Madi Morgan had never been good with decisions, especially when it came to life or death situations. And cake was definitely life or death.
“This again?” Danny’s voice bounced with laughter, which didn’t help her dilemma as he came up behind her. “You do know it doesn’t matter which one you pick, right? Cake is cake, Madi.”
“Cake is not cake,” she countered. “The chocolate is going to be richer and take longer to eat, but I know I’m going to like it better than the lemon and be more satisfied by the end. But I can eat the lemon quickly and without needing something to drink afterward, and I’m less likely to make a mess on myself with that one.” She huffed a little. “Why don’t people make more red velvet cakes for weddings? They’re perfect. Not too much chocolate and just the right amount of sweet with the cream cheese frosting, so it’s never a choice.”
“Probably because most people don’t have such a specific favorite.” Bumping his shoulder into hers, he picked up a piece of chocolate cake and took a bite. “Oh, this is amazing,” he said with wide eyes. “Maria outdid herself.”
“I know,” Madi said as she rocked back and forth to the balls of her feet. “She’s a miracle worker with chocolate.”
“So take a piece of chocolate.”
“But I don’t have time for chocolate.”
“You might have if you hadn’t stood here for five minutes, freaking out the caterers.”
The caterers in question threw grins toward Danny; most of them had witnessed Madi’s indecision many times before.
The perk of being one of the best wedding photographers in the state was getting to know a lot of the other vendors and planners, like Danny. Which meant Madi’s choice was going to haunt her until the next time she worked a wedding with the baker extraordinaire.
As both their phones buzzed with a timer, announcing the start of dancing, Madi groaned as Danny snickered. Now Madi wasn’t going to get any cake.
Rolling his eyes, Danny held out a large forkful of cake. “Don’t say I never did anything for you,” he muttered as she ate the bite and hurried off.
Oh goodness, Maria had outdone herself this time.
Grabbing her camera out of her bag, Madi checked her settings and battery life before heading out to the dance floor just as the DJ called for the floor to clear so the bride and groom could have their first dance. She jumped right into snapping photos, grinning as the pair of them got lost in each other’s eyes. There was nothing like it, and Madi was so glad she was there to capture the love that shone from their faces.
She didn’t often have a long enough break to actually savor a piece of cake, and weddings were one of the most stressful parts of her life. But Madi wouldn’t trade these moments for the world.
“I think we got it all.” Madi sank into a chair, her feet aching and her hair falling out of its bun and her camera hanging heavy from her neck. But the day had gone more smoothly than most, so she could hardly complain. “Emily, you were spectacular today. Go ahead and go home. I’ll finish up here.”
Her assistant didn’t argue, giving her a smile and rushing out of the venue without a backward glance.
“She’s in a hurry.” As he settled in the chair next to her, Danny held out a slice of chocolate heaven with a grin.
“Where did you get this?” she asked, snatching the cake out of his hands and shoving a third of it into her mouth, in case he decided to try to take it back.
“Please. You know I plan every wedding down to the last detail, including cake for needy photographers. That, or Neil saw you drooling over it and stashed a piece for you. You can thank him at the Hathaway wedding next week.”
“I’m not working that one. It’s a rare, blessed Friday off for me.” Though she knew the caterers had already packed up, she still looked around to see if Neil was anywhere nearby. “Remind me to kiss Neil next time I see him, though.”
Danny laughed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table as he watched Madi lick her plate clean. “Speaking of kisses…”
Her good mood immediately evaporated. “Danny.” He had been doing this for weeks now, and she was really starting to get sick of it. “You don’t have to keep trying to set me up with people.”
“Oh, come on, Madi. You’ve got to be tired of being single after all this time.”
“I’m only twenty-six. It’s not like I’m missing out on some big adventure just because I don’t go on dates every weekend.”
“Won’t go on dates is a better description. Look, just come to one singles party with me on Friday. I promise you won’t regret it.”
Madi raised an eyebrow. This was a new tactic. “Singles party? What even is that?”
“It’s like a gathering of people who don’t trust dating apps. It’s better than swiping right, I’ll tell you that. At least you don’t have to go off of pictures, since you’ve got the real thing right in front of you.”
It sounded like a nightmare, no matter what he said. “Yeah, that’s going to be a no,” she said, hopping up and heading for the exit before he could--
“We could make a bet out of it.”
Madi stopped dead. He did not just do that. Then again, it had been a few weeks since their last bet, in which Danny had successfully predicted the newly divorced mother of the bride joining in the bouquet toss. Madi hadn’t thought she would do it, and Danny had ended up with free dinner from his favorite restaurant.
Madi was due for a rematch.
Glancing back, Madi tried not to look too eager. She could rarely resist a challenge, especially when she knew Danny always paid up. “What kind of a bet?”
He grinned. “The kind where, if you win, I pay you to redo the photos on my website.”
She barely held back a gasp. Danny was one of the best wedding planners in Diamond Springs, and he worked with a lot of photographers who all had impressive resumes. Like she knew other photographers had done, Madi had tried multiple times to convince him to let her redo the photos, which would get her involved with all of his vendors as well as bring in several new clients when they worked with Danny. But he had remained adamant that his website was fine.
