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Always the wedding planner, never the bride….

She’s single and stuck. His relationship is going nowhere. Will the next wedding they plan… be their own?

Dakota Hunter is great at wedding planning but terrible at finding a guy. Each one she encounters is worse than the one before… until she meets Clay. There’s one teensy problem: her attractive new assistant has a long-term girlfriend.

Clay Harper is thrilled to land his new job with Dakota, surrounding himself with happy couples day in and day out. But when he sees true love in person, he realizes his own relationship is far less than happy. It doesn’t help that being around Dakota feels easy. It feels right.

As Dakota and Clay grow a deeper connection, Clay’s girlfriend refuses to go down without a fight. Can the wedding planners go from seeing happy couples… to being one?

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Excerpt

Dakota Hunter squeezed her wine glass with such force, she was sure it would shatter. She narrowed her eyes at Tate, who sat across the table.

He laughed at his own joke, oblivious to Dakota’s annoyance. “…and what’s worse, she actually thought I found her attractive!”

Tate stared at her, clearly waiting for her to join in on the laughter.

“Pardon me.” Dakota held herself together well enough to set down her wine glass without breaking it, and then she fled to the bathroom. She waited for the other two patrons to leave and then she paced. “Deep breaths.”

Out of all the bad dates she’d ever been on, this was the worst—by a long shot. Tate hadn’t stopped talking about his long history of ex-girlfriends since they’d sat for appetizers, and there was no question why his list was so long. The only thing she couldn’t figure out was how any of them made it past the first date.

The meal hadn’t even arrived, and Dakota couldn’t take another minute with him. She had two choices—three, really, but the last one wasn’t an option. She could either run for her car from the bathroom, go back to the table and pay him for the dinner she wasn’t going to eat, or sit through the meal.

Dakota had a reputation to uphold and she couldn’t risk him speaking badly about her business, so she knew the answer. She needed to tell him she wouldn’t be able to stay for the rest of the meal. Then she would give him whatever cash she had in her purse and get out of there.

She’d long ago learned to bring her own car and some cash on a first date.
“What’s my excuse going to be this time?” She turned to the mirror and fixed some smudged mascara. Then she took a deep breath and prepared herself in case he made a scene. At least she had plenty of experience calming people down in her line of work.

She had the perfect excuse to leave—piles of work to do back at The Chateau. One might even call it an emergency. She sure would.

Dakota took another deep breath and headed for the table.

“Is everything okay?” Tate asked. He was studying his reflection in a knife with marked pride.

She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, there’s an emergency at work. I’m the boss, so I have to be there.”

He frowned, still looking at himself. “Is there a fire?”

Dakota shook her head as she dug through her purse. “Nothing that bad. Just work stuff, but it needs my attention right away.”

“I didn’t realize weddings could be so dangerous.” He chuckled and finally glanced at her.

“You have no idea.” She handed him two twenties. “Have a nice night.”

He tucked the cash into a pocket. “Maybe we can try this again another night?”

Dakota’s stomach lurched at the thought. “I’ll give you a call when I’m ready for that.”

Tate smiled. “Great.”

The server arrived, and he immediately started flirting with her.

Dakota shook her head and rushed away. She had blocked and deleted Tate’s number from her phone before reaching her car.

By the time she reached The Chateau, her mind had finally stopped racing.

“Maybe that was a sign that I need to stop dating for a while,” she mumbled as she climbed out of her car.

It had been a long time since she’d had a steady boyfriend. Maybe she was trying too hard. She thought of Tate. Or she wasn’t trying hard enough.

She went inside, eager to bury herself in paperwork and forget all about the botched date—and perhaps men in general.

“Back so soon?” asked Marcel, her main photographer.

Dakota groaned. “Don’t ask—please.”

He hurried over. “You can’t leave me hanging like that. What happened?”

She leaned against the nearest wall and ran her hands through her hair. “I said not to ask.”

“You know better than to say that to me. The date didn’t work out?”

“Do they ever?”

