Icing on the Cake, page 1
Icing on the Cake
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Icing on the Cake
Copyright © 2008 Moira McTark
Cover Artist: Sable Grey
Editor: Tracy Seybold
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced electronically or in print without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
Cobblestone Press, LLC
To my husband, Chris, and all the McTarks.
Saturday, the fifth of June
Sunshine glittered through the windows, reflecting the high polish of rich mahogany paneled walls and throwing a gilded cast across the room. A hush, broken only by birdsong from beyond the glass, surrounded them. They stood facing one another, he in his dark suit, she in her gown. A small, silk-bundled bouquet rested against her chest. Laine Malone was overwhelmed by emotion.
“You’re an asshole,” she snarled, narrowing her eyes to flash like daggers. If only looks could kill.
Jason Henley, owner of the Henley Hotel, arched his brow and, clearly amused, let his attention fall to her lips. “Such pretty talk. You kiss your mother with that mouth?”
His mocking tone chased away the shudder spurred by what was invariably a meaningless glance. She clenched her fist around the wilting bouquet. A stray thorn beneath the ribbon jabbed into the flesh of her palm, the shock of pain fueling her aggravation. An expert in four inch-heels, she yanked a fistful of her sapphire dress to the side and took a threatening stride forward to glare up at him. “You fix this or I’m going to shove this thorny, reject bouquet up your ass.”
Unfazed, Jason smoothed the lapel of his perfectly tailored suit. “Sorry, princess, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I’m not into that kind of kink. But how about this? Take your pretty, plunging neckline and your sad little bouquet, and back off—clear out of my office so I can make some calls. Though I think we both know whose fault this was, I’ll make a concession and get a cake in here for your bride before the entrées are served.”
Judging from the glint in his eyes, if she agreed to that she’d be looking at a two-week-old Spiderman birthday cake from the grocery store wheeled out during the choice of salmon or steak. “Get me a four-tiered cake in the next hour or you’ll hear from the Blissful Brides lawyer, and the Henley Hotel name is going to be smeared so bad you’ll never see another wedding in your rooftop rose garden.”
“Save your threats, Laine.” Jason waved his hand in weary resignation as he rounded his desk to flip through a stack of papers. “You’ve got a wedding booked here every weekend for the next six months. You’re not calling a lawyer, and we both know it. Go tell that bride of yours, Melinda, her special day will be fine, regardless of the fact that her shit-faced groom tripped my bellboy into her hideous cake.” He straightened his cornflower tie, the one that matched his eyes, perfecting the always immaculate appearance, and looked over at her. “And skip the salmon tonight; have dinner with me instead.”
“Like hell I will,” she snuffed, not missing a beat over the last line that slipped under her skin and set her heart racing. What was he trying to pull? “And you know as well as I do your bellboy was high as a kite and tripped over his own damn shoes. The glowing red eyes and repeated pleas for Taco Bell were the only way we found him under the canopy of fondant.”
“Fine, we’ll work it out this week. Let me get your new cake, so Connie Bliss doesn’t fire your gorgeous ass and the Henley Hotel keeps booking weddings fifteen months in advance.” Finding whatever paperwork he’d been looking for, he walked back around the desk. “Give me twenty minutes to take care of some business, and we’ll check back in.”
“Fine,” she snapped.
Jason brushed past her with a dismissive wave. “Fine.”
“Fine.” He infuriated her.
The office door swung shut behind him and with it came his last hushed word. “Fine.”
Alone in his office, she stomped her stiletto heel on the cut-pile carpet, balled her fists at her sides and screamed through the closed door. “Fine!”
Ha, like she’d let that arrogant bastard have the last word. He liked to fight, always giving her a hard time—well, he’d have to work harder than that. Darting a quick glance back at the mirrored wall behind her, she checked to see how obvious her fluster was. Not terrible, but more than she wanted him to see. Damn.
Wedding planners weren’t supposed to ruffle. They should be unflappable, able to handle anything, even the feigned advances of chiseled-cheeked, tall and sexy hotel managers built for wet dreams. He was so cocky, so smug, so infuriatingly attractive; it made her want to scream.
Double damn, this wasn’t where her head should be. After what happened in May, she couldn’t afford another screw-up. Not if she wanted to keep her job and reputation intact. Time to focus.
Wedding. Bride. Special day. Damage control.
Checking her reflection, she smoothed a stray hair, slicked on a smile, and cocked her head to the side. Instant transformation. The effect was warm and confident. Someone to trust to get it done, whatever it was.
Cranking the smile, she looked like she was just bursting to make this day perfect.
And, regardless of the “bridezilla” waiting on her upstairs, she honestly was. Laine adored her job and being a part of such a precious moment in the lives of two people who loved each other. With her help, they could concentrate fully on the meaning of the day, instead of the details that occasionally went awry. Details like cakes being demolished, bands failing to show, hotel owners getting sidetracked when they promised to deliver.
