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Chad Matheson leaned back against the overstuffed pillows of the honeymoon suite's super-king-size bed. Mentally, he listed everything he knew about his bride.
Her name: Brianna Hudson. Good start. Except now, he supposed, she was Brianna Matheson. Hell.
Chad swallowed a mouthful of the coffee Brianna had poured him from the room-service trolley on her way to the bathroom. He'd pretended he was still asleep when she set the cup on the nightstand. He needed to think.
The shower had stopped a few minutes ago, and now he kept one ear on the sound of the hair dryer running behind the closed door.
He knew her date of birth, courtesy of their marriage license and that had come as a surprise, because she looked older than twenty-three.
He knew she was from Atlanta; her Georgia accent, soft and smooth amid the late-night ruckus of NASCAR fans celebrating at the Vegas Getaway Hotel's casino, had attracted him the moment they'd met.
That moment had been three daysChad glanced at the chunky steel watch on his wristeleven hours and twenty-six minutes ago.
What the hell had he done?
He didn't have a good track record in relationships, didn't run them as well as he ran a NASCAR teamand he'd just committed himself to the ultimate relationship challenge.
He took another slug of coffee. Next time his little brother won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and started throwing around phrases like "Who dares wins" and "You never get what you want if you won' t take a risk," Chad would turn around and walk away.
Concentrateshe'll be out any moment. He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose. Okay, he knew Brianna was smart and cute, and she had a way of catching him up in the moment, making him forget about the stress of running a race team. That was a good thing. Wasn't it?
He knew she was kindwhen they'd found a puppy wandering at the outskirts of town yesterday, she'd delayed their trip into the desert until they got hold of the owner and returned the dog. He knew that when she drank a milk shakeher favorite beverageshe made loud, unashamed slurping sounds as she chased the last of the shake around the glass with her straw.
Irrelevant, the logical side of his brain chided. The facts, just the facts. Okay, he knew Brianna didn't work in NASCAR. She had a degree in hotel management. She was an only child, her parents had divorced when she was twelve, and her mom had remarried, to an Australian cattle baron. Brianna had been working in Spain the past year and was about to take a job at a hotel in Miami. At least, she was before Chad derailed her plans with his marriage proposal.
He thought some more. Then drew a blank. Nope, there weren't any other facts he knew about his wife.
Sudden silence told him Brianna had finished drying her hair. Soon she would emerge from the bathroom and join him for breakfast. Just as she would every day for the rest of their lives. For one second Chad couldn't remember what she looked like. His mind raced, flipping through mental snapshots of the past few days, trying to pin down her image. He broke out in a sweat. His family would think he was a certifiable lunatic, and dammit, they'd be right. He shoved aside the duvet, grabbed last night's polo shirt and pantsthe clothes he'd got married inand scrambled into them.
"Hey, there." Brianna stood in front of him, smiling shyly, chestnut hair catching the spring sunlight that filtered through the gauze curtains. She wore snug-fitting jeans and a lilac wrap sweater that emphasized her curves.
Any formal, first-day-of-married-life greeting Chad might have planned drifted away as his gaze absorbed the indent of her waist, the flare of her hips, her long legs. "Uh, hey, yourself."
She laughed at his dazed tone. Her laugh was one of the things he loved about her. It started off low, then ended a couple of notes higher, as if her delight grew by the moment.
Relief flooded him, even as his body tightened at the thought of last night. He loved her, so he'd married her.
So what if until now, his life had been all planning and calculated strategy?
"You look great." He moved toward her and took her in his arms. Man, this felt so right, the top of her head perfect for him to rest his chin on, her curves fitted against him as snug as a spark plug in a cylinder head. He inhaled the smell of herclean, minty, flowery, like springtimeand pulled her harder against him.
"Wow," she said, "you really are insatiable." Her hands crept around to his butt.
"For you," he said. "Only for you." He drew back so he could read her face. "Are you okay?"
"I feel fantastic." No doubt, no hesitation. Brianna went up on tiptoe and planted a kiss on his mouth, bold and hungry.
