Anna Keebler makes a living being unconventional. A wedding planner who specializes in more…unusual ceremonies, Anna's client list includes everything from nudists to paintballers to Little Red Riding Hood enthusiasts. So when her photographer up and quits during a wedding blitz in Hawaii, Anna makes an unconventional decision. She hires a hot Marine to be her new photographer.
Little does she know, Grant Patton is the best man in one of her weddings. He's so perfect he's practically a Boy Scout—if Boy Scouts were big, ripped Marines with gorgeous gray eyes, and good at, oh, everything. Especially sex. In fact, his only flaw seems to be that he hates marriage as much as she does. But Anna suspects the sexy Boy Scout routine is a cover, and if he wants this thing between them to be about more than sex, Grant must reveal the dark past he's fought so hard to hide…
Each book in the Front and Center series is a standalone, full-length story that can be enjoyed out of order.
Book #1 Marine for Hire
Book #2 Fiancee for Hire
Book #3 Best Man for Hire
Book #4 Protector for Hire
About the Author
Tawna Fenske traveled a career path that took her from newspaper reporter to English teacher in Venezuela to medical marketing geek to PR manager for her city's tourism bureau. An avid globetrotter and social media fiend, Tawna is the author of the popular blog Don't Pet Me, I'm Writing, and a member of Romance Writers of America. She spends her days in Bend, Oregon, where she'll invent any excuse to hike, bike, snowshoe, float the river, or sip beer along the Bend Ale Trail. She lives with her gentleman friend, his offspring, and more pets than they care to admit.
Her debut romantic comedy with Sourcebooks, Making Waves, was nominated for Best Contemporary Romance in the 2011 RT Book Reviewers' Choice Awards, and the Chicago Tribune noted, "Fenske's wildly inventive plot and wonderfully quirky characters provide the perfect literary antidote to any romance reader's summer reading doldrums." In addition to her critically-acclaimed sophomore romantic comedy, Believe it or Not, Tawna has also written a series of interactive romantic capers for Coliloquy titled Getting Dumped. The novella Eat, Play, Lust is her first project with Entangled.
Read an Excerpt
Best Man for Hire
A Front and Center Story
By Tawna Fenkse, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Tawna Fenkse
All rights reserved.
Anna clicked her purple ballpoint pen and smiled at the couple twined together like sticky linguine on her office love seat. "So you want a fairy-tale wedding," she said.
It was a phrase uttered in the office of every wedding planner in America at least once a week. But at Anna's Wild Weddings in downtown Portland, Oregon, it meant something different.
"We're thinking Little Red Riding Hood," announced the bride, a twiggy blonde named Marci, who'd been referred to Wild Weddings by a couple whose frog-themed wedding Anna had orchestrated in August. "Darin already has his wolf costume from last Halloween, and my mother has this great vintage red cape, and the groomsmen can be woodsmen, and my grandmother can walk down the aisle carrying—"
Anna jotted brisk notes in her pink steno pad, pausing to murmur, "that sounds reasonable," or "how lovely" to requests she knew most wedding planners would deem neither reasonable nor lovely.
"And we want to include the phrase, 'all the better to eat you with, my dear' in the vows," the groom announced, giving his bride's knee a squeeze. "And maybe 'I'll huff, and I'll puff and I'll blow you—'"
"That one's actually The Three Little Pigs," Anna interjected. "Not that 'eat you' and 'blow you' aren't charming phrases to include in your nuptials. So do you have a date and place in mind?"
Marci nodded and caressed the groom's shoulder, her orange and blue-polka-dotted manicure clashing terribly with his green shirt. "Darin and I were thinking springtime in Hawaii," she said. "I know it's soon, but that's our favorite time of year there, and we want to do this before my grandmother is too feeble to travel."
"Hawaii?" Anna tapped her purple pen on her teeth and glanced at the calendar. "Any island in particular?"
Darin shrugged. "Not really. My family owns property on Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island, so any of those would work."
Anna glanced at the bride's handbag perched on the love seat beside her. A Louis Vuitton Alma Satchel, about eighteen hundred dollars, if Anna remembered right. Though they hadn't talked budget yet, Anna would bet her left butt cheek money was no object with this couple.
