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The Billionaire's Birthday Blind Date

Always a bridesmaid. Never a bride. Until...

Birthday Island #2

Always a bridesmaid.


Eloise Cantona stood in front of the dresser mirror in her luxury hotel room at the Corpus Christi high-rise. In a twist of irony, it was a building her family owned. In a double twist of irony, she was about to have to witness the only man she’d ever loved marry someone else. In a triple twist of irony, she was serving as their maid-of-honor.


Yep, she was about to wear her misery in front of over two hundred guests. Her presence was expected in the ballroom thirty-one stories below her in exactly twelve minutes.


As if that wasn’t bad enough, the pale purple gown she was wearing was all wrong. She squinted at herself, noting how the 

color enhanced the smudges beneath her eyes from lack of sleep. No amount of makeup had been able to correct the issue.


The design of the gown was even worse. It had a ruched empire waist, flutter sleeves, and A-line skirt that swept the floor. It was a voluminous tent with one purpose — to make its wearer look like a misshapen blob.


And she knew why. The bride-to-be, Thea Ferrell, was rabidly jealous over the fact that Eloise had been best friends her entire life with the groom-to-be, Elon Carnegie. Well, maybe not her entire life, since Thea’s jealousy had all but ruined Eloise’s friendship with Elon. Eloise sorely doubted that her friendship with either the bride or the groom would continue long after their wedding.


“Chin up,” she instructed the pale woman in the mirror. “An hour from now, it’ll all be over.” She wished her words didn’t sound so final. As her green eyes misted, it was a small comfort to watch the horrible purple dress blur a little.


The alarm on her cell phone jangled loudly, giving her an instant headache. She marched to her nightstand to snatch it up and turn it off. It was her ten-minute warning. She’d stalled for as long as she could. It was time to head to the ballroom.


She stepped out of her hotel room, took two steps, and came to a jerky halt. Swallowing a small yelp of surprise, she glanced over her shoulder and discovered that the door had closed on one of the folds of her long skirt.


She had to insert her key card in the door and push it open again to release the fabric. A quick examination proved that it wasn’t torn, not that it would have broken her heart if it had been. The dress was truly that ugly.


With a sigh, she finished the short trek down the hall to the elevators. To her surprise, she was alone in the hallway. Not that she minded a few last minutes of silence before stepping into the noisy ballroom downstairs. Pushing the down button, she waited. And waited. And waited.


“Hurry up,” she hissed at the lit-up panel above the door. The line beneath the eleventh floor was illuminated. It still had another twenty floors to go before reaching her.


Glancing at her cell phone, she tapped the toe of her shoe on the tile, wondering if she should have set her alarm for twenty minutes instead of ten.


The elevator finally started moving. She stepped into the private salon that housed the wedding party one minute before the wedding ceremony was to begin. The room was literally crammed with bridesmaids and groomsmen — six of each. The silence that followed her entrance told her that all their heads had spun in her direction.


“Sorry I’m late,” she murmured without meeting anyone’s gaze directly. She smoothed back a loose tendril of her strawberry blonde hair, wishing there’d been time to pop a pain pill before leaving her room. The back of her skull was throbbing so badly that she wondered if she’d sprung a crack in it or something.


“There you are,” a familiar female voice snapped irritably. It belonged to Desiree Ferrell, Thea’s step-sister and self-appointed wedding planner. The woman who’d chosen the world’s most awful dress for Eloise to wear to her best friend’s wedding.


Still not looking up, Eloise braced herself for the scolding that was sure to follow.


Desiree stalked to her side in a pair of positively yummy silver stilettos.


“Nice shoes.” Eloise slowly raised her head. Though Desiree’s dress was the same pale shade of purple as the bridesmaids’ dresses, the halter top and cocktail length were much more figure-flattering.


There was nothing flattering, however, about the anger snapping in her dark-as-coal eyes. Her brown up-do and dark tan were the anti-thesis of Thea’s blonde and blue looks.


She laid a hand on Eloise’s arm and tugged her to the far side of the room. “What’s going on?” She spread her hands, holding her clipboard away from her body. “I don’t know how else to say it, so I’m just going to say it. You look awful.”


“Headache,” Eloise sighed. “If there’s a bottle of Tylenol around...”


