She’s always been the girl with the plan . . . until the plan crashed big time
Kendall Walsh has exactly one second to save a fancy, five-tiered wedding cake and any possibility of being a wedding planner—not to mention her family’s struggling ski resort. All because of one very cute, very furry, golden menace of a retriever who has a serious thing for butter chiffon icing. Which is exactly when Olympic skier Brody James shows up and saves the day . . . and the cake.
Brody makes Kendall feel about a million indecipherable things. He’s her brother’s bestie. Her first crush. And a ridiculously popular Olympic hero, which only reminds her of her own failed Olympic dreams. What Brody isn’t telling her is that he’s walked away from it all. The fame. The sponsorships. The celebrity girlfriend. Now he and Kendall are both lost somewhere between their past and a future they can’t yet see. But four weddings, one mischievous puppy, and a few steamy kisses later, these two might just realize that they are both exactly where they need to be…with each other.
Release date: November 21, 2023
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Print pages: 352
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Four Weddings and a Puppy
Or maybe that was only Kendall’s life.
It was like some scene from a wedding movie designed to make the audience cringe—but it was a lot less entertaining when it was her disaster.
As the golden menace launched himself at the cake, his tongue flapping gleefully out of the side of his mouth, Kendall lunged forward—along with half a dozen guests with outstretched hands, as if they were trying to stop time or freeze the dog with telekinesis.
She saw her wedding planning career flashing before her eyes—which admittedly was a short replay. The ski resort had never been much of a wedding venue. But she’d been so sure she could do this.
Five minutes ago, she’d been standing at the back of the ballroom in a sleeveless black pantsuit and a French twist, holding a tablet and trying to be invisible and approachable at the same time. On a dais forty feet away, the father of one of the two brides had been crying his way through his toast.
It really had been a sweet moment. There hadn’t been a dry eye in the house. Except Kendall’s.
Even if she’d been the type to feel all sappy at weddings—which she absolutely wasn’t—she’d been too busy scanning the ballroom for potential mishaps and making sure the staff whisking away the dinner plates were doing so in a suitably unobtrusive manner.
Everything needed to be perfect.
This wasn’t just a wedding. It was an audition. Her chance to get out of conference purgatory. To show her father that the resort should be courting more wedding business.
Kendall didn’t have a romantic bone in her body. Which made her quite possibly the least likely wedding planner on the face of the planet, but she’d learned long ago that sometimes life took an unexpected turn and all you could do was hang on and ride it out.
Destination weddings were a big business in Vermont. The resort’s massive ballroom with its two-story curved windows and attached veranda provided jaw-dropping views of the surrounding snow-covered mountains. It appealed to conference organizers for its sheer size, but it could be a gold mine as a reception venue. Maybe even a way to get the resort far enough into the black that they could hire more help and she could finally take some time off.
All she’d needed was perfection.
So she’d been scanning the room, on guard for anything that might develop into a problem if left unchecked.
Orchestrating a flawlessly timed meal for 275 guests had felt a bit like trying to turn water into wine, but they’d done it. Dinner plates were being cleared. Champagne flutes were being deftly topped up. The toasts would be wrapping up soon. The brides would open the dancing, and then it would just be cake cutting and keeping the smiles on everyone’s faces for the rest of the night. As far as her staff were concerned, the hard part would be over.
But then she’d seen him.
Furry, golden chaos in canine form.
Kendall adored dogs. She wanted a dog. She just didn’t have time to commit to one long term. So fostering Banner until he found his new home had seemed like a nice compromise between her wants and the realities of her life.
Unfortunately, her best friend Charlotte had left out one or two things when she’d suckered Kendall into fostering the demon dog.
Like the fact that the eleven-month-old golden retriever had been returned to the shelter by two different families after chewing through three cellphones, five pairs of designer shoes, and one couch in the last six months. Or that he was a canine pinball, constantly in motion, and a giant klutz who hadn’t gotten used to the length of his gangly legs and ran into things constantly—when he wasn’t chewing the furniture.
He’d seemed so sweet and harmless when Charlotte brought him to Kendall’s doorstep—but he’d also been three-quarters asleep after playing with Charlotte’s dog all afternoon. Kendall’s heart had gone out to the little guy with his big black puppy dog eyes. She’d hated that the people who’d promised to love him had given up on him the second things got hard.
