Lauren Layne’s bestselling Oxford Series continues with the poignant, heartwarming story of New York’s most eligible bachelor, Lincoln Mathis, a man who’s living a lie—until his dream woman takes away the pain.
Lincoln Mathis doesn’t hide his reputation as Manhattan’s ultimate playboy. In fact, he cultivates it. But behind every flirtatious smile, each provocative quip, there’s a secret that Lincoln’s hiding from even his closest friends—a tragedy from his past that holds his heart quietly captive. Lincoln knows what he wants: someone like Daisy Sinclair, the sassy, off-limits bridesmaid he can’t take his eyes off at his best friend’s wedding. He also knows that she’s everything he can never have.
After a devastating divorce, Daisy doesn’t need anyone to warn her off the charming best man at her sister’s wedding. One look at the breathtakingly hot Lincoln Mathis and she knows that he’s exactly the type of man she should avoid. But when Daisy stumbles upon Lincoln’s secret, she realizes there’s more to the charming playboy than meets the eye. And suddenly Daisy and Lincoln find their lives helplessly entwined in a journey that will either heal their damaged souls . . . or destroy them forever.
Add to Goodreads
“Lincoln, you know that I love you like a brother, but if you make a move on my sister, I will end you.”
Lincoln Mathis took a slow sip of his cocktail as he studied the fierce bride-to-be. “I hope Cassidy knows how lucky he is. You’re so delicate and gentle.”
Emma Sinclair, soon to be Emma Cassidy as of this time tomorrow, lifted one elegantly manicured fingernail and flicked his chest. “Promise, Lincoln. No hitting on Daisy.”
“I don’t hit on women.”
Emma gave him a look.
He held up his free hand in surrender. “I don’t. They come to me. I’m like the stamen.”
Emma stared at him with wide, slightly accusatory brown eyes. “The what?”
“The stamen. The pollen-producing part of a flower, Sinclair. Don’t you watch the Discovery Channel? Animal Planet? I just saw a fascinating documentary on bees. See, when the bees land on a flower, their little feet pick up pollen from the stamen— “
“Mathis. Are you talking to my fiancée about semen?” Alex Cassidy asked, coming up beside Emma and setting a possessive hand on her waist.
“Stamen,” Lincoln clarified. “Not semen. Honestly, is sex all you people think about?”
“Yes.” This came from Riley Compton, a brunette bombshell whose status as New York’s foremost “sexpert” meant she had zero qualms about discussing sex at her best friend’s rehearsal dinner. “And you know, actually, the stamen is rather sexual. I saw that bee documentary too, because these are the sort of things you do when you’re nursing a never-satisfied baby, by the way, and the stamen is a flower’s male reproductive organ. Sexy, right?”
Emma inserted the arm not holding her champagne flute between the two of them. “Guys, it’s my wedding weekend. Can we not talk about flower boners?”
“Fair enough, Bride,” Lincoln said. “What do you want to talk about? Cassidy’s boner?”
Alex Cassidy choked into his champagne.
“There will be no boner discussion,” Emma said. “Lincoln and I were just having a chat about how Lincoln will be maintaining his distance from my sister.”
“Speaking of flowers, where is Daisy?” Riley asked, scanning the room.
“Running late. Knowing my sister, her dress had a slight crease from the suitcase, and she won’t make an appearance until every wrinkle’s banished, every hair’s in place, and there’s not a speck of lint anywhere.”
“Gosh, however will I keep my hands to myself?” Lincoln muttered.
“Lincoln, I swear to God—”
“He’s messing with you, Em,” Cassidy said, carefully tugging his fiancée away from Lincoln. “Don’t let him press your buttons. And Lincoln, man, what is with that drink?”
Lincoln glanced down. “It’s called a Jasmine. Gin, lemon, some Campari—”
“It’s pink,” Cassidy observed.
“Right? You want one?”
Cassidy rolled his eyes. “I’ll stick with wine, thanks. Ah shit, there’s my grandma waving us over. Emma, you up for talk about the state of your uterus?”
Emma groaned. “Oh no. I thought she’d agreed to wait until after the wedding to talk about my eggs.”
“I’ll go with you,” Riley said. “As the only one in our little group of friends who’s ever pushed a human skull out my—”
“Okay, I’m going to expand my taboo list,” Emma said. “No talking about boners, flowers, or vaginas.”
