The Bridal Bouquet, страница 1
Who will catch a lifetime of love?
Winning the annual wedding bouquet design competition may be the closest Kady Lawrence gets to the altar. She has to come in first or risk losing the shop that’s been in her family for generations. Her main competition is Jasmine Matthews. But it’s Jasmine’s son who’s caught Kady’s attention.
Kady has no inkling Dylan’s a DEA agent on a case in Cypress Pointe, and Dylan wants to keep it that way...until Kady’s targeted. Determined to keep her safe, Dylan risks a lot more than blowing his cover...he risks losing Kady forever.
Suddenly, Kady shivered; he stepped toward her.
He liked being here with Kady, standing in the outdoors, far away from the burden of his memories, the strangling ties of his job. Standing before this beautiful vista of sand and surf, beside an equally beautiful and fascinating woman, almost felt surreal.
Kady rubbed her hands up and down her bare arms.
“Are you cold?”
“Yes. I should have grabbed my wrap before we came outside.”
Dylan shrugged out of his jacket and placed it over her shoulders. She took the lapels in her hands and drew the coat around her.
She met his gaze. “Much.”
They continued to stare at each other. Dylan was so drawn to this woman, he should be fighting it. It wasn’t safe for either of them, and yet...he slid his arm around her waist. When she didn’t move away, he pulled her closer.
Who doesn’t love flowers? Or weddings? How about a mystery thrown in for good measure?
The Bridal Bouquet, the fourth installment in The Business of Weddings series, has all of the above, along with two strong-willed characters out to achieve their goals. Problem is, their goals don’t include love so, of course, they can’t help falling for each other.
Kady Lawrence has a lot to prove if she wants to take over the family floral shop. Attending the annual floral convention and winning the wedding bouquet competition is all part of her plan, that is until DEA special agent Dylan Matthews walks into her life.
Dylan has an old score to settle and the criminal in question is hiding out near Cypress Pointe. How to catch him? Pose undercover at the floral convention to gather information about the town and its people. Sounds easy enough. But bad guys have a way of changing the rules. Soon Dylan finds himself protecting Kady, and as danger escalates, love blossoms.
Welcome back to Cypress Pointe. For a small town, there always seems to be something exciting going on! You’ll catch up with characters from my previous books and find out if any wedding bells will chime in the future. After all, this is the business of weddings.
The Bridal Bouquet
USA TODAY Bestselling Author
Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA TODAY bestselling author of eleven novels. Family values, a bit of mystery and, of course, love and romance are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Tara lives on the West Coast of Florida, where gorgeous sunsets and beautiful weather inspire the creation of heartwarming stories. This is her fourth book for Harlequin Heartwarming. Visit Tara at tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at Tara Randel Books.
Books by Tara Randel
Orange Blossom Brides
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To my wonderful friends Tiffany and Christian.
Thanks for the inspiration, Christian. Your stories really lit a fire under me.
EXCERPT FROM WANTED: THE PERFECT MOM BY T. R. MCCLURE
KADY LAWRENCE DODGED the raucous wedding party eagerly heading for the reception-bound vehicles idling in the parking lot. Now that the photographer was concentrating solely on romantic bride-and-groom shots, Kady could transport the floral arrangements from the beach ceremony to the Grand Cypress Hotel ballroom.
Her feet sank into the cool, smooth sand, her flats keeping a minimum of the sugary grains from shifting into her shoes and tickling her toes. The sun shone bright on this seasonably cool January day, making this postcard-perfect weather in Cypress Pointe, Florida. The azure-blue sky played backdrop to fluffy, scuttling clouds above. A bride’s dream come true, she thought. She glimpsed the couple staring into each other’s eyes, the crystalline waters of the Gulf of Mexico a stunning vista in the background.
A brisk wind had whipped through during the ceremony, rustling the skirts of the bridesmaids’ dresses. But the bride lifted her face to the sky and laughed, welcoming the heady bluster with unbridled delight. The air settled after the brief swirl, but the gulf waters continued to churn, a vivid reminder of the natural elements surrounding them.
While the couple laughed and enjoyed their special day, Kady’s thoughts ran more along the lines of asking the photographer if she could place some of his wedding prints on display in her family’s flower shop. She had three goals in life—number one, to make The Lavish Lily the one-stop floral shop for brides and all bridal-related events. Working with fellow wedding professionals could only propel her dream forward.
Her other goals fed off the first—upgrade the family flower shop and win the wedding-bouquet category at the annual florist convention this year. Goals she was determined to fulfill, no matter what roadblocks stood in her way.
The late morning ceremony had been performed on a wide wooden platform situated directly on the beach, with rows of bow-festooned chairs lined up for the guests. On either end of the platform were waist-high white pillars, a beautiful flower arrangement placed on each for the ceremony.
