Hayley Gardner.

Kidnapping His Bride






For a few long seconds, as Griff kissed her and she kissed him back, Tessa forgot everything.

She felt what shed always felt around Griff, right down through her bodydelightful, sensual desire. And she basked in the feeling of being close to a man she had once loved more than anyone else in the whole world.

Loved. Past tense.

The thought brought her back to reality, and she jerked away from him, stiffening.

You shouldnt have done that, she said, staring at him.

Why? he asked quietly. Because you liked it so much its giving you second thoughts about what youre getting into? Because youre worried that the yearning you just felt is the way youre supposed to feel about the man youre marryingplus a whole lot more?

Dear Reader,

Summers finally here! Whether youll be lounging poolside, at the beach, or simply in your home this season, we have great reads packed with everything you enjoy from Silhouette Romancetenderness, emotion, fun and, of course, heart-pounding romanceplus some very special surprises.

First, dont miss the exciting conclusion to the thrilling ROYALLY WED: THE MISSING HEIR miniseries with Cathie Linzs A Prince at Last! Then be swept off your feetjust like the heroine herself!in Hayley Gardners Kidnapping His Bride.

Romance favorite Raye Morgan is back with A Little Moonlighting, about a tycoon set way off track by his beguiling associate who wants a family to call her own. And in Debrah Morriss That Maddening Man, can a traffic-stopping smile convince a career womanand single momto slow down?

Then laugh, cry and fall in love all over again with two incredibly tender love stories. Vivienne Wallingtons Kindergarten Cupids is a very different, highly emotional story about scandal, survival and second chances. Then dive right into Jackie Brauns True Love, Inc., about a professional matchmaker whos challenged to find her very sexy, very cynical client his perfect woman. Can she convince him that she already has?

Heres to a wonderful, relaxing summer filled with happiness and romance. See you next month with more fun-in-the-sun selections.

Happy reading!


Mary-Theresa Hussey

Senior Editor

Kidnapping His Bride
Hayley Gardner


www.millsandboon.co.uk

And to Tina, Mary-Theresa, Miss Jeri Buckner and Sheriff Kenneth Volentine: my heartfelt thanks for your help and/or expertise.

To all the people in Claiborne Parish who have gone out of their way to accept us, help us and make us feel like family: because of you, living in Athens is like living in Paradise.

Thank you.

Books by Hayley Gardner

Silhouette Romance

A Baby in His Stocking #1341

Kidnapping His Bride #1598

Silhouette Yours Truly

Holiday Husband

The One-Week Wife

The One-Week Baby

HAYLEY GARDNER

used to sit in high school history class while the teachers lectured and write romances in her notebook instead of notes. That turned out just fine, because she could always study the textbooks, and the teachers always thought she was their most conscientious student who took down every word they said!

Now, years later, she is thrilled to be following her dream of full-time writingwhen she isnt homeschooling her son, that is. Any free time Hayley has is spent with her husband or researching methods of teaching children with autism or collecting dolls or knitting or taking long, deep breathsand hoping her readers enjoy her efforts to make them smile and feel good about love.


Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Epilogue

Chapter One

She was doing the right thing, Tessa Blake reassured herself as she paced in the foyer of one of Claiborne Landings only two churches. In her white satin, pearl-studded, wedding dress, she was the bride-to-be shed dreamed of being for almost all of her twenty-seven yearsso what if she was marrying the wrong groom? There was nothing wrong with Clay Ledoux. Nothing at all. Had she been anyone but who she was, with any other past than the one she had, and had he been anyone else but who he was, she might have fallen hard for Clay. Even though she hadnt, this marriage was what she wanted, and nothing was going to stand in her way.

Through the closed door to the sanctuary, she could hear her grandmother, Sadie, who had taken her in when shed been more or less orphaned at age twelve, playing the opening notes of the next to the last song before the Wedding March. Focus. She needed to focus. So she concentrated on the music, and how happy she would be

Was leaving me off the invitation list my brothers ideaor yours?

Not having heard the front door to the church brush open over the carpet behind her, Tessa jumped at the voice. Realizing whom it belonged to, she whirled around with a little gasp, her petticoats and satin skirt rustling back into place as she met the gaze of the man who had once played the leading role in all her dreams of being a bride. Griff. Clays brother. Her former fianc?. Shed ended their engagement years before when shed finally figured out that hed be happier flying planes in the Air Force than stuck here in Claiborne Landing with her. To see him here, now, was totally unexpected, as was the physical attraction that slammed right into her stomach and edged down to her knees, making them weak. Exasperated that she could still feel anything for him, even physically, after having gone on with her life, she mustered up some gumption.

