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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS



I would like to thank Sian-Elin Flint-Freel who did a great job editing this book. Her suggestions, corrections and all-round support were invaluable. Thank you so much.


Thanks also go to my family who have to live with me, and friends who choose to put up with me.



WARNING



This book is for adults only.





DEDICATION



To lovers of romance and suspense everywhere






THE AMERICAN BEST MAN



A CHESHIRE LOVE STORY



Mollie Blake






COPYRIGHT



Copyright 2018 Mollie Blake





TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Other Books by this Author

About the Author




Chapter 1



Lauren, just keep still while I fasten this damn zip.”

Emily was almost red in the face, pulling in her stomach in sympathy with her best friend, Lauren Chandler, head of Chandler Fashion House. Lauren was only a size eight but this dress felt like it could have been at least a size smaller. Either that or the soon-to-be-bride of enigmatic Byron Lord was living more comfortably these days and had gained a few millimeters since her last dress fitting.

Emily frowned. In part it was to focus on the task in hand. But it was also testament to the fact she was still cross with Lauren. “Are you sure this is your dress?”

For goodness sake, Em. It shouldn’t be that damn difficult. The seamstress managed to fasten it last week.” Lauren breathed in once more, a little surprised by the forcefulness in the actions of her bridesmaid.

Got it!” Emily gasped before gritting her teeth. Now for the decorative laces of the bodice. For a moment she smiled as the image of some cowgirl out of Annie Get Your Gun sprung to mind—a boot pressed against her friend’s back as she struggled to tie the young woman into her corset. It was a shame these laces were fake and only required hooking over exquisite pearl buttons. Emily could have taken out her frustrations of the last few months by pulling the threads really tight!

Finally, Emily stepped back to admire her handy work. It had only taken twenty minutes to get Lauren into one of the most beautiful wedding gowns Emily had ever seen. With a river of cream silk flowing from the tightfitting streamlined bodice, the dress had been designed by Lauren’s own creative director, Pete Pritchard. Emily had to hand it to Pete, it was a work of art just perfect for this bride. And boy, did Lauren look stunning. Her slender neckline was exposed, leading to an ample bosom nestled enticingly in the silk, revealing a cleavage of perfect depth. Framed by tendrils of cocoa brown hair escaping from discreet clips, Lauren’s face was a picture of elegant beauty as she beamed with delight.

Wow! You look beautiful. I hope this guy is damn well worth it. You’ve hardly known him five minutes, and I don’t know him at all.”

Lauren glanced at her friend, sensing her barely disguised resentment. So this was what had been bothering Emily. “Look, I know you’re pissed because you’ve only met him once but things have been really hectic. He’s been busy sorting out family matters, as well as making sure the farmhouse renovations are completed when we get back from honeymoon. But I promise I’ll arrange for you to come over for dinner as soon as we’re settled in. Oh, Em—” Lauren flashed a broad grin. “—my life will never be boring again. I know you’ll love him when you get to know him.”

Emily wasn’t so sure. She was having difficulty trusting a man who had changed her friend’s life so completely in less than a year. Not to mention one who had virtually kidnapped her for a couple of months during which Lauren had contacted Emily only once. Even then she had never mentioned this guy. Although the two girls didn’t live in each other’s pockets, Emily was still hurt by the fact that Lauren had felt she needed to keep her relationship with Byron Lord a secret from her own best friend.

But Lauren’s wedding day wasn’t the time to start moaning—or rather carry on moaning. Emily realized she had done very little but grumble since Lauren announced her wedding. Now she put on her best smile and kissed the bride-to-be on her cheek, careful not to leave a lipstick mark.

Right, the veil. I’ll go get Pete.” There was no way Emily would even contemplate attempting to attach the stunning cobweb-like creation to Lauren’s hair.

Fifteen minutes later, with the bride’s attire complete, Emily’s own tall, slim figure was encased in a silk gown of ink blue, her blond tresses cascading over bare shoulders and tickling her naked back.

There was a knock at the door. James Chandler was permitted to enter Lauren’s childhood bedroom. He paused at the doorway, taking a few moments to admire his daughter. Her achievements in business had always filled him with pride, but now he was stunned by her beauty.

Finally, he managed to speak. “Shall we go?” he asked quietly, ready to escort his daughter to the Rolls Royce waiting to drive them to the church in Wilmslow.





Chapter 2



The church was almost full as Emily walked down the aisle behind Lauren. She caught a glimpse of Byron standing at the front taking a sneaky peak at his bride-to-be. She also caught site of a shock of peroxide blonde hair standing next to him before turning her attention to the guests on each side of the aisle. Everyone was drinking in the enchanting vision of the bride. The Chandlers were a well-connected family and Emily knew Lauren’s parents had invited nearly all those connections—family, business and social acquaintances.

She spied Lauren’s brother, Sebastian, sitting next to their mother, Alice. There were three other people in their pew, but she didn’t recognize any of them.

Playing the role of dutiful bridesmaid, Emily’s face bore a broad smile as the small procession advanced to the front of the church.

Well, I hope this is just one of the happiest days of your life, Lauren, and not the only one. She bit her lip at her skepticism—just because she didn’t believe a woman needed a man to make her happy, it didn’t mean that a man couldn’t make her best friend happy. Over the last couple of weeks, it was only too clear that Lauren Chandler was most definitely a very happy woman.

“You need to hold the flowers for her.”

Shit! thought Emily, startled by a sexy American drawl. She stared at the bouquet in Lauren’s outstretched hand.

Annoyed and with a shaking hand, Emily snatched the flowers from Lauren before holding her head up and glaring at the peroxide-blonde-haired man.

“Come and sit down, Emily, darling.”

The soft voice of Mrs. Chandler brought her to her senses and she finally sat down.

