Read an Excerpt
Baiting the Maid of Honor
A Wedding Dare Novel
By Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland, Ellie Brennan
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Tessa Bailey
All rights reserved.
A relaxing, six-day mountain retreat at the exclusive Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado, followed by her best friend's wedding — what could possibly go wrong?
Julie Piper tipped her champagne glass to her lips and smiled at the women conversing animatedly around her. She'd selected the resort's tasteful Osprey Lounge as the venue for Kady's bachelorette party and if her friends' rapidly increasing inebriation served as any sign, it had been a darn good choice. Predinner drinks, a light meal, and a loose seating arrangement had been meticulously planned to make the evening a success. Now she could sit back and enjoy the delicious buzz working its way through her system. It had been far too long since she allowed herself to relax, but there was something soothing about being with three best friends who'd borne witness to four years' worth of triumphs and tragedies in her life. Also known as college.
Kady, the first of them to get hitched, had called with the news of her engagement a year prior, tearfully asking Julie to be the maid of honor. She'd agreed without hesitation. Among the eclectic mix of four friends, Julie had garnered a reputation as the planner. The maker of pretty things. Energizer Barbie. Not exactly a flattering nickname, but apt nonetheless. She smiled, she mediated, and she decorated. Making people happy was her top priority.
If her smile felt like it might shatter on occasion, well then she supposed even the ceiling in Barbie's Dream House sprang a leak now and again.
Through an avalanche of email and hysterical phone calls between Kady in Colorado and herself in Atlanta, the wedding had been planned down to the tiniest of details. Ask her anything about floral arrangements or canapés and she could dish for days. As she watched Kady show off her ring to the tray-carrying waitress, smile beaming from ear to ear, Julie was reminded why she adored planning and preparation. The end result never disappointed.
Regan, her sorority sister and current New York City headhunter, leaned across the table toward Kady, artfully highlighted hair falling in a wave beside her face. "So does Colton know he's marrying the legendary Tri Delt who once rode a mechanical bull in a bikini and chaps, or did you neglect to mention it?"
"Oh, I told him." Kady sniffed proudly. "He asked to see pictures."
Regan saluted with her glass. "Now there's a man worth giving up casual sex with strangers."
"I seem to remember you taking a turn on that bull, Julie," Kady pointed out.
"I may or may not have pictures of that night," Christine said on Julie's left, saving her from having to respond. "And I may or may not have brought them along with me to torture you."
Kady's mouth dropped open. "I should have known, Miss Investigative Journalist. Even in those days you were never without your camera."
Christine brushed her bright-red hair over her shoulder, looking quietly pleased. "Always prepared."
"I shudder to think what photographic blackmail you have on me." Regan winced. "I seem to recall some flashes going off the night I scaled the Chi Omega sorority house to steal their mascot off the roof."
Julie nodded sagely. "Mmm-hmm. And nothing between you and the Lord but a smile."
"That's right. I was butt-ass naked." Regan flounced back in her chair and shrugged. "Hey, I didn't hear any complaints from below."
As they all groaned over Regan's statement, a new arrival in the lounge caught Julie's eye. Looking horribly out of place, a young woman clutched her purse strap, eyes scanning the room. A vague familiarity about her tipped Julie off. "Kady, is that Colton's sister?"
Kady craned her neck to look toward the bar. "Ooh, yes. Julie, can you go get her?"
Julie had already left the table and was halfway across the room before Kady finished making her request. She flashed her most welcoming smile at a wide-eyed Sophie and pulled her into a hug, laughing when the other girl automatically stiffened like a board. Taking pity on her, Julie moved back a step. "Now, don't let the hugging scare you off, Sophie Brooks. That's just how we do things in the South. Come on over and let's get you a drink. Are you hungry? They have the most delicious crab cakes. I just about died when I bit into mine."
Sophie's gaze was fastened on Julie's mouth as if she couldn't believe a person could say so many words without taking a single breath. Julie sighed. She was used to that look. "Uh, thank you. No, I'm not hungry." She cracked a nervous little smile. "But I'm more than willing to partake in the drinking."
Julie took her arm and led her toward the table. "Excellent. You're going to fit right in."
The young woman looked doubtful as they approached the table, but as soon as introductions were made and Julie placed a glass of champagne in her hand, the boisterous conversation swelled once more and Sophie seemed to relax slightly, even if she looked like a spectator at a tennis match trying to follow their banter.
Julie waited until everyone had become distracted by bawdy talk of wedding night lingerie choices before she inconspicuously left the table. She floated past the restrooms and the bustling kitchen, and slipped out onto the deserted back patio she'd spied earlier, inhaling the clean mountain air. After nearly missing her flight this morning thanks to a last-minute meeting at her father's company, she'd hit the ground running to get the party set up in time. A breather was definitely in order. As soon as the patio door closed behind her, she yanked the clip out of her hair, letting her long blond hair tumble down around her shoulders. Alone in the darkness, she allowed her ramrod posture to deflate, the tension to ease from her shoulders.
