Stealing the Groom

By: Sonya Weiss

Exhaling, Amelia wiped her clammy hands down the sides of her grass-stained shorts and forced her breathing to regulate. She’d done it. She’d actually saved Chad from marrying Claire!

Amelia lowered the window halfway and braced herself for what was to come.

Judging by the scowl marring his handsome face, Chad didn’t appreciate her good deed.

“What’s going on?” he asked. “Who are…” His shocked blue eyes caught and held hers in the rearview mirror. “Amelia?”

Amelia stalled answering until she eased onto Interstate 26 and headed west toward Columbia. Then she chose her words carefully. “Bet you’re wondering what this is all about.”

No response. Just that oh-so-familiar raised quirk of one brow. His gaze continued to bore into hers until Amelia focused once again on the road.

“I can explain,” she began, darting another glance at him. Her stomach twisted at his what-the-hell-have-you-done-now expression. “In fact, I have a rational explanation for what at first might appear to be a completely irrational act.”

Chad folded his arms across his chest. “You? Irrational act?”

She ignored his gibe. “Do you want me to explain or not?”

Hell yeah, he’d want her to explain! She’d known him long enough to know he’d want a detailed justification for what she had done, paired with an equally thorough briefing on what she was about to do. But for now, he drily said, “I can hardly wait to hear what you were thinking.”

“I did it for love.”

Chad stilled and something flashed in his gaze, gone as quickly as it had appeared. He swallowed hard, speaking cautiously, “Love?” He drew the word out, turning it into a question.

“Remember? We swore we’d only marry for love.”

He winced as if in pain. “Oh, for crying out loud, Amelia, we were what? Eight years old?”

“You made me promise again when I was fifteen, remember? We were standing beneath the oak tree in my backyard.”

Chad raked a hand through his closely cropped dark-blond hair, his breath escaping like a leaky tire. “A childhood promise. That’s what this is all about.” He rubbed his firm jawline.

The same jawline she knew looked devastatingly sexy with a five-o’clock shadow. The way it had looked two nights ago when she’d tried to talk to him about Claire.

She’d noticed how handsome Chad was years ago, but she’d been a teenager then. It had been a harmless crush that she’d outgrown.

Amelia gripped the steering wheel until her fingers cramped.

She hadn’t seen him in over a year but they’d been friends forever. She wasn’t attracted to Chad. Sure, he was good-looking. Hot even.

But he was like her brother.

She sneaked another peek into the mirror. She could have sworn she saw an expression of disappointment on his face, and guilt surged through her. He wasn’t a man who liked his plans thwarted.

His thumb rubbed the corner of his lip and Amelia remembered the silly things she’d done when she was younger to try to get his attention because she’d wanted him to be her first kiss. But that was then, when she was a teenager with raging hormones. Now she knew better.

Chad was her friend, which made him off-limits with a capital OFF.

“Big-time OFF,” Amelia muttered out loud, slowing to compensate for a car practically crawling in front of them. Not that she wanted him to be within limits. She liked her freedom too much to ever tie herself down permanently, especially to a man who didn’t understand the meaning of spur-of-the-moment living.

“Have you been drinking your grandfather’s special juice again?”

Amelia lowered her gaze from the rearview mirror. “That was a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.” Her face warmed. Trust him to remind her of an incident best left undisturbed. “I barely remember it.”

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Okay, Amelia caved. What if she did remember the scene as though it was tattooed on her brain? Finding the jar of homemade liquor when she was fourteen, helping herself to a hearty glassful, wanting only to find some courage and then…Amelia nearly groaned.

Laughing, giddy beside the heady scent of honeysuckle, she’d danced, twirling in the soft, summer rain before she’d clutched the front of Chad’s fit-him-like-it-was-glued-on T-shirt and asked—correction, begged—him to kiss her. She’d wanted to get her first kiss over with to see what all the fuss was about and…he’d refused.

He didn’t think of her “that way,” he’d said. He’d pried himself free and walked away, his back rigid, not once looking back.

Oh God, the humiliation!

“Stop the car.” Chad leaned forward and touched her shoulder, his fingers setting firecrackers off on her skin.

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