Just One DaySharla Lovelace
Books by Sharla Lovelace
The Reason Is You
Before and Ever Since
Just One Day
Beyond the Page Books
are published by
Beyond the Page Publishing
Copyright © 2012 by Sharla Lovelace Scroggs.
Cover design and illustration by Dar Albert, Wicked Smart Designs.
Material excerpted from The Reason Is You is reprinted from The Reason Is You by Sharla Lovelace, by arrangement with Berkley, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2012 by Sharla Lovelace Scroggs. Published 4/3/2012, ISBN: 978-0-425247-12-9.
Material excerpted from Before and Ever Since is reprinted from Before and Ever Since by Sharla Lovelace, by arrangement with Berkley, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 2012 by Sharla Lovelace Scroggs. Published 11/6/2012, ISBN: 978-0-425253-05-2.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this book. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without the express written permission of both the copyright holder and the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Excerpt from The Reason Is You
Excerpt from Before and Ever Since
About the Author
My face was sore. Like maybe I should have done facial stretches beforehand. Then again, I had no inkling that the night would be so—social. I’d sort of expected something a little more intimate for our special evening. Like—dinner for two. Still, I had an open mind, and Brad was nothing if not innovative.
I smiled again as I nodded and shook another hand, hugged another of Brad’s bank colleagues, wondering how many of them really remembered me. I wasn’t the typical arm candy.
“Andie, you’ve got yourself quite a guy here,” a gorgeous brunette woman said, as she gave Brad a sideways hug, pressing her very exposed cleavage against him. Her hair was done up in a chignon I could never pull off, although I’d tried. Mine looked more like a messy cluster, and I just hoped that appeared intentional.
I struggled with her name—Marcia? Marissa? Oh, how I wished for the stick-on name tags of Brad’s usual company parties. But this wasn’t supposed to be a company party. It was our party, and cleavage queen had the unfair advantage of a giant banner sporting mine and Brad’s names.
“Oh, don’t I know it,” I said, smiling equally as coyly, trying to play the game and blend. I would have loved to press my boobs against him, too, but I was afraid the movement would knock them out of the dress I was wearing. Instead, I pulled his hand to my lips and planted a kiss on his knuckles. “He’s the best.”
Marcia-Marissa laughed, a sexy husky sound that drew four appreciative sets of male eyes to her. And those were just the ones I noticed.
Brad didn’t appear to be moved by her, however; which either meant he was a really good bluffer or overly smitten with me. Either way, he responded with a soft kiss on my lips that I chose to signify the latter.
“Aw, that’s so sweet,” Marcia-Marissa cooed, laying a hand against Brad’s arm as she extracted herself. “You’d never peg this guy as cutthroat, seeing him with you tonight,” she said, laughing again.
Brad snagged a passing drink, and handed it off to her. “Nope, no business talk,” he said. “It’s all about me and Andie tonight.”
As we smiled at each other, my first thought was, Then why invite the office?
“Bradley, you’ve outdone yourself,” boomed a voice from behind me.
We turned and were greeted by the toothy grin of his best friend, Martin. He slapped Brad on the back and kissed my cheek. I got the feeling, as usual, that his aim would have been more centrally directed if I didn’t turn.
“Martin,” I said. “Where’s Alicia?”
He turned for a cursory look around for his wife. “Somewhere,” he said with a wink. “At least I think that’s who I came with.”
He laughed as if that were hysterically funny, and Brad shook his head as he laughed with him.
“She might not want to go home with you if she hears you talking like that, big guy,” Brad said.
Martin held up his drink. “Too true,” he said. “My wife is a saint.” After downing half his glass, his eyes landed on me. “Wow,” he said, backing up and making a big show of taking in my appearance. “Don’t you look amazing.”
“Thank you,” I said, holding my chest in as I did a mock bow.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you this—” He gestured with his hands as if he couldn’t find the words.
“Fancy?” I suggested, trying to ignore the embarrassed heat climbing up my neck.
