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Marry Me Book 2

Close Friends, a Secret Crush

It was his sister’s wedding, but Max Trevetti’s eyes weren’t focused on the bride.

Growing up in small-town Tobias, Wisconsin, Max helped raise his little sister Annette, and was a surrogate big brother to her best friend, Suzanna Grant. Suz always had a secret crush on her best friend’s brother, but she would never have thought Max actually saw her as more than a friend.

Except now Max can’t keep his eyes off of her. That stunning red dress. Her smile.

When the wedding celebration leads to unexpected passion, neither knows what happens next … especially when they’re constantly thrown together trying to save historic Bliss House for eccentric, meddling Miss Trudi.

Was it just a fling, or will this wedding plant the seed for their own?

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

“Hey, Suz.”

The voice and the touch came from behind her. The voice was a rumble in her ear, the touch was a warm hand on her shoulder. A hand not only warm, but large and strong.

The kind of contact between a man and a woman that was a play all to itself, complete with three acts.

The opening was a faint caress, stroking across the skin left bare by the narrow straps of her dress, followed by the main act of its solid presence, telegraphing strength. Then, before the curtain came down, that little squeeze saying it sure would be nice to have an encore.

In the flash before she recognized the shoulder-gripper, Suzanna Grant couldn’t think of a single man who might greet her that way at her best friend’s wedding reception here in Tobias, Wisconsin. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Not a one.

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And wasn’t that a cheerful thought?

She turned at the same time the shoulder-gripper dropped into a seat beside her, and she saw the familiar black hair, the dark eyes so thickly lashed they could look like smudges, the strong nose, the powerful shoulders.

Max Trevetti, the bride’s older brother. The best man. Oh, yes, and the man who at one time could have earned a standing ovation from her if that touch had truly carried all those extra hidden meanings.

But that was years ago, before she’d figured out it wasn’t going to happen. Before he’d established himself as a big brother in all but name.

“You look great, Suz. Beautiful.”

She scanned him for obvious signs that pod people had taken over his body.

You look great, Suz? Beautiful? These were not the words of the Max Trevetti she knew. He was more likely to tell her to tie her shoelaces so she wouldn’t trip, or to wear her gloves in the winter so she wouldn’t catch a cold.

“Why’re you looking at me that way, Suz?”

“Have you been drinking?”

“Sure I’ve been drinking. It’s my little sister’s wedding. And every time I take a drink from this champagne glass, some waiter fills it up.” He touched the tip of one finger to the spaghetti strap of her red dress. Two touches in under a minute—that had to be a record.

She glanced at the spot he’d touched to see if it had caught fire. Nope. Must be the tactile version of an optical illusion.

“Looked like it was slipping,” he said.

Of course he had a practical reason for touching her.

That’s the way it had always been.

The first time she’d turned from greeting the fellow transfer student who’d become her new roommate at Northwestern University and laid eyes on her roommate’s older brother, she’d seen satin sheets and white picket fences.

He’d seen … well, she didn’t know exactly what he’d seen. His view of her seemed to alternate between an honorary kid sister and androgynous robot. Neither did much to boost a girl’s ego. But she’d recovered from that ages ago.

“You’ve been drinking, too,” he said now. “When I gave the toast.”

“That’s what you do after a toast—and a beautiful toast it was. I’m just surprised to see you so relaxed. I was speculating on its cause.”

“Isn’t my little sister getting married enough? Annette’s wedding, that’s plenty of cause.”

“Sure.”

“Then why aren’t you celebrating?”

“I am, in my own quiet way.”

He laughed, full-out, head thrown back. “Your own quiet way. That’s rich. Your way’s never been quiet. It’s fireworks and confetti.” He waved over a waiter. “So have more champagne.”

He took another glass for himself and one for her. She didn’t touch hers.

“Who’s driving you home, Max?”

“I dunno. Somebody.” He looked at her, and the flippancy vanished, his deep brown eyes softening with familiar concern and sympathy. And with the memories. “Sorry, Suz. I wasn’t thinking. Annette has it all arranged so no one will drive out of here after drinking and meet some innocent… I wasn’t thinking,” he repeated. “I was just concentrating on gettin’ through the wedding. And we did this time, even with—”

In a second display of unusual tact for Max, he took a sip of champagne rather than finishing.

