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May the best man sin...
Lauren Sanger is practically the perfect maid of honor, except for one tiny flaw. She hates the best man. Jackson Monaghan is beyond hot—his body is the stuff of sexy lady dreams—but he's just such a jerk. So when a prank lands them in the same bed, Lauren should have flipped out...instead of having the best sex of her life with the best man!
Jackson can't figure out how two people with anti-chemistry during the day can have such a wickedly hot sexual chemistry at night. Worse still, he wants more. Enough to dare Lauren into doing the last thing she should be doing—him. But friends with benefits is one thing...enemies with benefits is quite another.
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USA TODAY bestselling author Nancy Warren lives in the Pacific Northwest where her hobbies include skiing, hiking and snow shoeing. She's an author of more than thirty novels and novellas for Harlequin and has won numerous awards. Visit her website at www.nancywarren.net.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Question: How do you know when someone is truly your best friend? Answer: you love her enough to put up with her semi-douchy fiancé and his completely douchy best buddy.
Asked and answered, Lauren Sanger thought, as she sat on a private patio of Hotel Messina, the swish resort located on a small island off the California coast where, in a few hours, she'd be maid of honor in her best friend's wedding.
Built at the turn of the century, Hotel Messina had housed royalty and A-list celebrities, and been the setting for movies and thousands of weddings.
Amy Ruehl had dreamed of getting married here since she and Lauren had first seen the hotel in a movie back when they were kids. Her parents could afford the outrageous expense, and all the guests had made the trek over to spend the night, celebrate Amy and Seth's wedding, and then go back to their much more mundane lives.
Or maybe that was just Lauren.
The wedding would take place at four in the afternoon. That's what it said on the thick vellum invitations, and with the military precision with which the wedding planner and hotel staff had worked this thing, that's precisely when the ceremony would begin.
It was two now, and the bride and her maid of honor were taking a late lunch break. Their hair was done, makeup awaiting final touches, and their dresses were pressed and neatly hanging.
She and Amy already wore their fancy underwear beneath the thick hotel robes with the gold M logo on the breast pockets.
While they munched on salad and cold cuts and sipped wine, they enjoyed a spectacular view of the white sand beaches and summer blue water that surrounded the hotel. The weather was perfect. A June day without a cloud in the sky and waves that seemed to laugh as they hit the beach.
"Are you nervous?" she asked her best friend. They'd talked about their weddings a lot when they were young. Amy was a firm believer in fairy tales and happy endings. Lauren not so much, but she couldn't be happier that her BFF's dream was about to come true. Seth wouldn't have been her choice, but Amy was crazy about him and that was all that mattered to Lauren.
Amy shook her head, a smile of pure happiness on her face. She always took everything in stride and didn't worry much about the future. Lauren wondered what it would be like to be such an optimist and was fairly certain she'd never know.
"Seth is the man I've waited my whole life for," Amy said. Her voice trembled ever so slightly as she added, "I love him so much."
"No messing up the makeup," Lauren warned, leaning forward to pat her friend's hand.
Amy blinked rapidly, dispelling the momentary wetness. "My only wish is that my best friend and Seth's best friend could like each other, at least a little bit."
Not even for her best friend would she lie and feign any affection for Jackson Monaghan. All she said was, "Hey, we both love you guys. That's all that matters."
"But we're going to be seeing you two all the time. You're the first people we'll have for dinner in our new place, you'll be the godmother of our first child, obviously, and Jackson will be the god—"
"You're pregnant?" Lauren's voice rose. How had she never suspected?
Amy waved a freshly manicured hand in front of her face. "No. I'm just saying."
"Stop planning so far ahead." She put a hand to her chest. "And stop freaking me out."
Amy's face suddenly took on an expression that Lauren would call fatuous if Amy wasn't her best friend. She only wore that expression for one person.
She followed the bride's gaze and, sure enough, two men came into view on the sand below them. Seth, the groom, and Jackson, the best man.
Clearly, the routine for the men of a wedding party was a lot more lax than for the women. The guys were walking barefoot in the sand, wearing their board shorts and sunglasses. They'd ditched their shirts.
She could picture the pair of them scrambling to get dressed fifteen minutes before the ceremony started.
