Authors: Lori Wilde
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #Fiction / Romance - Contemporary, #Fiction
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To my wonderful editor, Michele Bidelspach, who
gently pushes me to reach my highest potential.
Thank you so much for caring!
Many thanks to super agent Jenny Bent. Her support and encouragement were invaluable in the writing of this book.
he summer issue of
declared the marriage of Houston’s hottest bachelor, Dr. Evan Van Zandt, to his childhood sweetheart, oil heiress Delaney Cartwright, a classic friends-to-lovers fairy tale.
in its trendy yet folksy way, decreed their union the high-society equivalent of beef barbecue and mustard potato salad. Delaney and Evan simply belonged together.
A sentimental write-up in the
dubbed their romance a heartwarming Lone Star love story.
Delaney’s mother, Honey Montgomery Cartwright, pronounced them the perfect couple. Lavish praise indeed from a Philadelphia blue blood with impossibly high standards.
Her father grumbled, “This thing’s costing us more than her liberal arts degree from Rice,” as he wrote out a very large check to cover the nuptials.
And her long-deceased sister Skylar, who occasionally popped up in Delaney’s dreams to offer unsolicited advice, whispered with unbridled glee that the ceremony
was a glorious train wreck just waiting to happen and she insisted on front-row seating.
Skylar, being dead, could of course sit anywhere she chose. Everyone else had to cram into the River Oaks Methodist Church.
The cherrywood pews overflowed with five hundred invited guests, plus a dozen members of the press and a sprinkling of enterprising wedding crashers. The laboring air-conditioning system was no match for the double punch of a too-thick crowd and sweltering one-hundred-degree heat.
“Who gets married in Houston during August?” Delaney heard a woman murmur.
“I’m getting a heat rash in these panty hose,” another woman replied.
Feeling chastised, Delaney ducked her head. She stood just outside the open door of the chapel waiting for the wedding march to commence, her arm looped through her father’s.
“I heard it was originally supposed to be a Christmas ceremony, but the bride postponed it twice,” the first woman said. “Do you suppose we could have a runaway situation?”
“Hmm, now that would make an interesting spread in tomorrow’s society pages.”
At that comment, her father tightened his grip.
No turning back now,
his clench said.
Delaney’s hopes sank. Her mind spun.
A coyote would gnaw her paw off.
The bridesmaids reached their places. Her best friend, Tish, wedding videographer extraordinaire, was filming madly. Every gaze in the place was glued to Delaney.
Everything was perfect. It was a true celebrity-style
wedding, just as her mother had planned. The purple orchids, accented with white roses, were on lavish display—in bouquets and boutonnieres, in vases and corsages. Her size-four, ten-thousand-dollar Vera Wang wedding dress fit like a fantasy. The flower girl was cute. The two-year-old ring bearer even cuter. And both children were on exemplary behavior. Delaney’s antique wedding veil fetchingly framed her face, even though her scalp had been tingling weirdly ever since she put it on.
This was it.
Her big day.
The seven-piece orchestra struck the first notes of the wedding march. Dum, dum, de-dum.
Delaney took a deep breath and glanced down the long aisle festooned with white rose petals to where Evan stood at the altar. He looked stunningly handsome in his long-tailed tux, love shining in his trusting blue eyes.
Her father started forward.
But Delaney’s beaded white Jimmy Choo stilettos stayed rooted to the spot. No, no, this was all wrong. It was a big mistake. She had to call it off before she embarrassed everyone. Where was her cell phone?
“Delaney Lynn Cartwright,” her father growled under his breath. “Don’t make me drag you.”
A hard throb of distress surged through her temples.
What have you done? What have you done? What have you done?
She forced herself to move forward. Her gaze searched for the exits. There were two on either side of the altar, and of course, the one directly behind her.
But Daddy wasn’t letting go.
Closer, closer, almost there.
Evan made eye contact, smiled sweetly.
Guilt whirled like a demon tornado in the pit of her stomach. She dragged in a ragged breath.
Her husband-to-be held out his palm. Her father put her hand in Evan’s.
