Wedding from Hell: Part 3 by JR WARD

The Wedding from Hell, Part 3: Exclusive Excerpt of Consumed is the final part of J.R. Ward’s The Wedding From Hell ebook serialization. Don’t miss this exclusive teaser to her upcoming standalone romantic suspense, CONSUMED (available in October 2, 2018). See why “Consumed takes it to a whole new level” (Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author).

About CONSUMED:

From the creator of the #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series, get ready for a new band of brothers. And a firestorm.

Anne Ashburn is a woman consumed…

By her bitter family legacy, by her scorched career as a firefighter, by her obsession with department bad-boy Danny McGuire, and by a new case that pits her against a fiery killer.

Strong-willed Anne was fearless and loved the thrill of fighting fires, pushing herself to be the best. But when one risky decision at a warehouse blaze changes her life forever, Anne must reinvent not only her job, but her whole self.

Shattered and demoralized, Anne finds her new career as an arson investigator a pale substitute for the adrenaline-fueled life she left behind. She doesn’t believe she will ever feel that same all-consuming passion for her job again—until she encounters a string of suspicious fires setting her beloved city ablaze.

Danny McGuire is a premiere fireman, best in the commonwealth, but in the midst of a personal meltdown. Danny is taking risks like never before and seems to have a death wish until he teams up with Anne to find the fire starter. But Danny may be more than a distraction, and as Anne narrows in on her target, the arsonist begins to target her.

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Harbor Street and Eighteenth Avenue
Old Downtown, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Box alarm. One-niner-four-seven. Two engines and a ladder from the 499, responding.

Or, put another way, Anne Ashburn’s Friday night date had showed up on time and was taking her to a show. Granted, “on time” was the precise moment she had sat down for a meal at the stationhouse with her crew, and the “show” was a warehouse fire they were going to have to chorus-line for. But if you judged the health of a relationship on its constancy and whether it brought purpose and meaning to your life?

Then this firefighting gig was the best damn partner a woman could ask for.

As Engine Co. 17 turned the corner onto Harbor with siren and lights going, Anne glanced around the shallow seating area of the apparatus. There were four jump seats behind the cab, two forward- facing, two rear-, the pairs separated by an aisle of gear. Emilio “Amy” Chavez and Patrick “Duff” Duffy were on one side. She and Daniel “Dannyboy” Maguire were on the other. Up in front, Deshaun “Doc” Lewis, the engineer, was behind the wheel, and Captain Christopher “Chip” Baker, the incident commander, was shotgun.

Her nickname was “Sister.” Which was what happened when you were the sibling of the great Fire Chief Thomas Ashburn Jr., and the daughter of the revered—falsely as it turned out— Thomas Ashburn, Sr.

Not everybody called her that, though.

She focused on Danny. He was staring out the open window, the cold November wind blowing his black hair back, his exhausted blue eyes focused on nothing. In their bulky turnouts, their knees brushed every time the engine bumped over sewer access panels, potholes, manholes, intersections.

Okay, okay, she wanted to say to fate. I know he’s there. You don’t have to keep reminding me.

The hardheaded bastard was a lot of things, most of which carried terms you couldn’t use around your grandmother, but he knew she hated the “Sister” thing, so to him, she was Ashburn.

He’d also called her Anne—once. Late at night about three weeks ago.

Yes, they had been naked at the time. Oh, God . . . had they finally done that?

“I’m gonna beat you at pong,” he said without looking at her. “Soon as we get back.”

“No chance.” She hated that he knew she’d been staring at him. “All talk, Dannyboy.”

“Fine.” He turned to face her. “I’ll let you win, how about that?”

His smile was slow, knowing, evil. And her temper answered the phone on the first ring.

“The hell you will.” Anne leaned forward. “I won’t play with you if you cheat.”

“Even if it benefits you?”

“That’s not winning.”

“Huh. Well, you’ll have to explain to me the ins and outs of it when we’re back at the house. While I’m beating you.”

Anne shook her head and glared out the open window.

The first tap on her leg she ascribed to a bump in the road.

The second, third, and fourth were obviously—

She looked back at Danny. “Stop it.”

“What?”

“Are you twelve?” As he started to smile, she knew exactly where his mind had gone. “Not inches. Age.”

“I’m pretty sure I peak more like at sixteen.” He lowered his voice. “What do you think?”

Between the sirens and the open windows, no one else could hear them—and Danny never pulled the double entendre if there was a risk of that. But yes, Anne now knew intimately all of his heavily muscled and tattooed anatomy. Granted, it had been only that once.