Desiree snapped her fingers three times, and a white plastic container was pressed into her hand. She tucked her clipboard beneath an arm while she uncapped the lid and dumped a small pile of pills into Eloise’s hand.


“Take them all!” She snapped her fingers again, and someone brought her a water bottle.


Eloise had no intention of over-dosing simply to please an overzealous wedding planner. She popped two of the pills into her mouth, keeping the others hidden in her hand while she washed them down with a few swallows of water.


“Thanks.” She set the water bottle down on the nearest bistro table. Pretending to fluff her skirt, she allowed the remaining pain pills to fall silently to the carpet behind her.


Desiree sidled close again. “I think we both know what this is really about.” She waved a hand jerkily at Eloise. “Showing up late, faking a headache…”


“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eloise lied, surprised that Desiree wasn’t already hustling her toward the best man. “And there’s no faking this kind of headache. My head feels like it’s about to explode.” That part was no lie. There was no point in being angry with Desiree. Eloise only had herself to blame for the wedding ceremony that was about to take place. She’d been the one who’d set Thea and Elon up for a blind date. It was a surprise for his birthday — one she’d never intended would end in an engagement.


“So help me, Eloise!” Desiree folded her arms across the clipboard and hugged it to her chest. “If you don’t paste on a smile right this instant, I’m going to claw that dress off your body and wear it myself.”


Eloise lifted her chin and treated the hateful woman to her best executive smile. “I’d like to see you try.” Eloise served as the top designer for her family’s award-winning hotel conglomerate. A few snaps from her own fingers would bring security running. They would escort anyone from the building at her request, no questions asked.


Desiree held her gaze a few seconds longer. “Don’t even think about ruining today for my sister. If you do, Elon will never forgive you.”


It took a superhuman effort for Eloise to keep her smile on. “If you don’t get this wedding started soon,” she returned icily, “Thea will never forgive you.”


With a stiff up-down nod, Desiree clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “Alright, y’all. It’s go time!”


Her clapping and yelling made Eloise wince, which she was pretty sure was the reaction Desiree had been going for.


Spinning away from her, Eloise sought out the best man with her gaze. She found Ford Merritt waiting solemnly in front of the double entrance doors.


Catching her gaze, the tall, dark-haired airline pilot quirked an arm at her, beckoning her to take it as she glided his way. Like the other groomsmen, he was wearing a dove gray tuxedo over a white shirt.


As her hands closed around his arm, he dipped his head closer to hers. “Was half-afraid you weren’t going to show up.”


She shot him an are-you-crazy look. “My two best friends in the world are getting married. Nothing in the world would keep me from wearing this hideous dress for them today.” The best-friends part of her statement was probably past-tense, but she had every intention of seeing this ceremony through until the bitter end. She could finish falling apart later.


“You don’t look hideous.” He gave her a measuring look as they faced the door together and waited for the cue to leave the room.


She made a face at him. “I thought we were friends, Ford.”

“The dress is hideous.” He curled his upper lip at her. “Not the woman in it.”


“Thank you.” She squeezed his arm. “Even if you’re just saying it to make me feel better.”


He ignored her comment. “Any chance you’ll meet me after this shindig for a dinner for two on the roof?”


A mirthless chuckle escaped her. “You mean skip the wedding reception?” That seemed a little bold for a best man. Wasn’t his presence required for leading the wedding guests in a round of toasts?


“I will if you say yes.” His voice was low. “I know how hard today is for you.”


Her eyelashes grew damp at the realization that her dirty little secret wasn’t much of a secret any longer. Thanks to Desiree Ferrell, everyone in the world now knew she was in love with the groom. Everyone but the groom, that is.


“There’s no reason to end your friendship with Elon over me.” Her voice trembled with emotion.


“Eh, he’ll forgive me. Eventually.” Ford placed his other hand over hers. “How about you think of me as a consolation prize?”


Despite her sadness, Eloise gave a damp chuckle. “If you’re trying to make me feel better, it’s working. A little.” Once upon a time, she’d been under the impression that the Gulfstream VP standing next to her was crushing on the bride-to-be. However, she must’ve gotten that detail wrong, because he was clearly flirting with her.


“Good, because I’m in desperate need of a little consolation myself.”


