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Bestselling author Rochelle Alers’s beloved Whitfield Brides series begins with this endearing contemporary romance
Brooklyn assistant district attorney Micah Sanborn walks into wedding planner Tessa Whitfield’s town house and winds up stranded there all night in a citywide blackout... alongside the most intriguing woman he’s ever met.
Tessa’s vow to avoid mixing work with pleasure is completely forsaken once she’s thrown together with the tall, gorgeous assistant DA. Micah offers Tessa the kind of passion she’s only fantasized about, but their whirlwind romance hits a snag when he’s unable to say those three little words. Can Micah overcome his fear from a painful breakup in the past? And will Tessa be willing to wait for his love?
Originally published in 2008
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Hailed by readers and booksellers alike as one of today's most popular African-American authors of women's fiction, Ms. Alers is a regular on bestsellers list, and has been a recipient of numerous awards, including the Vivian Stephens Award for Excellence in Romance Writing and a Zora Neale Hurston Literary Award. Visit her Web site www.rochellealers.com
Tessa Whitfield unlocked the front door to the Brooklyn Heights brownstone where she lived, had set up Signature Event Planners Inc. and Signature Bridals—where she'd established a reputation as the consummate wedding consultant.
It was mid-October and, to her relief, the wedding season was winding down. Four months ago she'd coordinated the wedding of the season for sports hero Ashton Cooper and bestselling African-American novelist Jadya Fyles. The elegant ceremony was held in the Grand Hall of the New York Public Library, where the high-profile couple had met three years earlier.
Tessa had arranged for a reception for a thousand in Bryant Park under gauzy multicolored tents that turned the half-acre park in the middle of Manhattan into a wonderland. Media coverage included People magazine, which reported the wedding was "Exquisite! Lavish! Joyous!" The New York Times society section gave it a full page, and it was reported that Oprah had called for an interview for her magazine O.
The spectacular wedding had catapulted Signature Bridals to Manhattan's eliteA-list of wedding planners, and Tessa's phone rang constantly for her services with requests from hip-hop stars, high society and the Euro elite.
Closing the self-locking door, she walked through the foyer, down a hallway and into a gourmet kitchen. She set her canvas bag filled with fresh fruit and vegetables on a stool at the cooking island, then made her way into her office to check her telephone. A blinking light indicated a message. Tessa pressed a button on the console.
"This is Bridget Sanborn. I was scheduled to meet with you tonight at six-thirty, but I can't make it. I told you that I was on jury duty, and now I've been sequestered. I know this is the third time you've rearranged your schedule to accommodate me, but I've come up with an idea where you won't have to cancel tonight's meeting. I've asked my brother Micah to keep the appointment for me. I hope to meet you soon, and thank you again for your infinite patience."
"You're welcome, Bridget," she whispered, then blew out a breath at the same time she shook her head.
Tessa had only agreed to accept Bridget Sanborn as a client because the frenetic spring and summer wedding season was over. She hadn't met the children's book editor but knew instinctively she had her work cut out for her. Bridget had gotten engaged over the Labor Day weekend and planned to have a formal New Year's Eve wedding at her parents' Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, home. Most brides planned their wedding a year in advance, but Tessa had less than three months to coordinate the Sanborn-Cohen nuptials.
An antique clock on the fireplace mantel chimed the half hour. It was five-thirty. She had an hour before Micah Sanborn's arrival. Unlike his sister, she hoped he'd keep the appointment.
Tessa thought about preparing and eating a hastily prepared dinner but changed her mind. She would wait until after she met with the prospective bride's brother, then sit down at the table in her dining room instead of the one in the kitchen's breakfast nook and eat without having to watch the clock for her next client.
Returning to the kitchen, she removed a New York steak from the freezer. It was too large for one portion, so she decided to save half for another meal. Forty-five minutes later, the marinated steak and bowls of mixed baby greens and wedges of yellow pear tomatoes and sliced potatoes in cold water sat on a shelf in the refrigerator.
Micah Sanborn mounted the steps to the brownstone in the tony Brooklyn neighborhood. He glanced at the shiny brass plate affixed to the wall of the three-story structure, engraved with Signature Bridals. Admiring the solid oak door with stained-glass insets, he rang the bell and waited as the seconds ticked off.
"Who is it?" a woman's voice came through the small speaker over the mail slot.
