Fighting Mad #2 copyWhen the first raindrop, fat and noisy, splashed down and rattled a delicate china teacup on its saucer, I knew we had a problem and not just with the wedding. The day had dawned sunny bright with just enough cool in the air to feel like early spring, not yet summer, but there was something deliberately provocative about that raindrop, something willfully antagonistic. Alarm shot down my spine as I stared at the glistening damp spot and felt the tension in air thicken.

I told myself that was silly. All weddings were tense, and an event planner prepares for emergencies. After the freak snowstorm of last year, I had space heaters stashed in the barn just in case, and I’d mapped out alternate table settings if we had to move the whole event indoors.

But when I glanced around, I saw the normal hustle and bustle of preparation had come to a halt. Instead of carrying dishes back and forth, the waiters in their black tuxes clustered together and peered up at the sky. A few early guests also gathered in pockets and quickly passed from squealing greetings and hugs to shaking their heads and pointing up.

I could see the dark bank of clouds brewing, heavy and black and stretching from end to end across the horizon. However, I could also still see clear skies before that line of thunderstorms, bright blue with the white light of early morning. The light breeze had picked up, but it felt damp. Was it wishful thinking on my part to say the clouds seemed far off?


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“Carla, that’s not what I think it is, is it?” Marilee, a big girl, tall with a grand figure, came up behind me and frowned at the sky with her hands on her hips. She wore an elegant black sheath with a trumpet skirt that made her an impressive, if not exactly welcoming, hostess of the bed and breakfast where the wedding was being held. I’d asked her for intimidating, as Missy Harrington and her mother had been difficult the entire planning process. Marilee had delivered in four-inch heels that put her well over six feet.

“What is what?” Murphy, the bartender, continued setting out glasses. His hands were restlessly busy, wiping glasses and countertop as they straightened and sorted. Murphy was tall with the lean chiseled physique of a gym rat, sun-kissed hair, and brown eyes that were as warm and seductive as melted caramel. I’d been not so secretly in love with him for years, but we’d only recently come to an understanding. I still had to work at not giggling and stammering when we met.

In my flat, sensible shoes, I barely topped five feet, but then, I meant to run around checking arrangements. The open field in front of the Old Jennings Place bed and breakfast looked amazing if I did say so myself. Pristine white tents with the side panels tied back sheltered round tea tables dotted across the newly sprouted grass. Crystal vied with silver to sparkle on bright, white linens topped with miniature hydrangea topiaries nestled among ferns and accented with roses.

Missy hadn’t been able to decide on a single color, so I used all of her choices, pale pink and rose against the baby blue and lavender of the hydrangea. The effect was authentic Edwardian right down to the stately house behind us. I knew Marilee hadn’t been able to get the whole house repainted before last winter’s snow, but the side facing the parking area was a rich gray with gingerbread trim painted a glossy white. No one would know the difference, as no one was likely to wander back into the woods that surrounded the house. The only incongruous note was the shiny red barn on the other side of the field, but it would have to do.

The sparkle and glamour of my carefully prepared tea dimmed rapidly in the growing gloom of the overcast skies. I frowned up at the looming clouds. “They’re not getting closer, are they?” I asked Marilee, hoping she would tell me the clouds weren’t moving as fast as I could see they were.

“Um, maybe we should think about getting everything inside,” Marilee answered instead. “That bulge there at the bottom, that’s a tornado forming.”

“That’s a myth,” I protested. “Besides, tornadoes don’t form in hills. Everyone knows that.”

“No, that’s a myth,” Marilee rejoined. “We’d better get inside.”

She turned back to the house just as the wedding party came out the front door. Missy laughed as she followed her new husband out onto the porch, ducking her head to avoid the shower of rose petals select guests threw. Not everyone had been invited to the ceremony, unlike the reception, but Missy had insisted on the finest for every part of her nuptials. I winced inside, seeing my healthy paycheck flying away with the rose petals.

Missy clapped a hand to her head to hold onto her veil as she hurried down the steps, her filmy train caught up in the other hand. She had embraced period attire, but her dress was really more Gatsby than Gibson Girl with yards of tulle floating around clingy, form-fitting silk. Her new spouse remained on the porch, chatting with friends and accepting slaps on the back, but Mrs. Harrington and several other women leaned over the rail and held out their hands to check the rain.

“What is going on?” Missy cried out as she came running up. She had to clap both hands to her head to hold down the wreath that crowned her veil. Tulle whipped around her, so she fought her clothing as much as the wind. I glanced back at the marquee and saw that it strained against the ropes that secured it. A splash of rain danced across the field and sent waiters and guests both scurrying for cover.

