The Wedding Date Bargain by Mira Lyn Kelly

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  Copyright © 2017 by Mira Lyn Kelly

  Cover and internal design © 2017 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

  Cover design by Dawn Adams/Sourcebooks, Inc.

  Cover images: Couple © Shirley Green, background © Pglam/Getty Images

  Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

  The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

  All brand names and product names used in this book are trademarks, registered trademarks, or trade names of their respective holders. Sourcebooks, Inc., is not associated with any product or vendor in this book.

  Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

  P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410

  (630) 961-3900

  Fax: (630) 961-2168


  Front Cover

  Title Page


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21


  About the Author

  Back Cover

  For Brit and Caroline.

  Congratulations on your Happily Ever After!

  Chapter 1

  No matter what happened next, Max Brandt was not going to punch his best friend in the face.

  No way. There were rules about that sort of thing, and Max was a by-the-book, rule-following kind of guy.

  Rule number one: There is a time and place for everything.

  And they were in a church, for fuck’s sake. The church, by Chicago standards. A Gothic badass, sporting a pipe organ straight out of The Wizard of Oz. His upbringing may well have been on par with that of wolves, but a brawl beneath the vaulted ceilings and stained glass of Holy Name Cathedral was not gonna happen.

  Not even when, two pew lengths and seven rows down, the best friend in question, Sean Wyse, was leaning in to the woman beside him and whipping out what was invariably some practiced line. Normally the polished bull Sean spewed to the press and female population at large didn’t faze Max. But today? The guy’s mouth was dangerously close to that glossy fall of chestnut waves, and suddenly the seams of Max’s tux were straining as his molars ground together in a series of threatening pops.

  If it came down to it, he’d haul Sean out to North State Street.

  But it wouldn’t.

  Max was about ninety-three percent sure of that, because of rule number two: Friends don’t hit friends.

  Max hadn’t roughed up a buddy since the tenth grade, when Danny Radovick made the unfortunate mistake of commenting on Max’s little sister’s assets. It had been a lesson for both of them. Danny gained a deep and abiding understanding of the value of keeping his eyes off Molly and his trap shut about her in general. And Max discovered his little sister had shit taste in guys, because she’d been pissed at him for months over ruining her shot at Danny.

  Whatever. He stood by his actions.

  But now, what kind of best man would he be if he showed up for the main event with matching sets of bloody knuckles and a split lip?

  ’Course, that might be a best-case scenario. With about fifty boys in blue already scattered throughout the first fifteen rows of pews to watch one of their own join in holy matrimony with the daughter of one of Chicago’s political elite, he probably ought to consider rule number three: Cops don’t start fights. They stop them.

  Max wasn’t about to spend his partner’s wedding day in jail for beating the piss out of Sean just because the guy happened to have brought the one woman Max had trouble following his own rules around.

  Sarah Cole. Christ, what was she doing here?

  And what the hell was she doing with Sean Wyse when one week earlier Max had been within a stone’s throw of getting her into his bed?

  “I thought Sean was bringing Valerie.”

  Max quickly looked to Jase Foster, who’d somehow come up beside him without Max noticing. A couple of inches taller than Max’s six foot three and with a build that was nothing to scoff at, Jase wasn’t exactly known for his stealth, and Max hadn’t even realized the guy was there. Perfect. So in addition to the bro-code violations in progress, Max was also losing his edge. A catastrophe for both his professional and personal lives.

  Refocusing on Sean and Sarah, he crossed his arms over his chest. “He was until a couple weeks ago. I didn’t think he was bringing anyone.”

  How did Sarah even know the guy? Max loved Sean like a brother, but seriously… Wyse made him look like a prude, which considering Max’s vast and varied history with the fairer sex was saying something.

  Jase scrubbed at the back of his head, a speculative look in his eyes. “With the press covering this wedding, no way would Sean bring someone he wasn’t at least semi-seriously considering.”

  If that was the case, Sarah wouldn’t have the first fucking clue about Sean’s more colorful side. But Max knew, and no way was he cool with it. He loved the guy, couldn’t ask for a better friend, but when it came to women—no. No girl he cared about was getting in with Sean.

  “Think the new girl’s already been vetted by his parents?” Jase asked.

  Max was more concerned about Sean’s plummeting chance of survival as he rested his hand on the small of Sarah’s back. Because he knew that slick half smile his friend was wearing. Recognized the cut of his eyes. The guy was “on,” probably making some joke that nudged the bounds of propriety but stayed within the lines.

  And three, two, one. There it was. That bubble of laughter, pretty and light.