“Oh?” She tipped her face up to his, wondering if her theory about his secret crush on the bride hadn’t been so off-base after all.


Desiree clapped her hands again from behind them. “What are you two waiting for? That music is your cue. It’s time to move!”


“Oh, my lands,” Eloise breathed as Ford pushed open the door and led her through it. “Give the woman a clipboard and she’s ready to take over the world.”


“She’s just jealous.”


“Jealous!” At the frown one of the ushers gave her, she lowered her voice. “What does she have to be jealous about?”


“You.” Ford’s voice was firm as they walked the short distance down the hallway toward the entrance of the ballroom. “Same as every other woman present today. You’re a gorgeous, successful woman. They all want to be you.”


“Not Thea.” Eloise’s voice was bitter. The television show hostess was the epitome of success. Her biggest success, of course, was convincing Elon Carnegie to put a ring on her finger.


“Okay. Every other woman present, besides the perfect Thea.” Ford’s voice was every bit as bitter as Eloise’s had been.


She flicked a look of disbelief at him as the double doors swung open. “I was right,” she accused in a whisper. “You DO love her!”


“Shh!” The usher to their left gave them an admonishing look.


Eloise scowled at him and waited until Ford moved with her into the ballroom before speaking again. “If you’re in love with Thea, and I’m in love with Elon, then what are we doing?”


“We can’t do this now.” Her escort spoke through gritted teeth. “Our only job today is to smile and keep walking.”


A few of the wedding guests gave them puzzled glances, probably wondering why they were carrying on a conversation in the middle of a wedding procession. Eloise had no doubt that Desiree was going to give her an earful about it later.


She inwardly vowed not to look at Elon as she and Ford approached the rose trellis in front of the minister’s podium. At the last second, however, she was unable to keep that vow.


She lifted her gaze to his and experienced the sensation of being punched in the midsection. Never before had she seen such a poignant accusation in his slate-gray eyes. Or such raw and hopeless longing.


It made no sense. This was his wedding day. He was in love with Thea Ferrell.


Unless he wasn’t.


Eloise caught her lower lip between her teeth and bit down hard as a new possibility burst into her head. What if she’d been wrong to set up her two dearest friends in the world on a blind date? What if Elon had only been single because he was secretly crushing on his best friend, the same as she’d been doing? What if the only reason he’d not acted on those feelings was because he was equally terrified of ruining their lifelong friendship?


She stumbled and would’ve fallen if Ford hadn’t been there to steady her.


“You okay?” he muttered in her ear.


“No.” She spoke through stiff lips, unable to tear her gaze away from Elon’s. “I think I’ve made a very big mistake.”


“Welcome to the club.” Ford steered her the rest of the way down the aisle and deposited her at the spot Desiree had marked off with a crisscross of black tape on the floor.


Eloise watched numbly as the rest of the wedding party walked down the aisle and took their places. Then the music changed. The opening chords of the bridal march were played, and Thea Merritt made her appearance.


There were gasps across the room as she sashayed down the aisle in her custom designer dress. Her impossibly long white lacy train trailed behind her a good twenty feet. The television show hostess looked as photo worthy as usual.


As she approached the front of the room, Eloise dully met her gaze. It took her a few extra heartbeats to register the fact that the bride-to-be was staring her way instead of at her groom.


Like Elon, Thea’s expressive blue eyes held no small amount of accusation. And confusion. And misery as they slid away from Eloise and landed on Ford.


“This is a very, very big mistake.” Eloise didn’t realize she’d spoken the words aloud until the nearest bridesmaid gave her arm a light nudge. “Hush!”


The minister intoned his way through the typical opening remarks. Then he asked the all-important question that almost never got a response. “Should anyone present know of any reason that this couple should not be joined in holy matrimony, speak now or forever hold your peace.”


“I do.” Eloise half raised her hand.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” the bridesmaid next to her muttered.

Though the minister’s voice was gravely respectful, he gave her a troubled look. The frost at his temples seemed whiter than usual. He’d been her pastor her entire life, so he knew her and her family well. “On what grounds do you object to this union, Miss Cantona?”


Eloise wasn’t sure what to say. It wasn’t exactly a legal requirement for a couple to be in love before exchanging their vows. However, the entire room had gone silent, waiting for her to answer.


“I object,” she stated in a firm voice, “because they aren’t in love.”


