Authors: Jodi Watters
Tags: #A LOVE HAPPENS NOVEL
A LOVE HAPPENS NOVEL
WRONG THEN RIGHT © 2015 by Jodi Watters
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. For permission requests, please contact the publisher.
Excerpt from NEXT TO ME © 2014 by Jodi Watters
Hope Coleson only knew a few things for sure.
First, you could never trust a guy with two first names. A sense of entitlement went hand in hand with anyone named John David, and you could bet the family pig farm he was going to cheat on you with some girl named Tiffany the first chance he got.
Second, there wasn’t an acrylic top coat on the market that could keep her nail polish from chipping only a few days after a manicure, no matter how careful she was when using her thumbnail as a flat head screwdriver.
And third—and this one was a biggie—unless you happened to be his blushing bride, it was a sure thing that ogling the groom at his own wedding was a first class, non-stop ticket straight to hell. And it didn’t matter how drop dead gorgeous he was either, because the Almighty simply didn’t care. Whether a girl believed in an afterlife or not, she should be aware of the possible ramifications, just in case there was a purgatory for the perpetually dirty minded.
With a sigh of wistfulness, Hope looked away from the hot groom, along with the equally hot group of men standing beside him, each one looking more uncomfortable than the next as they waited for the oceanfront ceremony to begin. After a damp, drizzling morning that probably had his lucky bride on the verge of tears, the marine layer of gray haze shrouding the coast of San Diego County had finally burned off sometime around the lunch hour. The warm, early June sun shined brightly on the fortunate residents of Southern California, from the sandy shores of Imperial Beach near the Mexican border, all the way north to Torrey Pines and La Jolla, where the streets were paved with hundred dollar bills and lined with recently waxed Benz’s.
Where the late afternoon nuptials for a couple who could give Brangelina a run for their money in the
Most Stunning Couple
category were soon to begin.
A wealth of white roses, cream gardenias and pink hydrangeas, all in peak, pungent stages of bloom, scented the clean sea air with their sweet perfume. Large, abundantly arranged bouquets filled a myriad of vintage glass vases artfully placed on every available tabletop, with clusters wrapped in fraying hemp ribbon tied along the dozen or so chairs lining each side of the makeshift aisle. Trails of variegated ivy and floral garland tastefully draped a rustic wooden arch made entirely of curly willow, showcasing the panoramic ocean view beyond the rocky cliffside. The smiling groom stood under it, waiting patiently for the woman who’d snagged him. The lush, emerald green lawn surrounding him was randomly dotted with rose petals and laid out as perfectly as a finely made Persian carpet, but not so soft that the heel of an expensive shoe would sink. Vistancia Resort and Spa, a premier luxury hotel that also hosted ultra expensive seaside weddings, paid attention to those kinds of details.
One might think the picturesque Pacific Ocean backdrop and sophisticated fairy tale setting would steal a romantic girl’s breath, but for Hope, the turquoise waters crashing onto a jagged, rocky shoreline couldn’t hold a candle to the tantalizing display of utter masculinity showcased before her. It was beefcake city. Who knew weddings were such meat markets?
“You know what I just realized, Val?” Standing behind the large, rectangular serving table, Hope carefully placed polished silver cutlery at exact right angles to the stack of fine, bone-colored china.
“That Helen is as flexible as a Nazi when it comes to table settings?” Val answered, sparing their sour-faced manager a nervous glance as he wiped down the serving spoons, speaking softly even though the woman stood a good fifty feet away.
A pit bull in control top, suntan pantyhose, Helen observed her catering staff with beady, eagle eyes, waiting to find fault. The intimate sunset ceremony taking place on the scenic grounds nearby was set to begin momentarily and every uniformed caterer worked in a politely hushed, methodical manner, induced by fear.
“No, I’ve been thoroughly schooled on the proper way to set a table already,” Hope said pointedly, gesturing toward the many brilliantly adorned dining tables with a flourish, her fist clutching a handful of shiny lobster forks. Those perfectly set tables had taken her almost two hours. “It’s that you never see a good looking man with a bad looking woman. You see a lot of pretty women with ugly men. But never the other way around.”
Val jerked his head, whipping frosted blonde bangs out of his faintly lined eyes and cocking a hip to the side. “Ugly, old men who are also rich,” he emphasized. “That’s the key word, Hope. And don’t judge, because I’ll take old and loaded over cute and broke any day of the week. You know everything’s prettier when you’re seeing it through Chanel sunglasses. Even droopy balls and silver chest hair.”
Hope cringed at the visual, not convinced high-end designer goods were worth it if they came with wrinkled old guy scrotum, and Val shrugged her off, adding, “The way to a man’s wallet is through his ball sac, sweetie. That should be in a fortune cookie. Or on a bumper sticker.”
Valentino Sabato was a plain speaking, designer-label wearing man who stood no more than five and a half feet tall, but had just enough gumption and personality to make up for it. And he’d been Hope’s best friend since their first day of kindergarten. Back when his name had been Manfred Stump. No shit. And you didn’t dare call him Manny, or even Fred, without a verbal dressing down from Manfred’s mother that you’d likely never forget. No wonder the pint-sized dynamo had changed it as soon as legally possible, spending the morning of his eighteenth birthday in line at the county courthouse. The hand picked name suited him, even though there wasn’t a drop of Italian blood in his bony body and despite the fact that in the seven years since, Mrs. Stump still refused to call him anything that wasn’t of Polish origin.