Then again, unforgettable only had to happen one time.

“I think you’re out of your mind,” she muttered.

And then they were at the scene. The old 1900s-era warehouse was a shell of its former useful self, sixty-five thousand square feet of broken glass panes, rotting beams, and blown-off roof panels. The outer walls were brick, but based on the age, the floors and any room dividers inside were going to be wood. The blaze was in the northeast corner on the second floor, billowing smoke wafting up into the forty-degree night air before being carried away by a southerly wind.

As Anne’s boots hit the ground, she pulled the top half of her turnouts closed. Her ponytail was up high on the back of her head, and she stripped out the band, reorganized the shoulder length, and cranked things tight at her nape. The brown was still streaked with blond from the summer, but she needed to get it trimmed—so all that lightness was on the chopping block.

Of course, if she were a woman “who took care of herself,” she’d get it highlighted through the winter months. Or so her mother liked to tell her. But who the hell had time for that?

“Sister, you sweep the place with Amy for addicts,” Captain Baker commanded. “Stay away from that corner. Danny and Duff, run those lines!”

As Captain Baker continued to bark orders out, she turned away. She had her assignment. Until she completed it, or there was an insurmountable obstacle or change of order, she was required to execute that directive and no other.

“Be safe in there, Ashburn.”

The words were soft and low, meant for her ears alone. And as she glanced over her shoulder, Danny’s Irish eyes were not smiling.

A ripple of premonition made her rub the back of her neck. “Yeah, you, too, Maguire.”

“Piece’a cake. We’ll be back at pong before ten.” They walked away from each other at the same time, Danny going around to the stacks of hoses in the back, her linking up with Chavez…

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J.R. Ward is the author of more than thirty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There are more than fifteen million copies of her novels in print worldwide, and they have been published in twenty-six different countries around the world. She lives in the South with her family.

Wedding from Hell: The Reception by JR WARD

The Wedding from Hell, Part 2: The Rehearsal Dinner is the exciting second adventure in J.R. Ward’s three-part ebook serialization: The Wedding From Hell. This exclusive prequel to her upcoming standalone suspense, Consumed (available in Fall 2018) takes us back to the night steamy arson investigator Anne Ashburn and ‘bad boy’ firefighter Danny Maguire will never forget.

The Wedding From Hell, Part 2: The Reception: As the wedding from hell continues, Anne and Danny find themselves walking the delicate balance between professional distance and explosive attraction. Will the desire they feel last through the night and change their lives? Or are they doomed to part after one night of passion?

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Saturday, October 31

T minus 2 hours ’til blastoff

St. Mary’s Cathedral, New Brunswick, Massachusetts

Anne Ashburn had never had veil envy, as they called it. As a young girl, she had never pictured herself walking down an aisle in a white dress, ready to be rescued by a knight-in-shining-armor groom who was going to take charge and take care of her for the rest of her life.

Nope. Anne had wanted to fight fires like her father and then her brother. Even though she no longer respected the former, and had a strained relationship with the latter, she’d wanted to pull on turnouts and strap an air tank to her back and breathe canned air as she ran into open flames dragging hundreds of pounds of charged line with her. She’d wanted to rescue grandmothers, and children, and people who had succumbed to smoke inhalation. She’d been ready to cut open crumpled cars and drag broken bodies out of wreckage at the sides of highways. She’d been determined that the extremes of cold winter nights, hot summer days, physical exhaustion, and mental fatigue would never keep her from doing her job.

So, yup, the old fashioned Mrs. degree had never held any fascination for her. There was no way in hell she was going to be like her mother, living a derivative, nineteen-fifties version of life, nothing but a pretty blow-up doll that was expected to cook, clean, and cut the yapping.

On that note, as she pulled into St. Mary’s parking lot and looked up at the great cathedral’s stained glass windows and lofty spires, she decided it made sense that not only was she not the bride, she wasn’t even a bridesmaid.

Like the rest of the crew down at the 499 firehouse, she was a groomsmen in the impending nuptials of Robert “Moose” Miller and Deandra—what the hell was her last name anyway? Cox. That was it.

Anne was thinking groomsmen was a role she might as well get used to. Not that Duff, Emilio, Deshaun, or any of the other men she worked with were settling down anytime soon.

Especially not Dannyboy Maguire.

Right on cue, a Ford truck entered the parking lot, the late afternoon sun flashing across its windshield.

As Anne’s heart kicked in her chest, she was tempted to hustle in the side door of the church—but she had never been one to run from a challenge.

