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"Your ten o'clock appointment has arrived," the receptionist, Monica Long-Norman, said to her boss, Courtney Campbell, over the intercom. Monica was a pretty lady with a sweet personality, standing five-foot-six with dark shoulder-length hair, cut in blunt layers.
"Mr. Fairfax? " Courtney asked, her dark green eyes sparkling like emeralds.
"You are so right. Are you ready for him?" Monica queried.
Courtney laughed. "Give me a couple of minutes. I need to tidy up my desk and file away the work-in-progress contract for the Davies-Wilcox wedding reception."
"Buzz me when you're done, Courtney. By the way, a March chill is expected."
Monica was Courtney's employee, but the two women had become dear friends. The owner was also close to her other staff members, but she and her right-hand assistant, who wore several different hats in the business, had developed an airtight bond.
"Thanks, Monica. I heard the dreary weather report earlier. I won't be long."
Courtney cradled the phone and gathered all the papers into a neat pile before returning them to the labeled folder. Unfulfilled contracts were filed alphabetically in her antique cherrywood desk.
Removing from the top desk drawer her hairbrush and makeup, Courtney rushed into the bathroom to do some primping. She then dried off her hands with a paper towel. Making repairs to her golden-brown complexion, she stood at the mirror and applied translucent powder over the shiny spots on her face. While engrossed in her catering projects, she had a habit of twirling slender fingers around her long, reddish-brown curls, which she brushed neatly back into place. She then applied a fresh layer of berry lip gloss.
Back at her desk, Courtney rang Monica. "I'm ready for Mr. Fairfax."
Approximately five foot five in stature, weighing 105 pounds, Courtney waited for her client to walk through the door. The second her eyes fell on the fabulous-looking Darius Fairfax, her breath caught. The man with sable-brown, close-cut, wavy hair was fine with a capital F. She put his height at six foot two and his weight around 170 pounds or so. His athletic build supported a solid mass of rippling muscles.
Trying to recover from an instant, undeniable attraction to this man with loads of sex appeal, Courtney extended her petite hand. "Welcome, Mr. Fairfax. I'm Courtney Campbell, owner of The Party People. Please, let's sit down so we can discuss your event." Moving over to the cherrywood table, she pulled out two chairs and respectfully waited for Darius to be seated first.
Courtney handed him a catering packet. A fork, knife and spoon joined together, circled by a wreath of colorful flowers, served as the company's logo.
Darius quickly leafed through the envelope, surprised by the extensive offerings. "Very impressive! How long have you been in business?"
Courtney dared to look right into a pair of intriguing topaz eyes. As her breath caught again, she stifled a gasp. "A couple of years, but we've only operated at this location about six months. Business has been extremely good. We remain optimistic."
Darius nodded. "Congratulations. What made you decide on catering?"
Courtney flashed him a bright, white smile. "Been around it most of my life. My paternal grandmother ran a successful catering operation right out of her own kitchen. I learned from her the majority of what I know about this exciting, rewarding business."
Darius smiled warmly, revealing a beautiful set of well-maintained teeth. "Grandmothers. I feel sorry for anyone who didn't grow up around one. I have fond memories of mine. Nana Fairfax and Grandma Sheridan's spirits are now at home with the Lord, but they live on in my heart. Is your grandmother involved in your operation?"
Courtney's eyes lit up. Any mention of her incredible grandmother touched her emotionally. "Not so sure I could've done this without her. She helps me out a lot and is a whiz at keeping the books. Very much a confidant, Alma Campbell is on my payroll. My grandpa, Harrell Campbell, works for me, too. He loves to chauffeur our clients to and fro. My maternal grandparents have been deceased for years now. They passed on when I was a toddler, so I don't have any vivid memories of them."
"It's nice to know both your grandparents are on board." Darius's eyes brimmed with sentiment. "I'm sorry about the deceased ones. What about your parents?"
The conversation had turned more personal than she was used to when dealing with clients, but she wasn't put off. "Divorced, yet they're very good friends. Neither one has remarried. My father, Maurice, an LAPD officer, lives here. Chelsea, my fashion-designer mom, lives in Paris. I moved in with my grandparents during the divorce."
"I imagine it's nice if everyone can get along, especially when children are involved." A moment of sadness hit him—and he paused to ponder quietly.
