Read an Excerpt
“I think there’s a natural law,” Josephine DeMato grumbled to Samantha Cole, whose sturdy frame barely fit into the passenger seat of Joey’s classic Triumph TR-6. “Freeway traffic increases in direct proportion to a person’s need to get somewhere in a hurry.”
Samantha glanced at her watch. “We have twenty-five minutes if you want to be there by ten.”
Joey made a face. “You’d think that would be enough time to get from north Denver to Boulder, wouldn’t you? Really, wouldn’t you? But look at this!” She waved a hand toward the clogged highway. “I can understand Interstate 25 being a parking lot on weekdays, but this is Saturday, for cripes’ sake.”
Joey sent her passenger a sharp look. “What are you, Mission Control?”
Samantha grinned. “Houston, we have a problem.”
“I was teasing, boss lady. It’s the duty of a good assistant to keep the boss apprised of schedule difficulties. And also to help the boss to lighten up. Don’t worry. It’s the bride and groom who are supposed to be nervous, not the wedding consultant. Marcia and Donald are not going to panic because you’re fifteen minutes late. It’s their wedding day. They’re both numb.”
“I hate it when things don’t go as planned.”
“In your six years of doing this, when has anything gone exactly as planned?”
Joey rolled her eyes. “Pretty much never.”
“So stop worrying. You always manage to make things look perfect, no matter what goes wrong.”
“Sometimes things stay closer to the plan than other times. This is going to be one of those times when miracles are called for. I feel it in my bones. I can’t believe the photographer double-booked. It’s a good thing I called him before we left.”
“So that was the ear-blistering I heard you delivering.”
“You bet. I give that man over fifteen thousand dollars of business every year in referrals. I told him if he made a scheduling mistake, he’d better find a way to be in two places at the same time, or his business was going to dry up faster than a puddle in Death Valley. I wish Amy Cameron was available. She’s a better photographer.”
“You mean Amy Berenger.”
“Berenger, right. She married that hunky veterinarian in one of the weirdest weddings I’ve ever seen. Oh good!” She punched the accelerator and darted into an almost imaginary space between traffic in the next lane. The pickup truck behind her honked. She flashed him an apologetic smile in her rearview mirror, but his responding gesture was anything but forgiving. Joey shrugged. “Usually the smile works.”
Ten long minutes passed between the I-70 interchange and the exit to the Boulder Turnpike, but once on the turnpike, they cruised along on a much more open road. “This is more like it,” Joey declared as the scenery began to fly by.
Samantha continued the countdown. “Twelve minutes.”
“We’ll be late, but not that late.”
They were just past Sheridan Boulevard when blue lights started flashing in the rearview mirror.
“Uh-oh,” Samantha said. “Denver’s finest.”
“Damn! What else can go wrong?” Joey glanced down at the speedometer and grimaced. “The sneaky so-and-so. Where do these guys hide, anyway?” She pulled to a stop on the shoulder and endured the smirks of passing motorists. This was really, really not turning out to be a good day.
The officer who peered down at her as she lowered her window looked as if he didn’t give a damn what kind of day she was having. The obligatory sunglasses hid his eyes, but his face was set in grim lines of constabulary displeasure. It was a face neither old nor young, but it might have passed for handsome if its expression hadn’t been reminiscent of a grizzly bear on the prowl. The square jaw was set and downright combative, the mouth a grim line etched from granite. In defiance of police dress code, he wore no hat, and short black hair ruffled in the February breeze. The thin line of a scar nicked his chin — probably the legacy of a teed-off motorist, Joey thought peevishly.
“Good morning, Officer.” She smiled and did her best to look charming. Sometimes it worked.
He didn’t sound at all charmed. “Ma’am, do you know how fast you were driving?”
“Oh dear,” she said innocently. “My speedometer must be wrong.”
The grim mouth slanted upward. “Like I haven’t heard that one before, Flash.”
Joey’s eyes narrowed. Not only grim, but sarcastic as well. “Aren’t you people supposed to be at least polite?”
“I am being polite. May I please see your registration, driver’s license, and insurance card?”
“Just a minute.” Opening the glove compartment without bruising Samantha’s knees was a feat, but finally they managed it. Then Joey began digging through the confetti of gas receipts, owner’s manual, stereo manual, a jumble of tape cassettes, a sewing kit, maps, and a hairbrush in search of the required documents.
