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The Next Best Day
Author: Sharon Sala



Chapter One

   It was Saturday in Albuquerque. The first Saturday in February and it was cold. But weather was not an issue for twenty-nine-year-old Katie McGrath. She awakened in a state of absolute bliss, calm and confident in everything this day would bring, because she was getting married.

   And she wasn’t just gaining a husband. She was getting a family, something she’d never had. She didn’t know where she came from, or who her parents were, or if she had any extended family. All she’d ever known was foster care.

   She’d come close to getting adopted more than once, but every time, something would happen. Either the couple changed their minds about adopting or decided she wasn’t the right fit for their family.

   By the time she was twelve, she had a chip on her shoulder and was tired of pretending anyone cared about her. At that point, she was just another half-grown kid in the foster care system, so she made her peace with it and finally aged out.

   Once she graduated from high school in Chicago and left the foster care system, she knew exactly what she was going to do. She wanted to be a teacher, and with the help of a couple of grants and working two jobs for four years, she put herself through college.

   Coming to Albuquerque to teach, which was where she was now, was also where she met Mark Roman. He was a farm boy from Kansas who had a junior position in a CPA firm, while Katie taught at Saguaro Elementary. Now, three years later, here they were, ready to take that next step in their relationship, and she couldn’t be happier.

   She was just getting out of the shower when she got a text from Lila Reece, a fellow teacher who’d become her best friend, and today, her maid of honor.

   It was a “good morning, good luck, see you at the chapel” kind of message, but it brought reality to the day. It was time to get moving.

   After breakfast, Katie loaded up her things, made a quick trip to her hairdresser, then hurried off to the chapel to meet Lila.

   Lila was short, blond, and curvy—the opposite of Katie, who was tall with dark shoulder-length hair and the metabolism Lila longed for.

   When Katie pulled up in the parking lot, Lila helped carry in the dress and everything that went with it.

   “I love your hair!” Lila said, eyeing the smooth, silky strands as they headed inside.

   Katie smiled. “Thanks. This style works really well with the veil,” she said.

   They spent the next couple of hours getting ready in one of the dressing rooms, laughing and talking.

   Gordy Thurman, Mark’s best man, arrived early, too, and popped in to give her a thumbs-up.

   “Hey, Katie, you look beautiful. So do you, Lila,” he said.

   “Thanks,” Katie said. “Is Mark here yet?”

   “Not yet, but we both know Mark Roman is never going to be the early bird. He’ll be here soon,” Gordy said, then waved and went to find the men’s dressing room.

   The wedding chapel was a popular venue, even though the wedding wasn’t going to be a large one.

   Just Katie and Mark.

   A maid of honor and a best man…and fifty guests.

   The florist stopped by the bride’s dressing room to drop off flowers, then scurried away.

   Katie was listening without comment to Lila’s continuous spiel about what a fun weeklong honeymoon she and Mark were going to have at the Bellagio in Vegas.

   “You’re going to be in the honeymoon suite, living it up. That should warrant enough good luck to do a little gambling while you’re there,” Lila said.

   Katie laughed. “We have a little money put aside for that, too.”

   They were down to finishing touches when Katie finally sat on a bench so that Lila could fasten the veil to Katie’s hair.

   Once Lila finished, she eyed the pretty woman before her and sighed.

   “You look breathtaking, my friend. Your wedding dress is as elegant as you are. Mark is one very lucky man.”

   Katie shivered. “I’m the lucky one,” she said, then got up, moved to the full-length mirror in the corner of the room, and did a full turn, eyeing herself from front to back. She felt beautiful and loved.

   She was still thinking of Mark when her cell phone rang. When she saw it was him, joy bubbled up into her voice.

   “Hello, darling. Are you as ready as I am?”

   “Um…Katie…I have something to tell you,” Mark said.

   Katie laughed. “Sorry, but last-minute jitters are not allowed.”

   “It’s not jitters, Katie. I’m so sorry, but I can’t marry you.”

   Katie’s knees went out from under her. For a few horror-filled moments, this was her childhood all over again. She reached backward for a chair that wasn’t there and sat down on the floor.

   “What do you mean, you can’t marry me?”

   Lila saw her fall and then heard those words coming out of Katie’s mouth and gasped, but when she started toward her, Katie held up her hand.

   Lila froze in midstep—horrified.

   “I can’t marry you because I’m already married…to Megan. We eloped to Vegas last night. I’m sorry but—”

   Katie went numb. “Megan who?” Then she gasped. “Megan, your boss’s daughter, Megan? You married Walt Lanier’s daughter? Just like that?”

   Mark Roman sighed. “No, not just like that. We’ve been seeing each other for a while and—”

   Katie’s voice rose two octaves. “You’ve been cheating on me and still playing out this wedding lie? When you knew it wasn’t going to happen? What kind of a lowlife does that?”

   “I know you’re—”

   Katie interrupted him again. “Oh! Now your unexpected promotion makes sense. Your boss can’t have his daughter married to a lowly CPA in the financial department.”

   “Look, Katie, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. It just—”

   Tears were rolling down Katie’s face, and her heart was pounding so hard she didn’t know she was screaming.

   “You lie! You don’t give a damn about what you just did to me. Just stop talking. I can’t believe I was this blind, but I’m beginning to realize how freaking lucky I am to find this out about you now. You are a cheat and a liar, and you just sold your honor and your word for money. You deserve each other.”

   “I’m sorry… I’m really—”

   Katie interrupted him again.

   “Not as sorry as you’re going to be when you remember everything about today was paid for with your credit card,” Katie said, and hung up.

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