"I've never planned a large, upscale social event," he said. "This one is extremely special to me. It has to be top-notch. I'll be personally involved in every aspect of the planning, relying heavily on you and your expertise. There are a few things I may want to handle on my own. We can get to those items as they come up. The finest surprise engagement party money can buy is the end result I'm after. Cash up front; no expense spared."
Any notion Courtney had of possibly getting to know honey- brown-complexioned Darius better after their business arrangement was fulfilled was quickly dashed. A surprise engagement reception didn't exactly need an explanation. Spare no expense didn't require one, either.
"As I mentioned, we offer both partial and full-service contracts. The latter covers a variety of services. We're running a spring-fling special for April and May."
"Full service," Darius responded without hesitation. "Spring fling, huh? Nice."
Even though Courtney felt profoundly disappointed over his engaged status, Darius's last remark and his cash up front comment had her smiling beautifully. Cash and carry was her favorite way to do business.
"You've come to the right company to get your event needs met, Mr. Fairfax. In addition to catering services, decorating, hosting, bartending, DJ and waitstaff are at your fingertips. We can arrange reliable transportation to and from the events via late-model Town Cars and stretch limousines. One-stop-shop is what we love to boast here at The Party People."
"Just how old are you?"
Courtney wrinkled her nose. "Three years shy of thirty."
The diamondlike sparkle in Courtney's green eyes mesmerized Darius, causing his heart to quiver. Not only was she an intelligent woman, she was softly pretty, as opposed to beautiful. He saw that she had an amazing spirit, one that radiated from deep inside. Her fabulous figure had inspired him to indulge in more than a mere glance.
Darius couldn't help wondering if Courtney was involved in a serious relationship. Since she wasn't wearing a ring, he assumed she wasn't married, yet he still couldn't be sure. A lot of his male friends would go bananas for a shot at dating her. He was amused by the way she had referenced her age, making him three years older than her three years shy of thirty.
Courtney handed Darius an application form. "After you fill this out, we can discuss your vision for the reception, Mr. Fairfax."
As Darius filled in the blanks, Courtney was already thinking about the kind of reception he might like, based on the way he carried himself. Once she learned pertinent information about the prospective bride, she'd figure that into the equation. The form had a box to fill in for favorite colors of both bride and groom and their favorite flowers and greenery.
"Here you go," Darius said. "For the date, third or fourth week in May is good."
"The dates are good for us."
She was impressed that he'd filled in every single blank. Many future brides failed to fill in all the spaces. Men often left blank the most important areas. It surprised her when couples didn't know the more intimate details about future spouses. She'd make it her business to know everything about a man she loved enough to take his last name. Likes and dislikes revealed a lot about an individual.
The bride-to-be was named Candice. No surname was supplied, but Darius was the client. Her birth year made her six years younger than her fiancé's thirty years.
"I see Candice's favorite colors are lavender and green. I can work wonders with those combinations. Adding splashes of silver here and there will make those hues pop."
Courtney opened her company's brochure to the section on centerpieces. "We also do amazing creations with flowers and balloons. If you don't see what you want in here, we can create something special and unique, customized to fit your vision."
"Angels have to be a part of the table decor. Candice collects them."
"Angels with silver, glittery wings will work beautifully as centerpieces."
"Can we center the angels in some sort of floral arrangements?"
Courtney made note of his suggestion. "You're quite creative yourself. I saw on the application that you're a filmmaker."
Courtney had scrutinized Darius's paperwork more closely than normal because she'd found herself wanting to learn everything there was to know about the gorgeous man with the deep, seductive voice. Before she'd found out he was engaged, her mind had wandered all over the place, earning him the top spot on her hot chart. She was still intrigued with him, yet she'd be ever mindful of his completely off-limits status.
As a Hollywood filmmaker, screenwriter and producer, Darius was the owner of a production company on the rise, D.F. Film Productions, Inc. Courtney was thoroughly impressed by his credentials and the list of references it hadn't been necessary to provide.
"My plans are to establish myself as a major force in Hollywood. D.F. Film is geared more toward producing screenplays written by and featuring African-American characters and other minority actors. I'm also interested in novel-to-film adaptations. However, I consider projects offered by all ethnic groups."
"Sounds like you know exactly what you're after."
"A lot like you, I'd say. You've certainly pursued your dreams to fruition."
