Read an Excerpt
By Lily Everett
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2014 Lily Everett
All rights reserved.
Felicity Carlson bumped open the old yacht club's door with her hip and nearly sent her armful of binders, magazines, and note cards flying.
"This is why I need an assistant," she muttered, clutching her organizational supplies to her chest.
No one person could reasonably be expected to plan the biggest, most lavish wedding in the history of tiny Sanctuary Island on her own ... but Felicity had never been very good at being reasonable when it came to setting goals for herself. And besides, it wasn't as if her fledgling company, of which she was President, CEO, and sole employee, could afford to hire anyone.
Yet, she amended the thought. She couldn't afford an assistant yet. But once she pulled off the wedding of billionaire Miles Harrington's dreams, Felicity would be set. Word of mouth would spread through the wealthy elite of New York, many of whom would have the chance to experience Felicity's work as wedding guests in four short weeks, and Dream Day Wedding Consultants would be set. She was prepared to hand out business cards right and left at the reception, so she could head home to Manhattan with a roster full of potential new clients. Rich ones.
That was worth pouring all her energy into the Harrington wedding, busting her butt and spending the last of her savings to outfit herself for this extended trip to Sanctuary Island, the bride's charmingly small and welcoming hometown.
Smiling at a brief but seductive daydream of paying off her maxed out credit cards, Felicity dumped her load of three-ring binders and clipboards on the round entryway table. Intent on checking the progress of her decorations, her heartbeat quickened as she lifted the multi- colored curtain of beading between the front entryway and the main room.
Mental note: swap out the tacky disco beads for something more romantic.
But just as Felicity was mentally debating the virtues of a curtain of clear cut-crystal beads versus ivory satin swag, she realized she wasn't alone in the yacht club. Even though it was practically the crack of dawn, and her army of hired workers didn't usually show up a minute before nine.
And as she swiped the beads aside and peered into the room, Felicity realized with a shock that the tall, broad-shouldered man over by the picture window wasn't putting up any decorations ... he was tearing them down!
Her jaw dropped but before she could march into the room and demand that he get his mitts off her dreamy, hand-picked ribbon bunting, he let out a salty curse and dragged the entire length of fabric off the wall.
"That's better," he muttered, the satisfaction in his low, rough voice reaching Felicity all the way across the empty space. He propped his big hands on his lean, denim-clad hips and glanced around, as if wondering what piece of wedding décor to desecrate next.
Jumping into action, Felicity let the bead curtain swing down with a clack and clatter. "Excuse me, but what do you think you're doing?"
The man turned to face her, and it was all Felicity could do not to suck in another shocked breath, because he was ... in a word, gorgeous. Smooth bronze muscles flexed in his bare arms, below the short sleeves of his plain white cotton t-shirt. With his sinfully long legs encased in worn, frayed jeans and his lean jaw sporting several days of dark brown scruff, he should have looked completely out of place among the ethereal loveliness Felicity had been working to create for the wedding ceremony's backdrop.
Instead, backlit against the vibrant orange and pink of the sunrise visible through the huge picture window behind him, he was a monument to masculinity. He made the ribbons and lace of Felicity's decorations look silly and frivolous just by standing near them.
"I'm getting rid of all this girly crap," he said cheerfully. "I've got a wedding to plan in here."
She blinked. He sure didn't look like any of the male event planners Felicity knew back in New York. Those men were generally quite a bit more put together than this guy.
Felicity tore her gaze away from the wink of the dimple in his unshaven cheek. Staring right into a pair of eyes so electric blue, they almost seemed to glow in the morning light, she shook her head. "There must be some mistake. I'm planning a wedding in this venue. I'm sure the owner understood that I'd blocked off the next few weeks for renovation and decoration."
He shrugged, as casual as if he hadn't just strolled in off the street and started tearing down all of Felicity's hard work. Reaching into his back pocket, he withdrew a battered brown leather wallet. "How much do you need to be convinced to take your wedding elsewhere?"
"I don't want your money!" Felicity stiffened. "This is outrageous. You can't waltz in here and throw a wad of cash in my face, and expect me to abandon the work I've put into this venue. It was a wreck when I found it, and I've already done extensive overhaul to make it perfect. My wedding is happening here in four weeks, end of story."
"Four weeks." He frowned, his sharp brows drawing together. "The wedding I'm supposed to be planning is in four weeks."
Felicity's stomach clenched, then sank like a rock tossed over a cliff. "My wedding is Miles Harrington and Greta Hackley. Who is yours?"
His keen gaze focused on her face. "Wait. You're not the bride."
She grabbed onto her patience with both hands. "No. I'm Felicity Carlson, wedding planner for the Harrington-Hackley nuptials. And you are?"
