Tempted by Trouble
Author:Susan Arden


“Hey, we’re here,” Carolina poked her cousin. She parked the car near the side entrance to the chapel. “You’d better get on the move. My mom is pointing to her watch. Crap, she’s undeniably on the war path.”

Sam’s delicate brows drew together above her sunglasses. “My head is splitting. What time is it?”

“Just past eleven.”

“We’re late,” Sam grimaced. “Yep, Tia looks upset.”

Carolina waved. “By a few minutes. Besides, you look fabulous.”

“You mean for someone who spent the entire night drinking?”

“Don’t blame me. You were the one who wanted to remember your last night as a single woman. I simply complied with a smashing bachelorette party.” Carolina drew in a breath. “Sam, you’re really lucky.”

Her cousin nodded. “I can’t believe after four years, I’m about to see my dream become my life.” Sam sniffed and twisted her engagement ring.

“No, don’t you start crying,” Carolina ordered.

Sam smiled, her chin trembling, and her azure eyes filled with tears.

“Here,” Caroline whispered, holding out a tissue while her own eyes became misty.

Sam pulled down the visor and dabbed at the corner of her eye.

Carolina’s mom opened the car door. “Ay, chicas. Are you both crazy? Vamos. Really Carolina, of all the days to revolt.”

“This wasn’t a revolution. We had to celebrate Sam’s last night of freedom,” Carolina said. “Mami, we made it on time.”

“Barely,” her mom glared. “Cynthia, say goodbye to my wayward daughter. We need to get you dressed. You both always push limits. Well, we’ll see how you do now that you’re about to be separated. Venga.” Her mom turned toward the young man tapping her on the shoulder.

Carolina rolled her eyes to the sky. It was true. The two cousins had been inseparable until now, and with Sam getting married, they’d be separated for the first time in twenty-six years.

Cynthia — Sam — and she had grown up in Miami, only months apart in age. They had attended St. Teresa’s Academy from kindergarten thru high school. Both of them had lost a parent. Both of them had suffered heartbreak from a jackass.

The only difference was, Sam’s jackass turned out to be Prince Charming once they reconnected. Today was Sam’s wedding to Rob Graham, former jackass, and evidence that happy endings do come true. At least for Sam.

Carolina’s future, however, looked very different.

“I’m so happy for you and Rob,” Carolina said. In an hour, her cousin would be walking down the aisle toward wedded bliss. In two days, Carolina would be on a plane headed to Annona, Texas. No, that wasn’t exactly true … to Clarkesville. Annona, a town too tiny for geographical reference on a map, was too small to have an airport.

“Thanks,” Sam blinked her false eyelashes rapidly. “This is great. I’ll be a crying mess before the wedding. Rob will take one look and shout, yeah right.”

“Never. Not him. He’s madly in love with you. Shoo; I’m going to park the car. I’ll be right in.”

“You better rescue me before they turn me into an iced cupcake.” Sam titled her head toward their aunts and cousins waiting on the sidewalk.

“Get ready to have this entire event captured. The photographer just set up. Remember to smile.”

“Give me a hug. You’re my best friend. Always.” They wrapped arms around each other. Sam drew back and picked up her purse, murmuring, “No looking back now.”

“Hold that,” the photographer called. “Okay, take a couple of steps and then let’s get one with the family coming to meet you.”

“Good luck,” Carolina said, before she took a wide loop around the church parking lot in search of a parking place.

Then she saw Jeff’s Jaguar drive into the parking lot, and she pulled her car up next to his. His timing was impeccable. That fact she could never take away from him. She’d invited him to the wedding only because they’d spent time with Sam and Rob. It was a polite gesture, even though all she wanted to do was formally end the relationship long over. He’d texted her and said he’d meet her at the church. She hadn’t expected he meant almost two hours before the wedding.

She didn’t bother to get out of the car and neither did he. She rolled down her window. “You’re early,” she said.

“I’m on the run. Just got a call and I’m flying out. I wanted to touch base since you said you might have a job, something you needed help on.”

“It doesn’t start until next week. I’m fine.” Christ, he could smell money a mile away.

“Doll, don’t start with an edge to your voice.”

“Jeff, let’s just get things clear. I already told you that us as a couple was over. For business, okay. Fine. I don’t need your excuses. You could have called.”

“Carolina, don’t talk like that. One misstep and you act like we’re married. Sweetheart, what do you expect when you’re so uptight?”

Not screwing any and everything that walks doesn’t make me frigid. Her knuckles went white from gripping the steering wheel. “I’m late.”

“No kiss. Just goodbye.”