She inched her fingers along her scalp, massaging away the stress she'd built up over this morning's meeting. Over constant worries she would forget one vital detail and disappoint everyone. Over making tonight special. It felt so good, her eyes closed automatically, head tipping back as a tiny moan escaping past her lips.
"You call that a moan?"CHAPTER 2
From his position in the shadows, Reed Lawson watched the blonde spin around on a gasp. When he finally got a good look at her face, it took every ounce of his willpower to retain his casual lean against the stone building. Fucking gorgeous. She'd walked out of the restaurant onto the deserted patio, moaning and massaging herself in a way that would put a porn star to shame. Dressed in pink silk that revealed her sun-kissed legs to perfection, he'd been more than happy to let her put on a private show just for him. Until that dress slipped a little too high on those sexy thighs and he'd felt an annoying stab of guilt. Now he wished he'd just gone inside the damn restaurant to the party he was dreading. Wished he hadn't made her turn around.
Because now he wasn't going anywhere. Not until he got an up-close look.
"I'm sorry," she breathed with a Southern twang that oozed old money. "I thought I was out here all alone."
"Don't apologize. I enjoyed the show." He pushed off the wall and stepped into the light, watching as she took his measure. Her chin had gone up a notch at his less-than-gentlemanly comment, making her perusal of him appear condescending, which it likely was. Reed almost laughed. That look had been directed at him so many times, it felt like an old friend. Yeah, I look more like a criminal than a SWAT team commander. Look your fill, hot legs. "Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut and seen what happened next."
She gave him a sexy little pout that wasn't designed to make him hard, but it sure as hell had. "You would have been sorely disappointed." The night breeze sent the material of her thin dress swaying over her curves and he almost groaned out loud. Her gaze swept him, head to toe, just as those nipples grew stiff beneath the silk. Did she like what she saw, instead of the usual response he received from girls like her, hightailing it in the opposite direction? Against his will, his interest grew. He was transfixed by her mouth as she spoke again.
"I came out to get some air, not put on a show for some shadow lurker."
One corner of his lips jumped. "Shadow lurker?"
With a sound of irritation, the blonde whirled on her high heels and clicked toward the wooden railing. Disregarding him. Or at least she was making an attempt to do so. Her hands made their way up to that wealth of bright hair again, piling it on top of her head with jerky movements, the delicate muscles of her exposed back shifting in the moonlight. Even from this distance, Reed could see she was tense. About what? Who cares? Go inside. Leave her be.
Instead, he found himself wondering what had sent her out here in the first place. Weren't women who looked like her supposed to enjoy parties? Being catered to and flirted with? Served? That final thought brought to mind a vision of her serving him instead, that pouty mouth making magic between his thighs while he instructed her on what he liked.
Jesus. He didn't get the attraction. In her expensive-looking dress and diamond earrings, she practically screamed "pampered and privileged." He'd never gone for that type. Usually went for the exact opposite, actually. Low-maintenance women who knew the score. He didn't have any interest in catering to the whims of some Southern debutante afraid to break a nail in bed. Women like her didn't dirty their hands with men like him. He'd learned that at a very young age growing up on the wrong side of Manchester, Tennessee. It had never bothered him before. He never spared those women a second glance. Now?
He couldn't look away from this one.
She'd wedged a clip between her teeth, attempting to pin her hair up. After several failed attempts, she gave up and let her hands fall to rest on the rail. Reed found himself moving toward her, deciding that once he saw her up close, he'd finally head inside. She wouldn't affect him as much once she hit him with the full force of her snootiness. Those pretty features would transform with distaste and he'd be free to walk.
"Need some help?" The gruff question escaped him before he could stop it, but he was rewarded for asking when she shivered, goose bumps becoming visible along her neck and shoulders. He had to curl his hands into fists to keep from touching her skin. It would be soft. He didn't need a hands-on experiment to determine that, but he goddamn wanted one. Turn around and roll your eyes at me. Let's get this over with.
"Help with what?" The sound of wind whispering through the trees nearly swallowed her husky question. "My hair?"
Damn. It hadn't been his imagination. If she hadn't turned tail and traipsed her way back inside by now, this instant attraction didn't end with him. Was it possible a hot-to-trot sex kitten existed under that silk-and-pearls ensemble? Only one way to find out. Settling his hands on either side of her, he brought his body within inches of hers. "I don't do hair, pixie," he rasped against her ear. "Unless you'd like it pulled."
