Wedding Planner Ashley Carpenter scanned the chapel, confirming she was alone. The drooping flowered garland flapped in the AC stream and threatened to topple the arch it covered if she didn’t act quickly. She was going to give the florist an earful about the install team’s rushed job. Slipping off her heels and hiking up her skirt, she stepped up on the pew closest to the wayward greenery to study the problem. Enveloped by the sweet aroma of peonies, magnolias, and gardenias, she drew a calming breath and reached over to attempt reattaching the swag.
“I wouldn’t if I were you.”
Ashley yelped and teetered at the sound of Paul Langston’s sultry Australian accent. She felt his steadying hand on her waist, singeing her through her suit jacket.
She huffed and shrugged him off. “I wouldn’t have nearly fallen if you hadn’t startled me!”
Paul cocked his head. “Mmmm, I wouldn’t be so sure.” He chuckled, and his green eyes had the audacity to sparkle.
Why did he have to be so attractive? He was one of the biggest flirts in the wedding industry, and she worked with him frequently. She wanted to dislike him for his flirty ways. She very much wanted said flirting to not affect her. But she could never quite make either of those wants become reality.
Just an hour ago, he had asked her out. Again. She had politely declined. Again. Each event she found herself working with Paul, she strove to maintain a cool, professional detachment. Still he pursued her. But how could he be sincere toward her when he endlessly flirted with everyone?
“Here, why don’t you let me?” Paul offered Ashley a dazzling smile along with his hand.
“I’ve got this. Don’t you have photographs to shoot? You know those detail shots won’t take themselves.” She hated how that gorgeous smile made her all tingly inside.
“I think you just like standing up there so you can tower over me. Which actually, I kinda like. I also like your bright pink toes.”
Ashely glanced down at her bare feet, and her face grew warm. It wasn’t exactly the style of Panache Weddings and Events for the company’s wedding planners to run around barefoot at their luxury events. Her boss would not approve. At least she had gotten a pedicure just yesterday so, yes, her hot pink-polished toes were on point.
Shaking her head, she turned her attention back to the dilemma. “Okay, I could use your help. See my emergency kit?” She gestured to a wheeled suitcase opened a couple of pews up across the aisle. “Can you find the green florist tape, please?”
His eyes followed her pointing then toggled back to her. “Don’t move, okay? And. Do. Not. Fall.” He scooted over to the bag and rummaged around. “Success!” He held up the requested tape as he strode back to her.
She couldn’t help but ogle tanned, muscular forearms revealed by his rolled-up sleeves. Who knew toting around heavy camera equipment for hours every weekend could build such muscles?
Down, girl. Stop thinking about his muscles.
She cleared her throat. “Tear off five long pieces. Please.” She turned again to investigate where to secure the heavy garland back to the wrought iron structure.
“Whatever you want, Ash.” Paul deftly ripped off lengths of tape, letting them hang off his fingers. “And no pressure, but if I’m remembering your schedule correctly, we’ve got to pick up the pace here.”
“I am aware of just how tight the timeline is,” she ground out and plucked a piece of tape off his proffered finger. “Speaking of, you have gotten the detail shots, right?”
“You wound me.” Paul flattened the palm of his tape-free hand across his heart. “Have I ever let you down?”
She nibbled her bottom lip and secured tape around the garland and arch, pondering his question. No, he had not once disappointed her. When she set aside the whole flirt thing, Paul exuded professionalism and talent. She worked with him often because he was an extraordinary photojournalist whose caliber matched that of Panache. And their clients adored his work.
She retrieved another piece of tape and let her thoughts continue. He was a team player, always jumping in to help whenever hiccups arose during events – as they tended to.
“No, Paul, you’ve never let me down.” Satisfied the garland was nearly reinforced, she took the last piece of tape from him. She leaned farther and stood on her tip-toes to reach the final spot. Shifting all her weight to one foot while she gingerly wrapped tape, she wobbled.
Paul exclaimed her name as she squealed and tipped off the pew. Ashley envisioned knocking herself unconscious, an ambulance, and a ruined wedding for her clients. But instead, she found herself in Paul’s sure arms, their faces inches apart.
She let herself fall into his fathomless green gaze. “Thanks,” she breathed, allowing her body to relax against him even as her heart raced.
“Any time.” He cleared his throat. “Ashley, why do you continue saying ‘no’ to me? Won’t you give us a chance?”
“Paul, why do you continue asking me? You flirt with everyone. Are you asking other women out, too?”
He eased her down onto her feet, but his hold kept their bodies close. “Ash, I am only interested in you. I’m friendly to everyone, yes. Flirty even. But it’s part of my job and how I do it so well. My goal is to encourage everyone to relax so I capture the truest candid shots. When I’m working, that’s the persona I don with everyone. It’s easier to stay in character, so to speak.”
He tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, then rested his hand on her shoulder. “What do you say, Ashley? Please, will you allow me to take you on a date?”
In his evergreen eyes she read vulnerability and sincerity. A smile crept up her face. “Okay, Paul. Yes.”
When not figuring out plots or tinkering with words, Laura can be found spending time with her husband, cheering on their kids in sports, reading, cooking, or doing something active.
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