The Best Man Plan

Book 1 in the Boots and Bouquets Series

July 7, 2020

The Best Man Plan

Book 1 in the Boots and Bouquets Series

Three days before Erin Bellini‘s wedding, her fiancé breaks up with her – in an email! Hurt and embarrassed, she decides to have a fling with veterinarian Jason Callum, who’s both the best man and the hottest guy she knows. But Jason wants a lot more than just a one-night stand with the woman he’s cared about for years. So he’s taking things slow. And hot. And showing Erin what real love can look like.

Suddenly Erin finds herself spending a lot more time with Jason than she intended. Feelings she never planned on having again are wrapping around her heart, refusing to let go. Erin isn’t sure she can trust her instincts, though. After all, she made a terrible choice with her ex-fiancé. But Jason intends to convince her that he’s the best man for her, and that what they have together is a real love that will last forever.

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Chapter One

Erin Bellini shouted out from her office at Red Moss Vineyards.

“Mom. Have you talked to the caterers?”

Her mother didn’t respond right away. It was her most annoying quality. While she waited, Erin jotted down several things she needed to remind her bridesmaids about. Her two sisters were onsite so she had them covered, but she made a note in her planner for the rest of the bridesmaids.

Erin’s mother, Maureen, made an appearance in Erin’s office. “You don’t need to yell at me, Erin. You could have just sent me a text. And yes, caterers are confirmed. Which I already told you this morning.”

“Right. You did. For some reason I hadn’t checked it off the list. Sorry.” She typed an X in the spreadsheet on her laptop as well as marking it off on the page in her planner. She looked up at her mother. “And my dress is back from alterations, right?”

“It’s in your closet.” Her mom made that face, the one where her lips went straight and her eyes narrowed and you knew you were being scrutinized. “You’re not getting nervous, are you?”

Erin smiled and took in a deep breath to center herself. “I never get nervous. Because I have everything organized. In my planner. In my spreadsheet. In the notes on my phone.”

Her mother smiled. “Right. Yes, well that’s you, honey. I’m going out to the vineyards to check on your dad. Call if you need me.”

“Okay.”

She should call Owen, her fiancé, to make sure he remembered he had to pick up the tuxes. Or maybe she should call Jason, Owen’s best friend and the best man. Owen was always scattered and busy and he’d likely forget. Thankfully he had her to organize everything for him.

She picked up her phone and found Jason, then pressed the call button.

“Busy here, Erin.”

She shook her head at Jason’s gruff brush-off. They’d grown up together, had known each other forever. “I need you to pick up the tuxes.”

“What?”

“The tuxes, Jason.”

“I’m knee-deep in cow shit right now, Erin. You don’t mean now, do you?”

“No. I mean tomorrow.” She heard mooing. “You delivering babies?”

“Pregnancy checks.”

“Oh. Cool.” Jason was a large animal vet, so he was always on the run. He was part of a practice in town, but he also worked the local ranches.

She was scrolling through her e-mails when she saw one from Owen. Huh. That was odd. Owen never e-mailed her. He either called or texted. She frowned and clicked on it.

“I thought Owen was doing the tux thing,” Jason said.

“Owen is likely up to his elbows in hops or wheat or whatever it is that brewers do. Or he’s making sure the brewery won’t go up in flames without him when we’re on our honeymoon. You know how he is.”

“Fine. I’ll handle it. Anything else?”

“Yeah.” She was trying to concentrate on Owen’s e-mail and forgot she was on the phone with Jason.

“Erin. Anything else?”

Her blood went cold. Everything in her went cold, despite the warm May day.

She read the e-mail again. It was a breakup e-mail. Two days before the wedding, and Owen was breaking up with her.

“In a freaking e-mail? He’s breaking up with me in an e-mail?”

“Who’s breaking up with you?” Jason asked. “Owen is?”

She was getting married in two days. Correction. Apparently she was not getting married, because exactly two days before their wedding Owen had broken up with her. Via e-mail.

She felt dizzy and sick to her stomach. She leaned over and put her head between her legs.

“Erin. Are you there?”

“Did you know about this?” she asked, trying not to faint or throw up.

“Hell no, I didn’t know. Did he call you?”

Erin straightened, the dizziness making her feel as if she’d just downed a bottle of Bellini’s best prosecco in one gulp.

Two days. They were getting married in two days. This had to be a mistake. But as she looked at the e-mail again, the word “mistake” was written in the same sentence as the words, “us getting married.”

“Ahhhhhhhhh!” she screamed, long and loud, then yelled, “That sonofabitch. I will kill him. He broke up with me in an e-mail, Jason.”

