Bachelor Party
     Who would’ve thought jumping out of a cake at a bachelor party ​​would pay so well…and cost so much!


     ​Cassidy Jones hasn’t got a clue how she ended up in bed with the ​​dangerously attractive bachelor at last night’s party or how

​​he’ll explain ​​it to his fiancée when she storms into his bedroom, but when Penelope Winthrop bares her claws at Cassidy, she

​​refuses to let this snobby socialite treat her like trailer park trash. Drat, her Irish temper always ​​chooses the most inappropriate

​​moments to emerge.


     ​Blake won’t be manipulated by his younger brother or Cassidy, no ​​matter how alluring she is. But was she a pawn or a willing

​​participant in ​​his brother’s plot to stop the wedding? He’s not sure anymore, and for a ​​man who has always prided himself on

​​being in complete control, he suddenly feels as though he’s adrift on a sea of raw emotions as he’s haunted by her beauty and

​​dreams of a passionate night spent in her arms.


​     When fate throws them together once again, Blake knows this is his ​​chance to get her out of his mind once and for all.

Chapter One


     ​​Good Lord, what had she been thinking about when she took this job? A pickle stuffed in a jar would have more room than she

​​did. What if she never got out?

     ​A trickle of sweat rolled down the side of Cassidy Jones face. She wiggled her nose. The drop landed on her chest and slid

​​between her breasts. Cassidy grimaced, arched her back and flattened the front of her suit against her bosom.

     ​“Ouch!” she cried out as one of the fake gold coins jabbed her in the side.

     ​One other subject she wanted to discuss with Tom. He hadn’t mentioned this costume. Not that there was enough to really talk

​​about.

     ​The costume consisted of little bits of red silk in strategic places and filmy gauze that hid nothing in all the others. And lots of

​​stupid gold coins. Every time she moved they clanked like wind chimes during a tornado.

​“Are you ready?” a strange voice whispered.

​“Yes.” No, not really. “I should’ve stayed home and watched TV,” she grumbled. “Except I don’t have one.”

​“Shhh!”

​Oh, as if tonight’s bachelor wasn’t going to suspect someone was inside the fake, three-tiered, cardboard cake?

     ​She didn’t have time to debate that thought as the monstrosity began to roll. “Hey, slow down,” Cassidy yelled when a board

​​poked her hip. The cake came to a jarring stop. Her head bumped against the side. She snaked a hand upward to massage the

​​tender area.

     ​“Sorry about that,” the voice apologized. “I’ll knock three times. That’ll be your cue to jump out”

​     She heard doors opening, followed by loud clapping and cheering. Jeez, she hadn’t done her math. Dallas, Texas + bachelor

​​party + ​​alcohol = trouble. Maybe she should’ve considered this job more carefully.

​     The money had sounded so good she hadn’t thought about anything else. Not that she could’ve turned it down. Bills had to be

​​paid.

     ​Knock. Knock. Knock.

​     No time to worry now. She’d just have to make the best of a bad situation. Cassidy pushed on the lid.

     ​Nothing happened.

     ​“You’re supposed to jump out,” the voice whispered urgently.

     ​“I can’t,” she whispered right back.

     ​“Hey, Andy, did you scare her off?” someone yelled.

     ​Cassidy gritted her teeth, grunted, and shoved with all her might. The top popped like a can of soda and landed on the floor with a

​​dull thud.

​     Wonderful oxygen. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, letting the cool air wash over her.

     ​“As much as Andy likes sweets, maybe he kept her for himself,” someone else spoke. The room filled with laughter.

     ​Maybe staying inside the cake wasn’t such a bad idea. There seemed to be plenty of fresh air now and. . . .

     ​“What’s wrong?” the faceless voice asked.

     ​The poor guy sounded frantic. Besides, she doubted Tom would be willing to pay her for staying inside. Cassidy tried to stand but

​​her legs wouldn’t cooperate. Frowning, she tried again. “My legs are numb. I can’t move.”

     ​Hands reached inside and tugged her to a standing position. A zillion needles attacked her legs. She rubbed them as her gaze

​​​swept the dimly lit room.

     ​There were maybe twenty small tables covered with white tablecloths. She estimated twice as many men, their gazes locked on

​​her. Cassidy’s hands stilled. She let out a deep breath when she saw two waitresses moving between the tables. At least she wasn’t

​​the only female there.

​     “Smile!”

​     She frowned instead. Right into the eyes of a blond Adonis. If a man could be described as beautiful, he fit the picture. He looked

​​about twenty-one or twenty-two, at least a year or two younger than herself.

     ​“Smile,” he repeated, showing a perfect set of pearly white teeth for emphasis.

     ​Automatically, Cassidy complied, tearing her gaze away to look around the crowded room again. She almost missed him. Her

​​vision shifted back to one of the pillars and the person leaning against it.

     ​If the man beside her could be called light, this man could be called dark. He reminded her of a thundercloud about ready to let

​​loose with a bolt of lightning. Cassidy had a feeling he’d aim it right at her.

