The Best Man for the Job
The wedding guest from her past…
For Celia Forrester, Marcus Black—her brother's best friend—was always totally off-limits. Especially after The Night That Nearly Happened. It was years ago, but Celia remembers it for all the worst reasons! But now, Marcus is back in the picture—he's the best man at her brother's wedding and more gorgeous than ever! It's all kinds of inappropriate, but giving in to temptation looks like the best way for Celia to get Marcus out of her system.
But their one night comes with consequences. And this time, it won't be fifteen years until they have to face them…but nine months!
Ten minutes after the vicar had pronounced her brother and his fiancée man and wife and the register had been signed, Celia Forrester stood on the steps of the altar of the pretty Shropshire church and braced herself for the moment she’d been dreading all day.
In terms of things she’d rather not do, on a scale of one to ten, going to the gym hovered at the two mark. Pulling an all night-er at work ranked around a four. Dinner a deux with her father, an eight.
Having to take Marcus Black’s arm and walk down the aisle beside him, however, hit a ten.
Up until about a couple of hours ago she’d thought she’d escaped. As Dan’s best friend – and consequently, best man – Marcus had been expected some time yesterday afternoon, but to the consternation of everyone apart from her he hadn’t shown up. Her brother had muttered something about a missed flight and a possible arrival in time for the reception but in all honesty, Celia had been too relieved to pay much attention.
All she’d been able to think was that she had a stay of execution and that with any luck, by the time Marcus got there – if he got there at all – she’d have indulged in the gallon of champagne she needed to handle the horribly edgy and deeply uncomfortable effect he had on her, should she be unable to implement her customary plan A and avoid him.
She’d had no problem with following Lily– the other bridesmaid and Zoe’s sister – and her brand new fiancé, Kit, down the aisle alone. She was good at doing things alone, and she’d been more than happy about the delay in having to talk to too-gorgeous-for-his-own-good, serial womaniser and general thorn-in-her-side Marcus Black. Quite apart from the unsettling way he made her feel, he loathed her as much as she loathed him and no doubt he would be expressing it at the first available opportunity, namely the church, so who could blame her for savouring any delay to the moment?
But then a couple of hours ago, when the three of them had been sitting in the spare room of Zoe’s parents’ farmhouse with rollers in their hair and tacky nails, news had reached them that Marcus had made it after all, and just like that the get-out-of-jail-free-card feeling she’d been holding had blown up in her face.
The degree of shock and disappointment that had rocked through her had surprised her. Then her skin had started prickling, a rush of heat had swept through her and she’d instantly felt as though she were sitting on knives.
She’d managed to hide it, of course, because firstly she was used to hiding the way he made her feel, and secondly today was a happy one that was all about Dan and Zoe and not in the slightest bit about the trouble she had with Marcus, but it had been hard. Even harder when she and Lily had entered the church behind Zoe and she’d seen him standing next to Dan at the altar, looking tall, dark and smoulderingly gorgeous in his morning suit.
But she’d done it, and she’d continue to do so, because fifty pairs of eyes were trained on the proceedings and so right now she didn’t have the option of giving him a cool nod and then blanking him. She was simply going to have to suck it up and accompany him down the aisle.
In approximately thirty seconds.
The organist began belting out Widor’s Toccata and as Dan and Zoe turned and stepped off the altar, their smiles wide and unstoppable, Celia pulled her shoulders back and plastered a smile of her own to her face.
She wouldn’t let him get to her, she told herself, adopting the unusual strategy of channelling serenity and inner calm. She wouldn’t think about the struggle she’d had throughout the ceremony resisting the constant temptation to keep looking in his direction, especially when she could feel his eyes on her. Nor would she dwell on the way that despite her deep disapproval of him and his clear loathing of her whenever they met he somehow managed to turn her into someone she didn’t recognise, addling her brain, making her a mockery of her intellect and rendering her body all soft and warm and fluttery.
No, she’d simply rise above the inconvenient and highly irritating attraction and get on with the job. She could ignore the heat of him, the mouth-watering scent of him and the invisible thread of attraction that seemed to constantly pull her towards him. She could bury the desire to drag him off somewhere quiet, press herself against him and let chemistry do its thing. Of course she could. She had done for years, ever since the night, in fact, he’d tried to get her into bed. For a bet.
Besides it was, what, thirty metres between the altar and the heavy oak door, so all she had to do was keep a smile on her face and her mouth shut and not let him get to her. After that, during the inevitable photo session and then the reception which was to be mercifully short, she’d do what she always tried to do and avoid him. Simple.
Taking a deep breath and steeling herself, she glanced up at him to find him looking down at her with those wickedly glinting blue eyes that had seduced legions of women over the years.
‘Shall we?’ he said, a faint smile playing at the mouth that had given her an annoying number of sleepless nights over the years as he held out his arm.
‘Why not?’ she said coolly, taking it.
See? This was fine. She barely noticed the hard muscles of his forearm beneath her fingers. And so what if his elbow was now pressed up against her breast and the feel of him, the heat of him would be making her heart beat hard and fast and her body tingle if she let it? All that was relevant right now were the five stones steps she had to negotiate in heels three-inch higher than she normally wore, and she needed to concentrate.
