Wedding Dress for Sale
by Natale Stenzel
Not even the bride could deny a certain punch-line quality to her current situation: hard-nosed divorce attorney dumps her fiancé and her career to take a job selling wedding gowns.
Sydney Garfield has always approached relationships rationally—none of this emotional head-over-heels or opposites-attract business. Marrying Jack Kaiser is the smart thing to do—after all, he’ll be the “perfect” husband. But after a life-changing shake-up at work, Sydney abandons logic—and her fiancé—to chase the fairy tale.
Real-estate mogul Jack can’t believe the woman he’s head-over-heels for is ditching her hard-won success—and him—to work as a small-town shop clerk. That’s her idea of a fairy tale? Hoping she’s merely in need of time, Jack follows Sydney to Smizer Mill, where he invests in the quaint coffee shop next door. Now, he’s got a few new challenges: make a failing coffee shop a success and convince Sydney that theirs is a romance worthy of a true happily ever after.
© 2012 Natale Stenzel
Sydney Garfield held yards of snowy white satin and linen piled high in her arms, so she shoved the door open with her shoulder. The cheerfully impersonal greeting of a door chime declared her arrival. She flinched and glanced over her shoulder. Nobody was watching.
Well, of course they weren’t watching. She was miles and miles from anyone who would care that she was here.
“Hello?” She peered around the now-silent shop, wishing she could just finish this quickly and leave. “Anyone here?” And where would she go when she did leave? Genius that she was, she hadn’t really thought that far ahead.
“I’ll be right there!” a woman called from the back of the boutique, where Sydney saw an open doorway framed by swags of white tulle and ivy. “Are you here about the job opening?”
Sydney blinked. Life was full of irony, she supposed. She cleared her throat. “Ah, no. Actually…”
Almost immediately, a woman with pixie-cut silver hair emerged from the doorway, a swatch of dangling tulle knocking her eyeglasses askew as she smoothed the front of her pink slacks. A delighted smile lit up her heart-shaped face as she hurried toward Sydney. “I’m so pleased you dropped in. Welcome to Ginnie’s Bridal Boutique. I’m Ginnie. Is there something I can help you with today?” Absently straightening her glasses with one fingertip to the nosepiece, she glanced at Sydney’s poufy armful.
Sydney glanced down, too, her throat tightening and heart suddenly heavy. “I hope so.” As the door chimed again, she concentrated on keeping her voice even. “I’m here to sell a wedding dress. It’s never been worn. I read online that you did some consignment—”
“You’re selling your wedding dress?” came a familiar voice from behind her. “That’s why you drove all the way out here?”
As the door whispered shut, the bell chimed again and she whirled around. Jack Kaiser. Great. Just the man she should not see right now—even as she helplessly gorged herself on the sight of him. Having discarded his usual jacket and tie, he still wore his suit shirt. Normally, it was starched and crisp, but the garment was slightly rumpled now, with the sleeves folded up to the elbows. The stark, white cloth and black suit pants emphasized his dramatic coloring: olive skin, nearly black and curling hair, and those riveting, silvery eyes gleaming between dark lashes. He also had lovely, thick forearms for a desk type. Like the rest of him, they were big and solid; reassuring, tempting, and unbearably confusing. He looked so good it made her feel weepy inside.
She disliked being confused, she hated needing reassurance, and she absolutely despised wanting—no, needing—to see him this badly. When had he become her weakness? She hated feeling weak even more than she hated confusion. No doubt her friend Dru would accuse her of behaving like a wimpy damsel—or she should, anyway.
His presence, so large and masculine in this soft, girly shop, gave her the sudden urge to rebel like a toddler—stick her tongue out at the very least. See how messed up she was? A thirty-one-year-old conflicted weenie damsel child. The Sydney of a few short weeks ago wouldn’t have dreamed of sticking her tongue out at anyone unless she was using it to verbally annihilate someone in need of annihilation. Where was that Sydney? Had she lost her? Had she ever even existed? Sydney didn’t know.
Forcing a show of composure, she coolly deliberated his question. “Well. I have a wedding dress to sell.” She glanced at the white bulk in her arms. “And this shop will sell it for me.” She gazed around at the store’s interior. “I think here is right where I should be.”
Propping big hands on lean hips, Jack gave her a harassed look. “Gee, Sydney. Overreact much?”
