Title: The Bouquet List
Author: Barbara DeLeo
Length: 211 pages
Rating: 4 Stars
**NOTE: This is a Red-Hot Bliss and is not a behind closed doors sex scenes story.**
He's #5 on her Bouquet List. Tall, dark...and completely forbidden.
After a too-close call with death, Yasmin Katsalos is checking some things off her Bouquet List—things to do after you thought you were going to die. Fun fashion choices? Check. Purple hair and a cute diamond nose stud? Check, check. Now she's on to item #5: a flirty fling with a man who's tall, dark, rich...and totally out of her league.
And restaurateur Lane Griffiths definitely fits the bill.
Lane isn't just out of Yasmin's league. He's also her brother's best friend and therefore off-limits. Now that they're working together on renovations for her family's wedding hall, however, Yasmin has plenty of opportunities to bewitch, bother, and boldly seduce. He's reserved. She's relaxed. The only thing they share is a spark of attraction that's too strong to resist. But is Lane just another item on her bouquet list... or has Yasmin found something on her list that will last? -Goodreads
The Bouquet List
by Barbara DeLeo Copyright © 2014 by Barbara DeLeo. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
“Do you have an invitation, miss? Only wedding guests can come in at this time of night.”
The lanky young boy in an oversize doorman’s uniform stepped into Yasmin Katsalos’s path at the gates of the Aegean Palace, the wedding hall her parents had owned in Beauville, Westchester County, New York, for the past forty years. Behind him, well-dressed guests milled about in the courtyard while boys in miniature suits and girls in princess dresses chased each other in the soft light of dusk. The rich aroma of spit-roast lamb carried on the breeze, and the familiar sound of a jaunty bouzouki band played in the distance.
Yasmin finally let herself sigh in dizzy relief. She was home, and there was a time only a few weeks ago when she’d thought she might never see this place, or her parents, again.
Pulling her gaze from the wedding scene, she peered closer at the guard. “Stratis, is that you?” She dropped her backpack and threw her arms around her father’s young godson. “You’ve gotten so big!” She laughed. “And when did you start working here? Last time I saw you was in the Greek school Christmas pageant playing a palm tree!”
Stratis stood stiff beneath her hug and when she leaned back, his eyes widened. “No, I don’t believe it! Yas? Oh my God. I didn’t recognize you with your…your hair and…the nose stud. And when did you stop wearing glasses?”
Yasmin touched the purple streaks in her glossy black hair. Not purple exactly, more a rich, deep lilac, almost the exact shade of the amethyst deceiver, the little mushroom she was so fond of, and the irony made her smile. There’d be no more amethyst deceiver in her near future, and the thought of that, and her whole new look, caused her heart to do a half pike, double backflip.
The hair and the nose stud were the first two items on her bouquet list, the list of things she wanted to do in her life after surviving dengue fever, and she couldn’t wait to get started on the rest. Putting her PhD on hold was third and learning a new language was at four. Seducing a tall, dark man out of her league was five—some things on her list scared her more than others, but she’d have attempted none of them in her quiet and conservative old life BD—before dengue.
Now everything was different.
“I’ve been doing research work in Borneo for a little bit, but I’m back earlier than I’d planned so I thought I’d surprise Mom and Dad. Are they around?”
Stratis shook his head. “Your mom’s not here, and the last time I saw Mano he was in the restaurant threatening to fire one of the new waiters for wearing his pants too low. Want me to take your bag upstairs while you go find him?”
He nodded toward the nearest building. “Your mom and dad moved into the old apartment a while back so they could rent their house as part of the wedding package. You didn’t know?”
Her chest hollowed. She’d been in Borneo for eighteen months, but her parents hadn’t mentioned anything about moving to the apartment. Things had been tough at the Palacefor a while now, which was part of the reason she hadn’t told them she’d been so sick, but she hadn’t realized things had gotten this bad.
“No, I didn’t know they’d moved. Thanks for taking my bag, Stratis. I’ll go look for Dad and catch you later.”
Stratis picked up her backpack and headed up the stairs to the apartment that overlooked the entranceway while she walked through the courtyard. Everything was as she remembered. Statues of Greek gods were dotted around the perimeter while a pink fountain in the middle changed its colored light to synchronize with the movement of the water. If she hadn’t just traveled in a cab from LaGuardia Airport, she could be fooled into thinking she was in Greece. Well, maybe Greece in the 1980s. The decor had never quite kept in step with the decades, but there was more to it this time. Some of the bright turquoise and yellow pots that held tumbling geraniums and basil in every available space were cracked, and the whitewashed wall covered in brilliant purple bougainvillea was peeling. Whether the decor hadn’t been modernized because there wasn’t enough money, or the other way around, the Aegean Palacewasn’t what it used to be. This sight, combined with the news that her parents had moved into the apartment, made Yasmin even more anxious to find her father.
