A reality TV wedding goes horribly wrong…
Married By Mistake
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Casey Greene, tired of being a pushover to the people she loves, lures her procrastinating fiancé on to a surprise wedding TV show—so she has only herself to blame when he jilts her in front of millions of viewers. Cynical TV station owner Adam Carmichael is an unlikely rescuer, but his plan for a fake wedding is the only way for Casey to avoid total humiliation and Adam’s company to hang on to a valued sponsor. But when a quirk of Tennessee law makes their marriage legit, things go from bad to worse….
The bride wore a long white dress and a look of utter despair.
Adam Carmichael saw her through the glass wall of the Memphis Channel Eight boardroom, scurrying down the corridor as fast as the full skirt of her dress would allow, flicking furtive glances over her shoulder.
Damn, a runaway bride. Could this day get any worse?
He stepped out of the boardroom, and she saved him the effort of stopping her when she cannoned into him, preoccupied by one of those over-the-shoulder checks. Soft yet firm breasts pressed hard against Adam’s chest; honey-gold hair tickled his chin.
He steadied her with his hands on her upper arms. And saw tears welling in her eyes. Instantly he released her, took a step back.
She brushed at the tears with short, impatient movements. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” She looked behind her again and said distractedly, “Anyway, it was nice meeting you, but I really must…”
She gathered up her skirt, ready to run, giving Adam a glimpse of slim ankles above a pair of silk shoes.
Overhead, the PA system crackled into life, and Adam recognized the voice of Channel Eight’s senior producer, unusually agitated. “Would Casey Greene please return to makeup immediately. Casey Greene to makeup.” A pause, then more ferociously than Adam had heard Jane speak before, “Now.”
There was no mistaking the whimper from the runaway bride, nor the flare of panic in her eyes, which were the gray-green of the Mississippi when a storm was brewing.
Adam clamped a hand over her forearm. “Sounds like they’re looking for you.”
“I can’t go back.” She tried to tug her arm free.
Fleetingly, he considered letting her go. But much as he hated this wedding show, he wasn’t about to sabotage it.
They were due to go live in an hour, so it was a safe bet people would be scouring the building for the missing bride. In her panic to get away, she’d obviously taken the elevator up instead of down. It might take a while for the search party to reach the top-floor boardroom, but they’d get here in the end.
“You can’t leave like this,” he said. “You look terrible.” Oops, that wasn’t the most tactful thing to say to a bride. “I mean, you look great…fantastic.” He ran a quick eye over her to check he’d made a fair assessment. She was a little on the short side, around five-four in her shoes, he estimated, but the dress hugged some very attractive curves.
He pushed open the door to the boardroom. “Why don’t you take a minute to pull yourself together?” He gave her no chance to refuse, shepherding her in, then steering her to one of the black leather couches arranged along the far wall. He turned a chair from the boardroom table around to face her, and sat down. “I assume you’re Casey Greene?”
She nodded. Someone walked past the boardroom, and she shrank down into the couch.
“It’s only my secretary,” he assured her. But she looked jittery, as if she might spring up at any moment. Adam estimated it had been a minute since that call over the PA, probably several minutes since she’d left her minders. Where were those guys? He said chattily, “So you’re a guest on Kiss the Bride?”
Uh-oh. This was just what he needed, after he’d worked through the night to get this show into some semblance of order, tying up the loose ends his cousin Henry, the show’s creator, had overlooked. Except Adam hadn’t had time to check if Henry had lined up a replacement bridal couple in case someone pulled out. He’d bet money the answer was no.
Any minute now, representatives of the show’s sponsor, Getaway Resorts, would arrive at the studio to see the debut of “their” show. Getaway was in a different league from Channel Eight’s other sponsors; having them on board would bring the station to the attention of the major players. Adam couldn’t afford for anything to go wrong.
He wanted to haul this woman back to the production suite while – anyone dumb enough to sign up for a surprise wedding show deserved whatever they got. “It’s understandable you have cold feet. Just remember, this is the happiest day of your life.”