Kady approached the first arrangement, sinking her nose into the fragrant collection. She adored the scent of fresh flowers, never tiring of the sweet aroma that touched her soul. Instead of going with a dozen traditional red roses, the bride had requested all white to go with her lovely gown, which was complemented by a red waist sash. Kady had designed a combination of gardenias, snow-white dahlias and white larkspur for height. Baby’s breath was nestled throughout, the arrangement set in crystal containers and each accented with a bright red bow. Quite stunning, if she did say so herself.
“Kady,” Nellie, the bride, called out as her new husband took her hand to help her step from the platform onto the red aisle runner. “The flowers are gorgeous. I didn’t think you’d be able to create exactly what I wanted.”
Why did everyone doubt her? She prided herself on being a competent floral designer and took each and every arrangement to heart. She knew from the beginning which flowers would please the bride and her mother, then sold them on her vision.
“Wait until you get to the reception.”
Nellie beamed. “We’re headed there no
Kady nodded. “Just let me get these arrangements into the van. I’m delivering them myself.”
“You are staying for the party, aren’t you?”
Kady had been surprised at the impromptu invitation the last time she’d met with the bride. Normally she placed the flowers and other reception decor the bride had ordered, then left. But when Nellie asked her to join in the reception, she’d been honored.
“Thanks. That’s so nice of you but I’ve just got a lot on my plate right now.”
“I have a bunch of single cousins...” The bride left her suggestion open-ended, trying to wheedle Kady into changing her mind.
“I’m not in the market for a guy.” Too many things to focus on at the moment, like pouring her time and energy into marketing the shop to brides. She had future weddings lined up and needed to prove to her parents that birthdays and funerals weren’t the only ways to sustain their business.
Besides, she wasn’t dressed for the occasion, even though she always looked appropriate when making a delivery. Today, she’d matched a fitted coral blouse with a flowing, patterned skirt. Pretty, but definitely not wedding attire. She’d pulled her shoulder-length hair into a ponytail to keep it out of the way while she worked.
“Come on. Every girl dreams of her special day,” the bride teased.
Kady had never jumped on the crazy-bride bandwagon. Not after falling for a guy and having had him stomp on her heart. Instead, she was content to design flowers and hope her parents someday saw the talented woman she had grown into, rather than the aimless youth she’d once been.
“Let’s go, babe,” Dean, the groom, said. Nellie waved and the couple headed for their limousine.
It took three trips and fifteen minutes for Kady to get the flowers and pillars secured in the van before she set off for the reception. As she drove, she reviewed her mental checklist. She’d placed centerpieces and additional arrangements around the ballroom in advance of everyone arriving. The extra bridal bouquet, to be tossed into the group of single women at some point during the party, was waiting on a side table. Kady had even come up with what she dubbed a bouquet-docking station, a safe place for the bride and attendants to store their bouquets so they didn’t get lost or ruined during the reception. Satisfied, Kady stepped on the gas. The sooner she delivered these ceremony flowers, the sooner she’d be done.
She’d just parked in the hotel lot when her cell phone rang. She swiped the screen and frowned. Her brother’s number.
“What time will you be back at the shop?” Right to the point, as always.
Kady held back a groan. Her older brother, the “doer of no wrong,” checking in on her. She was thirty years old, for Pete’s sake. When would her family stop thinking of her as a screwup? Okay, so years ago she’d gotten sidetracked and forgotten to take the work van to get an oil change. And yeah, yeah, the engine had blown. And yes, she’d botched a big order from the wholesaler one time when she’d been in her Save the Manatee phase and spent more time gathering names on petitions than doing inventory.
Always curious by nature, her mind switched gears with each new adventure calling her name. The more unique the challenge, the more Kady embraced it and stored away the experience, sure she’d later use the knowledge she’d gained. Her parents, spending long hours running the flower shop, were either too busy or frustrated to redirect their inquisitive daughter. Especially when Kady’s behavior continued well into her twenties.
It wasn’t until she’d gone to live with her beloved aunt Cynthia, after her parents had thrown up their hands at her behavior, that Kady began to focus. Her aunt, who designed and hand-made her own jewelry, stumbled upon the artistic nature in her and began to tap into Kady’s energies. She encouraged Kady to assist her and Kady quickly realized she loved being creative. Her openness to so many different ideas made her excel at designing. And renewed her love for the floral shop. Merging her two passions together, she decided, The Lavish Lily would become her destiny.
For three years now she’d been full-time at the shop. She’d slowly taken over designing duties, making most of the deliveries and manning the front counter. No mishaps. No mistakes. So what if it had taken her a while to figure out what she wanted to do with her talent and abilities, traveling down a twisty, turning path instead of being on the straight and narrow. She’d made it here, finding purpose in her life. Why couldn’t her family credit the change in her?
