Home > Misadventures of a Backup Bride (Misadventures #4)

Misadventures of a Backup Bride (Misadventures #4)
Author: Shayla Black

Chapter One






“So I’m a little behind where I want to be in school, but the great news is that the DKEs chose me as their little sister in August! Isn’t that awesome, since it’s my last month of being single?”

I look across the dinner table at Kendra Shaw, my fiancée. Bubbly, flirty, twenty-two. Sweet, lovely, kind. She likes puppies and parties…but she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. We have zero in common. I would never have considered marrying her if I hadn’t been coerced by her dad—my business rival willing to float me a loan so I can keep the confectionary empire I inherited from my late biological father afloat.

“DKE?” I ask, shoving salad around with my fork and trying to envision my life with this woman.

She tsks at me and rolls her eyes. “Delta Kappa Epsilon, silly.” I must still look at her blankly, because she shakes her head at me, blond hair brushing her shoulders. “They’re a fraternity on campus. The best.”

Kendra seems proud of her accomplishment, and I try to be a supportive fiancé. “That’s great. How did they choose you? Because you helped with the charity walk over spring break?”

“No. They pick their favorite Chi Omega each month, since we’re their sister sorority. I may have influenced the vote a bit after I had too much tequila at the DKE end-of-year bash and danced topless. At least that’s what my friends tell me I did. I don’t remember.” She winces. “Are you mad?”

Actually, I’m not. I should be. We’ve been engaged since April, and that probably happened in May. I’m just hearing about this regretful moment toward the end of summer. The man in me knows I should care that other guys have seen my bride-to-be’s boobs. I wish I could say it mattered. I want it to.

It doesn’t.

I keep trying to connect with this woman, figure out how we’re going to relate to one another, and find some common ground. So far I’ve got nothing.

“Carson, did you hear me?”

“I did.” I’m simply not sure what she wants me to say.

Deep down, I doubt she’s ready to get married. Oh, she’s enjoying picking out pretty things with her wedding planner. She’s selected a grand wedding dress. I’m told it has a cathedral train that two of her ten bridesmaids will have to carry as she walks down the aisle. She’s spent a nice chunk of her father’s money to make this the event of the season. But I’m not sure she’s comprehended yet that we have to get along afterward.

“And you’re not mad?”

“Well, I don’t think you should repeat that stunt.”

“I won’t.” She nods solemnly. “I’m going to be a responsible wife soon.”

She reaches across the table and grasps my hand, making promises with her blue eyes I don’t think she has any chance of keeping.

I wish I could be enthusiastic. After all, I like Kendra. I’m simply not sure what I’m going to say to her for the next forty years. We’re not married yet and we already run out of conversation in minutes.

“Are you really ready for marriage?” I ask her gently. “To be my wife?”

Her smile falters. “Is anyone ever really ready? I mean, we speak a few words, set up our house together, and try to get along. Isn’t that what everyone does?”

No, it’s not. I’m thirty, so I’ve seen a few of my buddies tie the matrimonial knot. Luis seems sublimely happy. Derek is really content and is excited for the birth of their son in a few weeks. Sam is already divorced and says he’ll be an eternal bachelor from here on out. I don’t know much about marriage except what my mom and stepdad taught me before they passed away. First and foremost, you should be friends with your spouse. You should like and respect the person you intend to spend your life with. Your significant other should make you laugh, be your greatest comfort, know you better than anyone.

My life would be much simpler if I felt that way about Kendra. I’ve tried. I’ve looked for common ground. We don’t agree about politics or religion. We don’t agree about where to live, how many children to have, or how to manage money. We might be able to overcome all that…if we loved each other. For months, I’ve done my best to foster a connection with her, but nothing has worked. And I doubt very much she’s feeling it for me, either.

My head is telling me this engagement is a mistake. My ambition is trying not to hear it.

I shoot her a direct stare. “Don’t you think marriage is more complicated than that?”

“Um…” She frowns, looking somewhere between concerned and lost. “I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out.”

Her phone dings, and she lunges for it as if she’s glad for the distraction. She flips through her messages with one hand and lifts her wineglass with the other.

A good five minutes pass in silence. She texts her sorority sisters about someone’s botched home bikini wax, Instagrams her dinner, then waves at a passing waiter she apparently dated last winter.

She barely eats her meal and passes on dessert. I’m completely okay with that. I have her home by ten.

“Good night, Carson,” she murmurs in her shadowy living room.

“Sleep well.” I cup her shoulder—and hope the physical contact stops there.

With a wan smile, Kendra brushes a kiss across my cheek and escapes to her room. She moved out of the sorority house at the end of last semester and has been staying at her childhood home all summer. In less than a month, after the wedding, we’re supposed to move in together.

I sigh. I’m past hoping sex will bring us closer. I know from experience it won’t. The aftermath is more awkward than glowing. We haven’t bothered in a month. I’ve been accused of having an overactive sex drive in the past. But since becoming engaged to Kendra, it seems completely dead.

That’s not a good sign.

Suddenly, I see the orange-red flare of a cigar in the dark. The smoker inhales deeply. The pungent scent of tobacco fills the air. Gregory Shaw saunters into the room, wearing charcoal trousers and a pristine white dress shirt, despite the late hour. I know he’s fifty-one, but he doesn’t look a day over forty. He has nearly thirty years’ experience in this industry, building his candy giant, Dulce Lama, from the ground up. By comparison, I’ve been running my late father’s company, Sweet Darlin’, for ten minutes.

Shaw exhales, leaving a cloud of smoke in his wake as he comes closer. “That didn’t look like the satisfying end of a date.”

It’s on the tip of my tongue to ask if he thought I should have taken his daughter to bed, but he wouldn’t appreciate the snark. This guy is brutally direct. I need to be the same.

“It wasn’t. I have serious doubts this arrangement will work.”

“Make it work, Frost. Otherwise, I’m not loaning you the twenty-five million.”

Damn. He’s got the bargaining chip I need. I don’t see any way around that.

My late father’s confectionary might be worth about a billion dollars, but I must have liquid cash to keep it from going under right now. Shaw has been salivating for the opportunity to get his hands on any part of Sweet Darlin’. He can’t control me with the five percent interest I negotiated with him in exchange for some ready cash…but over the last few months I’ve come to realize that seizing power is his ultimate goal.

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