“Shit, shit, shit.”
Of course the contents of my borrowed clutch spill all over the floor as I look for my name. There are only four place cards left on the table. At least I’m not the only guest ridiculously late. Crouching down, I shove my keys back inside.
“Can I help you?”
As I scoop up a tube of lip gloss, a young man in a tux peers over me.
“Yes, please. I was just looking for my table assignment. Fuller?”
Finally cleaned up, I stand just as he claims a folded card from the table. “Ms. Evie Fuller.”
Eh-vee, I mentally correct him. Gotta love a name that one hundred percent of people mispronounce. Reaching for it, I take the card from his gloved hand. “Thank you.”
He points down the hall. “The DeLuca reception is that way.”
It would have been easy enough to find; the Yorkfield Barn only has one event space. I’ve been to two weddings here before, but never, I suspect, one quite like this. Between Enzo’s massive amounts of wealth and Chari’s good taste, I’m prepared to have my breath taken away.
“Evie, thank goodness,” a familiar voice calls just as I begin walking.
Cole and Zara Donovan, one of my favorite couples in the world.
“I thought for sure we were the last ones here,” Zara says as Cole grabs their table card. “I’m so embarrassed to come in so late.” She gives me a quick hug.
“Same. I had some trouble at the restaurant and didn’t even make the ceremony. Was it amazing?”
Problem with owning a family restaurant? Wearing all the hats. I could kick myself for having trusted a new vendor without properly vetting him, but no one expected a hundred-year-old produce supplier to go out of business, just like that.
“It was unbelievable. Enzo teared up when Chari came down the aisle.”
“He did not tear up,” Cole says, coming up to us. “Hey, Evie.”
He offers Zara his arm. “There was something in his eye.”
Zara scolds him as we walk toward the main entrance. “And what exactly is wrong with a man crying? That’s the kind of thing we need to normalize. The boy code has to go.”
Cole winks at me as Zara makes a face. It’s clear to everyone he knows that would get a rise out of her, and Zara took the bait.
“What held you guys up?” I ask.
When Zara’s cheeks turn immediately pink, I can’t help but laugh.
“I mean, look at her,” Cole says in their defense.
To be fair, Zara does look amazing. She doesn’t typically wear a ton of makeup, her flaming red hair enough to turn heads all on its own.
“I thought you were coming with Jay?” Zara asks.
It’s been two weeks since I’ve seen or talked to her, restaurant and all, and she clearly hasn’t heard. Not much happens in Bridgewater without most of the town knowing, so I’m somewhat surprised. Although Zara is a newspaper publisher now, so she’s been pretty busy too.
“We broke up.”
Zara stops, and Cole with her.
“Oh no. I’m so sorry.”
Yeah, me too.
“It’s fine. Just happened.”
I almost clarify it’s been ten days and five hours. But that would mean I’m keeping track. Which I obviously am, but wish I wasn’t. “Less than two weeks ago.”
She waits for more, so I offer the sucky details.
“He broke up with me.”
“Are you serious? What an idiot.”
Almost thirty. Single again. Yeah, super fun.
“You guys dated for like . . .”
“A year and a half,” I provide. “But it’s ok.”
Although really, it’s not. The whole thing sucks.
“His sister’s engagement party was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He didn’t understand how I could take time off this weekend but not for that.”
Cole frowns. “Doesn’t his sister live in Newport?”
“Yeah. So it would have been a whole weekend. I can’t afford to take that much time away from the restaurant. Especially not now.”
Zara nods in understanding. “When are they coming?”
We begin to walk again.
“Mm-hmm.” She takes Cole’s arm again.
“The first two weeks in June. They don’t give an exact date. One day—poof!—they’ll just appear.”
I’ve got big plans for my parents’ restaurant. A way to honor them, and especially my mom, who started it almost thirty years ago. If Mama Leoni’s is ever going to win a Beard Award, this is as good a first step as any. The Cucina Award might not be as prestigious, but it will get us on the map, something a small-town restaurant needs to attract national attention. If I were in New York City, that would be a totally different story.
But that ship has sailed.
“You must be a nervous wreck.”
“Cole,” Zara chides him, “some tact, please?”
He doesn’t seem concerned by Zara’s reprimand. Actually, he seems amused by it. Cole loves to tease her.
As we get to the entrance, what looks like a movie scene comes into view. Even though I’ve been here before, I’m not at all prepared for the transformation.
Although it maintains that rustic feel—we are in a barn, after all—there’s an elegance to the room that I don’t remember. Wisteria hangs from every ceiling beam with white lights everywhere. Although it’s still bright outside, the barn is dark enough that the lights glow, highlighting crisp white linens and flowers that are all cream or white, their leaves the only color. The effect is magical.
“Did you ever see anything like it?” Zara whispers to no one in particular.
I’m about to respond when I finally pick my jaw up off the floor and realize the groom’s brother is giving a toast.
His voice catches as our eyes lock.
The Greek god is even hotter than usual in a tux. Hair so black it almost looks purple, long on top with a lock falling into his eyes. Sharp cheekbones under chocolate-brown eyes. Tristano’s perpetual five o’clock shadow and deep, smooth voice give him the distinction of looking partly like his billionaire brother and partly like the kind of guy you might normally find in this barn. Envisioning him sitting atop a horse with a cowboy hat does nothing to force my gaze away.
“What table are you at?” Zara whispers.
“Five.” I break eye contact with my rival, the owner of the second-best Italian restaurant in Bridgewater, and look at the table signs.
“Me too. I think it’s this way.”
Tristano’s talking again, but I ignore him, as much as it’s possible to ignore someone like him, and follow Cole and Zara to our table.
