Josh Landry is one of the hottest bartenders in New Orleans. He’s shown many a female tourist that things are definitely big and easy down here.
And he’s now been celibate for a year. Because he finally met her.
Yes, her. The One.
But, after nothing more than a hot goodnight kiss and a promise to meet up again next year if they’re both still interested, she went home to Iowa.
It’s been a long year.
But now it’s Mardi Gras again and he’s ready for his happily ever after.
If she shows up.
Oh, she shows up. For her best friend’s wedding.
But Tori is a terrible bridesmaid because all she can think about is her knight-in-shining-Mardi-Gras-beads from last year.
Well, and because she accidentally lays a hot kiss on her BFF.
Aka, the groom.
Unfortunately, no one believes that it was a case of mistaken identity. So, now she has to convince everyone she has no intention of ruining the wedding. She’s going to need a crazy-about-her boyfriend ASAP. Even if he’s just faking it.
Well there’s only one other person she knows in Louisiana…
Josh is all in. In fact, he’s thrilled. And he’s not faking anything.
But the groom isn’t faking his sudden case of cold feet either.
And now Tori might have a choice to make.
Available at the following retailers:
She turned away from the bar, trying to decide if she should try to wait for Andrew outside or if her chances of finding him were just as good, i.e. horrible, out there as they were in here.
Tori surveyed the room as she took another drink. And suddenly froze.
He was here.
Josh. Josh Landry was here.
Her throat attempted to swallow her gin fizz at the same time she tried to take a deep breath and she sucked gin, half-and-half, and lemon juice partway down her windpipe. She started hacking and coughing. No one seemed to notice. Except him.
The guy with the wide shoulders and dark hair, wearing ass-hugging jeans and a black mask with gold trim turned to her. He started for her.
She was still coughing as her heart started racing. That was him. The mask covered his whole face except for his mouth and the sexy short beard, but everything about him was familiar. She’d definitely seen that mouth before. And he’d obviously recognized her.
“Tori? Is that you?”
Over the din of conversation around them, it was hard to hear him, but she knew he’d called her by name. He’d definitely recognized her. Oh my God, he’s here.
She was wearing a mask, too, she suddenly remembered, so she nodded quickly. “It’s me,” she croaked.
“Are you okay?”
She wasn’t. She was feeling jittery and so damned happy to see him and more than a little relieved. She felt like she wanted to cry, actually. She also felt like laughing hysterically. Adrenaline. She knew that. On top of the stress of Andrew’s wedding plans and Paisley and being on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras for the past two hours when she was used to wide open spaces, dark and quiet, with no humans for miles. Everything about this night had her off-kilter.
She had no idea what to say. So, instead of saying anything, she grabbed the front of his shirt, pulled him in, and kissed him.
It took her about three seconds to realize that this was not Josh Landry.
Tori started to pull back, but the guy wrapped his arm around her waist, his big hand splayed over her lower back, and brought her up against him. He opened his mouth and deepened the kiss, moving his lips over hers. She gripped his shoulders to keep from tipping over, though with the hold he had on her, that was a low risk.
The kiss wasn’t bad. It was actually an okay kiss. And there was something familiar about it.
But this was not Josh.
Yet, this guy had called her Tori. And he seemed fully comfortable being in her personal space. And he hadn’t seemed overly shocked by her kissing him. In fact, he was very much going along with it.
She felt him groan slightly as he slid his tongue against hers and registered the fact that he was enjoying this. The feeling of familiarity continued as she breathed in, taking his scent in.
And that was when it hit her.
Tori shoved him back.
He didn’t go far, since he still had a pretty firm hold on her, but she was definitely staring up into the eyes of her best friend. No wonder he’d seemed familiar walking toward her. She should have known him right away. That just went to show how obsessed her mind had been with Josh. She’d wanted to see him and so the first male who seemed familiar automatically became him? Wow, that was crazy.
“What are you doing?” she asked Andrew.
“What do you mean?”
How had she not noticed his cologne immediately? It was as familiar to her as the smell of her farm. She internally winced. Okay, that didn’t sound very flattering. But Andrew’s cologne was as ingrained in her brain as the smell of home. But honestly, they were surrounded by so many people, so many smells, that until she was this close—and not thinking of Josh—she hadn’t noticed.
