It’s February. It’s cold and snowy. And I’m yearning for Spring. As I was thinking about what to blog about this month, I discovered that I never finished the stories for Allison Pinckney’s Bridal Shower. (Allison is the heroine of In Search of Truth, book 3 in the Deadly Force series). Between the pandemic and family emergencies and non-stop deadlines, it just dropped off my list of things to do.

Since it’s the month of love, and I can only dream about spring garden parties, this month I’m going to finish the story of Allison’s surprise bridal shower that takes place in the garden of Maddie Ashton’s mansion in Charleston. (Maddie is Allison’s best friend and the heroine of the upcoming book A Promise at Midnight, book 4 in the Deadly Force series.)  

Here is the first part of the story, where Maddie serves Raspberry Crumb Bars while the women talk about their men.

Here is the second part of the story, where Allison eats Blueberry Crumb Cake while opening up lingerie from her closest friends.

And now on to the third part… because it’s never too late to continue a story.


Allison ~ “After I stashed all of the lovely lingerie in the house so Susan wouldn’t see it, and spent a few minutes by myself brushing my hair and wiping the happy tears from my eyes, I returned to the garden. It took me a few minutes to find everyone, but I just followed the laughter (Yes, Maddie’s walled garden is that big!). 

When I turned a corner, and passed a fountain tucked within a wall, I found myself near a small lawn area. While Maddie’s garden is large, it’s mostly taken up with flower beds, lily ponds, and statuary. I didn’t even realize she had this small private spaced tucked way near the back of the property. It was a perfect place to set up a croquet course. Susan dashed past me with her mallet, ready to strike a ball. 

“Susan,” Vivienne, who stood off to the side drinking champagne, “this is croquet, not hockey. You strike the ball gently. You don’t need to hammer it into your neighbor’s garden.”

Susan laughed and swung like she was hitting a golf ball. Vivienne shook her head, and Samantha hurried over to show Susan how to play. Allison took a glass of champagne from a waiter and joined Maddie, Juliet, and Charlotte. They all had worried looks on their faces. “What’s wrong?”  

Charlotte pointed at Vivienne. “That woman. She says it’s her game and her rules.”

Vivienne glanced back at Charlotte and winked. “It’s not polite to point, dear.”

All of the women, except for Charlotte, laughed. 

Emilie placed a hand on Charlotte’s shoulder and whispered, “Vivienne is just… Vivienne. Once you get used to her, you’ll love her.”

“I don’t want to get used to her,” Charlotte’s eyes shone with laughter, “I think I want to be her when I grow up. I’d love to be in a position to boss everyone around, especially my husband Cain.”

All of the women laughed again, until Samantha yelled, “Watch out!”

A moment later, Susan’s croquet ball flew past and Allison heard glass shatter from the neighbor’s house. 

Vivienne hurried over and took Susan’s mallet. “That’s enough. Let’s play a real game.”

Maddie ran back to the house, probably to talk to her neighbor while Susan sat in a nearby iron garden chair and frowned. She obviously wanted her mallet back.

“What game?” Juliet asked. 

“Truth or Dare Croquet.” Vivienne’s smile was tight and her eyes had narrowed, as if she knew a secret no one else did. 

Which, considering that Vivienne was a high-end madam, was probably true. 

“I don’t know about this,” Juliet said as she sat next to Susan. Now they wore matching frowns. 

Samantha batted gnats and moved away from the oak tree she’d been standing beneath. “This sounds dangerous.”

“It is,” Vivienne said to Samantha. “Are you afraid?”

“I’m not,” Charlotte said before Samantha could answer.

“Wonderful.” Vivienne handed Charlotte a mallet. “If you want to strike the ball, you must request a truth or a dare. If l believe you are being truthful, or if you complete your dare, you can proceed.”

“I’m not playing,” Juliet said.

“Yes you are, dear.” Vivienne nodded toward the rack holding mallets. “In fact, you’re first.”

Juliet paled and Samantha dragged Juliet towards the first wicket.

Then Vivienne handed Juliet a mallet. “Truth or dare?”

Juliet swallowed and glanced at all of the women, as if hoping someone would save her. “Truth. I guess.”

Knowing Vivienne as well as I did, nothing was going to save any of us from this game.

Vivienne nodded. “So, Juliet, when did you and Rafe first kiss?”

Juliet blew out a breath, as if relieved. “When I was sixteen. On the night of my prom which I didn’t go to because I didn’t have a dress.”

Vivienne smiled and waved Juliet toward the first wicket. “Go ahead.”

Once Juliet hit her ball, Charlotte stepped up with her mallet and said, “Truth.”

“What is your greatest desire?” Vivienne asked.

“To have a baby.” Charlotte looked away, as if surprised by her own answer. 

I released a deep breath. This was becoming intense, although emotional intensity was Vivienne’s favorite thing to stir up.

“Go ahead.” Vivienne waved her goddaughter Emilie over. “Do you want a dare?”

Emilie nodded. 

I wasn’t surprised that Vivienne could guess Emilie’s preference. Vivienne had raised Emilie and Zack. She was the closest thing they had to a parent. Albeit an unconventional one. 