Suz wasn’t in the mood for tact. Besides, talking of today’s wedding would keep him off the other topic.

“Even with my untimely arrival?” she asked.

She had certainly never meant to recreate the intrusion that had stopped Annette’s wedding to Steve Corbett nearly eight years ago.

The first time, a pregnant woman had come in the side door while they were at the altar, declaring she had a reason the wedding shouldn’t go on—the baby was Steve’s. Annette had left Tobias—she’d thought for good. But, after years of estrangement, Annette and Steve had come back together since Annette’s return to town three months ago.

Come back together so well, that they had arranged a new wedding, with a different feeling, and at a different church.

Then Suz had inadvertently repeated the disruption—at least the first part—by arriving late and bursting in the side door at the moment the preacher asked if anyone had cause these two people should not be joined in holy matrimony.

At least she hadn’t been pregnant.

And she would never say there was reason Annette and Steve shouldn’t be joined together.

The fact that they already were joined together in the ways that counted had been obvious in their reaction to Suz’s arrival. Without hesitation, they had looked at each other and laughed. After a moment, everyone joined in.

Everyone except Max.

From his position next to the groom, he’d stood like a statue and stared at her as if he’d never seen her before—and never wanted to again.

“Your unexpected arrival,” he corrected now.

“Unexpected? I was invited.”

“Of course you were invited. If they’d had anyone more than Nell and me in the wedding, you’d’ve been in it—you know that.” She did know that. And she thoroughly understood Annette and Steve’s need to limit the wedding party to her brother and his daughter. “But you said you wouldn’t be able to make it because of your family situation…”

Ah, yes, her family situation.

“It turned out not to be as big an emergency as they thought. I left yesterday.”

Actually, to her parents and four older brothers, getting her to stay safe at home permanently probably did constitute an emergency. And living back in Dayton would be easy in so many ways. But not when the timing of their “emergency” meant missing Annette’s wedding.

“Yesterday? Then why were you late? Get lost?”

There had been that one wrong turn when she hit the edge of Tobias. But she’d already been way late by then.

As she’d driven across Indiana yesterday evening, she’d received a call that there’d been a last-second snafu with a transfer of records to the corporation she and Suz had sold their business to. The administrator who’d slipped up said it could wait. But those records represented a score of small businesses that could miss a week’s worth of potential work when jobs were assigned Monday. So instead of driving on to Wisconsin, she’d stayed in Chicago last night and insisted a VP meet her downtown this morning to finish the exchange, so those businesses would be eligible to work.

She’d changed clothes in the ladies room of the office building, and headed straight here.

But Max was right—she had a notoriously bad sense of direction.

“I could’ve been lying in a ditch somewhere and you wouldn’t have cared,” she said with mock tragedy.

“I’d’ve cared.” It would have been a more touching declaration if it hadn’t been so breezy. And it was followed by an abrupt, “Let’s dance.”

Before she could answer, Max had her hand in his and was pulling her out of the chair with such ease that it jolted her.

She’d seen him lifting heavy items from suitcases to boxes of books to dressers in the moves he’d helped her and Annette make over the years, so intellectually she had figured out the guy had to be strong. It wasn’t her intellect responding now.

He took her right hand in his and slid his other hand around to the middle of her back. Her left hand found a natural home on his shoulder, as they moved into the easy rhythm of the dance.

Having the reception at Tobias Country Club was Annette and Steve’s way of keeping his mother happy—as happy as Lana Corbett got. They’d kept the ceremony as they wanted it, simple and straightforward. The reception was Lana’s party. Afterward Lana was going to Europe for the summer, which would surely be a relief for the newlyweds.

Suz had to give Lana Corbett credit—the food was delicious, the champagne plentiful and the service terrific. The club’s grounds, slipping down toward Lake Tobias were beautiful, especially lit with fairy lights and a rising, nearly full moon. And the music was lovely.

