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Drop Dead, Gorgeous!
By MaryJanice Davidson
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 MaryJanice Davidson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Grand Hotel Minneapolis, Minnesota
Jenny Branch watched as her boss was gently restrained from committing homicide.
"I have to do it now," Caitlyn James cried. "If I don't do it now, they'll-ugh!-do it. Do you know what that means?"
"They'll be husband and wife, pet," Caitlyn's husband, Dmitri, replied, catching her small fist and kissing it.
"Don't say that. Like they haven't already been doing it. Because they have! I had to gouge out my retinas when I accidentally walked into the kitchen at the wrong moment." Caitlyn seemed unaware that her husband had picked her up by the elbows and held her effortlessly off the ground as her small feet swung and kicked. "But that was sex. Nightmarish, disgusting sex. But still. The sex I could tolerate."
"What a charming liar you are, my love."
"Well, I was almost getting used to it. A teensy bit used to it. But marriage? Him? Marrying my best friend? No chance in hell. If I was ever going to kill him, I've got to do it now. So put me down already."
Jenny sighed again, and they both looked. "Sorry," she covered. "I love weddings." In fact, she hated them. Just what every single woman needed: a reminder that she would die alone, until the cats found her.
She was reminded, again, of her favorite movie, When Harry Met Sally, and the lines she thought applied to her in particular: "Suppose nothing happens to you. Suppose you live out your whole life and nothing happens. You never meet anybody, you never become anything, and finally you die one of those New York deaths which nobody notices for two weeks until the smell drifts into the hallway."
Not that she was from New York; she was a small-town Minnesotan, born and bred.
(Who's going to want you?)
But the rest of it applied to her.
(You're not smart enough for college-stick with modeling.)
It's why she was a dog person.
She shoved her thoughts from unnpleasantries and focused on the wedding, and her friends. Not that Dmitri was really anyone's friend-not even Caitlyn's, she sometimes thought.
But it didn't seem to matter; Dmitri and Caitlyn were so perfect for each other. And they would have the most glorious children. And Caitlyn hadn't even been trying to get married! She had loved being single, especially after getting free of her parents like that. Jenny suspected that was why she had been drawn to the tall, sarcastic, sometimes-annoying owner of Mag, the super-salon in St. Paul. They both had something in common: rotten parents.
Then Dmitri practically falls into Caitlyn's lap at her new job-or maybe she fell into his, Jenn never got all the details-and boom! A big, expensive wedding. In Lithuania!
Followed, in an annoyingly short time, by Jessica's wedding to The Boss.
It just wasn't fucking fair, and she knew it was petty, but it was in her own head, and she was allowed to be petty there if nowhere else, right?
"I'd love it if you tried to make me put you down." Dmitri was breathing that sexy European accent right into Caitlyn's ear, and she was liking it plenty, too, the whore, but at least she wasn't screeching anymore.
"You guys, I don't really think-" Jenny peeked through the curtain again. The use of a curtain, rather than a door, to separate the bridesmaids (to wit: Caitlyn) from the groom (to wit: The Boss) was making her nervous. "I don't think Dmitri's supposed to be back here."
"And I don't think this farce of a wedding is supposed to be taking place-there's only a million other nicer things to do in Minneapolis on a gorgeous day like today-but here we all are."
"It's pouring rain."
"Caitlyn, do we have to go through this again?" Jenny tried to keep the exasperation out of her voice. Caitlyn was, for all her faults, still the boss.
"I guess I'm the only person who sees all the unique horribleness in the situation," Caitlyn hissed, which made Dmitri snort briefly with laughter.
A new voice interrupted the faux fight. "Jimmy, hon, you are totally replaceable. You know that, right?"
Dmitri put down the maid of honor. Jenny turned. The bride was standing on the opposite end of the sitting room, just closing the far door behind her. The room itself, a plush, brocaded thing with too many chairs, looked far more dressed than the bride.
"Stop calling me Jimmy," Caitlyn said, newly distracted.
The bride ignored her. "I'm surprised you two didn't hear me clomping up the stairs-you got ears like hounds."
"We were a little preoccupied," Dmitri said, trying not to stare at the golden brown tops of Stacy's breasts, which were barely held in by the creamy bustier.
"Yeah, and now we're busy saving your life. Again! Though metaphorically this time."
"Actually, boss, more figuratively than metaphorically. A metaphor is defined as the substitution of an idea or an object with another idea or object. For example, 'the aggressive couple howled at the moon' would be a metaphor."
"Jenny, honey, I love you, but we got no time for your spooky smartness. I need help!" Stacy spoke gently enough, but her voice spiraled up into panic at the end. "The seamstress is late with my dress. My underwear is at least a size too small. And I just had to break up a fistfight between the caterer and one of the waiters."
"Nonsense," Dmitri, a man like all men in at least one thing, replied. "Your underwear is perfectly sized. Speaking on behalf of grooms everywhere, you don't need another stitch. Now go on out there and swear eternal love to the luckiest man on earth."
