Opening Chapter

Taste of Passion, Book 3

Champagne Book Group Presents
By DK Marie

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CHAPTER ONE

Cindy Meier took a sharp right, peeling into the restaurant’s parking lot. Her tires squealed as she braked hard in front of the building, making the valet jump back, eyes wide.

Her rush wasn’t because she was almost an hour late meeting her sister, Greta. Nope, her speed was for the thrill of it. Why have an Audi TT if she can’t have some fun with it, right?

Putting the car in first gear, she set the parking brake then grabbed her calfskin jacket from the passenger seat. The sun was shining bright and beautiful, but April in Michigan still had Old Man Winter playing hide-and-seek with Spring.

A valet close to her age came around to open her door. She got out, offering him her brightest smile. His appreciative gaze ran over her. She had to admit, admiration never grew old.

Nevertheless, when he reached her face, she quirked a brow. He hastily looked away. It was undoubtedly against the rules for the help to ogle the clientele.

She breezed past him, opening the glass and iron doors of Rising. Pushing her sunglasses to the top of her head, she scanned the restaurant trying to find Greta. She spotted her sister’s fiancé, Jacob Grimm first. Mixed with a starched, formal crowd, his shock of messy black hair made him impossible to miss.

Huh, I didn’t know he was joining us. We’re just talking about wedding plans.

Whatever. Jacob did seem heavily involved in the planning.

Making her way toward her sister’s table, Cindy smiled. For some reason, it delighted her knowing his involvement probably drove Mother crazy. She had no idea how to handle Jacob. Plus, his presence made it more difficult for her to take over the wedding.

Halfway across the dining room, she found her sister and waved. That was when she noticed the third person.

A guy.

A hot guy.

Light brown hair, closely cropped on the sides, short and neat on the top. Large, almond-shaped eyes that might be brown. He also had a strong jawline, high cheekbones. The combination was sensual and masculine. She wanted to nibble along the sharp ridges.

The three of them stood when she reached the table. She hugged Greta, then Jacob.

Releasing him, she teased, “How are you, Thug? I’m surprised the concierge let you in.”

As always, he played along with good humor. Chuckling, he joked, “They made me dump my forty before entering, and I had to promise to use silverware. Stupid rules.” He shrugged, tipping his head in the direction of the handsome stranger. “This is my brother, Will. He’s the Best Man. We figured he should meet the Maid of Honor.”

Facing him fully, she offered her hand while trying to remember to breathe. He was even better looking up-close. Yup, brown eyes like melted, tasty chocolate.

She blinked, surprised by her strong reaction to him. As a model, she was around attractive men all the time. She was supposed to be immune to a pretty face.

Plus, he had some sort of shady background. That alone should be enough to cool any desire. Jacob and Greta were strangely protective of Will, but a few tidbits had made it to her.

He was the family screw up. The one Jacob had supported, taken care of for years.

That man before wasn’t a mess, quite the opposite. He was polished and neat, a man who’d fit in at her father’s investment company.

Her gaze fell to her favorite part on a man, his mouth. She gasped. He might have the beautiful, full lips that she loved. It was hard to tell. They were pressed in a tight line.

She returned to his eyes, noticing the color of them were beautiful but didn’t radiate an ounce of warmth. He appeared pissed.

After a beat too long, he took her proffered hand. “Nice of you to finally arrive.” His voice was smooth as silk, the words sharp as a dagger.

She smoothed her features, hiding her shock. This man wasn’t going to talk down to her. “Is there a problem?”

“Yes.” Will glanced at his watch, a thick silver one that complemented his sexy, strong wrist. “Some of us have more important things to do than wait around for you to grace us with your presence.”

She leaned back, curling her lip with irritation. No. Not strong and sexy. The asshole. His wrists were too big, attached to huge hands that were more like bear paws.

“Will. Chill out,” Jacob admonished. “She’s less than an hour late. For Cindy, that’s almost on time.”

