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"You've lost your mind."
Jessie Martinez set down her fork, a juicy olive speared on the tines, and glanced at the people around her. Annie had nearly sputtered out her beer, Drew had choked on a piece of pepperoni pizza and Ajay, who prided himself on impeccable manners, was coughing into his red-checkered paper napkin. Only Mallory continued to calmly chew her food, though when she swallowed, her gulp was audible in the sudden silence. Leo Sharpe's ridiculous proposal to throw a lavish surprise wedding for their mutual best friends in less than a week had struck all of them dumb.
Except her. She'd questioned his sanity out loud.
Leo's smile only deepened. Her ex's eyes darkened from dreamy turquoise to rich royal-blue, and his grin quirked so that the dimple on his left cheek gave her a rebellious wink. Suddenly, it was hard to remember that there were four other people squeezed into a booth in their favorite pizzeria. Or that less than two minutes ago, she'd scarfed down enough garlic salad dressing to stop a rampaging vampire.
"People have been telling me I was crazy for years," he replied, tossing an irreverent glance at Annie, who, as the potential groom's sister, knew Leo best.
Well, except for Jessie. To Coop's sister, who was six years older than her sibling, Leo was nothing more than a surrogate little brother. To Jessie, he was the man who'd broken her heart.
"And despite that," Jessie said after taking a sip of her soda, "you continue to construct harebrained schemes that accomplish nothing but inconveniencing large and diverse groups of people."
"Can you think of a better way to finally get Bianca and Coop married?" Leo asked, giving a cursory glance at the others before focusing on her. "After all these years?"
Jessie opened her mouth, but no answer came out. Though both convoluted and crazy, Leo's plan to construct and execute a wedding—complete with bridesmaids, groomsmen, clergy, guests, reception and cake—was their best bet in ensuring that Bianca and Cooper were good and wed by the weekend, the last time they'd be in the country for at least another six months to a year.
As Bianca's best friend, Jessie was ashamed that she hadn't come up with the idea. She'd witnessed the romance-novel-worthy relationship from the get-go. Bianca and Coop had somehow turned a one-night stand in college into a bond that had lasted more than a decade.
They wanted to get married. She wore the engagement ring Coop had bought from a pawn shop on the day they'd graduated from college and they renewed their application for a marriage license every time they returned to Florida to visit family and friends. But they'd never gotten around to actually walking down the aisle, always preferring to go spelunking in Turkey or climbing Mount Kilimanjaro instead.
"I think your idea is brilliant," said Ajay Singh, Cooper's boss, whose lilting accent gave Jessie a little tingle. She'd dated him once—and only once. They'd had an okay time, but while the Oxford-educated multimillionaire had treated her like a queen, they hadn't clicked. Shame, really. With his fat bank account and jade eyes, he was a hell of a great catch.
Unlike the man she had clicked with. Clicked like the detonator of a bomb.
She frowned at Ajay's enthusiasm, but couldn't maintain her negative outlook when Drew, Bianca's brother, and Annie both piped in with their support.
"A surprise wedding is perfect," Drew said. "They'll never slow down otherwise."
Annie took another long sip of her beer. "So what's next? And how do we help?"
Everyone leaned eagerly toward Leo—everyone except Jessie and Mallory Tedesco, Bianca's boss, who had never been loquacious or even social. Jessie was shocked she'd come out tonight. Leo must have dug deep into his endless supply of charm to convince her.
Poor girl didn't stand a chance. The man was lethal.
Leo pulled a scrap of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it and spread it out on the table. "I've got it all worked out."
Jessie couldn't help but glance over at his list, which was filled not only with his even-spaced, block-style hand lettering, but lines and shapes that reminded her of how he used to doodle on everything from paper tablecloths to cardboard coasters back when they were dating. Always the same shapes—boats. Masts. Bows and anchors and any paraphernalia associated with the sailing vessels he now designed and raced with great success. He'd realized all his dreams, and here he was trying to make sure his best friend, Coop, achieved the same.
He made it so hard to hate him.
Jessie sat back against the red vinyl seat and listened while her former lover outlined his plan, her gaze focused on anything and anyone but Leo. It was hard enough to share breathing space with him on the rare occasions when Bianca and Coop came to town. To sit so close to him now that she could sniff out hints of his cologne from the myriad scents in the restaurant only reminded her that while she'd gotten over his betrayal a long time ago, she had not quite gotten over him.