     ​If he didn’t want to be at the bachelor party, why had he come?

     ​She shivered. No smile. No warmth. The dark man gave her the willies. Pasting a wide smile on her face, she dragged her

​​attention back to the crowd. “So, who’s the lucky bachelor?” she called out in a bright voice. She might as well start earning her

​​paycheck.

     ​“Don’t know about luck, but the man of the hour is over there.” Loud guffaws followed his words.

     ​Cassidy glanced in the area he pointed. Horn-rimmed glasses and a silly grin. Nothing spectacular but she supposed someone

​​had found his good qualities since he was getting married. If only he weren’t sitting so close to the ‘thundercloud.’ Something about

​​that man bothered her.

     ​She shook off the feeling and let the blond Adonis help her out of the cake, and then, with an elaborate swing of her hips, Cassidy

​​sashayed over to stand before the one they’d pointed out and went into her dance routine.

     ​More laughter filled the room.

     ​Was her dancing that bad? Mortified, she wondered if she could get away with crawling under one of the tables and pulling the

​​white cloth over her head. A tempting thought, except Adonis was already hurrying toward her.

     ​“Not him,” he said with more than a touch of exasperation. “Him.” He pointed toward the thundercloud.

     ​“You’ve got to be joking,” she said before she thought.

     ​The dark man frowned in her direction.

     ​Who in their right mind would marry the grim reaper? He looked as if he were at a wake rather than his bachelor party. Yes, he

​​was handsome, but good looks weren’t everything.

     ​A hand in the middle of Cassidy’s back nudged her until she stood in front of him. A shiver of apprehension washed over her when

​​she looked into his steely gray eyes. She should have asked Tom for more money.

     ​She swallowed past the lump that formed in her throat. Not even a hint of a smile crossed his face.

     ​Slowly his gaze slid down her length. Her skin went hot, then cold. He raised his head and met her eyes. She’d seen that kind of

​​look before.

     ​She’d grown up in Marlow. Like most small towns there’d been cliques. Everyone had their own group. Except Cassidy.

     ​Cassidy’s grandmother had raised her, and that Social Security check had only gone so far. But the older woman had given her

​​much more than money could buy: lots of love and strong Irish pride.

     ​Cassidy hadn’t tolerated the sneers back then and she’d be damned if she would now. Her spine stiffened. She had a job to do.

     ​​With a flick of her head she tossed her chestnut hair over her shoulder. Her gaze locked with his in silent challenge. One eyebrow

​​quirked upward as if he dared her to evoke any other emotion in him besides boredom.

     ​Raising her hands above her head, she struck the castanets together. The dimly lit room grew silent, except for the rhythmic

​​clicking.

     ​Slowly she began to move, her hips undulating one way while her upper body moved in the opposite direction. Arms outstretched

​​to the side, always clicking, hypnotizing.

     ​Someone turned on the tape recorder which Tom had supplied. Sensual, erotic music filled the otherwise silent room. Closing her

​​eyes, Cassidy let the song flow over her like gentle rain on a spring day. She became a part of the music, no longer aware of the man

​​or his silent challenge.

     ​Faster and faster the pace picked up and she went with it. Her hair brushed across her shoulders like a lover’s caress as the

​​music took hold and wrapped around her.

     ​Sounds throbbed, vibrating off the walls. Bare feet spun around and around. Her lips parted. She poured every emotion into her

​​moves, and when the music stopped, she sank to the floor, chest heaving with exertion.

     ​Silence.

     ​Then deafening applause.

     ​Her head came up and met his gaze. Sweat beaded his brow, but instead of triumph, she felt a twinge of fear. His eyes darkened,

​​reflecting a hot, burning need as his gaze stripped her bare. His bold look made her pulse race as the music never had.

     ​Cassidy wanted to rim as fast and as far away as she could. Instead, she turned her back to him, taking the drink someone

​​shoved into her hand. Her mouth suddenly dry, she swallowed half of it before taking a breath.

     ​Iced tea. Exactly what she needed. She drank all of the refreshing liquid and another magically appeared.

     ​Four glasses later, she didn’t care one whit about what the dark man thought about her. In fact, the tingling sensation she’d felt

​​when their eyes met had probably only been the cool air hitting her skin after she’d finished her dance routine.

     ​She glanced across the table at Adonis. Such a nice young man. So unlike the other one who looked like he never smiled.

     ​Cassidy reached for her tea, but her hand missed. She giggled. “What kind of tea is this, anyway?” Her tongue felt so thick she

​​could barely talk, and the darn room kept tilting back and forth, back and forth.

     ​Adonis smiled and handed her another full glass. “Long Island tea,” he yelled over the music that filled the room. “Here, have

​​some pretzels. They’re nice and salty.”

