Think working for a leading international shoe company sounds like a dream job? Not if you're Amelia Parker, an overworked, downtrodden temp working for Bellagio, Inc.'s grande dame, Lillian Bellagio. But things are looking up for Amelia. She's just been given the assignment of accompanying Ms. Bellagio to her estate in the Keys. Trading pumps for flip-flops and a cell phone for a conch shell—could be worse, right?
Especially when life on the island includes her very own mystery man—one Jack "The Shark" O'Connell, dashing venture capitalist. He dares Amelia to use this time to do something wild: drink a hurricane, go skinny-dipping...have an affair with a dangerously attractive man. Now Amelia will have to decide whether to step into that glass slipper.
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AMELIA WAS SO EXCITED she could barely breathe, let alone eat the delicious dinner she would share in a short time with Will, his boss and his boss's wife at the fabulous restaurant in Buckhead.
Her ex-fiancé, William, was about to become her fiancé again and everything would be right with the world. She wished the two of them could have managed some alone time before dinner, but Will was arriving directly from the airport.
They would share a sweet reconciliation afterward. She had it all planned. Fighting butterflies, she walked down the stairs of the historical mansion that belonged to her recently married landlord, Aubrey Carter Elizabeth Roberts Gordon.
"You look beautiful, dear. He'll regret every minute he's spent without you," Aubrey said. "And if he doesn't, Harold will—"
"Pull out a can of whoop-ass like that boy has never seen," Harry finished.
Aubrey tried to pinch her lips together in disapproval, but a smile escaped. Polar opposites, the middle-aged couple provided a constant source of amusement and encouragement to Amelia. Harry was a rough rascal of a man who'd made a mint in mobile home sales and Aubrey was the quintessential perfect, proper, Atlanta-born-and-bred woman. Who would have thought the two of them would fall in love and marry within a month of meeting each other? Surely if Harry and Aubrey could make it work, then so could Amelia and Will.
"Do you have everything ready?" Aubrey asked. Amelia nodded. "I've got candles waiting to be lit. I baked his favorite pie from scratch, bought his favorite wine and put his favorite country music CD on the stereo."
"You're going to knock him off his feet," Aubrey assured her.
"That pie smells awfully good. You sure you don't want me to test it?"
Aubrey gave Harry a playful swat. "Stop teasing her. Can't you see she's nervous?"
"Do I really look okay? This is his favorite dress. And I'm wearing his favorite perfume. He always said he liked my hair best this way." Amelia touched a hand to her carefully-straightened locks.
"You look gorgeous," Harry said, patting her hand. "And more important than your hair or perfume, you're nice to be around. Remember that."
"Thank you," she said.
"We'll be way on the other side of the house," Aubrey said. "So don't worry about making introductions if Will comes back here tonight. We can save that for later."
Feeling a rush of gratitude, Amelia gave in to the impulse to hug Aubrey. "Thank you so much," she said again, and left for the restaurant.
Her mind whirled a mile a minute during the drive to the restaurant. She wasn't sure how she'd survived the last forty-five days of being in limbo with Will. She could hardly remember a time when he hadn't been part of her life. He'd proposed to her on the playground when they'd been in elementary school and they'd been together ever since.
Watching so many couples break up over the years, Amelia had always felt as if she must have been sprinkled with stardust. She and Will had found each other so early. What a relief to have that aspect of her life taken care of.
She felt a tiny ripple of unease at the thought, but refused to pay attention to it. Will had broken up with her twice during the last six weeks, then he'd turned right around and asked her to take him back, which she had. Two weeks ago, though, Will had told her he wanted to put their relationship on hold, and everything had felt off-kilter to Amelia again. She was ready to get back on track. Her only regret was that she would have to resign from the designer shoe company Bellagio, Inc. She would miss her new friends. She'd learned long ago, though, that true love required sacrifice.
Amelia pulled into the parking lot of the popular restaurant and walked into the entryway, hoping to see William, but he wasn't there. She checked with the hostess and was led to a back room of the restaurant where a couple and Will, looking more gorgeous than ever, sat at a small round table.
Will glanced up at her and stood. "Amelia, there you are," he said and lightly touched her back. "Mrs. Fitzgerald is dying to meet you. She's a big fan of Bellagio shoes."
That feeling under her nerve endings grew stronger when Will introduced her simply as Amelia Parker, not as Amelia Parker, his fiancée. He didn't kiss her or touch her hand during the meal. Although he was polite, he seemed detached.
