On the Verge of I Do

By: Heidi Betts

“This is a lot of work. I don’t know how you do it on a daily basis.”

Kara Kincaid chuckled as she turned another page of the catering catalog spread open on the glossy surface of the low black lacquer coffee table in front of them.

“And I don’t know how you keep half a dozen luxury hotels and resorts up and running. I’d rather pore over guest lists and seven-course menus any day than try to keep all of that afloat,” she told her older sister’s fiancé.

Eli Houghton was tall and handsome and mouth-wateringly well-built. With chocolate-brown eyes and wind-blown, coffee-brown hair, the man could make a woman’s heart skip a beat without even trying. When he did try…well, that was enough to stop a woman’s heart from beating entirely.

“You’re selling yourself short, darlin’,” he told her, flashing a smile that made her own internal organs do things she didn’t think her personal physician would approve of. “We may have different talents, but we’ve both managed to build successful businesses for ourselves.”

“Except that Houghton Hotels and Resorts is worth millions of dollars, and I run Prestige Events out of my home office.”

They were sitting on a black leather sofa in Eli’s impressive ninth-floor office, but ordinarily they would be having this meeting in the small ground-floor library-turned-workplace of her meticulously restored circa 1806 French Quarter row house on Queen Street.

She loved the quaint, three-bedroom/three-bath home, which was more than enough space for a single gal like herself. But she did sometimes worry that running her business out of her home gave the wrong impression to potential clients. Not for the first time, she realized that she should probably give some serious consideration to renting an office elsewhere.

Possibly even an entire building where she could host tastings, put up displays and store reusable decorations so she wouldn’t have to rent them from vendors. She might hire an assistant—or even employees, plural, one day—to help her, since she’d been running things pretty much single-handedly so far.

She didn’t regret the hard work. Prestige Events was, after all, her baby. The business she’d started on her own, stepping away from her family’s interests in shipping and real estate to do it. But it might be nice, just once, to not have to be responsible for everything, for everyone else. Or at the very least, to have a handful of workers on staff that she could turn to when two arms, two legs, two ears and one mouth just didn’t seem to be enough to get the job done on time.

“Give it time, sugar,” Eli said in a voice as smooth as Kentucky bourbon, drawing her attention back to their conversation. “Keep doing what you’re doing, and I’d be willing to bet that in a few years you’ll be planning the wedding of one of the Obama girls.”

Oh, her sister was a lucky, lucky woman. It was a good thing Kara was sitting down. The man oozed charm, and his softly spoken encouragement had her bones melting like butter on a biscuit.

Clearing her throat, she took a deep breath and straightened her spine. This was not the time to be going all weak-kneed over a man. Not the time or the man.

Eli was Laurel’s fiancé, for Pete’s sake. In less than a month, the two would be married.

Yes, Kara found Eli attractive. She’d be willing to bet she was no different than any other red-blooded woman in South Carolina—or heck, the entire Eastern seaboard—in that regard.

Yes, she’d sort of had a crush on him from the time they were teenagers. Again, that was no great surprise. Every girl in school had had her eye on the football player.

Well, almost every girl, anyway. Kara couldn’t remember Laurel ever showing more than a passing interest in him while they were growing up. They’d always been friends—all of them, the entire Kincaid brood and the lone boy who lived with the Youngs on the neighboring estate—but it wasn’t until much more recently that the two of them had decided to get engaged.

And Kara was happy for them, truly she was. It just wasn’t easy to plan a wedding for her sister and the man for whom she’d spent the past ten years carrying a moderately flickering torch.

But she was doing her best. And her best required putting aside any inner turmoil she might be feeling to pull off what could arguably be considered the Wedding of the Year within Charleston’s high society circles. The fact that it was her sister’s wedding only raised the stakes, made the event that much more important to Kara, both personally and professionally.

Reaching past the catering brochure, she scooped up her glasses and slid them onto her nose. She didn’t really need them, but she always felt more sure-footed with them on, and she could certainly use a little added confidence—not to mention an added barrier between herself and Eli—right now.