June 28, 2016
Tough Luck Hero
Can the golden boy of Copper Ridge, Oregon, get a second chance at happy-ever-after?
Ranching heir Colton West knew his wedding would be the talk of the town. But he didn't expect to get left at the altar—or to escape on the next flight to Vegas with Lydia Carpenter, the woman who gets under his skin like no one else. The only thing crazier than honeymooning with Lydia is waking up married to her. So why does he find himself entertaining his new wife's desire to stay married—and fantasizing about a real wedding night?
As Copper Ridge's prospective mayor, Lydia can't risk a divorce scandal so close to election time. But pretending to be blissfully in love with her new husband is more confusing than she'd thought. For a man who's always rubbed her the wrong way, Colton suddenly seems to know exactly what to do with his hands. And his lips. Now Lydia's wildest mistake could turn out to be her luckiest move, if they're both willing to take the ultimate gamble…
Also In this Series:
One Night Charmer
April 19, 2016
Last Chance Rebel
August 30, 2016
She didn’t have a chandelier hanging from her bedroom ceiling. But somehow, when she opened her eyes, that was what she saw.
Lydia Carpenter’s bedroom ceiling was sedate, and mostly nondescript. White. It was not bright yellow with diamonds painted around a—well, yes, it was still a chandelier.
She squinted in the dim light and looked to the left, at the curtains—bearing a similar pattern to the ceiling—and the near-blinding shaft of light they let into the room.
Wind from a vent somewhere shifted the curtains and let in more light. Light that promptly stabbed her in the eyeballs.
She hissed and rolled onto her back, her head pounding, the room spinning slightly.
She wasn’t at home. Where else would she be?
Oh right. The wedding of the century, at least according to the town of Copper Ridge, Oregon. The wedding that hadn’t happened. The wedding of her ex-best friend Natalie Bailey to. Colton West.
His name hit her like a brick. A brick thrown directly at her head. She turned away from the window and looked across the bed. She covered her mouth with both hands, trying to prevent the horrified squeak from escaping and disturbing the man that was lying there.
The very beautiful man, whose brown hair was shot through with gold, and looked perfect, even in sleep. The man with the exquisitely square jaw, and lips that looked like they existed to kiss a woman. The man who was barely covered by a very brightly colored hotel bedspread.
She had never, ever, ever done anything like this in her life. Ever. Ever.
At least, she was pretty sure they had done this. Her memory could not be trusted at the moment. How was that even fair? She was in bed with Colton West and she didn’t even remember what had happened.
She was… She lifted the sheets and cringed in horror. Well, she wasn’t dressed, either. So there was no way to deny the very likely happenings of the night before.
What kind of friend was she? What kind of bridesmaid slept with the groom?
Though, in fairness to her, Natalie hadn’t shown up to the wedding, so the groom hadn’t really had a bride. And also in fairness to her, her friendship with Natalie was already splintered and—according to her friend—Lydia had already committed a heinous betrayal by running for mayor against Natalie’s father.
But the bridesmaid dresses had already been ordered and fitted, and there had been no way to shuffle things without creating ripples in the community. And both Lydia and Natalie had wanted to avoid ripples.
Lydia nearly laughed. At the moment she wasn’t experiencing a ripple. Right now she was in the middle of a tidal wave.
She got out of bed, dragging the sheet with her, while making sure the thin bedspread stayed in place to keep Colton covered, and started to tiptoe around the hotel room. She assumed it was a hotel room. Unless Colton’s bedroom was very strangely decorated.
Her hideous bridesmaid dress was on the bar. The hideous bridesmaid dress her mother had pointed out was her unlucky number three bridesmaid dress.
“Three times a bridesmaid, Lydia. You know what they say.”
Well. She had not actually been a bridesmaid. So her mother’s fears were unfounded. At least, that specific fear.
The bar was huge, with a wide selection of alcohol her dress was currently draped over. This wasn’t just a hotel room. It was a suite of some kind.
In Copper Ridge? There wasn’t a place like this that she could think of.
She wandered across the room and grabbed the edge of the violet-colored dress, then dropped the sheet as she quickly put it on, the tulle and netting rustling as she tugged it up over her bare curves.
There. Now her dignity was restored.
She laughed, a kind of short, hysterical sound that she quickly tried to tamp down. She did not want him to wake up. Not now.
Sanity. She needed sanity. And coffee. And to figure out what had happened to bring them to this point.
Lydia had never, ever gotten drunk enough to leave the previous night a total blank space in her mind. She had never even been hungover. It wasn’t fun. Not at all.
From across the room, Colton groaned and rolled onto his back and Lydia froze.
Please, don’t wake up. Please, don’t wake up.
