Mad enough to marry, page 1
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Books by Christie Ridgway
Silhouette Special Edition
Beginning with Baby #1315 From This Day Forward #1388 In Love with Her Boss #1441 Mad Enough To Marry #1481
The Wedding Date
Follow That Groom!
Have Baby, Will Marry
Big Bad Dad
The Millionaire and the Pregnant Pauper
thinks she has the greatest job in the world. She loves writing stories, and the only thing she loves more is her family: a supportive husband and two sons who often are forced to remind her that kids are entitled to three meals a day.
A native of California, she now Uves in the southern part of the state. A typical writing day can include rescuing the turtle from the pool and finding frogs in the shower. Although she once told the men she loves they could not keep pets that require live food, each week her husband comes home with a plastic bag of pet food that looks suspiciously like crickets (sounds like them, too!) for the reptiles and amphibians that now call her home theirs.
When not writing or chasing down errant pets, she volunteers at her sons' school. Finally, because there's really nothing better, Christie always finds time to curl up with a good book.
You may contact her at P.O. Box 3803, La Mesa, CA 91944. Send a SASE for reply or e-mail her at Christie @ christieridgway.com.
'San Francisco !• Strawberry Bay
PACIFIC OCEAN ^"X^ Los Angeles
All underlined places are fictitious.
Staring straight at it, Logan Chase strolled along Strawberry Bay's crowded main street, barricaded for the annual May Fair. He sighed. Over the past several months, the small California town had suffered through a series of earthquakes followed by a string of armed robberies. Why should it be any surprise that scandal was next?
Strawberry Bay, California, was, in general, a prosperous town and its citizens were always eager to support the multitude of organizations represented at the traditional community event. They lined up at the various booths, cash ready to buy the hot dogs the elementary school PTA was selhng, the cinnamon rolls handmade by the Methodist Church's women's group
and the cold cans of soda the kids from the high school's Key Club were hawking.
By all appearances, this year's May Fair was going to break previous fundraising records for the causes on hand, with the sole exception of the cause whose booth was situated at the far end of the street. But Logan knew it was making its own place in infamy. His gaze lingered on the booth, deserted except for the woman sitting alone inside it, even as he told himself it wasn't any of his business that she was probably already the talk of the town.
An elbow nudged his ribs. *'Hey! Long time no see."
Forcing his gaze away from the mud-in-the-making, Logan looked into the freckled face of the woman who cut his hair. **How you doing. Sue Ellen?"
She wasn't any older than he was, as a matter of fact they'd sat beside each other in senior French at Strawberry Bay High School eleven years ago, but the frown she gave him was motherly. 'Tm fine, but you really could use a trim."
Logan ignored the suggestion. He didn't feel like explaining why he was no longer slave to a standing monthly haircut. **How are Chris and the kids?" he asked instead.
"The twins are looking forward to summer already," Sue Ellen repUed. ''And my stepdaughter— you know, Chris's Amber?—she's all excited about the high school's senior prom." Sue Ellen's gaze sUd down the street and she nodded at that last booth, still
devoid of customers. "Tjf there's going to be a senior prom."
Logan shifted uncomfortably, but didn't let himself follow Sue Ellen's gaze. "Of course there's going to be a senior prom. No matter what."
The hairdresser hfted a doubtful eyebrow, still looking at the booth that customarily raised all the necessary funds to lavishly decorate the high-school auditorium for the senior class's prom. Then she looked back at Logan, her expression speculative. *'Maybe you could buy the first—"
*'No way," he said hastily.
**C'mon." Her voice was coaxing. **We need to get some customers down there ot everyone will be—"
'Talking about the fact that the money jar is empty, I know," Logan finished for her. "But why are you looking at me? Chris's daughter's the one who's hoping for a prom this year. Tell him to go over there and get the ball rolling."
Sue Ellen glanced around as if wary of being overheard, then leaned forward and whispered, "He's afraid of her.'*
Though unsurprised, Logan rolled his eyes. Three-fourths of the male population of Strawberry Bay was afraid of the woman volunteering in the senior prom booth, while the other quarter was afraid of what their wives or girlfriends would say if they approached her. "She's not that bad," he lied.
"It's a kissing booth, Logan!" Sue Ellen exclaimed. "I know she has a younger sister who's a
high-school senior, but someone should have realized that that woman in that particular kind of booth might prove the end of a long-standing custom."
Logan winced. Strawberry Bay, like any small town, was long on tradition and long on talk. Gossip would go on for decades that Elena O'Brien*s year in the senior prom kissing booth was the first year in twenty that the enterprise flopped.
Still, he was not going over there. Knowing Elena, she was more than likely thrilled by her solitude.
Before he could change his mind, he bid goodbye to Sue Ellen and ducked between the massive angled panels set up for the art show. He didn't want to think about Elena and her predicament any longer. Out of sight, out of mind, he told himself.
Yet even from here he could feel her disturbing presence. A few months before, thanks to his brother's romance with Elena's best friend, Elena had vaulted back into his life. Though he hadn't seen her since his last days in high school, she'd instantly gone about disturbing his peace of mind, just as before.
