“They say marriages are made in Heaven. But so is thunder and lightning.”
Nancy tried to grab her bra before it fell to the floor, but wearing a blindfold shot her hand-eye coordination all to hell. “What are you doing?” she yelled as cold air hit her breasts.
“Getting you ready for your bachelorette surprise,” Polly answered with a smile in her voice.
Annoyance percolated inside Nancy’s naked chest. When she’d let her two bridesmaids tie the satin blindfold on her, she’d thought they were taking her somewhere nice to surprise her—a luxurious spa, an exclusive restaurant, or something like that. God knew she’d dropped enough hints in that direction. But then they’d made short work of her shirt and jeans, telling her she had to wear something special for the occasion.
Normally Nancy had no qualms about stripping in front of people. On set, she did it all the time in the rush to get ready for the next scene. Camera operators, production assistants, other actors—they’d all seen her goods, and no one cared. And since she, Polly and Ruby had shared a tiny one-bedroom apartment in North Hollywood before getting their big breaks, they were practically as familiar with each other’s bodies as with their own. But this was different. No one had ever blindfolded and stripped her before.
Not without her permission, anyway.
“You guys, I’m really not—”
“Hold your arms out.”
She grimaced and did as Ruby said. Something fuzzy tickled its way up her arms, and a thick band of fabric wrapped around her rib cage. One of the girls pulled the band tight and hooked it together behind her. When a couple of straps bit into her shoulders, Nancy ran her fingertips over the top. Shaped like a bra, it covered her breasts but not much else. It also felt like no bra she’d ever worn. She was pretty sure it was made out of fur.
“This isn’t real, is it?”
Polly gasped. “We’re not monsters.”
“Yeah, plus Polly bought it, so it’s cheaper than shit.”
Tension snapped through the room. Nancy tried to roll her eyes, but the blindfold thwarted her. “Can’t you two get along for one. Damn. Second?”
“I’m sure we could, if she stopped being such a cheap bitch.”
“At least I’m not a mean bitch,” Polly snapped.
Fingers slid under the waistband of her panties, but Nancy grabbed them. “Take my underwear off, and I’ll break your fingers.”
“But nothing. I don’t know what the hell you’re putting me in, but I’m keeping my own underwear on.”
“Fine,” Ruby said, “but it’ll probably bunch up and go places no man has gone before.”
“And it’s not like this is a rented costume or anything,” Polly added. “I bought it new. I’m sure everyone who tried it on kept their panties on. And there’s a sanitary sticker in the gusset, just in case they didn’t.”
“Oh, we should probably take that out.”
God. If Nancy didn’t feel so grossed out, she might actually be grateful the frenemies had found something to agree on. “Just hand me whatever you want me to put on.”
A little slip of furry fabric was shoved into her hand, and she fumbled with it a second before stepping into it. It was tight and barely covered her ass. “Seriously? This is your guys’ idea of pampering? A fur bikini?”
One of them snickered and looped something that felt like a sash over her. “Oh, we’re just getting started.”
“If you drop me off in the middle of town, you’re both fired as bridesmaids.”
Lips pressed against her cheek in a loud, overly dramatic kiss. Probably Ruby. Melodrama was her specialty. “You know we love you. We’ve organized something you’ve wanted for a long, long time, and you’re going to love it. We promise.”
“I better. If I don’t, you owe me big time.” So far they’d made wedding planning a living nightmare. A decade ago they’d been as close as friends could be, but Polly had a bad habit of bouncing rent checks, and Ruby had a worse habit of telling everyone about it. By the time they’d all earned enough money to move into their own places, Nancy had been wedged between them, loving each individually but hating them together.
When they were nineteen and had nothing but each other and big dreams, they’d made a solemn vow to be each other’s bridesmaids. The vow had meant something to her, and she was determined to keep it, even though she knew the two of them would completely cut each other out of their weddings.
“Ready to go?”
“Let’s see,” she said. “I’m basically naked and have no place to put my cards or my phone. Sure, let’s get going!”
“No need for the sarcasm,” Ruby drawled. “Your wallet and phone are in my bag.”
