Release day is almost here for my anthology One Week in Hawaii, but I just couldn't wait for May 19th to share Annie and Chris's story with everyone! Today I'm giving you part one of a two-part excerpt from my novella "The Wedding Week".
Annie Kalani wedged her iPhone between her shoulder and her ear as she readjusted the tower of boutonniere boxes under her left arm. “How does a bridesmaid lose an earring in a three-room suite? It must be there somewhere.”
Her assistant Jemma’s voice came thin and high through the phone’s speaker. “She may have snuck a cigarette behind my back while I was coordinating the big reveal.”
Annie stopped dead in her tracks. “What?”
“I know, I know. There are so many people in this bridal suite, she just got out.”
She closed her eyes for a brief second and sent up a prayer to the wedding gods. It was the Friday evening before Memorial Day—the official kickoff of Wedding Week at the Kuhio Resort & Spa, and the start of the busiest three months of her year. Stapling a surly bridesmaid to a caterer’s chair was not how she wanted to ring in the season, but she would do it if she needed to.
“Was she wearing her dress while she was smoking?” she asked, keeping her voice as calm as she could. Couples paid a premium to have her orchestrate their big day. If she panicked, they panicked, so she never panicked. Visibly.
Jemma let out a little huff of relief. “She had a bathrobe on, thankfully.”
“At least we won’t have to Febreze the dress. Just her. There’s some dry shampoo that deodorizes in the kit. Get Johnny to give her a once-over with that, and then swap out her earrings for the pearl studs. They should be in a tiny Ziploc in the front pocket of the kit.”
“Johnny’s almost packed up,” Jemma fretted. The temperamental hairstylist was the best in Oahu, and he knew it. Experience told Annie that love and a little ego stroking was the best way to get him to do what she wanted.
“If he gives you a problem, send him my way,” she said, mashing the elevator’s up button with her pale pink, manicured finger. “And it wouldn’t hurt to mention that we have the booking for Jessica McCreedy’s wedding next May. The budget is unlimited.”
“I’ll let him know.” She could hear the grin in Jemma’s voice.
They said goodbye just as the elevator’s door slid open. With the boxes wedged against the wall, Annie let the phone slide down her arm, catching it in her hand to end the call. Alone in the quiet, she breathed deeply. One mini crisis a wedding. That was all she would tolerate, and the future Mr. and Mrs. Mark Liu just had theirs.
Wedding Week was all about putting out fires as fast as they sprang up. Celebrations at the Kuhio had two-a-day bookings for weddings Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, a fiftieth wedding anniversary dinner Wednesday, a Thursday rehearsal dinner, and five events the following weekend. Things would go wrong—they always did—but Annie would be there to fix them. The groom was late? No problem. The father of the bride got drunk? It’s handled. The flowers didn’t show up? On top of it. Being a planner was like juggling fourteen flaming torches while standing en pointe, and she loved it.
The elevator dinged, and she was out in the hall—boxes and all—in seconds flat. Things were running a few minutes behind schedule, but the buffer time she had built in should take care of that, so long as they didn’t slip any further.
At least the groom hadn’t presented any problems. Yet.
As she approached the groom’s suite, the door opened, and Josh, the wedding photographer, walked out while tucking a lens into his camera bag.
“You’re moving fast, Kalani,” he said with a jerk of his chin at the boxes in her hands. “Boutonnieres?”
“Late boutonnieres. I know we all run on island time, but remind me to kill the florist next time I see him.”
Josh laughed as he ran a hand over his shaved head. “You can’t do that. He’s the only florist you like. Besides, the groom’s good to go.”
Her eyebrows shot up. “Really? He didn’t seem like the type to be ready on time.”
Josh grinned as he passed her. “Got you.”
With a sigh, she shifted the boxes back under her arm so she could knock. The door swung open to reveal a groomsman—this one called Dan—with a drink in hand. “Hello, wedding planner!”
She gave him a once-over and nudged through the door. “Your tie is undone.”
He looked down and tugged at one of the bow tie’s ends. “We were just trying to figure it out on YouTube. Gary’s got his done, but everyone else is struggling.”
She lifted the boxes. “Let me put these down. Then I’ll help.”
Dan led her over to a sideboard that also served as a bar. She eyed the levels on the decanter of scotch she’d checked on that morning. About half gone. Calculate that across half a dozen groomsmen plus the man of the hour and it wasn’t too bad. She’d certainly seen more sauced bridal parties on both ends of the gender spectrum before.
She glanced around the richly appointed room. Two groomsmen she’d met at the rehearsal sat on a plush, pale blue couch in front of a Dodgers game. Gary shook his head as he tried to show Dan and Andrew how to take one bold step into manhood and tie a real bow tie. And one man stood with his back to all of them, on his phone. That must be Chris, the late groomsman. She had a dossier on all of the wedding party, but what was on paper often didn’t tell her the whole story. Like the fact that Chris, a Los Angeles chef, hadn’t been able to get away from his restaurant until the morning of the wedding. That meant Annie had spent a good part of the early hours of setup tracking his flight, praying there would be no delays. Now that he was here, all she cared about was that the man was dressed and on time for the actual ceremony.
She would deal with him when he got off the phone. For now, she had tie-struggling groomsmen to put out of their misery.