“Today would be good,” the cop commented.
“Just hold your horses,” Joey snapped, bent over Samantha’s lap to paw through the glove box. “They’re here somewhere.”
“Joey!” Samantha whispered a warning. “Be polite to the cop!”
“This is a very cheeky cop!” she hissed back.
“Just don’t be cheeky back!”
“That would take the fun out of getting a ticket,” Joey growled sotto voce. “Here it is,” she said finally, struggling back upright and shoving the documents out the window. “There! Anything else?”
The officer raised a brow at her driver’s license.
“Yes, that is me,” Joey assured him. “Contact lenses and a haircut,” she said coldly, reaching out to take the license from his hand. He held it firmly, not letting it go while he peered down at her.
“Hair color change?”
She sighed impatiently. “Yes. Officer, women change their hair all the time without criminal intentions.”
He gave her a look. She gritted her teeth. “Could we hurry this along, please? I’m late for an appointment.”
“Is that so?”
The Neanderthal was enjoying this. Joey could tell from the beginnings of his smirky smile. “Yes,” she snapped. “That’s so. If I’m late, I might lose business. And if I lose business, maybe I can’t pay my taxes. The taxes that pay your salary.”
Above the mask of his shades, one brow arched upward. “If I miss my next paycheck, I’ll know who to blame.” He looked from the license to the registration. “This car isn’t registered to you, Ms. DeMato. The owner is Harvey Jordan?”
“No. It’s my car. I bought it a couple of weeks ago, but I haven’t had time to change over the registration.”
“I need to see the bill of sale, then.”
Joey’s heart dropped. “Bill of sale?”
“Yes, the bill of sale.”
“Well, I have the bill of sale, of course, and the title certificate as well, but they’re back at my house.”
He sighed. “Step out of the car, please.”
“Why?” she demanded.
“You are a very difficult woman. Do you know that?”
“I’m not difficult. I’m busy. And I’m late.”
“Well, Flash, you’re going to be later. Just get out of the car, would you? You too.” He flashed a look at Samantha.
Samantha nudged Joey, who heaved a sigh and extricated herself from the car as gracefully as she could; it was a very small car and she was a fairly lanky woman. Her long legs were not made for graceful exits from sports cars, and the straight, knee-length skirt of her tailored suit didn’t make the task any easier. The cop kept a straight face when she pulled her skirt back down to her knees, but the lines around his eyes deepened, bearing witness that behind those dark glasses, the eyes were laughing. She was in no mood to be laughed at.
“You’re a difficult man. Do you know that?”
He actually grinned as she threw his words back at him. “That’s my job, ma’am.”
She sniffed. “You do it very well.”
“We aim to please.”
“Right,” she replied, nettled. “What now? Hands on the car and spread ‘em?”
“That might be entertaining, but not necessary. I do think a brief search is called for, though, considering the lack of title or bill of sale.”
“Lay a hand on me and I’ll — ”
“The car, Flash. A car search.”
“Oh.” Her face heated. “Search away, then.”
As he bent down to conduct his absurd search, Joey contemplated the effect her rather pointy-toed shoes might have on his backside if driven by the indignant power of her foot. How she wished she had the nerve. It was a nicely tight backside, she observed as an aside.
Samantha came to stand beside her and watched anxiously. She looked at her watch. “We have five minutes to get to the church.”
“Thanks to Mr. ‘Serve and Protect’ here, we’re not going to make it.”
“We have plenty of time before the ceremony, though. I know you like to get there way early to fix any last-minute problems, but maybe there won’t be any problems.”
“If the day continues as it has been, the church will have blown up.”
“Oh, I hope he doesn’t find that little box of tampons I put behind the seat. I would be so embarrassed.”
He did, but it was the only thing of note he found besides two ballpoint pens, a lint remover, an iron, and a box of tissues. Joey hoped he was mortally embarrassed, but he didn’t look it.
“You ladies can get back in the car now.”
“What?” Joey gibed. “No cocaine or marijuana? No bodies in the trunk?”
He had the nerve to look amused. “You could be arrested for that mouth of yours, Flash.”
“Okay. Please get back into the car.”
“Are we done?”
“No, we’re not done. Stay put.”
