Title: Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet
Author: Marilyn Brant
Series: (Perfect #2)
Publication date: July 20th 2014
Genres: Adult, Comedy, Contemporary, Romance
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PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND THE PERFECT BET is part of the “Perfect” series, but it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone novel
The course of true love doesn’t always run smooth…
Everyone thought Beth Ann Bennet and Dr. Will Darcy had an unexpected romance in Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match (Perfect #1).
Now, Beth’s best friend, Jane Henderson, and Will’s first cousin, Bingley McNamara, begin their own unlikely love story in Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet (Perfect #2), which starts at the Bennet/Darcy wedding when the two of them find themselves in the roles of maid of honor and best man for the newlyweds.
Jane is an interning school psychologist and a woman who wears an angelic mask in public, but she’s not as sweet tempered as she’d like everyone to believe. Turns out, she may have just crossed paths with the one person who’ll unnerve her enough to get her to reveal her true self.
As for Bingley, he’s a wealthy, flirtatious, compulsively social guru of finance, who likes to wager on stocks and, let’s face it, on just about anything that strikes his fancy. But this dedicated ladies’ man may have finally met the woman who’ll challenge his bachelor ways!
Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Bet… where life’s biggest gamble is the game of love.
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Finally, the procession out of the church began, and Jane, as maid of honor, had to walk back down the aisle with Bingley, the supposed “best” man. Oh, joy.
“Delightful ceremony,” he pronounced loudly, insuring that everyone nearby would hear, as he formally offered her his arm. But he looked at her as if he’d much rather promenade with a python.
“I agree,” she said, smiling tightly and playing the part.
He cast an absolutely ecstatic grin at the friends and family in attendance as the two of them took their first steps toward the church’s foyer. “Only the receiving line and the final pictures,” he hissed, his lips near her ear as if sharing a secret. “And then I can start getting drunk. I plan to be pretty damn buzzed before our special dance.”
She leaned closer to him and hissed right back, “So funny! I was thinking exactly the same thing.”
“Yeah? I remember the last time you got your hands on some champagne, Jane. Who are you gonna be making out with in the coat room tonight?”
She gripped his arm perhaps a little more forcefully than necessary. “Not you.”
He winced but didn’t stop walking or faux grinning at the congregation. “Oh, I wasn’t offering, sweetheart. I’ve already been burned once. I don’t do second chances.”
She gulped. To her ear, he sounded hurt, which both surprised and irritated her. He was acting like some innocent in the whole thing. Like he hadn’t been trying to take advantage of her—one way or another. That he hadn’t made a bet that involved her. Huh. She’d tear him apart limb by limb, this very second, in fact, if it wouldn’t ruin her dress before the reception.
Beth and Will had stopped just up ahead of them and were getting ready to greet their guests in the receiving line. Before Jane pulled away from Bingley to dutifully take her place next to Beth, she gave the quote-unquote “best man” her parting shot. “I don’t do second chances either,” she informed him. “And, for the record, you might as well pay up Dustin and buy your own beer, ‘cause there’s no way you’ll win your ‘gamble.’ At least not with my help.”
Jane had the satisfaction of seeing him freeze in his spot, a look of shock and confusion on his handsome face as she turned her back on him. Now that she’d told him off at last, he’d have to stay away from her, except when their attendant duties made interaction absolutely necessary. Seriously, how much more trouble could the guy cause in less than twenty-four hours, right?
Bingley couldn’t help but sneak a few more looks at the fiery maid of honor, remembering the way they’d first met four months ago. Jane had seemed so…nice, for want of a better word. Too sweet for him to want to tamper with or tease too much, although Beth hinted there was more to Jane than her pleasant veneer might suggest.
He hadn’t believed that at first but, oh, he believed it now, as she swiveled to face her friend, sending another death stare in his direction, then a much kinder, warmer look to his cousin.
