New York City stylist Poppy Kaminsky knows that image is everything, which is why she’s so devastated when hers is trashed on social media—after a very public meltdown over her cheating fiancé. Her best friend’s New Orleans society wedding gives her the chance hide out and lick her wounds...
Brandon Boudreaux is in no mood to party. His multi-million dollar sailboat business is in danger of sinking thanks to his partner’s sudden disappearance—with the company’s funds. And when he rolls up to his estranged brother’s pre-wedding bash in an airboat, a cold-as-ice friend of the bride looks at him like he’s so much swamp trash.
The last person Poppy should get involved with is the bad boy of the Boudreaux family. But they have more in common than she could ever imagine—and the steamy, sultry New Orleans nights are about to show her how fun letting loose can be…
“New Orleans serves as a strong supporting character in Fully Dressed as Krotow gives an inside view on the sights, sounds, and tastes of the bayou.” —RT Book Reviews
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Poppy Amberlin Kaminsky had never been so happy to hear her real name, no matter that she'd spent the last eight hours and had taken a taxi, train, and plane to do so. All to get to a place she swore she'd never come back to after a spring break visit almost a decade ago.
It was hard to tell whether the New Orleans' bayou air or her best friend's cloud of Kate Spade Live Colorfully perfume embraced her first, but once crushed against the familiar curvaceous figure of Sonja Brisco, her college bestie, it didn't matter. Poppy meant to give the bride-to-be a reassuring, "glad to see you" hug, but instead ended up holding on for dear life. Tears shoved past her carefully made-up eyes, threatening to drip off her lash extensions. They were the only part of her previous life that she'd kept.
Sonja pulled back and stared. "Let me get a good look at you. What the hell did you do to your hair?"
Sonja's expression reflected the shock Poppy had also experienced at her first glance of her new do. Gone was her — or rather, Amber's — signature sleek brunette bob. Her wild waves were back, as was her honey-blond ombré, albeit with a little more brass. She self-consciously reached for her bleached locks. "It's part of my getaway disguise." As was the huge pair of sunglasses she'd worn from New York City to Louisiana, which had worked since she'd garnered minimal attention on her flight. An unusual event for Poppy after being publicly dumped and Twitter-shamed by her ex-boyfriend. "Ex" as in I want to draw an X across his face every time I see it. "It's my real color, so at least the roots will grow out with no issue."
"Aw, boo." Sonja lifted the shades from Poppy's nose as she uttered the Cajun endearment and Poppy wanted to weep with the relief of having the one person who really knew her — who got who she was, who she'd been, how far she'd come — look into her eyes and smile with no judgment. "That rat-ass did a number on you, didn't he?"
Poppy shrugged. "Screw him. That's history, baby. Two months and twelve hundred miles away. I'm here, and you're getting married!" They both squealed and hugged, hopping around as if they were still college roommates with big dreams in front of them. Intact dreams that weren't shattered in skin-piercing shards about their feet, as were Poppy's.
"I can't wait for you to meet Henry." Sonja gushed as she opened the hatch of her BMW SUV and reached for Poppy's tote. "And he can't wait to meet you."
Poppy put her sunglasses back on and took in the upgraded Sonja. Gone was the straightened shoulder-length hair of their college days, replaced with a sexy soft afro. Lustrous pearl drop earrings glistened in Sonja's ears. No more flip-flops but designer wedge sandals. Sandals that matched her thousand-dollar bag.
"What?" Sonja didn't miss a beat. "Oh, these old things?" She posed like the magazine model she resembled but after a split second bent over in laughter, her smile flashing as honest and warm as it had ever been. "Poppy, you look like you can't believe it. A nice paycheck and fancy clothes aren't exclusive to New York City."
"Did I ever say they were?"
"You don't have to. Hell, I've been trying to get you here for years and I had to go and get knocked up and married before you showed."
Poppy's stomach flipped. "You're pregnant?"
"Surprise!" Sonja threw her arms up in a big V, joy radiating from every inch of her curvy frame. Which was about to grow rounder. "But it's going to have to be our secret. It's super early, but I have all the signs and symptoms. I'm waiting until our wedding night to tell Henry. That man is always surprising me, spoiling me, and I want to be able to do it for him, just once." Sonja's eyes sparkled the way Poppy had once dreamed hers would. Once she was married and having Will's babies.
"How exciting!" Her response sounded so lame even to her own ears. It wasn't Sonja's fault that Poppy had planned to be pregnant with her own baby by now, after having her own spectacular wedding on Will's yacht as it cruised Long Island Sound. She decided on the spot to save her pity party for later. This weekend her wounds had to remain in her room, away from Sonja and the gazillions of Louisianans she was about to meet. She hadn't packed mini-bottles of Maker's Mark and a two-pound bag of Hershey's Kisses for nothing. Although as the heat was already weighing in on her, she'd be lucky if the chocolate drops weren't all mush.
Brushing her ruminations aside, Poppy leaned forward and gave Sonja a solid kiss on the cheek, seriously happy for her friend. And for herself — it was a relief to close the door on her sad life for the next few days. "We have a lot of catching up to do. I know it's your big weekend, and that we can't do it all now, but I have to tell you I'm so thrilled to be here with you, and happy that you've found your soul mate."
