Last Wednesday I gave you an exclusive look at One Week in Hawaii and introduced you to Annie and Chris. If you need to catch up, you can click here because today we're picking up right where we left off.
Annie strode across the room, gripped Mark’s shoulder, and spun him around. A three-inch rip gaped at the back of his fine cotton tuxedo shirt.
“How bad is it?” asked the panicking groom as he tried to twist to look.
“Do you have a backup?” she demanded.
His lips pressed into a thin line. “Karen doesn’t like it. It doesn’t fit as well.”
Of course it didn’t. She looked at her watch. Nineteen minutes to ceremony. “Take it off.”
The groom and his party all stared at her.
“I have a sewing kit in here,” she explained, fighting to keep the exasperation from her voice. “Take the shirt off, and I’ll sew it back together. But someone’s going to need to iron the backup just in case.”
Mark started to unbutton the torn shirt as she looked around the room at more blank faces. “Not a single one of you can iron?” she asked.
Gary, the New York lawyer, shrugged. “Camilla won’t let me near the iron after I burned a hole in my brand new Brooks Brothers shirt a couple years ago.”
“I can do it.”
Chris stepped forward and unbuttoned his tuxedo jacket, letting it slide down his arms. She was one hundred percent positive that if she peeled his shirt off him she’d find strong, wiry muscle underneath there. Muscle she might have let herself indulge in thinking about if it wasn’t for the clumsiest groom in Hawaii.
“Good,” she said with a sharp nod. At least one of them could fend for themselves. Her mother always said that a real man was one who could cook, clean, and keep a house. A man who was the opposite of her father—often drunk, sometimes incarcerated, and rarely present.
She took Mark’s torn shirt, but not before fixing the other groomsmen with a hard stare. “You will each take a boutonniere. Then you will go to the ceremony location. You will stay at the ceremony location. No detours. No stalling. No more drinks until after the wedding vows are exchanged. Is that clear?”
The men murmured their agreement and shuffled out of the hotel room. She half expected them to hold hands, pairing off into field trip buddies like little kids.
She moved to her kit, a suitcase she’d planted in the room that morning. “Mark, how much have you had to drink today?”
“I had a scotch a couple hours ago,” he said shakily. “I was too amped up for anything else.”
“Good. Pour yourself another—a small one—and watch the game. I’ll be done with this in a moment.”
The groom shot her a grateful look and scuttled over to the couch.
She pointed at Chris. “You come with me.”
She moved fast, ripping the dry-cleaning bag off the backup shirt that hung in the closet and sliding it from its hanger. When she turned back, Chris had the ironing board out and was in the bathroom filling the iron’s water chamber.
They worked in silence for a couple of moments, her repairing the shirt with tiny stitches and him moving methodically to iron the backup crisp and smooth.
“You’re good at that,” she said, tipping her head in his direction.
His crooked smile slid over his face again. “Courtesy of my first job. I did all the grunt work at my stepfather’s restaurant. If I was late or broke a dish, I got stuck ironing napkins. He wanted sharp corners, the same way every single time.”
“Is spending all that time in the restaurant what made you want to be a chef?” She didn’t know why she asked it. After tonight, she wasn’t going to see this guy again, but he was helping her. Asking felt right.
“Mark mentioned that I’m a chef?” he asked, flipping the shirt so he could do the second front panel.
“I have a file on all members of the wedding party.”
His eyes widened. “That’s not sinister at all.”
She shrugged. “During one of the first weddings I ever planned, I didn’t realize that one of the bridesmaids had an ex-husband and an ex-boyfriend in the wedding party. The men started brawling during ‘The Cha Cha Slide.’”
He barked a laugh—a sound as rich as chocolate and just as sinful. “You’re kidding?”
The beginnings of a smile tugged at her lips. “The bridesmaid wound up sobbing into my lap in the bathroom. That’s why I try to find out as much about you guys as I can beforehand.”
“So what else do you know about me?” he asked. The question should have been casual, but the low rumble of his voice made it sound like a promise of so much more.
She squeezed her thighs tight. She was at work. That meant no lusting after guests.
“I know enough about you,” was all she said.
“That’s a cop-out.”
“I’m like the CIA. If I told you what’s in the dossier, I’d have to kill you.”
He put the iron down. “And what’s the CIA’s policy on dancing with a guest? Hypothetically speaking, of course.”
Annie nearly jabbed herself in the thumb with the needle. There was no way she was going to dance with this man. She wouldn’t survive the feeling of his body pressed up against hers no matter how much she wanted it.
“Generally the CIA frowns on such activities,” she said stiffly.
“Generally?” The look he sent her might have scorched the panties off her if she hadn’t held herself back. Because she needed to hold back. She could never let herself slip. No matter how much she wanted to.
“Exceptions are made if the man asking is a widower over the age of seventy-five.”
“You’re a tough sell.”
She concentrated on the shirt in her hands. “I’m not looking to buy.”
Oh, but she wanted to. He smelled like he’d just gotten out of the shower, with a hint of salt and masculine spice underneath the soap. Her whole body hummed with awareness, and she couldn’t help but want to know what it would be like to have those full lips on her skin. She had rules, yes, but this man was ice cream on a diet. TV on a school night.
This was getting out of hand. She wasn’t a bridesmaid cliché looking for a wedding fling with one of the groomsmen. She was one of the most in-demand wedding planners in Hawaii, but a long time ago, she’d realized that she needed to be smarter, sharper, better than everyone else. She didn’t have the connections that some planners had. She didn’t have the bred-in taste or knowledge of etiquette of the ones who had old Hawaiian society roots. Instead, she had hard work, grit, and determination. That was how she’d made it this far, and it was how she was going to stay at the top of her game. Men like Chris? They weren’t in her plan. She would not throw herself at a man just because he had some scruff and scars and talked a good game.
After putting in the last stitch on Mark’s shirt, she tied the thread off and snipped it. Barely a seam. “Not too bad.”
Chris turned off the iron and rounded the board. “Let’s see.”
Before she could hand the shirt over, he ran his finger over the thin seam of stitches, pressing the fabric into her open palm. She fought a shiver as he said, “Looks good to me. I think you’ve saved Mark from passing out from stress.”
She scooted along the bed and pushed up to standing a few feet from Chris. “Time to get the groom dressed. Again.”
Chris laughed. “Are you going to use that schoolteacher voice on him?”
“What do you mean?” she asked with a frown.
He closed the gap between them until she had to tilt her chin up to look into those deep blue eyes of his. “You marched those men out of here like they were five. You get shit done, Annie Kalani. I like that.”
Then he took that slow, delicious smile of his and walked straight out of the room.