‘Ready?’ he asked, his deep lazy voice tightening her stomach muscles and making her cling on to his arm a little tighter for a second. Just in case she stumbled, of course.
‘Couldn’t be readier.’
Reassuring herself that in five minutes or so this would all be over and she’d be free of him, Celia glanced down and lifted the longer back of her dress so it didn’t catch on a heel.
‘Those shoes look lethal,’ he murmured as they descended the first step.
And just like that, despite all that serenity and inner calm she’d been striving for, her intention to keep her mouth shut evaporated. ‘Good of you to make it, by the way,’ she said a touch acidly.
‘I nearly didn’t.’
‘So what held you up?’ she asked, once she’d safely navigated the remaining steps and could relax her grip on Marcus’ arm. ‘Unable to prise yourself away from an overly clingy lover? Or a pair of them perhaps? Surely it couldn’t have been a trio?’
She felt him tense and wondered fleetingly if her barb had stung. Then decided it couldn’t have because for one thing his many and varied bedroom exploits were no secret, and for another they’d traded mild insults like this for years and it had never seemed to bother him before. Nevertheless she kind of wished it had because it would be satisfying to know she got to him the way he got to her.
‘You know something?’ he said, shooting her a slow stomach melting smile. ‘I rustled up that ash cloud especially because I knew it would wind you up.’
‘My word, you literally do have a God complex,’ she said, annoyed beyond measure that he of all people should still be the only man ever to melt any of her internal organs. ‘Why am I not surprised?’
‘Lucky you’re always there to smack me down.’
‘It’s my sole purpose in life.’
‘Really?’ he murmured. ‘I thought your sole purpose in life was work.’
‘I excel at multitasking.’
‘Of course you do. Heaven forbid you should fail at anything.’
‘I try not to.’
They began proceeding down the aisle at a pace that would have had a snail overtaking them. In crackling silence, until Marcus said conversationally, ‘You know, I’m rather amazed you’re here.’
Celia kept her smile firmly in place. ‘Oh? Why?’
‘I wouldn’t have thought that you’d have been able to drag yourself away from your desk.’
‘It’s my brother’s wedding.’
‘Nice to know there are some things that take priority. I kept expecting your phone to go off during the service.’
She bristled and her jaw began to ache with the effort of maintaining the smile. So she worked hard. Big deal. ‘I’m not a complete workaholic.’ Well, not to such an extent she’d forego something as important as this.
‘No,’ she said firmly, choosing to ignore the fact that she had spent much of the morning on her phone, dealing with calls to and from the office and a string of emails that couldn’t wait.
‘I read about that pharmaceutical merger of yours going through. Congratulations.’
Despite the indignation Celia couldn’t help feeling a stab of pride because the six months she’d spent pushing that deal through had been the toughest of her working life so far yet she and her team had done it, and now the partnership she’d been working towards for what felt like forever was that tiny bit closer.
‘Thank you,’ she said demurely, ignoring the way his body kept brushing against hers and sent thrills scurrying through her. ‘And I heard you’d sold your business.’ For millions, according to the gossip magazine she’d picked up and flicked through at the hairdresser’s a fortnight ago, which had been light on detail about the sale and heavy on speculation about what one of London’s most eligible bachelors was going to do with all his money and free time.
‘So what are your plans now?’
‘Do you really want to know?’
Not really because she’d willingly bet her lovely two-bedroomed minimalist flat in Clerkenwell that she knew what he’d be doing for the foreseeable future. What he did best, but even better. ‘I’m guessing it’ll involve partying til dawn with scantily clad women.’
‘Am I really that much of a cliché?’
‘You tell me.’
‘And spoil the fun you have baiting me?’
‘You think I find it fun?’
He raised an eyebrow as he glanced down at her. ‘Don’t you?’
Celia thought about it for a second and decided that as she didn’t know exactly what to attribute the thrill she always got from winding him up to, ‘fun’ would do. ‘OK, perhaps,’ she conceded. ‘Just a little. But no more than you do.’
‘Well, I’m all for equality.’
‘Yes, so the tabloids say,’ she said witheringly as the interview with one of his conquests that she’d read in that magazine popped into her head. Apparently he was intense, smouldering and passionately demanding in the bedroom and sought the same from whoever he was sharing it with. Which was something she could really have done without knowing because now she did it was alarmingly hard to put from her mind.
‘You know, Celia, darling, you have such low expectations of me I find I can’t help wanting to live down to them.’
Before she could work out what he meant by that he turned away and directed that devastating smile of his at a couple of women at the end of a pew on Dan’s side, and as she watched them blush she mentally rolled her eyes. How very typical. That was Marcus all over. Lover of women. Literally. Lots of women.
But not her. Never her. Not that she thought about that night fifteen years ago when she’d been so desperate to lose her virginity to him. Much.
‘What’s with the death grip?’
Celia blinked and snapped her train of thought away from the treacherous path it would career down if she let it. ‘Huh?’
‘On the flowers. What did they do? What did they say? Because I know from personal experience that it doesn’t take much.’