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Authors: Jessica Hart

Tags: #Romance

Hitched!

BOOK: Hitched!
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Here comes…

Planning the most talked about wedding of the year is enough to make engineer Frith Taylor break out in a cold sweat. She’s used to construction sites, not wedding fairs! But estate manager George Challoner’s offer of help is one that’s too good to resist.

…the unsuspecting bride!

George may be the rebel of the prestigious Challoner family, but his insanely good looks are giving Frith wedding fever! Charm personified, he’s making her feel things she hasn’t dared feel before. Maybe her little sister’s wedding won’t be the only one Frith’s planning…?

SNEAK PEEK EXCERPT FROM

HITCHED!

“I think we should get into character,” said George. “If
we're going to be really convincing when Saffron comes up next, we'd better
rehearse.” He lifted a hand to smooth a stray hair away from my face, and my
skin burned at his touch. “What do you think?”

My heart was thudding, my mouth so dry I could hardly
speak, and I couldn't have looked away from his eyes if I had tried, but I clung
desperately to the shreds of the sensible Frith I knew I really was inside.

“I'm, er, not sure that's really necessary, is it?” I
managed somehow.

“I've got a very challenging role,” he pointed out. “I'm
besotted with you, remember? I'm going to have to look as if I know what it's
like to slide my hand under your hair, like this,” he added, suiting the action
to the words. His palm was warm and persuasive against the nape of my neck. “I
should look as if I know what it's like to nibble your earlobe and kiss my way
down your throat.…”

His lips were warm, too, so warm, so sure. A great fluttery
rush of heat engulfed me and I sucked in a trembling breath.

“I don't know.…”

“As for you,” said George, cupping my cheek to hold
my face still—not that I was capable of going anywhere. “It's going to be even
harder for you.”

“It is?”

“Talk about tough,” he said as he shook his head solemnly.
“You're going to have to look as if you're used to me kissing you. I think
you'll need to practice that a lot.”

I was hazy with anticipation. “I suppose it
might
be an idea to practice a bit,” I heard myself
say.

Dear Reader,

Flicking through a glossy gossip mag, sucking your teeth at the frocks on display and shaking your head at the antics of celebrities you’ve never heard of is one of life’s great pleasures, I think. It’s one of the best parts of going to the hairdresser or the dentist or to stay with my best friend, who always leaves a couple of juicy copies on my bed “just in case” I need something to read. I might have a whole stack of worthy reading on my Kindle, but guess what I’m absorbed in, sitting up in bed with my cup of tea in the morning?

And you know, magazines like these are the perfect research tools for the new fun, flirty Harlequin KISS line. I’m so excited to be part of it, and thrilled that my secret mag habit has turned out to be work after all. Because it was thumbing through just such a magazine that gave me the idea for
Hitched!

I was reading about a spectacularly expensive wedding of a billionaire’s daughter, who was said to be the apple of her father’s eye. As an aside, the article mentioned that her older sister was to be one of her bridesmaids, and I wondered what this wedding was going to be like for her, seeing her younger sister married first, knowing that everybody knew that she was
not
her father’s favorite…. I wondered if she was happy for her sister, or dreading the wedding, and how all the complicated relationships that every family has would work out on the day.

Hitched!
has no glossy pictures, I know, but you’ll get all the gloss on the lead-up to Saffron’s wedding, and although Frith doesn’t talk to the press, you can get the inside scoop on her relationship with George right here. Enjoy!

HITCHED!

Jessica Hart

ABOUT JESSICA HART

Jessica Hart was born in west Africa, and has suffered from itchy feet ever since, traveling and working around the world in a wide variety of interesting but very lowly jobs—all of which have provided inspiration on which to draw when it comes to the settings and plots of her stories. Now she lives a rather more settled existence in York, where she has been able to pursue her interest in history—although she still yearns sometimes for wider horizons.

If you’d like to know more about Jessica, visit her website,
www.jessicahart.co.uk
.

ONE

I was having a good day until George Challoner turned
up.

