|Home > Lisa Kleypas > Brown-Eyed Girl|
“Did you schedule that too?” Mocking amusement glinted in his eyes.
I shot him a warning glance. “You should probably spruce up before the guests are up and out this morning.” I reached into my bag for a disposable razor. “Here, take this. Ask Steven where there’s a place you can shave, and —”
“Slow down, honey. I have my own razor.” He smiled slightly. “Do you always talk so fast?”
I frowned, tucking the razor back into my bag. “I have to get to work. I suggest you do the same.”
“I don’t work for George. I’m commercial and freelance. No weddings.”
“Then what are you here for?” I asked.
“I’m a guest. Friend of the groom’s.”
Stunned, I stared at him with wide eyes. The creepy-crawly heat of embarrassment covered me from head to toe. “I’m sorry,” I managed to say. “When I saw your camera, I assumed…”
“No harm done.”
There was nothing I hated more than looking foolish, nothing. The appearance of competence was essential in building a client base… especially the upper-class clientele I was aiming for. But now on the day of the biggest, most expensive wedding my studio and I had ever orchestrated, this man was going to tell his wealthy friends about how I’d mistaken him for the hired help. There would be snickers behind my back. Snide jokes. Contempt.
Wanting to put as much distance as possible between us, I muttered, “If you’ll excuse me…” I turned and walked away as fast as I could without breaking into a run.
“Hey,” I heard Joe say, catching up to me in a few long strides. He had grabbed the camera and slung it on a strap over his shoulder. “Hold on. No need to be skittish.”
“I’m not skittish,” I said, hurrying toward a flagstone-floored pavilion with a wooden roof. “I’m busy.”
He matched my pace easily. “Wait a minute. Let’s start over.”
“Mr. Travis —,” I began, and stopped dead in my tracks as I realized exactly who he was. “God,” I said sickly, closing my eyes for a moment. “You’re one of those Travises, aren’t you.”
Joe came around to face me, his gaze quizzical. “Depends on what you mean by ‘those.’”
“Oil money, private planes, yachts, mansions. Those.”
“I don’t have a mansion. I have a fixer-upper in the Sixth Ward.”
“You’re still one of them,” I insisted. “Your father is Churchill Travis, isn’t he?”
A shadow crossed his expression. “Was.”
Too late, I remembered that approximately six months earlier, the Travis family patriarch had passed away from sudden cardiac arrest. The media had covered his funeral extensively, describing his life and accomplishments in detail. Churchill had made his vast fortune with venture and growth capital investing, most of it related to energy. He’d been highly visible in the eighties and nineties, a frequent guest on TV business and financial shows. He – and his heirs – were the equivalent of Texas royalty.
“I’m… sorry for your loss,” I said awkwardly.
A wary silence ensued. I could feel his gaze moving over me, as tangible as the heat of sunlight.
“Look, Mr. Travis —”
“Joe,” I repeated. “I’m more than a little preoccupied. This wedding is a complicated production. At the moment I’m managing the setup of the ceremony site, the decoration of an eight-thousand-square-foot reception tent, a formal dinner and dance with a live orchestra for four hundred guests, and a late night after-party. So I apologize for the misunderstanding, but —”
“No need to apologize,” he said gently. “I should’ve spoken up sooner, but it’s hard to get a word in edgewise with you.” Amusement played at the corners of his mouth. “Which means either I’m going to have to speed up, or you’re going to have to slow down.”
Even as tense as I was, I was tempted to smile back.
“There’s no need for the Travis name to make you feel uncomfortable,” he continued. “Believe me, no one who knows my family is impressed by us in the least.” He studied me for a moment. “Where are you headed to now?”
“The pavilion,” I said, nodding to the covered wooden structure beyond the pool.
“Let me walk you there.” At my hesitation, he added, “In case you run across another scorpion. Or some other varmint. Tarantulas, lizards… I’ll clear a path for you.”
Wryly, I reflected that the man could probably charm the rattles off a snake. “It’s not that bad out here,” I said.
“You need me,” he said with certainty.
Together we walked to the ceremony site, crossing beneath a motte of live oak on the way. The white silk reception tent in the distance was poised on a tract of emerald lawn like a massive cloud that had floated down to rest. There was no telling how much precious water had been used to maintain that brilliant grassy oasis, freshly rolled out and laid only a few days ago. And every tender green blade would have to be pulled up tomorrow.
Stardust was a four-thousand-acre working ranch with a main lodge, a compound of guesthouses and assorted buildings, a barn, and a riding arena. My event-planning studio had arranged to lease the private property while the owners were away on a two-week cruise. The couple had agreed on condition the property would be restored to exactly the way it had been before the wedding.