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Bonnie Campbell wanted that bouquet.
Everybody who knew her was aware she seldom asked for anything for herself. She would give the last dime out of her wallet to a stranger, would fight for the rights of the oppressed until she had no breath left in her body, and had, in fact, given the shirt off her back to a homeless person.
But she wanted that bouquet.
She'd never caught one. Actually she'd never tried. Not once in her twenty-five years had she gone elbow to elbow with a bunch of desperate women fighting to pluck the promise of marital bliss out of thin air. In fact, she'd felt a little embarrassed for them, sad that women were reduced to such desperate measures, all in the quest for romance.
And yet she wanted that bouquet.
Which was why she stood in a crowded vestibule at the base of a sweeping staircase, watching her new sister-in-law, Amanda, fling the flowers over her shoulder from far above toward a crowd of single-but-don't-wannabe females.
"Watch out," a woman said, shoving her way to floral glory.
Bonnie watched the flowers arc through the air, heading directly for the bride's sisterwho stood just a few feet away. Abby Bauer didn't look pleased about that. In fact, deer-in-headlights best described her expression, as if she hoped she wouldn't catch the bouquet as much as Bonnie hoped she would.
So she probably wouldn't mind if Bonnie stole it away.
Sending up a little mental apology, she lunged for the prize. Only at the last second, Abby swung her arm out and swatted it like a major league batter swinging at a fastball, sending it in the opposite direction.
"Missed it by that much," Bonnie whispered when the flowers landed in the hands of a bosomy blonde the kind who'd probably had males flocking around her since she hit puberty.
Bonnie, on the other handquiet, petite, curly-haired Bonniewell, she wasn't sure anybody noticed she'd hit puberty until after she'd graduated from high school.
"I got it!" the blonde shrieked, bouncing around joyfully.
"Hey, what was that all about? I thought you were far too enlightened to get down in the dirt with us competitive she-sharks," an amused voice said. "How much champagne have you had?"
Glancing over her shoulder, she saw her sister, Debbie. Her college-aged sibling had that devilish, I'm-just-waiting-to-find-a-reason-to-make-fun-of-you look on her face. Usually Debbie focused on stirring up everyone else, but last night, she'd turned her wicked sense of humor in Bonnie's direction.
Bonnie still hadn't quite forgiven her for the almost-virgin remark. Not only because everybody at the rehearsal dinner had heard, but because it wasn't too far from the truth.
Which sucked. Badly.
"I'm not drunk," Bonnie said. "I just happen to like tea roses."
"Yeah, right. 'Cause there's no other way to get a bunch of roses than a hair-pulling contest. Come on, what gives?"
"It's not every day our brother gets married," Bonnie said with a shrug, not about to explain what gave. Especially because she couldn't explain it without coming across like an idiot.
Debbie rolled her eyes. "Well, as far as I'm concerned, you shouldn't be worrying about catching a bouquet. You don't need to get married. You just need to get laid."
Bonnie frowned, not only at the mouthy comment, but because, again, Debbie was a little too perceptive. Frankly Bonnie hadn't been trying to catch that bouquet due to any white lace dreams. She'd had sexy, black-satin ones in mind, instead. And Debbie's virginal comment had put them there the previous night. Not that she was about to share that little tidbit.
"We'd better move so the guys can try to catch the garter."
She only hoped a certain groomsman didn't catch it.
"You mean so Tom can catch it," Debbie said with a grin.
Uh, yeah. That certain groomsman. He had been the reason she, for the first time ever, had almost involved herself in a catfight over a bunch of flowers.
Reese's friend Tom had a reputation as the most successful garter-catcher of his generation. In ancient times, epic poems would have been written about his triumphs in the garter wars.
He was also said to be an equally talented female-catcher. And while there had been no poetry, there were definitely some over-the-top tales circulating about his sexual prowess. Her older sisterdivorced and angry had long called him "the man whore." But Bonnie had only half believed the rumors.
She'd had a crush on him. He'd been every teenage girl's fantasythe flirtatious older guy who'd teased her mercilessly. Their paths hadn't crossed in a few years, and she'd wondered if he was still as handsome and cocky as ever.
She'd found out at last night's rehearsal. Oh, yeah. Still handsome. Still single. Still cocky.
Still treating her like she was a kid.
