She ran away with the Groom
Too bad she wasn't the Bride!
No one was more shocked than Trae Andrelini when her best friend left wealthy Rhys Paxton standing at the altar on his wedding day. Trae was determined to find out what really went wrongso she joined forces with stick-in-the-mud Rhys to find the runaway bride.
As she and Rhys raced across the country, Trae was surprised to learn that the man she once found boring was anything but . And jilted Rhys was equally stunned that Trae's infuriating, tempestuous, spontaneous zest for life was tempting his own heart!
About the Author
For Barbara, books are the keys that open the doors to life and all its wonders. For as long as she can remember, she has been stepping through these portals - by both reading and writing - to explore the myriad worlds they offer.
An English major in college, she went on to teach high school but she's always been drawn to the magical process of writing. In 1985, she published her first novel, an historical romance set in colonial South Carolina, and has since written about eras and locales as far apart as present day Louisiana to Arthurian England and Minoan Crete.
Not only does Barbara take pleasure in reading about exotic times and places, she also travels to the actual locations to gather the tiny details--when the sun sets, how the air feels, what sights, sounds, and habits are unique to the area. Accompanying her on these research trips, her husband serves as volunteer photographer and the romantic escort. As she's often said, she could never "quite pull it off" without him. She firmly believes that the secret of writing a romance lies in "living a romance."
If you have any questions, or would like to contact Barbara, she can be reached by email at BarbaraBenedictB@aol.com.
Read an Excerpt
Six years later
They can't think I wanted to catch the bouquet, Trae thought with a frantic glance around her. The stupid thing had just landed in her lap. She wanted to toss the peach and white floral confection to the floor, but her Catholic up-bringing wouldn't allow her to litter a church.
Not that anyone paid any attention to her. Each stunned face was focused on the door Lucie had just slammed behind her, the force of the sound still reverberating in the otherwise silent church.
She did it, Trae realized with a sudden sense of wonder. Little Lucie Beckwith finally said no.
No small feat, either, considering the three-ring circus her mother had assembled.
The picture-postcard chapel was filled to the brim with wealthy relatives, influential guests and a media army lining the walls. Clearly, Mitsy Beckwith had wanted her only child's wedding to be an event, The Event, talked about by everyone-who-has-ever-been-anyone for years to come.
Looked like Mitsy would get her wish. They'd be talking about this one forever.
Against her will, Trae's gaze went to the altar, where the groom still stood stiffly at attention. Rhys Allen Paxton III, owner of the Paxton Corporation, was accustomed to having everything go according to his plans. The epitome of tall, dark and handsome, his meticulously groomed appearanceas well as every other aspect of his lifewas as well-ordered as a military parade.
Though if you asked Trae, he sure didn't seem so self-possessed at the moment. Maybe it was all that blackhis hair, the tuxedo, the sleek Italian shoesbut all color seemed to have drained from his face.
As if sensing her gaze upon him, Rhys suddenly focused on Trae, his clear blue gaze probing her. Under his intense scrutiny, she felt like a butterfly pinned to the mat. "What?" she almost asked aloud, wondering if he was seeking her help.
But then she noticed the hostility animating his features. With a quick scowl, he sprang into action, leaping down the altar steps to go marching to the door.
It took Trae a few more beats to realize he was going after Lucie.
Sparing a quick "Be right back" for the still-speechless Quinn and Alana, Trae scrambled past her friends to the end of the pew. Lucie might have worked up some gumption at last, but she was a novice at this and she'd need support. No way was Trae giving Rhys any opportunity to bully her friend into a marriage she obviously didn't want.
As Trae hurried down the aisle, she saw that Hal and Mitsy Beckwith were close at her heels. If it was going to be three against one, Luce really needed her help.
Bursting out of the church, Trae squinted against the sudden bright sunlight as she searched for her friend, but the only remaining evidence of Lucie's exit was the blinking taillight on a sleek black limo, as it took a hard, fast left at the corner.
Mitsy Beckwith spoke the thought uppermost in everyone's mind. "She's gone." And then, as an afterthought, "I bet she's going home."
Luce, no, Trae thought. If her friend retreated to Mitsy's territory, she'd never get out alive.
Unfortunately, judging by Mitsy's pursed lips and narrowed eyes, Trae must have uttered the "no" aloud. "All her things are there," the woman articulated, as if dealing with an imbecile. "She'd never go anywhere without her ATM and credit cards."
She had a point there. Far too accustomed to the Beckwith resources, Lucie wouldn't know how to last five minutes without her money. As if recognizing this truth as well, both Hal and Rhys simultaneously dug in their pockets for car keys.
Watching the Beckwiths jump in their Lincoln and peel away, Trae felt a spurt of panic. She'd taken a taxi from the hotel and had no way to follow them. "I'm coming with you," she announced to Rhys. "To talk to her," she insisted, trailing behind as he strode to his black Mercedes. "Lucie will need someone to confide in."