“Fine. Let’s get this over with.” She held her hands palm-out as one of them led her out of the guest bedroom at her parents’ ranch. If she scrunched up her nose, a bit of light leaked through the bottom of the blindfold, just enough for her not to trip as she followed them down the stairs and out to the pickup Polly had rented. One of them helped her into the cab before climbing in after her, so she was wedged between them on the bench seat. Something uncomfortable poked at her tailbone, and she lifted her butt to try to push away whatever she’d sat on, but Ruby stopped her. “Don’t move. Just sit.”
“But I’m sitting on something.”
“Just some of Polly’s stuff. You know what a slob she is.”
“Hey! I’m creatively disorganized, not a slob.”
Nancy sighed and gave up. She tried to gauge where they were going by mentally picturing all the turns they made. A right turn out of the drive and down the long, narrow track leading to the main road, where they turned left. They weren’t heading to town, then. Nor, judging by how hard her ass hit the seat as the road grew bumpier, were they heading to any sort of civilization.
Nancy couldn’t judge how long they drove. As her friends’ bickering grew more heated, she flipped on a local country station and Jake Kohl’s smooth voice filled the cab.
“I still can’t believe you got him to sing at the wedding,” Ruby said.
“I didn’t. Jared did. He can’t stand country, but he said it was one of his wedding gifts to me.”
“Aww, that’s so sweet!”
It was. She’d literally jumped up and down with joy when he’d told her. “I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do for him to make the day even more special.”
Ruby snorted. “I thought he already told you what you can do.”
Yeah, he had. In very explicit terms. “That’s not going to happen. Ever.”
“You might actually like it.”
“Not interested in finding out if I do. At all.”
Her butt bounced again on the seat, and she winced as whatever she was sitting on rammed into her tailbone. “Where are we going?”
“Not telling. Just smile.”
“What? I swear to God, if there are cameras—”
“No cameras. Just a smokin’ hot mountain man.”
The truck slowed to a stop and one of the girls unsnapped Nancy’s seat belt. “Smile. Seriously. You’re creasing your forehead.”
Wrinkles were no joke—especially in her line of work. She pasted a smile on her face and let Ruby take her hand and ease her from the truck. The slam of the truck’s doors reverberated in eerie silence.
No, not silence. Gentle sounds crept in, so easy to overlook because they weren’t the hustle-bustle she was used to hearing. Birds chirping instead of humans shouting into their cell phones. Water flowing instead of traffic screeching to a halt.
A man swearing—okay, that was familiar. And so, she realized with a sickening shiver, was his voice.
“Nancylynn Pruitt. What the hell are you wearing?”
Her blood turned sludgy and cold, and she fumbled for the blindfold’s knot. It stayed stubbornly in place, probably because her fingers had turned to jelly, and jelly was notoriously bad at untying knots.
More curses were swallowed up by laughter from her soon-to-be-dead friends, who were even less help than her wobbly fingers. “Get this thing off me!”
Big, masculine fingers pushed hers out of the way, and within a second her blindfold dropped to the ground. She spun around and faced the one man she’d carefully avoided every time she’d come back home. “Wyatt.”
“Nancylynn.” His mouth quirked as if to say This must be my unlucky day.
“It’s Nancy now,” she corrected without thinking.
The tightening of his jaw was the only sign he heard. He looked her up and down, probably cataloging the changes just as she was doing with him. Time had shrunk her memory of him, relegating him to a dark, distant corner of her mind she could choose to visit or ignore, depending on her mood and how much wine she’d drunk. Flesh-and-blood Wyatt exploded that memory out of her brain—and probably more than a few eggs from her ovaries.
He was a big, tough-looking guy. Always had been, even as a kid. Six years older than her, he’d loomed large in her life for as long as she could remember. She’d grown up on his family’s ranch—the very ranch she’d ended up buying and giving to her parents when his dad lost it in a foreclosure.
He’d been a tough kid to like. When he’d been little more than a toddler, his family had fallen apart in ways that would’ve seemed like a plot line on Sultry Suburbs. By the time Nancy had been born, he’d been angry. Sullen. Uncontrollable. But for some reason, Nancy had adopted him the way a bird might adopt a crocodile. She’d flitted around him, always taking care to avoid his jaws in case he decided he’d had enough of her chirping. He’d even occasionally deigned to give her rides on his shoulders. Maybe she’d been attracted to danger or maybe to his strength. Either way, he’d suffered her presence until the summer she was fifteen and she’d dared to get too close. Then he’d snapped.
