Note to Readers: These scenes take place between the last chapter of Married by Mistake and the Epilogue. If you haven’t read the book, they won’t make a lot of sense, and may detract from your enjoyment of the book later – please don’t read them now! You can find out more about the book and read an excerpt from the first chapter here.
Adam couldn’t help feeling that to chance another wedding ceremony was to tempt fate.
“Are you certain,” he asked Dave Dubois, his best man, “there’s no chance that with you standing next to me at the altar, Casey and I will end up accidentally divorced?”
Dave drummed his fingers on the refectory table that took up most of the small room adjoining the church sanctuary. “I don’t think so, but parts of the Tennessee Code are pretty obscure.”
“I knew it.” Adam unbuttoned the collar that was too tight around his neck, tugged at the knot in the pearl-gray silk tie Casey had chosen. “This was a crazy idea.”
“It was your wife’s idea,” Dave reminded him.
“Exactly.” Adam shot him a look of triumph. “Why the hell am I marrying Casey again, when we’re already married?”
“Because last time was a screw-up,” Dave said simply. He nodded at Adam’s collar. “You better fix that.”
“What’s the hurry? She’s not even here yet.” Adam wanted nothing more than to get this wedding—technically a renewal of vows—over, so they could get on with their lives. It didn’t matter to him that they hadn’t meant their vows the first time around, but Casey wanted to make a public statement that their love was now for real. Adam had agreed because it was a good excuse for a proper honeymoon. He looked at his watch again. Seemed Casey was determined to exercise every bridal privilege ever invented, and then some.
“Eloise said they’re on their way.”
“That was ten minutes ago.” Since Adam’s stepmother was no more likely to be punctual than she was to stop interfering in his life, he didn’t set a lot of store by her assurance. “Casey’s doing this on purpose,” he told Dave. “She told me she wanted this day to last forever, and she’s making it happen.”
“Smart woman,” Dave said appreciatively. “Then again,” he reflected, “she married you.”
“By mistake,” Adam reminded him. “She only stuck around because she fell in love with my car.”
Dave looked interested. “You think if I bought an Aston Martin I’d find a wife like her?”
Adam grinned, but he didn’t reply. There was only one Casey, and she was his.
If only she’d hurry up so they could remind the rest of the world of that fact.
“This wedding won’t be anything like the first one,” he told Dave, mainly to reassure himself there was zero chance of anything going wrong. “A professional conducting the ceremony—”
“I did my best,” Dave protested. “You didn’t give me a lot of notice.”
“No TV cameras,” Adam continued.
“Hmm.” Dave’s glance slid away from his.
“Dammit, I told my staff I didn’t want this on the news.”
“You always say management can’t interfere in the newsroom,” Dave reminded him. “I saw a crew setting up at the back of the church.”
“At least this wedding will be legal,” Adam said, trying to find one thing, anything, that would set today apart—aside from the fact that he was now crazy in love with Casey and she with him.
“It was legal last time,” Dave said.
“Yeah, but we didn’t know that. And this time there’ll only be one bride and one groom.” Adam added ominously, “Won’t there?”
“Absolutely.” Dave pounced on that important difference with enthusiasm.
The minister stuck his head around the door that exited into the corridor. “Casey’s here, she’d like a word with you.”
Adam glanced at Dave. “Isn’t that unlucky?”
“Not for you guys,” Dave said confidently.
When Casey stepped in, Adam’s chest constricted so tightly he could hardly breathe. She’d looked amazing at their first wedding. But today…her dress was strapless and figure-hugging, but the skirt was overlaid by a semi-transparent cloud of white fabric. It was sophisticated yet frivolous, and suddenly all those interminable conversations he’d overheard between Casey and Eloise, bandying words like “organza” and “tulle”, seemed worthwhile. Casey’s slim shoulders were bare, her honey-blonde hair swept up in a loose style that Adam planned to demolish in one passionate clinch. Her eyes were alight with the same happiness he knew she would see in his. But she was chewing that lower lip he loved to kiss, with its tender spot right in the middle.
He took her hands in his. “What’s up, darling?”
“Adam, I don’t want us to start our married life with anything between us.”
He kissed the knuckles of one hand, then the other. “When I get you on our honeymoon, sweetheart, I promise you there’ll be nothing between us at all.”
Her eyes danced, but she shook her head. “I have something to tell you.”
He blenched. “Your sister’s coming to live with us?”
“Of course not.” She swatted him.
“You’re giving the neighbors free run of our garden?”
“No, but, that might be nice. Alison’s children don’t have much of a yard to play in.” She grinned at his evident horror. “Just kidding.”
