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The bride wore A long white dress and a look of utter despair.
Adam Carmichael saw her through the glass wall of the Memphis Channel Eight boardroom, scurrying down the corridor as fast as the full skirt of her dress would allow, flicking furtive glances over her shoulder.
Damn, a runaway bride. Could this day get any worse?
He stepped out of the boardroom, and she saved him the effort of stopping her when she cannoned into him, preoccupied by one of those over-the-shoulder checks. Soft yet firm breasts pressed hard against Adam's chest; honey-gold hair tickled his chin.
He steadied her with his hands on her upper arms. And saw tears welling in her eyes. Instantly he released her, took a step back.
She brushed at the tears with short, impatient movements. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to" She looked behind her again and said distractedly, "Anyway, it was nice meeting you, but I really must."
She gathered up her skirt, ready to run, giving Adam a glimpse of slim ankles above a pair of silk shoes.
Overhead, the PA system crackled to life, and Adam recognized the voice of Channel Eight's senior producer, unusually agitated. "Would Casey Greene please return to makeup immediately. Casey Greene to makeup." There was a pause, then the producer said, " Now!" more ferociously than Adam had ever heard her speak before.
There was no mistaking the whimper from the runaway bride, nor the flare of panic in her eyes, which were the gray-green of the Mississippi when a storm was brewing.
Adam clamped a hand over her forearm. "Sounds like they're looking for you."
"I can't go back." She tried to tug her arm free. Fleetingly, he considered letting her go. But much as he hated this wedding show, he wasn't about to sabotage it.
They were due to go live in an hour, so it was a safe bet people would be scouring the building for the missing bride. In her panic to get away, she'd obviously taken the elevator up instead of down. It might take awhile for the search party to reach the top-floor boardroom, but they'd get here in the end.
"You can't leave like this," he said. "You look terrible." Oops, that wasn't the most tactful thing to say to a bride. "I mean, you look greatfantastic." He ran a quick eye over her to check if he'd made a fair assessment. She was a little on the short side, around five-four in her shoes, he estimated, but the dress hugged some very attractive curves.
He pushed open the door to the boardroom. "Why don't you take a minute to pull yourself together?, He gave her no chance to refuse, shepherding her in, then steering her to one of the black leather couches arranged along the far wall. He turned a chair from the boardroom table around to face her, and sat down. "I assume you're Casey Greene?"
She nodded. Someone walked past the board-room, and she shrank down in the couch.
"It's only my secretary," he assured her. But she looked jittery, as if she might spring up at any moment. Adam estimated it had been a minute since that call over the PA, probably several minutes since she'd left her minders. Where were those guys? He said chattily, " So you're a guest on Kiss the Bride?"
Uh-oh. This was just what he needed, after he'd worked through the night to get this show into some semblance of order, tying up the loose ends his cousin Henry, the show's creator, had overlooked. Except Adam hadn't had time to check if Henry had lined up a replacement bridal couple in case someone pulled out. he'd bet money the answer was no.
Any minute now, representatives of the show's sponsor, New Visage Cosmetics, would arrive at the studio to see the debut of "their" show. New Visage was in a different league from Channel Eight's other sponsors; having them on board would bring the station to the attention of the major players. Adam couldn't afford for anything to go wrong.
He wanted to haul this woman back to the production suiteanyone dumb enough to sign up for a surprise wedding show deserved whatever she got. "It's understandable you have cold feet. Just remember, this is the happiest day of your life."
He couldn't have sounded very convincing, for she shot him an unbridelike glare.
"Oh, sure," she said. "I dupe my fiancé into coming to the TV studio, and he won't find out until we're on air that he's here to get married. Happy days."
Adam should never have left Henry in charge while he was in New York. His cousin must have had this crazy idea in mind for months, to have set the show up in just four weeks. Adam had come home two days ago to find the station abuzz with excitement about Kiss the Bride.
He could have canned it. But then the family stockholders would accuse him of being high-handed again. Better to let tonight run its course, then convince New Visage to put their money into a higher quality program.