"It's Micah Sanborn."
Seconds later, a soft buzzing disengaged the lock. Micah pushed opened the door and stepped into a foyer. Pale oak floors reflected the warm glow from wall sconces and an Art Deco-inspired ceiling fixture. A winding staircase with a mahogany banister led to the upper floors. Turning to his left, his gaze lingered on an exquisite bouquet of fresh flowers in an orange-glazed clay vase on a side table. The vibrant hues of pink, coral, red and yellow lilies, roses, peonies and orchids with folded palm leaves tucked in between the blooms added warmth to the crisp autumn weather.
Micah's gaze shifted from the flowers to the woman standing several feet away. He inhaled a deep breath, holding it until the pressure in his lungs forced him to exhale.
He extended his hand. "Micah."
Tessa stared at the large, well-groomed hand with clean square-cut nails for several seconds before placing her smaller one on the broad palm. She affected the practiced professional smile she did not feel at that moment. She'd met a lot of men since starting up her business—prospective bridegrooms, groomsmen, fathers and brothers of the bride and groom—but this was the first time in a very long time that she experienced a feeling of unease.
There was something in the way Micah Sanborn stared at her that had slipped under her barrier of professional poise. Everything about the tall, dark-skinned man in a navy-blue pin-striped suit with equally dark eyes was intriguing, compelling and magnetic. He wasn't what she considered handsome but attractive nevertheless. His features were neither broad nor sharp and would've been considered nondescript if not for his eyes—eyes that were large, deep-set and penetrating.
"I'm Tessa Whitfield, coordinator of Signature Bridals," she said after what seemed an interminable pause when in reality it'd been only seconds.
Micah tightened his grip on Tessa's slender fingers before he released them. He smiled, and the gesture flattened his top lip against a set of incredibly straight, start-lingly white teeth.
He inclined his head. "Miss Whitfield."
Tessa smiled. "Please call me Tessa."
Micah lifted a thick, black curving eyebrow. "If it's Tessa, then I insist you call me Micah."
Nodding, her practiced smile in place, Tessa said, "Okay, Micah. Please come with me."
He followed her down a hallway to the rear of the house. He missed the carefully chosen furnishings in the rooms he passed because he couldn't take his gaze off Tessa's freestyle hairdo. It looked as if she'd washed the gold-tipped brown strands, then let them air-dry where the soft curls framed her round face like a regal lioness.
In fact, she reminded him of a feline with her exposed gold-brown skin still bearing the results of the summer sun. He thought her more bronze than golden. Her slanting catlike brown eyes under a pair of arching eyebrows, her lithe body swathed in a black-yellow-and-orange-print wrap dress ending midcalf made her look exotic.
He followed Tessa into a large room with French doors and a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Pale silks drapes were drawn back and afforded a glimpse of the brightly illuminated backyard with a patio and flower garden.
Tessa gestured to an off-white armchair. "Please sit down, Micah."
Micah waited for Tessa to sit on a matching love seat, but before he sat down, the room went completely dark. The lights had gone out in the room, the backyard and also in the buildings facing the rear of the brownstone. He heard Tessa's soft gasp.
Her heart fluttering wildly in her chest, Tessa stood up and tried making out Micah's face. "I have to flip the circuit breakers."
"Forget about circuit breakers, Tessa," he countered softly. "We're in the middle of a blackout. Do you have a backup generator?"
She realized for the first time the total darkness surrounding her. The last blackout to hit New York had been August 14, 2003, and the memory of her having to walk from Greenwich Village and across the Brooklyn Bridge in an oppressive humidity had not faded.
"No, I don't," she said, moving closer to the heat emanating from Micah's body. "What are you doing?" she asked when she felt him search inside his jacket.
"I have to call a friend."
With an arm circling Tessa's waist, Micah retrieved his cell phone. He flipped the top and a bright blue light shimmered eerily in the blackness. They were in luck, unlike the last blackout when the multistate power outage knocked out cellular telephone satellite communication.
He pressed the speed dial, and seconds later he heard a familiar feminine voice. Tightening his hold on Tessa's slender body, he said, "Sylvia, Micah Sanborn. What's happening with the electricity?"
"OEM just informed us that a fire in a substation knocked out power to lower Manhattan, all of Brooklyn and portions of Staten Island. Where are you?"