That had bothered her. Then, after Debbie's comment, it had really bothered her.
God, did everyone in the family think that just because she cared about the environment and the needy, she didn't have a libido? Was she doomed to be Bon-nie-the-nice-Campbell-girl forever? To always be Bonnie-the-peacemaker, Bonnie-the-bleeding-heart? Just because she'd carved out a place in her huge family by filling that role throughout her childhood didn't mean she hadn't grown up and have a woman's desires.
Okay, maybe she hadn't lived her adult life in a way that would change any opinions. She'd been busy with school, work and volunteering and hadn't had time for any long-term romantic entanglements. She'd never brought a man around to meet the family, never been engaged, never lived with anyone. As far as her family Debbieknew, she could still be a virgin.
She wasn't, though. Her first lover had been a long-haired guitarist she'd met in college. He'd been a crusader for the legalization of marijuana, for medicinal purposes, he'd said.
Uh sure. They'd broken up after his third drug bust.
Since then, she'd had a four-month-long relationship with a grad student, before he left to join the Peace Corps. And something resembling a one-night stand.
Pathetic. But she hadn't really thought about how pathetic until Debbie's virgin crack.
That's why she'd thought of Tom. Sexy Tom. Tom who knew women, loved women, worshipped women, made pleasuring women his life's missionor so "they" said.
Maybe he wasn't the dog everyone made him out to bethe stories might have come out of spite or jealousy. But if they were true, well, there were worse people to break a sexual dry spell with than one who was so interested in sex! Maybe the best way to shed her good-girl image was to have sex with a very bad boy.
Either way, getting a little closer to Tom hadn't seemed like such a bad idea. But after he'd done everything but give her noogies on her head last night, she'd realized she had to do something to make him see her as the adult she was now, not his friend's kid sister.
Which brought her to the bouquet. Whoever caught it would have some sexy fun, and share a dance, with whoever caught the garter. If he had to slide a bit of lace all the way up her thigh and couldn't see she had a woman's long legs and a woman's curves, he never would.
He never will.
Because she'd blown it. No bouquet. No sexy garter moment for her, just for the stacked blonde. No wedding night fling just to remind herself she was a sensual woman with normal wants, despite what her family, especially her snide little sister, might think.
Nope. Wasn't going to happen. How depressing.
"I'm tired. I'm going to find a place to sit down."
She didn't wait for Debbie to respond. She merely walked away, knowing her sister would be too interested in the garter-toss to follow. She also made a concerted effort to avoid bumping into any of her other siblings tough since she had five.
Keeping her head down, she skirted the crowd, ignoring everyone, at least until she overheard a snippet of conversation between two of the other guestsboth old friends of her mother.
"It is a shame we have to move to another hotel," said one.
"But it couldn't be helped," was the reply.
Bonnie stopped, eyeing the pair. "Excuse me, I couldn't help overhearing. Is there a problem with the rooms?"
"There was a mix-up and some of them were given out to those movie people," one explained.
The woman nodded.
Yuck. Of all the shallow people she'd ever met, those who lived in Hollywood were the worst. She couldn't believe how callously they treated vulnerable lands and habitats just to make the next blockbuster. From the fur they wore to the exotic animal dinner parties they hosted, she had no use for any of them. Especially since one particular actor had had her tossed into jail last spring, just because she'd tried to stop his crew from damaging the habitat for a rare species of bird.
"Didn't you hear?" the other woman asked. "They're filming a movie nearby and the cast and crew are staying here." She tittered. "There's even a handsome movie star staying in the bridal suite."
Bonnie's eyes had begun to narrow as soon as she heard "movie people." When "movie star" and "bridal suite" entered the conversation, steam came out of her usually pacifistic ears.
"A spoiled, selfish actor is staying in the bridal suite where Reese and Amanda should be spending their wedding night?"
Nodding, the woman bit her lip, as if realizing that Bonniethe nicest Campbell kidwas ready to go postal on someone.
Well, not quite that far. But a stern talking-to was definitely in the picture. "I'm going to find Abby, the bride's sister," she told the women, shaking with indig-nance. "She's the wedding coordinator. She'll do something about this."
And if Abby wouldn't? Bonnie would.
