Karinne's been engaged to Max for two years, but everything conspires to keep them from actually getting married. His job as a guide in the Grand Canyon. Her job as a Phoenix-based sports photographer. Her family's troubled past. And now, making matters even more complicated, Karinne has reason to believe that her mother--long presumed dead--might be alive, after all.
Now Karinne and Max are spending a week in the Grand Canyon on a rafting trip. It's supposed to be a pre-wedding vacation, a chance to enjoy some time together, an adventure. But it could be a little too much adventure. Especially when Karinne's mother, Margot, shows up--with a shocking request. It's another thing that comes between Max and Karinne. They love each other, but that might not be enough for this reluctant bride to walk down the aisle!
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March 01, 2011
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Excerpt from The Reluctant Bride by Anne Marie Duquette
Her mother couldn't be alive...could she?
In ordinary circumstances, Karinne Cavanaugh should be smiling as she packed for vacation. The Grand Canyon, one of the most spectacular parks in the world, awaited her photographer's eye. For once she wouldn't be photographing men in sports uniforms. She'd be lost in the blissful glory of the Southwest's July landscape. As an added bonus, she'd get to see her fianc?, Max Hunter. Their wedding would be in the fall at the Grand Old Lodge--seventy-five years old--three times her age, and boasting many other weddings in the past. She was driving up to Flagstaff to actually see the place for herself.
Max, a rafting guide, had even promised a longer raft trip instead of their short weekend treks down the Colorado River at Karinne's urging--a prehoneymoon vacation.
"Since we're getting married, I should be more familiar with what you do for a living," she'd coaxed him with a kiss. "It'll be romantic."
"I wish you'd said something sooner. I'm already booked, Karinne," Max warned, although he didn't resist her kisses. Rafting trips were booked years in advance, rain or shine. "But if I get a cancellation, I'll call you."
A cancellation had occurred during rainy weather, and Max had called, as promised. If Karinne could show up in two days, she'd be in luck. Max worked a single craft in the rafting concession with his younger brother, Cory. The brothers had outfitted a private expedition that had canceled, despite the deposit. Her own boss agreed to the short notice. She and Max could check out the wedding and honeymoon accommodations sooner rather than later. The trip down the river would be just the two of them, a few precious days together before their wedding in November. She should consider herself the luckiest woman in the world.
Karinne Cavanaugh, engaged, educated and employed, didn't know what to think.
Her mother, long thought dead, a woman who'd disappeared during Karinne's childhood, had seemingly come back to haunt her.
During one of Karinne's home-game baseball photography sessions, she'd caught a familiar face in the background crowd. This in itself was rare. She clicked off some rapid shots. Seconds later, the woman was gone; whoever the "double" was didn't return.
On her computer afterward, Karinne ignored her work photos, digitally enlarging the crowd pictures first. They showed a woman who could very well be an older Margot Cavanaugh--except that Margot hadn't been seen in more than twenty years. She'd parked at the side of an Arizona river, left a suicide note in her car and disappeared.
There hadn't been a body to bury; recovery efforts had been unproductive. That very afternoon a seasonal monsoon storm of epic proportions had struck with enough precipitation to cause whitecaps on the overflowing Arizona irrigation canals for two full days. Even rescue and recovery personnel couldn't cover much ground. People died every year during the flash floods, on foot, in cars and the arroyo washes.
Jeff Cavanaugh's mother, a widow, had moved in to take care of her grieving son and granddaughter. Karinne's carefree days of childhood were over.
Karinne grew up next door to the Hunters. Max, the older boy, had been her lifeline. Karinne's parents had hardly ever been home together and, when they were, fought bitterly over whose photographic career and next assignment was more important. Their marriage problems had often driven her to the Hunters' home. But after her mother's death, an eerie stillness had replaced the bitter fights at home. Karinne found herself at the Hunters' more than ever.
Karinne's father cut back on his work hours, and her grandmother stayed until Karinne's senior year of high school before moving to Florida. Karinne inherited her mother's cameras and flair for photography. She'd graduated, gone to college and now had a job she enjoyed. Plus, the boy next door, Max Hunter, loved her as much as she loved him. Nothing could burst Karinne's joy....
Until that apparent double had showed up at the baseball game just a few weeks ago. Karinne hadn't told her father, although she'd checked with the police and filed a report. The intake officer had taken the disk with the digital copies, nodded and merely said he'd "keep them on file." A plainclothes detective in the same office had been kinder. She'd scanned the last photo the family had of Margot and plugged it into the computer simulation software to "age" the image. She'd even agreed there was a likeness.
