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When Honey Got Married
By Kimberly Lang, Anna Cleary, Kelly Hunter, Ally Blake, Shannon Godwin
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Kimberly Kerr, Anna Cleary, Kelly Hunter, and Ally Blake
All rights reserved.
On her eighteenth birthday, only two days after her high school graduation and less than three weeks after the death of her father, Gracie Lee Duggins ceased to exist. With two thousand dollars in cash in her pocket from the sale of everything of any possible value, Grace Henson left the courthouse at a little after ten in the morning with the county clerk's signature on the papers changing her name and a plan to get the hell out of Bellefleur, Louisiana, and never, ever go back.
Unfortunately, she only made it as far as Baton Rouge before the car conked out, and though it was less than half an hour from Bellefleur, for six years she'd made good on her promise never to set foot inside the town again.
Until yesterday, at least.
So much for sacred vows.
Just past the sign marking the Bellefleur city limits, Grace turned off the winding two-lane road onto a crushed gravel driveway. The Belles Fleurs plantation — the town's namesake — appeared before her in all of its antebellum, Gone With the Wind glory.
Big live oak trees lined the drive leading to the house itself, which sat smack in the middle of the lush gardens that gave the plantation its name. It was, she had to admit, an absolutely gorgeous setting, perfect for a fairy-tale wedding.
In less than forty-eight hours, Honey Moreau would marry Brent Delacroix, joining the two oldest and most important families in Bellefleur through the bonds of holy matrimony in the most ostentatious, over-the-top wedding ever witnessed.
And it was now Grace's responsibility to make sure it happened.
For the thousandth time, she reminded herself what a great opportunity this was. Lana Parks, Honey's original wedding coordinator, had done all the months of hard work before she'd eloped on Saturday with another bride's groom, leaving this three-ring wedding circus without a ringmaster; now all Grace had to do was see it through. She'd be the one to save the reputation of Grayson-Bennett Events, earning her major brownie points with the bosses and possibly a better office, too.
As if that wasn't enough pressure, Judge Moreau, Honey's father, had pulled her aside at their meeting yesterday to stress how important this day was to his little girl — like she hadn't been able to tell — and dangled an obnoxious amount of bonus money in her face to ensure that Grace made Honey's day as flawless as the enormous rock on her finger.
It wasn't the wedding that had her stomach in knots; she'd done hundreds of weddings — and every other kind of event under the sun — in her last four years at Grayson-Bennett, and while the scope was a little daunting, walking in as she was at the very last minute, she had no doubts she could handle it.
It was the thought of being here, with these people, when all she wanted to do was forget the first eighteen miserable years of her life.
Focus, Grace. You're a professional. Do your job and ignore everything else.
That's easier said than done.
Suck it up. You're not poor little Gracie Lee anymore.
I am to these people.
Why do you care?
Dear Lord, was she actually arguing with herself? It had taken less than twenty-four hours for this job to drive her certifiably insane. She just hoped Judge Moreau's bonus money would be enough to set her up in a nice room in the loony bin.
Grace followed the gravel drive around the main house to the visitor parking area and took a moment to gather herself.
She'd spent yesterday and today visiting and talking to every vendor playing a role in this event — the florist, the band, the pyrotechnic guru handling the fireworks on the barge, and even a chainsaw-wielding ice sculptor — save one: Beau Vaughn, the owner of and head chef at the Belles Fleurs plantation.
He should have been number one on her list, but she'd saved him for last, needing some time to prepare herself for this meeting.
She checked her lipstick in the rearview mirror and frowned at her reflection. It was ridiculous, really, the amount of effort she'd put into herself today. From the extra time on her hair and makeup to the outfit chosen specifically to cinch her waist in and push her boobs up and out ...
Maybe it was ridiculous, but it had taken Honey a gratifying half-hour to place Grace in her memory yesterday, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt just how far she'd come from poor little Gracie Lee. All it had taken was a proper and flattering haircut, clothes that fit and weren't several years out of style, and a little confidence to completely reinvent herself.
The outfit was armor. Designed to both protect her and show off her assets to Beau. He hadn't so much as glanced her way in high school, but there was no way he could miss her now. He'd never know how she would be laughing at him on the inside.
She took a deep breath, grabbed Honey's file from the seat next to her, and headed for the wide stairs that led to a huge veranda. They were having a wonderfully mild spring — perfect for an outdoor wedding — and the enormous doors were open, giving her a view all the way down the dogtrot hall to the front entrance.
She consulted her notes. Guests could drop their cars with the valet out front and enter through the front doors, grabbing a drink on their way to the tent out back. They could close the doors, then open them again for Honey's big entrance ...
A young woman dressed in khakis and blue polo shirt with the Belles Fleurs logo met her at the door. "Can I help you?"
"I'm Grace Henson, here to see Mr. Vaughn regarding the Moreau-Delacroix wedding."
