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There Goes the BrideTHERE GOES THE BRIDE

Silhouette Special Edition #1522
Kane’s Crossing
February 2003
ISBN: 037324522X

Stop That Bride!

Instead of heading down the aisle toward a man she didn’t love, ex-beauty queen Daisy Cox hightailed it out of the church, landing at the feet of brooding loner Rick Shane. When Rick begrudgingly helped Daisy flee Kane’s Crossing and her powerful groom-not-to-be in his private plane, neither one of them expected passions to ignite. Yet once they did, both tried to deny it. But maybe Rick could make room for Daisy in his emotionally bereft life, and maybe Daisy would actually walk all the way down the aisle one of these days…

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Excerpt from THERE GOES THE BRIDE

Rick Shane thought he was losing his mind. Again.

He’d been standing in a dark corner for about a half hour now, doing his best to distance himself from the revelry of his niece’s seventh birthday party. The last thing he expected to find as he stared out the bakery window was a buxom, blond bride sprinting down Main Street, Cinderella dress hiked over her knees to reveal shapely white-stockinged calves. The part he liked best was when she’d skidded to a halt, her ample breasts all but spilling out of her neckline. Rick liked that part a whole lot.

Then he realized who this bride was.

The satin dream burst through the door, welcome bells jingling over the obnoxiously joyful music. She seemed out of place among his jeans-and-leather clad relatives and friends.

Behind the service counter, Nick Cassidy snapped off the stereo system as everyone else stared at the bride.

She straightened, and Rick grinned as he recognized the stance from high school. He’d always gotten a good rise out of Daisy Cox’s feistiness.

“Excuse me,” she said, breathless. “May I hide behind your counter?”

Meg Cassidy guided her wobbly-legged twin son and daughter to her husband, Nick. Unfazed, she nodded. “Certainly.”

“Thank you.” Daisy Cox rushed behind the Formica structure, leaving the party in stunned, statue stillness.

Rick shook his head and laughed to himself. “Only in Kane’s Crossing,” he muttered.

His brother, Matthew, slumped in a nearby booth and kicked a cowboy-booted foot over a knee. Their friend, Sheriff Sam Reno, sat across from him. Both of them were biting back their own smiles.

As the rest of the partygoers watched, Daisy Cox disappeared behind the counter, leaving a trail of white satin as she tucked herself away. The material peeked around the corner, a dead giveaway to her location.

Rick shook his head. This was definitely the topper to his day. Not only was he surrounded by pregnant women--both Meg Cassidy’s and Ashlyn Reno’s waistlines were starting to pooch, and his own sister-in-law, Rachel Shane, was expecting, too--but now he had to add a bride to the list of love-is-in-the-air reminders. All these hearts and flowers were making him downright discomfited.

His younger step-sister, Lacey, pursed her lip-glossed mouth, darting a glance from Daisy’s satin to Rick. Nice. He knew the look. It meant that she was about to tell him to get off his lackadaisical rear end and do something.

As she approached, Rick couldn’t help prefacing her baby-sister bossiness with a zing of sarcasm. “Yes, your Flashdance-ness?”

Lacey adjusted her off-the-shoulder sweatshirt and frowned at him. Hell, he couldn’t help it. It was too much of a temptation to poke fun at her ever-changing wardrobe.

“Rick, you were in the same high school class as Daisy Cox was.”

He pretended to turn the matter over in his mind. After a sufficiently maddening pause, he said, “I guess I was.”

“Then go talk to her.”

Rick could feel his sibling, Matthew, as well as the brood brothers, Nick and Sheriff Sam, staring at him. No help there.

He said, “We weren’t bosom buddies, Lacey.” Though the thought of getting to know the bosom part of Daisy Cox didn’t seem all that bad of an idea.

Lacey shot him the look of instant death, the kind only a sister could get away with. “Rick Shane, you go make her feel welcome.”

Meg Cassidy and Ashlyn Reno had taken on expectant expressions, too. Even Rachel, the sister-in-law who’d always treated him like an important part of the family--

which he knew wasn’t the case--started getting a disappointed tilt to her lips. That did it. That, and the curious glances of his niece, Tamela, and little Taggert Reno, the adopted son of Ashlyn and Sheriff Sam.

Jeez, he couldn’t look like a jerk in front of the kids.

He aimed a lethargic shrug at Lacey, emerged from his dark corner and ambled toward the bridal satin peeking out from behind the counter. Someone had the presence of mind to turn on the music again so Fats Domino could softly croon over Rick’s attempts at friendliness.

He leaned against the wall, arms crossed, peering down at the bride beneath the Formica. She’d drawn her knees to her chest, resting a chin on the gleaming material of her gown. Her tiara and veil had gone lopsided, almost lost in a swirl of blond ringlets.

A protective urge tugged at his heart, and he wondered why she’d been running down the tiny streets of Kane’s Crossing in a wedding dress. This was a quirky town but, come on.

