Naples, Florida. Saturday, December 29, 2001. 2:00 P.M.
Christine, her father, and Vicky Anchutz had taken a chartered Lear 60 from Pearson to Naples Municipal Airport, just off Airport Puling Drive, and a short distance from Jamie Stewart’s palatial home on Gordon Drive in Port Royal. They loaded their luggage and themselves into a dark blue lincoln limousine and headed for the house. Twenty minutes later the limousine passed slowly through intricately designed wrought iron private gates and proceeded over a bridge spanning several ponds which were surrounded by lush tropical landscaping and filled with exotic fish. It continued to traverse a winding interlocking stone driveway to a large circular receiving courtyard, centered with a fountain and a massive Banyon tree. It came to a stop close to the two thick glass and wrought iron patterned front doors. Christine and her father got out and entered the house while the driver opened the trunk and hauled their numerous bags to the atrium. Christine’s father approached the driver and handed him a wad of cash. “Take Miss Anchutz to Handsome Harry’s on Third Street. She’ll have lunch there. Then she’s going to shop her brains out. Take her wherever she wants.” He gave Vicki a peck on the cheek, then helped her into the rear of the limousine. He waved as it started to move, then returned to his house and walked straight through it to the central porch facing the Gulf of Mexico.
Christine followed and wrapped her arms around his waist. “Thanks for this, dad,” she said.
Jamie turned and smiled. “You still want to marry Monteith?” he asked.
“More than ever. I’m in love with him. I can’t help myself.”
“Then get busy. You have some heavy duty preparations to make,” he said, then glanced at his watch. “I’m going to the yacht club. There are some people I haven’t seen for a long time, and I’m looking forward to my first martini. Call me if you need me. Meanwhile, the joint’s yours.” He turned and left Christine in his six thousand square foot winter home, one he had purchased seven years earlier for slightly more than ten million dollars. One of the area’s finest and most desirable residences, it featured three hundred feet of frontage on the Gulf of Mexico, a view of the Gulf from all of its twelve rooms, an indoor pool with a vaulted plexiglass roof, a four car garage, a billiard room with an independent kitchen, and six propane fireplaces, all framed with cut stone, hand carved wood, and imported marble.
One of the highlights of Jamie Stewart’s annual social calendar was the New Years Eve party he threw at his Naples home. His plan for this year’s extravaganza was to take it to another level, to spare no expense to ensure that no guest would forget the marriage of his one and only daughter.
Christine spent the afternoon checking and rechecking her wedding dress, her honeymoon clothes, and the myriad of detail related to her wedding, now only two days away. At four-thirty, she poured herself a glass of white wine and stared at herself, naked, in front of a full length mirror. She focused on her flat stomach and struggled to suppress her recurring depression. She hated herself for her decision to terminate her pregnancy. Worse, she worried again about how and when she was going to tell Steve.
She tore herself from the mirror, put on her leopard skin print bikini, then covered herself with a pink and gold embroidered and fringed front dress. Seconds later, she ran to the front door to see who rang the doorbell. She smiled, opened the door and gave Jennifer Adams a big hug. “Great to see you. I knew you would be the first,” she said, holding the hug.
“I had to pinch myself when I saw this incredible place. I thought I was Cinderella.”
“Come on in. I’ll show you around.”
Jennifer turned and pointed to her rented white Chevrolet. “What about my carriage? Will it turn into a pumpkin? I left my bags in the...”
“Leave them. We’ll get them later,” Christine interrupted. “Have a glass of wine with me and chill out.”
Christine poured the wine, then gave her guest a tour of the house, ending on two luxurious wicker chairs on one of the three stone porches facing the Gulf.
Jennifer sipped her wine, then faced Christine with a worried expression. “Have you told Steve yet?’ she asked.
Christine tightened her lips and shook her head.
“Terrific. So what are you thinking? I hope you’re not going to wait until after he’s married to you.”
“I haven’t made up my mind about that, and please don’t bug me about it.” Christine gave Jennifer a threatening scowl. “It’s my life. Let me live it my way.”
Jennifer held both hands up, as if in surrender. “You’ve got it, honey, but don’t ask me to agree with you. I think you owe him the truth.” She paused to take another sip of wine. “Okay. I’ve said my piece on that, but there’s another thing that’s been bugging me.”
“You never did thank me for spending three hours with you at that clinic in Toronto. I think you owe me that.”
“Oh, Jennifer. I’m so sorry. How could I have been so stupid? Of course I owe you that. Please accept my sincere apology, and thank you for being there for me. You’re a wonderful friend.”
Jennifer was not yet appeased. “Sure, if I’m such a wonderful friend, how come you didn’t ask me to be your maid of honor?”
Again Christine was caught off guard. She had to think fast. “...I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I had to ask Dana Snyder. I’ve known her forever. She’s been my closest friend since we started at Branksome Hall. We always promised, on penalty of death, that we’d be maid of honor for each other,” she lied.
The doorbell interrupted their conversation. Both put down their glasses and hurried to the front door to greet the four remaining members of the wedding party: Dana Snyder, a tall extremely attractive brunette, Kelly Forsythe, Wendy Cox, and Daphne Richardson, all former classmates of Christine at Branksome Hall. The girls had taken an Air Canada direct flight from Toronto to Tampa, rented a van, and endured the two hour drive south on I-75 to Naples.
Christine hugged and welcomed each of her guests, introduced them to Jennifer, then led them to the porch where she and Jennifer had been sitting. “You guys get some more chairs, and I’ll get the wine,” she ordered, then headed for the kitchen. She scooped two bottles from the wine cooler, grabbed four glasses, then hurried to rejoin her guests.
“This place is unbelievable. How do you survive here?” Dana asked.
Christine chuckled. “It’s a struggle, but we make do,” she said, then raised her hands, signifying her request for silence. “I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of planning our weekend. None of it’s cast in stone, so feel free to change any of it. My nose won’t be out of joint...We’re going to stay here tonight, so go ahead and get smashed. The wedding caterer is waiting for our pizza orders, so start thinking about what toppings you want. He told me he’ll have it here within twenty minutes of my phone call.”
“What about tomorrow?” Kelly asked.
Christine displayed a huge smile. “Are you ready for this? We have the exclusive use of a big long private limousine for the entire day. It’s a wedding present from my father...I need a show of hands. Who’s interested in using it to go shopping?”
Six hands went skyward in an instant.
“What’s with the wine, Christine?” Daphne asked. “Aren’t you supposed to be off the booze?”
Again caught off guard, Christine shot a nervous glance at Jennifer, then gathered herself. She lifted her glass and stared at it. “Sorry. I thought this was milk,” she said, hating herself for her oversight, and disappointed that to preserve her secret, she would have to spend the entire weekend alcohol free.