Though they weren't his favorite part of the job, Drew Ericson didn't usually mind location shoots. True, he hoped he'd never again have to set foot in the small Louisiana town where he'd spent eight hot, miserable weeks last summer shooting a movie about a bayou-born bounty hunter. But in general, since he was single and childless, being away from southern California for weeks at a time wasn't a big deal.
Until now. Because his stalker had followed him here.
"Are you sure it was her?" he asked, talking into his cell phone to one of the production assistants on the film Grey Steelea movie in which he played the mysterious Mr. Steele.
"I'm sure, Mr. Ericson," the younger man said. "We were all given her mug shot so we could watch out for her."
"Hell." Drew glanced around the large suite, noting that the privacy curtains were firmly closed. Considering he had just gotten out of the shower, was still wet and wore only a towel slung around his hips, that was a good thing.
It wasn't that he feared Helen Jarvis. But damn, she was annoying. He was sick to death of feeling like he couldn't take a single step without being watched. The very thought that he now had to check the room every time he entered infuriated him.
The assistant continued. "I spotted her outside the shop where we were shooting today. When she saw me, she took off."
Of course she did. Considering he had a restraining order against her, Jarvis knew better than to stick around and get caught. "Did you let the guards know?"
"Yes, and the local police. Security will be tight."
Good. Though, honestly, he didn't hold out much hope that they'd catch her. The woman was as slippery as Jell-O. Security was tight on movie sets, too yet she'd once managed to get on the lot and wait for him inside his trailer.
She'd done a lot of crazy things to get close to him including showing up in his backyard during a private party. The woman even seemed ready to risk bodily injury to get his attention. Once she'd thrown herself in front of his car as he pulled out of his drivewayhoping he'd hit her, and have to stop.
Thank God he had good reflexes. And good brakes.
At first, everyone had laughed it off as part of the biz.
Then she'd shown up at a restaurant where he'd been meeting with his manager, posing as a waitress to take their order. Seeing her crazed desperation firsthand, his manager acknowledged the situation was serious. Like the-David-Letterman-stalker serious.
But the worst moment had been a call from his mother. A strange woman had followed her into a store and introduced herself as his girlfriend. When his mother had reacted with suspicion, the woman had gotten angry.
Harassing his sixty-year-old mother had been the straw that broke this camel's back. There was no more laughing Helen Jarvis off, so he'd brought in the authorities, had her charged with stalking and filed a restraining order. She wasn't supposed to get within five hundred feet of him, his family, or his property.
And yet, she'd still followed him to Illinois.
"Everybody's on alert," the assistant said, "though, maybe if she thinks she's been spotted, she'll get out of town."
Hopefully. But he doubted itthe woman didn't operate that way. Which meant he was again going to have to be on guard for her throughout the next few weeks. "Okay, please let me "
He was interrupted by a sharp knock on the door to his room. Drew hesitated, the phone still at his ear.
"Sir? Everything okay?" the assistant asked.
"Yeah, sorry," he mumbled. "Keep me posted."
He ended the call and walked quietly toward the door.
Another knock. Harder this time. Sharp and impatient.
Jarvis had never been brazen enough to just knock before. It wasn't her slimy style. Then again, he hadn't seen her since the restraining order. Maybe it had pushed her over the edge. He just wished she would take no for an answerbecause that's the one he'd given to her on the few occasions they'd come face-to-face. Then again, considering he suspected she was nuttier than a bag of trail mix, that was probably too much to expect.
"Hello? Would you please answer the door, I need to talk to you!" a woman said.
He hadn't listened closely enough to his stalker to know her voice, but it sure wasn't anyone else's he recognized. His tension increased, his eyes narrowing as he stared at the door.
"Look, I heard you talking, I know you're in there. Stop being such a jerk and open the door."
Jerk? He was a jerk for not wanting a crazy woman harassing his parents or breaking into his house?
This had gone beyond annoying to infuriating. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so angry. Ignoring the advice he'd gotten from the police, he flipped the lock, grabbed the knob and yanked the door open.
"I've had enough of this! Who the hell do you think you are?" he snapped, glaring at the woman.
Who wasn't Helen Jarvis.
In fact, she looked absolutely nothing like the fortyish Helen Jarvis, who had bright red hair, bushy eyebrows and a crazy light in her eyes.
"Oh," he muttered, staring at the extremely attractive young woman, clad in a long, emerald-green gown.