He can’t have sounded very convincing, she shot him an unbridelike glare.
“Oh, sure,” she said. “I dupe my fiancé into coming to the TV studio, and he won’t find out until we’re on air that he’s here to get married. Happy days.”
Adam should never have left Henry in charge while he was in New York. His cousin must have had this crazy idea in mind for months, to have set the show up in just four weeks. Adam had come home two days ago to find the station abuzz with excitement about Kiss the Bride.
He could have canned it. But then the family stockholders would accuse him of being highhanded again. Better to let tonight run its course, then convince Getaway Resorts to put their money into a higher-quality program.
The muted sound of the PA system drifted in from the corridor. “Paging Casey Greene. If anyone has seen Casey Greene could they please notify Production immediately.”
Adam eyed the telephone on the boardroom table.
Casey stiffened. “You wouldn’t.”
He would, if he didn’t think it would scare her into resuming her escape. He had an hour of live TV to fill, the viewers had been promised a wedding show, and that’s what they would get. A show delivered to the highest possible standard. Which meant no empty seats on the set. “How about we let the crew know you’re okay?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”
“Adam Carmichael.” There was no flash of recognition—he had to assume she didn’t read those magazines that voted him Memphis’s Most Eligible Bachelor. “I run this place.”
“So you can get me out of here? Off the show?” She stood in a flurry of excitement, a hopeful smile curving her mouth, crinkling the corners of those gray-green eyes, hinting at a dimple in her right cheek.
“Why don’t you tell me,” he hedged, “exactly what the problem is?”
Her smile faded and she sat down again. “You’re not going to help, are you? Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out myself.”
Adam hadn’t missed the vulnerability that shadowed her eyes.
The vulnerability that made her not his type.
“Have you changed your mind about the wedding?” Maybe he could find someone—a woman, someone happily married, anyone but him—to talk her around.
“Not exactly. I’m desperate, or I wouldn’t have resorted to coming on Kiss the Bride.”
She didn’t look desperate. With her eyes still bright with moisture and her cheeks flushed at the personal nature of the conversation, she looked more than ordinarily attractive, like the kind of woman who would have potential bridegrooms lining up on her doorstep.
“Is your fiancé giving you trouble?”
Casey shook her head. “Joe is pretty well perfect. Kind, good-looking, honest—fun to be with.”
“He sounds great,” Adam said heartily. “How about we get you to the studio so you can marry him?”
Okay, so that wasn’t subtle. She fixed him with a stung, accusatory expression. “But what about love?”
Adam felt the kick of a headache at his left temple. He looked through the glass out into the empty corridor. How the hell could the production team be doing such a bad job of finding this woman? “I don’t know,” he said cautiously. “What about love?”
Casey eased back into the cushions, as if he’d hit on her favorite subject. “I love Joe, and he loves me.” She spread her hands palms-up. “We wouldn’t have got engaged otherwise, would we?”
“I suppose not,” Adam said.
“But sometimes, people love you for what you can do for them, as much as for who you are, and it’s hard to tell the difference. I always wanted a husband who’d adore me just for myself, and who I adored back. Real love, no strings attached.” Her finger traced the piping that edged one of the cushions. “If I’m honest, that’s not what Joe and I have.”
Adam groaned. Poor Joe, expected to “adore” this woman for the rest of her days, when if he was anything like most guys all he wanted was a quiet life.
Her eyes sparked in annoyance. “Don’t you think people should hold out for their dreams?”
“I think people should figure out what they want, then go for it” Adam said. “But…a guy who adores you? No strings?” He shook his head. “Those are teenage daydreams.”
She thought that over. “You mean, you used to dream of marrying a woman who adored you, but you grew out of it?”
Adam cast another longing glance at the phone. “The last thing a teenage boy wants is to be adored by some woman for the rest of his life.” Some of us never grow out of that. “Boys dream about NASCAR racing.”
If sharing that misguided ambition would get her back on the show, Adam would do it. He nodded. “Believe me, I never regretted joining the family business instead.”