"There are three things that make up a successful wedding," Leo said with such authority, Jessie couldn't help but wonder when he'd become an expert on the topic. He'd never been married, that much she knew. In fact, he'd never seen anyone seriously—not, at least, since her.
"We need a quick ceremony, a great reception and a fabulous honeymoon. Your parents," Leo addressed Drew and Annie, "have agreed to take care of the ceremony. They couldn't get a church on short notice, so they opted for the main ballroom at the Hotel del Mar."
"That's a beautiful venue," Annie crooned. "It overlooks the water. It's perfect!"
Clearly, Annie was as much a romantic as Leo. Or she was just thinking about the pictures, since Annie was a photographer.
"Now, it's just up to us to plan the reception and the honeymoon."
"Won't the hotel take care of the food?" Mallory asked.
"Actually, Jessie's mom is a caterer," he said, sparing her a glance. And only a glance. Why did it suddenly matter that he'd spoken her name, but hadn't deemed her significant enough to look at? "She and Mrs. Brighton are already making arrangements. But the entertainment's not locked down—and I saw in the paper yesterday that Brock Arsenal is in town."
"The rock star?" Jessie asked. "He's not exactly a wedding singer."
Leo, once again, was not deterred. "But he does sing their song."
His voice dropped low, and unexpectedly he hummed the strains of that haunting tune in Jessie's ear. Full of sexual yearning and erotic imagery, Arsenal's signature ballad teased Jessie's consciousness, taunting her with memories she should have banished from her mind a very long time ago.
Actually, she'd thought she had.
Drew made room on the table for the waitress, who was delivering a fresh pitcher of beer. "God, Binks played that song over and over for weeks after she and Coop started dating. I thought I'd never get it out of my head. Posters of Arsenal are still up in her old bedroom."
"It would be really cool if we could get him to play," Annie agreed. "Impossible, but really cool."
Ajay nodded. "With the right amount of money, nothing is impossible."
"That's what I like to hear," Leo said, clapping Ajay on the shoulder. "I'll put you in charge of entertainment, then, okay? You and Mallory."
"Me?" the dark-haired, dark-eyed woman said with a note of protest in her voice.
"Bianca told me that you not only book all of her interpreter work, but you also find people to work with actors when they need to master an accent or learn another language in a hurry. You have to have Hollywood contacts."
Mallory remained silent, but gave a little nod.
"Good," Leo said, and then turned to Annie. "You and Bi-anca are about the same height and size, aren't you?"
Annie's green eyes widened. "Don't tell me you need me to pick out her wedding dress."
Leo pulled another list out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Unless you want her mother to do it?"
Jessie nearly choked, but Drew actually laughed out loud. Bianca and her mother were polar opposites when it came to fashion sense.
In unison, Annie and Jessie said, "No!"
"I should pick out her wedding dress," Jessie said. "I know her style best."
"True," Leo conceded. "But I have something better planned for you."
Before Jessie could read anything into his promise, he tapped the list he'd handed to Annie. "Think you can get all this?"
"By the weekend?" Annie asked. "No way. The boutique you want me to go to is in New York City."
Drew tilted Annie's hand so he could see the paper. It was hard to tell in the predominantly red lighting in the pizzeria, but Jessie could have sworn Annie blushed.
"That's the designer Bianca met last summer," he said.
Leo grinned. "Exactly. She said she'd totally hook Bianca up."
"I can fly Annie there," Drew offered. "I could have a plane ready by Thursday morning. We can be back by Saturday with everything my sister will need. It's about time she wore something other than faded cutoff jeans and ratty hoodies."
Jessie couldn't disagree, even if Annie did look uncomfortable with her assignment. Maybe she didn't like the idea of pick ing out Bianca's clothes—or maybe the idea of jetting off with Bianca's gorgeous younger brother had her a little jumpy. Annie had hardly dated since her divorce, and Drew wasn't doing a very good job hiding his obvious interest in her. He might be only twenty-six, but he was a successful businessman and an excellent pilot. Annie was in good hands.
