Authors: Nicola Marsh
“Taken care of. I’m going with striped orchids, they’ll fly in with us.” Zazz crooked her finger but Jess didn’t need to lean closer to the screen. She may just put a fist through it. “I know I said I was keeping the dress secret ‘til the big day but I need you to make some adjustments to the aisle because of it.”
Feeling increasingly clueless, Jess sighed. “Just tell me what needs to be done.”
“The dress is pale pink, ivory and black. Pale pink and ivory corset laced at the back with black satin ribbons, fitted fishtail skirt, with three flounced layers at the bottom edged in black satin. Black lace bolero overlay fastened at the neck in a bow.” Zazz beamed and little wonder, the dress sounded divine. “With a matching fascinator. Wait ‘til you see it.”
“Sounds gorgeous. So why the aisle adjustment?”
Zazz clapped her hands together like an excited child. “Because I’m doing a surprise dance down the aisle. No classical da-da-di-da slow steps for me. It’s burlesque all the way, baby.”
Despite her stress levels, and the amount of work she’d have to do over the next forty-eight hours, Zazz’s excitement was infectious and Jess found herself confounded yet captivated. “This wedding is going to be amazing.”
“Thanks to you, hun.” Zazz blew her a kiss. “I’m going to bump and shimmy down the aisle so let’s hope Dorian’s cronies pack their heart medication.”
Jess laughed. “You’re crazy, you know that right? And I’m crazy for taking on a job of this magnitude with minimal experience.”
Zazz’s serious expression surprised Jess. “I could never have done any of this without you. You’ve been amazing and don’t you forget it.”
The bride’s praise meant a lot, considering her mom couldn’t pick up the phone to say the same. Sure, Pam had sent a few emails checking on proceedings, but Jess’s updates were met with silence rather than encouragement.
A small part of her wondered if her mom was jealous that Jess had stepped into the role of wedding planner and done a good job. And she knew being confined to a rehab center would be killing her vibrant, active mom.
Not that Jess needed the praise. The fact she’d done this, and enjoyed it, proved what she’d suspected for a long time now.
Being stuck in Craye Canyon, leading a sedate life, wasn’t for her any more. At least she could thank her mom for this, an opportunity to step out of her comfort zone and take a risk.
“Thanks, Zazz. You have no idea how much I needed to hear that, considering I’ve got a freaking wedding to pull together in two days!”
Zazz chuckled. “You’ll be fine. I have complete faith in you.”
“Okay then, guess I’ve got work to do.” Jess was about to end their Skype session when Zazz held up her hand to stop.
“By the way, I’m looking forward to shaking Jack’s hand again.”
“Why? Because you’ve busted his balls to finalize the menu and he’s doing it?”
Zazz’s cheeky smirk indicated an incoming zinger. “No, because any guy who can make you glow like that deserves congrats.”
With a quick wave, Zazz vanished from the screen before Jess could respond.
It was only then that she realized the implications of organizing this wedding in two days.
Not only would she be working around the clock, Jack would be chained to the kitchen. He’d be busy prepping and planning and ensuring the fresh ingredients arrived days earlier than previously ordered. He’d have a plethora of staff to instruct, meals to prepare, finishing touches on the cake…
She wouldn’t see him.
Ironic, that after the stupendous sex last night she’d envisaged several sultry evenings where they could connect on many levels.
She’d imagined them cuddled together, sharing thoughts and dreams, just like they had ten years ago.
She’d imagined maybe, just maybe, telling him the truth. That this had moved beyond sex for her. That she didn’t have definitive plans once this wedding was over. That maybe she could travel some more, come visit him in Sydney…
But the intimacy she’d imagined would never happen now. They’d be working their butts off with minimal down time, then the hordes would descend. Including her brother and guaranteed Jack would shut down and revert to being friends.
With a shake of her head, Jess brought up her extensive to-do list. But as she scanned the dot points and added a few more, her mind drifted to Jack and what may have been.
Burlesque Bombshell Basics
A fur stole completes any outfit
Jack had classic Aussie rock blasting from the speakers as he strutted around the kitchen. King of his domain. Ruling with a deft touch as every dish he created resulted in culinary perfection.