"That's going to cost you," Caitlyn muttered.
"Well spoken, my dear. Very well.... to the second luckiest man on earth. The important thing is, you're dressed."
His wife elbowed him in the ribs. "I see your point, Stace. But maybe you should look at this as more like an omen, you know?"
Stacy crossed the room with terrifying speed. Given that she had no enhancement, technological or otherwise (she didn't even like to run on the treadmill), it was an impressive move.
She jammed a finger under Caitlyn's chin (the nail, Jenny noted, was painted bright blue) and said in a low, terrifying voice, "We've been over this. I'm marrying him. Now you can stand up or you can get out of my way. Don't make me go through this with you again."
"Okay," Caitlyn said with uncharacteristic meekness, but then, who wanted to get a bright blue fingernail jammed into their eyeball? And on such a shitty day? "Sorry. Don't, uh, do anything rash."
"Don't talk to me about rash, girlfriend. You don't know from rash."
"This is true," Caitlyn admitted and, for a wonder, had no further comment.
"While we're waiting for the seamstress, maybe we could touch up your hair a little," Jenny suggested. Among other things. The bride was looking a little stressed; Jenn could see the sweat beading her temples.
"I have to get dressed first. Besides, hon, I've got work for all of you," she added, nodding to Dmitri. "You need to go down to the kitchens and make sure no more fights break out."
"Hmmph," Dmitri said, allowing himself one last lingering look at her cleavage.
The bride ignored him. "The boneheads haven't frosted my cake yet, God knows why-"
Caitlin raised her hand like a kid in school. After a pause, Stacy said, "Caitlyn?"
"I've mentioned that all these things going wrong are an omen, right?"
"Shut up. Why don't you go down with Dmitri?"
"Why don't I?"
"And Jenny, I need you to track down the decorator, or whatever the cake-toppie-thingie-person is called. You can play with my makeup and hair after that ..." she added, pointing to a perfectly beautiful, slicked-back ponytail with rich brown curls swinging at the back, curls that had been twined with ribbon the exact color of her missing dress. There were benefits to having friends who worked in a salon.
"Don't touch your hair," Caitlyn ordered.
"I'm not. And the dress will have arrived by the time she gets back. It will. And then the show will go on. God willing, the show will go on."
Given their marching orders, they all got to work.
Chapter TwoJenny found the cake, but no cake decorator. "She had to leave," a doleful waitress informed her. "She was getting a migraine."
"She couldn't decorate the cake, then leave?"
The waitress, filling silver-rimmed plates with petits fours, didn't look up. "No way. She tried that once, but when she gets that way she sees double."
The waitress, who had finished with the tiny cakes and was now stacking empty glasses on the counter between them, actually shivered. "Just the thought of it. Curds of meringue everywhere-even the ceiling! The cake looked like someone punched it, and then had sex with it."
"So ... what? What's the plan? We can't serve it to the guests like this." Jenny eyed the cake, a four-tiered confection of what appeared to be vanilla sponge. It was neatly put together, and there were several bowls beside it, all full of perfectly whipped frosting.
"One of the waiters did a jelly roll for his nephew, once. We're trying to find him."
Oh, great. Just the perfect touch. Maybe he'll stick a goddamned pony in the middle. Jenny sighed, and pushed up her sleeves. Pity. It was a great bridesmaid's dress, as nice as the one she'd worn for Caitlyn's big day. A cream-colored pattern with roses embroidered onto the fabric, puffed sleeves, and a scooped neckline that made her feel like a milkmaid but which everyone else informed her was charming. It looked dynamite on Caitlyn, too; but then again, what didn't?
You've got to get hold of this unreasonable, continuous jealousy. You've got to.
"Hey, what's the Russian guy doing wandering around back here?" the waitress whispered. "Is he, like, a former KGB agent?"
"He's Lithuanian," she replied, picking up a bowl of frosting and a spatula, testing it for thickness. Mmmm ... buttercream ... "He's on some mission or another from the bride."
"I've got a mission for him."
"Yes, too bad he's married," Jenny said sweetly, accidentally forking a large clot of frosting onto the woman's spotless shoulder. "Oopsie."
Jenny stepped back from the cake, her back aching like someone had stuck a few spatulas in it, right between her kidneys. But the thing was done, anyway, even if she was covered in buttercream.
From the increase in hustle around her, she figured the witching hour was near. Or, at least, the time on the invitations: 2:00 P.M.
The door between the kitchen and one of the small dining rooms swung open.
"She's back here," Caitlyn said, and then they all burst into the kitchen and, at the sight of an obviously tense bride, the entire waitstaff managed to disappear at once, leaving the makings of an omelet bar. Jenny was left to explain the cake.
"Well," she began, scraping frosting off her elbow, "the gal who decorates the cakes had to go home. And they didn't have a substitute. And there was a migraine involved. So I sort of took it upon myself."
