One Night with the Bride
One Night with the Bridal Party, Book 1
by Sara Daniel
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61333-531-4
[ Western Romance, MF ]
When her society matron mother presents Caroline with a one-night stand date a week before her wedding, she’s appalled. But the fantasy resort run by her first love reminds her of everything she threw away. Can Madame Eve reunite them or will one night with the bride destroy forbidden dreams?
“It’s a week before my wedding, and you’re giving me what?” Surely no one would consider such a crass idea as an appropriate prenuptial gift. Caroline Sunburst turned to her best friend Sabrina, who appeared just as shocked.
“A one-night stand,” her mother repeated, patting a plastic card into Caroline’s hand. “And one for your maid of honor, too.” She nodded at Sabrina, as if the gifts were perfectly natural, expected even.
Although too well-trained to make a scene in the crowded, elegant restaurant frequented by the society ladies of San Diego, Caroline would not accept the gift. Faithfulness and trust were her top requirements—she didn’t want a relationship like her parents had.
“Mother, I’m committed to being faithful. Blake and I agreed we won’t have affairs or cheat on each other.”
“How noble of you.” Mother sniffed her displeasure. “You have a week to squeeze in a lifetime of passion. Lord knows there’s not a speck of it to be found between you and Mr. Stuffed-Shirt.”
Needing support, she glanced at her friend again, but Sabrina seemed too caught up in her own shock over receiving such an inappropriate gift from an impeccable, proper society matron.
“You like Blake.”
“Sure, I do. He’s the future of Sunburst Hotels and knows how to make a business profitable.”
Caroline squeezed the card until the edges dug into her flesh. Brought up to manage every aspect of the hotel business, her competence exceeded that of the other executives, even though her contributions were denied equal consideration by her family and the corporate management.
“However,” her mother continued, “I have a hunch you and Blake have as much fun in bed as your father and I do, which is to say none. When we do have sex together.”
Ugh. “I do not need to hear this.”
“Actually, since you are following in our footsteps, you do.”
Caroline tapped the gift card against the restaurant table. Once, long ago, she’d experienced passion. Or maybe it being first love and her not knowing better caused her to imagine so. Anyway, it didn’t matter. Weighted by her parents’ strong disapproval, she and her lover had gone their separate ways.
“The match has been set up through Madame Eve and paid in advance, but the gift card will pay for any extras you want at the Alvarado Ranch.”
She started, bumping the table with her knee and sloshing the water in their glasses. “Where?”
“I couldn’t exactly book a room at a Sunburst property, now could I? You need to go someplace far enough away no one will recognize you. Madame Eve suggested—insisted—the match take place in godforsaken Montana.”
The logo on the plastic card came into focus, teasing her eyes. The Alvarado Ranch Resort. The Google alerts about Javier Alvarado and his Montana resort came regularly. Despite having no money for horses of his own, his natural way with the animals shone through when he’d worked at the stable where she practiced for equestrian competitions in high school.
Together, they concocted elaborate plans to combine their love of horses and her destiny as an hotelier. The resulting fantasy resort allowed people to pretend to be ranchers for a week while enjoying all the comforts of an upscale life. They even envisioned the house they’d build on the grounds, designing it right down to the “Home is Where My Horse is” craft sign hanging on the front door.
But she bowed to her family’s pressure, while he built their dream alone.
Mother didn’t remember the name of the stable hand her daughter once loved. She certainly wouldn’t have set Caroline up to have a final fling him. However, she had her mother’s unintentional blessing to see what he’d become. After satisfying her curiosity, she would delete the Google alert and marry Mr. Stuffed-Shirt…er, Blake…without a single hesitation over what might have been.
Pulling out her phone, she texted Blake to tell him about the trip, but saw no reason to mention the one-night stand. She would absolutely not sleep with anyone besides her soon-to-be-husband.
Javier Alvarado ducked out of the way of the spirited stallion’s hooves and grasped the reins, whispering in Spanish to the agitated animal. A moment later the hum of a helicopter cut through the stillness of the afternoon, and he squinted at the object arriving from the southwest.
So, the latest applicant for the President of Operations position came for his interview after all. Despite being six hours late, simply showing up put the candidate, Pallson, ahead of the others who’d been qualified enough to reach the personal interview stage.
“Can you believe I’m going to offer this inconsiderate ass a fat raise and an incentive bonus to move here?” he muttered, stroking the horse’s velvet muzzle.
