Texas socialite Delaney Cartwright knows she can't go through with her wedding. But she can't simply call the whole thing off. The nuptials to her nice, predictable childhood friend are the social event of the season (not to mention that her mother would freak). To fan the flames of this dying ember, Delaney abducts her fiancé for a night of passion-and grabs the wrong guy! A guy with smoldering eyes and an irresistible country-boy swagger...
Ever since his ex-wife left him on their honeymoon, Detective Nick Vinetti's sworn off relationships. And despite the sparks flying between him and Delaney, there's no way he's getting mixed up with another runaway bride. But when Delaney takes her "get out of marrying the wrong guy" attempts to the next level, landing herself in danger, Nick finds himself willing to do anything to keep her out of harm's way.
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There Goes the Bride
By Lori Wilde
Warner ForeverCopyright © 2007 Lori Wilde
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTwo Months Earlier
Glasses up, girls. A toast to the bride-to-be," bubbled Tish Gallagher. She smiled at Delaney, tucked a dark auburn corkscrew curl behind one ear studded with multiple piercings, and raised her drink. "May your marriage be filled with magic."
Delaney Cartwright and her three best friends were celebrating the final fitting of the bridesmaids' dresses by dining at Diaz, Houston's trendiest new restaurant hot spot. They'd already slurped down a couple of margarita-martinis apiece and noshed their way through blue corn tortilla chips dipped in piquant salsa and fire-grilled shrimp enchiladas laced with Manchego cheese and Spanish onions.
Everyone was feeling frivolous.
All except for Delaney.
Tequila made her edgy, but it was what her friends were drinking, so she'd joined in.
"Third time's the charm." Jillian Samuels winked and lifted her glass.
Her friend was referring to the fact Delaney had postponed the wedding twice. No matter how many times she explained to people that she'd delayed the ceremony because she was trying to get her fledgling house-staging business on solid ground, everyone assumed it was because she'd gotten cold feet.
But that wasn't the reason at all.
Well, okay, maybe there was a tiny element of an icypinkie toe or two, but mostly Delaney didn't want to end up like her mother. With nothing to do but have kids and meddle in their lives.
"To the most perfect wedding ever." Die-hard romantic Rachael Harper sighed dreamily, her martini glass joining the others in the air. "You've got the perfect dress, the perfect church, and the most perfect man."
On paper, it was true. Rich, good-looking, affable. Dr. Evan Van Zandt was kind, generous, and thoughtful. Her family loved Evan, and he adored them.
The only thing not perfect in the whole scenario is me, Delaney thought and anxiously reached up to finger the bridge of her nose.
Rhinoplasty might have ironed out the hump, bestowing her with a flawless nose, but it hadn't straightened out her insecurities. She felt like a fake. No matter how many people raved about how gorgeous she was, Delaney didn't believe it.
The emotional repercussions of being a chubby, bucktoothed, nearsighted girl with a witchy nose resonated deep within. Never mind the weight-loss programs, intensive exercise sessions, braces, veneers, elocution lessons, LASIK, and liposuction. Inside, she still felt the same.
"To happily-ever-after," Tish said. "Come on, up with your glass, Del."
"To happily-ever-after," Delaney echoed and dutifully clinked glasses with her friends.
Remember, it's just like Mother taught you. Perceiving, behaving, becoming. Perceive yourself as happy and you'll behave as if you're happy and then you'll become happy.
Happy, happy, happy.
Tish lowered her drink and narrowed her eyes at Delaney. "What's wrong? Don't tell me you're getting cold feet again, because I'm counting on your wedding paying off my Macy's card."
She might be teasing in that devil-may-care way of hers, but it was impossible to slip anything past Tish. Her street-savvy friend had come up the hard way, but she'd never let poverty stop her. After years of struggling, she was finally gaining the reputation she deserved as one of the best wedding videographers in the business. Delaney was so proud of her.
"Nothing, nothing. I'm fine."
"You lie. Everything's not fine. Spill it."
"Honestly. Just pre-wedding jitters."
