Avery’s heart squeezed at the joy on her friend’s face. “I’m so happy for you, babe,” she said softly, raising her glass in a toast. “All your dreams have come true. To you.”
They clinked glasses and settled back on the fat cushions, kicking off their shoes. For the next half hour, they chatted nonstop, catching up and then finally settling on the wedding. “I can’t thank you enough for doing this, Avery. I know how busy you are. I just hope I don’t cause you undue stress.”
Avery shook her head. So typical of her friend to be worried about others. “First up, I think it’s important for you to remember you’re paying me. Yes, I squeezed you in, but you’re a client, and I need you to be a little selfish for once in your life. I took all of the pictures you sent me over the past few weeks and already created lists of vendors and items I think you’ll love. I’ve got files for your dress, cake, favors, centerpieces, flowers—all of it, so don’t panic. If you don’t like something or disagree, tell me. If you want something specific, tell me. If you hate one of my suggestions, tell me. There’re no hurt feelings. My job is to give you the wedding of your dreams—that’s what makes me happy. Sound fair?”
Ally smiled. “Yeah. I’ll try to be a bitch.”
She laughed. “Your resting bitch face looks like a kid going to Disney World.”
“Okay, I’ll practice.” They giggled again and tore into the cheese. “I love your house. Reminds me of a fairy tale.”
“Thanks! When this cottage went up for sale, I had to grab it. Living in my parents’ house was too weird. I needed my own space to do me.”
The purple Victorian cottage had a small fenced-in yard, a tiny porch, and charming tilted shutters. The roof sloped. It was cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. The floors creaked, the radiator hissed, and the upstairs bathroom leaked. She didn’t have a tub, and the closet was a postage stamp. The yard seemed to yield only colorful wildflowers that burst from every corner and were technically called weeds. But the cottage vibrated with a goodness and joyous vitality that had obsessed her from the age of ten. When she was young, she’d sworn to her mother one day she’d live in the purple fairy-tale cottage with her prince.
A few years ago, she’d finally bought it. Alone. And it was the proudest damn moment of her life.
“It was a perfect choice. Do your sisters still live close?”
“Yes. Bella and Taylor actually rent a two-family a few blocks down.”
“That’s so great. Okay, let me know what we do next. I was never one of those girls to fuss about a future wedding day, but now I’m nervous. One of my colleagues brought in a stack of magazines, and I had to breathe into a paper bag afterward.”
Avery laughed. “My job is to keep you sane and breakdown-free. Even relaxed and happy, by my standards. But let’s not talk shop today. We’ll have our first official meeting tomorrow at my office at one p.m. for that. Right now, I just want you to relax, eat cheese, and give me all of the good gossip. I heard Texans were good at that.”
Ally sighed with relief. “Sounds awesome. But we’re going to need more wine.”
Avery laughed, refilled their glasses, and settled into the cushy pillows. The next few hours flew by, and she felt as if a piece of her had snapped back into place being with her best friend again.
Ally stood up. “Now that I’ve eaten all your cheese and drunk all the wine, I better get going. I know you have appointments.”
“I wish we could hang out all afternoon, but at least I know we’ll be able to see each other regularly. We’re going to have the best summer!”
They hugged and Avery escorted her to the door. It had been a long time since she’d planned a wedding for someone she loved. Sure, they had the occasional local who booked her, but the majority of her clientele was unknown, with dreams of a destination beach wedding planned to perfection being the true goal. She was close to her brides when they worked together, and was proud of her Love Wall, where she posted all her cards, notes, and pictures from grateful brides. But with Ally, she had a personal desire to make it beautiful, even though she had a squeezed schedule and little free time to savor.
Seeing Ally again reminded her it’d be worth it.
With a deep breath, Avery cleaned up and headed to the office.
The next day, she was running late. She’d crammed in back-to-back appointments, and all her weddings were beginning to blur together. The cake tasting ran into the invitation consultation, and after dealing with a bride who hated making decisions without texting every single one of her bridesmaids for their input, Avery’s vision couldn’t handle another calligraphy option. God, she’d give anything for a pastry right now.
