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Please don't let it be him.
Panic seized Amelia Lambert's heart, and then the organ lurched into a rapid, thundering rhythm like thoroughbreds breaking from the Kentucky Derby gate. Her gaze locked onto the back of the man standing at the registration counter, and a cold hard lump of dread formed in her stomach.
That sandy-blond hair, those wide shoulders, the muscular tush and long legs could only belong to one person. Someone she never wanted to see again.
Toby Haynes. Her dumbest mistake.
Why was he in Monaco now? She was supposed to have time to prepare for his arrival. Twenty-four days, to be precise.
She considered ducking behind one of the fat marble pillars in the glitzy Hotel Reynard lobby until he left, but before she could translate thought into action he turned away from the desk and his gaze plowed right into hers. And then he smiled. That cocky, slightly crooked half smile had earned him the title of NASCAR's sexiest driver five years running.
She hated that smile.
Hated what it did to her. Hated how it made her skin tingle and flush. Hated how it made her toes curl. Hated how it tangled and heated her insides and anesthetized her gray matter.
Focusing on her as if she were the only other person around for miles, he sauntered toward her with a hotel keycard in one hand and a black leather bag in the other. He stopped an arm's length away. An Atlantic Ocean too close, in her opinion.
"Hello, sweet Amelia," he drawled.
Her lungs failed at the intimacy of his leisurely I've seen-you-naked inspection.
The man had enough magnetism to screw up compasses from here to Timbuktu. Throw in the fact that he possessed a risk-taking adrenaline-junkie personality that spelled doom for any relationship, and Toby Haynes was bad news all around. Never mind that he was every woman's dream lover in bed. A woman would have to be a masochist to get entangled with him.
Luckily she'd wised up.
Unfortunately not soon enough.
She tipped her head back to look into his silvery-blue eyes and tried to swallow the barge beached in her dry throat with only minimal success. "What are you doing here, Toby?"
"Vincent asked me to shadow you and your girlfriends until the wedding. Never cared much for following, but for you I'll make an exception."
Her stomach landed in her sandals, and chaos erupted in her brain as she scrambled to make sense of his words. Vincent was Vincent Reynard, heir to the Hotel Reynard chain and one of Toby's race-car team's sponsors, as well as the groom-to-be to Amelia's best friend, Candace. Vincent happened to be footing the bill for Candace and her three bridesmaids to spend a month in Monaco planning the dreamiest wedding ever. The ceremony was scheduled to take place in four weeks.
"I'm the best man. But then, you already know that. I recall you saying so. More than once." His Georgia rootsoozed into his gravelly voice and over her skin like a humidsouthern breeze.
She could not believe she'd been dumb enough to feed his already Herculean ego with compliments.
But he had been that good.
And she had been that stupid. Being tipsy was no excuse. And then she remembered Neal, her dearly departed fiancé, the man she loved with all her heart, and she felt like a traitor. Again. The same way she had that morning when she'd rolled over and spotted Toby's handsome face on her pillow.
Wait a minute. Panic knocked guilt aside. "You'reVincent's best man?"
She would wring her friend's neck for with holding that crucial piece of information. "I'm Candace's maid of honor."
"Guess that means we'll be rubbing fenders. All those shared duties. We're gonna be tight."
This was bad. Very, very bad. Nauseating, in fact. She barely managed to contain her groan.
Toby slouched against the marble pillar beside her and slid his key into his front pocket. The action drew Amelia's gaze over the taboo terrain of a generous masculine package encased in blue jeans so worn and faded she could tell which way the, um, landscape lay.
She suppressed a shiver as memories assailed her and gritted her teeth against the images burned on her retinas of how he looked naked, of what he felt like hot and bare and pressed against her, of how alive he'd made her feel on a day when she'd wanted to crawl into a dark cave and hide.
Her body smoldered and her hormones launched into a chorus line of kicks and spins. Those same stupid hormones had landed her in bed with him ten months ago, but that was a mistake she'd never repeat. Toby Haynes, like her father, was bent on burning a destructive trail along the fastest route to the grave.
Her journey climbed back up his flat stomach and broad chest and eventually reached his gorgeous tanned face, his let-me-at-you mouth and sexy bedroom eyeseyes currently twinkling with satisfaction over her thorough inventory of his anatomy.
Darn. "Shouldn't you be driving in circles somewhere?" His smile slipped but only for a millisecond. Had she not been staring at him like a deer caught in the headlights, she would have missed it. He blinked, raked a hand through his short, already disheveled hair and then hooked his thumb through his belt loop. His casual stance contradicted the tension carving shallow lines around his mouth.
"I have some free time. And it's ovals or tri-ovals or"
"In the middle of the NASCAR season?"
"Yeah." He forced the word through a clenched-teethsmile.
Admittedly Amelia didn't follow car racing, but working as a nurse in a Charlotte, North Carolina, hospital near a speedway meant caring for several race-car drivers each year, and she'd learned a little about the sport whether she'd wanted to or not. Time off midseason was neither desirable nor good. It cost the driver points or money or something that pushed most of the fools to check out of the hospital sooner than they should and often against doctor's orders. To earn an entire month off meant Toby had broken a major rule or been injured.
