Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wedding Crashers by Sage Burnett

Nathan Walker couldn’t shake the bad feeling.

Instinct warned him that something wasn’t right. Frank and Teddy, Lucas Becker’s bodyguards, had cold shouldered him the entire evening. Nate hadn’t been able to talk with the groom, because Lucas was continually surrounded by friends and Alison, his new bride, clinging to him like sweat on a damp tee shirt.

He needed to get a read on Lucas.

It had been three weeks since the last time he’d played golf with Becker. Nate drank more of the expensive champagne in an attempt to drown the uneasiness churning inside his guts. He couldn’t have been made. If Lucas had discovered his true identity, he would be floating head first in the Flathead River.

The delicate crystal champagne flute hovered near Nate's lips as he watched a woman with long platinum blonde hair drag a high-backed chair near the long table. A four tiered wedding cake with all the pomp and circumstance of royalty graced the center of the table. Hiking up the tight burgundy dress over her shapely thighs she climbed onto it, while struggling to keep her balance in high heels. A powerful feeling of déjà vu swept through him when he saw the woman’s dark almond colored eyes.

Raising her bare arms high above her head she dove, in a cockeyed kind of graceless swam dive on top of the large wedding cake. Unfortunately her landing morphed into a belly flop. The cake, decorated with dozens of delicate pink flowers imploded under her and onto the table. Nate’s lips curled up into a grin.

The large room filled with guests instantly hushed.

“Hey, what the hell?” A man hollered from the end of the table.

Nate cocked his head in the direction of Lucas dressed in an expensive black tux. The loud piercing scream he heard next must have come from the bride, Alison. She rushed toward her groom, nearly stumbling in the skin tight satin wedding gown.

Swallowing a large sip of champagne, Nate switched his attention back to the wedding cake crasher. The platinum blonde raised her head in triumph, and stared directly at him.

Damn. No way. That couldn’t be her, but Nate had known deep in his gut that was in fact her. As recognition spread across her face, her tawny colored brows puckered together in a frown.

Frank and Teddy instantly sprang into action, coming out of nowhere. One on each side of her, the beefy guards lifted her off the flattened cake. Kicking and protesting, she attempted to break free of the two sets of large hands.

At lightning speed Nate circled the table. “Put the lady down. It was an accident.” No, it wasn’t an accident. It was a deliberate attempt to do bodily harm to the wedding cake.

“An accident, my ass,” Frank said. His suspicious expression said he didn’t believe that for a minute. “She did it on purpose to ruin the boss’ wedding, Walker.”

“He’s right, Nathan.” Callie Alexander lifted her chin smudged with pink icing.

Franks’ pale blonde eyebrows shot skyward? “You know her?”

Before Nate could answer Lucas stepped between his guards, separating Callie from them. “Dammit Callie, I didn’t take you for the revenge type.”

“Let go of me, you no good cheating bastard.”

Callie had been involved with Becker? Not his Callie. Nate downed the remainder of the champagne in one big jealous gulp.

“Get her out of here,” Lucas ordered Frank and Teddy.

“Who is that woman?” Alison peeked over Lucas’ shoulder.

Callie swung her head in the bride’s direction. “I’m the woman he was sleeping with when he took up with you, Mrs. Becker.”

“What, what?” Alison thumped Lucas between the shoulder blades. “You told me you’d taken a vow of chastity this past year after your divorce.” Alison sucked down champagne like a thirsty camel in the desert before lowering the flute. “Then you slept with him over a year ago, so that doesn’t count.”

Callie jutted a hip out. “Sorry, five months ago does not make a year.”

“Five months?” Alison’s voice rose to a hysterical pitch. “Five months ago?” Lucas and I have been together for six.”

“Tsk, tsk.” Callie gave Lucas a look of pure contempt.

The bride tossed her champagne flute onto the rubble of cake and pounded the groom’s back with her fists while she shouted out a string of four letter words that would make a trucker proud.

Lucas, seemingly oblivious to Alison pounding the crap out of him, looked over at Nate. He switched on his poker face, not daring to look away from Becker’s angry and suspicious glare. Damn right the man was pissed. His ex-girlfriend had just torpedoed the fancy wedding cake, while his new bride threatened to turn his back into a lovely color combination of black and blue.

Still trying to shake off the feeling he’d been made and concerned for Callie’s safety, Nate elbowed Frank smack in the rib cage. A loud grunt blew out of Frank’s mouth. Before Teddy could react, Nate grabbed Callie’s hand. “Come on, let’s go.”

“Wait a minute.” Indignation threaded her words. “You have no right.”

