Read an Excerpt
Since details crowded her mind, many of them blurry, Emma checked her appointment book over her first cup of coffee. The back- to- back consults gave her nearly as much of aboost as the strong, sweet coffee. Basking in it, she leaned backin the chair in her cozy office to read over the side notes she’dadded to each client.
In her experience, the personality of the couple— or often,more accurately, the bride— helped her determine the tone ofthe consult, the direction they’d pursue. To Emma’s way ofthinking, flowers were the heart of a wedding. Whether theywere elegant or fun, elaborate or simple, the flowers were theromance.
It was her job to give the client all the heart and romancethey desired.
She sighed, stretched, then smiled at the vase of petite roseson her desk. Spring, she thought, was the best. The weddingseason kicked into high gear— which meant busy days and longnights designing, arranging, creating not only for this spring’sweddings, but also next.
She loved the continuity as much as the work itself.
That’s what Vows had given her and her three best friends.Continuity, rewarding work, and that sense of personal accomplishment.And she got to play with flowers, live with flowers,practically swim in flowers every day.
Thoughtfully, she examined her hands, and the little nicksand tiny cuts. Some days she thought of them as battle scars andothers as medals of honor. This morning she just wished she’dremembered to fit in a manicure.
She glanced at the time, calculated. Boosted again, she sprangup. Detouring into her bedroom, she grabbed a scarlet hoodie tozip over her pjs. There was time to walk to the main house beforeshe dressed and prepared for the day. At the main houseMrs. Grady would have breakfast, so Emma wouldn’t have toforage or cook for herself.
Her life, she thought as she jogged downstairs, brimmed withlovely perks.
She passed through the living room she used as a receptionand consult area, and took a quick scan around as she headed forthe door. She’d freshen up the flowers on display before the firstmeeting, but oh, hadn’t those stargazer lilies opened beautifully?
She stepped out of what had been a guest house on the BrownEstate and was now her home, and the base for Centerpiece— herpart of Vows.
She took a deep breath of spring air. And shivered.
Damn it, why couldn’t it be warmer? It was April, for God’ssake. It was daffodil time. Look how cheerful the pansies she’dpotted up looked. She refused to let a chilly morning— andokay, it was starting to drizzle on top of it— spoil her mood.
She hunched inside the hoodie, stuck the hand not holdingher coffee mug in her pocket, and began to walk to the mainhouse.
Things were coming back to life all around her, she remindedherself. If you looked closely enough you could see thepromise of green on the trees, the hint of what would be delicateblooms of dogwood and cherry blossoms. Those daffodilswanted to pop, and the crocuses already had. Maybe there’d beanother spring snow, but the worst was over.
Soon it would be time to dig in the dirt, to bring some of herbeauties out of the green house and put them on display. She addedthe bouquets, the swags and garlands, but nothing beat MotherNature for providing the most poignant landscape for a wedding.
And nothing, in her opinion, beat the Brown Estate for showingit off.
The gardens, showpieces even now, would soon explode withcolor, bloom, scent, inviting people to stroll along the curvingpaths, or sit on a bench, relax in sun or shade. Parker put her incharge— as much as Parker could put anyone else in charge— ofoverseeing them, so every year she got to play, planting somethingnew, or supervising the landscape team.
The terraces and patios created lovely outdoor living spaces,perfect for weddings and events. Poolside receptions, terracereceptions, ceremonies under the rose arbor or the pergola, orperhaps down by the pond under a willow.
We’ve got it all, she thought.
The house itself? Could anything be more graceful, morebeautiful? The wonderful soft blue, those warm touches of yellowand cream. All the varied rooflines, the arching windows,the lacy balconies added up to elegant charm. And really, theentrance portico was made for crowding with lush greenery orelaborate colors and textures.
As a child she’d thought of it as a fairyland, complete withcastle.
Now it was home.
She veered toward the pool house, where her partner Maclived and kept her photography studio. Even as she aimed for it,the door opened. Emma beamed a smile, shot out a wave to thelanky man with shaggy hair and a tweed jacket who came out.
“ ’Morning, Carter!”
Carter’s family and hers had been friends almost as long asshe could remember. Now, Carter Maguire, former Yale profand current professor of En glish lit at their high school almamater, was engaged to one of her best friends in the world.
Life wasn’t just good, Emma thought. It was a freaking bedof roses.
Riding on that, she all but danced to Carter, tugged himdown by his lapel as she angled up on her toes and kissed himnoisily.
“Wow,” he said, and blushed a little.
