Authors: Kate Meader
All Fired Up
New York Boston
Table of Contents
A Preview of
Hot and Bothered
A Preview of
Feel the Heat
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To every woman who thought she wasn’t good enough for the unconditional love she deserved.
Thanks to my agent, Nicole “Tigress” Resciniti at the Seymour Agency, who never stops working for me and all her authors.
To my editor, Lauren Plude, who pushed me to mine Cara and Shane’s story, and make those kids suffer even more. She’s a cruel mistress but I made her cry, so we’re even. And to the rest of the team at Grand Central, I salute you.
Thanks to Angela Quarles, Donna Cummings, and Amber Lin for reading and making this story infinitely better.
To my family and friends, who have never wavered in their support, even though some of them might be a touch scandalized by what I write.
Finally, thanks to Jimmie, from whom I steal kisses, bedcovers, and half the jokes in my books.
It was the most beautiful wedding cake Cara DeLuca had ever seen. Three architecturally perfect layers of frosted purity designed to make women drool and men feign disinterest as soon as it was rolled out on a wobbly serving cart to the center of the harshly lit ballroom. Undoubtedly, a slice costs thirty, maybe forty-five extra minutes of kicking the bag at the gym.
Cara checked that thought to the tune of screeching tires in her head. In a previous lifetime, she had measured every bite in push-ups and treadmill minutes, piling on laps in the pool to punish the slightest infraction. Old Cara would be looking for an excuse to slip out of a wedding reception before the cake so she could work off the chicken or fish entrée, and she had several options for how she did that. New Cara—healthy Cara—shouldn’t need to count every bite and worry if she had passed over onto the wrong side of the fifteen-hundred-calorie border.
But only an amazing cake could tempt her.
Cutting into the slice on the Limoges dessert plate, Cara slipped it past her lips, chewed slowly, and swallowed.
Dry, pedestrian, uninspired. No one knew better than Cara the truth behind that old adage about looks being deceiving. This cake might have been the bride’s dream, but a single bite confirmed the suspicions Cara had formed the day she was roped in to salvage her cousin Gina’s wedding. About ten minutes after the official planner had finally thrown up her hands in despair and gone running to the nearest sanatorium—read: palm-tree-lined, sandy beach.
This wedding was cursed.
It wasn’t so much her cousin’s insistence on the stab-your-eyes-out pink, fishtail-hemmed bridesmaid dresses or her requirement that she must have both a Neil Diamond string quartet for the cocktails
an all-girl Neil Diamond tribute band, the Sweet Carolines, for the dancing. Neither did Cara mind organizing last-minute fittings for a wedding party of twelve, or a reception for two hundred ravenous Italians. As for corralling the ovary-explodingly cute ring bearers? Child’s play, though Father Phelan had drawn the line at chocolate Lab pups traipsing down the aisle behind ankle biters who could barely stay upright.
No, that was manageable and managing was what Cara did best. Where it all went undeniably south was at the joint bachelor-bachelorette party in Las Vegas. This type of thing had become
and as much as Cara would have liked to put down the poker chips and back away slowly, she’d felt it incumbent on herself to manage that, too. A gaggle of drunk-off-their-butts DeLuca women needed her superior wrangling skills to make sure they had a wild and crazy, but safe, time. Unfortunately, her usually sober view had been crusted over by one colossally stupid mistake. A six-foot-tall, amber-eyed, mussed-up-haired mistake.
She should have stayed home in Chicago.
Thinking on those events of one week ago sent renewed fury roiling through her body. She could fix it. She
fix it. As soon as she got through this day.
Slowly, she surveyed the room and tried to breathe herself to calm in the face of the happiness onslaught. Her father—Il Duce to his daughters—held court at the elders’ table after spending most of the meal bounding in and out of the hotel kitchen. Ensuring his menu was followed to exact specifications, no doubt. His queen, Francesca, rocking regal now that her corn-silk-blonde hair had returned to its pre-cancer glory, wore a familiar upward tilt on her lips as she viewed the dance floor high jinks. Cara tracked her mom’s gaze to a flash of flailing arms among the writhing bodies.
Oh, you’ve got to be kid—
“I’m beginning to have second thoughts.” A crisp, British voice intruded on her internal scold.
Jack Kilroy, her boss and future brother-in-law, wrinkled his patrician nose and lay down his fork primly.
“If you can’t even get the cake right, Cara, I’m not sure I should be entrusting you with the most important day of my life,” he added with just enough of that divo tone to remind her why she was glad he was marrying her sister, Lili, in six weeks, and not her. Having worked with Jack as his TV producer when he was
Jack Kilroy—ragingly successful restaurateur, cooking show icon, and tabloid meat—and now, as the private events manager for his Chicago restaurant, Sarriette, she was comfortably familiar with his moods and tics. Jack was almost as controlling as Cara, and that type never made it onto her dance card. The one that had turned yellow from disuse. At least until Las Vegas.
“The cake was a done deal before I became involved but don’t fret your pretty head,” she said, enjoying immensely how his face darkened at her patronizing tone.
Gun. Fish. Barrel.
“You’ve requested the most spectacular, stylish, knock-’em-dead—”
“Artistic, poetic, avant-garde,” Lili picked up, a little breathlessly.
Cara smiled up at her sister, newly arrived after cutting a rug on the boards.
“Wedding to end all weddings,” Cara finished while Jack pulled his fiancée onto his lap despite her whiny protests. It was a cute playact they did that would have turned her stomach at its sheer preciousness if it had been anyone else. The ache she felt in her belly could only be that cardboard cake talking.
