Barefoot in White

Barefoot in White
Barefoot Bay Brides #1

Currently FREE! Meet the Barefoot Brides — three destination wedding planners who are experts at arranging dreamy “I do’s” but haven’t found their own happily ever after…yet. All that’s about to change in Barefoot Bay, a beloved tropical setting for heartbreak and happiness from New York Times bestselling author Roxanne St. Claire.

Willow Ambrose has fought a battle with the scale for much of her life, but she has finally won the war. She hasn’t just cut calories — she’s cut all ties to her past, too, and successfully carved out a new body and a new life. But when she comes face to face with someone who left an indelible mark on her heart years before, all that threatens to crumble.

Navy SEAL Nick Hershey is on medical leave, doing a friend a favor as a stand in “man of honor” at a beach wedding. He might not be that interested in the nuptials, but the wedding planner catches his eye the minute they meet. When he realizes Willow is a girl he knew in college — and a girl he unintentionally hurt to the core — he knows he has some making up to do.

Willow has learned how to beat every temptation…but Nick’s sweet as candy kisses just might be the one thing she can’t resist. However, the closer they get, the more the past threatens to tear them apart. Nick and Willow learn the hard way that they can’t change history, but does that mean they won’t have a future?

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Excerpt

“This one…” Willow sniffed her phone. “Yep, this one smells…” She sucked in a breath so deep it quivered her nostrils. “…like a whole bunch of trouble.”

“Her texts stink?” Gussie looked up from her place on the floor, where she sat surrounded by about a hundred different swatches of fabric.

“Like Limburger in the sun.” Willow exhaled and scrolled through the last five messages from the high-maintenance bride-to-be, clearing her throat to imitate this ass-pain of a bride. “My MOH and I will arrive at Casa Blanca on the fourth to do a full resort inspection and interview the wedding planning team, please include all amenities, especially all spa treatments.”

“So, no groom?” Gussie asked with a derisive snort. “Just the bride and maid of honor to do a resort review and planning session? Sounds like an excuse for a girls’ weekend of pampering and freebies, then they’ll probably end up holding the wedding at a different resort.”

“I doubt she’ll find a place that fast.” Willow kept reading. “Oh, this is my personal favorite. ‘Our villa must have two bedrooms and baths with direct ocean view.’” She rolled her eyes. “Can she not read a map of Florida to see that Barefoot Bay is on the Gulf of Mexico, not the Atlantic Ocean?”

“I don’t know if she can read a map, but I can tell you from the swatches she sent, she’s color-blind.” She waved some flesh-toned material.

“Oh, yeah. How are you doing with her ‘all tones of sand’ color palette selections?” Gussie lifted a section of pale lace, the material barely covering the purple bangs of today’s colorful wig. “You call this a palette? I call it beige, a dull and dangerous state of mind.”

“Told you. This…” She squinted at the bride’s name again. “Misty Trew is trouble.” Willow locked the screen and set the phone on her desk. “Not only does she come with no referral, but who chooses a destination resort a month before the wedding?”

“Someone pregnant,” Gussie suggested.

“Or someone the last bridal consultant dropped.”

“Or someone”—the third member of the Barefoot Brides wedding planning team popped into the office doorway, her whole face covered by a giant gift basket—“with a mongo budget who can get what they want.” Ari inched the basket to the side, her midnight eyes and jet-black hair contrasting the cream-colored bow around the cellophane wrapping. “Which is why I made this over-the-top welcome basket. Any volunteers to take it over to their villa? Bride and maid arrive in a few hours.”

Willow pushed back and stood. “I’ll go. I need the exercise.”

Ari choked softly. “Says the woman who ran two miles this morning.”

“Should have done four,” Willow said as she took the basket, eyeing the mouthwatering contents. “Especially if I knew I’d be left alone with this box of truffles.” She caressed the cellophane, giving a playful gasp when her fingers found an open seam. “Ooh, easy access, too.”

“As if you’d touch a truffle,” Ari teased.

“I have my moments. And our bride-to-be has a long list of demands, er, requests she sent, so I better make sure Artemisia is fully stocked right down to the Rosa Regale champagne that is, and I quote, ‘The only thing I can possibly drink.’

“Spike it with Prozac while you’re over there,” Gussie suggested.

Laughing, Willow gathered the basket to her chest and headed out of the Casa Blanca Resort & Spa administration area where Barefoot Brides had its one-office headquarters. The upscale resort hummed with the activity of a typical Friday morning, gearing up for a busy weekend in Barefoot Bay.

Outside, the sun was high enough to make the gulf—not the ocean—sparkle turquoise, the water laced with white froth on a picture-perfect late-April morning. Bright yellow umbrellas spilled over the sand like lemon drops in the sunshine.

Willow chose the shady red-brick path that cut through the resort and led to each of the private villas, all named for different North African flowers in keeping with the Moroccan-inspired architecture. With each tap of her feet on the walkway, she let herself slip deeper in love with this piece of paradise.

They had to make this work, no matter how many high-maintenance brides put them through the wringer. Pooling their individual wedding consultant businesses to form Barefoot Brides had been her idea. The three of them moving here to run destination weddings at Casa Blanca was not only a unique selling point for clients…it was the key to Willow’s personal happiness.

And she was happy, she reminded herself, humming a little, as though that soundtrack would prove the very thought to be true. So very happy and healthy and three thousand miles from California. New woman, new life, new everything.

Happy, happy, happy. The humming might be a little over-the-top, though.

