The night before christian

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Sometimes…love is the only thing that can free you!

 

When Emory Chambers asked Santa for someoneto warm her cold nights, she hadn’t expected him to actually deliver. But hedoes. The only problem… He delivers the wrong man. Her ex is the last personshe expects to see stroll into her floral design shop. The second their eyesmeet old feelings rush back, and their connection sparks as potent as ever. Butshe has to ignore the fact that she still loves him. Especially since he’sengaged to be married.

 

Christian St. Claire is a man lost. That’suntil a floral consultation for his upcoming wedding brings him face-to-facewith Emory—the only woman he’s ever truly loved. He refuses to allow himself tofall under her spell again. But despite how hard he’s trying, he can’t shakehis feelings for the woman who shattered him. Reconnecting with Emory forceshim to question himself. Can he vow his life to another when his heart stillpounds for the one who got away?

 

THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTIAN

 

 

JOY AVERY

THE NIGHT BEFORECHRISTIAN

 

Copyright© 2015 byJoy Avery

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

No parts of this bookmay be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic formwithout permission, except for brief quotes used for the purpose of review orpromotion. Any trademarks, service marks, or product names are the property oftheir respective owners, and are used only for reference.

 

THE NIGHT BEFORECHRISTIANis a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents arethe product of the author’s imaginations or used fictitiously. Any resemblanceto actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

First eBook Edition: December2015

Acknowledgments

 

My thanks—first andforemost—to God for blessing me with this gift of storytelling.

 

My endless gratitudeto my husband and daughter for your unwavering support and patience. I love youboth very much!

 

A huge thank you to myawesome critique partner, Lyla Dune.

 

To my friends andfamily who’ve offered tons and tons of encouragement and support, I express mygreatest gratitude. Your support means the world to me.

 

To Angelia VernonMenchan, THANK YOU!

TABLE OFCONTENTS

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Also by Joy Avery

Dear Reader

WHEREYOU CAN FIND ME:

Chapter 1

 

 

Clearly, the universecouldn’t have cared less about Emory Chambers’ aversion to being late. Evidentby the fact there’d apparently been a power outage in her neighborhood, whichreset her alarm. Batteries that should have prevented this from happening wereso outdated they’d started to corrode. Then there was the little old lady she’dgotten stuck behind, who’d obviously believed if she drove faster than twentymiles per hour in a forty-five mile per hour zone, she’d be whisked into thefuture. And as if all of that hadn’t been enough, every single traffic light onher route turned red the second she’d approached.

Now that she thoughtabout it, the universe obviously had it out for her. Why? She had no idea. Butif her morning foreshadowed how her day would go, she was in deep trouble.Maybe she should just turn around now, return home, and climb right back intoher cold, lonely, empty bed.

Yeah, right. Asif she had the luxury of turning down a new client. God, she was so tired ofbeing a slave to the almighty dollar. Where was her tall, dark, handsome,filthy rich knight in shining armor sent to whisk her away from the life of aworking woman? Actually, filthy rich wasn’t a prerequisite, but it surecouldn’t hurt.

“Dear Santa, how aboutsending Mr. Perfect-For-Me through my shop door today. I’ll owe you big time.Plus, I’ve been a very good girl this year.” She cringed. Well, if you didn’tcount the time she slammed the door in the face of the pigtail wearing GirlScout cookie peddler. That had been justified. The child had tried to entice herwith Lemonades. Who could resistLemonades?

Hopefully, the fact Emoryhad chased pigtails down and purchased six boxes of the addictive cookies redeemedher. She doubted Santa even answered thirty-four-year-olds, anyway. But just incase… It couldn’t hurt to put it out there.

The sound of the carhorn blaring behind her snatched Emory back to reality. Pulling away from thegreen light, she ogled her favorite coffee spot, Pour Play Coffee Bar. A hugemug of coffee was just what she needed. Scratch that. She needed a five-gallonbucket filled to the brim.Strong and black. She was about to tell Santait was exactly how she wanted her man, but it was Santa, which meant he alreadyknew that.

Ugh. She pressedthe pedal down a little harder. Stopping would only put her further behindschedule. When her Honda Accord backfired, spitting out a cloud of black smoke,she was sure she’d have to hoof it the remainder of the way. Did everything inher life have to go wrong all at once?

At least there was onegood thing about her crappy day, all of the Christmas decorations throughoutdowntown Raleigh. Just the sight of wreaths hung from street lamps, garland andlights arranged in store fronts, and the continuous Christmas music on theradio thrilled her. Christmas had always been her favorite time of the year,but she was having trouble getting into the holiday spirit.

