A Bride For The Runaway Groom May 2015


Millionaire to say "I do"—at last!

PR whizz Rose Huntingdon-Cross is drowning under work, but when asked to organize a celebrity wedding party, she can't say no! She enlists millionaire Will Carter to help—after four almost-weddings, he's got plenty of experience!

Working alongside this gorgeous-but-enigmatic bachelor, Rose can't help wondering just why he's still single! And as a heart-stopping bond develops between them, dare Rose hope that she can persuade Will this is a once-in-a-lifetime love—that will finally have him saying "I do"?

CHAPTER ONE

Something wasn’t right.

No, scratch that. Something was very, very wrong.

Everything should be perfect. Her sister’s wedding yesterday had been beautiful. A picture perfect day with a bride and groom that truly loved each other. It was a joy to be a part of a day like that.

But, by midnight, the three days of jet lag that she’d been ignoring had finally caught up with her and she’d staggered to bed and collapsed in a heap, catching up on some much needed sleep.

Her new brother-in-law, Seb had a house to die for. Hawkesley Castle, a home part Norman, part Tudor and part Georgian. The room she was in was sumptuous and spacious with the most comfortable bed in the world.

At least it would be – if she were in that bed alone.

She could hear breathing, heavy breathing, sometimes accompanied with a tiny noise resembling a snore.

Right now, she was afraid to move.

She hadn’t drunk much at all yesterday – only two glasses of wine. Because of the jet lag they’d hit hard. But not so hard she’d invited someone into her bed.

She’d attended her sister’s wedding alone. No plus one for Rose.

There had been no flirtations, no alluring glances and no invitations back to her room. And this definitely was her room. She opened her eyes just a little to check.

Yes, there was her bright blue suitcase in the corner of the room. Thank goodness. She hadn’t been so tired that she’d stumbled into the wrong room. Seb’s house was so big, and she’d been so tired, it might have happened.

But it hadn’t.

So, who was heavy breathing in her bed?

She didn’t want to move. Didn’t want to alert the intruder to the fact that she was awake. She could feel the dip in the bed at her back. Turning around and coming face to face with a perfect stranger wasn’t in her plans.

She needed to think about this carefully.

She edged her leg towards the side of the bed. Stealth mode. Then, cringed. No satin negligee. No pyjamas. Just the underwear she’d had on under her bridesmaid dress that was lying in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the bed. Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Her painted toenails mocked at her. As did her obligatory fake tan. Vulnerable. That’s how she felt. And Rose Huntingdon-Cross didn’t take kindly to anyone who made her feel like that.

Just at that the stranger moved. A hand slid over her skin around her hip and settled on her stomach. She stifled a yelp as her breath caught in her throat. Something resounding a comfortable moan came from behind as the stranger decided to cuddle in behind her. The sensation of an unidentified warm body next to hers was more than she could take.

She slid her legs and body as silently as possible out of the bed. The only thing close to hand that could resemble a weapon was a large pink vase. Her heart was thudding against her chest. How dare someone creep into bed with her and grope at her?

She held her breath as her feet came into contact with the soft carpet and she automatically grasped the vase in both hands.

She spun around to face the intruder. In other circumstances, this would be comical. But, right now, it felt anything but comical. She was practically naked and a strange man had crept into bed beside her. How dare he?

Who on earth was he? She didn’t recognise him at all. But the wedding of an Earl and a celebrity couple’s daughter was full of people she couldn’t even take a guess at. Undoubtedly he was some hanger-on.

If her rational head was in place she would grab her clothes and run from the room, getting someone to come and help with the intruder.

But Rose hated being thought of as a shrinking violet. For once, she wanted to sort things for herself.

She padded around to the other side of the bed in her bare feet, hoisting the vase above her head just as the stranger gave a little contented moan.

It was all she needed to give her a burst of unforgiving adrenaline. The initial fear rapidly turned to anger and she brought the vase down without a second thought. “Who do you think you are? What are you doing in my bed? How dare you touch me!” she screamed.