A movement at the edge of her field of vision caught Annie’s attention. She turned on her nude three-inch high heels and found herself staring at a naked groom.
Well, not naked—wrapped in a towel—but that meant he was wearing a lot less tux than he was supposed to be.
She raised an eyebrow. “Mark, you aren’t dressed.” Before the wedding day, she tried her best to be accommodating, understanding. On the day? Not so much. Her job was to make sure Mark Liu and Karen Curen got to the gauze-covered bamboo pergola that would serve as their altar and said, “I do.” To do that, Mark needed to be clothed. Now. No excuses. No exceptions.
“I was a little late getting in the shower,” he said as he sheepishly ran a hand through his wet hair. Hair that should be pomaded and swept into a perfect, sixties-esque side part, per Karen’s instructions. Time for Mark to learn how to use a hair dryer.
Eric, Investment Banker Groomsman, had detached himself from the Dodgers game long enough to pour a couple of tumblers of Macallan 18. Ice cubes clinked in the glass that he started to hand to the groom.
“Oh no.” She surged forward to intercept the scotch. “Dress now. Drink later. You get married in twenty-six minutes.”
With her free hand squarely on Mark’s shoulder, she pushed him toward the bedroom. “Don’t forget the shirt studs.”
The groom dutifully trudged into the bedroom, sending only a brief, wistful glance at the baseball, booze, and bro time waiting for him in the living room.
When she turned back, she found Frat Boy Dan eyeing her and the glass of scotch in her hand. “Are you going to drink that?”
She could sense the slight edge in his voice. A bossy woman intruding on Man Time. No, not just a woman. A wedding planner, the kind of woman who made her living thinking about lace versus satin. Runners or full tablecloths. Venetian hour or plated desserts. She was the enemy, an intruder, and sometimes groomsmen gave her a hard time. What Dan didn’t know was that her job demanded that she be able to put him in place with ruthless efficiency, all while wearing a pastel, flowered Karen Millen sheath dress and a smile.
For now, however, she’d start with a friendlier approach. “I would like this scotch more than you know,” she said, putting the glass down, “but someone’s got to drive these stilettos. Now, why don’t I help you guys with your bow ties?”
Five minutes later, five groomsmen’s bow ties were in perfect order. The sixth was still pacing back in forth in front of the massive windows looking out over the water to Diamond Head.
Annie planted her hands on her hips, ready to order Late to the Party Chris to grab his tie and get in line, when the man hung up his call. He turned a pair of intense, soulful eyes on her, and he lifted a hand to scrape over the faint trace of a beard. “Are you going to tie me up too?”
The innuendo flowed through her, thick and sweet as golden honey that came to pool between her legs. Oh, this was bad. This was very, very bad.
He was a handsome man in a rugged sort of way. He wore his tux well, but something about him told her that this man was more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt—broken in and comfortable. Pair that with his short black hair and the loose, confident way he stood with his left hand thrust in his pocket, and he was all sorts of gorgeous.
He was looking at her expectantly, his head cocked, and Annie realized that she was checking out his lean body rather than answering his question. She cleared her throat. “Do you need help?”
His grin was a little lopsided as he set his phone down on a table and picked up either end of his bow tie. Slowly he wove them together, manipulating the black silk into a perfect knot. His fingers would be elegant if it wasn’t for the white slashes of healed scars that were visible even from where she stood. An image flashed through her head—those fingers playing over the smooth skin of her breasts—and a fierce blush exploded over the back of her neck, rushing to her cheeks.
“How did I do?” Chris asked, tugging at the tie to straighten it before letting his hands fall to his side.
He was flirting with her. It wasn’t exactly uncommon behavior for a groomsman, especially when you threw alcohol into the mix, but this was different. This time, Annie wanted to flirt back.
No. You have rules.
“You look fine,” she said, pushing away the throb of arousal that rolled through her. “Are you planning on stowing that cell phone for the ceremony?”
He glanced at the phone on the table. “Will you take it away from me if I say no?”
Her eyes narrowed, her expression frosty where his was teasing. “If I need to. Confiscating technology is part of the job.”
“Then I guess I’ll turn it off.” He swept the phone up as he walked by her, hesitating only to whisper, “But it would have been more fun if you took it from me.”
Heat shot through her, and she glanced around to see if anyone had just witnessed that exchange. All of the men were fixated on the Dodgers game.
She blew out a long, steady breath. This Chris guy was just messing with her—his own version of a test the way that Dan had challenged her about the Macallan. Nothing more.
Behind her, the bedroom door flew open, and Mark burst out dressed in everything but his tuxedo jacket. “How do I look?” he asked, a mile-wide grin plastered on his face.
“Like a man who’s about to lock himself to a ball and chain,” said Eric with a laugh.
Annie allowed herself the tiniest of eye rolls. “Okay, Mark, time to walk down to the ceremony. This wedding gets going in twenty minutes.”
The groom nodded. “My jacket’s in the bedroom. Hold on.”
He turned back and… Rip!
Can't wait for more? Part two is coming out next Wednesday so keep an eye out! One Week in Hawaii is available for preorder on Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo now. You can also get more exclusive content like this by signing up for my newsletter: http://bit.ly/1DcijTk