Sonja laughed and gave her another quick hug before she hustled them both into the car and drove away from the New Orleans airport.
"How much of this do you remember from freshman spring break?" Sonja spoke loudly, as she had the sunroof open and the windows halfway down. The tropical air that blew against Poppy's face was a balm after the chill that remained in New York's still-slumbering spring.
"I remember that" — Poppy pointed at the Superdome as they sped by it — "and I remember it being a lot muggier than it is right now."
"It's supposed to get ugly by Saturday, but I'm hoping the rain stays away at least until Sunday. All I'm asking is for the wedding to go off smoothly and for Henry and I to get out of here for our honeymoon."
Poppy nodded, not wanting to share that the weather app on her phone predicted rain in a big way starting tomorrow, early. Before the rehearsal dinner. "The ceremony's all inside, right?"
"Of course. Henry's from a long line of Catholics — they wouldn't be happy with anything but a full-on Mass. They wanted it at Our Lady of the Rosary downtown. It's where Henry's little sister went to school, so they have ties there. But we ended up picking St. Louis Cathedral. We love the history of it."
"Our Lady help of what?" Poppy had been raised in a Polish Catholic enclave of Western New York and her own parish had been Our Lady Help of Christians but she couldn't help teasing Sonja, the professed agnostic.
Sonja laughed. "You haven't changed one bit. Don't even try to tell me that you're not the same girl I met in college."
"Okay, I won't." It wasn't the weekend to tell Sonja that any belief in something greater than herself had sailed away with Will's humiliating betrayal.
"Where do you live again? I know you said it was outside of the city but not far from the French Quarter. Is it near where you grew up?" New Orleans was behind them and they appeared to be following signs for the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.
"Did you even read the invitation, Poppy?" Sonja softened her sharp query with a wide grin.
"I did." And promptly forgot the details, as her life had been entrenched in trying to put a positive spin on the bad press over her broken engagement. Broken engagement, hell. More like the most obscene, humiliating dump by a man ever. Her entire professional reputation had been sunk by the painful breakup from Will. The Twitter and Instagram shaming had taken off after Poppy's very public Plaza meltdown in front of Will's family. She'd appeared every part the screaming banshee she still felt like.
"Well, I know you're a busy gal. I used to think I was, too, but then I met Henry, and now we're having a baby, and we've been planning the wedding for over a year...." Sonja changed lanes to avoid a trailer hauling what appeared to be a load of empty cages. "Let's just say I didn't know what 'busy' meant." Sonja's profile hadn't changed, nor had her effusive warmth and positive energy. She'd always been the bubbly one in their relationship, while Poppy was more deliberate and definitely less talkative. Sonja always seemed so much more certain of herself. Of life.
Poppy looked out her passenger window. Of course Sonja was grounded and happy. Most twenty-eight-year-olds had a good idea of where they wanted their life to go, right?
Except Poppy. Whoa. Pity party is later.
Sonja playfully tapped her thigh. "Listen up. Our new home, where you're going to house-sit, is in the little town of Millersville. It's nothing like where I'm from, closer to the city. My parents are still in a bit of shock that someone from New Orleans society has asked me to marry him, and Henry's parents are, well, coming around. Let's just say this isn't New York City, right?" Sonja tapped her long fingers on the steering wheel. Poppy sensed there was more emotion under Sonja's casual demeanor. "Our house is huge, on the river, and it's spectacular if I do say so myself. Roomy, with a huge deck to enjoy the water view. We even have a small guest cottage. But you'll stay in the main house, of course. You're going to love the greenery after all that concrete." Sonja and Henry were both attorneys for the generations-old Southern law firm owned by Henry's family. It's how they'd met, when Henry's father had hired her.
"So things are still going well with the firm? No conflicts of interest with Henry's family?"
"It's his parents that have issues with our marriage, and they're all calmed down for the time being. By that I mean they haven't requested any more meetings with us, to try to persuade us differently. And they're not totally awful people, if you ignore the 'Henry's marrying a black girl from the bayou' 'tude." Sonja adjusted her sunglasses and pursed her lips. "I hate seeing him so torn up about this. They've given him such a hard time over marrying me. As if I'd sully their good family name. It's the god damn twenty-first century."
"From what you've told me, Henry's family is very old school."
"Say it like you mean it, girl. You mean 'bigots with old money' and they sure are careful about anyone who gets close to it! Hiring me was one thing; my résumé speaks for itself. I made them look as if they were diversifying the partners by hiring a black woman who wasn't family, and I wasn't a threat to the family bank account or gene pool. They put me in the New Orleans office, of course, far from where his father runs the offices in Baton Rouge. But having their son fall in love with me? Another thing entirely. This wasn't part of their equal opportunity plan."
"But they've decided to come to the wedding and are supporting you both now, right?"