Nate kicked over the table sending the demolished wedding cake to its final resting place on the thick Berber carpet.

“Move it, Callie.” Dragging her behind him, Nate wove his way through the throng of stunned and horrified wedding guests.

If Lucas really did know his true identity he was in deep shit.

There was no way in hell he could have left Callie standing there with white wedding cake smeared all over her dress and body since he knew Becker’s dirty game.

“I can’t run in my heels.”

He didn’t bother looking down. “Kick them off.”

“Are you kidding? These shoes were not cheap.”

Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the two of them had a decent lead. They were about twenty feet away from the front entrance of Becker’s oversized and gaudy house. Nate stopped, and wheeled around to face her. “Kick them off and hurry.”

Callie shook her head, tossing the platinum hair about her face.

“Damn,” he muttered as he bent down and lifted one foot, yanking off the burgundy heel.

When he wrapped his hand around her other ankle, his blood raced. Pushing aside memories of the feel of her, Nate removed the other shoe.

“Well, I never.”

Nate straightened up, holding the heels in one hand. “We need to get the hell out of here.” He caught her hand again and shouldered open the large pine wood door.

Now that Callie had better footing they increased their lead. Looking behind him he saw Frank and Teddy lumbering to catch up. He and Callie burst through the opened door into the hot, muggy August night. Threatening and murky thunder clouds loomed overhead.

The cars were parked at crazy angles instead of neat rows. He’d left his own SUV near the county road, pointed straight at it for a quick getaway if necessary. Good thing, he’d listened to his instincts.

“Nate, all I did was ruin the cake,” Callie said in a breathless voice. “I don’t understand why you’re dragging me behind you like some sort of caveman. I mean if I have to, I’ll pay for it. Not that I really want to do that. The bastard deserved it.”

“This isn’t about the cake.”

“Then what–“

”Later. Here’s my truck.” When they reached his truck, Nate dumped the heels on top of it, before digging the keys out of his pants pocket and unlocked the door. “Get in and fast.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Callie, there’s no time. Just get in.”

She leveled a scrutinizing look on him before sliding in, wedding cake dripping off the front of her curvy body.

Trying to close the door, she blocked it with her elbow. “My shoes.”

“Yeah, right.” Nate slammed the door, snatched the heels and jogged around the front of the truck.

Once inside he jammed the gearshift into first and gunned the engine. As he peeled down the long, winding driveway he looked in the rearview mirror. Frank pointed a semi-auto handgun at his truck. And here he thought Frank and him were buddies. So much for courting the big, dumb guy. Nate reached for Callie, forcing her toward the floor. “Get down.”

“Lordy, you certainly turned into the drama king sometime over the past ten years.”

The crack of gunfire could be heard behind them.

Callie peeked over at him, shock etched across her delicate features. “They’re shooting at us?”

“Will you please just stay down?” When he reached the paved county road, he took the turn on two wheels before straightening the truck out. “You can sit up now, but keep an eye out behind you.”

Callie straightened, shifting slightly in her seat to stare at him. “For God’s sake, will you please fill me in here? ‘Cause I gotta say, I’m lost.”

Nate noticed for the first time that her long blonde hair was slightly askew. “Is that a wig?” Since he’d never forgotten the shine of her rich brown hair or how the silky strands had felt skimming across his bare chest he certainly hoped so.

“Don’t change the subject.”

“If it is, it’s crooked.”

“Oh, hell.” Callie tore off the wig. “It’s too damn hot anyway.”

From the corner of his eye Nate watched as she raked her fingers through her now shoulder length hair. Callie’s hair used to cascade to the middle of her back, but he had to admit the shorter bouncy style was still sexy. Clearing his throat, he focused on the windy, rural road.

“Um...what about my car?”

Good question. “Why were you wearing a wig?”

“So I could get into the wedding. You don’t think I was on Lucas’ gold plated wedding list, do you?”

“Ah, no.” His eye caught the reflection of a black Ford Taurus in the mirror approaching at a high speed. Pressing down on the accelerator Nate had to work hard to keep his concentration on the road and not on Callie.

“Fancy meeting you at Lucas’s wedding.” Sarcasm coated her words. “How do you know him?”

Refusing to look at her, he kept one eye on the road and the other on the rearview. “Golf.”

“Golf? Oh, you have got to be kidding me. What happened to the downhill skier and mountain man?”

“I still do those things.” The only reason he’d taken up the boring sport of golf was to get close to Becker.

Callie opened the glove compartment and ruffled through it. “Do you have a cell on you?”

“Why do you want one?”

She glanced over her shoulder.“. “Why do you think? To call the cops.”

“We don’t need the cops.”

