Private Party (Private #1) - Jami Alden

Acknowledgements

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but in my case it also takes one to write a book. As usual, I am indebted to my amazing friends and critique partners, Bella Andre and Monica McCarty. Thanks for reading this and giving me invaluable feedback even after the hundredth read. And thanks to the fabulous Fog City Divas—I always leave our gatherings inspired and ready to dive back in.

And I especially want to thank every single reader who has taken the time to write to tell me how much she enjoyed my books. When I’m sitting alone in front of my computer, literally pounding my head to get the words to come out right, it’s feedback like that that keeps me going.

1

Julie Driscoll was, without a doubt, the most beautiful bride Chris Dennison had ever seen. Her strapless ivory gown left her arms bare, and, if he closed his eyes, he could imagine how silky her skin would feel against his fingertips. Though her veil obscured her face, he could vividly picture wide, long-lashed eyes the color of the Caribbean sea at sunrise; her small, slightly upturned nose; and full pink lips. Her breasts swelled tastefully against the bodice of her dress, though even that was enough to make his mouth dry and his palms sweat. With the wide, poofy skirt of her wedding gown nearly spanning the entire width of the aisle of San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, she reminded him of a luscious dollop of whipped cream, tempting him to lick her up with one lusty sweep of his tongue.

His chest got tight as she approached, his stomach twisting in knots as every step led her closer to the altar. She was really going to go through with this. He’d had eighteen months to mentally prepare himself, and still the realization hit him like a fist in the gut. He clenched his hands into fists, took a deep, calming breath, and willed himself not to turn tail and run from the church as fast as he possibly could. He’d made a promise, and unlike some men in his family, when he gave his word he kept it.

“Who gives this woman in marriage to this man?”

Chris watched, a sour ache building in his stomach, as her father, Grant, lifted her veil to reveal a nervous-looking smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“Her mother and I do,” Grant replied, and Chris swallowed back the curse screaming in his brain as Julie’s groom, Chris’s older half brother, Brian, stepped forward to take her trembling hand.

“Where in the world is he? It’s time to cut the cake.”

“I’m sure he’ll be here any minute,” Julie Driscoll Dennison attempted to soothe the frazzled wedding planner. “Why don’t you have one of the ushers check the bathroom, and I’ll see if he’s out in the lobby.”

Honestly, you’d think Brian would know better than to disappear in the middle of the reception.

“Everything okay?” Wendy, Julie’s maid of honor, sidled up alongside her and asked.

“I can’t find Brian. He probably needed a moment to himself.” Wendy quirked a brow. “Right…”

Okay, so Brian wasn’t exactly the introspective type, but still, it was his wedding day. God knew Julie was all but overwhelmed by it all. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen him.” Wendy shook her head. “Where’s his brother? I thought it was the best man’s job to keep tabs on the groom.”

“He left right after he did his toast,” Julie said. She smiled a little when she thought of Chris’s toast. So practiced, so polite. So unlike him. Chris wasn’t the kind of guy who worried about what people thought of him, especially not the stuffy, overly self-important crowd attending her wedding. His easygoing, casual style made him stick out in this crowd, even as he tried to fit in.

Unlike Brian, who could have been a GQ cover model, Chris’s dark brown hair was always a little shaggy, his big, muscular body always looking a little too big for his clothes. But he had looked absolutely delectable in his tux, the white shirt a seductive contrast to his skin, burnished from the strong Caribbean sun. Chris had always been gorgeous in a rough around the edges kind of way, and he’d only improved in the five years since she’d seen him last.

She closed her eyes, trying not to imagine the acres of tanned muscularity he had hidden under that tux.

She’d thought she’d gotten over her silly teenage crush on Chris a long time ago, and her wedding