“Hey.” Mackensie, her eyes sleepy, her cap of red hair brightin the gloom, leaned on the doorjamb. “Are you trying to maketime with my guy?”
“If only. I’d steal him away but you’ve dazzled and vampedhim.”
“Well.” Carter offered them both a flustered smile. “This is areally nice start to my day. The staffmeeting I’m headed to won’tbe half as enjoyable.”
“Call in sick.” Mac all but purred it. “I’ll give you somethingenjoyable.”
“Hah. Well. Anyway. Bye.”
Emma grinned at his back as he hurried off to his car. “God,he is so cute.”
“He really is.”
“And look at you, Happy Girl.”
“Happy Engaged Girl. Want to see my ring again?”
“Oooh,” Emma said obligingly when Mac wiggled her fingers.
“Are you going for breakfast?”
“That’s the plan.”
“Wait.” Mac leaned in, grabbed a jacket, then pulled the doorclosed behind her. “I didn’t have anything but coffee yet, so . . .”As they fell into step together, Mac frowned. “That’s my mug.”
“Do you want it back now?”
“I know why I’m cheerful this crappy morning, and it’s thesame reason I haven’t had time for breakfast. It’s called Let’sShare the Shower.”
“Happy Girl is also Bragging Bitch.”
“And proud of it. Why are you so cheerful? Got a man inyour house?”
“Sadly no. But I have five consults booked today. Which is agreat start to the week, and comes on the tail of the lovely endto last week with yesterday’s tea party wedding. It was reallysweet, wasn’t it?”
“Our sexagenarian couple exchanging vows and celebratingsurrounded by his kids, her kids, grandchildren. Not just sweet,but also reassuring. Second time around for both of them, andthere they are, ready to do it again, willing to share and blend. Igot some really great shots. Anyway, I think those crazy kids aregoing to make it.”
“Speaking of crazy kids, we really have to talk about yourflowers. December may be far away— she says shivering— but itcomes fast, as you well know.”
“I haven’t even decided on the look for the engagement shotsyet. Or looked at dresses, or thought about colors.”
“I look good in jewel tones,” Emma said and fluttered herlashes.
“You look good in burlap. Talk about bragging bitches.”Mac opened the door to the mudroom, and since Mrs. Grady wasback from her winter vacation, remembered to wipe her feet. “Assoon as I find the dress, we’ll brainstorm the rest.”
“You’re the first one of us to get married. To have your weddinghere.”
“Yeah. It’s going to be interesting to see how we manage torun the wedding and be in the wedding.”
“You know you can count on Parker to figure out the logistics.If anyone can make it run smooth, it’s Parker.”
They walked into the kitchen, and chaos.
While the equitable Maureen Grady worked at the stove,movements efficient, face placid, Parker and Laurel faced off acrossthe room.
“It has to be done,” Parker insisted.
“Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.”
“Laurel, this is business. In business you serve the client.”
“Let me tell you what I’d like to serve the client.”
“Just stop.” Parker, her rich brown hair sleeked back in atail, was already dressed in a meet- the- client suit of midnightblue. Eyes of nearly the same color flashed hot with impatience.
“Look, I’ve already put together a list of her choices, the numberof guests, her colors, her floral selections. You don’t evenhave to speak to her. I’ll liaise.”
“Now let me tell you what you can do with your list.”
“The bride is an asshole. The bride is an idiot, a whiny babybitch who made it very clear nearly one year ago that she neitherneeded nor wanted my par tic u lar ser vices. The bride can biteme because she’s not biting any of my cake now that she’s realizedher own stupidity.”
In the cotton pajama pants and tank she’d slept in, her hairstill in sleep tufts, Laurel dropped onto a chair in the breakfastnook.
“You need to calm down.” Parker bent down to pick up afile. Probably tossed on the floor by Laurel, Emma mused.
“Everything you need is in here.” Parker laid the file on the table.
“I’ve already assured the bride we’ll accommodate her, so—”
“So you design and bake a four- layer wedding cake betweennow and Saturday, and a groom’s cake, and a selection of desserts.To serve two hundred people. You do that with no previouspreparation, and when you’ve got three other events overthe weekend, and an evening event in three days.”
Her face set in mutinous lines, Laurel picked up the file anddeliberately dropped it on the floor.
“Now you’re acting like a child.”
“Fine. I’m a child.”
“Girls, your little friends have come to play.” Mrs. Grady sangit out, her tone overly sweet, her eyes laughing.
“Ah, I hear my mom calling me,” Emma said and started toease out of the room.