His jaw was hard and his gaze even harder as he stared down at the pageant sash the girls had draped across her breasts. “Bunny?”
She glanced down at herself. The pink sash had Jared’s nickname for her written in gold script. As if that weren’t bad enough, she wore a furry white crop-top bra and hot pants. Dread settled low in her gut as she reached behind herself and felt her butt.
A tail. That’s what she’d been sitting on. A freaking fluffy bunny tail.
She spun around and focused on her friends. “What is going on?”
“Surprise!” they shouted.
“You said you wanted to get away from everything for a weekend.” Polly thrust her arms out wide and spun around as if she were auditioning for The Sound of Music. “You can’t get any more away than this!”
She glanced around. They stood on the edge of a parking lot that held probably a billion cars. Right next to them was the entrance to a massive store that looked like a log cabin on steroids. A manicured creek ran between it and the parking lot, which explained the burble of water she’d heard when they arrived. The glass doors had Wilder Montana Adventures painted on them. A car slowed and tooted as it passed her, and a guy leaned out of the window so he could snap a photo with his phone.
Her mouth gaped open in disbelief. “This is your idea of away? I sent you links to spas, resorts and hot springs. Did I really need to spell it out?”
The girls blinked, as if they couldn’t believe she was upset. “But,” Ruby said, “you used to talk about this all the time. It was the thing you missed most about home, you said.”
Her stomach twisted painfully, the way it always did when she thought of home. “What are you talking about?”
Polly stepped up next to her and put her arm around her waist. “All this wedding planning’s been stressful, and we know we haven’t exactly made it easy on you. So we wanted to do something really special.”
“And then it came to us,” Ruby said. “The first few months we lived together, you used to talk a lot about growing up on the ranch and riding horses and sleeping under the stars. Fishing. Camping. Rafting. All the things you can’t do in L.A.”
“Not without finding a body—or ending up one yourself.”
“You missed Montana so much, and we knew you probably wouldn’t have time to enjoy it now unless we made time. So that’s what we’re doing. We’re going rafting and camping and making sure you have time to escape everything for two days.” Ruby grinned at Wyatt. “And two nights.”
Her eyes stung, and her throat swelled. “You guys. That’s…that’s so sweet.”
She meant it. Mostly. But Wyatt’s unamused gaze bored through the back of her head and invaded her thoughts. Keeping her hand in front of her chest, where he hopefully couldn’t see it, she jerked her thumb in his direction. “And, um…?”
“Isn’t he hot?” Polly gushed.
A noise of disbelief split the air behind her. “Standing right here.”
“I know.” Polly twirled her finger in a lock of her hair and gave him a suggestive grin. “Believe me, I’m looking at you.”
Ruby winked at Nancy. “He’s our guide. We saw his picture on the website and made a special request. Why? Do you guys know each other?”
“Sort of.” She tried to keep the cringe from her voice but failed.
Polly’s brows shot up, and she leaned closer. “Do you, like, know each other?”
“Not in the biblical sense.” Although they would’ve, if she’d had her way. Thank God Wyatt had been humiliatingly uninterested in her, or this little reunion would be torture instead of merely excruciating.
“Good. Then there’s no problem with him being our guide, right?”
Just the minor inconvenience that Jared would flip if he found out. Not that he had any reason to distrust her loyalty, since she would never even consider cheating on him. But…well, he could be a little possessive at times.
She swallowed hard and avoided the question, knowing her friends wouldn’t be sympathetic if she tried to explain it to them. “Why the bunny outfit?”
Ruby shrugged. “It’s still a bachelorette weekend. Had to do something to make it feel like one.”
“Right. Well, thanks for that.” Heat burned up her nearly naked back all the way up to the fine hairs on her neck. She cleared her throat. “I’m assuming you guys brought me some real clothes.”
“She did,” they said simultaneously, then gasped and pointed accusing fingers at each other. “No, you did. No, you did.”
“You’re freaking kidding me.”
Footsteps crunched behind her, and she peeked over her shoulder to see Wyatt striding toward the store. He yanked open the door and disappeared inside for a couple of minutes. When he came back, his hands were full of clothes that still had the tags on. He thrust them at her. “Consider these a wedding gift, on the condition you put them on right this damn second.”
