Authors: Adrianne Byrd
To my family and friends, thanks for all the
support and love that you've given me. To
my editor, Evette Porter, thanks for loving my
stories. To my wonderful fans and readers,
thank you for allowing me to do what I do. It's
always a pleasure to entertain you.
I wish you all the best of love,
ne day Quentin and I will walk down the aisle.
Sighing dreamily, Alyssa twirled around with her arms stretched high above her head. Quentin Dwayne Hinton, her real-life Prince Charming. True, all the Hinton men were handsome, but Quentin had something extraâsomething special.
Dizzy, she giggled aloud and then bumped into her father. “Oh,” she gasped. “Sorry, Dad. I didn't see you.”
Alfred Jansen, Roger Hinton's personal chef, was a six-foot-four robust man with a long, silver mane of hair and matching goatee that made him look more like a mountain lion than a man. His commanding presence garnered immediate respect and he certainly ran the Hintons' kitchen with iron authority,
but underneath, everyone knew this lion was nothing but a kitten at heart.
“Alyssa, honey. You have to get out of the way. We're trying to get ready for the wedding.” Alfred smiled as he reprimanded his daughter. He'd always found it difficult to scold her and everyone knew it.
“I'm sorry, Dad. I'll get out of the way.”
The florist and her assistants rushed around the father-and-daughter pair, setting up the arrangements, while one guy ran past with a birdcage of doves.
“Oh, Daddy, look. They're going to release birds.”
“Uh-huh.” He grabbed her by the hand. “Too bad you're going to miss it.”
Alyssa poked out her bottom lip. Why did he have to remind her?
“Do me a favor,” her father said, directing her back toward the kitchen. “Stay out of the trees.”
“What?” she asked, horrified. She was a monkey, a natural when it came to climbing. And she already had her mind set on a perch in her favorite Southern Red Oak tree, with her binoculars and a bag of Cheetos. “But I wanted to see the wedding.”
“You can listen to it from your bedroom.”
“Listen to it? That's not the same thing. You don't
to a wedding. You
a wedding. You
Her father shook his head and remained firm. “You fell out of that oak tree last week and almost suffered a broken neck,” he reminded her. “In case you haven't noticed, I have enough to worry about
around hereâlike trying to feed twelve hundred guests.”
Alyssa clamped her mouth shut.
“Promise me,” he said.
She groaned, wishing he hadn't added that. What girl could resist watching a fairy-tale wedding in her own backyard? Didn't he know he was asking the impossible?
“Ally!” He stopped and spun her around by the shoulders. “Promise me,” he insisted.
Alyssa sighed and dropped her head. “I promise,” she mumbled, staring at her feet, all the while keeping her fingers crossed behind her back.
“Hmm. Something smells wonderful in here.”
Alyssa and Alfred turned to see Quentin enter the kitchen and make a beeline toward one of the long silver trays.
Quentin, Q as his friends called him, wasn't as tall as her father. But at six foot two, lean, and with a beautiful butterscotch complexion, it was no wonder women practically drooled whenever he was around.
“What's in here, Alfred?” Q asked, lifting a tray cover.
“Ah, ah, ah. Those lobster pot stickers are for the wedding.”
Q quickly swiped one and plopped it in his mouth with a wink.
Alyssa stifled a giggle at his playful antics.
“Mr. Hinton, please,” her father begged. “Everything must be perfect or Sterling will have my head on one of these silver platters.”
When Q laughed, Alyssa thought it was the most beautiful sound on earth.
“Oh, loosen up, Alfred. Knowing you, everything will be
than perfect. Relax. Personally, I can't believe Jonas is crazy enough to give this whole marriage thing another try. Who knows? This time we might even reach the âI do' part.” Q laughed heartily and to Alyssa's amazement, his eyes landed on her.
“Oh, hello, Alice.” He headed toward her.
Alyssa's eyes bugged and her tongue glued itself to the roof of her mouth.
“My, my. Aren't you a tall weed?” He looked her over. “How old are you now?”
She blinked while her mind went blank, mesmerized by his twinkling brown eyes.
After a lengthy silence, Quentin frowned. “Alfred, I think there's something wrong with your daughter. She's not a mute, is she?”
“Noâ¦um. She's shy.”
“Oh.” His gaze raked over her bony legs, flat chest and large eyes. “You better watch out for this one,” he told Alfred. “She's going to break plenty of hearts when she grows up.” He tweaked her right cheek. “Mine included,” he added for her ears only.
“Don't I know it.” Her father winked at her from
over Q's shoulder, oblivious to the youngest Hinton's teasing.
“There you are!” Sterling Hinton burst into the kitchen. “I've been looking all over the place for you.”
Quentin swung his arm around Alyssa's shoulders before turning to face his older brother. “You know me. I can't stand to be apart from beautiful women.”
Alyssa's face flushed with heat.
His arm is around my shoulder!
“Don't you think Alyssa is a little
young for you?”
She frowned at Sterling. Who was he to rain on her parade?
“First of all,” Q said, waving a finger, “her name is
Second of allâ¦well, there's no second.”
“Have you been drinking?” Sterling asked, suspiciously.
“There's no law against it and it's well past noon. At least five minutes or so.”
Fire lit behind Sterling's eyes and Alyssa cowered. Sterling didn't explode often. But when he did, watch out.
“If you ruin this day for Jonasâ” Sterling seethed, jabbing a finger into the center of Q's chest “âI swear I'll kill you.”
