The much anticipated final book in the Travis series, Brown-Eyed Girl, from beloved author Lisa Kleypas
Wedding planner Avery Crosslin may be a rising star in Houston society, but she doesn't believe in love-at least not for herself. When she meets wealthy bachelor Joe Travis and mistakes him for a wedding photographer, she has no intention of letting him sweep her off her feet. But Joe is a man who goes after what he wants, and Avery can't resist the temptation of a sexy southern charmer and a hot summer evening.
After a one night stand, however, Avery is determined to keep it from happening again. A man like Joe can only mean trouble for a woman like her, and she can't afford distractions. She's been hired to plan the wedding of the year-a make-or-break event.
But complications start piling up fast, putting the wedding in jeopardy, especially when shocking secrets of the bride come to light. And as Joe makes it clear that he's not going to give up easily, Avery is forced to confront the insecurities and beliefs that stem from a past she would do anything to forget.
The situation reaches a breaking point, and Avery faces the toughest choice of her life. Only by putting her career on the line and risking everything-including her well-guarded heart-will she find out what matters most...
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About the Author
Lisa Kleypas is the RITA Award-winning author of many contemporary and historical romance novels, including A Wallflower Christmas, Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor, and Love in the Afternoon. Her books are published in fourteen languages and are bestsellers all over the world. Kleypas graduated from Wellesley College and published her first novel at the age of 21. In 1985, she was named Miss Massachusetts in the Miss America competition. She lives in Washington with her husband and two children.
Read an Excerpt
By Lisa Kleypas
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Lisa Kleypas
All rights reserved.
As an experienced wedding planner, I was prepared for nearly every kind of emergency that might occur on the big day.
Except for scorpions. That was a new one.
The distinctive movement gave it away, a sinister forward-and-back scuttle across the tiles of the pool patio. In my opinion, there wasn't a more evil-looking creature in existence than a scorpion. Usually the venom wouldn't kill you, but for the first couple of minutes after you'd been stung, you might wish it had.
The first rule for dealing with emergencies was: Don't panic. But as the scorpion skittered toward me with its grasping claws and upward-curved tail, I forgot all about rule number one and let out a shriek. Frantically I rummaged through my bag, a tote so heavy that whenever I set it on the passenger seat, the car would signal me to buckle it in. My hand fumbled past tissues, pens, bandages, Evian, hair products, deodorant, hand sanitizer, lotion, nail and makeup kits, tweezers, a sewing kit, glue, headphones, cough drops, a chocolate bar, over-the-counter medications, scissors, a file, a brush, earring backs, rubber bands, tampons, stain remover, a lint roller, bobby pins, a razor, double-sided tape, and cotton swabs.
The heaviest object I could find was a glue gun, which I threw at the scorpion. The glue gun bounced harmlessly on the tile, while the scorpion bristled to defend its territory. Pulling out a can of hair spray, I ventured forward with cautious determination.
"That's not going to work," I heard someone say in a low, amused voice. "Unless you're trying to give him more volume and shine."
Startled, I looked up as a stranger moved past me, a tall, black-haired man dressed in jeans, boots, and a T-shirt that had been washed to near annihilation. "I'll take care of it," he said.
I retreated a couple of steps, shoving the can back into my bag. "I ... I thought hair spray might suffocate him."
"Nope. A scorpion can hold its breath for up to a week."
"Yes, ma'am." He crushed the scorpion beneath his boot, finishing with an extra grind of his heel. There was nothing a Texan killed more thoroughly than a scorpion or a lit cigarette. After kicking the exoskeleton into the mulch of a nearby flower bed, he turned to give me a long, considering glance. The purely male assessment jolted my heartbeat into a new frenzy. I found myself staring into eyes the color of blackstrap molasses. He was a striking man, his features bold, the nose strong, the jaw sturdy. The stubble on his face looked heavy enough to sand paint off a car. He was big-boned and lean, the muscles of his arms and chest as defined as cut stone beneath the worn layer of his T-shirt. A disreputable-looking man, maybe a little dangerous.
The kind of man who made you forget to breathe.
