“Many people display their best behavior and their worst at a wedding,” Bella said. “You look breathtaking.” Adele had picked out the dress before they began working together, and it reflected the woman’s heart and personality. The buttery cream fabric was light as gossamer and flowed like water, draping over her body in a mass of crisscross patterns. The long sleeves billowed like bells, and a bright-yellow sash cinched her waist, matching the whimsical colored bouquet tied with birch and studded with diamond Sneetch stars for the occasion.
Adele smiled and her face lit up. “Thank you. I feel it. Did Edward chicken out yet, or is he still downstairs?”
“He’s a brave one. He’s not going anywhere.” She gave Gabe the go-ahead, and the music drifted up the staircase. “Any questions? Anything I can ease your mind about? Everything downstairs is perfect.”
“I know! I took a peek when I was being whisked up the stairs. I can’t wait to see all the surprises.”
“We want you to have fun and enjoy the evening. Let’s begin the walk down.”
Bella had done so many weddings, she always wondered if this one was going to be the time she didn’t cry or feel moved when she saw a bride meet her groom at the altar. But she was never disappointed. It always brought a rush of warmth, and a gentle reminder that love was the only thing to cling to in the world—once you found it, you needed to embrace every beautiful second. Weddings were a reminder that happily-ever-after endings still existed.
She watched them recite their vows, and her gaze snagged on Gabe. Looking breathlessly handsome in his dark tux and slicked-back hair, he was straight from a magazine cover. She’d already noticed how most of the women kept sneaking glances at him. Sexual masculine energy simply radiated from his frame, leaving a trail behind him. Kind of like the Pied Piper. Except . . .
Except she’d been wrong to assume she knew about his love life. Since Carter had challenged her on believing the local gossip, she’d begun seeing things in a different way. Was it possible everyone was so used to thinking he was a certain man, no one would allow him to show a different side? After all, who didn’t want a hot single male to claim as their local beach bachelor? Small towns thrived on that stuff. But had anyone ever asked if that was what he wanted?
She certainly didn’t.
Bella remembered how it was after Matt died. How she was looked upon differently as a single mother. She’d been held to a new, higher standard. Any type of dating would focus curious eyes on her, ready to assess and judge and rip apart. She’d been afraid of that type of scrutiny, so it’d been easier to protect her daughter by refusing to engage in the dating world. She’d kept to her house and family, refusing to let the messiness of the outside world in, especially any type of men.
Now, she wondered if it was out of habit that nothing had changed in six years. She had whined to her sisters that she needed a date but did nothing to pursue it. It might be time to look hard at her choices and make some changes. She’d reached a safe level of contentment but nothing approaching true happiness.
Once, she’d accepted that would never be hers to experience again.
But maybe she was wrong.
Edward and Adele took turns reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, and she caught a few guests wiping their eyes at the surprise sweetness between the older couple. Guess even the hardened society crowd was vulnerable to a tender sentiment.
They were pronounced man and wife.
Gabe’s gaze caught and held hers across the room.
Then the room erupted with applause, jerking her away from those piercing dark eyes. They fell into transition work—getting the ceremony chairs tucked away to open up the room and bring in the other accent decor for the reception. They worked in perfect symmetry, directing guests to the special cocktails in tropical colors, including a rosé champagne—the perfect color pink—with blueberries. Each had a funny-sounding name and was served by a different waiter with a specialized Dr. Seuss tie to coordinate with the drink and paired appetizers.
By the time the reception was in full swing, Bella guessed the alcohol and comfort food had loosened up the crowd. Everyone seemed to have lost most of their stiffness and settled into lively chatter at the tables and danced.
Gabe eased to her side. “All good on the home front. You?”
“No issues yet. The cocktails were a huge hit. Everyone’s drunk.”
“Perfect, isn’t it? I heard a lot of chatter about the stations we set up. They love the travel section.”
“Avery actually gave me that idea. Great feedback on the flowers, too. I loved when Adele cried when she spotted the tribute to her mother.” They’d carved out a quote into a birchwood frame with a picture of Adele and her mother and displayed it at the station titled Who We Love. Friends and family caught in various photographs made up a few collages of Adele’s and Ed’s lives.