As the service began, Emily let her mind wander. Having reached the age of thirty-one she had been to more than her fair share of weddings and had long ago given up fretting over which wedding gift to buy. It would only be a matter of time before her friend would be asking if she wanted it back. Well, that was never going to happen to her.

Suddenly an image of a small child invaded Emily’s mind, sending a shiver down her spine. She shook her head and caught sight of the bouquet resting at her side.

I wonder which poor sod is going to catch that later, she thought, glad of the distraction.

Before she knew it, Emily was following the happy newly-weds into a small vestry to sign the register. The tall American squeezed in beside her.

“Hi.”

It was barely a whisper and Emily turned to look at the man. So this was Travis Dean, the best man who hadn’t even bothered to show up for the rehearsal. Emily had sacrificed her Pilates class to let Lauren tell her exactly what she had to do on the big day. Fat lot of good it had done since she hadn’t even remembered to take the bouquet off her!

Hello,” Emily managed to mumble under her breath, but not before staring a little too intently at two brown eyes and that peroxide blonde hair. It looks ridiculous, she thought, as she quickly turned away.

After signing the register, there was time for a few photographs before heading back to the Chandler family home for a sumptuous wedding breakfast under a lavish marquee.

Taking her place on the bride’s side of the small group, Emily felt obliged to smile brightly in front of the camera. With the American best man standing on the other side, there was no need for her to converse with Travis any more.

It was as they began to leave the church that her attention was captured by something much more to her liking. The man could only have been a few meters away and, for a second, Emily indulged in scrutinizing his high cheekbones and a trace of designer stubble shadowing a firm jaw. His silky golden-brown hair left her wanting to run her fingers through it, and she almost swooned when two rich green eyes held hers for a second. Unfortunately, they weren’t accompanied by a smile. Still, he was standing alone. It looked as though the rest of the day could get interesting as Emily made a mental note to speak with Lauren about this gorgeous guy and find out who he was. But as more photos were taken outside Emily knew she wouldn’t be talking to Lauren any time soon. And the man and his green eyes had disappeared into the crowd.







In the garden, back at the Chandlers’ mansion, the enthusiastic photographer continued in earnest. Emily managed to smile in all the right places when her presence was required, and focused on the waiter handing out champagne to the guests when it wasn’t—she didn’t want to miss the opportunity for a top-up. All this “happy couple” business made her acutely aware of her “singleton” status, and the standing around reminded her all too painfully of her feet trapped in her elegant but uncomfortable Jimmy Choos.

This is the part I bloody hate.

“Why’s that then?”

Bugger, she hadn’t meant to say that out loud. Emily turned to face Travis. “Oh. It’s just all this waiting around.” She swirled the remains of her champagne around the crystal flute before gulping it down. Swaying ever so slightly on her stiletto heels she decided it would be a good idea to hold back from having any more welcome drinks—this was her third and she hadn’t eaten for several hours.

“Do you mind?” she asked. “I just need to go to the bathroom.”

Of course, there was no way she was going to try to go to the loo in her bridesmaid dress but she didn’t want to admit to the American that her need for food to soak up the alcohol was becoming quite urgent. There had been enough embarrassing moments in front of him already.

As she tottered across the perfectly manicured lawn with as much dignity as high heels on grass allowed, Emily glimpsed the immediate Chandler family posing for what she hoped was a final photograph. James and Alice were glowing with pride for their daughter. Their son, Sebastian, was with them, and next to him were the people he sat with in the church. Emily still had no idea who they were and she was suddenly intrigued. Why are they included in such an intimate photograph? Presumably they were close members of the family but she couldn’t recall Lauren ever mentioning them.

That was hardly surprising, though, as Lauren and her brother weren’t particularly close, and Sebastian rarely came up in conversations. But Emily couldn’t ignore a nagging feeling that her friendship with Lauren had become distant over the past few months. Ever since she had met Byron, in fact. She was no longer up to date with what was going on in her friend’s life and it saddened her to think their friendship might become even more distant now that Lauren was married.

Breaking from her gloomy thoughts, Emily spotted a waiter wandering among the guests, proffering a tray of delicious looking canapés. She headed straight over and devoured a lobster and avocado delicacy in one bite.

“Just wait a minute,” she mumbled when she saw that the waiter was about to continue to circulate, desperately wanting to grab another mouthful before he did.

No sooner had she bitten into a fragile vol-au-vent of mushroom fricassee than she felt the warm sauce dribble down her chin. “Dammit!”

Here, let me help you with that.”

Emily stared up as Travis reached out and dabbed a crisp white napkin at the corner of her lip.

Damn, that man gets everywhere! “Thanks,” she muttered before licking her lips.

Feeling suitably cleansed and respectable once more, Emily studied him for a moment, her eyes resting on that white hair. Actually, it suits him.

“It’s genetic.”

“Pardon?”

My hair, the color. I’m afraid it’s something of a family trait. My dad was totally white by the time he was twenty-eight. I managed a couple of years longer. Thought it looked quite cool when I was thirty. But now…well, I guess I’m just gonna look ridiculous until I’m about…fifty.”

Well, it’s not that bad.”

Shining eyes stared at her.

Er. I’m Emily Moorcroft by the way.” Moorcroft! Really! She sounded like a prospective schoolteacher introducing herself to the headmaster at a job interview. For fuck’s sake, get a grip!

Right. Travis. Pleased to meet you, Emily Moorcroft.” His eyes were still smiling. “Do you want me to call you Miss Moorcroft?”

Ha, no. Em is fine.”

“I never know with you English.”

Emily stared at his outstretched hand. She wondered where on earth Byron had found this guy. She also wondered if Travis was trying to guess where the hell someone as sophisticated as Lauren Chandler had found Miss Emily fucking Moorcroft!





