Read Engaged in Embellishments: Tulle and Tulips, Book 5.5 Online
Authors: Nikki Duncan
Always a planner, never a bride…until one man vows to mend a broken promise.
Tulle and Tulips
, Book 5.5
Lori Mullins walks a tightrope every day of her life, acutely aware that there are no guarantees. No guarantee she’s left the demons of her past behind. No guarantee that her future is assured.
Though she believes love is a powerful force, she can’t help but wonder if it is all-conquering.
Trevor Masters runs a successful business, but professional loyalties fail to fulfill his dreams. Dreams that the woman he loves forgives herself for the past. Dreams that she will finally accept his offer for a shared future.
Though some dismiss dreams as nothing more than nice pastimes, he can’t stop believing in their power.
And he finally feels like he’s close to making this one come true.
Warning: Contains a man whose world shatters when he breaks a promise, and a woman who flounders in the debris. All wrapped up in a Glittering Groot. Seriously.
Engaged in Embellishments
To my amazing husband, who continues to support and celebrate my writing, regardless of how much it interlopes on his life. I couldn’t be a luckier woman than to have him at my side.
To Tera Cuskaden and the Samhain marketing team for having my back and supporting this series.
Lori Mullins, the creator and owner of Tulle and Tulips Designer Weddings, knew a thing or two about glamour and elegance. She joked that she’d learned at the hands of a high-profile madame. Only recently, after her friends had gotten her sufficiently loosened up with wine and the finest of homemade chocolates, had she finally shared the truth few people knew.
She’d been recruited and trained by a secret government agency that had employed her as a spy. She’d fallen in love with weddings and wedding dresses during a mission where she’d worked as a wedding planner for an arms dealer. After her
, beginning Tulle and Tulips had been a dream come true.
Occasionally she had the pleasure of putting a wedding together for a friend. Better than that, she got to work with friends when she did.
“Glittering Groot.” Tabatha Sampson shook her head to get her hair away from her face. Her chuckle was rich and happy as she wrapped shimmery brown tulle around a strand of tiny white lights that would be strung back and forth across the ceiling of the arch. The ballroom’s two sets of double doors would be opened after the ceremony to unite the ballroom and the tent beyond into one space for the reception. “I would never have thought we could make a comic book wedding glamorous.”
Lori moved to the next chair to continue the tulle chain that would keep people out of the aisle. “When the Bunny of Bling gets married, elegance is the only way we could go.”
Instead of trying to recapture a particular comic book story, Darci and Victor had chosen a scene from
Guardians of the Galaxy
. That scene being the pivotal moment when the characters truly went from being individuals to being a team. When Groot sacrificed himself to protect the others and instead of saying “I am Groot” said “We are Groot”. With Darci’s eye for all that sparkles, the day promised to be everything she and her comic-book-loving husband-to-be could want.
“Says the woman whose silk slacks remain unwrinkled after a ten-hour day.”
Lori looked at the deep purple slacks she’d chosen that morning and could only shrug over their smoothness. Being wrinkle free was little more than a smart fabric choice.
“What will your wedding be like, Lori?” Tabatha asked.
Nearby, where she was decorating the table that would hold the cake, Gisella Sands snorted. It wasn’t a classy sound, but Gisella was better known for her stark audaciousness. “Lori’s never going to have a wedding. She’s having too much fun with fiancée-on-fiancé friskiness.”
“You say that like fun is a bad thing,” Lori said. Being with Trevor Masters was fun, but more importantly it was something she hadn’t known until he’d hired her as an escort. It was safe. He was safe. “And by the way, it can only be fiancée-on-fiancé friskiness when there’s been an engagement.”
Tabatha, glowing with the newness of requited romance, shook her head. “How is it possible Trevor’s let you go so long without accepting him?”
“He says he’s willing to wait for me.” For all the control Trevor commanded in his business deals, he seemed perfectly content putting the control of their future in Lori’s hands. The longer he stayed patient with her, the more actively she began to question her denial of his daily proposals. Being with him was safe, but she hadn’t convinced herself she’d always be safe with him.
“Only as long as you’re not making him wait for sex, right?”
“I’m not ready to be the one walking down the aisle, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stay a virgin until that day comes.”
Tabatha laughed. “You could abstain from sex as easily as Darci could go a day without wearing a shiny bauble.”
“That’ll never happen,” Gisella said.
“I’ve seen the way you and Danny look at each other,” Lori challenged Tabatha. “You can’t deny you’re addicted to him.”
“He stayed loyal when I tossed him away.” She sighed the moony sigh of a woman newly in love. Except it wasn’t really that new.
Lori stopped working with the lights and tilted her head. “And he’d have waited as long as necessary to get you back.”
