Kimberly Gallagher's back in town to run her mother's thriving wedding business. For a seasoned pro like Kimberly, fixing the high-stress nuptials of a senator's daughter is no problem. But facing former police officer Drew Sladethe senator's security chief and her brother's former partneris not what she signed up for. Drew knows that Kimberly blames him for her brother's tragic death. But to single dad Drew, Kimberly feels like coming home. And despite her best efforts, Kimberly can't help falling for him. Will their past continue to keep them apart, or will an unexpected truth reveal their happily-ever-after?
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
It's not that you can do this, Kimberly Gallagher's conscience prodded as she strode through the elegantly appointed welcoming area of her mother's central New York wedding and eventorganizing enterprise. It's that you must do it. And you hate having someone else call the shots. Although having other people call the shots had been her new status update the past few months.
She'd been dumped by a fiancé, had been let go from a job she excelled at and her father's grim diagnosis of brain cancer had stripped Kimberly of the notion that she was in charge.
She walked into her mother's office and took a seat to prepare for her only appointment of the day. She was about to meet with the chief security officer for the upcoming pricey wedding of Senator Rick Vandeveld's oldest daughter. Shelby had organized her special day with Kimberly's mother months ago. Now they should be able to tweak minor details and put the plan in motion.
A photo of her parents sat centered on her mother's desk. Her mother smiled at the camera in typical friendly fashion. Her police chief father ignored the camera and smiled down at his wife, showing his priorities clearly. He didn't care what others thought. He cared about his wife.
Staid and solid, in the daily uniform he wore with pride, her father had dedicated decades to the Grace Haven force, an honest cop that bled New York blue even after losing his only son to the uniform more than ten years ago. Pete Gallagher was in the fight of his life right now, with his wife by his side, and anything Kimberly and her sisters could do to make that easier was an honor.
If they didn't kill one another first.
A soft melodic chime said her appointment had just walked into the reception area.
Dread poked Kimberly's midsection. It wasn't the logistics of working Shelby's wedding that bothered her. It was the fairy-tale headline of Future President's Daughter Weds Country Star, when Kimberly should have been planning her own wedding, her reception, her happy-ever-after.
That had turned into an epic fail, so today she was handling someone else's shot at the gold ring. A bride, a groom, a hillside vineyard, a grotto and a sprawling palatial inn overlooking the beauty of Canandaigua Lake.
Envy snaked a cool thread up her spine.
She forced it down and stood as Allison, her mother's senior assistant, opened the door. Kimberly rounded the desk, turned and came face-to-face with the last person she expected to see back in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. The guy who'd lost a partnerher brotherin a sting operation gone bad more than a decade ago.
He stared at her, and the majestic German shepherd walking at his side stared, too.
She stopped, her eyes glued to his, wondering how this could have happened. Hazel eyes, more somber than they used to be. Dark hair, wavy, cut short. Tall enough to make her look up, even in three-inch heels. Her heart went silent. The tips of her fingers buzzed. And if respiration was governed by an autonomous system, why couldn't she draw a breath?
Andrew Slade breathed first. "When I spoke with your mother on the phone a few weeks ago, you were a bigwig events planner for a successful Nashville record label. What are you doing here?"
A simple enough question to answer in the middle of a convoluted moment. She inhaled, then exhaled to calm her nerves. "Financial restructuring meant downsizing."
"They fired you?"
He had the nerve to look indignant, as if what happened to others mattered to him. Kimberly knew better. "They're on a temporary bare-bones budget, but yes." She kept her gaze cool despite the fact that his look of indignation felt good. She'd worked long and hard at STAC Records, a hot country label that had hit the wall mid-June. The firm's plan was to hire her back once they'd resolved the books, but in the meantime she was here, facing a man who'd stirred her heart and then her anger many years ago.
"Although the timing is good." Drew glanced around the office, then at her mother's chair. "Listen, Kimber, I know this is awkward."
"And I'm the last person you expected to see walk through the door."
Two for two, the guy is on a roll.
He put an easy hand on the dog's head. "If you'd rather have Emily handle this, I understand completely."
Her younger sister Emily take charge of a top-tier event like this? Talk about a free fall into catastrophe. "You can't be serious."
His expression said he was quite serious. None of the old laugh lines she knewand liked so well when she was a love-struck teen, crushing on the guy before herwere in evidence now.
"There's no way that Em"
Fury erupted beyond the door.
Drew turned, instantly on guard. So did his dog, hackles raised, shoulders up, head strained.
