A wedding. An ex. And a secret.
Maid-of-Honor Dani Brown can handle anything that comes her way when it comes to her best friend’s wedding. That is, until the bride asks for a huge favor-Dani needs to distract the best man, who happens to be Dani’s ex. The ex she has fantasized dismembering for a year now. The ex she’ll have to suck it up and play nice with if this wedding is to go off without a hitch.
Businessman Jamie Kingsland is back in Seattle for a wedding. There’s just one problem – the maid of honor wants him dead. Except she doesn’t. Even though he knows he broke her heart last year when things got too serious and he panicked and left, she’s being way too nice about it now. And it scares him.
Something is up with his favorite bridesmaid, and he’s determined to find out what…
Dani glanced around the crowded Seattle restaurant and sighed.
Bored. Bored. Bored.
She didn’t know half the people there, which wasn’t all that surprising. The Bennetts, parents of the groom, threw this particular soiree, and the attendees seemed to be work acquaintances with a few friends sprinkled in.
In the last four months, the happy couple’s respective parents had hosted three separate engagement parties. Though Dani didn’t want to accuse them of being in competition with each other, all night Mrs. Honeycutt, mother of the bride, had looked like she’d been sucking on lemons. More than likely peeved over the excellent turnout.
Soon, Dani would be free of her bridesmaid duties, of which there had been dozens, everything from trying on eco-friendly gowns made from recycled garbage bags, to sampling gourmet food that should have bypassed the plate and gone directly into said garbage bags.
Roxy was her best friend, and she’d do anything to make her big day the best ever, even if that meant not complaining—no matter now much she wanted to.
It wasn’t that she hated weddings. She was just tired of them. Over the last few years, she’d been in five and invited to more than she remembered. Registries, ugly dresses she’d never wear again, parties, smiling, and small talk. It was getting to be too much. Being a bridesmaid was a single girl’s worst nightmare. Even the women at the bridal shop knew her by name. Everyone was settling down—except her.
A year ago she’d also been dreaming about walking down the aisle. Obviously, nobody else got the memo that she was next in line to get married.
She gave herself a mental shake. No pity party tonight. Her cheeks needed ten minutes free of forced smiling. Yes, the bride is beautiful. Yes, they are the cutest couple ever. No, I don’t have someone special in my life.
How many times had she answered the boyfriend question tonight? Ten? Twenty? Enough to prefer a red-hot poker in the eye over having to suffer the looks of pity from the women in committed relationships.
Then there was the infamous bridesmaid reputation. After all the regurgitated raunchy bridesmaid jokes she’d been subjected to tonight, Roxy and Kyle, the bride and groom, were lucky she hadn’t gone all Bridesmaidzilla and throat-punched every tipsy, groping male there.
For everyone’s sake, I need a time-out.
Ten quiet minutes and booze. As a waiter passed, she snagged a small plate from his tray. Ten minutes, booze, and cake—that was all she needed. Then she’d return as the best maid of honor in bridal history.
With slow steps and a fixed smile, Dani backed out of the room. A short trip through the lobby, and the warm summer evening enveloped her. Perfect; she was alone.
She strolled down the walkway with her glass of champagne and plate of cake, looking for a place to sit. Maybe the big rock at the corner of the walk.
As she rounded the path and stepped into the shadows, her gaze fell across the shiny black motorcycle. It was parked on the sidewalk near a rocky section of the landscaping. The machine was beautiful, and Dani completely understood why somebody wouldn’t want to risk having the bike knocked over, or with the few rambunctious friends that were here, run over.
The ground spotlights glimmered off the fuel tank, highlighting a scrolling silver design. To get a better view, Dani inched forward, stepping into the crushed rock. She tottered precariously on her spiked heels, almost slipping and spilling her champagne. When close enough, she bent and squinted. Her ex-boyfriend Jamie had a motorcycle, but he was in Florida and hadn’t even bothered to come back for his friend’s wedding. He acted as if weddings were a plague that could be caught. Jerk.
As she leaned forward, the point of her heel skidded and wedged between two rocks. Her body pitched sideways. The sharp snap of her heel cracked and any hope for a graceful save vanished.