Martin chuckled. “I was going to say exposed, but sure, we can go with that.” He winked at Brad and nudged his arm.
My smile felt like a grimace. “Well, that’s better,” I said under my breath.
Brad squeezed my hand as I tuned out the rest of their banter. He knew I only tolerated Martin because of their longtime friendship. I drew in a slow breath, inhaling the salty Gulf air, and coaxing myself to relax.
He really had outdone himself for this party, I thought, as I pushed back the self-imposed walls and let myself appreciate the beauty around me. The boat—a term I’d use very loosely for something that could hold that large a party and not go belly-up—was decorated in tiny white holiday lights and crystal accents, making everything appear to twinkle like diamonds. Food adorned tables at every corner, the deck was polished to a sparkle, a band played from the upper deck overlooking us, and free alcohol flowed as freely as the water surrounding us in the ship channel.
To me, a boat was something you went fishing in. Possibly skied behind. I spent most of my childhood in my dad’s boat, strapped in poofy orange life vests with a fishing pole or a crab line in my hand. What I sat in then, with hot aluminum under my bare feet, was a boat. What Brad owned was a floating ballroom.
Brad Marcus had spared nothing to celebrate our two-year anniversary, with sixty of our closest friends, of which I kind of knew four. It didn’t escape me that none of my friends were there, but then most of our socializing tended to be with Martin and his wife or a few of Brad’s other coworkers. Somewhere along the line that had become the norm. I frowned, wondering when my friends had fallen off the radar. He probably wouldn’t have known where to find them, anyway. Not that he should have. I couldn’t imagine calling people up to come to a party on a yacht at the Baytow
n Marina, for an anniversary of dating. Especially at our age. If it were me, I would have rolled my eyes and called a friend to snicker over rich people and their extravagant idiocies. So maybe it was a good thing that the only attendees I could see so far were Brad’s people. They probably didn’t see it as embarrassing, just another reason for a gala.
I would have been good with pizza and ice cream and a movie. But hey—that’s me.
“There you are,” came a singsongy voice to my left. The hug and expensive perfume that accompanied it belonged to the missing Alicia. “Here, I snagged you something real,” she said, replacing my wine with a tumbler of something red with ice.
“Lord, I need more food,” I said. “All this alcohol and no lunch today.”
Alicia looped her sparkly braceleted arm through mine. “Let’s go get some more shrimp.”
I laughed as we headed toward the shrimp table, which I’d already hit up three times before. “I need something with bread.”
“So, tell me about your adventure today,” Alicia said, wiggling her eyebrows. “I heard he was pretty creative. Amazing dress, by the way.”
I laughed and looked down at myself. “Yeah.” I smoothed a hand carefully along the deep green sequins. “Kind of outside my league, if you know what I mean.”
“No way,” she said with a giggle and touch of my arm. “You can rock any league you choose to. You look fabulous.”
I adjusted my chest while my back was to the crowd. “Martin said I look exposed.”
Alicia sighed in mock disgust. “Martin’s a pig,” she said with a smile. “He’s too male for his own good.” She piled shrimp on a tiny plate. “Now tell me.”
I relayed the afternoon as it had played out. A box arriving at my door, with a brand-new glittery dress inside, and an envelope with a typed note saying, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go to the mailbox, where you will find further instructions on where to go next.”
“Oh my God, seriously?” she said around a mouthful of food. “That’s adorable.”
“He can be cute like that,” I said, feeling a little proud. I glanced back to where he stood seriously chatting up his boss with Martin, and wished we were telling the story together. So much for no work talk.
“I wish he’d arranged for you to go with me,” I said, piling up my own plate. “It would have been more fun.”
“Me too!” she said. “So what was next?”
I told her about the clues that led me to a salon for a mani-pedi, which had additional clues waiting for me to hit up a shoe store for the new sparkly sandals he had already purchased. Then to Macy’s for a prepaid makeover, before a limo brought me to the marina for the final event.
What I didn’t tell her was the disappointment I felt when I realized it wasn’t just Brad waiting for me.
