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Authors: Kasey Michaels

A Bride After All

Praise for
USA TODAY
Bestselling Author Kasey Michaels

“Kasey Michaels aims for the heart and never misses.”


New York Times
bestselling author Nora Roberts

“Michaels’ new Regency miniseries is a joy. This wonderful storyteller combines passion, humor, emotional intensity and depth of characterization with a devastating secret and attempted murder…You will laugh and even shed a tear over this touching romance.”


RT Book Reviews
on
How to Tempt a Duke
(4 ½ stars, Top Pick)

“Michaels delivers a poignant and highly satisfying read…filled with simmering sensuality, subtle touches of repartee, a hero out for revenge and a heroine ripe for adventure. You’ll enjoy the ride.”


RT Book Reviews
on
How to Tame a Lady

“Known for developing likable characters and humorous situations, Michaels adds an element of danger and suspense to this sexy romp.”


RT Book Reviews
on
Dial M for Mischief

“Michaels has done it again… Witty dialogue peppers a plot full of delectable details exposing the foibles and follies of the age.”


Publishers Weekly
on
The Butler Did It

“Michaels can write everything from a lighthearted romp to a far more serious-themed romance. [Kasey] Michaels has outdone herself.”


RT Book Reviews
on
A Gentleman by Any Other Name
(Top Pick)

“[A] hilarious spoof of society wedding rituals wrapped around a sensual romance filled with crackling dialogue reminiscent of
The Philadelphia Story.


Publishers Weekly
on
Everything’s Coming Up Rosie

Dear Reader,

I’m a bad person. No, really. You see, I’m a card-carrying buttinski. That means I pretty much like managing things. And people. Although I swore up and down I was
not
the “managing” grandmother character in
To Marry at Christmas
(Silhouette Romance), written to commemorate my older daughter’s courtship and wedding, everybody who knew me just sort of snickered and said, “Yeah, sure.”

These same people will know that, in
A Bride After All,
Marylou Smith-Bitters might just bear a teeny-tiny resemblance to yours truly yet again.

I can’t help it. I like to see everyone happy. And if any two people ever deserved a little nudge (and
needed
a little nudge!) toward their Happily Ever After, it’s Claire Ayers and Nick Bennington.

Please come on along and meet Claire and Nick, and the adorable Sean, and if you’ve any romance in your soul (and I know it’s there or you wouldn’t have picked up this book in the first place, right?), root along with me, er, Marylou, as they discover that love is a leap of faith worth taking.

All the best to you!

Kasey Michaels

A BRIDE AFTER ALL

KASEY MICHAELS

Also available from KASEY MICHAELS and Silhouette Special Edition

Second-Chance Bridal

Suddenly a Bride

Also available from HQN Books

The Daughtry Family

How to Tempt a Duke

How to Tame a Lady

How to Beguile a Beauty

Don’t miss an exclusive Daughtry eBook prequel

How to Woo a Spinster

available now!

The Sunshine Girls

Dial M for Mischief

Mischief Becomes Her

Mischief 24/7

The Beckets of Romney Marsh

A Gentleman by Any Other Name

The Dangerous Debutante

Beware of Virtuous Women

A Most Unsuitable Groom

A Reckless Beauty

The Return of the Prodigal

Becket’s Last Stand

Other must-reads

The Bride of the Unicorn

The Secrets of the Heart

The Passion of an Angel

Everything’s Coming Up Rosie

Stuck in Shangri-la

Shall We Dance?

The Butler Did It

To Buttinskis everywhere—and you know who you are!

Prologue

N
ick Barrington shifted uncomfortably on the nicely upholstered chair built for a woman, not a man who easily topped six feet, and believed he could now empathize with an elephant stuck in a Waterford’s Crystal showroom.

If he moved wrong, breathed wrong, he believed he might set off some sort of chain reaction that would end with this pretty room turned upside-down.

To his left was a glass-topped case loaded inside and out with doodads and thingamajigs and lacy garters and rhinestone tiaras and—why did that book have lace on the cover?