Mags, her mother's eight-pound Yorkshire terrier, launched into her yipping and yapping, the normally well-behaved pooch streaked across the reception room carpet, feet and fur flying, and when she crested Kate's glassed-in office door, she braced her front paws, bared her teeth and gave a fairly convincing growl, as if the difference in height, weight, training and attitude between her and the impressive K-9 wasn't ridiculously obvious.
"Mags!" Kimberly's sister Emily chased after the dog. "You bad puppy, this is what we get because Mom spoiled you." She reached down, picked up the dust-mop dog, then stood. "Drew?" She stepped forward to greet their childhood friend, then gave a dramatic pause, gaze pinned to the bigger dog between them. "Will he eat me? Or her?" She angled a look to the little dog in her arms. The Yorkie rewarded her with quick kisses to the cheek.
"Her, possibly." Drew looked at Mags. "You? Only if I issue the command, and I'm feeling altruistic today.
We've declared beauty queens to be non-life threatening in most instances."
"Former beauty queen," she reminded him, and then gave him a hug. "It's nice to have you home, Drew."
Kimberly's heart tightened.
So did Drew's face. "It's where the job brought me. I was just telling Kimberly that if you'd rather handle Shelby's wedding, we'd be fine with that."
Emily's look of fear was only half in jest. "Not in this lifetime. Kimberly gets lead on this, totally. I don't mind helping out with things, but I'm the schmoozer of the family. When Kimberly steps on toes "
Kimberly tapped a toe on the floor, unamused.
The toe-tap did nothing to deter the middle Gallagher sister. "I jump in to smooth ruffled feathers, but major events like a presidential candidate's daughter marrying a country star?" She put her free hand up, palm out. "Out of my league. Kimber takes lead on Shelby's event while I'm helping her handle the fall regatta, three weddings, several bridal and baby showers, two corporate dinners and a fall festival dinner dance. I consider that a fair trade."
Kimberly would trade off in a heartbeat if she could, but Emily was right. She'd commanded top dollar in Nashville for putting together major events. To thrust that on Emily would be unfair to her and probably spell disaster for the Vandeveld wedding.
Emily backed toward the door with the Yorkie. "I'm taking Mags upstairs with me so that ?" She raised a brow, silently asking the shepherd's name.
"So Rocky can go the rounds with you guys undisturbed. He's beautiful, Drew."
The door swung noiselessly shut behind her.
"Well." He took a seat as Kimberly rounded the desk to her mother's chair. She opened the portfolio and started to withdraw her mother's notes. Drew laid one big, strong hand on the portfolio and shook his head.
She raised her eyes, confused. "You don't want to see the plans?"
"No need because we're going to change the plans," he told her, "which means Shelby will most likely hate me. I'm willing to risk it to keep her and her guitar-picking husband and their guests alive."
"Change the plans?" Kimberly indicated the desktop calendar in front of her, dumbfounded. "The wedding is two months away. You can't"
"Can, will and must." He moved his hand, but he didn't relax into the chair like most people would. He sat, back straight, shoulders squared, head high, on alert. "Rick Vandeveld is most likely going to be our presidentelect in nine short weeks. The reason I couldn't make the original planning meeting with your mother was because threats against him on the campaign trail kept me tied up. An open affair like Shelby planned?" He shook his head. "Indefensible. The stakes changed the minute Rick actually became the party candidate. That means we start again. From the beginning."
He couldn't be serious. The Finger Lakes had become a go-to destination for weddings and events. Changing a date on a huge affair like this would be impossible. "Do you have the authority to change it?" she squeaked the words in disbelief, because this couldn't get worse.
Kimberly had organized major galas for stars and corporate bigwigs in Nashville, but she'd cut her event-planning teeth in her mother's primarily bridal business. Crossing a bride was never in anyone's best interests. But what would a single guy like Drew Slade know about that? Nothing. "Look, Andrew."
He didn't wince when she used his whole name. She'd wanted him to; she wanted him to know she wasn't letting bygones be bygones. Their childhood familiarity had dissolved when her brother lay bleeding on a cold, wet asphalt parking lot a decade ago because Drew had pulled into the sting a few minutes late. The first rule of police work was "cover your partner's back."
Drew failed and Dave died.
He met her gaze, cool, calm and collected, totally take-charge, but this wasn't realigning a parade route for visibility's sake.
This was a wedding. The senator's daughter's wedding. One of the most important days in a woman's life, so Drew could
"I not only have the authorityI have the final say. Nothing about this wedding gets done without my approval. There are no ad-libs. There are no unapproved breaks in the itinerary. There are no unexpected lastminute changes."
Drew Slade needed a major reality check. "Those things are a given in a wedding."