It had rained almost every day since I had arrived in
Yorkshire, but that morning I woke to a bright, breezy day. By some miracle
Audrey had started first time, and I hummed as I drove along the country lanes
lined with jaunty daffodils to Whellerby Hall.

When I arrived at the site, Frank, the lugubrious foreman, had
even smiled—a first. Well, his face relaxed slightly in response to my cheery
greeting, but in my current mood I was prepared to count it a smile. Progress,
anyway.

The ready-mixed concrete arrived bang on time. I stood and
watched carefully as the men started pouring it into the reinforced steel raft
for the foundations. They clearly knew what they were doing, and I had already
checked the quality of the concrete. After a frenzied couple of weeks, I could
tell Hugh that the project was back on schedule.

Phew.

Everything was going to plan. I had it all worked out.

1. Get site experience.

2. Get job overseas on major construction project.

3. Get promoted to senior engineer.

And because I was an expert planner, I had made sure all my
goals were Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. I was
aiming for promotion by the time I was thirty, an overseas job by the end of the
year, and I was already getting site experience with the new conference and
visitor centre on the Whellerby Hall estate.

True, things had got off to a shaky start. Endless rain,
unreliable suppliers and a construction team made up of dour Yorkshiremen who
had apparently missed out on a century of women’s liberation and made no secret
of their reluctance to take orders from a female. My attempts to involve them in
team-building exercises had
not
gone down well.

For a while, I admit, I had wondered if I had made a terrible
mistake leaving the massive firm in London, but my plan was clear. I badly
needed some site experience, and the Whellerby project was too good an
opportunity to miss.

And now it might all just be coming together, I congratulated
myself, checking another grid off on my clipboard. I’d won a knock-down-drag-out
fight with the concrete supplier, which might account for Frank’s—sort of—smile
and now we could start building.

Perhaps I could let myself relax, just a little.

That was when George arrived.

He drove the battered Land Rover as if it were a Lamborghini,
swinging into the site and parking—deliberately squint, I was sure!—next to
Audrey in a flurry of mud and gravel.

I pressed my lips together in disapproval. George Challoner was
allegedly the estate manager, although as far as I could see this involved
little more than turning up at inconvenient moments and distracting everyone
else who was actually trying to do some work.

He was also my neighbour. I’d been delighted at first to be
given my own cottage on the estate. I was only working on the project until Hugh
Morrison, my old mentor, had recovered from his heart attack, and I didn’t want
to get involved with expensive long-term lets so a tied cottage for no rent made
perfect sense.

I was less delighted to discover that George Challoner lived on
the other side of the wall, his cottage a mirror image of mine under a single
slate roof. It wasn’t that he was a noisy neighbour, but I was always so aware
of him, and it wasn’t because he was attractive, if that’s what you’re
thinking.

I was prepared to admit that he was extremely easy on the eye.
My own preference was for dark-haired men, while George was lean and rangy with
hair the colour of old gold and ridiculously blue eyes, but, still, I could see
that he was good-looking.

OK, he was
very
good-looking.
Too
good-looking.

I didn’t trust good-looking men. I’d fallen for a dazzling
veneer once before, and it wasn’t a mistake I intended to make again.

I watched balefully as George waved and strode across to join
me at the foundations. The men had all brightened at his approach and were
shouting boisterous abuse at him. Even Frank grinned, the traitor.

I sighed. What was it with men? The ruder they were, the more
they seemed to like each other.

‘Hey, Frank, don’t look now but your foundations are full of
holes,’ said George, peering down at the steel cages.

‘They’re supposed to be that way,’ I said, even though I knew
he was joking. I hated the way George always made me feel buttoned-up. ‘The
steel takes the tensile stress.’

‘I wish I had something to take
my
stress,’ said George. He had an irritating ability to give the impression that
he was laughing while keeping a perfectly straight face. Something to do with
the glinting blue eyes, I thought, or perhaps the almost imperceptible deepening
of the creases around his eyes. Or the smile that seemed to be permanently
tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Whatever it was, I wished he wouldn’t do it. It made me
feel...ruffled.