"I'll make sure this gets into our computers," the detective said. "But your mother's disappearance was ruled a suicide drowning. I wouldn't hold out any hope, Ms. Cavanaugh."
"They never found her body. Could you recommend a private detective?" Karinne had asked.
"We can't, and even if we could, I wouldn't recommend it."
Karinne racked her brain. "I understand the Red Cross is very good at finding missing people. Like those lost in earthquakes or hurricanes."
"Yes, but we're talking about recent victims, Ms. Cavanaugh. I know it's hard for family to give up hope, but it's been years. If it were me," the detective had added softly, "I'd let it end right here."
Karinne tried. Once home, she'd put the disk with the enlargements in her filing cabinet. She'd withdrawn the neatly folded aged photo printout from her purse and tossed it in the trash. But later she dug it out and carefully filed it away. The next day she'd gone to a private detective, who gave her the same advice as the police. He also refused to take the case or her money, and warned her about others who might not be as scrupulous.
Karinne prayed she was overreacting. She decided to let matters rest--until last week. Her father, somewhat obsessed with mortality in his older years, had asked how Karinne would feel if he ever sold the house. The question had shocked her and she'd stuttered, "But th-then...Mom couldn't f-find us."
Her father's surprised reaction and "Karinne, what's wrong?" prompted her to come clean with him.
"Dad, I'm just not sure what to think," Karinne said. Reluctantly, feeling somewhat foolish, she showed her father the digital photos, the "aged" picture and the police report she'd filed. To her relief, her father looked and listened; he didn't laugh. On the old couch, they sat side by side, his arm around her shoulders.
"There is some resemblance," he agreed. "But your photos aren't that clear, and your mother's dead. I wish you'd come to me earlier."
"I sound crazy, don't I?"
"No, sweetheart. You sound perfectly normal. You're an engaged woman who simply wishes her mother could be at her wedding."
"You think that's all it is?"
"Yes." Jeff stroked his daughter's blond hair. "I've been having the same thoughts myself. How Margot would've loved shopping for a dress with you. How she'd smile when we walked down the aisle. She loved you so much." His own eyes grew moist, and he gestured at the printouts in her lap. "Don't let these ruin your wedding, Karinne. You've already postponed it twice because of my health. You and Max have a great future. Your mother will be there in spirit to bless your union."
"Thanks, Dad." Karinne and her father hugged, and that had been the end of it--until yesterday, when a package had arrived, the day before she was to leave for the rafting trip. Inside was a hooded pink sweatshirt bearing the words Grand Canyon Village across the front. She assumed the package was from her fianc?.
"Max..." She smiled and looked for a note with his bold handwriting. She shook out the sweatshirt, and a typed note fluttered out, but it wasn't from Max.
"I want to see you. If you feel the same, wear this on your trip. Love, Mom."
Although not a superstitious woman, Karinne wondered if the goose bumps on her arms meant serious trouble ahead. If she hadn't wanted to check out the wedding and reception location, she would've considered canceling her trip. But that seemed cowardly, and then she'd have to tell Max why. What should she do?
The sweatshirt still lay stuffed inside her dresser drawer. She hadn't gone back to the police or told anyone about it. There wasn't much to tell from an evidence point of view. The mailing address was on a label from the canyon's gift
store; it wasn't hand-printed. There was no return address on the note. Someone was either playing a very sick joke or trying to ruin her peace of mind.
Karinne gave up on neatly arranging her underwear and shoved a handful of panties into the backpack she needed for her trip. The sooner she saw Max, the better she'd feel.
There was a knock at her bedroom door. Her roommate, Anita, Cory's wife, peeked in when Karinne responded.
With Cory working in northern Arizona and Anita working in central Arizona, the apartment was a weekday home for Anita. She spent weekends at the Grand Canyon with her husband. They'd been married only a year, and Anita had chosen to keep her current job until they could save enough to buy their own home up north.
Karinne envied her friend. She usually spent weekends working sporting events and wasn't happy with her limited time with Max. After all, they'd been engaged for two long years, yet rarely saw each other. Somehow their wedding kept getting pushed back...She'd changed the date three times.
"You're home early. You take a half day off?" Karinne immediately asked.
Anita eyed her backpack. "Packing for your minivaca-tion?" The expression on Anita's normally cheerful face was drawn.
"I leave tomorrow. What's up?"
"I got fired."
"Fired?" Karinne echoed.
"Yes. Can you believe it?"
Karinne shoved aside her backpack, leaving room on the bed for Anita to sit. "What happened? No one in their right mind would fire you."
