Dating Bryan Falcon was only supposed to be a decoy, something for the tabloids to latch on to and run with. Still, Grace Pennington never expected to actually have feelings for the hard-core businessman. And although she'd simply promised her twin sister that she'd "date" Bryan until her sister's nuptials and then say goodbye, Grace sensed an attraction between herself and Bryan that was hard to deny. But were Bryan's signals for real, or was he doing an excellent job of playing the doting boyfriend? Either way, Grace knew thatif she let himBryan Falcon could invade parts of her life she had fiercely protected for years.
For that reason alone, they had to part ways, no strings attachedand no broken hearts . Or so she thought.
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The Best Man's Plan
By Gina Wilkins
Chapter One"Ms. Pennington! Look this way, please."
Flash. "Ms. Pennington. Mr. Falcon. Over here." Flash.
"How about a kiss for the camera?"
Smiling at the devastatingly handsome man who stood at her side with his arm around her, Grace Pennington hissed between her teeth, "Kiss me for these clowns' benefit and you'll end up with bloody lips."
"Darling," he murmured, a glimmer of laughter in his midnight-blue eyes, "you know how it turns me on when you whisper sweet nothings in my ear."
A growl rumbled in her throat, but she managed somehow to keep her forced smile in place. For Chloe, she reminded herself. This was all for Chloe.
Another bright flash nearly blinded her and then, to her immense relief, she and Bryan reached the limo where a driver waited beside an open door. The paparazzi had already turned their frenetic attentions to the next prominent couple who had just emerged from the theater.
"Good," Bryan murmured with a glance over his shoulder, "they've spotted the Gates. Now Bill can deal with them for a while." Gathering her long skirt in both hands, Grace ducked into the limo. She almost whimpered in gratitude when the driver closed the door, and she and Bryan were alone in the welcome silence of the vehicle's luxurious interior. Her fake smile immediately faded, letting her aching cheeks rest.
"I hated that pretentious event. And I think I hate you," she added, glowering at herescort.
He laughed, showing a flash of white teeth. "You've made that clear since the day we met. But you do love your sister."
She sighed, unable to argue with that. Only her love for her twin could have brought her to this glittering charity event, or involved her in the ridiculous charade she and Bryan Falcon had been orchestrating for the past two weeks.
She pushed a hand through her spray-stiffened hair, dislodging a crystal-encrusted clip that had been holding a sweep of brown hair from her face. The heavy lock fell onto her cheek, curving below her chin in a semblance of her usual casual bob. Tugging at the low top of her strapless black gown, she nudged off the tortuous high heels she had suffered all evening. The heavy diamond earrings that had been pinching her earlobes were the next to go; she stuffed them into her evening bag and tossed it aside.
Still immaculate in his crisp tuxedo, his black hair neatly swept back from a face that had graced several photo spreads of the country's most eligible bachelors, Bryan watched her shed the sophisticated façade she had grudgingly donned several hours earlier. "Need help unzipping?"
Since she wore nothing beneath the gown but a few scraps of lace, she merely glared at him in response. She thought longingly of jeans, T-shirts, and well-worn sneakers - none of which she had on hand at the moment, unfortunately.
"Would you like some champagne?" he asked, motioning toward the built-in bar. "Wine?"
"Got a diet cola in there?"
A minute later she had a cold can in her hand, having refused a glass. Popping the top, she poured caffeine-laced, artificially sweetened liquid down her throat. Through the glass partition ahead of her, she could see the back of the driver's head as he navigated the crowded streets away from the theater.
After watching her unwind for a moment, Bryan asked, "Did you really hate the opera that much? The event was for a good cause."
"The fund-raiser was certainly worthwhile. Of course, most of the overdressed, anorexic guests preening for the paparazzi and patting themselves on their scrawny backs could have donated more than the price of a ticket if they'd just tossed in one of the glittering baubles decorating their malnourished bodies - and that was just the men."
Bryan made a funny sound in the back of his throat, but his expression didn't change. "And the program, itself?"
"Opera isn't really my type of music. I'm sure the performers were very good at what they do, but I can't say I enjoyed it. Since I didn't understand the words, I found the story hard to follow - and what I did understand seemed awfully depressing. It just got sadder and sadder and then everyone died."
"That pretty much sums up the plot," he murmured, though she suspected he had enjoyed the performance more than she had.
She sighed. "Okay, I'm being ungracious. It's just that I hate this whole charade. The way everyone watches us and speculates about us. The catty tittering about Chloe and Donovan. The security. I really hate the security. Couldn't we -?"
His smiling eyes hardened. "We've discussed this. The security is not negotiable. I'm not willing to risk your safety."
"You don't really think someone else will decide to try a kidnapping scheme, do you? Especially since it failed so badly last time, with all three kidnappers now in custody and the mastermind behind the plan still on the run after jumping his bail."
"I'm relatively confident that Childers has left the country. I've received reports that he was spotted in Mexico and probably has moved to South America. But until I know for sure where that bastard is hiding, I won't be entirely satisfied - and neither will Donovan. And I'm not willing to bet your safety that someone else won't get the stupid idea of tapping into my money by grabbing someone I care about. So long as we're together - even if it's only for the benefit of the gossip columnists - you'll tolerate the security."
She reminded herself that Bryan was a man accustomed to being in command. A man who wielded a great deal of power in his business and an almost equal amount of influence socially. He was used to giving orders and having them followed without question, so she shouldn't get so irritated every time he took that officious tone with her.
It still hacked her off. "I'll tolerate the security until after Chloe's wedding," she conceded, her voice frosty. "But I don't have to like it."
"No." His smile had returned now. "You don't have to like it. Or me, for that matter - as long as we keep those feelings just between us."
The limo hit a bump in the road, causing Grace to slide on the leather seat. Bryan reached out quickly to steady her, his hand warm on her bare arm. The strength she sensed in him each time he touched her always surprised her. It belied his appearance of lazy elegance - a façade she suspected he cultivated deliberately so his opponents would underestimate him.
It wasn't a mistake most people made more than once.
The drive to the Manhattan hotel where they would be spending the night didn't take long. Grace sighed as the limo glided to a stop at the door. Somehow she was going to have to wedge her feet into those goshawful heels again. She groped with her right foot, then scowled when her abused toes throbbed in protest.
"Hell with it," she muttered, and reached down to scoop up the shoes by their delicate ankle straps. "I'll carry them."
Excerpted from The Best Man's Plan by Gina Wilkins
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.