Jada urged her into a seat, across from Zac Albaron-Marquez, and she refused a glass of champagne, opting for an espresso instead. She also refused breakfast because there was no way she could eat, not when her stomach, along with the rest of her internal organs, were acting like overexcited idiots.
“I’m so excited to be shooting your destination wedding,” Karo told Jada, knowing that she would make a stunning bride. “Would you mind giving me an update on your travel plans for the next ten days?”
Jada started to speak but Zac jumped in before she could. “Tomorrow evening I am hosting a small party for our guests at the Michelin starred restaurant downstairs, Gabe’s. A private jet will fly the wedding party and the guests to Kagiso Lodge tomorrow afternoon.”
His voice was low and compelling, holding only a trace of a Spanish accent. It felt like a heated towel after a dip in an icy lake, as rich as expensive whiskey and as smooth as a sea battered pebble. God, she could listen to his voice for…well, the longest time.
“We’ll be married at Kagiso, Karo,” Jada said, sending an adoring look at Felipe. “The ceremony will take place on the banks of the river, underneath a wild, ancient fig tree. The lodge is providing game rangers to protect the wedding party against unwanted guests like lions or hyenas.”
As they should, Karo thought. Nothing would spoil a wedding quicker than having a guest chomped on by a hyena or trampled by an elephant.
“You will, of course, document all the festivities,” Zac stated, his face impassive. Karo bit the inside of her cheek. Had she imagined the flashes of heat in his eyes, the way his breath caught when they touched?
Since she’d been celibate for nearly four years, it could be her overactive imagination creating false scenarios.
Jada leaned forward and placed her hand on Zac’s arm. “Zac, I think Radd and Digby Tempest-Vane just walked into the room.”
Africa’s youngest billionaires, both tall and attractive, made their way over to them. Karo watched as Radd greeted Zac, their equally impassive faces transformed by genuine smiles. And, Lord, Albaron-Marquez had dimples on either side of that smile. So not fair.
Digby, charming as all hell, immediately engaged Jada and Felipe about their wedding. Karo, regretfully, told Radd that she was fully booked for the next year and wouldn’t be available to shoot his Christmas wedding. After chatting for ten minutes, the brothers left and Karo found herself pinned to the seat of her chair by a pair of piercing silver eyes.
“If you only do a couple of weddings a year, why didn’t you just fit Radd in?” Zac told her, his tone disapproving. “Who works only a couple of times a year?”
As a reputed workaholic, she knew he’d never understand that she worked to live, not the other way around. Karo had once been a hamster on a wheel and it nearly killed her. She’d rather be poor than put work before her, and Max’s, health and happiness.
“I can’t take him on as a last-minute client because that would set a precedence. My clients book years in advance to secure my services. It wouldn’t be fair to slip in an unscheduled client.”
“You just refused to shoot the wedding of one of the most influential people in Africa! I don’t understand why you would do that.”
“My clients come to me for exclusivity, Mr. Albaron-Marquez. I’ve refused some of the most influential people in the world before and it’s done my career no harm.” Karo handed him an “I’m done-talking-about-this” look.
He was going to be a problem, Karo realized. Bossy alpha males always were. A sexy as hell, bossy alpha male was a problem on steroids.
She’d just have to deal.
Karo sipped her coffee and, ignoring Zac’s scowl, turned to Jada. “I’ve so enjoyed our chats, Jada, thank you both for being so patient with all my questions. I love getting to know my couples and learning about their lives and, most importantly, their likes and dislikes. If you can give me your must-have wedding shots, that would be great.”
Jada shrugged. “I don’t have any. Just do your thing.”
Fabulous, Karo thought. Being given free rein was when she produced her best work.
“I think it would be better if Ms. Griffith had some sort of structure.”
Karo raised her eyebrows at his tone. Zac Albaron-Marquez might be lord and master of his own empire, but nobody got between her and her work.
It was screamingly obvious that he was a control freak. “That’s not the way I work, Mr. Albaron-Marquez.”
“Zac, leave it alone,” Felipe suggested and Karo admired him for standing to his much older, powerful, about-to-be brother-in-law.
“As I’m paying her fee, which is the equivalent of a budget of a small third-world country, I think I should have a say in what she does and how she does it.”
“She is sitting right here,” Karo snapped.
Right, it was time for her to play hardball. “I need you to let me do what I do best. Jada and Felipe liked my portfolio for a reason, and, I presume, they want me to record their big day in my signature style. I don’t do formulaic shots, ever.”
“You’ll do what I tell you to do,” Zac informed her.
Sure. But only when she could move mountains just using her baby finger.
Karo narrowed her eyes at him. “We can sit here or argue, or I can get up and catch a flight home. Either way, your fee is not refundable. And I have a dozen people on a waiting list who would jump at the chance for me to shoot their wedding, even with little notice,” Karo stated keeping her voice very even. “It’s your choice.”
Zac returned her glare and Karo held it, hoping that he wouldn’t see or sense the attraction bubbling under her skin. He waited for her to capitulate, then waited some more. Neither of them backed down until Jada banged her hand on the table, causing Karo to jump. She reluctantly turned to face the bride.
“Enough! Zac, you are not the boss of the entire world, stay out of Karo’s way.”
Felipe stood up, held out a hand to Jada. She rose and immediately tucked herself into his side.
“Zac, we realize this is difficult for you and that you want everything to be perfect. But what you don’t understand is that even if we had a point and shoot camera and were getting married in a dingy courthouse, we’d be as happy as we are now. We’ve wanted this for a long time and now that it’s here, we won’t let anything affect our enjoyment.”
“We’re heading out, we are going to do some shark diving. And we’re guaranteed to see a great white,” Felipe added.
“You’re what?” Zac roared and several heads turned in their direction.
Jada elbowed Felipe in the ribs. “Are you trying to give him a heart attack? We’ll be in a cage, Zacarias. Relax, it’s perfectly safe.” Jada dropped a kiss on his cheek and walked away, still superglued to her fiancé’s side.
Zac watched them walk away, scrubbing his face with his hands. “Seriously, shark diving?”
For the first time, Karo agreed with him—she liked her sharks in nature documentaries, thank you very much— but there was no way she’d tell him that. She’d only just met him but she instinctively knew that Zac Albaron-Marquez needed more people in his life to argue with him.
“They are adults—”
“Barely,” Zac muttered.
“— they are young and they are adventurous. Haven’t you ever been young and adventurous, Mr. Albaron-Marquez?”
Pain flashed, oh-so-briefly, in his eyes before turning the color of a winter’s storm. “When I was their age, I was raising a six-year-old and trying to restore my father’s all but bankrupt company.” He balled his linen napkin and tossed it beside the plate. “So, no, Miss Griffiths, I was never afforded that luxury.”
Karo watched, dumbfounded, as he walked away. A few thoughts bombarded her…that she’d hurt him, that Zac wasn’t the hardass she’d first thought and, sue her, that he had a very, very fine ass.
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