Her indrawn breath sent lust curling in his gut. His cock strained against the front of his dress pants and he wanted more than anything to press her into the railing with his hips. Maybe even pick her up with an arm around her waist and give her a hot little dry run through their clothes. Entice her into the real thing.
Ever so slightly, possibly out of curiosity, she let her back connect with his chest. With difficulty, he managed to stand perfectly still, watching over her shoulder as her breasts rose and fell, that supple flesh swelling over the top of her dress. When she spoke, her voice stoked the fire inside of him, blistering his insides. "Now, why would I want that?"
"If you have to ask, you need it worse than you think."
Hoping like hell the move wouldn't send her screaming, kind of wishing it would, Reed let his fingertips make contact with the top of her back. Still, she didn't turn around or say a damn word to stop him. He couldn't believe it. Not her acceptance of his touch, not the incredible softness he encountered. Who felt like this? Heat rushing through his veins, he very slowly trailed his fingers up her neck and let them tangle in her hair. As he'd seen her do earlier, he massaged her scalp, growling low in his throat when she loosened her neck and let his hand support her head fully. Giving him control. This time, she didn't moan. She panted.
"You'd best stop me now, unless you want to find out what you need."
"I —" He tugged gently so he could see her upturned face and it nearly sent him over the fucking edge. Pink-stained cheeks, damp mouth, heavy eyelids. She looked on the verge of climax, just from his hand in her hair. Christ, who was this girl? "I ..." she started again, breathlessly.
Reed gripped the strands of her hair and pulled.
A broken sob fell from her mouth as she spun away from Reed, giving him no choice but to let go of her hair. Moonlight spilled over her aroused body, illuminated her shocked face. His instincts told him to reach for her, but common sense kept him rooted to the ground. Finally, finally, distaste crept into her expression. For him. Too bad it had come too late. He felt on the verge of imploding with the severe need she'd stirred up in him.
"Are you always this inappropriate?" She spat the words at him. "Even when a lady has shown exactly zero interest?"
"Baby, if that was zero, I can't wait to see what ten looks like."
She laughed a little hysterically. "I guess they'll let just about anyone stay at this resort. Good thing it's big enough I won't have to see you again."
"Good thing," he called after her.
Oh, they would be seeing each other again. Real soon.
* * *
Still buzzing with restlessness and adrenaline after her encounter with the strange man on the patio, Julie rejoined her friends at their table. What in blue blazes had just taken place? Surely she'd dreamed that entire encounter, because ladies didn't let strange men pull their hair. They didn't let any man pull their hair, for that matter. And they sure as heck didn't like it.
The moment she'd seen him leaning against the building in the darkness should have been the same moment she returned to the party without a backward glance. Instead, the challenge in his eyes had kept her outside. With his hard, commanding form and irreverent air, he'd wanted to make her nervous. Expected it. So she'd simply refused. Big mistake. She could still feel his powerful hand in her hair, supporting her, soothing her ... then treating her to a combination of unexpected pleasure and pain. The memory of it made her body heat with renewed desire, made awareness spread everywhere it shouldn't. Not for that man whose taunts still rang in her ears.
A series of feminine sighs broke out around the table, drawing her attention. Kady's fiancé, Colton, stood at the entrance flanked by four men as he consulted with the hostess. The groomsmen were crashing the bachelorette party? Her fingers itched to pull out the wedding agenda and remind them they were supposed to be elsewhere, doing man stuff, but Kady's pleased smile stopped her.
"Oh, look! There's my hot chunk of man love now." Kady grimaced. "Sorry, Sophie."
Sophie waved off the apology. "This champagne is definitely softening the blow of hearing you objectify my brother."
"Aw, you're a good sport," Kady said, edging around the table and taking off toward her future husband with open arms, slightly unsteady in her high heels. "Come to mama!"
Her friend's obvious joy easing her unsettled mood, Julie reached for the bottle of champagne, but her hand froze before she could make contact.
No, it couldn't be. The tall, broody shadow lurker from the patio had just joined the group of groomsmen. He was the last-minute addition to the wedding party? Quickly, she called to mind the frantic research she'd done on Colton's childhood friend. Reed Lawson, thirty-one. Also known as the gigantic pain in her backside who'd sent her scrambling when he'd agreed to attend the festivities in the eleventh hour. An Atlanta-based SWAT team commander.
Atlanta. The same city she lived in. What were the odds of a chance encounter in the darkness so far from their mutual hometown?
As Colton, the groom, pulled him into a manly, back-slapping embrace, Reed looked over at her and winked.
Excerpted from Baiting the Maid of Honor by Tessa Bailey, Heather Howland, Ellie Brennan. Copyright © 2014 Tessa Bailey. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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