What was Jason doing asking her to dinner, anyway? Was it some kind of tactic to keep her off his case? Maybe he was serious, and she’d just blown him off without even pausing to consider. Not likely, she thought, trying to shake the feeling she’d just thrown away an opportunity she would have relished considering.
That was ridiculous. She had eyes and ears, and the hospitality industry tended to be rather chatty. Everyone knew what a playboy Jason Henley was. A date with him all but ensured a satisfying night in one of the hotel’s luxurious suites—but then you’d never see him again. Rumor had it he’d been burned by some girl ten years ago, and now he kept women—a continuous string of them—at a safe distance from anything important to him.
Heck, Laine had witnessed firsthand the parade of dates he’d escorted through the hotel. The first year she’d worked the Henley weddings, she’d seen him all but flaunting a different bombshell every Saturday. And with some degree of certainty, she could say she’d never seen the same face twice—or at the very least, twice in a row. It hadn’t been any of her business what the handsome hotel owner did in his personal life, and, though Laine had indulged in thoughts about finding out on more occasion than one, she never batted an eye at his casual approach to the ladies.
But Jason was too committed to his hotel to chance a business relationship, albeit one as sporting as theirs, on a simple conquest. Besides, this past year, the playboy seemed to have dropped the one-nighters completely. He’d been too wrapped up in building the nuptial business to have many Saturday night dates. In fact she couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen a woman on his arm. But then, maybe he’d just developed a degree of discretion.
Still, she couldn’t help but fantasize about
Closing her eyes, she willed the images of Jason from her mind. With a deep breath she walked out of his office. There was a bride to contend with.
Jason was leaning against the front desk with his favorite “go-to” bell boy, no doubt trying to score a cake through Dil’s connections. He might have been talking to Dil, but when his gaze caught her, it fixed, hardening into a steady stare that followed her as she crossed the marble lobby floor and had her skin flaming red by the time she reached the elevator doors. Ack, he’d done it again!
What was he thinking, staring at her like that? God she wanted to steal a glance over her shoulder, find out if he was still watching her. Biting her lip, she started to turn.
“Well, hello, wedding planner.” The slow, slightly nasal voice belonged to her groom. No more coy and cutsie flirtations with Jason; time to get her head back in the game.
Laine took a step back and offered up a platinum smile as she scanned the length of him, checking off the details. Hair, styled. Tux, clean and wrinkle free. Shoes, shined. Eyes…glassy. Not good. “Ed, looking very sharp.”
“Glad you approve, lovely Laine.”
She stiffened a bit, but flashed a wink to show what a charmer he was. “Melinda is never going to forget today. Say, have you got a bit of Visine up in your suite? Looks like you might have gotten something in your eye.” Something like weed, maybe.
Shrugging, he gave her an accommodating smile that lingered just a second too long. “Sure, I’ve got something. We’ll ride up together.”
“No, you go on ahead,” she offered, already stepping away from the elevator. “I’ve got to grab something down here and then I’ll head up to talk with Melinda.” It was probably just the pot, slowing his reactions, or maybe nothing at all. Still, Laine didn’t want to ride anywhere with this one. There was something about him she just didn’t trust. Not that she had to. She wasn’t the woman about to marry him. And besides, her hesitancy to spend a second longer than necessary with him—or any of her grooms—probably had more to do with her past than theirs.
Jason watched as Laine brushed off the smarmy groom and headed for the back stairwell. His gaze tracked down the length of her body, over her long smooth legs, slim ankles and landed at the sexy, spiked heels she wore. She couldn’t be thinking about walking up just to avoid that guy. His stare narrowed as he looked back at the groom stepping into the elevator car, and he realized the guy was shamelessly watching Laine’s retreat.
Figuring she might appreciate a legit excuse to skip the stairs, Jason turned, intending to catch her with a bit of business—just long enough for the groom to take off.
As he opened his mouth to call her, a deep voice originating behind him resonated through the lobby. “Laine!”
Jason hung back, feigning interest in his PDA, as some young guy jogged across the open floor and greeted Laine with a kiss on the cheek.
Just out of eavesdropping distance, Jason watched through narrowed eyes as the guy chatted her up. He didn’t look like a client. She wasn’t giving him the pat, reassuring smile. It was something more subtle. Authentic, he realized with a slight tightening in his gut.
“Jason?” the reception clerk called over the lobby noise from her desk. “Line six is about the cake. Do you want to take it?”
Laine’s head popped up, and she looked over at him. She’d want to be in on the call.
He glanced back at reception. “Tell him to hold a minute, I’ll be right there.”
Laine was already walking his way, the guy right beside her, his head bent to hers in intimate conversation as they headed toward the exit.
The guy was smiling wide. Laine’s head tilted back and—oh, shit—genuine laughter tittered out.
As they passed, their voices became clear.
“You know we’d be great together.” The guy turned around and started walking backward, keeping his eye on Laine as he headed toward the exit. “Just think about it.”
She cocked a scrutinizing smile at him and nodded thoughtfully. “Okay, Max. I will.”
