Home > You Say It First (Happily Inc. #1)

You Say It First (Happily Inc. #1)
Author: Susan Mallery


“DON’T TAKE THIS WRONG, but I really need you to take off your shirt.”

Pallas Saunders winced as she said the words—this was so not how she usually conducted an interview. But desperate times and all that.

Nick Mitchell raised his eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

A valid semiquestion and certainly better than simply bolting, which, hey, he could have done.

“It’s an emergency,” she said, waving her hand in what she hoped was a can we please move this along gesture.

“I’m going to need more than that.”

“Fine.” She drew in a breath, then began talking. Fast. “I have a wedding in less than an hour and I’m one Roman soldier short. J.T. ran off to LA because his agent called about an audition. Note to self. Do not hire actors during pilot season. Anyway, I need a Roman soldier. You’re about the same height as the other guys and you’re here because you need a job, so take your shirt off, please. If you look halfway decent, I’ll sponge tan you and you’ll carry a very skinny girl in on a palanquin.”

“On what?”

“One of those sedan chair things. I swear, she probably doesn’t even weigh a hundred pounds. I don’t think she’s eaten in three months. You look strong. You’ll do great. Please? There’s a check at the end.”

Not a very big one, but money was money. And Nick Mitchell had answered her ad for a part-time carpenter, so he must be at least a little desperate for money. A feeling Pallas could so relate to.

“You want me to carry a girl in on a palanquin for her wedding?”

Why were the pretty ones always dumb, she wondered with a sigh. Because Nick certainly qualified as pretty. Tall with dark hair and eyes. His shoulders were broad and from what she could see, he looked to be in shape, so what was the big deal?

“The name of my business is Weddings in a Box.” She gestured to the walls around them. “This is box-like. People come here to get married. I do theme weddings. The couple today want a Roman wedding. You’d be stunned at how popular they are. The Roman wedding includes the palanquin for the bride. Please, I beg you. Take off your shirt.”

“You’re weird,” Nick muttered as he unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it onto her desk.

Hallelujah, she thought, walking around to view him from the back. As she’d hoped, he looked good—with broad shoulders and plenty of muscle. No massive tattoos, no ugly scars. Not that she objected to tattoos, but so few of them were Roman wedding appropriate and she really didn’t have time to do her thing with concealer. As it was, Nick would fit in with the other guys perfectly.

“You’re hired, but we have to hurry.”

She grabbed him by the hand and dragged him down the hall toward the male cast dressing room. Because themed weddings required a cast of, if not thousands, then at least three or four. Roman weddings had the palanquin carrying crew and all the servers were dressed in togas. Not original, but the clients were happy and that was what mattered.

She pulled Nick into the large, plain room with racks of costumes at one end and a counter with lit mirrors above at the other. Three guys in various states of undress were already there. Two were stepping into white togas while the third was studying himself in the mirror.

Alan glanced up from his self-appraisal and smiled. “Hello, stranger.”

“Not for long,” Pallas muttered. “Please help Nick get ready for the wedding. Nick, Alan. Alan, Nick.” She glanced at her watch and shrieked. “We have less than an hour, people.” She turned to Nick. “Ever done fake tanning?”

“Do I look like I do fake tanning?”

Until that second, the man in front of her had been little more than a capable shoulder upon which she could rest one quarter of a bride. Now she actually looked at him. At the dark eyes watching her with a combination of disbelief and wariness. The firm set of his oddly attractive mouth. He had big hands, she noted absently, then did her best not to laugh.

Big hands? Seriously? Because she had time for that in her life?

She walked over to the counter and opened a drawer. Inside were gloves sealed in plastic. Gloves coated with fake tanning product she could buy in bulk for a very happy price.

“I’m about to rock your world,” she told him cheerfully. “Let’s go.”

* * *

NICK MITCHELL FELT as if he’d stepped into an alternate universe. One where the crazy people ruled and the rest of the citizens were left to stumble along, trying to keep up.

Before he knew what was happening, the woman who was supposed to be interviewing him for a carpentry job was rubbing some weird-ass glove thing up and down his back.

“Even strokes,” she said as she worked. “It takes five minutes to dry, then you check for streaks. Do your arms and chest, then your legs. Front and back, please.”

She slipped off the gloves and held them out to him. “Can you do this?”

Her expression was two parts earnest and one part frustrated—as if the world conspired to make her day more difficult.

He thought about repeating that he was just there for the carpentry job, but realized she already knew that. Okay then—fake-tanned Roman soldier it was. If nothing else, he would have a good story to tell his brothers.

He put on the gloves and began rubbing on the fake tan goop. It was less gross than he’d thought. Pallas showed him his toga costume and asked the other guys to get him in place.

“I have to go get changed,” she said as she hurried to the door. “If you need anything, ask Alan. He knows all.”

Alan winked at her. “That’s true.” Once the door was closed, Alan turned back to him. “And your story is?”

Nick took off the gloves, wiped his hands on a towel sitting on the counter, then stepped out of his jeans. “I’m a carpenter. I answered an ad.” He put the gloves on again, bent over and rubbed up and down his legs.

“I see. Want some help with that?”

Nick didn’t bother looking up. “I’m good.”

“Well, I’m Alan, as you heard. Those two are Joseph and Jonathan. I call them the J’s. They’re high school students earning money on a Saturday. They play football.”

One of the teens looked up. “It’s basketball, Alan. We keep telling you.”

“Whatever. It’s sports and they’re all the same.” Alan turned back to Nick. “I’ve been on Broadway. That’s how I met Gerald. He was my mentor, and then he retired and moved here. I came for the winter weather and stayed. After Gerald died, I moved to LA, but when I’m here, I do this because it’s fun.”

As he spoke, Nick realized that the other man was a lot older than he’d first thought. At least in his late forties.

“People really have Roman weddings?” he asked.

“You have no idea. There are cowboy weddings, too, but I don’t do those.” He shuddered. “Horses are the worst! And they smell. I do like a good princess wedding though. I’m a very handsome courtier, if I do say so myself. But today we’re Romans. All hail Caesar.”

Ten minutes later, Nick stared at himself in the mirror. He was wearing an honest-to-God toga. Or at least a costume. The short white skirt came to midthigh. The top tied over one shoulder and Alan had given him a circlet of grape leaves to stick on his head. Now, as he laced up sandals, he thought maybe he wouldn’t be telling his brothers what he’d done, after all. They would never let him live it down.

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