It began on an everyday,
average Monday morning. Zoe arrived at the office punctually at 8.45,
clutching her takeaway coffee, a necessary comfort when facing the start of
the working week. To her surprise, her best friend Bella was already at work.
Bella was usually a bit
late, and as she’d just spent another weekend away visiting her father in the
country, Zoe expected her to be later than ever. This Monday morning, however,
Bella was not only at her desk early, but she had a huge grin on her
face. And she was surrounded by a semi-circle of excited workmates.
She was holding out her hand
as if she was showing off a new manicure. No big surprise. Bella had a thing
for manicures and she often chose very out-there nail polish with an
interesting assortment of decorative additions.
But as Zoe drew closer,
curious to check out her friend’s latest fashion statement, she saw that
Bella’s nails were painted a subdued and tasteful taupe. And they were not
the focus of everyone’s attention.
The grins and squeals were
for a sparkling ring.
On Bella’s left hand.
Zoe’s cardboard coffee cup
almost slipped from her suddenly weak grasp. She managed to catch it just in
She was stunned.
And a bit stung, too.
Struggling to hang onto her
smile, she hastily dumped the coffee and her handbag on her desk and hurried
over to Bella.
She told herself she was
misreading this. Bella couldn’t be engaged. Her best friend would most
definitely have told her if wedding bells were in the air. Zoe knew for a fact
that Bella wasn’t even dating anyone at the moment. Together, they’d been
commiserating about their date drought, and they’d talked about trying for a
double date online.
They’d even talked about
going on an overseas holiday together – a reconnaissance tour, checking out
guys in other countries. Deepening the gene pool, Bella had called it during
one of their regular Friday nights together.
Admittedly, for the past
three weekends in a row, Bella had travelled to her county home on the Darling
Downs, and Zoe had been beginning to wonder what the attraction was. Bella had
said she was worried about her widowed father, which was totally
understandable, as her dad had been in a miserable slump for the past eighteen
months ever since her mum died.
Bella had also mentioned her
close and supportive neighbours, the Rigbys, and their son Kent – literally,
the boy next door, whom she’d known all her life.
Was something going on with
this guy? Had he given Bella this ring?
Bella hadn’t breathed a
hint about a romance with her lifelong friend, but it was abundantly clear
that the sparkle on her friend’s finger was most definitely a diamond. And the
name on her lips was…
Bella was grinning directly
at Zoe now, an expectant light shining in her pretty green eyes.
‘Wow!’ Zoe managed,
squeezing her cheek muscles to make sure she was smiling and not still looking
like a stunned mullet. ‘You’re engaged!’
Bella dipped her head ever
so slightly, as if she was trying to read Zoe’s reaction, and Zoe cranked her
smile another notch while she hunted for the right things to say. ‘So – does
this mean you and the boy next door have taken the plunge after all?’
She was trying not to sound
too surprised, and she hoped she looked happy. She certainly didn’t
want the entire office to realise she was totally clueless about her best
Just in time, she remembered
to give Bella a hug, and then she paid due homage to her ring – a solitaire
diamond, very tasteful, in a platinum setting, and appropriately delicate for
Bella’s slim, pale hands.
‘It’s gorgeous,’ Zoe told
Bella with genuine honesty. ‘It’s perfect.’
‘Must have cost a bomb,’
commented one of the girls behind her in an awed voice.
Eric Bodwin their boss
arrived then and an awkward hush fell over the office until someone piped up
with Bella’s happy news.
Eric frowned, dragging his
bushy eyebrows low, as if an employee’s impending marriage was a huge
inconvenience. But then he managed to say ‘Congratulations,’ with a grunting
nod in Bella’s direction, before he disappeared into his private den.
He’d never been the type of
boss who chatted with his staff, so everyone was used to his gruffness.
Nevertheless, his dampening presence put an end to the morning’s excitement.
The semi circle of onlookers
melted away. Only Zoe remained, her head so brimming with a thousand questions
she was reluctant to go back to her desk. And she couldn’t help feeling a tad
put out that Bella had never confided in her.
‘Are you all right, Zoe?’
Bella asked cautiously.
‘Of course, I’m fine.’ Zoe
touched Bella’s ring finger. ‘I’m stoked about this.’
‘But you didn’t reply to my
‘The one I sent you last
night. Just before I left Willara Downs, I texted you with my good news.’
‘Oh?’ Zoe pulled a sheepish
face. ‘Sorry, Bell. I took myself to the movies last night, and I turned my
phone off. Then I forgot to switch it back on.’
‘Must have been a good
movie,’ Bella said dryly, but she was smiling again.
‘It was. A lovely, mushy
Bella rolled her eyes, but
they grinned at each other and Zoe was ridiculously pleased that she wasn’t on
the outer after all.
From “Bridesmaid Says, "I do!"
By: Barbara Hannay
Mills and Boon Romance
Copyright: © Barbara Hannay
® and ™ are trademarks of the publisher. The edition published by arrangement
with Harlequin Books S.A. For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.com