Give Me a Reason
Ever After Series, Book 4
Rule No. 4: Don't sleep with your best friend's brother.
Finn Evans is such a cynic.
How can he not believe in love and marriage but still be a musician for weddings?
I may be a hopeless romantic, but at least I believe in love—which makes being a wedding planner at Happily Ever Afters a dream job for me.
Finn and I clash about everything—except our undeniable attraction to each other.
After one brief encounter on a hotel rooftop, we agree to a no-strings-attached fling. But with each day that passes, I fall more in love with him and his little girl, Paisley.
The only problem is, our boss has a rule: No sleeping with coworkers or wedding guests.
As the newest wedding planner, I can’t afford to lose my job, and, unlike Finn, I don’t have a trust fund to fall back on. Not to mention, Finn’s sister, Ireland, is my best friend, roommate, and fellow coworker.
But when Ireland catches us together at a wedding, everything comes crashing down.
Not only am I about to lose my job and my home, but I may just lose my chance at a forever kind of love.
+ Excerpt +
Even though the sky was overcast, it was the perfect day for a wedding. Remi’s ceremony location required a short walk through the woods, so guests had been advised to wear comfortable shoes. I’d worn wedge heels because I was trying to impress my boss. I hoped she’d see me as a wedding planner and not just an assistant.
I held my tablet tight to my chest as I maneuvered the terrain in my wedge heels. I thought they were practical until I tripped over a branch.
A hand gripped my elbow. “Regretting your shoe choice right about now?” The accompanying chuckle rumbled through my chest, dislodging the thoughts in my head.
We’d come to a stop, his hand on my elbow as he steadied me, his free hand holding his guitar case. He wore a suit and smelled so good that I found myself swaying in his direction.
When I didn’t respond, he cocked a brow. “You okay?”
We usually found every opportunity to snipe at each other, but today, I was overwhelmed by his proximity and the concern that filtered through his voice. When I finally found my voice, it was steady. “I’m fine.”
“You ready for today?” Finn took a step back, his gaze still on me. He usually only played for the receptions, but Remi had asked that he play the guitar for the ceremony too.
“I’m excited for Remi and Colton’s big day.” Then I gazed up at the cloud cover. “I just hope the rain holds out. It would be a shame if we had to move the ceremony to a tent.”
His lips twitched as if he found me amusing. “That would be a shame.”
From his tone and our previous conversations, I doubted he cared where the event was held. We’d gotten into it before over my optimism and his pessimism when it came to love and weddings. He wasn’t as invested in the couples since he only talked to them about song selections. “You’re a cynic.”
He winked at me. “Nothing you don’t already know.”
Irritation flowed through me at his usual cockiness. Refocusing on my job, I picked up my long skirt and continued moving in the direction of the clearing where the ceremony would be held.
Harrison should be setting up the chairs and the arbor. I needed to check to make sure the setup was exactly how Remi and Gia wanted it. Even though Remi was an easygoing bride, Gia had standards she wanted to meet for every wedding.
Finn hurried to keep up with me, his hand hovering under my elbow in case I stumbled again. My heart contracted at the thought. I shouldn’t be attracted to a man who didn’t believe in love and marriage. I’d always believed I’d fall in love one day, get married, and have children. Just the thought filled me with hope and joy.
“You know most couples don’t stay married,” Finn said softly.
I shot him a look. “Not this again.”
“I’m just stating the obvious.”
“Well, these two will.” I usually got a feeling when I met a couple, and these two were ridiculously happy. “Besides, they have a little girl.”
Finn’s eyes flashed with irritation. “Having kids doesn’t up your odds of your relationship working out in the long run.”
I stopped and turned to face him. Crossing my arms over my chest, I considered him. “What happened to you to make you so jaded?”
Finn sighed and looked away from me. “Both of my parents have been married and divorced multiple times. My dad five, my mom four.”
My entire body deflated at his confession. “I’m sorry, Finn. I didn’t know.”