“He didn’t,” Jason said. “Are you sure?”

She straightened, shoving her laptop as if somehow that was the same thing as slapping Owen. “Oh, he did. And I’m sure. I can read a damn e-mail, Jason. I gotta go.” She ended the call and stared at her lists, tears pricking her eyes as the future she’d envisioned with Owen dissolved right in front of her.

All because of an e-mail. An e-mail! How could he be so cold?

“I will kill him. I. Will. Kill. Him.”

She was breathing too fast and she knew it. She was going to hyperventilate if she didn’t calm down. She pushed herself out of her chair and forced herself to pace the floor of her office, centering her breathing, holding the tears back, resisting the urge to crumple on the floor and sob like a baby.

How could he do this to her? To them? They were perfect together.

Oh, no. She would not cry. Not over him.

“Who are you going to kill?” Honor asked, running in. “You screamed. What’s wrong?”

Torn between betrayal, hurt and utter fury, she couldn’t even answer her younger sister. She finally managed to find her voice and pointed at her laptop.

“Owen dumped me. In an e-mail!”

Honor gasped. “He did not.” She yelled out the door. “Brenna, get in here now!”

Brenna sauntered in. “What’s up?”

“Owen dumped Erin. In an e-mail, apparently.”

Erin reread the e-mail again, making sure it said what she thought it did. Maybe she’d misinterpreted it.

But, no. There was no misinterpreting “I’m sorry” and “We’re not right for each other” and “We shouldn’t get married.” She felt her sisters’ hands on her shoulders as they leaned over her to read it.

“That sonofabitch,” Brenna said.

“I can’t believe he’d do this,” Honor said. “It just doesn’t seem like Owen at all. Did he say anything to you that sounded like he wanted to back out?”

Erin swiveled around in the office chair to face her sisters. “No, he didn’t say anything to me because apparently he was too busy packing for Aruba. For our honeymoon. He’s taking our honeymoon trip by himself.”

Brenna crossed her arms and narrowed her gaze. Erin felt a little vindicated by the fury in her older sister’s eyes. “I will personally destroy him.”

“You won’t get the chance,” Erin said. “Because I get the pleasure of doing that.”

“Dad might kill him first,” Honor said, looking worried. “Although, knowing Mom’s temper, you might have to hide the kitchen knives.”

Erin stood and started to storm out of the office, but then turned. “Nobody gets to kill him but me.”

Their mother walked in right then, a smile on her beautiful face.

“Who are we killing now?”

Mom was used to the three sisters always plotting someone’s demise. Oh, but she didn’t know how bad this was. This was really bad. This actually felt murder-worthy.

“Owen dumped me, Mom. And he’s already left for Aruba without me.”

Their mother just stared at her, dumbfounded for a few minutes. “What? He did what?”

She took her mother’s hand and led her to the desk, showing her the e-mail Owen had sent. She read it. Then read it again and lifted her head to stare in confusion at Erin.

“This makes no sense, Erin. He loves you.”

Erin snorted. “Apparently not. He said he tried to talk to me but I wouldn’t listen. I don’t even know what he’s talking about, because he most certainly never talked to me about ending our engagement. And the rest of it is all blah blah blah whatever where he didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” She pointed to her laptop, to the life-altering e-mail. “Like that wouldn’t hurt my feelings? He couldn’t even face me, the coward.”

“Are you sure he didn’t talk to you about this?” Honor asked.

“Honor!” Erin said. “Whose side are you on?”

“Yours, of course. I just . . . it’s just that we all know Owen. He’d never hurt you like this.”

Erin waved her hands at her laptop. “He just did.”

Honor sighed and shook her head. “You’re right. I’m sorry, of course you’re right. He’s a terrible person. A coward for not facing you.”

“Bastard coward,” Brenna added. “So now what do we do? Everything’s ordered for the wedding. Flowers, cake, caterer, music. Nothing can be canceled at this late date except the venue here at the vineyard, of course. He couldn’t have gotten his cold feet six months ago?”

At Erin’s stricken look, Brenna added, “Or, never? I mean, who wouldn’t want to marry you? You’re beautiful and talented and smart and any guy would be lucky to have you.”

“Damn right he would,” her mother added.

Erin didn’t understand it. As her mother and sisters talked amongst themselves, she turned to face the window, looking out over the vineyards, rows and rows of grapes growing, promising a prosperous future.

She sighed and went over the past year in her head. Owen had proposed in his apartment. She hadn’t been too surprised because they’d talked about marriage for a year. They’d planned the wedding. Everything had seemed fine.