If she weren’t in such a hurry, she’d have gone to say hello to Monty, the parrot who was just as much of an institution as the Dionysus mosaic on the ground and the plastic grapevines adorning the front of the restaurant. There would be time to chat to Monty later, but right now she couldn’t wait to see her dad.
As soon as she entered the restaurant in its conglomeration of gold and black decor, she spotted him. He was standing with his back to her, arms flailing wildly as he harangued a waiter in Greek. The emotion she’d kept bottled inside the last few weeks overpowered her, and she rushed up behind and threw her arms around him. “Baba!”
“Panagia!” he called out and spun around. Then, just like Stratis, he froze. “Yasmin! Kori, is that you?”
Instead of squeezing her close in one of his bear hugs that she’d missed so much, he took a step back and his horrified gaze swept from the top of her head, to the diamond glinting in her nose, and down to the Doc Martens boots she wore on her feet. And then to her dismay, his eyes filled with tears.
“It’s okay, Dad,” she said in a rush. “I should’ve told you. Something happened in Borneo and I wanted a fresh…”
He cut her off before she could deliver the speech she’d prepared on the plane about how the fever had affected her, how the list she’d written was changing her already. She should have known that seeing her like this would be a shock.
“It’s your mother,” her father choked.
“Mom? What’s happened? Where is she? Is she okay?”
Her father’s enormous chest rose, then fell, beneath his tight black waistcoat. “She has gone to Greece.” He vigorously crossed himself. “And thanks be to Panagia that you have come to help me bring her back,” he said, swiping at his eyes. He dropped his voice as if he was suddenly conscious of his outburst. “Come to the back office and I will explain everything.”
While the wedding crowd began to move inside for what was probably the arrival of the bride and groom, Yasmin followed her father across the courtyard and into one of the offices. Her mother was in Greece without him? That had never happened before. A relative must have fallen ill. Perhaps her mother’s sister Maria. Her parents had run this place for forty years, but she couldn’t imagine her father coping on his own. Especially when times were so tough.
When they were seated in the office, Mano cleared his throat and stroked his salt-and-pepper mustache. “Your mother doesn’t believe in the Aegean Palace anymore.”
Yasmin, blinked, trying to make sense of what he’d just said. “What do you mean? Mom loves this place.”
“Things have been very tough. Those O’Malleys. Pah! Pah!” He paused and pretended to spit twice over his shoulder. “Those criminals steal so much of our business and I promise your mother that I will turn things around. She shouts at me and tells me this is another one of my schemes with the hairy brain and that she will not return until either this place is sold or the pigs have flown and it starts to make money again. And then she just orders a cab and leaves. She does not understand that I borrowed the money for the renovations so the Palace can finally be successful.”
Yasmin drew a breath and reached for her father’s hand. “Have you told Nick and Ari?”
Mano’s face paled further. “Your brothers know your mother has gone to Greece, but they don’t know the whole story and they mustn’t. I will not have their careers spoiled because your mother has her crazy thoughts. I will go to Lesbos tomorrow to bring her back and then it will all be forgotten.”
“You’re leaving tomorrow? Who’ll run things?”
“I’ve explained everything to Grace and she has it all in hand. And Lane is doing the renovation, of course.”
“Lane Griffiths?” She knew of Grace, the wedding planner for the Palace, but she hadn’t seen Nick’s best friend for years. “What renovation?”
“Yes. He is a good boy and he is very successful with so many restaurants. I’ve asked him to help redesign the restaurant and the menu so people start booking with us instead of those dirty O’Malleys.”
“Kyrie Katsalos.” A young waiter had poked his head around the door and the look on his face suggested he was afraid it might be chopped off. “That new boy has dropped the wedding cake on the floor and the mother of the bride has fainted.”
“Panagia mou!” Mano shouted and lifted both arms to the heavens. “What have I done to deserve this madness?”
The waiter was gone in an instant and when Mano dropped his hands he picked up a pair of glasses, held them up to his face, and squinted at Yasmin. “You can’t be working here with that hair and that thing in your nose. We have standards to maintain. Grace is good with the Greek mothers but they will be nervous that your mother isn’t here, so you will need to soothe them. And not look like a karagiozis from the carnival.”