He ran a hand through his hair. “It is what it is.”
“It’s the reason why you don’t believe in love or marriage.” No wonder he felt the way he did.
Finn’s gaze clashed with mine. “Maybe.”
It was so obvious, I wasn’t sure why he couldn’t see it. Between his parents, they’d been divorced nine times. My heart ached for the pain that must have caused him. “Ireland never said.”
I’d only recently become friends with Finn’s sister when I started working for Gia.
Finn chuckled without any humor. “She wouldn’t. She doesn’t like to talk about it.”
“I’m sorry you went through that.” I shifted on my feet, feeling bad that I’d argued with him about it. I’d grown up with parents, who’d been deeply in love.
Finn stiffened and waved a hand in the direction of the chairs and arbor. “What they do doesn’t affect my life anymore. I just wanted to tell you why I don’t believe in all this.”
“If you say so,” I murmured, but he’d stalked past the rows of chairs until he came to the one set up for him. He unsnapped the case and pulled out his guitar.
He probably wanted to tune it, making sure he was ready to play in time for the bride’s walk down the aisle.
I mentally shook my head. I had work to do too. Gia was counting on me, and I needed to prove that I was reliable and invaluable to her and her business.
I needed this job. My parents might have had a great relationship, but money wasn’t something that came easily to them. They’d always struggled financially, so college hadn’t been an option for me.
I’d worked as an instructional assistant in a local school district until they’d made budget cuts, and my job was the first to go. Losing my job was the scariest thing I’d ever experienced.
I was thankful when I saw Gia’s posting for an assistant wedding planner. It seemed like the perfect job for me. I loved talking to brides and grooms and making their dream days come true. But I didn’t plan anything myself; I mainly helped Gia. I needed to prove my worth before she’d trust me with her clients.
There was this push and pull between me and Finn. He drew me in and irritated me at the same time. But I couldn’t afford to be distracted—not when my job was on the line.
I was currently living in a low-income apartment, and if this job worked out, I could move to a nicer one. One in a safer neighborhood. My goal was to save enough money to move my younger sister in with me too.
When I reached the neatly arranged rows of wedding chairs, I opened my tablet to Gia’s list of things to do before I checked in with Harrison and then the florist, Lily. My job at these events was to make sure things ran smoothly and to report any issues to Gia.
I was only an assistant, but maybe one day, I’d be the head planner, in charge of a wedding on my own. If only I could ignore Finn’s gaze when it landed on me.
The notes of the guitar drifted around me as I made all the necessary check-ins and reports to Gia.
I loved when Finn played. I got caught up in the way his fingers moved with confidence over the strings. It made me wonder if he’d be good with other things too.
Needing to get away from Finn and his music, I walked the short distance to the main house and the smaller buildings that had been renovated. One was a garage for Lily’s and Jake’s vehicles, and the other one housed the bridal party suites and the guest bathrooms.
I found Gia outside the bridal suite, so I made sure the bridal party had drinks and food to eat while fixing any wardrobe mishaps. There was this mad rush to get everyone ready but still allow room for the photographer, Abby, to get the perfectly serene pictures of the bride interacting with her friends and mother.
Adding to the sweetness of the event was Remi and Colton’s daughter, Willow. She was passed from one person’s arms to another so that everyone could get ready. She was causing most of the wardrobe issues, but no one complained.
At one point, Willow was placed in my hands, and I reveled in the feel of her chubby arms and legs. I breathed in her scent, marveling at the way a baby could make you melt all over. She fisted my hair and pulled, but the pure delight in her eyes outweighed the sting of pain.
When it was almost time to put on her dress, Remi led her bridal party in a meditation with her daughter, Willow, in her lap. When Remi asked us to join her, I sat on the floor with everyone else, my palms facing up on my knees as I sat cross-legged. I listened to Remi’s direction to clear my head and dismiss any thoughts that popped up.