Q's arms fell from Alyssa's shoulders as he smiled in an attempt to tame a dragon. “I resent that. I was on my best behavior at Jonas's last wedding and I will be so again tonight.
if there's a third one, all bets are off.”
“Hey, hey. Watch the language in front of young Alice.” Q looped his arm around his brother and directed him out of the kitchen. “The poor girl is painfully shy.”
When the Hinton brothers disappeared from view of the kitchen, Alyssa's small shoulders slumped forward as her tongue finally unglued itself. “My name isn't Alice.”
“Tough break, sweetheart.” Her father tugged her fat pigtail. “At least this time he paid you a compliment.”
“He basically said one day you'll be so beautiful you'll have your pick of any man, if my heart can take it. And the ones you don't choose will be heartbroken.”
“Then I choose Quentin.”
“Who knows? Maybe one day you'll have him.” He sighed. “But you should keep your options open. Wide-open.”
Alyssa knew her father didn't approve of Quentinâmainly because Q was a playboyâbut he never came right out and discouraged her from her lofty dreams of marrying the man.
Yes, she knew what a playboy was. Being thirteen didn't mean she was naive. Besides, it didn't matter. When she grew up, Q would only have eyes for her. She would make sure of it.
A line of servers bowled through the kitchen's swinging doors and nearly knocked Alyssa over.
Her father cocked his head and gave her a pleading look.
“I'm going. I'm going,” Alyssa said dejectedly and shuffled out of the kitchen with her head down. She headed out of the main house by the back door, hoping to catch one last look at the elaborate preparations.
Her frown wilted to an all-time low as she crept across the yard toward the servants' quarters. But, to get there, she had to pass her favorite oak tree. As she approached, a pair of male voices drifted on the afternoon air.
“Are you sure you're ready to do this again, son?”
Alyssa recognized her father's employer Roger Hinton's voice and she crouched down behind a line of shrubbery to eavesdrop.
“There won't be any surprises at this wedding, will there?”
“I can only hope not,” Jonas joked with a nervous titter. “I think this time I picked someone who really wants to marry me.”
“Good. Good,” Mr. Hinton encouraged. “That's always a good strategy. Well, at any rate, I'm glad you chose to have the wedding here at the house. I can't tell you how much it means to your mother. Of course, she's hell-bent on getting the other two married off.”
Jonas's gruff laughter rumbled around the men. “Good luck with Quentin. Mom might have to hogtie him and drag him down the aisle.”
“True. The boy is stubborn as a mule. He inherited that from your mother's side of the family.”
Offended by the conversation about her future husband, Alyssa rolled her eyes. There was no one more hardheaded than Roger Hinton. A man who built a real estate empire by never accepting the word “no” and greasing a few pockets to make sure that he never would.
“You know, son, you never did tell me how you came to meet this new bride of yours.”
“No.” A long puff of his cigar trailed his clipped response. “There's even talk around the house that she dated Sterling for a minute.”
Alyssa's eyes widened at that revelation.
“I didn't know you listened to idle gossip, Dad.”
“I've always found that there's a little truth to gossip and I have to say I'm mighty curiousâme
your mother. Who is she? Where did she come from? And please tell me you had the bride sign a prenuptial agreement this time around. There are rumors you don't like those things, as well.”
Jonas chuckled. “I'm not going to answer the prenuptial question, Dad. But it is sort of an interesting story about how Toni and I metâ¦”
“Alyssa,” Beatrice, the waiting staff supervisor called out at her, which gave away her position hiding behind the tree that shielded her from the Hintons.
Jonas peeked around the tree and grinned broadly down at her. “How long have you been down there?”
Alyssa's face reddened with embarrassment. “Not long,” she lied.
Beatrice marched up to her like a wild twister in the middle of Oklahoma tornado season. “I have the staff setting up the buffet tables, do you mind helping me take the tea trays up to the bride's suite?”
Alyssa perked up. “Sure!” It was her first chance to get a good look at Jonas's future wife.
The family, as well as the staff, was surprised and curious about the woman who'd mended Jonas's heart and made him forget all about his former fiancÃ©e, Ophelia.
Alyssa and Beatrice loaded two serving carts and trekked to the east wing of the sprawling estate. As they approached the bride's suite, music and laughter spilled out into the hallway.
That magical buzz of excitement once again surrounded Alyssa and she couldn't wait to enter the room. The moment she did, it was like walking into Barbie's dream house. Beautiful women clustered together in different parts of the room. Some were getting their hair done, some getting their makeup done, and in the center stood the bride in a gorgeous, shoulderless, white gown.
The woman was practically glowingâand everyone knew why.
Alyssa sucked in a breath, convinced she'd never seen anything so beautiful in all her lifeâa real-life fairy-tale princess.
“Oh. The tea is here,” one of the beautiful women in the bridal party exclaimed and rushed over to the carts.
“Tea?” a Spanish beauty quipped. “Please tell me there's something a little stronger than that on the cart.”
“You're in luck,” Beatrice said, reaching underneath the cart to the hidden second tray to pull out a bottle of champagne, chilling in a bucket of ice.
“Whoo. That's what I'm talking about!” The Spanish beauty grabbed the champagne. “Now, let's get this party started.”
“Maria, you just make sure that you save some for the others,” the bride warned.
“Don't be mad just because you can't have any. What? Are those butterflies finally kicking in, Toni? It's not too late to plan an escape route.”
Alyssa's heart clutched. The idea of another bride ditching Jonas at the altar scared her.
“I'm not going anywhere,” Toni said, holding still for last-minute alterations. “It took me forty-three years to find a man I wouldn't mind waking up to for the rest of my life.”