Marcel frowned. “What about that one guy? What was his name? Aaron?”

She shook her head. “He was too obsessed with his mother. I just need to focus on work and I’ll be fine.”

“Want me to dig out a bottle of wine from the cellar?”

“Thanks, but I have so much to do. I have to be prepared when Charlotte calls, and I’m not sure when that will be.”

Marcel’s eyes lit up. “This is going to put us on the map, you know.”

A dull ache intensified at the base of Dakota’s head. “Don’t remind me. I need to hire another assistant—there’s no way I can do this with the current staff.”

“Do you want me to do anything?”

“Just keep taking your beautiful pictures.” Dakota forced a smile and headed for her office. She settled into her chair and stared at the stuffed manila files. They almost made an evening with Tate not seem so bad.

No. No, they didn’t.

Dakota grabbed the top file and feathered through the pages. She really needed another assistant. Aria and Marina were wonderful, but she really needed a third now that she had a big name client.

She leaned back in her chair, still trying to believe that Charlotte Pemberley—one of the stars of Real Homemakers of Seattle—wanted Dakota herself to plan her big wedding with her agent-turned-fiancé.

She found a top twenty station and got to work.

Her mind wandered back to the fateful phone call…

“Can I talk to Dakota Hunter?” boomed the feminine voice on the other end of the line.

“Speaking,” Dakota said, distracted by an email.

“This is Charlotte Pemberley, and my cousin—”

“Did you say Charlotte Pemberley?” Dakota interrupted. “The Charlotte Pemberley?”

She sighed. “Yes. You come highly recommended, and I was wondering if you can do a rush wedding? I want it in the winter. An outdoor, snowy wedding would be nice.

Can’t you see it? It does snow there in March, right?”

Dakota’s mouth dropped open. She didn’t know what was crazier—a wedding in the snow or the fact that a famous reality star wanted her services.

“Are you still there?” Charlotte asked.

“Yes, yes. Sorry. I can accommodate you. I can’t promise snow, but it’s a possibility.

We had some this April, but last March, everyone was in their shorts.”

“We could probably do fake snow, right?”

“Sure. I’ll just need to get some information first.”

Knock, knock.

Dakota sat up straight, brought back to the present. “Come in.”

The door opened, and in walked a man a little over six-feet tall with light brown, shoulder-length hair tucked behind his ears. His dark blue eyes seemed almost purple.

He was gorgeous, and obviously lost.

Clearly, he was a groom. Such a lucky bride.

She smiled at him. “The consultations are down the hall in room thirty-four. Aria will be right with you.”

“Dakota Hunter?” He rubbed his light beard and pulled off his dark blue blazer. He wore a form-fitting shirt, which showed how clearly muscular he was.

He knew her name? Usually, she was just the wedding planner to most of the grooms.

She cleared her throat and sat taller. “I am. And you are?”

He extended his hand and walked toward her. A dimple formed as he smiled. “I’m

Clayton Harper. You can call me Clay.”

Dakota’s voice caught in her throat. She stood, shook his hand, and coughed.

“Pleasure. How can I help you, Clay?”

“I heard you’re in the market for an assistant.”

She nearly choked on the air. “I am, actually. Where did you hear about me?”

“From Sullivan. We were friends in college, and I ran into him. We got to talking.” He shrugged, his grin still lingering.

“Sully?” Dakota asked.

Clay nodded.

Dakota would have to give her brother a huge thank you. “Have a seat.”

His eyes widened. “You want to interview me now?”

“Sure. You’re here.”

“Oh, okay.” He sat, obviously flustered. “Well, I don’t have my resume printed out at the moment. I can pull it up on my phone.”

Dakota sat and leaned over her desk, trying not to get distracted by his rugged good looks. “Don’t worry about it. Let’s just chat.”

He leaned back in the chair. “Sounds good. The Chateau is most impressive.”

She arched a brow. “Oh? Have you already looked around?”

“I checked it out online, but I have to say, it’s much grander in person.”