The vase shattered into a million pieces. The guy’s eyes shot open and in one movement he was on his feet – fists raised and swaying.

He blinked for a few seconds. Bright blue eyes, big, blue eyes with a darker rim – that didn’t look the least bit predatory, but a whole lot shell-shocked, then dropped his fists and clutched his head.

“Violet, what on earth are you doing? Are you crazy?” He groaned and swayed again, one of his hands reaching out to grab the wall – leaving a blood-stained mark on the expensive wallpaper.

She couldn’t breathe. Her heart was thudding against her chest and her stomach was doing crazy flip-flops. “What do you mean, Violet? I’m not Violet.”

This just wasn’t possible. Okay, Violet was her identical twin. They didn’t usually look so similar, but a few years stateside and not seeing each other on a daily basis meant she’d shown up with an identical hairstyle to her sister three days before the wedding.

This clown actually thought he was bed with her sister? What kind of a fool did that?

He was still shaking his head. It was almost as if his vision hadn’t quite come into focus. “But of course you’re Violet,” he said.

“No. I’m not. And stop dripping blood on the carpet!”

They both stared down at the probably priceless carpet that had two large blood drips, and the remnants of the vase at his feet and across the bed.

He grabbed his shirt from the chair next to the bed and pressed it to his head. It was the first time she’d even noticed his clothes –discarded in the same manner as her yellow and white bridesmaid dress.

His eyes seemed to come into focus and he stepped forward, reaching one hand out to her shoulder. He squinted. “Darn it. You’re not Violet, are you? You haven’t got her mole on your shoulder.”

His finger came into contact with her skin and she jumped back. One part of her knew that this ‘intruder’ wasn’t any danger to her. But another part of her was still mad about being mistaken for her twin and being felt up by her twin’s boyfriend. How on earth could this be explained? This guy was obviously another one of Violet’s losers.

Violet burst through the door. “What’s going on? Rose, are you okay?” Her eyes darted from one to the other. The guy, in his wrinkled boxer shorts and shirt pressed to his forehead, and Rose, in her bridesmaid underwear. The broken vase seemed to completely pass her by.

She wrinkled her nose in disgust and shook her head. “Will? My sister? Oh, tell me you didn’t?”

They didn’t sound like words of jealousy – just words of pure exasperation.

She threw her hands in the air and spun around, muttering under her breath. “Runaway groom my sister and I’ll kill you.”

Rose, was feeling decidedly exposed. The only thing she could find to hold in front of herself was her crumpled bridesmaid dress.

Whoever he was, he obviously wasn’t Violet’s boyfriend – not with that kind of reaction. But did that make things better or worse? She’d still been groped by an absolute stranger.

He wobbled again and sagged down into the chair strewn with his clothes, arching one eyebrow at her. “So, crazy twin. Do you assault every man you meet?”

“Only every man who climbs into my bed uninvited and cops a feel!”

“Well, lucky them.” He sounded oh-so unimpressed. Then he frowned. “Did I touch you? I’m sorry. I was sleeping. I didn’t even realise I’d done that.”

The blood was starting to soak through his shirt. She cringed. Maybe the vase had been a bit over the top. And at least she’d gotten some kind of apology.

She stepped forward and took the shirt from his hand. “Here let me.” She pressed down firmly on his forehead.

“Youch! Take it easy.”

She shook her head. “The forehead’s a very vascular area. It bleeds easily and needs a bit of pressure to get the bleeding to stop.”

“How on earth would you know that?”

“Friends with children who seem to bang their foreheads against every piece of furniture I own.”

He gave her half a smile. It was the first time she really noticed how handsome he was. There were no flabby abs here. Just a whole load of nicely defined muscles. With those killer blue eyes and thick dark hair he was probably quite a hit with the ladies.

A prickle flooded over her skin. In the cold light of day this guy seemed vaguely familiar.

“How do you know Violet?” she asked.

He winced as she pressed a little harder. “She’s my best friend.”

Rose sucked in a deep breath. Things were starting to fall into place for her. Because she’d been working in New York she hadn’t met Violet’s best friend for the last few years. But she had heard a tonne about him.