Verbal annihilation sounded like a great plan.
But almost immediately, male eyebrows winged toward his hairline and Jack held up both hands in a concessionary gesture. “I’m sorry. That came out—” He shook his head and waved a hand, no doubt dismissing the rest of his intended words as obvious. “But damn it, why are you selling your wedding dress? So we had a disagreement.” He frowned. “Whose real subject I admit is something of a mystery to me.” He shook his head again, his thick black hair brushing against his shirt collar and curling around it. “But isn’t that how it works?”
“What? Argue and break up?” Sydney forced a tight smile. “Sure. Then the girl walks out, and that’s what I did. Why again are we discussing the obvious?”
“No, damn it. Sure, you argue, but then you make up, you forget about it—” Light gray eyes widening, he held up his hands again. “No. Wait. I’m sorry. Whatever it sounds like, I swear I’m not trivializing your feelings. More like…reeling. It’s not every day a guy finds out his future bride is selling her wedding dress.”
At this, Ginnie the storeowner glanced at Jack, then at Sydney, then back again, her hands clasped and tucked under her chin. Given the sparkle in those blue eyes, she was shamelessly enjoying the drama unfolding before her.
“Well, what else would I do but get rid of the dress?” Sydney eyed Jack with exasperation to hide her confusion and threatening tears. How could she possibly explain what she didn’t understand herself? Sure, someone else’s act of violence had completely overturned Sydney’s view of life and relationships. No doubt everyone back in St. Louis assumed that she’d flipped out due to trauma. What they didn’t realize, however, was that the confrontation with Murphy, bad as it was, had left her mostly unmoved, compared to the devastation she’d experienced a few days later.
During that last night with Jack, she’d dropped all of her barriers, leaving a veil of light-headed euphoria and terror in their place, nearly but not quite revealing some terrifying truth that felt just beyond her grasp. She hated that. She felt like a child hiding from the truth because she just couldn’t handle it. When did she get so messed up? She used to know what she was doing. She’d had everything sorted out logically and chronologically, and it all had seemed so clear. Now she realized that nearly all of her major life decisions were based on shallow thinking and foolish, shortsighted fallacy—including, most especially, her decision to marry Jack. “The wedding’s off, remember? I’m just cleaning house now.”
“What, you couldn’t find a bridal shop in St. Louis to handle your business? You had to drive across four counties to ‘clean house’?”
“Noticed that, huh?” She smiled tightly. “Stalk much?”
“Only when it comes to my fiancée.” Heavy brows lowered stubbornly. He’d driven all this way just for her. She couldn’t believe it—but she also couldn’t allow herself to acknowledge or accept it. A sweeping, romantic gesture was just that: a gesture. However appreciated, it couldn’t magically transform a shallow relationship into something solid and real. She steeled herself and spoke firmly. “But we’re not engaged anymore. That means I’m not your fiancée.”
“Excellent.” Defensiveness faded to cold temper—evident only by the suddenly flat look in his eyes and equally flat tone of voice. “It appears I now have my own walking, talking—even stalking—dictionary.”
“I’m not the one stalking—”
“Well, one good turn deserves another.” He smiled grimly. “You refine my arguments, and I’ll make your sales pitch.”
“Jack, that’s not funny.” Her heart pounded a litany of dread. This was where things could turn very ugly.
“Who’s joking?” He turned to the boutique owner with a charming smile. “Good morning.”
Dropping her folded hands to her waist, Ginnie offered a quietly inquisitive look. “Are you sure? Because from where I’m standing it’s sounding kind of tense. Maybe the two of you should look into counseling. I could recommend any number of—”
“Oh, no, no.” Jack’s tone was effusive, if disingenuous. “My bride wants to sell, so sell she shall. What are your terms?”
“Actually, I don’t buy the gowns myself.” Ginnie’s smile was apologetic. “I just offer consignment-type services—you know, helping buyer and seller make a love connection? I provide space on our sales floor upstairs, reserved for previously purchased gowns.” She gestured toward a romantic, spiraling staircase with a scripted sign posted tastefully on its railing. “Second-Story Bridal. That’s what we call it. Do you like it?” She smiled with obvious enthusiasm. “It’s my latest business venture—and already booming.”
