The Night that Changed Everythingñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Dance with me.”
It was pure charm—the rough baritone voice, the slightly lopsided smile, the touch of that single finger against her lips. And its simplicity caught her off guard. So did the unexpected stab of desire she felt to do exactly that.
Disconcerted, Edie shook her head. “No,” she said. “Thank you.”
“Why not?” His fingers lightly pressed her wrist. His eyes wouldn’t let hers go.
“You’re not supposed to ask ‘why not,’” she said. “It’s bad manners.”
A corner of his mouth quirked. “I thought it was bad manners for you to say no.”
She felt like a gauche teenager, her cheeks burning. But she managed a little shake of her head. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Can’t?” He cocked his head. “Or won’t?”
About the Author
Award-winning author ANNE MCALLISTER was once given a blueprint for happiness that included a nice, literate husband, a ramshackle Victorian house, a horde of mischievous children, a bunch of big, friendly dogs, and a life spent writing stories about tall, dark and handsome heroes. ‘Where do I sign up?’ she asked, and promptly did. Lots of years later, she’s happy to report the blueprint was a success. She’s always happy to share the latest news with readers at her website, www.annemcallister.com, and welcomes their letters there, or at PO Box 3904, Bozeman, Montana 59772, USA (SASE appreciated).
Recent titles by the same author:
HIRED BY HER HUSBAND
THE VIRGIN’S PROPOSITION
that Changed Everything
For Peter, always.
And this time, especially, for Steve,
with thanks for the road trip and the memories.
HE WAS Trouble. With a capital T.
From the look of him, Edie thought as she watched Mr. Tall, Dark and Drop-Dead Gorgeous flash his brilliant smile at her starlet sister, Rhiannon, the whole word should be capitalized.
The precise sort of trouble she knew it was her job to prevent.
So Edie hovered beside a pillar in the Mont Chamion state ballroom assessing the situation as the wedding reception of her royal highness Princess Adriana and her handsome groom, well-known actor-director Demetrios Savas went on around her.
The orchestra was playing and couples all around her were dancing. It would have been better—safer—if Rhiannon had been dancing, too. Instead she was standing still, her body nearly pressed into that of the man she was talking to.
Was it too much to hope that Mr. Trouble would simply smile at her simpering, eyelash batting sister, set her aside and move away into the throng? He was clearly out of Rhiannon’s league.
Her sister might be beautiful and flirtatious, but this man looked to be in his mid-thirties, worldly, sophisticated and clearly had far too much of the “male animal” for Rhiannon who was barely twenty.
And not a very mature twenty, at that.
Edie watched as her sister put her hand on his arm and stood staring up at him with rapt fascination. Edie recognized the look. It could mean she was actually interested in what he was saying to her. Or it could mean that Ree was doing what she did best—acting. In either case, unless Edie intervened it would cause no end of trouble.
Edie willed Mr. Trouble to turn away, to find another admirer. Dancing couples obscured her view for a moment. But when she caught sight of them again, she could see he hadn’t moved an inch. His expression was bemused as he smiled down at her sister. It gave him an enticing groove in one cheek. Rhiannon reached up a finger and stroked it.
Edie stifled a groan.
An elbow suddenly collided with her back. She turned, expecting an apology. Instead she found her mother glaring at her.
“Do something!” Mona Tremayne hissed. She gave Edie a speaking look, then smoothly turned back to Danish producer, Rollo Mikkelsen, slid her arm through his and blinded him with one of her patent Mona Tremayne Sex Goddess For The Ages smiles.
All Edie could think was, “Thank God Rhiannon hadn’t perfected that bit of their mother’s repertoire yet.” But she seemed to be doing well enough on her own. Behind her as the music ended Edie detected what she thought was her sister’s lilting giggle. It was joined by a deep baritone laugh.
Mona obviously heard it, too. She turned back from Rollo Mikkelsen and glowered, first at Edie, then over Edie’s shoulder to where Rhiannon was about to make a big mistake.