"Tell you what," Anna said. "I'm actually doing three other ceremonies on Kauai at the end of March. If you two wanted to aim for a few days on either side of that, I can cut you a deal on airfare for my assistant and me."
Darin perked up, solidifying Anna's theory that the wealthiest clients were always the ones most excited by a bargain. "We can do that," he said, beaming at his bride. "Right, honey?"
"Absolutely." Marci looked at Anna. "Just out of curiosity, what are the other weddings?"
Anna shrugged. "One nudist ceremony, one paintball wedding, and one totally normal ceremony."
"Normal?" Marci scrunched up her face in a way that reminded Anna of a first grader learning a new vocabulary word.
"Well, pretty normal," Anna amended. "The bride is a friend of a friend who comes from this big military family, and her overprotective brothers tricked her into hiring a Marine sniper as her nanny, but now she's marrying the manny and—"
"I like the sound of that paintball wedding," the groom interrupted, squeezing his bride's knee again. "The nudist one sounds cool, too. Maybe we could combine them?"
Marci frowned, clearly unwilling to give up her Red Ridding Hood dreams. "I don't know—"
"I don't advise it," Anna offered. "Those paintball weddings always turn vicious, and if you combine it with the nudist theme—well, you can imagine the welts."
Anna shot a pointed look at Darin's groin. His eyes widened. It was clear he didn't like imagining the welts. He gave an uncomfortable laugh and crossed his legs. "That sounds crazy anyway. People shouldn't do weird stuff like that for weddings."
"Totally," Marci agreed, beaming at Anna in silent thanks.
"Okay then," Anna said, clicking her purple pen. "How many axes will your woodsmen be needing?"
* * *
As soon as the happy couple linked arms and waltzed out the door—unlinking briefly when they got wedged in the doorframe—Anna kicked off her heels and grabbed her idea book. It was packed full of pictures and articles about weddings, and it never failed to get her brain simmering for the ones she was hired to plan.
She flipped the book open, her eyes falling on a photo of a tea-length white dress with beaded cap sleeves. A familiar lump lodged in her throat, but she swallowed it back and turned the page. An array of whimsical cake toppers lined up one row after another. One featured a bride pinching the groom's butt, while another had a groom dipping his bride midwaltz.
The lump fought its way back up her throat.
"The hell with you," Anna said, swallowing it back down as she tore her gaze from the book and fumbled for her phone. She hit the first speed dial number and waited for Janelle to pick up.
"Oh, thank God it's you!"
Anna smiled. "Because I'm your favorite sister in the whole world?"
"Absolutely," Janelle agreed, and Anna felt pleased at beating out the nonexistent competition. "Also, you're not Jacques. That's a definite mark in your favor."
"He's still calling?"
"All the time," Janelle said, her voice sounding more tired than Anna had heard it in a long time. "It's fine, I've got it under control. You didn't call to talk about my idiot ex, though. What's up?"
"I have a proposition for you."
"Does it involve cabana boys feeding me frozen grapes and giving me a pedicure?"
"Not quite, but close," Anna said, absently flipping the page on her wedding-idea book. "How would you feel about a free trip to Hawaii?"
"I'm doing a bunch of destination weddings there back-to-back in March, and I need an assistant. I'll cover your airfare and hotel, of course."
"Which island? There's some pretty good shopping on Oahu."
"Not Oahu. Kauai, the garden island."
"The quiet one. I don't know, Anna. It's Hawaii."
She spoke the word the same way most women would say prison or pap smear.
"It's not prison, and it's not a pap smear," Anna said in case there was any confusion. "It's a warm, tropical place with palm trees and beaches and snorkeling."
"And bugs. And no subways. And hardly any people."
"That's part of the appeal. Well, maybe not the bugs." Anna flipped another page in her book, her fingers trailing over photos of colorful flower-girl dresses. "Come on, Janelle. You need the vacation, I need the help. Besides, you really ought to take a break from San Francisco. Get away from the city. Away from him."
"Him," Janelle repeated, sounding even less enthusiastic about Jacques than she had about Hawaii. "Do you really need the help, or are you being overprotective again?"
"If I admit it's a little of both, will that get you on the plane?"
"No. But if one of my jobs can be sampling wedding cake, you've got yourself a deal."