He thought about the other ways she’d challenged him, infuriated him and generally driven him nuts during their marriage to date. “You crashed the Aston Martin?”
“It’s my car, I can crash it if I want to,” she said reasonably. “No…I went to the doctor this morning.”
“Are you okay?” She looked more than okay, but it was an excuse to cup her face in his hands and plant a kiss on her lips.
There was a delay while she kissed him back. “I’m fine, but the results of my tests came in and I wanted to get them right away.”
Dave clapped his hands over his ears and headed for the door. “Okay, folks, too much information. I’ll wait outside.”
When they were alone, Casey wrapped her arms around Adam’s waist. “He wants to schedule me for surgery right after our honeymoon. But the tests confirmed it’s unlikely to succeed. Chances are we’ll never have a baby of our own.”
“We already figured that,” Adam reminded her. “But you want to give it a try, and I’ll be with you all the way.” She still looked worried. He kissed her nose. “Let me guess, you’re giving me one last chance to back out of committing to you in front of three hundred people?”
“It’s only fair.”
“What’s not fair, my darling, is the way you’re keeping our guests waiting, when you know damned well nothing can come between us.”
She snuggled against him. “I knew you’d say that, but I had to ask. It’s the last time we’ll ever get married.”
“It’d better be,” he said with feeling.
Brodie-Ann stood beside Casey as matron of honor, and although Casey couldn’t see them, she knew her family sat in the front pew, along with Sam and Eloise. Behind them were friends, other relatives. Everyone who mattered was here, and the man who mattered most of all held her hand in a sure grip. The beautiful, measured words of the wedding service washed over her as she let her gaze wander to the high, vaulted ceiling of the historic church. She wanted to be able describe their wedding—both their weddings—in every detail to the children she still hoped she and Adam would have one day.
The minister cleared this throat, and she jerked her gaze back to him. She sensed rather than saw Adam’s outraged amusement at her lack of concentration.
“Adam has written some special vows for him and Casey to take today,” the minister said.
Since when? Casey turned to her husband, saw the tender mischief in his eyes. She hadn’t got used to that mischief yet, even though they’d been married nearly seven months, if you counted the two awful months they’d been apart.
“Adam,” the minister said, “could you repeat after me: I, Adam James Carmichael, take you, Casey Eleanor Carmichael…”
“I, Adam James Carmichael, take you, Casey Eleanor Carmichael…” Adam’s deep voice was solemn, but Casey discerned a smile there, too.
“To love, honor and adore…”
Casey caught her breath, blinked against the sudden brimming in her eyes. Adam’s hand squeezed hers.
“Oh, yes,” she whispered. “Yes, please.”
Eloise didn’t let her hesitation show in her walk. Sam had eyes in the back of his head where she was concerned and he could prove infuriatingly stubborn. If he thought she had any doubts about what she wanted, he was likely to refuse her.
Sam had turned out to be a perfect gentleman.
Eloise was here to insist he…become somewhat less gentlemanly.
She rang the brass doorbell set into his wide front door, and waited.
“Eloise.” Sam stood before her, tall and lean in dark pants and a navy blue corduroy shirt, open at the neck.
Every woman should have a man whose face lit up when she arrived.
“Come in, let me take your coat,” he said.
It was a cold fall day, and despite the heat indoors, Eloise shivered as Sam slid her fur-collared coat from her shoulders. He hung it on a coat-hook, then his hands returned to her shoulders, and he kissed the top of her head. He dipped lower, slid her hair aside and kissed the side of her neck.
Eloise arched against him, then turned and tilted her face. Sam gave a low growl as he claimed her mouth for one of those incredible kisses that melted her bones. Today, he seemed as caught up in the moment as she was. But just when she thought he might at last lose control, and save her having to say what she’d come to say, he ended the kiss. He used both hands to put her away from him, then surveyed her new scarlet wool jersey wrap-dress, her high-heeled black pumps. “You’re beautiful, as always.”
“I do my best,” she said, slightly breathless.
He ushered her into the living room. Out of habit, Eloise chose the couch she usually did. Sam, as always, sat in his leather recliner.
“Sit with me,” she invited, patting the cushion next to her.
He looked wary, and Eloise knew the first twinge of doubt. Sam had loved her so long, she’d assumed he always would. Was it possible, now they’d been seeing each other a few months, he’d tired of her? Was that why his kisses had stayed so…respectable? There’d been occasions when he’d been on the verge of losing control, when his hands had wandered in the most enticing manner. But he always pulled back—it had never occurred to her his interest might be waning.