For years on end you dont come home, and you expected an invitation? she asked, purposely keeping her voice low so no one would come see whom she was talking to. We figured youd send your regrets. That youd already be busy climbing in some pyramid. Or maybe flying off to see an ancient Greek ruin or some French art museum. Dont tell me youre calling a halt to your traveling before seeing all the Seven Wonders of the World?

Maybe, he drawled out, I figured seeing Tessa Blake getting married without love, and to my brother, might qualify as the Eighth. At least, you got me wondering.

How did you know that? As soon as the sentence was out of her mouth, she realized shed just about verified the marrying without love part. It figured. She could never hide anything from Griff. Thats why she tried to avoid him whenever he was in town for a visit. Mostly it had worked, except for that one time two years ago when shed run into him, and spoken up when she shouldnt have. But she didnt want to dwell on the past.

Someone told you about the wedding and that I wasnt in love? she asked.

And more, via e-mail.

More? She gulped. Already panicked, she was now feeling almost light-headed. What more?

He shrugged his broad shoulders. Not important.

Not important to him maybe. Tessa took a slow, deep breath and tried to relax. If Griff knew the worst, he would not be that nonchalant.

Who was this e-mail from?

I honestly dont know. The address was Please-Come@freebies.com. The muscle in his jaw throbbed. You didnt send it, did you?

No!

He believed her; she could tell by his solemn look.

None of that is important right now, he said. What is, is that you dont make the mistake of your life by walking down that aisle. He took a step closer to her, and Tessa backed up until she was almost at the still-closed door to the sanctuary. The last thing she wanted on the day she was getting married was to be this close to Griff. Even though her brain had written him a goodbye letter after hed made her heart freeze up, it was like shed forgotten to send a copy to the rest of her body. They hadnt been this close for years.

So many years.

You have to leave, she said with as much authority as she could muster, not about to get into what kind of mistake she was about to makeor not. Im going to be getting married in about two minutes.

So you say. Griff stared solemnly around the foyer, at the small, antique bookcase to one side and at the steep stairwell leading up to the classroom where theyd had Sunday School classes as children. Theres no one here to walk you down the aisle and give you away. Want me to?

No, Griff. Youre the past. My future is on the other side of this door, and thats where Im going. Alone.

He lifted his fingertips, brushed back a ringlet at her temple and then slid them slowly down the curve of her cheek, sending a shiver through her. You swore to me a couple of years back you were going to have your dream, Tessa, he reminded her, his voice getting under her skin and reaching into her heart. Im here to make sure you dont give up on it.

Her dream? Then she remembered. The last time theyd really talked, during one of his rare visits home, Griff had asked her why shed never gotten married. Shed told him she wouldnt, not unless she fell in love, and that hadnt happened yet. That just as Griff had given up everything, including her, to pursue his dream, she was determined to have hers of a loving husband and children. The perfect family shed never had, in the perfect home and hometown she hadnt had until her father had abandoned her, her mother had died, and the authorities had finally found Sadie. Griff was here to make sure she didnt give up on that dream. But how could he do that? They were through.

You walked away years ago, remember? she asked. Her heart, already beating swiftly, pounded at his nearness. The woodsy scent he was wearing began to penetrate her defenses and cloud her thoughts. You shouldnt care at this point.

I shouldnt care, he agreed, his eyes never leaving her, but I know how much pain a loveless marriage can causefor both sides. I dont want you, or my brother, to have to go through that. And then theres Suddenly he shook his head. No, there isnt time to get into that. Just postpone the wedding, and lets go talk.

I cant, she said, shaking her head, wanting to ask him what there was no time to get into, but doing so would be pointless. Im marrying your brother, now. We can talk later.

We need to talk now.

Of all the nerve Behind her, The Wedding March started. Ready to enter the sanctuary and walk down the aisle, Tessa purposefully slid to Griffs side and began to turn toward the door. But before she could so much as put her hand on the golden knob, Griff swept her off her feet and hoisted her onto his shoulder. Pivoting, he headed through the still-open front door and down the brick steps of the church.