The muted sound of the PA system drifted in from the corridor. "Paging Casey Greene. If anyone has seen Casey Greene could they please notify Production immediately."
Adam eyed the telephone on the boardroom table. Casey stiffened. "You wouldn't."
He would, if he didn't think it would scare her into resuming her escape. He had an hour of live TV to fill, the viewers had been promised a wedding show and that's what they would get. A show delivered to the highest possible standard. Which meant no empty seats on the set. "How about we let the crew know you're okay?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Who are you?, "Adam Carmichael." There was no flash of recognitionhe had to assume she didn't read those magazines that voted him Memphis's Most Eligible Bachelor. "I run this place."
"So you can get me out of here? Off the show?, She stood in a flurry of excitement, a hopeful smile curving her mouth, crinkling the corners of those gray-green eyes, hinting at a dimple in her right cheek.
"Why don't you tell me," he hedged, " exactly what the problem is?"
Her smile faded and she sat down again. "you're not going to help, are you? Don't worry, I'll figure it out myself."
Adam hadn't missed the vulnerability that shadowed her eyes.
The vulnerability that made her not his type. "Have you changed your mind about the wedding?, Maybe he could find someonea woman, someone happily married, anyone but himto talk her around.
"Not exactly. I'm desperate, or I wouldn't have resorted to coming on Kiss the Bride."
She didn't look desperate. With her eyes still bright with moisture and her cheeks flushed at the personal nature of the conversation, she looked more than ordinarily attractive, like the kind of woman who would have potential bridegrooms lining up on her doorstep.
"Is your fiancé giving you trouble?"
Casey shook her head. "Joe is pretty well perfect. Kind, good-looking, honestfun to be with."
"He sounds great," Adam said heartily. "How about we get you to the studio so you can marry him?"
Okay, so that wasn't subtle. She fixed him with a stung, accusatory expression. "But what about love?"
Adam felt the kick of a headache at his left temple. He looked through the glass, out into the empty corridor. How the hell could the production team be doing such a bad job of finding this woman? "I don't know," he said cautiously. "What about love?"
Casey eased back into the cushions, as if he'd hit on her favorite subject. "I love Joe, and he loves me." She spread her hands, palms up. "We wouldn't have got engaged otherwise, would we?, "I suppose not," Adam said.
"But sometimes, people love you for what you can do for them, as much as for who you are, and it's hard to tell the difference. I always wanted a husband who'd adore me just for myself, and someone I adored back. Real love, no strings attached." Her finger traced the piping that edged one of the cushions. "If I'm honest, that's not what Joe and I have."
Adam groaned. Poor Joe, expected to "adore" this woman for the rest of her days, when, if he was anything like most guys, all he wanted was a quiet life.
Her eyes sparked in annoyance. "Don't you think people should hold out for their dreams?"
"I think people should figure out what they want, then go for it," Adam said. "Buta guy who adores you? No strings?, He shook his head. "Those are teenage daydreams."
She thought that over. "You mean, you used to dream of marrying a woman who adored you, but you grew out of it?"
Adam cast another longing glance at the phone. "The last thing a teenage boy wants is to be adored by some woman for the rest of his life." Some of us never grow out of that. "Boys dream about NASCAR racing."
If sharing that misguided ambition would get her back on the show, Adam would do it. He nodded. "Believe me, I never regretted joining the family business instead."
Even if he had run off to Charlotte, the racing capital, he'd probably still be on the receiving end of constant demands from his grasping relatives.
"Are you married?"
Did he look like a sucker for punishment?
She rushed on without waiting for him to reply, as if it was a relief to be revealing her doubts. At least someone was enjoying this. "Joe and I started dating in high school. We drifted into our engagement at graduationthat was seven years ago. We said we'd wait until we could afford to buy a house before we got married."
"Good idea," Adam said. He inched his hand toward the phone.
"Every time we set a wedding date, something happens to change our plans," she said. "But now I need to hurry things up. Now, I have to get married."