When three is most definitely a crowd...
Do you believe in love at first sight? Jennie Hunter and Alex Dangerfield did, and they married just a few weeks after they met! But when Alex disappeared on their wedding night Jennie was left alone - and angry - in her honeymoon suite. A month later, and Jennie has given up hope of ever seeing her runaway husband again. Then Alex returns - with his toddler in tow!
Shocked to learn Alex has been married before, her first instinct is to run. Her second instinct - well, even a hard-headed businesswoman can't turn away a tiny girl who needs a nappy-change and a husband with sheer panic in his eyes. Compared to umpteen clients, one small kid will be a doddle…right?
If there was one thing Jennie Hunter had a gift for, it was getting away with blue murder. Unfortunately, her magical powers deserted her suddenly and unexpectedly one New Year's Day—around the same time a dishevelled arrangement of trumpet lilies and greenery hit her in the chest and then fell upside-down into her waiting hands.
How had that happened?
She'd been actively retreating as her stepbrother's new bride had turned her back and hurled her bouquet over her shoulder into the waiting crowd. What had Alice done? Fitted it with a homing device? Jennie wouldn't have put it past her. Since she'd got engaged to Jennie's stepbrother she'd been trying to pair all her single friends off, and Jennie had become her pet project.
A damp, puffy hand clapped her on the shoulder. 'Don't worry, Jennie. It'll be your turn soon!'
She turned to give Cousin Bernie a smile that could probably have been more accurately described as a sneer. If he'd left a sweaty mark on her vintage satin bridesmaid's dress, she'd stuff this bouquet down his throat, petal by petal.
Your turn soon. How many times had she heard that today?
She looked down at the jumble of flowers and leaves in her hands, then turned it the right way up. Why had she clutched onto it when it had collided with her? Must have been a reflex. A whole herd of single women had been frothing at the mouth at the thought of securing this prize; she should have let one of them mow her down and scoop it up. As it was, she could feel their resentful eyes on her as the assembled wedding guests surged forward to say their farewells to the bride and groom before they got into their car.
Jennie was shoved along with the rest of the crowd, still holding the offending bouquet. There was nowhere handy to dispose of it, so she really didn't have much choice. She stood at the back of the crowd for a while, watching Cameron and Alice as they said their goodbyes, and even her current healthy dose of cynicism for 'true love' couldn't stop her sighing.
Alice looked gorgeous in her nineteen thirties vintage gown, like a willowy debutante. And Cameron? Well, he couldn't take his eyes off her. And that was how it was supposed to be with newly-weds, wasn't it? The bride was supposed to be centre of her groom's universe, his reason for living.
An unplanned scoffing sound escaped her lips. She disguised it as a cough and decided that this was as good a time as any to plunge through the crowd and say her farewells. Once she'd hugged her smug-looking stepbrother she turned to Alice. The bride glanced down at the flowers in Jennie's hands and a satisfied gleam appeared in her eyes.
Jennie stifled another huff by stretching her lips wide. She held the bouquet up and did her very best to look pleased. Alice grinned back and pulled her into a hug.
'You deserve to find your special someone,' she whispered in Jennie's ear. 'Just wait until you meet him. He'll turn your world upside-down and you'll be so happy you won't know what to do with yourself.'
What a pity that Jennie had decided recently she liked her world the right way up, thank you very much. Now, if only it would consent to stay that way.
She closed her eyes briefly, trying to mentally rearrange all the things recent events had turned on their heads. It took all her effort not to let out a giant sigh. However, by the time Alice released her, Jennie's eyes were open and full of the usual sass and sparkle everyone expected to see there. She was putting on an awfully good show.
And then the bride and groom were gone, accompanied by a flurry of confetti, shouts of good wishes and the rattle of tin cans. Their car sped up the curving drive of the exclusive country house hotel and Jennie felt all the air leave her lungs in one long whoosh.
Finally, it was over.
Now Alice and Cameron had left, people would just concentrate on drinking too much, catching up with long-lost relatives and dancing in a way they would regret when they found the inevitable videos uploaded onto FriendPages tomorrow.
Her plan was to find a quiet corner, kick off her heels and toast the death of her hopes and dreams with as much champagne as she could lay her hands on.
* * *
He watched as she turned and walked away—
No. Jennie Hunter didn't just walk. Walking was too ordinary a word. But he couldn't think of either a verb or an adjective that summed up the sideways sway of her hips, the elegant length of her stride as she crossed one foot in front of the other.
The bridal bouquet hung at her side, loose in her fingers, as she navigated the gravel driveway in heels. Other female guests picked their way across the uneven surface, but not Jennie. She didn't even look down, every step giving the impression she was gliding on a smooth and polished surface. Her ash blonde hair swung round her shoulders, just short enough to give him glimpses of a long and graceful neck.
A neck he'd suddenly discovered he would dearly like to wring.
Unfortunately, that wasn't an option. Not tonight, at least.
She joined a group of people and he could hear her laugh, clear and bright above all the others. She came alive at parties. Not surprising, since she'd made them her life's work. Being one of the most talked-about socialites on the London party scene had stood her in good stead when she'd started her own event-planning business. Everybody wanted to be at a party where Jennie Hunter was.
He sighed. Seeing her here confirmed all his worst fears darkest thoughts about her. He so wanted to be wrong, but he suspected this wasn't a woman who could commit to anything for a month, let alone a lifetime. She'd fooled him. Maybe not on purpose, but he'd been duped, all the same. And that didn't sit easily with him. He was a man used to reading people in the blink of an eye, and he was rarely wrong. Why this woman? How had she managed to distract him from the truth?
He moved to get a better view of her as she approached the hotel entrance. Her recent lack of sociability had made her hard to find, but he'd known she'd planned to be at her stepbrother's wedding. Cameron Hunter had opted for a very private and exclusive affair. Friends and family had been sworn to secrecy, so it hadn't been easy to find out the exact location without causing suspicion, but he'd done it eventually.
He stepped out of the bush he'd been hiding in and straightened his tie. He hadn't crashed this wedding for nothing. Now the bride and groom had left, it was time to get what he'd come for. No, not revenge—although seeing her had started that beat pulsing inside his head—but the truth.
Who was Jennie Hunter? Who was she really?
Copyright © 2011 Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright © 2011 Fiona Harper
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books SA.
Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.
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