Welcome To Bliss, the Bridal Capital of the Midwest!
Single mom Natalie Castellano isn’t feeling so blissful these days...
Natalie’s made a career out of screwing up all over her hometown. But it’s redemption time, and she’s putting on her big girl panties to make sure this year’s bridal festival goes off without a hitch. Even if it means she has to play nice with the man who broke her fairy tale.
She’s definitely not the one for him. Or is she...
World adventurer and reluctant local hero CJ Blue doesn’t want to be in Bliss anymore than Natalie wants him here. But family obligations have brought him back, and now, and now he’s somehow been roped into saving the town tradition he’d rather forget with the woman whose kiss he can’t forget. She frustrates him and drives him nuts but he's had more fun giving her a hard time about the bridal festival than he has in years.
And their fun is just starting...
Despite their rocky past, these two wounded souls have more in common than they expect. They’ve both loved and lost, they’ve both tried to move on, and now they’ve both been been banned from the local church confessional after...well, they’re not supposed to talk about it. But by joining forces for the sake of Bliss, they might find the courage and the sparks to risk love one more time.
NATALIE CASTELLANO had spent the better portion of the last five years in the shadow of happily ever after. Usually it came from the family bridal boutique or the Knot Festival committee, sometimes from the five-story wedding cake monument standing guard over downtown Bliss. But today?
Today, it came from the man who had broken her fairy tale.
He was back, and if the Queen General got her way—which she always did—he was back to stay.
Bliss was giving Natalie the blues. In more ways than one.
She wove through the crowded foyer of St. Valentine’s Catholic Church, focused on two goals: be invisible, and avoid CJ Blue. All two hundred million of his relatives—or possibly only fifty or sixty or them—filled the foyer and blocked her path to a stained-glass door leading outside. It wasn’t just a door. It was escape. Escape from the well-dressed crowd, escape from the overpowering perfume of wedding flowers, escape from her own memories and regrets and guilt.
She clutched her sewing kit in her slick hand and stopped when yet another pastel-clad woman sporting a corsage stepped into her path. Natalie ducked her head and dodged right. “Excuse me,” she murmured.
The last few years, she’d gotten good at being invisible at weddings.
More like she’d gotten good at not making appearances at weddings at all. Were it not for today’s high-profile guest list—both the bride and groom had spent the last several years touring with the bands of some mega country music stars—Natalie wouldn’t have left the bridal boutique to do an emergency fix on a veil she hadn’t sold.
For CJ Blue’s sister.
Nevertheless, Nat couldn’t pass up the chance to represent Bliss Bridal among a crowd like this. The boutique couldn’t buy this kind of publicity.
The boutique couldn’t buy any publicity lately. Not in Bliss.
If the Queen General caught Natalie here, though, publicity would be the least of Bliss Bridal’s problems. So Nat had kept her name to herself in the bride’s quarters and dropped a few generic Bliss Bridal business cards in the room. And now she was alternately keeping her head down and scanning the crowd while she zigzagged for the door. Dress, dress, dress, tuxedo. Check the hair—no red—keep going. Dress, dress, dress, tuxedo.
Fifteen more feet, and she’d be outside. Then a dash across the parking lot, and with any luck, the Queen General would never know Natalie had been here.
Four chattering women stepped into Nat’s path. She dodged left and bumped into the chalky ivory wall. Another two women approached from her side. She slid along the wall until she was boxed in by a closed wooden door, a table holding church bulletins, and a group of women more fragrant than a bride’s bouquet. Fourteen more feet, and the crowd was swelling around her like jellyfish. “Excuse me,” she murmured again.
The back of her neck prickled. Then the backs of her knees. A tinny taste tickled the back of her tongue.
What was she doing here? She should’ve been setting up a wedding cake somewhere.
But there she was, the Queen General herself, marching through a crowd that parted for her like trees splitting in a tornado. A tornado headed away from Natalie. For the moment.
Marilyn Elias, Queen General of Bliss, had more power than the mayor. Probably more power than the governor of Illinois. As chairperson of the entire Knot Festival, she oversaw the annual week devoted to Bliss’s celebration of its very purpose—weddings and marriage and bliss. She managed the subcommittees responsible for every Knot Fest event from the parade to the bridal expo to the Husband Games, Bliss’s final festival event where men competed in a series of challenges—like lawn mowing, dishwashing, and wife-kissing—to be named Husband of the Year. And she did it all with the single-minded, take-no-prisoners drive usually reserved for dictators, bridezillas and cartoon villains.
Natalie hugged the wall, one eye straining to follow the QG, the other on the outer door she could barely glimpse now. She had to escape.
Now or never.
“Excuse me,” she said.
Her voice drowned in the normal pre-wedding chatter. She tried to shift around the table, but the crowd pushed her back against the door.
The QG stopped near the chapel entrance. Natalie could tell because the shuffle of bodies stopped. But she had another clue too. A big one, towering over the female-dominated crowd, his back to her.
A man. In black. With red hair.
A word entirely inappropriate for a church squeaked through her lips.
Nat had to hide.