Delaney’s gaze shifted from one corner exit to the other. Too late. It was too late to call this off. What time was it anyway?
“Dearly beloved,” the portly minister began, but that’s as far as he got.
A clattering erupted from behind the exit door on the left.
And then there he loomed. Dressed head to toe in black. Wearing a ski mask. Standing out like crude oil in a cotton field.
Thrilled, chilled, shamefaced, and greatly relieved, Delaney held her breath.
The intruder charged the altar.
The congregation inhaled a simultaneous gasp.
The minister blinked, looked confused.
“Back away from the bride,” the dark stranger growled and waved a pistol at Evan.
Excitement burst like tiny exploding bubbles inside her head.
, Delaney thought.
Evan stared at the masked intruder, but did not move. Apparently he had not yet realized what was transpiring.
“Move it.” The interloper pointed his weapon directly at Evan’s head. “Hands up.”
Finally, her groom got the message. He dropped Delaney’s hand, raised his arms over his head, and took a step back.
“Don’t anyone try anything cute,” the man commanded at the same moment he wrapped the crook of his elbow around Delaney’s neck and pressed the revolver to her temple. The cold nose of it felt deadly against her skin.
Fear catapulted into her throat, diluting the excitement. Delaney dropped her bouquet. It
a prop gun, wasn’t it?
The crowd shot to its collective feet as the stranger dragged her toward the exit from whence he’d appeared.
“Follow us and the bride gets it,” he shouted dramatically just before the exit door slammed closed behind them.
“You’re choking me,” Delaney gasped. “You can let go now.”
He ignored her and just kept dragging her by the neck toward the white delivery van parked at the back of the rectory.
A bolt of raw panic shot through her veins. What was going on here? She dug her freshly manicured fingernails into his thick arm and tried to pry herself free.
He stuck his gun in his waistband, pulled a pair of handcuffs from his back pocket, and one-handedly slapped them around her wrists.
“What is this?” she squeaked.
He did not speak. He wrenched open the back door of the van just as the congregation came spilling out of the rectory and into the street. He tossed her onto the floor, slammed the door, and ran around to the driver’s side.
Delaney lay facedown, her knees and elbows stinging from carpet burn. She couldn’t see a thing, but she heard anxious shouts and the sound of fists pounding the side of the vehicle.
The engine revved and the van shot forward, knocking her over onto her side.
“What’s going on?” She struggled to sit. The veil fell across her face. She pushed it away with her cuffed hands and peered into the front of the van. “What’s with all the rough stuff?”
He didn’t answer.
She cleared her throat. Perhaps he hadn’t heard her. “Nice execution,” she said. “Loved the toy gun, but the handcuffs are a definite overkill.”
He hit the street doing at least fifty and she tipped over again.
Her heart flipped up into her tightly constricted throat. She dragged in a ragged swallow of air. This guy was playing his role to the hilt.
When they made it to the freeway entrance ramp, he ripped off the ski mask, threw it in the seat beside him, and then turned to look back at Delaney.
Alarm rocketed through her. Saliva evaporated from her mouth. Something had gone very, very wrong.
Because the man who’d just taken her hostage was
the kidnapper she’d hired.
Two Months Earlier
lasses up, girls. A toast to the bride-to-be,” bubbled Tish Gallagher. She smiled at Delaney, tucked a dark auburn corkscrew curl behind one ear studded with multiple piercings, and raised her drink. “May your marriage be filled with magic.”
Delaney Cartwright and her three best friends were celebrating the final fitting of the bridesmaids’ dresses by dining at Diaz, Houston’s trendiest new restaurant hot spot. They’d already slurped down a couple of margarita-martinis apiece and noshed their way through blue corn tortilla chips dipped in piquant salsa and fire-grilled shrimp enchiladas laced with Manchego cheese and Spanish onions.
Everyone was feeling frivolous.
All except for Delaney.
Tequila made her edgy, but it was what her friends were drinking, so she’d joined in.
“Third time’s the charm.” Jillian Samuels winked and lifted her glass.