Champagne catapulted from her glass, arcing high in the air before sloshing across the seat of the motorcycle. The glass flew from her hand and shattered into a thousand shards when it hit the rocks. In a valiant effort to halt her sideways propulsion, she flailed for the bike and missed the handlebar, smashing the coveted piece of cake against the clutch.
“Shiiiiiiit!” As she tumbled she smeared the fluffy white dessert along the textured black grip, effectively filling every crack and crevice with buttercream frosting like a cake decorating ninja.
Self-preservation kicked in. Dani tossed the cake plate and stumbled sideways, snaking her arms around the decorative black lamppost. Thankfully, that stopped her speedy descent. With wobbly steps, due to her uneven shoe height, she regained her balance and righted herself.
She stared at the beautiful bike—now decked out in cake and champagne. Her heartbeat raced, thumping against her chest. She was a menace in heels.
She glanced around, making sure nobody had witnessed her Dani moment. Thankfully, only the crickets had been privy to her clumsy ballet. Champagne dripped from the black leather seat, leaving rivulets of liquid down the side of the bike. In a feeble attempt, she cupped her hand and scooped off the excess, leaving a glossy sheen. Even though it would be sticky, at least the champagne would dry quickly. The cake was another matter.
She swiped her finger along the handlebar, scooping up chunks of the frosting and cake, and then shook her hand vigorously. Her intent had been to sling the dessert into the bushes, but it splattered across the front of her black dress and landed in a lump on her foot. She kicked, sending frosting flying into the darkness.
“Oh for the love of…” With a tiny flick, she sent one of the speckles of frosting sailing from her dress. “Never again.” She launched more of the offending frosting into the air. “No more being a bridesmaid.” Her eyes narrowed, and she glared at the tiny white marks streaking her dress. “Never—ever.”
She stopped and surveyed the damage. What a mess. She had to run home and peel off the very expensive and incredibly tight dress Roxy insisted she buy.
Guilt poked at her. First she’d have to wipe down the motorcycle.
After a quick glance around to make sure she was still alone, Dani hoisted the bottom of her dress up to handlebar height, which raised the dress to an inch above her hips. Though it was a warm night, the air felt cool on her nearly exposed rear end. The only thing that stood between her butt and the night air was a thin pair of black lace panties.
Not wasting any time, she buffed the black grip with the underside of her dress until only a trace of white frosting remained. She smiled. By the time somebody noticed, she’d be gone.
“You know, you could have just asked for a ride,” a smooth and familiar voice said behind her.
No. No. No.
Dani jumped and shoved the dress back in place, heat infusing her cheeks.
This isn’t happening. This was exactly the kind of situation she found herself in on a regular basis. Skirt hiked up over her ass—of course her ex would show up. The universe hated her.
Cautiously, as not to perform another move engineered to massacre any semblance of remaining pride, she pivoted to face Jamie Kingsland, the man who broke her heart.
“Jamie.” His name was the only word she seemed capable of forming.
“Hi, Dani.” His deep voice wrapped around her. Damn him for his sensual wizardry and good looks. His brown hair had been lightened by the sun. That crooked smile that gave him a dimple in his right cheek tugged at her.
No. Your heart can’t take it. Jamie bad.
His gaze cut from the motorcycle back to her. “I’m almost afraid to ask, but what were you doing to my bike?”
It was too much. She lifted her hands and shook her head. “Of course it’s your bike.” With a deep exhale, she lowered her hands. “I was trying to get a better look, slipped, and—” She shrugged. “I might have spilled champagne and cake all over it.”
He arched a dark brown eyebrow. “And that required you to take off your dress?”
“I wasn’t taking it off.” She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at the sky. It was so much easier than meeting his stare and enduring his mocking smile. “I was wiping down the seat and grip.” She lowered her gaze back on him. “Sorry.”
His expression relaxed as he slowly nodded, his mouth turning down as if considering her explanation.
She shifted under his assessing gaze. “I assume you’re here for the wedding?”
“Yeah.” His lips tilted up into a knowing smile. “Didn’t Roxy tell you?”
Murdering her best friend had been added to her to-do list. “No. She didn’t.”
