Read [Invitation to Eden 15.0] Return to Sender Online

Authors: Steena Holmes

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[Invitation to Eden 15.0] Return to Sender

BOOK: [Invitation to Eden 15.0] Return to Sender
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RETURN TO SENDER

 

INVITATION TO EDEN SERIES

 

Book 1 in Summers in Love series

 

 

by

STEENA HOLMES

 

www.steenaholmes.com

www.facebook.com/steenaholmes.author

www.twitter.com/steenaholmes

 

 

 

We are very pleased to issue your Invitation to Eden, an exciting series coming to you in 2014 from 27 of the biggest names in romance. Join us as we take you on an exciting adventure to Eden, where anything… and everything goes!

 

 

RETURN TO SENDER

 

Lauren Summers is the stable sister, the one who runs the family company while her sisters take off and travel the world. One weekend a year she hides herself away and mourns a love she lost six years ago. That weekend is now, except she’s being whisked away to a mysterious island despite her protests. After being pampered with luxury, massages and the best chocolate a girl could taste, she starts to realize that its time she left the past behind and moved forward with life, and maybe with love. What she doesn’t know, is that someone from her past has other ideas…

 

 

RETURN TO SENDER

 

Chapter One

 

A delicious box of handmade chocolates from one of the best chocolatiers in the world sat on her desk. They were his latest creation and he wanted her to taste test them for him. Damn that man. Paul Ormand, her friend from her college days and now a world—renowned chocolatier, knew she was trying to lose weight. She could have sworn he did this on purpose.

“A sweet thank-you for all you do, my foot,” she muttered to herself. He’d called in a favor a few months ago and she’d been able to help him. When he’d asked what he could do to repay the favor, she’d jokingly suggested chocolate but then told him she was still on her diet and if he sent any she’d make him pay.

She should have known better.

The tantalizing aroma from the opened box tempted her and it was all she could do not to try one. The smart thing would be to close the box, put it away in a drawer and attempt to forget about them.

“Oh, what do you have there?” Melanie, her sister, peered over her shoulder and went to reach for one of the decadent pieces of heaven.

“Hands off.” She slapped the offending hand away and glared up at her sister, who smirked and stuck her tongue out at her.

“I do just as much for the man and he doesn’t send me chocolates.” Melanie pulled a chair up to Lauren’s desk.

“He loves me more,” Lauren teased.

“That’s only because he met you first.”

“Or maybe he still remembers you trying to fool him into thinking you were me?”

Lauren was the oldest of triplets and despite having the same facial features of both her sisters, Melanie was the only one who had the same body type, or close to it. Jessica, the youngest of the three, could pass for a model.

Melanie shrugged before she reached over and snagged a chocolate despite Lauren’s glare.

“Are you or are you not a diet?”

“I am,” Lauren grumbled.

“Well then,” she popped the chocolate into her mouth, “conshider jist my way of helfing,” Melanie said with a full mouth.

Lauren shook her head before she inhaled the decadent smell that came from the box. Somehow she managed to replace the lid and move the box out of reach...but it was difficult. One chocolate normally wouldn’t hurt, but she’d been so good lately and was down twelve pounds. Just another twenty or so to go and she’d maybe go swimsuit shopping. Maybe.

“Have you heard from Jess today?” Melanie licked the chocolate off her fingers before she leaned back in her chair and crossed her legs.

“Not yet.” Lauren checked the time. “She said she’ll call when she gets to her room tonight.”

“What venue was she checking out today?”

Lauren grabbed a notebook from the side of her desk and thumbed through the pages until she found the itinerary she’d written out.

“Today was that surprise day Lexi and Paul asked to have free.” She had some ideas where they were headed, hints Paul had given her on the phone.

“And she comes home when, again?” Melanie pulled out her phone.

“Two more days. Haven’t you booked her return flight yet?”

Melanie’s lips pursed. “No and I’m starting to get a little worried. Not only is the flight more expensive now but she hasn’t responded to any of my emails or texts in the past few days.”

Lauren’s chest tightened for a brief moment until she remembered something. “She’s using a credit, right? She’ll probably just book the return flight at the airport. You got that email when I gave her the return options, right?” When Melanie nodded, Lauren smiled. “Nothing to worry about then.”

