Authors: Tracy Anne Warren
“Warren delivers exactly what I’m looking for.”
Close your eyes. . . .
James was a heavy sleeper, hard to rouse once he became tangled in the world of dreams.
If she kissed him, chances were good he’d never know. And oh, how she longed to kiss him.
Lowering her lips to his, she rested them there, delicately balanced, scarcely touching. . . . He didn’t awaken.
Emboldened, she let her eyes softly close as she increased the pressure, turning the barely there touch into a real kiss. She savored the sensation, the feeling of skin to skin, heat to heat. He tasted like honey, or some exotic variety of fruit, lush and forbidden. She softly drew a breath, her senses swimming as the scent of him flooded through her. His essence swam inside her head, on her mouth, in her nose, down her throat, better than anything she’d ever tasted.
Suddenly he shifted. . . .
She broke the kiss and began to sit up, but before she could move away, he clamped a hand around the back of her head and crushed her lips to his.
His turn now . . .
The Last Man on Earth
The Princess and the Peer
Her Highness and the Highlander
The Trouble with Princesses
Published by the Penguin Group
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library,
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Copyright © Tracy Anne Warren, 2014
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For my amazin’ raisin, Georgianna,
who spread light and laughter wherever she went
and who never needed sight to see the beauty in life
Deepest thanks to all my wonderful fans—both old and
The church door swung back hard on its hinges, caught in an icy blast of wind that raked James Jordan’s short hair and cut beneath the thick dark wool of his coat. He barely acknowledged the chill as he jogged down the stairs, strode across the concrete pathway, too deadened inside to be troubled by a little nip from the elements.
He’d been so happy just a short while ago, buoyant and brimming with anticipation. The late-December sky had been clear and sunny when he’d arrived for the ceremony, as if it too were celebrating the day. Now it was swathed in gray, broad clouds lumbering above in sullen gloom.
How could she have done it? he wondered. Madelyn, his friend, his love.
How could she have crushed him on this, the day they were supposed to have wed?
She’d suffered as she’d told him, he knew, the words passing from her lips in a strange, strangled whisper.
but I can’t marry you
She loved him, but not that way, not enough to promise herself to him for a lifetime. Her face had been ruddy and swollen from tears as she pleaded with him to understand.
But he didn’t want to understand. Not now. Perhaps not ever. Nor did he want to forgive. She’d hurt him, betrayed him, shamed him in front of their guests, their families and friends.
Yet the humiliation was nothing, not compared to the chasm that had opened deep inside him. The pain of knowing he’d lost her.
He clutched a set of car keys—hastily borrowed from his best man—inside his fist. The hard-edged metal teeth bit into his hand. He squeezed harder, craving the pain.
He had to get away.
Had to be alone.
What did it matter where?
Just away. Anywhere away.
“James, wait,” a soft voice called to him, satin-slippered feet rushing up from behind.
He walked onward without pause.
A slender hand reached for his shoulder, plucked at his coat sleeve. “Please, James. Please stop.”
He walked on. He didn’t need to look to recognize the identity of the speaker. Ivy Grayson, Madelyn’s teenage sister. “Let me be, Ivy.”
She kept pace with him, undaunted. “You shouldn’t go, not this way. Please stop.”
He did, finally, halting at the neat black iron gate to the fence that surrounded the church’s rear yard. With a sigh, he turned, found her standing, slender and pretty in her bridesmaid’s finery. Tiny fresh rosebuds were arranged in her fair hair, the flowers the same deep pink as her long formal gown.
“There’s no reason to stay,” he said in a lifeless tone. “The wedding’s off.”
“You shouldn’t be alone,” she insisted gently.
“But that’s exactly what I want to be.” He saw the distress in her blue eyes. “I’ll be fine,” he assured her. “Don’t worry about me.”
“But I will worry.” She bit her lip. “Why don’t I come with you?”
“No,” he said, more harshly than he’d intended.
Her face fell at the rebuke.
A fresh gust of wind swept over them on its rush toward the west. Ivy shivered in her thin garment.
He frowned. “Why’d you come out here without a coat? You’re freezing. Go back inside.”
She wrapped her arms around herself, shook her head. “No, I’m okay. It’s not that cold.”
He made a rude noise and began unbuttoning his coat. He slipped it off, revealing the fine, hand-tailored black tuxedo he wore underneath.
His wedding clothes.
He draped the coat over her shoulders, drawing the flaps closed in front.
Ivy sighed as heat enveloped her.
His heat, his scent trapped in the sleek silk lining and soft cashmere wool. She drank it in, all of it, luxuriating in the exquisite sensations. Despite her height—she stood five feet nine in her bare feet—his coat hung on her, voluminous as a tent. The hem just barely cleared the ground.
“I can’t take your coat,” she protested. “You’ll be cold.”