“That’s right, you’re a cop. At least, last I heard you were a highway patrol officer over in Billings. It appears you’re a long way from your job.”

“I transferred to Kalispell a year ago.”

“And you just couldn’t find the time to call me.”

Callie’s sarcasm sliced through him like an extra sharp knife. “I figured you were married with a couple of kids by now.”

“Standard generic answer from an ex-boyfriend.”

Once again her sarcasm hit its mark. “Hold on.” Nate executed an abrupt right turn onto a secondary gravel road.

“I’m really not into four wheeling. I’ve had a rough day. Diving onto a wedding cake isn’t as easy as it looks.”

The Dodge truck jostled and bounced over the narrow road dotted with potholes. Now he wished he would have had new shocks installed. Instead, he’d been too busy chasing after Becker while off duty. Nate had practically begged his captain to assign him to Becker, but Captain Tim Johnson had outright refused him, telling Nate there was a conflict of interest. Nate had managed to one up the undercover officer, Jason Parrish, assigned to Becker, by getting an invite to Becker’s wedding. Using some fancy foot work he’d been able to keep out of Jason’s way.

Callie looked over her shoulder again. “Can’t you just stop and arrest the guy that’s following us?” she asked in an exasperated voice.

“Sorry, no can do.”

Nate eased up on the gas when a large whitetail buck wandered across the road up ahead. “Come on, move it.” He startled the animal off the road and into the pine trees and thick brush that lined it by tapping the horn twice.

“You better fill me in and fast, Nathan Walker, on what exactly is going on here.”

“Later.”

“I’m not being brushed off this time.”

A heavy dose of guilt weighed hard against his chest.

“Maybe you could leave me a note.”

Shit, Callie’s sarcastic remarks hit him hard and fast like the target of a firing squad.

“We’ll talk later.”

“You mean in the next decade?”

He deserved every jab, dig, and scathing remark she threw at him. “I need to concentrate on driving.”

“You do that.”

A silence riddled with unanswered questions and heavy tension sat between them.

She hadn’t changed a bit physically. Those small breasts and shapely ass had kept him in a constant state of sexual agitation all those years ago. And still could because he had a mother of a hard-on underneath his trousers.

The potholes littering the road grew in size and frequency which in turn caused the Taurus to rapidly lose ground behind them. If Frank and Teddy had used their brains, they would have pursued Callie and him in a four wheel drive not a car meant for highway driving. Damn good thing, Becker hired on brawn, not brains.

Nate punched the gas again, hoping to increase their lead.

Callie kept looking over her shoulder. “I’ll give them points for persistence. I mean really. All this over a flattened wedding cake.”

Nate held his tongue. There was a hell of lot more at stake here that Callie didn’t know about. “That cake must have cost a bundle.”

“My friend knows the baker who made it. Very expensive.”

Nate tilted his head and caught the devilish smile playing across her face, which eased some of the tension from his body, but the sexual tension made his already achy cock, ache more. He forced his attention back to the road because he needed to keep control of the truck and his chaotic emotions.

Never in a million years could he have imagined seeing Callie again, particularly on a stakeout.

She’d slept with Lucas Becker. Why in the hell had she been involved with a man like Becker in the first damn place? Since he had left her high and dry a decade ago, Callie had the right to sleep with anyone she wanted, but it didn’t mean he had to like it.

By all rights he had no claims on her.

Scowling, Nate checked the rearview again. The Taurus was nowhere to be seen. Didn’t mean Becker’s hit men weren’t still in hot pursuit.

Nate slowed when he spotted a road veering off toward the river. If necessary they could cross it. The sedan would be shit out of luck on that one. It was a short cruise to the river. Nate shifted down into four low and nosed the truck down the bank.

“You really do want to lose Teddy and Frank,” Callie said. “I always figured they were harmless. More for show than anything else.”

Nate felt her eyes boring down on him, but he applied himself to navigating the truck across the river. Good thing, this was a shallow part. The water barely lapped at the top of the tires.

“You’re ignoring me.”

Nate gassed the engine as they approached the opposite bank. “No, I’m not. I’m concentrating.”

The tires dug in and churned dirt as the truck climbed the bank before hitting level ground again. He spotted a narrow road with deep ruts that other four wheel trucks had made over the years.

“Stop.”

“We need to keep going, Callie.”

“I’d really like to clean this sticky cake off of me. Besides, the Taurus can’t cross the river and you know it.”

“Too chancy. There’s probably a creek up ahead.”

“Maybe, maybe not. You’re not the one with cake and icing plastered all over your body.”

Nate slanted his eyes in her direction “It has a certain amount of panache to it.”

