She was tired and nervous at the same time and she closed her eyes. She was not going to have a sleepless night!
Zoe was in a deep sleep. She'd gone to bed early last night as she'd been tired from the journey. Right now, she was dreaming about her wedding. Dan and her were in front of the altar when all of a sudden Sophia came running in, telling them that the case had been solved and they didn't need to get married anymore.
A loud tapping on her door woke her up. She opened her eyes and looked at the clock groggily. It was 7:30 am. She wished that she could go back to sleep because she'd never been an early riser. "Miss Busiek!" it was the manager's voice. Zoe got out of bed and opened the door. The manager smiled at her warmly. "Rise and shine," she said. "It's your wedding day."
"Oh," Zoe said, a feeling of dread mingling with excitement enveloping her. "What's my schedule for today? Wait, let me wash up and get dressed." Twenty minutes later, Zoe was sitting on her bed with the manager, having some breakfast.
"Well," said the manager, who gave her name as Sandra. "The wedding is scheduled for 6:00 pm and you'll first get into the bubble bath with scented oils, then you get a wonderfully relaxing massage, followed by a facial…" Zoe listened to the manager, warming up. Perhaps the wedding was not such a bad idea. She would be pampered and treated like a queen… and someone else would be paying for it.
Dan hadn't slept well. He'd been tossing and turning for most of the night and now he was gulping down a lot of coffee to keep himself wide awake. Thank God it was working. He was nervous like hell. Oh, how had he ever thought that he would be able to pull this off? He was right then getting a manicure; something he'd never done before and one of the workers there asked him how he was enjoying the services. "Oh, it's great," he said sincerely. "Except that I feel like I'm some harem girl being pampered for a sultan."
The woman was doing his manicure said quiet seriously, "Role-playing in costumes is a different resort, but we'd be happy to give you directions there." That shut him up. Lunch was deliciously served and he ate hungrily as he hadn't had a proper breakfast. He was so busy with whatever arrangements the company had made for him that he hardly noticed how time flew by. It wasn't long before he found himself standing at the altar, dressed in an elegant black Armani suit, waiting for his bride to come. His bride. That gave him another panicked thought.
He had never imagined that his wedding day would be like this. Suddenly, he heard a commotion outside the room and he could hear Zoe yelling at someone. His forehead creased and his heartbeat fastened. Was she in trouble? When he listened closely, he could understand that she was reluctant to come to the altar. That left him confused. Would Zoe change her mind and somehow blow their cover?
"I can't do this!" Zoe kept saying over and over again. "I can't do this at all! How am I gonna pull it off?"
Sandra, looking all professional in her business suit, gave the bride a cool, sympathetic smile. "It's all right, Miss Busiek, it's perfectly natural to become nervous before your wedding," she laid a comforting hand on Zoe's arm. "But you're such a beautiful bride and I can see your future husband standing at the altar -- he looks nervous too but I know that he wants to be with you more than anything else." At this, Zoe raised her eyebrow.
Meanwhile, Dan was becoming very aggravated at the altar. He had overheard Zoe saying that she couldn't pull this off. He understood how she felt but she needed to calm down and consider her priorities. He took a few steps forward and called out softly. "Zoe? My love?" Zoe straightened up. "Don't come any closer, Dan!" she exclaimed. "You're not supposed to see the bride before the wedding! It's bad luck, remember?" How she wished that her dream would come true now.
Dan didn't have to look behind to see that the priest was rolling his eyes. He chuckled, despite himself. How likely of Zoe to be nervous about the wedding and still manage to uphold such superstitions! "All right," he said and searched for something to say. "Um… sweetheart, there is no reason for you to be scared so why are you?" It sounded so cheesy but he kept going on. "I mean, we already know that we're meant to be."
Zoe took a deep breath and closed her eyes. "I know," she whispered softly to herself.
"And think about what Sophia would say," Dan continued, wry humor in his voice. "She went through so much trouble to get us reservations here and she wants us to be happy. Are you going to let her down this way? And don't men get cold feet before the wedding?"
At this, Zoe couldn't stop herself from laughing. Trust Dan to make her laugh in the most unusual of situations. "All right, I'm coming." She took a deep breath and advanced forward slowly.
Dan, sighing in relief, lightly tapped his foot on the marble floor, waiting for his bride to enter the room as 'Here comes the bride' started playing on the organ. And when the bride did come, his jaw dropped to the floor. Zoe was wearing a strapless white gown which clung to her beautiful figure and her hair was done up. Her make-up was very light, exposing her natural beauty and smell from the bouquet of roses she was holding filled the room. She was exquisite. She came to stand beside him, a nervous smile on her glistening pink lips. He had a sudden urge to kiss those lips.
"Quit staring," she said, breaking into his reverie. "You're making me even more nervous."
Then she slipped her arm in his. Then the priest began his sermon. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…" And after the brief prayers, the gentleman turned to Dan and said, "Do you, Dan Lennox, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part?"