“Why? Worried about my dignity?”
“Nope. Worried you’ll land me on the local news for all the wrong reasons.”
Of course he was worried about himself. Habit took over, and she started to push the bunny panties down, but Wyatt cursed and grabbed her arm. “Changing rooms are inside. Use them. Please.”
“Sorry, I forgot what an upstanding citizen you are.” She held her hand out to Ruby. “My phone?”
Ruby dug in her bag and was about to give it to her but pulled it back out of Nancy’s reach at the last second. “Who are you going to call?”
“Bridesmaid Busters if you don’t hand it over.”
Ruby reluctantly gave it to her. “Not you-know-who.”
“Obviously. This is our weekend, and I’ve been looking forward to it for a long time. It’s going to be awesome.” She shot a glance at Wyatt, who stared at her as if he’d been carved from stone. Unable to resist getting in a parting shot, she told her friends, “It’s just too bad you couldn’t hire his Austin. Then we’d have real man-candy on the trip.”
With that, she strode away, trying to hold onto as much pride as she could, even as the bunny tail bounced with every step she took.
For weeks, the thought of coming face-to-face with Wyatt Wilder had left her stomach so upset she’d barely been able to touch food. Her soon-to-be mother-in-law had dismissed her lack of appetite as pre-wedding jitters, but Nancy knew the truth. From the moment Jared had agreed to get married in her small hometown, she’d realized she would have to face some haunting memories.
And Wyatt featured in most of them.
She yanked open the door of Wilder Montana Adventures and stepped into the store but came to a halt when she saw the size of it. It was huge—even bigger than it looked from the outside, and that was saying something. The ceiling was two-stories high and partly made of glass, so rays of sunlight made her feel as if she were still outside. A stream cut through the middle of the store, and a pathway wound around it with rustic, hand-painted signs pointing the way to different sections. Camping. Fishing. Hunting. Shoes. Hiking. Water sports. Tour sign-ups. Kids’ play area.
At the back of the store, stretching all the way up to the ceiling, stood a circular fish tank filled with vibrantly colored tropical fish. Near the front of the store, honest-to-God trees grew in a thicket, and the gentle sound of birds chirping welcomed her. She couldn’t tell if the chirping came from real birds or a recording.
Holy cow. His obvious success went some way in easing her guilt over buying his family’s ranch.
“Can I help you find anything, ma’am?”
Nancy instinctively pasted a grin on her face and turned to face the splotchy-faced teenager wearing a red plaid shirt with the store’s logo on it. “Hi. Yes, I hope you can. I’m looking for the dressing rooms.”
The teen blinked. “You’re—um… I mean, uh, sure. I’ll take you to them.”
Nancy pressed her lips together to keep from smiling. After ten years of living in L.A., she still felt thrilled at being recognized. Growing up, she’d been recognized for her clothes more than for who she was. She regularly heard shouts of, “Why’s that girl wearing my old dress, Mama?” as she walked through town. Being noticed for her work rather than for being a charity case would never get old—especially in Marietta.
When she got to the dressing room, she stripped off the bunny costume without sparing herself a glance in the mirror. She really, really didn’t want to know how she looked in it. Wyatt had given her a one-piece bathing suit, shorts, hiking pants, jeans, a few shirts, a fleece and a floppy cap with his company’s logo on it. Judging by the prices on the tags, the collection might be one of the most expensive wedding gifts she got.
“Must be doing well for himself,” she muttered.
When she had the bathing suit and some clothes on, she sat on the dressing room bench, pulled her phone from her bag, and texted her assistant, Faye. Help! Need a bra and underwear.
Her phone buzzed almost immediately. Let me guess…Bridesmaidzillas struck again?
She tapped furiously. They mean well.
But they’re idiots, Faye replied. Okay, I’ve got your coordinates. Stay there. I’ll be with you in ten.
Great, she texted. Bring my sunglasses—and a couple days of clothes for yourself, too. You’re coming rafting with us.
Hell to the no. You don’t pay me enough to spend two days with Dee and Dum.
Nancy let her phone rest on her lap as she contemplated bribes. When we’re on our honeymoon, you can stay at our house and pretend it’s yours.
