A wedding planner finds herself fantasizing about planning her own wedding to the last man she'd consider marriage material in USA TODAY bestselling author Victoria Pade's next installment of The Camdens of Colorado.
Oh, the irony! Just when wedding planner Vonni Hunter has given up finding a husband of her own along comes breathtaking bachelor Dane Camden. He wants Vonni to plan his grandmother's wedding, and then come to work for the Camden conglomerate. The bad business blood goes way back between their families, but Vonni just might let this man persuade her to do anythinganything!
No matter how lost he gets in Vonni's beautiful eyes, Dane has no intention of making his merger offer more personal. The single life suits him to a tee. But behind the scenes, the matchmaking matriarch of the Camden clan is pulling the strings, so resistance just might be futile .
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
"See? The gifts for the attendants are wrapped, I've confirmed your hairdresser, the caterer and the florist, and we have a guarantee that the cake will be ready and delivered on time. I'm working on the place cards tonight. I promise you, absolutely everything is under control and it will be a truly amazing wedding!"
Vonni Hunter made sure there wasn't the slightest hint of haste in her voice as she spoke to her client. It wasn't uncommon for one of her brides to panic as the wedding date approached. But this bride had shown up unannounced at Burke's Weddings' offices twenty minutes before closing time, and Vonni was in a hurry to get to an after-hours appointment. Not giving that away in her tone, she asked, "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Yes. You can make me look like you in the next four days. I need to get rid of the extra six pounds I've gained from stress eating!" the other woman wailed.
It was Monday. This particular wedding was being held on Saturday. The bride was the daughter of one of Denver's most prominent men, and while she'd been a pleasure to work with, she was a large and not particularly attractive woman on whom six more pounds was not easy to see.
But, as luck would have it, she'd stopped by the dress designer for a surprise visit today to try on her gown. Although the final fitting had been done weeks ago, the dress no longer fit and would have to be altered again. That had induced the panic that had brought her here to Vonni.
Vonni looped her arm through the bride's and tugged her closer. "Melanie, you are the woman Douglas fell in love with," she reminded her. "He got down on one knee and asked you to be his wife-do not forget that-"
"But you're blonde and beautiful ." the bride lamented.
"And someone who can't get a man to propose if my life depended on it!" Vonni confided with a laugh. "Not once. Not one man. Ever. No matter how much I've wanted it or how hard I've tried-and believe me, I've tried! I'm the wedding planner who can't find herself a husband. But you, Melanie Danforth-Hayes, in four more short days, are going to walk down the aisle to the man who loves you like nobody's business, and become Mrs. Douglas Barnes. And then the two of you are going to party your little hearts out to celebrate that. It's me who's jealous of you!"
The round-faced bride broke into a slow smile and blinked back the tears that had been threatening to fall. "He does love me. Just the way I am," she conceded. "And he's gained ten pounds-we have to have more alterations done on his tux. That's what got me to thinking that maybe I should try the dress again."
"And you did because fate is smiling down on you and now the dress won't be a problem. Everything will be just perfect," Vonni assured her again, thinking that she was glad two last-minute disasters had been avoided because it was much easier for her to make a few nips and tucks with her emergency sewing kit than to get a bride and groom into clothes that were too small.
"You always make me feel so much better," her bride said, obviously beginning to relax.
"I just want you to have a fabulous wedding and a long and happy life with Douglas," Vonni said honestly. "You deserve it."
"So do you. Well, not with Douglas, but you know, with someone else."
Vonni laughed again. "From your lips to God's ears," she said. As they'd been talking, she'd slowly moved her client to the front door, which she now opened. "And as always, if there's anything you need or get worried about-"
"I know I can count on you. I'm sorry for this meltdown-of course you have everything under control. You've done every wedding I've been to in the past few years and they've all been fantastic."
"And yours will make those pale in comparison. You've made some of the best choices I've ever seen and it's going to be just wonderful."
"I think so, too," the client confided. "I know at least three people who are going to be green with envy."
Vonni laughed again. "We'll make sure of it."
And she had her out the door.
They exchanged goodbyes on the sidewalk in front of the shop-located in the heart of Cherry Creek North among the more elite boutiques-and Vonni went back inside alone.
It was already past closing time, so she locked the door behind her, and then rushed to her office.
It wasn't unusual for her to be asked to accommodate clients by going to them rather than having them come to her. The lion's share of clientele for Burke's Weddings was Denver's rich, and they were accustomed to being catered to. But being asked to go to the Camden Building to see Dane Camden was a unique situation.