Anna smiled, resting her palm on a photo of a bride carrying a shotgun adorned with pink camouflage for a hunting-themed wedding. "Come to Kauai and you can have all the wedding cake you want."
* * *
"Sheri says I need to pick a best man," Sam said.
Grant looked up from the beer bottle in his lap and regarded his soon-to-be brother-in-law with curiosity. "Didn't you say the twins are walking now? Have one of them do it."
"Charming as it might be to have to change the best man's diaper midceremony, there can only be one best man, and I'd rather not have to pick a favorite among my two new stepsons," Sam said. "The therapy could get expensive."
Grant grinned and propped his feet up on the railing of the tiny porch at the back of his small Kauai cottage. He'd bought the place years ago when PACOM first stationed him on Oahu. It was a quiet retreat when the Marines gave him leave, and a good source of rental income when they didn't.
He took a swig of beer and turned back to his fellow Marine and longtime pal. "So if it's not toddlers in tuxedoes, who'd you have in mind for a best man?"
Sam folded his arms over his chest and regarded Grant over the top of his sunglasses. "How about one of the bride's brothers? God knows she has enough of them, and you've been a pain in my ass for the better part of a decade."
Grant turned to the black-clad figure to his left and delivered a sturdy kick to Mac's shin. "Pay attention, MacArthur. One of us is getting drafted into service."
"What?" Mac looked up from his phone, and Grant wondered if his brother was plotting an arms deal or sexting his wife. Both required the same stoic concentration from Mac.
"A best man," Sam repeated, folding his arms over his chest and regarding his two future brothers-in-law with a look that made Grant want to jump off the balcony. "On one hand, Mac played a bigger role in fixing me up with Sheri."
Mac frowned. "I told you not to touch my sister, asshole."
Sam ignored Mac and turned back to Grant with a grin. "On the other hand, you and I served two tours together in Iraq. That counts for a helluva lot."
"Are you going to make us arm wrestle for this?" Grant asked, setting his beer down. "Because Mac cheats."
"I merely utilize superior tactical skills and strategic thinking," Mac retorted, picking up his beer.
"By punching me in the nuts?"
Mac shrugged and turned back to Sam. "Pick Grant. At the rate he's going, this is the closest he'll ever be to taking a walk down the aisle."
"Pick Mac," Grant argued back. "His quickie wedding on the beach in Mexico deprived him of a proper church ceremony of his own. You need to save his soul."
"Your souls are both beyond hope," Sam said. "Still, I'm glad you both made it here for the wedding."
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Grant said, meaning it. "It was great of you guys to time it with my leave."
"You already reported to command in Honolulu?" Sam asked.
"Yeah. I've got a couple weeks to hang out here getting this place cleaned up and ready for some new renters, plus I volunteered to teach a self-defense class at the Women's Center."
Mac rolled his eyes and looked at Sam. "The disgusting thing? He's not even doing it to get laid."
Sam took a swig of his beer. "Come on, guys, focus. I need a best man. How about we do rock, paper, scissors for it?"
Mac shrugged, and Grant set his beer bottle down on the little table that separated his lounge chair from his brother's. "Works for me."
"Okay then," Sam said. "Ready?"
Both brothers put out a flat left palm. Sam nodded as Mac and Grant each balled up a right fist and began pounding it against the heel of their hand with more force than necessary.
"On three," Sam said. "One, two, three." He frowned. "What the hell is that?"
Mac held up his pointed index finger and thumb. "A pistol. A Browning 9-millimeter semiautomatic, to be precise."
"Ha!" Grant shouted, raising his fist with a thumb protruding. "Grenade beats pistol. I win, big brother."
Sam shook his head in disgust. "That doesn't count. Leave it to the Patton brothers to totally fuck up rock, paper, scissors."
Grant smiled and high-fived Mac. "I like to think we're improving it."
"You keep thinking that. It doesn't fucking count, and I still don't have a best man." Sam paused, frowning. "Has anyone heard from Schwartz?"
Grant felt all the air leave the room. He forced himself to keep a smile in place, but inside he wanted to curl up in a ball. Or punch something. Punching something would be more manly, definitely more fitting of a Patton.
Beside him, Mac grunted. "Ask numbnuts here. Grant's the only one who ever hears from him."
"He called Mom on her birthday," Grant protested, not sure why he felt the need to defend their reclusive brother. "And he sent a card when Sheri got engaged."