So there was no help for it. Edie set her teeth grimly and turned away from her mother, knowing her duty. “Right. On my way.”
As her mother’s and sister’s business manager, Edie’s job was to keep their careers on track. She dealt with the finances, the business appointments, the offers, the contracts and the myriad demands that the world made on one of America’s leading screen actresses and her up-and-coming starlet daughter.
All that was a piece of cake.
It was the hands-on meddling that Edie hated. She didn’t have to do it for her mother. Over the years Mona had certainly learned to take care of herself. And if she made mistakes, she had the clout to make them go away.
Rhiannon was another story.
Rhiannon was young and vulnerable, emotional and flighty. She was also genuinely kind and loving. It was a scary combination. Making sure Rhiannon had lots of projects to keep her focused was the best way to be sure she didn’t sabotage herself, her life or her career.
Ordinarily Edie could manage that by keeping her sister’s calendar booked, and she never had to leave California to do it.
But Mona had rung two days ago from Mont Chamion and said, “Pack your bags.”
When her mother spoke in that brisk no-nonsense tone, Edie knew not to argue. Where Rhiannon was concerned, Mona’s instincts were almost always spot on. If she foresaw trouble, it was better to tackle it head-on than to hope it might not happen. So Edie had dutifully flown halfway around the world ready to put out whatever potential fire might erupt.
But she hadn’t expected to attend the wedding.
“Why ever not?” Mona had demanded. “Of course you’re coming to the wedding. And the reception,” she’d added firmly. “God only knows what mischief Rhiannon can get up to there—especially now that Very Nice Andrew is gone.”
Very Nice Andrew—long-suffering Andrew was how Edie thought of him—was Rhiannon’s fianc?. Her first love, he was absolutely right for Rhiannon, and they both seemed to know it—most of the time. When he and Rhiannon were together and blissful, Edie’s life was relatively blissful, too.
But a lovers’ quarrel had sent Andrew stalking out yesterday. And Mona was right, disaster could easily ensue if Rhiannon was left feeling unappreciated and unloved.
But still Edie had protested that she wasn’t attending the wedding.
“Of course you are,” Mona had said firmly that afternoon as she’d slipped into the gown she was wearing for the wedding and motioned for Edie to lace the back panel. It was a simple sheath, royal blue, setting off Mona’s amazing eyes, with an open V at the back which, as Edie laced it, offered a glimpse of Mona’s still-creamy flesh. It was quietly sexy and titillating, showing just enough to remind the world that, at fifty, Mona Tremayne was still a very appealing woman.
“I’m not invited.” Edie pulled the laces together. “And I’m not crashing a royal wedding.”
Mona’s gaze met hers in the mirror. “Nonsense. You’re not crashing. You’re my guest.”
“Oliver is your guest.”
Sir Oliver Choate, English actor and Mona’s most recent costar, had flown in from Spain yesterday afternoon expressly to escort Mona to the wedding.
“Besides Oliver,” Mona said impatiently. “You need to be there. And you might meet someone …” Her voice trailed off, but she looked at Edie hopefully.
Edie’s teeth set. Exactly what she’d been afraid of. Mona—matchmaking. She gave a long-suffering sigh of her own. “I’m not interested in meeting anyone, Mother.”
“Don’t call me Mother in public,” Mora admonished. “You’re nearly thirty, for goodness’ sake!”
Edie laughed and shook her head, then gave an extra tug to the laces, making her mother suck in a sharp breath. “We’re not in public, and I don’t think they have the bedrooms bugged. Besides, you don’t get parts for ingenues anymore. People know how old you are.”
Mona sighed, then stood up a bit straighter. “I try not to think about it. Anyway—” she shoved a hand into her artfully windblown auburn hair “—you must come—even if you don’t meet a soul,” she added piously. Then she spoiled it by saying, “But honestly, Edie, you need to get back on the horse.”