She tiptoed across the room and over to the window, because she needed to try and get her bearings so she could figure out how she was going to get home. Without involving Colton in any way.
Maybe they would never even have to speak of this. Maybe they could pretend it hadn’t happened.
She paused in front of the curtains and steeled herself for more sunlight. It looked awfully bright out there beyond the curtains for their misty Pacific Northwest mornings. Maybe it wasn’t even morning. How would she know? She was disoriented. And fuzzy. And she’d had sex for the first time in way longer than she wanted to admit and she didn’t even remember the sex.
Today was not going to be a good day.
Taking a bracing breath, she pulled the edge of the curtains back and poked her head past them, trying to minimize the amount of light she let in so she didn’t wake her partner in licentiousness.
And her stomach dropped straight into her feet.
The view in front of her was a sun-washed contrast to the misty green of Copper Ridge. The sky was pale and clear, the mountains in the distance brushed a hazy tan color that made them look thin and faded. Like the sun had burned the intensity out of everything it touched, leaving only a husk behind.
Then she started soaking in the rest of the view. A concrete sprawl rising up out of a desert and—and the Eiffel Tower.
“Oh,” she said, suddenly not caring if she woke Colton up at all. “Oh no.”
She heard rustling behind her, a very masculine groan that skittered along her already-frayed nerves.
The view didn’t look like Copper Ridge, because they weren’t in Copper Ridge.
Another piece of the puzzle locked into place, and when it did, it hit hard.
They were in Las Vegas. She put her hand on her forehead, trying to remember exactly what had happened.
She’d been at the front of the aisle. And Colton had been too. Then the music for the bride had played. And played. And played.
But there was no Natalie.
Colton had taken charge and told everyone to go to the reception. Natalie’s parents had been frantic. And then…well, then Colton had gotten a text and it had become clear that Natalie had chosen not to show up.
The reception had been overtaken by manic energy. Colton’s father had been holding court, trying to take control of the situation while his mother had started drinking.
Natalie’s parents had been fighting.
Colton’s brother-in-law Ace had been worrying over Colton’s very pregnant sister, and his other sister, Madison, had been nowhere to be seen.
And then she’d seen Colton slip off by himself.
For some reason – a moment of insanity, of compassion – she’d followed after him.
Let the sound of the reception fade into the background.
“You want to get out of here?”
He turned his head, his brows lifting in surprised. “With you?”
“Why not? The alternative is hanging out and waiting for Natalie to decide to come back.” For some reason, she hadn’t been able to stand the idea of him doing that. “Do you want to be here if she does?”
“Well…almost everyone is here. So no one will know if we make an escape.”
And they had. They’d gone to Ace’s – where Ace was not since he was still at the non-wedding – and started ordering shots.
From there, Colton had called the airport. And after that, things were a little blurry.
She knew they’d had a discussion about where they could get to quickly, and she knew they’d had more to drink on the plane and landed and…and…
She couldn’t remember much more after that. But hey, they were naked in a hotel suite. The blanks sort of filled themselves in.
She heard the covers rustle behind her and she realized that her chance to process this alone was coming to an end. She had to face the music. And the naked guy that was in her bed.
She swallowed hard, turning away from the window and looking very determinedly past the bed at the back wall. Whatever had happened last night, she didn’t remember it. She was not about to refresh her memory.
No. Some things were better left buried.
“Good morning,” she said, doing her best to keep her voice crisp and even. A sharp stab of pain answered immediately. Her hangover obviously didn’t appreciate her tone.
“What?” His voice was very male, very husky. Unfamiliar. She did not often wake up with men, so she didn’t usually hear their rusty morning voices. And she had never, ever, heard Colton West’s rusty morning voice.
First time for everything.
“We’re in Las Vegas, Colton,” she said, sounding a little harsh even to her own ears.
He sat up, the motion drawing her eye to him and she gave thanks that the sheet was firmly over his lap. “I…” He studied her. “I’m not supposed to be in…Vegas. What the hell?”
“Well,” she said, “I’m not supposed to be in Las Vegas, either. I don’t gamble. I don’t really drink, for that matter.”
He laughed, then winced. “If you have a headache like mine I’m pretty sure we both had something to drink last night.”
“I have a feeling last night contained more than one aberration.”
“Right.” He looked around the room. “How did you get into my room?”
She snapped her mouth shut. She was wearing the dress from last night, and, ever since he had been conscious, she had been standing. Which meant he didn’t realize… She considered, for a couple of seconds, allowing him to maintain the illusion. But, ultimately, she kind of wanted him to be horrified by his behavior right along with her.
Assuming they had behaved as badly as it had appeared when she had first woken up.
“I slept here.”