“No, you don’t!” Laurel jumped up. “Just listen to this! TheFolk- Harrigan wedding. Saturday, eve ning event. You’ll remember,I’m sure, how the bride sniffed at the very idea of Icings atVows providing the cake or any of the desserts. How she sneeredat me and my suggestions and insisted her cousin, a pastry chef inNew York, who studied in Paris and designed cakes for importantaffairs would be handling all the desserts.
“Do you remember what she said to me?”“Ah.” Emma shifted because Laurel’s finger pointed at herheart. “Not in the exact words.”“Well, I do. She said she was sure— and said it with thatsneer— she was sure I could handle most affairs well enough, butshe wanted the best for her wedding. She said that to my face.”“Which was rude, no question,” Parker began.“I’m not finished,” Laurel said between her teeth. “Now, atthe eleventh hour, it seems her brilliant cousin has run off withone of her— the cousin’s— clients. Scandal, scandal, as said clientmet brilliant cousin when he commissioned her to design a cakefor his engagement party. Now they’re MIA and the bride wantsme to step in and save her day.”“Which is what we do here. Laurel—”“I’m not asking you.” She flicked her fingers at Parker,zeroed in on Mac and Emma. “I’m asking them.”“What? Did you say something?” Mac offered a toothy smile.“Sorry, I must’ve gotten water in my ears from the shower.Can’t hear a thing.”
“Ah . . .”
“Breakfast!” Mrs. Grady circled a finger in the air. “Everybodysit down. Egg- white omelettes on toasted brown bread.Sit, sit. Eat.”
“I’m not eating until—”
“Let’s just sit.” Interrupting Laurel’s next tirade, Emma trieda soothing tone. “Give me a minute to think. Let’s just all sitdown and . . . Oh, Mrs. G, that looks fabulous.” She grabbedtwo plates, thinking of them as shields as she crossed to thebreakfast nook and scooted in. “Let’s remember we’re a team,”she began.
“You’re not the one being insulted and overworked.”
“Actually, I am. Or have been. Whitney Folk puts the zilla inBridezilla. I could relay my personal nightmares with her, butthat’s a story for another day.”
“I’ve got some of my own,” Mac put in.
“So your hearing’s back,” Laurel muttered.
“She’s rude, demanding, spoiled, difficult, and unpleasant,”
Emma continued. “Usually when we plan the event, even withthe problems that can come up and the general weirdness ofsome couples, I like to think we’re helping them showcase a daythat begins their happy ever after. With this one? I’d be surprisedif they make it two years. She was rude to you, and I don’t thinkit was a sneer, I think it was a smirk. I don’t like her.”
Obviously pleased with the support, Laurel sent her ownsmirk toward Parker, then began to eat.
“That being said, we’re a team. And clients, even smirkybitch clients have to be served. Those are good reasons to dothis,” Emma said while Laurel scowled at her. “But there’s a betterone. You’ll show her rude, smirky, flat, bony ass what a reallybrilliant pastry chef can do, and under pressure.”
“Parker already tried that one on me.”
“Oh.” Emma sampled a skinny sliver of her omelette. “Well,it’s true.”
“I could bake her man- stealing cousin into the ground.”
“No question. Personally, I think she should grovel, at least alittle.”
“I like groveling.” Laurel considered it. “And begging.”
“I might be able to arrange for some of each.” Parker liftedher coffee. “I also informed her that in order to accommodateher on such short notice we would require an additional fee. Iadded twenty- five percent. She grabbed it like a lifeline, andactually wept in gratitude.”
A new light beamed in Laurel’s bluebell eyes. “She cried?”Parker inclined her head, and cocked an eyebrow at Laurel.
“While the crying part warms me inside, she’ll still have totake what I give her, and like it.”
“You just let me know what you decide on when you decideon it,” Emma told her. “I’ll work in the flowers and decor forthe table.” She sent a sympathetic smile at Parker. “What timedid she call you with all this?”
“Three twenty a.m.”
Laurel reached over, gave Parker’s hand a pat. “Sorry.”
“That’s my part of the deal. We’ll get through it. Wealways do.”
They always did, Emma thought as she refreshed her livingroom arrangements. She trusted they always would. Sheglanced at the photograph she kept in a simple white frame, oneof three young girls playing Wedding Day in a summer garden.
She’d been bride that day, and had held the bouquet of weedsand wildflowers, wore the lace veil. And had been just as charmedand delighted as her friends when the blue butterfly landed onthe dandelion in her bouquet.