She pulled her hand back from his forehead. Now she understood what Violet had said. “You’re the runaway groom?” She was so shocked she dropped her dress.

A single dark red drop of blood snaked down his forehead as he looked at her in disgust.

“I hate that nickname.”

The Runaway Groom. No wonder he looked vaguely familiar. He’d been on the front page of just about every newspaper in the world. Self-made millionaire Will Carter had been famously engaged three, or was it four? times. He’d even made it down the aisle once before turning on his heel and bolting.

The press should hate him. But they didn’t. They loved him and ate it up every time he fell in love and got engaged again. Because Will was handsome. Will was charming. And Will was sitting semi-naked in front of her.

She was trying so hard not to look at the abs and the scattering of dark hair that seemed to lead the eye in one direction.

She gave herself a mental shake just as a heavy drop of blood slid past his eye and down the side of his face. She leaned over to catch it with the shirt, just as he lifted his hand to try and brush it away.

Their skin contacted and the tingle shot straight up her arm making her heart rate do a strange pitter-patter. All the little hairs on her arms stood on end and she automatically sucked in her stomach.

“Look, I’m sorry about your head. But I woke up and there was a strange man in bed with me – then you touched me and I was frightened.” And she hated saying those words out loud but since she’d caused bodily harm to her sister’s best friend it seemed warranted. She raised her eyebrows. “You’re lucky it was only a vase.”

His gaze was still on her. “So you’re Rose?” It wasn’t really a question – more an observation and it was obvious from his expression that a million thoughts were currently spinning through his brain. What on earth had Violet told him about her?

He looked at the fragments beneath his feet and gave a half-smile. A cute little dimple appeared in one cheek. “Oh, you’re definitely not going to be Seb’s favourite sister-in-law. At a rough guess that’s over two hundred years old.”

A sick feeling passed over her. Defence was her automatic position. “Who puts a two hundred year old vase in a guest bedroom? He must be out of his mind.”

He shrugged. “Your sister obviously doesn’t think so. She just married him.”

Daisy, Rose’s youngest sister was still floating happily along on cloud two-hundred and nine. And Seb seemed a really sweet guy. Just as well since she’d told her sisters just before the wedding that two were about to become three. The first baby in the family for more than twenty years. Rose couldn’t wait to meet her niece or nephew, and she was doing her best to ignore the vaguest flicker of jealousy she’d felt when Daisy had told her.

She frowned. How much did a two hundred year old vase cost anyway? She lifted the shirt again and winced. “Hmm.”

His eyebrows shot up. “What’s hmmm?”

“Hmmm means it’s deeper than it originally looked and I think you might need stitches. Maybe I can get you a packet of frozen peas from the kitchen?” She paused and looked around, “Do you even know where the kitchen is in here?” Even as she said the words she almost laughed out loud. Seb’s kitchen would probably spontaneously combust if someone even said the words ‘frozen peas’ in it. Daisy really had moved into a whole different world here.

He shook his head and placed his hand over hers. His hand was nice and warm, whereas hers was cold and clammy. Another thing to annoy her. He wasn’t nearly as worked up as she was. This was all just another day in the life of the Runaway Groom. How often did he wake up next to a strange woman?

“What were you playing at anyway? You might be Violet’s best friend but why on earth would you be climbing into bed with my sister? It’s obvious from Violet’s reaction that there’s nothing going on between you. What on earth were you doing?”

Will gestured his head towards her suitcase. “If I’m going to need stitches why don’t you get dressed? You’ll need to take me to the hospital.”

He hadn’t answered her question. Did he think she hadn’t noticed? Of course she did.

And the assumption that she’d take him to the hospital made her skin bristle.

All of a sudden she was conscious of her distinct lack of clothes. She slid her hand out from under his and moved over to her suitcase, cursing herself when she remembered he’d just had a big view of her backside.

