The Rock Star's Wedding - Demelza Carlton - ebook
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Five women. One rock star. Who will be the bride in the celebrity wedding of the year? Audra is back from Antarctica. Phuong the email-order bride is free, acquitted of all charges. Flavia's forgiven Jay, now she knows who's really responsible. Gaia the billionaire is determined to get what she wants. And Penelope's sporting a pink diamond engagement ring. The weather may be as hot as Hell with the mother of all storms brewing off the coast, but Xan knows one thing for certain: come fire or flood or ex-fiancés, there will be a rock star wedding at Romance Island Resort.  But the question on everyone's lips is…who will be Jay Felix's bride?

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Contents

Title Page

Dedication

Free books

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Part 11

Part 12

Part 13

Part 14

Part 15

Part 16

Part 17

Part 18

Part 19

Part 20

Part 21

Part 22

Part 23

Part 24

Part 25

Part 26

Part 27

Part 28

Part 29

Part 30

Part 31

Part 32

Part 33

Part 34

Part 35

Part 36

Part 37

Part 38

Part 39

Part 40

Part 41

Part 42

Part 43

Part 44

Part 45

Part 46

Part 47

Part 48

Part 49

Part 50

Part 51

Part 52

Part 53

Part 54

Part 55

Part 56

Part 57

Part 58

Part 59

Author's Note

Sneak Peek

Free books

About the Author

The Rock Star's Wedding

Demelza Carlton

DEDICATION

This one is for the January Girls.

For keeping me (marginally) sane, no matter what Jay Felix chose to do.

Without you, he might not have lived to find his happy ending.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2016 Demelza Carlton

Lost Plot Press

All rights reserved.

Click here to get started – http://subscribe.demelzacarlton.com/RIR8

ONE

Funeral bells sounded far more cheerful than the trill of Xan's phone. At least, Xan thought they would. Not that she really wanted Jerome to die. She wanted him to live a long, lonely and hopefully painful life. No, she wasn't that cruel. She had loved him once. Before he'd slept with a girl almost ten years younger than him and broken off his engagement with Xan to marry the pregnant girl. Now...

Now, she had to answer the damn phone.

"This is Xan," she bit out.

"Ms Lane, I have a doctor on the line, asking for our events coordinator. Specifically, weddings. Do we even have one of those?" Philly giggled. "Getting married in paradise would be so romantic!"

Xan made a mental note to hire someone for the role. Once Jay's wedding was broadcast on TV, everyone would want to book a wedding at the resort, and she'd have to handle them all. It would definitely make her job easier if she could hand them over to someone else. In the meantime, though... "Put him through to me."

"Yes, Ms Lane."

The phone beeped and Philly was gone.

"Xan Lane, manager of Romance Island Resort. How can I help?" Xan intoned, wondering why Jay wanted a doctor at his and Penelope's televised wedding.

The woman's voice surprised her. "Hello, Xan. I need to book a wedding. When's your earliest available date?"

Xan recovered quickly. "Ah, we haven't really started taking bookings yet. You see – "

The woman laughed. "That's not what I heard. If you're planning to host an event for Jason Felix, you can handle pretty much anything."

Jason, not Jay, Xan noted. "Where did you hear that?" Xan asked.

"My sources don't matter. I trust them, so I know my information is correct. I had booked a venue for a wedding in a few weeks' time, but that venue is no longer sufficient for my needs. Your resort should meet my requirements. So what's the earliest date I can book?"

This woman sounded like Gaia's sister, if the billionaire had such a thing. Xan knew how to deal with her sort. To start with, she had to up the stakes, then double the price. "For weddings, if you intend to have a photographer, you'll need to book the entire resort for the two nights on either side of the day of your event. You are welcome to use this to accommodate your guests, of course. And the wet season's just started, so with the weather as wild and unpredictable as it usually is, we couldn't host a big event until the start of the dry season, in May next year, or more likely June. In rough weather, the island is completely isolated, as the swell is too high for jet boats to reach us, and if the wind's too strong, a helicopter can't land, either." Xan grinned and sat back, waiting to hear the woman's response.

The woman's voice was calm. "The first Saturday in May, then?"