Her stomach twisting into a knot, she still managed to make friendly conversation. By the end of the meal, however, she couldn't stop wondering why Will was acting so cool when he had been adamant about her joining him at this dinner.
He'd said it was important to him, so of course she'd come.
Feeling every tick of the clock, she refused dessert and wondered if she should excuse herself. Mrs. Fitzgerald saved her from her quandary when she received a call from the sitter saying that her child had a fever. The couple quickly excused themselves, leaving her alone with Will. Finally.
"Let me walk you to your car," Will said.
His silence as he escorted her to the parking lot made her stomach hurt even more. Amelia bit her lip.
"I wasn't sure where you planned to stay tonight."
He shrugged. "I got a room downtown since I'm just here for the night. I guess we should talk," he said as he opened her car door for her.
Amelia had the sudden feeling of dread, the same, she'd bet, that someone being led to the guillotine would feel. She'd had this sensation when he'd broken up with her before. Amelia couldn't fool herself any longer. Will was going to dump her once and for all.
Maybe not, her hopeful naïve side argued weakly. But deep down, she knew. He was going to give her the biggest heave-ho of her life and there was nothing she could do about it. She sank blindly into the driver's seat.
Will slid into the passenger seat and turned toward her. He sighed. That sigh was never a good sign. "I don't know how to say this, Amelia, but I'm not in love with you anymore."
Her heart sank to her feet. No, lower—it had to be lower, lower than the bottom of her car and the paved parking lot. He'd never put it exactly that way before. She shook her head, her mouth opening, but she couldn't find any words.
"I don't know how it happened, but I fell in love with someone else."
Amelia's brain screeched to a halt. "Pardon me? There's someone else?"
He shrugged. "I didn't mean to fall out of love with you, bugaboo," he said, his pet name suddenly grating on her raw nerves. "It's just that I met Sidney and she knocked me on my butt. She's everything you're not."
She felt as if someone were shifting her internal gears without the benefit of a clutch. "She's everything I'm not," she echoed, confused. "I thought I was everything you wanted."
"I can't explain it. She's as ambitious as I am, always doing something that surprises me. She's impulsive, has a temper, but she makes me feel alive every minute."
Amelia couldn't digest it. She couldn't believe what he was saying. "Did you even notice that I fixed my hair the way you always said you loved it?" she asked him. "I'm wearing your favorite dress. Did you notice that? I'm wearing your favorite perfume."
He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Amelia. I just don't feel that way about you anymore." He sighed again. She hated his sighs. "Sweetheart, I think I just outgrew you."
Outgrew her. Fury blasted through her fear. Some small bit of pride and self-preservation bubbled up from her desperation. She had made sacrifices for Will. She had traded a scholarship to a prestigious university for a state school where Will could gain admission, too. She had cut and colored her hair for him, dressed for him, put her career ambitions in the backseat for him. She had agreed to delay their wedding so they could be more financially stable. She had made sacrifices.
For the first time, she had the ugly feeling that she had made too many sacrifices.
"Would you mind giving me a ride to my hotel?" he asked. "I can tell you need time to think about all this. You can go ahead and give me the ring back, too," he added casually. "And bugaboo, we'll always be friends."
Amelia felt something inside her shift. She could almost hear the sound of stone platelets scraping against each other. It was monumental. She'd based most of her life on the plan that she and Will would be together forever. That plan had just been cancelled for good. After six weeks of waffling, she could tell that Will didn't want her anymore, even though she'd done everything she could to make him love her.
To be honest, she'd known it for a while, but had been too terrified to face it. Everything had changed. Everything would be different.
But her heart kept beating. She kept breathing. Her brain kept working. She was still living. She laughed in relief. Maybe the anticipation had been worse than the reality.
She looked at Will, really looked at him, without the gauze of love covering her eyes. He had a weak chin, he chewed with his mouth open and he rushed her during sex. He had chosen her engagement ring based on his taste, not hers, and he was cheap.
She removed her engagement ring from her finger and handed it to him.
Then she started her car. "Get your own ride and get another friend."
"No buts," she said. "Get out of my car." Looking at her as if she'd sprouted a third head, he complied. Still dazed, she headed back to her suite at Aubrey's house, where she smashed Will's favorite CD into a million pieces, poured his favorite bottle of wine down the toilet and gave his homemade apple pie to a sympathetic but appreciative Harry.