Chad grinned as he responded. Last night he'd become her first lover. They'd spent the day out in the desert, the wide-open, empty spaces curiously intimate, making them feel as if they were the only two people on earth. The kisses they'd shared had kindled a heat that could only be assuaged in one way. When they'd stopped for a drink in the hotel lobby bar on their return, Chad had invited Brianna to his hotel room.
She'd said yes.
Then she'd told him she was a virgin.
"I always thought I'd wait until I got married," she said. "I know nobody does that these days, but sometimes it's hard to trust a guy when he says things."
Chad was honored she'd chosen to abandon her caution with him, but he hadn't been about to pressure her. "We don't have to do this now," he assured her, though the thought killed him. "We can go out to dinner, maybe do some dancing "
She pressed a finger to his lips. "I want to. It's crazy, since we've only known each other a few days, but Chad, I love you."
Everything had come together in Chad's mind, like that moment you find the perfect groove on a race track and know you're going to win. That was the feeling that consumed him when he was with Brianna, kept her at the front of his thoughts when he wasn't.
"I love you, too," he'd said slowly, savoring the words.
Which called for another kiss. When it ended, Brianna nodded toward the elevators. "So now we can go upstairs?"
"No way." He'd grabbed her by the wrist, tugged her off her bar stool. "You wanted to wait until you're married, and that's exactly what you're going to be."
When she didn't move, just clutched the edges of her bar stool as if she was as dizzy as he felt, he said, "I love you, Brianna. I've never said that to another woman. I want to marry you." He laughed at the sensation that swirled through him. "I've never said that to a woman, either. Sweetheart, say you'll marry me."
Filled with heady optimism, along with a couple glasses of champagnenot enough, unfortunately, to blame for their impulsivenessthey'd headed out to the marriage-license bureau on Clark Avenue. From there, they'd gone around the corner to the Two Hearts Chapel. They'd had to wait for two other couples ahead of them, but neither of them changed their mind. Forty-five minutes later, they'd exchanged their vows.
Maybe their lovemaking had been so fantastic because it had the legitimacy of marriage or maybe, Chad thought, it was because he really did love Brianna, and the panic he'd felt on waking was because he'd forgotten that for just a moment.
"I don't know about you, but I'm starving," Brianna said.
Chadmy husband!pulled out a chair for her. When he smiled down at her, her heart kicked in her chest.
He's as wonderful as I remembered.
She'd delayed coming out of the bathroom, overwhelmed by the enormity of having married a man she hardly knew. She'd always been impulsiveher father never stopped lamenting the factbut this nothing compared to this.
Dad would be furious. For an instant, doubt flickered in Brianna's heart. Her father would demand to see the prenuptial agreement. She could imagine his reaction when she told him they didn't need one. / hope. She was as certain as she could be that Chad didn't know who her father was.
She peeked at him from beneath lowered lids as he served her breakfast from the oversized trolley. He dished up far too much or did he have activities in mind for which she'd need to recoup her strength? In which case She accepted the laden plate. "Thanks."
She smirked when he piled his own plate twice as high.
As Chad ground pepper over his eggs and bacon, he said, "You realize we went a little crazy last night."
The doubt flickered again. "The good kind of crazy," Brianna replied.
Was there a moment's hesitation before he nodded? "I'll be lucky if your dad doesn't take a shotgun to me."
"Uh, Chad, there's something I should have told you."
"I already figured you can't cook." His blue eyes teased her, calmed her anxiety.
She feigned outrage. "For all you know, I'm a Cordon Bleu chef."
"You gave that one away last night when I filled out the room-service order."
She remembered saying something about boiled eggs being the limit of her culinary capabilities. "Cooking's not everything." She took a mouthful of scrambled eggs. "Mmm, yep, best left to the professionals."
"Absolutely," he agreed. "Housekeeping isn't everything, either."
"What makes you think ?" She stopped, aware of her clothes and belongings strewn around the room, while Chad's were neatly folded on top of his suitcase. Who was she trying to kid? Besides, she could afford a cook and a housekeeper.
He quirked an eyebrow. "Any other dark secrets?"
"Just one." She drew a deep breath and exhaled a rush of words. "My family is pretty rich."
He didn't look surprised.