Tish didn't let up. "What's wrong? Is your mother driving you around the bend with her everything's-gotta-be-perfect-or-my-high-society-world-will-implode routine?"
Delaney cracked a half smile. People joked about Bridezilla, but no one ever mentioned that Mother-of-Bridezilla could make Bridezilla look like Bambi on Valium. "There is that."
"But it's not all. What else?" Tish pushed the empty salsa bowl aside, leaned forward, propped her elbows on the table, and rested her chin on her interlaced fingers. Jillian and Rachael were also studying her curiously.
She shrugged. "No relationship is perfect. I'm sure I'm making a mountain out of a molehill."
"You let us be the judge of that. Go on, we're listening." Tish waved a hand.
Talking about her romantic life made Delaney uncomfortable. Unlike her friends, she didn't enjoy freely swapping stories about her sexual adventures.
Um, could it be because you've never had any sexual adventures?
Besides, if she told them the truth, she couldn't keep pretending everything was fine. And yet, staying connected to those she loved was the most important thing in the world to her. If she couldn't share her fears with her friends, how could they remain close?
"Well?" Tish arched an eyebrow.
Delaney blew out her breath, trying to think of a delicate way to phrase it. "Things with Evan are ..."
"Are what?" Jillian prompted when she took too long to continue.
Jillian was a dynamic young lawyer with exotic ebony hair, almond-shaped eyes, a body built for sin, and a Mensa IQ. She snared every man she'd ever set her sights on, but then dumped them just as easily as she collected them.
"Well, you know." Delaney shrugged.
"No, we don't. That's why we're asking."
"Okay, here goes. Not to complain or anything, but ever since Evan suggested we abstain from making love until our wedding night, I haven't been able to think about anything but sex. And now he's leaving for Guatemala next Monday with a volunteer surgical team to perform surgery on sick kids, and he'll be gone for six weeks."
"What?" Tish exclaimed. "You guys aren't having sex?"
"Evan thought it would make our wedding night special if we waited," Delaney explained.
"How long has this been going on?" Jillian asked.
Embarrassed to admit the truth, Delaney dropped her gaze. She wished she hadn't even brought it up. Evan was a saint. He was giving generously of himself to others, and here she was selfishly whining about their lack of a sex life.
She gulped and murmured, "Six months."
"Six months!" Tish exploded. "You're engaged, and you haven't had sex in six months?"
"I think it's romantic." Kindergarten teacher Rachael was a green-eyed blonde with delicate porcelain skin and a poetic heart. Her favorite color was springtime pink, and she favored flowing floral-print dresses. In the candlelight, through the haze of a couple of margarita-martinis, Rachael looked as if she'd stepped out of a Monet. "And very sweet."
"You think everything is romantic," Jillian pointed out.
"Oh," Delaney said quickly, "don't get me wrong. I was all for the idea."
"Why?" Jillian looked at her as if she'd said she was for a worldwide ban on chocolate.
Delaney shrugged. She wasn't all that into chocolate either. "Because honestly, our sex life wasn't so hot before and I thought maybe Evan was right, that time without physical intimacy would help us appreciate each other more. But now I'm thinking it was a dumb idea. What we really need are some techniques for spicing up our love life, not celibacy."
Her friends all started talking at once, each offering their version of how to rev up her romance with Evan before he left on his trip to Guatemala.
"Surprise him with floating candles in a hot bath," Rachael suggested. "Mood music. Massage oils."
"No, no, that's not the way to go," Jillian said. "Sexy outfits are what you need. Stilettos, thongs, a leather bustier."
"Make love outside," Tish chimed in. "Or in the laundry room or in the backseat of your car. Pick someplace you've never made love before."
"Sex toys," Jillian threw in.
"Write him X-rated poetry." Rachael giggled. "Mail him a naughty poem every day while he's out of town. He'll be crazed for you by the time he gets back."
None of this sounded like the Holy Grail of sexual experiences that her friends seemed to suggest, but Delaney was willing to give their ideas a shot. Anything to prove to herself that this impending marriage wasn't a big mistake.