Max’s voice rumbled in her ear. “Can’t believe these idiots haven’t asked you to dance.”

“Some did.”

“You said no? You’re showing good sense now, Suz.”

“You make it sound like I don’t say no. I do.”

“With all the dates you go on?”

“Your sister’s always telling me I should go on more dates.”

Sort of.

According to Annette, Suz was the queen of first dates, having no trouble turning down a second invitation. Annette kept urging her to give guys multiple dates before she made up her mind.

It seemed to Suz that she was fated to have possibles abound in her dating life that never advanced to maybes, much less a for sure.

That had gotten worse when she and Annette started their business, Every Detail, providing harried homeowners with all the legwork and reference-checking and estimate-getting needed to get the right help for any job. Under Annette’s leadership they had worked so hard to get the business off the ground that there’d been little time for a social life. When it took off, there’d been even less time. Now they’d sold the business for enough money to keep each of them comfortable for a long, long time.

The good news was the money gave Suz the freedom to do whatever she wanted starting Monday morning.

That was also the bad news.

And that was the reason her caring, protective family had manufactured an emergency.

Which was what she’d been thinking about when Max first touched her shoulder. She shivered. Couldn’t be at the memory of that light touch. Must be getting chilly.

“You okay?” His murmur in her ear was accompanied by a slow glide of his hand to the small of her back as he drew their clasped hands in closer to their bodies. “Thought you might be getting chilly in that dress.”

That explained both her shiver and why he tucked her in closer to the warmth of his body. It was Big Brother Max taking care of all around him.

So, why were the tip ends of her nerves vibrating so hard that she was surprised the hum didn’t drown out the band?

Must be the surprise. He so rarely touched her—and when he did, it was always in that “Hey, kid,” manner—that her nerve-endings were reacting now like a G-rated dance was something to write home about.

His breath stirred her hair. Or had his lips actually—No, had to be him simply breathing.

The band abandoned a rendition of “Lady in Red” for a drum flourish.

“Attention everybody!” said the bandleader. “It’s time for the throwing of the bouquet and the garter.”

Suz backed a step away from Max. That was as far as she could go until he released her. He was looking toward the bandstand, apparently oblivious to the fact that he still held her.

“Members of the wedding party, c’mon up here. It seems the new couple’s eager to leave—go figure.”

Over the laughter, Suz said, “Max.” She put her hands on his upper arms, the bulge of muscles solid through the material of his suit. It was like trying to shake Mount Rushmore. “Max! You have to go up there.”

He faced her, at the same time dropping his hands. “Yeah. See you later.”

He looked at her another moment, his face unreadable, then turned and headed through the guests on the dance floor.

She watched his progress, noting no impairment in his confident stride, not the least clumsiness when he neatly sidestepped a woman who suddenly backed into his path. Yet, judging by his behavior toward her he must be feeling the effects of the champagne.

He was as responsible as the day was long, still, she was going to make sure he got a ride home.

She was dragged into the pool of single women for the bouquet-throwing. Annette gave her a sly smile, but if the bride had a specific target in mind she was foiled by a pair of unlikely bouquet-nappers.

Nell, who was Steve’s daughter and Annette’s seven-year-old maid of honor, teamed with Miss Trudi, an older lady dressed in flowing chiffon and sneakers, to capture the elegant collection of blush and cream roses.

Steve groaned as Nell immediately started describing a wedding extravaganza that would put a Super Bowl halftime show to shame. Miss Trudi, on the other hand, proclaimed that she wanted only the flowers, because they smelled a lot sweeter than any man she knew, and when they died you threw them out and got new ones.

That drew a cool look of disapproval from Lana Corbett and a few of her followers, but laughter from everyone else.

The garter landed in the startled grasp of Rob Dalton, a friend of Steve’s who hadn’t even been among the prospective catchers. He was a good sport about it, though Suz thought his smile covered unhappiness. She caught a comment about he’s getting divorced from one guest to another, and figured that explained it.

As Annette and Steve disappeared into the clubhouse, Max was caught in conversation with four prosperous looking men. Somehow they didn’t appear to be chatting about how lovely the wedding had been. Maybe it was the frowns, solemn nods and lowered voices.