The bow window behind him was decked out in lace curtains that had—what were they called? Oh
yeah—swags on them, their hems dragging on the floor. The rugs were flowered, the tables all had spindly, curvy legs. And if he looked to his right (which he kept trying not to do), someone had fitted out a mannequin with some sort of corset and tiny panties that made the damn thing look like some guy in town for a business convention should be buying it a cocktail.

Now where had that come from? It was a curse, being a writer, even if his work was confined to straight news at the
Morning Chronicle
. Maybe he had a second career in lurid fiction just waiting out there somewhere for him?

Just as he took another sneak peak at the mannequin, Chessie Burton, who had introduced herself as the owner of Second Chance Bridal, popped into the room via a door painted ivory, its architectural detail picked out in gold gilt.

“Still hanging in, I see. I should have stickers here for men who venture in. You know, like they give kids after the doctor gives them a shot? They could say
I survived a visit to Second Chance Bridal
,” she said, opening the door of a large credenza and then pulling a can of soda from the small refrigerator hidden behind the doors. She tossed it to him. “There you go. Drink it, press the cold can to your aching forehead. Whatever works best for you. She won’t be too much longer. I think she’s found her dress. We just need the perfect headpiece. And here it is.”

Nick smiled weakly as Chessie opened the glass
case and took out a mini-wreath of pink rosebuds and ribbons and returned to the dressing room.

He popped the top of the can, hurried to drink the fizzy soda that immediately began bubbling out the opening thanks to Chessie having thrown the can at him, managing to only spill some of the liquid on his shirt, and not anything perishable.

Still, for all his discomfort, Nick wouldn’t be anywhere else right now. Not when Barb had specifically asked him to be here.

His cousin had been through hell for the past six years, ever since Drew had become a casualty of the war. She’d crawled so far inside her grief she’d nearly disappeared. But now there was Skip, and God bless the man, because he loved Barb with all of his huge heart.

Nick hadn’t realized how badly he’d missed Barb’s smile until Skip had come into her solitary life and dared her to live again.

If his cousin wanted Nick to not only escort her down the aisle, but to do it wearing that dumb wreath on his head, he was her man.

He looked up as he heard Barb call his name, to see her walking toward him, and immediately got to his feet, first carefully putting the soda can on a crystal coaster on the table beside him.

He’d called her Tinker-Barb when they were kids because she’d been so tiny, her masses of blond ringlets seeming almost too heavy to be supported by her slim, fragile neck. She was all grown-up now,
tall and willowy, but still fragile in appearance, with a heartbreaking, ethereal beauty usually reserved for fairies and wood sprites.

Somehow, the gown she was wearing captured the essence of her, the gentleness of spirit that had drawn the big guy to her. Skip was Barb’s protector, and she was his cherished queen. Nick believed he had never seen such a soft, perfect love.

“Somebody’s going to have to scoop Skip up with a spoon when he sees you,” Nick teased her as Chessie helped Barb manage the too-long skirt of the gown as she stepped onto a low platform in front of the three-way mirror.

Nick knew nothing about gowns. He couldn’t have described this one in print if given a year and a stack of fashion magazines to help him. All he knew was that the material was…filmy. Slightly pink. It had some narrow, trailing ribbons on it, and some of those small pink rosebuds stuck to some of the ribbons. The wreath thing was on her head, and her blond curls hung in ringlets and small, sort of fuzzy curls that softened her pixie face.

He wouldn’t have been surprised if Barb turned around and there were gossamer wings stuck to her back.

“What do you think, Nicky? I…I think I like it. No, I think I love it. Chessie says it will be perfect for an outside wedding at the Rose Gardens, like we’ve planned. You know, with the gazebo and everything? Nicky? Say something.”

Nick was at an unaccustomed loss for words. His eyes stung with unfamiliar tears. He raised his hands, gestured helplessly, said “Ah, jeez, Barbie,” and wrapped his arms around her.

“I think he approves,” Chessie said, laughing as she pulled a tissue from somewhere and began dabbing at her own eyes. “You guys are fun. Oh—hi, Marylou, you showed up at just the right time. Come see our latest bride.”

