So he locked down this intense awareness of her.
She wasn’t for him. All he could—and should—do was offer her a helping hand.
“Hi.” He launched another smile, one that had broken a few hearts, in her direction. “I’m Seth,” he repeated because he honestly wasn’t sure if she’d processed it the first time.
“Kate,” she replied in a shaky voice. She hadn’t pulled her hand away from his yet. Seth took an experimental step back—away from the limo—and was pleased when she followed. “I... I’m not sure what my last name is right now. I don’t think I got married. I’m pretty sure I left before that part.”
In his time, Seth had seen people involved in accidents still walking and talking and functioning almost normally because they were in a complete state of shock. Big dudes thrown from choppers and yet walking around and cracking jokes with one of their arms hanging out of the socket. Later, when the adrenaline had worn off, they’d felt the pain. But not at first.
Was this what this was? Had she been hurt? He looked her over as surreptitiously as he could, but he didn’t see any injuries—so this was just a mental shock, then.
“Kate,” he said, his voice warm and friendly. “That’s a pretty name. What would you like your last name to be?
“Burroughs,” she said firmly. “I don’t want to be Kate Caputo. I can’t be.”
Seth let out a careful breath. That answered that question.
He had found Roger’s runaway bride.
Kate felt like she was moving in a dream. Everything was blurry at the edges—but getting sharper. How much time had she lost? A couple of hours? A couple of days? The last thing she remembered was...
She had been sitting in the little room set aside for the bride to get ready, staring at the mirror and fighting back the rising tide of nausea. Because she was pregnant and she was supposed to be marrying Roger and—and—
“Easy,” a strong, confident male voice said.
She looked down to see that her hand was being held by a man who was not Roger and they were not at the lodge she had especially selected for the beautiful sunset. She looked around, startling again. None of this looked familiar. Especially not him. She’d remember him. “I don’t...”
The man’s arm went around her waist and even though she didn’t know who he was or what was going on, she leaned into his touch. It felt right—comforting. Safe. Whoever he was, he was safe. Maybe it was all going to be okay. She could have cried with relief.
“I’ve got you,” he said, sounding so very calm when there was nothing to be calm about. “It’s all right.”
She laughed at that. “No, it’s not.”
“It’s not as bad as you think, I promise. Roger will get over this, and so will you.”
She wasn’t sure she believed that, but his arm tightened around her waist. Kate couldn’t have said if she leaned on him or if he picked her up or how, exactly, she got to the bench. All she could focus on was this man—with dark hair and dark eyes and tanned skin, wearing a motorcycle jacket over what looked like a pair of suit trousers. He sat her down on the bench and then took a seat next to her. “You’re cold,” he said, picking up her hand and rubbing it between his.
“Am I?” Yes, now that she thought about it, she could feel a chill in the air. The way he spoke to her called to mind someone trying to capture a bird with a broken wing.
Then something he’d said sank in. “You...you know Roger?”
The man—Seth? Had he said that was his name? Seth nodded. “I lived with him in college.” He stood and peeled off his leather jacket and even though Kate was having a terrible day, she was struck by how nicely this strange, sympathetic man filled out a button-up shirt. He even had on a tie—but somehow, it didn’t look stuffy. It looked dangerous, almost. “Frankly, I think you’re doing the right thing,” he went on as he settled his jacket around her shoulders. “Assuming he hasn’t seen the light and become a better human, that is.”
“No, I don’t think he has,” she said slowly. His jacket was warm and soft, and she immediately felt a hundred times better. She had been cold for far too long. It was good to realize there could still be warmth in the world.
Then she realized what she’d said. “I didn’t mean that,” she quickly corrected, feeling the heat rise in her face. She blinked. Seth was staring at her with a level of focus that she wasn’t used to. Roger certainly didn’t listen to her like this.
But even thinking that made her feel terrible. She was supposed to be marrying Roger and she wasn’t. She didn’t have to add insult to injury by—well, by insulting him. “I mean, he’s not a bad guy. He’s a great catch.” On paper.
