Excerpt: The Boss and the Bride
Book 2: A Very Charming Wedding Novel
Heather Talbert was on a mission.
A kiss would end it here and now. Her handsome, hunky boss was not the perfect match for her.
She didn’t want him to be. Heather had more than enough bad dates, breakups, and heartbreak to last a lifetime.
Hot only skimmed the surface of Drake Diamond. Charming, creative, and witty added to the allure. Her smart self knew the drill. However, her girly self ditched the evidence and jumped all in without a life preserver. Now, before she drowned completely, she’d discover the truth and be done with this silly bubbly feeling whenever he was near with a one-and-done kiss.
Isn’t that what her beloved late grandmother handed down to her? She’d known the instant she’d kissed the cute sailor at the end of their first date that she’d found the man of her dreams. And her grandfather had been, for over fifty years…
Heather marched—well, as good as anyone could march in a peachy-orange mermaid bridesmaid dress—across the crowded reception area. Okay, more like waddle.
The music played and people danced. Heather dodged the overzealous couples and nearly bumped into some dude’s back. She got the stink eye from his date.
“Sorry,” she mumbled. The beautifully decorated gold mask covering half her face slid down even farther, obstructing her view. She shoved it back up on into place and blinked through the eyehole.
“Contacts?” She groaned; she favored her dependable glasses instead of these baby-sized lenses that shifted.
At five foot two inches tall, she could barely see over shoulders, never mind heads. Her pitiful two-inch heels didn’t do squat to help out. She pressed on and skirted the crowd, hugging the edges of the room.
Something flashed by out of the corner of her eye. Turning quickly, she saw herself in a mirror: short, squeezed in to the peachy-orange dress, and with a little flared fan at the bottom. Heather groaned.
Just hang me over a side of a glass and call me a shrimp cocktail, why don’t you?
Moving on, she muttered terrible things about Meagan the bride and worse about her bridezilla mother, who insisted on the horrendous bridesmaids’ gowns for Heather and her two besties, Lacey and Ashley.
“Drake the Rake and a drink.” She stated her temporary goal. “Not necessarily in that order.”
Searching high and low, she had no idea where her boss could be. She’d let him escort her to this high-society wedding for a few reasons: One, she needed a date. Two, she needed to get closer to him, in all the right ways, to smash this ridiculous attraction to smithereens. Three, he wanted to schmooze with a few prospective clients for his real estate development business. And business meant everything to Drake.
She had no doubt he’d win them over; he always did. Heck, who wouldn’t succumb to that charm? Heather Talbert was not immune to his dreamy good looks, or his charismatic ways. From the second she’d met him, she’d been under the Drake spell.
Taking the job two years ago was the best and worst thing that she’d ever done in her life. Okay, falling in love with her boss was worse. Pretend love, remember that!
Her heart hitched when she spotted him: tall, with dark hair and brown, hypnotic eyes. She sucked in a shaky breath. He was in that amazing new black tux she’d coerced him to buy from King’s Department Store a few weeks ago that emphasized his broad shoulders.
It had been a combination of glorious torture and fan-girl melting into a puddle helping to select it with him and stand by as the tailor fitted it to him as they conducted business in his office.
Hot! Temps are rising here.
With his mask, black and decorated with silver swirls, he could be mistaken for a wicked bandit. Sinful!
Tingles played along her nerves. “Nope, don’t go there,” she warned herself as she approached him while he spoke to another male attendee.
“Drake.” Her voice caught. “I see you’re getting along just fine without me.”
Turning quickly, he faced her. “Never.”
Did he just wink at her? Or did she blink?
“You’re practically my right-hand man, or, in this case, woman. Couldn’t live without you.”
I wish! No, I don’t wish! Stop thinking things you shouldn’t.
“You remember Alex Royale, don’t you?”
“Mr. Royale, I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you behind that mask.” Reaching out, she shook hands with him. Now, taking in the tall, sophisticated man, she realized who he was.
“Call me Alex. Nice to see you again, Heather.”
“How’s your grandfather? I missed him at the annual luncheon a few weeks ago. By the way, love the new markets Royale Enterprises is forging into.”
“He’s doing better. He just needs to get his energy back after the bout with pneumonia. I’ll let him know you were asking about him. And the West Coast Division was a brilliant move. It’s time we start considering an East Coast Division.”
“That sounds exciting. I have several contacts in the Northeast. If there’s anything we can do for you at Diamond Enterprises, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“See, what did I tell you, Alex?” Drake asked, draping an arm around her shoulders.
Can I die right now? The warmth from his touch penetrated all the way from her head to her toes. His intoxicating cologne teased her senses even more.
“She’s a dream come true. Always thinking about what’s best for the company.”
“Make sure he treats you well, Heather. If not, Royale Enterprises could use you. Yes, that’s an offer.”
“Stealing my girl?” Drake straightened his lapel.
His girl? Don’t faint, Talbert!