“Oh, awkward.” He shoved his hands in his front pockets and gave her a lop-sided grin. “I’m the best man.”
“Excuse me?” She could not have heard him right. Her best friend would not have kept this ginormous freakin’ fact about her ex from her. “I thought Kyle’s brother was best man.”
“He agreed to step in if I couldn’t make it, but they’re not really close, and—” Jamie held his arms out to the side. “I was able to make it.”
“Greeeeeat.” Her mind reeled with the WTHs about the next two weeks. She’d have to be around him—see his stupid cute smile—smell that great cologne she loved so much— repress the wrath of a thousand suns that had been burning inside her since the day he bolted to Florida. It was a miracle that she managed a smile—fake or otherwise. “No, yeah, that’s really—really—great. I mean—” Her head bobbed up and down, as if somebody had flipped the on switch. “You’re Kyle’s best friend. Why wouldn’t you be best man?” Then she started shrugging, her head nods morphing to a steady head shake, as if unable to comprehend the situation. “Yeah, it makes perfect sense and I bet Kyle is really, really happy.” Maybe if she added another “really” the fact that she’d be subjected to her ex for the next two weeks would sink in. “Well…” She clasped her hands together. “It seems everything worked out for the best.”
“Dani, are you sure you’re okay with this?” He took a step forward. “I was hoping Roxy had prewarned you I was coming.”
“Of course I’m fine.” NOT! She was going to kill Roxy. A slow, torturous death. She waved a hand in the air. “This is about Roxy and Kyle. It’s all good.” She rambled, but couldn’t seem to stop herself. “As a matter of fact, I’m going to go have a chat with Roxy right now.” She crept her way across the crushed rock, veering wide of Jamie. “Sorry about your bike.”
“It’s okay.” He took a step toward her. “Are you all right? You’re limping.”
“I’m fine. Just had a little shoe mishap.” She hobbled past him and finally made it to the sidewalk.
Trying to save the tiny thread of pride she had left, she kicked off her shoes and carried them down the sidewalk. The night had quickly spiraled from bad to what-the-hell. Why hadn’t Roxy told her Jamie would be in the wedding?
To stop me from backing out as maid of honor. It was a dirty trick.
She sighed. Her friend was blond sunshine and happiness, and impossible to stay angry at.
“Okay, then—” She gave an absent wave. “I guess I’ll be seeing you around.”
“I guess so.”
Continuing along the sidewalk, she didn’t turn around, not even when Jamie’s footsteps sounded behind her. Yeah, she was definitely going to murder the bride.
It’s not like she’d professed her love on New Year’s Eve and he’d caught a plane to Florida a few days later, or anything. It didn’t matter that he’d come up with some lame excuse about his father demanding he take over the Florida division of the family construction company. He’d promised to call, but he didn’t.
As she approached the entrance, the restaurant doors swung open and Roxy strolled out. “There you are, Dani.” The bride-to-be took a few steps and stopped. “Jamie.” Her big blue eyes widened and bounced from him to Dani, and then back. “You’re here.”
“In the flesh.” He strode toward her and wrapped her in a hug. “You look beautiful, Roxy.”
Over his shoulder, her friend stared wide-eyed at Dani while vigorously patting Jamie’s back. She narrowed her gaze, letting Roxy know death was imminent. Then her friend attempted one of her puppy-eye expressions, which normally rendered anyone within a ten-foot radius helpless. Not this time. Dani slid a finger across her throat and mouthed, “You are so dead.”
The two women stared at each other for a few seconds before Roxy disengaged. “Kyle and the guys are at the bar. You should go in. I know he’ll be thrilled to see you.”
Jamie nodded, his gaze cutting to Dani. “It was good seeing you.”
“Yeah.” She gave him a tight smile. “Ditto.”
The instant the door closed behind him, Roxy spun to face her. “I didn’t know.” She held her hands up in front of her like a shield. “I mean, Kyle just said something to me a few minutes ago so I booked out here to find you. But I did not know he was coming. You have to believe me.”
The panic on her friend’s face would have made Dani laugh if she hadn’t still been reeling. “I believe you,” she squeaked.