Still – if he sometimes bunked in with Violet - then he was used to being around her sister in a semi-naked state. She glanced backwards. He didn’t seem to have even noticed. Was she relieved or mad? She couldn’t work it out. Apart from a few freckles, moles and little scars - one of which he’d already noted – she and her sister were virtually identical. Maybe that’s why he wasn’t looking? He’d seen it all before.

She grabbed a summer dress from her case and pulled it over her head. A little rumpled and yesterday’s underwear still in place. Not the best scenario. But she didn’t fancy fishing through her smalls to find a new set while he sat and watched in his jersey boxer shorts that left nothing to the imagination.

“Don’t you have a bride in waiting that can take you to hospital?”

He scowled at her. “Not even funny, Rose. You work in PR, don’t you? Surely you know better that to believe everything you read in the papers?”

His words were dripping with sarcasm. The nerve she’d apparently just touched ran deep.

She folded her arms across her chest. “But I thought most of the time you sold those stories and worked them in your favour.”

“What made you think that?” he snapped.

“Oh, I don’t know. The ten-page photo spreads in Exclusive magazine. How many of them have you featured in now?”

He gritted his teeth together. “Not my idea.”

It was good to see him uncomfortable. Waking up with a strange guy in your bed was horribly intimidating. To say nothing of the discomfort and embarrassment. What if she snored – or made strange noises in her sleep?

And he still hadn’t answered the question about sleeping with her sister. What exactly was the deal? His eyes were still fixed furiously on her and the blood was soaking through his shirt. She decided to give him a little leeway.

She gestured towards him, “What about you? You can’t wear that shirt. Where are your clothes?”

He wrinkled his nose. “I’m not sure. I ran in here at the last minute yesterday. I think my bag might be in Violet’s room.”

“Violet’s room?” She said it bluntly, hoping he’d take the hint and decide he should go there. But if he did, he ignored it.

“Yeah, would you mind running along and grabbing something for me?” He had that smile on his face. The one that was usually plastered all over the front page of a magazine, or on his face when he was charming some reporter. It was almost as if someone had flicked a little switch and he’d just fallen into his default position. His voice and smile washed over her like a warm summer’s day. Boy, this guy was good. But she was determined not to fall for his charms.

She folded her arms across her chest. “I will. But only because I’ve probably scarred you for life. I’m not Violet. I’m not your best friend – or your bed buddy. Once I’ve taken you to the hospital, we’re done. Are we clear?”

His Mediterranean sea blue eyes lost all their warmth. “Crystal.” He waited until she’d reached the door before he added, “And you’re right. You’re not Violet.”

He watched her retreating back as she stomped out the door. His head was definitely muggy and he wasn’t quite sure if it was from the alcohol last night, or the head injury this morning.

Part of him felt guilty, part of him felt enraged and part of him was cringing.

Last night was a bit of blur. He’d just made it to the wedding on time and hadn’t eaten a thing beforehand. His charity commitments were hectic and he was anxious not to let people down, which meant he’d been pulling on his tie and jacket in the sprawling car park at Hawkesley Castle. A business call had come in just as dinner had arrived so he’d missed most of that too. Then the party had truly started. And Violet had mentioned something about staying in her room as she’d fluttered past in her yellow and white bridesmaid dress.

A bridesmaid dress he’d definitely seen on the floor as he’d stumbled into the room. She’d been sleeping peacefully with her back to him and he hadn’t even thought to wake her. Actually, he knew better. If he’d shaken Violet awake to let her know he was there she would have killed him with her bare hands.

Maybe the sisters had more in common than he thought?

It was strange. He’d never once considered Violet in a romantic sense. They’d clicked as friends from the start. Good friends. Nothing more. Nothing less.

He trusted her. Which was a lot more than he could say of some people. She gave it to him straight. There was no flirting, nothing ambiguous. Just plenty of laughs, plenty of support and plenty of ear bashing.

But Violet’s identical twin…well she was a whole different story.

It didn’t matter they looked so similar it was scary. They were two totally different people. No wonder they got annoyed when people mixed them up. And you couldn’t get much more of a blunder than the one he’d just done.