Good riddance was more like it. “Just bye.”

“Carolina, I know you’ll be in touch. That, I’m certain of. Take care, precious.” He drove off. At least she’d be free of that piece of baggage when she left next week.

She spotted a shaded parking space and headed toward the corner, away from the church entrance. She needed a couple of minutes to get her head on straight. She was still half-hung over after spending all night partying and drinking her way around South Florida in the company of thirty screaming women in two limos. They had stopped for an early morning breakfast at Chartreuse, an after-hours club catering to late-night stragglers who wanted breakfast before going home and crashing.

Only she hadn’t gone home. Instead, Carolina showered, dressed, and escorted her cousin to her hair and nail appointment, and then took her to have her makeup done before bringing her to the church. Definitely, she could have a moment alone while Sam was getting dressed by an entourage of aunts and tipsy cousins. She wouldn’t be missed if she grabbed a catnap. The wedding march wouldn’t start for another hour and a half.

Alone, she set her alarm and plugged in her iPod before she pushed her seat backward until she was fully reclining. With the windows up and the air conditioning on, she closed her eyes. Forty-five minutes later she woke up, stretched, and yawned. Talk about the benefits of power napping.

She sat upright and peered into the mirror on the visor. Not too shabby; if she could get some eye drops, she just might pass for a bridesmaid. The parking lot was filling up with cars. There was even another car parked next door, all the way over here. Then she glanced inside the car and gasped. She turned away from the man and woman inside the other car.

From the bouncing motion of the woman’s head, Carolina was quite certain she knew what was going on. In her Audi SUV, she sat slightly above the other car and gazed back at the man holding onto the woman’s head with both of his hands. She could see the woman wore a blue dress, and he had on dark trousers.

Carolina glanced away again, heat searing her neck, and played with the ring on her thumb. The wedding was scheduled to begin in thirty minutes, and she needed to change into her bridesmaid’s dress.

Shoot, she didn’t know what to do. If she opened her car door, she’d find herself smack in direct sight of them, not exactly a sexy ménage with herself as the uninvited guest. The irony of this voyeurism pretty much represented her entire sexual experience. She was an outsider.

And now seated here, secretly watching her neighbors further inflated her bubble of loneliness. Why didn’t she feel what other women described? The Earth move. Nope. Not a quake or shimmy. Not once. The woman next door squirmed on top of the black leather seat. Carolina banged her head back against the headrest. The minuscule amount of heat and attraction she’d experienced rarely amounted to all consuming blaze, never took a leap into ecstasy. Forget bliss. Not an iota of delight. Unlike the other woman in the car next door who just screamed an expletive. God, what it must be like to be on fire. So consumed and willing to do things on the spur of desire.

Would she ever meet a man who made her give in without caring if it was in his bed---or parking lot? Just thinking about such an encounter made her go hot all over. Lately, she felt her days where marked. Boring. Vanilla. Glancing back at the man made her long for raspberry fudge ripple. With whip crème. And her on top.

If she remained inside her car much longer, her mother would to throttle her. Weddings did strange things to people. She nibbled on the inside of her cheek and nervously glanced back at the couple, wondering if they were just about done.

“Oh, Christ,” she said aloud. The man’s hand was between the woman’s legs. Carolina couldn’t see his face. The things he was doing to his “date” made the space between her own legs tighten and grow warm. She watched him move his hand upward, fondle the woman’s breasts, and then move his hand down between her legs again. All the while, the woman worked her head over his lap.

Carolina told herself to look away, but she was mesmerized by the man’s hands and the way he made the woman squirm and writhe. There were too many layers to the woman’s dress to see much flesh. From what she could tell, the man seemed to be an expert in foreplay and wasn’t the type to lose steam after five minutes of sex which, unfortunately, made this situation extremely tricky. She could just back out her car, without looking over and then she’d be free.

Carolina threw the car into reverse and pulled out of the space. She turned the car around and drove forward, only slamming on the breaks after a scraping crunch sounded on the right front side of her car.

“Oh for the love of … Damn it.” Some get away. She had actually hit the other car.

She closed her eyes and counted to five. When she opened her eyes, the occupants were not outside the car. Instead, there was movement inside the compartment so at least they weren’t still going to town on each other. She hoped by this time they were decent. Carolina opened her door, slowly walked around the hood of her car to inspect the damage.

“Thank God … only a bumper-to-bumper contact,” she said to herself.

“Look like much damage?” a deep male voice asked.

Carolina’s flippant response choked in her throat.

