Miranda shimmied into her dress, the chilled air settling over her in the dark honeymoon suite.
Oh God, Oh God…OH GOD! She was late for the bouquet toss, and Lorenda was probably going ape.
Talmadge stood on the opposite side of the bed, buttoning his shirt. “Miranda—”
“Where are my shoes?” She zipped the dress and dropped to her knees to look under the bed in a panic. “I need a flashlight.”
“You were barefoot.” His tone was low, and threaded with concern.
Her head popped up to look at him. “Oh. Yeah.”
He tucked his shirt into his black pants and fastened them.
She got up and looked at herself in the mirror. The full moon filtering through the vintage lace curtains revealed her perfect salon updo wasn’t so perfect anymore.
Holy Baby Jesus, she had to walk into the wedding reception looking like she’d just—
“Miranda, look at me.” Talmadge came up behind her.
She couldn’t. Not after…
When she shook her head, he placed both hand on her bare shoulders. “You should’ve told me.”
Maybe. Maybe she should’ve told him that tonight would be her first time. But then he might’ve backed out, or thought she was desperate…which she kind of was.
“Let’s just go, okay?” Her words rushed out as though the dam of bundles nerves had broken. “I’ve probably ruined Lorenda’s going-away ceremony by now.”
He placed his jacket around her shoulders again, and she snuggled into his scent. “We’re going to talk about it later.”
Talk about it? Not if she could help it. It was just too embarrassing.
Talmadge drove them back to the reception, and she handed him the jacket before insisting that they enter through different doors.
“Where have you been?” Lorenda ran to her the minute she walked into Joe’s main room that tripled as a restaurant, bar and dance hall. “I’ve been looking all over for you!”
“Sorry, I stepped out for some fresh air and lost track of the time.”
Without another word, Lorenda dragged Miranda to the boisterous crowd and shoved her in with the cluster of single women. Lorenda darted to the other side of Joe’s, turned her back and launched the bouquet of tiger lilies in their direction where it landed squarely in Miranda’s hands. She shrugged an apology to the frowning ladies around her.
Then Cameron slid Lorenda’s blue garter off amid an avalanche of catcalls, and tossed it into the crowd of whistling bachelors. When the crowd parted, Talmadge stood in the back, garter in his open palm and a look of shock on his face. His gaze found Miranda in the crowd and their eyes locked.
Her lungs seized along with her heart, and she couldn’t breathe. The smoky look in his eyes devoured her. Told her he wanted her all over again as he held the garter to his heart for the briefest of moments. With slow, mesmerizing movements, he eased the garter over his hand, up his arm and let it settle around his bicep. All while his silver-blue eyes held hers.
With a wicked smile, his fingers plucked the elastic garter, and it snapped against the arm of his tux.
The entire crowd howled and hooted.
The moment was thrilling and perfect.
Until a tall blonde came out of nowhere and threw herself into Talmadge’s arms, assaulting him with her pouty lips. In that moment, Miranda knew she’d never forget the sight of his arms instinctively wrapping around the beautiful, in-vogue, not to mention famous hotel-owning reality star.
He’d just been doing the same thing to Miranda. In the honeymoon suite at his grandparent’s inn. Seeing Talmadge with Momma Long Legs wearing a flashy dress that probably cost more than Miranda’s tips for a whole year crushed her pounding heart that was still thrumming from his exquisite lovemaking.
All the blood in Miranda’s body rushed to her ears, and the room spun.
Talmadge somehow managed to unlock his lips from the beautiful woman whose legs were longer than Miranda’s entire body. He craned his neck and found Miranda in the crowd.
Their gazes locked again, but the smoky desire in his eyes was gone, and his brow wrinkled. Miranda lifted her dress, spun toward the back exit, and tried to hurry from the room.
“Oh no you don’t.” Lorenda snagged her arm. “I want a picture of you and Talmadge.”
“No!” Miranda yelled, and Lorenda’s eyes rounded. “I mean, no. My hair got all messed up, and I had to take it down.”
“Who cares?” said Lorenda. “I want a picture of the people who caught the bouquet and the garter for my wedding album.” Lorenda dragged Miranda to the center of the room. Cameron did the same to Talmadge, and the bride and groom shoved them together and ordered them to pose for the photographer.
“We need to talk,” Talmadge said so only she could hear while they both smiled for the camera.
“Not necessary.” Miranda managed to say through gritted teeth and a fake smile. Now she definitely did not want to talk about it. Not with Mamma Long Legs staring at Talmadge like a lioness in heat. And not with most of Red River’s population within hearing range.
The photographer kept snapping pictures and only stopped to turn the camera for a vertical shot.
Dammit, her cheeks were starting to hurt. And her heart was starting to break.
“Look, Bridget isn’t supposed to be here. We’re not—”
The photographer looked over his camera. “Put your arm around her.”
Talmadge obliged, and Miranda stiffened.
His thumb caressed her back, and he spoke to her in a low voice just above a whisper. “I wouldn’t have had sex with you if I’d known she was going to be here.”
His words caused Miranda to finally snap. “Shut it.” If she had to smile at the camera much longer she was going to smash it against the photographers skull. Of course Talmadge wouldn’t have shagged her if he’d known his tall, supermodelish girlfriend was going to show up. “It was a mistake.” Not really. “We’ve both been drinking.” She hadn’t had a drop. “I should’ve told you…and well, you should’ve told me that your girlfriend was coming to Red River.”
“Yes, I know, I know. She isn’t supposed to be here, but she is.”
“Face each other and hold up the bouquet and garter,” the photographer ordered.
They did what they were told, and Talmadge’s breath caressed over her heated cheeks. “Just keep what happened to yourself,” she said through the plastic smile that was about to split her face in half.
“Can I finish a damn sentence, please?” Talmadge’s camera smile was gone, and he stared down at her with a fiery expression.
“That’s great!” the photographer shrieked and snapped off several more pictures. “Okay I have enough.”
Finally! The photographer turned his camera on another victim and fired away.
And before Talmadge could make a lame excuse and do even more damage to her self-confidence, Miranda pulled out of his grasp and snuck out the back door.
She’d make damn sure she never crossed paths with him again.