And sure, she’d been preoccupied with her work here at Red Moss Vineyards, plus all the wedding planning, but Owen had been equally engaged with his work. They were both successful in their jobs. Owen had started up a craft brewery in Oklahoma City. Erin handled the business aspect of the family winery. They were both super busy but they made time for each other.

They’d known each other since they were kids. They’d been in love, dammit. She rubbed her stomach, aching inside at the loss of the future they’d planned together.

She couldn’t pinpoint one time where warning bells had clanged in her head, where she might have stopped and thought that maybe he was having second thoughts.

And now she had a wedding in two days and no groom. And no refunds at this late date, either.

Fury replaced the hurt, pure anger wrapping an icy wall around her shattered heart.

Well, screw that. And screw him, too.

She’d have her revenge. And a party to remember.

She pivoted to face her mother and sisters, lifting her chin in defiance. “We’re going to have the reception without him.”

Her mother shot her head up and stared at Erin. “What?”

“You heard me. Everything has already been paid for. Since we own the winery and the wedding venue, we have the spot reserved. We’ll never get our money back for anything else. So let’s throw one hell of a party here on my non-wedding day.”

Honor came over and put her arm around her. “Oh, honey, don’t you think that’s the last thing you’ll want on the day you were supposed to get married?”

“Maybe. But if he thinks I’m going to cancel, then spend that day crying over him, he’s wrong. Dead wrong.” Erin shrugged. “So, let’s party our butts off on my non-wedding day. We’ll call it the Bellini spring party instead. What do you think?”

“I’m in,” Honor said. “Whatever you want, you get, as far as I’m concerned.”

Brenna nodded. “Agreed. It’s your day, Erin. You get to do whatever you want to do. I’m in, too. Mom?”

Their mother sighed. “Wait till your dad hears about this. I’m not convinced he won’t fly to Aruba and personally drag Owen back here to marry you.”

Erin lifted her chin. “I don’t want to ever see him again, let alone marry him.”

It took a few beats for her mother to answer. “Okay, then. We’ll throw the best party this venue has ever seen.”

And Erin would drown her heartbreak in the finest wine the Red Moss Vineyards produced.

It would be one hell of a party.

***

Jason Callum drove the dirt road like the fires of hell were on his heels.

He’d tried calling Owen’s number three times. Each time, his phone went directly to voice mail. Owen often turned his phone off when he was working back in the brewing area, but he knew for a fact that his best friend was off work for the next two weeks.

Jason glared at his phone. “Because you’re supposed to be getting married in two days, asshole.”

He tossed his phone on the console of his truck.

He should have never backed off three years ago when Owen said he wanted to ask Erin out.

Then again, it hadn’t been like Jason was going to do it. He and Erin had been friends since they were kids. Just friends.

You like her, dumbass. You’ve always liked her. You just didn’t have the balls to do anything about it.

He gripped the steering wheel, trying to bite back the curse words that wanted to escape from his mouth.

This whole thing was his fault—indirectly, but still his fault.

Three years ago, Jason could have told Owen to back off, that he was interested in Erin. Instead, he’d told Owen to go for it and had swallowed the feelings he’d had for her himself.

Of course, he hadn’t realized how strong those feelings were until he’d had a front-row seat to watch Owen falling in love with Erin.

And who wouldn’t? She was strong-willed and smart and capable and beautiful and the way she laughed could instantly make a guy fall crazy in love.

So what the hell was Owen doing?

He turned down the long drive of the Red Moss Vineyards.

He hoped like hell he’d heard Erin wrong, that this was some kind of colossal mistake. Because his best friend wouldn’t do this to Erin, wouldn’t up and cancel the wedding with only two days to go. That just wasn’t Owen, and Jason knew him probably better than anyone.

He pulled the truck along the side of the main house and got out, brushing off dust and animal hair that clung to his worn jeans. He’d changed out of the boots that he’d been working in and slid into another pair so he wouldn’t track cow shit into the Bellinis’ house. He walked up the wide wood stairs and onto the oversized porch. He knew he didn’t have to knock. He’d known this family for as long as he could remember. He’d played out back with the Bellini girls when they were all kids.

He walked through the front door and followed the sound of Johnny Bellini’s booming voice, some of it in English and some in Italian.

“Dad, you’re not going to kill him,” Honor said.

Bastardo. He disgraced my daughter. That is just not done.”

Erin rolled her eyes. “I am hardly disgraced. Pissed? Yes. Disgraced, no. And second? By the time I’m done talking to everyone about what he did to me, it’ll be his reputation that’s ruined.”