Chapter 3



By now it was half past four and Emily was in need of more sustenance, and she wasn’t the only one. Hungry people were beginning to take their seats for the reception. The canapés had done little to soak up Emily’s champagne, and with the memory of Travis’ hand making her feel unusually warm on the inside, Emily wanted to keep her wits about her. This sort of thing didn’t happen to her, not since the incident.

She shot a quick glance at Travis and couldn’t help noticing his confusion as he glanced at the long “top” table. There were only four empty seats. The middle two were clearly for the bride and groom. The two remaining seats were at opposite ends of the table.

Emily pointed to the vacant chair next to Mrs. Chandler. “That’s your seat.”

She turned to head to her own next to Mr. Chandler, but not without hearing what sounded like a very disappointed “Oh.”

About to pull her chair out, Emily was suddenly surprised when Travis caught her arm.

Allow me.” He held the chair and waited.

In normal circumstances she would have told him she could manage but she was stunned into silence. His helpful gestures were so natural and inoffensive. And that warm feeling was beginning to get hot.

Instead, she smiled and sat down, smoothing her hands over the cool silk of her bridesmaid dress.

During the meal, and in between conversations with the father of the bride, Emily studied the other guests. She spotted a woman with the same stunning blue eyes as Byron. Her dark brown hair was the same color too. That had to be his sister.

At the first mention of the wedding, only a few weeks ago, Lauren had hinted that Byron’s sister might be a bridesmaid with Emily, but she later declared that Ron, as she was known, had declined, saying she preferred to sit next to her husband, Nick. Apparently, that had been another very quick wedding.

Next, Emily turned her attention to Sebastian’s table. Lauren’s brother was the reserved member of the family and kept himself to himself. In fact, Lauren claimed to know very little about him since they had grown up and left home. But Emily did know that he lived in a Cheshire mansion and owned a motor racing track. Now she had a bit more time to study those people with him.

The elegant woman sitting next to him oozed sophistication. She also appeared to be a few years older than him. The man sitting next to her looked much younger, and they were laughing about something. Then Emily saw the green-eyed, incredibly handsome man she had spied earlier at the church. He was sitting at their table. She felt only a slight disappointment when he flashed a captivating smile at a pretty woman sitting next to him, and she wondered if that was because she could still remember the American’s warm handshake, and the care he had taken to hold her chair for her.

When the father of the bride stood up to give his speech, her “people watching” was temporarily put on hold.

James Chandler wasn’t known for his sense of humor. As such speeches go, this one was not very funny. But it was filled with gushing pride—the pride of a father who had witnessed his daughter use her talent for fashion design and shrewd business acumen to make Chandler Fashion House a very successful company.

As the father’s speech came to an end all eyes turned to the best man. Travis stood up.

Well. What can I say, folks? Bryon and I go back a long way. Over the years we shared everything—” There was a pause as Travis beamed at the guests, his eyes filled with mischief. “— from racing motor bikes to beautiful women.”

There was silence as everyone looked from Travis to Byron. And then to Lauren. Emily’s view was obscured by James but she could see the shock on the faces of the other guests. Only Sebastian was laughing.

Travis was unperturbed. “We didn’t share trophies though. Much as I would like to have held as many as he did. But the best thing about our friendship is to see Byron so happy with his wonderful wife. To have won his love is an honor and a deserved one, Lauren. I don’t need to wish you luck for the future. I know you will have a fantastic, happy life bound by your love for each other. Few couples get to make such a union for life and it’s a real privilege for me to be here to share this precious day with you both.”

Emily leaned forward to gaze at the American, intrigued by his words, but also touched by the depth with which he spoke of the newly-weds’ love. The couple had been together less than a year, and Emily was still worried that Lauren might come to regret what she was doing. The fact Emily hardly knew Byron corroborated that concern in her eyes.

Travis, on the other hand, clearly knew Byron very well, and had, seemingly, gotten to know Lauren quite well too. The thought left Emily feeling strangely jealous of the closeness these three appeared to share. She was beginning to wonder why Travis was so convinced that they loved each other. Enough to expect a very long and happy future together. But then who was she to think everyone shared her skeptical opinion of marriage?

Tearing her attention away from the best man, Emily glanced at Lauren. Her eyes widened as she saw her kissing Byron as if there was nobody else in the marquee.

A toast to Mr. and Mrs. Lord.” Travis raised his glass and everyone was glad to look away from the newlyweds who were still lost in their intimate kiss.





Chapter 4



“I’m glad to get five minutes,” Lauren sighed as she joined Emily on the large sofa in her childhood bedroom.

The two girls had sneaked inside the house for a brief break from the celebrations and the chance to change out of their dresses. Although they had been sitting down for the best part of two hours enjoying extravagant food and champagne, and tolerating small talk with some of the less well-known guests, the relief of slipping shoes off and giving their feet a much-needed rub was very welcome.

So, you’re still intent on leaving soon?” Emily asked.

“Yes. Byron would only agree to this big do if we left early and stayed at the airport tonight before flying out for Peru tomorrow. Our first dance will be our last.”

“Your honeymoon sounds fantastic.”

I know. A tour around Peru, including a visit to Machu Picchu, followed by a quick stay in Indiana. We’ve got so much to look forward to. I’m going to enjoy every minute. Before we know it, we’ll be saying goodbye to Travis in Indianapolis and heading home. And I’ll be back at work as Mrs. Lauren Lord.” Lauren blushed and laughed. “Sounds like a porn star!”

Emily frowned. “I thought you’d keep Chandler.”

Ha, I’ll leave that to Sebastian. Although I think he’s already feeling the pressure of being the last in the family line.”