Callie snorted. “Yeah right. My plan was to destroy the cake, say my peace then get the hell out of there. I even brought a change of clothes with me.”

“Hmmm.....methodical planning on your part.” The image of Callie and Becker twined together didn’t sit well with him. Hell, it downright pissed him off. “Why Becker?”

“Why not Becker?” She tossed back at him. “I found him charming.”

Sleazy kind of charming. “And then he broke your heart?” It sounded to him, like Callie might still be in love with the son of a bitch. That thought appalled him.

“God, no. He didn’t break my heart. He ticked me off for lying to me. He was seeing me on the side while making wedding plans with Alison. Talk about a lowlife.”

“Yeah, he’s a lowlife alright.”

“I thought he was your friend.”

“A...yeah...he is or was. I can’t respect a man who cheats with other women.”

“I don’t think that’s the only reason you think he’s a lowlife.”

Nate felt Callie’s gaze on him again. He didn’t look at her as he maneuvered the truck down the road. Sprawling fir branches scraped at the sides of his truck as he drove. So what if he might need a new paint job?

Callie pointed up ahead. “Oh, cool. There is a creek.”

“We’re going straight through it.”

He heard the seat belt unsnap. When Nate looked over at her, he saw her fingers wrap around the door handle. “Come on Callie, no jumping out.”

“I’d hardly call it jumping. You’re probably going all of two miles an hour.”

The Taurus couldn’t cross the river, but Frank and Teddy could on foot.

“Sooner or later we have to turn back, unless you’re equipped with camping gear and a change of clothes for me.”

Okay, so she had him on that one. Nate reached over and took her arm when the passenger door opened. Her soft skin did things to him. “We need to keep going.”

“You drive across the creek and I’ll wash up. I’ll meet you on the other side.”

Grinding his teeth together, he studied the creek. It was about half the width of the river and didn’t look too deep. “No.”

“Let go of my arm or stop the truck. Either way, I’m getting out and cleaning up.”

“Dammit.” Nate hit the brakes. “Make it quick.”

Callie was already out the door before she paused and looked back at him. She raised her hand in a salute.

“Shit.” Ten years later she was even more tempting. His dick just wouldn’t give up the fight. Nate watched her carefully make her way to the edge of the creek on bare feet.

He let the truck idle, and reached under the seat for the .9mm semi auto Glock, before he climbed out. His eyes fixated on Callie when she waded into the water, but his ears strained to hear any unusual noises. Sounds that didn’t belong in the forest, like a gunshot bee lining toward his head.

Wading out to her knees, she bent over and splashed water on the front of her dress. That damn sweet ass muddied his brain. He forced his gaze in the direction they had just come. Expecting to see Becker’s men jogging down the road, he loosened his tie and yanked it off. Nate laid the gun on the top of the truck and peeled off the tux jacket before he tossed the tie and jacked into the back seat.

“Do you always pack?”

Callie’s voice startled him. He wheeled around to face her. The already snug dress clung even more tightly to her body because of the water she'd splashed on it. Her nipples were hardened peaks under the dress, while the wet fabric emphasized her pubic mound.

Christ, now he had to protect Callie and himself, dodge two gun toting bodyguards and deal with an aching hard-on. Nate snatched the gun and held it at his side. “Let’s get moving.”

“Of course, you would carry a gun if you were on duty, but you were at a wedding. Care to fill me in.”

“You ask too many questions.”

When Callie moved close to him it was extremely hard to keep his eyes off that dress clinging to her so provocatively. “Like I said before, we need to get moving.”

“I want to know why you’re running from Lucas Becker.”

“Technically speaking we’re running from his bodyguards, not Becker himself.”

Callie rolled her eyes. “Same difference.”

Too much precious time had slipped by while he let Callie clean up. Wrapping his hand around her arm, he steered her around the front of the truck.

“I won’t be put off that easily, Nate. In fact,” she stopped and dug her bare feet into the ground. “I’m heading back. Maybe I can catch a ride with Frank and Teddy.”

He frowned at her. “Real funny.”

Callie lifted her chin. “It wasn’t meant to be funny. I’m dead serious.”

His back teeth crunched together as impatience wound through his system. “Please don’t be stubborn. We need to get moving.” He gave her his sexy look, the look that always seemed to reel women in.

When Callie’s brows furrowed together and her eyes filled with irritation Nate figured he might be losing his touch. “We’re wasting time.”

Callie’s response was to plant a hand on her shapely hip. “You’re wasting time, not me.”

Nate dropped his hand from her arm, tucked his gun into the back of the tux trousers before scooping her up into his arms.