“You’re gonna be really happy, Cuz,” he whispered to Will, who was smiling at his bride Beth as if he’d just won the lottery and it was being hand delivered to him in a pretty package of white tulle.
“Thanks, Bingley,” his cousin murmured. “I owe you, you know. None of this would’ve happened without you.”
Bingley swallowed away a sappy emotion he didn’t want to succumb to in public and clenched his jaw to keep from saying anything either overly sentimental or just plain stupid. Much as the whole commitment thing gave him hives, Bingley couldn’t have been happier for Will. The guy deserved every ounce of wedded bliss.
“Anything for you,” he finally managed, meaning it, but unable to stop the wave of irritation that hit him in the gut when he caught Jane rolling her eyes at him from the periphery.
No, she wasn’t nearly as nice as she appeared, although he’d thought she was pretty awesome during the engagement party a couple of months back. Jane had downed, perhaps, a few too many glasses of celebratory champagne, and the two of them had ended up in the coat room, making out like teenagers. He quickly learned three other very interesting facts about her:
She wore some really racy undergarments beneath her simple, classically cut clothes.
She could do several wickedly imaginative things with her tongue. Both excellent discoveries, in his opinion.
But her emotions jumped up and down like an insanely volatile stock during a wild trading day.
Bingley exhaled and tried to stop his mind from playing the X-Ray Vision game every time he caught a glimpse of Jane standing demurely by the altar. Although how could he keep himself from wondering if she had that leopard-spotted bra on underneath her red dress, like the one she’d been wearing in July, hmm? Or, why she had all but sprinted away from him when he saw her again a few days later, and why she’d studiously avoided him at the few other events they’d both had to attend since then… They’d barely made it past second base at the engagement party. Was she embarrassed? Had he unknowingly done something wrong?
C’mon, man, get a grip!
He knew from years of experience that he was better off not caring about what women thought of him. Keeping his emotions out of any relationship was the key. Seeing Will with Beth together had lulled him—temporarily—into believing that whole “happily ever after” thing might happen for him, too. Their connection through that online dating site had encouraged him—briefly—that a “Love Match” wasn’t impossible. So he’d entertained the idea of dating more seriously when he met Jane.
He knew what he was: a lifetime bachelor. And there wasn’t a woman in the world who could snag his heart long term. He’d be willing to bet on it.
Still, he had a few assets.
He was young, reasonably good looking, wealthy…and he sure as hell didn’t need a pseudo-sweet, temperamental, psychologist chick blowing him off, especially after he’d let his guard down long enough to get close to her one hot summer night. Wouldn’t happen again.
Besides, this was a wedding. There were plenty of smart, beautiful babes to be found—it’d be like cherry picking blue chips in a bull market—and he was the guy to find them. The sooner the better.
Jane pointed an accusatory finger at the red smudge on Bingley’s shirt. “Slipped your mind already, eh? The lipstick? Clearly, you’ve already found another victim, and you didn’t even wait until after the bouquet toss.”
Bingley didn’t miss a step as they continued to dance, but he fingered his collar thoughtfully, almost as if he were lost in a memory. To Jane, it was like seeing a mask drop from his face, if only for an instant. Then his expression changed.
His lips twisted into an absolutely devilish grin, which he paired with an eye-widening/eyebrow-raising movement that succeeded in giving him the most unsettling, most oxymoronic air of…rakish innocence. What a conniving little rascal.
“You’re awfully curious about my whereabouts given that you want nothing to do with me yourself,” he said with the measured, pleasing tones of a late-night radio host. “What do you care about a—oh, how did you put it? Ah, yes, a ‘manipulative and insincere’ man like me? Why does it matter to you what I’m doing, hmm, chickie?”
“Do not call me chickie.”
His grin broadened as he did a little swivel step, spinning her around once. “Sorry, sweet pea. Is that better? Would you prefer plum cake? Honey bunch? Sugar bear? Darling Jane?”
“As you wish,” he said with a laugh. “So, Just Jane, you still haven’t answered my question.”