Emily was about to ask if Lauren thought her brother would ever have kids, but she changed her mind—Sebastian was such a closed book she was pretty sure Lauren wouldn’t have a clue. Instead, Emily asked about something that had been bugging her. “How close were Byron and Travis then?”

Oh, they travelled on the race circuit and used to live together.” Lauren saw a hint of suspicion in Emily’s eyes. “And before you ask, no, they are not gay, or bi. They’re just close friends who happen to like similar things.”

Emily could have sworn Lauren’s cheeks turned a darker shade of pink. “And women?” she asked, remembering Travis’ somewhat unusual speech.

Well, goodness knows what they got up to when they were both in the States.” Lauren stood up and began to pull on a Roland Mouret wide-legged jumpsuit in blush pink wool crepe, the shoulders left temptingly bare. “Anyway, why are you asking? Do you like Travis?” She slipped her feet into nude L. K. Bennett kitten heels and stared at her reflection in the mirror.

I’m not interested in him, if that’s what you mean. I just got the impression he and Byron are close. I mean, you’re going to see him on your honeymoon, for heaven’s sake. That seems pretty damn close.” Emily paused. “Is there something you’re not telling me?” She got the distinct impression Lauren responded a little too hastily.

“Of course not. Travis is a nice guy and it would be silly to miss an opportunity to see him when we’re over that way.”

Emily stretched back on the sofa, not falling for Lauren’s brush off. “Oh, don’t give me that. It’s nearly as far from Peru to Indianapolis as it is to Manchester. You can hardly say it’s on your way.” She suddenly sat up. “Lauren, are you sure you really know the man you’ve just married?”

For goodness sake, Em. After what we’ve been through together, yes, I know him. It’s not a question of how long I’ve known him. It’s all about how much I’ve found out about him. And him, me. We like what we’ve discovered and believe me, in the short time we’ve know each other we’ve been through more than some people go through in a lifetime. But in answer to your question, yes, I know Byron and I love him so much it’s hard to think of ever being without him.”

Not wanting to admit that she might be jealous about the fact that her best friend had clearly found her forever guy, Emily decided to change the subject. “Well, it looked as though everyone has enjoyed today. Who was the guy with the green eyes?”

Lauren smirked. “I wondered if you’d spot him. His name is Lawrence Bane. He’s a friend of Byron’s, big into motorbikes, and stuck like glue to his girlfriend, Suzy Harper. I think they’re going to get married.”

Emily raised her eyebrows. “I had hoped he was single when I saw him on his own at the church. I didn’t see the girlfriend with him then.”

I don’t think she could make the ceremony. She’s only just got back from Paris. Byron had to be quite persuasive to get Lawrence to come on his own. He doesn’t socialize very much. But I think he was hoping to talk to Travis. Something about arranging some races at Sebastian’s track sometime.”

Emily sipped her champagne as she watched Lauren coat her lips in a Chanel Rouge lip gloss. “So, will Travis be likely to come back to the UK?”

Lauren glanced at her through the mirror. “He usually comes over a couple of times a year. As I said, he and Byron are very close.” Then she turned to face Emily. “Do you like him?” She shifted her stance, resting her weight on one hip, clearly waiting for a direct answer this time.

From the tone of her friend’s voice, Emily got the feeling that her answer would carry far more gravity than the simple question seemed to warrant. For a split second, she wondered if Lauren didn’t actually want her to like Travis. “I’m not sure. I think he’s quite good looking, and his hair’s grown on me.” Emily tried to detect a reaction from Lauren but her friend’s face was impassive. Emily sighed. “To be honest, I haven’t really paid that much attention to him.” Actually, that wasn’t the whole truth. She’d been avoiding him for most of the day. Possibly to the extent of being rude. Since holding the chair for her to sit down at the reception, Travis Dean hadn’t spoken to her again. Emily was still wondering why that left her feeling more than a little disappointed. “Anyway,” she added, trying to sound uninterested, “I don’t think he’s my type.”

Lauren turned to head to the door. “Right then. Shall we go and join the others?”

Emily stared at her back, stunned at the sudden end to their conversation.

There was a knock.

“It’s okay, we’re decent,” Lauren called.

Byron strode in. “Hey. I’m missing you here. If I have to make any more small talk with people I don’t know, I might just have to whisk you away before we’ve even had that first dance.” He glanced at Emily, who had finally vacated the sofa and moved over to the window. “Excuse me, Emily, but I really need my wife right now.” Byron wrapped his strong arms around Lauren’s waist and squeezed, making sure she could feel the hardness of his erection pressing against her.

“That will have to wait a bit longer,” his wife whispered, ending any hope he had for some fun before leaving for the hotel.

The ensuing kiss was brief as Byron glanced at the bridesmaid. Then he looked into his wife’s dark eyes. “Can we go now?”

Dance first. But yes. Everything’s in the car ready for Edward to drive us to the Hilton. We’ll see you downstairs, Em.” Lauren grabbed her bag and headed for the landing, asking Byron where Travis was.

Emily stared after the newlyweds, suddenly feeling very lonely.





Chapter 5



The music was already playing by the time Emily returned to the marquee wearing a figure hugging full length dress in red satin, the back revealing a distinct lack of underwear. She grabbed a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, suddenly feeling rather too sober, in contrast to earlier.

Emily, you look gorgeous, darling.” Alice Chandler, Lauren’s mother, took her arm. “Come and meet some people. You know Pete, and have you met his boyfriend? He’s quite a dish.”

With that Emily was whisked over to a table occupied by Lauren’s friends and work colleagues. As someone rabbited on about how fantastic the grounds of the Chandler home were, Emily gazed around at the other guests.

Then she spotted him. The peroxide blonde hair was talking with Byron. The two men laughed.

So, what do you think?”