The other man scoffed. He was growing more unattractive by the second.

“See, I’m barely late.”

Greta raised one perfect brow. “You’re late. And that’s even after I lied, telling you we’d be here at one.”

Thanks, sis.

Laughing, Cindy took her seat. “Come on now. I knew that meant you’d be here at one-thirty.”

Greta’s gaze flicked to her cellphone resting on the table. “It is nearly two-thirty.” She didn’t sound mad, more resigned.

“Jet-lag. I overslept. I’ve only been home from Europe for two days,” Cindy said, sort of telling the truth.

She was merely leaving out the part about stopping at Nordstrom’s before meeting them. No sense mentioning it when Jacob’s brother was treating her like an errant toddler.

As if he had room to judge her. From what she knew, he didn’t even have a house, let alone a glass one to be throwing around stones.

The server arrived, asking Cindy for her drink order, and saving her from further interrogation. She ordered a Merlot, though before the waitress could leave to retrieve it, Will stopped her.

“Could you also take our order?” He glanced at Cindy, displeasure oozing from him. “I’ve been sipping on my water for almost an hour waiting for you. We need to move this along. I need to stop at work tonight.”

“It’s a Friday. Take a break, Scrooge.” Cindy scoffed, annoyed at being rushed. She told the server to give her another minute.

It was a lie. She planned on ordering her usual but was getting a kick out of irritating Will.

When the waitress returned a few minutes later with her drink; Cindy asked for another minute. Will sighed and drummed his blunt fingertips on the glass table.

She sipped her wine, asking Greta how her day was going. Before she could answer Will cut in, “Are you going to even look at the menu?”

She was surprised to find he appeared slightly amused.

She gave him her sweetest smile. “No. I know what I want.”

He sighed, but the amusement was still in his eyes as he drawled, “Weekends might be when you flutter from one debutant ball to the next, us common folk have to work—”

“Hey,” Jacob interrupted. “As thrilling as it is to listen to you two snipe at each other, could we focus on why we are here? The wedding.”

Cindy let go of the snarky retort she had for Will. “You’re right. Anyway, I’m growing bored with his tedious chatter.” She sniffed.

In truth, a small part of her was enjoying their sparring. Most men fell over themselves to please her. This was at least interesting.

Will was looking heavenward, muttering something under his breath. Cindy swallowed a smile. This was fun.

“Okay.” He faced his brother. “As your Best Man, what do you two need?”

Guess we’re done playing. Damn.

“We wanted to talk about our bachelor and bachelorette parties. We have an idea,” Greta began, then stopped to glance around the table. “Although, after this lunch I’m not sure it will work.”

Cindy was intrigued and a little ashamed. The last thing she wanted to do was put a damper on her big sister’s wedding. “Tell us. Whatever you two want, we’ll make it happen.” 

She gazed at Will. He nodded.

Greta smiled, pleasure radiating from her. “Okay. So, instead of a separate night out, we thought it’d be fun to combine our wedding party. To do a weekend at a beach house, here in Michigan. Petoskey, perhaps. The ceremony is at the end of July. We could do the weekend sometime in June. That gives you two months to find a place and contact everyone in the wedding party.” She clapped her hands together, clearly excited with this plan. “What do you guys think? Is it something you could do? Together?”

A weekend at the beach sounded splendid. Planning it with Jacob’s curmudgeon brother, not so much. She liked trading insults with him, but he didn’t seem like a guy who relished indulging in anything fun.

His fingers tapped impatiently on the table, making her want to piss him off more, push his buttons. She refrained for her sister’s sake.

There weren’t many people she’d put before herself. Greta was of the select few.

Meeting Will’s eyes, she knew he’d do the same for his brother.

Cindy faced Greta and Jacob, putting on her best runway smile. “I’m in. It’s a great idea.”

Excerpt From: DK Marie. “Taste of Passion.”