“Yep, not a problem.”
“Excellent,” Avery said. “I’ve got the Peretti wedding at the Pelican Club. They’re forecasting rain, and I’ve already fielded a bunch of calls regarding their plan for outside photographs. I spoke with Pierce about a plan B, and he set up an alternate studio on-site with those professional beach backgrounds he made that work really well.”
“Let’s hope it’s just a drizzle. I love when the mist settles and gives that dreamy glow,” Bella said.
Avery noticed Gabe was looking at Bella with an odd expression as she spoke, but she didn’t call him out on it, wanting to get the last part of their meeting over and done with. “Agreed. Our final agenda item is the summer schedules. Let’s get a rundown,” she said.
As each of them rattled off a full list of weddings and bridal events for every weekend through Labor Day, her heartbeat sped up. They were not going to be happy with her announcement. Was there a way to spin it in a positive light? Dammit, she should have plied everyone with mimosas beforehand. She was losing her touch.
She pasted a smile on her face. “Isn’t it wonderful how well we’re doing? And I have even more good news!”
Her sisters looked up from their planners.
Gabe narrowed his gaze in suspicion. “What news?”
Avery clapped her hands together, pretending they were going to be thrilled. “I got a call from Ally Ross. She was my best friend back in college. You met her two years ago when she came to stay with me, remember?”
“Yeah,” Taylor said slowly. “What about her?”
“She’s getting married and asked if I’d take her on as a full-service client.”
Everyone relaxed in their chairs. “Oh, that’s nice,” Bella said. “If they haven’t settled on a date yet, you may want to encourage her to look for something after next summer. It’d be tough to fit her into the schedule next year.”
Nerves jumped in her belly. She shook them off and reminded herself Taylor and Bella couldn’t really hurt her. Gabe would protect her, right? “Actually, it’s this summer. August twentieth. Isn’t that wonderful? We’ll finish the season with a bang.”
Avery closed her laptop and stood up. “Okay, meeting adjourned. See you guys later.”
“Stop right there!” Taylor jabbed her finger in the air. “Sit your ass back down.”
She reluctantly obeyed. “What’s the problem?”
Taylor glared. “Problem? We cannot handle another full-service wedding this summer! We’re already over capacity, and so are the vendors. She’ll never get a venue, or food, or . . . anything. Have you lost your mind?”
Bella lifted her hands in the air. “Maybe you can explain it’s impossible to fit her in, but you’d make it happen next year?”
Avery shot an imploring look at Gabe, her last ally. He was always up for a challenge. He thrived on doing the impossible.
He sipped his latte and quirked a brow. “I don’t know what you’re looking at me for. I’m good, but even I can’t produce a time-turner to save us all. I’m no Harry Potter.”
“Hermione was the one who had the time-turner. She let Harry use it,” Taylor pointed out.
“Really? We’re going to have an argument over who’s more powerful, Hermione or Harry?” he asked dryly.
“Hermione,” Taylor and Bella said together.
Gabe glowered but refused to rise to the bait, and everyone was once again staring at Avery.
Damn, she was on her own. Avery decided there was only one way out of this: complete and utter positivity. She refused to back down just because it was more work. She’d read Rachel Hollis’s Girl, Stop Apologizing, so she’d channel Rachel and handle it. “Guys, it’s going to be amazing. First off, she’ll bring us more income, so we can cut back our schedule for the winter. Imagine being able to say no to a last-minute Christmas ceremony. How good will that feel, right?”
Her team stayed silent and definitely disgruntled. She’d have to rely on their emotions to convince them.
“Okay, I understand it’s a lot, but Ally is a really important person to me. I couldn’t say no. Besides, this is going to be easy. Her fiancé basically gave her full command of choices, and she’s rented a house on Beach Avenue for the summer, so she’s available at our convenience. Plenty of people in town owe me favors. I’ll just collect—I know I can make it work.” She allowed a slight tremble in her lips for Bella’s benefit. “Please. I promise this wedding will go off without a hitch. I can do it all by myself, and you don’t have to worry about a thing.”
