Married at Midnight

By: Gerri Russell

CHAPTER ONE


Ellie Hawthorne knew she’d done something terribly stupid last night. Just how stupid was the thousand-dollar question. That first shot of tequila had seemed like a good idea given the horrible day she’d had. Looking back, and judging by the pounding in her temples, Ellie was certain the second and third shots had been a mistake. Anything beyond that third shot, she didn’t remember.

What had happened after that? Only snippets of memory played across her mind—dancing with a tall, blond man to a pulsing beat, pink peonies, white lace, Elvis Presley.

Was the memory some weird Vegas-induced fantasy?

Ellie groaned and rolled onto her side, away from the sliver of light stabbing through a separation in the curtains of her Las Vegas hotel room. She’d come to Vegas for an event-planning trade show, where she’d hoped to pick up potential clients for her ailing business.

Ellie Hawthorne Events hadn’t had a long-term client since last spring, when her biggest celebrity wedding ever had canceled. The couple had opted for a homespun wedding instead, kicking off a new trend not only in Seattle but all over the nation. Event planners everywhere were struggling for work. And that reality had led to her first shot of tequila. And, she felt a shiver, maybe some other dumb decisions . . .

Something was knocking on her brain’s back door.

In an attempt to stop the pounding in her head, Ellie pressed her hands against her temples. What had happened last night? She searched for any real memory that might surface. Again, she saw a man. He was handsome and somewhat familiar. He’d picked her up and carried her somewhere . . . nothing more came to her but the relentless throbbing.

Once again that thin streak of light assailed her. Why was the Las Vegas sun brighter than the one in Seattle? It didn’t seem fair, especially with a killer hangover, that the sun should be so cheery.

Ellie groaned against the injustice of it all until that thought led to another. If she wanted to change her situation, she could. She could get up and find the aspirin she’d packed. What was that recipe for hangovers again? An aspirin, orange juice, and a raw egg? Her stomach roiled at the thought. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping to stave off a wave of nausea. Dry toast sounded better. Maybe that and an aspirin.

Flipping the sheet aside on her king-size bed, she felt an air-conditioned chill settle over her bare skin. Funny, she didn’t remember getting undressed last night. But she didn’t remember coming back to her room either. Pushing herself to keep moving, she opened her eyes, then gasped at the sight of a man’s head lying on the pillow next to hers.

Ellie jerked upright and scrambled out of bed. Her heart thundered in her ears, competing with the pounding in her head. For a moment her stomach pitched, and she thought she might be sick. She clamped her hand over her mouth. The sensation eased, and her eyes adjusted to the partial light.

A tall, blond man—the one from her memories—was very naked and in her bed. His slow, even breathing stopped. He stirred at the garbled sound that had escaped from her before settling back to sleep.

Should she call the front desk and ask for help? She dismissed the thought as quickly as it formed. He was no malicious stranger. Her fragmented memories indicated she’d invited him here.

Ellie forced herself to take a breath, then another as her heartbeat slowed. She reached for the sheet hanging off the edge of the bed. Wrapping the linen around her, she studied the man.

His back was to her, and he’d kicked off the remaining blankets, leaving her a clear view of the well-defined muscles of his back, waist, buttocks, and legs. Whoever he was, he was a sight to behold.

Ellie shook her head at the thought, then regretted the motion. She reached for the nightstand to steady herself. The body and the guy seemed so familiar. Yet no memories of his name or where they’d met came to her. How could she have forgotten such a finely sculpted posterior?

Her hand felt different. She turned her fingers, revealing the back of her left hand, which held the sheet to her body. Her breath hitched on a startled gasp. A big diamond sat atop her third finger.

The world seemed to slow down. A heaviness descended over her, weighing her down as her heartbeat thundered in her ears.

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