Xan choked. "But that's when Jay's booked – "

The woman laughed again. "You seriously think Jason will marry one of those reality TV show girls? You're dreaming, Xan. I suggest you speak to Jason about it during the week. I'll fly up to the resort in a week or so to inspect the place, to make sure it'll meet my needs, and we can confirm a date then. Oh, and so we're clear, I'll want the entire island for a week before the wedding, and a week afterwards."

Who had the kind of money to book an entire island for a fortnight? Gaia, or one of her billionaire friends. Jay was going to be pissed off. Xan's grin widened. Oh, she was definitely going to talk to Jay about this one. Hopefully he could handle her, so Xan wouldn't have to. "All right," Xan said. "Let me just get your name and details."

"Sure." The woman rattled off answers to Xan's rapid-fire questions, then said a curt goodbye and ended the call.

Xan glanced at the hotel registry entry on her screen. Doctor Alana Miller wanted a wedding at the island. Well, she'd have to get through Jay Felix first. And if there was one thing Xan knew about Jay, it was that he hated spoiled, rich bitches.

TWO

Jay visibly paled. "She's coming here? She wants to have her wedding here?"

Not the reaction Xan had expected. This was the first time she'd seen Jay scared of anyone or anything. "So she says. I said I'd have to talk to you first. I'll ring her back and say we're booked out for the next decade, if you like."

Jay grasped Xan's arm. "NO! Don't do that! Give her...give her whatever she wants. Did she say when?"

Xan shook him off. "I told her she'd have to wait until the dry season. May or June."

Jay relaxed a little. "That gives me six months."

"Six months? It's only September." Xan frowned. "Who on earth is Doctor Alana Miller? I've never heard of her."

Jay smiled wanly. "You might know her as Angel Black. The lead guitarist and songwriter of Chaya, my band. Or she was, before she up and quit and forced me into retirement."

This was news to Xan. "So you know her pretty well, I take it?"

"Sure."

"Why didn't she ask for you, then?" Xan pressed.

Jay swallowed. "Oh, I haven't talked to her in a while." The decking beneath his feet suddenly seemed mesmerising. At least, it was to Jay.

"What did you do?"

"I...it doesn't matter, okay?" When Jay raised his head, his eyes looked haunted. "Let's just say the last time I spoke to her, she told me to leave the country or she'd cut bits off me without any anaesthetic. Bits I'm attached to."

"Some doctor," Xan remarked. "Are you sure she's not a serial killer instead? Maybe a reincarnation of Jack the Ripper, out to kill blokes who sleep around instead of hookers?"

Jay's lips smiled, but his eyes didn't. "She is a doctor. But she might be a killer, too, so don't do anything to get on her bad side, Xan. Don't even touch her. If you don't believe me, ask Jo. She'll tell you the same. Fuck, she's probably her maid of honour. Even if I said no, Jo would insist on having the wedding here. Take the booking and do what she says."

Xan pressed her lips together. "Even if she wants to turn the lagoon pink to match her bridesmaids?"

Jay laughed. A little hysterically, but it was definitely laughter. "Angel Black won't want pink. If she even wears white, I'll be surprised." He sobered. "Cost it up and give her a quote. Whatever she asks."

"And double the price so she decides it's not worth it?"

Jay shook his head. "Fuck, no. It's not that she can't afford whatever she wants. It's...if she wanted to, she could buy both Jo and I out and own this resort without having to borrow a cent. I spent money on a lot of rock star shit over the years, but she invested every dollar and...she has money from her family, too, I think. Some sort of inheritance. Just...get used to the idea of hosting a rock star's wedding. Because you will be."

Xan raised her eyebrows. "Two of them. Yours first, remember?"

"Yeah." Jay's eyes returned to the deck. "Yeah, mine first." He didn't sound particularly eager about it.

Perhaps Penelope was turning into a regular bridezilla, Xan thought. She chose not to push the issue.

"Right. Two rock star weddings next May. Good thing I have nine months to prepare!" she said, heading back to her office.

Just nine months. She'd need it. One televised celebrity wedding would be trouble enough, but two? Shit, having twins would be easier.

THREE

Xan stood by the helipad, biting her nails. She'd lost count of the number of times she'd considered calling Philly and telling her to cancel the meeting she'd asked the girl to set up. But every time, she hadn't cancelled, because she needed to get this mess sorted. She was the manager of a multi-million-dollar resort. She shouldn't want to hide under the desk every time the phone rang. What was she afraid of, after all?

