Read an Excerpt
The First Wedding
'I'm sorry you're going to be loaded with Fletch as your partner, Tammy, but we had to make him a groomsman. He is my brother and it was safer to include him in the wedding party than try seating him anywhere else at the reception. Being such an arrogant pig he's bound to offend whatever guests shared his table. Stuck at the end of ours, he shouldn't upset anyone, and since you'll be at the other end, you won't have to put up with much of him for long.'
Celine's apologetic, semi-pleading speech was doing a rerun through Tammy Haynes's mind as the limousine carrying the five bridesmaids set off for the church. Although they'd all been friends with Celine since the beginning of high school, none of them had ever met Fletcher Stanton. He'd always been referred to as 'my brother, the brain,' doing 'his thing' overseas, and largely absent from his younger sister's life.
Having flown home to Sydney only yesterday, he'd begged off the wedding rehearsal, pleading jet lag, making Celine gnash her teeth over his lack of caring for her wish for everything to go perfectly on her big day. 'No consideration. Thinks he can just waltz through anything and get it right,' had been her vexed mutter. 'He could have come a day earlier, but I bet he thought it was beneath his intelligence to rehearse anything.'
His formidable intelligence clearly did not win any brownie points from his sister, though it did have to make him a stand-out kind of guy, Tammy thought, her curiosity piqued despite Celine's criticisms of her brother. There weren't too many people in the world who'd achieved what Fletcher Stanton had.
Quite recently there'd been an article about him in Time Magazine, headlined Technological Wizard of the Year, detailing how remarkable he was. From an early age he'd been a superstar of mathematics, winning international competitions even before his teens, doing university maths when other boys his age were still finishing primary school, graduating from Sydney University with an honours science degree at sixteen, then being invited to do a Ph.D at Princeton in the USA, which he'd gained at the amazing age of twenty-one.
He'd walked straight out of academic life and become the driving force behind creating a highly advanced computer system that could track any form of transport anywhere in the world, and he and his team of colleagues were currently making billions of dollars out of it, selling it to governments and Internet companies. None of which changed Celine's sour view of her brother.
'He's even more arrogant since he's made all that obscene wealth,' she had commented in her warning speech to Tammy. 'Everyone kowtowing to him and a heap of gold-digging women feeding his ego to get what he can give them. Don't let him turn your head with his billions, Tammy. Believe me, you wouldn't want to live with him.'
The warning wasn't needed. No way was Tammy going to get hooked into the life of a rich man. She'd seen her mother go down that track all her life, trading on her beauty to snag wealthy husbands who'd ditched her when the desire she'd stirred was replaced by desire for someone else who looked more attractive to them. There'd been no real love in any of those marriages, nor in the affairs that had failed to make it to a wedding. It sickened Tammy to see her mother growing more and more anxious about her looks, becoming a gym junkie to keep slim and fit and resorting to cosmetic surgery to maintain a youthful desirability, as though she wasn't worth anything if she didn't have that.
Being a rich man's brief possession was certainly not on Tammy's life agenda. If she ever did marry, it would be because she truly loved the man and he truly loved her back. Like Celine and Andrew. She decided to view Fletcher Stanton simply as a curiosity, letting any arrogance from him flow right past her, refusing to let anything spoil this special daythe first wedding of one of the gang of six from school.
They'd shared so much together, counting on each other to be there at times of stress, making the joy of any great occasions so much more fun. For Tammy, the bond of their friendship had made up for the emptiness of her home life, giving her teen years a sparkle and warmth that dispelled much of the loneliness of having no family, apart from a mother who preferred her daughter not to be hanging around her neck. Even though the six of them had taken different paths into their twenties, the friendship was still as strong as ever, and Tammy hoped it always would be.
Celine, of course, was in the following limousine with her parents, but the rest of them were hereKirsty, Hannah, Lucy, Jennifer and herself, thrilled to be fulfilling the pact they'd made years ago, standing shoulder to shoulder as bridesmaids whenever one of them became a bride.
