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Smiley (New Species #13)

By:Laurann Dohner

Smiley (New Species #13)
New Species series
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Chapter One

“Stop embarrassing me.” Carl hissed the words, glancing around to make sure he couldn’t be overheard by anyone except his target. “My father said you’re surly. It reflects badly on him. I just got my ass chewed out. Keep smiling and nod, Vanni. He also said you were rude to a journalist.”
“Did you hear what he preached up there?” She was angry too. “I agreed to put on this long skirt because your father has a problem with women wearing pants. I didn’t say I’d talk with reporters and repeat the hatred he spews.”
“You’re not supposed to talk at all. I know he’s old school but he is my father. We’re here to represent him.”
“Old school? I’d use way harsher words for what he is. No, I only came because I thought we were having a romantic weekend at a nice hotel. Instead, I discover you’re sharing a suite with your father and I’m stuck rooming with his insane assistant. You waited to spring this on me once we arrived because we both know I wouldn’t have come otherwise.”
He stepped closer and wrapped his fingers around her upper arm, glancing around again. “This is important to him. It’s two more days. Just smile and keep your lips sealed. That’s all.”
“You told me you have nothing to do with your father’s church. Why are we even here, Carl? I don’t understand.”
“He never asks me for anything but some of the press have been questioning his family values. He needed us here to show support. It’s only two days. Please, Vanni. I know this is a lot to ask but he is my father. That makes him family to you.”
She was tempted to remind him they weren’t married yet. Her mind went over her options. She was two hours from home, without a car. Her roommate could come get her but she’d only ask a favor that big in an emergency. It hadn’t quite reached that point but it was getting close.
Carl softened his tone. “This is important to my father and he really needs me to be here. He asks for so little, Vanni.”
She stared into his eyes and hated the way her resolve caved under that pleading look. “I don’t like his church members or what they stand for.”
“I don’t either but I couldn’t say no. You’re going to be my wife. I wanted you here with me.”
“They are bigots and I didn’t exactly wave that reporter down or ask to have a microphone shoved in my face. I just said two words, Carl—no comment. Be thankful I didn’t tell him that dinner was an hour of my life I’ll never get back and how pissed I was, hearing that bullshit.” 
His normally handsome expression twisted into something less appealing. “My father and his followers just have different views. You’re not being fair.”
“Fair?” Her temper flared again. “Don’t even say that word to me. You swore we’d never have to deal with this church business and then you lied to get me here. That was underhanded and low.”
“It’s one damn weekend.” He hissed the words. “Don’t be selfish.”
“Who the hell are you and where did the man I know go? You hate the things your father stands for as much as I do or was that just bullshit to get me to marry you?”
He glanced around and then stared at her. “He promised to give me fifty grand if I showed up. Your family isn’t exactly able to pay for a nice wedding. I’m the one who has to eat the extra costs.”
She clenched her teeth, resenting the guilt trip and knowing that was exactly what it was. “I wanted something small so don’t lay this on me. You’re the one who wanted four hundred guests.”
“They are clients. I couldn’t get married without inviting them.”
“I want to leave.”
His hold tightened and he jerked her a little, looking away once again to scan the room. “Just stop it,” he snapped. “Go upstairs if you can’t put on a happy face. Don’t embarrass my dad again. Do you understand?”
“I’m starting to.” She didn’t like the implications either. “So you want me to hide after you brought me here since I won’t get with the program?”
“You can’t embarrass him.”
“What about me? I’m embarrassed to be here with that so-called church.” She yanked her arm, forcing him to release her and backed away.
“You don’t have to agree with their beliefs but you will stand by my side so I can support my father. Someone has to pay for this wedding.”
“Yes sir.” She raised her hand and smartly saluted. “I’ll be good and go hide upstairs so I don’t tell anyone that I was sickened by the hatred and stupidity your father preaches.”
“You’re being dramatic. It’s not flattering, Vanni.”