"That would be me." Yanking open the door, he slid into his car.
Trae reached the passenger door just as he started the engine, but when she tugged on the handle, she found the door locked. Rhys, smiling grimly, seemed more than content to drive off without her.
"Let me in," she shouted through the window, giving him her "look." A girl didn't grow up in the Andrelini household without coming up with a way to let the males in her life know she meant business. Rhys merely narrowed his gaze as he shifted into Reverse.
Desperate, she dug in her purse and pulled out her cell phone. "She'll probably try to call me. If you leave me here, you'll never know what she said."
Though he said nothing, Trae heard the telltale click of the lock. Jamming her phone back in her purse, she yanked open the door and hopped inside. Rhys pulled away before she could completely close it.
Then again, he was smart to hurry. Everyone in the church had begun spilling out the doors, the press included.
Rhys didn't waste time with words, driving to the Beckwith house as if he were racing the Indy 500. Trae could have been invisible for all the attention he paid her, but watching him stomp on the clutch and jam the gear-shift, she was just as happy to remain under his radar.
He did glance at her onceactually, he scowled at the bouquet clutched in her handsbut otherwise focused his gaze on the road ahead. Trae understood that shenot the peach-colored roses in her lapprompted his irritation. Rhys never could disguise his disapproval of her.
"What did you say to Lucie?" he barked suddenly, downshifting adroitly as he rounded the corner.
He frowned, knowing she knew exactly who he meant, since there was no one else in the car to answer the question. Not willing to give an inch, Trae continued her pose of wounded confusion.
"You must have said something," he said curtly. "It's not like Lucie to be so impulsive."
"Oh, really? Have you forgotten Cancun?"
Apparently not, if his glare were anything to go by. Cancun had been one of those spring break moments of insanity. Having had enough of the day-to-day grind at Tulane, they'd lit out for sun-drenched Mexico. Maybe it had been the wild college atmosphere, or maybe because Bobby Boudreaux, Lucie's on-again-off-again boyfriend, had joined them, but one minute Lucie had been quietly sipping margaritas and the next she was dancing on the table. Trae still didn't know how the fight had started, but in a blink, they were sitting in a Mexican prison, waiting for Rhys to bail them out.
"That wasn't my fault," she told him defiantly. "I didn't get us carted off to jail."
"And whose idea was it to go down there in the first place?"
"Why do you always "
"With all the drinking and partying," he interrupted, "you didn't anticipate trouble?" Shaking his head in disgust, he skillfully rounded the corner on what seemed to be two wheels.
Trae felt compelled to protest. "Lucie is not a lost little lamb, you know. She's perfectly capable of making decisions for herself." She saw skepticism steal over his granitelike features, so she added, "When she's allowed to."
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
In Trae's opinion, the fact that Lucie had asked three distant relatives, and not her close friends, to be her bridesmaids made all the girl's choices suspect in the extreme. Includingno, especiallyher decision to go against their Just-Say-No oath.
"You expect me to believe that this wedding was all her idea?" she asked.
The car jerked as he popped the clutch. "All I expect from you," he said tightly, regaining control of the vehicle, "is a little common courtesy. A true friend would back off and let us sort through what is so obviously a private matter."
The nerve of the guy. "On the contrary, a true friend would look out for Lucie's best interests. I've no intention of backing off until I'm certain she genuinely wants this marriage to take place."
He looked at her with disbelief. "We will be married, I assure you. There's nothing you can do to stop it."
"From the looks of it, Lucie stopped it just fine on her own," Trae ground out, unable to stop herself from making the dig. She was doubly determined to reach her friend first. She couldn't let Rhys turn sweet, fun-loving Lucie into the woman he thought he wanteda perfect clone of her mother, a poised, self-possessed trophy wife he could trot out for public occasions.
It appeared he'd yet to grasp that every female has the will, skill and desire to make a scene and, given the right circumstances, even a control freak like Mitsy Beckwith was perfectly capable of coming apart at the seams.
The evidence of which greeted them as they pulled up the sloped, curving driveway of the Beckwith estate. Mitsy came charging at the car before Rhys could stop; her hands were pulling at her sculpted coiffure. Although her words were muffled, Trae was able to read her lips and make out, "She's not here. Do you hear me? She's not here. What do we do now?"
Judging by his continued silence, Trae had to assume Rhys had no ready answer.
Braking with caution, he took his time shutting off the ignition, and as he reached for the door handle, Trae could see a tiny tic beginning to spasm over his right eyebrow. For an instant, as he slowly emerged from the car, she almost felt sorry for him.
Until she got out of the Mercedes and found him as unflappable as ever, his hesitation vanishing as if it had never been. "We'll wait," he said firmly to the Beckwiths. "No doubt Lucie is driving around, gathering her thoughts. When she's ready to be logical again, she'll return with an explanation. Let's be calm when she arrives, okay?" Rhys looked from Hal to Mitsy, bypassing Trae entirely. "We don't want to do anything more to upset her."
