Authors: Sami Lee
For Jess and Lexxie, who invited me to the party and for Jennifer, who agreed to let me in. Thanks for having me.
And for Chris, my own A-type hero.
See Aidan and McKenzie get married.
Dear Mitchell Wood,
Aidan and Mack would love to invite you and your “plus one” to bear witness to their wedding on Bandicoot Cove’s main beach,
Saturday, four p.m.
Dress is completely casual as the atmosphere will be relaxed and full of laughter. No top hats, tuxedos or stilettos allowed.
Please come and share in Aidan and Mack’s special day as they finally formalize what the rest of the world already knew: they were meant to be together from the start.
RSVP Kylie Sullivan
Bandicoot Cove Resort
Mitchell Wood leaned on the bar at Bar Evoke and made eye contact with the bartender. The athletic-looking blond guy, whose nametag read
, approached. “What can I get you?”
“The resort manager. Is she in tonight?”
Finn’s friendly expression cooled almost imperceptibly. Mitch might have missed it if he didn’t spend so much time negotiating million-dollar deals with men practiced at hiding their emotions behind bland expressions. They always had a tell, though. Once Mitch figured out what it was he knew he had them.
“Is there a problem, sir?”
The inflection on the moniker bordered on insolent. For whatever reason, Finn the bartender was protective of Bandicoot Cove’s resort manager.
A valuable commodity for any person in a leadership position, one not all managers could educe in their staff. Mitch’s resolve to talk to Kylie Sullivan solidified. “No problem at all. A business proposition.”
Finn’s countenance relaxed once more. “I’ll see if she’s around,” he offered before he sauntered away.
“Tell me I didn’t hear that right.”
Mitch swung around to see his sister McKenzie standing behind him, her hands on her hips and a disgusted expression on her face.
Mitch raised a brow and feigned innocence. He was practiced at concealing his emotions behind bland expressions too. “Hear what?”
“You mention the word ‘business’ at my prewedding celebrations. You’re supposed to be having fun.”
Mitch proffered the red and orange cocktail his brother Mason had insisted he try. “I am having fun.”
“That’s why you’re hunting down Kylie with
What are you going to do—offer her a job?”
The fact that the woman would prove a valuable asset to his hotel development and management company
occurred to Mitch. What was wrong with mixing a little business with the pleasure of attending his sister’s wedding? “Why shouldn’t I?”
Mack laughed. “She’s not going anywhere, Mitch, believe me. She’s committed.”
“Contracts can always be broken.”
“No, I mean… Let’s just say you can’t give her what she’s already got here.”
The small smile playing on Mack’s lips made Mitch think of the bartender again, and the pieces fell into place. “Ah.”
“Yes, ‘ah’. So why don't you come out on the floor and dance a jig with everyone else?”
“I can turn the occasional waltz, Mack,” Mitch drawled. “But I’m pretty sure I’ve never jigged.”
“It’s better than standing there stiff as a board.”
Her perfectly innocent statement reminded Mitch of Amanda and the fact it had been four months since she’d walked out of his life. Four months since he’d been able to relieve any of his
in the time-honored manner. Amanda Donovan may not have been the most scintillating conversationalist nor destined to be his one and only, but she had been very accommodating in the ways that counted.
Realizing he was thinking about sex, or his recent lack thereof, with his sister not three feet away made Mitch shuffle his feet uncomfortably on the parquet floor. “I promise you, little sis, I’m having a great time.”
“Uh-huh.” Mack narrowed her eyes doubtfully. “Did you bring your laptop?”
“Of course I brought my laptop,” Mitch admitted before he thought better of it. “This isn’t Mars.”
“No, but it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Promise me you’ll open your eyes and take some of it in while you’re here.”
What did she think he’d been doing since he’d arrived this afternoon? He’d made it his mission to study every little detail that distinguished Bandicoot Cove’s facilities from anything else in Australia. The tropical Queensland waters were home to numerous holiday destinations but nothing quite like the unique mix of eco-friendly construction and luxurious abundance that this place offered. It was no wonder the rich and famous sought out the tranquility and extravagance Bilby Island’s exclusive resort had in spades.
Mack’s friend Kylie had obviously done an excellent job of getting the place up to par, possessing exactly the kind of flair and attention to detail Mitch wanted on his next hotel project set to open in six months.
But apparently love stood in the way of Mitch snagging the talented manager for one of his own hotels.
Damned inconvenient emotion.
Inconvenient and wrenching and painful. As far as Mitch was concerned, love could take a long walk off a short pier.
“I will open my eyes and take in the glory, Mack,” Mitch promised, affording his sister an indulgent smile and shoving thoughts of love and the one woman who had inspired it in him from his mind. Walking and talking and generally acting like he had it all together was so much easier when he didn’t think about
“You’ll leave your laptop in your room?” Mack pleaded. “Check emails only once a day?”
Once a day? Was she mad?
Behind his back, Mitch crossed his fingers. A very childish thing for a man of thirty-four to do, he was well aware. “Agreed.”
“And you’ll have a massage.”
“Jeez, Mack. Anything else?”
