THE PERFECT BRIDE
A man was striding down the stairs toward them, his eyes unmistakably pinned on her. He walked with an easy, confident grace, taking his time in both his approach and his study of her. He moved like he owned the place, very “Lord of the Manor.”
Which was exactly who he was, of course.
Jillian recognized him, too. But like the mansion he and his sister owned, the man made a much larger impression in person than his photographs could begin to show.
He was a tall man in his mid-thirties, his body demonstrating a muscled leanness beneath the black pullover and slacks he wore. He was undeniably good-looking, with thick black hair and high cheekbones, though perhaps not conventionally handsome. His features were too hard, too sharp, too intense. But more than that, there was something utterly compelling about him that immediately grabbed her attention and refused to let go, every instinct in her body—good and bad—instantly going on alert. Everything about him projected confidence bordering on arrogance. Meeting his dark, steady gaze, she found herself helpless to look away.
Jillian knew from her research that he’d been a management consultant before giving it up to take over Sutton Hall and open it for weddings with his sister. It seemed a strange choice for the man before her to have made. She couldn’t imagine him being remotely interested in weddings. On the other hand, just looking at him, Jillian had no doubt he’d been successful in the business world.
The man would be a formidable adversary. And from the way he was looking at her, she suspected that was exactly what he was to her.
Doubt flickered for an instant, and she wondered if he knew who she was….
She’d find out soon enough.
“Adam!” Meredith called as he joined them on the landing. “Jillian, this is my brother Adam,” Meredith said. “Adam, Jillian Jones.”
“Welcome to Sutton Hall,” he said, his mouth curving slightly in what might have passed for a smile.
“Thank you. It’s great to be here.”
“Is it?” he returned, the smile deepening as though he’d caught her in a trap. “After the recent events I’m sure you’ve heard about, most women planning their weddings wouldn’t want to be anywhere near here. It seems only natural. Yet here you are.”
“Adam,” Meredith murmured in admonition under her breath.
“You’re right,” Jillian said without taking her eyes from the man. “I’m sure most people would be put off getting married somewhere a bride-to-be so recently died.”
“But not you?” he said with a slightly mocking note in his voice.
“No,” Jillian said. “I don’t believe in bad luck or omens. I believe in myself.” That much was certainly true.
“You must, since you came here by yourself,” he pointed out. “You didn’t want to bring anyone else from the wedding party to help you with the arrangements?”
“Unfortunately, no one else could come with me on such short notice. I’m going to have to try to get everything organized on my own.”
“Neither your fiancé nor any of your family and friends had any problem letting you come here by yourself?”
“They know I can take care of myself.”
“I suppose you’ll have to.”
“No, you won’t,” Meredith interjected. “You’ll have everyone at Sutton Hall at your disposal to make this the wedding of your dreams.”
Jillian barely heard her, her focus squarely on Adam Sutton. “I thought what happened to that poor woman was an accident. Is there some reason I shouldn’t want to be married here, Mr. Sutton?” Jillian asked, unable to keep the challenge from the question.
He hesitated for only a moment, his eyes narrowing slightly, before replying. “Not at all, Ms. Jones,” he said, something in his tone utterly unconvincing. “Not at all.”
“Then there shouldn’t be a problem.”
“I hope not,” he said mildly. It was an odd response. As the owner of Sutton Hall and partner in the wedding business his sister had started, he should be reassuring her, shouldn’t he, wanting to keep her here? But there was nothing reassuring in his words. Instead, combined with the way his eyes seemed to bore through her, his comments seemed to contain a message she couldn’t quite decipher.
“I was going to show Jillian to her room,” Meredith said into the silence that fell between them, the nervousness in her voice indicating she’d picked up on the tension between them. Not that there was any way anyone could have missed it.
“That sounds like a good idea,” Adam Sutton said dispassionately, never taking his eyes off Jillian.
“Right this way,” Meredith said, starting up the stairs.
It was a clear cue for Jillian to follow her. Instead, she remained where she was, her gaze locked with Adam Sutton’s. Was he trying to scare her? Warn her? Was it possible he knew who she was? But if he did, why wouldn’t he have exposed the truth and refused to let her come here? Or was this a trap, and he’d purposely brought her here to guide her to the answers he wanted her to have—or prevent her from asking the questions at all?
Peering up into the man’s cool exterior and bottomless dark eyes, she found the last possibility entirely too easy to believe.
Finally realizing how long she’d been standing there—far too long to remain without having to explain herself—Jillian raised her chin and moved to join his sister.
ADAM WATCHED JILLIAN Jones follow Meredith up the staircase, his eyes briefly drifting to her gently swaying hips before he caught himself and returned his gaze to the center of her back. She was an attractive woman, there was no denying it. A slim blonde with startling green eyes and curves in all the right places, he would have to be blind not to notice.
Not that he had any business noticing. The woman was getting married.
Or so she said.
He was no more convinced about that than he was about her motives for being here, or anything else about her for that matter, as he continued studying her.
He wasn’t surprised when she paused and glanced back at him as if she’d sensed his attention. Her eyes met his, one brow raising in silent question.
The polite thing would have been to look away, pretend that he hadn’t been watching her.
He simply stared back, unwavering, unrepentant. Let her know he’d been watching, the same way he would be as long as she was here.
She frowned, her brows knitting together, and turned to continue up the stairs.
He should have looked away, he admitted. It wasn’t as though he was trying to scare her.
Or maybe he was. Maybe she was someone who needed to be scared off, someone who was here to cause trouble. It was certainly easier to believe than the idea that she’d come here to be married. What kind of woman would want to have her wedding in a place where another bride had died so recently?
For Meredith’s sake, he wanted to be grateful for this woman’s presence here and apparent lack of superstition. But he didn’t have that much faith in people, and Meredith had already paid once because he hadn’t done a good enough job looking out for her. He wasn’t going to let it happen again. If the woman was lying, Meredith was the one most likely to be hurt.
Grim determination settled over him as he watched the women reach the next level and disappear from view.
Every instinct told him Jillian Jones was going to be trouble.
And he was fully prepared to do whatever was necessary to prevent her from causing it.
Copyright © 2013 by Kerry Connor. All Rights Reserved.
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A.