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Out of Her League

By´╝ÜSamantha Wayland

Out of Her League
Samantha Wayland

Dedication

For Lauren.

Welcome to the family. We're not exactly the Morrisons, but I promise we will love and look after you as well as they love and look after their own.

Acknowledgements

I've been extraordinarily lucky to be able to work with the same editor for all my books, and from that professional relationship has come a friendship I cherish. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am to Meghan Miller for all she's done, and does, and probably will do to not only make each of my books possible, but keep my life in some semblance of order. I swore in a previous book that I just needed to find a way to get her to move to Massachusetts and install her on the couch in my office so that all would be perfect.

Having done so, I can attest it's better than that.

I also must thank my patient cover artist, Caitlin Fry, for putting up with me on this book. As a rule, I defer to her in all things cover-design related, but for some damn reason I had ideas I just couldn't let go of on this one. Fortunately, she's still speaking to me.

A huge welcome and so much gratitude to the newest member of Team Wayland - my copyeditor, Cindy. She jumped in on this at the very end and made it infinitely better by catching all the little things my eyes could no longer see.

Many thanks to Stephanie Kay, for being the best cheerleader/ass-kicker a writer could ask for. And to my generous and thorough critique partner, Victoria Morgan, who has been on this journey with me the whole way and hasn't given up on me yet. To Darth, for giving me access to all the inspiration a girl could ask for. And Rosie, for talking me off more than one ledge.

Finally, of course, I thank my family. If I listed all the ways they make this possible and bring me joy, it would cost too much to print this book.

Chapter One

"Holy shit, I just met the Queen of England."

Michaela burst into laughter at the wild look in Callum's eyes. In all the years they'd been friends, she didn't think she'd ever seen him look more freaked out.

"She's nice," Michaela offered, having met the Queen before with her parents. Granted, the first time Michaela had been too young to remember it, but the second, she'd been eighteen and far too clueless about, well, everything, to appreciate what a great and rare gift it had been.

She didn't expect to ever have the honor again-the price of a misspent youth.

"You met her yesterday, Cal," Michaela said with another chuckle. "Why are you freaking out now?"

"Because it's easier than freaking out about the fact that I'm going to walk down the aisle in ten minutes?"

Well, that was honest, anyway. Michaela was more surprised Callum wasn't standing at the door, trying to barrel through it to get to Rupert and the boys.

"You getting cold feet?"

Callum shot out of his chair. "Of course not!"

Michaela smirked. She hadn't really thought so, but at least Callum didn't look nervous anymore. He looked pissed.

"Put it away, Grumpy," she said unsympathetically. "Yelling at your best man-lady-person won't help."

He grinned at Michaela. "You're my best woman. Accept it."

"Maybe. It's not like we all get to choose what people call us, do we, Countess?"

"Don't call me that," Callum grumbled, his cheeks turning pink.

"Why not? You're marrying an earl in" -she checked her watch- "seven minutes."

Callum gulped audibly. "Holy crap."

The thing was, that while Callum might have been a mess of nerves, Michaela didn't have a single worry about today. Planning the bachelor party had been way more stressful than having to get Callum to the back of the chapel in a few minutes. She looked out the windows at the clear blue skies above Woodcock-the seat of the Weckfordham earldom and Rupert's childhood home-and thought how very far they'd come.

A year ago, Callum and Michaela had been pretending to be in love, letting the world-and more specifically, the press-wonder how long it would be before they married. It had seemed like an ideal setup, allowing her to finally quash the rumors that no man would have her, while also easing the scrutiny from Callum, who was exhausted after a decade of pretending to be straight for the benefit of his NHL career.

In hindsight, she should have known that when they stopped "dating" it would probably be a shit storm. But Callum was in love. Stupidly, head-over-heels, sappy in love.

And for that reason alone, Michaela wouldn't change any of it.

She squinted at a black dot hovering in the sky, her ears straining to hear the rhythmic whump of helicopter blades, her heart not beating right until the bird dipped to the left and disappeared into the trees.

She shook her head and turned back to Callum. He and Rupert had hired a top-notch firm to handle the security for this event. And what neither groom knew, or needed to know, was that Michaela had then paid that firm to triple whatever they'd had planned.

