Enjoy this hilarious excerpt from the opening of THIS WEDDING IS DOOMED from Penguin Intermix. Want to read more? Check out an excerpt from Shawntelle’s story featuring the maid of honor and the officiant.

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The Wedding Planner: Flirting with Disaster

Amanda Berry

 

Chapter One

5½ hours until ceremony

 

Doomed Wedding“This wedding is doomed,” Julie Winter’s assistant said.

Julie turned from the service entrance of Briarwood Manor to ask, “What do you mean doomed?”

“Nothing is going right today.” Stacey’s knuckles were white on her clipboard. A dark curl had already escaped her bun to make her look even more frazzled. “The wedding dress has so many wrinkles, it looks like it went through a trash compactor. And the caterer just called to say he’s lost.”

Julie took a deep breath, reminding herself that meticulous planning could prevent and control even the biggest of disasters. She lived by these words. For the past six months she’d been planning the Downing-Underwood wedding at Briarwood Manor in the mountains of Colorado, the perfect setting for a perfect wedding. She had covered everything from contingency plans for bad weather to what to do for a torn hem. No matter what happened, Julie was prepared for anything this wedding could throw at her. Every little wrinkle just gave her the chance to iron it out and shine. And no matter what, the bride wouldn’t know about any of them.

“One thing at a time.” Julie studied the flowers as delivery guy unloaded them. “First off, breathe. We’ll get through this together. The steamer is in my car. Take it to the bridal suite and work on the wedding dress.”

“What about the caterer?” Poor Stacey looked like she was about to cry. “He has the food and the cake.”

Julie plucked a brown leaf off one of the flowers and held it up with extreme prejudice. The florist delivery guy gave her a shrug before continuing into the kitchen. Staying calm and in control was the only way to help Stacey right now. “Make sure he has the right directions. If necessary send someone out to meet him and lead him in. He still has plenty of time to make it here and set up for the reception.”

“I don’t know how you do this without developing an ulcer.” Stacey breathed a sigh and glanced at her checklist on the clipboard, begun months ago at the initial meeting with the bride.

“I have Tums if you feel an ulcer coming on. Perfection is worth the price of admission.” Even if that meant never having a steady relationship herself while she built up her reputation as a wedding planner. Julie started toward the front entrance near the driveway, determined that the only memories the bride and groom would walk away with would be happy ones. “Have we alerted the Briarwood staff who to watch for?”

Stacey hurried to keep up. “We have tissues for the ushers to carry. The whiskey has been locked in the wine cellar. Apparently the father of the groom isn’t the only mean drunk on whiskey. The lead singer of the band for the reception knows the best friend of—”

“Gossip?” Julie gave Stacey a disapproving look. They needed to stay on track and get things prepared. It wasn’t their place to comment on the family or friends of the wedding party.

Stacey blushed and looked away. “Sorry. Status. I plan to monitor the reception to make sure Aunt Bea doesn’t take all the wedding favors. The band is aware of the break-dancing nephew and microphone-grabbing uncle. That leaves one thing . . .”

“Uncle Seth.” Julie paused and straightened the turned-up lapel of Stacey’s peach suit jacket. The challenge was half of the fun. If everything went off without a hitch, her job was done, but she really got to shine when there was something to fix. “Leave him to me.”

“We always save the best one for you.” Stacey gave her a relieved smile.

“He should arrive with the rest of the family for photos, which gives me plenty of time to make sure everything else is in place. I’ll go check the stock in the wine cellar and alert the bartenders that we have an overachiever.” Julie turned on her heel and headed to the kitchen, intent on verifying the champagne would be chilled on time and the wine cellar was properly stocked before Uncle Seth arrived and her babysitting duties started.

The most important part of her job was crisis management. Whether it was keeping the break-dancing nephew from taking out the entire wedding party on the dance floor or making sure the kleptomaniac aunt didn’t walk away with the silver, at every wedding there were people to be managed. Including the inevitable drunk relation, who made inappropriate speeches or grabbed the catering staffs’ butts. This time it was drunk Uncle Seth.

She’d met a hundred guys like him and knew exactly what to expect. He would be in his forties or fifties with a beer belly, an obnoxious laugh, and a lewd comment about everything. Not her favorite job, especially with the handsy ones, but a necessary evil to deal with for the sake of the wedding.

As she walked down the thick timber stairs into the basement, the air felt cooler than the warmth of the early summer air outside and had that distinct old, earthy, damp scent.

She rounded the corner in the basement and saw the wine cellar’s massive wooden door propped open. The rattling of bottles surprised her.

