Never a Bride
At the Shore Book 3
by Caridad Pinero
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Emma never dreamed that the happily-ever-after would change her life. . .
But as her two best friends find love, Emma worries about what her future will bring. She has seen all too often what happens once husbands and children arrive. She puts on a brave face because she wants her buddies to be happy, but as a wedding planner, she has seen one too many marriages go south. Not to mention her parents' bitter divorce which has soured her on the idea of marriage for herself. She can't imagine ever finding a man who can bring her a forever kind of romance.
He's been in love with her forever and can't understand why she can't see it. . .
Carlo da Costa knows why Emma avoids relationships and yet he can't help but wonder how someone who puts such love and care into others' dreams can't allow herself to believe in the fairy tale. He sees the yearning on her face when she spends time with him and his big boisterous family and knows that deep inside, she wants the same thing. Carlo hopes that one day he can provide her with that because he's sure Emma holds the key to his heart in her hands.
The bouquet shot toward her head like a spaceship launched at the moon.
Emma Grant had no time to deflect the missile. She tangled her fingers into the luscious petals of the peonies, roses, and hydrangea, rousing fragrant floral scents as the bouquet grazed her face. When she was in wedding planner mode, she would have taken the time to appreciate the freshness of the blooms, but tonight she was also a bridesmaid and best friend and totally unhappy about her current predicament.
Flowers fisted in her hand, Emma whirled to face her other best friend and maid of honor, Connie Reyes, who with a subtle hip check, had knocked Emma straight into the path of the flying tussie mussie. “I thought you were my friend!”
“Totally,” Connie said with a broad smile and waltzed off to the side of the dance floor to where Carlo Gonzalez, her caterer extraordinaire and longtime man crush, stood with some of his wait staff.
Her friends thought Carlo was the man to give Emma her happily-ever-after, except it wasn’t possible that someone like Carlo could love someone like her. She was broken inside and had been for some time while Carlo was everything good in this world. A loving son and a supportive brother. A go-to-guy for her and so many others. But a lover? Even though her insides ignited at the thought of making love with the incredibly handsome Carlo, Emma knew it could only lead to misery on way too many levels.
He was her business partner of sorts and she valued how well they worked together. They had even talked about forming an event planning business more than once so Emma could have her own company and Carlo could expand his. Not to mention that he was her best friend and she couldn’t imagine not having him in her life, but she was certain that was what would happen if they tried to go from friends to lovers and it didn’t work out.
But Emma’s fears weren’t keeping Connie from trying to drag Carlo into the center of the dance floor for the next part of the wedding ritual. He protested at first and as all eyes settled on him as he balked, embarrassment engulfed her. His hesitation confirmed to Emma that changing the nature of their relationship was not necessarily something he wanted to do either.
Others soon joined in to offer Connie assistance and Carlo finally relented, although clearly reluctant. The handsome caterer stood with the other single men, and as the groom prepared his garter toss, Emma closed her eyes and mumbled a prayer beneath her breath.
“Dear Lord, please be good to me,” she said and half-opened her eyes to watch.
Apparently God wasn’t listening since the garter flew across the air, and like a horseshoe tossed at a ring, the circle of baby blue satin ribbon and beige lace landed on Carlo’s index finger, earning hoots and shouts from all gathered at the perfect catch.
Emma groaned and popped her eyes wide open as Carlo stood there, dangling the garter for all to see. A stain of color marred his cheeks as he peeked at her with a chagrined smile.
The heat of a blush erupted all across her face and up to her ears. She half glanced at Connie who had returned to stand by her and Emma said, “I will kill you for this. When you least suspect it, it will happen.”
Connie couldn’t stifle her chuckle, and when the groom’s brother and best man Jonathan Pierce strolled to her friend’s side, Connie high-fived Jonathan for his assistance with the plot. Connie murmured something to him that Emma couldn’t quite hear as the band launched into a sexy riff to continue the wedding tradition. Carlo sauntered over, garter dangling from his finger as someone placed a chair for her to sit on in the middle of the makeshift dance floor.
“The quicker you get it over with, the easier it will be,” Emma thought, hurried out, and unceremoniously plopped onto the chair. It was like taking off a bandage with a quick rip. It cut the pain much like she wanted to lessen the humiliation of Carlo being forced into this wedding tradition.
The sexy music continued as Carlo kneeled before her and mouthed “Don’t worry.” In deference to the fancy event being held at the Sinclair beachfront mansion, he was dressed in a tuxedo. The black of the tux emphasized the deep brown of his thick wavy hair. The electric white shirt was the perfect foil against olive skin that still bore the remnants of a summer tan. He smiled at her, his teeth toothpaste bright and perfect. The smile was brilliant and transformed the chiseled features of his face. Made his chocolate brown eyes gleam with a mix of amusement and awkwardness.
It was way too easy to picture him as the groom. Her groom, but that was an impossible wish. As his gaze locked with hers, she detected something different for a moment. Something dangerous that she tried to convince herself wasn’t there. There was no way that was there, she told herself.
She silently pleaded with him not to make the situation worse. Ever the gentleman, he heeded her plea and kept it clean as she looked up toward the inky night sky to avoid watching him. His touch was deferential while he slipped the lacy fabric past her shoe and ankle, but even the faintest whisper of his rough palm against her skin had her trembling inside and heat racing across her body. He moved the garter up a little higher to her calf and paused, forcing Emma to look at him to find out the reason for his delay.
Carlo grinned sexily and the fire at her core ignited into a five-alarm blaze. He was just so damn handsome and it was impossible not to imagine doing more with him. He inched the garter past her knee, his palm teasing her smooth skin, but stopped there despite the
entreaties of the single men to go ever higher. He wagged his head, shook his finger in a no-way gesture, and tenderly draped Emma’s gown back over her legs.
Emma met his gaze once more, thankful, but this time it was impossible to miss that his look was filled with yearning. With that emotion, she had maybe hoped for and dreaded at the same time. And then Carlo did something totally unexpected and decidedly risky. He wrapped an arm around her waist, urged her to her feet, and slowly drew her close.
Her knees trembled and her heart pounded so loudly, she barely heard the music and cheers from those who’d maybe had a little too much to drink during the festivities. Carlo steadied her, keeping his arm around her waist as he cradled her jaw. Slowly he leaned toward her and tilted her face up with the gentlest pressure.
She could have backed away. Could have stopped him, but truthfully she didn’t want him to stop. She inched up on her tiptoes to meet his lips.
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NY Times and USA Today Bestseller Caridad Pineiro is a Jersey Girl who just wants to write, travel, and spend more time with family and friends. Caridad is the author of over 50 novels/novellas and has sold over 1 million books worldwide. Caridad loves romance novels, super heroes, TV and cooking. For more information on Caridad, please visit www.caridad.com or www.rebornvampirenovels.com. You can also find Caridad/Charity at the links below:
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