Authors: Nicola Marsh
“There’s a Starbucks on the corner?”
“Perfect. Lead the way.”
I picked up my handbag and stood, prickles of unease raising the fine hairs on my arms as he placed a hand in the small of my back and guided me toward the door.
He was standing too close.
It wasn’t anything overt but I didn’t like having my personal space invaded—unless I invited a guy to do it.
I tried to ditch the hand as we hit the street but he stepped closer.
Great, that’s all I frikkin’ needed, for the paparazzi to plaster an ugly photo of me across the tabloids. I could see the headlines now: SLOVENLY SLUT OUSTS TITILLATING TARA FROM CUTE CAMERON’S CLUTCHES. Tack-a-rama.
I sidestepped and started walking quickly so he had no hope of getting too close. He fell into step beside me and I sped up, doing a weird half-jog/half-walk so he wouldn’t touch me.
Thankfully, Starbucks wasn’t far and I almost vaulted two teenagers in an effort to grab the last table. A table with seats as far from each other as possible.
“What’ll you have?”
“Coming right up.” He touched my arm and I gritted my teeth. What was with the touchy-feely stuff?
Perplexed, I watched him place our order at the counter. I wasn’t picking up flirting vibes from him but the standing too close and the hand touching? Weird.
Last thing I needed was to get him offside, what with his wedding being my biggest coup yet. If I pulled off the perfect Lovell wedding, I’d be renowned in Sydney as the hostess-with-the-mostest. But if he kept touching me, I’d deck him, wedding or not.
“Here you go.”
He deposited my cappa on the table and to my horror he pulled his chair opposite to line up alongside mine.
“By the file on your desk, I take it you’re the whiz organizing Tara’s extravaganza.”
. By the tone of his voice, he sounded like he’d rather skinny dip in a shark tank than get married.
“It’s your wedding too,” I said, hoping my instincts were wrong. Was Cam getting cold feet? Goodbye commission, goodbye wedding planner of the century.
“You think?” His bitterness confirmed it. I’d need to do some serious damage control.
“Don’t tell me I’m putting in all these extra hours for nothing.” I aimed for levity, hoping he’d divulge what the hell was going on.
“I’ll have to make sure you’re suitably compensated.” He sipped at his coffee, staring at me over the rim of the cup, and I resisted the urge to squirm. “You have great eyes.”
Uh-oh. He’d entered into murky flirty territory.
“Thanks.” I glanced away before he saw my distaste. “So, what’s this advice you need?”
“It’s about the wedding.” He placed his cappuccino on the table. “How far has the agency got with the planning?”
“We’re almost done. All that’s left is flowers and finalizing seating arrangements once the last RSVPs come in.”
By his frown, it wasn’t.
“Is something wrong—?”
“I want out.”
With those three little words, my heart sank.
Bye-bye promotion. Sayonara massive bonus.
Playing it cool, I tipped a sugar into my coffee and stirred. “Of the wedding or the relationship?”
I didn’t. Why had the richest guy in the country waited until now to ditch his fiancée and cancel the wedding?
“That’s what I wanted to talk to the agency about, off the record.” He shook his head. “How difficult is it to stop proceedings at this late stage?”
“You’ll have to talk to our CEO—”
“I’d rather not.” Considering Amanda was his ex, I wasn’t surprised. “Mandy and I don’t get on too well these days.”
I had a sneaking suspicion that would change once she heard her old flame was up for grabs again.
“I can liaise with her, sort out the technicalities.” Though my head ached just thinking about what was involved in cancelling a wedding of this magnitude. “And we’ll need Tara’s agreement to stop proceedings before we can do anything.”
“Not a problem.”
By his pallor, it would be.
He placed his hand on top of mine where it rested in my lap and I stiffened. “Thanks, you’ve been great.”
He squeezed. I extricated my hand on the pretext of a sneeze. “Is that all?”
“No.” He draped his arm across the back of my chair, his fingertips deliberately brushing my shoulder.
Hell, what was he up to?
His fingers edged along my sleeveless top, snagging on my bra strap. Yikes.
“Would you like to have dinner with me?”
