Read Sisters and Husbands Online

Authors: Connie Briscoe

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Sisters and Husbands

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are
used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Copyright © 2009 by Connie Briscoe

All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced,
distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written
permission of the publisher.

Grand Central Publishing

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

www.twitter.com/grandcentralpub

First eBook Edition: June 2009

Grand Central Publishing is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The Grand Central Publishing name and logo is a trademark of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

ISBN 978-0-446-53489-5

Contents

Copyright

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Reading Group Guide

Prologue

I
can’t do this.” Beverly slipped out of Julian’s tight embrace and backed away from the queen-size hotel bed. With those simple
words she had abruptly altered the course of her life. She had put an end to “I do.” To bridal showers and wedding bells and
honeymoons.

Julian sat up, and the muscles in his bare bronze chest rippled softly as he reached for a pair of dark-rimmed eyeglasses
on the nightstand. “Did I do something wrong?” he asked as he put the glasses on. “Is it my breath? My underarms?” He lifted
an arm and sniffed playfully. That was Julian, always joking around and making her laugh. It wasn’t going to work this time.

She pulled her sleeveless black dress over her auburn shoulder-length hair, walked to the picture window of the Baltimore
Hyatt, and stared at the lights shimmering on the harbor. “I’m serious, Julian. This isn’t the time to be funny.”

She gripped the gold brocade drapes on the window, and her voice grew faint as she forced the words from her lips. “I can’t
go through with the wedding tomorrow. I can’t get married.” The corners of her eyes stung, and she closed and opened them
to fight back the tears. Somehow the lights on the harbor seemed to have grown dimmer across the night sky.

He was out of bed and standing behind her in a flash. He touched her bare shoulders gently, spoke softly. “You’re nervous,
Beverly. It’s normal to get cold feet the night before you get married, you know? Especially with all the problems your sisters
are having with their husbands lately.”

She nodded. “I admit that’s getting to me. Both of their marriages are suddenly falling apart, and it’s scaring me silly.
Instead of hearing wedding bells ringing in my head, I’ve got alarms going off like crazy. I tried to shake it and I—”

“You’ve done this before, Bev,” he interrupted anxiously. “Before me, you broke off two engagements.”

“Yes, but—”

“But nothing.” He squeezed her shoulders firmly. “I’m not like either one of the brothers you were with before. I’m not your
sisters’ husbands. Things are different with us. We talked about this.”

Beverly bit her bottom lip silently. Yes, she had broken off engagements twice before. And she had been right to do it both
times. She couldn’t go through with marriage unless she felt sure it would work out.

“I know. I thought it was different this time too,” she said. “And it is in a way. At least that’s what I tell myself.”

“Is there someone else?”

“What? No, no. It’s nothing like that.”

“You sure? You’d say so if there was?”

“Yes, I’m sure. There’s no one else.”

“Then what is it? I don’t get it.” He paused. “Is it marriage or is it me that’s the problem?”

Beverly shook her head. Julian had been nothing but sweet to her ever since they met at a party a year earlier, and she was
crazy about him. He was loyal, trustworthy, dependable. Best of all, he cherished her. And he had the kind of good looks and
charisma that crept up slowly and reeled you in before you knew what had taken hold of you. All that made for a solid, loving
relationship, and they had settled into a soothing rhythm together.

Still, her sisters had no doubt felt the same way when they got hitched and look at them now. Both of their marriages were
crumbling. Beverly didn’t want to go through the nuptials only to end up in divorce court. She knew the grim statistics, especially
for African Americans. She had read that two-thirds of marriages among black couples ended in divorce, and she had every reason
to believe it was true. She could see it all around her now with her sisters and friends. One divorce right after the other,
whether they’d been married for two years or twenty. If those were the odds, why take a chance?

She turned to face Julian to make her point. She wanted him to understand where she was coming from. “I still love you, Julian.
I still want to be with you. I’m just saying that we don’t have to get married. If we’re so happy now, why change things?”

Julian took her arms and tightened his grip as he looked down at her. “Bev, listen to me.” His brows wrinkled with anxiety
as he peered into her face. “You’re panicking and you’re not making any sense. Almost a hundred people are coming tomorrow
to see us get married. My family, your family, our friends. Thousands of dollars have been spent.”

She lowered her head. “I know.”

“I love you and I want to get married tomorrow. Don’t do this now. Don’t mess us up like this.”

His voice was so sad, it crushed her heart. But she knew she was right about this. And with time, Julian would come around
to seeing things her way. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Still, she couldn’t get married just because she was afraid she might lose
him. It was the wrong thing to do.

She removed the diamond ring from her third finger, left hand, and reached for his palm. He stepped back, holding his hands
up and refusing to accept it. So she placed it on the wooden table in front of the picture window.

“I’m so sorry, Julian,” she whispered. “But I can’t go through with it.” She reached out to soothe him, but he turned his
back to her and signaled for her to let it go.

She shoved her teddy into her overnight bag, slipped into her sandals, and ran out of the room and down the long corridor.
It felt like she had just dived into the blackness of the Baltimore Harbor.

