Chapter One

DareMeCoverDare Me

“Check out my future ex-boyfriend at three o’clock,” Bruno whispered, nudging Misty with an elbow. “Should I go introduce myself?”

“Huh?” Half-listening, Misty flicked her eyes off her cell phone for a second and shook her head. “I wouldn’t.”

“You’re right. Let him come to me.”

“No, I mean I wouldn’t get involved, period.”

“Chillax, will ya? You’re no fun.”

“We’re here to work not mess around.”

“Hell-ooo, my job is done here. It’s playtime, and I’m feeling frisky,” Bruno purred.

Humph—it’s nice to know someone has any energy left for romance. Even if she weren’t stressed to the max, when it came to sex, she never mixed business with pleasure, so checking out stud-muffins at the wedding was a professional faux pas.

Besides, unlike the brawny alpha-gay hairdresser, Misty didn’t have time for ogling anything other than the messages on her cell phone. One-handed, she scrolled through dozens of lengthy texts from panicky brides confirming fitting appointments and a few from her mother at the bridal shoppe checking the status of this big promotional showcase—the Scenic View Inn’s Annual Valentine’s Day Mass Wedding celebration.

Damn, damn, dammity-damn—twenty-gazillion questions from people looking for answers A-sap. The cell phone has to be the worst invention ever

Misty held out her champagne glass for Bruno to refill with the bottle he swiped from the bar.

“Oh, my gawd.” His baritone sounded like a hoarse teenaged girl coming from the mouth of an overfed cat. “Call nine-one-one—that man is pure sex-on-fire. Viagra-worthy, fer’sher.”

Viagra-worthy? That snagged her full attention. “Who’re we talking about now?”

“If you’d get your head outta your cell for a sec.” He jutted his chin. “Him, over there—tall, dark, and to die for.”

She may not mix romance and work, but champagne and gossip went with everything, and even better together. Now that the brides were outfitted and halfway through the ceremony, Misty was finished here for the day.

Let the decompression begin. 

Like magic, she made the liquid disappear then asked for another dose while peeking subtly over her shoulder, trying to determine the object of Bruno’s erection.

It couldn’t be any of the men reciting vows in sync to their brides-to-be, could it? That would be wrong on so many levels for anyone—worse for someone in the wedding business.

“What’s he wearing?” She grabbed a handful of candy hearts from the cut crystal bowl on the sideboard and, while no one was looking, and without wasting time reading the sweet sentiments, shoved them in her mouth like popcorn during a movie then chased their chalky texture with a sip of champagne.

“Behind the tripod. The stud in the penguin suit.”

“You mean the photographer?” She blinked twice to make sure her contacts weren’t smudged. The face was familiar. But the broad frame was wider than she recalled. Then again, he’d been a slim eighteen-year-old kid the last time she’d seen him.

Poor Bruno. He’d set his sights on an extremely hot, and as far as Misty knew, extremely straight man.

“You oughta make sure he’s gay first before you fall in ’n outta love,” she cautioned, not wanting to get her friend’s hopes up any higher.

“Oh, he is all right. Just look at him.”

Misty was. She couldn’t tear her gaze away. The enigmatic Adam Wright had that knee-weakening effect on her. It was a good thing the wall was at her back and he was across the banquet hall. Although he probably wouldn’t recognize her anyway, she sidestepped behind a rose tree topiary until the burly florist relocated her hiding place.

“Think he’s a bottom or a top?” Bruno fluffed his Fabio-inspired ponytail.

“A top,” she affirmed with a nod. “Definitely.”

When the magistrate announced, “You may kiss the bride,” Misty and Bruno clapped along with the hotel’s event coordinator and the army of wedding vendors waiting in the wings.

“You’re staying for the reception, right?” Bruno asked, hopeful.

Misty’s spine stiffened at the tempting idea of loosening up and sticking around for no reason other than to keep an eye on her schoolgirl fantasy in the flesh. She was, after all, slated to be at this daylong off- site event, so technically no one expected her back at  work the rest of the afternoon.

Of course, it was in her best interest to pop in at the shoppe. That would be the diligent thing to do career- wise to prove her dedication to the family business.

Then again, Adam was here…

She swirled the bit of booze left in her glass in silent debate then slugged it and asked for another splash.

Bruno filled it to the tippy-top. “Well?”

“Sure.” She exhaled. “What the hell—why not? I can hang around for a little while, in case there’s, you know, a fashion malfunction or something.”

She took Bruno’s elbow as he escorted her into the cocktail hour room.