     ​Funny, she’d never noticed this brand of tea in the supermarket. She munched on some pretzels, and then took another long

​​swallow of tea. Casually, she looked around the room, frowning when she didn’t see her adversary. Not that she cared if he’d already

​​left. Still, she couldn’t help wondering why she felt a little disappointed when she didn’t see him.

     ​“Looks like the bachelor left early so he can be ready for the big day tomorrow,” she said. Adonis had told her earlier in the

​​evening that the wedding was the next day. “Guess it’s time I left, too.”

     ​The other men had dispersed into their own little groups, all but ignoring her, as the blond man seemed to monopolize her time.

​​This had to be the weirdest bachelor party she’d ever been to. Come to think about it, this was the only one she’d been to.

     ​But all things must come to an end. She stood. The room began to spin wildly. She sat back down with a hard thud.

     ​“You okay?”

     ​“I feel kind of strange. All fuzzy.” Adonis came to stand in front of her, a worried frown on his face. She blinked twice, squinted,

​​then rubbed her eyes as he began to blur.

     ​“Here, let me help you,” he offered.

     ​Taking his hand, Cassidy stood. Her legs felt like rubber bands.

     ​“I think I’d better drive you home.”

     ​“That might not be a bad idea.” She couldn’t imagine why she felt like this. She’d only drunk iced tea. Could she be coming down

​​with the flu?

     ​Adonis put his arm around her and guided her to the door.

     ​“I don’t feel so good,” she mumbled.

     ​“Don’t worry. Andy’s here. I’ll take care of everything.”

     ​She smiled, letting him half carry her out to his car. For some reason her feet didn’t want to cooperate.

     ​The drive wasn’t long, only a few minutes, which seemed a little strange since it’d taken her a lot longer to get to the party. Not

​​that she was worried. Adonis had been too nice and polite to be any real danger.

     ​He even helped her to the apartment door. Cassidy couldn’t remember going up in an elevator before, though.

     ​So many strange things were happening to her tonight. A bachelor who didn’t look like a bachelor, the tingling deep within her

​​when she’d looked into his eyes, then the fact he’d disappeared. He was there, then he wasn’t. That suddenly struck her as funny

​​and she giggled.

     ​Her attention was drawn back to her present situation as Adonis propped her against the wall and unlocked the door. Grinning,

​​she ran a hand over the wallpaper. “Look, they changed the color,” she commented. About time management cleaned up the

​​hallway. It was usually dark and dismal.

     ​Cassidy felt herself sliding sideways, but Adonis caught her. “Thank you ever so much.”

     ​“Time for bed.” He helped her inside and closed the door behind them.

     ​Yes, that sounded nice, she thought as he led her toward the bedroom. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to focus. She could’ve

​​sworn her room was in the other direction.

     ​He pushed the door open. “Watch the chair,” she said as they made their way forward. She giggled. No chair. But who cared?

​​Nothing seemed to matter right now. Of course, if Adonis would turn a light on she could probably see. The room was so dark

​​Cassidy could barely make out the bed, even then it seemed to dip and sway.

     ​Strong hands helped her to sit on the side. Hooks and buttons came undone and the costume magically disappeared.

     ​She heard a quick, indrawn breath of air close to her ear, but the sound didn’t sink into her muddled brain.

     ​“He may not thank me in the morning and you’ll probably never forgive me, but I can’t let him make the biggest mistake of his life.

​​Sometimes little brother has to take matters into his own hands.” Cassidy had no idea what Adonis was talking about and didn’t really

​​care. Her head hit the pillow. Instantly her eyes closed. She snuggled beneath the cover as the door clicked shut.

​***
     Sometime during the night the sheet disappeared. Groggily, she turned over, her body inching toward the warmth that radiated

​​from ​​the other side of the bed, only stopping when it wrapped around her, filling her very soul.

     ​Sensual dreams followed. One right after the other. Instead of Adonis, the dark man invaded her world, his body enveloping her

​​own. Hands searched and found. Caressed and fondled. Sweating bodies strained to find erotic fulfillment. And when release came,

​​Cassidy knew she’d never before experienced anything of this magnitude.

     ​​But then, this night was meant for dreams.

       ​***
     The next morning Cassidy slowly came awake, a warm delicious sensation curling around her. She opened her eyes, but the

​​bright sunshine pouring in through the window made her head pound. She quickly closed them, shutting out the offending rays as the

​​euphoric feeling of only a moment ago faded.

     ​Lord, she felt like she’d been run over by a semi. What the heck happened last night? Bits and pieces slowly formed in her mind.

​​Her brow furrowed in thought.

     ​Adonis had kept giving her tea, insisting it would make her feel better. Suspicion began to form. Great! She’d fallen for the oldest

​​trick in the book. Heat radiated through her body as more memories flooded her brain of the erotic dreams she’d had last night But

​​he . . . no, of course not. They were only dreams. Adonis had been too nice. Too polite.

     ​A masculine groan, followed by a movement from the other side of the bed made her draw in a quick breath. I’ll kill him, she fumed

​​as she flipped over . . . and came face to face with steely gray eyes.