Can she make organizing her friend's wedding any harder?
Sunshine Smart has only got two months until the big day!
She has to include the grouchy, surly best man Leo Quartermaine—a top chef and her complete opposite!
Said best man is extremely handsome and sexy—and knows it!
He has no interest in decor, flowers, clothes or shoes —but has an uninformed opinion on all four!
And just a few days in she's already slept with him. Rookie mistake
Excerpt - Chapter 1...
TO: Jonathan Jones
FROM: Sunshine Smart
SUBJECT: Bridesmaid meets Best Man
Darling Jon I’ve met Leo and I adore him!
We are on the same page, so fear not—your wedding reception will be everything you ever dreamed of!
Wish we could have the actual marriage in Sydney too, but hooray for enlightened New York!
Hugs and kisses to Caleb.
TO: Caleb Quartermaine
FROM: Leo QuartermaineSUBJECT: WTF??????
What are you doing to me?
Sunshine Smart cannot be a real name. And she wants to friend me on Facebook! NOT JOKING!
Despite being dropped in it with the lunatic, I will ensure the dinner doesn’t turn into a three-ring circus.
Can’t wait to meet Jonathan—but please tell me he’s nothing like his bridesmaid.
Sunshine Smart was looking forward to her second meeting with Leo Quartermaine. Despite their introductory meeting two days ago, lasting just ten minutes and ending with him declining her request to be Facebook friends.
She loved Leo’s restaurants—well, what she’d read about them. Because she’d never actually eaten at one…which she was about to remedy.
She loved him on TV—tough but fair, judging those reality TV would-be chefs, and dreamy as when fronting Cook It Up With Leo.
She was predisposed to love anyone whose brother was smart enough to marry her best friend Jonathan Jones.
And she just—well, loved him. In that Isn’t he adorable? way of loving people who were just so solid and serious and a teensy bit repressed.
But his hair—or lack thereof—was a problem. There was no reason for Leo to shave his head. It wasn’t as if he had a comb-over issue. He could have a full head of hair if he wanted! Lush, thick, wheat-blond. She’d seen the ‘before shaved head’ photos on the internet. And the start of the regrowth at their first meeting. She’d read a comment in an article about it being easier in the kitchen without hair—but she wasn’t asking for a ponytail!
Anyway, that could be fixed. There was time for him to grow it. She would just drop a word in his ear.
Sunshine checked her make-up. Her new red lipstick looked fabulous. Her eyes…well, what could you do? The grey eyeshadow was heavily layered; mascara so thick each lash look like a tarantula leg—make-up intended to distract people from her ocular weirdness.
About which there was nothing she could do—unlike Leo Quartermaine’s hair!
She got out of her car—a bright yellow 1970s relic—and walked purposefully towards Q Brasserie.
Leo Quartermaine heard Sunshine approach before he saw her.
He associated that tap-tapping rhythm on the polished concrete floor with her, despite only having met her once before.
He was betting she was wearing another pair of ankle-breaking high heels.
To be fair, she was a shoe designer. But shoe designers made flats, didn’t they? Like those ballet slipper things. Not that he could picture Sunshine Smart in ballet slippers. Or trainers—crikey!
‘Leo!’ she called out, as though he were a misplaced winning lottery ticket, suddenly found. He was starting to think ‘ecstatic’ was her default setting.
‘Sunshine,’ he said, managing not to roll his eyes. Sunshine! How had her parents put that on the birth certificate without gagging?
He’d already clocked the fact that she often started her utterances with ‘So!’ As though an amazing revelation would be out of her mouth on the next breath.
‘News!’ she said, tap-tapping towards the window table where he was sitting.
And, yep, six inches of spike on her feet. In electric blue patent leather. God help his eyes.
She stripped off her trench coat as she made her way across the floor, causing her long necklace to swing. He’d noticed the necklace last time. Pretty. Three types of gold—a rose gold chain, with a yellow gold sun and white gold moon dangling from it.
Miraculously, her dress was an understated colour—pale grey-blue. But it fitted her like a second skin and had one of those things—pellums? Peplums? Whatever!—that dragged a man’s eyes to a woman’s waist and hips. She had a hell of a figure, he had to admit. Curvaceous, like the hourglass pin-up girls of the 1950s.
Leo got up to pull out a chair for her on the opposite side of the table. She took the opportunity to kiss him on the cheek, party-girl air-kiss style—except it wasn’t like any air-kiss he’d ever had—and he’d had plenty. It was a smacking, relishing kiss.
