When Lisa Riley comes home for her brother Mark's Christmas Eve wedding, her high school rivalry with his wife Janelle's cousin, Derek Walsh, picks up right where it left off, only this time Derek has the upper hand. Santa bides his time as they battle it out because he's waited a whole year for this mistletoe match-up.
The church door burst open with a flurry of twirling snowflakes. Derek Walsh halted on the bottom step of the entrance hall when a tall, slender figure hustled in, duffle bag slung over her shoulder and a wadded dress bag clutched in her arms.
Frozen moisture clung to long black strands of windblown hair, catching the shine of the white lights adorning the church foyer this Christmas Eve.
“Stupid snow,” she muttered, wrestling to close the door. The duffle bag slid from her shoulder and hit the ground with a thud. “White Christmases are way overrated.”
Whistling wind competed with the organ music in the church. Derek crossed his arms and leaned a hip against the hand rail. Lisa Riley. The bane of his high school existence. She didn’t appear to have changed much in the past nine years; arriving only moments before the bride walked down the aisle. Still thinking only of herself. Still disorganized. Still late.
With the door finally closed, she turned and slumped against the oak, heaving a huge sigh. One
toss of her head flipped the wild locks back over her shoulder and gave him a clear view of her stubborn chin, full lips, high cheekbones and piercing gray eyes framed by a thick fan of midnight lashes.
Still beautiful, damn her.
She froze the instant she saw him watching. Her gaze darted around the empty entrance, paused on the closed doors at the top of the steps, and then returned to him. Her mouth thinned into a flat line. “Where is everyone?”
“Already started. You’re late.”
“I know.” Her chin lifted as if she prepared to debate him like old times. The strains of Collin
Raye’s ballad The Gift filtered between the hinges of the doors. Lisa grabbed the duffle bag from the floor and moved away from the doors toward the steps he stood on. “I just need five min—”
Derek stepped sideways to block her path. “That’s Janelle’s cue. This is low, even for you.”
“What does that mean?”
She raised one palm, the dress bag still crushed in her arms. “Forget it. And move.”
“I’m not going to let you upstage my cousin.”
Her glare sharpened when he didn’t stand aside. “I am not missing my brother’s wedding.”
“You’re not making a grand entrance, either.”
“I’m not trying to,” she snapped. “Like I was saying, I only need five minutes to get ready, so if you’d stop being a such a pain in the ass, I could get my dress on and—”
One of the doors at the top of the landing swung open and Eric Riley stepped half-way through the door. “What is going on—Lisa! It’s about time! Where the heck have you been?”
He disappeared just as fast. Derek sighed in frustrated defeat when Lisa brushed past. “Eric!”
The music cut off abruptly. Seconds later the doors flew open again, spewing forth most of the wedding party. Mark Riley, the groom; Ben and Sue, the parents of the groom; Eric and Marissa Riley, and Reese and Heather in their flower girl dresses. The girls each held one of their five-month-old twin baby brothers. Jim and Jill Newel, the remaining groomsman and bridesmaid, rounded out the backward procession.
Hands shoved in his pockets, Derek stood back and watched everyone give Lisa the royal treatment she’d received all through high school as the star basketball player who’d led the girls team to three state victories. The prodigal daughter returned home to steal the spotlight at his cousin’s wedding.
Lisa ate up the attention with her thousand watt smile and a lilting voice that sounded as false as a politician’s promise. Fitting, considering he’d heard she managed political campaigns for a living.
“If I weren’t so happy to see you, I’d yell at you for almost missing the ceremony,” Sue Riley chastised.
“It’s a long story, Mom.”
Derek stepped forward to end the spectacle on Janelle’s behalf, but Mark beat him to it. “Tell it later, sis. I don’t want to keep my bride waiting any longer. Hurry up.”
“Five minutes. Scout’s honor.”
Derek took Lisa’s arm and turned her toward one of the open dressing rooms. “You’ve got three,” he growled in her ear before giving her a soft push.
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