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Marry Me Book 3

The Kiss Was a Rehearsal, Did She Forget to Say ‘Cut’?

Filmmaker Kay Aaronson left New York for small-town Tobias, Wisconsin, to jumpstart her career. Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan.

When Kay’s leading man stalks off the set of the music video she’s shooting at the historic Bliss House, the town’s wise and beloved Miss Trudi invites recent divorcee Rob Dalton to take the part.

Kay sets the scene, increasingly distracted by this businessman who’s far more handsome than her missing star. When her hands-on direction leads to a fiery kiss, the sparks are visible for all to see.

Everyone thinks they’re right for each other, but nobody knows the secrets they’re harboring. Or what it might mean if those secrets became public.

Will Rob and Kay let fear determine their fate, or risk allowing themselves to explore where that first kiss might lead?

Originally published under the title Least Likely Wedding?

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

“I need a man. Right now.”

In full knowledge that she was unlikely to get what she needed, Kay Aaronson drove her hands through her cropped hair—yet another mistake, getting it chopped off last winter. At first, she’d tried to grow it out, but exasperation had gotten the better of that effort. So she’d cut it shorter to something with a modicum of style, which, her mother had relentlessly pointed out, it had lacked after the initial shearing.

Come to think of it, last winter’s impulsive dive into a chain salon—“A chain? A chain?!” her mother had cried—also had been because of a man.

So was the fact that she would be homeless when she returned to New York in a couple of days.

Men—they were nothing but trouble.

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Kay cupped her hands over her face, wishing the world would go away. At least the male half of it.

“What kind of man would you like, dear?”

The cultured voice, with a twang of Wisconsin, made Kay drop her hands and open her eyes.

Trudi Bliss—“call me Miss Trudi, dear”—looked back at her with a faint smile deepening the lines of her seventy-plus years and with patient eyes, rather like those of an excellent waiter poised to take Kay’s order for a man.

One homo sapiens, male, please. Reasonably attractive, mentally stable, unattached yet capable of attachment, served in a thick sauce of humor. Better make it to go, since she’d be returning to New York as soon as she got this last phase of filming done.

If she got this last phase of filming done, which brought her back to her current problem. And the reason she truly did need a man.

Well, not exactly a man. An actor.

“One to replace the jerk who just walked out,” she told Miss Trudi. “That’s what I need.”

As if there were spare actors littering the wide, tree-roofed streets of Tobias.

In the forty-eight hours since she’d arrived here, Kay had seen plenty of strange sights, but nothing that resembled an actor, except the ones she’d imported from New York.

God, she should have listened to that little voice in the back of her head two days ago. The little voice that had a hissy fit when the well-appointed mini-bus she’d hired at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport had headed northwest into the wilds of Wisconsin.

Better yet, she shouldn’t have listened to Dora in the first place.

Why on earth had she accepted the idea of doing this shoot in her grandmother’s hometown?

Dora had talked about Tobias so often when Kay was little that she had dreamed about the lake, the woods, the house where her grandmother had grown up. But Dora had never gotten around to bringing her only grandchild here before the rift between Dora and Kay’s father had separated Kay from her grandmother.

For sixteen years she hadn’t talked to Dora, not until a few months ago.

“Yes, I gathered that a replacement would be required,” Miss Trudi said. “Although I must say, no other member of the company appears distressed by his departure.”

No other member of the company’s career hung in the balance, Kay thought.

Well, career was a little strong.

Better make it: No other member of the company’s shot at possibly opening the door to beginning what could someday turn out to be a career hung in the balance.

“No one’s going to miss Brice’s personality,” she agreed. “But without him, we can’t finish. I can just hear me telling Serge, Oops, sorry, I can’t give you B roll on an 1899 wedding after all. Even though you’re counting on it for pop diva Donna Ravelle’s next music video. Even though you gambled on an unknown. Even though this is an opportunity of a lifetime. Even though it’s the first step in my plan. Even though I promised…”

“Nonsense, Kay. There is no benefit in looking at the most dire outcome. You said you require a man, so you must have a contingency plan that will allow you to proceed. What is most essential in a replacement man?”

As if this sweet elderly lady who’d been her grandmother’s first art teacher could do anything about replacing the jackass actor who had stomped off the shoot moments ago.

“One who’d fit in Brice’s wardrobe,” she said.

He had waited until they had sunk so much time and money into the project with him playing the groom that starting over was impossible. And then he’d tried to stick her up for more money.

She should have folded. Should have forgotten how much she abhorred blackmail and extortion, and said yes. She would have found the money somewhere, even if she’d had to—no, she wouldn’t borrow from her parents. The strings attached to such a loan would tie her up tighter than the Lilliputians strapped down Gulliver.

“Anything else?” Miss Trudi asked as she absently reeled in a length of peach chiffon scarf that had fluttered loose.