She nodded. "He's been expecting you. I'll let him know you're here. Please feel free to look around."
As the woman disappeared, Grace turned her attention to the entry door and visualized the honeysuckle and ivy garlands in place. She'd been skeptical about the honeysuckle at first, but after finding out about the holy fit Beau pitched about having "that weed" on his plantation, she'd gotten behind the idea one hundred percent. Pity the florist had given in, agreeing to remove every last stamen so as not to accidentally allow honeysuckle to infiltrate Belles Fleurs' gardens.
This wedding certainly danced right along the edge of entirely-too-much, but it still managed to remain somehow charming. Much like the bride herself, Grace admitted grudgingly.
The perfect, everything-Gracie-Lee-wasn't Honey, might loom large in Grace's memory, but Gracie Lee certainly didn't feature much in Honey's high school experience. Honey was blonder, prettier, perkier, and wildly popular, the kind of girl every other girl wanted to be. In a way, Grace was surprised Honey had been able to place her at all, considering she'd barely blipped on Honey's social radar. And while Grace's memories of Honey and her crowd weren't necessarily kind, time had healed more wounds than she'd expected, and she now found herself actually liking Honey a little bit, as crazy as that seemed. For all Honey's demands — and thankfully she had already been talked out of some of the crazier things, like actual hummingbirds, according to her notes — Honey seemed to be genuinely in love with Brent Delacroix. Honey was stressed and on the edge of a breakdown — Grace had certainly seen enough of that to recognize it on sight — but Grace didn't doubt Honey's love for Brent. After planning weddings where the bridezillas cared more about the tablecloths than their supposed beloveds, that was what touched Grace's heart. Now she was in the unexpected position of wanting to make this wedding a success for a reason other than her own professional pride.
It was enough to make her head hurt when she thought about it too much. It was easier to let it go. She really should let it all go, forget all the high school trauma and drama and grow up. It was in the past, and she wasn't Gracie Lee anymore. It would be the smart, mature thing to —
The thought stopped as her eyes landed on a photo of Beau, in his white chef's jacket, above a message welcoming people to Belles Fleurs. He certainly hadn't changed much in the intervening years. Beau Vaughn had been the star of every one of her freshman fantasies. He'd been a senior, a sports hero, Mr. Popular ... In short, a true, unattainable, unrequited crush for the Gracie Lees of the world. Heavenly blue eyes, light brown hair falling across his forehead ... She could picture all too clearly the way he'd absentmindedly brush it back, only for it to fall right back where it was. She also remembered that smile all too well, the way it seemed to say he'd figured out the punch line thirty seconds before everyone else. She also couldn't help but remember how that smile had morphed to mock her right before he said "Just say good night, Gracie," and crushed her.
Screw maturity. It's totally overrated.
She'd been publically humiliated and emotionally destroyed by a smug jerk. There was no way in hell she was just going to forgive and forget.
* * *
Honey's replacement wedding planner was supposed to be waiting in the hall, but Beau found her instead in the garden, talking to herself and making notes. "Hello?"
The woman turned, and he was surprised to see that she was much younger than the average matronly types who normally followed brides around — maybe only in her midtwenties. Golden-brown curls framed a heart-shaped face and big brown eyes. There was something oddly familiar about her, but nothing was coming to mind to help place her. Of course, he met a lot of people — Belles Fleurs had built a gratifying reputation over the last couple of years, and he spent as much time schmoozing with guests as he did in the kitchen these days. It was a bit frustrating, because between those eyes and the lush curves outlined by the pencil skirt and fitted blouse, Grace Henson was not someone he would have forgotten easily. It would come to him eventually. "I'm Beau Vaughn."
Those liquid eyes narrowed for a split-second, and if he hadn't been watching her closely, he would have missed both that and the minuscule tightening of her lips. Although it was quickly replaced by a broad smile, he couldn't deny the fact that she didn't seem to like him much. But why? She extended a hand. "I'm Grace Henson."
Even hearing her say her name hadn't helped him any. "Welcome to Belles Fleurs."
"It's a lovely venue. You've done a wonderful job with the restorations, especially in such a short amount of time."
That was odd. "You know Belles Fleurs?"
Grace swallowed and stammered slightly. Yeah, very odd. "Honey told me a little of the history."
"Honey never tells just a 'little' of anything."
The corner of her mouth quirked in amusement. "True. I now know all about how it shocked the town that you chose culinary school over law school and Belles Fleurs over the family firm. She's quite proud of the way you worked so hard to restore it instead of just letting your family sell it or letting it fall to ruin."
Even with Honey's tendency to tell a little too much at times, even she wouldn't have gone into details of family dramas to complete strangers. "Do I know you, Grace? You seem familiar."
The laugh was sharp. "No, Mr. Vaughn, you do not know me."