But suddenly, Jessie did the math. If Annie went off with Drew and Mallory hooked up with Ajay, then that left…
"Oh, no," Jessie said, but no one heard her objection except Leo.
He scooted closer, his breath skimming softly against her ear. "That leaves you and me to plan the honeymoon."
She closed her eyes, trying to ignore the way his voice deepened so that the illicit possibilities in his suggestion were impossible to push from her mind. Suddenly, she imagined her body, naked and hot, pinned to the sand by Leo's muscular form with a sultry summer sun on his back and in her eyes, while his mouth did deliciously decadent things to her lips, neck and breasts.
"We can't do this," she said.
There was too much history. Too much hurt.
"It's been ten years, Jessie. Can't we let go of the past long enough to give our friends the future we could have had if I hadn't screwed up?"
Ajay picked up the bill. Drew was on his cell phone with the airport while Annie checked in with her young sons, who were visiting their father's parents. Mallory stood a few feet away, toying with her iPhone, a tiny grin curving her mouth. Leo, however, simply stared at Jessie, his pupils wide and locked on her as if she were a steak and he a starving man.
Everyone seemed excited about the prospect of pulling off the surprise wedding.
Everyone except her.
"What are you afraid of, Jessie?" Leo taunted.
"I'm not afraid of you, if that's what you're thinking," she snapped.
Leo was right. What had happened between them had been a long time ago. She'd had plenty of relationships since then. She'd been engaged. Twice, though she'd never actually made it to the planning stages of either wedding.
Over the past decade, she'd endured seeing Leo whenever Bianca and Coop came back to town. Their breakup had not affected their individual friendships with the soon-to-be bride and groom. Why couldn't she endure a weekend of travel planning with him? It wasn't as if they were jetting off to some romantic destination to check out the site for themselves.
"Then go home and pack. I'll pick you up in an hour."
"Pack? For what? If you think I'm staying at your place while we figure out where to send Bianca and Coop, you have another think—"
"I've already figured out where we're sending them," he said, scooting out of the booth, which was now empty.
Jessie didn't move. She watched Leo exchange cell phone numbers with the others as they walked to the door. Only after everyone had left did he turn around and crook his finger in beckoning.
She looked away, but she couldn't stay there all night. She was Bianca's best friend. She loved her like a sister. She'd been praying for Bianca and Coop to settle down for years, or at least long enough to make their love affair legal. The least Jessie could do was make sure that Leo didn't totally mess the long-awaited honeymoon up by sending them to kite-surf in Bora-Bora or scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef—both of which they'd already done.
They needed something special. Something romantic.
Something that reminded them that their relationship hadn't always been about foreign travel, adventure and games.
She joined Leo at the door.
"Okay, Mr. Wedding Planner. Where exactly do you propose we send the couple who has been everywhere?"
Leo's grin was so full of self-satisfaction, she almost slapped him. Or kissed him. With Leo, the line between the two was always taut and ready to snap.
"We're going back to where it all started," Leo told her, opening the door so that the humid Florida air clashed with the air-conditioned interior of the restaurant, plunging her into just the kind of heat that normally got her into a ton of trouble. Especially around Leo.
After a split second, her brain processed what he'd said and she stopped dead, her foot stumbling on the sidewalk so that Leo had to grab her by the elbow to keep her upright. The minute their skin made contact, Jessie lost her ability to breathe. His fingers were strong, his palms warm, his forearms tan and ripped with muscles.
She swallowed thickly. "You can't mean Key West."
"Oh, yes, I do mean Key West," he promised, pulling her up so that their noses nearly touched. "In every way possible."
The start flag had raised and the horn had sounded. Leo had calculated and planned with precision, but the operation to win Jessie back—and marry off his best friends in the process—was a risk nonetheless.
Luckily for him, Leo's gambles usually paid off. He hadn't made his way in the highly competitive world of yacht design and racing by playing things safe. Throwing off the old designs and traditions had made him a popular guy in a very elite, exclusive club. He'd even managed to keep his business afloat during tough economic times by selling his custom-made wa-tercraft to foreign competitors who hadn't yet felt the crunch of the tight market. To attain success, he'd kept his eyes on the prize and thought outside the box.
If he wanted Jessie back, he was going to have to pull out all the stops—including those that were keeping her from admitting that she still loved him.