Are you crazy? Tessa asked breathlessly, batting his chest. He didnt respond. She swung her head from side to side, looking for help, but then she remembered the entire population of Claiborne Landing, all one hundred fifty-five of them, were stuffed into the church, courtesy of her grandmother. There wasnt so much as one old man idling his time away on the bench in front of the car repair shop across the road. Through the closed windows, with the noisy wall unit air conditioners humming and The Wedding March being played loudly, Tessa doubted anyone could hear her if she yelled for help. At least, she thought wryly, she didnt have to worry about the embarrassment of it all.

In the seconds it took to reach his shiny, silver-blue truck parked on the edge of the road, she was beyond the shock shed experienced in the church, past the physical attraction, and all the way up to irritated. Very. He plopped her onto the drivers side seat, and she caught the breath that being thrown over his shoulder and bouncing the dozen yards had knocked loose from her. What in the world do you think you are doing?

Were fixing to have a talk.

You always did insist on having everything your way, didnt you?

If I had, darlin, youd have married me when I graduated the Academy and come with me all over the world, and Id have been toting you off to celebrate our wedding anniversary this month. But thats water under the bridge, isnt it?

Definitely. She gave her head an emphatic nod. In fact, as far as Im concerned, that bridge just crosses a dusty, dried out, old creek bottom now.

Griffs mouth twisted, and his ink-blue eyes scolded her. All Im trying to do is keep youand my brotherfrom making a mistake.

Like you and I made?

A mistake? Yeah, sure. He gave her another long look. Im good at making those. Then, to her embarrassment, he put one hand on her bottom and started to push her toward the passenger side. He didnt have to expend a lot of effort; the second his hand touched her, Tessa bolted right as though shed been zapped with electricity.

Griff slid in beside her and shut the door.

The sheriff is probably investigating right now why Im not walking down the aisle. Kidnapping me is not a good idea, Griff. I could have you arrested.

The grin that was uniquely Griffs appeared as the truck roared to life, and they pulled out onto the narrow country road. She hadnt seen that grin for years, not since before the two of them had broken up. It was half-curved and kind of devilishly appealing, and it still had the power to melt her heart.

Yeah, he agreed, you could. But you wont. Getting me arrested would keep me in town a long time, wouldnt it? Id be around to interfere in your plans.

He had a point. Griff, in town, was something she definitely did not desire.

Besides, you dont want your wedding day to be a scandal the whole town talks about for years, do you?

No, she didnt. It was already half-ruined, of course, and if Griff got his way, it would be totally shot, but it wasnt a scandalnot yet. She could still keep her personal business from becoming a tasty morsel for the town to munch on.

He rounded a corner carefully, heading away from the church down Highway 518 toward Athens, away from Claiborne Landing. Leaving town was something he was really good at, she thought bitterly, and then she wondered why she was giving him that much energy. She was over him.

Youre making a mistake, Tessa.

The mistake being marrying your brother? Tessa asked, her chin matching his for stubbornness. With great care, she kept herself from examining every inch of him with hungry eyes. She was marrying Clay as soon as she could get loose from Griff, and it wouldnt be right looking at another man.

He shook his head. The mistake being not marrying for love. Did you really think for one minute that I wouldnt try to stop you from doing that?

Did you really think for one second that youd have anything at all to say about it?

No, he admitted quietly. But Id like to. Im an expert on why you shouldnt marry without love.

She remained silent, which was not what Griff had expected, because before, shed always had a comment or opinion about everything. And so, being careful to check the roller coaster hills for oncoming traffic first, he ventured another look at her to see if he could tell what she was thinking.

When hed thrown her over his shoulder and carried her out of the church, apparently hed caused her veil to tilt. Her topknot was tipped, and curls from her long, ash-blond hair were now tumbling down around her temples. Even a little bedraggled, she was still the prettiest thing hed ever laid eyes on, and still the most desirable woman hed ever met. The years of being without her hadnt changed that.

Tessa took a deep breath, which got his attention. So tell me about this e-mail.

It came three days ago and mentioned all the particulars of the weddingwhen, where, and whomand then asked me to come stop it so you didnt end up marrying someone you didnt love. The other thing it had said, he didnt want to get into with her yet. Maybe not even ever.

And you came, even though its been over between us a long time? Tessa didnt want to think about what that might mean.