“Sorry?” Bugger, Emily hadn’t really been listening to the man sitting next to her. He was chief buyer at one of Lauren’s top clients. Emily had met him a couple of times in the past but there had been nothing significant to remember him by.

To coming out on my yacht sometime. I blew the whole of last year’s bonus on it.”

Your bonus would be the only thing worth blowing, thought Emily, her eyes trying to catch Pete’s attention. He would be far more entertaining to listen to.

Suddenly the background orchestral music was interrupted.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the bride and groom.”

Emily watched as Byron whispered in Travis’ ear before wrapping his arm around Lauren. The action was possessive. And sexy.

The new Mr. and Mrs. Lord glided on to the dance floor as the sensual, erotic sound of Rhianna’s Skin filled the marquee. Emily’s smile widened at the same time Travis’ did. For the next minute everyone seemed mesmerized by the sexy movements of the couple on the dance floor. Their bodies connected so intimately as if Rhianna’s words portrayed their exact need—to get naked.

Trust you, girl! Emily couldn’t resist a peak at Lauren’s father. She caught him just as his eyes left the dance floor and began to focus on the crystal tumbler of whisky in his hand. He must have known he had lost his daughter. There was no way Byron Lord was going to share his wife with anyone.

“I believe it’s customary for us to join them now.”

Emily looked up at the American. The sensuous song, much more suitable for a last dance rather than a first, was about halfway through. Turning back to see Lauren and Byron swaying in sensual union, Emily’s vagina began to tingle. It was the first time in a very long time, and she clenched with the confidence of a woman who was enjoying her own secret. There was no way Travis could know the effect he was beginning to have on her.

Suddenly feeling more than a little devilish, she gave the yacht guy a smoldering glance. “Do you mind if I just have this one dance. He is the best man and I am the bridesmaid after all.”

As she got up, she suddenly felt yacht guy’s hand on her backside, and immediately regretted her glance. How fucking dare he!

“I’ll keep your seat warm.”

Suddenly Travis grabbed her hand.

She’ll be plenty warm,” he hissed at the other man as he pulled Emily on to the dance floor.

Byron and Lauren were too wrapped up in each other to notice they had company.

Travis placed his hands on either side of Emily’s waist. She waited a second for him to pull her close. But he didn’t. There was no further bodily contact. Feeling more than a little awkward, Emily placed her hands on his shoulders and gazed up at him. He was staring at her and she couldn’t help thinking he looked pissed off. Well, so what? She was beginning to think she would be glad when this night was over. Travis was clearly regretting asking her to dance, and she was definitely regretting leading yacht guy on.

So far Emily had spent the day feeling frustrated. She was afraid she was losing her best friend, and she was confused by the affect Travis Dean was having on her. She hadn’t met anyone like him before, and there was something suspicious about the way Lauren spoke about him.

To make matters worse, as the dance continued, unwanted memories invaded Emily thoughts for the second time today. Knowing Lauren had a happy life ahead of her, and that she hadn’t made the same mistakes as Emily had, the weight of guilt and fear began to press down. She tensed. For a second her eyes followed Lauren and Byron’s fluid movements. It only served to amplify the awkwardness she felt with Travis’ hands on her.

Then, almost as if her partner sensed her distress, things changed. Travis began to sway and his motion swept Emily along with him. They were still barely touching, and yet Travis’s hold on Emily was firm, and she could feel his strong shoulders beneath her palms. They were warm and muscular. Travis didn’t consume her with his body in the way Byron was consuming Lauren, but he didn’t let go of her either. His hold was possessive. Not ever wanting to be possessed by a man, Emily couldn’t deny the unexpected pleasure of dancing with him like this. Her guilt and fear of a moment ago had gone. It must be the intimacy of the song, she decided, the words just put your skin, baby, on my skin leaving her wondering what Travis’s skin would feel like on hers.

As the music died away, the bride and groom separated after one last kiss. Their audience were still a little stunned by the erotic dancing and everyone seemed thankful when the more traditional tones of Abba’s Dancing Queen invited them on to the dance floor.

For a moment Emily thought Travis was going to continue to dance, but instead he leaned in and whispered, “Thanks for the dance. I believe our duties are complete now. Enjoy the rest of the evening, ma’am.”

Ma’am! Not only did it make her feel like an old maid, Emily was bitterly disappointed. For the last few moments of that dance, she had felt feminine, sexy even. Suddenly she had the urge to tell Travis this. But he was gone. She caught sight of him chatting with Byron and Lauren. It was tempting to go and join them but she decided against it. Travis was right—their duties were over, no need for her to have to speak to him again. Any chance of getting to know him was lost.

Instead, Emily took a deep breath and went in search of Pete and his friends. There was always fun to be guaranteed at his table, despite yacht man, and right now, without Travis to distract her, Emily needed a good laugh, something to hold back those dark memories which were threatening to break her.

Before the dancing queens had barely finished their dance, the DJ announced that the newlyweds were about to leave the party. But first, the bride was poised, ready to throw her bouquet. Some of the more eager guests gathered around within target range and stared up, eyes filled with hope, ready to catch the rather large floral display which was hurtling towards them.

There was a triumphant shout.

“Mine!”

All eyes turned to the flamboyant Pete who was waving his prize in front of the face of a worried looking Adam, his boyfriend.

Lauren laughed and gave her creative director an affectionate hug. “Congratulations. Let me know the date, and it better not be before we get back from honeymoon.”

It took the next half hour for everyone to express their goodbyes and share embraces. Emily was beginning to believe she wasn’t going to get the chance to say her own farewell to the bride, and was considering sidling out of the marquee, when her best friend tapped her on the shoulder and directed her to a quiet corner.

You’re still my best friend, you know.”

Emily sighed. “I know. And ditto. Married women can still be friends with singletons, right?”