What the hell, Kay thought, she might as well dream big.

“To fit the wardrobe, he’d have to be about Brice’s size and build. Same coloring would be good, though we could dye his hair and there’s always makeup. We’re only going to see him from the back. And as long as I’m wishing for the moon, if he could act, even a little, it would be a big improvement on Brice.”

“I make no representation about his acting, but I know someone who fits your other requirements, dear.”

Kay blinked. The woman sounded sane. And certain.

On the other hand, Miss Trudi was the one who had gotten them to come to Tobias, Wisconsin in the first place.

No, not the one, Kay corrected herself. One of the two.

Dora had been absolutely certain that Bliss House provided the best backdrop for Kay’s film shoot. Dora had explained that Miss Trudi’s family home was being converted to a crafts center to draw visitors to Tobias. Not only did the house provide an ideal background for an 1899 wedding but including it in a video might give business a boost when the center opened this fall.

Hating to risk the tenuous bond she’d been renewing with her grandmother, Kay had agreed to bring the shoot here.

It had been a pain to get the cast and crew to Wisconsin, but Bliss House was perfect—as long as they avoided scaffolding, power tools and construction workers.

With Bliss House as the background, she knew they had great footage. All she needed were a few over-the groom’s shoulder shots, and she would have a piece of work that would start her on her new career path. Sure, she’d started on a number of other careers in the past, but this time she had a plan.

Just a few more shots…

“You find the right man, Miss Trudi,” Kay said, “and I’ll do anything you want.”

“Anything, my dear?”

“Anything.”

Whatever this sweet old lady wanted would be a snap.

*

“Oh, Rob, you should do it,” Fran said. “It’ll be good for you.”

Rob Dalton looked from his younger sister to Miss Trudi. They’d both lost their minds.

“Good for me? How on earth is being in a music video good for me?”

He’d been digging post holes for a compost bin behind the garage when Fran called from the back porch that he had a visitor. When he’d seen Miss Trudi sitting in one of the wicker chairs, he’d hesitated.

Not because he didn’t like Miss Trudi, but because he resented being yanked from the mind-numbing, energy-draining physical labor that almost made him forget.

Good manners won over self-preservation.

Fran opened the porch door and handed him a towel. He scrubbed his face, then the back of his neck.

It stung, burned slightly from today’s sun and yesterday’s sailing, despite the farmer’s tan gained in weeks of helping Max Trevetti’s construction crew catch up after a tornado damaged Bliss House.

If he’d been in Chicago, with tomorrow a work day, he’d be in for an uncomfortable time with shirt-collar, tie, and suit coat. But tomorrow would be just like today. No collar, no tie, no suit.

No answers.

Fran sat near the door with that look of concern she’d tried to hide all summer. Good thing he was better at hiding things than she was.

“I mean meeting new people, doing something different—all that will be good for you, Rob,” Fran said.

Him, in a video. It was nuts.

“I want to finish the compost bin and—”

“Rob, I truly appreciate your work around the house.” Fran had moved back into their childhood home when their father became ill, and stayed on after he died almost two years ago. “But I told you before, it’s not necessary. You should be doing fun things. That’s why you took this summer off.”

Not exactly.

“I’m not sure a music video qualifies.” His dry tone won a smile from his sister.

“There is no actual music at this point, you understand, Rob,” inserted Miss Trudi, as if that might be a drawback. “So there is no need for you to dance in this segment of the production.”

Dance?

Rob closed his eyes. Building a compost bin looked awfully good.

“The director requires someone to stand in for an actor who departed precipitously in a dispute over pay. The primary need is to have a figure to aid filming close-ups of the young woman who plays the bride.”

“Miss Trudi, I’m sure there are dozens of guys in town who would be thrilled to—”

“Oh, but it must be you, Rob. You see, it requires someone of similar physique and appearance to the departed actor.”

“Still, there must be regulations about this sort of thing. Rules to—”

“I am quite certain that Kay will manage all that. I haven’t had the opportunity to speak with her in depth as I had hoped, however, I can assure you that she is an amazing young woman to have arranged and carried out this entire enterprise.”

Miss Trudi speaking in depth with someone involved with making a music video boggled his mind.

“Let me think about this.”

“Time is too short, Rob. I fear that if filming cannot resume immediately, Kay will be forced to take the production elsewhere, and you know we are counting not only on the fee for the Bliss House budget, but to capitalize on the publicity.”

The fee wasn’t much. But then again, neither was the Bliss House budget, especially for publicity. Miss Trudi was right, they needed this. If that meant he stood in for an actor, what could it hurt?

“All right.”

“Excellent. If it’s convenient, may I ride with you to Bliss House?”

“Sure. I’ll take a shower, and then we can go.”

“Or you could ride with me, Miss Trudi,” Fran said.