Like I said, I know what it is to marry someone you dont love, and go through the agony of a divorce. Im sure you heard Janie and I

Yes, I heard. She didnt want to discuss his former marriage with him. Talk about pain.

I wasnt only thinking of you, you know, when I pulled you out of there. My brothers mixed up in this mess.

With how little youve been back to see your family since you left home, Im surprised youre that worried about Clay. You neednt be. His heart is safe with me.

Mine wasnt.

The broken heart worked both ways, Griff. She worked her teeth over her bottom lip, her slim shoulders stiffening with the memories under satin sleeves. But Clay and I wont divorce. Im positive of that.

You were positive we would get married when I got my commission, too, and look at what happened.

The situations were totally different, but Tessa wasnt about to get into that. There was nothing else she could say without telling him a whole lot more than she was willing to.

This is getting us nowhere. Removing her lacy gloves, she reached up and started to pull out the hairpins that were now, thanks to him, tangling up her carefully done hair. We need to get whatever your problem is settled and me back to the wedding. So tell me what you want.

There was a long silence in the truck, and the air was heavy between them. I want you to reconsider marrying Clay. I want you to find a man who will make you happy.

I had one of those once, and he left town, she pointed out.

He winced. She didnt want him hurt, Tessa thought, but really, why was he here? She couldnt believe he had come home merely to rescue herwhat was the point? He didnt want her. And how had he been able to get off on short notice anyway? Then she remembered. Six years hed promised the Air Force for sending him to college. And those six years were up this month. June.

Her breath caught. Are you home to stay, or planning to reenlist? She was afraid to hear the answer; afraid to hear hed changed his mind about the excitement he could experience out there. If he stayed in Claiborne Landing, what on earth was she going to do, because she was still marrying Clay.

She had to.

At this point, reenlist. I had vacation days coming, so I took them.

Relieved, Tessa kept her eyes averted and didnt answer, too afraid that if she looked at him or spoke, he would sense the fear she felt that he would stayand the worry she felt that if he did go, she would never see him again. Never have that thrill course through her that she got whenever she looked at him, never

But she would be married to someone else, so maybe it would be better if she never.

He steered skillfully around a curve as the roller coaster road turned into more of a snake, and she braced one white pump against the floor to keep from sliding toward the middle and touching him. She caught the movement of his head and looked at him, and that jolt came one more time, the one that said that somehow, she had to get him to leave town as fast as possible, or she could very well say or do something that could ruin the precarious happiness shed fought so hard for in the years since hed left.

With a long sigh, she put her hairpins shed been gripping in the cup holder on his dashboard and took her veil off, carefully folding and smoothing it out on her lap. Where are we going?

Someplace to talk. Not your house. Thats the first place people would think of to look. Caseys Kitchen still open this time of day?

She nodded. Caseys Kitchen was a cozy restaurant underneath a bunch of shady oaks on a well traveled highway that bisected Claiborne Landing. Its owner, Doc Casey, was a retired doctor in his sixties who had always claimed to love cooking more than doctoring, even though hed been tremendously successful at medicine. He was also Tessa and her grandmothers best customer at the bakery they owned, buying sweets for his customers, which included lunch and dinner crowds of mostly truck drivers, farmers, ranchers and an occasional mom and small children out for a break. By two any afternoon, the place was usually deserted, and Tessa was happy to see from the empty parking lot that today was no different.

Before she got out of the truck, she laid her gloves and the veil on the console between the seats, and then fixed her hair and makeup as best she could in the tiny mirror on the visor. By the time she finished, Griff had come around and opened the truck door on her side, and was waiting there to help her down.

As his hands touched her waist, an involuntary wave of desire went through her, as well as a glimpse back into the past when shed loved his touching her. But whatever shed felt then wasnt important now. Griff didnt say a word, but by the impenetrable look on his face, she would guess he wasnt affected at all by touching her. That was all right. She didnt want to have to deal with Griff wanting her.

Doc Casey himself was behind the counter when she walked in, and Tessa nodded at him as though nothing at all were out of the ordinary and she wasnt attired in a white satin wedding dress. Trusting Griff would follow her, she went into the larger side room and settled at a small, relatively private table far to the rear of the place, hoping she was less noticeable back there. Griff sat down, too, close enough that their shoulders touched. She gave him a pursed mouth, questioning stare.





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