Instead, she inhaled the briny bay air, stopping at the wrought iron gate that opened to Artemisia. Positioned on a rise, and angled so that the patio and pool faced the Gulf of Mexico, this butter-yellow villa was one of Willow’s favorites on the property. Setting the basket on the terra cotta steps that led up to the front door, she pulled her resort ID that doubled as a master key out of her pocket, unlocked the door, and scooped up the goodies to go inside.

The living area was darkened from sunshades on the windows, cool and quiet, with the welcoming aroma of sweet gardenias left by the Casa Blanca cleaning staff. Heading to the kitchen, Willow froze mid-step at the sound of…was that running water? No. A footstep? She listened for a minute, heard nothing, then—

“Will ya…will ya…be my girl?”

Singing. Someone was singing. Well, more like howling. Woefully off-key.

“Gotta know if it’s real, gotta know it’s forevah!”

Willow’s heart dropped so hard and fast the basket almost went with it. Was this some kind of joke? That song? That crappy, tacky, mess of metal that…that pretended to be a love song and paid for college and cars and everything else she’d had?

No one at this whole resort, on this island, or, hell, in the whole state of Florida, except for Ari and Gussie, could possibly know—

“No foolin’ around, for worse or for bettah!”

Son of a bitch, who’d found her out? Did Ari or Gussie tell someone that Willow’s father was a rock ’n’ roll household name? They’d promised not to.

Gripping the basket so tight she could crack the wicker, she marched into the hallway that separated the two bedrooms, calling out, “Excuse me!”

“Will ya…will ya…be my…”

“Hey!” She lowered the basket to peer over the top and…oh. Oh.

Back.

Ass.

Muscles.

Ink.

Ass again. It deserved a second look.

Girrrrl!” Tanned, muscular arms whacked the air, and a dark head of wet hair shook, sending droplets all the way down to…oh, really, that rear end was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.

“Come and take it, don’t ya fake it, we can make—”

She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. The words caught in her throat, lost as her gaze locked on the bare-naked man air-drumming like a raving lunatic in the middle of the bedroom, totally unaware she stood behind him.

“Luh-uuuuve…” He destroyed the note, and not in the good way her father intended when he wrote the song. No, Donny Zatarain would probably weep if he heard his signature rock anthem being butchered by this idiot wearing nothing but noise-canceling headphones.

“Excuse me!”

His arms never missed a beat of the drum solo she had memorized before she was five years old, each stroke tensing and bulging muscles she hadn’t even known existed. She opened her mouth to call out again, but that was a waste of time. Anyway, this particular feast for the eyes was way too good to pass up.

“Will ya, will ya be my girrrrrl?

But that song had to stop. She reached into the basket and grabbed the first thing her fingers touched: a nice ripe Florida orange. Yanking it out, she lobbed it as he hit the high C on “girl,” except he didn’t come anywhere near C, and the orange didn’t go anywhere near him.

Still, he spun around, jumping into a wide, threatening stance, both arms out like a warrior ready to attack. She blocked her face with the basket, peeking through the top spray of cellophane, silently thanking Ari for choosing clear.

Whoa, that was a big…man.

“What the…” he muttered after a second, whipping off the headset. “I didn’t hear you come in. You can put that down out there. Thanks.”

She didn’t move. Not even her eyes, which were riveted to…his…his…him.

“Thanks,” he repeated, the word tinged with impatience. “You can leave now.”

What if her client had come face-to-face with this? With that exposed…giant…breathtaking… She’d think this took “welcome package” to a whole new level.

“No, you can leave, because you are not in the right villa,” she said.

He scowled. Well, she assumed he scowled. It was difficult to see his face because she couldn’t stop looking at the rest of him.

“I’m in the right villa. Isn’t this Art..Arte…some flower that starts with an A?”

Was she in the wrong place? No, of course not.

Get a grip, Willow. He was just a naked man—okay, an exceptionally stunning naked man—and she had a job to do here. Which was to get him out of the villa.

“Artemisia,” she supplied, her arms starting to burn from holding the basket high enough to cover her face but still see. “And, yes, you are in the wrong villa, because we have guests booked to arrive soon, and you’re not one of them.”

He turned his hands skyward in a less threatening gesture, not that his hotter-than-a-thousand-suns body wasn’t threatening enough. “Yes, I am,” he said. “And if you will please turn around, miss, and leave that in the living room, we’re cool.”

“No, we are not cool.” There was an understatement. “Because I’m pretty sure you have more, um, body hair than the bride or maid of honor we’re expecting.”

He took a step closer, and she hoisted the basket high enough to completely cover her face.

“Man,” he said

“Excuse me?”

“I’m a man.” With two hands, he lowered the basket. “As you’ve obviously noticed. Man of honor. Not maid.”

The words registered, but not the meaning, because she was face-to-face with his broad chest and wide shoulders and a deep-purple tattoo of…oh, really? Was this God’s idea of a joke? That was the earth and star on the cover of Zenith, the number-one best-selling Z-Train record of all time. “Really?”

“Really. I’m the man of honor in Misty Trew’s wedding.” His tone was a mix of waning tolerance and growing amusement.

She finally lifted her eyes, finally coherent enough to process what he’d said, and realize the mistake was hers. “I get it,” she whispered, meeting cocoa-colored eyes as rich and inviting as the truffles in her arms, and a mouth that could be forgiven for whatever sour notes he’d hit with it, and…

Once more, the world slipped out from under her, this time because recognition nearly buckled her knees. “You’re…” Her throat closed.

“The man of honor.”

“No, you’re…” The one who…the boy who…no, now the man who…crushed her spirit.

“A male version of the maid.”

“You’re…” Nick Hershey.

“Naked,” he supplied, adding a slow, sexy, sinful smile. “But you’re not.”

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