At the blank stares, she elaborated. "To do it, I mean. They had everything put together and all the frosting made-I just had to color some of it. I found a whole rainbow of food coloring in the pantry."
In the continually creepy silence, Jenny rushed ahead. "And I just-just thought-because of the dresses-and all that talk about your grandma's garden and how you wished she could be here but she's not-obviously she's not, since she passed away last year-anyway, I thought you might like this."
"This" was the four-tiered cake, with snow-white frosting smoothed on, and lilacs and tulips piped onto the tiers from the bottom up, as if they were growing onto the cake. The lilacs were the faintest shade of lavender, the tulips were dark pink, and the leaves and stems were the shimmery green of a spring forest on the first really hot day.
She had destroyed her own bouquet (purple tulips, pink and yellow alstroemeria lilies) to create a small crown of real flowers for the top tier.
They stared at the cake.
They stared at her.
They stared some more.
Nuts, Jenny thought in despair. Fucked up. Why had she believed this would be a good idea?
Stacy started to cry, and moved to attack-no, hug-her, but Jenny held her at arm's length. "I'm head to toe frosting," she pointed out. "You'll ruin your dress."
"Like I care?" she said, crying and laughing at the same time. Since she couldn't hug Jenny, she jumped up and down. "Oh, Jenn, you genius! You saved my reception!"
"Well." She coughed modestly, feeling the blood rush up to her eyebrows. She scanned the kitchen desperately for a corner to hide in. "It wasn't all that much ..."
Caitlyn was circling the cake admiringly. "I didn't even know you could do this. Did you take a class?"
"No. My mother did this for a living."
Caitlyn shot her a quick glance, but Stacy bubbled on, and thankfully, the moment was lost. "It's wonderful! It's just what I wanted. Thank you, thank you so much." Ignoring Jenny's wrigglings to keep away, Stacy wrung her hand until it was sore. And then it dawned on her ...
"Hey! You're dressed."
"And a damn fine-looking woman I am, too," Stacy replied, preening. She spun for Jenny's benefit, showing the deeply scooped back and the almost as deeply scooped front. Stacy liked any gown to display all cleavage.
"That's a very ..." She eyed the enormous meringue skirt. "Big dress."
"Oughta be, for what my honey paid for it."
Jenny had been wondering about that. A ceremony and reception at the Grand, a four-figure dress. Not cheap. And Stacy was a college student, pre-law. Her folks raised horses; fulfilling, but not much money involved.
"If he's going to suck you so deeply into his personal life," Caitlyn muttered, "the least he can do is foot the bill for the wedding."
Jenny tried not to roll her eyes. "If you're dressed, then everything's ready."
Caitlyn was still prowling around the cake. "More than ready-God, that thing looks delicious."
"So ..." Jenny paused, and when they didn't seem to catch on right away, added, "Why are you all out here? I think you scared the waitstaff away. Possibly permanently."
"To come get you, of course," Caitlyn said impatiently. "It's not a wedding if one of the bridesmaids is missing." She eyed the tattered remains of Jenny's bouquet. "It's not that important, but, hmm, I don't suppose we have an extra bouquet lying around, do we?"
"I think the florist is still here," Stacy replied. "But I'd rather Jenny was empty-handed than have a naked cake."
"Don't say naked," Caitlyn commanded. "This day is going to be enough of a strain."
"Shut up, Jimmy."
"You shut up."
"You can't tell the bride to shut up on her wedding day."
"Sure I can. And enough of the 'it's my special day, I get my way in everything' crap. You're more like Bridezilla than a blushing flower."
"Ladies," Dmitri began, sounding hopeless.
Jenny followed the chattering group, hoping they wouldn't notice she was still blushing. She wasn't sure how it had happened, but in the last two years Caitlyn had gone from boss to friend, and that meant Jenny had been included in all their circles, and had seen some very odd things.
Being a member of the wedding party today, of all days-well, there was no way around it. It really-she hated to even think it-took the cake.
Chapter ThreeThe Grand Hotel ballroom, where both the ceremony and reception would take place, looked like Jenny expected: breathtaking.
Masses of flowers, candles, silk tablecloths, white-jacketed waiters hurrying about, guests settling in their chairs ... it was really kind of funny. A stranger to the wedding party could still easily see where to sit. All the staid, sober men and women in dark suits were on the groom's side, and all the cool, funky-looking people were on Stacy's side.
She stood with Caitlyn, who had a fixed smile on her face-Caitlyn really didn't like The Boss, for reasons Jenny had never quite been able to figure out. She assumed the guy gave lousy benefits or was stingy with vacation time. Not that Caitlyn ever had to work for him-she had Mag, the hottest salon in St. Paul.
Excerpted from Drop Dead, Gorgeous! by MaryJanice Davidson Copyright © 2007 by MaryJanice Davidson. Excerpted by permission.
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