Gabe nodded. Yep. Wonderful.
Bella took advantage of the brief pause and leaned in. “Adele, is there a reason why you picked this theme for your wedding?” she asked curiously. “Is there something specific about the books or author that you love?”
Adele let out a long, dreamy sigh, as if caught in the past. “My nanny and housekeeper mostly raised me. My father insisted—said it wasn’t proper for my mother to be taking care of children when she could be helping the world, or him. But at night, she’d sneak into my room, and we’d read Dr. Seuss books together. Oh, how we laughed!
“She promised we’d read every single one together, and we’d come up with fun rhymes and try to talk in a secret language only we understood.” She took a sip of her drink, staring down at her cup. “I used to pretend my father was the Grinch and that one day his heart would grow big. It never happened.
“When my mother died, the only thing that made me happy was when I read Dr. Seuss and thought about her. She was with me when I read those books. Especially in Oh, the Places You’ll Go! My mother would quote it all the time, reminding me I’m in charge of my destiny, and I have everything I need to follow my path—my feet and my brains. And then she’d tell me to never be trapped in a life I didn’t want when I grew up. I could be anything, do anything, and act any way I wanted, as long as it was from my heart.”
Empathy crashed through him for that lonely rich girl in her big, opulent house, looking for her mother in books that made her happy. He thought about his father and how many years he’d dedicated to trying to make his dad love him. He might not have grown up in a mansion, but in that tiny house, in his back bedroom with the drafty windows and threadbare quilt, he’d prayed too many times to be worthy of his father’s approval.
Adele had learned from her mother that she was enough just as she was.
Gabe had taught that lesson to himself.
The missing piece they’d needed to plan this wedding suddenly fell into place. He’d been excited to plan a whimsical reception for a vibrant, interesting woman, but knowing the true feelings behind her love for Dr. Seuss would help them bring the event to a whole other level—one filled with emotion and memories that were important to her past.
Bella reached over and squeezed her hand. “Thank you for sharing that, Adele. We’ll find the perfect way to make your mom part of your day.” Bella paused. “I know how hard it is to lose someone you love. I promise, we’ll make this wedding everything you dreamed of.”
“Thank you, child,” she said quietly. “I know you will.”
Gabe cleared his throat, struggling past the emotional moment and getting back to logistics. “We’ve gone over the guest list and see you also want to skip the rehearsal dinner. Are you sure?”
She giggled, joy returning. “Lord, yes. I can’t stand to see most of these people the day of the wedding, let alone the day before. They’ll need places to stay, though. Penthouses, private suites, spa dates, et cetera. The usual to keep them happy.”
Bella typed out the notes on her phone. “And what about Edward? Is there anything specific he’d like to see at the wedding . . . or not see?”
“Ed wants to show up so we can finally make this legal. We’ve been living in sin far too long for his poor aristocratic heart. He’s asked for Courvoisier cognac, a safe place to smoke a cigar, and for me to be happy with the rest.” She sighed. “Isn’t he sweet?”
“He definitely is,” Bella said.
The waitress dropped off their food. Gabe almost groaned at the perfect bacon cheeseburger. “How would you like us to handle the press?”
“Most of them want to write about my wedding and tear me apart,” she said good-naturedly. “I want to be sure they don’t get through the door.”
“I’ll coordinate with Stacia and get some security,” Gabe said.
They chatted about a few more specifics; then Adele took a call and made her apologies. “I must run, darlings. Thank you. From now on, you have my approval to do the rest as you see fit. I barely have time to show up that day, let alone deal with cake and food tastings, appointments, or questions on my opinions. All I ask is you give me a day of great joy but with personal touches that will make it special.”
“We will,” Gabe said.
She blew kisses, grabbed her yellow jacket, and flew out the door.
Bella collapsed back into the booth. “She just gave us carte blanche to do her entire wedding, Gabe. She doesn’t even want to hear from us! Has this ever happened to you?”