A slow, brilliant grin creased his tanned cheeks. Eyes glittering with mischief, he stepped forward and held out one long-fingered hand. "I'm one of Miles's groomsmen. He asked me to help out with the wedding plans, so it looks like you and I will be working together."
On autopilot, Felicity let him clasp her hand. The slide of his warm fingers sent a shudder of entirely inconvenient feminine awareness all through her body. His grin widened as if he could read the quickening of her heartbeat and the melting of her bones in the dazed expression on her face.
"Zane Bishop," he said smoothly. "Lovely to meet you."
Every drop of moisture evaporated from Felicity's mouth. Swallowing around a tongue that felt twice its normal size, she said, "Zane Bishop. The C.E.O. of Whatever Entertainment?"
"And owner of three of the top five hottest nightclubs in Manhattan." Satisfaction glittered along the edges of his diamond-hard smile. "So don't worry, babe. I'm no amateur when it comes to throwing blowout bashes."
Not an amateur, no. A billionaire entertainment mogul couldn't be considered inexperienced at planning large-scale parties. Felicity racked her brain to remember the gossip mag articles she'd read about the legendary New Year's Eve bash at Houndstooth, Zane Bishop's impossible-to-get-into Meatpacking District club.
"Your last New Year's event got shut down by the police," she said with dawning horror. "For public indecency and disturbing the peace."
"It was burlesque themed. There may have been a little nudity, but nothing indecent. As my lawyers successfully argued." Zane shrugged, although the quirk of his lips told her he was enjoying her reaction. He liked shocking people, she realized.
Refusing to give him the satisfaction, Felicity pasted on a polite smile. "Yes, I'm sure the strippers were all very tasteful."
"I'm not planning strippers for the wedding," Zane assured her. Felicity felt her eyes bug out as he continued, "I've already done burlesque, and I never repeat a theme. I was thinking more like Las Vegas Glitz."
She couldn't help it. She actually gasped aloud. If she'd been wearing pearls, she would have clutched them. Visions of sequins, feathers, and Elvis impersonators danced in her head. He had to be joking. "Glitz. At an intimate beachfront wedding on Sanctuary Island. Are you serious?"
"What I'm serious about is helping Miles." For the first time since she'd walked in and seen him tearing down her pretty decorations, the line of his wide, expressive mouth went flat.
"One of my best friends asked for my help with this particular task, on one of the most important days of his life. Now, I might not believe in marriage or true love or any of that crap myself, but Miles obviously does. And I will not let him down."
Despite herself, Felicity was impressed by the determination hardening his jaw and darkening his eyes to flinty blue. For a moment, she felt a distinct throb of yearning for the loyalty and support Zane seemed to offer his friend so freely. As someone who'd been functionally on her own since she was a kid, part of Felicity was powerfully attracted to the whole idea of being able to lean on someone else.
But that was a dream, and she had to live in reality.
Calling up all her diplomacy, Felicity smiled at Zane Bishop. "I get that you want to help out. I'm sure we can find something for you to do."
Something other than get in my way, interfere with my plans ... and distract me with your perfectly chiseled jaw, rock-solid abs, and eyes the color of the morning sky, Felicity mused silently.
She'd dealt with plenty of difficult people in her day. With a combination of tact, patience, empathy, and practicality, she had dealt with everything from bridezillas to overwrought MOB's, from unreliable caterers to inconsistent florists.
But as Zane Bishop narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his wide chest, Felicity had a sinking feeling that she'd met her match.
* * *
"I'm not going to be shuffled off to the sidelines of this wedding." Zane liked to state his position up front, in no uncertain terms. "Call Miles if you want to hear it from him, but he's asked me to work with you. I can respect his wishes on that. Can you?"
Felicity Carlson gave him a determined smile, bland and shiny, with no hint of the fiery, passionate woman he'd glimpsed in her before she knew his name. "Of course."
Zane narrowed his gaze, taking in her prim little professional outfit. Nobody ought to be able to make a pencil skirt and blouse buttoned all the way up to the neck look so damn sexy. Although she'd been sexier before she found out who he was, when she was challenging him and generally acting like she'd be happy to personally kick his butt out of the yacht club.
It had been a while since Zane wasn't recognized on sight, kowtowed to by everyone he came in contact with. Felicity Carlson was like a breath of fresh ocean air.
At least, she had been until she put on the Stepford Wedding Planner act and started holding back.
Looking for a way to get a rise out of her, Zane said, "Okay then. Are you ready to get to work? I'm thinking we start by jettisoning this ribbon and lace thing you've got going on in here."
To his disappointment, Felicity didn't take the bait. She pulled a pen from the sleek knot of honey brown hair coiled on top of her head, and picked up a red three-ring binder. "It's going to be wonderful to have some help with all this. But since I've got a good start on the ceremony itself, I suggest we focus our combined efforts on the reception. What do you say?"
