He stopped and turned back to face her. “Yes?”
“Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“About what?” She’d never seen him so stiff and unfriendly. It was even worse than it had been before the rehearsal. “Everything for the wedding is set, isn’t it?”
“Then we have nothing to talk about.”
His abrupt shutdown rattled her. “I, I mean, could you please just give me two minutes to talk about what happened at the concert?”
He shook his head, his jaw so tight it was like stone. “I think you said all you needed to say on that stage, don’t you?”
She had said a lot, but she had said all the wrong things. “No. Please, Colin. You don’t understand how much I—”
He held up his hand to silence her. “Natalie, stop. You don’t want to marry me. That’s fine. I’m through with trying to convince unwilling women to be my wife. But like I said that night, I’m done. I don’t want to discuss it ever again. Let’s just forget it ever happened so we can get through this wedding without any more drama, okay?”
Before she could answer, Colin turned and disappeared from the chapel. Natalie heard the chime as he opened the front door and headed for his truck.
With every step he took, she felt her heart sink further into her stomach. Her knees threatened to give out from under her, forcing her to sit down in one of the rear pews. She held it together long enough for the musicians to leave, but once she was alone, she completely came undone.
It had been a long time since Natalie cried—good and cried. She got teary at the occasional commercial or news article. She’d shed a tear with Amelia when she lost her first baby in the spring and a few at the concert the other night. But nothing like this. Not since...she paused in her tears to think. Not since her father left Christmas day.
She dropped her face into her hands, trying not to ugly sob so loudly that it echoed through the chapel. There were a lot of people going in and out of the building today, but she didn’t want anyone to see her in such a wretched state.
“Natalie?” a voice called from behind her, as if on cue.
She straightened to attention, wiping her eyes and cheeks without smearing her mascara. “Yes?” she replied without turning around to expose her red, puffy face. “What do you need?”
Natalie sensed the presence move closer until she noticed Gretchen standing at the entrance of the pew beside her. “I need you to scoot over and tell me what the hell is going on.”
She complied, knowing there was no way out of this now. Gretchen settled into the seat, politely keeping her gaze trained on the front of the chapel. She didn’t say a word, waiting for Natalie to spill her guts on her own time.
“I like Christmas,” Natalie confessed. “I like the lights and the food and the music. My holiday humbug days are behind me.”
“What? That’s why you’re crying?”
“Yes. No. Yes and no. I’m crying because I’ve finally found my Christmas spirit and it doesn’t matter. None of it matters because Colin and I are over.”
Gretchen groaned in disappointment. “What happened? You seemed pretty enamored with him a few days ago.”
“He...proposed. Onstage at the Blake Wright concert. In front of everyone.”
“Well, I could see how a lifetime promise of love and devotion in front of thousands of witnesses could ruin a relationship.”
Natalie noted her friend’s flat tone. “I panicked. And I said no. And I didn’t do it well. I said some pretty ugly things to him.”
Gretchen put her arm around Natalie’s shoulder. “Why are you fighting this so hard? What are you afraid of, Natalie?”
“I’m afraid...” She took a deep breath. “I’m afraid that I’m going to let myself fall for the fantasy and he’s going to leave.”
“The fantasy?” Gretchen questioned.
“How can you still see it as a fantasy when you know you’re in love with him?”
“Because I can’t be certain it’s real. This could just be a biological attachment to ensure the care of my nonexistent offspring. And even if it is real, I can’t be sure it will last.”
“You can’t be certain of anything in life, Natalie. Maybe it’s biology, maybe it’s not. But by pushing Colin away, you’re guaranteeing that you’re going to lose him. It doesn’t matter if your feelings will last now.”