Excerpt: The Inconvenient Bride

Excerpt: The Inconvenient Bride

Book 6: NY! NY! Series

Chapter One

Sierra should have known it was going to be one of those days. 

The moment she opened her eyes to see the rain pounding down the tulips in the window box on her fire escape, she should have closed them again and pulled the covers over her head. 

Instead she’d pasted on one of her eternal-optimist smiles and told herself how good the rain was for the flowers. She refused to think how bad it was for hair. 

Her mistake. 

Of course it was bad for hair. It was also bad for tempers and taxis and terminally temperamental clients with the artistic vision of brain dead walruses, not to mention for photographers whose babies had been teething all night and models with naturally curly locks. 

No, it was not a good day. 

Sierra did not expect every day to be stress-free. But the bitch-quotient in Finn MacCauley’s studio this morning was threatening to blow Manhattan right off the map. 

“Hurry up,” Finn was saying for the fiftieth time that hour. “Move it! Move it! Move it! Do you know how many damn dresses we’ve still got left to shoot?” 

Sierra didn’t know. She didn’t care. 

The dresses weren’t her problem. Her problem was the hair. 

Sleek hair. Piled hair. Severe shellacked hair. 

“She’s frizzing again!” Ballou, the temperamental client pointed at Alison, the goddess from the Bronx, and said, “Look at her!” He grabbed fistfuls of Alison’s long wildly curling hair straight out from her head and yelled at Sierra, “She can’t friz! She has to be sleek! Make her sleek!” 

It would be easier to make a porcupine bald. Sierra sighed. “Hang on. Let me put on some more gel. Just a little gel.” 

“Sierra, for pete’s sake!” Finn was tearing his own hair. “Let’s go. Stop messing with her and get the hell out of the way.” 

“I just need — “ 

”Sleek,” Ballou insisted. “Smooth. Straight as a die.” He made up and down knifing motions with his hands. 

Then why did you ask for a model with naturally curly hair? Sierra wanted to scream. 

“I’m frizzing, too!” Delilah, the other model, complained. 

“And not the blue. I don’t like her in the blue,” Ballou decided, scrutinizing the dress Alison had just put on. “Let’s try the yellow.” 

“I can’t wear yellow!” the model objected. “I look dead in yellow.” 

“You’re going to be dead in yellow,” Finn said, “if you don’t shut up. We have thirty of these damn things to get finished and we’ve only done six! Sierra! Let’s go!” 

They went. The models stood patiently while Sierra slicked them down again. Ballou fussed and fumed and fretted and changed his mind and Finn griped and growled and cussed and shot. 

And all the while Sierra tried to stay up-beat because after all, she told herself, in the greater course of the universe what difference did it make? 

It was rain. A yellow dress or a blue one. Curly hair. Frizzy hair. Straight hair. What difference did it make? 

It didn’t. 

Not like Frankie. 

That was really what made it a lousy day – thinking about Frankie. 

Frankie Bartelli was going to die. 

Sierra hated to even think that. Her mind rebelled at the thought. Her emotions rejected it furiously. But for all her rebellion and all her rejection, it was going to happen – unless he got a kidney transplant – and soon. 

Sure, some people lived a long time with kidney problems. Some people did just fine on dialysis for years and years. 

But they weren’t Frankie, who for the last few months had been fading right before Sierra’s eyes. 

They weren’t eight years old, either, with their whole lives ahead of them. 

They didn’t dream about climbing mountains and going fishing and playing baseball. They didn’t draw the niftiest space ships or the scariest green monsters or detailed plans for the “best tree house in the world.” 

They didn’t love Star Trek and root beer floats and double cheese pizza. They didn’t have big brown eyes and sooty dark lashes and a cowlick that even Sierra’s most determined hair gel couldn’t subdue for long. They didn’t have the world’s croakiest laugh and a grin that melted you where you stood. 

Or maybe they did. 

Sierra didn’t know. She didn’t know about anyone — except Frankie. 

He and his mother Pam had been Sierra’s neighbors since she’d moved into half of the third floor of a four story walk-up in the Village a year ago. 