The man from the inside the car continued to come closer. She gazed up into the face of a man whose smoldering dark eyes and quirked lips galvanized her conviction of what she observed scant minutes ago. From the bulge still evident in his dark trousers, she could tell he undoubtedly knew what to do in bed. His liquid brown eyes flickered over her face, settling upon her mouth in such a way as to cause her to smile without her consent. He tunneled fingers through thick black hair. The second their eyes snapped together, her stomach clenched.

“I think the bumper scratches are minor. Otherwise, my car is fine.” She had to concentrate just to say each word since her composure was off on hiatus.

“It’s nothing to get your panties hitched up on, little lady. I can think of so many other things to get excited about.” His voice was constructed by the devil himself. Nothing short of warm and soothing and enthralling in how he shaped letters into sounds that begged to be captured. It was as if she listened to a message meant only for her ears, a whispered evocation. Carolina’s skin beaded. She stymied a shiver that unfurled inside her body. Must be the remnants of alcohol in her foggy brain, she thought.

“I’m not the one who’s excited. I merely pointed out the damage is minor.” she retorted. She’d be damned if she would make this easy on the guy who couldn’t keep his pants zipped in the middle of the day.

“Just glad there’s no harm done from where I stand,” he replied, not even bothering to inspect the condition of his car. “Are you here for the wedding?”

“Yes, and it’s about to start.” She couldn’t help notice his sensuous lips. Again.

“Then we’d better get a move on. Bride or groom?” he asked while his eyes languidly traced a path down her body.

“Bride,” she said, and moved behind her car, using it as a shield from his perusal.

“Makes sense. I don’t recognize you. I’m Matt.” He shot a thumb back to his chest. “Groom’s side.”

His bowtie was undone, the ends lifting in the breeze. His white tux shirt was partly open, revealing an expanse of tanned skin. Carolina let her gaze follow a pair of long legs housed in dark dress pants that didn’t hide his muscular build and then she frowned. Cowboy boots stuck out from the bottom of his trousers. Black polished ostrich boots that were spread apart in a wide stance.

“Oh, I see what you mean.”

Rob’s family was coming from all over the nation, unlike the bride’s familial hub, which was housed in South Florida. Living in another state would explain this man’s sexy rolling syllables.

“No reason we can’t get acquainted, is there sugar?”

She stopped gawking and tore her gaze from Matt’s face and body convinced he was just another smooth talker. “I’m late and should already be inside getting ready. Well, I’m glad this worked out for you,” she shot him her best I-don’t-think-so glare.

“Come again?”

She arched a brow. “Seems you’ve covered all your bases today.” Carolina faced him, wanting to take his puffed-up, self-assured persona down a notch. “I was parked next to you and had to move my car. I didn’t want to interrupt your little … party.” She expected a smidgen of shame. Matt’s unrepentant expression told her otherwise.

“Darlin’, you could have joined us instead of watching. Someone with a mouth as pretty as yours, hell, I might have left my own party and gone AWOL.” His voice and dark good looks stoked her banked sensual embers, igniting a cavernous erotic craving Carolina kept on a back burner turned way below simmer.

Carolina’s hell-raiser tendencies surged to the forefront. This type of man bored holes in her resolution to avoid men who promised to deliver heaven. She reined in her control even though a slight shiver rippled up her spine.

She smirked. “No thanks. I had my share of partying this week. I’ll catch you and your date inside.”

“Suit yourself. There’s a lot two people can do in five minutes. ’Course, I mean the right two people.”

His smoky gaze made her hair hurt. She faltered, as prey did before deciding to hunker down or break cover, but her resolve surged upward. “I don’t think you could keep up, cowboy,” she replied, her voice dropping into a zone of husky desire. Inwardly, she groaned; that was a dare she hadn’t meant to fling back at him.

Damn it.

This walking piece of sex in a suit, in the blink of an eye, tore all the veils and walls away she had built to keep her wayward urges from reappearing. He was the exact type of man women found irresistible. He was also a hazard to her because, deep inside, she wanted nothing more than to taste, crash, and combust from passion. Carolina’s cravings were never gone, only kept at bay. She, for one, didn’t need to follow another jackass into a promised liaison that didn’t deliver, or another man accusing her of being frigid, unfeeling and uncaring. Jeff had taught her about lust and lurid decisions until she was burned and broken. An alarm bell tolled in her head, warning her to be wary in the vicinity of sweet-talking men with one thing on their minds. “Nice meeting you, Matt. But it’s bye-bye.”

He paused, lips quirked all but promising a comeback. “Sugar, give me a chance. I’ll show you the way to heaven’s gate, and you won’t need a Bible for the verses that you spill from your … lips.”

