Getting clocked in the jaw and dropped like a sack of bricks was perfectly in keeping with the rest of Rosemary Montgomery’s day. In fact, it just might have been the highlight.
The day had started on such an optimistic note. She woke up in plenty of time to catch her eight a.m. flight to Kansas City out of LAX. Knowing she was on her way to meet her newly-famous sister, Lily, and join an even more famous rock band’s tour for a few weeks, she had given herself extra time to style her hair, put on makeup, and dress in a killer outfit.
“Nice choice on the dress,” her best friend and roommate, Monique, told her after giving her a careful once-over. “It reflects your Bohemian style. Flattering, yet professional. You’ll fit right in with The Void and their fans.”
“Thanks, Mon.” Rosemary relied on her friend’s judgment for such things. They were both event planners, but where Rosemary had more of a head for the business end of event planning, Monique was a designer at heart. “Keep that up and maybe I won’t feel like I’m going to hurl all day long,” she said as she applied her mascara.
“You’ll be fine,” Monique assured her from the edge of the bathtub where she sat watching Rosemary get ready. “The job’s already yours. You’re about to plan the biggest wedding Petit Planning has ever contracted.”
Rosemary’s stomach twisted again at the reminder of what she was about to undertake. Lily had called her four days ago—had it really only been four days?—telling Rosemary that she had gotten in over her head with her recent engagement to The Void’s front man, Archer. Apparently Archer wanted the wedding to happen sooner rather than later. Between that and the media pressing Lily for details every time they talked to her, Lily had quickly determined she needed help. She had called Rosemary and asked if she would be willing to meet up with her on the tour to at least get some of the plans rolling.
The caveat? Rosemary had to be willing to be filmed for House of Archer, the popular reality show following the band on their current tour.
Over the past month, Rosemary had watched several trailers for the show as well as the first couple episodes. The show was addicting…full of intrigue and drama, especially regarding Lily and her relationship with Archer. The producers seemed to be doing their best to cast Lily in a villainous light. Rosemary suspected that was what kept viewers tuned in every week. They were waiting to see when Archer would either see Lily for the scheming gold digger she appeared to be or fall victim to her wiles and watch his career go up in flames.
Rosemary had seen the two of them at a recent dinner with her dysfunctional family. She had witnessed the love they shared. They were a solid unit, two best friends who had fallen in love eight years after they met. Her experience as a wedding planner gave her unique insights into couples and whether they would make it for the long haul. Lily and Archer were the real deal. The show’s footage must have been edited to make their relationship look far less stable than it was.
Having seen how the show portrayed Lily, Rosemary was hesitant to agree to appear on it herself. She had her career to consider, after all. Yes, this was an incredible opportunity, but would this kind of exposure do her reputation more harm than good?
Monique had been in the room when Lily’s call came in. She had shamelessly gotten as close to Rosemary as she could to hear through the phone’s earpiece. When Rosemary hesitated to agree to be on the show, Monique had stepped right in.
“Of course!” she had exclaimed.
Lily had thought it was Rosemary agreeing. Before Rosemary could fully register what was happening, she was told that The Void’s tour manager would be in touch with her soon to make the travel arrangements. Her return trip home would be open-ended so she could work with Lily on the wedding plans and hopefully finalize some of the biggest checklist items in the coming few weeks. Lily had sounded so relieved over Rosemary’s—or rather Monique’s—agreement that Rosemary hadn’t had the heart to back out.
“I’ll be your legs here in L.A.,” Monique reminded Rosemary now as she packed her cosmetics bag. “We’ll tag team this one. And you know Ines will want to oversee everything we do.”
Ines was Monique’s mother—not the “call me Mom” type—and the owner and founder of Petit Planning. She was as much a mother to Rosemary as any non-biological parent could be. She was also a savvy and shrewd businesswoman who had cut a niche for herself in L.A.’s fiercely competitive event planning market.
It had been Ines who suggested leaving the travel plans open-ended, shocking Rosemary. Even though July was their slowest month for events, they were prepping for a crazy August, which should have meant all hands on deck. They weren’t usually allowed time off during the peak season unless someone died…and that someone had better be a direct blood relative. Rather than adhere to that firm rule, Ines had offered to personally handle all of Rosemary’s events so that Rosemary could see this through.
“You’re about to put Petit Planning on the map,” Ines had explained. “You’ll be mentioned everywhere in the media.”
That had made Rosemary more uncomfortable than excited. “But Lily and I haven’t even talked about a budget. What if they want me to work pro bono?”
Ines had issued a rich, throaty laugh. “Darling, I couldn’t pay for the exposure you’re going to bring to my company by planning this wedding. I’ve been trying to get a celebrity wedding of this caliber since I opened my doors. If they want you to work for free, so be it…but do your best to get paid. Archer is loaded.”