“Defo. I’ll call you as soon as we get back. Now go and enjoy the rest of the party. I don’t mind if you want to go after Travis, honestly I don’t.”

Emily stared at her in disbelief. Why did her friend feel it necessary to say such a thing? Did she think Emily was waiting for her permission? She was about to ask what the hell that was supposed to mean when Byron’s words put a halt to any further girl-talk.

Let’s go.”

As she watched the happy couple leave the marquee, Emily was left feeling lonely once more as Beyoncé began singing to all the Single Ladies.





Chapter 6



“Okay, I’m just going to get some fresh air.” Emily smiled at Pete as she got up to leave the table.

Outside, the moonlight flooded the lawn. She checked her watch. It was eleven o’clock. Her taxi wasn’t due until midnight, but she was ready to go home. The disturbing memories were growing more vivid and no amount of dancing, drinking or chatting seemed to hold them back.

Entering the house in search of somewhere quiet to sit and wait for her taxi, she overheard voices coming from the orangery.

So, you’ll come over in August next year and put on a display?”

Emily recognized the voice of Lauren’s bother, Sebastian.

If you’ll do it, I’m sure we’ll be able to persuade Byron to join in.”

She didn’t know that one. She inched to the doorway, careful to stay unseen in the shadow of the hall. It was the green-eyed dish and he was standing right in front of her.

“I should be able to tie it in with my trip to Silverstone. I’ll add a few days on to my schedule.”

That was Travis. So he’ll be back in the UK next August.

Then she heard someone shout out, “Hey, Sebastian! We’re ready to leave. Are you coming?”

Sebastian confirmed he’d be right there and everyone started to move.

Hopefully they’ll exit through the garden, thought Emily, so she could remain unnoticed in the shadows. She breathed a sigh of relief. But his words startled her.

Ah. You’re here.”

She stared at Travis before glancing around to see if anyone else was still in the orangery. It was empty. “Er, yes. I was…just going to get a glass of water.”

Travis turned back to look around the room. There was no sink or tap. His eyes returned to study Emily.

“Look.”

He sounded hesitant. Emily waited, trying not to shake.

“I was wondering if there was any chance?”

She remained silent, her heart racing. He was close and she could smell his cologne—it was sexy, and she was beginning to feel hot.

I mean. If you wanted to come back to my hotel maybe. You’ve bugged me all day, and I just need to know if I have any chance?”

Emily gulped. She was used to one-night stands. They suited her. Tonight didn’t have to be any different. A guy she hardly knew. A room she could soon forget. Why not?

But this time felt different. She was tingling with anticipation. The idea of seeing and feeling this man’s body was very appealing, but the thought he would leave in the morning and she would never see him again was getting in the way. And she couldn’t figure out why that should bother her. It should make it easier, shouldn’t it?

Then the image of a child crept into her thoughts like a drifting fog. She couldn’t think straight.

I—I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

His look of disappointment caught her off guard. On the odd occasion she rejected the offer to spend a night with a guy, the usual response was a shrug of the shoulders, an ‘okay’ and perhaps ‘another time maybe.’ She couldn’t recall anyone looking so disappointed.

Is it because you don’t like me? ’Cos I’ll stop pestering you if it is. You better let me know ’cos I’m gonna ask you again. Spend the night with me, Emily. I think you and I can have some fun.”

The shock from his words blasted the fog away. After all the brush-offs she’d given him today, her moans about wedding bouquets, photographs, people she didn’t know, how on earth could he think she might be fun? Yet from the way his eyes were twinkling, Emily just knew he could be. Perhaps it would be a nice way to end the night. So what if he was leaving tomorrow? A cold shiver slid through her and she fought hard to ignore it. She turned to head down the hallway. “Okay. Let’s go.”





Chapter 7



The short journey from the Chandlers’ residence to The Stanneylodge Hotel seemed to take forever.

In the back of their taxi, Travis was beginning to feel uneasy. Emily had been quick to grab her things and say her goodbyes to the other guests, but she had been slow to say anything to him. He was beginning to wonder if she really did want to come back with him. Usually his magnetic charm worked well with women. They always seemed pleased to be with him. One or two were even disappointed when it was over between them. Even he was disappointed sometimes. He knew he had slept with far too many women over the years. It left him doubting he could ever be satisfied, fearing that he would never find the right woman. There had been a couple of longer-term relationships, one in particular getting his hopes up for a happy future with someone. But they hadn’t lasted

Now he gazed for a moment at the woman by his side, who was staring out of the window. What was it about her? For sure she was attractive and, always a sucker for an English accent, he loved the way she talked. But it was the rare time he caught a glimpse of her laughing that enthralled him, especially when she was with the guy who had designed Lauren’s wedding dress. Her laughter lit up her normally serious face. It had a melodious sound, as though she was singing her laugh. And it was infectious. As he quietly observed her from a distance, unable to hear her conversation, he would find his smile widening every time he heard that laugh. If he wasn’t already staring at her, he soon turned to do so. It left him regretting he hadn’t the guts to walk over and join in their conversation.

Travis was a loner but a confident one. If he saw something he wanted he would step right in to take it. That included getting to know a woman. In any other circumstance he wouldn’t hesitate to go over and introduce himself. But Emily Moorcroft had been avoiding him all day. When wedding tradition threw the best man and bridesmaid together, she was quick to get away from him as soon as their duties were over. Yet he couldn’t get her out of his head. Lauren had said very little about her best friend, so he had nothing to go on. Nothing to start a friendly conversation with her. She had scorned him when he tried to help her. So what chance did he have to simply talk and get to know her?

The fact she agreed to come back to the hotel with him had left him stunned. Now he was so nervous he was almost regretting asking her. But the anticipation of being alone with her and hopefully getting intimate, was stronger than any regret.