He scoffed. “Are you kidding? Most brides insist on a full explanation if I change the brand of chardonnay. This is beyond my usual pay grade.”
Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “But now we know how to make this wedding perfect. The Dr. Seuss theme is about her mother.”
Gabe nodded. “It’s more important than trying to throw a wedding no one else has done or satisfying a fun theme. It’s about what Dr. Seuss meant to her. Which means we can—”
“Bring her mother’s memory into the wedding and—”
“Make it whole.”
They stared at one another in complete satisfaction. His insides burned to reach over and touch her, make her understand how well they worked together and that they could be so much more. But he swallowed it all back for now. “I’m just not sure about the best way to do it,” he finally said.
“Neither am I. But we’ll figure it out.”
He liked the term we. She was getting more comfortable in his presence. Sometimes he’d catch her staring at him, then quickly turning away and morphing into business mode. But the look in her eyes told him she felt more than she showed. His only problem was balancing what he really wanted from her.
Everything, the voice inside him whispered. Anything she’s willing to give.
“We better go,” she said, interrupting his thoughts.
He picked up the bill with a sigh. “Guess we pick up the check even if our client is richer than God.”
Her giggle surprised him. “At least it’s a tax write-off. We’ll put it on the business card.” She tucked it in the leather folder, then gasped as she studied the bill. “Eighteen dollars for an Irish coffee? Are they serious?”
Amusement cut through him. “Welcome to city prices. It’s pretty standard.”
“It had more coffee than alcohol! It’s not even a fancy place. How much do you need to make here in order to survive?”
They paid and he escorted her out. The wind whipped with mad fury, and Bella rushed to cross the street, probably desperate to get back into the warmth of the car. He grabbed her arm and hauled her back just in time, barely missing a screeching taxi hauling ass down the other side of the road. His heart stopped in his chest as he looked down at her beautiful face, her cheeks flushed pink.
Bella gasped. “Oh my God, that car almost hit me when I was in the crosswalk! Pedestrians have right of way!”
“Not here. That’s just a technicality.” He kept a firm grip on her until she was safely in the car and wondered if his hair had turned gray. He needed to remember she wasn’t used to being someplace other than Cape May.
He pulled out into the crazy traffic and slowly navigated them toward SoHo.
“I don’t know how you drive here,” she muttered after a few minutes of weaving in and out from double-parked cars, buses, and endless construction. “I complain about the summer tourists, but driving here is like playing Russian roulette.”
He laughed. “I worked in Midtown for a while when I just started out. You learn quick.”
They hit a pothole, and the car bumped. “You’d think with the high city taxes, they’d fix the roads.”
“Agreed. But more money doesn’t necessarily mean better resources. Or better anything.”
“Isn’t it interesting how money doesn’t necessarily make you happy?” she asked, directing the heater to blow on her full blast. “Hearing about Adele’s father was really sad. I can’t imagine stealing time with my mom, like it was against the rules.”
His mind flashed back to his own childhood. His father’s consistent rip-downs and verbal abuse had almost torn him apart. He’d ached for the protectiveness of his mother, which rarely came. “Actually, I can. My father believed I was weakened by my mother, so he tried to keep us apart. But sometimes, when he wasn’t around, she’d hug me and tell me to be strong.”
Her soft gasp made him glance over. “Gabe, that’s terrible. I know you mentioned problems with your dad, but I had no idea it was that bad.”
He rarely talked about his past. It had nothing to do with the man he was today. He’d pushed forward and committed to a job and lifestyle he loved. He tried not to think about his father, but seeing her obvious pain for him soothed some of the rawness. “My dad liked to tell me what a loser I was. That I’d never be a real man. I know my mom felt bad, but she never did anything to try and stop him. After a while, I couldn’t accept her excuses. I mean, shouldn’t a mother protect her child?”
“Yes.” Her voice broke, then strengthened. “God, yes.”