“We’re talking about Jess, right? Our baby sister who tends to leave things to the last minute? The one who misses flights all the time? Who only thinks of herself at the best of times?”

“The same one who is the most adventurous, who can sweet-talk her way out of any situation and always finds the most amazing deals for us. Yes, that one.” Lauren preferred to give Jess the benefit of the doubt. It was easier on her nerves.

Melanie leaned forward. “Do you know for sure she’s with Lexi and Paul? For sure sure? Remember that time she ditched the tour guide, paid him to lie to us and took off for a week, suntanning on some beach?”

Lauren winced. “Yeah, but the Jennings loved that trip afterwards, didn’t they? If it hadn’t been for her doing that, we never would have found that secluded beach.”

Melanie shook her head in disgust but Lauren attempted to ignore it.

“At least this chocolate tour will be what our happy bride is looking for.” Melanie reached for a stack of mail Lauren had dropped into a basket and flipped through it.

Lauren almost groaned. In the five years of operating Bella Dia as an exclusive travel concierge, they’d seen a lot. Their clientele were the elite, the rich, and extremely privileged for the most part. Lauren and her sisters were known for performing miracles for those with high demands.

They currently worked with a bride and her soon-to-be husband: a wedding in Banff, Canada, nestled among the mountains, and then a honeymoon in Europe, where they wanted to take an exclusive and private chocolate tour. But not just any tour, one that was tailored exclusively to them.

That’s where Paul and Lexi came in. Paul and Lexi had connections to the best chocolatiers and pastry chefs in Europe and despite Lexi leaving Paris due to a broken heart, Lauren had worked her magic to bring the two lovers back together.

Lexi was one of her best friends and she would move heaven and earth to see her back together with Paul, another good friend of hers.

It was a win-win situation. The two were back together and Lauren had a tour guide for her bride. Now, if she could only ensure the wedding went off without a hitch.

That’s where Melanie and Tessa came in.

“Have you heard back from Tessa regarding the guest list issues?”

Melanie tossed some fliers into the garbage. “I have a call scheduled in an hour.”

“How many guests are we over?”

“We managed to get Ellen to narrow down her guest list by five. We’re still ten over our limit and the hotel isn’t budging.”

“So we go to Plan B?” Ellen, the bride, wasn’t too accommodating when it came to paring down her guest list. Everyone was crucial to her happiness, it seemed. Which meant if they couldn’t get the hotel to overlook the five guests who may not arrive despite being invited, they had to either find a different venue or plan an outdoor wedding on the grounds of the Banff Springs Hotel.

“Plan B it is. You know, when I finally get married, I want a very quiet wedding in Mom and Dad’s backyard. No fuss. No drama.” Melanie leaned forward and Lauren noticed an envelope she held in her hands.

“You say that now, but when your big day comes, you can’t tell me you won’t want to say your vows on the beach of your favorite resort?” She glanced over at Melanie’s office, where she had a wall plastered with all the locations they used for their company that she was determined to vacation at. The ones she’d visited all had postcards attached to them.

“For the honeymoon, sure. I know Jess would rather elope but you want the intimate wedding too, right?”

Lauren shrugged. She’d never really thought much about her own wedding. Six years ago, she’d met her soul mate while on a life-changing trip to Europe, only to come home brokenhearted. If there was one thing Lauren believed in with her whole heart, it was soul mates. Her parents were the perfect examples of this to her, and she wasn’t willing to settle for anything less. Even if it meant she remained single for the rest of her long and lonely life.

“In Mom and Dad’s backyard and have to compete with you? Not on your life,” Lauren teased. “We had another inquiry today, did you see it?” Lauren tried to get Melanie off the topic of their own weddings. The anniversary of when she first met Marc was coming up in a few days and like every other year, she was feeling a tad bit emotional. Normally she went away for a few days around this time, to reflect, to remember but this year with Jess gone, she didn’t want to leave Melanie all alone to deal with Ellen.

The thought of Marc and when she’d first met him hit her hard and she bent down in a pretence to pick up her purse but in reality blinked her eyes to stop the tears from being noticeable. She hated how much it hit her, still, after all this time. The ache in her heart, the memory of his smile and the way she felt when she’d been in his arms...she only allowed herself to dwell on the memories of that intense love once a year.