“Are you freaking kidding me?” I stiffened like he’d prodded me with a thousand volts. “You’re
hitting on me
two seconds after I’ve agreed to help cancel your wedding?”
His eyes narrowed and his lips compressed as I belatedly questioned the wisdom of yelling at Cameron Lovell, one of Australia’s corporate giants, in the middle of Starbucks on a Saturday afternoon.
Rather than appearing daunted, he tried to kiss me to shut me up. Seriously.
Appalled, I reacted without thinking. My elbow shot out and connected with his ribs in a satisfying thud.
“Fuck.” He clutched at his side and stood, towering over me, anger twisting his mouth. “I could have you fired.”
I shot to my feet and didn’t hesitate in going toe to toe with the arrogant sleaze ball. “Good luck with that.”
He stared at me, gobsmacked, as I grabbed my bag and made a run for it.
It wasn’t until I hit the street that I realized something.
With the shit I’d been putting up with lately, his threat didn’t seem so scary.
By the time I made it back to the office, I wanted to kill someone.
Preferably every sleazy, Neanderthal guy who thought it was okay to cheat. Not only had I lost my biggest event ever, I’d have to explain to Amanda—omitting the part where the groom tried to stick his tongue down my throat.
As I barged through the glass doors and headed for my cubbyhole, for the first time in ages I wondered what I was doing here. I usually loved my job. But I went through a philosophical stage every now and then, contemplating the wisdom of my life choices: my job, my apartment, my guy. Uh, I hadn’t managed to secure the last one yet.
I glanced around at the cream shag, the minimalist chrome and glass desks and the crappy old coffee machine that produced sludge. Familiar and comforting suddenly held the appeal of a root canal performed by Edward Scissorhands.
Maybe I needed a change? Aunt Flo and her crazy Love were looking more appealing by the minute.
The moment I thought it, I knew I had to do something proactive to stop me chucking in my job and boarding a plane. I had upcoming weddings to finalize, a ton of quotes to do for next year’s spring weddings, venues to Google and a stack of invitations to dream up romantic drivel for.
I kicked a pot plant on the way to my cubicle and would’ve kicked the water cooler too if Brody hadn’t stepped in front of me.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“You don’t want to know.” I tried to push past him but he snagged my hand, dragged me into his office and kicked the door shut.
“I’ve never seen you this wound up.”
That’s because he hadn’t seen me made a fool of by a young guy who’d wanted to shag me on a bet. Hadn’t been on a mortifying speed dating dinner with the seven dwarves. Hadn’t been felt up by the richest guy in Australia who also happened to be the disgruntled groom of the wedding of the year.
Yeah, I was wound up. In fact, wound up was a gross understatement. And in that moment, as I stared at my hand still being gripped by Brody, every crappy thing that had happened to me over the last month—make that year—coalesced.
“Wound up doesn’t come close to how I’m feeling,” I said through gritted teeth, dragging in deep calming breaths that didn’t work. “Try fuming, incensed, super pissed.”
“Because Cameron frikkin’ Lovell has cancelled his wedding and celebrated by practically shoving his tongue down my throat.”
Brody’s eyebrows shot up.
“I’ve had a gutful of sleazy guys.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled with amusement.
“And my loony aunt wants me to travel to some crazy Love town to find my dream guy unless I find him before the end of the month.”
“Is that all?” The corners of his mouth twitched. If he laughed I wouldn’t be responsible for my actions. “Cameron’s a prick. Hand over his file to someone else so you don’t have to deal with him again.”
He took a step closer. “The guy thing? My mum told my sis she has to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, or some such crap.”
Another step closer brought him within aftershave distance as a waft of something cool and crisp tickled my nose. “As for the problem with your aunt, why don’t you use a pretend boyfriend to get her off your back?”
His calm logic riled me further.
“Yeah? And where would I find one of those?”
“I’ll do it.” He spoke so softly I thought I’d imagined his offer.
“You?” I laughed, annoyed by the leap of my pulse. That’s all I needed, for my secret crush to become my fake boyfriend. “Yeah, right.”
“You got a problem with that?” He gripped my upper arms and my heart jack-knifed.