He thought back to high school, to a girl who’d rarely attended classes because she’d been traveling the state for her beauty pageants. He’d always kind of had the hots for her, had always wondered if a beautiful goody-goody girl like Daisy Cox would even give him the time of day.

But he’d never found out. After graduation he’d run off to a far-away land and lost himself, leaving no room for idiotic fancies.

Daisy’s voice brought him back to the moment. “I remember you. Rick Shane, right?”

The fact that she recalled who he was sent a jolt of memory, of lonely hunger through his veins. He ignored the emotion, half-nodding to acknowledge her words.

“Daisy Cox.” He drawled out her name, stretching it between them with the slow ease of a man slipping satin from a woman’s shoulders. He liked the sound of it, the impossibility of it.

Her blue eyes widened for the slightest second, then narrowed a bit. There. That was a little more familiar. She’d worn the same expression every time he’d leaned against the Spencer High lockers and ushered her down the hall with a suggestive grin. She’d been hard to get, the girl voted most likely to be too good for a guy like Rick Shane. It had fed his fantasies all the more.

But that was before his life had changed. Before he’d been forced into manhood in a little country on the other side of the world.

“Hey, Rick,” said his brother, Matthew. “We’re gonna have company in a few seconds. Maybe you could pretend that you’re having a conversation with something other than the counter.”

The hard-edges of a comeback curse lined Rick’s mouth, but he held it back. Leave it to Matthew to act superior.

Rachel, his sister-in-law, smiled at him, cushioning his temper. He stood away from the wall and bent to whip Daisy’s dress out of sight. Then, as Daisy scooted over, he hunkered beneath the counter just as the door bells tinkled.

Daisy gasped, probably from nerves. She shifted next to him, gathering her gown around her body as his arm pressed into hers. The contact felt nice, warm, soft, just like her spring-meadow perfume. Rick’s body heated just by breathing her in.

Mrs. Spindlebund’s voice creaked over the music. He could picture the elderly toothpick woman with her salt- and-pepper bunned hair and permanent sneer as she said, “Good afternoon,” to the party.

Everyone murmured a returned greeting. Daisy tilted her head, and a ringlet brushed Rick’s cheek. He couldn’t help thinking of the last time he’d felt a woman this close, breathing next to him, her hair tickling his skin. A twinge of longing shook him to the core, awakening a sleeping agony.

Mrs. Spindlebund continued. “I know you people are busy with important events,” there went that sneer during the word important, “but have you seen Daisy Cox?”

Rick could imagine his friends and relatives shrugging and tightening their smiles.

“Well.” Mrs. Spindlebund was, by now, probably fixing a glare on all present. “She couldn’t have disappeared.”

Rachel, who’d endured run-ins with the elderly gossip goddess in the past, had evidently come to the end of her rope. “Mrs. Spindlebund, we’ve been celebrating my daughter’s birthday. Daisy Cox would have no interest in this party.”

“Very well.” He could almost see the suspicion in Mrs. Spindlebund’s slitted eyes. “And, Rachel Shane, don’t think for one minute that Mr. Tarkin didn’t notice your absence from his wedding today. He’s your horse farm partner, after all.”

Nick Cassidy didn’t think much of nosy news hens, either. He asked, “Can you blame a family for choosing their own kin over business, Mrs. Spindlebund?”

The bells on the door sang out. The elderly woman must’ve opened it, preparing to leave. Daisy relaxed against Rick, and he fought the urge to slip an arm around her, reassuring her with his touch.

Cut it out, he told himself. You promised you’d never get close to anyone again.You can’t afford to let down another woman.

As usual, Mrs. Spindlebund had the last word. “You people think you’re above the rest of us. What you did to the Spencers was unconscionable. You won’t treat Mr. Tarkin the same way.”

Ashlyn Reno, a Spencer daughter who’d been disowned when her lawbreaking parents had left town, raised her own frosty voice. “Don’t let the door hit your bony bustle on the way out, Mrs. Spindlebund.”

After an emphatic “hmph,” the door clanged shut, leaving the faint aftermath of bells and the silence of an ended song.

Sheriff Reno’s voice filled the emptiness. “From my window view, it looks like the wedding guests are searching every building.” He paused. “Ms. Cox, you’re a wanted woman.”

Rick glanced at her, watching as her face took on a sundown-hued blush. Long ago, he had loved to get her flustered, loved to see her flush and tilt up her chin after snubbing him.

But now, her reddened skin was more than a sign of agitation. It was the prelude to tears.

As one rolled down her cheek, Rick forgot himself. He thumbed away a wet globule from her skin and asked, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

 

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From the book: There Goes the Bride
By: Crystal Green
Imprint and Series: Silhouette Special Edition
Publication Date: 02/03
ISBN: 037324522X
Copyright: 2003
By: Chris Marie Green
R and TM are trademarks of the publisher.
The edition published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
For more romance information surf to: http://www.eHarlequin.com