“I like it.” Jack nodded agreeably. “Very catchy.” As a crackerjack salesman himself, Jack’s opinion would go a long way toward predicting success, Sydney knew. Usually his own deals were on the multimillion-dollar level, however, and involved the exchange of titles to valuable land and/or sophisticated architecture.
“That’s what I’m hoping. My Clara also put up this nifty page on my website where, for a nominal fee, you can upload all your sales information.” She raised her eyebrows significantly. “This system broadens my customer base. A small town like Smizer Mill only produces or draws so many brides, you know, so I had to be innovative.” She lowered her voice to a confidential tone. “Just a little hint to help you decide…Internet sales of used gowns have gone through the roof, at least for me. Thrift is trending—and, frankly, keeping me in business.”
“Good to know.” Jack nodded, then sent Sydney a politely inquiring look. “So are we going with the Internet exposure and nominal fee or strictly with the brick-and-mortar sales floor?”
Stomach knotting, Sydney pretended to ponder, fingertip to chin. “I’m not sure.” She glanced at the storeowner, careful to keep her tone mocking for Jack’s benefit. “If you could be more specific on the ‘nominal’ part…?”
“Of course!” The woman waved them over to her desk, where she opened a drawer and pulled out a cheerful pink brochure. “Here we are.” Placing it in front of them, she opened the flyer and pointed to various items. “You’ll see there’s a sample web entry—note the instructions for including pictures, gown details, and sizing information—plus general terms here. If you decide you’re interested, I have a contract you can look over and sign, too.”
Jack snagged up the brochure and briskly read through it. “And suppose she throws in accessories for a special price, or even for free?” He glanced back at Sydney, his expression completely impersonal. “You have a veil, don’t you? Also never worn?”
Mentally recoiling as if she’d taken a punch to the gut, Sydney barely kept her composure as she nodded speechlessly. But she wouldn’t—
“Excellent.” Jack turned back to the woman. “Maybe we could work out a package deal, then. Or, wait, I know! What about a barter-type agreement? You know, since you’re in the same industry, except on different ends…kind of the dewy-eyed entrance and the hostile exit, followed by the eventual and profitable do-overs. You could even troll each other’s past client lists and—”
“Jack!” Sydney couldn’t take any more. How could he? It wasn’t like that for her. He knew it wasn’t like that. And as for the veil…well, no, he didn’t know about the veil—few did—but she’d never sell the veil.
“Sydney.” Looking shaky himself, Jack tipped his head forward, acknowledging the line he’d crossed. “That was… I didn’t mean that. I’m sorry.” He glanced back at her, his expression intense as his eyes searched hers. “I guess…I just can’t believe you’re selling us out. Just like that. Is it so easy for you?”
It should be. Maybe it hurt so much because she was letting go of more than the man. The idea of the man. The idea of a future she’d envisioned. A bright, logical, but strictly two-dimensional life plan. It was long past time to find that third dimension. “Please, Jack. Just go.”
He nodded, then paused as if disoriented before setting the brochure down on the desk and patting it awkwardly. As he did so, Ginnie reached out and caught his hand. When he glanced up—no doubt taken aback by a strange female holding his hand—the older woman looked into his eyes, though her own gaze seemed distant. “It will be okay, I think.” She smiled gently and lowered her voice. “Sometimes couples just need a jolt or two before they wake up and smell the coffee. Then they know what’s real and what’s not. You will, too.”
Seeming nonplussed, he didn’t comment on her insight, just discreetly slipped his hand free, turned, and walked toward the door. A few paces shy of the exit, however, he stopped and half turned, an index finger raised as if he’d just remembered something. “Mechanic. Take your car in.”
Sydney frowned. “Huh?”
He shrugged and flushed slightly. “I—your left brake light’s out. I noticed it when I saw your car go by this morning. You know, the coffee shop…”
Right. “Their” coffee shop, situated at a midpoint between their office buildings, was where they had a standing Tuesday morning date. Except they weren’t dating anymore. And yet he’d shown up? She looked away, heart racing as she tried desperately not to wish herself back to that coffee shop. It was all a mirage. She needed to remember that.
“Anyway, I was in my car when I saw you drive by. I thought I’d just follow you that last block or two to your office so I could warn you. But you didn’t stop. So I kept following you.”
“Across four counties?”
He sighed and met her eyes over his shoulder. “Yeah. Across four counties. Sue me for being worried. After everything with Murphy, I was afraid—” He broke off. “I tried calling. You wouldn’t answer your phone and…hell, you just kept going. I couldn’t figure out why. I still can’t.”