Rosemary hadn’t needed Ines to point that out. The guy was a famous actor and rock star, for goodness’ sake. She had also heard it often enough from her Void-obsessed younger half-sisters, Caroline and Bridgette. If she really wanted to know how much her future brother-in-law was worth she probably could have found out easily enough on the internet, but Rosemary felt slimy at the thought of researching Lily’s fiancé. She’d leave the tabloid reading to the rest of her family, thank you very much.
Monique reminded her of Ines’ words as she drove Rosemary to the airport. “This is beyond big, Rose. If we can pull this off, maybe Ines will consider making us partners.”
That had helped calm some of Rosemary’s nerves. She had been working for Ines since she was a junior in high school. She had learned the ins and outs of planning events of all kinds, from weddings to corporate events and everything in-between. With more than eight years of experience under her belt, she felt ready to advance in her career.
Monique was right. This experience might be terrifying from the “I’m going to be on TV while hanging out with famous people” perspective, but it was also exhilarating. If this went well, it would make her career.
That thought had buoyed her throughout the stressful drive through L.A. traffic, the long wait through the airport’s security line, and having to sit on the floor at the airline’s gate because every seat was full. Her mood hadn’t even faltered when the airline employee made the announcement that their flight was delayed.
The first time.
By the third delay, she started getting antsy. She was a punctual person. A planner. Yes, she had long ago learned how to adjust plans on the fly since no event was flawless, but that didn’t make her any more comfortable with unforeseen problems, especially when she was powerless to do anything to fix them. All she could do was text Lily updates as she got them from the airline. Lily, in turn, did what she could to adjust the plans from her end. She wanted to meet Rosemary at the airport. The longer the delays took, however, the less likely that would happen due to Lily’s busy schedule.
Two hours into her wait, Rosemary realized one of her contacts didn’t feel right. She went to the bathroom and discovered that the contact was torn. She’d had to dispose of it and store the other one until she could get a replacement from her checked bag. Her only viable option for eyewear at that point was the backup glasses she should have had adjusted two prescriptions ago. She’d opted to invest her limited funds in contacts instead. The glasses were large, clunky, and blurred the vision in her left eye enough that she soon developed a headache. It was either that or sit in the airport blind as Mr. Magoo, so she took a couple of aspirin and dealt with it.
Four hours after the scheduled departure time, the airline finally got their act together and loaded everyone onto the plane. Rosemary was half thrilled to finally be on the plane and half terrified that it had taken so long to fix whatever had grounded it in the first place. She worried they would drop out of the air halfway through the nearly three-hour flight.
The Void’s tour manager had booked her a window seat at her request, apologizing that there weren’t any first class seats available on the date Rosemary wanted to travel. Rosemary hadn’t minded. She’d only ever traveled coach, so it wasn’t like she knew what she was missing. As long as she could see out the window, she’d be fine.
That opinion changed thirty minutes into the flight when she found out her Kindle hadn’t fully charged overnight. It went dead in her hands in the middle of a scene where the hero was about to declare his love to the heroine.
“No!” she cried, shaking her Kindle as though that would breathe new life into it. Despite her attempts to power it off and back on, it remained blank. “Come on!”
A number of heads swiveled in her direction. She ignored them. They didn’t understand her pain. She grabbed her phone and opened her Kindle app only to find that she hadn’t downloaded this particular book to her phone yet. Since she didn’t have Wi-Fi access, she was out of luck. Not to mention that her phone’s battery was below forty-percent already.
Things started looking up when the attractive guy sitting beside her took advantage of her bookless status and struck up a conversation with her. While she wasn’t generally the social type, far be it for her to ignore a cute guy trying to get her attention.
They chatted for nearly an hour. His name was Tanner and he was headed to Kansas City for business. He did something in commercial banking that he swore was more interesting than it sounded, which made her laugh. At thirty, he was five years older than her, which meant he was more mature than the losers she’d dated most of her life. He didn’t wear a wedding ring and talked about his nieces and nephews as though he liked kids. Perhaps even more importantly, he didn’t immediately compare her to JLo when he found out she planned weddings.
That movie had really ruined it for real wedding planners.
Tanner was ticking most of the boxes on her personal “ideal guy” list, which was why she initially mistook the warmth between her legs as something of an intimate nature. She hadn’t really felt that spark she kept hoping to feel with him, but she chalked the warmth up to it having been nearly two years since she last had sex. That kind of time could make a woman a little desperate.
Ten minutes and a series of cramps later, she finally realized she had been mistaken. That wet warmth wasn’t at all intimate or sexy. It was that sadistic bitch Mother Nature paying her a visit an entire week early.
