Read Groomzilla Online

Authors: Tere Michaels

Tags: #gay romance

Groomzilla

Groomzilla

By
TERE MICHAELS

 

When drama threatens to ruin a romance on a reality show, only a true friend can save a groomzilla’s wedding.

Daniel Green, an event planner with a neat, quiet, orderly life, reluctantly agrees to plan the wedding of his childhood friend Ander, an outrageous fashion designer soon to marry a wealthy entertainment lawyer named Rafe. To complicate matters, the happy couple have agreed to have their wedding made into a reality show—something that practical Daniel isn’t sold on.

Daniel is neither a romantic nor a wedding planner, but he’s the only person in the world who can manage Ander. Distracting him from his mission is Owen Grainger, a too-handsome-to-be-true producer whose quiet charm pulls Daniel into his orbit.

When the stress of the show triggers bad behavior from Ander, co-producer Victor Pierce decides it’s the key to a ratings bonanza, and he begins to undermine Ander and Rafe’s relationship to create more drama. Daniel is determined to protect his friend and his own reputation, but when he finds himself falling hard for Owen, there’s much more at stake than ratings.

It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Chapter One

 

 

“AND THAT’S
why you’re the right man for the job.”

Daniel Green held the cell phone between his ear and right shoulder as he maneuvered his oversize shopping cart through the gargantuan aisles of the restaurant supply warehouse, artfully dodging displays of industrial-strength floor cleaner and rodent-reduction equipment. Ander’s speech had begun at his apartment and bled through the walk to the parking garage, the drive to the big box store in the wilds of New Jersey—on speaker, of course—and through his long list of necessities.

“Ander, you know I’m thrilled for you and Rafe. Thrilled to the bottom of my heart that you found someone also named after a romance hero from the 1980s who puts up with your shit. But wedding planning is not what I do.” He patiently recited the reason—again—he had to turn his best friend’s request down.

“You plan, Daniel—you were born planning. I have it on good authority from your grandmother you were born with a Moleskine in one hand and a Montblanc pen in the other.”

“Unlikely and a little gross.” Daniel struggled with the cart around another corner, checking the sweat-damp list he had clutched between his hand and the handle. Doing this run for table settings and linens on his lunch hour was a clear mistake—he could feel the exertion permeating his last clean suit. “Maybe a Bic and a used cocktail napkin.”

“Rafe and I both feel that we need a friend to oversee the happiest day of our lives,” Ander said, the epitome of pious behavior, which Daniel knew was a hot steaming lie. In his head he capitalized all the words after “oversee” and threw in a trademark symbol for fun. “You’re a professional and basically my
brother
, Daniel. Like we practically share DNA.”

“I love you, and Rafe is my personal hero for sharing a living space with you and never being arrested for assault. And while I understand and truly appreciate your trust in me, I’m not qualified, Ander. I plan corporate parties—buffets and gift bags and a podium for speeches.”

Not to mention the sheer terror Daniel felt each and every time he contemplated the insanity of saying yes to planning Ander’s wedding. He still had hives from the time he threw his best friend a twenty-first birthday party, after which he changed his number twice to escape the restaurant owner who either wanted to kill Ander or fuck him—he never quite understood the garbled Russian voice mails. “Besides, as your best man, my job is already set. I have to write a speech overlooking all your more horrendous qualities. I have to peel glitter-coated rent boys off your lap at the bachelor party.”

Ander tutted through the phone. “Darling, you are a brilliant man, capable of far more than you think. You are also the most organized human being I know. And quite frankly….” He dropped his voice slightly into cleverly designed pleading. “This is fast becoming less of a wedding and more of an epic undertaking. It’s become business, which you are so good at, and with Rafe so busy….”

“Wait, Rafe’s business is creeping into the wedding? Or your business?” Daniel pulled the cart to a halt near some rakes to catch his breath and loosen the tie still securely knotted against his throat. An attorney for a record label, Rafe Underwall—his real name as proven by the birth certificate Daniel had insisted on seeing—seemed to do most of his work in meetings and writing long contracts while wearing very expensive suits and saying the word “summered,” as in “summered in St. Bart’s.” If it was
his
business intruding on the nuptials, the wedding was going to be boring as hell.

And if it was an offshoot of Ander’s business, Daniel was joining witness protection.

“Funny story. I happened to get into a discussion with some gentlemen I met at a cocktail party and, well.” Ander laughed nervously. “They felt like Rafe and I are such a good example of romance and fabulousness and our careers are so interesting that they wanted to make the wedding into, uh… well, a show. For the Internet channel StarTime? Which will depict our journey to the altar.” He ended with a nervously trilled “ta da.”

“A reality show?” Daniel’s jaw dropped. “You guys have signed up for a web reality show?”

“Yes, well—yes. We have.”

“You want me to plan a wedding that will be featured on a reality show?” He repeated the words with precision, with clear derision and scorn caressing each vowel. Ander should know him well enough that this would take his “no” to a “hell no” in ten seconds flat.

“Yes! Because you know, this takes it to another level!”

“Which is why I won’t do it.” Daniel didn’t bother to hide his exasperation. Ander’s aversion to hearing the word no was both epic and legendary, but this—this was the way of madness.

“It would get you noticed, Daniel.” Ander had moved to wheedling. “
Groomzilla
is going to be—”

“What did you just say?” Several people grumbled as they maneuvered around him, but Daniel was locked into place. “What is the name of this show?”


Groooomzilla
!”

“Oh my God.”

“It’s a fun title!”

Daniel put one hand over his eyes. “So you think I should advertise a gay wedding reality show on my website, along with real estate firms, aviation companies, and several universities of good repute? Really, Ander, in all seriousness, you have to understand why I can’t do this.”