The strained silence in the ballroom erupted into whispers and murmurs of disbelief.


“Pathetic,” one of the bridesmaids scoffed beneath her breath.


“Miss, er, Cantona…” The minister gave her a harried look, taking a quick sip of water from the bottle beneath the pulpit. No doubt he was trying to figure out how to inform her (in the nicest way possible) that she hadn’t presented a valid reason to halt the wedding.


“I object,” she repeated, hardly able to believe her life had come to this — public humiliation for herself and her entire family.


“Eloise!” Her name erupted from Elon. “What’s going on?”


“I object to you marrying her.” Surprised by the urgency in his voice, she spoke a little louder this time. Of all the opinions in the room, his mattered the most to her.


Then she tossed all caution to the wind. “You need to stop the wedding!” This time, she repeated the words at the top of her lungs. If she was going to have to quit her job and leave town in shame, she might as well give the world a really good reason. “Because I’m in love with you!”


“Eloise!” Elon pounded his fist against something. “Either open the door, or I’m going to break it down!”


Eloise sat up with a small shriek. “What door?” She flailed her hands in the darkness but could feel nothing. She couldn’t see anything either. Where am I? Where are the rest of the wedding guests?


A loud crash sounded. Something hard slammed against something hard, rattling the walls around her.


“Eloise! Where are you?” She nearly jumped out of her skin as Elon’s tall frame filled the doorway.


“Over here,” she whimpered, feeling frantically around her. Omigosh! I’m in bed? Her hands came into contact with the wadded-up comforter she must have kicked off earlier.


Which could only mean one thing — everything that had happened in the ballroom was only a dream.


Then why had it felt so real?


“There you are!” Elon slapped a hand against the wall, and light flooded the room.

She cringed away from the sudden burst of brightness as he lunged in her direction. “What are you—?” She bit off the rest of her question as the mattress dipped beneath her.


Then Elon’s hands were on her shoulders. “What happened, sugar? Were you attacked? Are you hurt?” As his large hands moved up and down her arms, a babble of voices started in the hallway outside her room. They grew louder.


“N-no.” Her brain scrambled to make sense of why she was no longer in the hotel ballroom being forced to watch and listen to him marry Thea. “I think it was…just a dream.” A very, very, very bad dream.


“You’re shaking all over.” His arms came around her.


“Okay, maybe it was more of a nightmare.” Tears of relief trickled down her cheeks at the realization that he wasn’t two words away from pledging his life to someone else.


He cuddled her closer. “False alarm,” he called over his shoulder to whoever was in the hallway. “Just bridal nerves, I think.”


Bridal nerves? She fisted her hands in the fabric of his gym shirt. Right! Because I’m the bride. Not Thea. More tears gushed down her face.


“You broke down the blasted door.” Her older brother, Roman, entered the room. He sounded both surprised and confused.


“Add it to our tab,” Elon instructed in a mild voice, kissing Eloise’s temple.


She chuckled at his words, knowing her family and friends had the top floor of the hotel to themselves tonight. Though the broken door would have to be repaired, it was no real threat to security.


“Is she okay?” She heard Roman step closer. Then she felt the warm back of his hand press against her forehead.


“I’m trying to figure that out.” Elon stroked a hand through her hair. “Sounds like she had a nightmare.”

“Yes, I’m okay.” Eloise’s voice came out muffled against his shoulder. “Just, um…what he said. Bad dream. If you’ll just turn the light out, please.” And leave me alone to wallow in my embarrassment. Her head was pounding. That hadn’t been part of the dream. It felt like her skull was trying to split into two pieces.


“Sure. No problem. Try to get some sleep. Gotta big day tomorrow.” She was dimly aware of her brother herding away the rest of the family members and guests she’d awakened with her screaming. Then the overhead lights went out, and the room was plunged into blessed darkness once again.


Or near darkness.


As she cracked her eyelids open, she could see that Roman had left the door to the hallway propped open with a suitcase. Thanks, Dad! Ever since their father had passed away, he’d stepped into the role of her self-appointed watchdog. It was both sweet and sad.

“Oh, wow!” She leaned back in Elon’s arms to wipe the slickness from her face. “I’m so sorry about all of this.”