She excused herself with her purse and hurried down the aisle to the bathroom, where she discovered that she had bled all the way through her skirt. Not just a little, either. Oh, no. It was like the Great Flood had decided to revisit. She had some supplies in her purse, but that did nothing for the huge stain across the back of her ass.
And, dear God, her ass had been all but in Tanner’s face when she edged past him to get out of the aisle.
As tempted as she was to spend the remaining hour of the flight in the tiny, fume-laden bathroom hiding from Tanner and anyone else who had glimpsed her, she knew she couldn’t. She removed her stylish jacket and tied it around her waist to hide the stain and exited the bathroom to make her way back to her seat.
Things didn’t get better when she reached it. Both Tanner and the older gentleman in the aisle seat rose and stood to allow her to pass. Neither of them looked her in the eye. She was tempted to apologize, but what would she say?
Sorry about the enormous blood stain in your face. Just a friendly reminder of how good you guys have it. Ha, ha!
Instead she remained silent, sinking back down into the seat she saw was also stained and wondering if the airline was going to charge her for it. Tanner returned to his seat and promptly put in his earbuds, cueing up the next song on his phone’s playlist. When she saw The Void’s song “Welcome to Wonderland” on the list, she almost used it as a conversation starter…but that ship had clearly sailed.
Guess her self-imposed sexual hiatus was no longer at risk of ending.
With nothing else to do, she read the well-used magazines in the back pocket of the seat in front of her and tried not to think about the various diseases the previous passengers might have left behind on the glossy pages.
The fun continued once they finally disembarked in Kansas City. A female passenger caught up with her shortly after she stepped into the terminal to let her know that the back of her jacket was stained. It seemed the stain from the seat had leeched into the fabric. Rosemary was now wearing a stained jacket to cover up a stained dress.
Just freaking perfect.
Unwilling to parade around in public like that, she stopped at the closest gift shop and overpaid for a Kansas City hoodie that she tied around her waist after stuffing the stained jacket into her carry-on. She had intended to get a memento from each of the cities she’d be visiting during this time with Lily anyway, she reminded herself, so this wasn’t a complete waste of money.
Yeah, right, her bank account responded.
She had received several texts from Lily, so she gave her a call. It was after five o’clock in Kansas City, which meant Lily and The Void were already at that night’s concert venue. Lily offered to leave the venue to pick her up but Rosemary told her not to worry about it. She’d take a cab straight to the venue and meet up with Lily there.
By the time she managed to get her luggage and haul it out to the taxi stand, she questioned her sanity. It was pouring outside, the wind lashing the airport with sheets of rain and making it impossible to stay dry as she waited in the taxi line. Her carefully styled hair and makeup were completely ruined. She spent the drive in the back of the cab using a Kleenex to wipe off her streaky makeup and trying to pull her hair back into a bun that didn’t look like it had been styled with a weed whacker.
Even though she gave the taxi driver the specific instructions from Lily on where to drop her off so she could get the concert ticket and pass that she would need to enter the venue, Rosemary ended up in the wrong place. Of course, she didn’t realize that until after the driver had unloaded all of her luggage and left her there. Thank heavens the rain had stopped by then.
She spent thirty minutes walking around the venue until she found someone who could help her. She ended up standing with all of her luggage at a small window off to the side of the main entrance where fans were currently streaming in. Loud music poured through the doors every time someone walked through them. It wasn’t The Void playing, Rosemary knew that much. At least she wasn’t too late to hear them.
Looking at Rosemary like she had just crawled out of a sewer, the older woman behind the window scanned her ID and handed over her ticket and pass. “You want to leave all that luggage up here, honey?” the woman asked.
“Could I?” Rosemary asked, relieved that she might not have to haul it through the entire venue on top of everything else that day.
“Sure. Come around back here and leave it inside the booth. You can pick it up after the concert.”
“Thank you so much,” Rosemary said as she deposited her bags, keeping only her purse. “You’re a lifesaver.”
“No problem, hon. Enjoy the show.”
Once again, Rosemary’s spirits lifted. Yes, it had been a miserable day, but now she was here and could finally begin to enjoy herself.
She put on the lanyard holding the pass Lily had left for her and headed into the venue. The people monitoring admittance glanced at her pass, scanned her ticket, and let her in along with everyone else flowing through the doors. It didn’t occur to her until after she got inside that she didn’t know where to go to meet Lily.
When she pulled out her phone to contact her sister, it was dead. She asked someone if she could borrow their phone only to completely blank on Lily’s cell number.
She also belatedly remembered that she had wanted to change into fresh contact lenses, but they were now back in the booth in her luggage. She debated whether it was worth taking the time to go back for them and decided not to bother. She had held Lily up enough. Now she just had to find her.