That was easier said than done because every time I closed my eyes, Finn’s flashing eyes filled my head. He was irritated with me more often than not, and I wanted to kiss him. To distract him from whatever negative thing he was going to say about love and weddings.
I wanted to shut him up, but I wanted to feel his hard body against me more. I wanted to let go with him, ignoring my responsibilities for once in my life. I didn’t want to worry about how I’d pay the rent this month, or whether I had enough money to buy groceries.
When Remi gently brought us out of the meditation, I didn’t feel like I’d been successful in clearing my head. I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about anyone at all, much less the man who got under my skin.
When we stood, Remi asked for her dress, and Gia and I left to give her some privacy with her sister, Delilah, and her mother. Abby would stick around to take the photos of her getting into her gown, but we wouldn’t be needed unless there was a dress emergency.
“Why don’t you head over to the ceremony space and make sure everything is ready to go,” Gia said to me.
“Whatever you need.” I turned to go, and Gia’s hand touched my arm. “Thank you for your help. It’s been invaluable having you and Ireland around.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” I smiled because I was truly grateful for the job and the pay, even if I wanted so much more. I needed to learn to be patient.
On the walk across the lawn and through the woods, I reminded myself of what I wanted: enough money to help my parents, to move to a nice apartment so that I could invite my sister to move in with me, and maybe even some extra to pay for community college classes for her. I loved my family and would do anything for them.
I ignored the voice in my head that asked what I wanted for myself. I’d grown up in a trailer park and learned early on that I needed to take care of my sister and find any way I could to make my parents’ lives easier.
As soon as I was old enough, I took babysitting jobs in the nicer area of town while my parents worked multiple jobs to put food on our table. I always brought Iris with me to work, and if we were lucky, the family would put enough money on the counter for us to order pizza for ourselves, too. I did whatever I could to ease my parents’ burden and ensure my little sister had food.
“You got your head in the game?” Finn asked me.
I was so lost in my thoughts I hadn’t even realized that I’d stopped next to Finn’s chair. “I have something on my mind.”
“You’re a single woman with no kids. What could you possibly have to worry about?” Finn’s words were light, but I didn’t like the implication that I couldn’t possibly have anything going on in my life worth stressing about.
Irritation slid down my spine, a common occurrence when Finn talked to me. “You don’t know anything about me or my life.” I stepped around him. “Excuse me. I have a job to do.”
Lily and her assistant finished arranging the flowers on the arbor and the chairs on the aisle. There was no runner for the aisle. Remi didn’t want anything that would detract from the natural location, and it looked beautiful. I felt an occasional drop of rain, but the leaves of the trees provided adequate cover.
I took a deep breath, releasing the pent-up irritation I felt over Finn’s words. He didn’t know me and never would. As I let it out, my heart filled with love and appreciation for this job and the wedding I was about to witness.
When Colton arrived with his best man, Max, I directed him and the preacher where to stand. I kept in communication with Gia as the bridal party made their way here. The plan was for the bridal party to walk down the aisle, and then Remi would carry her daughter, Willow, who would throw a few petals as they walked.
I focused on my job and put Finn’s careless words out of my head.
After the reception, there was an impromptu get-together for the Happily Ever Afters employees. It wasn’t something I’d seen before, but then, I hadn’t worked with Gia long. It seemed a little out of character for her management style, but maybe she was trying something different.
I’d hoped to get away as soon as I could and put some much-needed space between me and Finn. Instead, I was forced to stick around. This job was new and important to me. I couldn’t afford to not give a good impression. I needed to show Gia I wanted to be here.
The catering company took care of the dirty plates and leftover food, and we picked up the trash. Remi graciously donated a layer of cake to the crew, and Sophie passed slices around the tables we’d set up outdoors near the dance floor and bar.
Finn was strumming his guitar like he hadn’t just played Remi and Colton’s reception. I would have thought he’d want to take a break, but the pure love on his face when he played said it all.