While this entire conversation seemed perfectly normal and professional on the surface, Beau could almost feel the hostility emanating from Grace, and it simply didn't make sense. And regardless of her quick denial, he was even more convinced he knew her somehow. There was a smirk in her voice just daring him to figure out from where. He was normally much quicker on the uptake than this. "Everyone just calls me Beau."
Her nod was nearly imperceptible. "I'd like to have a minute to familiarize myself with the layout and just go over a few things with you —"
He sighed. This wedding had gotten way out of hand already. "Has Honey changed something again?"
"No, I don't think there are any last-minute changes, but I want to make sure that none of the details get overlooked." Grace consulted her notes. "I see that the final head count got called in already, so that's good." Her eyes slid down the page, and an eyebrow went up. "That's a heck of a guest list. It should prove" — her lips quirked again — "interesting."
And the oddities keep on coming. "Excuse me?"
She stammered slightly. "I meant that, um, Honey's going to have a great turnout."
"It's the not-to-be-missed event of the year."
"More like the century," she corrected. "I doubt boomin' little Bellefleur has ever seen anything like it."
Grace's accent pegged her as native to this general region of Louisiana, but the sarcastic reference to Bellefleur as "boomin'" spoke of a familiarity with the area. Maybe she'd grown up in one of the nearby towns. That would help explain why she looked familiar, but why would she pretend otherwise? "Very true. We've put on some hellacious events here, but this is extravagant."
Grace was still reading her notes. She nodded to indicate she was listening, but then shrugged a shoulder and said offhand, "But that's Honey for you, isn't it?"
"Do you know Honey? Outside of this wedding, that is?"
She started slightly and there was that little stammer again. "I-I know how brides are. All the fairy-tale wedding dreams they have."
That didn't actually answer his question, but her response told him he was right. He knew Grace Henson — somehow — and she knew it, but she wasn't going to tell him because she was getting a kick out of the fact he hadn't put it together yet.
Grace schooled her features and continued. "The tents and chairs need to be set by four tomorrow for a five-thirty rehearsal, and the vendors —"
"Can have access to the property starting at ten sharp Saturday morning," he said. Grace nodded again, checking something off her list. Her lips moved as she talked to herself silently. It was cute. She was cute. She had a wholesome, all-American girl look to her, but there was a lushness to it: full lips, liquid eyes, rounded curves ... And from this angle, her otherwise modest blouse gave him a nice view of her cleavage. Interest stirred, and he let his eyes roam leisurely down her body while her attention was focused elsewhere. Damn nice legs. It was frustrating, because there was no way he'd forget those.
He shot a quick glance at her hands — Grace was left-handed, so her bare ring finger was easy to see as she wrote. Not married. The interest grew stronger. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"No, I'm fine, thank you." She flipped to another page in her notebook. "I would like to see the ballroom, though. This floor plan seems rather optimistic."
"It's a big room, and the setup leaves easy access to the veranda and gardens."
Grace wrapped her arms around the notebook and held it to her chest. With a smile that was so professional it bordered on condescending, she said, "I'd still like to see it, though."
Put like that, he had no other choice but to say, "This way," and lead her into the house. She had questions and comments every step of the way. Some of it was understandable, and he even agreed with her when she moved the location of the wedding cake to a wider, more visible spot. When she started in on the place settings and napkins, though, he held up a hand. "Yes, yes, I understand the starch requirements of a crown fold. They will not droop. This is not the first wedding we've done at Belles Fleurs. My staff knows what they're doing."
Grace took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. Although she wasn't very tall, the action made her seem formidable somehow. She'd probably sent many a caterer or florist scurrying. Of course, because she wasn't very tall, the deep breath only called his attention back to the nice view he had of her cleavage. "This may not be the first wedding at Belles Fleurs, but this is the only wedding that matters for Honey and Brent." The no-nonsense crispness of her voice snapped his attention right back to her face. "This is also my first event at this venue, so I have nothing other than your assurances that you and your staff are on top of this. And I'm very sorry, but your assurances are not enough. Honey has had enough of an upset this week with the change in coordinators, and I do not want her worrying about details falling through the cracks. I realize that this meeting might be an inconvenience to you, but my job is to make Honey's day perfect, and for that to happen, I have to make sure that you and your staff do your jobs."
There was an insult implied in that statement, but it was nonetheless true, and she stared him straight in the eye as she waited for his response. He couldn't exactly argue with her without sounding like a complete jackass. And while he'd known the Moreau and Delacroix families his entire life, that would not stop Judge Moreau from coming down on him like the Wrath of God if anything went wrong. "Extra starch in the napkins. Check. Next?"
Excerpted from When Honey Got Married by Kimberly Lang, Anna Cleary, Kelly Hunter, Ally Blake, Shannon Godwin. Copyright © 2013 Kimberly Kerr, Anna Cleary, Kelly Hunter, and Ally Blake. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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