Read an Excerpt
"Mom, it's an April Fool's joke," Nadine Richford said. "No one would seriously propose this for a wedding. You totally got her, Jorie." She shook her head in admiration. Except, Jorie thought nervously, this wasn't a joke.
It was eleven-fifteen on April Fool's Day and she was meeting with Sally and Nadine Richford at one of the round ironwork tables in the lobby of the St. Renwick hotel. The fountain, whose water had doused the flames when the White House was burned by the British, was close enough that drops of spray tickled the back of her neck. Tossing pennies in the famous fountain was supposed to be good luck. Sitting in the splash zone conferred no such benefits, Jorie realized, watching as her fortunes turned as quickly and thoroughly as a wedge of Brie left on a sunny buffet table at an outdoor wedding.
The Richford wedding was the only contract standing between her and a total collapse of her wedding planning business. Maybe she should have known better than to have such an important meeting on April Fool's Day. But Jorie had fully expected to wow the Richfordsmother and daughterwith her plans to turn the Lilac Garden and Filigree Ballroom of the St. Renwick into a fifties-themed, full-on James-Dean-Rebel-Without-a-Cause fantasy wedding. She was positive she'd nailed the interviews with the bride and groom-to-be, working her trademark magic to capture the essential elements of their relationship and the way they'd want to present themselves to their guests. They were supposed to love her concepts so much, they'd fall over themselves to sign on the dotted line.
Sally Richford frowned when Jorie mentioned the skinny ties and gray suits for the groomsmen. Her daughter, Nadine, giggled nervously when Jorie started to describe her idea for red-and-white accents in the flowers and linens, based on the colors of James Dean's iconic jacket and T-shirt.
"I really don't think " Sally pushed back the gold bangle bracelets on her slender, tanned wrist.
Okay, maybe they needed a visual. Jorie pulled out the planning binder she'd put together for Nadine. During her first year in business, she'd searched long and hard to find functional but pretty binders. This style, handmade by a boutique stationer in Aspen, was one and a half inches thick and bound in linen in shades ranging from pale lemonade to ice-blue to peppermint-pink. The corners were covered in white leather, as was the spine, which was constructed so the binder lay flat when it was opened. Jorie had yet to meet a bride who didn't fall deeply in love with her wedding binder. Nadine's was silvery-gray to go with the old-time movie theme.
"In our conversations, you mentioned that you and David went to the movies on your first date."
"The Sing-Along Sound of Music," Nadine said. "David sang 'Edelweiss' to me on the way home in the taxi."
"Doesn't everyone die at the end of Rebel Without a Cause?" Sally asked. She didn't sound as if it were really a question, though. She uncrossed her legs and stood up before Jorie could answer.
"Sal Mineo's character dies, but he's meant to be a symbol of " She was losing them. "That's not the point anyway the point is "
Nadine clutched the strap of her purse to her chest. The corners of her eyes were red. Brides were always crying about something. Normally, Jorie would have offered her a tissue, but in this case, she didn't want to draw attention to the fact that she'd made Nadine cry. When a bride signed the contract, she and her mother both received a green leather, custom-designed envelope perfectly sized to hold a travel pack of tissues. Gloria Santana (September 2008, four hundred guests at the Widmere) had had the tissue envelope replicated as the favor for her shower guests. Tears and tissues were a big part of Jorie's business. The higher the tear count, the better.
Nadine's tears, however, were the wrong sort.
Jorie had been speaking, she realized, but now she couldn't remember what she'd been trying to say.
"Why did you think I'd want a wedding based on a movie where everyone dies?" Nadine asked. "My cousin Mira called you the wedding whisperer. Her wedding was beautiful, all springtime-in-Paris pastels and nothing about guns."
"I didn't mention guns," Jorie said. "It was just the theme, you know. Movies. We could pick a different movie. Gone With the Wind, maybe."
"That's a war movie!" Nadine said, turning to her mother. "What did David and I say that made her think of war? Is there something wrong with us?"
"You and David have perfectly lovely ideas," Sally said, patting her daughter's shoulder. "This isn't your fault."
"Everyone says you hire Jorie Burke because she can tell what you really want." Nadine's voice was rising now. "Does David want to shoot people?"
They had forgotten she was there. Just as well, probably.
Jorie held her smile until the Richfords disappeared through the revolving lobby doors, then she carefully closed the binder and slid it back into her black leather shoulder bag. Her brides never abandoned their wedding binders. Or cried the wrong kind of tears. Planning weddings used to be effortless. Coming up with this idea for Nadine and David had been nothing but hard work and it hadn't gotten her anywhere. She sat on the uncomfortable iron chair, splashed by the lucky fountain, and waited to see if she was going to cry. But the numbness that had settled on her when her mom died six months ago didn't seem to be affected by the impending collapse of her business.
Once she was certain she wasn't going to cry, she picked up her bag and crossed the lobby to the restroom, where she splashed water on her face and then checked her lipstick in the mirror. That was when she saw the spiky brown splotch that spread from just beneath the neckline of her gray, crepe-silk dress to the top of her left breast. It wasn't huge, but no one would miss it. She wet a paper towel, but even as she blotted the stain, she knew it was futilethe dress was ruined. She must have spilled her coffee on the way to her appointment. She'd been so preoccupied thinking about which of her outstanding bills she was going to clear with the Richfords' down payment that she hadn't even noticed. The mark had been there the entire time she'd been pitching the James Dean-themed wedding.
