Can you believe it’s August already? I hope everyone is having a great summer. I’m in the midst of editing my latest book (working title: Mr. Darcy’s Mirror (Not likely to keep that name 😉 ) ) and trying to keep up with the never-ending house repairs that we’ve been blessed with.
If you’re like me, you’re looking for a fun escape, especially for sitting at the pool or on the beach so I’ve discounted my first book of the Wedding Planners Series: It’s Always Been You to 99¢. If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you’ll give it a try or even send it as a gift to one of your friends. You can’t beat the price!
Just in case, I’ll put up the first chapter to whet your appetite 🙂
When I first laid eyes on the expanse of pristine white beach, I slid off my sandals, stepped down from the dock to the water’s edge, and gave in to the urge to squish the damp sand between my toes. The warmth of the sun magically prickled my skin as I took a deep breath, inhaling the air kissed with the heavy, salt scent of the sea while brilliant aquamarine water stretched forever until it darkened when it met the cloudless azure-colored sky. A slight breeze wafted in from the sea along with the occasional whitecap that broke along the sand. I still couldn’t believe I stood there absorbing every last breathtaking bit. I’d saved up for years for this vacation, and I was finally here. Two weeks! Two weeks to snorkel, lay out on the beach, or maybe scuba dive if I felt like it. Whatever I wanted. I was servant to no one’s whims but my own.
My plane had landed mid-afternoon, so it was already too late to plan anything for today, but I would definitely have to decide what to do tomorrow. I’d never traveled on my own before but why should being alone be an issue? I wouldn’t have to check with someone else before I made plans, and I wouldn’t disappoint or frustrate someone if I wanted to be lazy and relax in my villa with room service and a chick flick—not that I had any intention of doing so. At least, not yet.
“Miss Barrett?” I tore my eyes away from the picturesque view in front of me to the uniformed porter ambling down the dock. “Your bags are in your villa, number ten, just down on the left. Are you sure you don’t need me to introduce you to the amenities we offer?”
I shook my head. “No, thank you. I’m certain I can figure it all out on my own. I am interested in snorkeling tomorrow. Could you recommend a guide perhaps? Someone who knows the best places and can take me there.”
“You’re welcome to snorkel off the deck of your villa, but the resort also offers tours. Your villa has a portfolio with all of our packages on the desk near the phone. Be sure to call as soon as you decide. You never know when the tours will fill quickly.”
I lifted one side of my lips. “Of course, I will. I suppose I would’ve known about the portfolio if I’d let you show me around. I apologize.”
“No worries, miss. If you require anything further, feel free to call our concierge desk. One of our staff will be happy to assist you.”
“Thank you.” I opened the small purse hanging at my side and pulled out a tip, which the young man accepted with a thank you before heading back toward the huge hut-like building that housed the lobby, the restaurants, and probably some sort of conference center.
A warm breeze rippled through the palms behind me, blowing the long curls back from my face and pressing my gauzy white skirt against my legs. The resort was paradise—no fussy clients, no work, no family, no one to please but myself. My sister Jena was right. I did need this. The biggest question now was what to do first?
That wasn’t a difficult question to answer. A shower to wash the stale airplane smell from my hair and skin was a must! By the time I dressed, the different restaurants at the resort would be open for dinner. I’d need to call and book a reservation, not to mention schedule that snorkeling tour for the earliest slot available tomorrow.
My footsteps made a steady cadence down the wooden planking of the dock until I reached my villa on the left, but before I could open the door, a loud voice from one of the huts nearby almost made me jump out of my skin.
“No, I just arrived yesterday. I have no intention of leaving so soon.” I lifted my eyebrows. Whoever he was, his voice held a low tone that did not sound happy.
“No, I will not. I have some things I need to take care of and this is as good a place as any. I’ll see you when I return.”
I took another step but stopped when the voice continued, “How would you come here? You don’t even know where I am. Really, this is ludicrous. I asked for some time, and I intend to take it. Please don’t call me again. I’ll contact you when I’m ready to talk. Goodbye.”
With a quick peek, I checked to see if anyone noticed me standing there. What if he came out of his villa and found me listening? Not that I could avoid overhearing his conversation with how loud he was speaking, but it had still been rude to listen. I should’ve gone inside and booked that tour for tomorrow instead of being unbearably nosy. Before someone could catch me up to no good, I hurried inside. I had no intention of getting on that man’s bad side! Whoever he was.
~ * ~
When I stepped back onto the dock a few hours later, the sky had morphed from that azure blue to an amazing sunset, awash with vibrant hues of red, orange, and purple and the water had become darker with the setting sun, looking more an inky black than the brilliant topaz of earlier. It was beautiful.