Sonja stayed silent for several minutes. Poppy waited, knowing that her friend was trying to keep a positive spin on the ugly circumstance. "Let's hope so. It's either that or look like the asses they are. They're often in print in the society pages. I'm betting they'll show, at least for the professional photographs." Sonja's smirk forced a quick laugh from Poppy. Laughter. Not something she'd been doing much of.
"Doesn't sound much different than New York. The high society part, I mean." The sun was healing on her nape as the rays reached through the open sunroof.
"Trust me, when it comes to high society, they're all the same. Not the bigoted part, necessarily." Sonja made a lane change and gratitude washed over Poppy in a brilliant wave of nostalgia. Sonja was every bit the open, honest young woman she'd been years ago. "Enough about the wedding drama. I don't want to spend our precious time together talking about Henry's parents. Are you still sure you can stay here for the full two weeks to house-sit?"
"Are you kidding me? You've seen the latest on my Instagram and Twitter accounts, right? Before I shut them down, that is. I can't go back to New York, not yet. You're doing me the favor by giving me a safe place to catch my breath. I have a lot to work on, with the new Attitude by Amber deal." Poppy was excited to have Sonja and Henry's waterfront home to escape to. No paparazzi, no constant stream of Instagram pics of her at her worst moments. Leaving the gym with her consolatory Ben & Jerry's nights displayed prominently in the width of her ass, walking in or out of her apartment with that awful pinched look on her face that she felt down to her toes.
"I am so thrilled for you, Poppy. I read that they're saying you're the new Nate Berkus. This is so incredible! My college roommate, the country's darling stylist. I'm so proud of you for landing this deal with what, every single most successful department store in the country? You're on the brink of being a gazillionaire. You know that, right?" The money wouldn't be in her accounts until the actual launch of her custom line of clothing, furniture, and home accessories. With her personal stylist business accounts frozen, she was feeling more than vulnerable, financially. But Sonja didn't need to know about Poppy's money woes. "I'm lucky, yes. But after a while, how much does anyone really need?"
Sonja's smile disappeared and she gave Poppy one of her classic "don't bullshit me" looks. "Let's get real, honey. As in, how are you really doing, Poppy? You've sounded better on the phone this past week, but I can't say you're looking your best." Sonja was right; she had felt better this week. Until the last round of tweets from Will. And the threatening private texts from her former assistant, Tori. Nothing she was going to talk to Sonja about now, during Sonja's wedding weekend. No ma'am.
"Thanks a lot! I don't have much makeup on, and I'm a little tired. Things are better. I'm better. Really."
"Is that so?" Sonja frowned. "Remember me, Poppy? The one who knows you better than anyone else?"
"Yes, you do, and you're right — this has been hard. But I'm doing a lot better. Sure, the pyscho tweets and photos suck but it's not about me. I'm not the crazy one here." It was never about her, even when she and Will had been together. That was what probably hurt the most. Not disappointment in herself that she'd broken her own personal ethics code and dated a client, nor that she'd believed what she'd seen too many women fall for: that she'd be the one to change him. That Will Callis, billionaire entrepreneur and famous playboy, would stop whoring around and settle down for one woman. Her.
She'd been partially right. Because Will had changed and settled down, but not with her. The new and improved Will was on this very same weekend marrying her former personal assistant, a twenty-one-year-old college intern. Who was five months pregnant with his child.
Will had been screwing around on her for more than half of their engagement, at a minimum.
"So what will you do? When you go back to New York?"
Poppy watched the water that surrounded the causeway, finding the deep shade of blue soothing. "I'll become the goddess of American style. It'll be a full-time job running Attitude by Amber. I never have to style another person again if I don't want to." She ignored the New York City part. Of course she'd go back to New York. It was where she belonged.
"Oh, Poppy. I hope you mean it. I never thought being a personal stylist was the best job for you. You're too smart to just cater to other people. And Will wasn't the guy for you, sugar."
"Sounds like you've been talking to my family again." Poppy's mother and sister had at first resented that she'd made it out of their downtrodden suburb, away from their sorry family drama, and made a name for herself. Until they realized her earnings could be their ticket out, too. Her mother had been vociferous about her suspicions that Poppy had somehow bought her engagement to Will. Why would he want a girl like her, after all?
"I beg your pardon. I'd never sound like them."
"No, you won't, and you don't. I'm sorry, Sonja. It's just that they've always thought Will was crazy to date me, and wondered what he saw in me."
"Poppy Kaminsky. I never want to hear that out of your mouth again. Will is a lying no-good bastard. You deserve better, so much better. And why are you taking any kind of relationship advice from your family?"
Because even though she'd survived her upbringing and against all odds made it into the big-time, a happily-ever-after love wasn't in the cards for Poppy. She was just like her mother and sister, and grandmother and aunt, and all the women in her family. They didn't find true love with the men in their lives. Birds flew, bees buzzed, and men left.
Poppy had outrun the poverty of her childhood, the struggles of a fatherless family. And ran headfirst into the wall that derailed all of the Kaminsky women.
Men liked Poppy; they might even love her at times. But men didn't stick around in her life. Poppy wasn't a woman men gave everything up for.
Excerpted from "Fully Dressed"
Copyright © 2018 Geri Krotow.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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