But it wasn’t the blunder that was fixating in his head. It was that little missing mole on her left shoulder. The memory of her skin beneath the palm of his hand. And the site of her tanned skin and rounded backside when she’d turned to get dressed. They seemed to have imprinted on his brain. Every time he squeezed his eyes shut, that was the picture he saw inside his head.

He stood up and walked over to the en suite bathroom. He grimaced when he saw his face. It was hardly a spectacular sight. His shirt – worn once – was ruined. Not that he couldn’t afford to buy another one. But he’d picked this one up especially for the wedding. Even millionaires didn’t like waste.

He stuck his head back out the bathroom. Maybe he should put his trousers back on? Meeting someone for the first time dressed only in jersey boxers was a bit much – even for him. But every time he lifted his hand from his forehead the blood started gushing again. Struggling into a crumpled pair of trousers one-handed was more than he could think about.

He couldn’t help but smile. He knew Violet well. Her sister Rose? He didn’t know her at all. This was their first meeting. And she obviously wasn’t bowled over by him.

Will wasn’t used to that. Women normally loved him. And he normally loved women. This was a whole new experience for him.

There was more to Rose Huntingdon-Cross than met the eye. And he’d already seen more than his fair share.

He could even forgive the Runaway Groom comments. Violet said her sister was a PR genius and she’d handled the whole publicity for their father’s upcoming tour and charity concert.

Maybe he should get to know Rose a little better?

Rose strode down the hall. She could feel the fury building in her chest. The audacity of the guy. Who did he think he was?

She pushed open the door of her sister’s room. “Violet? What on earth is going on? Why would the Runaway Groom be in bed with me – and think I was you? Why would you be in bed with that guy? And why would he be touching?”

Violet was leaning back on her bed drinking tea, eating chocolate and reading a celebrity magazine. She lifted her eyebrows at her sister and started laughing. “You didn’t hook up with Will?”

“No! I didn’t hook up with Will! I woke up and he was lying next to me. He thought I was you!”

Violet folded her arms across her chest and looked highly amused. “He doesn’t like the Runaway Groom tag.”

Rose rolled her eyes. “So I gathered.”

Violet grinned. “Will copped a feel?”

Rose shivered and waved her hand. “Don’t even bring that up.”

Violet shrugged and continued to drink her tea. “So, it was a simple mistake. I’d say send him back along the corridor, but,” she paused and raised her eyebrows giving Rose that oh-so-knowing smile, “I’m thinking this looks a whole lot more interesting than that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rose was getting mad now. Neither Violet nor Will was really giving anything away about their relationship and she couldn’t understand why it irked her so much.

“Violet, come and take your plaything back. I don’t have time for this. I’ve got a hundred things to sort out for dad’s tour. Another set of wedding rings to make for a couple who are getting married in two weeks. And a Runaway Groom who needs his head stitched. Be a good sister and take him to the hospital for me?”

Violet shook her head and jumped off the bed. “Not a chance dear sister. You caused the injury, you can try and make it up to Will. He can be very good company I’ll have you know.”

She gave Rose a little nod of approval. “By the way, Daisy and Seb’s wedding rings? Probably the nicest I’ve ever seen. That’s what you should be doing. You’re wasting your talent running Dad’s tours for him.”

Rose sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. A little surge of pride rushed through her chest. Violet’s opinion mattered to her. “Making those rings was the best thing I’ve ever done, Vi. I know I’ve made lots of different pieces for brides and bridesmaids before. But making something for your sister?” She smiled and gave her head a little shake. “And watching the person she loves with her whole heart give it to her and knowing that she’ll wear it for a lifetime? You just can’t beat that.”

A flicker of something passed over Violet’s face. Not annoyance. Not frustration. Just…something.

“I’ll make your wedding jewellery for you too,” she added quickly.

Violet let out a laugh. “I’ll need to find a groom first. In fact, we both do. Our baby sister’s gone and beat us to it.”