I had no desire to rush, so I didn’t walk quickly. Instead, I took my time almost meandering down the walkway toward the main building of the resort, simply enjoying the sound of the waves breaking along the dock and the calls of a seagull from somewhere further down the beachfront. A gentle breeze still blew off the water, blowing my billowy sundress out from my legs. Unlike when I arrived, I stuck to the deck this time so I didn’t get sand in my favorite strappy sandals. I doubted the restaurant would appreciate it if I showed up barefoot—even if they didn’t have a sign that said, “No shirt, no shoes, no service,” it was still tacky.
The resort boasted a myriad of places to eat, but since it was my first evening, I planned on celebrating. I was on vacation, the one I’d dreamed of forever. Tonight was definitely a special occasion. I’d perused all the choices back in my room and chose a grill called Salt Water. Fine dining and an ocean view to enjoy while I ate—it sounded perfect.
As I approached the maître d’ podium, a man bumped my shoulder as he hurried around me. “Table for one, please.” I stopped and stared. What a prick!
The host glanced at me then back to him. “Do you have a reservation, sir?”
“No, I was tied up with business most of the day,” the man said with a huff as he shifted on his feet. “I didn’t get a chance to call.”
The maître d’ shook his head. “I’m sorry, sir, but we’re booked. Might I suggest the Thai restaurant? I know they have free tables this evening.” The host’s eyes returned to me. “Do you have a reservation, miss?”
With a careful step forward, I nodded. “Yes, Ellie Barrett.” I sneaked a peek at the man beside me. His eyes flickered to me before they returned to the host, whose finger trailed along the iPad he held tilted toward him.
“Ah, yes.” The host picked up a menu and held out his arm. “If you’ll follow me.”
That was when the man turned, his crystal blue eyes meeting mine, making me pause and swallow a gasp. Were those natural? I’d never seen a shade that clear and vibrant. I’d be willing to bet they’d probably match the shade of the water if it wasn’t so dark outside. I started to step past him, but something stopped me. Who knew what that something was, but I simply couldn’t leave him standing there. “Would you care to join me for dinner?”
His eyebrows drew down a little in the middle. “You wouldn’t mind?”
“I’m dining alone, and I’m sure the table will be large enough for two. If you don’t mind sharing with a stranger, I don’t mind either.”
I almost startled at how his face transformed when a small smile cracked the stern façade. I clenched my hands at my sides to keep from fanning myself. Good Lord, he was good looking! Two dimples peeked from his cheeks, his eyes crinkled a little at the edges, and most women would kill for those eyelashes. They were the longest I’d ever seen on a man. I even had eyelash envy! With his sculpted face, striking eyes, and dark brown hair, very few women would have had a dry chin in his presence.
“Thank you,” he said. “I’d be happy to join you.”
The maître d’ took one more menu from the stack and showed us to a table along the edge of the decking. I stopped and stared at the unencumbered view of the sand and sea until the maître d’ pulled out my chair and saw us seated and looking over the evening’s selections before hurrying away.
“Thank you again for sharing your table.”
I looked up from my menu and relaxed back into my seat. “I’m happy to do it. As I said, it’s just me, I have the room, and I don’t mind the company.”
He held his hand over the table. “William.”
“Ellie,” I said. I feigned shifting as I leaned forward so I could press my damp palm against the cushion of the chair. I would not shake his hand with sweaty palms! “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.” He cleared his throat while he scratched the back of his neck. “I’m sorry for pushing ahead of you back there. It’s really nice of you to invite me to share your table considering how rude I was.”
“Do you always shove women out of the way when you’re hungry? Should I keep a look out for you in the future? Take a peek over my shoulder before I serve myself from the breakfast buffet?”
His deep chuckle traveled to the pit of my stomach where it caused a sudden flip. “Perhaps someone else might need to keep an eye out, but I’ll make sure I don’t bowl you over again. I promise.”
“I appreciate that,” I said with a laugh as I picked up the wine menu. “Would you like to share a bottle of wine? I thought I’d order some Prosecco.”
He lifted his eyebrows. “Are you celebrating?”
“Actually, yes. I’ve been saving up for this trip, and I’m finally here. I think it’s a good reason to break open some bubbly.”
“How long have you been planning this?”
“Since I graduated college. My sister, my best friend, and I started our own company, and when we started making a profit, I began to put a certain amount away from my earnings every month—so about six years. We’ve also been saving up for a better office space so it’s taken a little longer than it would otherwise.”
He opened his mouth to respond, but the waiter appeared seemingly from nowhere, took our drink order, and bustled off.
William leaned back in his chair. “What exactly do you do?”
Every muscle in my back stiffened. Most men liked to poke fun at my job. I was on vacation. I didn’t want to spend my first evening defending my profession. “I’m a wedding planner.”
“Really?” he said, leaning forward and resting his forearms on the table. “I’ve always wondered what type of degree someone needed to do that.”