Finally arriving at herflower shop, The Bloom Bloom Room, on luck and a prayer, she parked the heap,bolted from the vehicle, and stumbled through the backdoor. When her purse hitthe floor, the stack of overdue bills spilled out. The last thing she neededwas a reminder that she was sinking in debt.And going down fast. Refusingto linger on the idea, she collected them and stuffed them back inside.

Lucas, her trusty assistant,exited from the small office to her right. He ran his long fingers through hisdusty blonde hair. “Crikey! It sounded like a mob of roo were burstingthrough the door. Are you okay?” he asked, his Australian accent as thick as ifhe’d stepped off the plane from Sydney just yesterday.

“Rough,roughmorning. But, hey, it’s almost Christmas. This dayhasto get better,right?”

In true Lucas fashion,he lifted a cream colored carnation off one of the work tables, snipped it, andplaced it behind her ear. “She’ll be right.”

Emory understood thephrase was Australian forit will be okay. Call her a pessimist, becauseshe wasn’t sure it would be. But at least one of them held out hope. “Thank youfor calling me this morning. If you hadn’t, I’d probably still be asleep.”

“You needed the rest.”

She agreed one hundredand ten percent. Ever since her quaint North Carolina shop was featured inFloral Trendsetters Magazine, business had been booming. OrbloomingasLucas liked to say. God, she would miss him when he left for a month-long tripto Australia in a few days.

“On a scale of one toten, how annoyed is Ms. Manchester?” The hopefully tolerant bride who’d beenwaiting close to a half-hour for her.

“You’re the most soughtafter florist in Raleigh. She can wait.” He winked. “Go get ‘em tiger.”

Emory laughed at Lucas’terminology. “You are the absolute best, Lucas. If you weren’t already married,I’d propose.”

Lucas pressed a fingerinto his chin and eyed the ceiling. “Let me think about this. That’s a temptingoffer.”

Emory laughed becauseshe knew it would take a force far more powerful than any woman possessed tosnag Lucas from his wife. She’d never witnessed a couple more in love. She’dnever known a man who cherished a woman like Lucas cherished his. Actually… shehad.Once.

Shaking away the memoryof her ex, Emory moved through the door and entered the large room she used forconsultations. Pasting on a two dollar smile, she said, “Ms. Manchester?”

The woman stood,extending her arm. “Please, call me Yasmin. And thank you so much for seeing meon such short notice.”

Yasmin was dressed in awinter white pantsuit, makeup flawless, and not a hair out of place in thetight bun she sported. This made Emory wish she’d put a little more effort intoher own appearance. But she’d worn the possibly-too-snug tee and jeans forcomfort, not fashion. “It’s not a problem at all. I apologize for being late.It’s been an insane morning.”

“Trust me, Iunderstand.”

Yasmin smiled,revealing the most perfect set of teeth Emory had ever seen. So perfect, infact, she questioned to herself whether or not they were even real.

Yasmin gracefully tooka seat. “My fiancé will be joining us any moment.”

“Wonderful.” In herexperience, not many men chose to be involved in the selection of the wedding flowers.It would actually be refreshing having the groom present to get his input. “Myassistant will show him in when he arrives. Would you like to wait for himbefore we get started?”

Yasmin checked herwatch, a Rolex studded with diamonds. “No. He’s just here for moral support. Heknows I’ll have the final say.”

That was typically howit went. The bride dragged the groom along under the pretense that he wouldhave a say-so in the details. And on the off chance he’d gotten to make adecision, by the end of the consultation, the bride would have already overriddenhim. Unless, of course, it was exactly what she’d wanted from the beginning. Awell-informed groom knew to smile, nod, and supply the occasional yes.

Emory removed herchecklist and asked Yasmin a multitude of questions, in an attempt to get anidea of what she had in mind for her special day. Did she want traditionalChristmas themed or something out of the box? Simple and elegant or over thetop lavish?

Yasmin flashed a palm.“I really haven’t put much thought into any of this. We were just engaged threemonths ago.” She flashed a ring that should have come with protective eyewear.

“Wow! That’s some ring.”The center stone alone had to be at least five-carats. The baguettes only addedto the gaudy piece.

“My mother suggested Ihire a wedding planner. I think I will be taking her advice. Especially since Ihave to fly out of the country today for a three-week-long modeling gig. Ihaven’t even put a dent in my to-do list. Silly me. I’d convinced myself Icould handle it all by myself.”

It made sense that shewas a model: tall, thin, and a picture of perfection—by society’s standards—butflying out of the country for three weeks with an impending wedding… That wasjust plain ridiculous. “Yeah, you’re going to need a planner. I can give you areferral.”

Newly engaged. A rushedwedding. Emory’s first thought was that the woman was pregnant and wanted totie the knot before she started to show. Well, if nothing else, the flowerswould be breathtaking.