“Ugh.” Gisella groaned. “If you Google sappy for a definition I bet a picture of you two would pop up.”
“Awww. Poor Gisella. She doesn’t have a man.”
“All the more reason for my friends to give me things to be happy about.” Gisella set out a clay pot that would serve as the cake’s base holder. The cake itself was a growing Groot. Around the pot on the table, the table cloth had been hand painted to depict the scene where Groot wrapped himself around his fellow Guardians to protect them. Where there had been a spark of light in the movie’s scene, there was a yellow stone that sparkled as bright as any newly polished diamond.
Tabatha tied the tulle into a bow at the end of the lights and carried them to the wedding arch. Leigh’s husband, Burton, had spent weeks collecting driftwood and constructing the arch, interweaving the branches to allow enough room for fairy lights to be twisted through. The lights had been given the lightest coat of yellow metallic spray paint to give them a diamond twinkle effect.
“Tomorrow’s wedding will give you and many others plenty of happiness,” Lori promised.
Maybe she was promising herself as much as her friend. Trevor asked her daily to marry him, some days making the request an elaborate show while others it was only a simple question. Each day she’d told herself he was going to stop asking and that he’d walk away. Believing in a coming rejection had been easier than believing in a forever future for herself.
Most recently, after watching Tabatha deal with the reappearance of her estranged husband, Lori had begun to accept the possibility that she wouldn’t be left out in the cold. That she might be safe taking the next step with Trevor.
“We’re almost finished here,” Lori said to Tabatha and Gisella. “Why don’t you two go get some sleep?”
It was almost eleven o’clock. Lori had quickly pegged Gisella as a morning person rather than a night owl; she was always in her office or her back office kitchen by the time Lori got to work. Tabatha was a different story. She would rather stay up all night and sleep late, but she enjoyed spending her nights with her man.
“Are you leaving?” Gisella asked.
“I’ll be right behind you.” After handling a few more details.
“You couldn’t have been a very good spy, because you’re a horrible liar.” Tabatha leaned against the arch.
“I’m a very good liar,” Lori insisted.
“You tell yourself that if it makes you feel better.” Tabatha grinned in that way she had that said she knew every secret. “But I know you’re going to be here at least two more hours setting stuff up. I also know, in this case, it will do me no good to remind you that venues, and by extension decorating them, are my domain.”
The planners never crossed into each other’s domains when it came to client weddings. But when Misty had married Jace, they’d set a precedent on handling the weddings of their fellow planners. The precedent being they all worked together on all the aspects leading up to the big day. Come wedding day, their staff took over while they enjoyed the time with their friends.
“You can argue with her if you want, Tabatha,” Gisella said through a yawn. “Sleep keeps my hand steady when I put the final touches on a cake.”
“I’ll walk out with you.” Tabatha winked at Lori. “Though I won’t promise I’m going home to sleep.”
Sleep had been a rare commodity when Lori worked as a Whitestone agent. Things hadn’t changed after she started Tulle and Tulips. She and Trevor could both go days at a time getting little more than three hours sleep, which came in handy when she was setting up for a wedding. Every few days, though, Trevor would find a way to get her in bed and make sure she stayed there for a full night. On those nights, sleep became a luxurious indulgence made all the better because he stayed with her.
“Enjoy what’s left of the night,” Lori said.
Tabatha kissed Lori on the cheek. “Don’t work all night.”
Her friends left, closing the door behind them. They hadn’t been overly chatty while they’d been working, but the silence settled around her like a favorite blanket. She loved her friends and counted herself lucky to work with them. Love and luck didn’t eradicate years of conditioning. And that conditioning made it hard for her to see safety outside of solitude.
The door behind Lori opened. Her senses kicked into high gear, rushing fear through her veins for the briefest moment. Then she caught the scent of Trevor’s cologne and fear subsided. Relaxation slid through her neck and shoulders, alerting her to the tension she hadn’t realized she held.
Knowing, even without turning, he moved closer. She smiled. “What are you doing here? You weren’t supposed to get home until tomorrow morning.”
“I missed my lover.” The cultured tone of his voice darkened when he called her “lover”. It always did. A moment later his lips brushed her neck, making her glad she’d put her hair up that morning. “What are you doing here alone?”
She gave in, like always, to the instinct to lean into him. Resistance would be easier if he hadn’t been away for two weeks. “Working.”
“You’re always working.”
“You’re one to talk.” His warmth seeped into her, filling her with the satisfaction that no phone or Skype call could offer.
“Just one reason we’re a good team.” Trevor leaned in and kissed her, sweet and tender with just a hint of hunger. “Here’s another.”
He pulled a basket from behind his back. It was the same basket he’d sent her when she’d been putting Tulle and Tulips together. Now, just like then, he’d filled it with Snickers and Dr Pepper.
