Read an Excerpt
Her Accidental Husband
A Sorensen Family Book
By Ashlee Mallory, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Ashlee Mallory
All rights reserved.
What the heck is he doing here?
Payton Vaughn looked away from the familiar face with the chiseled jaw and lips that seemed to always be drawn into a frown — especially around her — and outside to the tarmac behind him where the plane was preparing for boarding. There was no chance that the best man boarding this particular flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Puerto Vallarta was a coincidence. Had he been on the earlier flight from Salt Lake as well?
Undoubtedly, her best friend had something to do with this. Didn't think her maid of honor could make it to Mexico in one piece without a designated babysitter. Good thing Payton loved Kate like a sister or she'd be dead meat by the end of the night, whether it was Kate's wedding weekend or not.
Cruz Sorensen, of all people, as her chaperone?
The song from Psycho's shower scene erupted from Payton's cell phone on the seat beside her. She closed her eyes.
The possibility of letting it go to voicemail came and was quickly dismissed. If she didn't answer, her mother would call airport security and then the National Guard to put out a world-wide alert that her daughter was missing. Emily Vaughn hadn't taken Payton's plan to fly off to Mexico for a weekend by herself very well, and Payton had made the mistake of giving her mother a copy of her flight itinerary to ease her mind.
So she knew boarding didn't begin for another ten minutes.
Payton tried not to sigh as she answered her phone. "Hello, Mother."
"I only want you to know that I just hung up with the florist as you weren't here to take the call but, please, don't worry yourself. I'll take care of everything," her mother said in the martyred voice with a slight Southern twang Payton knew well. "Even if you'll be thousands of miles away gallivanting around Mexico because your friend didn't have the tact and graciousness to plan her impromptu wedding after yours. Despite the fact that yours has been scheduled for months."
Payton let the words roll over her as she watched Cruz Sorensen click away on the keyboard, engrossed in the screen. He was pretty hard to miss. Shiny raven-black hair clipped short and neat, never a hair out of place. A dark countenance adding to that mysterious, sexy allure, thanks to his half-Mexican heritage on his mother's side, something she had learned from Kate. And those dark brown eyes that, even though they weren't looking her way, she knew captured his intelligence and wariness.
Even in a simple black button down shirt and jeans, Cruz Sorensen emitted an aura of intelligence and passion and, most of all, ambition. From what Kate had told her, it was this same ambition that had brought his family's construction business from obscurity to recent fame in the skyrocketing Utah construction realm.
Too bad he was a certified ass-hat.
"Thanks, Mother. But you should let Camille handle all that. After all, she is the wedding planner. That's what we're paying her for."
"Please. Camille, pretty girl that she is, wouldn't know a dessert fork from a salad fork if the fate of the free world depended on it. The finer details of this event, I'm afraid, will be left to me. We wouldn't want to show our governor, state senators, or any of the other guests anything less than the best."
Yes, there was that. Lord. Payton couldn't wait for this whole event to be over with. But as the only Vaughn offspring, her mother wouldn't let her wedding happen without a grand and high-profile ceremony. She was just relieved she'd talked her mother down from an eight hundred-person guest list to a mere four hundred.
Payton glanced over to the row of seats against the window again. Cruz had paused long enough at the keyboard to look up and ... there. She met his gaze.
A-ha. He couldn't continue to pretend he didn't know she was there. She raised her fingers and waved to him, which only earned her a scowl before he dropped his eyes back to his keyboard.
"You know I won't be gone that long," Payton continued. "The ceremony is Saturday evening, with a special post-wedding brunch on Sunday. I'll be on a flight back Monday morning." The short weekend was especially a relief now that Brad, her fiancé, had to bail on going with her because of a last-minute business meeting. Somehow, the prospect of spending a long weekend alone in the luxurious Presidential Suite sounded a lot less romantic.
"Just be sure to drink only bottled water and hold the ice in every drink you order — remember what happened to poor Danielle Edwards on her honeymoon. And wear your hat and sunblock every minute you're there. With only a few more weeks before your big day you wouldn't want to be all splotchy and freckled in your wedding photos like you were in your senior high school picture." She sighed. "It's too bad Brad couldn't make it. I don't like the idea of you gallivanting around Mexico alone."
This time Payton did roll her eyes. "I'll hardly be gallivanting, Mother. This flight is direct to Mexico, and I'll take a cab to the hotel. But if you're so disappointed, you're free to call Brad and share your dissatisfaction with him." Payton couldn't hide the frustration from her voice. She didn't know why it surprised her when Brad bailed on her; he'd become so good at it as of late. She'd hoped this weekend would be a chance for them to reconnect, to remember why they were going through this elaborate planning in the first place — or her mother's elaborate planning, anyhow. Not going to happen now.
