Checkered Past

24 Hour Marriage….

Checkered Past
Harlequin NASCAR
April 2009
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How did practical, logical NASCAR team boss Chad Matheson end up marrying a woman he’d only known three days? And what hadn’t Brianna Hudson told him about who she was?
When the truth came out the day after the wedding, all the love-at-first-sight in the world wasn’t enough to turn this Vegas wedding into a lifetime together. Chad and Brianna separated…but two years later, circumstances force them to work together, and it’s clear neither of them has forgotten that incredible night they shared.




Chapter One
March, nearly two years ago

Chad Matheson leaned back against the overstuffed pillows of the honeymoon suite’s super-king bed. Mentally, he listed everything he knew about his bride.
Her name: Brianna Hudson. Good start. Except now, he supposed, she was Brianna Matheson. Hell.
Chad swallowed a mouthful of the coffee Brianna had poured him from the room service trolley on her way to the bathroom. He’d pretended he was still asleep when she set the cup on the nightstand. He needed to think.
The shower had stopped a few minutes ago, and now he kept one ear on the sound of the hairdryer running behind the closed door.
He knew her date of birth, courtesy of their marriage license—and that had come as a surprise, because she looked older than twenty-three.
He knew she was from Atlanta; her Georgia accent, soft and smooth amid the late-night ruckus of NASCAR fans celebrating at the Vegas Getaway Hotel’s casino, had attracted him the moment they’d met.
That moment had been three days—Chad glanced at the chunky steel watch on his wrist—eleven hours and twenty-six minutes ago.
What the hell had he done?
He didn’t have a good track record in relationships, didn’t run them as well as he ran a NASCAR team…and he’d just committed himself to the ultimate relationship challenge.
He took another slug of coffee. Next time his little brother won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and started throwing around phrases like, “Who dares wins” and, “You never get what you want if you won’t take a risk,” Chad would turn and walk away.
Concentrate—she’ll be out any moment. He closed his eyes, pinched the bridge of his nose. Okay, he knew Brianna was smart and cute, and she had a way of catching him up in the moment, making him forget about the stress of running a race team. That was a good thing. Wasn’t it?
He knew she was kind—when they’d found a puppy wandering on the edge of town yesterday, she’d delayed their trip into the desert until they got hold of the owner and returned the dog. He knew that when she drank a milkshake—her favorite beverage—she made loud, unashamed slurping sounds as she chased the last of milk around the glass with her straw.
Irrelevant, the logical side of his brain chided. The facts, just the facts. Okay, he knew Brianna didn’t work in NASCAR. She had a degree in hotel management. She was an only child, her parents had divorced when she was twelve, and her mom had remarried to an Australian cattle baron. Brianna had been working in Spain the past year and was about to take up a job at a hotel in Miami. At least, before Chad derailed her plans with his marriage proposal.
He thought some more. Then drew a blank. Nope, there weren’t any other actual facts he knew about his wife.
Sudden silence told him Brianna had finished drying her hair. Soon, she would emerge from the bathroom and join him for breakfast. Just as she would every day for the rest of their lives. For one second, Chad couldn’t remember what she looked like. His mind raced, flipping through mental snapshots of the past few days, trying to pin down her image. He broke out in a sweat. His family would think he was a certifiable lunatic, and dammit they’d be right. He shoved aside the duvet, grabbed last night’s polo shirt and pants—the clothes he’d got married in—and scrambled into them.
“Hey there.” Brianna stood in front of him, smiling shyly, chestnut hair catching the spring sunlight that filtered through the gauze curtains. She wore snug-fitting jeans and a lilac wrap sweater that emphasized her high curves.
Any formal, first-day-of-married-life greeting Chad might have planned drifted away as his gaze absorbed the indent of her waist, the curve of her hips, her long legs. “Uh, hey yourself.”
She laughed at his dazed tone. Her laugh was one of the things he loved about her. It started off low, then ended a couple of notes higher, as if her delight grew by the moment.
Relief flooded him, even as his body tightened at the thought of last night. He loved her, so he’d married her.
So what if, up until now, his life had been all planning and calculated strategy?
“You look great.” He moved toward her and took her in his arms. Man, this felt so right, the top of her head perfect for him to rest his chin on, her curves fitted against him as snug as a spark plug in a cylinder head. He inhaled the smell of her—clean, minty, flowery, like springtime—and pulled her harder against him.
“Wow,” she said, “you really are insatiable.” Her hands crept around to his butt.
“For you,” he said. “Only for you.” He drew back, so he could read her face. “Are you okay?”
“I feel fantastic.” No doubt, no hesitation. Brianna went up on tiptoe, and planted a kiss on his mouth, bold and hungry.
Chad grinned as he responded. Last night he’d become her first lover. They’d spent the day out in the desert, the wide open, empty spaces curiously intimate, making them feel as if they were the only two people on earth. The kisses they’d shared had kindled a heat that could only be assuaged in one way. When they stopped for a drink in the hotel lobby bar on their return, Chad invited Brianna back to his hotel room.
She’d said yes.
Then she’d told him she was a virgin.
“I always thought I’d wait until I got married,” she said. “I know nobody does that these days, but sometimes it’s hard to trust a guy when he says…things.”
Chad was honored she’d chosen to abandon her caution with him, but he wasn’t about to her pressure her. “We don’t have to do this now,” he assured her, though the thought killed him. “We can go out to dinner, maybe do some dancing…”
She pressed a finger to his lips. “I want to. It’s crazy, since we’ve only known each other a few days, but…Chad, I love you.”
Everything came together in Chad’s mind, like that moment when you find the perfect groove on a race track and know you’re going to win. That was the feeling that consumed him when he was with Brianna, kept her at the front of his thoughts when he wasn’t.
“I love you too,” he’d said slowly, savoring the words.
Which called for another kiss. When it ended, Brianna nodded toward the elevators. “So now we can go upstairs?”
“No way.” He grabbed her by the wrist, tugged her off her bar stool. “You wanted to wait until you’re married, and that’s exactly what you’re going to be.”
When she didn’t move, just clutched the edges of her bar stool as if she was as dizzy as he felt, he said, “I love you, Brianna. I’ve never said that to another woman. I want to marry you.” He laughed at the sensation that swirled through him. “I’ve never said that to a woman, either. Sweetheart, say you’ll marry me.”
Filled with heady optimism, along with a couple of glasses of champagne—not enough, unfortunately, to blame for their impulsiveness—they’d headed out to the marriage-license bureau on Clark Avenue. From there, they went around the corner to the Two Hearts Chapel. They’d had to wait for two other couples ahead of them, but neither of them changed their mind. Forty-five minutes later, they’d exchanged their vows.
Maybe their love-making had been so fantastic because it had the legitimacy of marriage…or maybe, Chad thought, it was because he really did love Brianna, and the panic he’d felt on waking was because he’d forgotten that for just a moment.