He took a deep breath, tentatively placing his arm along the back seat of the taxi and smiling to himself—at thirty-five he was too old for this. When Emily turned to face him he leaned forward, studying her expression to see if she was going to let him kiss her. He was certain she raised her head ever so slightly, so he closed his eyes and let his lips brush against hers.

They were soft and warm. And still there. She hadn’t pulled away. There was a sweet moan as her fingers ran through his hair, and Travis lost himself in the intensity of that first kiss. Her lips parted and his tongue delved inside. The taste was heavenly. Everything about this woman was turning him on. His arms held her close and he prayed she wouldn’t end it. Not yet.

“Ahem… that’ll be eight pounds.”

The kiss was broken. Travis grabbed his wallet from his back pocket. Emily got straight out of the taxi and stepped onto the pavement, staring up the road, away from Travis.

Keep the change,” Travis called through the driver’s window. Turning to Emily he held his hand out. “Shall we?”

He stared at Emily’s hand as she slowly placed it inside his. Squeezing it tight, he was surprised by the relief that swept through him.





Chapter 8



Once inside the hotel, Travis headed straight for the stairs. He had already calculated that he needed to leave at quarter past twelve tomorrow lunchtime to catch his flight back to New York and on to his home in Indianapolis. Even with only hand baggage and having already checked in on-line earlier, that would be cutting it fine. Yet he wanted to make the most of the time they had together.

While he held the door open, Emily stepped into the boutique hotel room and gazed at the super king-sized bed. It didn’t exactly fill the spacious, well-lit, welcoming room, but it gave a certain prominence to the reason of their being there.

Emily was beginning to feel nervous. She quelled the threat looming up inside her—the threat to change her mind and declare this was a mistake.

I think the bathroom’s just through there.”

Travis pointed to a door at the side, and Emily wondered if he suspected she might be having second thoughts.

She forced a smile. “Thanks. I’ll just, er, use it.”

The woman in the mirror stared at Emily. Emily stared back. Please, let me just relax and enjoy. She adjusted her eye makeup and added a layer of lipstick.

After washing her hands, she returned to the bedroom. Travis was sitting on the bed. He had taken his jacket and cravat off, but he was still wearing the silk waistcoat. Emily admired him.

He stood up. “Would you like a drink? I think there’s a bar in here.” He opened a cupboard and revealed only shelves. “Ah.”

I’m okay, actually. I’ve had enough already today.”

“Right, yeah, me too.”

“It’s a nice room.”

Lauren booked it for me. Said it was near her folks’ place. They offered to let me stay at the house, but I prefer to be on my own.” He hesitated. “Well, I mean…I don’t mean you…it’s good you’re—”

It’s all right. I suppose you hook up with women for a one-night-stand quite a lot.”

“Well, not really, sometimes I guess, but I didn’t plan this or anything.”

There was a pause.

Emily sat on the bed and studied her nails in an attempt to appear nonchalant. “I do it too. This isn’t my first one-night-stand. And I’m sure it won’t be my last.”

“No, I don’t suppose so.” Travis suddenly laughed. “Not a very romantic start to our evening is it?”

Emily was surprised by his words. She wasn’t expecting romance. Just sex. Not the same thing in her book.

Travis grabbed his Barbour bag and pulled a small docking station out. Then he took his phone from his jacket and sat it on the dock. A moment later the quiet sounds of Rihanna’s provocative tones filled the room. Skin.

Do you want to do it how it should be done this time?”

His voice was incredibly sexy, and Emily could see his erection pressing against his black trousers. The room was getting warmer and the taste of that first kiss lingered on her lips. She licked them.

In one stride Travis was standing in front of her. He ran strong hands over her shoulders and breathed warm air over them. Emily pressed her palms against his chest. Her heartbeat quickened as she felt him shudder beneath her touch. So, she wasn’t the only one who was feeling the heat in here.

Finally their lips met. It was as though they had both been fearful of touching again, and yet were desperate to do so. Any thought that her memory was deceiving her, and that his kiss couldn’t have been that good, was obliterated as Emily melted into the embrace, loving the feel of this man.

The music provoked them to take their clothes off and slowly they began to undress. Shivers of anticipation ran through Emily as she could almost feel Travis’ eyes caressing every part of her body as it was laid bare. She swooned when he stepped up close and pressed his chest, dusted in light hair, against her naked body. With those strong arms he pulled her in tight and she could feel his hardness through the soft fabric of his black Armani trunks. There was no time to feel embarrassed at her nudity—Emily was lost in a world filled with desire.

You okay?” Travis whispered, skimming his lips down her neck with an uninhibited indulgence. “You taste divine.”

I—I’m fine.”

He smoothed his hands over her shoulders, and cupped her breast. “So soft,” he moaned before pressing his lips to hers.

Feeling his erection against her abdomen harden even more, Emily squeezed her fingers between their bodies. Her excitement mounted when he breathed in, inviting her to push her hand inside his trunks.

“That’s it, Emily, hold me.”

With slow, soft movements Emily eased the black cotton forward and traced a line through his pubic hair before wrapping her fingers around the warm, velvety shaft. It felt magnificent.

I want to see you.” Her words were no more than a whisper. For a second her eyes locked on to his before she withdrew her hand and stepped back.

Travis gazed at her, his eyes shining. At last he stood naked before her.

Emily drank in the vision, making no attempt to hide her scrutiny of his body, nor her admiration. Firm muscles rippled over his chest, his abdomen was tight, funneling a trail of dark hair down to a penis standing proud between two low hanging balls. Emily had seen many specimens of the male organs, but these had to be the best. To her, they were perfect.

Travis was smiling. “Have I passed the test? At least you haven’t run away.”

Emily glanced down at her naked body and smiled back. “Like this?” She held her hands out for a moment then took a deep breath and stepped towards the bed.