Neither spoke for a few seconds.
“So, how are you?” Roxy asked.
“I’m fine.” Like hell. She was not fine, but the last thing she wanted was to cause her friend more stress with the wedding so close. “It’s all good. So what if Jamie is going to be the best man? So what if I’ll probably run into him a kagillion times over the next few weeks?” She wrapped her arms protectively around her torso. “So what if he looks better than ever? It’s no big deal.”
Roxy laid a hand on her shoulder and gently rubbed. “You’re so strong. Way stronger than I am.”
An unladylike snort hiccupped from Dani. “Right.”
“You are.” Her voice climbed an octave. “And you’re the best friend in the whole world. You’ve always got my back— no matter what.”
She tipped her chin downward and leveled her gaze on Roxy. “What’s going on? You’re using your cartoon princess voice again.”
It looked as if Roxy was going to argue, so Dani intensified her stare.
“Fine, I do have a favor to ask you.” Her top teeth worried her lower lip, and she rounded her eyes, a move that would instantly land her a job at Disney. “But promise to hear me out before you say no.”
“Why would I say no? You know I’d do anything for you.” She smiled despite the unease creeping through her. “What is it?”
“Okay, but please know I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.”
Her patience slipped. “What is it?”
Roxy inhaled and then dropped the bomb. “I need you to keep Jamie away from Kyle until the wedding.”
At first the request didn’t register. Surely she hadn’t heard correctly. “Excuse me?”
Roxy grabbed her hand and pressed it to her ample bosom. “I know it’s a lot to ask, especially after everything you’ve been through with him.”
“No, asking me to take a bullet for you is a lot to ask. Which, I might add, I would happily do. Wanting me to spend time with the man who broke my heart is on the same level as Chinese water torture or shoving hot needles under my fingernails—again, both I’d rather experience than what you’re asking.” She pulled her hand free. “And why in the world do you need to keep Jamie away from Kyle?”
“You know what a commitment-phobe Jamie is.”
Did she ever. “And?”
“I’m afraid he’ll try to convince Kyle not to get married. He’s already made a few comments about this being the biggest mistake of Kyle’s life.”
Asshole. What right did he have making decisions for other people? He didn’t know crap about relationships.
Shaking her head, Dani scowled. “Kyle loves you too much. And Jamie might be an ass, but he wouldn’t sabotage your wedding.” Even as she said the words, she wasn’t certain that was true. Anything to do with happily ever after or commitment seemed to set Jamie off. “I mean, he’d have to be a complete douche bag to pull something like that.”
“Come on, you and I both know what he’s capable of.” Roxy grabbed her hand again, tightening her grip. “Please, you’re the only one who can do this.”
“Me? I’m the last person who can do this.” She slid her hand free and marched to the front door, yanking it open. “Tonight was the first time I’ve seen him since New Year’s Eve, and let me just say, I made quite an impression. He wants nothing to do with me.”
“I don’t think that’s true.” Roxy clip-clopped through the entrance and stopped inside the door, but didn’t look at her.
“What are you not telling me?”
“Nothing—” Roxy’s mouth dropped open. “Much— really.”
If her friend had in any way suggested to Jamie that she’d pined for him or had spent the first month after their breakup watching old movies and eating everything that didn’t eat her first, Roxy wouldn’t live to see her wedding day. “What. Did. You. Do?”
“Well, he might have called last week to talk to Kyle, but I promise I didn’t know he’d decided to come. Neither did Kyle, but, Jamie did ask about you.”
Dani straightened. “He did?”
“Yeah.” Roxy nodded. “And I told him you were doing great.”
“And…” Roxy gave a little shake of her head. “I might have hinted that you were seeing someone.”
“But….” Still, she liked the idea of Jamie believing she’d done fine after he bolted. “I’m not dating anybody?” Not that it mattered. She and Jamie were ancient history. Okay, so she was a little interested in knowing how he’d reacted. “What did he say?”
With a nonchalant shrug, Roxy said, “He seemed irritated.”