In which case, this would be the most mortifying thing she’d ever done. She twisted the straps of her purse between her fingers, until Sam reached to take it from her. He placed it on the solid wood coffee table. A few months ago, he’d have fumbled the purse, probably dropped it on the floor and spilled the contents. Eloise had ascribed his new coordination to increased confidence in her presence. But maybe he was no longer so desperate to impress her that he turned clumsy.
“Yesterday was a great success,” he said.
Small talk, what a good idea. She could ease into this. “Casey and Adam looked so happy,” she agreed.
“I meant the organization,” Sam said. “You did a wonderful job, from the church to the reception.”
Despite her nerves, Eloise basked in his approval. “Thank you. It was nice for Casey to have someone do that for her, she’s taken a lot upon herself over the years.”
Silence fell. This was silly, she and Sam normally talked non-stop.
But then, she didn’t normally turn up unannounced. Sam was intelligent enough to know she had something on her mind.
“Can I get you some tea?” Sam said, at the same moment as Eloise blurted,
“Sam, I don’t want your companionship any more.”
She knew right away she’d been dreadfully inept. His face paled, then reddened. “No!” he said, and it was almost a roar.
“I’m sorry—” she rushed to correct herself “—I didn’t mean—”
“Stop right there,” he ordered. He stood, looked down at her with grim determination. “Eloise Carmichael, you do not get to do this now. Not after the dance you’ve led me the last year. I understand you still love James and you miss him….”
He quelled her with a raised hand and a ferocious drawing together of his eyebrows. “You may not accept this yet, Eloise, but you and I are going to end up together. Even if I have to wait until I’m ninety.” The redness in his face faded, as if the assertion had released some kind of pressure. “But if you do make me wait that long, my darling,” he added gruffly, “when you find out what you’re missing you’ll wish you hadn’t.”
“Show me now,” she demanded.
Sam jerked backward. “What?”
Eloise scrambled to her feet. “Show me what I’m missing, Sam.” She put her arms loosely round his neck. Sam swallowed, she saw the movement in his throat.
“Eloise,” he rasped.
“When I said I don’t want companionship, I meant I want more. I want a lover.” Quickly she added, “A lover in the old-fashioned sense as well as the obvious. Someone who loves me, whom I love back. Someone I cherish every moment with, who’s at the heart of my existence.” She kissed his dear mouth. “I love you, Sam.” Oh, it felt good to say it. “I love you.”
She had the satisfaction of astounding him. He gaped at her.
“You did say it will happen one day,” she teased. “Why not today?”
Gently, he removed her arms from around his neck. “Eloise,” he said carefully, “I know how much you miss James. But I’m afraid I don’t ever want to come second to him. You may need more time to—”
She thumped his chest with her fist. “Sam Magill, you’re a— you’re a blasted mule.”
He caught her hand, held it there against his heart.
“Loving you,” Eloise said, “means I can remember James without tears. It’s a gift I never dreamed of. But I’m sick of feeling the best part of my life is behind me.” She spread her fingers against the safe, solid wall of his chest. “I want to be with you.” She added with emphasis, “Body and soul.”
Sam needed no further invitation. His mouth covered hers and he swept her into his arms with a fierce possessiveness that told her no ghost could come between them. He eased her down on to the couch, then backward so she was half lying, and kissed her deeply, his hands roaming her body with brazen intent. She responded with a brazenness of her own that was at once shocking and exciting.
When Sam pulled away, it was all she could do not to moan her disappointment.
“I love you, Eloise,” he said. “Did I say that?”
“You showed me.” She ran a finger down his cheek to his lips. “In a thousand ways.”
He nipped her finger, then straightened her dress where it wrapped in a vee across her breasts, let one hand linger on her curves. “You came here today to do this?” With a sweep of his other hand he indicated her disheveled state.
“And you let me believe you’d come to end it?”
“I didn’t mean to,” she protested.
“You almost gave me a heart attack.” He pulled her close again. “I told you once before you’re a spoiled brat,” he murmured against her ear. “You haven’t changed, somebody ought to spank you.”
“Perhaps they ought.” She wriggled against him, chortled when he groaned in response.
His arms tightened around her. “I’m not going to let you scare me like that again. You’ll have to marry me. Very soon.”
“Sam!” she struggled to put a few inches between them so she could see his face. Saw in his eyes the blaze of desire, of tenderness, of a love that would last forever.
“No arguments, Eloise,” he said sternly.
“No arguments,” she agreed, and gave herself up to his kiss.
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