Authors: Marilyn Pappano
“Very much,” he answered.
“But you're not going to.”
He shook his head.
Because it was wrongâmore so than the first time, not as much as the second, but still wrong. Because, in spite of her assurances, he wasn't sure what her expectations were. Hell, he wasn't sure what
expectations were. Because they were a great match for a one-night stand, but neither of them brought much hope to the success of anything more.
And because he liked her, honestly liked her, and though he didn't know what he wanted from her, he did know one thing for sure: he didn't want to hurt her. She'd gotten enough of that for a lifetime.
Silhouette Intimate Moments
The Lights of Home
Guilt by Association
Cody Daniels' Return
Room at the Inn
Something of Heaven
Not Without Honor
A Dangerous Man
Memories of Laura
Sweet Annie's Pass
Finally a Father
A Man Like Smith
Survive the Night
The Taming of Reid Donovan
The Overnight Alibi
The Horseman's Bride
Who Do You Love?
Â Â “A Little Bit Dangerous”
My Secret Valentine
The Sheriff's Surrender
The Princess and the Mercenary
Silhouette Special Edition
The Truth About Tate
Silhouette Christmas Stories
“The Greatest Gift”
Silhouette Summer Sizzlers
You Must Remember This
brings impeccable credentials to her careerâa lifelong habit of gazing out windows, not paying attention in class, daydreaming and spinning tales for her own entertainment. The sale of her first book proved that she wasn't crazy but creative. Since then she's sold more than forty books to various publishers and even a film production company.
In winter she stays inside with her husband and their four dogs, and in summer she spends her free time mowing the yard and daydreams about grass that never gets taller than two inches.
You can write to her at P.O. Box 643, Sapulpa, OK, 74067-0643.
he first time Brady Marshall ever saw Hallie Madison, he picked her up in a bar, took her back to her motel and spent most of the night having amazing sex with her.
The second time was in church.
In a wedding.
Thank God, not as the bride.
He stood at the front of the First Baptist Church of Heartbreak, Oklahoma, with Jace Barnett, the best man, and Reese Barnett, the groom, on his right and Del, Reese's father, on his left. As the organist played a slow processional, he gazed out over a full church and watched the bride's attendants come up the aisle. First were Emma and Elly Harris, wearing matching dresses and scattering baskets of petals. A few yards behind them was the first bridesmaidâa petite china doll with silvery-brown hair cut as short as a boy'sâ¦though with those delicate features, no one would ever mistake her for one.
Bringing up the rear was the maid of honor. She was of average height, athletic looking, her also-short hair also silvery-brown. Despite her lack of curves, no one would ever mistake
her for a boy, eitherâbut neither would they figure her for a private investigator, which she was.
And in the middle was Hallie. His mystery woman from two nights ago. She hadn't offered her name or asked for his, and he'd been satisfied not knowing. He should have asked. Even if he'd known she was sister and soon-to-be sister-in-law to his best friends, he still might have gone to the motel with herâ¦but he wouldn't risk money on it. Most likely, if he'd known, he would have high-tailed it out of that bar and spent the night regretting what he hadn't done.
Better than spending his time regretting what he had done.
Hallie was about five foot eight and slender, but with curves in all the right places. Her hair was silky and blond and past her shoulders, her eyes were hazelâhe hadn't realized he knew that until just nowâand her smile was bright and cheery, but anyone who looked closely could see the tension underlying it. For whatever reason, this wasn't a great time for her, but she was doing her best to hide it for her sisters' sake.
There they wereâthe Madison sisters. He'd heard a lot about them from their oldest sister, Neely. There was Kylie the pretty one, Hallie the popular one and Bailey the smart one. If Hallie made a habit of doing what she'd done with him two nights ago, he could understand why she was popular.
But he didn't think she did. Maybe his ego needed to think that he'd been special, though he knew too well that wasn't true. While Hallie might not routinely pick up sex partners in bars, he did, and he knew special had nothing to do with it. Being lonely did. And alone. Not interested in a relationship. Not able to connect with people except in the most superficial way.
The bridesmaids took their place opposite the groomsmen, and the organ music swelled as Neely appeared at the back of the church, putting the other women out of his mind. Her ivory gown was all lace and satin, sleeveless with a deep V, and a stream of lace was attached to a band of flowers worn in her hair. She was more beautiful than anyone he'd ever seen. She was the only woman he'd had any sort of relationship with in the past fourteen years, and he'd been half in love with her ever
since they'd met. Not that he'd ever expected or even wanted anything to come of it. Neely belonged to Reese, heart and soul.