  The sound caught Max square in the chest, busting open the vault where he’d kept the memory of it tucked away, along with the feel of her hair between his fingers, and the taste of her lips. The way she’d shuddered in his arms that one time—

  Shit. There were probably rules about thoughts like those in a church too, but since Max was less than a hairsbreadth from doing physical violence to a guy he loved like a brother, he’d cut himself some slack to focus on the bigger issues.

  Like stopping Sean from putting one more finger on Sarah, before Max couldn’t stop himself from putting his fist into Sean’s face.

  “Nice laugh,” Jase added, straightening his tie and then scanning the church, no doubt looking for Emil
y, his bride of one month. “This one seems livelier than Sean’s usual fare.”

  Max was saved from needing to comment when Jase’s face lit up like he’d just hit the Lotto.

  “Hey, Em’s over talking with my boss.” Jase gave Max a knuckle bump and headed off toward his new wife. “Catch up with you after the wedding. Be safe up there.”

  “Yeah, you too,” Max said, still focused on Sean and Sarah.

  From across the distance, Sean straightened, a furrow digging between his brows. Probably sensing the impending threat to his as-yet-unbroken, pretty-boy nose. He looked left past one massive marble column supporting the ceiling, then right.

  Right here. Max nodded. Hey, guy.

  Sean visibly relaxed, but then he must have looked a little closer, because those eyebrows he swore were just naturally that neat started reaching for the sky.

  Sean pointed Sarah toward a woman she greeted warmly and started snaking his way up the aisle to Max.

  “Everything okay, man?” Sean asked, having the good sense to stand a couple of feet off. “Could swear you were giving me that perp-assaulting-an-old-lady look there for a minute.”

  Yeah, he was being an asshole, Max thought. Time to take it down a notch.

  Going for casual, he jutted his chin. “So you and Sarah, huh?”

  “Sarah?” Sean’s eyes dropped to Max’s fist, and he took another step back. “Okay, I’m definitely missing something here.”

  Shaking out his hand, Max studied the ceiling for a second and blew out a slow breath. Because this was nuts.

  But damned if he could stop.

  “How long you been seeing her?” It was too much to hope this was a first date. They seemed too comfortable together. She’d laughed too easily, and with the way Sean had touched her—the way she hadn’t really reacted when he did—there was some familiarity there.

  “You guys serious?” Max’s knuckles cracked, and Sean blanched.

  “What the hell, Max?” Sean half croaked, his hands coming up between them.

  The truth was that Max didn’t know what was wrong with him, except that he needed an answer, like yesterday.

  Sean backed up again. Only then the damnedest thing happened. Instead of the guy pissing himself, or going to his knees and begging for his life while offering up every no-big-deal-at-all detail there was to be had, the fucker chose that minute to remember they were friends.

  And he started to laugh.

  “Holy shit, Max,” he coughed out, muttering a quick apology skyward before grinning back at him. “Dude, you scared the Chri—”

  Again he pulled a sheepish face. Then wiping the grin from his mouth, he stepped closer. “Max, how do you know Sarah anyway? She’s only been in Chicago for a week, and she said she was single. Besides, best I can tell, the longest relationship you’ve had in the past few years was that overnight with Kelly Monroe when she got herself drunk enough that you stayed just to make sure she was okay.”

  Sean wasn’t wrong. Max didn’t have any claim on Sarah. Never had, and those few hours before she disappeared the week before certainly hadn’t earned him one.

  Which made what he was doing all the worse.

  Because Sean wasn’t just a friend; he was Max’s best friend, and had been for years before Sarah’s smile had even had a chance to clobber him.

  “It isn’t like that,” Max started, not as interested in explaining his own history with Sarah as he was in hearing about Sean’s present with her. Then in his periphery, he caught the blur of an incoming bridesmaid, one hand clutching a pinch of shimmery slate skirt, the other flapping wildly at him.

  “Max!” Avery grabbed his arm, urging him away from the guests still streaming into the cathedral.

  Sean crossed his arms, waiting a polite distance away and not looking the least bit intimidated. Typical.

  Turning his attention to Tess’s maid of honor, Max frowned, taking in her flushed face and panicked eyes. “What’s going on?”

  “It’s Tess. She and CJ had a fight. Something stupid about him sneaking into her place last night for…you know.”

  Yeah, after being partners on the force for the last three years, Max knew exactly why CJ would sneak into Tess’s parents’ place the night before their wedding. Not like the guy was a monk.

  “So they fought.” This was pretty much an hourly occurrence and had been from as far back as high school, the way CJ told it. If they’d managed to make it through their wedding day without a major blowup, Max might have worried something was wrong. “What’s the problem?”

  Avery pushed to her toes and whispered, “She left!”


  Chapter 2

  One week earlier

  Max ran a hand over his mouth, staring up at the pressed copper plates of Belfast’s ceiling as he struggled for patience. There were certain things no man should be forced to endure.