I enjoyed listening to him. I couldn’t understand how he was able to make beautiful music from a few strings. When he opened his mouth and sang along to a popular song, my heart contracted and then picked up speed.
There was something about the deep set of his voice singing about love and longing that made me think his talk about weddings ending in divorce wasn’t real. But I knew better than to infer something that wasn’t there. Finn had always been skeptical about relationships and marriage, and singing a song about love didn’t mean he believed in it.
The only lights were the lanterns we’d placed around the reception area and the twinkling ones hanging from above. It illuminated Finn’s face while he played, his head bent slightly over his instrument as he focused on the chords.
Conversation went on around me, but I couldn’t seem to tear myself away from him. At one point, he looked up and caught me staring. My heart caught in my throat as he winked, his lips quirking before he focused once again on the strings.
He was probably used to women falling all over him whenever he played. There was just something about a man who could sing and play guitar that did it for any woman.
I didn’t know much about him other than what he’d said to me the few times we’d talked. When I hung out with Ireland, we didn’t talk about her brother. I was careful not to bring him up. I didn’t want her to suspect that I had a crush on him, because it was stupid. His strong fingers and jaw made my heart go pitter-patter, but whenever he opened his mouth and talked, I was reminded why we had nothing in common.
“It’s hard to believe he’s a band teacher,” Harper, Gia’s best friend and assistant manager, said to me.
“Who?” I asked stupidly, even though she’d been smiling at my attention to Finn.
“He’s a band teacher?” That was a surprise. I’d suspected he was a guy who played at bars and other venues in the evenings and had lazy days around his bachelor pad, recovering from whatever he’d been up to the night before.
I’d always imagined him as someone who had groupies following him from bar to bar. I felt a stab of pain I had no business feeling because he’d been clear that he wasn’t a relationship kind of guy.
“Gia convinced him to play weddings for her. I think she offered him more money to do it.”
“He doesn’t want to play at bars?” Even though I knew he was bad for me, I was curious about him.
Harper shrugged. “I don’t think he minds playing bars, but he seems to have a thing against weddings.”
“Tell me about it,” I murmured, watching him. “Why did he give in to Gia, then, if he didn’t want to play these kinds of events?”
“She can be persuasive,” Harper said with a smile before taking a bite of her cake.
Gia was great at negotiations and usually got what she wanted. Her family ran the local pizza parlor, and she was the lone family member who’d gone out on her own. She’d had to be tough to defy her family’s wishes to work in their business.
I wondered if Gia was persuasive in other ways. Had she hooked up with Finn? Did they have some kind of friends-with-benefits relationship? And why did it matter? Why was I thinking about my boss sleeping with Finn when she’d been the one to set the rules—no sleeping with wedding guests, the wedding party, or the vendors? Her rules were designed to keep our business professional. So, why would she break them to sleep with Finn?
It didn’t sound rational, but I wasn’t feeling completely sane tonight. Every time I spoke to Finn, he knocked me off my axis. He made me question myself and what I’d always believed to be true.
He’d revealed tonight that his parents had been divorced nine times between the two of them. It was unbelievable, yet his shame and disgust had been very real. Ireland didn’t talk about her parents much, and I wondered if that was why.
I got the vague impression that their family didn’t worry about money, that she was free to take whatever job suited her fancy. But then, most people around me didn’t worry about money the way I did. I’d grown up with love but also with the distinct impression that money could run out at any time. It always felt like we didn’t have enough, and it was a relief when we could buy groceries that week. I was the kid at school who had free lunches, and I hated it, even though it made my parents’ lives easier.
Finn couldn’t possibly understand why I hoped so hard for a better future, one that had the love my parents shared and the safety and security of money. I wanted to do something that I enjoyed and earn money from it.
Happily Ever Afters was the best job I’d ever had, both in terms of pay and stability. I wouldn’t do anything to screw it up. I’d have to ignore my reaction to the man currently bent over his guitar, strumming the last chords of a song about a love that was so good it couldn’t possibly last.