Authors: Lisa Alder
JAKE'S WILD BRIDE
One Wild Night
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written consent from the author/publisher.
This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons living or dead, or places, events, or locales is purely coincidental. The characters are products of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.
New Orleans is a wonderful place. I've been fortunate enough to visit several times in my life. Each time I find something new to love about the city and its people. The people are full of music, joy, sheer love for life's pleasures, and an indomitable spirit that won't be crushed. When Katrina hit, my thoughts were with you and they continue with you while you rebuild.
Delilah Mason had a wildness in her.
She’d been told so ever since she was knee high to a cotton plant. She knew it. She felt it and she’d battled against it all her life.
But, as she stared through two layers of misty cream netting to the man beside her, Lilah knew that was all about to change. The Reverend Tom Stilton smiled at her and she calmed. He was her anchor, her friend and soon--her husband.
He leaned closer to Lilah and murmured, “How’s the veil?”
She smiled fondly at him. “So far no tripping. Although I still don’t think we needed to practice.”
He pressed a gentle kiss on her cheek, through the layers of veil, and Lilah felt a peace flow through her.
The organ pipes blared a discordant note and shocked the peace out of Lilah. Tom’s head whipped around. The new organist and music director sat with her hands poised above the keys, and her face etched in horror. She cleared her throat. “Tom--Reverend--I’m so sorry,” she called. Tears hovered in her eyes.
Tom asked. “Do you mind if I....”
“Go see what’s wrong.” Lilah urged. He had the most amazing way about him. To calm, to gentle, to tame. And that was what Lilah needed. She could be what Tom needed too.
“I’ll be right back.” Tom rushed up the red carpet steps toward the organist. Lilah hadn’t paid much attention to her before now. She’d been too wrapped up in wedding plans and quelling the feelings of wildness that crept up with more and more frequency these days.
. That was her name. A Northerner who up and moved to a small Louisiana town a few years after Katrina. That act seemed impulsive and reckless, which Lilah didn’t much care for, seeing as she tried so hard to curb those very tendencies in herself. But, Marion had coal black hair and blue eyes infused with a calmness Lilah admired.
Only, Marion’s eyes weren’t calm now. Lilah watched Tom take the woman’s hand and pat it gently. A gesture designed to soothe. But if anything Marion became more agitated.
Tom sat down on the bench beside the other woman. Lilah glanced away to afford them privacy, her gaze drawn to the organist’s mirror. The angle of the mirror had been changed. Usually canted so the choir could see the organist, now it tilted so that Lilah could see the entire sanctuary. She scanned the pews, checking the details for tomorrow until she reached the opening where she would start her final walk.
An archangel slouched in the mahogany framed entrance, wearing blue jeans and a smooth white t-shirt. His tanned arms were folded over a broad chest. One leg crossed over the other, creasing the folds of his jeans into an interesting vee at the juncture of his thighs.
Through the thin rayon of her floral print dress and silk slip she could feel her body heat in ways she hadn’t felt in a good long time. Ways she knew weren’t proper.
Lilah jerked her gaze back up to his face, embarrassed at where she’d been staring. Thankfully he couldn’t know, for her back was to him and her face was hidden by the fine veil.
But as he sauntered up the deep red carpet, Lilah swore that he knew.
If she could see his eyes, she would be fine. Because she already knew what she’d find. Wildness. And she’d sworn off wildness for good.
As he came closer, Lilah resisted the urge to flee. She couldn’t understand where that urge had come from. She needed to get married, soon, before she gave in to the temptation to do something really wild. Again.
Lilah glanced back at Tom. He had his arm protectively curled around Marion’s body, hovering just above her shoulders but not touching her. He seemed--
“Everything okay?” The archangel whispered in her ear. His hot breath feathered over her neck and goose bumps peppered her skin in response. Instinctively, she started to lean closer to that warmth.
Lilah stilled. Her reaction was inappropriate. Again. “She’s upset about something, but it will be fine.”
“Yeah, Tommy’ll take care of her.” His voice was soft with affection.
“Tommy?” Startled, she twirled around to stare at him and forgot about keeping her distance. Once she did, she couldn’t help but look at his eyes. For a moment, she was lost. She didn’t see wildness, she saw regret. “You’re--”
“Jake Forrest.” He held out his hand and she automatically extended hers. “The best man.”
A sizzle of electricity buzzed through her body. Oh dear Lord.
Jake Forrest curled his hand around the warm, strong fingers of Lilah Mason, his best friend’s fiancée. A short burst of attraction arced through him. What the hell was he doing here?
“Sorry I’m late.” But he wasn’t. He was just sorry he’d come back to this town. He should have told Tommy,
No. I can’t be the best man at your wedding. I can’t come back home. I don’t want to remember the first sixteen years of my life
He could have avoided all the problems and feelings plaguing him now. Except, he’d made a promise. One he wished he hadn’t, but Jake Forrest never went back on a promise. Not anymore.