The proud animal snorted and shook its head.
Javier smiled in spite of his frustration and dug a sugar cube out of his pocket. Breaking in wild horses kept him sane. He needed to fill the administrative job before throwing in the towel on the entire venture and working as a simple ranch hand with no other responsibilities. He no longer remembered or cared who he’d been trying to prove himself to when he started.
After brushing down the stallion and mucking out the stall, he took his time settling the animal, then checked his phone to see if his assistant, Alberto, thought the interviewee’s excuse worthy of Javier’s time. The only text came not from an employee but from Madame Eve.
Your 1Night Stand has been scheduled. Tonight. Room 1502.
What the hell? Dust caked his skin and clothes, he smelled like manure and ached from head to toe. He’d be lucky to muster enough energy to clean up, and if he did, a mountain of urgent paperwork waited on his desk. Getting lucky in any other sense didn’t figure into his plans.
He’d once dreamed of the fun diversion. Not long after The Alvarado Ranch Resort opened, Jackson Castillo of the Castillo Hotels contacted him, needing to use his ranch to accommodate one of Madame Eve’s 1Night Stand requests. His personal life sorely neglected and his sex life nonexistent, Javier half-joked he wanted a complimentary one-night stand in return.
Madame Eve promised to set him up, but when she didn’t deliver immediately or in the following months, he eventually forgot about it.
No way. No woman will want me the way I smell right now, he texted back.
She’ll want you. And you’ll thank me later. Eight o’clock. Don’t be late.
Caroline thanked the pilot and stepped from the helicopter, the hot wind swirling her hair around her face.
“Ma’am, allow me to take your bag.” A portly man in a three-piece suit rushed forward. “Mr. Pallson failed to mention a companion.”
She repeated the unfamiliar name. “Mr. Pallson?” If he was her one-night stand, he would be quite disappointed. She should have contacted Madame Eve to clarify she wouldn’t have sex with anyone.
“The interviewee.” He looked beyond her to the helicopter as if expecting someone else to emerge.
With effort, she refocused on the man greeting her. “I came here alone. I’m Caroline Sunburst.” Flying to a resort in the middle of nowhere a week before her wedding while a million tiny details waited to be dealt with at home was foolish enough. All for the possibility of a glimpse of Javier.
The man gaped.
She winced. Way to blow her chance of anonymity. The Sunburst hotel chain’s well-known upscale reputation preceded her everywhere.
He clasped her hand and pumped it enthusiastically. “Ms. Sunburst, we are honored to have you apply for the position. Come, I will give you a tour before the interview.”
Her mind whirled with confusion. Madame Eve’s 1Night Stand dating service surely didn’t expect her to interview for the one-night stand. “I’m not—”
“Actually, Alberto, I’ll do the honors of the grounds tour,” a male voice with a faint Spanish accent announced. Javier stood before her in the flesh—dirtier, more disheveled, and unfortunately a bit smellier than the internet images led her to believe.
“Very good, sir. I look forward to meeting you again later, Ms. Sunburst.” Alberto bowed and disappeared, leaving her alone in the blinding Montana sun with the man who’d once asked her to leave her family and upscale life to live with him and everything he owned in the back of his pickup truck.
His gaze swept over her, giving away nothing, not contempt, not lust, not regret. “You’re not here to interview for the President of Operations position.”
“No.” Her parents had been right to forbid her to exchange her plush bedroom for the bed of his truck. She would have forever regretted her decision and blamed him, leading them to self-destruct. But good gracious, if they’d survived those early years, her dream job would be hers. And so would Javier.
Instead, she’d let her family talk her into resigning her VP position with Sunburst Hotels to focus on her new role as society wife to the man who won the coveted promotion she’d worked her whole life for. “I’m here as a guest, but I would still love a tour.”
“Come with me.” He offered a dirty hand but immediately pulled it back. “Sorry. I refused to clean up for some asshole who couldn’t respect my people and my time enough to show up for the interview when he promised. I’ve been breaking in a horse while I waited.”
“You sure he hasn’t been breaking you in?”
Laughter cut through his solemn expression and white teeth gleamed in his handsome brown face.
She trained her gaze on the flat expanse of land around them, steeling herself against the inevitable attraction. Thank goodness the manure stench rolling off him kept her from wrapping her arms around him and kissing him the way she longed to.
They’d had their chance together and lost. In a week, she would marry someone else. She ought to return to the helicopter and demand the pilot take her straight home.