Start dating again, she meant. Get a life again. Get over Ben.
But Edie didn’t want to get over him. Why should she? Her husband, Ben, had been the best thing that had ever happened to her. And yes, he had been dead two and half years. But so what?
“I did,” Mona pointed out, not for the first time.
“And how did that work out for you?” Edie said dryly.
Edie’s father, Joe, had been killed in a horse riding accident when Edie was five. He’d been the love of Mona’s life, and she’d spent the next twenty years trying to replace him with a succession of men who’d become Edie’s stepfathers.
“I have wonderful children,” Mona said, defiantly meeting her daughter’s eyes in the mirror.
That was certainly true. Edie couldn’t complain about her younger brothers and sisters. In fact Rhiannon, Grace, Ruud and Dirk were the best part of her life, the family that had become for her the one she and Ben had never had.
“You do,” Edie agreed solemnly. She might not have shared her mother’s determination where men were concerned, but she loved her siblings dearly.
“And one of them needs you,” Mona had said, playing the trump card. “Tonight. Lord knows what will happen if Very Nice Andrew breaks off the engagement.”
“Do you think he might?” Edie thought Andrew was besotted with her sister, but she supposed even he could be pushed too far.
Andrew Chalmers was twenty-three, a three-event Olympic swimming medalist, cute as a button and an all-around nice guy, to boot. He had been head over heels in love with Rhiannon since they were in high school together, poor fool.
Though, to be fair, when she wasn’t flirting outrageously with everything in trousers just because she could, Ree genuinely seemed to be in love with Andrew, too. He steadied her, brought out the caring, sweet side of her. And both Mona and Edie were delighted.
A month ago, Andrew had asked her to marry him. Instantly Rhiannon had said yes. They were getting married next summer.
Rhiannon was happily planning their wedding. Or had been—until yesterday’s quarrel.
It hadn’t been subtle. Right there in the middle of one of the Mont Chamion’s most elegant royal reception rooms in front of the king and most of the royal family, Rhiannon had pitched a fit when Andrew had said he was leaving to go to a swimming competition in Vancouver.
“But what about me?” Rhiannon had wailed. “You’re taking me to the wedding!”
“I’m not, actually,” Andrew had said in calm, reasonable tones. “And you knew that, Ree. I said so last week when you wanted me to come over. I said I could come but I had to leave on Friday.”
“But I want you to be with me!”
“You can come with me. I said so,” he reminded her.
But Rhiannon hadn’t wanted to miss the royal wedding. And she’d been sure she could twist Andrew around her finger once she got him here. But Andrew had more backbone than that. And no flood of tears or flurry of words had deterred him. He had stalwartly held his ground and soon thereafter caught a flight to Paris and then to Vancouver. Privately Edie had cheered him on, glad he wasn’t knuckling under to every demand Rhiannon made.
But she had worried, too, because Rhiannon had been in High Drama Mode ever since.
“She’ll ‘do something,’” Mona predicted. “I know it. And so do you. She’ll ruin it, shoot herself in the foot.”
Shooting herself in the foot, literally, was not Rhiannon’s problem. Doing something outrageous with an entirely inappropriate man just to spite Andrew was.
Rhiannon was one of the most beautiful young women Hollywood had ever seen. She was Marilyn Monroe at twenty. Betty Boop in the flesh. And she could flirt for England. Or Wales in this case as Rhiannon’s father was the fiery Welsh poet, Huw Evans. Rhiannon had dual-citizenship. And the ability to get into trouble no matter which continent she was on.
So here Edie was, lurking on the edges of the ballroom, clad in her sister’s sparkly mauve dress that looked magnificent with Rhiannon’s sun-kissed platinum-blonde tresses and deep golden tan, but made Edie’s brown hair look dull and which washed out her fair skin, making her freckles stand out like spots. Even worse was the fact that Rhiannon’s size seven matching heels were pinching Edie’s size nine feet. It was like being stuck in a badly adapted version of Cinderella—and there wasn’t a fairy godmother in sight. Of course there was no prince, either.
