By Lori Wilde
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Addicted to Love
Growing up in Valentine, Texas, can make anyone believe in happily ever after. But recovering romantic Rachael Henderson has decided that love stinks. And after having two grooms ditch her at the altar, she commits an uncharacteristic act of rebellion that leaves her feeling liberated-until she’s arrested by Sheriff Brody Carlton.
Once upon a time, being hauled against the strong body of her first cowboy crush would have had Rachael planning the wedding of the year. Now it spurs her to create Romanceaholics Anonymous, and soon all of Valentine is divided as diehard romantics clash with anti-love cynics.
With the town up in arms, the biggest cynic of them all-the sinfully sexy sheriff-can’t stop fantasizing about this beautiful woman who’s nothing but delicious trouble. Can he convince Rachael that it just may be possible to have her wedding cake and eat it too?
Formerly published as Addicted to Love.
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2008 by Laurie Vanzura
Excerpt from the Wedding Veil Wishes series copyright © 2008 by Laurie Vanzura.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: October 2008
"You must think I'm crazy."
"When I look at you, crazy is not the word that comes to mind." The suggestive innuendo in his voice took Brody by surprise.
"No? What word comes to mind?"
"Caring, expressive, a little overly passionate, maybe, but that's not a bad thing."
"No." He didn't know why, or what he intended on doing when he got there, but Brody took a step toward Rachael.
Her breathing quickened. He couldn't help noticing the rapid rise and fall of her breasts beneath the T-shirt.
His gut was telling him something else now. Something he needed to ignore no matter how much he ached to act on it.
Without meaning to, Brody propped one forearm against the doorframe above her, leaned in, and lowered his head. The sexual tension was so electric he could almost hear it snapping. He dipped his mouth lower . . .
CRITICS LOVE LORI WILDE'S NOVELS!
ONCE SMITTEN, TWICE SHY
"4 Stars! Sometimes serious, sometimes humorous, this is a continuously entertaining story."
—Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine
"A light, entertaining read."
"An endearing tale . . . a feel-good read."
"Lori Wilde at her best . . . The magic and romance that Ms. Wilde began in her first book in the series, There Goes the Bride, continues in this novel . . . I really loved this story. The writing is wonderful and the plot grabbed my attention from the first page. I fell in love with the characters and couldn't wait to see how they worked everything out."
"A definite crowd pleaser . . . Lori Wilde can write very engaging and quirky romances and Once Smitten, Twice Shy is one of them . . . [A] good read with some suspense to boot."
"A wild ride on an emotional roller coaster."
"Amusing . . . an entertaining contemporary romance."
—Midwest Book Review
THERE GOES THE BRIDE
"I adored this book! I even kept it in my purse in the hopes that I would have a few minutes in which to squeeze in a paragraph or two . . . I can't wait to read the next in this wonderful new series . . . Superb!"
"A fun, sweet romance."
"The passion in There Goes the Bride is enjoyable . . . another solid romance from Lori Wilde."
"There Goes the Bride is a [Lori] Wilde madcap contemporary romance."
—Midwest Book Review
"A charming romance novel."
"FOUR HEARTS! Ms. Wilde conquers a whole new part of the romance genre . . . lots of funny elements and a great cast of characters. Make some space on your keeper shelf. You will need it."
YOU ONLY LOVE TWICE
"Part thriller, part adventure, and always humorous, Wilde's latest is just what the doctor ordered to chase away the blues. This author proves that she does humor right."
—Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine
"Fast-paced adventure, sexy situations, and lots of suspense will make Wilde's book appeal to a wide spectrum of readers."
"Readers will be . . . laughing at the shenanigans."
"Super fun romantic suspense . . . You Only Love Twice [is] a . . . humorous contemporary thriller worth reading."
—Midwest Book Review
"4 Stars! This novel has a nice balance of humor, sexy romance, and a large splash of danger."
—Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine
"Sexy . . . An action-packed, fast-paced adventure."
"Fun, romantic . . . humorous and fast-paced . . . Fans who appreciate a breezy, lighthearted romantic suspense . . . will enjoy reading the adventures of the wilder Cooper twin."
CHARMED AND DANGEROUS
"This zany romantic comedy will steal your heart . . . sexy, fun, and hard to put down . . . pure delight."
"Witty . . . the chemistry between David and Maddie is hot enough to satisfy those looking for light summer reading."
"Quite the exciting romp. Fans will be charmed."
—Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine
"Lovable . . . Wilde has a unique voice that will soar her to publishing heights."
LICENSE TO THRILL
"With a sassy, in-your-face style reminiscent of Janet Evanovich, Wilde has created an unforgettable heroine."
"Hot and funny and at the same time sweet . . . will have you turning the pages long after the lights should be out."
"Sexy . . . Wilde dishes up a delicacy that really hits the spot."
—Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine
"Great fun . . . A wild ride! Her characters are so alive and the plot is outstanding. I loved every word."
ALSO BY LORI WILDE
License to Thrill
Charmed and Dangerous
You Only Love Twice
There Goes the Bride
Once Smitten, Twice Shy
In memory of Frederick Shawn Blalock
Be at peace, my brother.
While Valentine, Texas, is a real place, the town of Valentine depicted in the pages of this book is completely fictional. I've taken literary license for story purposes.
The last thing Sheriff Brody Carlton expected to find when he wheeled his state-issued white-and-black Crown Victoria patrol cruiser past the welcome to valentine, texas, romance capital of the usa billboard was a woman in a sequined wedding dress dangling from the town's mascot — a pair of the most garish, oversized, scarlet puckered-up-for-a-kiss lips ever poured in fiberglass.
She swayed forty feet off the ground in the early Sunday morning summer breeze, one arm wrapped around the sensuous curve of the full bottom lip, her other arm wielding a paintbrush dipped in black paint, her white satin ballet-slippered toes skimming the billboard's weathered wooden platform.
The billboard had been vandalized before, but never, to Brody's knowledge, by a disgruntled bride. He contemplated hitting the siren to warn her off, but feared she'd startle and end up breaking her silly neck. Instead, he whipped over onto the shoulder of the road, rolled down the passenger-side window, slid his Maui Jim sunglasses to the end of his nose, and craned his neck for a better look.
The delinquent bride had her bottom lip tucked up between her teeth. She was concentrating on desecrating the billboard. It had been a staple in Valentine's history for as long as Brody could remember. Her blonde hair, done up in one of those twisty braided hairdos, was partially obscured by the intricate lace of a floor-length wedding veil. When the sunlight hit the veil's lace just right it shimmered a phosphorescent pattern of white butterflies that looked as if they were about to rise up and flutter away.
She was oblivious to anything except splashing angry black brushstrokes across the hot, sexy mouth.
Brody exhaled an irritated snort, threw the Crown Vic into park, stuck the Maui Jims in his front shirt pocket, and climbed out. Warily, he eyed the gravel. Loose rocks. His sworn enemy. Then he remembered his new bionic Power Knee and relaxed. He'd worn the innovative prosthetic for only six weeks, but it had already changed his life. Because of the greater ease of movement and balance the computerized leg afforded, it was almost impossible for the casual observer to guess he was an amputee.
He walked directly underneath the sign, cocked his tan Stetson back on his head, and looked up.
As far as he knew — and he knew most everything that went on in Valentine, population 1,987 — there'd been no weddings scheduled in town that weekend. So where had the bride come from?
Brody cleared his throat.
She went right on painting.
He cleared his throat again, louder this time.
"Ma'am," he called up to her.
"Go away. Can't you see I'm busy?"
Dots of black paint spattered the sand around him. She'd almost obliterated the left-hand corner of the upper lip, transforming the Marilyn Monroe sexpot pout into Marilyn Manson gothic rot.
The cynic inside him grinned. Brody had always hated those tacky red lips. Still, it was a Valentine icon and he was sworn to uphold the law.
He glanced around and spied the lollipop pink VW Bug parked between two old abandoned railway cars rusting alongside the train tracks that ran parallel to the highway. He could see a red-and-pink beaded heart necklace dangling from the rearview mirror, and a sticker on the chrome bumper proclaimed i heart romance.
All rightee then.
"If you don't cease and desist, I'll have to arrest you," he explained.
She stopped long enough to balance the brush on the paint can and glower down at him. "On what charges?"
"Destruction of private property. The billboard is on Kelvin Wentworth's land."
"I'm doing this town a much-needed community service," she growled.
"This," she said, sweeping a hand at the billboard, "is false advertising. It perpetuates a dangerous myth. I'm getting rid of it before it can suck in more impressionable young girls."
"What myth is that?"
"That there's such things as true love and romance, magic and soul mates. Rubbish. All those fairy tales are complete and utter rubbish and I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker."
