“Which was unnecessary since they didn’t even play Drake,” Taylor pointed out. “I thought you talked the bride into including some songs her grandparents could dance to. They were getting bored.”
Avery arched a brow. “Is that why you started a Bingo game at the back table?”
Bella shook her head. Lustrous blonde strands of hair that rivaled Goldilocks’s swung across her shoulders. “You’re brilliant, T. I don’t know why you keep saying you hate your job. You have a natural talent for giving people what they want before they know it.”
Avery caught the slight flush of pleasure in her youngest sister’s cheeks, but it was quickly squashed. Taylor’s usual sarcastic sneer settled on her red lips, which complemented her pink hair. “After today’s debacle, you’re still wondering why I don’t believe in marriage? Honestly, I don’t get you two. It’s obvious the bride still has feelings for the cheater. She just chose the good guy because she wanted a settled relationship. What was once safe will eventually become boring, and they’ll be divorced within five years. It’s textbook.”
Avery swore she wouldn’t fight, not at this hour, but it was hard not to defend and explain. “No, I told you I spoke with him, and he was just feeling lonely.”
“I said her. Not him. His douchey move intrigued her enough to start thinking of the cheater, which is the beginning of the end.”
Bella groaned. “Stop. I don’t have the energy to listen to your conspiracies against love and marriage. I have to get up in three hours for Zoe, and you both stuck me with the afternoon tea party. Can we just cut this meeting short and go to bed?”
At the end of an event they worked together, they’d meet in the war room to go over the details—both good and bad—and give themselves some time to come down from the exhausted high of a wedding. Many times, they toasted with a glass of champagne, spent some time bonding, then retired to bed. But right now, Avery sensed an aura of impatience with her sisters. A weariness that wasn’t physical but mental. Were they beginning to regret their choices to take over the business?
When their parents announced they were moving to Florida and leaving Sunshine Bridal in their daughters’ capable hands, they’d all agreed on an even split. At first, Taylor had refused, citing her dream to travel and experience a worldly life without social constraints, but big plans required big money. She’d told them she would give it three years and planned to take off after that, giving them enough time to replace her. Bella had always expressed an interest in being part of the family business, and as a single mother of a five-year-old, this gave her the stability she needed.
As for Avery? She had been born to be a wedding coordinator. She’d believed in fairy-tale love and marriage from the time she was young. Watching her parents grow and change as they raised their children, yet still retain the close bond between them, proved it existed. Sure, she was thirty-two and hadn’t experienced her own fairy-tale relationship, but dammit, she believed.
Her past relationships had been basically healthy, but she’d never fallen in love. Caring and deep affection? Yes. Passion? Yes. But not the vibrating knowledge in her core that told her she’d met her soul mate. She dreamed of the day she’d finally find her true companion. She didn’t want a string of one-night stands or men who didn’t believe in commitment. When she fell, it needed to be with a man who was brave enough to love her back and say it out loud—preferably with a ring and on bended knee not too long afterward.
That’s why she loved all the trappings and rituals that revolved around a wedding ceremony, even with the craziness popping up amid difficult relatives, jealous bridesmaids, other PITAs (Pain in the Asses), and endless minutiae. It all became worth it each time Avery watched someone walk down the aisle with all that wild hope, joy, and love etched on his or her face. Knowing she was a part of their permanent memories gave her a slice of immortality.
Still, her parents moaned about her pickiness. Her sisters rolled their eyes at her stubborn belief in perfection. Her friends begged her to freeze her eggs, just in case. But she didn’t care.
She’d wait for the one.
He’d come eventually. And he didn’t have to save her or give her some stupid glass slipper. She just wanted a man who saw all aspects of her—including her crazy—and loved her anyway. She wanted a man who’d be in it with her wholeheartedly: the bad, the good, and all the in-between.