Not Jerome. Not that lying, cheating, smarmy schoolteacher-in-training who'd broken off their engagement because he couldn't keep it in his pants while she was away. He should be afraid of her. After all, she kept rock star Jay Felix in check on a daily basis.

Well, mostly in check. She hadn't managed to stop him from swimming nude in the lagoon this morning, like every other morning. She'd pretty much given up on that. This morning, she'd just raised her coffee in salute to the daft bugger, watching to make sure the sharks didn't get him until he swam out of sight. Just another morning at Romance Island Resort.

And today would be just another lunch at the brewery. There'd be plenty of people she knew. The food would be wonderful, as always, and the beer would be brewed to perfection. She could only have one and still be able to drive, but she didn't want to be drunk for this meeting. Sober would be best, or nearly so. She could get drunk afterwards, if she had to. Hours afterward, when she returned to the resort, in the privacy of her unit. Or on the Penguin jetty. She'd gotten accustomed to walking out there of an evening while Jay was filming that reality TV show, and he hadn't asked her to stop when he'd returned. If anything, he seemed to welcome her company. He needed to spend more time with Penelope, his bride-to-be, or a gaggle of fans in town, like the first time she saw him. She'd still been the manager of the backpackers then, driving a vanload of guests into town for the day. How things had changed, she mused, waving to Shou as he circled his helicopter in to land.

It wasn't until he touched down on the helipad that Xan realised he had a co-pilot today. A co-pilot who jumped down from the helicopter and marched past Xan without a word, though she did wave to Shou before she disappeared through the gate.

For a moment, Xan considered chasing the girl down so she could introduce herself and demand to know her business at the resort, but she didn't have time. If she didn't fly off now, she'd miss the meeting...and she'd have to reschedule. No. She couldn't endure another day of this dread. This ends now, she told herself as she climbed into the seat behind Shou.

FOUR

Jerome's first mistake was to try and hug Xan the moment he saw her. His second was to attempt to kiss her.

Xan tried to feel bad about accidentally elbowing him in the gut and headbutting him in the face, but his nose had made such a satisfying crunch that she knew she'd be lying to herself.

His third mistake was for the first words out of his mouth to be, "She said she was going to get rid of the baby."

She should have walked out of the brewery right there and then. Gods knew she wanted to. But all the weeks of frustration had built up too much not to burst under this pressure.

"Oh, so cheating on your fiancée and getting some kid pregnant isn't a problem if the girl gets an abortion?" Xan hissed, keeping her voice low so the whole room wouldn't know her business. Gossip travelled fast in a small town, after all.

"But the baby wasn't mine!" Jerome said.

Xan failed to see how that improved matters. "You mean while you were cheating on me, she was cheating on you?"

"No, I never cheated on you. I wouldn't, Xan, you know that."

She'd dealt with enough dodgy backpackers to know a liar when she met one. "Oh yeah? She was all over you in those pictures on your social media account. Even my mum said you two were together."

"That was for her parents' benefit," Jerome said. "See, Kelly had too much to drink at one of the school dances. Smuggled alcohol in, just like we used to. I was a student teacher at her school, helping supervise the kids at the dance, so I spotted her and took her aside before her teachers caught her drinking. I called her parents and said she was sick, so I'd drive her home. We weren't in the car more'n five minutes before she was spilling her guts about some boy she went to school with getting her pregnant. She begged me to help her by saying I was the baby's dad, not the boy from school, until she got the money together to have an abortion.

"She was your friend, and she said you'd want me to help her. Said you'd understand. So we took a bunch of pictures and put them on her social media accounts and mine. Told everybody we were in love and going to have a kid."

Xan forced herself to stay calm. "And no one minded that you'd slept with a girl ten years younger than you? A student at the school where you worked?"

Jerome scratched his head. "Well, her parents were a bit surprised at first. So I hung out at her place a lot with her, making them believe we were in love."

"What did you have to do to make them believe that?" Xan asked, keeping her voice level even while she wanted to scream at him.