Though he loosened his embrace to give her some wiggle room, he didn’t let her go. “Anything you care to talk about?”


“Not really,” she murmured, blushing at the memory of her dream and all the crazy things she’d said in it. She was wildly grateful for the darkness to hide her face.


“Well, tell me anyway, sugar.” There was the faintest hint of laughter in his voice. “Even though it was only a dream, I’m dying to know what you were objecting so loudly to.”


“Oh.” She gave a rueful chuckle. “You heard that?”


“Everyone in Corpus Christi heard it, darling.” Though it was dim in the room, he was close enough for her to see the anxiety glinting in his dark gaze. His wavy hair was rumpled from the sleep she’d no doubt awakened him from next door.




But he was here, and he was hers. That was all that mattered. She rubbed her thumb against her engagement ring to make sure it was still there. 

It was.


“Fine.” She drew a deep breath. “I was objecting to your marriage.”


He grew still. “Are you getting cold feet about tomorrow, Eloise?”


“What? No!” She slid her arms around his neck, hugging him tightly. “Gosh, no!”

“Glad to hear it, sugar.” He pressed his cheek to hers. “Because there’s nothing I want more than to be married to you.”


“In my dream, you were marrying Thea,” she confessed in a thready voice.


“Not a chance!” The laugh that rumbled through him was the most comforting sound she’d ever heard. “Just for the record, I still haven’t fully forgiven you for setting us up on that blind date for my birthday.”


“At the time, I actually thought I was doing you a favor. Can you believe it?” She shivered.


“I mostly try not to think about it.” He shimmied to the edge of her mattress and tugged her to her feet.


“After the dream I just had, that’s a very good answer.” With one last squeeze around his neck, she lowered her arms back to her sides.


He immediately reached for her hand. “Walk with me.”


She tipped her head up to his. “This late at night? What time is it, anyway?”


“It’s about two-thirty.” He raised her hand to his mouth to lightly nip his way across her knuckles. “And I’m betting you and I aren’t gonna get back to sleep any faster than a herd of turtles making it around a racetrack.”


She burst out laughing. “You’re such a nut, Elon!” Gosh, how she loved the man — from his sexy southern accent to his thousand and one silly southern sayings!


“Entirely your nut,” he reminded in a caressing voice. “I hope that’s a yes to our walking date, because I have no interest in beating my gums any longer within earshot of your brother.” He raised his voice a little at the end.

“I heard that,” her brother chuckled from somewhere nearby.


“You were supposed to.” Rolling his eyes toward the hallway, Elon tugged her through the door.


Roman was lounged against the wall on the other side, arms folded against his chest. He pushed away from the wall at the sight of them. “You gonna be okay, Eloise?” There was no mistaking the concern in his voice.


She nodded and towed Elon closer to her brother so she could stand on her tiptoes and kiss his cheek.


He touched her arm. “You’ve been crying.”


“It was a really bad dream.” She wrinkled her nose, tearing up again. “Elon was marrying someone else,” she explained in a hushed voice. “Can you believe that jerk?”


“I’m staying out of this one.” Roman backed away from them with his arms raised in mock horror. “Punting the ball back to you, Elon.”


“Pass intercepted,” Elon assured, sliding an arm around her shoulders. “We’re heading up to the roof.”


“So long as you have her back down in time for the wedding, bro.”


“That’s the plan.” Elon steered her toward the elevator.


In less than a minute, they were strolling the starlit rooftop, hand in hand. He was in gym shorts and sneakers. She was in pink polka dot PJs and slippers. An empty swimming pool stretched on their right, and a garden of flowers and shrubs in urns were artfully arrayed on the left side of the roof.


“It’s so peaceful up here.” Eloise tipped her face up to the moonlight, allowing the late-night breeze to finish drying her face.


“And beautiful.” Elon slowed his steps, bringing them to a halt beside a white azalea bush in full bloom. His voice dropped to a husky note, indicating he was no longer talking about the scenery.

“Thank you for bringing me up here,” she whispered, allowing him to turn her to face him. “I, um…I think maybe I just needed to be with you before our wedding.” Come morning, her mother and Thea would hustle her off to get dressed and do her hair, and she wouldn’t get to see him again until the start of their wedding.


“I was thinking the same thing, sugar.” He drew her closer.