When he held her gaze for a moment, as if expecting an explanation that would make sense to him, she couldn’t produce even a word. Nothing. How could she make him understand? She barely understood herself. That’s why she’d had to leave.
So Jack turned away and the door chime cheered his exit.
Sydney exhaled a shaky breath. Part of her wanted to race after him. The other part felt numb with shock but working desperately toward acceptance. Breathing deeply to slow her racing heart, she blinked a few times to clear her vision before she met Ginnie’s eyes again.
The older woman looked kind and avidly curious. “You’re not selling the veil, are you.” It wasn’t a question.
Startled, Sydney could only shake her head.
“I didn’t think so. Family heirloom?”
“Sort of.” She cleared her throat. “It was my grandmother’s. Well, the train from her wedding dress.” She shrugged. “My mom was going to wear the dress when she got married, but it was stained, so she made a veil out of the dress’s train. It had a lacy overskirt.”
Ginnie nodded. “That’s clever. So then your mother wore it and passed it on to you?”
Sydney shook her head. “She never had the chance to wear a veil or any formal kind of wedding dress. It didn’t suit the occasion.” She laughed, but not convincingly, even to her own ears. “A shotgun wedding at the courthouse followed by a husband honeymooning in absentia and quickie divorce. It was quite the love story.”
Sydney had intended to do so much better than that. Think with her head, choose with her head, then put the damn veil on her head. Why could nothing be that simple? She squeezed her eyes shut. “I did want to sell the dress, though. It’s never been worn.”
“Let’s have a look, then.” With a reassuring smile, Ginnie took the fluffy burden from Sydney and unzipped the linen carrier to reveal its contents. “Very nice. Designer, too, I would think.” She glanced from Sydney to the dress, held it absently in front of Sydney, and frowned. “But no. I don’t think so.”
“Uh, no, it is. A McQueen, actually. I—” Sydney dug through her bag and pulled out the paperwork.
Ginnie continued to gaze at the dress. “Yes, definitely designer. It’s a gorgeous piece. Very sophisticated and modern. Somebody will snap it up in no time. Somebody expensive and bold with a sassy haircut and sassier eyes. I’m picturing an exuberant up-and-comer with a kiss-my-Match-dot-com-profile-good-bye grin on her face.” Glazed look and amused delight fading from her expression, Ginnie met Sydney’s eyes frankly. “But it’s not your dress. Not this one.”
And what the hell did that mean? “I have a receipt.”
Ginnie shook her head and, cheeks flushing slightly, gave a lopsided smile. “I’m sorry. I’m not making myself clear. I don’t doubt that you paid for this gown. It’s just that wedding dresses are my specialty, and when I look at this one, I don’t see you in it. I would have pictured something more traditional and romantic on you. Maybe something vintage, with memories and dreams woven into the lace. It’s just the look of you, I think. Unexpected. You know, your heart shines from your eyes when you talk about the veil.”
Sydney just stared, wondering when she’d been transported to another planet. A lovely planet, actually; compelling and yet so alien. Maybe it existed in that third dimension she was lacking?
Ginnie smiled gently. “But there’s a dress for you. There always is if you look hard enough.” And, sure, she guessed Ginnie was talking about more than dresses now.
Sydney was quite certain she wasn’t ready for this dress or any other. “No. I think I’m done.” Dismissing the woman’s fancy, Sydney glanced at her dress and steeled herself. “And I’m selling this one.”
Ginnie nodded. “I understand.” She refastened the protective cloth around the dress, then hung the bulk from an oversized wrought iron coat hook by the desk. “I promise you won’t be sorry you chose this route for your sale. Have you had a chance to look at the sample contract?”
“The terms seem fair enough.” Sydney touched the brochure. “I’ll agree to them. It’s just—”
The boutique owner eyed her expectantly.
“Well, I thought—” Sydney pursed her lips together, feeling idiotic or, worse, pathetic.
“Yes?” Ginnie seemed curious now.
Sydney shrugged helplessly. Then, feeling as if some creature of whimsy had taken possession of her, body and soul, she met Ginnie’s eyes directly. “When I came in…did you say you were hiring?”
“No, damn it, I’m not a reporter.” Jack tightened his grip on the phone instead of hurling it against the wall. “This is Jack Kaiser. Miss Garfield’s fiancé.”