"Upset her?" Misty exploded. "What about me? What am I supposed to do? The orchestra, the prime rib dinners, the melting ice sculptures " She looked down the road with a horrified expression. "The guests! What if they come here? My God, the press!"
"Take it easy," Rhys said calmly. "It won't do any good to panic. Besides, I doubt the guests are going to come here for a wedding reception, considering there was no wedding."
He could have saved his breath.
"This is a nightmare," Mitsy barreled on, hysteria fueling her momentum. "People will talk. They'll snicker behind my back. I won't have it, do you hear me? Rhys," she said, grasping his arm with a wild look in her eyes, "you've got to do something."
"Do what?" He didn't raise his voice, but the words erupted out of him like a cannon blast. "Your daughter just left me stranded at the altar. What in the hell do you think I can do about anything?"
Mitsy blinked, visibly stunned. She was not alone in her shock. Clamping his jaw shut, Rhys acted as if his mouth had just betrayed him. It was the first time Trae had seen him even close to admitting he didn't have everything under control.
"I can call the police," Hal offered lamely.
Rhys shook his head. "Let's hold off calling the authorities. We don't want to get them or the press involved. Not yet, at least."
Typical, Trae thought. Poor Luce was out there wandering around helplessly, and he was worried about bad publicity? Disgusted with Rhys, with the lot of them, she thrust the bouquet in his hands. "Isn't there a phone in the limo?" she asked brusquely as she dug through her purse for her cell phone. "What's the number?"
Hal Beckwith searched his pockets, unearthing a business card with the company's information. It took two tries and several minutes on hold before Trae got the number for the phone in the limo. Dialing impatiently, she listened to it ring and ring.
After a few minutes of that, Rhys shook his head. Shoving the bouquet back in her hands, he grabbed her phone.
"Hey, gimme that." Trae reached for it, but Rhys held the phone against his ear, which, given their height difference, meant she had to jump like an overstimulated puppy to retrieve it.
Suddenly aware of how tall he was, how physically overwhelming, she instead waved the bouquet in his face. "You think you can do better?" she asked. "That Lucie will sense it's you calling and instantly pick up the phone?"
He eyed her as if she were a buzzing gnatnothing to take seriously but incredibly annoying just the same. "I'm not phoning the limo," he announced curtly. "I'm dialing the dispatcher. All I need is their location."
Mitsy got a smug look on her face, as if she'd been the one to reach that particular conclusion. Trae endured her holier-than-thou attitude in silence, noting that the longer Rhys stayed on hold, the more Mitsy's smirk waned.
Then suddenly, Mitsy gasped. Following her panicked gaze down the road, Trae saw a car round the corner. With a burst of hope, she recognized the arriving vehicle as Quinn and Alana's rental. With their help, she still might get to Lucie first.
Yet even as she started toward them, Mitsy, who had the instincts of a bloodhound sniffing out trouble, cut across the lawn to reach her friends before her. Smiling graciously, Mitsy ushered Quinn and Alana into the house.
Hold on Luce, Trae mentally urged as she hurried behind them. I'm on my way.
Just remain calm, Rhys told himself firmly as he climbed the stairs to the family wing. Go through the motions, act as if nothing is wrong. And never mind that half the world just watched you get publicly jilted.
He should have put his foot down and insisted Mitsy limit the invitations. He'd wanted a quiet wedding, not a spectacle of five hundred-plus guests. Worse, Mitsy's need to dominate the social pages had drawn far too many media ghouls. Rhys suffered no illusions. The fact that he owned several publications wouldn't grant him immunity. This story would break in all the morning editions.
He glared at the cell phone in his hand. "Just give me something," he barked into it, despite still being on hold. Then he realized the battery had died. Frustrated, he bit his lip to keep himself under control. How like Trae not to keep her phone charged.
He knew it was useless to rant at dead air, but he hated the inaction, the not knowing. He had to get to Lucie, talk some sense into her. Hadn't they talked about this, both agreeing that their marriage was inevitable? Her parents expected it, everyone accepted it as a fait accompli. Today's ceremony should have been a mere formality, the punctuation point of a carefully constructed sentenceonly Lucie had suddenly changed the words. Up until an hour ago, she'd agreed that this marriage would benefit them both immensely. What could have changed her mind?
But that was stupid; he knew what had happened. Her friends. More specifically, Trae Andrelini.
He'd seen Trae, of course, talking to Lucie at the back of the church. How could he miss her in that outfit? The sexy, lime suit, the patent leather stilettos, all that red hair. Of course she'd said something, he decided. Ever since the two friends had met at college, Trae had been the devil on Lucie's shoulder, forever coaxing her into trouble, yet never around when it came time to bail her out. That was his jobthe mopping up, the covering over, all the king's men putting Lucie together again.