“Hey,” Jason said, stepping into the room. “I was on the phone with Erin and I heard. I came right over to make sure you were okay.”

His gaze shot to Erin, who looked as upset as he’d ever seen her. Erin was never flustered, never upset, never out of sorts. She was the one sister who always had her shit together.

Today she definitely didn’t have it together. Her dark raven hair was piled high in a crown on top of her head and the pencil she’d stuck into it threatened to topple the entire shebang. Her normally sharp green eyes were clouded, as if she was on the verge of tears.

Jason wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Erin Bellini cry. Not even when he’d pushed her off the slide when they were eight years old. She’d just gotten up, brushed herself off, then calmly walked over and punched him right in the jaw.

He figured that’s when he’d first fallen in love with her.

Now she just looked sad. But damn, she still looked beautiful, and he had no right to think that.

“I’m not okay, Jason.” She walked over to him and leaned against him.

He put his arm around her and held her close. “I’m sorry, Erin.”

He’d do anything he could to take this pain away from her, including kicking the shit out of his best friend.

“Have you heard from him?” she asked.

“No. I tried calling him on my way over and his phone went right to voice mail each time.”

“Damn. Has he said anything to you?”

“About calling off the wedding? No. You know I’d have talked him out of it. What was he thinking?”

She tried to smooth her hair into place, then walked back into the living room. “I don’t know. I wish I could talk to him.”

“No. You will not ever speak to him again,” Johnny said. “I, however, have a lot to say to him.”

“Johnny, calm down,” Maureen said.

“What about his parents?” Honor asked. “Has anyone called them? Aren’t they supposed to drive in tomorrow from Dallas?”

“They are,” Erin said. “I hadn’t even thought about calling them.”

Jason pulled out his phone. “Let me do that. I’ll just step outside.”

The phone call with Owen’s dad was short, but just about as much of a punch to the gut as hearing Erin scream. When he hung up, he saw Erin standing just outside the front door.

“They know?”

He nodded. “But not for long. They just got off the phone with him about an hour ago. They’re in shock, Erin. They didn’t know anything before now, either.”

She walked forward and took a seat on the front step, cradling her arms around her knees. She lifted her gaze to his. “Did he tell them anything about why?”

He took a seat next to her. “Just that he changed his mind, he knew what he was doing was wrong and would make a lot of people unhappy, especially you, and that he flew to Aruba because he needed some distance.”

She sighed, and Jason felt the weight of her sigh as if he carried it himself. “I don’t understand any of this. Why didn’t he just talk to me?”

“I don’t know. Why didn’t he talk to me? I’m his best friend. If he had second thoughts, you’d think he’d want to sound them out with someone. It seems to me like he didn’t talk to anyone. Not you, not me, not his parents. So, I don’t get it, either.”

“Yeah, none of this makes sense to me, Jason. Owen and I always talked everything out. I mean, maybe we haven’t done a lot of talking lately, but with the wedding planning, my job, his job, we’ve both been busy.” She swept a stray hair away from her face. “I thought everything was fine. He’d told me he was fine. Clearly he wasn’t. Couldn’t he have said something to me? Like, ‘Hey, Erin, I don’t want to get married’? That would have been a great start.”

Jason read the anguish on her face and he wanted to pull her close, to comfort her. But he also read the tension in her body and knew now wasn’t the time.

Damn. How could his best friend do this to . . . his other best friend?

Erin straightened. “Well, anyway, screw him. I’ve decided we’re still going ahead with the reception.”

“What?”

“You heard me. Everything is paid for and we won’t get our money back if we cancel anything. So we’re going to have one hell of a party.”

“You don’t have to do that, Erin. Everyone will understand if you want to cancel.”

“But see, that’s the thing. I don’t want to. I might not be getting married, but I’ll have the best damn non-wedding reception this town has ever seen. And I’ll expect everyone to be there. Well, not Owen’s family, of course. But everyone else should come. You’ll come, won’t you?”

If there was one thing about Erin Bellini, it was her determination. And he could tell from the look on her face that she was determined not to spend this weekend acting like the jilted bride. But there was no way to know how this non-wedding party of hers was going to play out. So he would be by her side. He wasn’t going to be another guy who let her down.

“Hell yeah, I’m coming. And I’ll wear the damn tux, too.”

He got up and held his hand out for her.

She grinned and slipped her hand in his. “Good, because you and I, Jason? We are going to dance Saturday night.”

He was counting on it. Owen may have screwed her over, but Jason was going to make sure that Erin had the best night possible.

End of Excerpt

The Best Man Plan

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The Best Man Plan

Book 1 in the Boots and Bouquets Series

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