“You and the last five schmucks who called this number.” The receptionist snorted. “How many ‘fiancés’ does Ms. Garfield have?”
Damn reporters. Of course they would still be hounding her at the office, and apparently driven to sleazy tactics in their efforts to get through to her. “Look, I just want to know—”
“Jack,” a new voice calmly intoned.
“Brett. Thank God.” Jack slumped in relief. RJ’s assistant would recognize Jack’s voice by now. Over the past several months, he’d learned that if Sydney wasn’t answering her own phone, she was either out of the building or with RJ, her boss and mentor. “I’ve been trying all morning to get through to Sydney.” Hell, he hadn’t spoken to her since yesterday morning at that bridal shop. She should be home by now and at work today.
“Well, you’re going to have to keep trying.”
“Oh, come on. What the hell—”
“She’s not here, Jack. She quit. Just walked out. No notice, not much of an apology, no emotion, nothing.”
That sounded eerily familiar.
“I don’t know where she is.” Brett sounded frustrated. “And to be honest, part of me is pissed as hell and the other part is terrified for her.”
“She quit?” She lived for that job. Jack stared blindly at the calendar on his desk. “Because of what happened with Ted Murphy last week? The kidnapping?”
“Except you don’t sound so sure of that.” Jack frowned. “I know it shook her up—it’d shake anybody up—but she never mentioned quitting her job because of it. Ever.” Truthfully, he really hadn’t been able to talk to her much about it afterward—just enough to assure himself she was okay—before the police and Murphy’s ex-wife insisted on her time and attention.
In the week that had passed since then, he knew Sydney had put in long hours catching up at work while avoiding the increasingly rabid members of the press. It seemed that nothing fed their lurid curiosity more than an enraged man kidnapping his ex-wife and holding her hostage. Murphy was in jail; the ex-wife was in seclusion. Sydney, however, as the ex-wife’s staunchest supporter and confidante, was still an easy target for reporters, so she’d kept as low a profile as possible, spending much of her time at work behind a welcome barrier of receptionists and security guards standing between her and the press. Consequently, Jack had barely seen Sydney at all until two days ago. Tired of waiting, he’d discreetly shuttled her off to his apartment so they could finally be alone. That was when everything had changed.
Sure, she’d been upset about the kidnapping, the threat of violence, and her own part in it, and, to be honest, maybe that was the entry point he’d needed to get past her barriers. They hadn’t talked about the kidnapping or the Murphys; she hadn’t seemed to want talk from him then. So he’d just quietly been there for her, holding her slender body, as she trembled with stress. Normally, the woman had nerves of steel; this was a vulnerable Sydney who’d needed physical comfort, so that’s what he’d given her, murmuring gentle nonsense to her. Eventually, she’d relaxed in his arms, turning to him, and they’d made love. More than that, she’d completely come apart in his arms, wild and responsive and raw.
It still shook him to think of that night. After trying so hard and so long to get her to trust him on a basic level, he’d finally broken though. She didn’t know it, but he’d been waging his own secret little campaign for months, charming her, dating her, and then, taking his heart in his hands, asking her to marry him in the hope that she really did love him as much as he loved her. He’d suspected that she did, and she’d always responded when he told her he loved her. Sometimes, he saw the promise of more in her eyes. Just enough to keep him hoping that he had a chance.
He’d fallen in love with her almost on sight—with her long, ropy curls tamed into a loose knot at her nape, the stubborn jut of her chin, sharply intelligent eyes, and that soft, shockingly kissable mouth—but she’d always held some part of herself away from him. He’d only ever caught wistful glimpses of it; it was that part of her that he’d been drawing gently, patiently to him from day one. Ah, but she’d finally let go and he’d seen her, all of her, even that vulnerable part that she usually kept buried so deeply. And, oh, he’d been right. She’d kept the depth of her feelings safely tucked away, but it was there. She loved him. Afterward, she’d spent the night, something she didn’t always do. He’d lain awake for hours, just watching her sleep.