"Well, just a bit of a kiss and a cuddle at first, but when they still didn't believe it, we sort of arranged for them to catch us in bed together. Once or twice. Or maybe a few more times." Jerome raised his hands in surrender. "Just to sell the story, honest! There wasn't any other way."

"You slept with one of your sixteen-year-old students while you were engaged to marry me. Not just once, but a few times. In my world, no, in most people's worlds, that's cheating, Jerome." Xan wet her lips. "Not to mention it makes you a paedophile, too. She's barely legal – and still at school!"

"Barely legal's still legal, and it wasn't cheating. I didn't love her – I only love you! I'm sorry if you see it differently. Maybe I made a mistake, but I'm sorry. We belong together and you know it. I'm sorry. You weren't around to ask, but I figured you'd want me to help your friend. You were never supposed to know!"

If the man dug his hole any deeper, he'd bury himself in it. If he hadn't already.

"Jerome, like I said before on the phone, it's over. I won't marry a man who can't stay faithful." She rose and headed for the bar. She could have one drink, and she intended to have it. The hard bit would be not pouring it over Jerome's stupid head.

"Hey, Xan. Nice to see you in town again. They keep you busy out on that island, don't they?"

Xan smiled at Steve, the manager of the Mangrove Hotel. They'd been nodding acquaintances when she ran the backpackers, but they'd become colleagues when she started working at Romance Island Resort. In fact, she'd negotiated a range of tour and day trip packages with him, where tourists could stay at his hotel in town and spend a day or three sampling the island's delights while they were in Broome. Together with the day trippers from the construction camp at Lorikeet, all the new tourist traffic had meant that the Resort had experienced its best earning season since it opened.

"Yeah, it's the platypires. There were so many new ones born this year, their mothers couldn't keep up, so we've had to bottle feed them." Xan tried to keep a straight face.

"Platypires? I haven't heard of those," Steve said, sipping his beer. Mango, by the smell of it.

"Oh, you don't get them on the mainland. They've been hunted almost to extinction over here. Kind of like drop bears on the east coast, or Nannup tigers down south. But on the islands, they're really flourishing." Xan's ginger beer arrived and she took a deep gulp to hide her laugh.

"What do they look like?"

"Oh, like a cross between a platypus and a vampire bat. You know, a duck bill with the tail, but sort of leathery wings with a furry body. They use their echolocation to find their prey in the dark."

"Oh yeah?" Steve raised his eyebrows. "What do they eat?"

"They don't. They're blood drinkers, like giant mosquitoes. See, on either side of their beak, they have fangs, and – "

A heavy hand landed on Xan's shoulder. "Who's your friend, babe?" Jerome asked, bristling at Steve.

Steve wiped his hand on his shorts, then held it out for a shake. "Steve. I manage the Mangrove Hotel. Not as luxurious as Xan's resort, but we've been refurbishing it. Got a new restaurant opening soon. Oh, that reminds me. We're planning a big party to celebrate when it opens. Next Staircase, it'll be. I'd love you to come."

"We'll be there, won't we, Xan?" Jerome said.

Steve looked surprised. "Of course, if you're Xan's partner, you're very welcome to join us."

"Wouldn't miss it," Jerome said sweetly. He kissed Xan's cheek. "Gotta go, babe. You have a think about everything I said, and when you're ready to admit you were wrong, I'll forgive you with open arms. I'll see you at the party."

Xan wanted to scream, or at least wash his slimy kiss off her face. Instead, she forced herself to remain calm and finish her beer before she headed back to the resort.

FIVE

The whole flight back to Romance Island, Xan debated whether she'd done the right thing or not. Sure, her head and every reasonable thought pointed toward a damn good decision to tell Jerome to bugger off, but if it was so right, why was her tummy clenching so tightly she thought she'd be sick? If she'd had sex at all in the last year, she'd wonder if she might be pregnant, but she was hardly a candidate for an immaculate conception. No religion to speak of, unless you counted her fascination with the deities of Ancient Greece, but that wasn't worship. More...rabid curiosity, fuelled by her father's stories from when she was little.

Shou wisely left her to her thoughts, for which Xan was thankful, until he broke his silence to tell her they were approaching the resort.

Such a relief to be home, Xan thought, before she caught herself. She was lucky to be able to call a luxury resort home, even if her unit was hardly in the same class as Jay's villa or even the standard hotel rooms.

She wanted to burn off some of the energy her body still seemed to buzzing with – one of those fight or flight reflex things, she guessed – and eyed the lagoon as they flew over. It was low tide, and a bit rough. At high tide she wouldn't have minded, but some of that coral was pretty brutal if the currents pushed you into it, and it broke the surface when the tide was as low as it was now. A walk around the island would have to do, she decided. A brisk walk involving several laps around the island.

Shou touched down on the helipad in one of the gentlest landings Xan had ever experienced. She glimpsed her own thunderous expression reflected in the window and almost laughed. Shou evidently didn't want to antagonise her further, or maybe he thought he was the source of her bad mood. As if he'd ever caused anywhere near as much trouble as Jerome did. Even Jay couldn't do that. Sure, Jay was a daily nuisance and the bane of her job, but he was a minor irritant compared to Jerome's ability to turn her life upside down. After all, she'd loved Jerome. Probably still did, at least a tiny bit, which might explain that sick twisted guts feeling. Either that or she'd eaten something off at the brewery, which just wasn't possible.

So she was still in love with Jerome. The two-faced, cheating bastard who possibly had unprotected sex with children. Who didn't deserve her. But who had also flown halfway round the world to apologise for being a wanker, and beg her to take him back. Sort of.

Or so he'd said. He could be a lying bastard as well as a cheating one. Who knew how much he'd changed in the time she'd been away? She'd been so starry-eyed when she last saw him. So eager to travel the world with him so he could teach wherever they wound up. Third world countries where teachers were scarce. The ends of the earth. Wherever.

People changed, she knew. After all, she had. Time and experience and circumstance and growing up and...

Xan almost ran into the same girl she'd seen this morning. The helipad gate wasn't big enough for the two of them, so they both backed up and offered to let the other go first.

The girl let out a breathy snort. "I should take that offer, or Shou might fly off without me and leave me stuck on this rock with the dickhead who still fancies himself a rock god."

"You're here to visit Jay?" Xan blurted out.

"He begged me to come before I head south again. I should've known better. He didn't understand the word NO then, and still doesn't. Men never change. Least of all him." She glared in the direction of the Pearls, as if Jay could feel the heat of her gaze through the jungle.

That didn't sound like the Jay Xan knew. He had changed in the short time she'd known him. Well, he'd changed a bit. She couldn't remember the last time she'd had to call Maintenance to help load him onto a wheelbarrow because he'd drunk himself into a stupor. Oh, that day on the beach with the auction girl, Flavia, but he hadn't been drunk. Maybe he just hadn't had a reason to get that drunk. It's not like his wife had left him...again. Not that she'd seen Penelope around the island much lately.

"Did you see Penelope while you were at Jay's villa?" Xan asked.

The girl laughed bitterly. "The last time I saw Penny, she tried to kill me. If I saw her again, I'd break her other arm myself. Meier wasn't desperate enough to hire her again, was he? She spent more time shagging the chefs than doing her job last time, and I bet that hasn't changed."

"Meier's gone. I manage the resort now," Xan said coolly. She stuck out a hand. "Xan Lane. And you are?"

"Audra. I used to work here, and pick up the pieces when Penny didn't do her job. Now, I'm happier than ever that I left."

Xan recognised her name. "You're the first girl who lost her job for sleeping with him, aren't you?"

Audra bristled. "No, that was Penny. I resigned to take up a graduate position before I did anything with Jay, not that it's any of your business." She sniffed. "I notice a lot of staff missing from when I worked here. I take it he didn't just restrict himself to fangirls – he slept his way through the staff, too? Is that how you got your job?"

Xan figured she deserved that. "No," she said. "Meier hired me. If I'd known who the owner was, I wouldn't have bothered applying. I've seen better behaved toddlers."

Audra grinned. "He painted Shakespeare on the wall in ketchup and chocolate for you, too, did he? I wonder how many girls he's won over that way."

Xan shrugged. "I'd have to ask Jackie. She cleans his villa. But she hasn't mentioned anything about wall art. Maybe he's run out of chocolate. Or lost his copy of Shakespeare."

"He still spends plenty of time in the library, though," Audra said cryptically. "Not that it's done him much good. I still said no. Good luck. If you're the last woman left standing, he'll target you next. Don't bet against him, is my advice." She headed through the gate and climbed into the helicopter beside Shou. She gave Xan a nod as they rose from the helipad.

More confused than ever, Xan wanted to head to her house and dig out that last bottle of rum. She deserved it after a day like today. Instead, her feet headed for the Penguin jetty.

With each step, she debated her choices. Forgive Jerome. Stomp. Ditch the cheating bastard. Stomp. Give him another chance. Stomp. Knee him in the groin so hard he'd never get it up again. Stomp. Accept that he'd made a mistake that he was now heartily sorry for, and –

"Cheaters never get the girl," Jay seethed, hurling something out over the ocean. He bent down and picked up a rock from the pile at his feet, before pitching that, too. "Did you know that? In all the romance books you've ever read, can you name one where a bloke who cheats, wins?"

Xan didn't need to think hard. "No," she answered.

"So I'm doomed, then. Doomed to never find love because I fucked up without even knowing." Jay dropped the next stone over the side of the jetty where it sank like...well, a stone.

"You didn't know cheating on a girl is bad?" Xan found it hard to believe even Jay could be that stupid.

"Of course I knew that. That's why I don't do it. Have you ever seen me doing anything even remotely unfaithful to any of the girls I've been with at the resort?"

Xan combed her memories. The problem was, he never seemed to be with a girl long enough to be unfaithful. Well, there was the reality TV show, where he'd had to date multiple girls at the same time in order to meet the show's tight production schedule, but cheating would imply that he'd had a clear favourite among the contestants, and nothing she'd seen of Jay with the girls had led her to believe that was the case. She'd watched the first episode when it aired last week, and only because she'd known he'd choose Penelope in the end had she noticed that the girl got a few seconds more screen time than the others.

Speaking of Penelope...had Jay told her about Audra's visit?

"No," Xan said slowly. "But what did Penelope say when you invited Audra to visit?"

Jay's hand swooped down, seized a stone, then sent it flying out to sea. "Nothing. Penelope hasn't said a word to me since she left the island. She just left me a fucking note. No proper goodbye, nothing." Another rock soared away, narrowly missing a seagull.

"Planning a wedding can be stressful, or so I've heard," Xan murmured.

"She's not planning a fucking wedding. She left me, I said. Said she doesn't want to marry me. After what she saw on the show and how I said similar things to the other girls to what I said to her. Says I can't really love her, and I betrayed her by letting her fall for me with my rehearsed lines. When I was fucking honest with all of those girls!" A rock splashed into the sea beneath the jetty. "So what if I said the same thing a few times? I'm a rock star who's awesome in bed. I'm not supposed to spout spur-of-the-moment sonnets for every fucking girl I meet! I'm not fucking Shakespeare!"

Funny. Audra had mentioned Shakespeare, too. "So you got lonely and invited another girl over who you knew Penelope wouldn't like to make her jealous?" Xan guessed. That sounded like a Shakespearean plot, for sure. She should know – her father might have made a Classical scholar of her, but her mother had introduced her to Shakespeare almost as soon as she could read, or learn to keep quiet in the university theatre.

"Fuck, no!" Jay shouted, then dropped his voice to a more normal volume. "No. Audra is...my friend. A friend I thought might help me, but she said she prefers the elephant seals at the South Pole to being with me, after she says I cheated on her." Jay sighed heavily. "But it's not cheating if you're apart!"

Yes it is, Xan thought. It didn't matter that Jerome was in the UK while she was here in Australia. The moment her fiancé climbed into bed with another girl, he'd cheated on her. "It doesn't matter how many miles apart you are," Xan said slowly. "If you're in a committed relationship with someone, you don't fool around with someone else, or it's cheating."

"Yeah, but when there's no commitment or relationship or any fucking thing like that, it's not the same. I went on tour. I'm supposed to...what'd she call it? Make myself accessible to my fans or some shit. Make the dreams of as many fangirls come true as I can. It's not easy, you know, having to make sure you're better than their best daydream. Takes skill, you know? And a shitload of stamina. So when I'm finally finished with the farewell tour, and I get to just be me for a bit here at the resort, I find she's fucked off to Antarctica without telling me. Like I don't matter!"

Xan didn't blame Audra at all. In fact, she wanted to cheer the girl on, and wished she'd known a bit more so she could say so in the brief conversation they'd shared on the helipad. "Sounds like you showed her she didn't matter first, sleeping around while you expected her to wait for you. That's a double standard right there, Jay."

He fell to his knees, spilling rocks over the side of the jetty. "I didn't expect her to wait. I figured she'd do whatever she was doing before we met, like I was doing, but when we met again, there'd be fireworks all over again. Good ones, not that she'd blow up in my face and say she'd rather sleep with a seal. A fucking seal!" He lifted his shirt. "Do seals have six-packs? Do you know a single seal who has abs like this?"

Though Xan admired Jay's toned tummy as much as the next girl, she definitely sided with the absent Audra. "You're hardly the most subtle bloke. What do you expect, asking a girl you haven't seen in months to sleep with you the moment you meet again?"

"I didn't ask her to sleep with me!" Jay protested. "I asked her to fucking marry me!"

SIX

Xan took a moment to stop herself from laughing. How much had Jay had to drink this time? "Why are you so set on getting married?" she asked carefully. "The mail order bride, the virginity auction, the reality TV show...and now an old friend who worked here before Meier hired me. If you ask me, it smacks of desperation. Which is pretty strange, considering how easily you seem to charm the women you want. What am I missing, Jay?"

"Angel's wedding," he mumbled, so quietly she barely caught the words.

"Your bandmate, right? But if it's her wedding, she's the one getting married, not you."

"The invitation said to bring a partner."

Xan waved her hand. "But you know that's just a courtesy, right? If you don't know the name of your guest's partner when you write the invitation, which can be printed a year in advance, that's what you put on it, so they can still bring a partner along if they want, and she or he still has an invitation."

"Not this time. Not when it's from Angel. It's her telling me to bring a partner because she thinks I need one." He eyed the jetty boards, avoiding her gaze.

"And you always do what she says?" Xan asked.

He looked up. "Fuck yes! I like living, with all my bits attached, thanks."

"But it didn't say wife, did it? Your invitation? It just said partner, right?" Xan pressed.

"Yeah. The wife bit...that bit...that was me." He kicked a rock off the jetty. "I said I'd come with my wife, and we'd be so in love we'd put the other couple in the shade."

Tempting fate, of course. The beginning of a true Greek tragedy. Or a Roman farce, seeing as this involved Jay Felix.

"You could just bring a partner for the night. You don't seem to have a problem keeping a girl interested that long. I'm sure there are hundreds of girls who'd kill for the chance to attend a wedding with you."

"Bring a fangirl to Angel's wedding?" Jay's eyes widened in horror. "She'd crucify me. Once Jo was done with me, because she'd never forgive me, either. This won't be a public wedding. You'll see. Angel won't allow any media on the island. Shit, she'll probably have armed security guards stationed along the beaches, ready to shoot down any aircraft within range, drone or manned."

Xan still didn't understand what passed for logic in Jay's mind. "But she'd be happy have a reality TV show starlet or some girl whose virginity you bought in an online auction at her wedding." She almost added something about his black widow mail order bride, but stopped herself in time. Phuong's betrayal was a low blow that still had the power to upset him. Xan might not like Jay, but she wasn't that cruel.

"She wouldn't have known," Jay said.

Xan snorted. "That reality TV show aired its first episode last week. The whole country knows about your very public search for a wife. Paige told me the studio is in talks to sell the rights to this season to one of the big networks in the US. Everyone wants to watch the music world's hottest bachelor find a wife, live in their living room. Your Angel would have to be living under a rock in a bunker with no access to the outside world not to know about THAT."

Jay sighed heavily. "She's not my angel. Never was, never will be." His shoulders slumped and all the fight went out of him.

Finally, Xan understood. "How long have you been in love with her?"

"What's it matter?" Angrily, Jay swept the remaining rocks off the jetty with his foot. "She's marrying that psycho, not me. And Audra says cheaters never get a happily ever after, so I'm fucked on all sides now. Doesn't matter who I go to her wedding with, because whoever she is, we won't be happy." He laughed bitterly. "Because if I cheated on Audra by getting with fangirls on just that one farewell tour, I've cheated on Angel hundreds, maybe thousands of times. Doesn't matter that there was no love or relationship involved with any of them. She'll never want me."