“Fine,” Riley said, as she entwined her arm in Emma’s and started leading her toward Cassidy’s grandma. “But if Grams starts talking about fertility, just follow my lead . . . ”
Lincoln smiled as he watched his friends walk away. He could follow, certainly, help run interference, but new mom Riley was a far better choice for this particular bridal-party duty.
Besides, as best man, Lincoln had enough to worry about. The ring, reconfirming transportation to the church tomorrow, the speech that he was going to slay tomorrow, the—
Lincoln’s best man to-do list scattered as his eyes landed on a woman standing in the doorway to the private event room. He did a double take. When had Emma found time to change? Generally speaking, he didn’t consider himself particularly in tune with his friends’ clothes. Especially the women, because, well . . . he didn’t really give a crap. But he was pretty damn sure Emma had been wearing a white dress just ten seconds ago.
Now she was wearing a short yellow dress, with fussy, flowy sleeves, high-necked and a bit demure—
No, not demure, Lincoln amended as she turned. Hot. The dress was backless, showing a smooth expanse of lightly tanned skin from the small of her back all the way up to long dark blond hair.
. . . Blond hair.
Emma had shoulder-length brown hair. A wardrobe swap, he might be able to buy, but the hair?
He was looking at none other than Daisy Sinclair, the forbidden fruit, in the flesh.
He’d forgotten that Daisy wasn’t just Emma’s sister—she was Emma’s identical twin.
Other than the fact that she was, apparently, not to be hit on, Lincoln didn’t know much about her.
Well, he supposed he now knew that she dyed her hair blond.
Or maybe Emma dyed hers brown?
Whatever. Girl stuff he didn’t care about one way or the other.
And yet he didn’t look away, captivated somehow. He racked his brain for everything he’d heard about Daisy Sinclair.
He knew that she and Emma had grown up in North Carolina. But Emma left for New York City shortly after college, and Daisy had stayed. He thought he remembered talk of a recent divorce, although he didn’t recall the details.
Didn’t need to, really. Lincoln knew better than anyone that not all relationships had happy endings.
Lincoln watched as Daisy hesitated just inside the doorway, unnoticed yet by the rest of the bridal party and out-of-town guests.
Making people comfortable was a particular skill of his. Normally he’d be over there in a heartbeat with a glass of wine and some of his best banter until her shoulders relaxed and he’d coaxed a smile from her pretty face.
But he wasn’t entirely convinced Emma wouldn’t make good on her castration threats, so instead Lincoln merely studied Daisy. The woman was beautiful. No surprise there, since Emma was gorgeous. Yet, though their features were identical, they were attractive in entirely different ways.
Emma was all polished confidence, stunning in an untouchable sort of way.
Daisy was softer somehow. Gentler. She seemed . . . touchable.
Lincoln’s cocktail froze on its way to his mouth as the forbidden rocked him back on his heels. Daisy Sinclair was not for him to touch for reasons that had nothing to do with Emma’s threats.
As though sensing a man’s brooding thoughts on her, Daisy turned slightly, her eyes locking on his. Eyes that he’d known would be dark brown like Emma’s, and yet eye contact with Emma had never felt like this.
Lincoln felt something akin to panic, because for a heart-stopping moment, it felt like Daisy Sinclair was seeing him. Not seeing the Lincoln he wanted everyone to see.
The real him.
He gave himself a little mental shake. Get it together, Mathis. The woman doesn’t even know you.
None of them did.
He saw the moment of answering shock in her own gaze, sensed that for a split second, she considered turning and running. From him, from the party, all of it.
Then he saw something else. Something familiar, because he’d done it a thousand times himself. She squared her shoulders, and he watched as a mask slid into place.
He knew even before she approached that Daisy was exactly like him—good at being around people only because she chose to be. Knew that perhaps once it had been second nature, and now it was nothing but a deliberate attempt to make sure everyone thought she was okay.
Daisy began making her way toward him, and he tensed for reasons he couldn’t identify before ordering himself to chill out.
It was just his friend’s sister. The maid of honor to his best man.
She stopped in front of him, and he caught just the faintest whiff of her perfume, a surprisingly elegant scent for someone named Daisy, before she extended her hand.
“You must be Lincoln Mathis, The Manwhore of Whom I Should Beware?”
Her voice was a surprise. It had the same low huskiness as her sister’s, but years in New York had all but erased the Southern from Emma’s whiskey-raspy voice. Daisy’s drawl was very much intact—a mint julep on a hot day.
He grinned and took her smaller hand in his. “Which would make you Daisy Sinclair, Delicate Flower to Whom I’m Not to Speak.”
She grinned. “Nailed it.”