"They might as well have. Technically, I got laid off. So did a bunch of others. It could be for months...or for good." She flopped onto the bed next to Karinne. "I can't believe it! I mean, management gave us warning, but I've been there for five years. The things is, the company's losing money."
"Oh, yeah." Anita worked for a local commuter airline. She'd graduated from college with a degree in accounting and had landed a plum job in the finance department right away, quite an accomplishment for someone with no experience. She'd kept that job after marrying Cory Hunter. Unfortunately, many airlines had suffered serious financial difficulties in light of increased costs and the latest national recession. Several had declared bankruptcy; layoffs had been the norm rather than the exception at Anita's corporate office.
"I'm so sorry," Karinne said.
"Maybe you can find me something," Anita said mournfully. "At least you're safe. Talk about job security. No one ever downsizes in professional sports."
Karinne's job as sports photographer for a consortium was quite secure. Even during recessions, professional baseball and football never lost favor with the public. The Diamondbacks and the Cardinals were her specialty. She'd always been a devoted techie when it came to computers, and her skill as a digital photographer had quickly garnered attention.
The Cavanaugh name was well-known. Despite her youth and the tradition of male photographers in men's locker rooms, at the team owners' personal request, Karinne handled much of the workload. Everyone knew her qualifications and could vouch for her get-along-with-everyone character. She concentrated on capturing digital stills of professional athletes in motion, stills that could be sent instantly to media news sources on the internet and posted just as quickly.
"What am I gonna do?" Anita moaned. "I'm unemployed!"
"Something will come up," Karinne assured her.
"When? It won't be easy to get a job as good as my old one. I had great benefits, too."
"Nita, I'm so sorry," Karinne said again.
Anita stared at the open backpack. "I'm surprised you're taking time off. Baseball season isn't over."
"I'm a bride on a mission. My boss knows it, and I've got plenty of vacation hours on the books. I can use it or lose it." Karinne gestured to the backpack. "I'm definitely using it. Max had a cancellation on a rafting trip."
"If you two weren't such lovebirds, I'd ask if I could I come along, too. I've certainly got the time now," Anita said, her voice rueful.
Karinne hesitated, not wanting to be rude or to hurt her friend's feelings. Max and Karinne were rarely together, and she missed him terribly. Their last reunion had been months ago.
Cory and Karinne had attended school together from first grade on. Both of their families still owned the same homes on the same street. Anita and Karinne, on the other hand, met as computer-assigned college roommates. The computer had glitched; Anita had wanted a friend from high school as her roommate, while Karinne had requested a single room. Anita had originally planned to refuse the dorm room, but the two women hit it off instantly. As an added bonus, Anita had met Cory. The two married, despite the warnings of family and friends that a long-distance marriage was gambling with the future.
Karinne worried about that, too. Would her own marriage be at risk? Her parents had both traveled extensively, and it sure hadn't helped.
The wedding was only a few months away. Max's job rafting down the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon made casual get-togethers geographically difficult, if not impossible, while her job as sports photographer meant she accompanied the teams on out-of-state games.
"If you don't mind giving me a ride, we could split up when we get there. I could stay with Cory at the guys' place," Anita suggested. "Maybe I can do some wedding legwork for you."
"Of course you're welcome to ride up with me. And to come rafting, if you want. But you've never seemed interested in the water," Karinne said slowly, her desire to be alone with Max warring with sympathy for her roommate.
"I'm interested in anything that would cheer me up. I can foot the bill," Anita insisted.
"I'm not concerned. You know that."
"I didn't get a chance to tell you," Anita added. "But Cory said if you don't mind, four would be better than two for the raft trip."
"When did you talk to him?" Karinne asked, confused.
"A few days ago. I was working at the time, so I said no. He just called me again today, though. They have extra provisions because of the cancellation, and he doesn't want to waste the perishables."
"Oh." Karinne blinked.
"If you'd rather I didn't come," Anita backtracked, "I'll stay topside with Cory and update my resume. Review the want ads. Do some wedding preparations for you."
Karinne hated seeing Anita's disappointment. So far this vacation had been full of surprises, and it hadn't even started yet. She thought of the pink sweatshirt still in her drawer, and the goose bumps ran down her neck again. If a ghost intended to show up, maybe having reinforcements around wasn't such a bad idea. And if Cory had invited his wife rafting, it wasn't Karinne's place to tell them no.
"Forget the want ads. There's plenty of time for that later." Karinne gestured with her chin. "Get packing. We'll start the drive north early tomorrow morning."