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Savannah Charles watched the young woman wandering around her bridal shop, checking prices and looking more discouraged by the moment. Her shoulders slumped and she bit her lip when she read the tag on the wedding gown she'd selected. She had excellent taste, Savannah noticed; the ivory silktaffeta dress was one of her own favorites. A pattern of lace and pearls swirled up the puffed sleeves and bodice.
"Can I help you?" Savannah asked, moving toward her. Startled, the woman turned. "I
It doesn't look like it. This dress is almost twice as much as my budget for the whole wedding. Are you Savannah?"
She smiled shyly. "Missy Gilbert told me about you. She said you're wonderful to work with and that you might be able to give Kurt and me some guidance. I'm Susan Davenport." She held out her hand and Savannah shook it, liking the girl immediately.
"When's your wedding?"
"In six weeks. Kurt and I are paying for it ourselves. His two younger brothers are still in college and his parents haven't got much to spare." Amusement turned up the corners of her mouth as she added, "Kurt's dad claims he's becoming poor by degrees."
Savannah smiled back. "What about your family?"
"There's only my brother and me. He's fifteen years older and, well
it isn't that he doesn't like Kurt. Because once you meet Kurt, it's impossible not to love him. He's kind and generous and interesting
Savannah was touched by Susan's eagerness to tell her about the man she wanted to marry.
"But Nashmy brotherdoesn't believe in marriage," the young woman went on to explain. "He's an attorney and he's worked on so many divorce cases over the years that he simply doesn't believe in it anymore. It doesn't help that he's divorced himself, although that was years and years ago."
"What's your budget?" Savannah asked. She'd planned weddings that went into six figures, but she was equally adept at finding reasonable alternatives. She walked back to her desk, limping on her right foot. It ached more this afternoon than usual. It always did when the humidity was this high.
Susan told her the figure she and Kurt had managed to set aside and Savannah frowned. It wasn't much, but she could work with it. She turned around and caught Susan staring at her. Savannah was accustomed to that kind of reaction to her limp, the result of a childhood accident. She generally wore pants, which disguised the scars and disfigurement, but her limp was always noticeable, and more so when she was tired. Until they knew her better, it seemed to disconcert people. Generally she ignored their hesitation and continued, hoping that her own acceptance would put them at ease.
"Even the least expensive wedding dresses would eat up the majority of the money we've worked so hard to save."
"You could always rent the dress," Savannah suggested.
"I could?" Her pretty blue eyes lit up when Savannah mentioned the rental fee.
"How many people are you inviting?"
"Sixtyseven," Susan told her, as if the number of guests had been painfully difficult to pare down. "Kurt and I can't afford more. Mostly it's his family
I don't think Nash will even come to the wedding." Her voice fell.
Despite never having met Susan's older brother, she already disliked him. Savannah couldn't imagine a brother refusing to attend his sister's wedding, no matter what his personal views on marriage happened to be.
"Kurt's from a large family. He has aunts and uncles and, I swear, at least a thousand cousins. We'd like to invite everyone, but we can't. The invitations alone will cost a fortune."
"Have you thought about making your own invitations?"
Susan shook her head. "I'm not very artsy."
"You don't need to be." Opening a drawer, Savannah brought out a book of calligraphy. "These are fairly simple and elegantlooking and they'll add a personal touch because they're individualized." She paused. "You'll find other ideas on the internet."
"These are beautiful. You honestly think I could do this?" She looked expectantly at Savannah.
"Without a doubt," Savannah answered with a smile.
"I wish I could talk some sense into Nash," Susan muttered, then squared her shoulders as if she was ready to take him on right that minute. "He's the only family I have. We've got aunts and uncles here and there, but no one we're close to, and Nash is being so unreasonable about this. I love Kurt and nothing's going to change the way I feel. I love his family, too. It can be lonely when you don't belong to someone. That's Nash's problem. He's forgotten what it's like to belong to someone. To be in a relationship."
Loneliness. Savannah was well acquainted with the feeling. All her life she'd felt alone. The little girl who couldn't run and play with friends. The teenage girl who never got asked to the prom. The woman who arranged the happiest days of other people's lives.
Loneliness. Savannah knew more than she wanted to about long days and longer nights.