"No return address," Mac pointed out. "You're the only one who even knows where he lives."
"Must be a twin thing," Sam said. "Like when the boys decide to crap their pants at the same time."
"Exactly like that," Grant muttered, suddenly eager to escape. He picked up his beer bottle and stood, though he had no earthly idea where he planned to go. "We're Irish twins, remember? Eleven months apart."
Sam picked up his beer and took a slug. "You think Schwartz will make it to the wedding?"
Grant shook his head and walked over to the kitchen, his gaze landing on a framed photo from Mac's wedding. He and Sherri and Mac stood side by side on a beach in Mexico. Mac looked gruff and in love. Sheri looked windblown and beautiful. Grant looked cheerful, friendly, happy, and completely, utterly, full of shit.
Schwartz wasn't in the picture.
"No," Grant said, forcing his face into a neutral expression as he looked up from the photo and back to where the other men waited on the porch.
Even through Mac's dark sunglasses, Grant could feel his brother's gaze boring into him. He forced himself not to look away as he gripped the edge of the picture frame and ordered himself to keep breathing.
"How about a coin toss?" Sam suggested, clearing his throat. "For the best man gig?"
Grant swung his gaze to Sam and nodded. "Sure." He set the photo down and turned to the fridge. He grabbed two more beers, then trudged back to the porch, leaving the door open.
"A coin toss," Mac repeated, reaching up to grab the beer Grant offered him. "That's fair."
"Sure," Grant agreed, handing Sam the other beer. He leaned against the side of the house and folded his arms over his chest.
"Okay then," Sam said, fishing in the pocket of his shorts. "Heads or tails?"
Mac frowned. "What the hell kind of coin is that?"
"A foil-wrapped condom," Sam said, turning it over in his palm. "It's supposed to look like a coin. They handed them out at the bachelor party last night."
"That's disturbing on many levels," Mac said, taking a sip of his beer. "Not the least of which is that you're sleeping with our sister."
"I'm sleeping with my fiancée," Sam said, grinning. "She just happens to be your sister. Heads or tails, asshole?"
"Tails," Grant said, wanting to bring a quick end to the conversation. "Flip."
Sam tossed the condom in the air, and Grant watched it spin, thinking about love and loss and life and a lot of other things that were way to serious to ponder in the space of time it took a tacky prophylactic to arc its way back to his future brother-in-law's grip.
Sam clapped his hand over it the instant it landed. He drew his palm back and looked at Grant. "Tails it is. You're it, buddy. You're the best man."
"Fitting," Mac said, nodding over his beer. "You'll do us proud."
"I agree," Sam said, clapping Grant on the shoulder. "Between the brother who's a reclusive curmudgeon, the brother who's an overbearing control freak, and the brother who's a cheerful Boy Scout, I think I lucked out getting the Boy Scout."
Mac grunted and glanced down at his phone again. "I couldn't agree more."
"You guys are dicks," Grant said, pushing away from the wall. "But I'm honored anyway."
"You'll be a great best man," Sam said.
"The best," Mac agreed.
"I'm going for a walk," Grant said. "Try not to steal anything."
He headed for the front door, pausing just long enough to stuff his feet into a pair of tattered flip-flops before flinging the door open and escaping into the salt-scented breeze. He kept walking until he hit the beach, then kicked off the shoes beside a piece of driftwood. He spotted a broken bottle in the sand and nudged it next to his shoes so he'd remember to take it back with him to keep litter off the beach.
He stood up and hesitated a moment, then turned west and started walking. His pace was brisk, but he couldn't outrun his thoughts.
Best man? In what world could you possibly be the best man for anything?
Grant kicked his toes through the sand and began to run. The sea air felt good on his arms, and the sand was soft and warm underfoot. He passed a couple playing Frisbee near the water and offered them a friendly smile.
"Afternoon," he called. "Beautiful day."
He kept running, his pace strong and even. Rows of condos gave way to thick palms, and soon he'd lost sight of any other human life. This was his favorite part of this area of Kauai, his favorite spot on any of the Hawaiian Islands, really. It was possible to lose yourself completely.
Excerpted from Best Man for Hire by Tawna Fenkse, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2014 Tawna Fenkse. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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