Adam stopped in front of the mahogany door and hit her with a head-on gaze. “You look beautiful. Remind me to thank Cassie for that dress.”
Pleasure rushed through her. “I chose it.”
“Very nice. Conservative and tasteful, but with a latent sexuality that any man would enjoy tapping. Remember, don’t flinch,” he whispered as he cradled her cheek in a warm palm and then he covered her mouth with his. Lauryn didn’t have time to react—or not—to the unexpected kiss before the front door opened. Adam slowly lifted his head.
His hand lingered on her jaw line before he released her and then he flashed a disarmingly boyish and guilty grin at the fiftyish-year-old woman inside. “Late again. I know. But I was distracted.”
The woman’s stern face melted into a smile. “Well, you’re here now. Come in. You know what happens when you keep her waiting.”
Adam tugged Lauryn forward. “Lauryn, this is Lisette Wilson. She’s the saint who manages my mother. Lisette, meet my beautiful bride, Lauryn.”
“So you really did it?” a male voice called from inside.
Lisette quickly shook Lauryn’s hand, greeting her warmly and then stepping aside.
A tall, dark-haired, brown-eyed man stood behind her.
Adam ushered Lauryn inside a foyer almost as large as Lauryn’s living room. “Ask Brandon and Cassie. They were our witnesses. Lauryn, my brother Stephen.”
Stephen appraised Lauryn as he shook her hand, and then turned to an approaching man who looked uncannily like him. Same hair, eyes and a similar build. Definitely a Garrison even though neither man shared Adam’s sexy blue eyes. “Pay up.”
“The one digging for his wallet is Parker,” Adam said dryly. “I can’t believe you guys bet on my wedding.”
Stephen shrugged. “What can I say? You are the last one anyone thought would settle down. But hey, I bet you would. Eventually.”
“This is Lauryn. You might have seen her around Estate. She’s the only woman I let play with my…accounts.” Adam flashed a teasing smile and wink her way for the benefit of their audience, and Lauryn nearly swallowed her tongue. Adam deserved a standing ovation for his acting ability.
Five more people crowded into the foyer practically forcing Lauryn and Adam against the door and increasing Lauryn’s sense of being trapped. She easily identified the two slender brunettes as the twins. Another dark-haired woman, a redhead and an olive-complexioned man made up the group. The names blurred as Lauryn shook hands and accepted what seemed to be genuine welcomes.
This isn’t so bad.
“Adam, I never expected you to literally take my advice and settle down,” one of the twins said. Brittany, Lauryn decided, because she held hands with the only non-Garrison male. Emilio.
“You mean my advice,” Stephen corrected and his sister rolled her eyes. Stephen gravitated toward the redhead. Megan?
Adam’s arm slid around Lauryn’s waist. For once she was glad to have him to lean on and burrowed tighter against his side. She saw the surprise and the flare of arousal in his eyes as he looked down at her. She hoped he remembered she was acting. “Neither of you get credit. I found Lauryn without your help.”
“May I see your ring?” Brooke asked.
With all eyes focused on her Lauryn wanted to squirm. She extended her hand and hoped it didn’t tremble too much.
“Your brother has excellent taste.” Good. Her voice sounded almost normal.
Brooke looked doubtful. “Adam does? How long have you been dating?”
Panic hit Lauryn hard and fast. She and Adam hadn’t discussed that. She looked at him but he’d turned to talk to Stephen. “Um, not long. We met when I interviewed for the job at Estate seven and a half months ago, but we, um, tried to deny our feelings…because of the no-fraternization policy.”
She stuck to the truth as much as she could because she hated lying to these people. To anyone, really. She’d spent too much of her youth telling whoppers. And getting caught. She kept waiting for the half-truths of her current life to blow up in her face. One misstep and—
“What is wrong with you people?” a harsh and slightly slurred female voice asked from behind the others. The group parted for the thin woman barging through them like a Coast Guard cutter. Her short dark hair was streaked with gray. Her cold, blue gaze plowed into Lauryn’s. Adam’s eyes, only Lauryn had never seen his look as hard. And she hoped she never did.
“Why is it none of my children have the decency to marry in a church?”
“Hello, Mother,” Adam said.
The chilly gaze raked Lauryn from head to toe before shifting to Adam. He air-kissed his mother’s cheek with about as much warmth as a polar ice cap. “This is Lauryn. My wife.”
“So I hear.”
Lauryn suppressed a flinch at the caustic tone.
Adam continued as if his mother hadn’t rudely interrupted. “Lauryn, Bonita Garrison. My mother.”
“It’s nice to meet—”
“Are you pregnant?” Bonita Garrison snarled.
Lauryn gasped and lowered the hand she’d extended. “No.”
“Good. I need another drink. Lisette!” Adam’s mother wheeled around and headed across the vast living room beyond a fat stone column. The housekeeper hustled after her.
“I shouldn’t be surprised to find her already working her way through a bottle,” Adam muttered.