First of all, although there had been several engagement announcements for members of the Camden family in recent months, Dane Camden's wasn't among them.
Second, as a rule, Vonni met with the bride, the bride and her family or the bride and groom together. She'd never met with a groom alone. At least not for the initial appointment.
And third, when Dane Camden had called to make the appointment, he'd said that not only did he want to talk to her about a wedding, he also had a proposition for her that was better discussed away from the shop.
Being propositioned by a groom was definitely not the norm.
Although he had amended his description to a business proposition with a deep, surprisingly appealing chuckle.
There was that Dane Camden charisma she'd heard about.
No doubt, Dane Camden had charisma to spare.
But not enough to make her forget the cautionary tale of the Hunter family's past dealings with the well-known Camdens. Vonni was leery of any business proposition he had to offer.
With very few minutes to spare, she went into the office that technically belonged to Burke's Weddings' owner, Chrystal Burke. But since Chrystal was rarely there, Vonni considered it hers.
As she crossed the expansive space to the private bathroom, she thought about what it would mean to do a Camden wedding. It would be a feather in her cap. And lead to a lot more business. It would help pave her way to the promised partnership in Burke's Weddings that had long been her goal.
So this was an appointment she intended to keep, as soon as she did a quick check of her appearance.
Today, she'd worn the sides of her blond hair pulled back into a clip, and it was still neat and tidy. But she ran a brush through what was left to fall loose to her shoulder blades.
Her mascara and eyeliner were still in place, accentuating her green eyes to good effect. She freshened her blush, reapplied her mauve lipstick and blotted away the slight end-of-the-day shine from her nose and chin with a piece of rice paper.
Like everyone, there were things about her appearance that she was self-conscious of. She thought she had too much forehead but she looked awful in bangs so couldn't wear them to diminish it, and she knew that when full lips went out of style she'd be back to wearing pale lipsticks again to hide hers.
On the whole, she was okay with her appearance, though. Certainly she didn't see anything awful enough in it to scare away men. But she hadn't been lying to her client when she'd said she'd had no luck finding a husband of her own despite her every attempt. And she had made every attempt.
Early in college something had clicked in Vonni and she'd realized that what she really wanted in life was to get married and have a family. That while a career was nice and she'd fully intended to get her degree and find one, in her heart of hearts, it was the traditional route that called to her-becoming a wife and mother. Picturing herself without that had seemed empty and sad and unfulfilling.
That was when she'd launched what she called her husband hunt.
And she'd been devoted to it ever since. It had been a mission, a passion, her main goal.
But going after something-no matter how keenly- and getting it had proved to be two different things.
"So you really do have one up on me, Melanie Danforth-Hayes. A very, very big one ." she said out loud.
But there was no time for thinking about something she'd already dedicated more years and energy and thought to than she wanted to admit-something she had now put on the back burner. Something she needed a break from. So Vonni tucked her tan shirt firmly into the waistband of her brown slacks and put on the short jacket that matched the pants.
She looked businesslike. That was what she'd set out for and what she'd accomplished.
She swiped a tissue across the toes of her three-inch-heel pumps to make sure they were clean, and hurried out of the bathroom to the oversize antique desk in the office.
She kept everything she needed for an initial appointment in a leather binder. She took it out of the top desk drawer, took her purse from the bottom drawer and went back through the shop and out the front door again.
The Camden Building was three blocks down the street from her and it was a lovely June day, so it was silly to drive. But she walked at a fast clip to not be late.
When she reached the twelve-story yellow brick office building and went in, she headed straight for the reception desk and told the security guard there that she had an appointment with Dane Camden.
Of course .
The Camdens owned the building; where else would they be?
After several people exited the elevator, Vonni got on alone and pressed the button for her floor. On the way up, she thought about the man she was about to meet.
She had no doubt she would recognize Dane Camden even though they'd never met. She'd seen him in the occasional photograph accompanying the newspaper and magazine articles about the Camden family. They owned the worldwide chain of Camden Superstores and any number of businesses and manufacturers that supplied them, so they tended to be high profile.
And Dane Camden himself got around. So much so that she'd seen him in the background of several snapshots her brides had shown her-incidental to copying his date's hairstyle or something else they liked and wanted to use for their own weddings.
Certainly his name had been dropped numerous times between brides and their bridesmaids. Being with him seemed to be some sort of rite-of-passage among the wealthy socialites who formed the majority of Burke's Weddings' clients and the entire circle of Chrystal's friends. Vonni had even overheard one bride laughing with her bridesmaids about how she'd had her turn with Dane Camden so she thought she might as well get married.
