Planning on Prince Charming(5)

By: Lizzie Shane


She studied him. The Josh Pendleton. “I guess you were a kind of hero.”

He cringed. “Don’t say that.”

“Why not? I used to watch you on Brainiac.”

“Ah, so you were the one,” he said dryly.

The short-lived quiz show had never made it to prime time, but she remembered his quick-witted banter with the contestants, the way he’d always made her laugh. “How does a quiz show host become the host of Marrying Mister Perfect?”

Josh shrugged. “Right place, right time, right wife.”

When the last word left his mouth, something heavy entered his eyes.

Sidney was good at talking down nervous grooms and jittery brides. Like the version of Josh Pendleton who hosted Marrying Mister Perfect, she excelled at pointing her charges toward love. But she’d had the odd couple call it quits too. It happened. Sometimes their happily-ever-after lay elsewhere.

There was always an air about those couples, when they finally called it a day. A misery that held a finality that always made her heart hurt. Often mixed with resignation and a guilty relief.

Josh had that.

Something had happened to him. And she’d bet her next commission it had to do with his wife. “Rough night?”

He shrugged, downing his water and then grimacing as if he wished it were something stronger. “You’re interrupting my bender.”

“I can see that.”

He frowned down at his hands, then began yanking at something on his left hand. His wedding ring.

Josh tugged at the gold band, cursing as it caught on his knuckle. He struggled with it, taking a better grip and it came loose with a jerk. The back of his hand smacked his glass, sending it flying to shatter against the base of the bar, glass raining down to cover the floor.

“Shit. Your feet.”

Sidney looked down. She hadn’t bothered with shoes when she made her ill-advised escape attempt and belatedly realized she was standing barefoot in a carpet minefield of glass shards. She barely had time to register the fact and set down her own glass before strong arms caught her behind her knees and swept her away from the mess.

Or at least tried to.

*

Josh realized his mistake approximately five seconds after trying to do the gallant thing. Carrying the barefoot Suitorette away from the debris would have been chivalrous… if he hadn’t been too tipsy to make it through the maneuver with his balance intact.

He staggered as he tried to straighten with her in his arms. Knowing he was going down, one way or another, he managed to aim his collapse toward the nearest sofa and all but tossed Sidney onto it before crash landing onto the adjacent ottoman.

She smothered a laugh with one hand. “Your heroism is a little rusty.”

“I’m not supposed to be your hero,” he grumbled, giving vertical another try—and coming up with more success.

“Don’t worry, Sir Galahad. I’m not planning to fall in love with you,” she said, laughter still lingering in her voice. “I know better than that.”

He crossed to the bar, spread a towel over the glass to mark the spot and toed off his shoes—which doubtless had glass clinging to the soles. Deciding sobriety was overrated, Josh filled a spare glass with ice and collected the crappy scotch as well as her water glass before returning to claim the other half of the couch where the barefoot blonde was curled up.

“Can I have one of those?” she asked, tipping her mostly empty water glass toward the bottle. “I promised my best friends I’d get hammered tonight.”

“Strange promise.” He tipped scotch on top of the mostly melted ice cubes in her glass.

“Strategy,” she explained. “I swore I wouldn’t be the girl who gets drunk and stumbles around the mansion babbling about how ready she is for love to every cameraman who will listen before throwing up on Mister Perfect’s shoes. I figure if I’m hung over I won’t even want to think about having a drink to take the edge off and that will guarantee I’m sober when we meet.”

“Smart,” he acknowledged, taking a draught of the unpalatable scotch and finding it much smoother now that he was halfway through the bottle.

She lifted her own glass and drank, her face contorting as she swallowed. She coughed, wheezing. “Wow. That’s terrible.”

“Yes, it is,” Josh agreed, raising his glass to clink it against hers before draining half of it.

She watched him with a sort of concerned awe, and then bravely went back for another sip, choking less the second time. “And why exactly are we punishing ourselves?” she asked, frowning dubiously at the alcohol calling itself scotch.

He shrugged. “Sentimental value.”

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