“Baba, I need to tell you something.” He wouldn’t understand any of the things on her list, but she at least needed to tell him she’d been sick.
He dropped the glasses and rummaged through the pile of papers on the desk. “Not now, koukla. You can tell me everything when I bring your mother home by the end of the week. Where is that damned to God airplane ticket? I’m getting an early cab in the morning. Do whatever Lane asks and let me know if there are any problems. I will give you his number so you can meet and he can explain what he has planned.” He stood up. “Now I must go and clean Mrs. Konstantinopolous and that wedding cake off the floor.” He walked around the desk and kissed her on both cheeks. “You are a good girl, and I know you’ll make me proud,” he said on his way out the door.
He hadn’t even asked why she was back. Or how long she was staying. How could she fulfill her list when he expected her to fit right back into the role of a good daughter? And if she had to stay and supervise things while her father was away, she would certainly not “do whatever Lane asks.” She’d been telling her parents for years the Palace needed to be dragged kicking and screaming into this century. She had her own ideas how to go about it.
At eleven o’clock the next morning, Yasmin stood in the doorway of an old English tea shop and inhaled the scent of fresh-baked goodies. What did Lane look like now? She’d phoned him and left a message to meet her here to discuss what they were going to do. He’d always been an earnest guy, focused and serious like Nick, always aloof and a bit superior—the sort of kid you’d expect to see carrying a briefcase to his own wedding. But there was something completely mesmerizing about him as well—his piercing eyes, his knowing smile; just a glance her way when she was a girl and she’d been a puddle of teenage crush.
As her eyes became accustomed to the low light in the tearoom, she stopped still. Was that him? A dark-haired guy in a charcoal suit sat at a booth in the back, but he hadn’t noticed her. He was too busy looking at a laptop screen, his brow creased and his fist slowly tapping his chin.
He had a strong profile, a jaw that curved in a tight arc, and skin the burnished tan of honey. His dark brown hair reminded her so strongly of someone that she had a sudden sense of déjà vu, but couldn’t quite pin down who it was.
When she took a step into the room, he looked up, and in that instant her heart skipped a beat. Her pulse quickened, her palms became clammy, and she had to remind herself to put one foot in front of the other. The past came tumbling back, and for a moment it felt as though she were transported back in time, unable to speak when he was near. Back then he’d hardly acknowledged she existed, and now he was looking directly at her.
He stood at the booth, his head nearly touching the light hanging above him before he stepped forward. “Yasmin,” he said. “It’s been a long time.” Goose bumps flew across her arms and raced up the back of her neck. His voice was low and slow, the hypnotizing tone of a late-night radio host talking only to her while she was lying alone in her bed…
“Thanks so much for meeting me here,” she said, trying to appear cool and collected. Moving closer, her gaze rested on his, and she held out her hand at the same time that he dipped his face to kiss her cheek. In a clash of fine suit cloth and fingers, her hand collided with his stomach as his lips touched her ear when she twisted her face in surprise. A blush started to burn its way across her cheeks, but without looking at him or acknowledging the blunder, she slid into the booth opposite, the brand of his lips still warm on her skin. “Thanks for meeting me here,” she said as her eyes finally landed back on his face, before she realized she was repeating herself. “There’s a wedding on at the Palace today and I didn’t want to get under everyone’s feet. It was all a bit of a surprise when Dad told me about leaving for Greece last night.”
He sat too and regarded her with his head tilted slightly to the side. Those piercing blue eyes. “I never would’ve recognized you.”
She let out a nervous laugh that sounded all schoolgirl breathless, and was glad to find the waiter ready to take their order.
His brow creased and he looked at her more intently. “Are you okay? You’ve gone all red.”
She loosened the neckline of her new Chinese collar dress and cleared her throat. She picked up the menu and flicked through it, glad of an excuse to look away. “Fine…I’m fine, thanks. A pot of tea, please,” she said to the waiter who’d appeared beside her. “And is that scones I can smell?”
“Sure is. Right out of the oven. Would you like one with jam and cream?”
Her stomach gurgled in anticipation. “Yes, please.”
“Black coffee for me, thanks,” Lane said and pushed his computer aside. “Interesting place.” He looked around as the waiter left.
Yasmin clasped her hands on the table. “Since the coffee in Borneo wasn’t the best, I got used to drinking tea. Isn’t this place cute? My uncle Leo, our cook, told me about it.”
He twisted the other way, then fixed his gaze back on her. “It has…atmosphere. It’s all a bit dark and dreary as if it’s the middle of an English winter outside.”