“Really?” Dani gave herself a mental slap. Geez, why was she still so easily affected by this guy? No matter what she’d tried over the last year, she couldn’t shake her feelings for him. A song would play or she’d eat in a restaurant they’d been to, or she’d be alone in bed and horny—it all reminded her of Jamie. Damn, the sex had been incredible. Several times she’d prayed he hadn’t ruined her for other men. “Irritated how?”
“Just irritated. He asked who the guy was.”
“What did you tell him?” She was the worst at lies and games. As a matter of fact, she had a better chance of becoming an Olympic pole-vaulter than successfully pulling off a ruse that she was dating somebody else.
“Nothing. I asked why he cared.” Roxy smirked. “I think that caught him off guard. Anyway, this is a chance for you to show him that you’re doing fine.” She paused. “Because you are, right?”
“Yeah, sure, I’m great.” Yup, that was her mantra, and she was sticking to it. But she wasn’t. She thought about him every day. They’d been friends for five years before they hooked up, and she’d been closer to him than anyone ever in her life. Erasing those memories had proven impossible.
Jamie might have wrecked her life, but she wouldn’t let that happen to her best friend. With a heavy sigh, her shoulders rounded forward in defeat. “Fine, I’ll do it for you.”
Roxy threw her arms around her. “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome.” The words you owe me lingered on her tongue. But this was a gift more than a favor. No payback required. “Come on, I need to clean up and a drink.”
And a plan. How was she going to get the man who bolted at the first mention of love to spend time with her?
Kinni Corbet attacks everything life throws at her with logic and order. That’s why there is no place in her neatly appointed world for Price Lyons. He’s everything she’s not, spontaneous, outgoing, unpredictable, and dangerous to her peace of mind. But when she agrees to release the tight grip she has on her bridesmaid duties in order to relax, she doesn’t realize that he’s part of the relaxation package.
When Price overhears Kinni agreeing to metaphorically let her hair down and enjoy herself, he can’t help but use the wedding favor to spend time with her. Maybe then he’ll be able to bring the desire he’s been harboring for her out of the shadows and into the light.
The crab cake hovered an inch from Kinni’s mouth, her eyes riveted on Roxy, the bride-to-be. “What?”
Her friend’s pouty pink lips curled into a smile full of white teeth Roxy’s big blue eyes rounding. “Instead of you giving us a gift, I’d like to gift you with a favor.” Her smile stretched a fraction wider. “A wedding favor.”
“That doesn’t make any sense. Besides, I already bought you and Kyle wedding presents.” Kinni lowered the appetizer and shook her head. “I spent hours picking out the right item combination, giftwrap, and bow.”
Roxy’s sunshine smile pinched into a grimace and she reached to pat Kinni’s hand. “And I appreciate all your effort, sweetie, but…” The tight lines of her face softened. “Hours? Really?”
This wasn’t the first time Kinni’s tenaciousness to detail had been called into question. Though her rigid personality was the reason she’d done well in law school, it had been the death of the only long-time relationship she’d ever had been in. Her ex had constantly complained about her need to loosen up. She’d tried, she really had, but after three torturous weeks of ignoring the towels he left on the bathroom, not rushing to clean the kitchen after they ate, and waiting until he left before vacuuming up his chip crumbs, her true personality crept back in.
No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t escape her organized and responsible ways, and he’d ultimately ended things between them.
Now she could see it was for the best. She was who she was and wouldn’t have been happy trying to be something else. Life had taught her being impulsive didn’t garner results. She’d accepted the fact that there probably wasn’t a man alive who could put up with her idiosyncrasies, and vice versa.
“All right, I’ll bite. What do you mean ‘gift me a favor’?” Discarding the crab cake altogether, she pursed her lips. “You’ve already given us our bridesmaid gifts and a day at the spa.”
“I know, but this is different.” As if cranking the dimmer switch to high, Roxy widened her eyes and her smile. “You’ve already done so much for us. Between the parties, wedding prep, and job hunting, I’m worried you’re spreading yourself too thin.””
Kinni lowered her voice and focused on her friend’s face, “Meaning?”
“Meaning, I want you relax, have fun, be in the moment.” When she didn’t reply, Roxy pressed on. “Look, everything you’ve done is perfect and we can’t thank you enough for all your help, but I feel guilty about how much time you’re putting into my wedding.”