She took another quick appraisal of his muscle-packedvirileahem.
"What did you do?"
He shifted his jaw. "What makes you think I did anything?"
"Because you're a hardheaded, risk-taking daredevil. You drive like a maniac. And you don't miss races."
The corners of his mouth curled upand so did her toes. "Been watching me, have you?"
Her face ignited into a ball of flame. She'd only watched part of one race. After the first wreck she'd had to turn off the TV. But Toby made the network news highlight clips every week and he'd done commercials both on TV and inprint. She couldn't avoid seeing his handsome mug even though she tried.
She scowled and lifted her chin. "I have better things to do than watch grown men try to kill themselves."
"None of your business. Go home, Toby. Candace, Madeline, Stacy and I can look out for each other. We don't need a babysitter. All you have to do is show up for the rehearsal and the wedding."
"No can do. My buddy asked and I owe him." His buddy. Vincent.
She'd met Toby last year after a freak accident in his pitcent had been air lifted to the hospital where Amelia and Candace worked in the burn unit. During Vincent's stay, he'd met and fallen in love with Candace. Toby had been a frequent and irritating visitor. Amelia had seen too much of him then and she'd already seen too much of him today.
"Vincent said the accident wasn't your fault."
The grooves beside Toby's mouth deepened. "I'm responsible for my team and anyone behind my wall."
If she had a dollar for every time she'd heard similar words, she could buy a private island in the Bahamas. She'd learned from her firefighter father and from her job dealing with the results of disaster that when the adrenaline kicked in, risk takers thought of nothing but the thrill of their daring deeds. They needed that rush the way a junkie needed a fix.
Toby lifted a hand to her cheek. She flinched out of reach but not quick enough to avoid a brief electrifying touch. "Like it or not, I'm going to be drafting you until after the wedding." FIX step back. "You said you didn't like to follow anyone."skin tightened and her nipples peaked. She folded her arms across her chest to hide the evidence.
"Depends on the view and the reason. Trust me, I won't be complaining."
How dare her pulse skip. She silently cursed her trai
"Tell me something, Amelia." He stretched out her name, long and low, the way he had when he'd groaned it during climax, and a heat wave engulfed her. "It was good between us. If I had any doubts, hearing you moan my name over and over deafened 'em. So why would you sneak out on a guy like that? And what's with the cold shoulder since?"
She squashed a trace of guilt and quickly glanced around to make sure none of the other hotel guests were listening. She'd refused Toby's gifts and hadn't returned his phone calls because she'd been afraid he'd sweet-talk her out of her common senseand her clothesagain. The risk of falling for a guy just like dear ole Dad had been too high. She didn't intend to end up like her motherstuck in a miserable marriage.
She wanted a man like Neal. Kind, gentle Neal, the fiancé she'd loved and lost to leukemia three years ago. FIXXX for her to put back together time and time again. Most marriages couldn't survive that kind of stressa circumstanceshe witnessed on the job every day. With divorce rates atfifty percent, she had to use your brain to choose a partneror she'd end up in the wrong statistical column.
"Toby, what happened that night shouldn't have happened. You caught me at a weak moment. I'd had a rough week and too much to drink and I made a mistake. It won't happen again."
From the flare of his nostrils she suspected he didn't like being called a mistake. "You'd had two drinks."
"I'm not a drinker. I have a low tolerance level."
"You might call the first time a mistake, but that doesn't explain the next three. Sugar, you were hot for meand not just that night. We'd been circling each other for months. You can't deny you wanted me. I caught you checking me out more times than I can count."
The accuracy of his words shot flames through her veins. "Then you can't count very high. And for your information, I also crave éclairs 24-7. However I don't indulge often because too much isn't good for me. Neither are you."
"I was very good for youevery time. Granted, the first one was a little fast. But I didn't hear you complaining. "The combination of his husky drawl and intense passion darkened eyes nearly buckled her knees.
She stiffened her weak limbs and shaky defenses. She would not think about that night. Bad enough that the memory still invaded her dreams, she refused to let it takeover her conscious hours. "Toby, I've heard about your conquests. Women are like races to you. You win one and then you pack up and fly to the next. You had me. It's time to move on."
"Can't do that, sugar. We're not finished."
The conviction in his words sent a shiver of desire rippling through her. He had her hot and bothered and weakening with only words. If she didn't scare him away, then she was going to be in serious trouble. Shock tactics might work. "Are you looking for a wife?"
He flinched. "No."Well, I'm looking for a husband and children, the whitepicket fence, the dog, the cat and the whole package. I won't deny you were an enjoyable interlude, but I am looking for Mr. Right and someone to share a porch swing with thirty years from now. You are nowhere close to qualified for the position, and I don't want to waste any more time on you. So back off."
She turned on her heel and beat a hasty retreat toward the elevator.