Mac had been there, too, of course. Behind the camera, capturingthe moment. She considered it a not- so- small miraclethat they’d turned what had been a favored childhood game ofmake believe into a thriving business.
No dandelions these days, she thought as she fluffed pillows.But how many times had she seen that same delighted, dazzledlook on a bride’s face when she’d offered her a bouquet she’dmade for her? Just for her.
She hoped the meeting about to begin would end in a weddingnext spring, with just that dazzled look on the bride’s face.She arranged her files, her albums, her books, then moved tothe mirror to check her hair, her makeup, the line of the jacketand pants she’d changed into.
Pre sen ta tion, she thought, was a priority of Vows.
She turned from the mirror to answer her phone with acheerful, “Centerpiece of Vows. Yes, hello, Roseanne. Of courseI remember you. October wedding, right? No, it’s not too earlyto make those decisions.”
As she spoke, Emma took a notebook out of her desk, flippedit open. “We can set up a consultation next week if that works foryou. Can you bring a photo of your dress? Great. And if you’veselected the attendants’ dresses, or their colors . . .? Mmm- hmm.I’ll help you with all of that. How about next Monday at two?”
She logged in the appointment, then glanced over her shoulderas she heard a car pull up.
A client on the phone, another coming to the door.
God, she loved spring!
Emma showed her last client of the day through the displayarea where she kept silk arrangements and bouquets as wellas various samples on tables and shelves.
“I made this up when you e-mailed me the photo of yourdress, and gave me the basic idea of your colors and your favoriteflowers. I know you’d talked about preferring a large cascadebouquet, but . . .”
Emma took the bouquet of lilies and roses, tied with white,pearl- studded ribbon off the shelf. “I just wanted you to see thisbefore you made a firm decision.”
“It’s beautiful, plus my favorite flowers. But it doesn’t seem, Idon’t know, big enough.”
“With the lines of your dress, the column of the skirt, andthe beautiful beadwork on the bodice, the more contemporarybouquet could be stunning. I want you to have exactly whatyou want, Miranda. This sample is closer to what you have inmind.”
Emma took a cascade from the shelf.
“Oh, it’s like a garden!”
“Yes, it is. Let me show you a couple of photos.” She openedthe folder on the counter, took out two.
“It’s my dress! With the bouquets.”
“My partner Mac is a whiz with Photoshop. These give youa good idea how each style looks with your dress. There’s nowrong choice. It’s your day, and every detail should be exactlywhat you want.”
“But you’re right, aren’t you?” Miranda studied both pictures.
“The big one sort of, well, overwhelms the dress. But the other,it’s like it was made for it. It’s elegant, but it’s still romantic. It isromantic, isn’t it?”
“I think so. The lilies, with that blush of pink against thewhite roses, and the touches of pale green. The trail of the whiteribbon, the glow of the pearls. I thought, if you liked it, we mightdo just the lilies for your attendants, maybe with a pink ribbon.”
“I think . . .” Miranda carried the sample bouquet over tothe old- fashioned cheval glass that stood in the corner. Hersmile bloomed like the flowers as she studied herself. “I think itlooks like some really creative fairies made it. And I love it.”
Emma noted it down in her book. “I’m glad you do. We’llwork around that, sort of spiraling out from the bouquets. I’llput clear vases on the head table, so the bouquets will not onlystay fresh, but serve as part of the decor during the reception.Now, for your tossing bouquet, I was thinking just the whiteroses, smaller scale like this.” Emma took down another sample.
“Tied with pink and white ribbons.”
“That would be perfect. This is turning out to be so mucheasier than I thought.”
Pleased, Emma made another note. “The flowers are important,but they should also be fun. No wrong choices, remember.From everything you’ve told me, I see the feel of the wedding asmodern romance.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m after.”
“Your niece, the flower girl, is five, right?”
“She just turned five last month. She’s really excited aboutscattering rose petals down the aisle.”
“I bet.” Emma crossed the idea of a pomander off her mentallist. “We could use this style basket, covered with white satin,trimmed in baby roses, trailing the pink and white ribbons again.Pink and white rose petals. We could do a halo for her, pink andwhite baby roses again. Depending on her dress, and what youlike, we can keep it simple, or we can trail ribbons down theback.”
“The ribbons, absolutely. She’s really girly. She’ll be thrilled.”Miranda took the sample halo Emma offered. “Oh, Emma. It’slike a little crown! Princessy.”