Taylor slammed her planner closed in disgust. “Fine. But that fake almost-cry didn’t convince me. As long as you know you’re in this one alone. I mean it, Avery. I’m too damn busy with my own clients.”
Avery beamed. “I understand. Bella?”
Bella sighed. “If you think you can handle an extra full-service client and plan a wedding in three months, go for it.”
She glanced over at her assistant. “Gabe? The only things I may ask for help with are the tuxedos and if they need direction with the bachelor party.”
He grunted. “Have I ever been able to say no to you?”
“No, which is why I adore you. Thanks, guys. You’re the best. She’s coming in later this week.”
“Let’s just hope she doesn’t spring any surprises on you,” Taylor muttered.
“She won’t. This wedding is going to be smooth sailing the whole way. I can just feel it.”
Her sisters shared a glance. Then burst into laughter.
“Said no other wedding planner—ever,” Bella quipped.
“You’re a hoot,” Taylor said, shaking her head.
Gabe scooped up his latte and laptop. “You do realize you probably jinxed the event by saying that, right?”
“Oh, ye of little faith,” Avery announced. “I can’t wait to prove you all wrong.”
She meant every word. Sure, wedding planning for close friends or family members could sometimes be challenging, but Ally was easygoing and rarely worried about the small things. It was another reason they’d bonded so closely in college and kept up a solid friendship in the years apart.
No, she had a good feeling about this wedding.
Maybe it could even be fun.
Avery flung open the door, threw back her head, and yelled, “The Double As are back!”
With a squeal of delight, her friend dove into her arms, and they hugged while jumping up and down. Giggling like a teen, she tugged Ally inside her house and managed to step back, grinning.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” Ally said, gripping Avery’s arms. “We get to spend a whole summer together planning my wedding.”
“I know! You look amazing.”
“So do you.”
Avery took in her friend’s vivid red hair, cut in a chic bob, and fashionable dark-washed jeans with a gauzy white top. Her almond-brown eyes tilted slightly upward at the corners, framed by thick, lush lashes. Avery loved her familiar signature scent of Light Blue, a fresh fragrance that matched her personality. But her real beauty came straight from her heart. “Come in and sit down. Is it too early for wine?”
Ally wrinkled her nose. “Darling, it’s never too early for wine. Especially rosé?”
“I have some Whispering Angel chilling right now,” Avery said, heading to the kitchen. “How was your trip?”
“Uneventful. The moment I turned on Beach Avenue, my whole body began to relax. I’d almost forgotten how beautiful it is here. Very different from our crazy days in DC.”
Crazy, indeed. Whenever they jumped on the phone or spent time together, the years melted away, and brought Avery back to that kick-ass, wild young woman she had once been. Even she admitted she’d gone a bit crazy during her time away from home. Her parents had always been strict, so finally having her freedom in DC had been a heady cocktail that had gotten her a bit drunk.
Avery poured two crystal glasses, pulled a cheese plate from the refrigerator, and walked to the aqua-blue sectional with tons of yellow throw pillows. She had a thing for bright color and couldn’t imagine living in a home with neutrals. Life was too short for beige. “True. But DC had a type of energy I needed to experience. Fast paced, aggressive, and goal oriented. Striking in its tainted glory but with an American pride I really loved.”
Her friend laughed and took the offered glass. “No wonder you got an A in poetry,” she teased. “I don’t remember any of that. I always dreamed of living by the ocean.”
Avery took a seat across the faded beach-white coffee table. “Yeah, but I needed to see what else was out there to know I wanted to come back. I felt trapped here growing up. At least, Georgetown made me realize I truly did want to run the family business. How’s Texas?”
“Hot as hell, with real gun-toting cowboys. But full of character and good-hearted people who’d do anything for their neighbors and friends. For the first time, I feel like I belong to a real community. Jason’s marketing business is booming. And my students? Amazing. They’re going to change the world one day.”