Two years ago, when her business had been growing faster than she could manage on her own, she'd had interns, a pair of sophisticated, romantic-minded college girls from Sweet Briar. She'd trained them to look perfect but unmemorablebrides liked their wedding planners to reflect their good taste, but they didn't like to be shown up by the help. Between the coffee stain and the fact that the wide, patent-leather belt around her waist was straining at the very last hole, she'd lost all of the image points she normally counted on during an interview. She turned sideways and ran a hand over her stomach. She'd put on weight. As much as she wished she could attribute the too-small belt to a dry cleaning accident, she knew where the blame for her expanding waistline lay. With her. Well, with her and cake. Only she and the Lord knew exactly how many slices of her friend Alice's cakes she'd consumed in the past few months. Jorie had always loved food, but since her mom died, she'd felt a desperate inability to get full, no matter how much she ate.
Chelsea Burke was probably rolling in her grave. Actually, knowing her mom, she was plotting some way to escape her grave so she could chide Jorie in person for letting herself go. Chelsea had loved to tell people, "The Burke women have always been thin." She never revealed that it wasn't genetics, but hard work, strict diets and, in her mom's case, occasional fasts, that helped maintain that image.
Jorie missed her mom. When she was little, Chelsea had moved them from city to city, searching for the next guy to support them and shelter them. They'd been a pair of chameleons, changing themselves to suit whatever guy her mom had chosen as her next possible Mr. Right. In a way it was ironic that Jorie had become a wedding planner. Building a career around the one great disappointment of her mom's life might seem twisted, but she was successful because she'd grown up with Chelsea Burke. She knew how much the idea of a wedding meant to the women who sought her out. The ones who were so desperate for the perfect day that they'd leave the planning to a stranger. She'd worked hard to make sure her brides had the wedding they'd dreamed of and she'd been successful. Until her mom died and she suddenly lost her ability to connect with anyone's wedding dreams.
She slid her lipstick into a small pocket in her leather bag and then checked that she had the binder for her next appointment, a cake tasting at Alice's bakery, where she would restrict herself to the tiniest bites possible. She may have lost her last client, but she had one more wedding to plan. She was marrying Cooper Murphy, younger brother of Senator Bailey Murphy. If her fairy-tale wedding to one of the most-desirable bachelors in Washington, D.C., couldn't put her business back on the map, she'd eat her own bouquet (blush-pink peonies, white heather and pale green hydrangea).
St. Helen's church wasn't open on weekdays. Vandalism and a skeleton staff in the parish office combined to limit the public hours. Cooper had explained to Father Chirwa that he wanted to sit in the church to write his wedding vows, and the priest had made an exception for him. If he'd been born in an earlier generation, maybe back in County Cavan before the first Murphy emigrated, they'd have said he had the gift of the gab. His brother was fond of telling people Cooper could talk Greenpeace into advocating for more whaling. Not that he would, but the potential was there.
He'd been alone in the church for two hours now. He was supposed to meet Jorie to choose their wedding cake in a little more than forty-five minutes. So far, he'd read the Stations of the Cross, lit a candle for his grandmother, said a prayer that the Nationals would find a starting pitcher and, if it wasn't too much, a center fielder who could both catch and hit. Then he'd decided that he shouldn't be praying about baseball so he'd lit another candle and prayed for peace and enlightenment and fortitude, because he'd always liked that word.
The pages of his notebook stayed stubbornly blank. He uncapped his favorite fountain pen and put a heading on the page. Wedding Vows. He jotted some words underneathlove, Jorie, wife, eternal and a curse word that he immediately crossed out and then apologized to God and the saints for. He took another turn around the perimeter of the church, the leather soles of his shoes making a lonely echo. When he got to the candle rack again he stopped, and this time he prayed for wisdom.
Writing the vows was his only job for the wedding and he couldn't even do that.
He slid into a pew and laid his notebook and pen down next to him. He looked at the altar; imagined himself up there, waiting for Jorie to walk down the aisle toward him. Of course, their wedding wasn't here in his home parish, but in the National Cathedral. The Wish Team, which had fulfilled Jorie's mom's wish by funding her daughter's dream wedding, had pulled strings to get the venue. Jorie was over the moon about decorating the cathedral. The exact setting didn't matter to Cooper. Soon enough, he'd be in a church, waiting for Jorie and minutes away from vowing to.something.
He leaned forward, resting his head in his hands.
The thing about marrying a wedding planner was that nothing was left to chance. Jorie had plans for every moment of the ceremony and the reception. She consulted him before making a decision because she was the kind of woman who thought men should be included in that stuff, but the wedding was really hers. Writing the vows was the only thing she'd moved permanently off her to-do list and onto his.
She said it was because he was the better writer. He'd been writing political speeches and ghostwriting op-ed pieces and thousands of other communications for close to ten years, so yeah, writing wedding vows was definitely something he should be able to do. The only trouble was well actually there were two problems. One, he was pretty damn sure she'd given him this job because she couldn't have done it herself. The reality was, she didn't know him, didn't really love him and hadn't ever really wanted to marry him. And number two, he was pretty sure he felt the same way.
Yeah. Those were the main issues and he had only himself to blame.