"I'm sure your brother will change his mind," Savannah said reassuringlyeven though she wasn't sure at all.
Susan laughed. "That only goes to prove you don't know my brother. Once he's set on something, it takes an Act of Congress to persuade him otherwise."
Savannah spent the next hour with Susan, deciding on the details of both the wedding and the reception. With such a limited budget it was a challenge, but they did it.
"I can't believe we can do so much with so little," Susan said once they'd finished. Her face glowed with happiness. "A nice wedding doesn't mean as much to Kurt as it does to me, but he's willing to do whatever he can to make our day special."
Through the course of their conversation, Savannah learned that Kurt had graduated from the University of Washington with an engineering degree. He'd recently been hired by a California firm and had moved to the San Francisco area, where Susan would be joining him.
After defying her brother, Susan had moved in with Kurt's family, working parttime and saving every penny she could to help with the wedding expenses.
"I can hardly wait to talk to Kurt," Susan said excitedly as she gathered her purse and the notes she'd made. "I'll get back to you as soon as he's had a chance to go over the contract." Susan paused. "Missy was right. You are wonderful." She threw both arms around Savannah in an impulsive hug. "I'll be back as soon as I can and you can take the measurements for the dress." She cast a dreamy look toward the silkandtaffeta gown and sighed audibly. "Kurt's going to die when he sees me in that dress."
"You'll make a lovely bride."
"Thank you for everything," Susan said as she left the store.
"You're welcome." It was helping young women like Susan that Savannah enjoyed the most. The eager, happy ones who were so much in love they were willing to listen to their hearts no matter what the cost. Over the years, Savannah had worked with every kind of bride and she knew the signs. The Susans of this world were invariably a delight.
It was highly unlikely that Savannah would ever be married herself. Men were an enigma to her. Try as she might, she'd never been able to understand them. They invariably treated her differently than they did other women. Savannah assumed their attitude had to do with her damaged leg. Men either saw her as fragile, untouchable, because of it, or they viewed her as a buddy, a confidante. She supposed she should be flattered by the easy camaraderie they shared with her. They sought her advice, listened politely when she spoke, then did as they pleased.
Only a few men had seen her as a woman, a woman with dreams and desires of her own. But when it came to love, each of them had grown hesitant and afraid. Each relationship had ended awkwardly long before it had gotten close to serious.
Maybe that wasn't a fair assessment, Savannah mused sadly. Maybe it was her own attitude. She'd been terrified of ever falling in love. No matter how deeply she felt about a man, she was positive that her imperfection would come between them. It was safer to hold back, to cling to her pride than risk rejection and pain later on.
A week later, Susan came breezing through the door to Savannah's shop.
"Hello," she said, smiling broadly. "I talked to Kurt and he's as excited as I am." She withdrew a debit card from her purse. "I'd like to give you the down payment now. And I have the signed contract for you."
Savannah brought out her paperwork and Susan paid her. "My brother doesn't believe we'll be able to do it without his help, but he's wrong. We're going to have a beautiful wedding, with or without Nash, thanks to you."
This was what made Savannah's job so fulfilling. "I'll order what we need right away," she told Susan. Savannah only wished there was some way she could influence the young woman's unreasonable older brother.
She knew his typecynical, distrusting, pessimistic. A man who scoffed at love, who had no respect for marriage. How very sad. Despite her irritation with the faceless Nash, Savannah couldn't help feeling sorry for him. Whether or not he realized it, he was going to lose his sister.
There were just the two of them, so she didn't understand why Nash wouldn't support his sister in her decision. Luckily Susan had Kurt's parents. Undoubtedly this was something her brother hadn't counted on, either.
Susan left soon afterward. What remained of Savannah's day was busy. The summer months used to be her overburdened time, but that hadn't held true of late. Her services were booked equally throughout the year.
Around fivethirty, when Savannah was getting ready to close for the day, the bell chimed over her door, indicating someone had entered the shop. She looked up from her computer and found a tall, welldressed man standing by the doorway. It had started to rain lightly; he shook off the raindrops in his hair before he stepped farther inside. She saw him glance around and scowl, as if being in such a place was repugnant to him. Even before he spoke she knew he was Susan's brother. The family resemblance was striking.
