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Poppy Sullivan still couldn't believe Jamie, one of her oldest and dearest friends, was getting married in a week. She glanced at the pink-striped wedding invitation sitting on the passenger seat of her car and swallowed the concern souring on her tongue.
Mr. and Mrs. Clive Burnham request the pleasure of your company at the marriage of their daughter Emmy Bianca to
Mr. James Cartwright son of Georgia Cartwright on Saturday 29th June at five o'clock Goldfinch Estate Winery Naramata, BC
The information had been emblazoned on her brain for six weeks. From the moment she'd received the invitation and the sparkling hearts inside the envelope had spilled across her beautiful walnut floors, clashing with her cream decor.
Poppy still hadn't found them all. One had been grinning at her, as much as an inanimate and juvenile cutout could grin, just this morning when she stumbled toward the kitchen for her first cup of coffee. She knew more lurked, hidden and waiting for the right breeze to waft in and blow them out. She wasn't about to let them haunt her. Just as she wasn't about to let a mistake haunt Jamie for the rest of his life.
She pressed the gas pedal harder and watched her speed climb. She didn't get to drive often in Vancouver, living close enough to her office to walk, so she enjoyed every opportunity she got to take her little blue convertible out. But today she didn't appreciate it quite so much. Wind fun-neled through the open window, making her russet hair pop and snap like an angry bonfire.
Jamie and his fiancée, Emmy, had only known each other two months. Hardly long enough to make parental introductions, and who in their right mind decided to get married after eight weeks? It was ludicrous. And Poppy should know. She'd only dated her last boyfriend for a month before they decided to move in together. And look how that turned out.
Not that Poppy'd been able to talk to Jamie about her concerns over his rushing into marriage. No, because whenever she called Jamie, Emmy was with him whispering in the background or giggling and telling Poppy how she couldn't wait to meet in person. And Poppy refused to tell him through email. This was a serious matter and deserved a face-to-face conversation.
Her fingers tightened on the wheel. Time was officially running out. She had only eight days left to find a way to stop the madness.
It took her longer than anticipated to get to Naramata, BC, the small town where she'd grown up and her parents and older sister still called home. Poppy blamed the out-of-towners who flooded the community during the summer months, tripling the population between June and September. They clogged up the roads driving either too slowfearful of the twisty, mountainous routeor too fast, flying into the curves indifferent to the oncoming traffic and thousand-foot drop-offs.
She'd left Vancouver before noon, refraining from stopping by the offices of her event planning business and limiting herself to checking email only. But by the time she pulled into her parents' driveway, she had less than an hour before they were due at a welcome barbecue being held at Jamie's boutique winery. All wedding guests had been invited, which was pretty much everyone who had ever called Naramata home.
"Poppy, sweetheart." Rose Sullivan came barreling out of the house, her arms wide, and practically knocked Poppy back into the driver's seat when she reached her. "What took you so long? We expected you an hour ago."
"I know." Poppy had planned her route down to the last detail. Almost. "I forgot how bad vacation traffic is on a Friday." Apparently, half of Vancouver had headed for the area to spend the weekend lounging by the lake or touring the many wineries in the region.
Her dad, Bob, stood stoically behind, waiting until her mom finished fussing before giving her one of his famous bear hugs that squeezed out any breath left in her lungs, but Poppy didn't mind. She inhaled deeply, enjoying the pleasure of being back with her family even if just for a week.
"Can I get you a drink?" Rose put an arm around her as she ushered her inside. "You look warm."
Poppy was warm. The interior of the province ran much hotter and drier than the coast. "No, I need to grab my bags and a quick shower though." She hugged her mom again. They didn't see each other enough living so far apart. They kept in touch through regular phone calls and emails, but neither took the place of in-person contact.
"Your dad will get the bags," her mom said. Poppy glanced behind and found her father already dragging her golf clubs and the three full-size suitcases from the trunk. "Let's sit down for a minute and catch up."
Poppy would love to put her feet up and hash over everything in their lives, but she refused to show up at the barbecue with hair that looked as if she had been through a hurricane and mascara that had become a smeary mess on her cheeks. Unless the only thing she wanted to convince Jamie of was that she had turned feral.