They were a nice-looking pair, she'd give them that.
Seth was a little on the chunky side. He'd been a football player in college and working a desk job, he'd gone a bit to seed. Jackson, on the other hand, was pretty drool-worthy, she had to admit. He sported the torso of an athlete—no doubt, the result of regular workout sessions with a personal trainer at a fancy gym somewhere. He had the permanent five-o'clock shadow of a jaded rock star. His eyes were an Irish blue; his hair a tousled brown that she suspected was salon-highlighted. Everything about him annoyed her.
She scratched her arm. That's what Jackson was like, she thought. Like an itch. The more she tried to get rid of him, the more he irritated her.
"Why don't you like Jackson?" Amy broke into her thoughts. "Every woman I know is crazy about him."
And that was one more thing that irritated her about Jackson Monaghan. He strutted around as if he was God's gift, and the sad part was plenty of women were apparently foolish enough to buy in to the ridiculous notion.
"Honestly, I don't know," she said. "I guess it's a chemistry thing."
Amy sighed, finished her wine. "Well," she said, "I'm going to do everything I can to get you two to like each other."
Jackson Monaghan loved the feel of sun on his skin and sand beneath his feet. Wearing a monkey suit and being in a wedding party, not so much.
But, for the guy who'd pretty much saved his life, there wasn't much he wouldn't do.
He and Seth went way back. When Jackson had lost his folks, his grandparents hadn't known what to do with a grieving twelve-year-old. They'd packed him up and sent him to boarding school.
He'd never been exposed to rich people. Didn't know shit about life in a dorm, and the other boys had sensed weakness the way sharks smell blood.
He had been scrawny back then. Sensitive. He'd thought nothing could be worse than losing his parents to a car wreck. He was wrong.
Those first few weeks of boarding school were brutal. Until Seth stepped up. Seth was the kind of kid the other boys respected. He was big, tough, not so good at school but great at sports. From Seth, Jackson had learned how to be one of the boys. And he'd learned how to fight back.
So, if Seth wanted him to show up in a tux and pass a couple of rings to a minister and make a speech, he was down.
He wasn't sure Seth had made the best choice in brides, but his buddy was clearly convinced that Amy was an angel and he wasn't one to make waves. The fiancée's best friend, though?
Ouch. Lauren Sanger was hot, no question. But that mouth that looked as though it had been designed to kiss sweetly and talk dirty mostly hurled insults. At him.
"In a couple of hours, I'll be a married man," Seth suddenly said.
"I always knew I'd get married, have some kids—it's what a man does. But now that it's here, I can't believe it."
"I can't believe you're getting married, either." Everything was going to change. The beers after work, the weekly squash games, the poker games that lasted all night, the Sunday afternoons spent tossing a football around in the park, the snap decisions to fly across the country to watch a hockey or a football game. All that would be over.
"Nothing's going to change," Seth said, sounding almost desperate.
"Of course, nothing will change," Jackson assured him, knowing that nothing would ever be the same.
"Amy's the best thing that ever happened to me," Seth announced. He'd taken to gushing sentiments like this, and Jackson never knew what the correct response was. Usually he said something like, "That's great."
"That's great," he said now.
Seth stooped to pick up a smooth, round pebble. He turned and tried to skim it across the waves, but the pebble bounced once and sank.
"I just wish you and Lauren could get along."
"Probably never going to happen."
"What's the deal with you two, anyway? She's gorgeous, smart, funny."
"I don't know. Some kind of weird chemistry thing." He'd thought gorgeous, smart and funny, too, the first time he'd met Lauren. But from that first conversation on, they'd pretty much disagreed on everything. She seemed to spare no effort to get up his nose. And, being a scrapper with a lot of Irish in him, he gave it right back to her.
Desperate to change the subject, he said, "But Amy's great."
That got them off the tricky subject of Lauren and they passed the rest of their time talking about Amy and Seth's plans for the future. Seth had gone to work for his family's real estate firm and Amy came from money, so it wasn't as if their future was uncertain.