I’d seen Brody catatonic after Friday night drinks; I’d seen him casually teasing every Sunday. I’d never seen him look at me the way he was looking at me now.
Like … like he wanted to kiss me.
I placed my palms against his chest to shove him away. “Don’t mess with me. I’m not in the mood.”
“Maybe we can change that?”
Before I could break his hold he kissed me, his lips crushing mine with a force that snatched my breath.
I could’ve protested. I should’ve. Instead, I moaned and leaned into him, welcoming his tongue invading my mouth, savoring the taste of espresso and mint.
He backed me toward his desk, our bodies flush, leaving me in little doubt not everything about the arrangement he’d proposed would be fake.
That’s when I knew I couldn’t do this.
Brody’s hard-on gave me a hard dose of reality.
I didn’t want to fake anything any more. I didn’t want to go on any more meaningless dates. I didn’t want to act like my job was so important I couldn’t leave. Now that I knew what I didn’t want it was time to figure out what I did.
This wasn’t it.
I broke the kiss and pushed Brody away.
“You okay?” His sheepish grin begged forgiveness.
I nodded. “You’re good at pretending.”
“I guess.” He managed to look bashful and confused and cute as he dragged a hand through his hair. “Do I get the gig?”
I shook my head. “Thanks, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for BatBoy and WonderGal to hook up, even for fake fun.”
“You’d rather let your dotty aunt convince you a holiday fling is better than …”
He shrugged. “I like you.”
The old me would’ve jumped him.
The new me? Not as gullible as the old me.
“Why now? We’ve hung out together for two years and you’ve never shown any interest.”
He grinned, the familiar cocky grin that preceded one of his zingers. “Would it be so hard to make the transition from buddies to bonking buddies?”
Bzzz. Wrong answer.
I should’ve known. Brody was out for one thing and it wasn’t my undying devotion.
“We could have a lot of fun together—”
“Thanks, but I’m done.”
The second the words popped out of my mouth I knew it was true.
I couldn’t do this any more.
Couldn’t go from one bad date to another. Couldn’t keep pretending I was happy. I wasn’t and probably hadn’t been for a long time.
I needed a change of scenery.
“Done?” He frowned. “What does that mean?”
Feeling lighter than I had in years, I dropped a quick kiss on his cheek.
“It means BatBoy needs to find a new buddy because WonderGal is ready to fall in Love.”
Aunt Flo’s tips to be lucky in love.
Welcome to Love. Population 12001 and rising (which means don’t forget to pack protection.)
I made it home a long eight hours later, after tidying client files for hand-over, cleaning out my desk and paying a visit to Amanda to tender my resignation.
She’d ranted and raved until I told her Cameron Lovell was single again. It softened the blow of losing her number one coordinator. My label, not hers.
I’d also managed to call the real estate agent to terminate my rental agreement, book a ticket to LA, update my cell to global roaming and investigate the possibility of a green-card.
Yeah, I wasn’t heading to Love for a vacation. I was ready to hang around, see what happened, have a little adventure.
My cell rang as I pulled a pair of ratty suitcases from the closet. Nat’s number scrolled across the screen.
“About bloody time you got back to me,” I said, forgoing a greeting. Memories of Lachlan the Lech and his association with my best friend did that to a girl.
“Sorry, been manic today.”
“Or avoiding my calls more like it, after that stunt you pulled last night.”
Nat sighed, her exasperation audible. “Those find-a-date dinners work. Lachlan said loads of people pair up—”
“And that’s another thing. What’s going on with you and that creep?”
Nat’s hesitation spoke volumes. “Nothing.”
I hate being lied to. Guys did enough of it; I didn’t need my BFF joining the party.
“Is he the one you flirt with?”
Another hesitation, before Nat blurted, “It’s harmless.”
“He’s a jerk,” I said, surprised I needed to have this conversation. Nat was smart, super smart. Why would she waste her time with Lachlan? “What are you
I heard Nat inhale and exhale a few times before answering. “You don’t know what it’s like.”
The eerie flatness in her tone scared me.
“I’ve lived with Marlon for seven years. I love him but…”
I knew I wouldn’t like what came next.