“It can’t rain!” Missy screeched. “It’s my wedding!”

“I don’t think we get a vote.” Marilee sounded almost panicked as she wobbled on her heels, fighting the wind across the tiny formal garden in front of the bed and breakfast.

Missy started crying as her veil wrapped around her, binding her as effectively as any vows.

I tried to help her get untangled, but I couldn’t get a grip on the flying fabric. When I heard the rip, I thought I’d finally managed to get hold of the thing, and then I realized the sound came from behind me.

Through the gray curtain of rain that now blanketed the field, I saw the large white tent stretch like a rubber band, and then panel after panel peeled back until the whole thing collapsed onto the remains of shattered tea tables and china. I saw the bottom of the cloud overhead shoot out a funnel like a greedy claw and snatch the flying panels out of the air. Then the funnel folded back into the thundering clouds as rolling and roiling, they began to swell and distend.

A sudden gust of wind sent me stumbling and the rain started coming down in sheets. I found myself crawling on my hands and knees in a rapidly growing mud puddle. This was no spring shower. The newly sprouted grass was no match for the deluge. This was a torrent of Biblical proportions and my one good skirt, now riding up my thighs, was going to be ruined. That thought more than any other made me stand up and scream, “Stop it, stop it, stop it!”

A distant rumble like the sound of an approaching avalanche began to build. I heard a high-pitched cry over the booming crescendo and realized Marilee was yelling from the porch. She waved frantically as I fought against the wind and the rain. Marilee started to leave the shelter of the porch, but her husband grabbed her. I also saw him waving frantically, so I don’t think he meant for me to be alone out in the storm, but I didn’t think I could make it inside on my own.

A gulping sob tore out of me as I realized that, but I staggered forward anyway. In the dim light, I could see more people on the porch yelling and waving, and one figure in particular running toward me, white shirt glowing in the stormy gloom. Murphy tossed me over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry and took off running again.

The breath knocked out of me, I braced myself against the crazy bounce and peered through the hurtling rain. Dimly, I could see rain skating across the gravel of the parking lot, the red barn oddly bright in the gloom, and for a moment, a tall figure with a crown of antlers, a dark silhouette against dark skies. The figure reared up, head thrown back, and then the sound of the tornado broke across us in a roaring boom that threatened to drown out every other noise. Murphy and I barreled into the house as the rumble crashed overhead into a sudden, startled silence broken only by the high-pitched keening from the distraught bride.

“I don’t believe this,” Missy shrieked. “This can’t be happening!” Bridesmaids fluttered around her in cooing sympathy, but they fell back as Missy reached the point of swinging instead of just crying in her temper tantrum.

“Oh c’mon.” Marilee walked by, her arms full of towels. She widened her eyes at me as she jerked her head in Missy’s direction. “No one can control the weather. And besides which, we’re indemnified from acts of God or nature. Read your contract.”

I clung to Murphy, shaken and teary-eyed myself, but my distress wasn’t from the ruined wedding. The storm was a message, a threat directed at me, Murphy, and everyone I knew. It wasn’t just an unexpected early spring storm. I knew who was behind it and I knew the message it sent. Panicking, I turned to search for my daughters as Ashley came running into my arms, her sister, Lauren, close behind.

Missy still screamed, but she’d reached the point where her words were so tangled up with breathless sobs that she was largely incomprehensible. No one seemed to notice as no one was particularly paying attention. Mrs. Harrington sniffled into the shoulder of a stout, balding man who happily loosened his tie, and Missy’s groom stood at the front window, his groomsmen pointing out items of interest in excited updates.

“Oh man, there goes your car,” one of them exclaimed happily and the one bridesmaid who had been ineffectually patting Missy’s shoulder left to join the crowd at the window. An older guest tried to marshal them back into the protection of the interior walls, but younger members of the wedding party darted around him and back to the window.

Missy managed to lunge to her feet. Her once pretty fluttering gown hung in sodden tatters and she shook from rage as much from cold. “You are so fired! I will sue you for every dime you have. You are in so much trouble, you have no idea how much trouble you are in!”

I stared numbly at her, my thoughts tumbling between the sudden, severe storm and the message it delivered. I felt bad for Missy in a dim sort of way. I knew how important her wedding was to her. Heck, my fledgling business had just blown away with a rented tent, but as I saw the worry on Murphy’s face grow, I knew we had much bigger problems than a rained-out party. “Missy, honey, you have no idea how much trouble we’re in.”