"I'm not all the way there yet. Catering is in my blood. I couldn't have gone in another direction if I'd wanted to."
"We obviously share similar dreams. In my opinion, there's not enough work for minorities in Tinseltown. I'm determined to address that critical imbalance. Keeping veteran actors of color on the big screen, as opposed to filling jobs with young stars of tomorrow, is another one of my goals. Veterans lend credence to any film. A mix of old and new artists lighting up the silver screen is one of my strongest visions."
"Good luck, Mr. Fairfax. I'll be rooting for you."
"Thank you for the vote of confidence." Darius looked down at his watch and instantly got to his feet. "I'm afraid I've got to go. Is it okay if I call you tomorrow to schedule another appointment? This engagement party has to be the event of the year."
"I can have Monica reschedule you on your way out."
He shook his head. "I have to check my calendar first. It's best if I call back."
"My business card is in the packet. My cell number is also available in case clients have to reach me after normal business hours. Thanks for choosing The Party People to cater your event."
Darius smiled. "You're welcome. I couldn't have chosen better."
It was commonplace for Courtney to walk her clients out to the reception area and see them to the exit. Escorting Darius out made her positively giddy with pleasure. Her wild attraction to an engaged man was silly, dangerous and couldn't be acted upon. How would she override these dizzying, heartfelt reactions? Reining in her mind and body wasn't difficult. Getting her heart to tag along might be a bit of a problem.
Darius looked back at Courtney. Winking, he smiled and strode out the door.
Blowing on the tips of her fingers, Courtney shook her hand out. Laughing from deep within, she deposited herself in a chair. "Talk about sexy and hot! That indescribable man caused a major heat wave up in my office. Is he not gorgeous?"
"He is fine!" Monica laughed at Courtney's to-die-for expression. "What type of party is he interested in?"
Poking out her lower lip, Courtney shook her head. "Engagement party. His."
Monica smiled sympathetically. "Sorry about that. He's a real turn-on. If I wasn't married, I would've enjoyed flirting with him. But I love being married to hunky J. R. Norman." She looked down at the appointment book. "Normally I ask clients what kind of event they're interested in, but this entry isn't in my handwriting. Someone else took his call and forgot to initial it. I'd definitely remember that sexy voice."
"Mr. Fairfax's voice does caress the soul. I wonder what his whispers sound like." Both women laughed. "It matters who booked him for proper credit, but I'm thankful he showed up. He hasn't signed a contract, but I'm confident he will."
Monica looked closely at the telltale glint in her boss's eyes. "You're terribly smitten. How will you manage to work with someone you're so obviously attracted to?"
Courtney grinned. "I am a professional, sweetie. I know how to keep my game face in place."
Monica grinned. "You are the consummate professional! Since J.R. is out of town, you want to stop by Club 21 for a drink or two after work?"
"Sorry, not tonight. I'm beat. Let's shut down at four o'clock instead of five. We've come in an hour early and stayed late every day this week. And we have to work the Wilkerson-Banks lingerie bridal shower tomorrow."
"I'm glad I have to work this event because I'd be home alone anyway. J.R. probably won't get in from Atlanta until midnight."
"That's what happens when girls marry boys in the band," Courtney remarked, laughing. "Unfortunately, for me, my calendar only includes the social events I work. Maybe one day I'll find the right man and eventually settle down. How nice would that be? Darius wants a May date. Pencil him in for the third week of May."
"Got it." Monica smiled. "Your Mr. Right is lurking out there somewhere. I'm glad J.R. plays the majority of his gigs in the L.A. area. When they hit the big time, he'll be gone a lot more."
"As much as I'd hate to lose my right-hand employee, I hope you're still planning to travel with your husband when his big break comes. You have to protect your personal interest. Women love the boys in the band, even the married ones."
"They absolutely love drummers. Found that out a long time ago."
Courtney nodded. "Not only is J.R. a great drummer, he's so good-looking. I guess other band members get their fair share of fans, too."
Monica smiled. "Fans are one thing. Groupies are another. I'm blessed to have such a loyal man."
"You sure are." Getting to her feet, Courtney walked toward her private office. "I could sit and listen to you chat all day about your wonderful husband, but I've got lots of work to do. See you later. Hope I can suppress all sizzling thoughts about Darius Fairfax."