She fingered her camera strap, trying to figure out what had changed. Why had he pulled out the big guns? “What’s the bet?” she asked warily.
Danny folded his arms, looking a little too smug. “Ten double dates in the next three months.”
That didn’t sound too bad… “Why double?”
“Because I’m selfish and want to get something out of this too. You know how bad I am on first dates.”
Madi did know. She’d seen it firsthand on her one and only date with Danny soon after they first met a few years ago. There had been zero chemistry, even though Danny misread everything and went for a kiss twenty minutes into their dinner. It might have been salvageable if Madi’s reaction during the movie they watched afterward hadn’t been to punch Danny every time there was a jump scare.
She didn’t usually scare so easily after years of scary movies growing up; she chalked it up to being uncomfortable about the idea of Danny being more than a friend. After that, they’d agreed to never bring up the idea of dating again, and they’d both been much happier.
Folding her arms to match Danny’s stance, Madi tried to see if there was a catch. Ten dates was about ten times more dates than she usually went on in a year, but the lure of Danny’s website had definitely pulled her in. Finding the time would be difficult, of course—twelve weeks in the summer always went by in a flash—and then there was the issue of actually finding people to date.
That was a pretty big issue.
Why in the world was she considering this?
“You just want me to hire you as my wedding planner when I get married, don’t you?” she said with a huff.
Danny snorted a laugh. “Well, obviously. But that’s not why I’m trying to get you to go out, and you know it. The longer you spend all your time here at weddings without some love in your life, the more cynical and jaded you’re going to get. I know this from experience.”
Madi rolled her eyes. “You’re, like, three years older than me, Danny. Stop trying to be all wise when we both know I’m the mature one in this friendship. I’m perfectly happy being single.”
“Says the girl who cried during the vows today. Again. You and I are exactly the same, Madi, but at least I’m trying to do something about it. One of these days, you have to stop lying to yourself about what you really want out of life.”
Madi scowled a bit. For a guy who was just as single as her, Danny made a good point, though she would never admit it out loud. With every wedding she worked, a little hole in her heart got a little bit bigger. Like most girls, she’d dreamed about finding the perfect partner and starting a life with him. Outside of her brother’s friends, she’d never met anyone who even came close to fitting that description.
Groaning a little, Madi wished she had a better argument than the one she always had waiting. “Dating is awful, Danny. You know that. And you saw how I was when we—”
“You can’t compare every future interaction with guys to our first date. So if that’s the reason you’re so hesitant—”
“It’s not.” Her one and only date with Danny had been so bad, but not dating had nothing to do with Danny. Putting herself out there really was awful, and she had yet to find anyone who could come close to the guys she’d grown up with. At this point, she was almost afraid to keep trying because she doubted anyone could come close to the high bar they set. She might as well just date one of them.
There’s an idea… Madi took a deep breath, holding it in her lungs for a second as she considered the thought that had popped into her head. Her older brother, Kit, had three perfectly normal friends whom she loved like brothers. Three friends who could easily be her dates to help her win the bet.
Okay, so yes, she didn’t want to end up alone for the rest of her life, and one of these days she would need to date for real. But they were in the middle of May, the start of the busiest time of the year for her. She struggled to keep up as it was, and she definitely didn’t have the time or the energy to put herself out there like Danny wanted her to.
But, like with everything Danny did, this bet would have an expiration date. If Danny was looking for new website photos, either Madi could win the bet or do them now, or he would probably give his other vendors a chance and go with a different photographer.
Danny was just as busy as her, if not more so. Why would he choose now of all times to make this particular bet?
“Look,” Danny said, shoving his hands into his pockets and taking a step toward the door. “Forget the singles thing. Get yourself a date and come out with me on Friday. You said yourself you’re not working”—Madi cursed herself for not seeing the Hathaway comment earlier as a trap—“and you need something to take your mind off work sometimes. I can prove to you that you’ll have a good time away from home and away from editing photos. Besides, dating isn’t as bad as you think it is if you’ve got someone you know to help break the ice. If I’m wrong, then we’ll call the bet off and you can keep pretending I didn’t see you making a list of baby names last week during the toasts.”
Wincing, Madi told herself she could say no. She’d shut down plenty of bets in the past, and Danny would probably move on. Hopefully. With the way he watched her intently, eyebrows high, it was like he knew he’d given her something she couldn’t resist. The prospect of updating his website with her photos was likely the one and only thing that could have gotten her to consider the bet in the first place, and he knew it.
She was probably spending too much time with Danny at these weddings.
“One date,” she said, holding up a finger to emphasize. “Then we’ll talk about the stupid bet.”
She could do that. One measly date? All she had to do was…find a guy. Any guy. As Danny wandered off to the kitchen with a triumphant grin, Madi slowly disassembled her camera and set it in her bag. Unease grew in her stomach the longer she stood there, considering her pathetically limited options. She went out so rarely that she barely knew anyone to begin with, and she’d gone out with most of the guys she had met over the years, with disastrous results. One date… Maybe this was going to be harder than she thought.