Egotistical? Maybe. But if there was one thing Jack knew well it was food and since Dorian’s early morning call outlining changes to the wedding, Jack had been in overdrive.
Jess had just left when Dorian rang and it had taken a few moments for the groom’s instructions to sink in. Post-coital confusion. His head had been filled with memories of Jess: how she’d tasted, how she’d felt, how she’d sounded minutes earlier as they’d fucked for the fifth time, that it hadn’t sunk in how much he had to do until Dorian had asked if he was okay.
Then reality had set in. He’d be working twenty-four/seven to get the food ready in time, which meant no repeat of last night with Jess.
The realist in him would say ‘
it was good while it lasted
The optimist? ‘
Damn, not nearly enough and I want more
After showering and dressing in record time, he’d hit the kitchen running and unlike yesterday, he created magic.
He’d tweaked some of the dishes until they were perfect; he’d placed ingredient orders with the locals; he’d marshaled the kitchen staff and outlined their tight schedule on a whiteboard.
They’d be working around the clock to ensure the gourmet meals for this wedding would be served on time. Nothing new, for Jack had worked under this pressure before. But what was new was the niggle of regret tempering everything he did, regret that he’d only had one night with Jess.
She’d be just as busy as him and they’d both be pulling all nighters before the wedding crowd arrived tomorrow.
Jack had already made up his mind to tell Reid about him and Jess in the wee small hours this morning, when she’d fallen asleep in his arms.
She’d looked so young, so fragile, and it had catapulted him back in time. Despite her saucy seduction act and feisty words, Jess wasn’t brash and bold. She was still the same warm-hearted soft touch girl who’d touched his soul a decade earlier.
It had scared him then and still terrified him now. Jack had spent a lifetime cultivating emotional barriers no one could breach, yet Jess was the only person who’d broken them, both times.
A smart guy would recognize that as meaning something. That maybe, just maybe, he shouldn’t shut her out this time. That maybe it was worth taking a risk on some people, like how Reid and Dorian had taken a chance on him.
“What’s that god-awful racket?”
He stopped whisking vanilla-infused double cream and glanced at the door where Jess had snuck in.
“There’s no other way to listen to hard core Aussie rock,” he said, sure his goofy grin matched hers. “Loud and proud.”
“Turn it off, I can’t hear myself think.” She covered her ears with her hands.
“Bossy and beautiful,” he said, dumping the whisk and bowl, and flicking the music off.
“And incredibly stressed.” She perched on a bar stool, grabbed a strawberry and popped it into her mouth. It reminded him they’d never got round to using the strawberries last night. “By the looks of everything in here, you’ve heard the news.”
He nodded. “Dorian called. We’ve got a wedding happening day after tomorrow.”
She winced. “They’re crazy.”
“And we’re crazy for agreeing to do this.” As far as morning after chatter, it wasn’t half bad. Casual. Without awkwardness. But they’d have to confront the obvious eventually so he went for broke. “You know what this means, right?”
Sadness clouded her eyes and the fact her disappointment mirrored his made him feel a little better. “Yeah, we’re pulling an all nighter before the crew descends tomorrow.”
He grimaced. “Leaving me stuck with way too many condoms.”
A coy smile curved her lips and he wanted to hoist her onto the bench and bury himself deep. “You could save them for a later date—”
“Hey boss, there’s a problem with the lobster order.” One of the kitchen hands appeared from the butler’s pantry, holding a cell in one hand and a list in the other.
Jack mentally cursed the assistant’s timing because he really wanted to hear where Jess had been going with her
“Sorry, Jess, I really need to take care of this—”
“It’s okay, I’ve got a ton of work to do too.” She slid off the bar stool and dusted off her hands. “Might see you later?”
He doubted it, but he smiled and nodded. She knew it too, because disappointment turned down the corners of her mouth and, before he could second-guess the wisdom of revealing their relationship to resort staff before he had a chance to talk to Reid, he swooped in for a kiss.
He’d meant it as a swift goodbye kiss filled with the promise of more, but the moment her mouth opened beneath his he was lost. She tasted of sweet, ripe strawberries with an underlying hint of toothpaste mint and the heat she generated when her tongue entwined with his was enough to make him forget his work, his lists, his goddamn name.