Even if he had run off to Charlotte, he’d probably still be on the receiving end of constant demands from his grasping relatives.
“Are you married?”
Did he look like a sucker for punishment?
She rushed on without waiting for him to reply, as if it was a relief to be revealing her doubts. At least someone was enjoying this. “Joe and I started dating in high school. We drifted into our engagement at graduation—that was seven years ago. We said we’d wait until we could afford to buy a house before we got married.”
“Good idea,” Adam said. He inched his hand toward the phone.
“Every time we set a wedding date, something happens to change our plans,” she said. “But now, I need to hurry things up. Now, I have to get married.”
A shock of…surprise surged through Adam, and he forgot about the phone. He stole another quick look at Casey’s figure, to see if he’d missed any suspicious bulges. No sign of a baby—but pregnancy would explain her emotional state.
She looked as if she was about to break down again. Adam, inured to tears through years of dealing with weepy female relatives, planned to wait her out. But something about the way Casey’s eyes shimmered, then the way they widened as if to say she wasn’t about to cry, no, not at all, got to him. He whipped his handkerchief out of his pocket and offered it to her.
She took it without a word. He read the Emergency Fire Instructions pinned to the wall while he tried to ignore the way her snuffling did funny things to his insides. Eventually he gave up, and glanced sideways long enough to find and pat the creamy shoulder nearest him. At his touch, Casey straightened, drew on some inner reserve to blink the tears away, and met Adam’s gaze full on.
“I’m sorry.” She blew her nose one last time.
“Why don’t you tell me more about Joe?” Dwelling on her husband-to-be’s good points might cheer her up.
“He’s very nice, we have a lot in common,” she said. “He’s about to join the Navy, which means he’ll be away a lot, but I can handle that.”
For all Casey’s dreams of being adored, Adam would bet the marriage she had lined up with Joe would be a lot happier than one based on some infatuation.
“Unless,” Casey said, “I pull out now, and wait for a man who adores me.”
He wished she wouldn’t keep saying that. She all but had stars in her eyes as she talked about love and adoring.
Besides, if Casey was pregnant, she should marry the father of her child. The pretty-well-perfect father of her child.
“You could wait a long time for a man who adores you,” he said, and was annoyed to find he felt like a heel, telling her to abandon her dreams. More forcefully, he added, “You might never find one. Marry Joe and be happy with what you’ve got.”
“Casey!” A voice from the doorway startled them. Adam recognized one of the production assistants. About time. Casey leaped to her feet.
“There you are.” The woman’s voice was overly bright. She flashed Adam a look of sympathetic exasperation. “They’re waiting for you in makeup. We need to hurry.”
Casey hesitated. She swallowed, then turned to Adam. “You’re right, I’m sure it’ll be fine.” Her voice held the faintest question, so Adam nodded reassurance. She smiled, a proper smile this time, that made her eyes glow more green than gray. “It was nice talking to you.”
“You too. And–” he might as well admit he knew what she’d been alluding to “– good luck with the baby.”
Her eyes widened. He saw shock, confusion, the dawn of understanding then amusement chasing through them. She laughed out loud. “I’m not pregnant.”
“So why did you say you have to get married?”
She beamed, still amused. “It’s complicated. Family stuff.” She stuck out a hand and said, “Bye, Adam.”
“Goodbye, Casey. And good luck.” Whether it was because he knew what desperate measures family could drive a person to, or because he felt unaccountably relieved she wasn’t pregnant, or just because she was dressed in such formal, elaborate style, Adam did the weirdest thing. Instead of shaking her hand, he lifted it to his mouth, pressed a kiss to the back of her fingers.
And found himself sorely tempted to kiss Casey Greene all the way up her arm and keep right on going.
From the Title: Married by Mistake
By: Abby Gaines
Copyright ©: Abby Gaines
By: Harlequin Books S.A.
The excerpt is posted by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A. For more romance information surf to www.eHarlequin.com