“Hello?” Julie called out.

“Hello?” a rich masculine tenor answered from inside the wine cellar.

As she walked around the wooden door, she said, “Do you need any—”

The man had his back toward the door and was bent over one of the bottles, giving her the perfect view of his well-sculpted backside covered by black tux pants. His white dress shirt was rolled up at the sleeves. “. . . help?” she finished, not sure what she’d walked into.

She’d met all the staff prior to dispersing them to their jobs, and though Julie didn’t make a habit of checking out their butts, she was fairly certain she would have remembered this one. Even his back had muscles noticeably rippling under the white cotton as he lifted bottles to look at them. Her eyes caught on the bold, black lines of a tattoo etched into the tanned skin on his arm disappearing beneath the rolled cuff.

When he straightened and turned, she involuntarily took a step back. Whoa. She’d always had a thing for guys in tuxes, but even without his jacket, this man had the whole package. His sandy blond hair was cut short and neat on the sides with the top in artful disarray.

Handsome didn’t begin to describe his face. It was almost pretty with an unmistakable masculinity. But it was his eyes that captivated her. Cerulean blue surrounded by dark eyelashes. When he smiled at her, his eyes seemed to smile as well.

“Sorry, just taking stock.” His crooked smile made her heart skip slightly.

Shaking herself mentally, she stepped forward. “I thought the inventory had already been done this morning.”

Julie pulled out her iPhone and clicked her email to check. A warning showed no service. She wasn’t surprised. The basement wasn’t the only place on the grounds that got spotty cellular reception.

“I’m not taking inventory.” He held up a bottle of red and read the label. “Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1996, Pauillac. Hmmm . . . four names, must be prestigious . . . looks expensive.” As he turned it over, he added, “I’m surprised there aren’t price tags on these.”

Julie could feel the wrinkles forming between her eyebrows. “I’m sorry, but are you a member of the staff here at the manor? I don’t remember seeing you.”

She was certain she’d remember those eyes if they’d met before. Not to mention those muscled arms and broad shoulders. Had it gotten hot in the cellar all of a sudden?

He set the wine back on the rack and crossed over to the other side. “I don’t work here.”

“Then what are you doing down here?” Julie stayed perfectly still as he moved closer to her. Even her breath caught in her throat. She didn’t feel threatened. Just confused.

He stopped about a foot away and pulled another bottle from the shelf. Again he read from the label, “R. Navarre Pineau des Charentes Vieux. Do you think the pen-drawn house makes it more expensive? You don’t see many houses on beer bottles, but beer won’t cost you two hundred dollars a bottle either.”

Julie pulled herself up to her full five foot seven—well, nine if you counted her sensible two-inch heels. “I’m sorry, sir, but guests aren’t allowed to be down here.”

He glanced at her sideways. “What makes you think I’m a guest?”

The man had yet to give her a straight answer. Wedding guests could be frustrating but they rarely pushed her buttons. This guy, though, was hitting them all. Which was causing her to lose the cool she worked so hard to maintain on these occasions. Added to that, some of those buttons were way too interested in him. He was charming and handsome. As a rule, she never mixed work and pleasure. Work was why she was here and work was what she intended to do. She put on her hostess smile. “Perhaps if you told me who you are, we could get you to where you need to be.”

He set the bottle down on the shelf and turned to face her. She had to lift her chin to look him in the eyes, which was a mistake. He had gorgeous eyes that she could spend all day staring into, picking out the different shades of blues and searching for hints of gold, brown, or green. Heat rose in her body. When had he gotten so close?

His smile was downright wicked. “Maybe you should tell me who you are and I can tell you where you should be.”

Something fluttered deep in her stomach. Her fascination with this man was irritating. The sooner she set him right, the better. “My name is Julie Winter. I’m the wedding planner. If you aren’t a guest or staff, I’ll ask you again, who are you and what are you doing in the wine cellar?”

She gave him her best I’m-in-charge look, which never failed to put someone back in their place.

Doomed WeddingHis grin grew wider. She tried to stand her ground, but he was so close that he was starting to turn her brain into mush. The heat from his body must be why the temperature seemed to grow even hotter. As she backed up a step, her foot thwacked into a box. Her momentum caused her knees to bend. Off balance and starting to fall, she tried to reach out to grab the wall but came up empty-handed.

The man stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her far too close to his body. The air whooshed out of her. The press of his chest and stomach was firm and hard, sending ripples of pleasure down her back. She doubted he had an ounce of fat on him. His arms were solid around her, as if he’d never let her fall.