He shrugged. "I noticed the fancy labels on your clothes last night "
She blushed. "One of the reasons I never slept with anyone before was because I never knew if a guy liked me for myself or because of who my father is."
Now he looked interested. "You do mean seriously rich."
"My father is Brian Hudson." She buttered her toast and waited for the other shoe to drop.
"Brianthe hotel guy?"
She laughed. No one had ever called her father "the hotel guy" before. At least, not to her. "That's himmajority owner and driving force of Getaway Resorts. I'm named after him." Her father's desire that she be just like him had shadowed her from the moment of her birth.
"Your father owns this place?" With a sweep of his hand, Chad indicated their room.
She nodded. "That's why I ducked into the bathroom while you checked us into this suite. I don't know any of the staff here, but there's always a chance someone might recognize me."
"You should have told me." He frowned, and she guessed he was remembering how she'd given the briefest of answers to his questions about her family. Before she'd suggested they get to know each other without "all that baggage."
She put down her knife. "Men are often more interested in my dad's money than they are in me" his snort was gratifying and she smiled "which is why I didn't say anything at first. Later, I didn't think about it. All I could think about was you."
"Huh," was all he said. But she caught the gleam of satisfaction in his eyes.
"I'm sorry I kept it a secret, but this doesn't change anything?" Her statement came out a question.
Chad ran a hand around his jaw. She remembered the rough prickle of the new day's beard against her skin in the small hours of the morning.
"It complicates matters." He leaned back, folded his arms across his powerful chest. "I understand why you didn't say anything, because I did exactly the same."
Now that she didn't expect. Apprehension quivered in her stomach as she recalled how readily he'd agreedtoo readily?to her suggestion that they leave the family baggage out of their conversation. She said with forced lightness, "Is your dad rich, too?"
"Not as rich as yours. But my family spends more time in the public eye."
Matheson. Brianna played the name in her mind, tried to associate it with anyone she'd heard of. "I can't think "
"I told you I hope to take over my father's engineering business, and that's true." Chad paused. "His business is Matheson Performance Industries."
She looked blankly at him.
"Dad and I are joint owners of Matheson Racing," Chad said.
"Oh. Right." Matheson did they own last year's Kentucky Derby winner?
"The NASCAR team." His voice showed a hint of impatience.
Brianna knew a little about NASCAR: stock cars, hugely popular, races all over the country. You couldn't grow up in the South without learning at least that much about the sport that consumed the lives of so many people. But though her father watched the occasional race on TV, she'd never seen it. "You own a NASCAR team?" She digested the news. "I guess that makes you a big guy?"
He waggled his eyebrows; warmth curled through her. She relaxed into a chuckle. "I meant a big guy in NASCAR."
"Our team is one of the best." Pride, not arrogance, colored the words. "My younger brother Trent is a previous NASCAR Nationwide Series champion. He won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race here on Sunday."
Sunday. Right before they'd met. No wonder Chad had been so expansive that night.
She'd been standing outside the hotel's piano bar, taking a break from the bachelorette party she'd flown into Las Vegas to attend. She'd come all the way from Spain, where her job on the Costa del Sol had recently finished. During the party, her father had phoned. Not so much for a chat as to harangue her.
Chad had seen her glum expression, the sag of her shoulders as she ended the call, and asked if she was okay. When he suggested they have a drink, she couldn't resist the pull of his apparent concern for her. They'd talked and talked. Brianna hadn't censored herself; she'd shared all her thoughts and feelings. He'd been just as open, which was why the chemistry between them had been so powerful.
Brianna couldn't wait to spend her life with a man who didn't push her away.
But now, she admitted reluctantly, they had to unpack the family baggage. Feeling her way, she said, "A NASCAR team sounds like a big commitment."
"Huge," Chad agreed. "It's not just the cars and the races it's a significant business in its own right, and every year it grows a new dimension. These days, to run a NASCAR team, you have to be part investment banker, part technician, part strategist and a whole lot of marketing expert." He topped up her coffee, then his. "I'm good on the numbers and the strategy, and Dad's the greatest technician I know. Neither of us is too hot on the marketing."