She went up to the closest security guy she could find and, after following his instructions to the next security checkpoint, began a fifteen-minute adventure through the venue’s underbelly trying to find the green rooms where the tour’s acts all hung out while waiting to perform. Lily said she would wait in her green room until Rosemary got there. Little had Rosemary known that the route to get there would be more complicated to navigate than the Minotaur’s Labyrinth.
Security got more stringent the deeper into the venue she went. Eventually she just kept her ID out and repeated her story about being Lily’s sister to everyone who questioned her. They took one good look at her and her ID, saw the resemblance to Lily, and directed her on to the next segment of her journey.
At long, long last, a woman informed her that the green rooms were only a couple of turns away. A left, a right, and another left.
She took off at a brisk pace, knowing The Void was about to take the stage.
First left, she thought, hurrying around the bend.
Then the next right.
She never saw it coming. One second she was on her feet, the next she was sprawled on the ground feeling like Muhammad Ali had just plowed his fist into her face.
“Oh, shit! I mean, sorry. God…are you all right?”
The concerned male voice vaguely registered in her ringing head. She blinked up at the fluorescent lights flickering on the ceiling. They were blurry because her glasses had flown off her face with the impact. Pain radiated along her chin where she’d been struck. Her thick bun had thankfully spared the back of her head from much trauma. The skirt of her dress was bunched inelegantly up around her thighs, quite possibly giving the guy a glimpse of the stained underwear she had yet to change.
All at once, the absurdity of her day overwhelmed her. She burst into hysterical laughter. She laughed so hard that her eyes filled with tears…though her disastrous day might also have been to blame for that.
The guy went to one knee beside her. “I’m so sorry,” he said again. “Are you okay?”
A large black object filled her peripheral vision, prompting her to look over to see what it was. She realized that the rectangular box currently balanced on his knee was what had struck her. She wondered if the logo was imprinted on her skin.
“I’m peachy,” she lied, using an elbow to wedge herself up. “But please tell me I didn’t just damage a thousand-dollar piece of sound equipment.”
She pushed herself up into a sitting position and looked around for her glasses. “That’s a mixer, right? A Behringer?”
“Uh, yeah.” The guy sounded surprised she knew that.
“Are you a DJ?” she asked.
She found her glasses and put them on. They were scratched and smeared to hell.
Of course they were.
“No,” he said. “Are you?”
“Nah. I just know a lot of ‘em.” She resumed her hunt around the floor. “Do you see a driver’s license with a truly atrocious photo on it anywhere?”
“No, but there’s one in my wallet if you want to borrow it.”
She laughed, forgetting about the lingering pain in her face. Her gaze finally moved to the guy. He stared back at her. Her pulse immediately leaped into overdrive.
Wow, she thought. He’s a total hottie!
Lily’s voice came to them from somewhere nearby. Rosemary couldn’t look away from the golden eyes currently holding steady on hers from behind a pair of dark-rimmed glasses. It clicked in the back of her mind that she was staring at Sage Strickland, The Void’s sound specialist. That explained why he was running through the halls with an expensive digital mixer in his hands.
“Yeah,” Sage replied over his shoulder, not looking away from Rosemary.
“What in the world are you doing?” Lily asked, hurrying over to them. “You’re late. Christopher is going to kill you.”
“I know. I’m going.”
He stood up and reached down to help Rosemary to her feet. When she placed her hand in his, she felt the tingle of it all the way along her arm. It had her breath tangling in her throat.
He pulled her up so easily that she stumbled into him. Her free hand instinctively went up to brace herself against his chest. She almost licked her lips when she felt the hard body beneath the T-shirt and suit jacket he was wearing. Her eyes once again met his and stayed there for a long, palpable beat.
“Let’s go, Strickland,” came a low male drawl. “You’ve got a crowd waitin’ for you.”
Rosemary glanced over as a dark-haired, blue-eyed guy in a suit approached. She thought he looked like a federal agent or something. It was enough to have her stepping back.
“You’ve got to go, Sage,” Lily urged, giving him a light shove.
“I know,” he said again, still looking at Rosemary. “Sorry again. Really.”
“It’s fine,” Rosemary assured him. “Break a leg.”
He smiled. The sight of it had her heart jitterbugging in her chest. The other guy took him by the arm and started walking, dragging him along. Rosemary watched them both until they disappeared around the corner.
“I’m so glad you’re finally here, Rosie,” Lily said, drawing her into a hug. “It sounds like you’ve had the day from hell. Judging by your position on the floor a minute ago, it hasn’t gotten any better.”
Rosemary found herself smiling as she returned her sister’s hug. Thinking of a pair of warm golden eyes and an adorable smile, she replied, “I’m glad I’m finally here too, Lil. And you know what? It’s turning out to be a damn good day.”