The kitchen hand cleared his throat and Jack reluctantly broke the kiss, his lips lingering as long as possible.
“More, please,” she whispered, before patting his cheek and backing away.
“Count on it,” he said, holding her bright gaze until she left the kitchen, taking a little piece of his heart with her.
Jack had worked thirty-six hours straight when Dorian’s private jet touched down the next evening. On the upside, the wedding menu had been finalized, dishes prepped and staff were sticking to his tight schedule. The downside? By the time he wrapped up a particularly tricky salmon soufflé, he’d missed his opportunity to talk with Reid privately and had seen his mate deep in conversation with Jess as they strolled toward the beach.
Not that he expected Jess to tell Reid what had happened between them. She hadn’t ten years ago, because Reid had never mentioned it when Jack had made light of Jess’s crush. And considering how much further they’d taken their dalliance this time…no, Jess wouldn’t say anything to her brother.
Which left Jack to do it.
He wiped his hands on a dishcloth, downed a glass of water and stretched. Every muscle in his body ached from being on his feet for a day and a half, but he had to find Reid now, before someone else divulged his secret.
Jack slipped out of the kitchen via the patio door, glad most of the guests were mingling around the lagoon pool on the other side of the resort. He could hear the tinkle of laughter, the buzz of chatter, and the faint strains of big band jazz, Dorian’s favorite.
The guy certainly knew how to throw a party. Invite twenty-five of his closest friends to his exclusive island for his wedding, fly them in on his personal jet, serve the best cuisine and house them in exclusive villas scattered around a six star resort.
And to think, Jack had once struggled for a few bucks while drifting through the outback.
He followed the path toward the beach, the one he’d seen Reid and Jess take earlier. When he arrived at the sand’s edge, he saw Reid relaxing in a lounger, beer in hand. Jess had vanished.
Good. One confrontation at a time, because once he was done spilling his guts to Reid, he had every intention of finding Jess and doing the same.
No way in hell would he make the same mistake as he had ten years ago. This time, he wouldn’t let her slip away.
“Only an uptight politician would be relaxing on a Caribbean beach wearing a suit.” Jack sank onto the lounger next to Reid. “Expecting a photo op?”
“Screw you, McVeigh.” Reid raised his beer in a salute. “I hopped on Dorian’s plane straight from a meeting with constituents. Didn’t have time to change.”
“The plane landed an hour ago.”
“Been busy catching up with my sis.” Reid took a slug of beer and stared out at the calm, cerulean ocean. “She looks well.”
“Really? Because we’ve both pulled an all-nighter to get this wedding happening tomorrow.”
Reid turned and pinned him with a stare that would intimidate a lesser man. “I’d say I have you to thank for that.”
Shit. What did he mean by that? Did Reid know?
Reid shook his head. “You think I’m a dumbass?” He drained the rest of his beer and rested the bottle on a nearby table under a beach umbrella. “Last time I saw Jess look this happy was when we were in Australia ten years ago. And now she’s got the same glow.”
Reid tapped his temple, pretending to ponder. “Let’s see, the only common denominator in her happiness equation is you.”
Jack rubbed the back of his neck, increasingly uncomfortable. Guess he should be grateful Reid had twigged to the truth, making it easier to broach. Kinda.
“I know what you’re thinking, man, and I tried to stay away from her, I really did. But we’ve got this chemistry and one thing led to another—”
“Spare me the details.” Reid held up his hand. “You’re a good guy, McVeigh, so much better than her putz of an ex. But if you ever hurt her, I’ll kill you.”
Jack nodded. “Fair enough.”
An uncomfortable silence stretched between them before Reid chuckled. “You’ve led a charmed life, my friend. Footloose and fancy free for most of it.”
Reid’s grin broadened as he made a choking sign around his neck. “So I can’t wait to see the eternal bachelor get his balls busted by my sis.”
“Ha, ha, frigging hilarious,” Jack said, unable to keep a straight face. “You’re one to talk. When’s the last time you dated anyone with a pulse for longer than a night?”
“Bachelor life suits me just fine.” Reid linked his hands, placed them behind his head and leaned back. “No way in hell you’ll see me shackled to a woman any time soon.”