Author's Note: This book was original published as The Real Deal.
It now has a new title and new cover.
When her fiancé is busted at a gentlemen's club, Norah Ballard calls off the wedding. Shocked and humiliated, she takes the first train out of Chicago and ends up in a picturesque small town called Birchwood Falls.
Michael Banning spots the new woman in town and recognizes her from college. She's even more gorgeous and sophisticated now. He's no longer the nerd he was back then, and now that she's on his turf, he's going to touch and taste every sleek, beautiful inch of her. Whatever her reason is for being in his town, he'll fulfill all her desires so she never wants to leave.
Norah doesn't plan to let another man—no matter how sweet, smart and sexy—get close enough to hurt her again. But Mike's passionate pursuit of her, the way he seems to know just how to arouse her, awakens a sexual hunger she didn't know she had.
The Bride Takes a Powder
A Birchwood Falls Novel
by Jane Leopold Quinn
This was a day most girls dreamed of.
Norah Ballard gazed at her reflection in the mirror. Hair in place and makeup perfect: check. Strapless mermaid style, light taupe designer gown: check. Romantic halo of flowers circling her brow and a floor-length veil: check. Calm stomach instead of the requisite bridal butterflies: check. She was more aloof from the buzz of activity around her than she probably should be. Shouldn't she be happily excited? Or terrified? Something other than indifferent? Something other than cold?
She, a senior associate at her firm, and her fiancé Garrett Dunleith, a partner in his family's firm, were both aggressive, ambitious lawyers. They'd be a Chicago power couple. God, that sounds arrogant.
Control was her thing. She controlled her decision to enter law school, controlled her career. Once she'd met Garrett in college, she realized they would be a force to be reckoned with in the Chicago legal community. From practically the first moment they'd met, she'd planned their wedding and marriage. She'd planned every step of the event from the wedding date to rings to showers to their wedding clothing. After two years of marriage, they'd have children spaced two years apart. Nothing would go amiss today. The reception had been arranged at the Peninsula Hotel for exactly one hour after the ceremony at the church.
I love Garrett. I'm positive I do. Goose bumps popped up on her bare shoulders and arms. Gazing around the church's bridal dressing room, she searched for a draft. It was early May, not quite summer yet. She took a deep breath, as deeply as she could sewn snugly into the gown by the designer's seamstress.
A moment of panic. She struggled for a deep enough breath. You can't faint. You're just fine. Get control of yourself. Horrifying thoughts suddenly plagued her. Should she really be getting married? Did she love Garrett? Even after thirty-five years, her parents were still so much in love. She was well aware of what that looked like.
It's not like that with you, is it? Waves of cold surged over her skin to double-pebble the goose bumps. "Oh, my God," she sighed.
More tense than she realized, her breath caught in surprise at the click of the door. Her mother slipped into the dressing room, motioning everyone else out and closing the door. "He's not here yet. Have you talked to Garrett?"
She frowned. "No, not since last night. He was going out with his brother." Chewing her lower lip, she smeared her lipstick. "Could they have gotten drunk?" That wasn't something she'd considered Garrett would do. He was as controlled as she was.
"Are you sure about this, Norah? That you want to marry him?" Her mother couldn't meet her eyes, instead gazing into the mirror and needlessly fluffing at her hair.
"Why are you asking me that now? At this late date?" The conversation served to increase her odd feelings of panic and doubt.
"Just ignore me, honey. I'm sure you know what you're doing."
Her heart fluttering with uncharacteristic anxiety, she dialed Garrett's cell. No answer. Just a moment ago she'd felt remote. Suddenly reality burst in, the door to the room flying open banging against the wall. Her best friend Vicky dashed in. "Turn on the TV! Quick!" Vicky pointed the remote at a flat-screen mounted on the wall. "Channel Four."
The three women silently watched the report in progress on the early morning news.
"Local men, one a prominent attorney, caught up in a vice raid on the infamous Happy Pappy's Gentlemen's Club on the near west side."
They watched film of Garrett and his brother drunk as lords, bare-chested, her fiancé wearing his necktie around his forehead. Speechless and open-mouthed, she watched as they shouted bleeped-out obscenities, gesturing at the cameras and making huge spectacles of themselves.
"Turn that off!" Her limbs suddenly wooden, her brain frozen, she couldn't think. She needed to do something though. But what? How dare he deviate from her carefully set plans.
Get out. This is your chance. Get out now!
Then it all fell into place, the reprieve she hadn't known she wanted until this moment. "Wait here," she ordered Vicky and her mom. With a swish of the mermaid's tail, she swept out of the room and entered the back of the sanctuary.
"May I have your attention please." The usual church murmuring came to a halt and people slowly nudged one another and turned to face her. Before anyone could speak, she did, composing her features to conceal that her stomach was wildly somersaulting. "Due to the absence of the groom, the wedding is cancelled. Over the next weeks your gifts will be returned. The reception at the Peninsula will go on as planned, so please enjoy yourselves. I'm sorry about this, and thank you for coming." With that she retreated to the dressing area before her calm demeanor broke and she started shrieking. Control. Control. Just get through this. Think!
Closing and locking the door, she stood for a minute trying to control her shivering, her panic, and definitely her tears. "It's over. I called it off," she tonelessly told the two women closest to her. She refused to break down even in front of them. "Oh, and the reception is still on. The guests deserve a party after this fiasco."
Open-mouthed and shocked, they stared at her.
She refused to meet their eyes, and after a longing final look at her mermaid gown, the gown on which she'd worked so closely with the designer, she allowed herself a sigh. Collecting her emotions, she then muttered, "Get me out of this dress!"