“Oh, a referral wouldbe great. My fiancé and I recently moved to North Carolina. He’s originallyfrom here, but I’m not. I know absolutely no one here. So, I’m looking for allthe help I can get. I would have preferred a destination wedding. Hawaii, maybe.But our families…”

She smiled, but Emorynoted it lacked a lot of the glow she typically witnessed in her brides.

“Is it odd that I’m notover the top elated about my wedding? I mean… I’m getting married in a fewweeks. Shouldn’t I be over the top?”

“You will be. Rightnow, you’re just overwhelmed. Once everything comes together, you’ll be ecstatic.”

Emory had witnessedbrides with cold feet before, but this was something more. This wasuncertainty. Did Yasmin harbor second thoughts about getting married?

“It’s just that…” Sheshook off whatever thought she’d been crafting in her head. “Yeah, I guessyou’re right.” Yasmin flailed her hands. “Anyway. Help. Please. Just make itgorgeous.”

“That, I can definitelydo.” Emory loved when she got free reign to do whatever she liked. Withinbudget, of course. And speaking of budget… “Is there a specific—?”

When three light tapssounded behind them, Emory tossed a glance over her shoulder. Lucas stood atthe door.

“The groom is here,” hesaid, stepping aside. “And I’m going to run out for a bit. I’ll be backshortly.”

Emory nodded, but frozea second later. Were her eyes playing tricks on her? She blinked a couple oftimes to make sure she wasn’t seeing things.

“I apologize for mytardiness. I’ve had the worst day known—”

Obviously, familiarityset in, because Yasmin’s fiancé stopped mid-thought. The room went still. Orleast it did for Emory. Her mouth went dry and her heart rapped in her chestwith such force she thought it would stop from overload. When she’d asked Santato send a man through her door, she hadn’t meant this one. Old Saint Nick obviouslyhad a sense of humor.

“—to man,” hecontinued.

Clearly, he was asstunned by her presence as she was of his. Yasmin rounded the table to greethim with a hug and peck on the lips.

“Honey, this is floraldesigner extraordinaire, Emory Chambers. Emory, this is my fiancé…

Christian St.Clair,Emory said along with Yasmin, but only in her head.

Yasmin’s cell phonechimed. “Excuse me a moment.”

Yasmin stepped away,leaving the two of them in an awkward space together. The air grew so thick,Emory found it difficult to pull in a breath. Or it could have been the factthat she was too stunned to process the command.

Emory had imagined whatshe’d do if she ever saw her ex again. Paralysis hadn’t been one of the scenarioscrafted in her head. On the sporadic occasions her thoughts drifted to him overthe years, she’d visualized him a hundred pounds heavier, a receding hairline, apotbelly, and missing teeth. That was sonotthe man standing in frontof her now.

Even beneath the blackwool trench coat, she could see that his body was still as solid as it’d beenthe last time they’d been in the same room together. Approximately two yearsago, she noted. Suddenly, the snug shirt she wore became uncomfortably warm.

The frown stretchedacross his face suggested he was far from happy to see her. Understandable.He’d probably spent the past two years hating her. Understandable, as well.

Steadying her frayednerves, Emory stood, extended her hand, and said, “Nice to meet you,Christian,” before he did something ridiculous like reveal to his wife-to-bethat they’d know one another once. Actually, they’d more than known oneanother; they’d planned a life together. One that she’d shredded.

When Christian hesitantlygripped her hand, she hoped he hadn’t noticed the tremble in it. It’d been solong since they’d touched, but his hold on her—warm and firm—was familiar. Toofamiliar. Locked onto his gaze, her stomach fluttered. Those eyes—deep, dark,commanding—teased her now just as they’d done in the past. It was a damn goodthing Yasmin was preoccupied with her cell phone, because if she’d witnessedtheir exchange, there’d be some ’plaining to do.

Emory reclaimed herhand, Christian’s heat still present in her palm. “Shall we continue?” shesaid, snatching her focus away from him.

Christian eased intothe chair directly across from her, his seething gaze threatening to send themall up in a raging ball of fire. It wasn’t difficult to ascertain he wasn’toverly thrilled to be there, but that was okay because she wasn’t too keen onhim being there either.

Though she’d avoidedeye contact with him, his mere presence threw her off her usually flawlessgame. Words that usually flowed, she stumbled over. Phrases that normally camesecond nature, she forgot. And the sweating. She perspired like she’d beenperched on a bed of burning coals.

Getting through theremainder of the consultation proved one of the toughest challenges Emory hadever faced. Luckily, Christian hadn’t added a great deal to the conversation,which limited their need to address one another. But every time she dared aglance in his direction, his eyes were steadied on her—hard and cold.

Never in her life hadshe been so happy to see a couple leave as she’d been when Christian and Yasmindeparted. The entire encounter had drained her. She rested her head on thechilly conference room table and closed her eyes. How was it possible thatChristian could still rattle her system this way?