Kinni’s gaze remained leveled on her friend. After all these years she would have thought Roxy knew how much she enjoyed helping out with an event like this. The charts and color-coding had given her weeks of pleasure, but making somebody who didn’t have the same love of all things orderly understand that was damn near impossible.
“So, if I hear you correctly, you want me to relax. That’s it?”
“Yes. I’m planning on only getting married once, and I want you to enjoy this last week of me being single. Really have some fun.”
“Relax and have fun…” The space between Kinni’s brows pinched together. “That’s the favor?”
“In a nutshell..” Roxy’s head bobbed from side to side, the blond ringlets bouncing like curly yellow ribbons against her cheeks. “I want you to say yes to relaxation and fun for a week.”
The muscles in Kinni’s jaw clamped down, repressing the NO! wanting to escape. Saying yes to the gifted favor wasn’t a problem, if she thought everything through first, analyzed all the variables and possible outcomes. There was still a lot to do for the wedding, things she’d started and couldn’t leave dangling unfinished. What Roxy didn’t understand was that those dangling tasks would drive her crazy over the course of the week, and relaxing would be impossible. Maybe she could fake relax. But knowing Roxy, she’d probably spring surprise visits on her just to make sure she in the moment.
Clearly sensing her resistance, Roxy clasped her hands together in a prayer pose. “Please.” She touched her fingers to her lips, her eyes boring into Kinni’s. “And you can still give us the gifts you bought.
Unable to say no, but still not compelled to agree, she finagled for more time. “I don’t see how any of this is a favor.” Especially to me.
“You’ve been such a great friend. Let me do something nice in return.” Roxy gripped her shoulders, placing her face directly in front of Kinni’s. “Please?”
Being caught in her friend’s pointed stare was like hanging helpless in a spider’s web. Instead of paralyzing and eating her prey, which might be a preferable outcome, the giant spider of perkiness was going to fun Kinni to death.
Her lips pressed together, but resistance was futile. “Fine.” The instant the word was out, she wanted to shove it back in her mouth. “I’ll relax and be in the moment, but only if it’s not going to endanger my life or throw a wrench in plans I already have.” She glanced around and lowered her voice. “And don’t tell anybody. I don’t need everybody telling what I should and shouldn’t do.”
“My lips are sealed, not even to Kyle.” Her friend mimed locking her lips and throwing away the key. Then she wrapped Kinni in a hug and squeezed. “You’ll have a good time, I promise.”
“Uh huh.” After extricating herself from the overzealous hug, she stepped back, needing space. “Okay then, this was fun.” She enunciated the f-word. “But, I need to use the lady’s room.”
If possible, Roxy’s mouth stretched into an even wider smile. “You won’t regret agreeing to this.”
Kinni mustered a single nod and a half smile before escaping to the bathroom. Though she’d already said yes, what she needed was a little reassurance that she wasn’t going to regret her agreement. Roxy was always super supportive of everything she did, and rarely asked for anything from her.
In college Roxy had not only befriended her, but insisted Kinni be part of the close circle that made up their group today. Even though she’d never totally fit, none of the women had batted an eyelash about accepting her.
No matter how painful Roxy’s request would be, she’d do it. What was the worst that could happen?
Had he heard right? Did Miss Rigid, Kinni Corbett, just agree to relax for an entire week? Price glanced over his shoulder and watched her stride across the room to the exit. Her long black hair swung with purpose but still managed to remain neat, as if no strand dared fall out of ranks. His gaze drifted along her trim torso and settled on her firm tight rear end. There was no denying the woman was gorgeous—like smokin’ hot beautiful. She was a dark and sultry like Kate Beckinsale, and lean like Gwyneth Paltrow. In his opinion, the perfect combination. Too bad Kinni’s personality always got in the way.
Though the group had gone to college together, they’d never clicked, which in his opinion, was a terrible shame. It’s not like he hadn’t tried—several times, but she’d shot down his attempts at flirting with a few well-targeted comebacks that had left no room for rallying. Even now classifying her as his friend was pushing it. She was standoffish, way too serious, and though he didn’t know for a fact, suspected she disapproved of him. It was probably because he was everything she wasn’t. Fun. Spontaneous. Outgoing.
