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Left hand, ring finger... Best friend Bridgett Owens's gigantic diamond winked at the eldest Deveraux son, Chase, like a coy madam at an old-time bordello. The fun-loving playboy of Charleston, South Carolina, wasn't supposed to go gaga over the grown-up daughter of the family housekeeper. Except welling up in the bachelor's brain were protective, intimate feelings that he just couldn't—didn't want to—discount. But can a man who's definitely not the marrying kind turn into a (gasp) committed ...
Left hand, ring finger... Best friend Bridgett Owens's gigantic diamond winked at the eldest Deveraux son, Chase, like a coy madam at an old-time bordello. The fun-loving playboy of Charleston, South Carolina, wasn't supposed to go gaga over the grown-up daughter of the family housekeeper. Except welling up in the bachelor's brain were protective, intimate feelings that he just couldn't—didn't want to—discount. But can a man who's definitely not the marrying kind turn into a (gasp) committed groom-to-be...especially when nothing but bad luck has burnished his romantic record?
Gabe looked at Chase with his typical do-gooding innocence and said, "I can explain."
"I'll just bet you can," Chase replied sarcastically, his temper escalating all the more. There were times he was glad he and his three younger siblings had all decided to settle permanently in Charleston, South Carolina, along with their father, instead of taking jobs at various places around the country as many of their friends had done. This wasn't one of them.
He glared at his baby brother and pushed the words through his teeth. "The only problem is, I don't want to hear it. Not after what I saw at noon today."
"Maggie called me." Gabe heeded Chase's low warning tone. "It was a medical emergency."
Chase lifted a brow in raging disbelief as he moved across the brilliant-blue carpet, embossed with gold stars. "One that required mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, no doubt."
"I'd have thought you would have had more sense than that,"Mitch, the second oldest son, scolded their baby brother as he took off the jacket of his pearl-gray business suit and jerked loose the knot of his austere silver tie. "Seeing Maggie Callaway is bad enough, after what she did to this family two years ago." Mitch grimaced in disbelief as he spoke for the group assembled. "But kissing her? In front of Chase? That's low, Gabe!"
Amy, the peacemaker, as well as the youngest of the family, stepped into the breach. Maybe it was because she and Gabe were closest in age, but she was always quick to rise to Gabe's defense. "Isn't it possible that you misunderstood what you saw, Chase?" she asked anxiously as she fussed with the pink roses set out in crystal vases around the house. "After all, if it was a medical emergency - if Maggie fainted or something - maybe Gabe was just doing what had to be done. He is a doctor, for heaven's sake!"
"Is that what happened?" Chase asked as he turned back to the increasingly guilty-looking Gabe.
The old bitterness and betrayal cut him like a knife as he pushed away the mental image of Gabe and Maggie staring deep into each other's eyes, even while Maggie had still been engaged to marry Chase! Not that it had mattered. In the end Gabe hadn't suffered any qualms about betraying his brother. Then or now. Family loyalty was something Gabe apparently just didn't have. "Did Maggie call you out to her beach house because she was feeling faint?"
Gabe said nothing. More furious than ever, Chase continued, "Let me guess what happened next. You rushed over. She answered the door - swooned at the sight of you. And then you hauled her into your arms and laid a big one on her. All in the name of medical science, of course."
Looking guiltier and all the more uncomfortable, Gabe dragged a palm across his jaw. "She didn't faint." It was his turn to push the words through his teeth as he moved toward the floor-length sash windows that graced both ends of the elegantly appointed room.
"Then what happened?" Mitch sank down on a Duncan Phyfe chair, which was covered in the same brilliant-blue-and-gold-star pattern as the carpet.
"I can't really say," Gabe replied with a reluctant shrug. "Beyond the fact that Maggie called me and asked me to meet her at her place, pronto."
"For ...?" Amy probed curiously, when Gabe didn't go on.
"That's confidential," Gabe replied stiffly as he moved beneath the portrait of Revolutionary War hero General Marshall Deveraux.
"I'll just bet it is." Deciding he'd had enough of trying to play it cool, Chase went straight for his father's whiskey and poured himself a shot.
Gabe met Chase at the bar. He helped himself to a club soda over ice. "Look, if you must know, she was talking to me about a medical matter."
Chase knew his brother had worked hard to perfect his bedside manner during med school and residency, but this was ridiculous. "Is that how you minister to all your patients?" Chase asked, deliberately goading Gabe. "By kissing them?"
"She's not my patient," Gabe said hotly. "All I was doing was listening to her and offering advice."
Chase would have liked to believe it was just that innocent. Just as he would have liked to believe that Maggie's feelings for his brother had been platonic, from the get-go. Unfortunately that wasn't true and he knew it. The minute Maggie had laid eyes on Gabe, her engagement to Chase might as well have been history. And that was a public humiliation Chase still found very hard to take, regardless of the fact that his feelings for Maggie, whatever they had been, had long ago faded to obscurity.
"Then what were you doing giving her mouth-to-mouth?" Chase demanded, trying to push the image of the two standing on Maggie's doorstep, wrapped in each other's arms, out of his mind. If that wasn't a sign of some ongoing clandestine rendezvous, he didn't know what was!
"That kiss you saw today just happened," Gabe countered hotly. "We didn't plan it. Any more than you planned to be driving by at the exact second I was saying goodbye to her."
"I see. It was an accident. Just like your stealing Maggie away from me just two days before our wedding and then dumping her the moment her wedding to me was officially off was an accident."
Gabe glared at Chase in frustration. "I couldn't get involved with her after what had happened to our family!"
Chase snorted derisively as he choked down a swallow of fine Southern whiskey. "Too bad you couldn't have decided that before you wrecked my wedding plans," he fumed.
"If anyone wrecked your wedding plans, Chase, it was you."
Chase set his glass down with a thud. He turned away from the sideboard and asked ever so slowly, "What did you say?"
Gabe's eyes gleamed with temper. "You heard me...."
Excerpted from Her Bachelor Challenge by Cathy Thacker Copyright © 2002 by Harlequin Enterprises Limited
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.