"I'm still in Brooklyn."
"Are you at the D.A.'s office?"
"The mayor just issued a citywide emergency, and it'll be easier for you to get back to the courthouse if you're needed if you stay in Brooklyn."
Micah ended the call and returned the cell phone to his jacket pocket. He had recently turned over his Bronx condominium to his sister, moved to Staten Island and had signed a one-year lease on a furnished studio apartment because he hadn't decided whether he wanted to purchase or build a home in that borough.
Lowering his chin, he inhaled the floral fragrance of the hair grazing his chin. The pleasure he derived from Tessa's curvy body molded to his overshadowed the seriousness of the situation. Smiling, he told her what his contact at One Police Plaza had informed him.
"Do they have any idea how long it's going to last?" Tessa asked.
Micah shook his head before he realized she couldn't see him. "No. By the way, do you have a flashlight?"
"I have one, but it's upstairs."
"What about candles?"
"I have tons of them. Getting to them will prove somewhat difficult."
"Where are they?"
"They're in the pantry off the kitchen."
"Lead the way and I'll follow you."
Turning in the direction she hoped led out of her office, Tessa took small, halting steps, one hand held out in front of her, Micah following closely behind. She found the hallway, her fingertips trailing along the wall. At the end of the hallway she turned to her left and walked through a small antechamber and into the kitchen.
"Don't move," she said in the blackness that seemed to swallow her whole. "I have to get my bearings."
Micah stood completely still, all of his senses operating on full alert. He heard Tessa moving about the space, then a soft moan of pain followed by a whispered expletive. "What happened?"
"I bumped my shin."
"Are you okay?" His voice sounded abnormally loud in the eerie silence.
"I will be as soon as I locate the stove."
His brow furrowed. "What's up with the stove?"
"I have a gas range."
Micah's frown vanished. Not only was Tessa Whitfield beautiful but he found her levelheaded. She hadn't panicked or dissolved into hysterics once the power went out. One by one the jets to the stove-top range in a cooking island came on. There was enough light for him to see Tessa's shadowy figure move to a corner of the kitchen. He was galvanized into action as she gathered up candleholders from a drawer under the countertop.
Working quickly, Tessa set out more than two dozen holders and tea lights on the cooking island, the counter-tops and a table in a breakfast nook, while he lit them with an automatic lighter.
Micah shrugged out of his jacket, draping it on the back of a tall stool at the cooking island as Tessa stared at the man staring back at her.
Smiling, she said, "It's not the first time I'm thankful that I don't have an all-electric kitchen."
"Do you always keep so many candles on hand?" She nodded, crossed her arms under her breasts and rested a hip against the countertop. "I have hundreds of them. I usually eat outdoors during the warmer weather and use them for illumination rather than spotlights." What she didn't tell Micah was that she found candlelight calming, relaxing.
Affecting a similar pose, Micah crossed his arms over his chest. "Are you the outdoorsy type?"
Tessa's pouty lips formed an attractive moue, and Micah's midnight gaze lingered on her mouth. He'd found her face incredibly beautiful in the light, but with the glow of flickering candlelight she'd become mesmerizing.
A mysterious smile crinkled the corners of Tessa's eyes as she stared at the tall man standing only a few feet away. "My favorite outdoor activities include sitting under an umbrella sipping a tropical concoction or grabbing a few winks with the sound of water lapping up on a beach as background music."
Throwing back his head, Micah laughed, the warm sound bubbling up from his broad chest. "I suppose I'd never find you on a ski slope."
She wrinkled her pert nose. "Never," she confirmed. "Do you ski?"
He nodded. "Yes. My parents are avid skiers."
It was obvious the Sanborns liked cold weather. Why else would Bridget schedule a New Year's Eve wedding in the northeast? Thinking of Micah's sister reminded Tessa why he was in her kitchen.
She straightened. "Speaking of cold weather, I think we'd better talk about your sister's wedding." She'd planned to give Micah an informational packet for his sister, but that along with the other literature she usually gave to prospective brides was in her office.
Reaching for his jacket on the stool, Micah withdrew a folded sheet of paper and handed it to Tessa. "I took a few notes when I last spoke to Bridget."
She unfolded the single sheet of paper, holding it close to the flickering flames. She could hardly read the scribble. Her arching eyebrows lifted. "What language is this?"
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