Her phone stayed silent for a while, and Nancy worried her bribe hadn’t been enough. But then Faye wrote, Can I have women over?
All the women you can handle, Nancy replied.
That’s a lot of women. Done deal. See you soon.
Good, challenge numbers one and two accomplished. She sent a quick message to Jared. You might not be able to get hold of me the next two days. Apparently my bachelorette weekend is camping and rafting, and I doubt there will be cell coverage. Good luck with the shoot today! Love you.
She dropped her phone back onto her lap. Now to face Wyatt again.
Drawing in an unsteady breath, she closed her eyes, slowly exhaled, and went through her routine for getting into character. Like Verity, the character she’d played on Sultry Suburbs for the past five years, this one had become second nature to her—except this was the character she played in real life.
You are Nancy Parsons. Confident. Accomplished. Loved by millions.
You are not Nancylynn Pruitt. Struggling. Hungry. Friendless.
She opened her eyes and straightened her shoulders. She could do this. She had to do this.
The security of her future depended on it.
Wyatt stared at the door Nancylynn had disappeared through several minutes earlier, his brain exploding with images he didn’t want to see.
Bunny costume. I’m a dead man.
It wasn’t that Wyatt had a weird bunny fetish. He didn’t even have a Nancylynn fetish—not one that he’d ever realized, anyway. Hell, she’d been fifteen to his twenty-one the last time he’d seen her in the flesh.
But now…shit. When he closed his eyes, her flesh was about all he could see. And she sure as hell wasn’t fifteen anymore.
She was still inside changing into clothes that would save his sanity, but the sight of her was so vivid she might as well have been standing in front of him. When she had angled away from him to mediate an argument between the two women who’d hired him for the weekend—using fake names, apparently, since he recognized them now—his stupid gaze had instinctively dropped to check out her ass.
She had a tail.
He would never pry that image out of his mind. Two nights in the woods with Nancylynn? Engaged Nancylynn? Engaged Nancylynn in a sexy bunny costume?
Yep. He was a dead man.
“So, Mister Mountain Man,” Polly Parker purred as she leaned into his side and stroked his biceps, “do you have a license for those muscles?”
Seriously? She was a client, so he didn’t want to be rude, but damn it was a struggle not to roll his eyes. He forced himself to give her a polite grin. “I do, but it’s back in the office.”
“Maybe you could show it to me sometime.”
The thought of TV starlet Polly hitting on him would’ve once fueled his fantasies. Her doing it in person? Not so much. Before he could think of a way to discourage her, Nancylynn walked out of his store looking even cuter than she had as a bunny. The shorts were modest, and she was probably a little less than average height for a woman, but they still seemed to leave miles of leg bare. She wore the fleece jacket zipped nearly to her neck. It swallowed up her not-very-curvy body, but thanks to the damn bunny costume he knew the curves she had were far too tempting for his mental health. Her dyed blond hair shifted in the breeze as she made her way through a group of customers heading for the store, and he wondered why she’d changed its color. Naturally, it was a deep, dark red that had always made her stand out in a crowd. He could still remember spotting her hair as she hid in a hayloft as he made out with a girlfriend in one of the empty stalls below. These days her hair would blend in with that straw. For some reason, that struck him as a shame.
She joined them and drew in a deep breath as she clasped her hands in front of her. “We just need to wait for one more person, and then we’ll be ready to go.”
Polly’s eyes narrowed. “Who?”
“Faye. I invited her to come, and she can’t wait.”
Ruby let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, good. I thought you were going to say Jared was coming, and I was about to put my foot down.”
Wyatt screwed up one side of his face. “Why would Jared come?”
“Because he can’t let Nancy out of his sight.”
Nancy’s face flushed. “Of course he can. Do you see him here now?”
Ruby held up her hands. “All I’m saying is he tried to find out what we were doing this weekend, and he was pissed that I wouldn’t tell him.”
“Isn’t this a bachelorette party?” Wyatt asked.
Why the hell would any man crash his fiancée’s bachelorette party? That time was sacred, just as a man’s last time going out with his buddies as a single man was. Wyatt kept the question to himself, but the conversation made his uneasiness grow. “Well, I’ve got a six-person raft tied to the trailer, so one more is no problem. You could even invite someone else, too.”