Despite the fact that she was tightly wound and probably high maintenance, he’d had several fantasies involving Kinni. He couldn’t shake the notion that a lot of pent-up sexual frustration hovered under all her buttoned-up perfection. A guy could dream, which is exactly all he’d done so far.
His gazed followed her until she disappeared around the corner. He popped the square of cheese in his mouth and slowly chewed, contemplating the unexpected opportunity fate had dropped in his lap. The one thing he did know about Kinni was that she was painfully literal and true to her word. If she told Roxy she’d relax, then she would go out of her way to keep her promise, even when it probably wasn’t necessary. Maybe he’d be able to use this in his favor. All he’d have to do is offer her exactly what she wanted wrapped up in the guise of friendship.
A smile quirked the corner of his mouth while ideas raced through his mind. He could have a lot of fun finding out what made Miss Corbett tick and at the same time get her to loosen up. Keep it simple and friendly, otherwise she’d know something was up. He needed to be subtle, get her to spend time with him, and break down her defenses slowly and show her what a great guy he was. If things never progressed to the next level, he’d chalk it up to fate. At the very least they’d be better friends. It might not be the outcome he wanted, but it was better than nothing.
Having fun had always been one of his top three priorities in life, and he made sure to put the same effort into enjoying running his hotel business as he did is extracurricular activities. That’s probably why he’d never connected with her. Their priorities seemed to be at the opposite ends of the spectrum, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to try to make a connection with her. He’d dealt with tough clients before and had always been able to win them over. “This just might work,” he muttered.
“What will work?”
His head snapped up. Damn, he hadn’t noticed her come back in. “My schedule.” He scrambled for an explanation that might include her. “I have my final tux fitting tomorrow. I thought it was going to interfere with a conference call I have slated, but it’s all good.”
“You should use a time management app.” She picked up her near empty glass and downed the last drops of wine. “They really help. I’d be lost without mine.”
“Great idea.” He nodded and pointed to her empty glass. “Let me get you a refill. What are you drinking?”
Hesitantly she released the glass. “Merlot. Thank you.”
“My pleasure.” He’d planned on getting the wine and returning, but she followed, stopping beside him at the bar. “One merlot and one vodka martini, please.” After giving the order, he turned to her. “So Kinni, I was wondering if you would do me a favor.”
Her lip curled at the corner. “Another favor?”
“Excuse me?” he said, playing dumb.
“Never mind.” The set of her shoulders stiffened and she crossed her arms over her chest. “What’s the favor?”
“Would you come with me to pick up my tux tomorrow? I need an honest opinion about the fit.” He didn’t, but figured it was a good way to spend time together. She’d get a chance to see him away from the guys and hopefully change her opinion of him. “How about it?”
“Why don’t you take one of your—” She mimed air quotes. “Assistants to help you.”
“First of all, the women I date aren’t my assistants. Secondly, my assistant is a he not a she and unfortunately, Larry’s knowledge of fashion doesn’t extend much beyond corduroy suits with elbow patches. Lastly, I need an honest opinion, and I know you’ll give it to me.”
It was true he had no shortage of women. Owning three trendy hotels in Seattle meant a constant stream of people in and out of his life. Some were genuinely nice and others only wanted something from him. He didn’t think he’d have to worry about Kinni falling into that category. On the contrary, from her narrowed gaze and ramrod stiff posture he suspected any kind of genuine affection he could coax from her would be hard won.
“What time is your appointment?”
“Ten o’clock.” He waited for a response, but when she simply continued to peer at him he added, “Is that a yes?”
“All right, I’ll meet you there.” She lowered her arms. “But I’m going to be honest about your tux.”
“Great, that’s what I need. And…” He attempted his most innocent and non-threatening grin. “How about I take you to lunch as a thank you?”
She shook her head. “That’s not necessary.”
“Come on. You’re being so nice by helping me out.” He reached out and gently chucked her on the shoulder, which was totally lame and slightly embarrassing. “Let me do something nice for you.”