“Exactly.” When Miranda lifted it onto her own head, Emmalaughed. “A girly five- year- old will be in heaven. And you’ll beher favorite aunt for life.”
“She’ll look so sweet. Yes, yes, to everything. Basket, halo,ribbons, roses, colors.”
“Great. You’re making it easy for me. Now you’ve got yourmothers and your grandmothers. We could do corsages, wrist orpin- on, using the roses or the lilies or both. But—”
Smiling, Miranda set the halo down again. “Every time yousay ‘but’ it turns out fantastic. So, but?”
“I thought we could update the classic tussy- mussy.”
“I have no idea what that is.”
“It’s a small bouquet, like this, carried in a little holder tokeep the flowers fresh. We’d put display stands on the tables bytheir places, which would also dress up their tables, just a littlemore than the others. We’d use the lilies and roses, in miniature,but maybe reverse the colors. Pink roses, white lilies,those touches of pale green. Or if that didn’t go with theirdresses, all white. Small, not quite delicate. I’d use somethinglike this very simple silver holder, nothing ornate. Then we couldhave them engraved with the wedding date, or your names, theirnames.”
“It’s like their own bouquets. Like a miniature of mine. Oh,my mother will . . .”
When Miranda’s eyes filled, Emma reached over and pickedup the box of tissue she kept handy.
“Thanks. I want them. I have to think about the monogramming.I’d like to talk that over with Brian.”
“Plenty of time.”
“But I want them. The reverse, I think, because it makesthem more theirs. I’m going to sit down here a minute.”Emma went with her to the little seating area, put the tissuebox where Miranda could reach. “It’s going to be beautiful.”
“I know. I can see it. I can already see it, and we haven’t evenstarted on the arrangements and centerpieces and, oh, everythingelse. But I can see it. I have to tell you something.”
“My sister— my maid of honor? She really pushed for us tobook Felfoot. It’s been the place in Greenwich, you know, and itis beautiful.”
“It’s gorgeous, and they always do a fabulous job.”“But Brian and I just fell for this place. The look of it, thefeel of it, the way the four of you work together. It felt right forus. Every time I come here, or meet with one of you, I know wewere right. We’re going to have the most amazing wedding.Sorry,” she said, dabbing at her eyes again.
“Don’t be.” Emma took a tissue for herself. “I’m flattered,and nothing makes me happier than to have a bride sit here andcry happy tears. How about a glass of champagne to smooththings out before we start on the boutonnieres?”
“Seriously? Emmaline, if I wasn’t madly in love with Brian,
I’d ask you to marry me.”
With a laugh, Emma rose. “I’ll be right back.”
Later, Emma saw off her excited bride and, comfortablytired, settled down with a short pot of coffee in her office.
Miranda was right, she thought as she keyed in all the details.She was going to have the most amazing wedding. An abundanceof flowers, a contemporary look with romantic touches.Candles and the sheen and shimmer of ribbons and gauze. Pinksand whites with pops of bold blues and greens for contrast andinterest. Sleek silver and clear glass for accents. Long lines, andthe whimsy of fairy lights.
As she drafted out the itemized contract, she congratulatedherself on a very productive day. And since she’d spend most ofthe next working on the arrangements for their midweek eveningevent, she considered making it an early night.
She’d resist going over and seeing what Mrs. G had for dinner,make herself a salad, maybe some pasta. Curl up with amovie or her stack of magazines, call her mother. She couldget everything done, have a relaxing eve ning, and be in bed byeleven.
As she proofed the contract, her phone let out the quick tworings that signaled her personal line. She glanced at the readout,smiled.
“Hello, Beautiful. What are you doing home when youshould be out with me?”
“It’s after six. Pack it in, honey. Adam and Vicki are having aparty. We can go grab some dinner first. I’ll pick you up in anhour.”
“Whoa, wait. I told Vicki to night just wasn’t good for me. Iwas booked solid today, and still have about another hourbefore—”
“You’ve got to eat, right? And if you’ve been working all dayyou deserve to play. Come play with me.”
“That’s sweet, but—”“Don’t make me go to the party by myself. We’ll swing by,have a drink, a couple laughs, leave whenever you want. Don’tbreak my heart, Emma.”
She cast her eyes up to the ceiling and saw her early night goup in smoke. “I can’t make dinner, but I could meet you therearound eight.”
“I can pick you up at eight.”
Then angle to come in when you bring me home, shethought. And that’s not happening. “I’ll meet you. That way if Ineed to go and you’re having fun, you can stay.”
“If that’s the best I can get, I’ll take it. I’ll see you there.”