"Wait a minute." Tish snapped her fingers. "I've got the perfect scenario. Kidnap Evan from his office during his lunch hour tomorrow. Do something really daring, something that feels mysterious and taboo."
"Yeah, yeah," Jill joined in. "I can see it now. Delaney calls Evan and then tells him to meet her in the parking lot outside his office for a luncheon date. She dresses up in something super sexy, but throws a coat over her outfit and ..."
"It's June," Rachael pointed out.
"Okay, a raincoat then."
"And," Tish said, "Delaney hides behind the door and when Evan comes outside she throws a tarp over his head, puts a dildo to his back-you know, like it's a gun-and tells him if he doesn't do everything she demands then she's going to blow him away."
"She forces him into her car," Jillian continued, "and takes him off to a secluded spot and has her way with him."
"Or," Rachael added, "she could take him to a really nice hotel where they have a big spa tub and flowers and candles and room service."
Tish fanned herself. "Whew, I'm getting hot and bothered just thinking about it."
Actually, Delaney thought, it wasn't a bad idea.
Longing to find something to accelerate her low-voltage sex life, she mulled over their suggestions. What if she did kidnap Evan from his office and take him to a secluded spot and seduce him? It might just be the catalyst they needed, and it would make for a great send-off so that he didn't forget her while he was in the wilds of Guatemala.
Be realistic. This is straitlaced Evan you're talking about.
Delaney shook her head. "Evan would never go for it. He's too dignified for stuff like that."
"Which is precisely why you take him hostage. Don't give him a choice. Bring handcuffs or duct tape or zip ties." Jillian pantomimed binding her hands.
"You never know," Tish said. "Evan could very well surprise you. He might be thinking you're the one who's too dignified, and you'll both find out you're horny as rabbits."
"Tish!" Rachael exclaimed.
Tish grinned impishly. "I'm just saying."
"You know," Jillian said, "there's a sex toy store in the shopping center across the street. Why don't we go check it out? Find a dildo Delaney could use as a pretend gun."
"Excellent idea." Tish flagged down their waiter and asked for the check.
A dark sinking feeling settled inside Delaney. Blabbing about her fears may have drawn her closer to her friends, but she couldn't help thinking that in the midst of their plans, she'd once again lost sight of herself and what it was that she really wanted.
And apparently she was now off to buy sex toys.
Five minutes later Delaney found herself being hustled across the busy thoroughfare. By the time they reached the shopping center, all four of them were breathless and laughing from dodging traffic. The sex toy place was located in the far corner of the strip mall, its neon sign flashing out a vibrant red-Ooh-La-La.
They trooped past a jewelry store with engagement rings prominently positioned in the showcase. Delaney glanced down at her own four-carat marquis-cut diamond set in an elegant platinum band. Funny, try as she might, she couldn't remember how she'd felt the day Evan had slipped it on her finger. She must have been happy. Why wouldn't she be happy? She just couldn't remember being happy.
There was a party supply warehouse, then a discount shoe barn and a lingerie shop. Inset in the small space between the lingerie shop and Ooh-La-La was a consignment store specializing in wedding attire.
Delaney shouldn't even have glanced in the window. Her mother was such a snob she'd have a hissy fit if Delaney dared to buy anything from a consignment store, but an enigmatic force she could not explain whispered, Go on, take a peek.
Cupping her hands around her eyes, she pressed her face against the glass for a better look inside the darkened store. And then, just like that, she found what she hadn't even known she was searching for.
The wedding veil to end all wedding veils.
It was encased in glass and mounted on the wall over the checkout counter. For reasons she could not comprehend, Delaney felt as if she were standing on the threshold of something monumental.
She could not say what compelled her. She already had a perfectly beautiful wedding veil from Bergdorf Goodman's that her mother had picked out for her on their last foray into Manhattan, but she felt compelled. There was simply no other word for it.
Her friends kept walking, but Delaney stayed anchored to the spot. Transfixed. Unable to take her eyes off the veil. It was an ivory, floor-length mantilla style, and so delicate it looked as if it had been created for a fairy princess.
