Book two in a paranormal wedding planner series by RWA Golden Heart® Winner and RITA® Finalist, AE Jones
Sheila Hampton knows how to take care of herself. After being banished from her close-knit woodland nymph clan for defying her father, she has made her way in the human world on her own.
Now she works as an exercise instructor for stressed-out paranormal brides. If she can tell a vampire that no exercise plan in the world will help her lose weight, she can handle anything. Until her father lifts her banishment and tries to force her to marry as part of a political power play, and an unlikely hero steps forward.
Charlie Tucker is used to being on his own. A sea nymph with no ties to his clan, he joined the Navy and became a SEAL. He’s been in war zones. Eaten bugs to survive. So posing as Sheila’s fiancé should be a simple protection detail. No problem.
Except there is a problem—several, actually. Their clans are mortal enemies. They have to pretend to be in love when they can’t stand each other. Plus, they have to plan the biggest fake nymph wedding of the century. And when Sheila’s life is threatened, these two loners must put aside their differences and rely on each other.
Can this paranormal Romeo and Juliet find a way to change their tragic ending to a happily ever after?
A healthy bride…is a happy bride.
She was late! Sheila checked her watch again as she jogged down the hall. She was supposed to be participating in a conference call with a new bridal client, and if she didn’t hustle, she’d have some apologizing to do. She rounded the corner and slammed into her worst nightmare, Charles my-friends-call-me-Charlie Tucker. The last person she wanted to see or touch—sea nymph, mortal enemy, and all-around pain in the butt.
He grabbed her arms to stop her from falling on her bum and looked down at her, one side of his mouth quirking up while his brown eyes danced. “What’s your rush, tree hugger?”
She gritted her teeth. Over the last few months, his offhand comments had gotten more and more annoying. He flirted with anyone in a skirt, but for her he reserved insults. “Tree hugger? Oh, wait, I’m a woodland nymph so that means I hug trees, right? Funny. Now if you’ll excuse me, you’re going to make me late for the meeting.”
“I’m going to make you late?” He smirked. “The call already started.”
Shoot. “Then let me go so I can get in there. I’ve got to talk to the bride about a diet and exercise plan.”
“About that. I came out to find you so that I could give you some advice—”
She frowned. “You’re giving me advice about how to do my job?”
His eyebrows shot up. “Nope, on second thought, no advice from me. Wouldn’t think of it. Let me open the door for you. Don’t know why you’re standing out here talking to me when you’re late.”
A growl started low in her throat, but she covered it by coughing. The oaf brought out the worst in her. She’d almost growled at him. This wasn’t how she handled things. She hadn’t been raised to stoop to his level. But then sea nymphs weren’t known for being classy, were they?
Sheila sat down across from her best friend, Alex, who raised her eyebrows in a where-have-you-been look. Charlie swaggered in and propped himself up against the wall. Sheila ignored her and turned to the head of the table where Lorinda, Alex’s grandmother, spoke into the conference phone. The epitome of sophistication, Lorinda reminded Sheila of a blond Jackie O. She was also the CEO of For Better or For Worse, what Lorinda liked to refer to as the complete paranormal wedding experience.
“Melanie, of course your wishes are paramount,” Lorinda continued on the phone. “Peggy is our head wedding planner, and she will work directly with you to outline a full, personalized wedding portfolio to help you decide between us and the other contenders.”
Peggy rolled her eyes before introducing herself. What was the eye roll for? Apparently Sheila had missed something at the beginning of the call. Were they dealing with a bridezilla already?
Sheila couldn’t help but chuckle at the “new” Peggy sitting next to her. In the past, Peggy had looked like a fifties throwback, with a pageboy and cat’s-eye glasses. Now she’d decided the sixties were more her thing, and she was currently decked out in a short dress and a flip hairdo reminiscent of Carol from The Brady Bunch.
After a few more minutes, Peggy finished up, and Lorinda attempted to close the call before she remembered to introduce Sheila so she could go through her spiel.
Melanie interrupted Lorinda. “Before we hang up, we spoke earlier about the exercise wing of your business, and your director had not arrived yet.”
Lorinda cleared her throat. “Yes, well…”
“Hello, Melanie, my name is Sheila. I apologize for coming in late. I’m the fitness director here at the company.”
Peggy made a slashing motion over her throat.
“Oh, good, “Melanie continued. “I want to talk about an exercise plan. I understand you work one-on-one with the brides. I’ve heard wonderful things about you.”
“Well, thank you,” Sheila replied.
“I’m sure you can help me look my best in time for my wedding.”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
Peggy shook her head firmly. Sheila glanced at Alex, who shrugged, as if she was as clueless as Sheila.
“Great! None of the other companies I’ve spoken to have been helpful at all. I’ll be in town in a couple weeks, and we can meet live then. We’ll have to plan nighttime classes, of course, since I can’t come out during the day.”
Peggy sat up straighter and held two fingers up to her mouth, impersonating fangs.
Melanie was a vampire? Oh, Holy Fates, what had she just signed up for? She glanced at Charlie, who grinned wickedly back at her. Was that what he’d tried to tell her in the hall?
“Yes, well. We, um, yes—”
Lorinda interrupted Sheila. “Thank you, Melanie, for meeting with us today. We’ll pull together a portfolio to help you decide whether you’d like to sign on with us for our complete paranormal wedding experience.”
Melanie gushed about how excited she was before ending the call.
Sheila dropped her head into her hands.
“Way to go,” Peggy groaned.
Sheila sat up and glared at her. “You couldn’t warn me ahead of time? You wait and do the finger fangs after I introduce myself?”
“I had Charlie come out to warn you.”
Crap. There would be no living this down any time soon.
Charlie chuckled. “I guess you don’t need me to talk about security for the wedding. Unless you want me to plan something to protect the bride from us. I’ll leave you ladies to your conversation.” Charlie reached up and tipped the brim of an imaginary hat to Lorinda, and then winked at Sheila before leaving. Winked! What a show-off.
Sheila frowned at the moony faces of the women around the table as they watched him leave. What exactly was so great about Charles Tucker? Sure, she had to grudgingly admit he wasn’t half bad looking, and he was tall. She was tall herself, and there weren’t a lot of men she got to look up to. But he was like an overgrown child. His blond hair needed a cut, and his perpetual five-o’clock shadow was simply annoying. And of course there was the fact that his people and her people had been enemies for hundreds of years.
“I’m still too new to this whole supernatural world, so would someone please tell me what the heck just happened?” Alex asked.
Lorinda sighed. “When a vampire is turned, they stop aging. But it’s more than that. They remain exactly the same. The same body shape, the same weight. There is no diet and exercise plan that will help this bride lose weight.”
Alex’s mouth formed a perfect ‘O’ for a moment before she spoke. “And she doesn’t realize this?”
“She’s in denial, dear,” Lorinda replied, “and unfortunately, she now believes Sheila can help her.”
“And I just fed into her delusion,” Sheila said.