His inference struck her harder than if she’d stuck two wet fingers in an electrical outlet. She didn’t respond to his invitation. He looked like the type of man that took his time. At all costs, one to avoid.

“No, thank you. I appreciate the offer, but I’m good.”

“No argument there.” He touched his head and bent forward with a small bow. “Until we meet again. What’s your name?”

“My name?”

“I’m not asking for your Social Security number. Just your name?”

She stared at him. “Carolina,” she breathed out.

“Carolina, maybe someday I’ll be so lucky to get to know you better.” He winked and walked around the car toward his passenger side.

“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes, fuming.

Matt had caught her unprepared. She wanted to argue with him on one hand and realized, she also longed to feel his lips crush against her mouth in a savage kiss.

Oh hell … She held and framed her wayward thoughts, including some raunchy images of him holding her head above his lap and guiding her mouth over him. For a second, she delighted in her private fantasy of hot public sex. Definitely way too much alcohol was in those Jell-O shots last night. Carolina pressed fingertips to her brow as she opened up her car door. Matt opened his passenger’s door. Two shapely legs extended, bent, and touched the blacktop. She felt a twang right beneath her breastbone watching the man hold out his hand and receive his date’s fingers.

Judas Priest. She slipped back into the driver’s seat, floored the gas before she acquiesced and begged him to join her and see what they could do in five minutes.

At least there was one consolation. He wasn’t in the wedding party. Last night she didn’t remember seeing him at the church rehearsal or dinner. Chances were, they’d not see each other more than in passing at the reception amongst the hundred people expected.

No, this would be goodbye to a fantasy come to life. She was safe. Just one day spent in the midst of a family wedding, and then she’d return to her vanilla existence for a couple of days before she started her new job in god-knows-where Texas.

• • •

The chapel dressing area inside was overrun by women in sage green dresses and one exceptionally dressed woman in an ivory wedding dress. “Sam, you’re too perfect,” Carolina whispered.

“Where have you been?” Sam threw up her hands.

“I caught up on my beauty sleep.” Carolina’s cheeks warmed unmercifully, giving her thoughts away.

Sam pulled her into the private dressing room. “Come on. Your dress is over here.” Sam shut the door and turned back. “Tell me. I know something’s up.”

Carolina stepped out of her sundress and sandals. “It’s nothing.”

“Bull,” Sam returned. “You’re as red as a tomato.”

“This is your day. You’re projecting. It must be nerves.”

“Don’t use your medical mumbo jumbo on me. Spill the beans,” Sam walked over toward her. “If you don’t, I’ll go get your mother to help you dress.”

Carolina unzipped the silky green gown on the hanger. She smiled and shook her head. “It was this guy,” she started out as a heat wave billowed over her whole body. “Oh, this is silly.”

“What guy? Rob has so many good-looking relatives. Who’d you meet?”

“No, Sam. I didn’t meet anyone. Not like that.”

“So you did meet a man. Outside?”

“Yes. It’s so screwed up. It’s wickedly messed up.”

“You’re not giving me much to go on … ” Loud knocking broke their conversation.

“Sam, is Carolina in there with you?” Sonya, Carolina’s mother was on the other side of the door.

Carolina’s eyes beseeched her not to open the door. Sam nodded silently. “Yes, Tia. Give me a minute. Please.”

Sonya sighed in exasperation. “A minute. It’s time. Your father is in the receiving room waiting for you.”

“Talk fast.” Sam came over and arranged the gown on Carolina’s shoulders.

Carolina twisted her fingers. “Oh, Sam. It’s crazy. I woke up and there he was in his car.”

“What’s so wicked about that?”

“He had his zipper down.”

“Excuse me. Was he tucking in his shirt?”

“No,” Carolina sucked in her breath. “He was getting a blow job.”

Sam shrieked incoherently, tugging up the zipper of Carolina’s dress. She let go of her cousin so quickly, Carolina stumbled forward. They came together facing one another. “You mean there was a woman in the car with him?” Sam asked.

“Yes. She was over him so I couldn’t see the whole thing. I tried to leave. I never imagined I’d hit his car.”

Sam grabbed her cousin’s hands. “Are you all right?” Sam’s eyes widened, searching her cousin’s face.

“Not a scratch. The bumpers did a face-off with not so much as a dent,” she exhaled. “But, there was definitely … there was something about the man.”

While Carolina spoke, a swarm of confused butterflies took flight inside her stomach. Even after leaving Matt, she couldn’t stop herself from thinking about his animal magnetism. It was primal, wordless, and took hold, deep inside her, drawing out a sizzling ache she never imagined actually existed within her body so near to the surface. He was the first man who had sparked something dark and hungry inside her that even now continued to flame.