His face softened. “That was a brilliant idea, Bella. Weddings are about emotions, and become bigger than just the couple. It becomes their pasts and the people they loved, too.”
She blinked at the heartfelt statement. “You really do have a poet’s heart,” she said with a smile.
His hand brushed hers, and a sizzling heat cracked through her. This time, he was the one to step back. The loss was bigger than she expected. She remembered how it felt to lean on his strength to get her through one of the most emotional moments. He wasn’t afraid to stand strong in the midst of messiness. Why would she have thought it would be easy for this man to walk away from anything that challenged him, including women?
“We have the cake and dessert. I’ll do a walk-through and make sure we don’t have any sloppy drunks to tame.”
“I’ll make sure there’s no catty women ready to rip the bride and wedding apart. Why are they always in the bathroom where the bride can overhear?”
They smiled at each other and parted. The next hour passed uneventfully. The cake was a huge hit; the impressive ten-level topsy-turvy layered creation was accented with encircling birch twigs making an elaborate crown around the base and mini–Lucy Ball flowers setting off each layer. The outside was a subtle work of art, a pale pink and rich cream, but when it was cut, there was a gasp from the crowd. Every other layer boasted a different bold color hidden inside—canary yellow, cotton-candy pink, Tiffany blue, seafoam green, red velvet. It was sheer creative cake artistry, and Maria had informed them both it had almost killed her.
As flashbulbs went off and the dessert table with cake pops, macaroons, truffles, and specialized Dr. Seuss treats was revealed, Bella knew they’d outdone themselves. The pigeons called out, and Adele’s delighted laugh echoed through the air. Joy unfurled inside her, along with pride from being able to be part of a day filled with love. It was these moments that reminded her how much she truly did love her job.
Bella was just heading for a quick bathroom break when she was stopped.
“Are you the wedding planner?”
Bella turned. A petite woman stood before her, dressed in a stunning blush-pink dress with intricate beading. With her cap of dark hair, she looked like a pixie creature from a mythical land. “Yes. Can I help you with something?”
“I’m Latoya with Bride Style magazine. I’m doing a feature on Adele’s wedding, and I wanted to ask you a few questions.”
“Of course. Congratulations on getting on the list. Adele was selective of who she invited to the wedding.”
Latoya laughed. “Adele and I go way back, so she knows I’m not out to make front-page news by trashing her. But I am fair, so to forewarn you, if I don’t like something, I’m going to put it out to my readers.”
Bella’s smile hid her nerves. They’d been featured on the Knot and in a few other high-style articles over the years, but Bride Style was the fashion magazine for elite weddings and society brides. Styles, trends, and new hot contacts were made there.
“I understand completely. You should meet my partner, Gabe. We worked together on this for Sunshine Bridal.”
“Already did. Cornered him right before you. I wanted to interview you both separately.”
Uneasiness struck. Was this a way to try and split them up, causing a bit of controversy? The press liked an angle that was click-worthy. She wasn’t going to play those games, but Latoya seemed genuinely friendly, and she was trusted by Adele. “I’m all yours. What would you like to know?”
“I’m going to record this because I have no pen and pad that will fit in my purse.” She picked up her small clutch, removed her phone, and hit the button. “Sunshine Bridal is run by you and your sisters, correct? Can you tell me a bit about how the company was started, then go into your individual styles?”
Bella took her time, making sure to give details of her sisters’ different personalities and how their whole vision took their parents’ company to the next level. They chatted in-depth about how Adele had found them, and some of the most memorable weddings they’d planned in the past. Finally, they got to Gabe.
“Hiring a male wedding coordinator is still unusual. Have you ever had any issues regarding your female clients not being able to relate?”
“No, I think Gabe has brought a fresh perspective we all need. After all, most brides are desperate to involve a man in their wedding planning, but most run in the opposite direction. Gabe is able to act as a stand-in for the groom, when desired, and is an excellent guide through the overwhelming process.”