"Payton Vaughn," her mother chastised, "you know better than to get angry at poor Bradley. He's done nothing but show you over the years how much he adores you. If something called him away, then you can be certain he had a very good reason. Honestly, he's only trying to provide for you and the wonderful life you'll have together. A few sacrifices here and there will all be worth it. Just remember that gorgeous mountain villa he's building for you outside Jackson Hole."
Which was true. Payton had known Brad since his family moved to Salt Lake when she was in junior high. At twelve, she'd had little interest in the flashy seventeen-year-old who thought he was a gift to all woman kind. He'd gone off to college, and she hadn't given him a second thought until he'd returned two years ago for his parent's anniversary. Still arrogant and certain of his appeal, Payton had been immune to his charms initially. But his perseverance eventually paid off and three months later she relented and went on a date with him, discovering that underneath that shiny surface was someone who could make her laugh with his insight and wit. Plus, there was the fact that he knew what it was like living with overbearing parents who had your future planned since conception. His proposal a year later made sense.
Even if the news became the source of her mother's unbridled excitement, certain she'd been responsible for the union.
The announcement overhead gave her an out from any further lecture. "Mother, they're boarding now," Payton interrupted with a sense of relief. "My flight lands in Puerto Vallarta at six tonight. I'll call you when I arrive."
She felt a twinge of guilt as she disconnected and stared down at her phone. Brad had been working extra hard these past few months, true, but it was because he wanted to give her everything. How could she begrudge him that?
She thought of how angry and short she'd been with him when he called her last night from New York, telling her that he wouldn't make it this weekend after all. The arrival of two dozen roses hadn't softened her feelings, and she'd dumped them in the nearest garbage can as soon as they arrived.
Am I being unreasonable?
She'd heard about the dreaded Bridezillas who turn into egocentric tyrants and thought that everything revolved around them and their "big day." She'd never considered herself one of them, almost as reluctant as Brad to participate in all the planning her mother started. But maybe she'd been unreasonable ...
"We'll now begin boarding all first class travelers to Puerto Vallarta."
A glance over at Cruz showed him still furiously typing on his keyboard. Come on. No one typed that fast. He had to be showing off.
She only had a moment, so she'd have to be quick. Rising, she grabbed the handle of her carry-on, slung her purse over her wrist, and pushed her way against the crowd now heading toward the boarding gate — which left the space around the large pillar wide open. Perfect for some privacy.
She pressed the FaceTime button on her phone, wanting to see Brad and tell him she understood and was sorry.
It kept ringing. Three rings. Four.
She glanced at the time. It was four-forty Dallas time, putting New York at nearly six. He had to be finished with his meeting by now.
On the sixth ring, she was about to push cancel when the call was accepted.
It took her a moment to see what was on the screen in her hand. The picture was kind of dark and grainy, but the image of the long-haired brunette woman, lying back on a bed, naked — at least from the waist up — was hard to miss.
"Hello? Can I help you?" The woman asked in a sultry, albeit antagonistic tone.
"I'm — I'm —" Payton's throat felt drier than the dry Texas air, and she couldn't find words.
"Did I hear the phone?" It was a man's voice, somewhere off screen.
"I think someone's trying to reach you?" The woman on the screen was saying and, as she sat up, it was hard to miss the massive breasts that spilled forward.
Who answers someone's phone stark naked?
She really didn't want to see anymore. But at the same time, she needed to see his face. To confirm that this wasn't some mix-up. Confirm that Brad was the man in the room alone with this naked bimbo.
A hand on her arm tried to pull her attention up but she kept her eyes trained on the screen. Brad's tousled blond hair and naked upper torso came into focus just as the screen went dark.
"Is something wrong? I'm pretty sure they're boarding your class."
She finally looked up from the phone to find Cruz Sorensen staring down at her from his ridiculously towering height, a hint of impatience in his tone. As usual.
Was something wrong? She snorted. Only if you think having your fiancé screw around on you weeks before your nuptials was a problem.
She looked up into those sharp brown eyes, the brows furrowed in what some people who didn't know him better might call concern.
She bit her bottom lip. No. She would not cry. Not now. She couldn't. She was a Vaughn, and crying in public places — short of a funeral — just did not happen.
Not to mention that she'd never let this overbearing Neanderthal see her that vulnerable.
She took a step forward, ready to push past the arm that was holding too tight to hers and deliver a sly, breezy comment. Maybe tell him where he could take his fake concern.
Only her foot was falling forward into an abyss and she couldn't stop from falling into it.
The damn idiot was going to faint. Did people still do that?