Then, the morning after, everything had somehow exploded. Over breakfast, he’d pulled out his calendar and asked for hers, which was part of their weekend routine. For practical reasons, they had fallen into the habit of comparing their weeks to make sure they were there for each other for business dinners, fundraisers, and other events where each needed an escort. When she didn’t respond to his request, he’d decided she didn’t want to deal with the task, so he’d found her calendar himself with the intent of helping. That was when she’d just, unexplainably, lost it. Fighting and misunderstandings escalating into a confrontation worse than anything they’d had before. Over a calendar? Then, worse, she’d gone silent. Distant. And then she’d left.
He shouldn’t have let her leave. He should have kept her there and made her yell at him until he found out what he’d done wrong so he could fix it. What if he couldn’t fix it? What if she’d really left him? What if it was really over?
“I think the kidnapping was part of what was bugging her.” Brett spoke slowly, as if still trying to put pieces together. “But to tell you the truth, she didn’t start acting weird until a couple days ago.”
That timed out about right with their breakup. Were the two related? “Acting weird how?” Was there something else? Maybe he could still fix it. He had to fix it.
“It’s hard to describe. There was…a lack of focus we’re not used to seeing from her. But, like I said, that was days after the Murphy thing. She seemed shaken but mostly normal when I saw her right after everything hit the fan. But then she went all quiet and distant. Distracted. I think there’s something else going on with her. Or maybe she’s just having a delayed reaction. I don’t know.”
There was logic to that, Jack supposed. A period of denial while everything sank in; sometimes people reacted to violence that way. His heart pounded. Damn it, he should not have let her leave. And then he shouldn’t have left her all alone in that godforsaken little town. “Was it guilt, do you think?”
“Maybe.” There was a shrug in Brett’s voice. “I don’t think she should feel guilty, but she might. The press sure as hell wants her to.”
“I heard.” Fair or not, circumstances made Sydney an easy target, so she’d borne the brunt of the media assault surrounding the kidnapping and arrest. That could wear on a person. But, still, would it be enough to make a practical woman dump her fiancé and her career? It just didn’t feel right. “Well, if you think of anything else or if you hear from her, could you let me know?”
“Thanks. Hey, could you have RJ give me a call later?”
After he hung up, Jack quickly dialed Sydney’s home line and then her cell phone. Yet again. He would have left messages with her voice mail, but both boxes were full. No doubt voice mail for the landline was filled with reporters’ inquiries. Voice mail for her cell phone, however, should only contain messages from personal friends and family. That meant that either reporters had discovered the cell number as well, or she hadn’t talked to anyone recently and everyone who knew her well enough to be worried or curious was checking up on her. Sydney wasn’t responding to anyone. It wasn’t like her to neglect her voice mail. On impulse, he grabbed his keys, phone, laptop, and wallet and headed out the door.
“Mr. Kaiser?” His assistant looked up in surprise as he passed her desk. “Are you leaving? You have a meeting at one about—”
“I’m sorry, Tina. Offer my apologies, but I’ll need to reschedule. I’ll call you.”
On her baffled mutter of agreement, Jack let the door close behind him and took the elevator to the garage. A thirty-minute drive later, he was pounding on Sydney’s apartment door. “Sydney!” He didn’t have a key. Shouldn’t he have a key to his own fiancée’s apartment? Damn it. It was like he was losing something precious, that she was just slipping through his fingers.
Like he’d never really had her at all.
Seeing the elevator was occupied several floors up, he ran downstairs to find the apartment manager, who, thank God, recognized Jack. “Have you seen or heard from Ms. Garfield in the past twenty-four hours? I’m worried about her.”
“Sure.” The man shrugged. “She came by last night, packed up some bags, and gave notice she was breaking her lease. She said she’d have her furniture moved out next weekend.”
She’d come back and left again without even contacting a man she’d only last week called her fiancé? “Hell. She just…left?” She’d left him. She’d moved. Just like that.
The landlord regarded him with pity. “Must have been a hell of a lovers’ spat.”
But how, or why? Damn it, he’d thought it was the best night they’d ever shared. What had gone so wrong?
Offering his thanks for the information, Jack turned and headed back to his car. Whatever Sydney was thinking, whatever was driving her away from him, there had to be some way he could fix this. How could it be over? It felt like they were just getting started. Thoughts racing, he pulled out his phone. “Yeah, hey, Tina. I’m sorry to do this to you, but I need you to cancel all of my meetings for a few days. I’ll reschedule later.” Hanging up the phone, he stopped by his apartment long enough to pack an overnight bag. Then he hopped on the interstate and accelerated, heading due west.