Excerpt: One Summer
Book 2 : Shelter Bay Series
After having spent over a decade in war zones and other hot spots around the globe, Gabriel St. James was an expert at zeroing in on a shot. Even when that target was in a bustling crowd of people, as this one was.
Unlike most people on the planet, Gabriel hated weddings. Although there were those in the military who’d called his ability to nail the perfect shot preternatural, and he was more than capable of lowering his cone of silence to shut out the bedlam of merrymaking, weddings were just a screwup waiting to happen.
There were too many people. Too many variables. Too many chances of someone stumbling between himself and his target.
But against his better judgment, he’d signed on to this mission solely due to loyalty. When you’d been in the trenches with a guy, when you became even closer than blood brothers, you owed him.
Simple as that.
The bride and groom were dancing. Twirling around the floor, like a couple on top of a wedding cake come to life. He was looking down at her in a besotted, goofy way that suggested if he dropped dead at that moment, he’d die a happy man.
She was smiling up at him as if she felt the same way.
Damn. Gabe really hated to see another one bite the dust.
Not that it was any of his business. This was a mission. Same as any other.
He narrowed his field of vision, cutting out the musicians, the guests, along with the rest of the wedding party. Then further.
Gone was the bride’s fairy frothy white lace princess dress. And the groom’s snazzy military uniform with the shiny brass buttons and colorful field of service ribbons.
He’d closed his focus down to two faces, which were about to be frozen in time.
Gabe took a deep breath, the way Marine sniper scouts were taught to do before taking a shot. Steadied his heartbeat.
Put his finger on the trigger.
Because he was a professional, and because they were lost in their own lovey-dovey world, neither the bride nor the groom noticed him.
Or his camera.
“You know,” a woman’s voice behind him said, “you are allowed to enjoy yourself at a wedding.”
“I happen to be working.”
He tilted the Nikon to portrait and took a vertical shot. God. Was a dip the most clichéd photo ever?
But the bride had been very specific about what the bride wanted, and apparently big tough Marine Cole Douchett wasn’t about to deny her anything her little heart desired. In fact, Gabe’s former battle buddy was so besotted, Gabe wouldn’t have been surprised if when he printed the photos, little pink hearts would show up dancing around their heads.
“I’ve noticed. You’re very diligent.”
When she paused, as if expecting him to comment, Gabe remained silent, hoping she’d go away. She didn’t. Nor did her scent, which reminded him of a summer meadow blooming with lavender and wildflowers.
“You’re not like any other wedding photographer I’ve met,” she said conversationally.
“Thank God for that.” Oh, hell. Not the garter shot. Why didn’t they just take him out and shoot him so he could get this day over with? “Met a lot of wedding photographers, have you?”
He’d taken an oath to follow fellow Marines through the gates of hell, if necessary. Gabe had never envisioned that might someday include wedding duty.
“Quite a few, actually.”
Cole was now kneeling in front of the chair and had begun stripping the bit of pink and white lace from the bride’s thigh. The new Mrs. Cole Douchett did have dynamite legs—he’d give her that.
“What are you? A wedding planner or something?” He hadn’t met one at last night’s rehearsal dinner, but then again, after taking the obligatory shots, he’d gone back to the campground, where he’d spent the night in his RV with a beer and a ball game.
“No. I’ve just been in a lot of wedding parties the past few years. They seem contagious. Weddings, that is.”
“I guess like the flu.” Cole was taking the garter off with his teeth. Was that even allowed in mixed company with children present? Apparently so, since, by their hoots and cheers, the spectators all appeared to be enjoying the show immensely.
“Always a bridesmaid?” he asked. The damn fragrant cloud, more aura than perfume, was surrounding them. Even as he fought against it, Gabe found himself being drawn to it.
“Not always. I’ve done the white tulle thing.” She paused again. He thought he heard a sigh. “It didn’t work out.”
“Sorry about that.”
“So was I. For a time. But then I decided I was mostly upset because I really hate failing at anything.”
“Join the club.”
Since she apparently wasn’t going to go away, after he captured the garter toss for posterity, Gabe finally lowered his camera and glanced over at her.
She was tall. Lean, but not in a skinny, Hollywood actress way. The pale yellow sleeveless dress that skimmed her body revealed well-toned arms and defined thighs that looked as if she’d spent a lot of time doing PT. Sleek dark hair was pulled back in a tidy tail that fell just below her shoulders, and if he’d been a portrait photographer, which he damn well wasn’t, or possessed a romantic bent, which he didn’t, her cool green eyes would remind him of a primeval rain forest. “If you’re not a wedding planner or a bridesmaid, what are you?”
That got his attention. Momentarily forgetting the show going on, he narrowed his gaze and gave her another longer, more judicial perusal. “Which branch?”
“What branch of the military were you in?”
“Oh!” Intelligent eyes lit up as comprehension dawned. “Sorry. My mistake. I’m not former military. I’m a veterinarian-type vet. Small animals. Dogs, cats, and birds, mostly. Along with the occasional reptile. Just anything that can be qualified as a family pet.”
“Sounds interesting.” Oh, oorah. They were moving on to the bouquet toss.
“I like it.” She followed his gaze. “Well, I guess I’d better let you get back to work.”
It had been a very long time since Gabe had endured any sort of casual conversation. Longer since he’d talked at any length with any woman other than his agent. His social skills had definitely gotten rusty.
As he watched the woman whose name he hadn’t bothered to ask walk away, he felt a twinge of regret.
Then shook it off as the bride prepared for the damn requisite bouquet toss.
A clutch of women had gathered round, like basketball players getting braced for a jump shot. The brunette, he noticed, showed a distinct lack of interest as she skirted the crowd.
Click. Gabe caught the bouquet as it left the laughing bride’s hand.
Click. Shot it again as it arced through the air.
Although the new Mrs. Cole Douchett didn’t even come to her husband’s shoulder, the woman had a hell of an arm on her. The lilies tied up in purple ribbon went flying through the air, over the waiting women’s outstretched hands, and smacked against the front of the vet’s yellow dress.
Acting on instinct, she caught hold of it. Her expression, visible in Gabe’s lens, was that of someone who’d just caught a live grenade.
As if sensing him watching her, she glanced toward him.
And click! Was instantly captured.
She rolled her expressive eyes. Then smiled in a way that had him thinking things. Hot sweaty things. Things he had no business thinking.
But that didn’t stop him from imagining shooting her naked. Lying in the middle of tangled sheets. Or maybe on a blanket in a mountain meadow, looking flushed and satisfied.
Don’t go there.
He was just trying to convince himself that walking across the room and attempting to pick her up would be the mother of all boneheaded moves when the wedding party moved on to the pyramid of cupcakes that the bride had chosen instead of a traditional wedding cake.
At the same time, the vet tossed the bouquet back into the clutch of eager females, wagged her fingers at him, and, slender hips swaying on a pair of ice-pick heels that matched her dress, walked out the door. And out of his life.
Or so he thought.