  “Fives, Max. Are we clear on that?” Molly Brandt asked, her head bowed over the stack of bills she was counting out on the bar in front of him. Blue eyes sparkling with mirth, she peered up at him from under a curtain of white blond streaked with teal. “Tens are better, but absolutely no singles. Trust me, you don’t want to be that guy.”

  His baby sister lecturing him on the etiquette of tipping strippers topped the list. Man, he needed to get out of there. “Got it.”

  He reached for the money, but Molly splayed her hands over the piles, delivering another pointed look.

  “And no touching. Not only is it frowned upon by the roided-out muscle protecting the girls, but guys who try to cop a feel are just gross.”

  This was what he got for asking her to break some bills before meeting up with the boys for CJ’s bachelor party.

  “Not my first rodeo, Mol,” he assured her, earning a neatly raised brow that left him squirming where he stood. Because again, baby sisters and strippers were topics Max liked to keep as far away from each other as possible. Not an easy feat with Molly, who’d been up in his business for as far back as he could remember and showed no signs of ever wanting to leave.

  Sean Wyse sidled up to the bar, still dressed in an immaculate suit, the single open button at his neck and a barely loosened tie being the only evidence he’d clocked out from the Wyse Hotel for the day. Nodding to Molly, Sean hooked the seat beside Max with a shoe that probably cost more than the monthly payment on Max’s bike. “Yeah, dude, definitely no touching in the club. When the girls want to do more than dance, they give you their number or let you know where to meet them.”

  Molly stopped counting to meet Max’s eyes for a beat before shaking her head with a laugh and handing over his cash. For as clean cut as Sean appeared, the guy had a wild side he hadn’t quite given up yet.

  “Who wants some rubbers?” Brody bellowed over Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” as he emerged from the back hall behind the bar. Brody owned Belfast and was a friend who went back as far with Max as Sean, to those early days when they’d shared a quad freshman year. Their fourth, Jase, was probably still at work, or possibly sexting his new wife, Emily. Or begging her to let him get her pregnant.

  “A little personal, Brod,” Sean chimed in, fighting for the straight face he wouldn’t be able to keep. “But I’m covered, thanks.”

  Grinning wide, Brody twirled a shoe box on the tip of one finger like a basketball and fell in beside Molly. His big-ass arms looked like slabs of beef beneath his black silk shirt as he dumped what had to be a hundred novelty condoms over the bar between them.

  “Ordered too many of these last month for Lincoln’s bachelor party. Happy you’re taking them.”

  Molly cocked a hip against the counter, fingering through the assortment. “It’s like guy confetti. Ooh, can I keep this one?” She laughed, holding up the foil rectangle with a little cartoon of Darth Vader captioned with I will not be your father.

It was clever, but seeing Molly that close to all those condoms was giving Max heartburn. Swatting it out of her hand, he growled, “They’re for the party.”

  Another pointed look. “Worried there won’t be enough, with all the women throwing themselves at you?”

  Max inwardly groaned.

  He had a reputation for being something of a player, but the truth was, the game was getting old. He dug women. Got off on finding out how many different ways he could make them moan. But this dance he’d been doing—keeping the conversation going for the sake of a connection deep enough to enhance the sex, while making sure he stayed well shy of anything that smacked of more than one night? Lately, he’d started to feel like he was going through the motions. Like maybe he’d rather just skip the dance all together.

  Still, not exactly the kind of revelation a guy shared with his sister or buddies over a pile of rubbers. So he swept the spread back into the box and offered up a grin. “You know it.”

  * * *

  “Is this an intervention?” Sarah Cole asked her oldest friend and roommate of less than two hours, peering down at her lemon-drop martini before surveying the popular bar surrounding them. “I thought we were celebrating the start of my vacation and move back to Chicago, not forcing me to take a hard look at the blatant shortcomings of my life.”

  A mop of sandy-blond curls brushed against Piper Jordan’s soft jaw as she took a swallow of her pink raspberry cosmo and shook her head. “See, right there. That’s what I’m talking about. Only you would dare refer to a two-month stretch of forty-hour workweeks as a vacation. Do you have any idea how much it hurts me? There’s something deeply wrong with that kind of thinking. It’s like a disease.”

  If Piper had any idea what Sarah’s workload had been like in San Francisco, or what would be expected of her once she got to New York, her friend would realize this two-month stint at the Chicago Wyse Hotel was going to be like a vacation.

  “A disease with symptoms that include success? Meaty paychecks? And a little stamp that says Next stop, New York? Is that the kind of disease you’re talking about?” Sarah teased, helping herself to another sip of what truly was an exceptional cocktail. Smacking her lips in approval, she set the drink back on her napkin. “Honestly, I know I work too much. My personal life has…fallen behind.”

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