“What a surprise!” Alicia said, eyes wide, looking maybe a little envious.
“That it was.”
“I can’t believe he picked out this dress,” she said, touching the waistline. “Oh, hell, what am I saying? Yes I can. He’s so GQ, he probably walked in and had five salespeople at his beck and call.”
I laughed. “Probably.” I fidgeted with one of the straps again. “Although I wish they’d thrown in some double-sided tape and maybe a bungee cord.”
Alicia nearly spewed her drink, and had to cough to keep it from coming out her nose. She was so tickled, I had to giggle with her, but I was serious. The bodice was nothing but a few straps of material wrapping around me and pushing me up at strategic places. Very sexy, but more suited for a fancier woman like Alicia.
Brad beamed at me when I’d arrived, however, and I knew he was over the moon to have me there in his world and actually in the spotlight with him. Something I usually managed to avoid. I guess he figured out how to change that.
The musical tinkling of a spoon against a crystal champagne flute made me turn.
“Everyone!” Brad called, bringing to mind Fantasy Island scenes of Mr. Rourke welcoming his guests. “Thank you so much for being here tonight.”
“Oh Lord, look at him,” Alicia said, nudging me. “All up in his element.”
He extended an arm in my direction, beckoning me to join him. I was suddenly conflicted on whether to bring my plate of shrimp with me. Was it a photo op? Should I just stand next to him with my pretty red drink, smiling? I decided to bring it, since the shrimp were pretty, too, and probably cost a mint.
As I settled into his side, gazing up at him, I counted my blessings. I truly was blessed to have such an amazing man. I’d already run the route of the ordinary, married to someone with no ambition and less dependability. I had life lessons and an amazing daughter from that early experience—I treasured that—so why not embrace the next chapter of my life? So what if he only watched ESPN and the History Channel, and didn’t believe in buttered popcorn? What did it matter that he hated sweatpants and never let me hear the end of it if I spent the day in a pair? Brad Marcus was gorgeous, successful, creative, and for some reason had chosen to spend the last two years with me.
“This is a special night for Andie and I, as you know,” Brad continued, smiling down at me. “And isn’t she stunning tonight?”
The crowd clapped, and I went head-to-toe crimson. “Stop,” I whispered, managing not to move my lips and maintaining my appreciative smile.
“I’ve been so fortunate to know this beautiful woman, and I hope you’ll all get to know her better tonight, as well,” Brad said. “Champagne is coming around, please take one, as I’d like to make a toast.”
I switched out my glasses as the tray went by, and the murmurs ceased as Brad raised his glass.
“To friends and love and beautiful futures,” he said, clinking glasses with me. Clinks echoed all around, sounding like a cacophony of chimes, which I would have found entertaining and lovely had Brad not then lowered to one knee.
My first thought was that he’d dropped something. Then the precious shrimp plate was plucked from my hand, the champagne glass was plucked from Brad’s, and he was gazing up at me.
“Oh my God, what are you doing?” I asked under my breath, not wanting the guests to hear.
Brad just grinned, as if my impending panic attack was cute and expected, and his charm would heal all that ailed me. He was charming. He was adorable. And he was on one freaking knee. My heart was so loud in my ears it almost drowned out the awws and oohs along with a distinct shriek from Alicia’s general vicinity.
“Please get up,” I whispered, wanting to go somewhere private.
He ignored me.
“I want the world to know you’re mine, Andie,” he said, taking my free hand. Someone took the glass of champagne from the other one, as I was shaking so badly the liquid sloshed over the edges. “Two years is long enough for us to know.”
No, it isn’t! my head screamed as he reached into his suit pocket.
The little white box squeaked open, and the crowd gasped in unison, as if on cue. The oddest thought zipped by as I wondered if that was staged, but that could have just been the lack of oxygen to my brain.
“I can’t brand you,” Brad said, his blue eyes and perfect smile radiating charm and bringing laughter from all sides. “But I can put this on your finger and give you my name,” he said, kissing my fingers as I stared down at him. “If you’ll have me.”