Dan looked at Zoe for a long moment right then and said softly but firmly, "I do." And he meant it.
And when Zoe was asked that question, she didn't meet Dan's gaze. He could see the anxiety in her lovely eyes and once again, he couldn't help wishing that this was a real wedding. Well, it was a real wedding but he wished that they were getting married because they loved each other, not because they had to solve a case. And finally, Zoe said it. "I do." And she glanced at him nervously. "Then by the power vested in me by the state of Illinois, I now pronounce you husband and wife," said the priest, looking relieved. "You may now kiss the bride."
It was done. They were married. They were finally really married. It took a while for this little fact to sink in before the newlyweds faced each other. It was awkward at first because although the two had kissed before, this time it was different. They would be sharing their first kiss as man and wife. Nevertheless, Zoe gathered all her courage and stepped into Dan's arms, her heart pounding in her breast.
"You nervous?" he asked stupidly. Wasn't it obvious?
"Yeah," she whispered.
"Me, too," he whispered back. And then his lips met hers.
The wedding reception was beautiful, Zoe had to admit. The hall was huge, filled with sugary pop ballads and the sounds of heels clicking on the marble floor. The high ceiling was decorated with confetti and balloons, which was a little too tacky for her taste but who was she to complain? After all, all this was happening at the company's expense. There were other married couples at the reception hall, congratulating them and sharing stories of how they'd met and fallen in love.
Zoe just smiled and nodded. Dinner was delicious, with Chinese, Italian and Mexican buffet. Zoe didn't feel too hungry but she felt compelled to try all of the dishes. She glanced at Dan from time to time. He was looking very handsome in his suit and he seemed comfortable enough, although he was more quiet than usual. She leaned forward at the dinner table to whisper in his ear, "Don't you think it's time we… you know?"
He looked at her, puzzled for a moment until he understood her meaning. "Um, I know but it's going to be very fishy if we start snooping around right now, don't you think?"
Point taken. It was getting late when they passed the dance floor where they saw people waltzing to the slow music underneath the soft light. "Zoe," said Dan, "let's dance."
"What?" she stared at him, forehead creased.
"Come on," he insisted. "Every girl needs to dance on her wedding day."
She snorted. "On a real wedding, yeah."
"So you don't want to dance then?"
"Fine," Dan said, turning away.
Zoe didn't have to look at his face to know that she'd hurt his feelings. "All right," she gave into him. "But just one dance, ok?" He nodded and led her to the dance floor, where she mechanically put her arms around him.
He rolled his eyes. "Zoe, show some more feeling," he scolded softly. "You'll make people suspicious."
"Right," she nodded, "sorry."
And then she flashed a plastic smile at him as they danced. He sighed, shaking his head as he glanced away. Could she be more obvious? There was a long moment of silence before Zoe made an interesting observation. "All the couples here are kissing," she said. She had his attention.
He looked around to see all the other pairs looking into each other's eyes and sharing furtive, loving kisses from time to time. "All right," he said and looked into her eyes.
"So, should we kiss then?" his voice was dangerously soft and he slightly cocked an eyebrow. Zoe was taken aback at first but then she refused to be daunted. "All the newlyweds that I've seen kiss constantly," she said stubbornly.
"Right," he replied, "and how many have you seen?"
"I lived in Vegas, Dan!"
"Right… so we kiss…"
And when they did, she felt a warm ray pass through her at the touch of his lips. It was so different from their earlier kisses, which were filled with raw passion. As much as she didn't want to admit it, she was enjoying his kisses now. She was surprised when his lips left hers and moved against her earlobe and her slender neck.
"Dan," she whispered, stiffening in his embrace.
"Take it easy, Zoe," he murmured, pressing his lips gently to her shoulders. "Don't be so tense; we're newlyweds, remember? I'm supposed to kiss you and you're supposed to enjoy it."
That didn't make her feel any better but she complied. When the clock struck midnight, the music stopped and she suddenly felt like Cinderella, afraid that all this would disappear before she knew it. She slipped her hand into her husband's -- her husband, she said to herself, thinking about how it sounded. Not bad. But then she frowned and shook her head.
As they rode up into the elevator in silence, she wondering what their suite looked like. She hadn't been too comfortable in the room she'd slept in last night so she was quite pleased to see a large bed with a brown and golden quilt, soft mattress and fluffy pillows.
"Nice," she said, touching the bed. Then she cast an awkward glance at Dan, who was standing behind her with his hands in his pockets, giving her a curious look. Zoe cleared her throat.
"So, who gets the bed?" she asked the doomed question, feeling like a rabbit caught in the headlights.
Dan shrugged as he sat on the bed. "Well," he said innocently, "we're both consenting adults here, Zoe." She rolled her eyes and sighed as he continued, "Come on, babe. We're married now."
She gave him a stern look, arms akimbo, tapping her foot on the Turkish carpet. "You're taking the couch, mister."