McKenzie relented with an impish grin. “That will cover it for now. Only because I’m in too good a mood to harangue you anymore. And I see Aidan over there making eyes at me.”
eyes at the dreamy expression his sister wore as she looked past his shoulder to where her fiancé was obviously waiting for her. “Eww.”
Mack stuck out her tongue. Then she jumped up and kissed him on the cheek. “Thanks for coming, Mitch. It means a lot to me that everyone’s here—all my family and friends in the place where I finally realized Aidan was the only man for me. Heck, even Hales came back from Indonesia. I’m so lucky.”
Something in Mitch’s gut clenched and the muscles around his heart squeezed tight.
There goes walking and talking and generally acting like I have it all together.
“Hales? Hayley Bryant?”
“Yes, Hayley Bryant, you doofus. Little Hayley, the girl I begged you to hire when she finished her degree so she could get some business experience.” Mack squinted at him. “She worked for you for over a year, remember?”
Remember he did, in vivid detail. That year wasn’t one Mitch had ever managed to forget, no matter how hard he’d tried over the past twenty-two months.
The sickening sense of loss that always swirled in his stomach at the thought of her made the strong rum-based cocktail nearly come back up the way it went down.
“She arrived just this afternoon, after you,” Mack went on, apparently unaware that Mitch’s throat had closed over, preventing him from contributing to the conversation. “She looks
. So different you’ll hardly recognize her.”
A picture of bouncy pale blonde curls framing a cherubic face and green eyes that sparkled with intelligence flashed in Mitch’s mind. He wasn’t sure he liked the idea of Hayley looking in any way
“She’s back for a visit?” he finally managed to choke out. His voice sounded raspy, so he took a swig of the drink he’d forgotten he didn’t like.
“For good, I think.”
Mitch’s heart started to palpitate. “It’ll be great to have her on home soil. I always worried a little about her traveling the world on her own—force of habit to worry about Hales, I suppose. I still remember her as the shy twelve-year-old I mentored through her first year of high school when I was a senior. There is one thing I will miss though, and that’s her postcards.”
Mitch had never received a postcard. Not one in twenty-two months—but who was counting? She sent some to Mitch’s headquarters in the Gold Coast because she’d made several friends there. The mementos came from America, Canada, Europe and Southeast Asia, but none had ever been addressed to him personally.
Not that he expected any, after what happened.
Memories raced through his mind before he could prepare for the effect they’d have on his body or his conscience. A sultry December night, a late meeting, boxes of Chinese takeaway laid out next to blueprints, and Hayley.
Oh God, Hayley.
Full of enthusiasm to impress the boss, and him behaving like every bad cliché about company CEOs and their cute, eager-to-please interns.
In his pocket, the electronic beep of Mitch’s phone sounded, shattering his dark thoughts and drawing a scowl from Mack. “Don’t. You. Dare. No business. Give me the phone.”
Mitch froze with his hand halfway to his pocket. “You’ve got to be joking, Mack.”
Brother and sister stared each other down, neither willing to back off. Mitch was reminded of Mack’s fearlessness, conditioned through years of fending off the teasing delivered by six brothers. She wouldn’t hesitate to tackle him just as though they were in their parents’ backyard playing football instead of at a swanky resort.
Mitch’s competitive streak reared. He might be five years his sister’s senior, but he wasn’t quite over the hill yet.
No way can she catch me.
Mitch feinted left, then darted to the right. Mack wasn’t fooled, nor was she on her own in this battle. She called to someone behind Mitch and a moment later Mitch’s shoulder connected with something hard, and two arms banded his to his sides.
“Aidan.” No one else Mitch knew had arms the size and firmness of tree trunks. “Let me go.”
Mack pointed a finger at her fiancé. “Don’t.”
Mitch kept himself fit, but an insanely strong fireman who’d do anything for the woman he loved he could not match on physical terms. So he started doing what he did best—negotiating. “Aidan, think about what you’re doing. I’m about to become your brother-in-law.”
“Thinking tends to go out the window where your sister’s concerned,” Aidan drawled. “What exactly am I supposed to do with him, Mack?”
“Take the phone out of his pocket.”
putting my hand in your brother’s pocket. You do it.”
“Eww. I’m not putting my hand in there either, certainly not while it’s vibrating.” Mack glared at Mitch. “Take the phone out and give it to me.”
Mitch grinned. “In your dreams.”
“Fine,” Mack huffed. “I’ll get backup.”
Scanning the nearby crowd, Mack waved at someone and gestured for them to come over.
“Mack, this is ridiculous. It might not even be the office calling.”
“Sure, and you wouldn’t have that thing surgically attached to your body if you had the chance. They never leave you alone, Mitch.”
“That’s because I’m the boss.”
“What seems to be the problem?”
Mitch’s heart, which had already accelerated during the matchup against his sister and Aidan, moved into triple time. He knew that voice. It was a little richer than the last time he’d heard it, with a sardonic lilt that hadn’t been there before. But the sound of Hayley Bryant’s honeyed tones had haunted his sleep enough nights that he would have recognized them anywhere. With an unsettling mixture of reluctance and bone-deep anticipation, Mitch turned his head.
What he saw stopped his heart altogether.