His boots and the raggedy hems of his jeans were skimmed with mud that was already drying to powder. He must have been walking near the creek that cut through the Stardust Ranch's four thousand acres. Dressed like that, he couldn't possibly have been one of the wedding guests, most of whom possessed unimaginable fortunes.
As his gaze swept over me, I knew exactly what he was seeing: a full-figured woman in her late twenties, with red hair and big-framed glasses. My clothes were comfortable, loose, and plain. "Forever 51," my younger sister Sofia had described my standard outfit of boxy tops and elastic-waist wide-legged pants. If the look was off-putting to men — and it usually was — so much the better. I had no interest in attracting anyone.
"Scorpions aren't supposed to come out in the daylight," I said unsteadily.
"We had an early thaw and a dry spring. They're looking for moisture. Swimmin' pool's going to draw 'em out." He had a lazy, easy way of talking, as if every word had been simmered for hours over a low flame.
Breaking our shared gaze, the stranger bent to retrieve the glue gun. As he handed it to me, our fingers touched briefly, and I felt a little jab of response beneath my lower ribs. I caught his scent, white soap and dust and sweet wild grass.
"You'd best change out of those," he advised, glancing at my open-toed flats. "You got boots? Running shoes?"
"I'm afraid not," I said. "I'll have to take my chances." I noticed the camera he had set on one of the patio tables, a Nikon with a pro-level lens, the metal barrel edged with red. "You're a professional photographer?" I asked.
He had to be one of the second-shooters hired by George Gantz, the wedding photographer. I extended my hand. "I'm Avery Crosslin," I said in a friendly but businesslike tone. "The wedding coordinator."
He gripped my hand, the clasp warm and firm. I felt a little shock of pleasure at the contact.
"Joe Travis." His gaze continued to hold mine, and for some reason he prolonged the grip a couple of seconds longer than necessary. Unaccountable warmth swept over my face in a swift tide. I was relieved when he finally let go.
"Did George give you copies of the timeline and shot list?" I asked, trying to sound professional.
The question earned a blank look.
"Don't worry," I said, "we've got extra copies. Go to the main house and ask for my assistant, Steven. He's probably in the kitchen with the caterers." I fished in my bag for a business card. "If you have any problems, here's my cell number."
He took the card. "Thanks. But I'm not actually —"
"The guests will be seated at six thirty," I said briskly. "The ceremony will begin at seven and finish with the dove release at seven thirty. And we'll want some shots of the bride and groom before sunset, which happens at seven forty-one."
"Did you schedule that too?" Mocking amusement glinted in his eyes.
I shot him a warning glance. "You should probably spruce up before the guests are up and out this morning." I reached into my bag for a disposable razor. "Here, take this. Ask Steven where there's a place you can shave, and —"
"Slow down, honey. I have my own razor." He smiled slightly. "Do you always talk so fast?"
I frowned, tucking the razor back into my bag. "I have to get to work. I suggest you do the same."
"I don't work for George. I'm commercial and freelance. No weddings."
"Then what are you here for?" I asked.
"I'm a guest. Friend of the groom's."
Stunned, I stared at him with wide eyes. The creepy-crawly heat of embarrassment covered me from head to toe. "I'm sorry," I managed to say. "When I saw your camera, I assumed ..."
"No harm done."
There was nothing I hated more than looking foolish, nothing. The appearance of competence was essential in building a client base ... especially the upper-class clientele I was aiming for. But now on the day of the biggest, most expensive wedding my studio and I had ever orchestrated, this man was going to tell his wealthy friends about how I'd mistaken him for the hired help. There would be snickers behind my back. Snide jokes. Contempt.
Wanting to put as much distance as possible between us, I muttered, "If you'll excuse me ..." I turned and walked away as fast as I could without breaking into a run.
"Hey," I heard Joe say, catching up to me in a few long strides. He had grabbed the camera and slung it on a strap over his shoulder. "Hold on. No need to be skittish."
"I'm not skittish," I said, hurrying toward a flagstone-floored pavilion with a wooden roof. "I'm busy."
He matched my pace easily. "Wait a minute. Let's start over."
"Mr. Travis —," I began, and stopped dead in my tracks as I realized exactly who he was. "God," I said sickly, closing my eyes for a moment. "You're one of those Travises, aren't you."