“No, thank you. No, thank you. No, thank you.” Misty dodged the white-gloved servers carrying silver platters with tiny morsels to sample until the thing she wanted was in reach. “Yes, please.” She snatched a champagne flute and rescued the drowning strawberry in a single gulp.

“Don’t look now,” Bruno leaned in to whisper. “I think he’s checking me out.”

Without turning her head, her eyes followed Bruno’s toward the bursts of light exploding over the crowd. “Are you sure?”

“Sure, I’m sure.” He barely moved his curled lips as he sang between his teeth, “The camera’s aiming right at me.”

“Bruno, you are aware this entire event is being photographed for the spring edition of OFD, aren’t you?” Even if this weren’t a photo op, she still would’ve worn the smart-looking black knit dress and spiked heels like any normal workday.

“OFD. What’s that?”

“You really are new around here, aren’t you? OFD is One Fine Day: the local wedding magazine for Long Island. Everyone who’s anyone in the business advertises there. This shindig isn’t just a mass wedding; it’s a publicity stunt. The Scenic View Inn’s been putting it together every Valentine’s Day for years. All these couples won a radio contest. For us vendors, it’s free exposure in exchange for our goods and services. My bridal shoppe donated gowns and tuxes—albeit they’re rentals off-the-rack from last season.”

“My boss may have volunteered to do it for free, but he told me I was getting paid for the day.”

“Lucky you.”

“Speaking of lucky—I think I might be getting lucky tonight.” Bruno adjusted his stance, hungry eyes on the photographer. “You can’t tell me he’s not pointing the lens over here.”

“I’m sure Adam’s documenting everyth—”

Adam? Wait—you know him?”

Misty flinched then nodded guiltily. “I do, kinda, sorta. We went to school together.”

“Well, what are you waiting for? Introduce me.”

“I don’t want you to be disappointed…but I’m, like, ninety-nine percent sure he’s not gay.”

“Well, if he’s straight then you oughta go for him. He’s too cute of a catch to let swim away.”

“I’m sure he’s got somebody. Look at him. He’s perfect.” Misty all but swooned, unconsciously squeezing her friend’s biceps for support.

Bruno shook her off and shoved her forward. “If you want him then talk to him.”

“No way!” Misty spun in an attempt to escape.  “You know what? I need to use the ladies’ roo—”

“Don’t be a ’fraidy cat.” He grabbed her elbow. “Time’s a tickin’. No one’s getting any younger around here. What’re ya, thirty?”

“Twenty-nine, thank you very much. And I’m not afraid.” She sat in the nearest chair at a table for two. “I’m just…”

Bruno parked his bubble bottom in the chair beside her and scooted closer. “A chicken.”

Misty cut her eyes at him, not because Bruno was wrong, but because he was relentless. Lord knows she wanted to talk to Adam but without the goading.

“He’d be crazy not to go for you. I’m serious. If I were into the female-persuasion, I’d totally check you out. Of course, I’d prefer a different hairdo—I’m not gonna lie—the slicked-back schoolmarm bun you’re rockin’ is a little bit intimidating. I think you should go for it. You got nothing to lose. The worst that can happen is he’s not interested. Or taken. Actually, I don’t know which would be worse, taken or not interested…”

“I can’t.” Technically, she could, after being a devout spinster for six sexless months.

“You can. And you will. I dare ya—”

“No.”

“You better go talk to him,” Bruno threatened with a smile, “before I send a single straight girl from the hotel lounge to snatch the opportunity from your little French manicured fingers.”

“We barely spoke two sentences in high school. I doubt he’ll remember me now.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, sweets. Who could forget a girl like you? Besides, I’m double-daring ya. Double- dog daring ya. Now go on! Work the goodies God gave ya.”

Bruno’s strange yet encouraging words brought a crooked smile to Misty’s lips. A grown woman accepting a dare was silly. However, refusing it felt even sillier. What did she have to lose anyway? Nothing at all.

“You need more champagne.” Bruno caught two fresh glasses from a passing tray and pushed them toward her. “Here.”

“What I need is a checkup from the neck up.”

She glanced at her watch. It was only four o’clock, she could still get to the bridal shoppe to help close up by five. That’s what a career-minded person would do, especially one looking to take over the family business.

But if she didn’t approach Adam tonight, she might never have the chance again…

“So, what’s it gonna be?” Bruno waggled his brows.

Misty sighed. “I really oughta go. Sorry, Bruno. I need to get back to work.”

“Okay, then. I’ll be sure to tell your friend you said hello.” His snarky tone made her stomach roil. “Want me to see you out?”

“No, thanks.” She gave a weak smile and stood, taking the champagne with her for the lonely walk. “I’ll be fine.”

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