“An aboveboard offer. Word on the street is that Heather is free to negotiate, so I know I’m not the first or the last to contact her. I’m just asking in front of you, so you know where I stand. But if I were you, I wouldn’t let her get away, Diamond.”
“Listen to Alex, Drake.” She chuckled and they joined in. However, she wasn’t joking. This was more than business; it was her future. She loved what she did, but this distraction needed to stop once and for all.
“I hear you. Loyal, trustworthy employees are difficult to come by.” Drake gave her a squeeze and dropped his arm.
Employee? Is that all he thought of her? Her contract was coming to an end soon. Numerous offers were on the table. Very lucrative deals to jump ship dangled in front of her. But none would give her what she had with Drake Diamond: the input on deals, finding new clients on her own, and the bonuses.
One very incredible bonus was working with Drake, a whiz at what he did and teaching her the ropes in the business. But, spending time with him, nearly every day, was the icing on the cake.
Before she signed on the dotted line again, she was going to just bite the bullet, take a leap of faith, and lay one on him to end this ridiculous aching for more with him. Her nerves, strained already, quivered at the thought. Could she?
The result would be her deciding factor. Nothing there, she’d stay on. Something sparked and she’d be back on the market in all ways.
“Hey, I turn away for one minute and you’re talking business.” A beautiful woman in a purple gown joined them, linking her arm through Alex’s.
“And you’re not?” Alex asked with a grin in his voice.
“This is a King’s event. So I’m on call.”
He dropped a kiss on her head. “Just don’t overdo it.”
“Charlie, right?” Heather asked, recalling meeting the owner of King’s Department Store during one or two fittings at the Charmings Wedding Boutique. “You look gorgeous,” Heather said, meaning it. “Pregnancy agrees with you.”
“Today, on the outside, it took a village.” She shook her head. “Morning sickness.”
“Working too hard, I imagine, doesn’t help.”
Something behind Heather’s ribs jolted at the way Charlie placed a protective hand on her baby bump and smiled up at Alex. That’s what she wanted. Love. Devotion. The whole enchilada.
No halfsies for her. Not like her parents.
An idea poked at the back of her mind. Alex Royale had sold his beloved island for Charlie, buying back the store for her with the proceeds.
Good business mixed with the chance to help them get away from it all jelled. Looking at Drake, she wondered if he’d go for it. Turning back to the loving couple, she said, “I’m off to the Caribbean in eight days. We have a prospective client who wants to develop his island into a resort.”
“That’s right,” Drake chimed in. “Grant’s anxious to get this off the ground and in place in a few short months. His dream is to retire from the rat race and open a vacation place.”
“It’s a fully functioning, multiple family property now, with the intent of expanding to accommodate a steady stream of guests. I’ve got full run of everything for seven days, but I can only get away for three tops to check out the layout, come up with a development plan and budget, and the logistics. He’ll be in Europe for business. Why don’t I ask him if he’d be willing to let you two stay there for a long weekend? He’s super generous and does that for his friends and business associates all the time.”
“I’ve been there myself,” Drake said. “You’ll love it. Brilliant idea, Heather.”
“Sounds like heaven,” Alex and Charlie said in unison and then chuckled.
“Perfect. I’ll put in a call and get back with you.” Heather sighed with a touch of envy; days ago when she first found out about this, she’d wished Drake would have come with her to explore and maybe a whole lot more. But, no, he couldn’t get away. What were you thinking? Stop the insanity, Heather!
“Boss 1.” Peg, Charlie’s assistant, rushed up, clutching her clipboard. “Bridezilla mother. Meltdown on aisle five!”
“Again?” Heather muttered, realizing Mrs. Chethum would never be happy with anything. “Surprised she gave the green light to the marriage in the first place.”
“You and me both.” Drake leaned over and whispered in her ear. “See why I don’t want to get married? Ever.”
Her heart sank like a brick, crumpling when it hit the ground.
Why did his response bother her so much? Her reaction sealed her determination. She needed to get to the bottom of this once and for all.
The dashing Rico, the wedding coordinator for the store, joined them, fanning first Peg and then Charlie. A skirmish arose on the other side of the room. “OMG!” He pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “That woman is complaining we didn’t do a good enough job on the food. As if! She selected the caterer and the entrees. We had nothing to do with it. How were we supposed to know her bad taste ran to rubber chicken?”
“Holy sassafras, boss. I told you she’d be a big, giant pill!” Peg scribbled something off her clipboard. “Scratch the follow-up survey. We’re doomed!”
“Excuse us,” Charlie said. “Shop calls. Alex, honey, I’ll catch up with you in a little while.”
“Don’t overdo it,” he warned, watching her and the assistants depart. “Maybe I should go and lend a hand.”
“Go ahead, Alex. We’ll talk more next time.” Drake shook his hand.
“Heather, that getaway. I’d be grateful if you could arrange that. My wife works too hard as it is,” Alex reminded her as he nodded and turned to go.
“Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.” Turning to her boss, she gathered all her courage. “I’ve been looking for you, Mr. Diamond.”
His smile did the strangest things to her insides. “You are my date, right?” The d word stuck in the back of her throat. She grabbed his arm, steering him away from the crowd and to the hall.
In the shuffling and jostling to get out of the overstuffed room in the Westbrooke Museum, Heather lost her connection to Drake. When she finally got through the archway, she felt like she’d popped out of a can.
A little woozy and gasping for breath, she leaned on a wall, waiting for him to join her. She blinked and the contact slipped out. “Oh, crap!” Adjusting the mask, she tried to find the offending little sphere. Her fingertip brushed it on her cheek and she tried to hold onto it. It fell.
His tall figure came into sight, or, at least in her blurry vision of one eye and a slightly better picture from the other. She reached out and grabbed him.
“You—you’re coming with me, understand?” She didn’t wait for an answer, but tugged him down the hall.
He made sounds. “Uh. Oh.”
“Quiet. No protesting. I’ve been waiting for two years to do this and I’m not going to stop now.” Coming to a closed door on her right, she turned the knob and burst into a dark supply room. His reluctance bothered her. She dragged him in and slammed the door shut.
Footsteps backed away from her.
“Now you listen to me, Drake Diamond. I’m not leaving this room until I get a kiss from you.”
Reaching out, she found his chest and shoved hard, backing him against the wall. She bumped up against him. “Me Jane. Me want things from you.”
Heather clamped her lips over his, halting him from talking. She moved her mouth. He stilled.
His lips were cold, limp even.
She felt nothing. Not. A. Thing.
One last shot! Trying again, she pressed into him. Could he even respond? Like, a little?
She might as well have been kissing a cold, dead fish. Something in her chest plummeted. Crash and die! “Really? No chemistry?” The well of disappointment couldn’t be squashed back down. “But…” There had to be something, right? How could she have wasted two perfectly prime years of her life for a fish kiss?
“Heather, you in there?” Drake asked, bursting through the door and bringing an arch of light with him. “I thought I saw—”
Her body froze. The guy on the other end of her lips placed his icy hands on her upper arms and pushed her away.
Shock raced through her as she shoved back the gold mask, looked from the stranger she’d locked lips with, and then her dreamy boss staring at her in disbelief.
“Drake?” Her voice cracked. Or was that her dignity?
Drake Diamond went numb.
No. He must be seeing things.
His top-notch employee did not, was not, making out with some guy in a closet, was she?
Never once in all the time he’d known her had she done something like this, nothing remotely close to assaulting a man. Not his professional, no-nonsense Heather!
A pang shot through his chest. Dread? Envy?
That last thought jolted him.
She worked for him, steadfastly by his side, soaking up knowledge and lingo like a sponge in so short a time. He counted on her.
So what if she was adorable and funny. So what if he had to drag his mind back to what she was saying because he liked watching her gorgeous light-green eyes sparkle behind her dark-rimmed glasses. So what if he couldn’t wait to see her every day.
His business meant everything to him. He’d never jeopardize it.
Reaching out, he found the light switch and flicked it on. “You didn’t just do what I think you just did, did you?” God, he wasn’t even making sense to himself!
“Dr…ake?” she stuttered. Stepping back, she waved a hand to the guy who straightened out his suit and flung off his mask. “Oh,” she said, wincing. “I’m sorry. My bad.”
The dark-haired guy with his similar build swiped his mouth with the back of his hand and frowned. “Strawberry lip gloss? What, are you fifteen or something?” He brushed by her, mumbling, “I’m gay, for God’s sake.” Looking at Drake, he said, “I need a drink, do you mind moving aside or would you like to join me?”
“I’ll step aside.” Drake watched the man storm out of the tiny room.
“That did not turn out the way I imagined it would,” Heather said.
“What? Accosting some random guy at a wedding?” There, a little humor broke through the surface of his frozen state. Who was this Heather? The Heather he knew was practical and punctual, keeping his feet to the fire and demanding nothing less than perfection on the job.
She nibbled on her lip like when she was nervous. “Bucket list?” Her voice rose an octave as she shrugged.
“You?” He nearly snorted. “Not like you at all.”
“It didn’t go so well…”
“Are you looking for a replacement?” That bothered him. Where was the dependable businesswoman who handled his most difficult negotiations with steely determination and keen insight into their future needs? Where was his Heather, who stood beside him while he was taking Diamond Enterprises to the next level? The one who had just made an impressive move for Alex and Charlie? Helping the couple could lead to securing more business between their companies. Unless, she was searching for something else, somewhere else.
“Have anyone in mind?”
Swallowing hard, Drake looked over his shoulder to the empty threshold and back to her again. “Surely, not me.” So why did he want to? The wicked thought teased him more than he dared admit.
“Ah…Drake, I’ve been meaning to tell you something.”