She managed to extricate herself after another long hug. "Tomorrow morning, okay?"
"All right. I guess I should get ready for the barbecue, too." Her mother embraced her again. "It's so good to have you home."
It was good to be back.
Poppy's old bedroom was on the second level and hadn't changed much in the twelve years since she'd graduated high school and left for university in Vancouver. The walls were still a pale green and the prints were the same black-and-white botanicals she'd picked out when she turned thirteen. She wished she could flop down on her old double bed and rest for a moment. It might not be as comfy as her king-size bed with its four-hundred-thread-count linens in the city, but she'd appreciate the respite. Plus, the room seemed deliciously cool thanks to the air-conditioning.
But duty called.
She didn't have time to wash and blow-dry her hair, so she twisted it into a heavy knot on top of her head to keep it from getting wet and stepped in the shower. She stayed under the spray long enough to strip the tension from her muscles from the drive and then a few minutes more. By the time she flicked off the water, she felt much improved.
She decided to leave her hair down, letting it frame her face with its natural waves. Poppy had learned a long time ago not to fight her hair. It was too thick and bouncy to fall into one of those sleek, stylish cuts. And when she'd tried coloring it in her youthonce blond and once a disastrous black that had left little patches of dark all along her hairlineshe'd looked like death. So she worked with what she had. Though there were still days she wished she'd inherited her father's straight brown hair, she'd come to appreciate that not everyone had hair like hers.
She returned to her bedroom, discovered the suitcases on the bed and rooted through until she found the one holding her outfit for tonight. The dress was a tight, cap-sleeve, bandage style in dark blue that made her feel sexy and just a little naughty, even though the hem came almost to her knee and the neckline only hinted at the faux boobs her amazing underwire bra created. Wynn had whistled when she'd shown him. And as her best friend, business partner and gay man about town, he would know if it was worthy of a whistle or two.
A quick glance at the clock told her she had five minutes before her mother started making noises that the bus was leaving. No time to bother with much makeup. But since it would be hot outside until the sun dipped behind the mountains about three hours from now, and Poppy had zero interest in running to the bathroom every two seconds to make sure her face hadn't melted off, she didn't mind. She only put on concealer to hide the circles under her eyes from the late nights at work this week, a touch of blush and a couple coats of mascara.
Satisfied she no longer looked as if she'd been living in the forest subsisting on nuts and berries for the last year, she tucked her lip balm and face powder inside a gold clutch, grabbed a pair of matching gold sandals and headed downstairs.
There was a wedding to call off and no time to waste.
Beck Lefebvre stood at the edge of Jamie's lawn, which was covered in a blanket of pink flower petals, and frowned. He did not want to be at this wedding barbecue welcome or whatever Jamie called it. There were things to do at the office. Important things, like the delicate deal he was in the midst of finalizing, and now had to manage by phone and email. The Lefebvre Group owned five hotels and would be adding their sixth next month under Beck's guidance. Not that his mother had cared when he'd explained it to her.
Instead of realizing Beck couldn't just up and leave Seattle to come to Naramata for a week of wedding celebration for his cousin Jamie, she'd told him as best man he was expected to be in attendance and had laid down one hell of a guilt trip.
As if he needed another reason to avoid family entanglements.
Besides the flowers scattered across the yard, bunches of some filmy white material lay draped over everything that was stationary, including the rows of grapes surrounding the back lawn. A small wooden floor covered the pool and a band in the corner played a mixture of seventies rock and classical music. They wore matching tuxes and had a sash strung over the drum kit proclaiming congratulations to the happy couple. The whole thing was sickeningly sweet. Like Barbie's Dream Wedding, which Emmy would probably consider a compliment.
Though scarcely past six, the party was in full swing. Jamie told him things started early here, where people farmed for a living and rose with the sun. Beck recognized no one, but that didn't come as much of a surprise, considering he hadn't been back for more than ten years.
He was working on finishing his first Laphroaig when his mother hunted him down. He should have seen her coming or heard the sound of her heels, but he'd been entertaining himself by calculating how many parquet squares were on the dance floor and wondering how long he had to stay before he could leave Jamie's winery located on the bluff and return to the family compound by the lake.