“I know how crazy this must sound, but my bad dream felt so real. I can still remember parts of it vividly.” Which was kind of weird. She usually forgot her dreams the moment she woke up.


“Only one sure-fire way I can think of for getting rid of a dream like that.”


“Oh, really? What’s that?”


“Replacing it with something better.” He dipped his head and nuzzled his way across her cheek. Then his mouth seamed against hers.


He was right. There was no more room in her tired, stressed-out brain for anything but him and his kisses.


“I love you, Elon,” she sighed against his lips.

“I love you more, sugar.”


She smiled. “You love to fight about that.”


“It never gets old,” he agreed. “I look forward to debating who loves who the most for the rest of our lives. It’s an argument I plan to win, of course.”


“Bring it on.” She tapped her fist lightly against his chest.


“I was hoping you’d say that.” He kissed her again.


They stayed on the rooftop until the first rays of the sun glowed on the distant horizon.


“I’m not ready to go back inside,” he confessed huskily, “but I sure am looking forward to seeing you in your wedding dress.” He touched her cheek.


She reached up to hold his hand against her face. “I’m ready for what comes next, too.” All she cared about after what she’d endured last night was that he was going to be marrying the right woman.


They moved toward the elevator together. When they reached the floor they’d reserved for the wedding party, they found her mother fluttering around the hallway in a white silk robe.


“Oh, sweetie!” At the sight of them stepping off the elevator, Diana Cantona flew in their direction. “Roman told me about your nightmare. Are you feeling better?” She held her oldest daughter at arm’s length.


“I am. Thanks for asking, Mom.” Eloise held Elon’s dark gaze as long as she could before her mother shooed him off like a pesky fly.


The billionaire CEO of Carnegie Golf nodded respectfully at his future mother-in-law and headed back to his hotel room.


Diana Cantona waited until he was out of sight before hustling Eloise to her room. “I’m not even going to ask about why your door was hanging off its hinges earlier.” She frowned at the item in question as she opened it and ushered her daughter past it. “I wanted to ask, but Roman told me not to.”


“It’s fixed already!” Eloise eyed it in amazement. The faint smell of fresh paint on a section of the wall was the only reminder that the door had ever been damaged.


Her mother shrugged offhandedly. “Roman found a repairman willing to come in early.”


Eloise took a nice hot shower to wash off the final cobwebs of her horrible dream. Then she turned herself over to the mercy of her mother and two younger sisters, Isabella and Alexandra.


They styled her hair, made her keep her eyes closed for what felt like eons while they applied makeup, then assisted her into her wedding dress.


It was a white ballgown with a lacy halter neckline, a bodice with beaded appliques, and a full tulle and sparkle net skirt with yards of border lace.


“You look absolutely stunning.” Her mother stepped back with her hands clasped beneath her chin. “If only your father could see you now.” Her gaze misted with emotion. She stepped forward to give one final curl against Eloise’s cheek a small tweak.


“For sure, our Heavenly Father can,” Isabella reminded softly, pointing upward. She was in a sage green bridesmaid dress that complimented the greenish-hazel eyes and strawberry blonde hair that all the Cantona women shared. Their mother’s hair was dyed, of course, to cover the sprinkling of gray strands. However, with them touched up, she could almost pass as one of her daughters.


Eloise had chosen simple off-the-shoulder column dresses for her sisters and Thea, all three of whom would be serving as her bridesmaids today.


She glanced anxiously around the room. “Has anyone seen Thea?”


Isabella wrinkled her nose. “She said something about having to put out a fire at work.”


Alexandra tossed her head and snorted. “My guess is she got distracted after that, flirting with your best man.”


Isabella stuck her tongue out at their younger sister. “She really has been on her phone all morning.”


Eloise stifled a shiver at the memory of Ford Merritt all but confessing in her dream that he was in love with Thea Ferrell.


I hope it’s true. Both the flirting accusation and that someone as wonderful as him would come to love her sweet and incredibly talented television hostess friend. Both of them deserved to be happy — to have someone as wonderful in their lives as each other.


“Are you cold?” her mother asked quickly.


“No…just…” Eloise shook her head helplessly. It had been a long night. She was actually a little tired.


“Bridal nerves.” Isabella nodded wisely and glanced at her beaded white watch. “There’s only one perfect solution to that.”