When she reached the front, the guests took their seats and the wedding party turned to face the minister. Brady's one and only wedding seventeen years ago had been nothing like this. He and Sandra had gone to the county courthouse one Friday afternoon and been married by a judge in a hurry to get to his golf game. He'd worn jeans and a white shirt, and Sandra had worn a flowery dress with a big white collar edged with crimson ribbon.
Funny that he could remember that, but couldn't quite recall her face. He could see the curly brown hair, he could even call up the memory of sliding a plain gold band on her finger, but he couldn't see her eighteen-year-old face.
Of course, he'd spent fourteen years trying to forget everything about her. He'd been a fool to marry her. The good times hadn't come close to balancing out the bad, and in the final months, there had been some really bad times.
Between all the people and the candles that flickered everywhere, the church was a little warm. The reception afterward wasn't bound to be much better, since it was going to be outside and Oklahoma in August wasn't hospitable. But for wedding cake, cold drinks and dancing, people would forget the heat.
For their friends, they would forget anything.
Finally the pastor came to the part they'd all been waiting for. “You may now kiss the bride,” he announced, and Reese took him at his word. Amid laughter and clapping, he sealed the promises he'd just made with a kiss, then, prompted by the organ music, escorted his bride to the back of the church.
Too bad Brady had been called out last night and missed the rehearsal. If he'd made it, he would have been better prepared for walking down the aisle with Hallie Madison in front of every soul he knew in Oklahoma. Not that he really needed preparation. No one would get the slightest hint from him how intimately he knew her.
Jace hooked up with Bailey and followed the bride and groom, leaving Brady and Hallie facing each other. He wasn't
sure when she'd recognized himâhe hadn't caught her looking at him when she'd come down the aisleâbut obviously at some point she had. There was no surprise in her eyesâjust a sheepish, faintly embarrassed look.
They met in the center of the aisle and he offered his arm. When she slipped her hand through and rested it on his forearm, they started down the aisle.
“Fancy meeting you here,” he murmured.
“I bet you thought you were never going to see me again,” she whispered while keeping her smile in place. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
“Who's disappointed?” He should have known it was bound to happen. For fourteen years he'd allowed himself nothing more than one-night stands with strangers. The odds that he could continue forever without running into one of those women again had been growing slimmer. Now he just had to make the best of it. It shouldn't be hard. Neely and Reese were leaving on their honeymoon after the reception that night, and all the Madisons would be going home the next dayâKylie back home to Texas, Bailey to Tennessee, their mother to Illinois and Hallie toâ¦wherever.
How had he learned where home was for the rest of her family, but missed that bit about her?
“I-I'd appreciate it if you don't say anything to Neely aboutâ¦”
He fixed a steady gaze on her. “Do I look like the sort of man who would share the details of his sex life with anyone?”
“No,” she murmured.
They reached the back of the sanctuary, then moved down two steps into the foyer. As soon as Del and Kylie joined them, an usher closed the doors, Reese immediately kissed Neely again, and Hallie pulled away. She clasped her hands together and looked everywhere except at him. “Iâ¦uhâ¦” An expression of great relief crossed her face when Neely joined them.
“So you two have met,” Neely said, hugging her sister before rising onto her toes to brush a kiss to Brady's cheek. “Isn't he gorgeous?” she asked, beaming as she wiped the lipstick from
his skin. “But don't get any ideas, Hallie. I've got plans for him and Kylie.”
The warning created a panicked look in Hallie's eyes as she glanced from Neely to him to her younger sister. Brady wished he could tell her not to worry. Neely might intend to hook him up with Kylie, but he had no intention of letting her set the hook. He wasn't interested in the baby of the Madison family. He damn sure wasn't interested in anyone who lived in Texas.
“I've been fresh out of ideas of that nature for about six months now,” Hallie said, fooling her sister with her careless manner but not Brady. He wondered what had happened six months ago that had turned her off romantic entanglements and most likely put that stress in her eyes. Obviously, she'd been hurt, and more than likely he'd heard something about it from Neely. Damned if he could remember, though.
“Oh, you'll get over it,” Neely said, then thoughtlessly added, “You always do. Brady, come on and let me introduce you to Kylie. She is such a doll.”
Brady let her pull him down the hall, where she left him while she went to retrieve Kylie from her conversation with Reese and Jace. “Such a doll” was about as accurate as a description could get. Even her voice had a little-girl quality to it. He wasn't sure how old she wasâprobably somewhere between twenty-five and thirtyâbut she looked about sixteen. There was no way he could even think about doing anything with her without feeling as if he were committing some statutory offense. But he talked to her, and then to Baileyâor, at least, he listened to them. Like Neely, neither of them appeared to be the least bit shy.