He frowned at his sister. “You’re going to Bliss House?

“Are you kidding? I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

*

“Perfect! Absolutely perfect!”

The quick-moving woman dressed in black with the dark, feathery hair circled him like he was a cow carcass and she was a butcher deciding where to make the first cut.

At least she didn’t have a knife handy. But Rob wondered how much damage those polished nails of hers could do.

“Kay, this is Rob Dalton,” Miss Trudi said. “He’s a member of the Bliss House committee, and he’s agreed to help you complete rolling B.”

Still circling, the young woman murmured, “B roll.”

“Ah,” Miss Trudi said. “Your camera operator explained that to me earlier. Rob, this is Kay Aaronson, director of this project.”

“How do you do.” He put out his hand, but she was behind him now.

He looked over his shoulder. Through Bliss House’s open front door he saw his sister greeting Steve and Annette Corbett. The couple had instigated Bliss House’s renovation last winter—and Steve was town manager—so it made sense for them to be on hand.

He had the uncomfortable feeling, though, that sense hadn’t brought them here. Especially when he considered Steve’s big grin and the fact that they’d arrived just in time for Rob to make a fool of himself.

He wished he were back digging post holes. Better yet, he wished he had a good pen in his hand and a fresh white-papered legal pad in front of him to write out exactly what steps to take next—steps to essentially dismantle the career he’d worked so hard to build.

On the other hand, he’d tried sitting on the roof with a good pen and a legal page this morning and got nowhere. That’s what had moved digging post holes to the top of his to-do list for the day.

“Turn around.” Kay Aaronson waved one long-fingered hand as she squinted at him. “I want to see the back of your head.”

He complied, and studied the chaos in Bliss House’s renovated front hall and stairwell. Cameras, lights, toolboxes, mysterious electronic black boxes, enough wires to reach Minnesota, chairs, rolling cloth-covered wardrobe racks, paper coffee cups from empty to brimming, bottled water, reflector stands, and crumpled papers. It looked as if another tornado had hit.

“Uh-huh. Good. Good.”

“Ms. Aaronson, there are practical considerations before I agree to—”

“You’re right. We’ll have to style your hair.” She reached up and brushed her fingers into his hair.

It felt as if a shock jumped between them. But it was a very peculiar shock. Not the concentrated, intense burst from scuffing across carpet in a winter-dry house. Instead, it seemed to spread swelling heat across the base of his neck.

But it must be an electrical shock. It was the only logical explanation.

Apparently she’d felt it, too, because she snatched her hand back, though she kept talking.

“Not sure if we’ll have to dye it. It might be a little lighter than Brice the Rat Fink’s. We’ll need makeup on the neck to tone down that red. Jeff!”

“Dye? My hair?” Rob demanded. He heard laughter from behind him.

But Kay had spun away. “Miss Trudi, you are a miracle-worker and a savior. You’ve rescued me and I can’t tell you how grateful I am. I never thought you could do it, but you have. He’s perfect.”

“Ms. Aaronson—” Rob started.

“Call me Kay.”

“Fine. Kay, there must be rules about filling in for an actor.”

“Rules?” she repeated as if she’d never heard the word. And then she had her arm around a wiry man of about thirty who had hurried up with a large plastic contraption resembling a tackle box. “Jeff, you know Brice’s hair—I want Rob’s cut like it. You make the call on the color.”

“Got it, Kay. Chair! Table! Light!”

Just like that, a folding chair was slid behind Rob, chopping against the back of his knees to strongly encourage him to sit. The man named Jeff opened his tackle box on a table that materialized and opened it.

No self-respecting fish would go after these hairy, fuzzy, and multicolored lures.

A plastic bib was wrapped around Rob, and he heard scissors going at the back of his head before he could react. His hair would grow back. But there were some sacrifices he wasn’t willing to make for Bliss House.

“Ms. Aaronson—Kay. You are not going to dye my hair.”

She flitted in front of him again, squinting in concentration.

She kept circling. The movement made the wispy ends of her dark hair flutter. Her hair smoothly followed the shape of her skull until it reached those feathery ends.

“The color’s fine, Kay,” Jeff said between snips. “Now that I’m taking off where the sun lightened it.”

“Better than fine,” she said with a nod as she came back into view. “Especially since this won’t be in color. If the suit fits as well, he’s going to be perfect. Absolutely perfect.”

A smile spread across her face. Not only her mouth, though that was clearly made for smiling. But over her cheeks, into her eyes. Hell, it seemed to sparkle in the wispy ends of her hair.

Rob didn’t know how long he’d been staring at her before he realized she was staring back. He didn’t know what color her eyes were. Only that they had a depth that could pull him in and never let him surface.

And then she pivoted away, calling out, “Wardrobe! Get that suit ready! Ready to go in ten, everyone! Ten!”

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