But after only eight days of fostering, she was now certain the only reason he was called Banner was because naming him Hulk Smash would have been too on the nose.
He was an adorable furry wrecking ball.
And someone had left one of the double doors to the lobby open wide enough for him to get in.
Spotting him, Kendall had jerked to attention so fast that her back twinged.
One of the ski instructors was supposed to be distracting the energetic puppy and keeping him far away from the wedding guests, but she should have known if there was an opportunity for trouble somewhere on the resort property, Banner would find it.
As the golden puppy had made a beeline for the nearest table, Kendall moved quickly to intercept, trying to keep her movements calm and restrained—both to avoid spooking the dog and so no one at the head table had reason to wonder why the resort’s wedding planner was chasing a golden tail through the distant-cousins-and-work-acquaintances tables.
He’d moved through the back tables, leaving a ripple of murmurs in his wake—though thankfully the reactions had seemed to be more “Oh look! A dog!” than alarm. He’d wagged his tail eagerly as he veered from mark to mark, looking for someone to beg food off of.
The dog was extremely food motivated, but Kendall didn’t have his treat bag to shake as she edged along the side of the ballroom, so she’d paused long enough to set down her tablet and grab a dinner roll off a bus tray.
“Banner!” Kendall shout-whispered as Bailey’s brother took the microphone to begin his best man toast.
The dog had glanced in her direction—and then performed evasive maneuvers around table eighteen.
“Banner!” Kendall tried again, a little louder, wagging the roll in his direction. At that point, the brides hadn’t yet noticed the kamikaze golden retriever on a mission to destroy all of Kendall’s hard work from the past several months, but it was only a matter of time.
“Is that Bingley? Here, Bingley!” one of the aunties at table nine cooed, mistaking the troublemaker for his littermate, Charlotte’s perfectly behaved angel puppy. Charlotte’s aunt extended her hand—which Banner mistook as an invitation to play, crouching and wagging his tail before romping away.
Kendall smiled at Charlotte’s aunt as she tried to give chase without looking like she was giving chase. With the toasts directing everyone’s attention toward the bridal table, so far only a handful of the guests seem to have noticed the furry wedding crasher, and she’d been trying to keep it that way.
“Banner!” Kendall hissed, creeping closer, but the best man’s toast ended in that moment and everyone in the room rose to toast the brides, sending the dog into spins of excitement. “Come here!”
He leapt in little circles, zigging and zagging. She could almost grab him—
And then a cellphone rang. Banner’s siren song. Someone had left their phone out on the dessert table, and it had called the food-obsessed dog’s attention toward the magnificent wedding cake on display there.
His head had perked up, ears twitching forward—and Kendall’s heart had dropped to the bottom of her chest.
“No no no no no.” She’d given up on stealth as Banner suddenly bolted across the open dance floor, straight for the glorious five-tiered lemon raspberry masterpiece from Magda’s Bakery.
Kendall needed everything to be perfect. Which did not include a dog she was responsible for demolishing that tower of buttercream perfection.
She’d sprinted after him—but he was fast and he had a head start.
Gasps and shouts rippled through the room as the wedding guests caught on to the imminent destruction of the cake.
She could see it all happening in slow motion—the dog building up speed, the cake looming ahead.
Back when she’d been a professional athlete, her brain would click into a different mode: race mode. Everything would slow down and get a little sharper, a little brighter. She didn’t often find herself in that mode anymore, when everything was instinct and reaction and it all felt so clear—but she clicked into it now.
At the head table, the brides rose, clasping one another’s hands, and Kendall caught sight of Charlotte, seated next to her sister as part of the bridal party, her face twisted into an almost comical mask of horror. More guests were surging to their feet—the entirety of table two making it nearly impossible for Kendall to see Banner, let alone reach him in time.
She’d needed this.
And she certainly didn’t want to ruin the lovely wedding of two lovely people by splattering them with buttercream shrapnel after a puppy grenade landed in the middle of their cake.
Kendall shouted a pointless “Noooo!” along with two-thirds of the occupants of the ballroom.
Banner soared through the air—
And slammed into a solid chest in a fitted gray vest.
Kendall hadn’t seen him move, but somehow the tall man in the charcoal vest caught the squirming puppy in the nick of time.