"Sometimes the one person we want is the one we can't have," Xan said. That was the whole bit about the hero's quest in all the ancient stories, right? A hero haring off after some impossible goal?

"Would you get back with a guy who cheated on you?" Jay challenged.

Xan hesitated. Would she get back with Jerome? "No," she answered finally. "It's too big a betrayal. I hope his dick shrivels up and no one ever loves him again."

Jay plucked at his shorts. "You want my dick to do what? Hey, there's nothing about that in any of the books. Never being loved is enough, don't you think?"

Yes. Maybe it was. Xan would settle for never seeing Jerome again, to be honest, let alone any shrivelling. Except....there was the problem of the reopening of the Mangrove Hotel. Maybe she and Jay could help each other out.

"You know what?" Xan said. "If you come with me to an official function in town next month, I'll make a deal with you. If you still can't find an acceptable partner to attend your bandmate's wedding with, I'll go with you."

"And marry me, too?" Jay realised his mistake as soon as the words left his lips. "Okay, sorry. I shouldn't have said that. Forget I said it. She'll already know you're the hotel manager here, and she won't believe..."

"That's right," Xan interrupted. "What do you say? Is it a deal?"

"Yeah." Jay eyed her with what Xan might have called relief. "Thanks, Xan. I guess that makes us friends, doesn't it?"

Xan nodded, biting her tongue before she blurted out the bit about her friendship coming with an absolute lack of benefits. Instead, she wished him a nice evening, and headed back to her house, vowing to help him find a better date for the wedding than her. Whatever it took.

And she had to meet this Angel, who had the power to both terrify and enthral a man like Jay Felix.

SEVEN

Xan didn't have long to wait before, once again, she stood by the helipad, watching Shou guide his aircraft unerringly to the X marking his spot. The hatch cracked open and Xan met the eyes of...a man who jumped out of the helicopter like someone accustomed to it. Between his buzz-cut and a bulked-up body that would put Jay Felix to shame, she marked him as military – or ex-military, perhaps.

He surveyed his surroundings, pausing briefly to offer Xan a nod of acknowledgement before he completed his circuit. Only then did he step forward to take Xan's extended hand. "Trevor Sullivan, security consultant," he said with a strong American accent. Northern, not Southern, but that's all she knew about American accents.

Xan tried not to wince at his firm handshake. "Xan Lane, manager of Romance Island Resort," she said, extracting her pulverised fingers from his grip.

Fortunately, he didn't seem to notice, as he exchanged nods with Jay, who stood silently beside Xan. "Felix," Trevor said.

Behind Trevor, a child hopped out of the helicopter, and Xan's jaw dropped. The dark-haired girl looked perhaps twelve years old, moving with a dancer's grace as she landed on the pavement and crossed to stand behind Trevor.

Was it school holidays? Xan wondered. Bring your daughter to work day? Because she'd expected to meet the enigmatic Angel, not some security consultant and his daughter.

"And this is..." Trevor began, waving in the direction of the girl.

Xan turned on a child-friendly smile and extended her hand.

"Don't," Jay hissed.

The girl shook her hair out of her eyes, before directing a glare at the helicopter blades responsible for mussing her hair. "Doctor Alanna Miller. We spoke on the phone." Huge, dark eyes sucked at Xan's soul as the girl – no child, that was certain – made no move to shake hands. The eyes flicked mercifully to Jay for a moment, before returning to Xan. "Is there anything you don't know about this island?"

Xan wet her lips. "I'd like to think there isn't, but some of my staff might have more detailed knowledge than me about their specialty. That's why I pay them, after all."

Alanna nodded. "Fair enough." She jerked her head at Jay. "Does he count as staff?"

Xan tried and failed to hide her smile. "I don't pay him, so probably not."

Alanna made shooing motions with her hands. "You're still not my favourite person, Jason. Go back to safely sunning yourself on your private beach. I'll send for you if I need you."

Without a word, Jay left.

The dark eyes settled on Xan again. "Shall we start, Xan? I've seen the helipad, so let's begin with transport. Jo mentioned ferry services and a dock. I'd like to know the frequency and travel times before you show me your function facilities."