Jake mentally shook out of his reverie and paid attention to the woman in front of him. He still held her hand as she tugged, discreetly, at it. He released her abruptly, and her fingernail scraped along the sensitive skin of his palm. That single motion shouldn’t have turned him on, but it did. And he sighed in disgust. He’d been back in town a total of ten minutes and he was reverting back to his old behavior. Good friends did not get turned on by their best friend’s fiancée.
She took a step back.
“It’s fine. We didn’t really need this practice anyway.” A gentle smile lit her face, as her gaze strayed to where Tommy sat with the other woman. “I hope everything is okay.”
Jake assessed Lilah carefully. She wasn’t what he’d expected. She looked like a blond bombshell tied up in a spinster’s package. Fine, white-blond hair curled up into a bun underneath an old fashioned bridal veil, eyes the color of the Pacific Ocean on a hot day stared at him with a wariness she didn’t bother to conceal. She was tall, almost as tall as Tommy, and well-endowed, but she was wearing the most god-awful dress with big puffy flowers in muted colors and flat, sensible shoes.
He’d bet half the proceeds from the sale of his company that in a mini skirt and stiletto heels she could make a priest drool.
Jake forced his gaze back to his best friend. “Who’s that?”
“Marion, the new organist. She’s going through some tough times.” Lilah fingered some sort of bouquet made from ribbons and looked at the couple at the organ. “Tom’s been guiding her.”
“He’s good at it.” Jake looked back at the pair. It looked like Tom was doing a bit more guiding than his fiancée knew about. But, it wasn’t Jake’s business. He didn’t need to know. Still, a spurt of anger toward his old friend surfaced unexpectedly. What was Tom doing up there with that other woman, when his beautiful, sexy fiancée was right down here?
“He’s just plain good,” Lilah said.
The admiration in her voice humbled him. Tom
good. He had helped Jake through the worst times of his life and never expected anything back. Jake must be mistaken about the tension between his best friend and the organist.
Jake looked back at Lilah and tried not to groan when she sank her teeth into the succulent pink flesh of her bottom lip.
Even if he wasn’t yelling the words to himself, she was sending the message loud and clear as she edged politely away from him.
Jake shifted a bit further away from Lilah and the sound drew Tom’s attention. He looked up swiftly and met Jake’s gaze. In that unguarded moment, Jake saw more than he wanted to. Still, it wasn’t his business.Tom patted the woman awkwardly on the back, as if afraid to touch her. Then he stood and walked toward Jake and Lilah.“Hey.” Tom reached out a hand and pumped Jake’s hand up and down, then swung his other arm around Jake’s shoulders and enveloped him in a big hug. “I’m glad you came.”
“Me too.” Jake slapped his best friend’s back as a sense of homecoming came over him. He didn't need to forget all of his childhood. Tommy had been a good part, the best part. “How the hell are you?”
Lilah watched the two men embrace. Tom had spoken of Jake often when talking about his childhood. But he had talked of a wild boy, so Lilah’s mental picture had been stunted. This was no boy. He was a grown man. A grown, handsome man. As the teens she counseled would say, he was hot.Lilah frowned. She shouldn’t think that way about Jake. She was getting married.
“I’m great.” Tom stepped closer to Lilah. “I see you’ve met Lilah.” A broad smile curved his mouth, but Lilah sensed his attention was focused someplace else. Tom curled his arm around her shoulders hesitantly touching her, just as he had Marion. And for a moment, no one spoke.
Jake broke the awkward silence. “So where do you want me to stand?”
Tom gestured casually to a spot near the railing that separated the pews from the pulpit area. “Over there is fine. It’ll all work out. Why don’t we all go out to Pete’s Saloon and get acquainted?”
Lilah’s stomach dropped. The last thing she wanted to do was get better acquainted with the best man. Relief swept through her as she remembered. “Tom. I can’t I’ve got my bachelorette party.”
“Oh, I forgot. Your wild party,” he teased.
Lilah’s mind shot to what her friends had wanted. Watching a complete stranger strip bare was totally inappropriate for a proper woman. But, oh the temptation to agree had festered in her for days. Resolutely, she put the idea of a naked man out of her mind. But then the image of Jake as the stripper, all oiled and sweaty, flashed through her brain.Marion came down the steps at a run, clutching a haphazard stack of sheet music. “Goodnight,” she mumbled, her head down.“Sorry I can’t come.” Desperate to atone for the ideas in her head, Lilah made an attempt to ward off her wild thought with one that was good. “Maybe Marion would like to join you.”
The organist stumbled to a stop. In her haste, music flew everywhere. “Oh my.” Her face flushed wildly. “Oh, I couldn’t possibly go with you.”
“Perhaps another time.” Tom smiled at Marion, but Lilah could see that it was forced. He must be feeling really badly about not being able to help poor Marion.