"Truth in advertising is an oxymoron."
"Exactly. And I'm pulling the plug."
You'll get no argument from me, he thought, but vandalism was vandalism and he was the sheriff, even if he agreed with her in theory. In practice, he was the law. "Wanna talk about it?"
She glared. "To a man? You've gotta be kidding me."
"Judging from your unorthodox attire and your displeasure with the billboard in particular and men in general, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that you were jilted at the altar."
"Perceptive," she said sarcastically.
She didn't respond immediately and he was about to repeat the question when she muttered, "The Chicago Bears."
Brody sank his hands onto his hips. "The guy jilted you over football?"
"Bastard." She was back at it again, slinging paint.
"He sounds like a dumbass."
"He's Trace Hoolihan."
Brody shrugged. "Is that supposed to mean something?"
"You don't know who he is?"
"Hallelujah," the bride-that-wasn't said. "I've found the one man in Texas who's not ate up with football."
It wasn't that he didn't like football, but the last couple of years his life had been preoccupied with adjusting to losing his leg in Iraq, getting over a wife who'd left him for another man, helping his wayward sister raise her young daughter, and settling into his job as sheriff. He hadn't had much time for leisurely pursuits.
"How'd you get up there?" Brody asked.
"With my white sequined magical jet pack."
"You've got a lot of anger built up inside."
"I know you're heartbroken and all," he drawled, "but I'm gonna have to ask you to stop painting the Valentine kisser."
"This isn't the first time, you know," she said without breaking stride. Swish, swish, swish went the paintbrush.
"You've vandalized a sign before?"
"I've been stood up at the altar before."
"Last year. The ratfink never showed up. Left me standing in the church for over an hour while my wilting orchid bouquet attracted bees."
"And still, you were willing to try again."
"I know. I'm an idiot. Or at least I was. But I'm turning over a new leaf. Joining the skeptics."
"Well, if you don't stop painting the sign, you're going to be joining the ranks of the inmates at the Jeff Davis County Jail."
"You've got prisoners?"
"Figure of speech." How did she know the jail was empty fifty percent of the time? Brody squinted suspiciously. He didn't recognize her, at least not from this distance. "You from Valentine?"
"I live in Houston now."
That was as far as the conversation got because the mayor's fat, honking Cadillac bumped to a stop behind Brody's cruiser.
Kelvin P. Wentworth IV flung the car door open and wrestled his hefty frame from behind the wheel. Merle Haggard belted from the radio, wailing a thirty-year-old country-and-western song about boozing and chasing women.
"What the hell's going on here," Kelvin boomed and lumbered toward Brody.
The mayor tilted his head up, scowling darkly at the billboard bride. Kelvin prided himself on shopping only in Valentine. He refused to even order off the Internet. He was big and bald and on the back side of his forties. His seersucker suit clung to him like leeches on a water buffalo. Kelvin was under the mistaken impression he was still as good-looking as the day he'd scored the winning touchdown that took Valentine to state in 1977, the year Brody was born. It was the first and last time the town had been in the playoffs.
Brody suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. He knew what was coming. Kelvin was a true believer in the Church of Valentine and the jilted bride had just committed the highest form of blasphemy. "I've got it under control, Mayor."
"My ass." Kelvin waved an angry hand. "She's up there defacin' and disgracin' our hometown heritage and you're standing here with your thumb up your butt, Carlton."
"She's distraught. Her fiancé dumped her at the altar."
"Rachael Renee Henderson," Kelvin thundered up at her. "Is that you?"
"Go away, Mayor. This is something that's gotta be done," she called back.
"You get yourself down off that billboard right now, or I'm gonna call your daddy."
The name brought an instant association into Brody's mind. He saw an image of long blonde pigtails, gap-toothed grin, and freckles across the bridge of an upturned pixie nose. Rachael Henderson, the next-door neighbor who'd followed him around like a puppy dog until he'd moved to Midland with his mother and his sister after their father went to Kuwait when Brody was twelve. From what he recalled, Rachael was sweet as honeysuckle, certainly not the type to graffiti a beloved town landmark.
He thought of Belinda and shook his head to clear away thoughts of his ex-wife.
"My daddy is partly to blame for this," she said. "Last time I saw him he was in Houston breaking my mother's heart. Go ahead and call him. Would you like his cell phone number?"
"What's she talking about?" Kelvin swung his gaze to Brody.
Brody shrugged. "Apparently she's got some personal issues to work out."