She knew her role in today's festivities was adding to the press melee surrounding the entire thing. It wasn't every day an NHL star up and retired in order to marry his boyfriend and raise their children together. It only added to the insanity that the already infamously disgraced woman, the woman had pretended to be said NHL star's girlfriend for five years, was to stand in as best man-lady-person.

She refused to be called the best woman. It just didn't fit.

"Ready to go?" she asked, hooking her arm through Callum's.

"Yes," he replied immediately, if a little hoarsely.

She drew him out the wide french doors in the study and across the lawn toward the chapel. The path was lined with a riot of flowers to celebrate the perfect June day. The smell of roses wafted in the air, both from the grounds and the nosegay of blood-red buds in Michaela's hand.

She wore a simple dark blue strapless gown that skimmed the gravel and tugged at the grass edging the path. A bright swath of the green, blue, and red Morrison tartan was draped from her shoulder to the opposite hip, matching Callum's kilt.

It was a shame so few men had an excuse to wear skirts anymore, because that look really worked for Michaela. She was very happily anticipating seeing the rest of the Morrison clan in their finery, and Rupert and the boys in the bright red of the Macalister colors.

Rupert had complained they would look like a Christmas pageant gone wrong and had suggested he and the boys could wear morning suits instead. Callum wouldn't hear of it.

Apparently, Michaela wasn't the only one really into men wearing their skirts. She knew Callum was her best friend for a reason.

The doors to the chapel opened as they climbed the stairs, and there stood Callum's five brothers, all grinning at the unusually pale Callum. Michaela's eyes sought out Kieran's, and he nodded.

Rupert and the boys were ready.

The rest, as she'd known all along it would be, was easy.

The wedding was beautiful. Lachlan had never seen his brother look happier, even as the tears rolled down Callum's cheeks. Lachlan tried very hard to be subtle as he rubbed at his own eyes, but failed, if the amused and affectionate look from his sister was anything to go by.

At least he wasn't as bad as Alexei Belov, the very large Russian goalie manfully weeping into his handkerchief in Rupert's family pew.

Callum clung to Rupert's hand, their two boys standing between them, part of the ceremony instead of just standing up for their dads. Michaela Price was Callum's best woman, while Reese Lamont stood up for Rupert. The rest of the ushers-a.k.a. Lachlan and his legion of brothers-sat with their parents and sister.

The ceremony was short and, frankly, unbearably sweet. If Lachlan hadn't been so busy trying not to cry, he might have been rolling his eyes.

The reception, on the other hand, was a little bit like Lachlan's version of hell on earth. Standing around in a skirt, making small talk, and eating canapés was not his idea of a good time. Well, okay, the skirt thing didn't bother him in the slightest. Sure, his usual khakis and a button up would be more comfortable. Or possibly even his hockey gear, sweaty jock and all. But it wasn't like this was unfamiliar territory. His brother Kieran's wedding had contained many of the same elements. Kilts. Handsome husband staring at one of Lachlan's brothers like he couldn't believe his good fortune. And lots of beautiful women decked out in fancy clothes, trying to flirt with Lachlan-only to discover they'd have more luck conversing with the statuary in the hedge maze just down the hill.

He watched his brothers with envy as they moved through the crowd. Easy smiles, big laughs, and the ability to put virtually everyone, from Rupert's sour-faced aunts to the catering waitstaff, at ease. The only one who remained reserved, even a little, was Angus. But he was young and even he, when needed, could employ whatever magical Morrison gene blessed the rest of the clan with social skills.

The gene Lachlan was missing.

He knew perfectly well that standing in the corner, eyeing the door of the tent for a possible escape, wasn't going to save him. But it still made him feel better. Forcing himself to look around, he saw the moment Callum noticed him there and cupped Michaela's elbow to pull her toward Lachlan.

Honestly, Lachlan thought bitterly, how did Callum think this was going to work?

Lachlan was reserved with strangers, had little interest in small talk with people he barely knew, and could more often be found listening rather than contributing to conversations, even among the people who he knew and loved best. But nothing turned him into more of a jabbering idiot than being faced with a beautiful woman and being expected to actually converse.

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