And what about Hallie? She was hugging the wall as if she'd rather be anyplace else. Shy? Or uncomfortable because of him? There had been nothing shy about the way she'd approached him in the bar Thursday night. But then, he knew better than most that the way people behaved in bars could be very different from their usual manner. He'd broken up more than his share of bar brawls started by some normally shy woman or unassuming man.
After a few minutes, the usher opened the doors to the sanctuary again. While they'd been waiting in the foyer, the guests
had left the church through a side door and moved to the pavilion in the park across the street where the reception would be held. Now the sanctuary was empty for photographs.
It seemed the picture-taking took longer than the ceremony had, but finally they were finished. He was wondering what kind of luck he would have slipping out the door and heading home when Reese clapped him on the back. “Don't even think about it.”
“About what?” Brady asked, keeping his expression bland.
“Going home. Not before Neely gets a dance with you.”
“The thought never crossed my mind,” Brady lied.
“Yeah, right. I know being social isn't your favorite thing. You'd rather be home alone watching TV with a pizza and a beer.”
Brady shrugged, then quietly said, “Well, you did it.”
Reese glanced at Neely, coming their way, and smiled a satisfied smile. “Yeah. I did. Who knows? Maybe you'll be next.”
“No, thanks. Been there, done that.”
And had the scars to prove it.
When Neely had told her they were having their reception outside, Hallie envisioned a setting similar to the parties she'd held back home in Beverly Hillsâthe pool sparkling in the night, the lush gardens perfuming the air, acres of emerald-green grass and uniformed servers attentive to the guests' every need.
The scene surrounding her was quite different. They were in a park that was basically one square block with a pavilion in the center. Lights had been strung from tree to tree and around the canopies circling the pavilion, and a band had set up on a stage nearby. The grass was parched from Oklahoma's typical hot summer with too little rain, and the only servers were keeping the occasional fly away from the cake and the small hands out of the grown-ups' punch.
But this party had something hers never hadâa sense of joy. Real affection and friendship. A warm sense of home.
Her sister had landed herself in the midst of some very nice people. Hallie had gotten introductions to plenty of them after the cake was cut, and she thought she'd kept them pretty straight
in her mind. Over the next few weeks she would have a chance to find out.
After taking a bottled water from a tub of ice near the punch table, she found a place to lean against the massive trunk of an oak tree and watched the dancing in the pavilion. A couple of friendly young men had asked her to dance, but she'd politely refused. Kylie and Bailey weren't refusing any offers. They hadn't missed one tune in the past half hour. They had each danced once with Brady Marshall, and so had Neely.
When Hallie had peeked around the hallway before the ceremony started and spotted him standing with Reese and his family, she had practically swallowed her tongue. She'd tried to sound casual and merely curious when she'd returned to the classroom they were using for a dressing room and asked Neely about him, but with her face flushed and her voice breathy like Kylie's, she wasn't sure she'd pulled it off.
Neely hadn't told her muchâjust his name, that he would be the acting sheriff while she and Reese were gone and that he was a good friend. At the time Hallie had thought she was too distracted to say much else. Now she knew her sister had been saving the good stuff for Kylie.
Frankly, Hallie couldn't see him with Kylie.
Not that she cared. She'd sworn off men for the rest of her life, except for occasional flings. She was never getting serious, never getting married and for darn sure never getting divorced again. She couldn't survive it. And since love came with no guarantees, she wasn't giving it another try.
Though it seemed that Neely had gotten her guarantee. The way Reese looked at herâas if she were the most important person in his life, as if he were the luckiest guy in the world to have herâwas enough to make Hallie's heart hurt. Had any man ever looked at her like that? No, not even the three she'd married.
And they'd divorced her. One because she refused to use the drugs he couldn't live without, one because she was a drag, and Max because she wasn't young enough. For heaven's sake, she'd just turned thirty the very day he'd told her that!
She was certainly being a drag tonight. She was happy for
Neely, truly she was, but there was a part of her that just wanted to go back to her motel and hide.
“You having a good time, baby?”
The voice was her mother's, and Hallie had only a moment to paste on a bright smile before facing her. “Yes, Mama, I am. How about you?”
“I couldn't be happier. Neely finally married.” Doris Irene smiled. “We've come to expect weddings from you, but I'd just about given up hope Neely would ever settle down.”