A cheer echoed through the ballroom, but Kendall didn’t join in. She was too mortified—and too busy rushing to help the man in the charcoal vest before Banner could wriggle free.
She grabbed Banner’s collar, fully focused on the dog and trying to figure out what she could fashion into a leash to get him out of here—though it was hard not to notice the arms holding the dog.
The man was fit. Not surprising, since he was the only one who’d managed to move faster than a speeding golden retriever. The event was black tie, but he’d taken off his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Tanned forearms flexed as he hefted Banner’s wiggly weight, getting little white-gold hairs all over his perfectly fitted vest.
“Thank you,” Kendall said, still looking around for something leash-like. “You just saved my life.”
“And here I thought I just saved dessert.”
At the laughter rumbling in his voice—that familiar sound—Kendall looked up at his face, actually looked at him for the first time.
Recognition kicked her hard in the chest, forcing out a gasp.
He had a beard now. His trademark sun-streaked curls were gone, his sandy brown hair seeming darker when it was short like this and gelled up in some fancy style that probably took hours to complete, but damn if it wasn’t worth every second. Sophisticated. Like a box of luxury chocolates. The man was pure eye candy.
But then he’d always been.
And the laughing blue eyes were exactly the same.
His name floated out on a breath. “Brody.”
He grinned, those straight white teeth that had actually been on a toothpaste commercial flashing out of his neatly trimmed beard. “Hey, Speed Demon. Been a while.”
Brody James. Pride of Vermont. Two-time Winter Olympian. Four-time medalist.
Her childhood best friend. Her brother’s current best friend. Her first crush.
And the man who was the walking example of what her life could have been, if one awful fraction of a second hadn’t changed everything.
“What are you doing here?” She shook her head, dismissing the question before he had a chance to answer. “Never mind. Here. Give him to me.”
She had no idea what to feel when she looked at Brody anymore—but she didn’t have time to feel any of it. She needed to get Banner out of here before he got any more white-golden fur all over Brody’s perfectly fitted charcoal vest.
And then hopefully she’d find some way to erase the last five minutes from the memories of everyone in the room.
Kendall thrust out her arms for the dog, only realizing she was still holding the dinner roll when Banner lunged for it.
“Whoa,” Brody chuckled, catching Banner when the dog would have tumbled out of his oh-so-capable arms.
Other wedding guests were gathering around, patting Brody on the back and gushing about his heroism. It was about to become even more of a spectacle.
The absolute last thing Kendall needed when the guests left was everyone talking about how the Pine Hollow Mountain Resort weddings featured rowdy dogs who nearly ruined everything. This wedding was supposed to be their freaking calling card.
And Brody was just standing there, holding the squirming dog in his stupidly gorgeous arms in the middle of the dance floor.
“Do you have a leash?” he asked, and Kendall badly wanted to snap, If I had a leash, don’t you think I would have used it?
Instead, she kept her voice calm and wedding-planner smooth. “I don’t. I’ll just carry him. Here.”
She gave Banner the roll and tried to take him, but Brody hitched him up higher—and he was enough taller than she was that it made it impossible for her to get the gangly puppy from him without making an even bigger scene. “I can carry him,” he insisted. “Where do you want him?”
Kendall rapidly weighed the satisfaction of arguing with him against the virtue of getting Banner away from the other guests—and the cake—as quickly as humanly possible.
“Way to use those quick Olympic reflexes, Brody!” one of Bailey’s uncles called out—and Kendall officially tipped in favor of get the hell out of here.
“Fine,” she said briskly. “Let’s go.”
She started toward the closest service door, but Charlotte was suddenly there in her powder-blue Regency-style bridesmaid dress, blocking their path. “Is that Banner? Bingley’s supposed to be at George’s—”
“It’s Banner,” Kendall confirmed, proud of herself that she refrained from adding, The demon dog you conned me into fostering. “And the sooner everyone forgets he exists, the better. Do you have some magical distraction that can erase the last five minutes from everyone’s brains while we get him out of here?”
At the we Charlotte’s curious gaze moved to Brody, still holding the dog, and her eyes flared wide with recognition. “Brody. Hi.”
She was staring—but then Charlotte knew all about Kendall’s inappropriate teenage crush, and all the other emotions she’d pinned on an oblivious Brody over the years.