Her eyes darted to somewhere behind him, probably at Roxy, held, and then cut back. She crossed her arms over her chest again, but this time she seemed to be shrinking away from him. Her shoulders lifted to her ears and she grimaced. Her answer squeezed from her, as if it hurt to pronounce the word. “Okay.”
“Great.” He clasped his hands, making sure not to touch her again. The poor thing looked like she was ready to bolt. “I’ll see you at the tux shop at ten. Do you know where it is?” She nodded, but didn’t reply otherwise. “Great,” he said again. “Thank you so much.”
“It’s fine,” she muttered. A few seconds of strained silence stretched between them until she turned back to the room and rested her elbows on the bar. She tilted her head towards the maid of honor, Dani. “How long are they going to keep staring at each other and hope no one notices?”
He mirrored her pose, watching Jamie’s gaze darted to Dani, hold, and then cut away. “Until they combust from the sexual tension.”
Last year the two had broken up after several intense months of dating. Jamie had never given him any details, and he wasn’t one to pry.
“I agree. It’s like watching some primitive mating ritual.” The bartender slid a glass of wine toward Kinni. She picked it up, sipped, and slowly swallowed, her gaze never leaving their two friends. “I hope she’s not going to do anything stupid, like sleep with him.”
“Why is that stupid?” Price twirled the olive around the glass. “They’re both adults.”
“On an emotional level Jamie is like a ticking bomb for Dani. She’s still into him, no matter how much she denies it. And logically he’s a poor choice for her.”
“How do you figure.” He sipped his martini, his attention centered on Kinni. Hearing her views on the couple might give him some insight on how she approached relationship.
“Well, he lives in Florida, and she lives here in Seattle. It would be a bad career move for Dani to leave her editorial position, especially since she’s been promoted to senior editor. And I can’t imagine Jamie leaving the family business. So there’s very little chance that anything could work out between them.”
“Maybe they’re still in love,” he pressed.
An unfeminine snort slipped from her. “It’s taken nearly a year for Dani to get over the two of them being in love. Something miraculous would have to happen for the result not to be the same if they tried to patch things up.”
He couldn’t argue with her, but he sure hated how cynical her opinions sounded. Call him old fashioned, but he liked the possibility of rekindling an old love. “What about absence making the heart grow fonder.”
“Come on.” She turned to him, shaking her head and giving him a pinched expression. “When has that ever worked? It’s hard enough making things work when a couple is near each other. Toss separation and odds of failure increase dramatically. And—” She jabbed a finger in the air. “The longer the separation lasts, the less chance that things will work out.”
“I suppose soulmates are out of the question?”
She turned back to the gathering. “Soulmates are just people who share common goals, values, and beliefs. There isn’t anything magical or ordained by Heaven about it.”
“Call me a romantic, but I believe there are things about love that can’t be explained away.” He held his glass up. “No matter how eloquent the argument. That being said, might I suggest a little wager?”
She propped one elbow on the bar and leaned toward him a fraction, her interest clearly roused, “What kind of wager?”
“I bet they hookup sometime during the wedding week, and you think they won’t, right?”
“Correct. And what does the winner get?”
“Let’s say a favor from the loser, within reason.” Making the prize generic gave him a little leeway on options depending on how their relationship progressed over the next week.
“Nothing sexual unless there’s mutual agreement.” He gave her a half-cocked grin. “Then I’m happy to oblige.” Pink tinged her cheeks and her eyes darted away from his face. He could see the wheels in her mind turning. The woman liked a challenge, the fact she was a lawyer proved it. And for him having this bet gave him more reason to talk to her. To tempt her a little more, he added, “I could help you move furniture or organize something. Whatever you want.”
She looked at him again, her eyes bright. “Okay, you’re on. Within the next week Jamie and Dani have to get back together or else you owe me a favor. Whatever I want.”
“Whatever.” He held out his hand. “Shall we shake on it?”
Her palm was warm against his and it was tempting to step into the handshake to be closer, but he had to play it cool. Though he might lose the bet, if he played his cards right and didn’t push her too fast, he might just win the battle.