Despite the fact that he was a player, though, Vonni had never heard a single complaint about him. No one seemed to have thought there was any chance of getting him to the altar; there were only accolades for any time spent with him, and fondness and affection for the man himself.
"If anyone can show you that men and dating aren't all bad, it's him," one bride had said to her sister, telling her she needed a "hit" of Dane Camden to remind her how good it could be to be with a man again after a bad divorce.
So he was a bit of a legend. At least that was how Vonni had come to think of him.
The elevator stopped two floors from the top for a mail boy to get on pushing a cart. After that brief delay the doors closed again to finish the ascent.
What would it mean to the single women in Dane Camden's circle if he'd thrown in the towel and actually was getting married, she wondered then.
Not to mention who might have reeled in such a big-and elusive-fish .
When the elevator reached the top floor and the doors opened again, the mail boy charged through them, nearly knocking someone out of the way.
Someone who happened to be her potential client.
Who was remarkably better looking in person than in any of the pictures she'd seen of him . "Vonni Hunter?"
"Yes," she admitted, wondering if she should let him know she knew who he was or wait for him to introduce himself.
But there was no wait.
"I'm Dane. Our receptionist for this floor left for the day so I thought I'd meet you out here and save you having to figure out which office is mine."
"Thank you," she said, surprised that someone with this guy's clout would be that considerate.
"Let's go on back," he suggested. "Can I get you something? We have coffee, tea, soda, water ."
"No, nothing, thank you."
"I really appreciate you coming to me," he said as he ushered her into a plush corner office and motioned to the sofa against one wall instead of the chairs that faced his huge mahogany desk. "As I mentioned in our phone call, one of the things I want to talk to you about shouldn't be discussed at your place of business."
Vonni sat down on the edge of the couch, hugging the arm, as Dane Camden took the matching chair across the small coffee table from her.
Almost immediately, there was a knock on his office door and a woman who resembled him poked her head in. "Hey, sorry for interrupting, but you have to take a look at this before I can go home," she said.
"Vonni, this is my cousin January-we call her Jani. Jani, this is Vonni Hunter."
"Nice to meet you," January Camden said.
"And, oh, do you have the most beautiful green eyes in the world!"
"Thank you," Vonni answered, a bit taken aback by the compliment that was not at all businesslike.
"You're the wedding planner. I got married on the spur of the moment in a judge's office or I would have begged you to do a wedding for me. Maybe you could branch out into baby showers ."
Vonni merely laughed, unsure by the look of the other woman in the loose-fitting sundress if she was in the market for that.
"But, Dane, I really do need you to-"
"I know," he said to his cousin before pivoting back to Vonni and aiming some pretty incredible blue eyes at her. "You'll have to excuse her. Jani is pregnant and using it against us to get her way," he said good-naturedly, obviously teasing Jani and confirming that a baby shower was likely on the horizon.
"Doctor's orders," Jani said with a beaming smile.
"This will just take a minute." Dane went over to his cousin, who was still standing in the doorway, and looked over the papers with her.
The two were engrossed in whatever it was they were dealing with, which gave Vonni the perfect opportunity to study the infamous Dane Camden and try to figure out why he was sooo much better looking in person.
There was no denying that in every picture she'd seen of him he was an attractive enough man. But the real thing? Wow! So much better .
His brown hair was a tad lighter than his cousin's- dark brown but the rich color of chocolate rather than espresso. He wore it short on the sides but a touch longer on top where it had just the right amount of wave to make him look sporty and casual but not unkempt.
She'd already noted the remarkable Camden blue eyes-and they were remarkable. It was another thing her brides and attendants swooned over when they were discussing him, and now she could see why.
Blueberry blue-that was what they were, Vonni decided. And penetrating and intelligent and warm and kind and surprisingly open for a person in his position.
But after more study, Vonni concluded it was his nose that made the difference between the way he looked in pictures and in person. He had a thin, longish nose with a bit of a bump in the bridge before it narrowed and slid down to a slightly squarish tip. It didn't photograph well, but was somehow very sexy in real life.
Overall, his face was lean and angular and very masculine, complete with lips that weren't at all full but were still so sensual they alone could chase fuller ones out of fashion at any moment.
He wasn't a refined kind of handsome, Vonni decided. He was more a rugged, outdoorsy, approachable kind of handsome.
The kind that got to Vonni.