Only Mr. Trouble.
Even as Edie watched, Rhiannon cozied up to him, leaning closer, slipping her arm through his. Then she ran the fingers of her other hand down the front of his dinner jacket and giggled a breathless giggle at something he said. She tossed her head, making her hair dance in the light reflected from the crystal chandeliers. At the same time she tucked herself against him and reached up to playfully tousle his hair.
Edie swallowed a groan. Next thing you knew she’d start fiddling with his tie. Undressing him! Mona was right. Disaster was imminent.
Gritting her teeth against the blisters forming on her heels and toes, Edie pushed away from the pillar and made her way toward her sister.
“Ah, there you are!” she said cheerfully. She even managed to beam brightly though it felt more like a wince.
Rhiannon turned and tossed her hair again, obviously annoyed at having her flirtation interrupted. She was no fool. She had to know exactly why Edie was here. “What do you want?” Ree demanded.
Her tone had Mr. Trouble’s dark eyebrows arching as he looked down his blade-straight nose at Edie, wordlessly asking the same question.
She flashed him a smile of polite acknowledgment, but focused on her sister. “I’ve had a text from Andrew.” Which, fortunately, was absolutely true.
Rhiannon lit up, then remembered she was mad at Andrew and frowned. “Why’s he texting you?” Her tone was accusatory.
“Can’t imagine.” Edie shrugged. “Maybe because you turned your phone off?”
Rhiannon’s lower lip jutted out petulantly. “I didn’t want to talk to him.”
“Well, he wants to talk to you. Badly. He sounded desperate.”
That might have been embroidering things a bit. The text had said, Tell ur sister 2 turn her fone on. Need 2 talk.
But he’d said “need.” Didn’t that mean “desperate”? Of course it did.
“Badly,” Edie reiterated, to reinforce the point. Then she turned her gaze on the man still standing with his arm around Rhiannon. “Andrew is her fianc?,” she said pointedly.
He let her go. Quite casually but deliberately, he eased his arm from beneath her hand and moved a step away. He looked at Rhiannon. “A fianc??”
Ree lifted her shoulders in a sulky shrug. “He’s not here,” she said. But then she had the grace to appear a bit shamefaced. “We quarreled. He’s not always right,” she muttered.
Mr. Trouble didn’t say anything, and Edie felt obliged to jump in and steer the situation. “Of course he’s not,” she said stoutly. “And now he’s had plenty of time to think about things all the way to Vancouver. I’m sure he didn’t mean to hurt you, Ree. He’s probably missing you dreadfully.”
“Do you think?” Suddenly Ree’s tone was bright.
Edie nodded emphatically. “Call him.”
But Rhiannon hesitated. She looked at the handsome man beside her, then her gaze measured the whole ballroom as if she were trying to decide what she’d be missing if she left: champagne, music, happy couples dancing past. Mr. Trouble who was, even in Edie’s disapproving estimation, the handsomest man in the room.
Rhiannon looked disgruntled. “He should have stayed. We could have danced.”
“Yes, but he wanted you to go with him, too,” Edie reminded her. “It’s a two-way street. He has a competition.”
“But I’d have missed the wedding.”
“And now you’re missing Andrew.”
Edie let that sink in for a few moments. Then she added almost offhandedly, “If you call him, you can tell him what Sir Oliver said about using his Scottish castle for your honeymoon.”
It was the ultimate temptation. Ever since their engagement, Rhiannon’s life had revolved around their wedding plans, and every detail had to be shared with Andrew. Sir Oliver’s offer of his family’s castle had been all Rhiannon could talk about last night—when she wasn’t talking about how she was fed up with Andrew.
