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Baiting the Maid of Honor

By:Tessa Bailey

Chapter One

A relaxing, six-day mountain retreat at the exclusive Beaver Creek Resort in Colorado, followed by

her best friend’s wedding—what could possibly go wrong?

Julie Piper tipped her champagne glass to her lips and smiled at the women conversing animatedly

around her. She’d selected the resort’s tasteful Osprey Lounge as the venue for Kady’s bachelorette

party and if her friends’ rapidly increasing inebriation served as any sign, it had been a darn good

choice. Predinner drinks, a light meal, and a loose seating arrangement had been meticulously planned

to make the evening a success. Now she could sit back and enjoy the delicious buzz working its way

through her system. It had been far too long since she allowed herself to relax, but there was

something soothing about being with three best friends who’d borne witness to four years’ worth of

triumphs and tragedies in her life. Also known as college.

Kady, the first of them to get hitched, had called with the news of her engagement a year prior,

tearfully asking Julie to be the maid of honor. She’d agreed without hesitation. Among the eclectic

mix of four friends, Julie had garnered a reputation as the planner. The maker of pretty things.

Energizer Barbie. Not exactly a flattering nickname, but apt nonetheless. She smiled, she mediated,

and she decorated. Making people happy was her top priority.

If her smile felt like it might shatter on occasion, well then she supposed even the ceiling in

Barbie’s Dream House sprang a leak now and again.

Through an avalanche of email and hysterical phone calls between Kady in Colorado and herself in

Atlanta, the wedding had been planned down to the tiniest of details. Ask her anything about floral

arrangements or canapés and she could dish for days. As she watched Kady show off her ring to the

tray-carrying waitress, smile beaming from ear to ear, Julie was reminded why she adored planning

and preparation. The end result never disappointed.

Regan, her sorority sister and current New York City headhunter, leaned across the table toward

Kady, artfully highlighted hair falling in a wave beside her face. “So does Colton know he’s marrying

the legendary Tri Delt who once rode a mechanical bull in a bikini and chaps, or did you neglect to

mention it?”

“Oh, I told him.” Kady sniffed proudly. “He asked to see pictures.”

Regan saluted with her glass. “Now there’s a man worth giving up casual sex with strangers.”

“I seem to remember you taking a turn on that bull, Julie,” Kady pointed out.

“I may or may not have pictures of that night,” Christine said on Julie’s left, saving her from having

to respond. “And I may or may not have brought them along with me to torture you.”

Kady’s mouth dropped open. “I should have known, Miss Investigative Journalist. Even in those

days you were never without your camera.”

Christine brushed her bright-red hair over her shoulder, looking quietly pleased. “Always

prepared.”

“I shudder to think what photographic blackmail you have on me.” Regan winced. “I seem to recall

some flashes going off the night I scaled the Chi Omega sorority house to steal their mascot off the

roof.”

Julie nodded sagely. “Mmm-hmm. And nothing between you and the Lord but a smile.”

“That’s right. I was butt-ass naked.” Regan flounced back in her chair and shrugged. “Hey, I didn’t

hear any complaints from below.”

As they all groaned over Regan’s statement, a new arrival in the lounge caught Julie’s eye. Looking

horribly out of place, a young woman clutched her purse strap, eyes scanning the room. A vague

familiarity about her tipped Julie off. “Kady, is that Colton’s sister?”

Kady craned her neck to look toward the bar. “Ooh, yes. Julie, can you go get her?”

Julie had already left the table and was halfway across the room before Kady finished making her

request. She flashed her most welcoming smile at a wide-eyed Sophie and pulled her into a hug,

laughing when the other girl automatically stiffened like a board. Taking pity on her, Julie moved

back a step. “Now, don’t let the hugging scare you off, Sophie Brooks. That’s just how we do things

in the South. Come on over and let’s get you a drink. Are you hungry? They have the most delicious

crab cakes. I just about died when I bit into mine.”

Sophie’s gaze was fastened on Julie’s mouth as if she couldn’t believe a person could say so many

words without taking a single breath. Julie sighed. She was used to that look. “Uh, thank you. No, I’m

not hungry.” She cracked a nervous little smile. “But I’m more than willing to partake in the

drinking.”

Julie took her arm and led her toward the table. “Excellent. You’re going to fit right in.”

The young woman looked doubtful as they approached the table, but as soon as introductions were

made and Julie placed a glass of champagne in her hand, the boisterous conversation swelled once

more and Sophie seemed to relax slightly, even if she looked like a spectator at a tennis match trying

to follow their banter.

Julie waited until everyone had become distracted by bawdy talk of wedding night lingerie choices

before she inconspicuously left the table. She floated past the restrooms and the bustling kitchen, and

slipped out onto the deserted back patio she’d spied earlier, inhaling the clean mountain air. After

nearly missing her flight this morning thanks to a last-minute meeting at her father’s company, she’d

hit the ground running to get the party set up in time. A breather was definitely in order. As soon as

the patio door closed behind her, she yanked the clip out of her hair, letting her long blond hair tumble

down around her shoulders. Alone in the darkness, she allowed her ramrod posture to deflate, the

tension to ease from her shoulders.

She in

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