The Perfect Bride
Author:Kerry Connor

The Perfect Bride - By Kerry Connor

Prologue

She was going to be a beautiful bride.

Courtney Miller studied her reflection in the floor-length mirror and smiled. No matter how many times she tried on her wedding dress—and it was more than she’d ever admit—she couldn’t get enough of how she looked in it. She started to run her hand over the skirt, only to stop and pull her fingers away at the last moment. At this rate, she’d handled the dress so much she was starting to worry she’d rub the satiny sheen right off the gown, and that wouldn’t do at all. The dress had to be perfect, just as she would be.

Just as the whole wedding would be, actually. She’d spent the past week at Sutton Hall, the stately nineteenth-century estate in the mountains of Vermont, ensuring that it would. The mansion had just been opened by its new owners for weddings, and as soon as she’d seen the website she’d known she had to have her wedding here. It was a beautiful place, like something out of a storybook. She’d lucked out and managed to book early enough that her wedding would be the first one held here. That would only make it more special.

Tomorrow evening the rest of the wedding party would finally begin to arrive and the festivities would begin in earnest. And in just a few days she would be Mrs. Eric West.

In the meantime, though, she was still a single woman, she thought, meeting her reflection in the mirror, a slow smile curling her lips. She’d been reminded of that fact more than once over the past week, whenever her eyes had met those of Zack Hopkins, one of the groundskeepers here. The guy was temptation incarnate, with that shaggy dark brown hair, startling blue eyes and all those rough-hewn muscles. From the look in his eye and the smile that touched his lips whenever he caught her gaze, he knew it, too. The guy’s obvious ego weakened his appeal a little, but damned if she could resist looking.

She would never do anything, of course. She loved Eric with all her heart. But some light, harmless flirting never hurt anyone. After all, she was still a free woman at the moment—

Bam!

The noise exploded in the room out of nowhere. She jumped, her heart seizing, her muscles tensing in surprise. Her hand reflexively flying to her chest, she whirled toward the sound.

The glass doors that opened onto the balcony rattled against the wind. Even as she watched, another gust hit them, shaking them so fiercely it seemed the latch could barely keep them closed.

The wind. It was just the wind.

Pulling in a deep breath, she eyed the doors warily. They opened onto a wide balcony that looked out over the valley. For anyone else it would probably be a magnificent view. Courtney had done her best to avoid it, the same way she did now. God, how she hated heights, she thought with a shudder. No one would catch her anywhere near that balcony.

The doors continued to shake under the force of the wind. Doing her best to ignore the noise, Courtney turned back to the mirror. The mansion had proven to be everything it was billed as. The weather, on the other hand, was not. It had been gloomy and overcast almost the entire time since she’d arrived. She was trying not to view it as some kind of omen. It was looking as though they wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the gorgeous landscape for photographs. Fortunately, the manor’s interior made up for it. There were plenty of places that would make great backdrops for pictures—

The face appeared in the mirror out of nowhere, directly over her shoulder, pure malevolence glaring at her.

She whirled around to find she wasn’t imagining things. An intruder stood a few feet away, eyes dark with hatred, fists knotted in fury.

She couldn’t even scream, shock seizing her throat and choking off the sound.

“Take it off.” The words were snarled in a voice guttural with rage.

She could only gape in response. None of it made sense—the intruder’s sudden presence, the words, the anger.

She somehow managed to find her voice. “What are you—? How did you get in here?”

The intruder lunged forward. “You don’t deserve to wear that dress. Take it off!”

Hands reached out to grab at the dress. Recoiling, Courtney lurched backward, trying to get away from her attacker. She tripped on the back of her skirt and stumbled. Teetering on her heels, she struggled to regain her balance, throwing her arms out, flailing wildly.

Just as the intruder came at her again, hands thrust out, and shoved.

The push sent her careening backward faster, harder. She went straight into the doors behind her, the impact loosening the latch holding them shut and throwing them open. The wind burst in and grabbed at her as if with greedy fingers, grasping at her hair, tugging at the dress, stealing the breath from her lungs. The room seemed farther and farther away as she continued to stumble, lurching onto the balcony.

Terrified, she tried to find her equilibrium, recover her senses, see what was in front of her...

She didn’t even realize what was happening as she landed hard against something behind her. She didn’t register what it meant when hands closed around her and quickly lifted her off her feet.

She didn’t understand until the last possible moment, when she was hoisted upward and propelled right over the edge of the balcony.

No!

And then she was plummeting, diving relentlessly downward, in free fall, faster and faster.

All the while the howling wind screeched in her ears, drowning out the sound of her own screams.