I'm the answer you've been searching after, the veil seemed to whisper. The magic that's missing.
For the first time since she'd agreed to marry Evan, something involving the approaching nuptials truly excited her.
The veil was absolutely perfect.
Delaney's fingers itched to stroke the intricate lace, but the store looked closed. The lights were dimmed. She couldn't see anyone inside, yet her hand was already pushing against the door handle.
Drawn by the sight of the wedding veil waiting just a few feet away, she stepped over the threshold.
"Delaney? Where did you go?"
Distantly, she heard her friends calling to her, but she did not turn around. She just kept moving, pulled inexplicably toward the veil. She reached out a finger and stroked the glass case.
Up close it was even more compelling. The delicate lace pattern formed a myriad of butterflies sewn with thread so fine it was almost invisible.
"May I help you?"
Startled, Delaney jumped and tore her gaze from the veil to meet the eyes of a soft-voiced, black-haired woman in her early forties. The shopkeeper wore a gauzy, purple crinkle skirt and a lavender sleeveless knit blouse. She studied her quietly.
Delaney felt a subtle but distinct atmospheric change. The room grew slightly cooler, damper, and she experienced a strange but familiar sense of connection. "Have we met?"
"Claire Kelley," the woman said with the faint hint of an Irish brogue. Her handshake was firm, self-assured.
Claire raised an eyebrow. Delaney knew that look. The woman recognized the Cartwright name, but to her surprise, Claire did not ask her if she was one of those oil money Cartwrights the way most people did.
"Tell me about the veil," Delaney said.
"You have a very discerning eye. It's a floor-length mantilla style made of rose point lace, created with a very fine needle. Rose point is considered the most delicate and precious of all laces."
"May I see it?"
The woman hesitated and then said firmly, "I'm afraid it's not for sale, Ms. Cartwright."
Delaney's father, the consummate oilman, had taught her that everything was for sale for the right price. "If I may just examine the design up close, I'd like to have one just like it commissioned for my wedding."
"That's impossible. It's one of a kind."
She couldn't say why this was suddenly so important, but need settled like a lead weight in her stomach. She curled her fingernails into her palms. "Please, I must see it."
Outside on the street she could still hear her friends calling to her, but they sounded so very far away-on another planet, in another dimension, far outside her realm of concern.
Reluctantly, Claire took a key from her skirt pocket and ticked the lock open. She removed the veil from the case and arranged it with great care on the counter in front of them.
The majesty of it hit Delaney like a softly exploding eggshell. For one incredible instant she felt as if she were floating. She forgot to breathe. She could not breathe. Did not want or need to breathe. Terrified that if she dared inhale, the veil would evaporate.
A second passed, then two, then three.
At last, she was forced to draw in a deep, shuddering sigh of oxygen.
"Butterfly wings," she whispered.
The design was constructed of tiny roses grouped to form the butterflies. The veil was so white, so beautiful-almost phosphorescent. At any moment she expected it to fly right out the door.
Isn't it amazing, she thought, to live in a world where there is such a work of artistic beauty.
Delaney blinked, blinded by the dazzle and the image of herself wearing the veil as she walked down the aisle to meet her groom. The image swept in and out before her eyes as if she were in a slow, dreamy faint. She stared at the veil, seeing her future wedding, seeing the man she was about to marry.
But it wasn't Evan.
In his place stood a hard-jawed man with piercing dark eyes and a world-weary expression. He looked like a guardian, a soldier, a warrior. He exuded a strong, masculine quality. For the first time in her life, she had an overwhelming urge to kiss a man she knew absolutely nothing about. And she sensed, without doubt, he would taste like caffeine-strong, brisk, and intense.
A hard shiver ran through her.
She hitched in another breath. Her vision cleared and she was aware that while only an instant had passed, a vast expanse of time had swayed before her. A chasm into an unknowable dimension.
Claire was watching her, concern reflected in her pale blue eyes, yet there was also warmth and a steady quietness that reassured Delaney.
Excerpted from There Goes the Bride by Lori Wilde Copyright © 2007 by Lori Wilde. Excerpted by permission.
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