“Oh, all right.” Rhiannon tumbled to the temptation exactly as Edie had dared hope. “I’ll call him. I guess I should since he tried to call … and if he texted you …”
Ree sighed, then lifted her gaze to look at Mr. Trouble. “He loves me,” she explained. “And I love him—even if he’s maddening. So I probably should call him. But,” she added a bit wistfully, “I really would have loved to see the architectural renovations in your bedroom.”
“And I’d have been pleased to show them to you,” he said gallantly.
Edie’s jaw dropped. She slammed it shut at once. Rhiannon didn’t notice. She gave them both a little wave and tripped gaily off toward the doors to the Great Hall where, please God, she would call Andrew and make up with him.
Edie watched her go, holding her breath until Rhiannon was out of sight. Then she turned to make her excuses and disappear, only to discover that the man Rhiannon had been pawing wasn’t looking in the direction Rhiannon had gone.
His dark eyes were now on her. A slow smile touched his lips. And then he winked at her.
Something kicked over in her chest. It was almost electric, as if she’d been dead and was suddenly jerked back to life.
Like Sleeping Beauty and the prince? she sneered at herself. But the sensation was so real and caught her so totally unaware that for a moment she couldn’t speak. She hadn’t felt this sort of awareness since Ben.
When she did finally find her voice, she said, “Architectural renovations in your bedroom?”
Next thing you knew he’d say he’d been going to show Rhiannon his etchings.
But Mr. Trouble just grinned at her and she felt another jolt. “Scout’s honor,” he said, eyes alight with amusement.
Edie refused to think it was funny. She glowered at him.
“You don’t believe me? I’ll show them to you.” He offered her his arm.
Instantly Edie folded hers across her chest. “Don’t be ridiculous! I’m not going to your room. And Rhiannon wouldn’t have, either,” she lied a second later, needing for some reason she didn’t quite understand to deflect the focus back to her sister. “She does love Andrew. They just had a disagreement. And she … lost her head.” Not to mention her sense of propriety. “She wasn’t offering,” she added firmly.
“No?” His brow lifted. “Apparently you didn’t hear as much of the conversation as I did.”
Edie’s cheeks burned. “She wouldn’t have—have …”
“Slept with me?” He was laughing at her now. “You don’t think so?”
“No!” At least Edie hoped not.
“Well, don’t worry, I wouldn’t have slept with her.”
Edie’s eyes widened, and she was surprised again by another unexpected feeling, this time one of something akin to relief. “You … wouldn’t?”
He shook his head, meeting her gaze. “Not on your life. She’s a child.”
He nodded. “Like I said, not my type.”
“You have a type.” It wasn’t a question.
Of course he had a type. Men like him always did.
“Well, um, good,” Edie said, because she felt obliged to say something in the face of the steady assessing look he was giving her. She started to back away.
He followed. “Who are you?” he demanded. His gaze was intent now, his eyes so dark they were almost black.
“Rhiannon’s sister.” No one ever believed it until Mona swore on a stack of Bibles that she’d given birth to them both. Her sister was blonde and busty, all curves and come-on. Edie was all angles, elbows and knees. Always had been. With nondescript brown hair and green eyes. Not the color of jade. Not the color of emeralds. Pretty much the color of grass. “Half sister,” she corrected.
“Do you have a name, half sister?”
Something else she and Rhiannon didn’t have in common. Her sister was named after some ethereal mythological Welsh goddess. Edie was named after her father’s mother.
“Ah. Edie.” He grinned and reached out and tugged one of her nondescript locks of hair. “My grandmother’s name.”
As in “up to the old nick,” no doubt—as her grandmother used to say when describing the family’s mischief makers.
“Demetrios’s brother?” Edie knew he had several, but she hadn’t been introduced to any of them. She just knew that almost all of the tall dark-haired, sinfully gorgeous men at the wedding were related to the groom.
Nick shook his head. “Cousin.”
Trust Rhiannon to flirt with a member of the groom’s family. The most handsome member of the groom’s family, come to that. All the Savas men were handsome as sin. But this one was definitely the most gorgeous of the lot.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî