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He had to give her credit. She really marched to her own drum. Instead of being decked out in a formal, bejeweled gown like most of the women in attendance, the looker had chosen a simple black jumpsuit with a white tuxedo jacket. She was wearing a pair of strappy, bejeweled sandals on her feet. And instead of wearing diamonds around her neck, she was sporting a simple turquoise necklace. A rule breaker. An original. He loved that in a woman. In his opinion, it made women all the more intriguing when they were unique.

He moved closer towards her, feeling like a panther stalking its prey as he studied her every move. She was standing off to the side surveying the room as if she wanted to memorize each and every detail of the event. Everything about her fascinated him—the serious expression on her beautiful face, the graceful slope of her neck, the way she was furiously writing on a pad of paper, the lustrous black hair she'd swept up into a sleek ponytail. Sensing his presence beside her, she pivoted her neck in his direction, her face a mask of cool indifference as she summed him up.

Wide, cognac-colored eyes locked gazes with him. Attraction slammed into him with the force of a sledgehammer. He was almost dizzy with it, had to center himself from the brutal impact it delivered. It had been ages since he’d felt an instant attraction like this.

“Hello. Can I help you?” Her voice was soft and lilting. Mesmerizing. It threw him for a loop, knocking him off balance so badly that he was grasping for words—something, anything to show the looker that he wasn't a total idiot. Normally, he was suave and confident. He hadn't felt this off-kilter since he was in middle school trying to impress Sally Samuels. And even then he'd been able to string together a reasonably intelligent sentence.

Wait a second! He knew this woman. Matter of fact, he’d known her ever since he was a kid. It was Kit Jefferson, his childhood playmate from Hope Valley. Only she was all grown up now and simply gorgeous.

For once in his life he found himself utterly speechless.


Kit looked up from her spread sheets, transfixed by the sight of the man standing two feet away from her. The sheer impact of him almost made her do a double take.

The Adonis standing before her was a little slice of heaven. Six feet, broad shouldered, with a rugged physique that added an edginess to the tuxedo he sported. His face wasn't classically handsome, but a little bit more rough around the edges. His skin was the color of roasted chestnuts. His nose was a little off kilter in the middle, as if it had been broken some time ago but never fixed by a plastic surgeon. It gave him character, she realized, lending him an air of danger that pulsed in the air. His hair was low cut to his scalp while his eyes were dark, inky pools. His smile showcased full, kissable lips and a dazzling pair of pearly whites that would make a dentist proud. And dimples! Lord, the man had dimples for days. He was just standing there staring at her with the strangest expression on his face.

Suddenly, recognition washed over her. She hadn’t seen him in years, but she knew without a doubt it was him. It was Jayden, her childhood friend from Hope Valley. All grown up and gorgeous.

“Do you remember me? Jayden London.” His voice was low and rich. It gave her goosebumps.

“I know who you are.” The words quickly tumbled off her lips. “It hasn’t been that long, has it? The last time we saw one another was high school graduation if I’m remembering correctly.” She grinned at him. “You’ve made quite a splash in the NFL. The folks back home can’t stop talking about you.”

He graced her with a beatific smile that made her knees weak. “Are you a football fan?”

“Not really,” she admitted. “I've just seen your face all over the place though. Billboards. Commercials. People magazine. The tabloids. My daddy is a big fan.”

He frowned at the mention of scandal rags, his brows coming together in the middle of his forehead. He flashed her a look of annoyance that made her want to giggle. Even with a scowl, the man was a feast for the eyes. Eye candy as her sister Robin would say.

“Don’t believe what you read in the tabloids. I remember your dad from when we were younger. He was a cool guy. I remember all those play dates over at your house while our Moms were having tea parties upstairs.”

Kit threw back her head and laughed. “How could I forget? We used to play wedding. I loved that game.”

Jayden scrunched up his nose. “That was always painful for me. Even to this day I don’t like play acting, although I put a good face on for commercials.”

“I’ve seen you in quite a few. I remember that pajama ad that used to air on every channel. Calvin Klein wasn't it?” Kit smirked at the memory of the ad campaign that had been the talk of the town in Hope Valley. Everyone had gotten such a kick out of it. Jayden had been the quintessential hometown boy who had made a big splash in the world of sports.

“Ralph Lauren, actually,” he said with an easy smile. He leaned toward her and said in a low voice, “I’m not a big fan of those modeling gigs, but they pay the bills.”

She grinned back at him. “The folks back home think you’re the bees’ knees. It’s not every day a hometown boy makes good. But you probably already knew that. Even back in high school when you were breaking state records on the football field, most of the girls had massive crushes on you.”

“Really?” Jayden asked, chuckling.

His eyes flashed with amusement and he raised an eyebrow, his curiosity clearly piqued by her comment. She couldn't believe she'd said that! For starters, she was on the clock. She never got chatty or distracted when she was working an event and now she was taking a walk down memory lane with Jayden. And it wasn't like her to act all flirty and coy. She couldn't stand women who acted like that. The next thing she knew she'd be batting her eyelashes at him and acting like a ditz. What was it about Jayden that was causing her to act this way? She’d known him ever since childhood. Sure, he was handsome. Good looking and fit and famous. Who was she kidding? He was mesmerizingly gorgeous. But, he still fell into a category of men she avoided like the plague. Athletes. They were in her never-ever, not if her life depended on it category. Not to mention the fact that she needed to keep her eyes on the prize.

This event needed to go off without a single hitch. She didn’t need to get distracted by Jayden.

“You still haven't told me what you’re doing in Denver. Are you here for Celia’s party or do you live here in town?” Jayden’s soulful voice intruded upon her thoughts like the smooth rhythms of a jazz band.

“I go where the work is. As an event planner, I’m often in Denver where a lot of my clients are located. This gig with the Laughton family is very lucrative. It could make or break my business,” she confessed.

“Wow. From what I can see it’s going really well,” he said in a low voice as his intense, onyx-colored eyes swept over her figure. She felt her skin get flushed as his eyes seemed to drink her in.

“Thanks. Being an event planner is all I’ve ever wanted to do, to be honest. I guess playing wedding as kids really made an impression on me. I was really into the details. The dress. The flowers. So now as an adult, I get to plan events and make people happy. Hopefully. If all goes well. Like tonight. If Patrick Laughton is happy then that will really give a boost to my company since a recommendation from him is like a gold stamp of approval.”

Exactly why was she blabbering on and telling him her life story? Shut up, Kit!

Jayden's close proximity was doing strange things to her. Her heart was beating like crazy inside her chest, so much so that she would swear she heard a loud thumping noise. The smell of Jayden—woodsy and masculine—was doing things to her equilibrium. Her calm and cool demeanor was in serious jeopardy. What was she doing? This was incredibly unprofessional. She had a job to execute tonight, and it had nothing to do with a gorgeous, brown-eyed football player who was regularly photographed with beautiful women on his arm.

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