Tori looked down at the mess of papers on her desk and began to straighten them. She wondered why she bothered, in two weeks the bank would foreclose and she would be left with nothing. Everything she had—her energy, countless hours, and all her money went into her business. Now, it was dying. A hopeless feeling came over her as she slumped into her leather chair.
Looking back, her business had been successful. She found it hard to believe she’d been taken in by her best friend, Rita, well now her former best friend. Rita had gone out of her way to ruin Tori and managed to do it in record time.
Why? Over a guy of course. Tori might have understood if she had been interested in the guy, but she wouldn’t touch that creep with a ten-foot pole. There was something eerie about him, and it scared her enough to warn Rita. But it was too late; Rita believed every word out of John’s lying mouth, and he was using her to destroy Tori. It wasn’t the first time thinking about John caused goosebumps to rise on her arms, sending a shiver through her. Automatically she brought her hands up to rub warmth back into her suddenly chilled skin. Time to call it a day, she thought, as she finished putting away the last of the paperwork. She would go home and get some rest while she could.
Loud laughter and footsteps echoed out in the hall. Taking a deep breath, Tori eavesdropped on the conversation.
“Are you sure this is the right place?” a deep male voice asked.
“I’m telling you, this is where Dante said to come,” a female voice replied.
“I don’t understand why the two of you couldn’t go on your own. Why did Dante have to drag me into it? The sound of the second male’s voice was enough to make Tori snatch open the door. She loved the sound of his voice—so deep every nerve ending in her body stood up and took notice.
“You agreed to be my best man,” the first male voice spoke again.
“I thought all I needed to do was hand you the ring. That’s what Lorali told me.”
“I’m sure I said more than that, Hale. Can we stop hanging out around the door and go in? I’m sure the occupant of the office is wondering what’s going on out here.”
Tori stood behind the desk, trying to look casual as her door opened allowing the voices from the hallway to enter.
“Come in.” She planted a smile on her face trying not to betray the avid curiosity she had now that she listened to their conversation.
A man and woman walked in holding hands. They had the look of a couple who were truly in love, and if the rock on her finger meant anything, they were engaged to be married.
The woman was beautiful, and the man was devastatingly handsome, but Tori couldn’t look away from the third person long enough to be sure. “Help me, please” she murmured to herself.
When did they start making men like him? He was incredibly tall with platinum hair that begged to be touched and stroked. Was it really as soft and silky as it looked? Could that be his real hair color? What about his eyes? She had never seen anything like them before. They seemed almost clear, like the rarest of diamonds.
When they simply looked at her, she realized she was staring and, yes, lusting after the Greek god who just walked into her office. Closing her mouth, she discreetly wiped the drool from the corner.
Pasting on an even brighter smile, Tori gathered her courage to speak. “Welcome to Weddings by Tori. How can I help you with your wedding needs?”
She wondered how long it would take before they apologized and fled. Surely they were looking for Grand Weddings by Rita.
“I told you we were in the right place.” The woman threw both men a smug look.
“Hi, I’m Lorali and this is Sergey.” Lorali indicated the man standing on her right. “We’re engaged to be married.” She gave Tori the dreamy smile of a woman in love.
Tori stopped responding to that smile ages ago, but Lorali’s smile managed to take her by surprise and Tori gave her a genuine smile in return.
“Hi, I’m Tori. It’s nice to meet you both. It is also nice to meet you.” Tori turned and acknowledged the other man in the room.
“I haven’t forgotten him.” Lorali smiled at him before adding. “Tori, this is Hale. He’s one of Sergey’s brothers. There are six of them, all as tall and as broad as these two and don’t get me started on their friends. Which brings me to the reason we’re here.”
“Why don’t you all sit first? Then you can tell me how I can help you.”
Tori did a bit of rearranging the chairs until she was sure they would be seated comfortably. Taking a seat at her desk, she motioned for Lorali to continue.
“I’m going to need a large private venue. It will need to have both indoor and outdoor space, preferably someplace with a pond or a lake. I’ll also need…”
The loud crash in the hallway drew their attention.
“Tori, are you in there? Did you do this to me?” There was a persistent banging on the door and the woman who finally walked in looked like she’d been caught in the rain.