"Beck, darling. What are you doing over here?" Victoria Antonia Lefebvre Jackman Hastings smiled at her only child and reached up to lay a hand on his arm.
"Having a drink." Beck showed off his scotch, which offered the bonus effect of knocking her hand loose.
Hurt flashed in her blue eyes, but her voice remained friendly. "I meant, why are you standing over here like a lump instead of mingling?"
"It's not my party." Beck refused to feel bad. Just because she wanted to pretend they were one big happy family didn't mean he had to play along.
"You're the best man."
"I'm here, aren't I?" He turned from her, pretending interest in the scene before them. He spotted Jamie in a white suit, the counterpoint to his own charcoal one, just as Jamie was blond and kind and all things sugar and light, while he was dark and not so kindall the better not to get run over in business. Beck doubted anyone ever referred to him as sweet.
"A wedding is a big moment in a person's life. Jamie needs you."
"Jamie is doing just fine." Shouldn't it be enough that he'd shown up a week before the main event?
"He's fine." Beck double-checked to make sure. Jamie stood with his arm around Emmy, who wore a light pink dress and shoes with matching pink polka dots. He knew because she'd pointed them out to him at the start of the night. "He doesn't need me."
Victoria tilted her head to meet his eyes. Beck stared back.
"All right." She sighed, her perfect blond bob swinging. "I've arranged for us to have brunch on Sunday with Emmy and her family. You're expected at eleven."
"Joyous." Beck couldn't wait to spend even more time with his twice-divorced parents, aunt, cousin and his soon-to-be in-laws.
"It's Jamie's wedding, Beck. You have duties."
"Yes, and I've already planned the bachelor party." A tame one, with no strippers, as requested by the groom. This Wednesday, there'd be golfing followed by dinner and drinks. As far as Beck was concerned, the only other thing he had to do was show up to the wedding on time and in his tux.
"Well, consider this brunch another duty. This is our way of welcoming Emmy into our family. Grace will be there."
Beck kept his face bland. Grace was Emmy's younger sister, and for some reason his mother had decided they'd make a good match. As if he needed a blonder, sillier version of his cousin's fiancée in his life. "I'm sure she'll appreciate your company."
The hopeful light in Victoria's eyes dimmed. "Beck." She laid a hand on his arm again. "I expect you to arrive on time and be polite."
This time he waited before shrugging it off, then swallowed some of the melted ice from his glass to wash away the bitterness on his tongue. "Aren't I always on time and polite?"
"No." Her hand hovered, before she let it fall to her side without touching him. "But I have faith that one day things will change."
Beck couldn't return her smile. He didn't think he could manage the pretense of the friendly, functional relationship she pretended they had.
"Has your father mentioned the potential build he's considering up here?"
Beck frowned. "Since when do you and Dad talk?" They'd divorced for the second time just after Beck's eighteenth birthday. As far as he knew, that had been the last of their contact.
She didn't reply immediately. He started to get a bad feeling. One that increased when a telltale blush colored her cheeks.
"Oh, Christ." He should have realized something was going on when she'd insisted he stay at the family property this week. Where all three of them were staying. At least he was in the guesthouse and not trapped under the same roof as them. "Are you two getting back together again?"
He did not want to be roped into another wedding.
Victoria maintained her silence, accepting a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and sipping. To the outside eye, she appeared cool and elegant. Simply a woman enjoying a refreshing beverage at her nephew's engagement party.
Beck knew better. His stomach turned at the thought of yet another parental reunion. Did they think marriage was a game? To be played like baseball where it took three strikes to be out? His skin began to itch under the expensive suit and he looked for an exit strategy. Something to say, somewhere to go so he didn't have to hear about the latest chapter of Victoria and Harrison Lefebvre's love story.
"I didn't mean to upset you."
"I'm not upset," he fibbed, hoping to encourage her to move along.
"You're pale." She raised a hand to his cheek.
He brushed away her fingers. "I'm fine." Or he would be as soon as he downed another scotch or twelve.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." He forced a smile.