very charming wedding 01 - bachelor and the bride, page 1
Table of Contents
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Books by Laurie LeClair:
THE BACHELOR AND THE BRIDE
Copyright 2016 by Laurie LeClair
All rights reserved. This work is not transferrable. Any reproduction of this work is prohibited without the permission of the author due to the infringement on the copyright. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the creation of the author or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or people, living or dead, is coincidental.
To my husband, Jim. Thank you for being that special guy who holds my hand and cheers me on as I live my dream of writing and who loves me unconditionally through it all.
“Sorry if you’re interested. I’m not,” Lacey Daniels said to the man who slid in sideways beside her at the crowded, noisy open bar.
“Did I ask?” He seemed more intrigued than annoyed, which definitely got her attention.
Turning, she gazed at the tall man next to her in a very expensive tux, smelling like a dream, and trying to suppress a sly grin. All that and in the mandatory mask for her friend’s masquerade wedding. Who does that?
“Bridesmaid?” he asked, flicking a glance at her attire. Was he looking at her cleavage? The low-cut, strapless gown certainly could have been a tad higher.
The dang black and silver mask hid his eyes. What color were they? And his hair looked like a sandy-brown or dark blond. Maybe she needed to borrow her friend Heather’s glasses.
“Sad, isn’t it?” Her idea of a bridesmaid dress would not be peachy-orange or a mermaid style. “Can barely walk, never mind dance in this thing.”
“I don’t dance. That’s if you were interested.” His lips tugged higher.
“Was I asking?” Two could play at this little game. Oh, he could tease. She liked that.
“There’s not much you could do in that dress.”
She gasped inwardly. Was he suggesting? No. “As opposed to…?”
“Out of it,” he said softly and oh so seductively.
Lacey’s cheeks warmed. And his answer left her speechless. His chuckle did the strangest things to her nerves as they jumped and hummed. No, she would not fall for sweet talk or even dirty talk tonight. Being seduced and then dumped at a wedding, of all places, was not on her bucket list.
Twisting back to the bar, she leaned in, trying to find out where in the world her bartender went to.
Finally, the young gun emerged, carrying the three shots of tequila she’d ordered. “Here you go, sweetheart.”
Handing him a tip, she said, “I’ll see you for the next round.”
“You free later?”
“She’s not interested,” the mystery guy said. When she jerked to him, he shrugged. “Just helping out.”
Her lip twitched, but she suppressed the smile. “Thanks,” she murmured to the bartender and also to the man as she collected her drinks between both hands and eased back and away.
“Don’t be a stranger,” he whispered. “I can help fend off all those admirers of yours. Just for you, I’ll start a hotline—1-800-HELLNO.”
Lacey chuckled. Walking away proved more difficult than she imagined. He made her laugh. That was rare in her world. That and she felt him staring at her. Warmth rushed through her.
On unsteady legs, she maneuvered through the tables and back to her BFFs.
“Finally!” Heather took her glass. “These things make me nauseous.”
“Tequila, I hope?” Ashley asked, taking hers and offering her gratitude to Lacey.
“Weddings.” Heather shivered. “Look at Meagan and Mr. High Hopes. They have no idea what’s in store for them. They were more concerned with fork placement and seating arrangements and who wore what mask for months than with the actual marriage.”
“Thank god that’s over with,” Lacey said, still unnerved from the mystery guy as she took a seat. She sneaked a peek over her shoulder. Her heartbeat stilled. He watched her. Heck, he held up his glass to toast her and then tossed it back. She jerked back to look at her two best friends for the last decade.
“Cheers!” Ashley cried, holding up her drink.
“Wait.” Lacey stopped her. “Here’s to staying single.”
“End of bridesmaid duties!” Ashley added.
“Hear, hear!” Lacey and Heather chimed in together right before they guzzled the shot. It hit the spot in the back of her throat and raced down.
“Why would Meagan even think of us anyway? It’s not like we were close to her at boarding school.” Heather blinked behind the intricately decorated gold bridesmaid mask. “Contacts,” she huffed. “Give me a good pair of glasses any day.”
“Hey, what’s got you all chipper? You’re not usually this cheery.” Lacey smirked at the petite brunette and noted her turned down mouth.
Heather blew out a pent-up breath. “He’s here.”
“Who?” Lacey nonchalantly gazed around the room. She swallowed hard when she encountered him again. Only now he was engaged in conversation with a beautiful, ultra-fit woman in a gorgeous icy-blue gown who’d taken her place and who seemed to hang on his every word. Replaceable. Take out one and insert the next. Yeah, she knew why too many guys like that. She jerked away and focused on her friend again.
“Her boss,” Ashley explained, brushing back a wayward tendril of blonde hair. “The dreamy guy, remember? Talk about oozing charm.”
“But I thought you were going to quit and go work for someone else.” Lacey frowned. She’d been bouncing around the world from one hair and makeup job to the next, so keeping up with her buds sadly lagged behind, even though they shared one big apartment in Dallas. The mini catchups for the wedding over the last year was never enough to get the full scoop.