“I’m tired of your tricks, Tori. You keep trying to steal my business, but it won’t work this time.”
Tori stared at Rita. She always believed Rita was the beautiful one as they grew up. Of course, her mother always told her she possessed a beauty that would make a man sell all his possessions to get a minute with her, but that’s what mothers were supposed to say. Rita’s blonde hair and sky blue eyes always reminded Tori of an angel. Now she realized fallen angel was the better description.
Tori sat back and decided she might as well enjoy the show. Rita was well versed in the theatrics of the poor victim. It never mattered in the past how much Tori protested. Every client believed Rita, although she’d never stooped this low before.
“Sorry to disappoint you folks, but Weddings by Tori is just a sham. She will take your money, then pull up roots and move on. I have a very nice office just down the hall and many successful weddings under my belt.”
Rita stopped to give them a sad smile as she gave Tori a quick look. “I tried to help her, but she doesn’t want help, just a fast buck. If you will follow me?”
“No.” Lorali’s voice was soft and sweet. The males on either side of her tensed up.
“I’m sorry. What did you say?” Rita asked. A look of disbelief slid across her face.
“I said ‘no’ we won’t follow you.”
“You can’t want to work with this cheat and swindler. She’ll take your money and provide you with a bad wedding reception. Believe me, she has nothing over what I can do.”
“I thought she was going to take our money and disappear. At least now I know we’ll get a reception.”
“Listen, Lady.” Rita’s sweet as pie veneer faded.
Tori sat up swinging her head from Lorali to Rita. This was better than any tennis game she ever watched. Lorali hadn’t fallen for Rita’s game when so many women before her had.
“You listen. Did you think I couldn’t hear you slide down the hallway like a snake to stop in front of this door? You pressed your ear against it to hear what I was saying and when you were sure I was actually interested in contracting Tori’s services, you doused yourself with water. I assume it was to try and make it look like Tori has a childish vendetta against you. I’m sure the cup is sitting beside the door. Then, you busted in here with your indignant act. I guess there is a possibility such an infantile act might work with some.” Lorali’s voice held a disgusted edge to it.
Hale got up and went to the door, bending down to retrieve the cup in question. “You may need this.” He tossed the cup at her like it offended him.
“Tori, would it be possible for us to go somewhere else to discuss my needs?” Lorali asked.
“Sure. We could grab a cup of coffee somewhere?”
“Actually, I have a friend who has a great restaurant. I have a feeling he’s expecting us,” Lorali said.
Tori shook her head as she tried to calculate if she had enough money in her bank account to eat. She was sure the answer was no.
They stood and headed towards the door as Rita looked at them with her mouth hanging open.
“After you,” Hale spoke to Rita, making sure she cleared out before they walked out and locked the door.
Hale sat in the back seat of the jeep looking out the window to make sure the small car behind them didn’t get lost.
He offered to ride with her, but she flushed a deep red and mumbled she would keep up.
A smile touched his lips. Tori was beautiful. Her shoulder length brown hair looked like it was spun from pure silk. He ached to stroke it the minute he saw her, and that was before she lifted her head and caught him in her chocolate gaze. Her eyes turned up at the corners, and she was blessed with a bow shaped mouth that begged him for a kiss. Her body was petite with an exotic flare. He would have expected to meet her on one of the pleasure planets, charging exorbitant amounts of credits for a chance to talk to her. She could bankrupt a male if he desired more.
‘Mate,’ his inner beast said. Almost unable to breathe, he sat stock still as he watched her. A bolt of electricity surged through his body as he recognized her as his.
He had a Mate. At the very thought, he puffed up his chest. The second youngest of six brothers, he had always stood in their shadow. When they found their mates, he acknowledged they deserved the honor. However, he never really thought it would happen to him.
Her skin was tanned to perfection. He would have called it sun-kissed, but it was quite obvious she neglected to go outside into the sun.
Now he would have someone to protect, and the beast inside of him roared his appreciation. On the world of his beast, a male was not truly a male until he had a mate to protect. A mate meant young ones and an abode that needed to be cared for and protected. Although Hale already had a place to live, it was simply an empty shell. Having a mate would turn it into a home.
He would have to thank Dante personally for insisting he go with Sergey and Lorali to meet the wedding coordinator.