“You’re kissing me!” she exclaimed, pushing against his chest.
He gave her a little smile that was absolutely familiar. If only he’d smiled at her when he’d come up to her a minute ago. She would have known him for sure then.
“Actually, you kissed me,” he told her, still not letting go of her.
She pushed him back again. “I thought you—”
“What the hell is going on?”
The screech was shrill enough that it stopped conversation for an impressively large circumference around them.
Andrew let go of Tori then.
Tori turned to face Paisley. The bubbly blonde bride-to-be was not looking so bubbly right now. In fact, she looked capable of homicide. And her chosen victim was quite obvious. Tori took a step back—right into Andrew.
His hands went to her hips, to steady her, but she could only imagine how it looked.
Not good, judging by the narrowing of Paisley’s heavily made up eyes.
“Hey, babe,” Andrew greeted, stupidly not letting go of Tori. “Just a mistake. We’re both drunk and—”
“She’s barely had anything to drink,” Paisley said, planting one hand on her hip and pointing her other index finger—with the very sharp looking nail—at Tori. “She’s not drunk.”
“I thought he was someone else,” Tori said quickly, moving away from Andrew.
She stepped to the side rather than forward, and closer to Paisley, but with the crowd there wasn’t very far to go.
“See, mistake,” Andrew said.
Tori nodded. “Total mistake.”
“You didn’t know who she was?” Paisley asked Andrew, one perfect eyebrow arched.
“Which means you were just kissing some stranger then?” Paisley continued. “How is that better?”
“No, I knew it was her,” Andrew said.
Maybe he thought that kissing a stranger would be worse and this was the reassurance Paisley wanted, but, well, it didn’t work that way.
Paisley burst into tears.
Oh, shit. Tori took a step toward the other woman. “Paisley, I swear I thought he was Josh.”
Paisley gave her a look that chilled Tori to the bone. She quickly took that step back again. And then another.
“Who the hell is Josh?” The question didn’t come from Paisley, though. It was from Andrew.
Tori looked up at her friend. “A guy I met last year.”
“Last year?” Andrew frowned.
“When I was here. In New Orleans.”
“He’s from here?”
She nodded. “Yes. Well, near here. Autre.” She said it as if she’d known that prior to asking the bartender about him a few minutes ago.
“You just randomly met him last year and now you’re here thinking about kissing him?”
“We spent time together last year,” she said. “And—” She shrugged. “Yeah, I really wanted to be kissing him tonight.”
“What kind of time did you spend with him?” Andrew asked, looking annoyed and worried.
Oh, for fuck’s sake. Tori looked at Paisley, who was still crying. She was now surrounded by her bridesmaids—which meant there were eight other women also shooting I-wish-you-were-dead looks at Tori—then back to Andrew. She raised her eyebrows. The look was supposed to indicate that he should probably be comforting Paisley. But he was still frowning at Tori.
“Just…time,” she said, exasperated. “Talking. Laughing. Getting to know each other. And he was supposed to meet me here tonight.”
“You never said anything about meeting a guy here last year,” Andrew said.
No, she hadn’t told her best friend about Josh. Because…there hadn’t been much to tell.
But that wasn’t really it.
Andrew had been so wrapped up in Paisley that Tori honestly hadn’t thought he’d care.
And she’d wanted to keep the memories to herself.
That sounded silly, even in her mind, but it was true. It had all felt a little magical, almost dream-like, and she’d been afraid that if she talked about it out loud, and had someone say something like do you really think this guy just fell head over heels for you in a night or two?, she’d start thinking about it too hard and doubting and the magic would be gone.
“Just because I didn’t tell you, doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” she said. Then she frowned. “Wait a second. Do you think I’m lying about him?”
Andrew shrugged. “I’m just saying that I haven’t heard anything about this guy. And he’s not here.”
Paisley stepped closer to them, her eyes shooting daggers. “And you kissed Andrew and then got caught. It definitely sounds a little suspicious.”
“If I wanted Andrew, why would I be trying to convince him that there’s another guy?” Tori asked her.