Julie almost wished she’d ended up sprawled on the floor as the impact of his body on her mental state had to be worse than a bruise on her backside. Her already accelerated heartbeat ratcheted up a notch.

“I’ve got you,” he said softly. Her face heated.

“Thank you. I’m good now.” Once she was steady, she put her hands against his chest and gave him a gentle shove.

He released her, but his hands lingered a little longer than necessary on her waist. Shivers tickled up her spine. She ducked her head to regain her composure.

“Anytime,” he said.

She glanced up at the laughter in his voice, but his eyes just twinkled at her. Smoothing her hands over her plum skirt and pulling her suit jacket straight, she put her shoulders back. “Did you put the carton there?”

“To hold open the door. Not to make you fall into my arms. That was just a side bonus.”

He moved around her and bent to lift the box.

Her eyes focused on his arms again. What the hell was she doing? A professional wedding planner didn’t ogle guests at a wedding. As he lifted the box, the fact registered that the door was closing.

“Wait!” She charged into him as he tried to back up. “Don’t let the door close.”

Before the heavy door swung shut, he caught it with his foot and glanced over his shoulder. “Afraid to be alone with me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. The inside handle sticks sometimes. While I’m sure you’re a pleasant person to spend an hour or so with, I have a million things to do.”

“With a comment like that, I’m almost tempted to let the door close to find out what you had in mind for the next hour or so.”

The heat rose in her cheeks as she stepped back. “I don’t even know your name.”

“That’s easy enough. But you have to promise me something first.” The devilish glint in his eyes should have warned her that this guy didn’t ask for the type of promises she wanted to make. But he seemed harmless enough. He hadn’t dished out anything she couldn’t slap away.

“Okay.” It’s not like she wouldn’t find out who he was if he turned out to be a guest, but if it got her out of his company and gave her time to cool down and restore her focus, it would probably be worth it. Besides, his smile said troublemaker. She went through her mental list of troublemakers, but couldn’t come up with one in his late twenties.

“Let me put this box down. Would you hold the door please?”

“Of course.” She moved around him, careful not to touch him, and leaned against the door, pushing it open farther.

He headed toward the corner to add it to a stack of boxes. With him away from her, she drew in a deep breath to steady herself. Her mind started to work. She needed to get back upstairs and make sure everything went according to plan. The groomsmen and officiant should be here by now. Everyone needed to be checked for wrinkles. Her steamer should still be on in the master bedroom, where the bride was getting ready with her mother and maid of honor. With family arriving, Julie needed to put a face with the troublemakers’ names.

“Hey, where’d you go?” The man waved his hand in front of her eyes.

“I’m here.” She shrugged and focused on his face. This was a typical occurrence. Even when she wasn’t working, she was working. Every restaurant had the potential for some wedding dinner. Every outing became a possible site visit for photos or the ceremony. Weddings were her life. “I have things that need to get done.”

“Then I’ll make this quick.” He winked and her heart jumped in her chest, centering her firmly in this moment. “Save me a dance.”

“What?” That was the last thing she’d thought he’d ask.

“At the reception. Save me a dance and I’ll tell you my name.” That wicked twinkle was in his eyes again.

“I’m sorry. I’m sure you’re a lovely dancer, but I don’t dance at clients’ weddings.” Pushing back the door, she held it open for him to exit.

He laughed and moved closer. His hand came to rest on the door next to her head, taking the weight off her back. “I’m sure they wouldn’t mind. Make an exception.”

Her breath caught on his scent, like incense burning in a dimly lit bedroom. It made her knees weaken. The sooner she got away from him, the better. “How about I try to fit you in my schedule?”

Her gaze followed his other hand as he leaned it against the door on the other side of her head, trapping her. “Schedules aren’t fun.”

“I wouldn’t come to your work and ask you to dance with me.” She held her chin steady even as her hands pressed against the door. The way he was leaning in . . . Would he actually try to kiss her?

“I wish you would.” His tone deepened and his crooked smile hit her core.

Escape was the only option. She shifted out from under his arms and into the hallway. “We’ll see, but only if you tell me your name and purpose here.”

“I didn’t know wedding planner equaled wedding police.” He stepped closer to her. The door closed behind him, taking the light from the wine cellar away and leaving them in the dim lighting of the hallway. “But who am I to deny a pretty woman? Seal it with a kiss?”

She laughed. “How about a handshake and a name?”

He held out his hand and she took it. “Well, Julie Winter, my name is Seth Downing. I’m probably on one of your lists as Uncle Seth and I’m here to make sure at least one thing goes wrong with this wedding.”

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