“That’s a code-red situation,” Avery said. “Thank goodness we didn’t have to deal with her. Taylor, how was the expo in Atlantic City?”
Taylor shrugged. “Pierce and I got a bunch of new-client leads, so I’d term it a success. Even better? I won two hundred and fifty bucks on the slots.”
“Nice. Which machine?” he asked.
“Sex and the City.”
He rolled his eyes. “They haven’t retired Ms. Bradshaw yet? I prefer the Hangover or Walking Dead.”
“Well, you didn’t win the money on those, did you?” she quipped.
He laughed and wondered if he’d do better with a woman like Taylor—more snark than sweet. Then again, maybe not. He didn’t know too many men who could handle the youngest Sunshine sister except Pierce Powers, a longtime friend of Taylor’s and the best wedding photographer on the Cape, who insisted he and Taylor were no more than friends.
Avery clicked through her screens, then pointed her pen at Bella. “I forgot about the next agenda item we need to discuss. It’s about getting caught up in a couple’s sob story.”
Taylor grunted. “I have no issues with that. What did Bella do now?”
Avery sighed. “Vera called. Seems our softy sister paid for a dress the bride couldn’t afford.”
Bella squared her shoulders, but her skin flushed with guilt. “I can’t believe Vera tattled—she’s the one who split the extra cost with me!”
“Dude, you need to stop giving away our profit,” Taylor said. “What was the story this time?”
Her chin jutted out in pure stubbornness. “It wasn’t a lot of money, okay? But she’s on a strict budget, and she fell in love with a Jenny Packham that looked gorgeous on her. I watched her tear up.”
Taylor rolled her eyes. “Cue the poor grandma sitting in the waiting room, telling her she can’t afford it. Then she takes the dress off, cries some more, and Grandma begs for help to make it more affordable. Why was the dress shown when it wasn’t in her budget?”
“There was no grandmother,” Bella said. Her normally bright blue eyes grew shadowed. “She had her nine-year-old sister with her. Her sister found the dress on the rack and begged her to try it on. When she saw the price, she quietly took it off and settled for a cheaper dress. But when she picked it, there wasn’t the same joy in her eyes.”
“It does happen a lot,” Avery said gently. “It’s difficult, but we can’t buy all our couples wedding dresses they can’t afford.”
Gabe sensed there was more. “What else happened for you to make the decision, Bella?”
Her gaze flew to his. Understanding passed between them. “She’s in remission for breast cancer. They decided to get married right away, even though she has no hair. Her fiancé said he wanted their wedding photos to reflect the real woman he loved.” Bella paused, emotion shining in her eyes. “I just wanted her to have something that made her feel beautiful and whole. Every bride deserves that on her wedding day. To be special. To feel special.”
Yes. This was why he’d fallen so hard. She was a woman who needed to give and thrived on making others happy. If a man was ever lucky enough to gain Bella’s love and trust, she’d shower him with everything she was. There would be no lies, no games, and no holding back. It was rare to find that type of deep caring in the world. She reminded him of all the beautiful things when he looked into her face.
In the stunned silence, Gabe spoke. “Sounds like a damn good reason to me. What do you guys think?”
Avery cleared her throat. “Sorry, Bella. I’ll split it with you.”
“I’m in,” he added.
“Me, too,” Taylor mumbled. “Can we move on now, please?”
Bella smiled, her body relaxing back into her chair.
They spent the next hour confirming schedules and various details for upcoming events. As they wrapped up, Avery waved her hands in the air. “Guys, I got a Google alert for Sunshine Bridal! Let me read it out loud.”
Taylor rolled her eyes. “Probably just a news blog from the Expo.”
“No, the heading says Sunshine Bridal to plan wedding of the year! Oh my God, it’s from Page Six!”
He frowned. “Are we doing any celebrity weddings this year?”
“I didn’t think so,” Bella said.
“Wait, I’m clicking on it now. Hang on.” They waited as she brought up the link. He became concerned when her excited expression slowly drained away. She grew dangerously pale and unusually quiet, staring at the screen like a Stephen King creature was about to jump out at her.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, his hands clenching involuntarily into fists.
