Reunited with the Lassiter Bride(3)By: Barbara Dunlop
“And I’m going to be a bridesmaid,” sang Tiffany. “We’re going to have a blast.”
“We are,” Angelica agreed, putting conviction into her tone. “This is exactly what I need right now.”
She would forgive her father. And she truly did want to honor his wishes. What could be more conducive to work-life balance than being maid of honor at a wedding?
Kayla’s expression tightened ever so slightly. “There is one small complication.”
“Matt is going to ask Evan to be the best man.”
Angelica’s equilibrium faltered.
Evan as the best man, while she was the maid of honor? She and Evan together, dressed to the nines, at a dream wedding with lace, flowers and champagne, but not getting married? For a second, she didn’t think she could do it. She didn’t see how she could survive an event like that.
“Angelica?” Kayla prompted, worry in her tone.
“It’s fine,” said Angelica, her voice only slightly high-pitched. “It’ll be fine.” She gave a little laugh through her fear. “Hey, unless he leaves L.A., we’re going to run into each other eventually. I can handle it. No problem.” She gained determination. “I’m going to be the best maid of honor ever.”
* * *
Angelica’s sanctuary was the rose garden at her family’s mansion in Beverly Hills. She’d had the gazebo built five years ago to take advantage of the quiet, fragrant setting. At the end of a busy day, filled with dozens of meetings and the blare of the television screens that followed the five Lassiter networks, she could settle into one of the padded Adirondack chairs and sip a glass of wine.
It was peaceful out here. She could read through the latest ratings, check reviews on the programming from Lassiter Broadcast System, take note of the successes and failures of the competition, and wrap her head around strategic directions for each of the Lassiter Media networks. It might only be September, but contingency plans for the inevitable January scheduling adjustments were well underway.
She heard footfalls on the brick pathway from the main house and assumed it would be a member of the kitchen staff checking to see if she wanted dinner. She really wasn’t hungry, and she didn’t want to give up the peace of the garden just yet. She’d ask them to hold it for her.
“Hello, Angelica,” came a distinct, male voice that sent a buzz of reaction twisting down her spine. She tightened the grip on her wine glass, whirling her head to see if she was imagining him.
She wasn’t. Evan was standing in the middle of her rose garden, his steel-gray shirt open at the collar, and a pair of faded blue jeans clinging to his hips. His unshaven jaw was set, his hazel eyes dark and guarded.
“Evan?” she responded, memories of the times they spent out here coming to life in her mind. They’d made love more than once in this gazebo, the cool, evening breeze kissing their sweaty skin, the scent of roses wafting over them, the taste of red wine on his lips.
She swiftly set down her wineglass.
He took a couple of steps forward, coming to a halt at the short staircase that led up to the gazebo. “I hope you’re ready to put on your maid-of-honor hat.”
She sat up straighter, taking in his expression. “Why? Does Kayla need something? Is something wrong?”
“Yes, something’s wrong.” He paused. “I’d never show up here unless something was very wrong.”
The disdainful words cut her to the core. He didn’t want to be at the mansion, didn’t want anything more to do with her. She understood that. She’d prefer to stay away from him as well, but not for the same reasons.
They’d been forced into each other’s company on several occasions since the breakup. Through it all, she’d had her anger to shield her. But now, all that was left was embarrassment and guilt.
“You heard Matt and Kayla were delayed in Scotland?” he asked.
She told herself to brazen it out. Evan couldn’t read her mind.
“Yes,” she said. “Matt called in to the office yesterday. He’s taking a few extra days of vacation.”
Matt and Kayla had flown to Edinburgh to take advantage of a last-minute opportunity to secure a significant art exhibit for Kayla’s gallery. As Angelica understood it, after they’d arrived, they’d been told a senior member of the church council had to personally approve some of the pieces leaving the country. They’d been forced to travel to his retreat in the north of the country to meet with him.