“I don’t believe this,” Joey muttered as the officer marched back to his car and spoke to his partner, who no doubt had been running their plates on the patrol car’s computer. “This could take all day.”
“This always happens when a person can least afford the time,” Samantha agreed, wedging herself back into the Triumph.
“I feel a case of road rage coming on. What’s taking him so long?”
“You might as well get in the car, dear.”
“The way my luck is running today, the guy I bought this car from will have Grand Theft Auto stamped across his records.”
An eternity seemed to pass before the patrolman sauntered once more to the car window and handed her a speeding ticket. “Here you go, Flash. Try to drive the speed limit from now on, okay?”
“Can I go now?” Joey asked through clenched teeth.
“Be my guest.” He gave her an infuriating smile. “You have a nice day now.”
“Right back at you, Officer.” As she pulled out, the rueful shake of his head showed he knew exactly what she meant.
They arrived at the church nearly a half hour after Joey had planned to be there. Predictably, things were in an uproar. The bride paced the ladies’ dressing room in her petticoat. Her bridesmaids and maid of honor hovered about her looking like a flock of taffeta-clad pumpkins. The color scheme of the wedding was white and gold, but the material the bride had selected looked remarkably orange once made up into the bridesmaids’ gowns.
“Where have you been?” the bride crossly demanded of Joey when she walked into the dressing room. “Donald isn’t here yet, the ushers aren’t here yet, and you weren’t anywhere to be found. You promised you would be here by — ”
“I know, I know. Traffic held me up. I’m sorry.”
“I’ve been frantic! This isn’t the kind of service I expected of a top wedding consultant! And Donald! Where the hell is he?”
“Marcia, relax.” Joey pushed aside the problems of the morning and donned her serene everything-is-going-to-be-perfect face for the nervous girl. “Grooms are always late for the wedding. It’s tradition. You wouldn’t want to break tradition, would you?”
Marcia’s face crumpled. “If that’s tradition, it’s bullshit! How could he be late to his own wedding?”
“Is that wad of lace over there your veil? Tch, tch! Robyn” — she looked at the maid of honor — ”would you find Samantha and ask her to fetch the iron from my car, please? The sleeves of Marcia’s gown need a bit of a touch-up as well. Thank you, dear,” she said as the girl left. “Sit down, Marcia. You’re going to overwhelm your deodorant. Dollie” — she commandeered another attendant — ”how about going to the church kitchen and getting all of us something cold to drink from the fridge? Sound good?”
While the bride and her ladies were chilling out, Joey headed for the sanctuary to make sure everything there was as it should be. It wasn’t. The flowers had been delivered, but they were white roses, not the yellow Marcia had selected. Out came Joey’s cell phone, and a chagrined florist confessed to confusion. The yellow roses had been delivered to the reception hall, where the white roses were supposed to be. Joey demanded a truck be dispatched posthaste to do the exchange. The florist quibbled, but Joey won. She usually did. When Samantha hurried in with the iron, Joey gave her the keys to the Triumph with instructions to drive to the reception hall and make sure the exchange was done properly.
Meanwhile, the groom and best man arrived. The groom looked anxious, as befitted a groom. The best man looked solemn, as befitted a man delivering a best friend into the thrall of matrimony. And they both looked hungover from the bachelor party the night before. At least they’d remembered to bring their tuxedos. Joey dispatched them to the men’s dressing room with instructions to use a cold cloth on their faces and to send the tuxedos over to the ladies’ dressing room to get a last minute touch-up from the iron.
Joey had said hello to the minister, soothed the ruffled feathers of the photographer, who was still smarting from the tongue-lashing she’d given him earlier, and was headed back to the ladies’ dressing room when her cell phone tweedled. It was the carriage rental — yes, carriage rental. Marcia had wanted to be conveyed from her wedding in a fancy carriage ever since she’d seen pictures of the Prince and Princess of Wales’s wedding. The ill fate of that union hadn’t diminished her longing, and Joey had managed to find a stable in Boulder that actually rented such a thing, not of royal vintage, but good enough. Bad luck, the rather crusty old stable manager told her on the cell phone. Just that morning, not an hour ago, the carriage had broken a wheel.
“Fix it,” Joey suggested gently, clenching her teeth.
She listened to explanations of why that was impossible in such a short time. One couldn’t just use some piece of scrap wood to replace a broken spoke. It had to be crafted, turned, fitted.