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Dalton Granger glanced around, noting the hundreds of people assembled in the rose garden of the Granger estate. What had happened to the small wedding Shana Bradford had originally planned? Granted, the pregnancy wasn't obvious, but he thought the huge wedding along with the white gown was a bit much. But then, even he would be the first to admit that Wonder Woman looked jaw-droppingly stunning.
Wonder Woman was the nickname he had given Shana, and she'd proven more than worthy of the name after performing more than one impossible feat. The main one of which was capturing his oldest brother Jace's heart. Dalton had honestly thought Jace would avoid marriage like the plague, especially after his first failed marriage to the woman Dalton still thought of as Evil Eve.
Easier said than done, Dalton thought, shifting his gaze from the bride to her maid of honor, her sister, Jules Bradford. She was the one woman on this Earth he despised with a passion. Unfortunately, his major problem was that he desired her with that same degree of passion. Yes, he would own up to it, although he wished things were otherwise. There were times when he'd even concluded that his attraction to Jules was too obsessive to be considered normal. However, he could deal with it as long as she stayed in her space, because he certainly intended to stay in his. Today would be an exception, since her sister was marrying his brother. He'd been warned by Jace to be on his best behavior, which was an effing challenge. And nothing could have prepared him for last night's rehearsal dinner. It wasn't his behavior but his attraction to Jules that had tested his level of control.
She'd shown up wearing a pair of skin-tight black leggings and a long-sleeved white dress shirt with tails fanning across her shapely hips, thighs and curvaceous backside. And she'd worn a tie of all things. Was that a new trend or something? Mixing masculine with feminine? Business with casual? You had to have balls to make such a bold fashion statement. But the one thing he'd discovered about Jules was that she thought nothing of pushing the damned envelope to do whatever she pleased. However, he would admit, even grudgingly, that when she'd worn what he considered outlandish attire, she'd managed to look totally feminine and sexy as hell.
A frown curved Dalton's lips. He needed to get a grip. The last thing he wanted was to think about how Jules looked last night. But then, today wasn't much better with her hair pulled up tight in a bun with a few curls left to frame her face. She had skin that looked soft and flawless, and her eyes were a dark chocolate. Then there were those beautiful, high cheekbones and lips that looked enticingly kissable and were painted a beautiful shade of red.
It was damned torture standing here and looking at her when he should be paying attention, listening to whatever asinine wedding vows Jace was making to Shana. It was a known fact that Dalton didn't believe in that forever-after, until-death-do-us-part BS. Being cynical was a character flaw of his, one he embraced wholeheartedly. He prided himself on never doing anything he'd regret later. But there had been that one time he'd been stupid enough to let his guard down, and it had been with Jules.
Damn, he needed a drink. Thinking he needed one was better than thinking he needed to go over to her, unwind her hair and run his fingers through it before kissing that lipstick right off her lips. Hell, since he was thinking of being so effing bold, he might as well strip her naked, too. He could imagine the wedding guests' reactions to that, and the last thing his family needed was another Granger scandal.
He couldn't help but recall the first time he'd seen Jules. He'd been feeling so fucking horny and had gone to this nightclub to make a hit. He hadn't been impressed with the prospects until she'd walked through the door. At the time he'd had no idea she was Shana's sister and, to be quite honest, it would not have mattered had he known. All he'd cared about was that she'd looked hot, and he'd wanted a piece of her. No, not just a piece, he'd wanted the whole thing. Head to toe and especially all those areas in between. He saw. He liked. He got. Things had always been that simple for him. Quick, easy and hassle-free.
Anger suddenly rushed through him, and he fought the emotion by breathing in deeply when he remembered how things had actually gone down that night
definitely not the way he'd planned. Jules Bradford had turned his life into a damn circus, where he was a clown one minute and walking a tightrope the next. No other woman could make his blood boil while at the same time rev his libido up to the point of making his groin ache.
He should have more control, but unfortunately, at the moment, he didn't. He couldn't help but be grateful for the little ring bearer who was standing directly in front of him, blocking any telltale signs of his aroused state. By rights, all eyes should be on the wedding couple, anyway, and that included his own. But some things were unavoidable, and his fixation on Jules today fell into that category.
He slid his gaze down to her feet and then back to her face while wondering whose idea it was for the maid of honor and the bridesmaids to wear short dresses. At any other time, he would have appreciated seeing so many gorgeous pairs of legs, but since one of those pairs belonged to Jules
the pair he was transfixed by
he would have preferred otherwise.