“I’ve been trying to call them all day,” Evan continued. “But with the time difference and the spotty cell reception in the countryside, I couldn’t get through. And then I thought to myself, what are they going to do from Scotland anyway except worry? We’ll have to fix it for them from here.”
“Fix what?” She sat up straighter. “What’s wrong, Evan?”
He put his foot on the first stair and braced his hand on a support post, but seemed unwilling to enter the gazebo. “There was a fire at the Emerald Wave.”
“Oh, no. Was it bad?”
“Bad enough. It gutted half the kitchen. Luckily, nobody was hurt.”
Angelica was grateful to hear everyone was safe, but her mind immediately went to Kayla. “We’re only three weeks from the wedding.”
“We need to find them a new venue.”
“Are you going to continue stating the obvious?”
She felt her nerves snap to attention. “Are you going to continue being a jerk?”
“Oh, Angie.” His tone was soft, and his use of her nickname sent a new shiver of awareness through her body. “I haven’t even begun being a jerk.”
She reached for her glass of merlot, needing something to fortify her. “What do you want from me, Evan?”
He came up the three steps, filling the doorway to the gazebo with his six-foot-two height. “I need your help. I went to see Conrad Norville today.”
“I don’t understand.” What did movie mogul Conrad Norville have to do with repairing a kitchen?
“To ask if we could use his Malibu mansion for the wedding.”
The explanation set her back for a moment. But she had to admit, it was a good idea.
Conrad Norville owned a monster of a mansion on the Malibu oceanfront. The seventy-something man was renowned for being gruff and eccentric, but his house was acknowledged as an architectural masterpiece.
“It’s the only place anywhere near Malibu that has a hope of fitting all the guests,” said Evan.
“What did he say?”
“He told me, and I’m quoting here, ‘No way in hell am I getting mixed up with that Lassiter circus. I’ve got a reputation to protect.’”
Angelica felt her defenses go up on behalf of her family. “He’s got a reputation to protect?”
“No,” said Evan, his tone admonishing. “He’s got a house we want to borrow.”
“Don’t get all high and mighty—”
“I’m not high and mighty.”
“Well, whatever you are, this is no time for you to get into a fight with the man.”
“He already turned you down,” Angelica pointed out. How could it possibly matter if she fought with Norville or not?
“I’m willing to take another run at it,” said Evan. “For Matt and Kayla’s sake.”
The statement made her curious. “You think you can change his mind?”
“I was thinking you could help me change his mind.”
“How could I do that? I’ve barely met him in passing. And it sure doesn’t sound as though he likes my family.”
“I thought we could alleviate his fears, present a united front. Show him there are no hard feelings between us, that the rumors about the power struggle were overblown.”
The rumors weren’t overblown. When her father’s will left control of Lassiter Media to Evan, it had resulted in all-out battle between the two of them. Even now, when they both knew it had been a test of her loyalty, their spirits were battered and bruised, their relationship shattered beyond repair.
But Kayla’s happiness was at stake. Or, more specifically, Kayla’s mother’s happiness was at stake. Angelica was willing to bet that Kayla would marry Matt anywhere. In fact, they’d probably prefer to be married in Cheyenne, where they’d made their home. But Kayla’s mother had been looking forward to this day since Kayla was born. And Kayla would do anything for her family.
“So, you’re asking me to lie?” Angelica stated in a flat, uncompromising tone.
“I’m asking you to lie,” Evan agreed.
“For Kayla and Matt.” That might be one of the few reasons she’d consider it.
“I’d do a lot more than lie for Matt,” said Evan.
She took in the determination on his handsome face. Experience had taught her that he was a formidable opponent who let absolutely nothing stand in his way.
“I shudder to think how far you’d go to get what you want.”
His expression tightened. “Yeah? Well, we both know how far you’ll go, don’t we?”
It was a cutting blow.
“I thought I was protecting my family,” she defended.
When she’d learned of the terms of the will, she couldn’t come up with any explanation except that her father had lost his mind, or that Evan had brazenly manipulated J.D. into leaving him control of Lassiter Media.