“No, just Faye,” Nancylynn said decisively.
They only had to wait a few more minutes for Nancylynn’s assistant, a dark-haired pixie wearing retro glasses and purple eye makeup that would do interesting things once they hit the water. As soon as she arrived, Wyatt hustled the women into his van. Most of them climbed into the back, and Nancylynn hopped up into the front passenger’s seat. He’d already hooked up the trailer with the boat, and soon they were on their way.
“Where are we going?” Nancylynn asked.
“Where’s that?” Ruby asked.
“Just north of Yellowstone,” Nancy replied.
“Wait,” Ruby said, “I thought we were rafting in Yellowstone.”
“There’s no rafting in the park itself,” Wyatt explained, “but we’ll be on the Yellowstone River going through Paradise Valley. And it’s as spectacular as the name suggests. I’ll go over a full briefing when we get there, so for now feel free to enjoy the scenery and keep an eye out for bald eagles. We grow ’em big around here.”
Polly gasped and pressed her face to the glass. They drove nearly an hour before arriving at the spot where they would put the raft into the river, and they all clambered out of the van. “I’m going to unload the boat. You guys should load up on sunscreen and put on these wetsuits. Water’s colder than it looks this time of year.” He handed them each a Farmer Jane and got busy. Laughter bounced off the rock walls either side of the river, and he couldn’t help but smile. Women always seemed to take the Farmer Janes in stride, laughing at how they looked in the sleeveless wetsuits, while men usually grumbled about their Farmer Bills. Of course, men’s bodies looked pretty ridiculous in them, while women’s bodies had one great advantage.
“Holy cow! My boobs look amazing in this!” Polly shouted.
Yep, that was it. With their front zipper, the tight suits held in all those areas women seemed to think of as problems—and Wyatt thought of as assets—while pushing their breasts up and out. Even women with modest cleavage ended up with great racks.
He tried not to look at Nancylynn as he unloaded the gear. It annoyed the hell out of him that he’d been set up like this. So far, he’d managed to avoid the endless hassle her wedding had caused various businesses in town. Everywhere he went he heard offhand remarks about her changing her mind about music or flowers or whatever the hell else. As much as he admired her for wanting to promote local businesses, she hadn’t seemed to grasp how much a big wedding could throw a little town into a tizzy.
He’d thought he was safe, since his business had nothing to do with weddings—well, except for that one with the bride and groom who’d met while fly-fishing and wanted him to outfit all their guests with rods and reels. Now that was his kind of wedding, not the frou-frou Hollywood affair that hemorrhaged money as a way to avoid focusing on the detail that mattered most—preparing for a lifelong marriage, not an hour-long ceremony.
But whatever. Nancylynn wasn’t his responsibility and hadn’t been for a long time.
When he had the boat and gear out and had parked the van where one of his staff would pick it up later, he called the women over to the edge of the water, where he held onto the raft. “First order of business is our safety briefing. We’re going to have a lot of fun and see some incredible wildlife, but my most important job is keeping you guys safe. At all times, you need to listen to me. If I tell you to paddle hard, you paddle hard. If I tell you to sit down or lean a certain way, you do it. I want us all to have a great time this weekend, and it would really suck if someone drowned.”
Nancylynn pressed her lips together as if trying to suppress a smile.
“There’s very little chance of the boat flipping, but if it does and you end up in the water, hold onto your paddle and float on your back with your feet facing downriver. I’ll climb onto the raft and flip it over, and then you can swim toward me and I’ll help you onto the raft.”
“What if we lose our paddles? Will we drown?” Polly asked.
“Your life vests will keep you afloat—”
“So will your boobs,” Faye muttered. Nancy elbowed her ribs, and she shut up.
“But you need to hang onto your paddles because if we lose them, we’ll be up a shit creek without a…” He looked at them expectantly.
“Good. So don’t lose them.”
An uncomfortable heat generated around his crotch, the same kind of prickly, hair-raising sensation of being watched without his knowledge, and his gaze shifted across the four women. Sure enough, Ruby’s stare was locked on his groin like a starving rottweiler eying a kielbasa. He fought the urge to cover his junk.
This was going to be the longest two nights of his life.