Cheerful, business-like, boringly polite. Zane frowned, missing the crackle of electricity that had arced between them moments ago. Maybe if he poked at her, she'd ditch the mask and show him her true self again. "I bet you are glad to have some help — I checked out your company's website and it looked like this was your first wedding ever. How did you land a big billionaire fish like Miles?"
That determined chin tilted up, but she kept her voice even. "This is hardly my first time planning a major wedding, Mr. Bishop. Until a few months ago, I was the head event coordinator at Cadbury Estate."
Zane tucked his tongue in his cheek. The sprawling, well-preserved upstate New York mansion and property had hosted hundreds of lavish parties since the family started renting it out. If she'd been in charge there, she knew her stuff. Of course, the kind of event that usually happened at the Cadbury was exactly the kind of party Zane hated ... stiff, fancy, upper crust and dull.
"Let me guess." He flicked a trailing swath of lace in disgust. "Your vision for the reception is more of this."
She pressed her lips together briefly. "You mean classic elegance and romance?"
Zane snorted. "I mean deadly boring, unimaginative cliché."
He could practically hear the grinding of her teeth. "Look, Mr. Bishop. My vision of the reception doesn't matter. And neither does yours. The only thing that matters is what Greta and Miles want. All I care about is giving them the perfect wedding on their dream day."
"And using their 'dream day' to drum up business for your new company."
With a pragmatic shrug, Felicity pulled a chair up to the folding table shoved against the wall like an afterthought. "That's a byproduct. Happy clients equals good word of mouth. But the important thing is to make Greta and Miles happy. So let's get started."
Zane was unwillingly impressed. "You're hard to rattle, I'll give you that."
She paused in the act of shoving aside piles of fabric swatches, sample votive candle holders, and other assorted bits of décor. "Thanks? I think?"
"Most people fall into two categories," he told her. "People who like to have fun and enjoy life usually love me. But the other kind, all tightly wound and serious about everything — I drive most of them crazy inside of five minutes."
Felicity squared the corner of her binder with the edge of the table and gave him a look that raised his temperature by ten degrees. "If you want to make me crazy, you're going to have to work a lot harder."
As Zane's mind raced through the options, Felicity cleared her throat. "This is the reception binder. I've got all the info in here — potential seating arrangements, table centerpieces, entertainment options ... we'll need to work through it step by step and get Miles and Greta to decide on a direction to go in as soon as possible. Time is ticking down. Being able to throw around the Harrington name — and the Harrington budget — makes the impossible possible ... but if we don't settle on a location soon, we're going to be in trouble."
Zane watched the way she moved, the graceful economy of her quick hands. No wasted energy, every part of her focused on the business of putting together a party. A woman as finely made as Felicity Carlson ought to be enjoying her life, not spending it making sure other people enjoyed theirs. It seemed all wrong to him, on a gut-deep level. This woman needed a good time more than anyone Zane had ever met.
Halting her recitation of the checklist they'd need to go through, Zane hitched one hip onto the table beside her binder. "I'm going to stop you right there. If I know anything about throwing a memorable party — and I think we can agree that the Houndstooth's waiting list packed full of A-list celebrities, sports stars, and socialites says I do — it's that the most important part of planning a party is to have fun."
Her sleek brows crinkled together in a way he did not want to find adorable. "I don't follow."
"If we have fun planning it," Zane explained, planting a hand in the middle of the open binder and leaning over to catch her eyes, "the guests will have fun at it. Works every time. Come on."
Suspicion pulled the corners of Felicity's mouth down. "Where are we going?" An unexpected throb of hunger beat through his blood. He wanted to kiss that tiny frown off her face, he realized. He wanted to sweep the binders and knick-knacks off the table and lay her down over it so he could unbutton all those stiff, pearly white buttons and see her bare and flushed with desire. He wanted her.
For an instant, the words of Miles's bet drifted through Zane's mind. His soon-to-be-shackled friend had marriage on the brain and an overabundance of confidence. Miles had bet each of his billionaire bachelor groomsmen that they'd find love on Sanctuary Island, or he'd give them his luxurious, custom-built helicopter.
Easiest bet Zane ever took, for sure. No matter how gorgeous Felicity Carlson was, or how much he planned to enjoy seducing her into having some fun over the next couple of weeks, Zane's heart was safe.
Reminding himself he had nothing to worry about and those helicopter keys were as good as his, Zane hopped off the table, grinning widely. He snagged Felicity's hand on his way out the door. "We're going to scope out the most awesome, exciting, coolest spot for the party."
Excerpted from Bonfire Beach by Lily Everett. Copyright © 2014 Lily Everett. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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