“What?” her other two sisters chorused curiously.


“Let’s get her married!”


As they dissolved into happy laughter, Eloise held out her arms to them. “Thank you. Thank you for everything. I love you so much!”


“It’s time,” her mother announced softly, hugging her back. She opened the door and popped her head around it. “Thea?”


“Yes, ma’am.” Her blonde friend appeared, looking camera ready in her column dress. One of the makeup artists from the television station had probably done her makeup for her. “Sorry for ghosting out on y’all this morning, but…you know…work. Oh, Eloise!” She paused just outside the doorway. “You look like a dream.”


“Ouch!” Isabella scowled at her choice of words.


Thea glanced heavenward. “Pushing the rewind button here. You look amazing, my friend!”


“Better,” Isabella muttered, still frowning a little.


“It’s okay.” Eloise was feeling giddy with happiness as their huddle moved into the hallway toward the elevators. “I’m pretty sure everyone on this floor knows I had a bad dream.”


At her mother’s intensely curious look, she decided to have mercy on her. “I dreamed Thea and Elon were getting married.”


“Oh, honey!” Her mother sighed in sympathy.


Alexandra snickered. “I reckon that explains all of your loud objecting.”


Thea’s eyes had grown wide at Eloise’s announcement. “I think we can all agree he’s as close to perfect as it gets.”


“For Eloise,” Isabella added with a sharp look her way.


“Exactly,” Thea agreed warmly. She linked her arm through Eloise’s as they entered the elevator together. “I’m so, so, so happy for you!”


It felt a little like a dream again as the private elevator descended to the ballroom level, where Eloise was immediately whisked into a small salon room.


Marla Greenhaven, Roman’s grandmotherly executive assistant, was directing traffic. She stood calmly in the entrance of the salon with a clipboard under one arm, giving the cues to each member of the wedding party for when it was their turn to walk down the aisle.


Roman walked their mother to her seat first. Then he returned to stand by Eloise while the groomsmen escorted her bridesmaids to the front of the ballroom.


Then it was her turn.


As Roman quirked his arm at her, she gratefully took it. “Thank you, Roman, for being here for me today.” She, too, wished her father could have lived to see this day, but she was perfectly happy to have her brother by her side. He was the rock of their entire family these days. Plus, he looked pretty amazing in his dove gray tuxedo and white shirt.


“There’s no other place I’d rather be right now. I’m proud of you, sis.” Love glowed in his gaze. “And I will selfishly admit I’m glad you’re marrying a Texan. Wouldn’t even want to think about running Cantona Enterprises without you.”


As her eyes grew damp, he pulled out a white monogrammed handkerchief and carefully dabbed at the corners of her eyes. Between a wife, a mother, and three sisters, he was well accustomed to shouldering their burdens.


“No more tears today,” he commanded quietly. “It’s your turn to be happy.”


“Thank you.” She allowed him to give the corners of her eyes a final dab. Then she tightened her hands around his arm. “I’m ready.”


He proudly escorted her down the aisle amidst the sighs of their guests and the flash of bulbs from their camera man.


Then her gaze met Elon’s, and everyone else in the room disappeared. He was in a solid white tuxedo with a single red rose boutonniere. His dark hair waved against the collar of his white shirt.


Roman stepped up to him, removed her hand from his arm, and placed it on Elon’s arm. “Take care of her for me, my friend.”


“You know I will.” Without taking his gaze from Eloise’s, Elon covered her hand with his. I love you, he mouthed.


I love you, too, she mouthed back.


They turned together to face the minister and exchange their vows, surrounded by the joy and support of friends and family from all over the world.


“You may kiss the bride,” the minister intoned at the end of their ceremony.


“No objections, Mrs. Carnegie?” Elon inquired in a low, husky voice as his head dipped over hers.


“No objections, Mr. Carnegie.”


Their lips and hearts met in a breathless moment that felt suspended in time.


This dream was real, and it was right. “I’m so happy,” she whispered to him.


“I know the feeling.”


After the final prayer concluded the ceremony, he led her up the aisle — straight into the new and joyful chapter they would begin together.

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Complete trilogy —  read them all!
Birthday Island Billionaires Series

Available in eBook, paperback, and Kindle Unlimited on Amazon.

Much love,

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