Even though the wedding craze of May had passed, June was almost as bad. Casting a longing glance at the café, she hurried past, skipping a coffee refill in exchange for precious minutes. Her red silk blouse and cream skirt stuck to her damp skin, and her hair rebelled in the humidity. She could practically feel strands poking out of the dozen hair clips she’d tried to use to tame it. Sometimes she hated Bella for inheriting her smooth golden locks. Maybe she should cut it short like Taylor. Except she’d probably look like a demonic Orphan Annie.
Glancing at her watch, she quickened her pace. Ally wouldn’t mind if she was a bit late, but she hated beginning a new partnership on weak ground. Respecting a client’s time was essential in running a successful business, even if this client was her best friend on a summer beach vacation.
Her heel caught in one of the deadly uneven pavements that defined Cape May sidewalks, and she did a two-step shuffle, averting disaster. She finally reached the bright yellow-and-pink scrolled sign that announced SUNSHINE BRIDAL and headed toward the door.
“There she is!”
The shout took her off guard, and she teetered again on her shoes. Damn pumps. She preferred flats or sandals, but these red-soled designers went perfectly with her outfit. With four-inch heels, they put her at a respectable height, but her clumsiness threatened to ruin her fashion statement.
Two women faced her—one on the verge of tears, the other glaring with anger. She recognized the curvy brunette immediately, but the other woman was a stranger. She shifted her focus to her bride. “Delilah, what’s wrong?”
The petite woman pointed a trembling finger to her right. “She says the Majesty Hotel booking never went through. She said I can’t get married June eleventh because she already reserved that date and time for her reception.”
Avery shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, that’s not possible. I’ve already received the confirmation, and the deposit went through. I’m sorry, Ms. . . .”
“Papadalle. And you’re wrong.” She stabbed her finger right back at Delilah. “I called first to reserve that date, and the sales rep put it in the book. But yesterday, the guy I spoke to wasn’t there, and I was told there was no record of my wedding.”
Sympathy shot through Avery. “That’s terrible. Are you sure you didn’t give him the wrong date?”
The woman curled back her lips and spit venom. “I’m not stupid! I’m doing this on my own on a tight budget, and I can prove I booked it. I have my credit-card receipt.” She reached in her purse and pulled out a crumpled piece of white paper, shaking it in the air. “I know what’s going on here. You fancy wedding planners pushed him to forget my date because you paid more. But I’m not going away, so the joke’s on you. I’ll sue you all. I’ll stand outside your wedding and protest. I’ll get on the news.”
Delilah gasped. “You wouldn’t!”
“Hell yes, I would!”
“Ladies, please, let’s calm down and try to figure this out.” Avery faced Ms. Papadalle and tried to radiate authority and reassurance. “Did you go to the Majesty with your receipt to discuss the problem?”
“Of course I did! A guy named Steve told me the planners at Sunshine Bridal were the only ones who could fix the mix-up.”
Avery tapped her foot and tried to ignore her pounding head. Dammit. She knew Steve was a part-time student working for extra cash. God help them all if he’d taken the booking without informing the owner. Seemed like he couldn’t handle confrontation and wanted to keep his job, so he’d sent an upset bride straight to her doorstep. Sure, blame the wedding planner. Wasn’t that standard? The kid had no thought to the disasters that could occur. “Wait. Delilah, how did you even hear about this?”
“She called me and said to meet her here at one p.m.,” Delilah said.
She swiveled her gaze back to Ms. Papadalle, still confused. “But how did you get Delilah’s number? The booking is under my business name, not Delilah’s.”
“I told Steve I wanted her information and refused to leave until he gave it to me!” the woman yelled.
Oh yeah, Steve was definitely getting fired over this breach of protocol. Her head pounded harder.
Delilah trembled. “I’m sorry, Avery. I was afraid not to show. She scared me.”
Delilah was soft-spoken and shy. The poor thing was clearly terrified, and the whole scene was unfolding in front of Avery’s respectable business. She had to get them off the street before the town gossips realized a bride war was brewing.