The girls were chatting excitedly and Tammy joined in the animated conversation, putting the problematic groomsman out of her mind. Hannah was thrilled with the copper streaks in her brown hair, done especially to match up with Lucy's naturally auburn colour. Lined up at the altar there would be two blondesCeline and Kirstytwo redheads, then two brunettesJennifer's hair being dark brown and Tammy's almost black. The dresses were lovely; soft, floaty organza with frills around the neckline and hem. Kirsty was in pink, Hannah in lemon, Lucy green, Jennifer blue, and Tammy mauve, all of which definitely created a romantic, rainbow bridal party.
Delighted with everything, they piled out of the limousine at the church, grinned at Celine as she emerged from her car, joked with her father who was beaming with pride in his daughter, ensured that their bride looked absolutely perfect: veil falling properly, bouquet held just right. Once in the foyer, they checked each other over before lining up for the procession down the aisle, determined on doing their friend proud on this, her day of days.
Tammy felt a flutter of nerves when the music started. She was leading off and was suddenly frightened of stepping out of beat.
'Go!' Jennifer hissed from behind her.
Everyone in the church had turned to look. She made her feet move, concentrating fiercely on how it had been done in rehearsal. Smile, she told herself, seeing the grin on Andrew's face at the other end of the aislea happy man, waiting for his bride. Her gaze skated down the line of groomsmen beside him. The last one would be Celine's brother, probably a nerdy-looking guy wearing horn-rimmed glasses, and with a caved-in chest and round shoulders from all that work at a computer.
Except he wasn't one bit like that!
The jolt to her heart was so hard and unexpected, her forward progress almost faltered. Some magical automatic pilot kicked in and kept her going as a wild excitement erupted through her, scrambling her usually sensible mind and staging the dance of the bumble bees in her stomach. Fletcher Stanton was gorgeous. Drop-dead gorgeous. She completely forgot his much-vaunted brain. And his billions. On a purely physical level he was dreamboat material.
He had a hard, masculine, handsome face: strong nose, strong chin, strong cheekbones, straight black brows over thickly lashed dark chocolate eyes, a firmly carved mouth with very sensual lips, hair as black as her own, a cowlick at the side part making it dip attractively over his high, broad forehead. He was the tallest man in the line-up but there was nothing remotely weedy about his body. Every man looked good in a formal dress suit, but his perfectly proportioned physique filled it with superb class.
Her smile must have still been fixed on her face because he smiled at her, revealing a flash of straight white teeth. And was that a sparkle of interest in his eyes? Did he find her attractive? Was he pleased she was his partner for the wedding? Her mind was giddy with hopeful anticipation as she reached the end of the aisle and turned to take her place as the fifth bridesmaid at the side of the altar.
She was definitely looking her best today. Normally she paid very little attention to her appearance apart from being clean and neat, having determined not to let it be of any critical importance to her. Today was different because it was important to fit in with Celine's vision for her wedding.
A beautician had been hired to do everyone's makeup, and Tammy had hardly recognised her own rather ordinary face when she'd finished. Subtle highlighting had made her pansy-violet eyes appear more vivid. Different shades of blusher had lessened the roundness of her cheeks and given colour to her fair skin. Her mouth looked positively lush and dewytemptingly kissable?from expertly applied lipstick. As for her slightly tip-tilted nose which had caught the sun all her life, its sprinkle of freckles had been miraculously creamed into non-existence. On top of this, her long hair, usually straight, had been curled into a sexy cascade of loose ringlets by the stylist who'd done all their hair.
She actually felt prettya strangely new and pleasurable experience, which gave her some inkling of why her mother was obsessed with needing to feel beautiful. And this incredible rush of excitement at having a man as spectacularly handsome as Fletcher Stanton view her with interest yes, she could see why it might be worth all the trouble. Though it was terribly superficial, she reminded herself, trying not to feel so unhinged by the prospect of having this connection with him.
In real terms it was an enforced connectionbridesmaid and groomsman. It wasn't a matter of choice for Fletcher. With his looks and billions, he would have to be accustomed to really beautiful women vying for his attention. Pretty probably made their partnering for his sister's wedding more acceptable than if he'd been loaded with someone he found totally unattractive. And she shouldn't forget that Celine had called him an arrogant pig, undoubtedly with good reason.