He didn’t say anything. In the dim light, she could make out a slow shift in his facial expression. “We left the wedding together.”
“Yes,” she said, speaking slowly and softly for both of their benefits. “Natalie didn’t show up, Colton.”
He nodded slowly. “Right.”
“And then we…” She scrunched her face. “Obviously we ended up here.”
She heard a loud, low vibration coming from the nightstand by the bed. “Text,” he said, picking up the phone.
Her phone. She needed to find her phone.
“I have to turn on the light. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to both of us.” She moved to the lamp next to the window and flicked it on, then she scanned the expanse of the room. “I had to have a purse, because it has my ID. And I couldn’t get on a plane without my ID.”
“Do you have to think out loud?” he asked, wincing.
“Right now, yes,” she said.
She was starting to remember why she and Colton didn’t often have conversations. He was so bossy and obnoxious. High-handed, irritating as hell.
Which was why she felt a little bit like her skin was too tight for her body when she was near him. And nothing else and no other reason at all.
She spotted her purse finally, shoved into a dark corner of the room. She never did things like that. She did not shove her possessions.
Everything had a place. Everything.
Just not in this room.
She growled and took a small amount of satisfaction when the sound made Colton flinch. Then she walked across the room and sank to her knees, grabbing her purse and frantically digging for her phone. Thankfully, it was there.
She picked it up and clicked the home button, her heart hammering hard when she saw the screen filled with texts.
So, some people knew she was gone. Great.
She entered in her passcode and for the first time noticed that something on her hand felt weird. She hadn’t noticed before because her whole body felt messed up. Her head, her balance, her mouth. And she was tingling. With some kind of strange, euphoric feeling leftover from the night before. One she’d certainly never associated with sex, but these were strange and interesting times, so really, how could she tell what it was from?
She looked down at her left hand and froze. There was a band there. White gold with diamonds. Or some cheap metal with cubic zirconia, for all she knew.
“No,” she muttered, unable to tear her gaze away. “No, no no no.”
“I think yes.”
She turned to face Colton. “What?”
He held his phone out, the bright screen facing her. “Apparently I spent some time texting Natalie last night about her failure to appear.”
She squinted from her position on the floor. “I can’t…is that a picture?”
“Yes. Of us.”
She sprang into action then. She jumped up and crossed the room in three large steps, leaning into the screen. There she was. Her arms around Colton’s neck, with what looked like Ace’s bar in the background and a couple of empty shot glasses in front of them.
She couldn’t imagine putting her arms around Colton. And yet, clearly she had.
She had also undressed with him. And very likely…
She looked down at her hand. Right. At the moment sex was the least of her worries. She held her hand up so that he could see.
“What. The hell. Happened last night?” she asked.
It was her phone’s turn to buzz, and that reminded her of the texts.
She looked down at the phone. She had several from Sadie Garrett, a couple from Marlene at the Chamber of Commerce, where Lydia was president, and a couple more from coworkers.
She touched the line with Sadie’s first.
LYDIA I AM ALL CAPS YOU NEED TO RESPOND
Lydia blinked and scrolled up, to see Sadie had texted several times. Each time a little bit more frantic. It had graduated from what are you doing? to are you dead in a ditch? since last night. Or rather, early this morning.
And when she reached the top she saw exactly why.
There were texts explaining the photograph, but Lydia didn’t need to read them. Because a picture was worth a thousand drunk texts.
There she was with Colton, arms around his neck, but it wasn’t Ace’s in the background of this picture. Nope. It was a chapel. A tacky, Vegas chapel. She was in her bridesmaid dress and Colton was wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
Picture Lydia was holding her hand partly in front of the screen, displaying the very ring that was on real Lydia’s finger, up close and blurry. She was grinning like—well, like an idiot. Colton’s eyes were half-closed, a big smile on his face, and his hand was resting high on her waist, perilously close to her breast.
“I guess…” She sat there, completely stunned, feeling dazed and more than a little confused. “I guess there was a wedding yesterday after all.”
As she stared at the picture, it all started coming back in a full color blur. They’d gambled, they’d drunk, and it had all gotten increasingly…hilarious.
They were in Vegas! She was supposed to be the bridesmaid in a wedding that hadn’t happened! He was a groom with no bride, and he had spent half the day in a damned tux—his words exactly—and that was just wrong.
So they’d thought the discrepancy should be remedied. And then… Sometime, just before midnight, she had stumbled into a chapel on the Las Vegas strip, and she, Lydia Carpenter, front-running candidate for mayor of Copper Ridge, levelheaded community pillar and responsible citizen, had not been a bridesmaid for the third time. No, instead, she had been a bride. And she had married Colton West.