"Well, she can't work them out on my billboard."
"I'm getting the impression the billboard is a symbol of her personal issues."
"I don't give a damn. Get 'er down."
"How do you propose I do that?"
Kelvin squinted at the billboard. "How'd she get up there?"
"Big mystery. But why don't we just let her have at it? She's bound to run out of steam soon enough in this heat."
"Are you nuts? Hell, man, she's already blacked out the top lip." Kelvin anxiously shifted his weight, bunched his hands into fists. "I won't stand for this. Find a way to get her down. Now!"
"What do you want me to do? Shoot her?"
"It's a thought," Kelvin muttered.
"Commanding the sheriff to shoot a jilted bride won't help you get reelected."
"It ain't gonna help my reelection bid if she falls off that billboard and breaks her fool neck because I didn't stop her."
Kelvin cursed up a blue streak and swiped a meaty hand across his sweaty forehead. "I was supposed to be getting doughnuts so me and Marianne could have a nice, quiet breakfast before church, but hell no, I gotta deal with this stupid crap." Kelvin, a self-proclaimed playboy, had never married. Marianne was his one hundred and twenty pound bullmastiff.
"Go get your doughnuts, Mayor," Brody said. "I've got this under control."
Kelvin shot him a withering look and pulled his cell phone from his pocket. Brody listened to the one-sided conversation, his eyes on Rachael, who showed no signs of slowing her assault on the vampish pout.
"Rex," Kelvin barked to his personal assistant. "Go over to Audie's, have him open the hardware store up for you, get a twenty-five-foot ladder, and bring it out to the Valentine billboard."
There was a pause from Kelvin as Rex responded.
"I don't care if you stayed up 'til three a.m. playing video games with your geeky online buddies. Just do it."
With a savage slash of his thumb on the keypad, Kelvin hung up and muttered under his breath, "I'm surrounded by morons."
Brody tried not to take offense at the comment. Kelvin liked his drama as much as he liked ordering people around.
Fifteen minutes later, Rex showed up with a collapsible yellow ladder roped to his pickup truck. He was barely twenty-five, redheaded as rhubarb, and had a voice deep as Barry White's, with an Adam's apple that protruded like a submarine ready to break the surface. Brody often wondered if the prominent Adam's apple had anything to do with the kid's smooth, dark, ebony voice.
Up on the billboard, Rachael was almost finished with the mouth. She had slashes of angry black paint smeared across the front of her wedding gown. While waiting on Rex to show up with the ladder, Kelvin had spent the time trying to convince her to come down, but she was a zealot on a mission and she wouldn't even talk to him.
"I want her arrested," Kelvin snapped. "I'm pressing charges."
"You might want to reconsider that," Brody advised. "Since the election is just a little more than three months away and Giada Vito is gaining favor in the polls."
The polls being the gossip at Higgy's Diner. He knew the mayor was grandstanding. For the first time in Kelvin's three-term stint, he was running opposed. Giada Vito had moved to Valentine from Italy and she'd gotten her American citizenship as soon as the law allowed. She was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, the principal of Valentine High, drove a vintage Fiat, and didn't mince her words. Especially when it came to the topic of Valentine's favored son, Kelvin P. Wentworth IV.
"Hey, you leave the legal and political machinations to me. You just do your job," said Kelvin.
Brody blew out his breath and went to help Rex untie the ladder. What he wanted to do was tell Kelvin to shove it. But the truth was the woman needed to come down before she got hurt. More than likely, the wooden billboard decking was riddled with termites.
He and Rex got the ladder loose and carried it over to prop it against the back of the billboard. It extended just long enough to reach the ladder rungs that were attached to the billboard itself.
Kelvin gave Brody a pointed look. "Up you go."
Brody ignored him. "Rachael, we've got a ladder in place. You need to come down now."
"Don't ask her, tell her," Kelvin hissed to Brody, then said to Rachael, "Missy, get your ass down here this instant."
"Get bent," Rachael sang out.
"That was effective," Brody muttered.
Rex snorted back a laugh. Kelvin shot him a withering glance and then raised his eyebrows at Brody and jerked his head toward the billboard. "You're the sheriff. Do your job."
Brody looked up at the ladder and then tried his best not to glance down at his leg. He didn't want to show the slightest sign of weakness, especially in front of Kelvin. But while his Power Knee was pretty well the most awesome thing that had happened to him since his rehabilitation, he'd never tested it by climbing a ladder, particularly a thin, wobbly, collapsible one.