She bit back a nasty response.
“Don’t forget to show up at breakfast tomorrow. We’re supposed to pose for pictures with my dad right afterward. Wear the pink dress his assistant bought you.”
She cringed. “It’s horrible. It reminds me of some nightmare bridesmaid dress where someone threw up carnations down the front of it.”
Carl shook his head. “Just wear the fucking dress. Smile for the cameras and act like an adult. We’re doing this for our future and to pay for our wedding. Is that too difficult for you?”
She was tempted to say yes.
“Do it for me.” He reached out and took her hand, his thumb brushing over her engagement ring. “For us. It will make me happy and it’s only two days. That’s all. He’s trying to gain support for his church. There are reporters here and the coverage is just what he needs. We’ll get a nicer wedding out of it.”
Vanni cringed inside. She wouldn’t be heartbroken if his father’s church faded into oblivion and hoped no one took to heart the crap she’d heard during dinner. The speech Pastor Gregory Woods had given had made her lose her appetite. She would have walked out if it hadn’t been for Carl. She’d tried to avoid an argument but hadn’t succeeded since a reporter had attempted to interview her right afterward. Her “no comment” remark had pissed Carl off and apparently his father as well.“Shit,” Carl muttered. “Reporters at two o’clock. Get the hell out of here before they spot us.” He glanced down at her and his gaze narrowed. “Go upstairs and stay there until breakfast. We’ll discuss this in the morning.”
She spun away, eager to leave the banquet hall. The Carl she knew had radically changed once they’d arrived at the hotel and she wasn’t enjoying this new side of him. He’d been a first-rate dick. It made her seriously reconsider their future.
Pastor Gregory Woods’ personal assistant, Mable, was another nightmare for Vanni. The woman was rude and snooty. The idea of returning to the room they shared turned her away from the elevators. The bar sign beckoned. She strode toward it and entered the dimly lit area. The tables were occupied but she spotted an open barstool. She rarely drank and bars weren’t her scene.
The bartender caught her eye as he approached. He was in his mid-thirties and flashed a friendly smile. “What can I get you?”
Vanni smoothed the long skirt as she took a seat and shoved a hand inside her pocket, regretting leaving her purse in her room. She had a twenty-dollar bill and her room keycard though. Her license was in her wallet so she couldn’t prove her age if asked to show ID. Could my luck get any worse? “Just an iced tea but no lemon. Thanks.”
He nodded and turned away to fetch her drink. She kept her head down until someone cleared his throat to the left of her. She hoped it wasn’t some drunk about to hit on her—the reason she hated bars. One deep breath and she turned her head to face her fellow bar mate.
The gasp was automatic when she saw his features. It came as a shock to realize he wasn’t just any guy. He had the firm jawline, pronounced cheekbones and generous lips that told her he was New Species. Her gaze lowered to his jeans jacket and the way the sleeves were tight in the shoulder and upper arms. He wasn’t sporting the black NSO uniform that she’d spotted a few of them wearing from the brief glimpses she’d gotten of them in the lobby.
She lowered her gaze to glance at his jeans. They were molded to muscular thighs. Her attention jerked upward to gawk a little at his face again. I shouldn’t have asked. My luck can get worse. Panic struck her next. Carl would have a fit if someone spotted her sitting next to a New Species and told him or his father.
This New Species possessed lovely brown eyes with long dark eyelashes. He had silky black hair that fell just past his shoulders. He blinked before he spoke. “Are you all right? You’re really pale and your hands are shaking.”
His voice had a deep tone that sent chills down her spine. She wasn’t sure if it was from fear or because it was the kind of voice she found sexy. It was gruff, masculine and pleasant at the same time. She struggled to come up with an answer but acknowledged being tongue-tied. 
He leaned in a little closer. “I’m not dangerous if that’s what you heard about my kind. I’d never attack you. Do you want me to go?” He tensed as if to get up from the stool.
“No!” She managed to speak. It made her feel a little guilty that he was ready to leave because of her deplorable reaction. “I was just surprised, that’s all. You’re fine where you are.”

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