Nick disengaged himself from his cousin’s embrace, kissed her on the cheek, and then stood back to allow the new arrival to see Barb in her gown. He wanted to refuse the tissue Chessie surreptitiously handed him, but then took it, grinning at her and feeling foolish, yet extremely happy.

“You picked the perfect name for your business, Chessie. My cousin has
second chance
written all over her face. And she deserves one. Thank you for putting what I guess is the crowning touch on her happiness.”

“Well, isn’t that just the nicest thing to say,” the newcomer said before extending her hand to him. “Hi, Marylou Smith-Bitters, two-time patron of Second Chance Bridal, and frequent visitor because Chessie doesn’t throw me out. Do I know you? I think I know you. No, wait, don’t answer. I’ll figure it out. Besides, I want to meet this gorgeous creature. She looks like something out of a Renaissance painting, doesn’t she?” Marylou walked completely around Barb, who couldn’t seem to stop smiling. “I
wouldn’t be shocked to hear a knock on the door and open it to see a unicorn eager to lay down at your feet, sweetie. You’re pretty as a picture.”

“Thank you, Ms. Smith-Bitters,” Barb said, turning to admire herself in the mirror.

“No, thank
you
. I never come in here that my faith in humanity isn’t revived. Chessie’s a genius, not that she didn’t have a lot to work with. Why I—” Marylou swung around, eyes narrowed, pointing a finger at Nick. “I remember now. You teach at the community center every Tuesday and Thursday evening, right? Oh, of course that’s right. I’m always right.”

Nick switched from elephant-in-a-crystal shop to butterfly-pinned-to-a-board. Or maybe deer-caught-in-the-headlights. Marylou Smith-Bitters was well and truly in the category of
one of a kind.
Fortyish, or at least she looked fortyish, she was tall, slim, had a mop of perfectly arranged light brown hair that would probably not move in a hurricane, and sharp green eyes that obviously never missed a trick. She had that put-together air that comes with amazing self-confidence, and if she broke into a song and dance she’d probably be great at both, as there was something vaguely theatrical about her.

“Guilty as charged, Mrs. Smith-Bitters. I teach English as a second language to new immigrants.”

“That’s very nice of you,” Chessie said, motioning for Barb to bend her knees so that she could remove the wreath from her head.

“Keeps me off the streets,” Nick said, faintly embarrassed. He turned to Marylou. “I’m sorry I don’t recognize you, Ms.—”

“Marylou,” she interrupted him. “I thought Smith-Bitters had all sorts of cache, you understand, and the towels are all embroidered, but I wish I’d thought about it a while longer before I did it. Smith-Bitters, Smith-Bitters. Sounds like a cough drop, doesn’t it? Or perhaps a new cocktail? I’ll have a Smith-Bitters on the rocks, please, with a twist of lime. And you probably didn’t recognize me because I only took over the registration desk last week when the girl I replaced went on maternity leave. Seven-pound, six-ounce boy. She named him Rodrico Estaban Beinvenido. The Third. Isn’t that a lovely name? You have a son, don’t you? Is he taking a class as well, or does your wife work nights and you just bring him along?”

It was all very neat, and extremely friendly and disarming, but Nick still got the feeling that Marylou Smith-Bitters would have made a hell of an investigative reporter. To reward her, he gave her what she wanted to know.

“Sean is taking karate, yes. He loves it, which is good because I’m divorced, his mother is totally out of the picture, and, at nine, he hates babysitters but is too young to stay home alone.”

Marylou’s laugh tinkled like little bells stirred by a gentle breeze. “Handsome, eligible
and
smart. You left out your age and occupation, but I can look those up, I’ll bet. Very good, Nick.”

“There she goes again—the matchmaker.” Chessie had turned Barb over to a teenage assistant who escorted her back to the dressing room, and was now frowning at Marylou. “You’ll excuse her, Nick. I think it’s time for her medication.”

“That’s okay,” he said. “I’m used to it. My sister, who thankfully lives in Cleveland now, keeps signing me up for those online dating services. But just for the record, I’m not interested, thank you. Sean and I are doing pretty well on our own. Oops, there goes my cell,” he said as the phone in his pocket began playing the Philadelphia Eagles fight song. “Please excuse me, and if you’d tell Barb I’ll be waiting outside for her? Nice to meet you both. And Chessie—thanks.”