“A new one? Can we handle it? I thought we’d discussed taking a month off after Ellen’s wedding?” Melanie toyed with the envelope in her hand before she handed it to Lauren.

“If I was to tell you it was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, would you say no?”

With the envelope in her hands, she fingered the linen paper and knew it was of high quality. There was no return information, just LS embossed in gold lettering. She turned it over in her hands and looked at Melanie.

“Who is this from?”

Melanie shrugged. “You got me. It’s your initials though, I think. That L could be a J too...open it up and check.”

Lauren set the envelope back down. If it was for Jess, she didn’t want to intrude. But there was something familiar about the envelope, something she’d seen somewhere. She filtered through the various magazines she’d read, online sites she visited on a regular basis and that’s when it hit her.

On one site’s private email group she was in, a travel agent had mentioned a client receiving an envelope similar to what she held in her hand.

“Oh sweet...” She reached for Melanie’s hand and held tight. “This is an invite to Eden,” she said.

Melanie sat up straight. Eden was a destination they’d talked about in the quiet morning hours as the place they would go to if they could, as the one location they wouldn’t ever share with their clients...it was their nirvana, their heaven...their genie in a bottle. Invitations to the island were rarely issued, so the fact Lauren held one in her hands was a miracle in itself.

“What did Jess do to get this?” Lauren mumbled. Part of her was amazed that her sister would get the hallowed invite but then there was another part of her that was jealous...when would it be her turn? While her sisters traveled the world and fell in and out of love, Lauren was here, in this office, behind this desk, and worked to ensure everyone else’s dreams came true but her own.

She reached for the box of chocolates she’d resisted earlier.

Life sucked sometimes.

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Marc paced the room, from one end to the other. Nervous energy coursed through his body.

“If you don’t sit down, we’re going to leave.”

Marc glared at Paul, who sat off in the corner with Lexi. They snuggled together on a large love seat, totally immersed in themselves while he sweated buckets as he waited, no, needed confirmation that everything was in place.

“Why haven’t we heard yet? Are you sure it’s all going to work out? Why hasn’t he—” Marc was in a panic but stopped what he was about to say when he caught the glare coming from Paul.

“It’s all taken care of. You need to relax.”

Marc sat down on a chair and leaned forward. His elbows rested on knees that bounced.

“You asked, I delivered. My...friend...assured me the invitation would be delivered, today.”

Lexi sighed. “And when he says delivered, he means we’ve already gotten the text that it arrived and Lauren has it. You just need to get ready for your flight and stop worrying.”

Marc ran his hands through his already messy hair. His teeth ground as he swallowed back his frustration. Stop worrying? Right. Six years ago, he’d made the biggest mistake of his life and had spent years trying to mask that pain by playing a role of being a playboy—a role he played quite well, if he were honest. He’d almost forgotten about her, forgotten why that hole in his heart remained, until Lexi showed him that photo. That’s when he knew...fate had given him a second chance at love and it was out of his hands.

And he was to stop worrying?

“What if she doesn’t read the invitation in time? What if she doesn’t get on the plane? What if all of this has been for nothing?” He jumped to his feet and paced in a circle, the worry too much for him to handle.

“It’s all taken care of,” Paul said.

Marc turned. “But how? How have you taken care of it? I need to know. Who is this friend of yours with such pull? How does he even have an island I’ve never heard about till recently and we’ve never been?”

Paul shrugged. “The guy has a lot of money and asked me to keep quiet. And we’ve haven’t been because we don’t need to. When and if we do, we will.” When he turned his attention away from Marc to Lexi and stared into her eyes, Marc almost wanted to gag.

He was happy the two lovebirds were back together. It made his life so much easier. It had been hell to have his two best friends so at odds. Things weren’t perfect yet—Lexi refused to move back to Paris—but he knew Paul would wear her down. That or he’d move to Banff, some godforsaken beautiful backwoods town just to make her happy. Marc was okay with it, except, Banff was cold and he didn’t do cold.

“But what’s his name? I’d rather not be made to look the fool when I arrive and don’t even recognize him.” Marc glanced at his watch. He had an hour before he needed to leave for his transatlantic flight.