"Hello," she said.
"Hello." He slid his hands in his pockets with a contemptuous frown. Apparently he feared that even being in this place where love and romance were honored would infect him with some dread disease. It must take a good deal of energy to maintain his cynicism, Savannah thought.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"No, thanks. I was just looking." He walked slowly through the shop. His expensive leather shoes made a tapping sound against the polished hardwood floor. She noticed that he took pains not to touch anything.
Savannah nearly laughed out loud when he passed a display of satin pillows, edged in French lace, that were meant to be carried by the ring bearer. He stepped around it, giving it a wide berth, then picked up one of her business cards from a brass holder on a small antique table.
"Are you Savannah Charles?" he asked.
"Yes," she replied evenly. "I am."
"Interesting shop you have here," he said dryly. Savannah had to admit she found him handsome in a rugged sort of way. His facial features were strong and welldefined. His mouth firm, his jaw square and stubbornly set. He walked in short, clipped steps, his impatience nearly palpable. Naturally, she might be altogether wrong and this could be someone other than Susan's brother. Savannah decided it was time to find out.
"Are you about to be married?"
"No," he said disgustedly.
"This seems like an unusual shop for you to browse through, then."
He smiled in her direction, acknowledging her shrewdness. "I believe you've been talking to my sister, Susan Davenport."
So Savannah had been right. This was Susan's hardnosed older brother. His attitude had been a dead giveaway. "Yes, Susan's been in."
"I take it she's decided to go through with this wedding nonsense, then?" He eyed her suspiciously as if to suggest his sister might have changed her mind except for Savannah's encouragement and support.
"It would be best if you discussed Susan's plans with her."
Nash clasped his hands behind his back. "I would if we were on speaking terms."
How he knew his sister was working with her, Savannah hadn't a clue. She didn't even want to know.
"So," he said conversationally, "exactly what do you do here?"
"I'm a wedding coordinator."
"Wedding coordinator," he repeated, sounding genuinely curious. He nodded for her to continue.
"Basically I organize the wedding for the bride and her family so they're free to enjoy this allimportant day."
"I see," he said. "You're the one who makes sure the flowers arrive at the church on time?"
"Something like that." His version oversimplified her role, but she didn't think he'd appreciate a detailed job description. After all, he wasn't interested in her, but in what he could learn about his sister and Kurt's plans.
He wandered about the shop some more, careful not to come into contact with any of the displays she'd so carefully arranged. He strolled past a lacecovered table with an elegant heartshaped guest book and plumed pen as if he were walking past a nest of vipers. Savannah couldn't help being amused.
"Susan hasn't got the money for a wedding," he announced. "At least, not one fancy enough to hire a coordinator."
"Again, this is something you need to discuss with your sister."
He didn't like her answer; that much was obvious from the way his mouth thinned and the irritation she saw in his eyes. They were the same intense blue as his sister's, but that was where the resemblance ended. Susan's eyes revealed her love and enthusiasm for life. Nash's revealed his disenchantment and skepticism. She finished up the last of her paperwork, ignoring him as much as she could.
"You're a babe in the woods, aren't you?"
"I beg your pardon?" Savannah said, looking up.
"You actually believe all this
"I certainly don't think of love and commitment as absurd, if that's what you mean, Mr. Davenport."
"Call me Nash."
"All right," she agreed reluctantly. In a few minutes she was going to show him the door. He hadn't bothered to disguise the purpose of his visit. He was trying to pump her for information and hadn't figured out yet that she refused to be placed in the middle between him and his sister.
"Did you ever stop to realize that over fifty percent of the couples who marry in this day and age end up divorcing?"
"I know the statistics."
He walked purposely toward her as if approaching a judge's bench, intent on proving his point. "Love is a lame excuse for marriage."
Since he was going to make it impossible for her to concentrate, she sat back on her stool and folded her arms. "What do you suggest couples do then, Mr. Davenport? Just live together?"
"Nash," he reminded her irritably. "And, yes, living together makes a lot more sense. If a man and woman are so hot for each other, I don't see any reason to muddy the relationship with legalities when a weekend in bed would simplify everything."