Holiday with the Best Man

By: Kate Hardy

PROLOGUE

ROLAND’S FACE ACTUALLY ached from smiling, but he knew he had to keep it up. Apart from the fact that it was his best friend’s wedding day—and of course Roland was delighted that Hugh had found the love of his life—he also knew that half the guests were remembering that Roland’s wife had been killed in a car accident nearly two years ago, and were worrying that he was finding it hard to cope with today.

As he’d said to Hugh at the altar, today had brought back good memories of his own wedding day. Roland just hoped that Hugh and Bella would have a lot more years of happiness together than he and Lynette had had—and none of the misery that they’d both kept secret, even from their family and their closest friends.

He knew he ought to make the effort to go and dance with the chief bridesmaid. Even though his friend Hugh had opted to have two best men, and Tarquin—the other best man—was dancing with Bella’s sister right now, Roland knew that he couldn’t use that as an excuse. If he didn’t dance with Grace, everyone would assume that it was because he was thinking of Lynette, and the last thing he wanted right now was another dose of pity. He’d had more than enough of that after the crash.

One dance. He could do that. All he had to do was ignore the fact that the ballroom in the Elizabethan manor house was full of fairy lights, creating the most romantic mood. And to ignore his misgivings about the chief bridesmaid, because it wasn’t his place to judge her—even though the little he knew about her pressed all the wrong buttons. Grace had been so drunk the first time she’d met Hugh, that she’d thrown up over him in the taxi; plus she’d cancelled her wedding at the last minute. Sure, everyone had an off day or made mistakes, but to Roland it sounded as if Grace was a spoiled princess who liked alcohol too much.

And a spoiled, princessy drunk driver had shattered Roland’s life with her selfishness, nearly two years ago. Having to be nice to a woman like that for even a few minutes really stuck in his craw. But he’d do it for his best friend’s sake. His best friend who, even now, was dancing with his bride—and Roland was pretty sure that the glow around Hugh and Bella was due to more than just the fairy lights. This was real happiness.

Which left him to man up and do his duty. Right now Grace looked perfectly demure in her dark red bridesmaid’s dress with its ballerina skirt and sweetheart neckline, and she was even wearing flat shoes rather than spindly heels so she didn’t tower over the bride. Though her dark hair was in a sophisticated up-do with wisps of hair curled into ringlets that framed her face—a seriously high-maintenance style—and her eyelashes had most definitely been enhanced. So maybe Roland was right about the princessy tendencies. And even Tarquin—who saw the good in everyone—had admitted that Grace was nothing like sweet, bubbly little Bella.

One dance, he reminded himself. Do your duty and don’t let your best friend down.

At the end of the song, he walked over to Grace and Tarquin. ‘As the other best man, I believe the next dance is meant to be mine,’ he said, forcing himself to keep smiling.

‘It is indeed,’ Tarquin said, and clapped him on the shoulder. ‘See you later, Grace.’

‘See you later, Tarquin,’ she echoed, then turned to Roland. ‘I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced yet. I’m Bella’s sister, Grace. You’re Roland, aren’t you?’

‘Yes.’

‘Nice to meet you.’ She held out her hand to shake his.

Thinking, oh, please, just hurry up and let us get this over with, Roland took her hand and shook it. And he was truly shocked to find a prickle of awareness running down his spine.

Close up, Grace Faraday had the most incredible eyes: a deep cornflower blue. Her mouth was a perfect cupid’s bow. Her complexion was fresh, almost dewy. And there was something that drew him to her. Something that made him feel protective.

And that really threw him.

Based on what he’d heard from the two people whose opinion he trusted most in the world, Roland had expected to dislike the woman. Instead, he found himself attracted to her. Attracted to someone he’d been sure was the last woman he’d ever want to date. And he really didn’t know what to do about it.

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