Chapter 1

One Month Earlier

E
xactly four more weeks before her wedding day and Beverly couldn’t believe how calm she felt. She stepped onto the carpeted
platform at Vanessa’s Bridal Boutique on a balmy Saturday afternoon in early June and was startled at what she saw staring
back from the three-way mirror—a svelte but healthy-looking woman, thanks to recent workouts at the gym, appearing fabulous
in a strapless beaded ivory-colored satin gown.

The dress was feminine but not frilly—she couldn’t stand frilliness—and youthful but not too young—she was, after all, going
to be a thirty-nine-year-old bride. It was a staggering transformation from her usual self, dressed casually in blue jeans
or shorts, or a simple skirt and top for the office at the newspaper where she worked. At this moment, she was the picture
of elegant serenity.

The same couldn’t be said for her mother, standing just below, arms folded rigidly across her gray linen suit jacket, eyes
narrowed tightly as she scrutinized every movement of the seamstress. Mama looked perturbed enough for all three of them,
and she could be quite intimidating when she got in that state. It was a wonder the seamstress hadn’t swallowed the pins dangling
from her lips.

“Shouldn’t it be a little higher off the ground?” Mama asked testily.

The seamstress, a petite Latina named Isabella who looked to be in her late twenties, paused, stood up, and removed the straight
pins from her mouth. It was a small fitting room at the rear of the Baltimore bridal boutique, with just enough space for
the platform and three-way mirror, a couch, a coffee table piled high with back issues of
Brides
magazine, and a rack of coral-colored bridesmaid gowns. The air was filled with lint from fabrics of all kinds—silk, satin,
brocade, lace—and aligned along one wall were a half-dozen pairs of well-worn white heels in various sizes and heights.

“A lot of brides prefer their gowns just touching the ground,” Isabella said with a slight accent and studied patience. “For
a more graceful look.” She shrugged. “But I can make it long or short, whatever you wish.”

“I like it like this,” Beverly said firmly. “It’s perfect.”

Mama touched her chin thoughtfully. “Are you sure? I worry that the hemline will get dirty.”

“It’s not like I’ll be running down the street in the dress, Ma.”

“Hmm. Go ahead, then, if that’s what you want.”

Isabella stuck the pins in her mouth and got back down to business.

“I still can’t believe you’re standing here for your first fitting only a month before your wedding day,” Mama said for the
third time that afternoon. “When your sisters got married they had—”

“Ma, please. We’re not having a gigantic over-the-top affair like they did. It’s just family and close friends. Now why don’t
you sit down and relax?” She and Julian had agreed that they didn’t want one of those three-hundred-guest gazillion-dollar
extravaganzas that left everyone in debt for years to come.

Instead, they would go for something more intimate, with around a hundred people.

“I’m fine.” Mama smacked her lips, glanced at her watch, peeked behind the curtain toward the entrance to the bridal shop,
and whipped her cell phone out of her purse practically all at once, which told Beverly she was not fine. Not even close.

“Who are you calling, Ma?”

“Your sisters,” Mama said, dialing anxiously. “They’re already fifteen minutes late. I want to make sure everyone gets here
for their fitting before I leave to go see the florist about the flowers for decorating the reception area.”

As if on cue, Beverly heard the front door of the boutique squeak open, and a few seconds later, her oldest sister rushed
into the fitting room looking slim and chic in a buttery yellow pantsuit and a pair of cute black patent-leather sandals.
Beverly always found it hard to believe that Evelyn was forty-seven years old. People often thought that Evelyn was younger
than their middle sister, Charmaine, who had just turned forty-five. Of course, being asked if she was the oldest always thoroughly
pissed Charmaine off.

Beverly suspected that Evelyn’s youthful looks had to do with the way she always managed to seem so calm and collected, so
sure of herself. Beverly liked to joke that a tornado could strike, tossing and turning everything and everyone in its path,
and when it was over, Evelyn would be standing with her neat pixie haircut and little designer suit perfectly in place. Even
now, as Evelyn darted into the fitting room, she looked totally put together, as if she were about to take a front-row seat
near the runway at a fashion show in New York or Paris.

“Sorry to be so late,” Evelyn said. “Traffic was backed up coming into Baltimore like you wouldn’t believe.” Evelyn eyed Beverly,
placed her hands on her hips, and smiled broadly. “You look absolutely stunning in that dress, girl. It’s gorgeous.”

Beverly smiled. “Thanks.”

“Designer?”

“Uh, no name that you would recognize, Evelyn.”

Evelyn cocked her head to the side. “Isn’t it a little too long?”

Beverly threw her hands in the air.

“That’s what I told her,” Mama said as she paced the floor and dialed another number on her cell phone.

The seamstress paused again, looking bewildered.

“Just ignore them and continue, please,” Beverly said to Isabella. “The length is
fine,
” she said with pointed finality to everyone else.

“If you say so,” Evelyn said, looking doubtful. “Don’t mind me, then. Who are you calling, Ma?”