“Ditched that idea. A whole lotta crazy going on in the real estate development world right now. No one will pay me what he does. Nor will they let me have the freedom in calling some of the plays.” She lowered her voice. “But no one said working with Drake the Rake would be easy either.”
“I knew it!” Ashley pointed a finger at her. “You’re in love with him!”
“Shhh!” Heather glanced around. “Someone might hear. He might hear you.”
Lacey groaned. “Come on, we swore we wouldn’t end up like this. Married. Chained down. Not before our careers took off and we’re thirty, at least. If that. Meagan’s one thing; she was born for this kind of life, groomed from the time she was a little girl. Old money marries older money.”
“So cynical? Be happy for her.” Ashley tsked.
“I am. Sort of.” Lacey glanced at the bride and groom, cheek-to-cheek and smiling for the camera from the dance floor. “They look perfect together. Look. But are they?” She couldn’t help but wonder if this life would keep them both happy.
“Your mom is different, Lace. She’s still chasing dreams…” Ashley let her thoughts trail away.
“Husband four is out and boyfriend number, I can’t recall, is on the horizon as we speak. She doesn’t know who she is or what she wants.”
“At least you have your adoptive dad. Gordo is the best.” Heather smiled now. “Remember how he’d come to all the
Lacey chuckled. “He still cheers me on, even now when he’s remarried and has a couple of rug rats of his own.” Her chest ached at how that man could care for her all these years and still want to be her dad. “Lucky me.”
“Trade you. You got one indifferent mama and one amazing papa. I got two together who barely speak the same language, unless it’s about the checkbook, which neither agree on.” Ashley sighed.
Heather snorted. “Mine? They’ve been divorced and dangerous for years. I can’t even bring up their names in front of the other. Give me work any day over family get-togethers.”
“Speaking of work… That boss of yours. What are you going to do?”
Before she could answer, they were interrupted. “Girls, how’s the dresses?” Rico, the wedding coordinator for King’s, asked, tentatively pointing. His one-of-a-kind all-silver mask intricately decorated with tons of beads and his white tux jacket screamed fashion. “Wait, don’t say it! Bridezilla mother chose the color. OMG!”
“Holy crabcakes! If you ask me, she didn’t want them to upstage her little girl.” His friend stopped and nudged his arm.
“Rico. Peg.” Lacey smiled, liking the two from the first time she met them at King’s Department Store months ago.
“How’d you guess?” the tall lady in the mauve gown asked, glancing down.
“It’s the clipboard. Gave you away.”
She slammed a hand on the back, trying to cover it up. “But, I put a mask on her.”
“Can’t hide pretty, Peg!”
“I likee you!” She snorted. “So, you gals in?”
“Please, Pegster, I haven’t got to the good stuff yet,” Rico said, touching a hand to his chest.
“And that is?” Heather prompted, grabbing for her water glass. She took a sip and waited.
“Charity event. Wedding dresses. Rolled up into one magnificent, spectacular evening with moi and vous.”
“Next week. Boss 1,” Peg stuck her thumb over her shoulder to the owner of King’s in a flowing purple gown, “asked if you three would be interested. You know, since Ashley here is a super model and everything. And, we are short-handed.”
“Pretty please,” Rico begged with his hands clasped.
“Ash?” Lacey glanced at her friend, wondering if she could rearrange her schedule, too.
She sighed. “Why not?”
Rico made lip smacking noises, blowing kisses. “Love, love, love you! Peg, write this down…” He tugged Peg away and began to give her instructions on the wedding dresses. “We’ll talk more tomorrow, girls,” he called.
“You all right, Ash? That weird fan letter?” Lacey asked, her words dying in the back of her throat as the mystery guy came to their table, bearing gifts.
“Ladies,” he said, holding up four shot glasses. “Mind if I join you for a round?”
“No, we’re good.” Lacey tried to stop him from sitting down beside her. Her body tingled when he looked at her like that. Maybe she had a thing for masks now. Scary!
“What?” Heather kicked her foot under the table. “Are you kidding me? Of course we’ll accept.”
Something cold and sharp dropped in her belly.
Once this wedding was over, she’d hop back on the next plane and take off again. There was a dozen or so modeling shoots or movies she could work on. Oh wait, she’d just agreed to stay on for another week. Seven more days and that was it, though.
Her nomadic lifestyle appealed to her.
It kept her feet moving, her mind occupied with the lush countries she visited and her creative side engaged with her photography hobby. All of it bolstered her efforts of keeping her emotions bottled up tight and intact.
She, Lacey Daniels, would not end up like her mother, who fell in and out of love like she changed clothes.
When his sleeve brushed her arm, she shivered, making her highly aware of him and how close he was to her. He felt it. His gaze caught and held hers, trapping her. Gorgeous green eyes!
Her heart jumped.
No! N-O! You will not succumb. You are not interested, remember?