“Oh, you won’t meet him.” Paul stood from the couch. “He’s an old friend from school and I haven’t even seen him in...way too many years. We talk via email or text only. And if anything, you’ll hear people refer to the Master, instead of his real name. He’s, well, he’s a bit eccentric.”

Marc slapped his forehead. “He’s the dude you’ve been sending boxes of chocolates to every month? The one in our system labelled Eden Master? I thought that was for accounting, but it’s just his name.”

Paul smiled. “He loves the chocolate and places it in some of the guests’ bedrooms when they first arrive.”

“He must love them. It’s not every day you grant exclusivity to one of your best-selling products.” Marc glanced at his watch again.

“Come on.” Paul must have noticed. “Let’s get you to the airport.”

“Just think, Marc. In a few short hours, you’ll see Lauren again.” Lexi stepped to his side and reached for his hands. “I just wish I had put two and two together earlier. Imagine, my best friend in the States and my best friend in Paris...I’m so happy for you guys!”

“Don’t pop the bubbly, just yet,” Marc grumbled. “If she doesn’t get on that plane and come to the island, I’m not sure what I’ll do.”

“Of course you do. You’ll go to the States and show up at her office. I’ll even take you there myself.” Lexi grabbed him in a hug. “Now, stop worrying, you big lug, and grab your luggage.”

Marc already had his bag by the front door, so he waited for Lexi to grab her purse. Paul held the door open and sneaked in a kiss as Lexi passed by him.

“So, the Master, huh?” Seemed like an odd name to be called. “Master of what?”

“Just go with it. It started out as a nickname between him and his pilot and then it just caught on.”

“So he’s not into any of that kinky sex stuff, right?”

The look on Paul’s face said it all.

“Seriously, dude?”

Paul pushed him out the door. “Are you going there to reconnect with Lauren or are you wanting to be introduced to the man in charge? You can’t have both.”

Marc didn’t bother to reply. They both knew the answer to that.

He still couldn’t believe it had taken him this long to put two and two together. Paul had mentioned Lauren numerous times to him in their meetings regarding events that were coming up. At the time, all Marc had known was that Lauren was an old friend and she tended to call in favors here and there for her company. She would always call Paul directly if she had clients coming to Paris, and Marc never thought to ask for more in-depth information about the woman.

Until Paul came home with Lexi in tow and they showed him pictures. Before coming back to Paris, they’d flown to the States to meet with Lauren personally to discuss this new venture for Lexi. Apparently, Lauren and Lexi were best friends, which boggled his mind. Paul and Lexi were his best friends, Lauren his soul mate and yet they’d never crossed paths in the past six years.

The moment he’d seen the image of Lexi and Lauren together on a beach, it was as if he’d been punched in the gut.

Lauren, his Lauren, stole his breath away in that image. She’d been beautiful six years ago when they were just kids, but now, she was breathtaking. And the moment he’d seen her, all those emotions he’d bottled away came back with a force that left him reeling.

He’d convinced himself she was married with a family, that she was happy and satisfied, that she’d moved on from him...but she hadn’t. And it was that knowledge—she hadn’t forgotten him—that forced him to move.

It was Paul’s idea to surprise her with a trip to Eden after Lexi confirmed Lauren was a workaholic who never left the office. He couldn’t believe that. When they’d been together, she had a passion for traveling; it was the main reason she’d left him behind—to do what he couldn’t. Back then, he’d had to stay close to home, close to his ill parents. They’d made a pact to reunite, to meet up and not let what was happening between them fizzle, but that’s exactly what they’d done.

Well, to be fair, that’s what he’d done.

The fact they lost touch was all his fault. He’d been the one to get scared. He just hoped he could make it up to her.

Six years wasn’t a long time, really. But, back then he’d only been a kid. A stupid one who thought his life was about to end after meeting his soul mate. He’d been too young to fall in love. Or so he’d thought.

He’d made the wrong choice back then, but now he had the opportunity to correct it. And she would forgive him; she had to. At least, he hoped she would. But, there was one thing he’d learned about Lauren: expect the unexpected.

 

BOOK: [Invitation to Eden 15.0] Return to Sender
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