Willow & Aiden After Forty

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Chapter 45

Willow

I walk inside of Vine’s Bridal still on cloud nine and a little dazed over last night. I giggle, I’m getting married in a month, and he told me this morning that he informed Laura when he set up my appointment for today that I was a no-budget bride. There is no way I’ll spend thousands of dollars on a dress.

I smile when I see Ann rushing over to greet me as soon as I walk through the door. “Congratulation honey, I’m so happy for you. You’ve caught yourself a good one.” She hugs me tightly.

“Ah, thanks, Ann. How’s business?” I look around. It’s been six months since I’ve worked here, but I’ve stopped in a few times to say hello. I’m glad Laura wasn’t upset when I bailed on her after selling her on all of my ideas on expanding her business.

“It’s great as always. I’m bummed we aren’t going to sell gowns at a lower price point any longer. Laura told me today that our investor fell through.”

“Oh?” I say and question. I thought that the plan died when I quit working. “Who was the investor?” I ask, curious if Ann knows.

She shakes her head, “No idea. Come on; I have a surprise for you set up in the back. I think you’ll be happy. You know most everything available except for the 2021 spring line of gowns. Want me to pull anything in particular?”

We walk into the dressing area, and I see four beautiful, floaty wedding gowns.

“Surprise!” Ann says. “These are four of the eight sample dresses we purchased to launch lower-price-point gowns. Laura was all on board in the beginning, right after you left. She had an investor, and we were set to sell our exclusivity if your gown was under five grand. We planned on showing these to you today. I was excited because I know even though you’re a no-budget bride, you won’t go for anything too extravagant. You always seemed drawn to tulle bottoms.”

I touch the blush gown. I shiver, it’s perfect, I don’t even need to try it on to know it’s that one. The bells ding. “Shoot, it must be a passerby. We cleared the schedule when Aiden called. I must have forgotten to put the closed sign up. Laura’s in the back. You can grab the one I know you are going to choose or go back and tell her you’re ready to put on a fashion show for her. I’m sure she’ll expect no less.”

Ann turns and walks out of the viewing dressing room. I take the blush dress and hang it up in the room. I feel both layers of the soft tulle, and I shiver again. My goodness, you do know when a dress is your special one. I love the blush; it reminds me of Grandma. My love of pale pink comes from her; she always played up how pretty I looked in pale pink. She dressed me in it any time she had a chance.

I hear Ann chatting out in front of the store. I won’t try this dress on until last since I’m one hundred percent sure this is the one for me. I go to the warehouse, and I hear a clatter towards the back. I’m sure Laura is up on a ladder pulling dresses that she’ll insist on me trying on for her.

“Laura,” I call. I walk by the rows of dresses. There are thirty rows of dresses; I don’t know what row I’m going to find Laura in. I remember looking and daydreaming the day I fell and about took Laura down with me. The gown had some heft to it, it had a somewhat blinged-out bodice, but the skirt was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. It was like a piece of art with layers and layers of soft tulle. I think I’m too old for it, but I want to try it on.

“Ow!” I scream. I’m tackled from behind. My forehead hits the hard cement floor of the warehouse.

“Hello, honey,” is snarled in my ear. I’m flipped onto my back. John Glassman’s hand goes to my throat, and he squeezes. My hands fly up to claw at his to get his hands off me.

He straddles me and pins my hands up into one of his, but he keeps one on my throat. I suck in as much air as I can. I’m aware he’s not strangling me to death, at least not yet. I buck and bend my knees, making noise with my heels hitting the cement. They are clanging and stomping, making noise.

He tightens his hold on my neck, and I can’t breathe. On instinct, I try to suck in air and know it’s the wrong thing when he squeezes harder. I stop struggling. I stare into his brown eyes. He is a nice-looking older gentleman who is not quite old enough to get away with the inappropriate shit he spews at women. He’s going to strangle me. Aiden will blame himself.

He releases me enough for me to gulp in a breath full of air. His hand never leaves my neck, “That’s right, stop fighting honey. Though I do like a little anger when I’m fucking a whore.” He rubs my neck roughly. “You’ll need to invest in some turtlenecks, just like Laura. You bruise as easily as she does.”

My eyes widen, and he smirks. “That’s right, honey. I’m going to fuck you, Willow.” He squeezes my neck and kisses my lips. My lips curl under, trying to hide away from his. He’s drunk; I can smell whiskey on his breath. “I’m going to prison for years because of your fucking righteous asshole boyfriend. I have cancer; I’m not coming out of there.” He licks my lips. “I’m going to fuck and mark you.” He squeezes my throat. “Relax some, honey; I’m not going to kill you, just leave a mark for him to look at every day for the rest of his life.” I close my eyes when I see him hold up a knife.

Oh my God, he’s going to cut my face.

Aiden

I grab my phone from the kitchen island. I also snatch a homemade cinnamon donut hole. Goddamn Willow is going to make me fat. I see I have a missed call from Lamar; I dial him back. I need to ask him to be my best man, let him know I popped the question last night.

“Hey, what’s up?” I ask when he answers.

“I wanted to let you know that I was present in a meeting with John today. He’s being arrested in the morning and will be indicted by the afternoon. He turned over the paper trail of him and Gus Wendle. I assume he’ll be let out on bond until he’s sentenced for money laundering.”

I blow out a breath and prop my feet up on my home office desk. “Good, once the fucker is in prison, then this is will be the end.”

“Yeah, I agree, but I also wanted to let you know we need to watch him. He cooperated to easily with the Feds. He looked like shit. Something is not right, and his eyes looked off-”

I interrupt, “Of course he looks like shit, he’s going to prison.”

“No, shit. I’m just saying something doesn’t smell right about all of this. I think we need just to be cautious until John is sent to prison. We should keep an eye on him. I didn’t think he was into that shit that Gus was into, but maybe my sources were wrong. Maybe he has a drug problem because he looked crazed. He mentioned you.”

The hair on the back of my neck raise, “What’d he say?”

“Some whacked out comments about you being so happy you buried him that you smile even when you run in the middle of the night.”

I sit up, “What?”

“He was rambling crazy shit, and I’m telling you he’s—”

“Lamar, I went running two nights ago in the middle of the night. He’s right. I smiled the whole six miles thinking about Willow. That fucker is watching me.”

I jog out of my office to the front door. I ask, “Do you know if John Glassman is still dating Laura LeMaster of Vine’s?”

I walk out of the front door. My instinct is telling me to run. I break out in a run to get to Willow. Lamar is right. Something is not right; I feel it.

“Yeah, I think so. Willow doesn’t work there anymore, so what’s the problem?”

“Willow is there right now for a bridal appointment, hers. I asked her to marry me last night. I’m running there now, and I’ll call you if I need you.”

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