Besides, I had never met anybody less stressed. George
Challoner was one of those charmed individuals for whom life was a breezy
business. He never seemed to take anything seriously. God only knew why Lord
Whellerby had made him estate manager. I was sure George was just playing at it,
amusing himself between sunning himself on the deck of a yacht or playing
roulette in some swish casino.

I knew his type.

‘What can we do for you, George?’ I said briskly. ‘As you can
see, we’re rather busy here today.’

‘The guys are busy,’ said George, nodding at the foundations
where the men had gone back to pouring the concrete. ‘You’re just watching.’

‘I’m
supervising
,’ I said with
emphasis. ‘That’s my job.’

‘Good job, just watching everyone else do the work.’

I knew quite well that he was just trying to wind me up, but I
ground my teeth anyway. ‘I’m the site engineer,’ I said. ‘That means I have to
make sure everything is done properly.’

‘A bit like being an estate manager, you mean?’ said George.
‘Except you get to wear a hard hat.’

‘I don’t see that my job has anything in common with yours,’ I
said coldly. ‘And talking of hard hats, if you must come onto the site, you
should be wearing one. I’ve reminded you about that before.’

George cast a look around the site. Beyond the foundations
where the concrete mixer churned, it was a sea of mud. It had been cleared the
previous autumn and was now littered with machinery and piles of reinforcing
wires. ‘I’m taller than everything here,’ he objected. ‘I can’t see a single
thing that could fall on my head.’

‘You could trip over and knock your head on a rock,’ I said,
adding under my breath, ‘with any luck.’

‘I heard that!’ George grinned, and I clutched my clipboard
tighter to my chest and put up my chin. ‘I never had to wear a hard hat when
Hugh Morrison was overseeing,’ he said provocatively.

‘That was before we’d started construction, and, in any case,
that was up to Hugh. This is my site now, and I like to follow correct
procedures.’

I promise you, I wasn’t always unbearably pompous, but there
was just something about George that rubbed me up the wrong way.

‘Now, that’s a useful thing to know,’ he exclaimed. ‘Maybe
that’s where I’ve been going wrong!’

His gaze rested on my face. Nobody had the right to have eyes
that blue, I thought crossly as I fought the colour that was stealing along my
cheekbones. My fine, fair skin was the bane of my life. The slightest thing and
I’d end up blushing like a schoolgirl.

‘So what’s the correct procedure for asking you out?’ he asked,
leaning forward confidentially as if he really expected me to tell him.

I kept my composure. Making a big play of looking over at the
foundations and then checking something off my list, I said coolly: ‘You ask me
out, and I say no.’

‘I’ve tried that,’ he objected.

He had. The first night I arrived, he had popped round to
suggest a drink at the pub in the village. He asked me every time he saw me. I
was sure it was just to annoy me now. Any normal man would have got the point by
then.

‘Then I’m not sure what I can suggest.’

‘Come on, we’re neighbours,’ said George. ‘We should be
friendly.’

‘It’s precisely
because
we’re
neighbours that I don’t think it’s a good idea,’ I said, making another mark on
my clipboard. George wasn’t to know it was meaningless. ‘You live right next
door to me. If we went for a drink and you turned out to be some kind of weirdo,
I’d never be able to get away from you.’

‘Weirdo?’

He was doing his best to sound outraged, but he didn’t fool me.
I could tell he was trying not to laugh.

Pushing my hair behind my ears, I glared at him.

‘Maybe weirdo isn’t quite the right word,’ I allowed, ‘but you
know what I mean.’

‘I see.’ George pretended to ponder. ‘So you think that after
one date, I might never leave you alone? I might pester you to go out again or
fall madly in love with you?’

My beastly cheeks were turning pink again, I could feel it. ‘I
don’t think that’s very likely.’

‘Why not?’

I looked down at my clipboard, wishing that he would stop
asking awkward questions and just go away.

‘I’m not the kind of girl men fall madly in love with,’ I said
evenly after a moment.

Sadly, all too true.

George pursed his lips and his eyes danced. ‘OK, so if you’re
not worried about me falling for you, maybe you’re worried
you’ll
fall madly in love with
me
.’