Worse now, because the grown-up Elena was a puzzle, one minute an icy fortress, the next a hornet, buzzing loudly and ready to sting. The last time they'd been face-to-face was a couple of weekends ago, when she was maid of honor and he was best man at Griffin and Annie's wedding. He'd done his best to ignore her and the sexual vibration she started humming inside him too, because in recent weeks simpUcity had become Logan's new watchword.
And nothing about Elena had ever been simple.
Pushing her out of his thoughts once more, Logan hurried around the comer of the first aisle, barrelling into Si Thomas, one of the men who used to work for him at Chase Electronics. They bounced apart and Logan saw that the other man's glasses were dangUng over one ear, the wire stem bent.
''Lord, Fm sorry. Si. What can I do?"
The other man pulled his glasses off to inspect the damage. *'No big deal. I'll just—" He stopped, then squinted up at Logan. **As a matter of fact, there is something you can do."
Si smiled. "My wife is on the high school's senior prom committee. She just begged me to find someone willing to..."
Logan didn't listen to the rest of the request. Hands over his ears, he desperately backed away, then dashed down the next aisle to lose himself amongst the other browsers. When Si didn't follow—^thank God—^Logan slowed his steps and glanced idly at the displayed artwork.
He paused as a painting caught his eye. It was a watercolor, he thought, but not in the bland pastels he usually associated with the medium. Whether its style was abs
obscured by her arm flung over her eyes. Inky hair was spread across the pillow.
The painting intrigued and unsettled him with its juxtaposition of decadent bed and sleeping woman. It was ahnost as if she was waiting to be awakened by just the right man.
'*Hey, Logan,'* a voice said.
Logan turned to greet the male half of a high-school-aged couple. ''Hey, Tyler." Tyler Evans Uved on the estate that bordered Logan's parents'. His father owned a produce distribution company—selling most of Strawberry Bay's strawberries—and his mother served on several charity boards with Logan's mother.
A petite, very pretty teenager with black hair and blue eyes stood beside the young man.
*'This is Gabby," Tyler said, sliding a proprietary arm around her waist. "We met in art class."
The pretty young woman, who looked disturbingly famiUar to Logan, smiled. He found himself smiling back. "Nice to meet you. Gabby."
Tyler hugged her closer to his side and kissed her hair in the way that young lovers do, as if he couldn't help himself. Gabby's cheeks went pink, but her smile deepened and Logan knew he had to be wrong in his first suspicion—that Gabby was related to his nemesis, Elena. Though their looks were similar. Gabby appeared warm and approachable, and she'd obviously enjoyed Tyler's affection. Touching Elena, however, was like grabbing a handful of stinging nettles.
*'This is Logan Chase," Tyler told Gabby.
Her smile turned Mona Lisa-like. *'I know. My sister has, um, pointed him out before."
'*Ah." Logan nodded. So he'd been right after all. **Gabby O'Brien. Elena's sister."
*'Hey! So you know Elena?" Tyler's voice turned heartily cheerful. '*We were just going over to see her. Maybe you'd like to come along."
Logan blinked. '*You think I'd like to what?''
Tyler must really have it bad for Httle Gabby, because his cheery expression didn't change. **Go see Elena. In the kissing booth. I'm going over there to—" he swallowed **—^buy a kiss."
Logan knew he must have heard wrong. **You're going to what?''
Tyler gulped again, his face betraying its first signs of panic. '*Buy a kiss," he said bravely.
Logan laughed. '*Not and survive you're not. She'll stab a kid like you before she kisses you."
Gabby giggled and Logan looked at her, slightly ashamed for saying such a thing in front of the Frost Queen's sister. But hell. Gabby had to know it was true.
' 'Someone has to go over there and pay for a kiss,'' Tyler said stubbornly. *'Once one man, uh, survives, more customers will come along. We need that money for the prom decorations."
* *Kid..." Logan ran a hand through his hair, trying to think of how to explain the situation tactfully.
**Someone has to," Tyler insisted, looking young.
noble and not just a little bit stupid. "And I guess that someone has to be me."
Logan sighed. God. He'd tried, he really had. No one could say he hadn't. He sighed again.
"Never mind, kid." Logan inhaled a long, deep breath and wondered if the dread starting to build in his belly was what human sacrifices had felt on their way to execution. "I'll do it."
From fifty feet away, Logan gazed at the woman in the senior prom booth. If she wasn't so staggeringly beautiful, he thought, kissing her wouldn't be so bad.
Her midnight-black hair was sleek and shiny, hanging straight to her clean jawline and emphasizing her full, bewitching Hps. Her skin, fine-pored and unmarked by even a single freckle, was a golden cream color that made her black-lashed blue eyes stand out like sapphires.
If that wasn't enough to mess with a man's brain, ever since she was sixteen years old, Elena O'Brien had possessed the kind of curves that made men from 12 to 112 stop, stare then salivate.