“Where’s that observation coming from, anyway?” He glanced toward the crowd of people gathering near the neatly placed white chairs, ready to watch a seemingly perfect couple pledge their undying love to each other. For life. “I saw the bride and her wedding coordinator do a walk through with Helen earlier today and she’s as beautiful as the groom. And so are their peeps.” Turning back in the direction of the guests, he let out a low whistle. “Look at that penis party on the groom’s side. Do you see the big, blonde one with the dreamy dimples? I wonder if he’d mosey on over to my side of the aisle for the night.”
Of course Hope had seen them. There wasn’t a single female within eye shot—and a few males, based on Val’s commentary—who hadn’t noticed them. Four men, all gorgeous in their own devastating way, huddled near the groom, looking large, in charge, and completely out of their element amidst the bounty of flowers and flickering candles. They reluctantly broke ranks when the soft sounds of a harp signaled the beginning of the ceremony, each taking their seats in too small chairs.
Truth be told, one in particular had caught Hope’s eye, shortening her breath and setting loose a hoard of butterflies in her stomach.
And luckily for the well being of her eternal soul, it wasn’t the groom.
It was probably the suit. The way the charcoal pants fit him perfectly, sitting low on his hips as if they’d been tailored specifically for his long, lean body. Hope had never seen a man wear a pair of suit pants so well. His perfectly pressed white dress shirt was rolled up at the cuffs and the top two buttons were left undone, whether in deference to the heat of the late day sun or the fact that he didn’t really want to be here, Hope wasn’t sure. And yet, he somehow still looked appropriately attired and comfortable in his own skin. There was no suit jacket. There was no tie. He wasn’t the kind of man who needed them. Looks alone, along with the confident air surrounding him, had no doubt taken him far in life. Mirrored aviator sunglasses covered his eyes and even though Hope couldn’t see them, she held his gaze when his head turned in her direction once again. He’d been doing that a lot in the last twenty minutes. Watching her as she’d readied the dining tables to Helen’s impeccable standards, the steak and lobster buffet set to be served immediately following the vows and champagne toast.
Glancing behind her, she looked back at him and tilted her head in question, needing confirmation that Mr. Man Candy was indeed checking her out and not some beauty pageant blonde inconveniently posing behind her. His lips quirked and he gave her a slight chin lift, the subtle acknowledgment enough to make her cheeks flush. Helen’s rudely snapping fingers broke their silent, promising exchange.
“Focus on the task at hand, Miss Coleson,” she said, her dry lips pursed in disapproval. “We are here to cater an event, not mingle with the guests. Do you know how many applications I receive every day, young lady? Your position could be filled by noon tomorrow.”
Apparently Helen had never been taught how to positively motivate a workforce as threats of termination seemed to be her preferred method. And in this case, it worked wonders.
“What a bitch.” Val smirked as the woman marched away, giving her a dirty look on Hope’s behalf. “Doesn’t she know who you are? I’d have her demoted for that comment, if I were you. Put her on overnight laundry detail for the next month. Or just fire her altogether and have her run out of town. Blackballing is a real thing, you know.”
“Well, you’re not me, Val,” Hope snapped, reaching for the fragile glassware packed in foam cartons. Carefully wiping fingerprints from silver rimmed champagne flutes, she placed them exactly one half inch apart on the white Belgian linen covering the cake table. “And unless you want a new roommate sleeping in your bathtub, I need to stop drooling over a man I’ll never meet and get back to work.”
All this love and romance in the air was becoming a real hazard of the job.
“Wait, what?” Clearly confused, Val looked around. “Which man? What did I miss?”
Wanting to tell Helen to kiss her ass, and Val, too, for bringing up her family’s influence, Hope bit her bottom lip and held back the retort. He wanted to push for more, but thankfully took the hint and kept his mouth shut, busying himself by filling crystal bowls with pale pink buttermints which, oddly enough, were in the shape of tiny firearms.
She needed this stupid job, even though it paid squat. The rent on her crappy efficiency apartment was already four days late and her landlord was in a tizzy, no longer extending her a generous grace period for late payments. The first was the first, he’d warned her, not the third or the fifth, and definitely not the tenth. But coming up with eight hundred bucks on her own every month wasn’t easy. Eating shrink wrapped noodles and generic cereal every day wasn’t either, but payday was still another week away. The unexpected rise in tuition costs for the upcoming fall semester meant even less money in her small stash of savings. What was once a decent chunk of money her domineering father had given her specifically for college was dwindling at an alarming rate. The University of San Diego thought pretty highly of their four year degree in Landscape Architecture and they charged an obscene amount of money for the education. Hope had just completed her junior year a few weeks ago and what little she still had in the bank was already allocated for her final year. She didn’t dare use the money for anything else. Fortunately, she had the next three months of summer to work a full time schedule and the busy wedding season would help to get her rent current. And maybe buy her a decent dinner, too.