"Not this time." He nodded toward the portfolio her mother and Shelby had threaded together several months before. "Everything gets handled differently now that Rick is the party's candidate. Shelby's a politician's daughter. She'll understand."
He was half-right.
As a politician's daughter, Shelby would understand the need to prioritize safety. Kimberly had organized tight security at numerous Nashville events. The merging of a country star with a senator's daughter warranted security to the max with just the guest list, not to mention the main-event players.
But no bride on earth would hand over carte blanche control of her wedding day to a security employee, no matter how amazingly handsome, rugged and wounded he was. "Andrew, I appreciate your stand, but I really can't make any changes in Shelby's wedding itinerary without her permission."
He withdrew a phone, hit a number and waited. Her rebuttal hadn't angered him, probably because he ran into security snags and unwilling people regularly in his job. But changing a wedding?
Not on her watch.
He handed her the phone. "Shelby would like to speak to you."
She reached out to take it.
Their eyes met. Their hands touched, and for fleeting seconds that one-sided high school crush barreled back, teenage emotions of falling for big brother's best friend. Andrew and Dave, always together. Childhood friends, high school teammates, college roomies and then cops together on the streets of Rochester. Until Dave was just gone.
Focus on the phone.
She brought it to her ear and turned slightly away from Drew's intensity. "Shelby? It's Kimberly Gallagher from Kate & Company. How are you?"
"Exhausted, muddled and wishing my wedding day was a thing of the past, right along with this election. But that's off the record, Kimberly! In the press I'm smiling and pleased and delighted to be here, supporting my dad."
Kimberly knew the feeling well. "I hear you. So, listen, Andrew Slade is here and he's"
"I know exactly what he's doing."
Kimberly's heart fell, because Shelby's droll tone spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e without the acoustic guitar.
"And I don't know how you're going to deal with him, Kimberly. He's such an old bear when it comes to keeping us safe, but then again, that's why we hired him. Listen, he's going to fuss and bother, then he's going to think about it a while and then he'll devise a plan to make things work. Honestly, if Travis and I had thought things through, we'd have either waited or eloped, but my mother would be brokenhearted if I did that. And a girl can't go through life disappointing her mother."
Kimberly decided she liked Shelby Vandeveld from afar.
"So here's how I'd like to handle this."
Kimberly lifted a pencil to take notes.
"Give Drew whatever he needs. He's got the weight of the world on his shoulders, and as long as I show up there and marry my best friend, I'm good."
"Not as often as my daddy would like, but on this, yes. See what you can save, call me to let me know about changes, email me pictures. Oops, gotta go. Family photo op and cheese tasting! I just love Wisconsin!"
She hung up.
So did Kimberly. She turned slowly. "So that's Shelby."
"It is. And she extended her permission, I take it."
"She said we can rearrange as needed, to keep her informed and she needed to go taste some cheese."
He made a face of acceptance. "Life in the fast lane of vote grooming. So." He stood and kept his eyes on hers. "Shall we go see what she and your mother planned? And then we'll adjust as needed."
Kimberly bit back the scolding she longed to give. When the Finger Lakes became a go-to spot for weddings and events, her mother had created a business that flourished. The downside was there were few alternative sites at this late date. Every elegant winery, hotel, inn, church and lakeside view had been booked for months if not years. Picturesque autumn in the Finger Lakes drew crowds from all over.
She bit her tongue, stood, lifted the thin portfolio and moved to the door. "Let's go."
Beautiful, bright and still blaming him for Dave's death. If Drew could rewind the hands of time, he'd have fixed that dreadful night, hundreds of times.
God's timing. Not yours.
He knew that. He'd finally come to accept it. But seeing the hollowness in Kimber's gaze when she looked at him brought the loss rushing back.
And now they'd be working side by side on a wedding that couldn't have been more poorly timed. He followed her through the door, trying not to notice how gracefully she moved. The fitted sundress made that an impossible task and her long blond hair shifted with each step forward.
He shifted his gaze to the floor. Spiky bright yellow heels thwarted that strategy.
Just admit it. She's gorgeous. She hates you. You've got no choice but to work together. You're doomed.
Rocky paused. Barked. Then barked again.
"Kimberly, hold up." Drew put his hand over the ever-present weapon at his hip.
She stopped and turned. "Because?"
He shook his head. "I'm not sure. Stay here." He ignored the impatient look she shot to the receptionist as he studied the layout.
Rocky barked again, but he didn't aim forward, toward the entrance facing the town square. He turned right, then left as if zeroing in, then moved toward the back of the offices. "What's down that hall?"
"Restrooms and the back door to the parking lot."
"Is it unlocked?"
Kimberly nodded. "Of course." He frowned, but they'd talk about security changes later. Right now