A Hint of ScandalBy: Tara Pammi
“KIMBERLY, DO YOU take this man, Alexander King, to be your lawfully wedded husband, until death do you part?”
Olivia Stanton looked around in alarm. Had she said it aloud? Her fingers slipped on the satin ribbon that held the elaborate orchid and white rose bouquet in her hand. Her heart pounded. The calm, bespectacled priest looked back at her patiently. She released the breath she’d been holding and pulled another one in. The scent of the flowers in her hand enveloped her, the sweet smell intensifying her panic.
Seconds ticked by. The silent anticipation of the guests behind was her a tidal wave threatening to pull her under.
Her gaze collided with Alexander King’s: blue, cool and unflappable. His composure in the face of her anxiety grated on her already-taut nerves. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. Her heart roared in her ears, a thundering beat in contrast to the silence enclosing them.
She couldn’t do this. Yes, they had done it before, Kim and she—pretended to be each other. Usually Kim pretended to be Liv, to save her from getting into trouble with their father, with the school authorities. So she owed it to Kim. Her successful, accomplished twin had saved her ass more times than Liv could count.
But to marry Alexander King in her place... An extreme step even for her.
“I can’t marry him today. I’ll be back soon.”
Her twin’s words rang in her ears. If Kim, who was ever dependable and unwavering, had to leave at the last minute, in a panic, surely it had to be something serious. Wouldn’t Alexander understand if she pulled him aside and explained everything?
“Don’t tell Alex. He’ll be disappointed in me. He despises even a hint of scandal.”
What kind of a man was her twin involved with if she couldn’t confide in him over her doubts on the most important day of their lives?
A hand at her elbow, the touch infinitely gentle, pulled her back into the waking nightmare. She tilted her head. Alexander’s blue gaze trapped hers, shooting questions she wasn’t equipped to answer. Yet his gaze was gentle. He must care for her sister, for she had never spied a trace of tenderness in him before. Because even in the very little time she had spent with her sister’s successful, intensely private fiancé, Olivia had realized that Alexander King hated her guts.
“I don’t want to lose him.”
Kim’s desperate plea pumped blood back into her numb brain. Ungluing her tongue from the roof of her mouth, Olivia took a deep breath and uttered the scariest words of her life. “I do.”
His face settling into benevolent lines, the priest relaxed. “I pronounce you husband and wife. You may now kiss the bride.”
The bottom dropped out from under her. Alexander’s hands on her bare shoulders sent sparks of raw sensation zinging through her. He pulled her closer as she fought the awareness spreading to every inch of her. The scent of his soap and skin seeped into the air she breathed. The pad of his thumb felt rough against the sensitive skin of her cheek.
He was going to kiss her. Olivia couldn’t move. The truth dawning on her was immobilizing her thought processes. Only one thing flared inside her mind like a gaudy neon sign. She wanted nothing more than to sink into his kiss.
He bent his mouth toward her and her heart pumped harder and faster. His breath mingled with hers and unbearable longing consumed her. It was too much to fight. More than she could resist.
Mere seconds before his mouth touched her lips she turned her head, anchoring her hands on his chest. His mouth landed at the corner of hers, his lips soft and firm at the same time.
Heat blasted through her everywhere, inside and out. From where his mouth touched her. From his all-too-possessive hands on her hips. And an overpowering need that she couldn’t misinterpret. What was the matter with her?
His blue gaze seared hers, curiosity and awareness shooting out at her from its bright depths. His grip on her waist tightened as he pulled her to him. The solid wall of his body was a taste of heaven against her curves. Not succumbing to the temptation of his kiss was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life.
She fought the groan rising through her. This was all she needed. A pithy curse fell from her lips. His head tilted toward her as if he had heard it. Her chest constricted with fear, the corset of the intricate designer dress cutting off her breath.
Alexander King was nothing if not astute and ruthless. How long before he discovered her deception?
* * *
Alexander King studied his wife’s face, alarm bells ringing inside his head. The rapid beat of the pulse at her neck, the restless way she shied away from making eye contact with anyone, the way she had sidled away from his kiss. Something wasn’t right.