It’s going to be a long night.
“To my baby brother and his wife. Salute.”
The toast finished, I raise my glass, and as the echo of clinks die down, I sit. Next up, Chari’s maid of honor. I listen to her kind words about my brother and her best friend, the woman Enzo will spend the rest of his life with.
“Nice job,” my other brother says, nudging me. “Except for the stumble.”
It’s just like Gian to point that out.
“Thanks,” I mutter back.
My gaze wanders to the reason for my midspeech stutter. Who the hell is she? I’d ask Gian, but the last thing I need is my brother ribbing me for the rest of the night. She’s sitting with friends of Chari’s, so my guess is maybe someone she knows from out of town?
Bridgewater isn’t so small that I know every resident, but between Dad’s pizza shop and my restaurant, I know most of them. And she is certainly not someone I’ve seen before.
I’d have noticed.
An off-white lacy top with only two little spaghetti straps is at odds with the bottom half of her dress. Deep green and pleated, it’s like the reserved half to its flashy partner. Not unlike me and my brother. My mother loves to call me the responsible one, Gian the loose cannon, and Enzo somewhere in the middle.
She peeks at me, pretending to look at the bride.
My eyes move from her dangling gold earrings to her mouth. So damn full. She brushes her long, dark brown hair to the back, fully revealing her shoulders. I imagine slipping a finger under that strap.
“A toast to my best friend in the world and her new husband. To Mr. and Mrs. DeLuca. Cheers.”
This time when she peers up at the head table, she doesn’t look away. When she takes a sip of champagne, my thoughts go from mildly dirty to downright salacious. She’s nothing like my usual type—“borderline trashy,” as my sister calls it. It’s true, I like a woman with a bit of an edge. The good-girl types, like the beautiful stranger who’s now actively attempting to ignore me, usually can’t keep up.
“I can’t fucking believe it. Enzo is married.”
Leave it to Gian to keep it classy.
“How is this a surprise?” I tear my gaze from the mystery woman. “Enzo is crazy about Chari. She’s good for him.” I look at Enzo, sitting to the left of me. He only has eyes for his new wife and is totally oblivious to our conversation.
“I know, it’s just . . . married. Can you imagine?”
Chuckling, I answer immediately. “For you? No.”
Gian is the very definition of a player. He has more women in his life than I have recipes I want to try.
“For me, also no.” But not for the same reason. I’m already married. To the restaurant.
Growing up as the son of a pizza shop owner, I always knew I wanted my own place. But not like Dad’s. Somewhere to showcase all of my parents’ recipes. Some that came with them from Italy, others my mom has tried out over the years. Unlike my nonna, God rest her soul, she likes to experiment with food.
So no, I can’t imagine getting married. I can’t even keep a girlfriend who gets the fact that we can’t go to dinner on a weekend. Or that I have very little free time.
“I’m happy for him, though,” Gian says with a swig of his beer. Sometimes it’s hard to believe only five years separate my little brother and me. Twenty-seven going on twenty-one. He’s something else.
“I am too,” I agree. This time when I glance at the groom, Enzo catches me.
“What are you two talking about?”
“What about me?”
“Don’t worry about it.”
It would be easy to tell him we were talking about him and Chari, but Enzo and I don’t make anything easy. Some might call it a healthy brotherly rivalry. Our mother would say I was being a stronzino to tease Enzo on his wedding day.
“I’m not worried about it.”
“Then why did you ask?”
“Your mother is watching,” Chari gently reminds us.
Sure enough, from the table closest to us, she’s giving Enzo and me the evil eye. I smile in a way that I know will pacify her, and Mom shakes her head.
I can hear her silent thoughts as if she’s saying them aloud.
Not today, Tristano.
But what Mom doesn’t get, or maybe she does, is that, despite the constant ribbing, I love my brother. Despite the fact that he bought my building after I told him not to, repeatedly. The cost of the property that is now my restaurant is a drop in the bucket for my billionaire baby brother, but that’s not the point.
I’d been saving to buy the damn thing myself, and he knew it.
“I’m going to grab a beer. Anyone need one?” Gian asks.
“Yuengling for me.”
And then I wait for it.
“You know we made the lager formula specifically for you, asshole.”
I try not to smile as Enzo takes the bait. “I know. But I’m in the mood for a Yuengling, if that’s ok with you.”
With a glare, half serious and half exasperated, Enzo turns back to Chari.
It really is too easy. Enzo’s beer—or fake beer, as I like to call it even though it’s very much real—actually tastes pretty good. Normally that’s all I drink these days. Their proprietary “Angel pill” that works in conjunction with the formula Enzo invented takes away the negative effects within an hour. Drink their brand of alcohol with the pill afterwards, no hangover. But sometimes I like to play with my brother a bit. And I really do like Yuengling too.
Without thinking, I find my gaze wandering back to the same place where the woman walked in during my toast. She’s talking to Zara Donovan, still drinking champagne.
I wonder what she’s talking about that has her so clearly excited. My mystery woman is even prettier when she’s smiling. Who the hell is she? I need to find out. Obviously she must know Chari since I’ve never met her before. But I can’t ask my sister-in-law. Not in front of my brothers.
I’ll bide my time.
But before the end of the night, I will know her name. And I will ask her to dance.
There are a lot of things I’m not good at. Poker, for one. Skiing, for another. Hate it, actually. Chari and I have that in common. We both despise the cold.
But cooking and dancing are another matter. My mother taught me to do both. Tonight, I think at least one of those skills will serve me well. And the thought of my mystery woman in my arms is enough to make sitting this way particularly uncomfortable.
Shifting in my seat, I watch.
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