Before she reached it, Travis was behind her. He cloaked her body with his. The music had stopped. Now they could just hear breathing.

Emily closed her eyes and wallowed in the warmth of the body enveloping her, those strong hands fondling her breasts. The touch of his fingers as they squeezed her nipples sent shivers of pleasure dancing through her and she clenched, enjoying the tingling sensations. As his erection pressed against her back, Emily turned to face him. Once more his gorgeous lips consumed her, leaving her breathless.

Gradually Travis nudged them onto the bed. Pressing her gently back they lay together and enjoyed more kissing and caressing. Emily waited with erotic anticipation as Travis eased his hand between her legs. His fingers left a scorching trail along her inner thighs before exploring the soft, sensitive folds of skin. Swirls of pleasure began to escalate around every nerve and Emily gasped as he pressed on her sweet spot. Her clitoris was ablaze with delicious thrills. Eyes shut tight, Emily surrendered to his power to take over her body, to enrapture her completely. Her fingers clawed his shoulders as she screamed through an orgasm that gripped her for what seemed like an age, holding her at its pinnacle to seize every last gasp of pleasure.

Unaware of the true intensity of her delight, Travis continued to pepper her with kisses. His own need for release was becoming unbearable and he hovered above her.

He began to reach over the bed. “I’ll get a condom.” He hesitated. “If that’s okay?”

His question hung in the stillness between them. Emily was drifting back to reality. She gazed up at him.

This was what she wanted. His touch was wonderful. She wanted to feel him inside her. She really did.

Why, then, was she turning away from him?

Unwanted visions came flooding back.

She closed her eyes as a tear fell onto her cheek. “No…I can’t.”

Travis was startled. Fuck! He jumped off the bed, confused and suddenly angry with himself. “I’m sorry. I—I just thought we could…Aw shit! Shit!”

Emily heard the bathroom door close. She waited a moment before getting off the bed.

At the sound of the door opening, Travis turned to face her.

No, Travis. I’m sorry,” Emily whispered, leaning against the door jamb, her hands clasped as though willing him to understand.

His look of disappointment was like a punch to Emily’s gut. She had thought she could do this, but it was too much. Now she felt like a real bitch for leading him on.

“I don’t understand.” He leaned back, his hands resting on the washbasin. “I didn’t want to get this wrong with you.”

His words were hushed and they pulled at Emily’s heartstrings. Everything about him told her he cared about her.

You didn’t get it wrong,” Emily began. “I’m just not being totally fair with you.” Was she really going to make a confession? Say something she had never said to anyone before? To this man she barely knew?

Travis looked puzzled.

Emily gave a faint smile. “Can we talk?”

He reached for a bathrobe and held it out to her. “Sure.” His head hung low, his shoulders were slumped and his erection had disappeared. He grabbed the other robe and pulled it on.

They sat next to each other on the bed. In another situation, they may have shared a post-coital embrace. But this wasn’t another situation. This was their situation.

Emily began. “I get paranoid about condoms.”

Travis breathed a sigh of relief. “That’s okay, I always use them. I carry them around all the time.” Then he stopped for a moment. “It doesn’t mean I use them a lot. I mean, I don’t have sex that often. I travel a lot. With my work. I go all over the world. I have them just in case. I don’t ever have sex without them. It doesn’t mean I’m a…slut. It doesn’t make a me a bastard—”

Emily reached for his hand. “I know,” she said softly. “I know. I didn’t mean that.”

Travis looked down. “Then you’re going to have to explain, ‘cos I sure can’t figure this out.”

I’ve been pregnant.” It was a struggle to keep her voice calm, but she was managing.

He looked up. “Oh.”

I’ve never told anyone before. Not Lauren—” now her voice began to shake “—not even my mother.”

Silence lingered until Travis finally said, “Look, if you want to go, or if you’d rather I got a separate room. You don’t have to say anything.” His eyes hovered between Emily and their joined hands.

No. It’s okay. I don’t want to go. And I don’t want you to either.” She paused a moment, swallowing back sobs she was desperate to keep at bay. “But will you let me explain?”

He nodded, pushing her fringe aside to gaze into pale blue eyes. Travis appreciated the honor she seemed to be bestowing on him.

It was three years ago. I’d been dating this guy for four months. That’s a long time in my book.” Emily tried to smile but she didn’t quite make it. She looked down, pulling her hand from his to trace patterns in the cotton on the duvet. “He used a condom but it split. At the time we both ignored the fact. Didn’t let it bother us. To be honest it wasn’t the first time, and we had gotten away with it before.”

Travis waited for the “but.”

But I missed a period. I did a pregnancy test and hey presto.” Despite the exclamation, her voice was deadpan.

He reached for her hand again. He enjoyed its warmth—it made him feel close to her. She was opening her heart to him and something inside made him wanted to cherish the privilege. He breathed out when she surrendered her hand.

At first I was horrified. Scared shitless. I practically shut myself in my bedroom all day, not wanting to admit to seeing the lines on the test applicator. I thought if I didn’t tell anyone, then it wouldn’t be real. How bloody stupid, hey?”

Travis squeezed her hand. “You were scared.”

Yes. But then I calmed down and began to think. I had just landed my current job at On Trend Magazine. I’m a fashion editor. Anyway, I thought there’s no way I want a baby getting in the way of my career. Then I thought, maybe between us—me and the dad, you know—”

Travis just squeezed her hand again, urging her to continue.

“—maybe we could manage. Both parents often work full time these days. There had to be a way to make it work. So, when I had finally calmed down, I rang him to arrange to chat. We talked about having the baby. We could rent a flat together. Childcare was available virtually from birth, so I could go back to work straight away. Things didn’t need to change too much. In fact, we’d be even closer.”


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