“Including Brett Kline?”
“He’s not an issue any longer.”
Arnoldo studied me and must have seen whatever he needed to. He nodded. “I’m glad, my friend.”
“So am I.” I took another drink. “What’s new with you?”
He waved off the question with a careless sweep of his hand, his gaze sliding around us to take in the women nearby who were swaying to the music of Lana Del Rey. “The restaurant is doing well, as you know.”
“Yes, I’m very pleased. Exceeded profit projections in every way.”
“We just filmed some promotional teasers for the new season earlier this week. Once the Food Network starts airing them and the new episodes, we should see a nice boost in business.”
“I can always say I knew you when.”
He laughed and clinked his glass to mine when I held it up in a toast.
We were back on track, which settled some of the unrest I’d been feeling. I didn’t lean on Arnoldo the way Eva leaned on her friends or Cary leaned on her, but Arnoldo was important to me all the same. I didn’t have many people in my life who were close to me. Finding the rhythm he and I had lost was at least one major victory in a week that had seemed like a losing battle.
“OH MY GOD,” I moaned around a bite of chocolate toffee cupcake, “this is divine.”
Kristin, the wedding planner, beamed. “It’s one of my favorites, too. Hold on, though. The butter vanilla is even better.”
“Vanilla over chocolate?” My gaze slid over the yummies on the coffee table. “No way.”
“I would usually agree,” Kristin said, making a note, “but this bakery made me a convert. The lemon is also very good.”
The early-afternoon light poured in through the massive windows that made up one side of my mother’s private sitting room, illuminating her pale gold curls and porcelain skin. She’d redecorated recently, opting for soft gray-blue walls that lent a new energy to the space—and complemented her well.
It was one of her talents, showcasing herself in the best light. It was also one of her major flaws, in my opinion. She cared so damn much about appearances.
I didn’t understand how my mom could not get bored with decorating to the latest trends, even if it did seem to take over a year to cycle through every room and hallway in Stanton’s six-thousand-plus-square-foot penthouse.
My one meeting with Blaire Ash had been enough to tell me that the decorating gene had skipped my generation. I’d been interested in his ideas but couldn’t get worked up over the details.
While I popped another mini cupcake into my mouth with my fingers, my mother daintily speared one of the coin-sized cakes with a fork.
“What are your floral arrangement preferences?” Kristin asked, uncrossing and recrossing long, coffee-hued legs. Her Jimmy Choo heels were elegant but still sexy; her Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress was vintage and classic. She wore her shoulder-length dark hair in tight curls that framed and flattered her narrow face, and pale pink gloss highlighted full, wide lips.
She looked fierce and fabulous, and I’d liked her the moment we met.
“Red,” I said, wiping frosting from the corner of my mouth. “Anything red.”
“Red?” My mother gave an emphatic shake of her head. “How garish, Eva. It’s your first wedding. Go with white, cream, and gold.”
I stared at her. “How many weddings do you expect me to have?”
“That’s not what I meant. You’re a first-time bride.”
“I’m not talking about wearing a red dress,” I argued. “I’m just saying the primary accent color should be red.”
“I don’t see how that will work, honey. And I’ve put together enough weddings to know.”
I remembered my mother going through the wedding planning process before, each successive nuptial more elaborate and memorable than the last. Never overdone and always tasteful. Beautiful weddings for a youthful, beautiful bride. I hoped I aged with half as much grace, because Gideon was only going to get hotter as time went on. He was just that kind of man.
“Let me show you what red can look like, Monica,” Kristin said, pulling a leather portfolio out of her bag. “Red can be amazing, especially with evening weddings. The important thing is that the ceremony and reception represent both the bride and groom. To have a truly memorable day, it’s important that we visually convey their style, history, and hopes for the future.”
My mother accepted the extended portfolio and glanced at the collage of photos on the page. “Eva . . . you can’t be serious.”
I shot a look of appreciation at Kristin for having my back, especially when she’d come on board expecting my mother to be footing the bill. Of course, the fact that I was marrying Gideon Cross probably helped sway her to my side. Using him as a future reference would certainly help her draw new clientele.
“I’m sure there’s a compromise, Mom.” At least I hoped so. I hadn’t dropped the biggest bomb on her yet.
“Do we have an idea of the budget?” Kristin asked.
And there it was . . .
I saw my mom’s mouth open in slow motion and my heart lurched into a semipanicked beat. “Fifty thousand for the ceremony itself,” I blurted out. “Minus the cost of the dress.”
Both women turned wide eyes toward me.
My mom gave an incredulous laugh, her hand lifting to touch the Cartier trinity necklace that hung between her br**sts. “My God, Eva. What a time to make jokes!”