“I thought you said it wasn’t cold,” he chided mockingly.
“No. I said not much,” she hedged.
They eyed each other for a long moment, the air between them easy with the familiarity of years. For an instant the tension eased from his jaw as his natural sense of humor asserted itself. Then his eyes hardened again.
She read his pain, her heart aching. “I’m so sorry. Maybe I could talk to her—”
“No. There is no talking to her. She’s made up her mind. It’s done. She doesn’t want me.”
“I don’t understand her. Any woman would be thrilled to be yours. I’d marry you in an instant,” she blurted, saying the words she’d never, ever meant to say out loud. Revealing a wish she’d kept locked away inside her heart for such a very long time.
“It’s nice to know someone still would after today.”
Aware he thought she was joking, she lifted her chin. “I’m serious. I’ll marry you. I know I’m only fifteen, too young yet for you, but if you’d wait, I wouldn’t leave you at the altar. I’d make you happy. Grandma Bradford was only seventeen when she got married.”
“I know you still love Malynn,” she said, using the name she’d given her sister long ago, when her toddler’s tongue couldn’t wrap itself around the harder word “Madelyn.” “I wouldn’t expect you not to. But maybe as time goes on it won’t hurt so much. Maybe in a couple years there’ll be room in your heart for me. If you loved one sister, why couldn’t you love another?”
“Shh, Ivy. Enough.”
“I love you, James.”
He closed his eyes for a brief moment before meeting her gaze. “I love you too, sweetheart. We’ve always been the best of friends, haven’t we?”
She nodded, a spark of hope flaring to life inside her.
“And we’ll continue to be friends, good friends, no matter what. But, Ivy, as flattered as I am by your proposal, it wouldn’t be right. There’re a lot of years between us, too many years. Besides, what would you want with an old man like me when there’re so many young guys just waiting for a chance to be with a beautiful girl like you?”
“But I don’t want any of them. I want you. And you’re not old,” she protested.
“I’m thirty-one. When I was fifteen, thirty-one sounded as close to ancient as you could get without actually being dead. Come on; admit it. You know I’m right.”
She shook her head. “I don’t see you that way. I see you as you, as James. Your age doesn’t matter to me.”
“But it matters to others; you know it does. Your
parents, your family, your friends—what would they think?”
She knew exactly what they would think, and they wouldn’t approve, no matter how much they liked James. And they did like him, even adored him. Her parents had all but adopted him years ago, when a then-teenage Madelyn had dragged him over from the house next door.
Maybe he was old enough to have known her since she was a baby. But she didn’t care. She loved him.
He gave her a sympathetic smile. “I know you won’t believe me, but six months or a year from now, you’ll look back on this and wonder what you could have been thinking. You’ll have met some great guy at school. You’ll be worrying about which college to attend and what dress to wear to the prom. I’ll be the last thing on your mind.”
A lock of her hair came free of its carefully styled knot and blew across her face. He reached out to tuck it behind her ear. She caught his hand, pressed his palm to her cheek and closed her eyes. “You’re always on my mind,” she murmured earnestly.
When she opened her eyes again, he met her look and sighed. “Ivy, you seem to have forgotten that until a few minutes ago, I was going to marry your sister. I love Madelyn and I wanted her for my wife. Getting over her is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. But I’m going to try my damnedest and so are you. You’re going to get on with your life and get over this . . . this crush you have on me.”
He pulled his hand away.
A tear slipped down her cheek. “You’re going, then?”
“Yes, I’m going.”
“When will I see you again?”
He tucked his hands in his suit pockets, hunched his shoulders. “I don’t know. A while. I have some business in Europe I’ve been neglecting because of the wedding. I may see to that.”
“I’m rarely anything else; you know that.”
“You’ll need your coat.” She slipped it from around her shoulders and held it out to him. “Mine’s inside the church.”
He shrugged into his coat. “You’d better run on. Someone’s probably looking for you by now.”
But she stood her ground, her eyes serious and intent. “She’s a fool, you know, to have let you go,” she stated, her words those of an adult.
He paused, then pressed a kiss to her forehead. “You’re a sweet girl. Don’t ever let that change.”
He turned and unlatched the gate.
She watched him walk away, the skin on her forehead and cheek hot and tingling where he’d touched her. She wished he’d kissed her on the lips, but it was too soon for that.
James was right about a great many things, she knew.
She was too young for him.
Her family would disapprove.
And less than an hour ago, he’d been pledged to marry her sister.
But not anymore.
Before, Ivy had been willing to let him go. For Madelyn’s sake. For his sake. Because she’d known he loved her sister, and above all else, she wanted him to be happy.
But now he was free. Now he could be hers. And he was wrong about her feelings; they would never change.
She loved him.
She always had.
She always would.
And someday, she promised herself, he was going to feel the same.