Not the kind of kiss to slap on a person you barely knew.
Oblivious to his momentary shock, Sunshine tossed her trench coat carelessly onto a nearby chair, sat, and beamed up at him. ‘Did you hear? They’ve set the date. October twentieth. So we’ve got two months. A spring wedding. Yay!’
Yay? Who the hell said ‘yay’? Leo returned to his seat. ‘Not much time, but doable.
’‘Oh, it’s oodles of time,’ Sunshine assured him airily. ‘So! I’ve made a list of everything we need to do, and now we can decide who does what, give each task a deadline, and go from there.
’‘List?’ Leo repeated the word, apprehensive. He liked lists. He worked well with lists. The haphazard approach to life of his wastrel and usually wasted parents had made him a plan-crazy list junkie. But this was a simple dinner he could organise with his eyes closed while he whisked a chocolate soufflé.
For once in his life he didn’t need a list.
‘Yes.’ She reached down beside her to where she’d dumped the silver leather bag she’d been swinging when she walked over and pulled out a dazzling chartreuse folder. She removed some paper, peeled off two pages and held them out to him. ‘Your copy. I’m actually not really into lists,’ she confessed—surprise, surprise. ‘So it may need some work.’
He looked at the first page. At the big, bold heading: The Marriage Celebration of Jonathan and Caleb, October 20th.
Seeing the words was like a punch to the solar plexus. It was real. Happening. Imminent. His baby brother was getting married.
What were the odds? Two Aussie guys who’d never met in their own country moved separately to New York, met at a random party, and—bang!—happy-ever-after.
It didn’t matter that Leo didn’t know Jonathan, because Jonathan made Caleb happy. It didn’t matter that the ceremony was taking place on the other side of the world, because the place was just logistics. It didn’t matter that their marriage was only going to be legally recognised in a handful of countries, because they knew what it meant wherever they were.
Leo wondered if he would have had more luck meeting the love of his life if he were gay. Because it sure wasn’t happening for him on his side of the sexuality fence. The succession of glossy glamour pusses who seemed to be the only women that came his way were certainly lovely to look at—but they didn’t eat, and they didn’t occupy his thoughts for longer than it took to produce a mutual orgasm.
He wanted what Caleb had. The one. Someone to get into his head, under his skin, to intrigue and dazzle and delight him. Someone who burrowed into his core instead of bouncing off his shell. Someone to belong to. And to belong to him.
He thought back to his last failure—beautiful, talented singing sensation Natalie Clarke. She’d told him on their second date that she loved him. But nobody fell in love in two dates! Nope—what she’d loved was the concept of Leo the celebrity chef. She’d wanted them to be part of ‘the scene’. And who said ‘the scene’ with a straight face? He couldn’t think of anything worse than ‘the scene’…except maybe her predilection for snorting cocaine, because apparently everyone on ‘the scene’ did it.
In any case, she was a relentless salad-with-dressing-on-the-side type. And she liked playing her own cheesy love songs in the bedroom way too much.
With a repressed shudder he brought his mind back to the present and ran his eyes down the list. Budget - Wedding Party - Master of Ceremonies - Venue - Menu - Alcohol - Guest List - Invitations - Flowers - Lighting - Music - Cake - Clothing - Shoes - Hair and make-up (What the hell…? Why did that need a subheading?) - Gift Registry - Photographer - Videographer - Wedding Favours - Order of Proceedings - Toasts and Speeches - Printing - Seating Plan
Each item was bullet-pointed with a little box that could be ticked, and accompanied by questions, comments and suggestions.
Good thing she wasn’t into lists!
Sunshine must have noticed the stunned look on Leo’s face, because she asked, ‘Have I screwed it up?’
‘This is…’ he started, but words actually failed him.
‘Exciting?’ Sunshine suggested, looking as if she was about to celebrate Christmas, her birthday and the wedding all at once.
‘Comprehensive,’ Leo corrected. He ran a hand across his scalp. Her eyes followed his hand. She was frowning suddenly. He wondered what was going through her mind.
She opened her mouth. Closed it. Opened it. Closed it. Sighed.
Then, ‘So!’ she said. ‘The venue is the first thing. Because it’s bound to be tricky, securing somewhere wonderful with only two months’ notice.’
