Public relations whiz Matthew Beaumont won't let scandal ruin his brother's Christmas wedding. Yet scandal is Whitney Maddox's middle name. He grudgingly allows the outrageous child star turned horse trainer to stay in the wedding party…as long as she behaves herself. But soon he's the one misbehaving with this irresistible maid of honor.
Determined to shed her troubled past, Whitney traded parties—and men—for a quiet life years ago. But one tumble into Matthew's strong arms has her thinking that a hot night with the best man might be the perfect holiday gift…a gift that could last forever.
The Beaumont Heirs: Book 3
Nov. 2014 from Harlequin Desire
ISBN-10: 0373733518 ♦ ISBN-13: 978-0373733514
Might as well get this over with. Whitney stripped off her parka and sweater, then the boots and jeans. She caught a glimpse of herself in the three-way mirror—hard not to with those angles. Ugh. The socks had to go. And…
Her bra had straps. The dress did not.
She shucked the socks and, before she could think better about it, the bra. Then she hurried into the bridesmaid dress, trying not to pull on the zipper as the silk slipped over her head with a shushing sound.
The fabric puddled at her feet as she tried to get the zipper pulled up, but her arms wouldn’t bend in that direction. “I need help,” she called out, praying that an employee or a seamstress or anyone besides Matthew Beaumont was out there.
“Is it safe to come in?” Matthew asked from the other side of the door.
Oh, no. Whitney made another grab at the zipper, but nothing happened except her elbow popped. Ow. She checked her appearance. Her breasts were covered. It was just the zipper…
The door opened and Matthew walked in. To his credit, he didn’t enter as if he owned the place. He came in with his eyes cast down before he took a cautious glance around. When he spotted her mostly covered, the strangest smile tried to crack his face. “Ah, there you are.”
“Here I am,” she agreed, wondering where else on earth he thought she could have gotten off to in the ten minutes she’d been in here. “I can’t get the zipper up all the way.”
She really didn’t know what to expect at this point. The majority of her interactions with Matthew ranged from outright rude to surly. But then, just when she was about to write him off as a jerk and nothing more, he’d do something that set her head spinning again.
Like right now. He walked up to her and held out his hand, as if he were asking her to dance.
Even in the cramped dressing room, he was impossibly handsome. But he’d already muddled her thoughts—mean one moment, sincere the next. She didn’t want to let anything physical between them confuse her even further.
When she didn’t put her hand in his, he said, “Just to step up on the dais,” as if he could read her thoughts.
She took his hand. It was warm and strong, just as his arms had been. He guided her up the small step and then to the middle. “Ah, shoes,” he said. Then he let her go.
“No—just the zipper,” she told him, but he was already back by the shoes, looking at them.
Lord. She knew what was about to happen. She was all of five-four on a good day. He would pick the four-inch heels in an attempt to get her closer to Jo’s height. And then she’d either have to swallow her pride and tell him she couldn’t walk in them or risk tripping down the aisle on the big day.
“These should work,” he said, picking up the pair of peep-toed shoes with the stacked heel only two inches high. “Try these on.”
“If you could just zip me up first. Please.” The last thing she wanted to do was wobble in those shoes and lose the grip she had on the front of her dress.
He carried the shoes over to her and set them on the ground. Then he stood.
This time, when his gaze traveled over her, it didn’t feel as if he were dismissing her, as he had the first time. Far from it. Instead, this time it was almost as if he was appreciating what he saw.
She felt him grab the edges of the dress and pull them together. Something about this felt…intimate. Almost too intimate. It blew way past possible flirting. She closed her eyes. Then, slowly, the zipper clicked up tooth by tooth.
Heat radiated down her back, warming her from the inside out. She breathed in, then out, feeling the silk move over her bare flesh. Matthew was so close she could smell his cologne—something light, with notes of sandalwood. Heat built low in her back—warm, luxurious heat that made her want to slowly turn in his arms and stop caring whether or not the dress zipped at all.
She could do it. She could hit on the best man and find out what had been behind that little conversation they’d had in private last night. And this time, she wouldn’t trip.
Except…except for his first reaction to her—if she hit on him, he might assume she was out to ruin his perfect wedding or something. So she did nothing. Matthew zipped the dress all the way up. Then she felt his hands smoothing down the pleats in the back, then adjusting the sheer shoulder strap.
She stopped breathing as his hands skimmed over her.
This had to be nothing. This was only a control freak obsessively making sure every detail, every single pleat, was perfect. His touch had nothing to do with her.
She felt him step around her until he was standing by her side. “Aren’t you going to look?” he asked, his voice warm and, if she didn’t know any better, inviting.
She could feel him waiting right next to her, the heat from his body contrasting with the cool temperature of the room. So she opened her eyes. What else could she do?
The sight that greeted her caused her to gasp. An elegant, sophisticated woman stood next to a handsome, powerful man. She knew that was her reflection in the mirror, but it didn’t look like her.
“Almost perfect,” Matthew all but sighed in satisfaction.
Almost. What a horrible word.
“It’s amazing.” She fought the urge to twirl. Someone as buttoned-up as Matthew probably wouldn’t appreciate a good twirl.
The man in the reflection grinned at her—a real grin, one that crinkled the edges of his eyes. “It’s too long on you. Let’s try the shoes.” Then, to her amazement, he knelt down and held out a shoe for her, as if this were some backward version of Cinderella.
Whitney lifted up her skirt and gingerly stepped into the shoe. It felt solid and stable—not like the last pair of fancy shoes she’d tried to walk in.
She stepped into the other shoe, trying not to think about how Matthew was essentially face-to-knee or how she was in significant danger of snagging these pretty shoes on the edge of the dais and going down in a blaze of glory.
When she had both shoes firmly on, Matthew sat back. “How do those feel?”
“Not bad,” she admitted. She took a preliminary step back. “Pretty good, actually.”
“Can you walk in them? Or do you need a ballerina flat?”
She gaped at him. Of all the things he might have asked her, that wasn’t even on the list. Then it hit her. “Jo told you I was a klutz, right?”
He grinned again. It did some amazing things to his face, which, in turn, did some amazing things to the way a lazy sort of heat coiled around the base of her spine and began to pulse.
“She might have mentioned it.”
Whitney shouldn’t have been embarrassed, and if she was, it shouldn’t have bothered her anymore. Embarrassment was second nature for her now, as ordinary as breathing oxygen.
But it did. “Because you thought I was drunk.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed, but he didn’t come back with the silky smile he’d pulled out on her last night, the one that made her feel as if she was being managed.
“In the interest of transparency, I also considered the option that you might have been stoned.”
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