The hell of it was, Elena had a beautiful face paired with one hot, bodacious bod. It was the kind of coupling that made a man think only of...well, coupling. But Logan knew from personal experience that it wasn't wise to let your wits wander southward when you were around Elena. While you were busy dreaming of her scratching your back, she'd be busy finding ways to scratch your eyes out.
The fiinny thing was, people genuinely liked her as a person. Women included, despite the kind of loveliness that might inspire jealousy. She was reputed to be an indefatigable employee and Logan* s new sister-in-law swore she was a terrific friend. But when a man approached Elena O'Brien as a man, she'd hiss and spit and scare the poor guy off. Sometimes off women altogether.
Rumor had it there was a guy in the next city who, after one date with Elena, had moved back in with his mother and was now raising bunny rabbits.
Inhaling a fortifying breath, Logan began strolling toward the kissing booth. As if sensing his destination, the people in front of him parted, clearing his path just the way the citizens of Dodge City cleared a path for the white-hatted sheriff in a bad Western.
He shoved his hands in the pockets of his worn jeans and ignored the chug of his blood pulsing through his veins. He hoped like hell his face was expressionless. Conventional wisdom said it wasn't smart to show fear around animals that bite.
The senior prom committee's booth was situated in the shade of mature trees and had a fanciftil, castlelike facade that was painted white and decorated with bright pink and red tissue-paper flowers. The colors framed Elena's vibrant beauty perfectly, and as Logan approached she raised her black brows in twin arches just as perfect.
He shoved his hands deeper in his pockets and curved his lips in what he hoped appeared a relaxed.
casual smile. *'Hey, there," he said, bracing for the expected verbal lashing.
An overlarge, empty glass fishbowl sat on the booth's narrow countertop. It was where the kiss money was supposed to go, and in other years the thing had overflowed with bills. Elena didn't spare it a glance as she slowly sUd from a high stool to land on the soles of her sneakers. "What do you want?" she asked, her tone on the low end of the truculence scale.
Well, good. Apparently she didn't inmiediately assume he was after a kiss, which would be sure to set her hackles rising. "I, um, just thought I'd say hi."
"Yeah?" As usual, she wasn't much impressed with him. ' 'Hi." Her gaze fell to the toes of her shoes.
Something about the short response put Logan on alert. The truth was, he'd accidentally and unfortunately stood her up two weeks ago, the night of the wedding rehearsal dinner. Given their past history and the daggers she'd thrown with her eyes aU the way down the church aisle, he'd been convinced she'd take this opportunity to launch a full-on verbal assault.
"Is something wrong?" he asked warily.
Instead of answering, she flushed.
Logan's jaw dropped. With her gaze still on her feet, he could only see the top of her head and the red color crawling up her neck. He didn't know what to think. She was never subdued, shy or, for that matter, even civil around him. "Are you sick?" he asked.
Her head jerked up. "Is that what they're saying?"
She sounded hopeful, Logan thought, still trying to comprehend her out-of-character reserve.
'Is that it?" she insisted, that hopeful note intensifying. *'Does everyone think Fm contagious or something?"
He couldn't lie to her. **No," he answered, stepping forward. "But, uh, Elena..."
"Never mind." She scuttled back against the stool. "I didn't really think so." As if to prove she was in her usual fine fettle, she lifted her chin to half glower at him.
Still puzzled, Logan studied her face. There was definitely a flush on her skin, and he was certain it wasn't a fever or even a flush of ill temper. Hell It couldn't be, it wasn't possible, was it? Was Elena truly bothered by her lack of business?
Damn it, that wouldn't make things any easier. He'd come
But Elena humiliated? It just didn't seem possible.
Not sure what to believe, he decided to postpone immediate action by smihng again, trying once more to appear friendly. "Have you heard from Griffin and Annie?" The two were on their honeymoon, touring Europe.
"Yeah," she said softly. "A postcard from
France." The comers of her mouth Ufted in a sweet, genuine smile.
Uh-oh. At the sight of that enchanting smile, Logan felt his knees go weak. His brain stuttered as whatever amount of blood supposed to keep the top half of his body in working order instantly rushed lower.
Her eyes narrowed and her body stiffened. *'What's wrong with you?" she demanded.
He sucked in a quick, desperate breath. **N-nothing." With another breath, his voice got stronger. *'Not a thing."
She relaxed slightly, though her eyes remained watchful. **Okay."
Whew. That was a close one. A really close one. Elena hated when a man displayed a reaction to her beauty. Particularly when he did. But it was an impossibly difficult thing to control so instead he just took great pains to hide it.
With a show of nonchalance, he stepped closer and leaned casually against the side of the booth. **I met your sister."
Her face brightened, that smile threatening to blossom again. God, she was gorgeous.
**You met Gabby? She's here?"
Logan nodded. **With Tyler Evans, who I'm guessing is her boyfriend."
Elena shrugged. **I suppose. One of those casual things, though. Gabby's going to UC Berkeley in the fall." Her voice filled with pride. **Pre-med."
Impressed, Logan raised his eyebrows. "Tyler just told me she's an artist too."
**Mm. A hobby.*' She raised her shoulders in a little shrug. "But it's her brains that will take her farthest."
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