‘It may have escaped your notice, but I am a restaurateur,’ Leo said. ‘I have venues. I am venues. And menus. And booze.’
Sunshine seemed startled. ‘Oh. I just assumed we’d be too late to get a large group booked into one of your places. That’s why I’ve suggested somewhere like the hotel on—’
‘My brother is not celebrating his marriage in a hotel.’
‘Okay. Well, there’s that lovely place that used to be a stately home in—’
‘Or in an old house.’
‘Then perhaps the new convention space—which is not as tragic as it sounds. In fact, it has a—’
He slammed his hand on the table.
‘No!’ He stopped, reined in the spurt of annoyance. ‘No.’ Better. Calmer. ‘We have a perfectly…’ Reaching, reaching…
‘Perfectly perfect…’ hmm, thesaurus required ‘…private room in this restaurant.’
The only sign that Sunshine had noted his ill-tempered hand-banging incoherence was a tiny twitch at one side of her mouth. He feared—he really feared—she was trying not to laugh.
‘Which seats…?’ she asked, her head on one side like a bird, with every indication of deep interest.
‘How many people does the private room seat?'
Sunshine crossed her arms—seemingly unaware of how she was framing her rather spectacular breasts—and looked at him, apologetic. ‘See? Me and lists! I got the order wrong. “Guest List” should have come before “Venue”. So! Let’s take a step back. I have Jon’s invitation list. Do you have Caleb’s?’
‘It’s coming today some time.’
‘Because there are seventy-five people on our side.’
He stared. ‘You are not serious.’
‘I assure you, I am. And that’s with a savage cull.’ She shuddered theatrically as she uncrossed her arms. ‘Savage.’
‘Caleb wants an intimate dinner.’
‘That’s not my understanding, but I’ll tell you what—you check with Caleb overnight, and we can reconvene tomorrow.’
His eyes narrowed. ‘I hate it when people try to soothe me.’
Sunshine bit her lip. ‘Oh, dear, and I was trying to sound like I was keeping an open mind. But…okay. I’ll tell you straight out, if you prefer: there is no way this is going to be a dinner for twenty-five people. And there’s no use getting in a snit about it—it’s just the way it is.’
‘I’m not in a snit.’
‘If you say so.’
‘I do. Say so.’
Another mouth-twitch. She was definitely trying not to laugh.
And Leo had had enough. ‘I have to go,’ he said, despite not being needed in the kitchen for fifteen minutes.
‘Yes, I can see everything’s getting under way here. I love the buzz of restaurants. Jon and I used to try a new restaurant every other week. I miss him. He’s so…so important to me.’ Her voice wobbled the merest fraction as she added the last bit.
Oh-oh, tears. Leo didn’t do tears. He felt himself shrink back. Wanted to run.
But her face morphed into something tortured, right before his eyes, and he froze. It was as if a layer had been ripped off her in one half-second. Her eyes were strained and yet also vacant, as if she were seeing…emptiness. Her lips trembled. Her skin looked ashen. Every trace of happiness was obliterated. The contrast with her normal exuberance was dramatic—almost painful to see.
All this because her best friend had moved overseas and she missed him? Huh? Leo wanted to touch her. Pat her hand or…something. Say…something. He who never touched, never comforted, because he didn’t know how. His hands fisted uselessly.
Then Sunshine blinked. Shook her head—tiny, tiny movement. And in another half-second everything clicked back to normal and Leo breathed a silent sigh of relief.
‘Um…’ he said. Yep, he was super-articulate today.
But she was smiling blindingly, as though that moment had never happened, so he did the sensible thing and shut up.
‘We haven’t got far down the list,’ she said. ‘What about if I shortcircuit a few things? You know, invitations, et cetera.’
‘What do you mean, “shortcircuit”? And “et cetera”?’ he asked, still a little shaken. Everything about her was throwing him off kilter.
‘I’ll get some options together for us to look over tomorrow. Nothing scary!’
She was completely back to normal. Full-strength perky. Better than the tragic facemask she’d freaked him out with—but only marginally.
Leo didn’t like perky. And if he were being made to board Sunshine Smart’s good ship Lollipop for this wedding he would be the one at the tiller.
‘I thought we’d be emailing the invitations,’ he said.
She gave him what could only be termed a pitying smile. ‘Did you?’
That was all. She wasn’t even going to bother arguing.
Um…no. That was not how it was going to work.