Country Love - Page 28

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My timeline.

"The Path To Success," I titled it so long ago. Three pieces of posterboard laid end to end, with a single red line stretching from twenty-three years old to twenty-seven years old. Four years seemed ample time to me back when I first started Sanniyah Jones Events. Four years to build my business into a corporation with real employees and licenses to franchisees along the coast.

Now I was nearing twenty-seven, in three months as a matter of fact, and I could finally tick off something that had been lagging all this time.

Land a heavy-weight wedding that would propel me into the pages of the Styles section.

Idly, I run my finger along the red line. Everything is finally going according to plan. I trace the line lovingly, making a tick sound with my mouth as I check everything off, one by one. I have everything laid out just the way I like, and now that I've landed the Easton wedding, nothing is going to change that.

Chapter One

Sanniyah

I stop in the middle of the sidewalk, and shift out of this sea of people. Closing my eyes I take a deep breath.

"Okay Yahya, stop panicking."

Clearly there is no way I can walk to my meeting in time. So rather than show up all late and sweaty, it's time to switch to plan B.

"Taxi!" I call, stepping out into the street.

As if by magic, a taxi rolls smoothly to a stop, and I hop in and settle back in the seat, relishing the air-conditioning. "14th and Houston, please," I tell the driver, already adjusting my makeup in my compact mirror.

What's the plan? Those words are my mantra, the constant refrain in my brain that has brought me to where I am today. Planning is what I do, and I'm the best at it. From the moment I got out of business school, I knew what my plan was: Open my own business, build my empire, and achieve my dreams.

And today is it. The linchpin to my dreams. I am scheduled to meet Camilla Easton in ten minutes.

If I can just get there in time.

I tap my fingers against my phone, studiously keeping it close. If I open it and see the picture of my mother and stepfather on my home screen, I am going to start crying and that will ruin everything. But even as I fight to keep my cool, my mother's voice is still echoing in my ear. Last night's conversation was quick and to the point.

"Yahya, the cancer's back. You need to be ready to say goodbye."

"No," I whisper softly. "Keep it together." I need to be on point. I need to sparkle and impress, and thoughts of my stepfather's cancer returning are not going to help that. I need to push that to the back of my brain, at least until after this meeting.

We are making good time, until a snarl of downtown traffic catches us in its vise. I can feel my heart rate starting to rise as the taxi inches along. We are close. Five minutes. I could probably walk faster.

In fact, I think I will.

I grab my phone and briefcase, and fling money at the driver. Slamming the door, I hit the pavement for the second time today, my heels clacking. The noon sun is pouring down on me once again, but I think I can make it without her seeing me sweat.

This is the biggest break in my career, and everything needs to go according to plan. When Camilla Easton called me, I had to hold back my disbelief. The Easton wedding was the event of the year and I had landed it. Every wedding planner in town had been vying for this one, but in the end she had called Sanniyah Jones Events.

Me.

If I play my cards right, this wedding will launch me into the next level. I can start the next stage of my timeline, licensing my name. Mentally, I make a note to release a PR statement as soon as I get back to my home office. This wedding is sure to land me a full page spread in the Styles section and the thought of the press and tabloid coverage makes me salivate.

And if Carter Easton shows up at his sister's wedding, that will bring even more press.

That thought makes my heart race even harder. No one has seen Carter Easton in two years. He disappeared, completely off of the radar. At the supermarket checkout the other day, I had actually seen a front page with his smiling face and picked it up eagerly, only to see that it was a speculation piece about his metal health. "The Broken Billionaire," they called him. "Why is Carter Easton Hiding?"

If he appears again at MY event, the press will go ballistic. Every little detail will be photographed and scrutinized. I might get TV appearances, consulting fees, my own reality show....

The thought makes me rush forward, almost sprinting right past the coffee shop where Camilla and I had agreed to meet. My sudden burst of energy is partly to do with excitement and partly to do with the ever-present nervousness I have to suppress every time I meet with one of my new, usually wealthy clients.

And Camilla Easton is the sister of one of the wealthiest men in the country.

"Yahya, you are not that girl anymore." I'm mumbling to myself as I hurry down the sidewalk. "You left that behind you."

Now, if only I'd believe myself and let go of the small, sad part of me that still held on to the deprivations of my childhood.

I stop and collect myself, catching a glimpse of my reflection in the plate glass window. I tuck a wayward strand of my long, jet black hair behind my ear, and let the diamond studs wink in the strong sunlight. My makeup still looks presentable somehow, confirming my belief that it is worth it to spring for the good stuff, especially on humid days like today. My high cheekbones are still highlighted with a light dusting of blush that sets off my mocha skin, and my light brown eyes are accentuated by a slight catlike curve to my dark gray eyeliner. Everything is still in place, in spite of my nerves. I could use some lip gloss on my full lips, though.

Unfortunately I had left that in my other bag. And Camilla Easton, and my dreams, are waiting for me.

Chapter Two

Sanniyah

This place is one of those coffee shops that treat the art of brewing as if it were some sort of magical alchemy. I grow impatient watching the baristas measure liquid in beakers and ended up just pulling my water bottle from my bag and sitting down with a wide smile.

"It is such a pleasure to meet you, Miss Easton," I say, extending my hand.

The blushing young white girl in front of me is not at all what I was expecting. She pumps my hand enthusiastically, excitement shining in her wide blue eyes. I was expecting someone snobbish and refined, but Camilla Easton is as infectiously eager to please as a Labrador puppy.

"Call me Cammy," she says in a girlish voice. I know from my research that she is twenty-six years old, same as me, but she has such a young air about her that I instantly feel protective.

"Cammy, congratulations!" I smile all the harder. "What an exciting time for you!" It's my standard line, one I've used a million times before, but this time I find myself meaning it.

"It is," she looks down shyly at the gigantic, shining boulder on her ring finger and twists it nervously. "I'm sorry that Greg couldn't come today, he got called overseas last minute. Had to fly out this morning."

Of course I knew that her fiancé, Gregory Milton, is a hotelier eagerly expanding his empire. Briefly, I wondered which of his hotels would be the one to host this wedding

"He has a bit on his plate," I soothe, and she smiles at my reassurance. I reach into my briefcase and pull out my booking sheets, spreading them out in a fan shape for her to see. "When you made this appointment, you told me you were looking for an October wedding, correct?" I swallow hard.

"That's right," Cammy practically whispers. "I know it's short notice, but Greg's mother is in poor health..."

I wince a little. "Yahya, you need to be ready to say goodbye," she told me. How can I possibly say goodbye? I'm not ready for this. It's too sudden. This isn't supposed to be happening, he was in remission. He was fine!

Then I snap back to Cammy.

"Say no more," I say reassuringly, even though I don't feel reassured at all. "Tell me about your vision."

This is my favorite question, because it gets the brides talking and

I can sit back and make notes. Typically, the bride will get so caught up in the descriptions of her perfect day that, just by listening closely, I get everything I need to do my job perfectly.

And then I get to take the credit when everything falls into place. It's a win-win really.

But instead of bubbling over about chocolate fountains and dress colors, Cammy just looks stricken. "I don't...really have a vision?" she sounds ashamed. "Or, rather...I did. But it changed."

I smile, discreetly cracking my knuckles. This will be a little harder than I thought. "Well, we can start with the basics. How many guests do you plan on inviting?"


Tags: Mia Caldwell Erotic
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