“The pay is phenomenal.”

“I’m not hurting for money.” Daniel refused to think about the stack of bills back at his office or the fact that “lunch hour” translated into “shopping for mundane crap”—work an assistant would be doing, if he had an assistant.

“I didn’t say you were. I’m just—I’m trying to make you see what a fantastic opportunity this is! You could make connections, totally reinvent your business—expand it! Come on, Daniel, take a leap of faith.”

Daniel meant to say no again, he did, but what came out of his mouth was “Let me think about it.”

 

 

THE BOXES
of linens and table settings were stacked awkwardly in the corner of Daniel’s cluttered office. He had no storage space so everything ended up here in the studio apartment he’d rented on the bottom floor of a narrow Hoboken brownstone. Things he had used once but hadn’t tossed, things he had leftover but hadn’t gotten around to tossing, things he might use at some point for an event so he didn’t toss, and, of course, everything for the upcoming Snider Aviation Employee Picnic. Mr. Snider himself had requested Classic Americana in a fit of what he might call creativity, so Daniel found himself surrounded by checkered tablecloths and heavy white stoneware, not to mention American flags in every possible size.

A summery picnic in March, taking place in an airplane hangar, celebrating America. His work was so freaking creative.

He walked over boxes of files and around bags of flags, unbuttoning his heavy wool suit jacket as he went. Evolving over time, it was a complicated and cluttered organization, a system known only to Daniel and held together by the endless list tucked into the leather notebook in his pocket.

A breakfast meeting with a potential client had turned into errands, which turned into heavy lifting in a three-piece suit. Daniel felt like he was wearing a damp rug, the layer of sweat permeating everything, including his neatly trimmed beard and every available pore. A narrow red door led to a back staircase that took him up a flight to his apartment, a tiny one-bedroom with a far neater appearance than downstairs. If his office was clutter central, his apartment looked like the model they showed you during an open house.

Daniel eyed his life-in-three-rooms with a critical eye, trying to dismiss Ander’s sales pitch from his head. He was doing well—he was. Not many twenty-five-year-olds could boast having a semisuccessful business of their own in this day and age, particularly if their parents hadn’t left it to them or bought it for them. Unlike most of his fellow graduates from Harvard, he could take sole responsibility for every bit of his success—which also meant it was his responsibility for not having taken it further.

Corporate event planning wasn’t anyone’s dream job, but Daniel managed to fall into it during his tenure at Harvard. Working three jobs and making straight As on a scholarship for a liberal arts degree with a concentration in business management and administration had pushed his limits, so when the catering department offered him something other than cater waiter, he did not refuse. It went well enough that by his senior year, he was learning the ins and outs of planning large-scale events for the Harvard Alumni Association and, most importantly, he could quit his other two jobs. When it became clear that his combination of business savvy and genetic need to plan/research/organize—from his CD collection to the seating chart of a charity fashion show—merged seamlessly with event planning, a star was born.

Or at least a slightly shimmering light in the distance. In four years’ time, Daniel had paid off a large chunk of the student loans that filled scholarship gaps, rented the two apartments in a semidecent section of Hoboken, and made enough of a name for himself to have regular clients.

But he had to acknowledge the hold-steady pattern had been both holding and steady for at least a year. No new clients. No new events. Just the regular quarterly bits of charity and corporate pep rallies to pay his rent and utilities.

He was doing okay, but okay was starting to not be enough. In that leather notebook was an ancient bit of folded paper filled with goals and ambitions written by a kid without prospects. Harvard had been a pipe dream—until it was a triumphantly crossed-off achievement. But time enough had passed without another line being drawn. Time enough for Daniel to think about his future.

“I’m not interested in the circus that is reality television. I can achieve my goals without that sort of crazy springboard,” Daniel announced to his reflection as he got ready for bed in his pint-size bathroom. A small whiteboard sat to the right of the medicine cabinet, outlining his last-minute lists for the Snider picnic. His reflection rolled its eyes at him, at the lie. He was ambitious, or at least he used to be—which was why the status quo had started rubbing him the wrong way.

“This is crazy. I hate reality shows! I hate spectacles!” He announced that to his cell phone, which suddenly appeared in his hand. He thought it was a toothbrush, but no—no, he’d propelled himself into the living room and picked up the phone from where it was charging on his tiny desk, and he was now scrolling down to find Ander’s number.

“This will never work. I don’t know how to plan a wedding. Reality show?” All the words rumbled past Daniel’s lips as the phone rang on the other end.

“Daniel!” Ander said brightly as soon as he picked up. “Tell me something wonderful.”

“I need more details.” Daniel slumped backward onto his slim black sofa, facing the white brick of the nonworking fireplace. A single picture sat on the mantel—he and Ander the day of his graduation from Harvard. Ander’s hair was purple and his suit a pale lavender, Daniel a clean-shaven dork beside him in his cap and gown.

“That’s a yes!”

“That’s a maybe.”

“No, I’m taking it as a yes. Rafe! Honey? Guess what?”

Ander had clearly put Daniel on speaker, as Rafe’s deep rumbling baritone mixed with Ander’s animated tenor. “He wore you down.”

“I haven’t said yes. I said maybe. I said I needed details. Like why someone as sensible as you agreed to this circus. You’re a lawyer, Rafe. You like logic.”

“I’m going to e-mail you the contracts and everything from the producers, so you have all the information and can make a proper decision.” Rafe tried to sound serious, but his coughed laughter completely gave him away. “You know, analyze the cost-benefit ratio. And as for the other thing—we both know the answer to that.”

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