“Charlotte. Distraction?” Kendall prompted.
Charlotte snapped to attention. “Right. On it. I’ll shove a microphone in Elinor’s face and make her sing a song for the happy couple. No one will remember anything about a dog.”
That might actually work. Charlotte’s oldest sister, Elinor, had one of those voices that could have been on the radio, if she hadn’t been happier as a small-town librarian. Her karaoke performances were legendary.
“Thank you.” Kendall squeezed Charlotte’s hand, jerked her chin at Brody for him to follow her, and beelined toward the nearest exit.
Thankfully, no one else tried to intercept them. She pushed through into the bright white service hallway—and her anxiety level dropped fifty percent as soon as the door closed between them and the wedding.
She was just going to keep telling herself that until it was true.
“Do I know Charlotte?” Brody asked as Banner wriggled more frantically to be let down. Brody shifted him in his arms, cradling him with one big hand rubbing his belly. The dog instantly settled down, going limp in his arms and gazing adoringly up at the source of the pets.
“One of my best friends, Charlotte Rodriguez,” Kendall explained, eyeing a couple napkins on a rack to see if she could MacGyver them into a leash. “Also, sister of Anne, one of the brides.” She grabbed the napkins and looked back at him, frowning as she began to knot them together. “Why are you here?”
“The other bride. Bailey’s my stepcousin.”
“No, why are you here? Aren’t you supposed to be in Switzerland or the Italian Alps? Isn’t there a World Cup competition this weekend?”
Her attention was on the napkins she was tying, but she looked up when he didn’t immediately respond. He opened his mouth, something complicated shifting across his face, before his high-wattage movie-star smile flashed back on his face so brightly she almost convinced herself she must have been imagining his hesitation.
“I’m just taking a little time off,” he said, still absently rubbing Banner’s tummy. “Rehabbing the knee.”
“You okay?” Kendall glanced automatically down at his leg, but none of the old injury was visible beneath his perfectly fitted trousers.
“Yeah. You know how it is.” He shifted his leg back, almost like he didn’t want her looking at it.
She had the strangest sense that he was lying—but that didn’t make any sense. And she didn’t need to be staring at his legs. She pulled her attention back to adding another napkin to the chain before she got caught ogling her old crush. “You should put him down,” she said. “Carting Banner around can’t be good for it.”
“I’m fine,” he insisted.
“Don’t play macho and make your recovery worse.” She yanked a knot tight. “You should get back anyway. My office is close. I’ll take him in a sec,” she said, nearly done jury-rigging a leash out of stray linen.
“You have an office here?”
Her face heated. “Didn’t Kev say? I work at the resort. Staffing and events.”
“Oh…” His brow furrowed, something distinctly pitying in his eyes.
Yes, she’d run home with her tail between her legs and never left, but did he have to look at her like that? Brody, whose life had always been so freaking perfect. “You can set down the dog.”
“I can help you find the owner—”
“I’m the owner. At least this week. I’m fostering. Look, just—” Kendall broke off, gathering herself with a deep breath. Had Brody always been this aggravating, or was it just the fact that she hated the idea of him seeing what her life was like right now that made it so excruciating for him to keep standing there, petting the dog and asking her questions?
“I really need this wedding to go well,” she explained with forced calm. “So I would appreciate it if you would just brush the dog hair off your two-thousand-dollar suit, go back out there, and pretend none of this happened. Consider it a personal favor to your friendly neighborhood wedding planner.”
“I can’t wrap my head around you as a wedding planner.”
“Yeah, well, life’s full of surprises.”
She’d never been the hearts-and-flowers type—the Kendall Walsh who’d tried to jump her bike across the Woodland quarry when she was eight and eloped on a dare at twenty-three had been more of a risk-taker than a romantic. But she wasn’t that girl anymore.
Banner tried to do a backflip out of Brody’s arms, and Brody set him down before he could hurt himself, keeping a firm hand on his collar. Kendall quickly took her own grip, attempting to tie on her leash.
“I’ve got him,” she insisted, refusing to look at Brody’s face so close to hers. His aftershave smelled freaking incredible—which was frankly irritating. Did he have to be so damn perfect?
“I can help—”
“I’ve got him,” she snapped.