“You don’t necessarily need a degree, but business, design, and public affairs are typically helpful. I studied design, my sister studied communications, and Charlie double-majored in business and finance.”
“I take it she handles the bottom line,” he said with a crooked grin.
“Pretty much. So, what is it you do?” He didn’t make a joke, comment that I planned occasions for lazy people or bash romance . . . yet. It was still a good time to change the subject, just in case.
The waiter returned and set to work serving our Prosecco. William glanced up at the movement but quickly returned to me.
“I own a construction company. We deal in new builds, custom floor plans, and such. The company originally belonged to my father. I earned my degree in architecture and took over when he wished to retire.” He sipped the wine set in front of him and gave a nod for the server to continue.
I snuck a peek at his left hand. I couldn’t help it! He was completely out of my league, but a girl could dream, couldn’t she? No ring and no tan line from one either, so he was unmarried. Why would someone who looked like that and was obviously successful still be single? “Are you here on your own as well?” It was a reasonable question. Hopefully, I didn’t sound like I was fishing for information on a potential girlfriend or even boyfriend somewhere out there.
“No, I needed to get away. My father’s filling in for me while I take some time for myself. He insisted.” He gave a light laugh. “I saw no reason to argue with him.”
“I know what you mean.” The bubbles from my wine tickled my tongue as I swallowed.
“So, let me ask you a very important question.” He gave me a sidelong glance with a slight upturn of his lips. It was all I could do to keep my knees from knocking together. “What do you think of books?”
I leaned against the arm of my chair and tilted my head. “That’s a serious question. I actually read more than I watch television.”
“But what do you prefer to read?” He relaxed and crossed his arms over his chest. “Do you read about sparkly vampires, thrillers, boy wizards, or romantic earls in whatever completely non-romantic era?”
A burst of a laugh escaped before I could prevent it. “I’ve never read anything with sparkly vampires, I’ve read a few thrillers, I love to read about boy wizards and their quests, and I will sometimes read about romantic earls. If it’s well-written, I’ll read it.”
“I can’t tell you how relieved I am you don’t care for sparkly vampires.”
I lifted my eyebrow. Yes, I was flirting and I didn’t care. What did I have to lose? “And what do you read, sir? Biographies, legal dramas, or maybe you enjoy those romantic earls.”
He grinned and shook his head. “I’ve never read a story with an earl or even a viscount.”
The waiter returned for our food order, but as soon as he was gone, we picked up where we left off. William wasn’t just easy on the eyes, but he was also easy to talk to. He read a lot and it definitely showed. Dinner with him proved to be more interesting than most of the dates I’d had in the last five years. Yes, I possessed a sad and pathetic love life. The best prospect I’d had in a long time was a stranger I’d met in the middle of paradise and probably would never see again. Yet, something about him tugged at me—not literally, of course. I couldn’t explain it another way if I tried.
When the meal came, the food was cooked to perfection, and we ordered another bottle of wine. Even with the interruptions, our conversation never faltered once.
When the server brought the bill, I reached for it, but before I could so much as lay a finger on the edge, William scooped it up and signed it.
“How much do I owe you?” I edged forward in an attempt to see what was written, but he curled the paper toward him. I’d thought we’d split the tab. As much as I could wish it was, tonight wasn’t a date.
He smiled and shook his head. “It’s on me. You don’t know how much I appreciate your offer to share the table, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed having company for dinner. Thank you.”
“I had a great time, too, but I never expected you to pay.”
He held up the tray, which the server grabbed as he passed. “It’s done. Maybe we’ll be able to eat together again during our trip. You can pay then.”
“I’ll hold you to it.”
“Great!” He stretched his arms over his head. “I would love to stay and talk some more, but I’m still a bit jet-lagged from yesterday.”
If I was being honest, today’s travel was beginning to wear on me as well. The conversation had been amazing, but eventually, I would fall asleep on the table if we stayed so I followed his lead and stood. “I know what you mean. It took a couple of long plane rides to get here. Between that and the wine, I’m sure I could fall asleep in a matter of seconds.”
We didn’t talk as we strolled from the restaurant and down the dock in the direction of the villas, but the silence wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable. Instead, it was relaxed and oddly like it was supposed to be that way. He stood tall while he walked casually with his hands in the pockets of his pants. We both gazed out over the water where the moon hung low at the horizon.
When I started to veer onto the path to my villa, I pointed. “I’m this way.”
He peered down the walkway with his brow furrowed. “Really? So am I.”
We turned and walked steadily until we reached my door. I faced him and sort of pointed toward my suite. “This is me.” At his nod, I held up my hand in a wave, instantly wanting the water under the dock to suck me in. I must’ve looked ridiculous. “Thank you for a lovely evening.”
He nodded and glanced down to his feet then back at me. “Good night, Ellie.”
I smiled and backed inside while I opened the door behind me. “Good night.”