Frankie had been a lot healthier looking then. A lot stronger. And Pam hadn’t had that hunted, haunted look in her dark brown eyes. 

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she’d said, her voice cracking when she’d first told Sierra what the doctors had told her. 

To Sierra it was simple. “If he needs a transplant, we’ll get him a transplant,” she had vowed. 

But Pam, desperate but realistic, had shaken her head in despair. “The hospital wants two hundred fifty thousand dollars up front before they’ll even agree to put him on the list.” 

It seemed like highway robbery to Sierra. Extortion. Every vile thing she could think of. Just because Pam was a self-employed illustrator whose insurance coverage had managed to fall through some crack, that was no reason for them to deny Frankie. 

And she said so hotly and furiously more than once. 

But they had denied him. Just this morning Pam had repeated it. “They won’t even see him unless I come up with a quarter of a million dollars.” 

Sierra had almost twenty thousand in savings. Sometimes it seemed like a lot. But compared to what Frankie needed, it was a pittance. Even if she begged on the streets she didn’t think she could come up with as much as Pam needed. But she wasn’t ready to admit defeat. 

“I’ll think of something,” she’d vowed and squeezed Pammie’s hands. “Don’t worry.” 

But if she had told Pammie not to, Sierra worried herself. All morning long, she’d worried. But she hadn’t come up with any ideas at all. 

“Okay. Let’s go. Long necks, ladies. Lots of chin. Gimme lots of chin.” Finn started moving again, shooting as he did so. “Don’t block each other, for God’s sake. Move, Alison.” 

Alison moved – right into one of the reflectors. It fell over with a crash. 

Ballou dropped the half dozen dresses in his arms. “Oh, no! Ohmigod!” He scrabbled for them. “They’ll get creased! Sierra, help!” 

“Damn!” Finn’s face turned red. “Sierra, get the reflector.” 

“I’m frizzing again,” Alison wailed. “Sierra! Do something!” 

And just when Sierra thought the day couldn’t possibly get any worse, the studio door banged open and in strode Dominic Wolfe. 

Strong, Finn’s lady-marine-drill-sergeant office manager came hurrying, hard on his heels. “Excuse me, sir! Sir! You can’t go in there!” 

But Strong didn’t know Dominic Wolfe. 

“The Hotshot With The Cool Head,” The Times business pages had headlined him just last week in an in-depth profile of the hard-driving, hard-working CEO of Wolfe Enterprises. They’d called “an old fashioned business with a new fashioned future.” 

What they meant was that under his guidance, Wolfe Enterprises, a communications company had moved from radio and television right into the newest electronic and digital media without a glitch. 

“Because Dominic Wolfe know what he wants,” the article had said. “And what Dominic wants, Dominic gets.” 

And that, Sierra could have told them, was the honest-to-God truth. 

Strong might have been no more than an angry mosquito as she buzzed after him. 

Sierra watched in morbid astonished fascination, aware that her heart was kicking over in her chest. She hadn’t seen Dominic Wolfe since her sister Mariah married his brother Rhys three months ago. 

She had very carefully not seen him since that time — just as he had very carefully not seen her. 

She had done her damnedest to forget him. 

And she’d certainly never expected him to turn up in the middle of Finn MacCauley’s studio, heading straight toward her. 

But before he reached her, Finn stepped between them. “Wolfe?” He looked perplexed, obviously wondering what his friend Rhys’s high-powered CEO brother was doing here. 

They all wondered – the annoyed Strong, the slack-jawed Ballou, the starry-eyed models, the make-up artist — and Sierra. 

Especially Sierra. 

Since he’d pushed his way through the door, he hadn’t taken his eyes off her. And whatever amazing electricity had begun sizzling between them the first time they’d met when she’d stormed into his office last summer, demanding the whereabouts of his brother was still sizzling all these months later – even though they denied it, assuaged it, tried to ignore it. 

Now she stepped round Finn and looked up into Dominic’s ice chip eyes. “What do you want?” 

“I want you to marry me,” Dominic said.