“Because you thought that you’d have time to tell him how you really feel and to convince him to run off with you, but then I showed up and ruined your plan. Now you’re embarrassed.”
Tori rolled her eyes at that.
Paisley sucked in a gasp loud enough to be heard over the people around them who had returned to their conversations. Of course, ninety percent of the people around them were still watching this confrontation avidly.
“Look,” Tori said before Paisley could speak. “Josh and Andrew are built a lot alike. I haven’t seen Josh in a long time. I saw a guy who looked familiar and who’s wearing a mask—” She added in her defense. “It was just a mistake. There’s nothing going on with Andrew and me. We’re friends. That’s it. I would never kiss him.”
“Hey,” Andrew, the idiot, protested. “It’s not like we’ve never kissed.”
“You’ve kissed before?” Paisley said, her sobs forgotten in her outrage.
“That was eighth grade!” Tori said to Andrew. What was he doing?
“And tenth,” he reminded her.
“Oh my God,” Tori groaned. “None of that matters. That was forever ago.” She turned to Paisley again. “I swear I thought he was Josh. I wanted him to be Josh. I wish right now that he was Josh.”
Paisley sniffed. “I don’t believe you. I think you’ve been in love with Andrew forever. I know you don’t want this wedding to happen.”
Okay, Tori could not, in good conscience, insist that she was thrilled Andrew wanted to marry Paisley, and she couldn’t convincingly convince anyone that she was happy about this wedding. Which meant that she took just a beat or two too long to reply. “I just—”
“I don’t believe you!” Paisley stamped her foot.
Looking for an ally, Tori turned to Andrew. “Andrew, you have to tell her that nothing’s going on.”
“Nothing’s been going on,” he said to Paisley. “I had no idea that Tori wanted to kiss me.”
Tori felt her mouth drop open. Okay, he was drunk. But seriously? “What are you doing?” she asked him, stepping closer.
He shrugged. “If you have feelings for me, it’s okay. It’s understandable. I don’t like the idea of you with some guy you met down here last year, either.”
“It’s okay?” Tori repeated. “It’s understandable? Either? Are you insane?”
He shook his head and swayed slightly. “You don’t have feelings for me?”
“Of course I do,” Tori said. But she added quickly, “Friend feelings. Affection. Caring.”
“Love,” Andrew said. “You love me. It’s okay.”
Tori glanced at Paisley. She looked like she was about to have a stroke, but she seemed to be waiting to hear Tori’s response.
Tori took a deep breath. “Yes, I do love you, Andrew. But as a friend. Like a brother. I’m not in love with you.”
“Paisley and I have discussed this and she says that we need to acknowledge your feelings for what they are so that they’re out in the open where we can all deal with them,” Andrew told her.
They’d talked about Tori’s feelings for Andrew? Or what they thought Tori’s feelings for Andrew were anyway. Tori frowned at the other woman. “What the hell does that mean?”
“I know that you’ve always told yourself that you only loved Andrew as a friend,” Paisley said, suddenly looking cold and completely in control rather than steaming mad and out for blood.
Wow, that switch turned on and off quickly.
“I have loved Andrew as a friend,” Tori told her.
“But when the person closest to you is suddenly closer to someone else, it can stir those feelings up and help you realize what they really are. You’ve always imagined a certain life with Andrew. Maybe in your head it was on neighboring farms or something,” she said, the scorn for that idea clear in her tone. “But the truth is now hitting you—his entire life is different. His future is different. And it doesn’t include you. And now that losing him, you’re realizing that you’re in love with him.”
Tori felt a stabbing in her chest at the truth in Paisley’s statement. Andrew’s life and future were totally different now than she’d always imagined they’d be. Not that she’d imagined them as husband and wife, but she’d always assumed he’d be a part of her life, down the road, sharing things like holiday dinners and events like the births of children and the deaths of parents. She would take care of his animals and he’d help her wade through her dad’s will when it came time.
And now all of that was…gone. It would all be different. Most of that would be non-existent. If Andrew helped her with her father’s will, it would be from a distance.
She felt tears stinging her eyes and pressed her lips together. Her throat was so tight that she couldn’t argue with Paisley’s assumptions.