Joe came around to face me, his gaze quizzical. "Depends on what you mean by 'those.'"
"Oil money, private planes, yachts, mansions. Those."
"I don't have a mansion. I have a fixer-upper in the Sixth Ward."
"You're still one of them," I insisted. "Your father is Churchill Travis, isn't he?"
A shadow crossed his expression. "Was."
Too late, I remembered that approximately six months earlier, the Travis family patriarch had passed away from sudden cardiac arrest. The media had covered his funeral extensively, describing his life and accomplishments in detail. Churchill had made his vast fortune with venture and growth capital investing, most of it related to energy. He'd been highly visible in the eighties and nineties, a frequent guest on TV business and financial shows. He — and his heirs — were the equivalent of Texas royalty.
"I'm ... sorry for your loss," I said awkwardly.
A wary silence ensued. I could feel his gaze moving over me, as tangible as the heat of sunlight.
"Look, Mr. Travis —"
"Joe," I repeated. "I'm more than a little preoccupied. This wedding is a complicated production. At the moment I'm managing the setup of the ceremony site, the decoration of an eight-thousand-square-foot reception tent, a formal dinner and dance with a live orchestra for four hundred guests, and a late night after-party. So I apologize for the misunderstanding, but —"
"No need to apologize," he said gently. "I should've spoken up sooner, but it's hard to get a word in edgewise with you." Amusement played at the corners of his mouth. "Which means either I'm going to have to speed up, or you're going to have to slow down."
Even as tense as I was, I was tempted to smile back.
"There's no need for the Travis name to make you feel uncomfortable," he continued. "Believe me, no one who knows my family is impressed by us in the least." He studied me for a moment. "Where are you headed to now?"
"The pavilion," I said, nodding to the covered wooden structure beyond the pool.
"Let me walk you there." At my hesitation, he added, "In case you run across another scorpion. Or some other varmint. Tarantulas, lizards ... I'll clear a path for you."
Wryly, I reflected that the man could probably charm the rattles off a snake. "It's not that bad out here," I said.
"You need me," he said with certainty.
Together we walked to the ceremony site, crossing beneath a motte of live oak on the way. The white silk reception tent in the distance was poised on a tract of emerald lawn like a massive cloud that had floated down to rest. There was no telling how much precious water had been used to maintain that brilliant grassy oasis, freshly rolled out and laid only a few days ago. And every tender green blade would have to be pulled up tomorrow.
Stardust was a four-thousand-acre working ranch with a main lodge, a compound of guesthouses and assorted buildings, a barn, and a riding arena. My event-planning studio had arranged to lease the private property while the owners were away on a two-week cruise. The couple had agreed on condition the property would be restored to exactly the way it had been before the wedding.
"How long you been at this?" Joe asked.
"Wedding planning? My sister Sofia and I started the business about three years ago. Before that, I worked in bridal fashion design in New York."
"You must be good, if you were hired for Sloane Kendrick's wedding. Judy and Ray wouldn't settle for anyone but the best."
The Kendricks owned a chain of pawnshops from Lubbock to Galveston. Ray Kendrick, a former rodeo rider with a face like a pine knot, had laid out a cool million for his only daughter's wedding. If my event team pulled this off, there was no telling how many high-profile clients we might gain from it.
"Thanks," I said. "We've got a good team. My sister is very creative."
"What about you?"
"I take care of the business side of things. And I'm the head coordinator. It's up to me to make sure that every detail is perfect."
We reached the pavilion, where a trio of reps from the rental company were setting up white-painted chairs. Rummaging through my bag, I found a metal tape measure. With a few expert tugs, I extended it across the space between the cords that had been staked out to line up the chairs. "The aisle has to be six feet wide," I called out to the reps. "Move the cord, please."
"It is six feet," one of them called back.
"It's five feet and ten inches."
The rep gave me a long-suffering glance. "Isn't that close enough?"
"Six feet," I insisted, and snapped the measuring tape closed.
"What do you do when you're not working?" Joe asked from behind me.
I turned to face him. "I'm always working."
"Always?" he asked skeptically.
"I'm sure I'll slow down when the business is more established. But for now ..." I shrugged. I could never seem to cram enough into one day. E-mails, phone calls, plans to be made, arrangements to nail down.