Of course, he was an expert on restaurants; maybe this had been a bad choice.
“So, how have you been?” she said, breezily. “Dad said you’ve got a great chain of restaurants.”
“Had.” He still looked as serious and aloof as she’d remembered, and his intense stare still made the skin on the back of her neck tingle. “I’ve just sold them and have a very large project starting in a couple of months.”
“I was given the opportunity to create my signature restaurant in the newest Prescott Hotel. It’s the sort of thing I’d always had as an ultimate goal, but didn’t think I’d achieve until my mid-thirties.”
“The Prescott Hotels? I’ve heard that guy’s ruthless.”
“He is, but he picked my restaurant out of a pretty impressive lineup so I’m ready to put everything into it. Doing this job for your dad was good timing because the hotel won’t be ready until the end of summer, and I hate not working.”
She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Look, I know Dad asked you to oversee the changes, but now that I’m here I’m happy to take over.”
He frowned as if she’d asked him to embezzle money from his grandma, but still spoke with that voice as smooth as liquid chocolate. “Your father asked me to do a little more than advise on decor. He asked that I manage the finances and oversee all the restaurant changes. Trust me, it’s easy to pay thousands of dollars for very little impact, and he wants his investment maximized. And with all due respect, you haven’t had industry experience.”
She put her palms flat on the table and straightened her spine. He didn’t need to know why she was back, or that she’d been sick. He just needed to know that she wanted to be in charge of this project, get creative, and help her parents at the same time.
“I appreciate your experience and expertise,” she said, making herself look directly in his eyes, “but I really want to do this on my own, so we can tell Dad we’re checking in from time to time and leave it at that.”
“Your hair,” he suddenly said. “How do they get the purple on there when it’s so dark underneath?”
She fingered the piece of hair over her shoulder, taken aback by his sudden interest in her. “They take a bit and bleach it, then when all the color’s gone they put the purple over it.”
“You mean they take all the existing color out completely? That must be damaging to the hair shaft. Does it ever recover?” He frowned again, and she had to suppress a chuckle at the look of concern on his face. He was just as she’d remembered, serious and aloof.
“I’m not really sure. I just had it done in Singapore on my way home.”
“Interesting. I hope it doesn’t cause permanent injury.”
There was a strange, yawning silence and Yasmin stifled a laugh at the irony of him worrying about damage to her hair when she’d had a life-threatening illness.
“As I was saying,” Lane said, “you’ll need advice and a detailed plan of what needs to be done. I have a designer who’ll come by this week to advise on any structural changes, and then I’ll have one of my chefs in and we can take a look at a menu redesign. I also have…”
She blinked. “Hang on a minute.”
“I want to have some fun with this, make the most of the opportunity.”
“Then I guess we’ll need to talk with your dad. It’s his money and his investment. He didn’t indicate that the focus should be…fun.” He lifted a strong shoulder, then let it fall.
Suddenly, Yasmin thought back to her early teens when she would dream about Lane taking notice of her, talking to her, and seeing her as someone important. He’d seemed untouchable back then—guys like him still were, for a girl who spent more time with mold than men.
A strange feeling overtook her and her mouth dried.
Seduce a tall, dark, and mysterious man who’s out of my league.
The sense of déjà vu—Lane Griffiths with his suit and his status and his cool aloofness, his strong shoulders and those heart-melting eyes—Lane Griffiths could be her number five!
Yasmin Katsolas has a lot to live for, and almost dying of dengue fever in Borneo drove that point home for her like nothing else could.
When she returns home with a pierced nose and purple streaks adorning her dark locks, her traditional Greek family doesn't know quite how to deal with this new and vibrant version of her.
With a rival wedding hall stealing clients left and right, Yasmin and her family must act fast to save the family business.
Enter Lane Griffiths...
Polished, poised, a restaurateur on the rise, Lane has promised to see to the relaunch of her family's business.
As the tall, dark, and handsome man that she wishes to seduce. A.k.a #5 on her list, Lane has no idea how working with the girl that he was so used to thinking of as "his best friend's sister" is going to change his life.
The Bouquet List is a sweet and passionate tale of love, family, and self discovery. The thing that sets this story apart is the fact that both Lane and Yasmin learn to trust themselves, live, and love freely.
Their love making is a sweet interlude in an even sweeter romance. It only serves to cement their fledgeling love bond in the hearts and minds of both the couple and their readers.
This is a wonderful light read; full of wit, banter, charm, and love.