“Oh. My. God,” Avery breathed, blinking furiously. She shook her head and stared at Bella. “We’re in trouble. Big-ass trouble.”
“Would you stop being cryptic and tell us?” Taylor demanded with her usual impatience. “Spill.”
“Did you tell Adele Butterstein that we would handle her wedding?” Avery asked, glancing back and forth between Gabe and Bella.
“Who’s that?” he asked. His mind spun to grasp the name the same time his gut lurched with impending disaster.
Avery narrowed her gaze. “The famous New York City heiress. The one who inherited the City Skyline publishing empire and only wanted to run the children’s arm of the company, so she gifted her shares to close friends and family to run it instead? The one who’s worth billions and has a bigger social media following than Taylor Swift?”
Bella gasped. “Wait—and she’s marrying that big executive over at Tesla?”
“Whose name is . . . Edward,” he said, meeting Bella’s stare. The implication of that innocent conversation at the Royal brunch washed over him like doomsday. “Oh, shit.”
“Bella. Gabe. Is this the woman who wanted you to plan her wedding this March? With the theme of Dr. Seuss?” Avery turned the screen around, and right there, in Technicolor, was Adele, the one they’d spoken to at the Royals’ wedding.
Dead quiet blanketed the room.
Then Taylor burst out laughing, her fist helplessly hitting the sleek conference table with glee. “You guys are so fucked!”
Oh, they were.
They really, really were.
After coffee refills and bumping some appointments so they could extend the morning meeting, Bella sat with Gabe and Avery, discussing the options. Taylor had left the room, still laughing.
Within minutes of the story breaking, Eloise Royal had sent a long text about her famous second cousin and how happy she was that the wedding was finally in good hands. Then Adele’s assistant reached out, warning Bella of the massive amount of spreadsheets, pictures, and contact lists she’d gathered to send over so they could start working on the wedding ASAP. The reception venue left a message, asking for direction on setup, catering, and a thousand other details. Immediately, they were trapped in a nightmare situation and had no idea how to get out of it.
“If we take on this wedding and fail, our reputation will be ruined,” Bella said. They’d worked so hard to build up a successful business; she hated the idea that one impulsive heiress could slander them while the world watched. “We need to decline and say it was a misunderstanding. I’ll talk to Eloise about it and explain.”
Avery shook her head. “It’s too late. Even if we didn’t sign a contract, Adele believes we verbally took on the gig, so if we try and back out, it will look worse. Our best bet is to clear all decks and make sure this wedding is perfect.”
“Is this even a possibility with our current schedule?” she asked. “We’d need to be in New York and deal with new vendors. It’s a huge undertaking, not to mention the pressure of the press. I think this is a mistake.”
“It’s definitely a gamble,” Avery said, biting her lip. “But her assistant got the go-ahead to accept any late-planning fee we billed. She said price is no object, so we can double our normal charges for the inconvenience. The profit we’d make will give us a huge cushion for when Taylor leaves.”
Dammit, she knew how important financial security was to all of them in this business. But when she thought of the risk, it still seemed better to say no.
Avery stared at Gabe. “What do you think?”
Bella studied him, waiting for him to agree with her since he’d met Adele personally, but then the glint of challenge sparked in his dark eyes.
A small smile rested on his lips, as if he’d just decided to take on Goliath and was looking forward to the battle. “We can do it. I’d have to move the Silverman wedding to you or Taylor, and Bella would need to rework her entire schedule. It’d mean overtime for all of us and a hard quarter, but I’m willing to tackle it. How can we pass up an opportunity like this? To finally show the world what Sunshine Bridal can offer?”
Avery grinned and high-fived Gabe. Bella watched them with a growing uncomfortable emotion she rarely experienced.
“Wait, are you serious? You really think we can do this?” she asked, her voice a bit too high. She preferred working alone. Plus, she’d never taken on a last-minute high-maintenance client like Adele before. That was Avery’s territory.