Not like his. With his brains and his education in software design, he'd been recruited by all the big firms, but he'd chosen to throw in his lot with a startup. He'd liked that they were involved in clean energy, harvesting wind and wave power. Jackson didn't have any money. His grandparents had spent what little money his folks had left on that boarding school and given him what was left to pay for university. With no money to invest, he relied on his own hard work. Going for the start-up over the sure thing was the Irish in him asserting itself again, he thought. He preferred the gamble, where he could seriously make a difference to a company's future, to being just another software engineer at a global social networking company.
He and Seth returned to the hotel with barely enough time to shower and change.
The bride and groom had opted for a garden wedding with a ballroom booked as a bad weather backup, but one look at the sky told Jackson that no backup plan would be needed. Seth and Amy were probably the luckiest couple he'd ever known. Nothing ever went wrong for either of them. They were loved, pampered, rich and nauseatingly happy with each other. Of course there wouldn't be a cloud in the sky on their wedding day.
Jackson took a final glance in the full-length mirror in his hotel room before heading out. His tie was straight, fly done up. Rings in one pocket, speech in another. He was good to go.
His room was on the third floor where most of the bridal party and a few of the guests were staying. The bride and groom were spending their wedding night in the penthouse bridal suite and the remainder of the guests were scattered throughout the hotel.
Seth knocked on his door and he opened it. "Ready to do this thing?"
"Okay." And they strode off down the hall.
The wedding planner had given them a staging area in the lobby, and they showed up with a minute or two to spare. The woman standing there with a headset and a clipboard wasn't the main planner. She was some kind of assistant. She checked them out, stepped forward and straightened Seth's tie. "You have the rings?" she asked Jackson, and he nodded.
She spoke into a headset. "I have the groom and best man ready to go."
They stood around for a few minutes like soldiers waiting to go into battle. It would have been less nerve-racking if there were more guys in the platoon than just him and Seth. But for all that she'd wanted a fancy wedding, Amy had insisted she only wanted Lauren to stand up for her. Which meant Seth only got a best man. No groomsmen.
The assistant pulled out two florist's boxes, and he was forced to stand there while she attached a white rose boutonniere to his jacket. The smell of roses always reminded him of the only funeral he'd ever attended. He hated that smell.
"And you're cleared to go," the young woman said to them, as though they were a pair ofjets on a runway.
"Good luck, buddy," he said.
Seth turned and gave him an awkward hug. They slapped each other on the back, and then they made their way out to the wedding venue.
The garden looked like something out of a cheesy movie he would never watch. Something with Hugh Grant in it and a load of English accents. There were flowers everywhere—on a rose arbor that he and Seth had to walk under, on the chairs lined up precisely on the lawn where the guests were already seated, and all over the gazebo where the ceremony would take place. A harp was playing softly.
The guests were dressed so well, some of the women in hats, that he barely recognized anyone.
He trod down the aisle and paused, as they'd rehearsed, in front of the minister, who consulted a book so earnestly it looked as though he was refreshing himself on the words of the marriage ceremony.
Behind him, he heard shuffling and low conversation. Somebody was sniffling. Crying already? Or allergies? he wondered idly.
After a minute or two, the intro to "Here Comes the Bride" started up. He knew the piece had a real name, but he only ever heard it played at weddings.
He and Seth both turned, as did every person in the audience.
Lauren started walking up the aisle.
He might find spending time with her as fun as, say, stumbling into a hive of hornets and escaping only to land in a field of poison ivy, but he had to admit she looked good.
Her dress was a pale green that left her shoulders bare. He'd never really noticed what nice curves the woman had or that her legs were spectacular.
She wore her dark hair piled high and whoever had done her makeup had highlighted her big, dark eyes and colored her lips so they looked plump and kissable.
As though she felt his gaze on her, Lauren looked his way and he felt sucker punched.
Quickly, he averted his gaze but not before he'd seen her eyes widen and felt a completely unexpected and absolutely unwanted stab of lust.
That was the trouble with weddings, he'd always thought. They made a person act like a fool. People were forever hooking up at weddings with girls they wouldn't be caught dead with normally.
He wasn't going there.
Even as his breath caught in his throat, he assured himself he wasn't going there.
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Book Description Harlequin. PB. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # Fic02-104 Axiom2
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