"Everyone needs some kind of hobby."
"Fishing, when I get the chance. Hunting, depending on the season. Every now and then I do some charity photography."
"What kind of charity?"
"A local animal shelter. A good photo on the website can help a dog get adopted sooner." Joe paused. "Maybe sometime you'd like to —"
"I'm sorry — excuse me." I had heard a ringtone from somewhere in the abyss of my bag, repeating the five notes of "Here Comes the Bride." As I retrieved the phone, I saw my sister's ID.
"I've been calling the dove handler, and he won't answer," Sofia said as soon as I answered. "He never confirmed which container we wanted for the release."
"Did you leave a message?" I asked.
"Five messages. What if something's wrong? What if he's sick?"
"He's not sick," I assured her.
"Maybe he got bird flu from his doves."
"His birds aren't doves. They're white pigeons, and pigeons are resistant to bird flu."
"Are you sure?"
"Try him again in a couple of hours," I said soothingly. "It's only seven. He may not even be awake yet."
"What if he's a no-show?"
"He'll be here," I said. "It's too early in the day to freak out, Sofia."
"When am I allowed to freak out?"
"You're not," I said. "I'm the only one who gets to do that. Let me know if you don't hear from him by ten."
I slipped the phone back into my bag and gave Joe an inquiring glance. "You were saying something about the animal shelter?"
He stared down at me. His thumbs were hooked in his pockets, most of his weight braced on one leg, in a stance that was both assertive and relaxed. I had never seen anything sexier in my life.
"I could take you along with me," he said, "next time I head over there. I wouldn't mind sharing my hobby until you get one of your own."
I was slow to respond. My thoughts had scattered like a flock of baby chicks at a petting zoo. I had the impression that he was asking me to go somewhere with him. Almost like ... a date?
"Thanks," I said eventually, "but my schedule is full."
"Let me take you out sometime," he urged. "We could go out for drinks, or lunch."
I was rarely at a loss for words, but all I could do was stand there in baffled silence.
"Tell you what." His voice turned coaxing and soft. "I'll drive you to Fredericksburg one morning, while the day is still cool and we have the road to ourselves. We'll stop to buy some coffee and a bag of kolaches. I'll take you to a meadow so full of bluebonnets, you'll swear half the sky just fell over Texas. We'll find us a shade tree and watch the sunrise. How does that sound?"
It sounded like the kind of day meant for some other woman, someone who was accustomed to being charmed by handsome men. For a second I let myself imagine it, lounging with him on a quiet morning in a blue meadow. I was on the verge of agreeing to anything he asked. But I couldn't afford to take such a risk. Not now, not ever. A man like Joe Travis had undoubtedly broken so many hearts that mine would mean nothing to him.
"I'm not available," I blurted out.
"Living with someone?"
I shook my head.
Joe was quiet for a few seconds, staring at me as if I were a puzzle he wanted to solve. "I'll see you later," he said eventually. "And in the meantime ... I'm going to figure out how to get a 'yes' out of you."CHAPTER 2
Feeling somewhat dazed after the encounter with Joe Travis, I went to the main house and found my sister in the office. Sofia was beautiful and dark-haired, her eyes a rich hazel green. She had a curvy figure like me, but she dressed with flair, having no reservations about flaunting her hourglass shape.
"The dove handler just called back," Sofia said triumphantly. "The birds are confirmed." She gave me a concerned glance. "Your face is red. Are you dehydrated?" She handed me a bottle of water. "Here."
"I just met someone," I said after a few gulps.
"Who? What happened?"
Sofia and I were half-sisters who had been raised apart. She had lived with her mother in San Antonio, while I had lived with mine in Dallas. Although I had been aware of Sofia's existence, I hadn't met her until we were both grown. The Crosslin family tree had a few too many branches, thanks to our father Eli's five failed marriages and prolific affairs.
Eli, a handsome man with golden hair and a blinding smile, had pursued women compulsively. He had loved the emotional and sexual high of conquest. Once the excitement had faded, however, he'd never been able to settle into everyday life with one woman. For that matter, he'd never stayed with one job for more than a year or two.
Excerpted from Brown-Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas. Copyright © 2015 Lisa Kleypas. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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