“That’s our mother,” Brittany said. “I can’t believe you didn’t take Lauryn on a decent honeymoon. Three days in the Bahamas? Please. I never took you for a cheapskate.”
Adam shrugged. “We have too much to do. We’re moving into the Sunset Island estate tomorrow. I’ll make it up to Lauryn later.”
“You’re giving up the bachelor pad?” Stephen said in a surprise-laden voice.
“No. The property’s too valuable to sell and it should continue to appreciate. The club will use it the same way I’ve been using the estate. But Lauryn and I want a home. The kind you’d raise a family in.” He quoted her words from the night he’d given her the house tour.
Adam’s arm around Lauryn’s waist guided her along with the group as it moved toward the French doors on the far side of the room, through which Bonita Garrison had disappeared. Outside, a limestone patio surrounded an Olympic-size pool. A border of tall palms swayed in the evening breeze. Lauryn tried not to gawk, but it was impossible not to be overwhelmed by such opulence.
“Drink?” Adam released her and moved toward a marble-topped wet bar.
Lauryn debated sipping something to calm her nerves versus the possibility of loosening her tongue and tripping over it. And then she noticed Adam’s disconcerted expression. She realized he had no clue of her drink preference. “Um, sure. Do you have a dry white wine tonight?”
“We’re late for dinner,” Mrs. Garrison groused.
Adam leisurely reached for a goblet and bottle. “Go ahead, Mother. Lauryn and I will join you in a minute. Lisette, would you ask the kitchen to serve champagne with dessert? And join us for a glass.”
The housekeeper flushed. “My pleasure, Mr. Adam.”
His mother flounced off, leaving her children looking after her with almost identical looks of disgust on their faces.
When Adam handed Lauryn the wineglass, she considered knocking it back in one gulp. Adam obviously shared the sentiment since he downed half his bourbon in one swallow.
“You don’t have to wait for us,” Adam said and the others filed inside, but Adam caught her elbow and held her back.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
“Just doing what’s expected.” He encircled her waist, pulled her close and kissed her. Taking advantage of her surprised “Oh,” he skipped the preliminaries and deepened the kiss. She tasted the liquor on his tongue, but it wasn’t unpleasant. Neither was the warmth of his body against hers.
She dug the fingers of her free hand into his firm waist and struggled to shut down her knee-weakening, nerve-tingling response to his scent, his heat, the skill of the silken tongue plying hers. But denying the sexual heat he generated wasn’t possible. He made all her senses come alive in ways beyond the hot rush of sex she remembered from her wilder days. She yearned to burrow closer, to linger and explore.
What would it be like to be Adam’s lover? Would the intimate act live up to the promise in his kisses or would he disappoint her as others had before him?
Don’t start liking this.
When he finally lifted his head she panted as if she’d run a mile. She licked her sensitized lips and tried to quell her clamoring hormones and catch her breath. “W-why did you do that?”
“We’re being watched,” he said against her neck. He caught her face when she would have turned and traced the shell of her ear with a featherlight touch. “Don’t look.”
His five-o’clock shadow rasped deliciously against her skin as he nuzzled from behind her ear to her collarbone, his breath warm and moist. She shivered. Just when she thought she’d dissolve into a wet puddle on the patio tiles he slowly straightened and released her. A dark flush coated his cheekbones.
“If you’re ready for battle, let’s go.”
Lauryn’s stomach plunged and she nearly dropped her wineglass. Any lingering remnants of desire vanished. “It gets worse?”
“Usually. Garrison family dinners are not enjoyed. They’re endured.”
“Then why do you come?”
“Because they’re my family.” Adam laced his fingers through hers and, palm-to-palm, led her toward what felt increasingly like the lion’s den.
And then she remembered her father’s favorite quote. “There’s a price for every lie you tell. Before you open your mouth, be sure you’re prepared to pay it.”
The tension throughout dinner was of the clichéd thick-enough-to-cut-with-a-knife variety.
Beneath the superficially polite conversation Lauryn sensed undercurrents between the members of the Garrison clan, but especially between Parker and his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Emilio Jeffries. She’d have to ask Adam to explain the family dynamics later. But for now she was glad the ordeal was almost over. The staff had served the dessert, poured the champagne and left the room.
“Anna’s pregnant,” Parker announced.
Lauryn lifted her gaze to the brunette sitting directly across from her. “Congratulations.”
Anna’s eyes shone with happiness. “Thank you. You can see why I for one would have been thrilled if you were pregnant. We could have compared notes.”
Lauryn ignored the derisive snort from Bonita and shifted in her chair. “Sorry.”
“Perhaps soon,” Adam said. He captured Lauryn’s hand and carried it to his lips for a tender kiss topped off with one of those charismatic smiles that made her heart flutter irregularly. “I’d like to make a toast to my beautiful bride, the only woman to ever make ‘forever’ sound like a promise instead of a life sentence.”