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Page 34

“Based off a sketch that Ryan’s provided,” I said. “He’s an architect – he can design a special sand castle for Bethany.”

“Perfect,” Sofia exclaimed, and we high-fived each other.

Ryan had been glancing back and forth between us as if he were attending a tennis match.

“Then you’ll get down on one knee and propose,” I continued, “and —”

“Do I have to take a knee when I ask her?” Ryan asked.

“No, but it’s traditional.”

Ryan rubbed the lower half of his jaw, clearly not liking the idea.

“Men used to kneel when they were being knighted,” Sofia pointed out.

“Or beheaded,” Ryan said darkly.

“Kneeling will look nicer for the pictures,” I said.

“Pictures?” Ryan’s brows lifted. “You want me to propose to Bethany with camera guys there?”

“One photographer,” I said hastily. “You’ll hardly notice him. We’ll camouflage him.”

“We’ll hide him in a sand dune,” Sofia added.

Frowning, Ryan raked his hand through the close-cut layers of his brown hair, the light picking out glints of mahogany.

I looked at Sofia. “Never mind. A camera at the proposal sounds like a shovelful of tacky to me.”

Ryan lowered his head, but not before I saw a reluctant smile emerge. “Damn it,” I heard him mutter.

“What?”

“Suggesting you as the wedding planner is turning out to be the first nice thing Hollis has ever done for me. Which means I might have to thank her.”

“You answered,” Joe said later that night in a tone of mild surprise.

I smiled, leaning back against the pillows with my cell phone in hand. “You told me to.”

“Where are you right now?”

“In bed.”

“Should I call another time?”

“No, I’m not sleeping, I always sit in bed and do some reading at the end of the day.”

“What do you like to read?”

I glanced at the pile of candy-colored novels on the nightstand and replied with self-conscious amusement, “Love stories. The kind with the happy endings.”

“Do you ever get tired of knowing how the book’s going to end?”

“No, that’s the best part. Happily-ever-afters are hard to come by in real life, even in the wedding business. But at least I can count on one in a book.”

“I’ve seen some great marriages in real life.”

“They don’t stay that way, though. Every marriage starts as a happy ending, and then it turns into a marriage.”

“How did someone who doesn’t believe in happily-ever-after end up as a wedding planner?”

I told him about my first job after graduating in fashion design, how I’d apprenticed under a New York designer for a bridal fashion label, managing the sample room, learning to analyze sales reports, developing relationships with buyers. I had worked on a few of my own designs and had even won a prize as an emerging designer. But when I’d tried to start my own label, it had never gotten off the ground. No one had shown any enthusiasm for backing me.

“I was honestly stunned,” I told Joe. “The collection I’d designed was beautiful. I had a great reputation, and I’d built up all these amazing contacts. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. So I called Jasmine, and she said —”

“Who’s Jasmine?”

“Oh, I forgot I hadn’t told you about her. Jasmine’s my best friend in New York. A mentor. She’s the head fashion director at Glimmer magazine. She knows everything about style, and she can always tell which trends will be huge, and which ones will never get off the ground–” I paused. “Is this boring?”

“Not at all. Tell me what she said.”

“Jasmine said there was nothing wrong with my collection. It was competently designed. Everything was in perfect taste.”

“Then what was the problem?”

“That was the problem. I didn’t take any risks. I didn’t push my ideas enough. The extra something, that spark of originality… it wasn’t there. But she said I was a fantastic businesswoman. I was good at networking and promoting; I got the business side of fashion like no one else she knew. I didn’t like hearing any of this; I wanted to be a creative genius. But I had to admit that the business was what I’d really enjoyed, way more than the design work.”

“Nothing wrong with that.”

“I know that now. At the time, though, it was hard to let go of something I’d worked so hard for. Not long after that, my father had a stroke. So I flew down to visit him in the hospital, and I met Sofia, and my whole life changed.”

“And the broken engagement?” Joe surprised me by asking. “When did that happen?”

The question made me tense and uncomfortable. “I hate talking about that.”

“We don’t have to.” The gentleness of his voice eased the tightness in my chest. I settled back deeper into the pillows. “Do you miss New York?” he asked.

“Sometimes.” I paused and said ruefully, “A lot. But there are some days when I don’t think about it as much as others.”

“What do you miss most about it?”

“My friends most of all. And… it’s hard to put it into words, but… New York is the only place where I could be the person I want to be. It speeds me up and makes me think bigger. God, what a city. I still dream about going back someday.”

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