“I’m not curious. And I don’t care what you do. Forget I said anything.”
“No worries, Just Jane. I’ve already forgotten everything you’ve ever said to me, including, but not limited to—” He lowered his voice. “Those little moans you made when I kissed your neck and sucked slowly on your lower lip.” There was a hardness in his tone, but he laughed for their audience on the sidelines, just like he’d done at the church. Looking every bit the delighted and amiable best man. Nodding at both his parents and hers as they passed near that side of the room. Twirling her again, just for show, a little faster this time. Fast enough that it was dizzying, and she felt the full effect of her lightheaded state.
Despite the cloudiness in her brain, though, something critically important became clear to her, and she needed to address it. She stopped dancing.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t like you.”
He sighed. “Yeah. Noted.”
“But—” She paused. “Look, can we talk over there?”
He nodded and let her lead him to an open area by the dessert table. The scent of cut slices of wedding cake infiltrated her senses. So much vanilla frosting and sliced strawberries. She got a sugar rush just from inhaling.
“Bingley,” she said, “whatever our personal feelings are, they don’t matter. We’re both really close to Beth and Will. Our paths are going to cross—probably a lot more often than either of us would like. I mean, seriously, if the Reverend Elton, our parents and all of these witnesses weren’t here, I’d love to strangle you for trying to play me this summer. But, for the sake of those we care about, we’re going to have to just be friends…or die trying to act the part.”
He smiled at her, though she couldn’t tell if it was more affectionate or patronizing, the way one might regard a naïve child. “Don’t you ever watch movies? Men and women can’t be friends. Not really. Not if both people are straight.” He shrugged. “We’re human. The sexual attraction will always get in the way. Every time.”
He drew closer to her and whispered, “Face it. This is not destined to be the start of a beautiful friendship. I, for one, can’t say I’ve ever spent ten seconds thinking about the undergarments of my friends. But the thought of what you’re wearing underneath that red dress has been plaguing me for hours. Zebra stripes? Leopard spots? Purple polka dots?” He eyed her bridesmaid gown with scrutiny, as if he might be able to see through the flimsy fabric.
“Well, stop thinking about it.” She snatched a plate with a piece of cake on it from the dessert table and thrust it at him.
“Here, eat this. Just…just focus on something else.”
Bingley stood very still—the cake plate in his hand. Abruptly, he broke off a corner section of the white cake and lifted it until it hovered between them like a spongy ghost. He licked his lips but, instead of eating the cake himself, he offered it to her. This was so unexpected that her jaw dropped open and, before she realized it, he’d slipped the bit of wedding cake into her mouth.
As she chewed, their gazes met again and something she definitely did not want to acknowledge passed between them.
He shook his head. “I thought you looked hungry,” he said, raising one dark eyebrow and handing the plate back to her. “When you’re ready to be honest with yourself, Just Jane, you let me know. Until then, I’ll playact ‘friendship’ with you in front of Will and Beth, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s real. It’s ‘manipulative and insincere’…and, let’s not forget, it’s your idea.”
And, with that, Bingley McNamara strode away from her and out of the hotel ballroom.
AUTHOR Marilyn Brant is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction, romantic comedy & mystery. She was named the Author of the Year (2013) by the Illinois Association of Teachers of English. She loves all things Jane Austen, has a passion for Sherlock Holmes, is a travel addict and a music junkie, and lives on chocolate and gelato.
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Ends August 12th – open INTL
One signed paperback copy of the companion book from the series, PRIDE, PREJUDICE AND THE PERFECT MATCH (Will & Beth’s story).
One signed paperback copy of Marilyn’s bestselling coming-of-age romantic mystery, THE ROAD TO YOU.
One Marilyn Brant t-shirt with musical notes.
One ACCORDING TO JANE canvas tote bag.
One A SUMMER IN EUROPE luggage tag.
And one Godiva ice cream cone magnet.