“You shall have the wedding you’ve wanted since you were a little girl, Jack,” continued Lili, touching his forehead in the style of a fairy godmother before dropping a kiss on his lips.
“You’re so cheeky,” Jack said. “Engaged for almost a year and still no joy. I’m told I’m very eligible, you know.”
“Been reading your old
fluff pieces again, Jack?” Cara asked. There was a time when you couldn’t turn around without seeing Jack’s handsome mug on a magazine, billboard, or TV screen. Cara wondered if he missed it. Achieving her goal of becoming Chicago’s events queen depended on him missing it.
“Most women are dying to walk down the aisle…” He coasted a hand along Lili’s thigh, clearly appreciative of her va-va-voom figure. Even in the bridesmaid dress from Hades, Lili looked like an advertisement for real women with those generous curves.
Thin women are just as real,
Cara’s inner therapist whispered.
“But this one has no interest in the fairy tale,” Jack went on. “Complete with Prince Charming.”
Lili rolled her eyes affectionately. “I’m happy to go quietly to city hall, but if you insist, I’ll indulge you.”
“Sweetheart, indulge me a little now,” Jack said and pulled her in for a kiss.
Cara loosed a sigh and tried to reel in her envy at how Lili and Jack stared at each other to the exclusion of anyone else, the secret messages that needed no words, and their unmistakable joy at being in each other’s company. Just seeing how much Jack loved her sister made Cara’s cynical heart grow larger. Not three times, but maybe one and a half.
If anyone deserved the fairy tale, it was Lili. Her younger sister had carried the weight of family obligations during their mother’s battle with breast cancer while Cara had folded up like a Pinto in a head-on collision with a semi. Cara owed Lili, and she was going to repay a fraction of that debt by planning her dream wedding down to the finest detail—even if her sister didn’t know she wanted it yet.
“How’s the cake?” Lili asked Cara once Jack let her come up for air. Her gaze slid to the slice, lying listlessly on the scallop-edged dessert plate.
“Not so great,” Cara said. “Don’t worry, we’ll have something much better for your big day.” She already had an artiste in mind and if he was good enough for Oprah’s farewell do—
“Cake’s sorted,” Jack announced.
“What?” Cara asked, but the tingle she felt as the word spilled out told her she should be asking “Who?” She didn’t even have to hear his name; her traitorous body was already on board.
“My secret weapon.” Jack chuckled and nodded to the dance floor.
Cara followed his gaze and by some Moses-like miracle, the tangle of bodies parted to reveal the weapon himself.
Shane Doyle. He of the Irish eyes, devastating dimple, and incredibly dorky dance moves.
The Sweet Carolines were playing the eponymous tune and Shane was waving his hands in the air, alternating between an interpretive dance featuring a tree and the old mime-trapped-in-a-box routine. Maisey, one of the servers at Sarriette and Shane’s dance partner, was holding tight to her side because apparently Shane wasn’t just bustin’ moves; he was bustin’ guts as well. From twenty feet away, Cara could hear him hollering about how good times never seemed so good.
The well of anger bubbled in her chest again. Shane shouldn’t even be here, but after just a couple of weeks in Chicago, he had made himself right at home and finagled an invitation to the wedding as Maisey’s plus one. Well, she could have him.
Cara was gearing up to drag her eyes away—any moment now—when a rather daring pivot landed him in a face-off with their table. One eyebrow arched. He held her stare. And then he winked. Which he had no damn right to do after what had happened between them a week ago in Sin Freaking City.
“No,” she said firmly, turning away from those chocolate-drop eyes set in that ridiculously fine face. Not just fine, but friendly and cheerful and, oh hell, mostly fine.
“No, what?” asked Jack.
“No, we can’t use Shane.” When Jack’s expression turned curious, she hastily added, “He’s too new and he’s got far too much on his plate trying to get up to speed at the restaurant. Let me remind you that you’ve given me a very tight timeline here. Less than two months to plan the kind of shindig you want means I can’t leave anything to chance.”
Though Jack and Lili had been engaged for close to a year, Lili had only recently pulled the trigger on the wedding planning now that she was settled into her MFA program at the School of the Art Institute. Jack was champing at the bit to make Lili into Mrs. Jack Kilroy, but her sister refused to be pushed. That summed up their relationship in a nutshell.
Jack and Lili shared a meaningful glance. Cara hated when they did that.
“Something happened in Vegas and it clearly hasn’t stayed there,” Lili said. “We all know you slept with him.”
Recrimination simmered in Cara’s gut. If only it were that simple. Not that sex was ever simple, but at least they could put that in the ancient history column and move on.
“I didn’t know.” Jack’s brow knitted furiously. “Cara, tell me it’s not true.”
“It’s not true,” Cara repeated, sort of truthfully. She hadn’t slept with anyone in too long to recall and even then, she, or he, never stayed overnight. It was one of her rules, or it had been until a week ago when she woke up with a screaming hangover and a big lug of an Irishman twined around her body.
“You destroyed my last pastry chef,” Jack said. “Shane’s been here only a couple of weeks and you’ve already got your hooks into him.”
“Now, now, Jack,” Lili soothed. “You can’t tell your employees who they can and can’t be with.”
“Oh, yes, I can. She made Jeremy cry. The poor guy left because Cara stomped all over him.”
Cara bristled, then covered with a languid wave. Everyone’s impression of her was of a woman who took no prisoners when it came to life and love—an impression she did little to dispel.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Jeremy and I went on one date and it didn’t work out. Can I help it if you employ weak-willed mewling kittens just so you can surround yourself with yes-men who’ll bow down and kiss your ring?”