“Okay.” Brody straightened and she gave her napkin-leash a firm tug to make sure it was going to hold before following suit. The man was ridiculously tall, so her gaze hit two inches below his collarbone—where his vest was covered in white-gold hair.
“Oh God, you’re a mess.” She automatically swiped at the hair—and his rock-hard muscles tightened beneath her hand. Kendall jerked her hand back, reminding herself that she did not need to be petting Brody James. “Sorry.”
“It’s fine. It’s just a little hair.”
Her face was hot enough to roast marshmallows, but Brody, in typical Brody fashion, was utterly oblivious to the fact that touching him might give her feels. He’d never seen her that way, and it didn’t look like he was about to start now.
“I guess I’ll see you out there, Speed Demon,” he said with that same easy, carefree smile he’d always had—and Kendall nearly flinched as he repeated the old nickname.
She wasn’t that person anymore. She hadn’t been that person in a long time. Right now, she was just the one who needed to find a place to stash the dog and get back to the wedding before anything else went wrong.
And the absolute last thing she needed was to spend any more time being reminded of who she might have been in another life.
She jerked her chin in farewell. “See you around, Brody. Enjoy the wedding.”
Kendall Walsh hadn’t changed a bit.
Her blond hair still looked like sunshine—and she still had that ever-present grumpy frown line between her eyebrows to warn the world that they should assume she was sunny at their own risk.
And Brody still couldn’t resist grinning in the face of that semipermanent glower.
God, it was good to see her.
He’d wanted to talk to her longer. He could easily have spent the entire night in that service hallway with her, but he’d gotten the distinct impression that she couldn’t wait to get rid of him.
Kendall had never been subtle.
Brody returned to the ballroom in time to join the standing ovation for Anne’s sister, who had brought both brides to tears with her rendition of “Time After Time.” Which did seem to have helped distract people somewhat from the surprise guest appearance of one overgrown puppy.
He made his way back to table eight but had to pause several times to accept handshakes and pats on the back on the way—so maybe the puppy incident wasn’t completely forgotten. But he did his best to downplay it, since Kendall very clearly didn’t want it to be a thing. Though he didn’t know why. People loved stories like that. They’d be telling their friends they saw Brody James save a cake from a runaway puppy for months.
“Hail, the conquering hero,” his sister, Steph, drawled as he reclaimed his seat, raising her champagne glass in a toast.
“I’ve never seen anyone move that fast!” gasped one of his cousins, whom Brody hadn’t seen since he was seventeen. His voice a little too loud, his eyes carrying the awestruck glimmer of a superfan. “Must be those Olympic reflexes!”
“Must be,” Steph confirmed, meeting his eyes with a glint of humor in hers—as if she knew that he’d already heard that phrase three times in the last ten minutes.
Steph always seemed to find it hysterical when people were in awe of him, and he hadn’t realized how much he’d missed that reality check. He’d been away from home a lot these last few years. Hell, the last decade.
No wonder members of his own family were treating him like a visiting celebrity. None of them really knew him anymore.
He hadn’t planned to be back for this wedding. Nothing about this trip had been planned or thought out. It had all been impulse. Reaction. He’d arrived back in the States four days ago and scored a last-minute invite to Bailey’s massive spectacle of a wedding, grateful for the distraction.
He’d thought he could come to the wedding, see some family, do the chicken dance, and soak up some normalcy. Maybe get his head on straight. Figure out his next steps.
But his plan to fly beneath the radar hadn’t exactly panned out. Even before the puppy incident, people had been buzzing around him. Asking for his autograph. Asking him how long he was back for this time. Where he kept his Olympic medals. What it was like dating an Italian runway model.
He’d had to play the part. Be the Brody James. And that hadn’t exactly helped his quest for a little peace and hometown clarity.
Not that anyone knew what he was doing here. He hadn’t even told his parents or his sister why he was back. If they asked, he wasn’t sure he’d even be able to put into words why he’d walked off the training course and left his entire life behind. His chest still felt tight whenever he thought about it. So he pushed the thoughts away. Introspection had never really been his thing anyway.
The knee was a good excuse. Every professional skier was always managing various injuries, especially at his age. So he’d let people think that was why he was here, skipping a pivotal World Cup event right as the season was kicking into high gear. Pretending everything was fine.
A hand clapped him suddenly on the shoulder, and he flinched. “Back to grace the mortals with your prese. . .
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