Paisley stepped forward, reaching for Andrew’s hand. She regarded Tori with a touch of pity, and a lot of triumph. “It’s really important to be honest about how you feel,” she said. “It’s only fair to both Andrew and I. He needs to know where you stand. He can’t assume. And it isn’t fair to me to be asked to give you time alone together anymore. If you were just childhood friends, that’s one thing, but you can understand why I would be concerned now.”
It was Tori’s turn to gasp. “So you don’t think that Andrew and I can have a private conversation now because you think I’m in love with him?”
She saw exactly what Paisley was doing. The other woman was jealous of Tori and Andrew’s relationship—a friendship, dammit—and history, so she’d come up with a way to justify keeping them apart. And a way to make it all Tori’s fault.
“Exactly.” Paisley said it coolly.
“So, you’re absolutely convinced that I’m in love with Andrew and planned this kiss and some kind of jilted bride scenario?” Tori asked.
“Yes, as a matter of fact.” She leaned into Andrew and ran her hand up his chest. “Fortunately, I’m completely sure of Andrew’s feelings for me.”
Tori wasn’t sure about that. Why work so hard to keep him and Tori apart then? And maybe Paisley hadn’t noticed the way Andrew had kissed Tori back.
Tori was not going to say that, though. It didn’t matter. He was drunk and she’d caught him by surprise and the kiss didn’t mean anything.
“Come on, Andrew, time to go.” Paisley started tugging him toward the door.
“I can’t just leave Tori here,” Andrew protested, taking a few steps with Paisley anyway.
“Oh, I think she’ll be okay,” Paisley said, glancing over her shoulder at Tori. “Apparently she found her way down here alone and met a ‘friend’ last year.”
Andrew shot Tori an apologetic look, but he let Paisley lead him out of the building.
Tori watched the other bridesmaids turn and follow them out.
Then she blew out a breath.
She had, in fact, found her way down here on her own last year.
And even though he had stood her up, she was missing that “friend” more than ever right now. If he’d shown up, she could have proven to Paisley that she had no romantic feelings for Andrew. Having Josh sweep in in the middle of that debacle would have been perfect. Paisley would have had to acknowledge that Tori had not only been telling the truth, but she would have seen that Tori wasn’t pining after the boy next door. The spoiled bitch would have seen that Tori could, by God, attract a hot, sexy playboy with panti-melting drawl who looked at Tori like she was his favorite flavor of everything.
Yeah, that would have been perfect.
But it hadn’t happened. At all.
And it finally sunk in fully that Josh had not shown up for their rendezvous. Tori felt a knot in her stomach and a sadness that was far more intense than make sense. She barely knew the guy. It had been a year. There had always been the chance that one or both of them wouldn’t, or couldn’t, make it to this spot on this night.
But she still felt like crying.
So, now what was she going to do? The wedding had been on track for being an incredibly frustrating, awkward affair anyway. Now? Now that the entire bridal party thought Tori was after Andrew? Now that Andrew thought that Tori was in love with him? This had all the makings of the worst week of her life.
She could leave.
There was nothing that said she had to be here. There were lots of people who would prefer she leave.
But, no matter how stupid he was when he was drunk, Andrew was still her best friend. They’d been there for every major occasion in the other’s life forever. If she missed his wedding, she’d always regret it.
So, she needed a way to salvage this. A way to prove that she did not want Andrew for herself. She just didn’t want him with Paisley.
No, Tori, you can’t think about that. If you break this wedding up, everyone will definitely think it’s because Paisley was right. Andrew might even think that. And that will make everything between you and Andrew awkward forever.
She couldn’t let that happen, either.
She really needed to prove that the kiss had been about another guy all together. A real guy. A guy that actually existed and had romanced her last year and had asked her to come back. A guy she really wanted to kiss. In front of people. Like Andrew and Paisley. For instance.
She needed Josh.
Tori turned toward the bar and pushed through the people to get back to the bartender.
“Hey!” she called to him.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Can you tell me how to get to Autre?”
Was she going to show up and convince him to be her plus one at this wedding even though he’d stood her up and probably completely forgotten her?
Hey, she was going home to Iowa in a few days. What was the worst that could happen?