“I dare you to play this game barefoot,” Vivienne said.

“Sure.” A smiling Emile kicked off her sandals and took a mallet.

I heard the collective sigh from the other women. So far, this game wasn’t so hard.

As Emilie hit her ball, I noticed Maddie whispering in Susan’s ear. Susan shook her head and ran back toward the house. 

When Maddie headed in my direction, Vivienne stopped Maddie and handed her a mallet. “Truth or Dare.”

“I don’t want to play,” Maddie said firmly.

“I don’t care.” Vivienne stared at Maddie until they became locked in a staring contest.

Finally, Maddie said, “Whatever. Truth, I guess.”

“Since you’re almost ex-husband left the house, have you noticed any other man?”

Maddie flushed, her face turning a bright pink. “No.”

“You’re lying.”

Maddie raised her chin. “Does it really matter?”

Vivienne shrugged. “It does if you’re lying to yourself.”

Maddie looked away and said softly, “Yes.” Then she hit the ball so hard it soared over the garden wall, into her neighbor’s yard. A moment later they heard glass break. Again.

Maddie threw her mallet into the pink azaleas and stomped toward the house. I hoped for my friend’s sake that Maddie’s neighbor wasn’t home. I had no idea how Maddie was going to explain two broken windows in under an hour. 

When Vivienne turned her gaze on me, I finished my champagne in one gulp, handed it to a wandering waiter, and took a mallet., “Dare,” I said to her. I just wanted to get this over with so we could eat again. Earlier, I’d noticed the caterer putting out tea sandwiches and I was still hungry.

“I dare you to set a wedding date,” Vivienne said.

“Wait!” I waved my hand around. “Emilie just had to go barefoot!” Besides, Vivienne knew I wasn’t ready to set a date yet.

Vivienne raised one eye brow as if in rebuke.

My stomach growled and I stomped toward the first wicket. “I’ll talk to Zack tonight. I can’t set one by myself.”

Vivienne nodded. “As long as it’s before the end of the year.”

“That’s less than six months away!”

“I know, dear.” Vivienne nodded toward the wicket. “It’s your turn.”

Ugh. I now hated croquet. After I took my shot, Vivienne turned to Samantha who said, “Dare.”

Vivienne moved until she stood in front of Samantha. Then she placed a hand against her cheek. “I dare you to chooses the right man.”

Samantha paled and took a few steps back. From where I stood, I noticed Samantha’s shoulders trembling. And I decided I was done with Vivienne’s bullying.

“Game is over,” I said as I shoved my mallet back into the rack. “It’s my bridal shower and I’m hungry.”

Before anyone could complain, I led the way back to the house. It wasn’t until I stood before the table near the fountain that was loaded with tiny tea sandwiches that I realized I was shaking and my teeth were clenched. I loved Vivienne, and she was soon to be my godmother-in-law, but she could be a lot at times. 

Emilie appeared next to me and took a sandwich. Her sandals dangled from her other hand. “Try not to mind Vivienne. She has this thing about truth.”

“She’s just nosy.” I bit into my own sandwich, surprised at the delicious, tangy flavor. It was a chicken salad mixed with pineapple and pecans. “Zack tole me that Vivienne collects information so she can use it against people.”

Emilie slipped on her sandals and piled more of the chicken salad sandwiches onto her plate. “Only against powerful people who play her games. She’d never use the information about those she loves against us.”

“I doubt that,” Samantha said from the other side of the table. She was placing sandwiches on her plate. “I know people like Vivienne. They like to play games with people for fun.”

“That’s not true about my godmother,” Emilie said. 

Since I didn’t want a fight to break out among my new friends, I nodded at Charlotte, Juliet, and Sarah who’d just arrived. From the way they glanced between Samantha and Emilie, it was obvious they could feel the tension.

To change the subject, I winked at Sarah because she was the newest bride in the group and said, “Zack keeps asking me about honeymoons. And I wasn’t sure if we should even bother. What with everything going on with the men and He That Shall Not Be Named.”

Since we were all Harry Potter fans, we used that moniker to refer to the enemy of the men we love. None of us wanted to say the name Remiel Marigny. We didn’t want to jinx ourselves.

As everyone started talking at once, discussing the pros and cons of Europe versus the Caribbean versus a few nights in a local hotel, the tension dissipated. Even when Vivienne appeared to fill her plate, no one brought up the croquet game. We just ate sandwiches, talked about honeymoons, and gave up on drinking tea. After the waiter passed around more drinks–this time a champagne cocktail–the caterer cleared away the tea sets. 

I was grateful that an argument had been diverted, and I had no regrets about shutting down Vivienne’s game. Then I drowned my lingering doubts about marriage with the sparkly beverage. I rarely drank, but today I was indulging myself. I had a bright future ahead of me, even if I wasn’t ready to set a date. Although, the more Juliet talked about Venice as the perfect place to honeymoon, I found the tightness I’d been holding in my chest ease up a bit. Everything would be okay. It just had to be. And soon Zack and I would be married and living our own happily ever after. Regardless of what Remiel Marigny or anyone else had to say about it.”


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