"By the power vested in me by the great state of Virginia, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss your bride."
The minister's words collided with Dalton's thoughts. Had he been standing there and staring at Jules the entire time Jace and Shana had exchanged vows? He quickly slid his gaze away from Jules in time to see Jace kiss Shana.
Dalton then shifted his gaze to his other brother, Caden, who was standing beside him and grinning from ear to ear. Both he and Caden had served as Jace's best men. He loved his brothers, although at times they got on his last nerve. And lately, he couldn't understand what drove them to do some of the idiotic things they did, like getting married, for instance. Jace tied the knot with Shana today, and a few weeks ago Caden had eloped with Shiloh Timmons, whom Dalton referred to as the Wine Lady, since she owned a wine boutique in town. It was quite apparent that both of his brothers had been p-whipped out of their ever-loving minds.
He returned his gaze to Jules at the same exact moment she glanced over the heads of the kissing couple. Their gazes clashed, and bam, he swore he could hear cymbals banging in his ears. Her eyes were frosty as hell, and she was probably calling him all kinds of names under her breath. And then, as if she suddenly recalled they'd both been warned to be on their best behavior, she parted her red lips, showing perfect white teeth in what he knew was a fake smile. Was she trying to taunt him while staring him down? He'd be damned if he'd let that happen, but she was welcome to try. Moments later, he saw she'd given up when her phony smile was replaced by a frown, and her eyes went back to being frosty again. Now it was his turn to smile, and his was more fake than hers had been.
The music began playing, and it was time for the newlyweds and their wedding party to exit the garden. At least Shana had the good sense not to pair him with Jules. Instead, he was coupled with her best friend and neighbor, Gloria McCabe, the perky, blue-eyed blonde he'd met last night. She smiled as she took his arm, and he escorted her from the rose garden.
He'd managed to get through the wedding and hoped the same would hold true for the reception.
Jules loved her sister immensely, which was why she had promised Shana that she would try like hell to be civil to Dalton Granger even if it killed her. Already, she felt like she was taking her last breath because it was killing her.
She'd been aware of him the entire time he'd been staring her down during the wedding ceremony, but she'd refused to glance over at him. Feeling the heat of his gaze scan every inch of her body, lingering in places it should not have, made her think how totally disrespectful he was, but then she wasn't surprised. The man was so full of himself it made her teeth ache. He assumed he could get any woman he wanted and, on two occasions, she'd proven him wrong by ignoring his schoolboy pick-up lines. Of course, he was still furious about it and had placed her on his shit list. Good. No sweat off her back if he kept her there.
Snagging a glass of champagne from the tray being carried by a passing waiter, she glanced around the wedding reception. The botanical garden that overlooked Mammoth Lake was nicepretty damned impressive, in fact. But then, so was the rose garden where the wedding had taken place. The moment she'd driven onto the sprawling grounds of Sutton Hills, the Granger estate, she'd been captivated. Shana had warned her, but she'd still been stunned by the two hundred acres of lush and beautiful countryside near the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
She'd never ventured into this part of Charlottes-ville, Virginia, but she'd really had no reason to do so. People who lived in this area had money, and she was a plain old working-class girl. The number of people who'd attended the weddingcollege friends of Shana or her close business associateswere mesmerized by the wealth surrounding them in the same way Jules was. She knew her sister was taking it all in stride, since she had married for love and not money. But Jules felt Shana had been lucky to get both.
She glanced to her right and saw Dalton talking to Gloria, no doubt trying to make a hit. She knew that Gloria was already in a committed relationship, so he was wasting his time. Good. But what if she was wrong about that?
Releasing a long breath, she wondered why she cared one way or the other. She couldn't stand him. The very ground he walked on. The air he breathed. Whatever food he ate. The clothes he wore. The
For some reason, her thoughts refused to move beyond his clothes. Okay, he wore them well; she would give him that. Each and every time she saw him; he looked like he'd stepped off the pages of some fashion magazine. But then, she had to grudgingly admit, it was more than the clothes. A lot more. For starters, he had the lookschiseled features that were handsome beyond reason, eyes that could draw you in, a pair of fascinating brows
and lips that promised more sin than anyone could possibly indulge. Those things alone should have been enough. But unfortunately, they weren't. He'd found favor in someone's eyes, because on top of all that, he was so arrestingly male, so strikingly masculine with muscles in all the right places, broad shoulders and perfect absand he was tall, at least six-two. He had the ability to take any woman's breath away and increase her pulse rate just by walking into a room.