Maybe that’s why she’d become the natural leader of the group. It felt good to be respected by her sisters, but sometimes, she’d love to just take a long break and let them make the important decisions for a while. She hadn’t taken a real vacation in years. As her parents had begun to slow down and make numerous mistakes, she’d taken the helm and worked endlessly to stave off any disasters. By the time her parents felt it was safe to finally leave, Avery had transitioned to director, adviser, and everything in between for Sunshine Bridal.
She pushed aside the thought and mentally shrugged. She loved her job and rarely bitched. It was only the beginning of April, and the burgeoning wedding season had just begun. For the next six months, there’d barely be time to breathe, let alone try and analyze the unspoken change in dynamics she sensed with her sisters.
She offered a smile. “You’re right. Let’s skip the rundown and call it a night. Bella, did you need help with Zoe tomorrow?”
“No, she’s got a birthday party, and Daisy’s taking her afterward for a playdate.” Daisy was a close friend of the family. She’d been pregnant the same time as Bella, and they’d raised their daughters together.
“Good. Hey, T, want to have dinner and go over the résumés for the new hires? I culled the best but would love to have a second opinion before I begin calling them in for interviews. We need to be prepared if we’re losing Gabe as an assistant soon.”
Her youngest sister slid off the couch and scowled. “No.”
Avery blinked. “Why not?”
“Because I’m not working tomorrow, psycho. I have something called a date. Maybe you’ve heard of it?”
Used to Taylor’s sarcasm, she ignored the sting and tried to be nice. “Oh, with who?”
“Just a guy I met at a bar. No one important.”
“Do you want to meet for drinks before your date? It won’t take long.”
Taylor groaned, shaking her head and heading toward the door. “No. I want to spend the time prepping to look hot and not thinking about work on my one lousy day off. You should try it sometime. Does wonders for your personality.”
“Really? I’m not seeing the evidence,” Avery said innocently.
Bella giggled, but took up the defense. She was the peacekeeping middle child and loyal to her role. “T’s right. Once the high season hits, you won’t be able to have much fun or socialize. Go do something crazy, Avery.”
Annoyance flashed. She had no time for crazy. Her schedule was crammed, her phone buzzed nonstop, and even her sleep was disturbed by crazed brides and grooms who had midnight panic attacks and figured their wedding coordinator was the perfect person to talk to.
She knew Taylor wasn’t committed to the business long term, and Bella had her daughter to care about, but ganging up on her because she wasn’t dating or doing reckless things was not cool. Was she the only one who cared that the family business needed to come first? That everything their parents had worked for and cultivated was important? Fun could come later, when their bank accounts were fat and they had solidified themselves as the premier wedding planners for the Jersey shore—not just Cape May. Yes, they’d achieved some success, but there was always a competitor ready to take over. They needed to be consistently sharp and on their game. The only way to accomplish this was by working their asses off, and that meant missing an occasional day off.
She opened her mouth, then firmly shut it. No. She wouldn’t go on a tirade when they were tired and cranky. Best to attack it in the brightness of the morning, after a few cups of coffee. “I am,” she said brightly. “This meeting is adjourned. I’m getting my ass to bed. Personally, I think that’s enough crazy from me.”
She marched past her sisters, the first in line to leave and not even checking to see if the front door was locked behind her.
Yeah. Take that crazy.
“I’m getting married!”
Carter Ross pulled his cell phone away from his ear and stared at the offending object. His usual steady heartbeat began exploding from his chest, and he wondered if all those damn chocolate croissants he loved so much had finally done their job.
He was having a heart attack.
Gripping the edge of his sleek walnut desk, he focused on his breathing, barely hearing his sister’s voice ramble on. Sweat beaded his forehead. Should he hang up and dial 911? No, he refused to kick it when he was the only family Ally had left. He’d probably just had too much coffee. He made a mental note to switch to half-decaf, shut his eyes, and slowly got his body back under control. Until the next wave of disaster hit in the form of emotion, which he despised. God knew anything messy and unpredictable had no place in his life, but here it was, crashing in with gaudy neon lights.