She was half tempted to march into the group and tell them this was no place to talk business.

Max said little. But when the one whose middle was broader than his shoulders addressed a question to him, he answered with a single word: yes.

She couldn’t hear it from the far side of the dance floor, but saw it in his body language.

Just then, a stir presaged Annette and Steve returning in their regular clothes, ready to start their honeymoon trip to an undisclosed location. They wove through the gathered guests, shaking hands, receiving kisses on the cheek and sharing hugs.

Max broke away from the group who’d been questioning him, and Suz lost track of him.

“Suz!” Annette’s eyes filled as they hugged. “Thank you so much for coming. Thank you for dealing with everything to do with the company these past months. And now I’m going to ask you another favor—tomorrow before you leave town, visit with Miss Trudi. It’s been so hectic, lately, and I worry—”

“Of course you do, it’s one of your best skills,” Suz said, hastily wiping moisture from under her own eyes. “Sure, I’ll stop by and see her. We talked earlier and she invited me to come any time, so it’s all set.”

“Thank you.”

“Now, don’t start that again. You go and have the best honeymoon to start the best marriage and that will be thanks enough,” she ordered as she stepped back. Steve was grinning at both of them. “And you—you better be good to her or I’ll … I’ll—”

“Get in line with Max and Nell and Miss Trudi and Juney and a lot of others to—as Nell says—pulverize me.” Steve gave her a quick hug.

“I’ll call you as soon as we get back,” Annette promised. Then her eyes widened. “Oh! I don’t know where you’ll be. The closing on the townhouse—”

“I don’t know where I’ll be either.” Suz laughed, despite the clutch at the pit of her stomach. “But I’ll let you know when I do. I’ll leave a message.”

“But the number’s changing. I meant to replace the business one sooner, but—I know, let Max know where you are. You can always reach Max.”

Satisfied with her solution, Annette smiled and turned with Steve toward the exit. Guests trailed after them, forming an audience as Steve’s car pulled up.

The valet got out of the driver’s seat, while Max and Rob Dalton piled out from the passenger side, both grinning like mischievous boys.

Steve escorted Annette to the passenger side then went around the back, alternately examining the car and the trying-to-keep-a-straight-face expressions of the two men.

The car held the usual “Just Married” sign on the trunk, innocuous shaving cream decorations, and a tail of tin cans and old shoes. One high-heeled red leather boot added a nice touch, but it didn’t seem likely that it would have Annette’s brother and Steve’s friend looking that way.

Max held the car door for Steve. “Open the sunroof so I can say something to Annette.”

Steve complied, and Max said another farewell to Annette. Then the car pulled away from the curb. It was halfway down the drive to the country club entrance when someone shouted, “Look! Bubbles!”

Bubbles were streaming from the open sunroof. Not a few, idle floating spheres, but bubbles like a washing machine gone berserk.

“We might have overdone it,” Rob said.

Everyone burst out laughing as the car with its train of white froth disappeared from view.

Guests quickly returned to the reception’s food, drink, and music, but Max stayed where he was, staring after the car.

Everyone else had left before Suz saw him give his shoulders a slight shake then turn.

He stopped when he saw her standing at the arched entryway to the grounds. He manufactured a semblance of a grin.

“It’s a good thing those bubbles are biodegradable, or the EPA would be hauling us off.”

Suz ignored that. “Miss her already? I don’t know Steve well, but—”

“He’s a good guy. They’ll be okay.” For an instant she thought Max was going to say something more. Then she knew he wasn’t. “Well, I’ve done my duty here. Think I’ll head home.”

“Who’s driving you? You promised—”

“I’m fine. But I did promise, so I’ll get one of the kids who works here to drive me. I’m not going to pull anybody from the party—folks from Annette’s half of the guest list don’t get to the Tobias Country Club often, and certainly not as Lana Corbett’s guest.”

She didn’t disbelieve him about getting a ride, but she wasn’t taking any chances. “I’ll drive you.”

“You don’t have to—”

“I’m going to. My car’s right over there.”

COLLAPSE
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