Rose leaned backwards on the bed, propping herself up with her elbows. “I know.” She lifted one hand up, “And she’s done it in such style. Do we really need to call her Lady Holgate now, or Countess? Because I can tell you right now,” she shook her head, “it’s never, ever going to happen.”

The two of them laughed out loud and collapsed back on to the bed. “Daisy Waisy it stays.”

Rose turned her head to look at her sister, leaning over and picking up a strand of her blonde hair. “You know, Rosey Posey we almost look like twins. We’ll have to do something about these hair do’s.”

Violet sighed. “I know. I couldn’t believe it when I saw you the other day. Maybe I’ll go back to curls.”

“Don’t you dare. That frizzy perm was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

Violet laughed and shook her head. “Oh no, the worst thing I’ve ever seen was you kissing Cal Ellerslie at that party years ago.”

Rose’s shoulders started shaking with laughter and she shuddered. “Oh yuck, don’t remind me. I still feel sick at the thought of that. He was all tongue. The guy had no idea what he was doing.”

She turned on her side and rested her head on her hand. “Is there anyone you’ve been kissing lately?”

Violet sighed again. “You’re joking. There are absolutely no decent men around.”

“What about Will – your runaway groom?” She was prying and she knew it. But she couldn’t help but ask the question out loud. Violet had been talking about Will for months. Maybe Rose just hadn’t been paying enough attention.

But Violet’s eyes widened. “Are you joking – Will?” She let out a snort. “No way. I mean – I love him to bits – just not like that. Never like that. I trust Will. Completely. I’ve been in his company lots of times, sometimes even raging drunk. He’s a gentleman through and through. He’s the kind of guy that sees you home, puts you to bed and stays with you until morning.” She wrinkled her nose. “In fact, I’ve done the same for him. We’re good company for each other.” She smiled. “And every time he gets engaged, I get to buy a new wedding outfit with matching shoes and bag. What more could a girl want? Even if they never get an airing.”

Rose rolled her eyes. She knew better than most that Violet couldn’t care less about wedding outfits, shoes and handbags. She was much more down to earth than most celebrity’s kids. They all were. “Yeah, right.”

But Violet had drifted off. Her eyes were fixed on the ornately decorated ceiling, carved with cherubs. “There’s just no spark between us, Posey. None. Not even a little zing, a little tingle.” She turned her head to face her sister on the bed. “You know what I mean?”

Oh boy did she. She’d felt that little tingle shoot up her arm like an electric shock. She blinked. Her sister was looking at her with her identical big blue eyes. They were unyielding. Their bond was strong. She’d always been able see inside Rose’s head – even when Rose didn’t want her to.

Rose shifted uncomfortably on the bed. But Violet blinked. For once, she was lost in her own little world. “I mean, there’s got to be someone out there.” She regained her focus. “For both of us,” she added quickly.

Rose smiled. It was the first time she’d ever seen her sister actually contemplate a future partner. Maybe the fact their younger sister Daisy had beat them both up the aisle and was going to be a mother had made their biological clocks start to tick. It was an interesting concept. And one she wasn’t quite sure she was ready to explore.

Coming back to England had been hard enough. Visiting in the last three years had been painful. Everything seemed to be a reminder of that dreadful night a few years ago. The one that was imprinted on her brain like a painful branding.

But sisters were sisters. She couldn’t really stay away too long. She still spoke, Skyped or emailed her sisters every day. Not even an ocean – or a tragic death could come between them.

But now her father’s tour was coming back to Britain. It was big news for the band. A relaunch after a few quiet years – with only an annual charity concert - followed by a brand new album. And she had to be here, in England, to deal with the last few PR issues. Her quietly building wedding jewellery business would have to be pushed to the side for a few months. She needed time to focus on the final details of the tour.

The last thing she needed was any distractions. And that’s exactly what the runaway groom was – a distraction. Even if he did make her arm tingle.

Rose rolled off the bed. She hated that little feeling at the pit of her stomach. The one that had given a little flutter when her sister had assured her there was nothing between her and Will.

Nothing at all. Funny how those words were so strangely satisfying.


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