Shit. If he fell off, it was going to hurt. He might even break something.
Kelvin was staring expectantly, arms crossed over his bearish chest, the sleeves of his seersucker suit straining against his bulky forearms. The door to the Cadillac was still hanging open and from the radio Merle Haggard had given it up to Tammy Wynette, who was beseeching women to stand by their man.
Brody was the sheriff. This was his job. And he never shirked his duty, even when it was the last thing on earth he wanted to do. Gritting his teeth, he gathered his courage, wrapped both hands around the ladder just above his head, and planted his prosthetic leg on the bottom rung.
His gut squeezed.
Come on, you can do this.
He attacked the project the same way he'd attacked physical therapy, going at it with dogged determination to walk again, to come home, if not whole, at least proud to be a man. Of course Belinda had shattered all that.
Don't think about Belinda. Get up the ladder. Get the girl down.
He placed his good leg on the second rung.
The ladder trembled under his weight.
Brody swallowed back the fear and pulled his prosthesis up the next step. Hands clinging tightly to the ladder above him, he raised his head and counted the steps.
Twenty-five of them on the ladder and seventeen on the back of the billboard.
Three down, thirty-nine left to go.
He remembered an old movie called The Thirty-Nine Steps. Suddenly, those three words held a weighted significance. It wasn't just thirty-nine more steps. It was also forty-two more back down with Rachael Henderson in tow.
Better get climbing.
The higher he went, the more the ladder quivered.
Halfway up vertigo took solid hold of him. He'd never had a fear of heights before, but now, staring down at Kelvin and Rex, who were staring up at him, Brody's head swam and his stomach pitched. He bit his bottom lip, closed his eyes, and took another step up.
In the quiet of the higher air, he could hear the soft whispery sound of his computerized leg working as he took another step. Kelvin's country music sounded tinny and far away. With his eyes closed and his hands skimming over the cool aluminum ladder, he could also hear the sound of brushstrokes growing faster and more frantic the closer he came to the bottom of the billboard.
Rachael was still furiously painting, trying to get in as many licks as she could.
When Brody finally reached the top of the first ladder, he opened his eyes.
"You're doing great," Kelvin called up to him. "Keep going. You're almost there."
Yeah, almost there. This was the hardest part of all, covering the gap between the ladder from Audie's Hardware and the thin metal footholds welded to the back of the billboard.
He took a deep breath. He had to stretch to reach the bottom step. He grabbed hold of it with both hands, and took his Power Knee off the aluminum ladder.
For a moment, he hung there, twenty-five feet off the ground, fighting gravity and the bile rising in his throat, wondering why he hadn't told Kelvin to go straight to hell. Wondering why he hadn't just called the volunteer fire department to come and get Rachael down.
It was a matter of pride and he knew it. Stupid, egotistical pride. He'd wanted to prove he could handle anything that came with the job. Wanted to show the town he'd earned their vote. That he hadn't just stumbled into the office because he was an injured war hero.
Pride goes before a fall, his Gramma Carlton used to say. Now, for the first time, he fully understood what she meant.
Arms trembling with the effort, he dragged himself up with his biceps, his real leg tiptoed on the collapsible ladder, his bionic leg searching blindly for the rung.
Just when he thought he wouldn't be able to hold on a second longer, he found the toehold and then brought his good leg up against the billboard ladder to join the bionic one.
He'd made it.
Brody clung there, breathing hard, thanking God for letting him get this far and wondering just how in the hell he was going to get back down without killing them both, when he heard the soft sounds of muffled female sobs.
Rachael was crying.
The hero in him forgot that his limbs were quivering, forgot that he was forty feet in the air, forgot that somehow he was going to have to get back down. The only thing in his mind was the woman.
Was she all right?
As quickly as he could, Brody scaled the remaining rungs and then gingerly settled his legs on the billboard decking. He ducked under the bottom of the sign and peered around it.
"Entertaining and humorous...There's a seriousness to it also, as the heroine learns to recognize real love and caring. Wilde again includes secondary romances that are intriguing, entertaining, and hot."
—RT Book Reviews
"Wilde brings romance fans a feel-good, laugh-out-loud read...one of the best romantic comedies I've read in a long time."
"Charming...lighthearted...fun...strong secondary romances enhance an engaging Valentine tale."
—Midwest Book Review
- On Sale
- Jun 26, 2018
- Page Count
- 400 pages