He'd gotten a lot of feminine attention last night at the wedding rehearsal and was getting a lot of attention now. She noticed several women hovering on the sidelines, waiting for his conversation with Gloria to end so they could take their turn. Honestly, did they have no shame? Apparently not, she thought, noticing that as soon as Gloria moved away, another woman had taken her place.
This time it was Rosa Larimore. The divorcée was one of Shana's friends from college and someone Jules had never cared for. She liked her even less now. The woman had been married twice already, and after eyeing the Granger wealth, was probably contemplating Dalton as a third prospect. Since Rosa was a known man-eater and Dalton a woman-lover, they should be great together. But Jules didn't like the thought of that for some reason.
She frowned. Was that a twinge ofjealousy she was feeling? No, it couldn't be. There was no way she would ever succumb to such an emotion for Dalton Granger. The bottom line was that it bothered her when women acted so desperate for a man, wealthy or otherwise. There was absolutely no way she would sink that low. No man was worth it.
Deciding she had been standing in the same spot too long, she was about to turn to go find her father when Dalton suddenly leveled his gaze at her over Rosa's head.
Jules drew in a slow breath. She couldn't stand him, so why did just looking at him make her feel all hot inside? Why had her throat suddenly gone dry? It was as if his gaze were a heated caress, some kind of physical connection that was drawing her to him. She fought the sensations consuming her, sucking her into a sensual abyss. She shouldn't be reacting to him, or any man, this way. It had to do with control, something she liked having; and she refused to let any man take it away from her. Especially a man like Dalton Granger. She knew all about him, including the fact he'd been a cub to numerous cougars while living in Europe. Yet, at the moment, her body didn't care what she knew. It was operating on hormones and a need long overdue. And it was that need that had heat sliding up her spine, making it difficult for her to draw a full breath.
What finally broke the spell was the conceited gleam in the depths of his eyes along with a smirk. The arrogant bastard thought he had her, but she intended to prove otherwise. No man had her, now or ever. She was a woman who didn't tolerate bullshit and, as far as she was concerned, he was full of it.
"You and young Granger are trying to stare each other down again, I see."
Jules blinked and quickly broke eye contact with Dalton to glance up at her father. "Again?"
Ben Bradford smiled down at his youngest daughter. "Yes, I noticed you and him doing the same thing during the wedding ceremony."
Jules wondered if the others had noticed, as well. "The man is simply horrid. Totally despicable. I hope Shana knows what she's doing by marrying into that family."
Ben took a sip of his champagne. "I think your sister knows exactly what she's doing. She loves Jace. He loves her. I'll be a grandpa come spring. I think you're the only one not happy with the match."
Jules moved quickly to correct her father's assumption. "I am happy with the match, Dad. I like Jace. He's wonderful and a dream come true for Shana. They were meant for each other."
"Oh. Then it's Jace's brothers you don't like."
She knew her father was toying with her. "Of course I like Caden. Who wouldn't? He's a sweetie pie."
"That leaves Dalton, and I know the whole story involving the two of you."
She didn't say anything, although she was tempted to tell her father he was wrong. He didn't know the whole story, not even half. He only knew what she'd told him, and she had left out a few details he didn't need to know about.
"So where's Mona?" she asked, deciding to change the subject.
"She went to the ladies' room."
Jules raised a brow. "Alone?" Mona, who was legally blind, was the woman her father had been seeing for a few months.
"Yes. Alone. She's very independent."
"Obviously. And she looks beautiful today."
Ben smiled. "I think Mona looks beautiful every day."
Jules nodded. Her widowed father had fallen in love, and he'd made that clear to both her and Shana. He'd also made it clear that he intended to make Mona a permanent part of his life, and that anyone who had a problem with that needed to get over it. Since Shana had easily accepted Mona's role in their father's life, that comment had been mainly directed at Jules, and they both knew it.
"You know what I think, Juliet?"
She knew that line, especially when he referred to her by her full name. Her father was about to point something out to her that she would rather not hear. But she wouldn't dare tell him that. She would do as she'd always done, just grin and bear it. "No, Dad, what do you think?"