On paper, Roger was handsome and educated, a successful small-business man. On paper he was perfect.
She couldn’t marry a piece of paper.
She was supposed to be marrying a flesh-and-blood man who didn’t love her. She was fairly certain about that.
“Even if he somehow magically turned into a great catch—which I doubt,” Seth said, fishing something out of his pants pockets and sitting next to her, “that doesn’t mean he’s a great catch for you.”
Her breath caught in her throat as he closed the distance between them. As he lifted her chin and stared into her eyes, Kate knew she should pull away. She couldn’t let this stranger kiss her. That wasn’t who she was.
She was Kate Burroughs. Only child to Joe and Kathleen Burroughs. A real estate agent who worked for her parents at Burroughs Realty—which was now Burroughs and Caputo Realty.
She didn’t make waves. She did the right thing, always. She got good grades and sold houses. She didn’t get unexpectedly pregnant. She most definitely didn’t leave her groom at the altar, and under no circumstances could she be attracted to a man who wasn’t her fiancé.
At least, that was who she’d been yesterday. It seemed pretty obvious that she wasn’t that same woman today.
He had such nice eyes. A deep brown, soft and kind and yet still with an air of danger to him. He was dangerous to her, that much was clear, because he was going to kiss her and she was going let him and that was something the woman she’d been yesterday never would have allowed, much less entertained.
“It’s going to be okay,” he said softly. Then he touched her cheeks. With a handkerchief.
Kate hadn’t realized she was crying until Seth dabbed at her cheeks.
When he was done, Seth pressed the handkerchief into her hand and leaned back. She wouldn’t have thought it possible, but she got even more embarrassed. Really, Kate? Really? She wasn’t even close to holding it together and she wanted to kiss this complete stranger?
She’d lost her mind. It was the only rational explanation.
She was relieved when Seth turned his gaze back out to the landscape. The sun was getting lower and the world was crimson and red. “Bolting on a wedding,” he said slowly, “may not be cheap and it may not be easy. You may feel...”
“Like an idiot,” she said bitterly.
“Confused,” Seth corrected. “You’re trying to talk yourself into going back, but your instincts made you leave. And it’s a good idea to listen to your instincts.”
“That’s easy for you to say. Your parents didn’t shell out thousands of dollars on a fairy-tale wedding and invite hundreds of guests, all of whom are probably wondering where the hell you are and what’s wrong with you.”
He made a huffing noise, as if she’d said something idiotic instead of stating the facts of the matter. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but your parents aren’t marrying Roger. None of the guests are, either. You can put on a good show for them because of the sunk cost of the reception, but at the end of the day you’re the one who has to go home with him. For the rest of your life.” She shuddered involuntarily. Seth put his arm around her shoulders and, weak as she was, she leaned into his chest. He went on, “If he hasn’t changed, then you don’t want to be stuck with him.”
She sniffed. She knew she was crying again, but she was powerless to stop. Seth was warm and he smelled good and it was okay if she cried. “I don’t. I really don’t.”
“Leaving him at the altar is cheaper and easier than getting a divorce,” he said with finality. “Better to feel foolish now than to wake up tomorrow knowing you’ve made a huge mistake. Besides, if you realize you should have married him, you can still do that. If he really loves you, he’ll understand.”
That was what she needed to hear, because that was the truth that she felt in her heart. She was making a horrible mess for Roger and her parents, and she didn’t want to humiliate him or their families and friends.
But at the end of the day, she was the one who had to live with him. With herself. And she knew she wouldn’t be able to make the marriage last the rest of her life. How far would she and Roger get before she couldn’t take it anymore? A year? Three? The divorce—because there would be one. Seth was right—would be ugly. Especially because of the baby.
She lost track of time, quietly crying into Seth’s shoulder and his handkerchief as the sun got lower in the sky. Purple joined the reds and oranges. It was truly a beautiful late-summer day. Perfect for a wedding.
And where was she? Marrying her Prince Charming? Celebrating? No.