Danny was more than just a challenge, though.

And okay, fine. So maybe she had already run out of his way at least once: Last night, at the rehearsal dinner, she’d positively bolted after he’d made that speech of his.

I never believed in love . . . I thought it was just a word, a title folks gave to daydreams and misconceptions about destiny, a lie folks told to themselves to make them feel solid in this imperfect, unreliable, and mean-ass world.

Now I know it can happen between two people. And it doesn’t have to make sense because it’s not about logic. And it doesn’t have to have good timing because forever is like infinity, without beginning or end. And it doesn’t have to be defined because truth is like faith—it just is.

So, let’s toast to love.

He’d looked at her while he’d spoken. He had been talking . . . to her . . . in that slow, deep voice.

Everybody else had toasted Moose and Deandra. But Anne had known it hadn’t been about them. Danny, ever the ladies man, king of the one-night stand, he who shalt never be tied down . . . seemed to be suggesting not just that he’d had a change of heart.

But that he might have given his own to Anne.

Unless she was misreading everything? Then again, they had kissed the night before that. In her living room. While riding an adrenaline high after they’d saved a life in an alleyway.

And lips-to-lips had been better than good, the rare circumstance when reality had improved on a fantasy. After two years of attraction and sizzle and unacknowledged heat, that which had been pushed under the rug was exposed now. And there was no going back.

Especially as she felt the same way.

So hell yeah she had bolted out of that restaurant. The second she had been able to get up from her chair, she had hit the exit and left Danny without a ride home.

He’d called two hours later. He’d been in a bar, probably

Timeout where the crew always went, the noise in the background loud and raucous.

She had not answered. He had left a short message, but not called again.

Anne just wasn’t sure what to do. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There were plenty of things she wanted to do to him, with him, on him—all of which were naked and erotic and not necessarily only horizontal.

Refocusing, she watched Danny’s truck pass by. From behind the wheel, he looked over at her.

She waited for him to find a space and get out, and as he walked across to her, she tried—tried—not to go sixteen-year-old girl at the sight of him in a tuxedo.

#epicfail

He was very tall, over six feet five, and he was built hard and muscular, his shoulders so wide, his chest so broad, his waist the point of the inverted triangle of his torso. His jet-black hair was still damp, and what sunlight there was in the mostly cloudy sky flashed blue in its depths. He was freshly shaven—his cologne reaching her nose even before he stopped in front of her—and his eyes were that brilliant blue that had always arrested her. Irish eyes.

But they were not smiling.

For a man who was rarely serious, he looked positively grim, and she frowned.

“You okay?” Stupid question. “I mean—”

“Yeah, no. I’m fine.”

Standard answer for firefighters when they were in pain. And she wondered if it had to do with that speech of his, and what she could have sworn he had been telling her.

His eyes shifted off to the side and then his mouth got thinner.

“And here’s the blushing bride.”

A stretch limo entered the parking area and made a fat turn toward the back door of the cathedral. When it stopped, its driver got out and went to the rear door.

Seven all-in-pink, spray-tanned, body-glittered, and blond-streaked women got out one by one, a clown car of bridesmaids who were such carbon copies of each other, it was like they had been ordered out of a catalogue.

And then the white dress emerged.

Deandra, Moose’s intended, had her blond-streaked hair—natch—piled up on her head in an organized, sculpted waterfall of curls. Her veil was a gossamer fall over her tiny waist and her big skirt, and the shimmer of crystals across the bodice and down the front and sides of the gown made her look like a princess.

Provided you didn’t catch her expression.

She was sour as an old woman with gout and shingles. In spite of the fact that she was supposedly marrying her true love, she looked downright nasty as she snapped at the driver, glared at her maid of honor, and yanked her skirting up to march into the back of the church.

“Wow,” Anne muttered. “That’s a happy bride.”

“Whatever. They’re on their own with this dumbass idea.”

“Did you happen to talk to Moose last night?” she blurted.

“As in out of this? Or would that be considered tacky given it was less than twenty-four hours before the priest hit the altar with them.”

Danny rolled his eyes. “He’s bound and determined to ball-and-chain himself. Personally, I’d be running in the opposite direction.”

And then there was silence between them. Tension coiled up quick, and as Anne’s temples started to pound, she decided it was going to be a long night, just not for the reasons she’d assumed at the beginning of the weekend.

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J.R. Ward is the author of more than thirty novels, including those in her #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series. There are more than fifteen million copies of her novels in print worldwide, and they have been published in twenty-six different countries around the world. She lives in the South with her family.