Jason almost choked, his fists balled at his sides. He wanted to pound this Max for making a move on Laine in his hotel.
Christ, who was he kidding? A hundred guys made moves on her, and right under his nose. It was the fact that this guy had gotten some genuine emotion from her that got under his skin.
Damn, damn, damn.
He’d wanted Laine for too long to let some punk come in and get the jump on him.
Laine headed over Jason’s way and then walked with him toward the office. “Sorry. You didn’t have to wait.”
“No problem. Let’s go find out about that cake.”
Game face. Keep the game face. Don’t ask who he was, or what he wanted. You’ll look like a jackass. Be cool. No problem… Except that cool guys were never at a complete loss for words, and he couldn’t think of a damn thing to say.
Back in his office, Jason hunched over the expansive desk and connected the line on speaker. “Okay, let’s have it.”
“Jay, I’m coming up empty so far.”
Not what he needed to hear. He wanted to be the man who made Laine’s dreams come true, not the schmuck who couldn’t get a freaking cake delivered. “There are literally hundreds of weddings scheduled to take place in this city alone today. Somewhere, some girl, wrapped up in her favorite terrycloth bathrobe and wearing a two hundred dollar veil, is sitting at home, crying her eyes out because the groom-to-be forgot his future father-in-law was there when he got a blowjob at the bachelor party the night before. Someone doesn’t need a cake.”
The voice across the line was tight. “I’ll keep looking.”
“Whatever it takes, just get it over here.” Disconnecting, he planted both hands on his desk and looked up at Laine as she leaned against the doorframe to his office, rubbing one delicate foot while he struggled to make good on his promise.
She cocked her head to the side, a cascade of shiny chestnut hair falling over her shoulders. “Well, that certainly is a romantic way to look at it.”
“Save the indignation. You and I both know I’m right.” He didn’t like the sound of his voice. He was thinking about that guy, Max. The way his lips grazed her cheek. The echo of their words.
“Think about it…”
“How about your groom today? The wedding is still on, so I’m assuming this one didn’t try any games of grab-ass in the kitchen.” The words were out of his mouth before he’d found enough sense to stop them. He was being a prick, because he was jealous. Bringing up the almost-wedding from three weeks ago, where the groom had gotten grabby with Laine, was a blow below the belt. If he could kick his own ass he would.
“Oh, right. You saw that. So nice of you, by the way, to intervene on my behalf. That guy had me pinned against the room-service cart.”
Jason’s jaw clenched at the memory. He’d walked around the corner an instant before Laine’s knee rocketed through the hip-high split in her gown and into the groom’s thigh. The man had gone down into a writhing ball, clutching his leg and screaming in pain. Laine wasn’t in any danger, but she’d been livid. Jason hadn’t trusted himself to approach them. The possessive rage that overcame him in that split second had every cell in his body calling for blood. The groom got off lucky with the girly dead-leg assault; another second of unwelcome contact and Jason would have been on him… and the damage he’d have inflicted wouldn’t have left the bastard abl
When the staff had rushed to her aid, Jason backed away, trying to get past the veil of red that blinded him to the idea of anything but punishment.
“By the time I came in, it was done.” What a limp apology.
He’d been a jackass to bring it up. But now that he had, there was something he’d been wondering about. Trying to get back to a cavalier tone, he went fishing. “The bride’s mother walking in then was perfect timing, took the pressure off of you to do anything about it.”
Laine fixed him with a hard stare, but he couldn’t stop. “Connie has a strict policy of one freebie for grab-ass grooms, but this guy was serious. Would you have told the bride if her mother hadn’t been there?”
Laine rolled her eyes and took a deep breath. “Connie almost fired me for not heading the mother off, but I wasn’t even going to try. I’m glad that girl found out what he was capable of, and on their wedding day no less. He deserved to lose her.” Her expression lost the fight she normally flaunted, and his chest tightened. “Besides, he was rough.”
His fists balled at his side as he dragged the breath in through his nose. She’d been scared. She’d been scared, and three weeks later was still upset, yet he’d walked away, afraid that he would kill the man who’d threatened her. He should have. “I’m sorry, Laine.”
She hadn’t exactly said that she would have told the bride, but it was close enough. He could see in her eyes that she knew Connie was wrong in her policies. Laine would have done the right thing if it had been left to her. He knew her. He shouldn’t have even asked.
Her pouty mouth twisted up to the side, and the unflappable façade returned with her dismissive humph. She didn’t like to look vulnerable. She rarely let him see what she was really thinking for more than a moment at a time, but when her guard was down, he lost all resolve to stay unattached and indifferent. When Laine showed the real her, he wanted nothing more than to gather her into his arms and never let her go. When her guard returned, flying up to fend off his probing questions, and she offered him her most adversarial stare, he wanted nothing more than to get her underneath him, penetrate that false shell and touch the parts of her she couldn’t disguise. Either way, she had more control over him than he liked any woman to have.
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