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The I-do's had barely been said when the first pops sounded.

"It ain't fireworks!" somebody yelled.

Wedding guests began screaming and ducking as bullets zinged by, shattering glass, splintering wood, and ricocheting off metal. The preacher felt himself pulled out of range on the floor, then blacked out when his head hit the lectern he was shoved behind. Quick hands took the ring of keys from his pocket.




There was blood, but not enough to cap the excitement of the gunfire, of the sound and feel of a no-nonsense tool doing its job.


Asa scrambled to cradle his bride even as she pushed him away.

"I'm okay. I'm all right. You're bleeding."

Instinctively Mary put her hands on him, assessing as she'd done with countless wounded soldiers in combat conditions. Thank God. Thank God. The blood staining Asa's freshly pressed shirt and trousers was trailed from a wound to his right hand. She had it securely wrapped with the nearest piece of cloth she could grab before he realized how badly mangled his thumb was.

"You're going to be fine, honey. You just stay put. Stay down."

"My mother -- my sister." Asa's face was pale, his eyes unreadable as he fumbled with his uninjured hand for his cell phone. "I need to call --"

"Give me that." Mary grabbed the phone away, wondering what passed for emergency medical transport out here and how quickly those affable cops she'd met at the diner could get their asses in gear.

"Asa, oh, my God!" Irene rushed toward them, unhurt but as pale as Asa as she knelt beside him.

"For Christ's sake, I've hurt myself worse in my workshop!" he growled. He tried again to stand, but his new wife's fist on the back of his collar held him down.

"Where's your mother?" Mary asked Irene.

"Under the stairs to the loft. Cheryl's with her."

"We need help here!"

Mary glanced over her shoulder at a couple of women huddled over a third on the floor. Near them, a group of guys wrestled down a large, barefoot man who was throwing wild punches and trying to shield his head with something that looked like a hubcap.

"No!" the barefoot guy was yelling. "Not me! I'm just trying to show you! You gotta read it! "

"Up there! Choir loft!"


Other male voices shouted, and instantly separate packs formed to corner unseen prey.

The woman on the floor clutched her hands to her eyes as blood streamed through her fingers.

"Let me see," Mary said as she reached her.

"Damn you!" the wounded woman screeched at her. "This is all your fault!"

Beneath the choir loft staircase, Regina Cawley pressed her bulky body to the wall.

"Can't hide by holding your breath," Cheryl Hudson commented.

"You hush," Regina snapped at her. "You think you're funny? You think you can tease me about my weight like I'm your mother-in-law and I have to take it because we're family? You'll never be a part of this family."

Cheryl pointed to the adjoining wall of glass that offered a view of the chapel from a small "quiet room" where parents could take cranky children. A woman stood in a shadowy corner of the room, staring at Cheryl and Regina.

"Who is that?" Regina demanded. "She's looking right at us. Do you know her? She's pointing something -- oh, sweet Jesus, it's a gun!"

Regina grabbed Cheryl and ran, yelling for Asa and Mary. Irene looked up from the front of the chapel as the quiet room windows blew out with an ear-popping blast.

"Cheryl!" she screamed.

"Mother!" Asa yelled from the spot on the floor where Mary had gotten the biggest galoot within reach -- Lord knew there were plenty who showed up for the free eats at shindig like this -- to keep him still. She would, he thought angrily, have to pick crazy Bog Yoost, who'd sit on a riled-up bear for a beer. "Get the hell off me, Bog!"

"Nuh-uh," Bog grunted, putting more pressure on Asa's bandaged hand. "You ain't getting out of this so easy, Cawley. This ain't like before, with all them other ladies you fooled." He shook his woolly gray head and scratched his unruly beard. "And I don't care what kinda wild-assed friends you got. Trying to pull something like this off is low even for you. Now, you promised this pretty lady a wedding, and, God bless her for thinkin' you're worth the trouble, you ain't gonna wreck what's left of it."

Mary leaned protectively over the wounded woman as the explosion shook the chapel. "Lie still. We need to get you out of here as soon as we can. You need more help than I can give you."

A heavily muscled man kneeling beside Mary murmured, "Her name's Muriel."

"Muriel," Mary repeated. "Do you understand?"

"You'll pay for this," Muriel responded through clenched teeth. She groaned and thrashed long-fingered hands ornamented with multiple rings and bracelets.

"I can help you," the man at Mary's side offered.

"Can you tell me if there's an actual ambulance in this goddamn town? I'm not hearing any sirens."

"I'm talking about when the time comes with Asa. You won't need sirens to know it." The man smiled, twin dimples creasing his lean cheeks. "Though he might still need carting away."

Mary looked at Asa. He'd stopped trying to get to his feet and was letting his mother and sister comfort him. "He'll be fine."

"They call me Swede," the dimpled man whispered in Mary's ear. "You can count on me. Whenever you're ready. I'll have what you need."

Burst Shadoe Lake
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