Cruz reached out, half catching Payton as she spilled toward the floor. At least she hadn't totally lost consciousness, only stumbled forward with her eyes half-closed trying to right herself.
He eased her into one of the recently vacated seats and knelt in front of her. Either she was prone to theatrics or she had received a bit of a shock from that phone call.
He'd been watching her for some time, not because she was easily the prettiest woman in the terminal — which she very well knew — but because he'd promised his brother and future sister-in-law that he'd keep an eye on her. See that she reached the hotel safe and sound. Kate had worried that since Payton's fiancé had bailed, Payton's usual friendly and exuberant behavior — not quite saying naive — would send some wrong signals and get her in trouble as she traveled in a foreign country alone. Having met the woman on a couple of occasions, he couldn't say he blamed Kate for her concern.
Delaying his own trip down to Mexico by a day so he could catch the same flight as Payton had actually worked in his favor. With the final terms being settled with Eastman Motors, he'd been loath to leave with the deal not signed. But after yesterday's discussions, only a signature was keeping the deal from being final. He'd managed to snag one of the last seats on the flight, too, thanks to the frenzy of college kids heading out for spring break.
"Payton? How we doing?" he asked and studied her pale face. Her green eyes, which usually danced with laughter, looked back at him listlessly. "Payton?"
This time the sharpness of his tone seemed to reach her, and her eyes focused on him. Then her face almost turned green as she leaned forward. "I think I'm going to be sick."
But nothing spewed out at him, which gave him some relief, although her breathing was coming fast and shallow.
"Keep your head down, and take long, steady breaths. I'm going to get a wet towel."
He managed to get to the restroom and back with a paper towel in under three minutes. She was still where he'd left her. He folded the towel and placed it on the back of her neck.
They sat like that for a few more minutes, and he listened as her breathing slowed to a normal pace and her face turned a more natural shade. She sat up abruptly and looked around her. "Where are my bags? My ticket?"
"Here." He nodded to the seat next to her.
"Last call for American Airlines Flight 353 to Puerto Vallarta."
"That's us. Are you going to be okay?"
Something seemed to click in her eyes and in an instant, the smile she usually wore slid back into place, leaving two dimples beaming at him. "Just fine. I'm sure once I eat the PowerBar in my bag I'll feel much better." She stood, a little wobbly, but with a determined look as she leaned down to grab her ticket and gripped her carry-on. "But we'd better hurry if we're going to make this flight."
"Lead the way," he said.
Unfortunately, by the time they made it onto the plane, a glance around at the overhead bins, all closed, told him that finding a place for their luggage was going to be a problem.
A female flight attendant approached them. "I'm sorry, but we're completely full. We're going to have to store your bags below in holding."
Payton clung a little tighter to the handle on her carry-on. "I'm sure I can find some space under my seat for this, let me just —"
"I'm afraid not," the flight attendant said firmly and reached for Payton's luggage. He watched as Payton held on another second before finally releasing her grip and handed it off to the stern brown-haired attendant who took his as well and disappeared.
"I'll see you in Puerto Vallarta, Payton. You sure you're okay?" He didn't like the panicked look on her face.
She beamed her brightest smile. "Just peachy," she said and squeezed past the aisle seat to slip into the seat at the window.
Whatever news she'd received Payton clearly needed some time to process. And at least for the next couple of hours, she couldn't get into too much trouble. Right?
Cruz continued down the narrow aisle, keeping his laptop bag in front of him until he reached his own seat, several more rows back. The bag held some basic necessities as well as his laptop and phone charger, so it took a little effort to squeeze it under the seat in front of him. He managed, even if it made the already sparse legroom even tighter.
He clasped the seat belt and angled his head to get a better view of his charge. But other than the top of her head, he couldn't see anything. No surprise since standing, even in those modest heels, she barely grazed his chin. She was on board the plane, though. His babysitting duties were nearly over.
He closed his eyes, ready to relax.
But the image of that bright smile and those laughing eyes still burned in his mind. Once again.
Dimples were just the tip of the iceberg with Payton Vaughn. With that reddish-golden hair that could best be described as strawberry blonde, a pert nose, and wide, welcoming lips that tipped into a smile without the slightest provocation, she was hard to tear one's gaze from. And that was from the neck up. Because even with her petite frame, she was still slim but curvy in just the right way.
Fortunately for them both, Payton was not his type. He preferred his women tall and leggy, to match his own towering height, and without the regular vivacious commentary that Payton couldn't help but share with everyone, which, when she was around him, was usually about him.
Excerpted from Her Accidental Husband by Ashlee Mallory, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2015 Ashlee Mallory. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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