Was it because of his brain or being spoilt for choice where the opposite sex was concerned? Both factors would have to contribute to a sense of superiority compared to the rest of the human race.
Tammy decided not to worry about any of that. He was hers for the rest of the day and she was going to make the most of having his company, happily feeding any spark of interest he showed in her. After all, having expected nothing from him, she had nothing to lose. At the very least she would have the novel experience of having the most gorgeous guy here at her side, as well as satisfying her curiosity about him.
The wedding ceremony started and she forced her mind to pay attention to it. Celine deserved her full supportthe first of her friends to get married. Maybe I'll be next, she thought, imagining Fletcher in the role of groom. 'To have and to hold from this day forth ' but that was definitely a wild flight of fantasy. She didn't even know the man yet.
Celine and Andrew were finally declared husband and wife. The marriage certificate was signed. The organist started playing a triumphant march, and the bride and groom headed the parade back down the aisle, their attendants linking up in turn to follow them. At last Tammy came face-to-face with Fletcher Stanton, and close up he was even more breathtaking. The sheer impact of him made her rush into speech to stiffen up her melting knees.
'Hi! I'm Tammy Haynes.'
He tucked her arm around his and inclined his tall head to a more intimate angle. 'I know,' he said in a low sexy voice. 'Celine worded me up on you.'
'Uh-oh!' She rolled her eyes, her heart sinking at the many and varied descriptions Celine might have employed in summing her up for her brotherhopefully not the female equivalent of arrogant pig. 'What words did she use?'
He looked amused by her wary tone. 'I was warned that you're a precious friend and I'm to treat you kindly.'
'Well that's nice.' Relief poured into a smile.
And I'd better watch what I say to you because in the famous gang of six, you have the smartest mouth.'
Her mouth dropped open in surprise at this, and his gaze slid down to her glistening lips. 'Such a luscious mouth and wit, too,' he drawled teasingly. 'I'm looking forward to getting acquainted with it.'
Tammy scooped in a quick breath and turned her gaze straight ahead while she regained her wits. Fletcher Stanton was scattering them to the winds. All she could think of was how much she wanted to get acquainted with his mouth. They'd drawn level with the last pew in the church before she managed a curious thought that had nothing to do with being kissed by him.
'How did you come by the name of Fletcher? It's quite uncommon.'
And rhymed with lecher. Which demonstrated her mind was still stuck in a sexy groove. Being consumed by lust was a terrible thing. Embarrassing, too, if he was only playing with her.
'My mother was smitten by Marlon Brando's portrayal of Fletcher Christian in the movie of Mutiny on the Bounty. She actually loaded me with both names, just as Celine copped Celine Dion after the singer. What parents inflict on their children out of some personal fancy ' His grimace was loaded with nasty memories. 'Why don't they think of what other kids are going to make out of them?'
A stab of shame hit her. She'd just been thinking lecher and no doubt he'd been subjected to that at school. 'What would you name your children?' popped out of her mouth. 'If you had them,' she hastily added, not wanting him to think she was fancying the idea of being their mother.
'Paul, Steven, John ' he reeled out with a shrug.
She slid him an arch look. 'No girls' names in there. Aren't they important, too?'
His eyes glittered a challenge. 'Do you like yours?'
Her turn to shrug. 'It's okay. It hasn't brought me any grief.'
One disbelieving eyebrow lifted. 'Wasn't there a TV teen called Tammy who was like an ultra-cute Pollyanna? Your name alone made me think I'd be partnering a bubbly blonde.'
'You'll just have to hang tough if you're disappointed.'
It surprised a short laugh out of hima laugh that ended in a dazzling grin. 'I'm hanging quite happily, thank you.'
She bet he was well hung, too.
Tammy struggled to lift her mind off how he might look naked.
'Actually my name is Tamalyn, though most people call me Tam or Tammy,' she said off-handedly.
'Ah! Now that does suit you. It has an exotic ring to it.'