Adam Westbrooke clamped down on his reaction to her. He pictured this woman sitting for a painting, her caramel-color hair splayed out and with nothing on but her heels and her intricately decorated golden mask.
His body hummed.
“Are we incognito still?” he asked the three women, but watched her. He liked the anonymity; he could go unnoticed through the hundreds of wedding attendees. No one bothered him, until her.
“I won’t tell if you won’t tell.”
He heard the slight quiver in her voice.
“Bottoms up,” he said, holding up his glass.
“Oh, is that how you like it?” she asked too sweetly.
Her friends giggled.
“On occasion,” he fired back. “But why stop there? Let the imagination take over.”
She sucked in a sharp breath.
There, he’d gotten to her. Most likely not as much as she had to him, though. From the moment she’d dismissed him at the bar, Adam had wanted more with her.
Who wouldn’t desire a beautiful woman who defied the seams of that dress as it hugged her curves? Tendrils of her hair in that loose updo brushed along the lightly tanned skin of her bare shoulders and he’d wanted to be the one tickling her there. But he stayed for her wit and her sass. A very rare combination.
And Adam liked rare. After all, he wasn’t in the family business of acquiring, displaying, and lending out some of the finest art in the world for the hell of it. No, he loved what he did and he’d built up the Westbrooke estate and its sterling reputation in less than a half-dozen years of tireless dedication.
He knew beauty when he saw it.
“Drink up,” her friend, the blonde one, said, clinking glasses.
As if on cue, they, along with him, chugged the fiery liquid back and slapped the glasses back on the table.
“Okay, I’m sneaking in a dance with that hunky guy—what’s his name?— over there before I can’t stand it any longer.” The blonde shoved back her chair and then marched over to the hapless groomsman.
“If you two want to…” The brunette waved a hand back and forth between them.
“He doesn’t dance.”
“So you were listening,” he said with a smugness he never had in business.
“A word here and there.” She shrugged.
He chuckled, feeling exhilarated instead of defeated. “Do you?”
“Dance, Miss Brown Eyes.” He saw the flare there and heat rushed through him.
“I feel like a fifth wheel. Hey, don’t mind me, but I’m leaving you two to do whatever.” The brunette got up and came around to hug her friend. “Don’t forget. King’s tomorrow. Rico will see us in the wedding department at ten. Thank goodness they have an alteration program. Like a twelve-step rehab for old bridesmaids’ dresses.”
“Don’t go,” she pleaded. “I’ll ride back with you.”
“I’m not going going. I’ve got a boss to find.”
“Really? So you decided.”
“Now or never, right? Wish me luck.”
She disappeared in the crowd, swallowed up as she edged along the dance floor.
Even with noise and merriment all around them, silence descended.
“You with the bride or the groom’s side?” Her smile, tight and brief, never reached her gorgeous brown eyes.
“Neither. I’m…” He hesitated. “I come with the estate.” How could he tell her he owned the damn place? By the way, I rented out the palace of a museum as a favor to the King family for this over-the-top wedding they helped plan.
Her lip twitched. “Groundskeeper?”
He laughed, something he seldom did in his business. It felt strange and rusty and liberating. “I’ve done my share of work, I guess.” Growing up, he he
“So what’s it like? The house?”
He noted the twinkle in her eye.
“It’s big.” Too large for only him to roam around in, so he’d retreated to the top floor, making it his personal space.
“And?” she prompted.
“It’s empty.” How did that word escape? With millions of dollars in furnishings and one-of-a-kind paintings surrounding him every day, Adam felt alone, even in his own private quarters.
“You mean, Mr. Westbrooke isn’t home? I’d love to wander around and take some pictures. Do you think the old geezer would mind?”
“Yes.” He’s home. Yes, he’d mind if that’s all you wanted. Geezer?!
“Oh. I guess he is as stodgy and old as I thought. Too bad.”
Her crestfallen look tore at him. “Why?”
“I’ve heard it’s spectacular! Once, the family allowed a film crew in for a special holiday event. It took my breath away. The grand rooms, the sculptures, the art work—all of it.”
Her enthusiasm for the precious works, so like his own feelings, slammed into him. That small slice of the estate in the documentary was shot ages ago. No one remembered that, except his family, lovingly preserving his late grandfather’s appearance for them to view time and time again. “I can see what I can do.”
“Can you? That would be great. I could take some photos...” Her voice petered out and she jerked her gaze to his. “Wait a minute! Who do you think I am anyway? I am not that girl.”
“Did I say you were?” Confused, he watched as she jumped to her feet and glared at him.
“Some things don’t have to be said, just implied.” She stormed off.
He followed her every sexy move in that tight dress and couldn’t grasp the concept of what he’d said to why she was leaving. “What the hell just happened?”
Women! He’d never understand them. Maybe that’s why he was still a bachelor and most likely would always be one.
His late grandfather’s chuckle sounded in his head. “That’s what I said, my boy. And look where that had gotten me.”
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