 

The door had barely closed behind Nick Barrington when Chessie turned on Marylou. “No. Don’t.”

“I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about.” Marylou went to the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of low-calorie water. “Ever wonder why we drink this, when water has no calories at all? Americans, the ultimate consumers.” She twisted open the top and took a long drink. “But it is good, I’ll give them that. I wonder what it would do, mixed with Scotch. I really can’t acquire a taste for Scotch, and it’s Ted’s favorite.”

“Forget the water, forget the Scotch. Don’t forget Ted because he’s a doll and you don’t deserve such a great husband. Mostly, forget Nick Barrington.”

“I’ve got it. He’s a reporter for the
Morning Chronicle
. When you said his full name like that, I remembered seeing his byline. He did a great four-part series on domestic violence a few months ago, remember? He writes like he really cares. Yes, he’s perfect.”

“No man is perfect,” Chessie protested, collapsing into the chair lately vacated by Nick. “Ask me, I’m the expert, and have the scars to prove it.”

Marylou waved away Chessie’s words with a graceful shooing motion, the three-carat ring on her third finger left hand catching the sun and shooting off mini-rainbows in the air. “As if Rick Peters is any example of mankind. The guy is pond scum, so he doesn’t count. And if you’d let me—”

“Not even if you had George Clooney’s private phone number,” Chessie said, grinning. “Okay, so I might make an exception for George. But seriously, Marylou. You don’t really mean you’re going to try to find Nick Barrington a wife. He clearly doesn’t want one.”

“That’s because he doesn’t know any better.”

“Proving my point—there is no perfect man.”

“Don’t confuse me with logic,” Marylou said, trying to frown. She didn’t quite get there, which was what happened when she got her regular botox injections in her forehead. “Did you see him, Chessie? He was
crying
. Not all sloppy, like those wimpy touchy-feely sorts, but the way a really caring man cries. It was just so honest—so
real
. Not a
question in my mind—he’s a keeper. Some lucky woman is soon going to be very grateful I don’t listen to you.”

Chessie leaned forward and rubbed at her frown-crinkled, botox-free brow. “Here we go again. People are soon going to think I send you out to bring in customers. Not that we deal with second-chance grooms.”

Marylou laughed, and then clapped her hands. “Yes, that’s it. Second chance for Nick, second chance for her.”

“Her who? And why am I asking? Because I don’t want to know. I’m sure I don’t.”

Rolling her eyes, Marylou said, “Oh, stop, you know you’re dying to hear. I was bored last week at the registration desk. I mean, I love volunteering, you know it’s my thing…”

“And you’ve got nothing else needing nipping or tucking and you already own more clothes and jewelry than Macy’s or Lord and Taylor, so you have the free time…”

“Okay, I’ll give you that one. Although I am considering a butt lift.” She turned her back, presenting her posterior to Chessie while looking over her own shoulder to peer at her reflection in the three-way mirror. “At fifty, gravity starts to win, you know. Not that I look anything close to fifty.”

“Fifty-six. Remember those three kamakazies you had at Elizabeth’s wedding reception? You confided in me then.”

“That was a great wedding, wasn’t it? But onward and upward.
Upward
—get it? Do you think I need a butt lift?”

“I refuse to answer on the grounds that I’d probably completely lose it if you walked in here one day carrying one of those blow-up rubber doughnuts to sit on. Now, please, let’s change the subject. And not back to Nick Barrington, either. Eve will be finished measuring Barb for a hem, which is really all that gown needs, and my bride could come walking out here at any time to overhear you cackling and see you stirring your cauldron while you make plans for her cousin.”

Marylou shrugged. “All right. I was just saying that there was nothing much to do at the registration desk last week, so I started a conversation with this other volunteer who I think would be perfect for—”

“Stifle yourself. Here she comes. Let me write up the sale, and then we’ll go get some lunch.”

“And I can tell you all about Claire Ayers. Just the sweetest girl. Divorced, although I don’t know any of the details.”

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