“I’m at the hotel. Let me get the delivery inside, make sure everything else is in place. Then I’ll be there.”
“Not sure. I’ll call you when I leave.”
Kady grimaced as she ended the call. She hated these family meetings. No good ever came from them, especially for her. Her parents had been acting oddly lately and Will, an accountant who didn’t have the least interest in flowers, was hanging around the shop all the time. Yes, he had a share in the family business, but he’d never been involved with the day-to-day running of it. And had even been MIA for a long while. Why show up now?
She’d ignored their abrupt silences whenever she walked into the place, tried not to speculate why, lately, she alone worked the long hours filling wedding orders. Something was up, and by her brother’s hounding, she figured it would be revealed this afternoon.
Brushing off the useless foreboding, she went to the back of the van to remove the first arrangement. Will would do what he wanted and her parents would be fine with it. All she could do was concentrate on getting new customers, brides specifically, and grow the business. Then maybe her parents would look at her with pride, like they did at Will.
Loud chatter spilled from the banquet room as Kady entered. The place was filled with milling guests congratulating the newly married couple. A few restless children raced around the dance floor, ignoring their mother’s sharp tones imploring them to calm down. The DJ played soft music while people mingled. Lunch would be served soon if the delicious aromas wafting from the kitchen were any indication. Her tummy growling, Kady went about her job, blending in, while checking one last time to make sure all the arrangements she’d placed earlier were in good shape.
At the center of each table, white pillar candles flickered in tall hurricane glasses. The same floral theme—simple white flowers cascading around the glass—made a dramatic effect against the deep red table linen. The menu, printed in raised gold script, rested upon milk-white plates. The crystal glasses sported gold rims. The utensils, wrapped in a red napkin circled with a white-and-gold ring, tied the table ensemble together.
Subdued and elegant. Just what the bride dreamed of. Exactly what the wedding planner and Kady had delivered.
On her last trip with the final arrangement, Kady made her way around the far wall intent on the gift table. Only a few steps from her destination, she was suddenly under siege by a half-dozen playing children. She went into football mode, dodging first to the left, then to the right, spinning to avoid a rushing child as she held on tightly to the container of flowers. After evading the possible disaster, she grinned, impressed by her running-back skills. Who knew she was so light on her feet? The path clear now, she moved forward until she stepped on an abandoned toy left behind by one of the kids. Her ankle turned. Bracing herself, she securely locked her arms around the crystal container, holding on for dear life. But instead of going down, strong hands gripped her upper arms and kept her from falling.
Relieved, she looked over her shoulder, glimpsing the most unusual pair of blue eyes she’d ever seen. Actually, blue wasn’t entirely correct. A hint of silver turned them an unusual shade of metallic gray. The man’s somber expression matched the concern she read there and his very handsome face garnered her full attention.
“Steady there.” His hu
Rattled, she set down the flowers and turned to face her rescuer. “Thanks. That could have been a disaster.”
“Then it’s a good thing I happened to be nearby.” A half grin curved his lips.
Kady’s heart thumped in her chest. Talk about fantastic timing. She sneaked a peek at him. Yeah, she was going with not spilling the flowers to explain her racing pulse.
Mr. Awesome Eyes narrowed said eyes and stared down at one of the boys, perhaps the ringleader. “You should take the kids outside, Mikey. Otherwise I might have to get your daddy after you.”
Mikey paled before nodding. “I will. Please don’t tell Dad.”
“Then quit running around when your mother asked you to stop.”
The inherent command in his deep tone brooked no disobedience. Something told her she wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of this man.
The youngster rounded up the remaining children and they scurried out to the pool area before heading off the patio to a wide manicured lawn at the side of the hotel. Plenty of free space to run unchecked out there.
The stranger focused on her. “Bored kids and distracted parents. Not the best combination at a wedding reception.”
“No.” She knew she should leave now, get back to the shop, but her feet seemed rooted to the spot. His cologne enveloped her. She tried to sort out the elements in the spicy fragrance like she always did when defining new scents, but his nearness made her jittery. Tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear, she tried not to squirm.
The stranger stuck out his hand. “Dylan.”
She accepted his warm, strong grip, surprised by a zing of awareness. “Kady.”
He held on to her hand a few seconds longer than necessary. In that time, she noticed more about him. Tall. Hair razor-cut. Military? Even with the short look, she noticed a hint of gray peppering his temples. Tanned olive skin, as though he spent many hours outdoors. He filled the black suit paired with a charcoal shirt and red tie to perfection, his broad shoulders straight, his lean build steady.