Maybe that’s why she had held on to her past lover so hard. Believing if it could happen with anyone, her chance of discovering an orgasm would be at the hands of Jeff Welch. Sexy, elegant, and an experienced lover. Top vet in his field. She believed if she gave into his every demand, eventually she’d learn to respond, let down her walls, and give in. It didn’t.

That part of her — the unfulfilled part — nearly pushed her over the edge with Jeff, the man she dated on and off for two years. He’d left her a vacuum; depleted and empty. It had taken her a year, maybe longer, to wake each morning without questioning herself about being cold, unable to experience what every red-blooded woman felt. An orgasm. In wanting to overcome her hesitance to let go, she gave into every one of his suggestions without letting him into her world, and in the end he’d used her. Nearly up.

Sam’s narrowed her eyes. “Carolina, what are you saying? You know you can’t make rash judgments about any man. What you feel is what you bring to the table. If you think he’s a savior, it’s because that’s what you’re looking for. We both have learned a lesson.”

“What do you mean? You’re about to marry a man you fell in love with on your first date. That’s the absolute opposite of your advice.”

“Wrong. The first time I met Rob, I thought he was a player, a user, and someone who would hurt me. I wasn’t ready to accept him. I saw a monster instead of my soul mate. So, it’s exactly the same thing. Just be careful that it’s not some secret hidden judgment that you’ll try and make come true. The Pygmalion effect is not something I thought up, Carolina. You’re still attached to Jeff.”

“Correction. Was. I finally said goodbye. So there. Today is a day of new beginnings; I thought how appropriate it was to finally let him go. I was hoping you’d share in my joy.”

“Hallelujah. But that relationship was toast a long time ago. All I’m saying is keep your eyes open. Listen to yourself. A man who’s having sex in his car. And you’re attracted. That’s wacko coming from you. Sounds like a rebel and we all know you’ve got a soft spot for a bad boy. It’s your libido sparking, nothing else.”

“I’m not just desperate. But I hear what you’re saying. Let’s not talk about this anymore. I’m not going to become OCD over the man. Give me a couple of minutes to get my face back on. A mascara moment. You’re so beautiful, Sam. Rob will fall over when he sees you.”

“Let’s hope not. I’ve waited four years to get him up the aisle. Don’t worry, Carolina. Your Prince Charming is on his way. Just keep the faith.”

Sam opened the door, and Carolina’s mom, Sonya, burst through the doors with several other family members. Carolina applied several coats of mascara while the women chatted in Spanglish. Isabella, Sam’s daughter came over to the table.

“Hey, baby doll, you look so pretty,” Carolina said. “Give me a besito.”

The little girl puckered her lips and kissed Carolina’s cheek. “’Lina, c’mon.”

Carolina joined with the other women surrounding her cousin. A bottle of champagne was going around. Someone pushed a glass into her hand. They all toasted the bride. Carolina came over to Sam, setting down her champagne flute.

“Here, let me straighten your train.” Carolina gently shook the material and settled the gauzy silk over the carpet. “Mami, where’s Sam’s bouquet?”

“Right here,” Sonya said.

Sam’s father, Randall Cainwright III, stood at the door. They all walked forward, a cloud of perfume, voices, and laughter. Sonya met Randall’s gaze and lifted her chin. The rivalry between her mom and her uncle had gone on forever and exacerbated when Sam’s mother passed away. Today, a truce was in place. Yes, today was a day of newfound starts.

“You look beautiful,” Randall murmured to his daughter. “A vision. Sam, you remind me of your mother, dear.” He looked over to Sonya. “You’ve done a marvelous job, Sonya. Thank you. Isabella would be so happy,” he said gruffly.

“Yes, I think so.” Sonya blinked and kissed Sam on the cheek. “Bella. Cynthia, you’re no longer a girl with large eyes. Yes, so much like my sister. You’re ready, Mija.”

Sam squeezed Carolina’s hand. She turned, and they looked at each other. No longer little girls waiting on the threshold of their dreams. Today would be the first day of the rest of their lives, changing both of them forever. Sam would cleave to a man and Carolina would learn to ground herself. Or else.

“Well, Dad, I’m ready,” Sam said.

He came forward, took hold of her arm, and awkwardly kissed his daughter on the forehead. “Me too,” he replied.

The music changed to the “Canon in D,” the song for the bridal party to begin their procession into the church.

“God bless you and Rob,” Carolina whispered and hugged her cousin. “I better go take my place.”