‘I can assure you
that’s
not going
to happen!’ I snapped.

‘That sounds like a challenge to me.’

‘It certainly isn’t,’ I said. ‘I’m just saying that you’re not
my type.’

Of course, he couldn’t leave it there, could he? ‘What
is
your type, then?’

‘Not you, anyway,’ I told him firmly, and he put on an injured
look. Like I say, he didn’t take anything seriously.

‘Why not?’

‘I don’t trust handsome men,’ I said. ‘You’re too good-looking
for me.’

‘Hey, isn’t that lookist or something?’ he protested. ‘You
wouldn’t hold my looks against me if I was ugly, would you? Or at least you
wouldn’t admit it.’

I sighed. ‘I don’t know why you’re so keen to ask me out
anyway,’ I said. ‘You must be desperate for a date.’

‘I’m just trying to be friendly.’

‘Well, I appreciate it,’ I said crisply, ‘but I’m only here for
a couple of months and I’d rather keep our relationship professional if that’s
all right with you.’

‘I like the idea of us having a relationship,’ said George,
‘but I’m not so sure about the professional bit. Is everything professional with
you, Frith?’

‘It is while I’m here. This job is important to me,’ I told
him. ‘I really needed some site experience and this is my first time in charge.
It’s a great chance for me. Plus, this contract is really important to Hugh.
He’s been so good to me, I don’t want to let him down.’

I looked around the site, narrowing my eyes as I envisaged what
the centre would look like when it was finished. The specifications were for the
use of sustainable materials wherever possible, and the wood and glass finish
was designed to blend into the backdrop of the trees edging the site.

‘It’s going to look good,’ I told George. ‘It’s expensive, but
I gather Lord Whellerby’s plan is to make Whellerby Hall the top conference
venue in the north, and the centre will be a step towards that. It’s a good
idea,’ I added. I rather liked the sound of Lord Whellerby. I hadn’t met him
yet, but I got the impression that he was astute and sensible—unlike his estate
manager!

George had been following my gaze, rocking back on his heels as
he studied the site thoughtfully. The breeze ruffled his hair and set it
glinting where it caught the sunlight. In spite of the muddy boots and worn
Guernsey, he looked as if he were modelling for a country sports catalogue.

‘He had to do something,’ he said frankly. ‘These stately homes
are expensive to keep up. Roly nearly passed out when he saw the first heating
bill!’

‘Does Lord Whellerby know you call him Roly?’ I asked
disapprovingly. In spite of his regular requests for progress reports, he had
never visited the site, apparently happy to appoint the laid-back George as his
go-between.

‘We were at school together,’ George said. ‘He’s lucky if Roly
is all I call him!’

‘Oh.’ I was disconcerted. ‘I’d imagined an older man.’

‘No, he’s thirty-two. He never expected to inherit Whellerby.
The last Lord Whellerby was his great-uncle, and he had a son and a grandson who
were groomed to take over the estate in due course. But they had a whole string
of family tragedies and Roly was pitched into the middle of things.’

‘It must have been difficult for him,’ I said, still trying to
picture Lord Whellerby as a young man instead of the experienced landowner I’d
imagined.

‘It was. This is a big estate. It was a lot to take on, and
Roly had never even lived in the country before. He had no experience and he was
frankly terrified. I don’t blame him,’ said George.

‘Oh.’ The breeze was pushing in some clouds, I noticed
worriedly. It kept blowing my hair around my face and I wished I’d taken the
time to plait it. My hair, by the way, is another bane of my life. It is fine
and straight and brown and I can’t do anything with it other than let it hang
there.

I pulled away a strand that had plastered itself against my
lips, still trying to reconfigure this new information about Lord Whellerby, who
was, after all, the client.

‘Did you come here at the same time?’ I asked George.

‘Not immediately. Roly inherited an estate manager from his
great-uncle and the guy was running rings round him. I was...at a loose end,
shall we say? Roly invited me up to keep him company for a while, and when the
estate manager left he asked if I wanted the job.’ George grinned and spread his
hands. ‘I had nothing better to do, so here I am.’

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