“Oh, babe.” Her smile broadened, pulling at her cheeks. He’d shed his suit jacket and tie and rolled up his shirt sleeves. If they were home he would remove his socks and shoes, setting them neatly beside the bed. He’d be as relaxed in his slacks and shirt as he would be in sweats. And just as sexy. “I’m not sure what’s sexier. That basket or you.”
“Ouch. I may have to stop bringing competition home with me.”
“Poor Trevor.” She pushed up to her toes and kissed his neck. “I’ve dented your ego.”
With his empty hand, he cupped her neck and held her close. “Mock me and it’ll be poor Lori.”
She glanced from the basket to him. “You wouldn’t take that away from me? Would you?”
He locked her in place with his most commanding stare. It was the one that probably got him everything he wanted in business negotiations. It definitely got him what he wanted from her. “That will depend on your behavior in the near future.”
She almost laughed, but choked it back and played along with his game. He was always more playful after they’d been apart, and she didn’t seem to get tired of it. “I bet I could persuade you.”
Lori took the basket and set it on one of the chairs she’d tied tulle to. “You want me to share?”
“It’s the nice thing to do when a man brings you a few of your favorite things.”
“I may be able to let you have half a candy bar.” She dipped her fingers in the waistband of his pants, moving them in just the right way to turn him on instantly. Her moves seduced herself just as easily as him. Taking it further, she released the buckle on his belt, then the button on his slacks.
Trevor lifted a brow. “Only half?”
“You know how I adore them.”
He traced a finger along her neck and the button line of her blouse. “Then I hope you have a counteroffer.”
“I was thinking…” She lowered his zipper. “In the interest of fairness…” She shoved his pants over his hips so they fell to the floor. “I could come up with something.”
“I’ve worked hard and slept little on this last trip.” He released the first few buttons on her blouse. His fingers brushed the edge of her bra, shooting tendrils of heat across her chest. “You may need to spell your thoughts out for me.”
Lori undid the first few buttons of his shirt and pressed her mouth to the skin she exposed. “Does this make it clearer?”
“Not really,” he whispered against her ear, sending velvety warmth along her skin and chills through her veins.
Shuddering, she lowered the zipper on her slacks and allowed them to drop to the floor. “Clearer now?”
“Mmmm. Not really.”
“Then by all means…” She knelt before him, pulled his shoes off and lowered his underwear. “Step free and I’ll spell it out for you.”
Without breaking into the smallest hint of a smile, he stepped free of his clothes, kicking them to the side. “Spell away.”
It occurred to Lori that anyone could walk into the ballroom at any moment and catch them. Seeing Trevor naked and aroused, she didn’t care. She reached behind her and popped the hooks on her bra free. She slid her panties off and let them fall to the floor before taking Trevor’s hand and leading him to a chair.
He obeyed, always willing to give her control if she wanted it.
She sat on his lap, straddling him without taking him into herself. It took every ounce of restraint she possessed—and she was running low—to keep herself from even rubbing against him and feeling his arousal. The move would be a tease to her clit and take her to the brink.
She craved the brink, and rushing over the edge wouldn’t be a first for them. Prolonging the moment, briefly, was more tempting.
“I missed you,” she whispered. “I missed you more and more every night you were away.” She kissed a path down the right side of his neck. “Then morning came and I missed you more.” She kissed a path down the left side of his neck. “I missed every moment of every day when I wasn’t talking to you.”
“That’s a lot of missing.”
“I miss you the way I love you.” She would not admit, even to Trevor, that her heart had broken when she hadn’t heard from him all day. Especially when she’d known it was nearing midnight and he hadn’t asked her to marry him yet. “Seems I’m desperately lost without you.”
“Lori, my love.” He kissed her chin. “I may need to teach you how to negotiate. You’re giving me all the power here.”
“Not all of it.” She lifted herself, just a couple inches, off his lap. His eyes locked with hers, darkening with passion until she thought he might wrest control from her and end the flirtation. “A woman always holds a little back in negotiations.”
“So it seems.” He put his hands on her hips and pulled her forward. She resisted. “You want me to beg?”
“That’s always a turn-on.” Lori leaned her head forward, keeping her body from touching his. Her legs were trembling with the effort of not sinking onto him. Before he could respond, or indeed beg, she kissed him.
His fingers dug into her hips. He deepened the kiss, slipping his tongue into her mouth. With the slightest forward roll of her hips, she bent her knees and eased down, taking him deep.
He filled her, tip to hilt and wall to wall. Pleasure bounced through her soul, lifting her higher and higher to the bliss she’d only ever known with Trevor. Then her orgasm picked her up and carried her beyond that blessed bliss and straight into euphoria.