Dakota beamed. “I’ve put a lot of work into it.”

“That much is obvious.” He held her gaze and pulled some loose hair behind an ear.

Her heart raced. As much as she needed an assistant, she’d rather spend a night on the town with Clay. Too bad she couldn’t start the night over, replacing Tate with Clay.

He pulled his gaze away and glanced around the room. “So, you like weddings?”

She snickered. “You could say that. I’ve always loved planning big events, so this business seemed to be the natural choice. What about you?”

Clay turned back to Dakota. “To be honest, I’m looking for experience running a business. I got my MBA, but I’ve done nothing with it as of yet. Just working in cubicles. If I have to do that for another day, I might have to throw myself off a cliff.”

“We can’t have that. But why here?” She leaned back in her chair, starting to feel more relaxed.

“You have an opening.”

“What kind of business do you plan to run long-term?”

“I’m not sure. That’s part of my problem. I just don’t know what I want to do. I love everything about business—marketing, planning, you name it—but somehow I ended up stuck doing grunt work.” He paused and raked his fingers through his hair. “I’m totally screwing up this interview, aren’t I?”

“No. You’re honest. I like that.”

He smiled. “Do you want to see my resume now?”

“Sure.”

He dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out the hottest smartphone on the market. He scrolled across the screen and handed it to her. “Sorry, I would have printed it first, but I didn’t think you’d want to interview me on the spot.”

Dakota glanced over his resume. “Yet you came in person, anyway?”

“I thought it would be better than a phone call.”

She handed the phone back to him along with her business card. “Can you email that to me?”

Clay slid his finger across the screen a few times. “Done.”

“So, are you willing to deal with paperwork, licensing issues, red tape, and similar things?” She was testing him before letting him know that she really needed his help with the big wedding.

“I love that stuff.”

Dakota gave him a double-take. “You do?”

He leaned forward. “I like to think of it as a challenge.”

“Okay, well that’s good to know. What about working with clients?”

He nodded. “I’ve been told I’m a people person.”

Dakota grinned, feeling like the room had warmed ten degrees since he’d entered. “I have a big-name client that I’m going to need help with. I’ll need you to fill out a confidentiality agreement.”

Clay flicked a nod. “Sure thing.”

Her heart rate sped up. “Okay, then. Let me check out your references, and if everything looks good, you can start as soon as possible. I assume you need to give notice at your current employment.”

He chuckled. “Already did. I can start Monday.”

“You quit without a job lined up?” Her eyes widened.

“What can I say? I like to live on the edge.”

Dakota rose and held out her hand. “I think we’ll get along. Welcome aboard.”

He stood up. “I’ve got the job?”

She smiled. “Assuming you don’t turn out to be a serial killer, I’d say so.”

“You can rest assured my record is clean.” Clay took her hand and shook it with a firm grip.

How would she be able to focus with him as her assistant? She took a deep breath.

“Then I’m sure I’ll see you Monday. I’ll give you a call by tomorrow night. We can discuss salary and benefits then. Also, you’re okay with working Saturdays, I hope.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem. Thank you very much.” He released her hand, gave a slight nod, and showed himself out of the office.

Dakota fell back into her chair and fanned herself. She’d have to send Tate a thank you card for being such a horrible date. Otherwise, she may have missed out on meeting Clayton Harper.

Hopefully having Clay as her assistant wouldn’t prove to be too much of a distraction.

This was a business, after all. She didn’t mix business with pleasure. Although she might be willing to bend her rule for him.

Stop.

The most important thing was giving Charlotte Pemberley the best wedding anyone had ever experienced.

Dakota released a long, slow breath and then sat up. She needed to check his references, but first she needed to dig a little deeper. Sullivan had gone to school with him, and he could tell her more about Clay. But first, she needed to call her brother-in-law. It wouldn’t be the first time the lieutenant had run a quick background check for her.

She closed her eyes and said a silent prayer, hoping Clay was as good as he seemed.

Then she picked up her phone.

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