Bed of roses, p.5

Bed of Roses, page 5

 part  #2 of  Bride Quartet Series

 

Bed of Roses


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CHAPTER FOUR

 

  AT TWO FIFTEEN ON SATURDAY, EMMA HAD HER TROOPS LINED up to transform the event rooms from the cheerful Caribbean themed daytime wedding into what she privately thought of as the Paris Explodes event.

  "Everything goes. " Emma rolled to the toes of her move fast sneakers. "The bride wants all the remaining baskets, vases, centerpieces. We'll help them load up whatever hasn't already been given to guests. Beach and Tiffany, strip the garlands and swags, inside and out. Start with the portico, then move inside. Tink, you and I will start the changeover in the Grand Hall. When the portico's ready to be dressed, let me know. The bride's and groom's suites have already been changed over. New bride's due at three thirty for hair, makeup, dressing, and photos in her suite. We need the entrance, foyer, staircase complete by three twenty, and the Grand Hall complete by four. Terraces, pergola, and patios by four forty-five, Ballroom complete by five forty five. If you need extra hands get me or Parker. Let's do this. "

  With Tink beside her, Emma shot off like a bullet. Tink, she knew, was reliable when she wanted to be - which was about seventy-five percent of the time. But Emma only had to show her or explain something to her once. She was a talented florist, again when she wanted to be. And was, to Emma's mind, almost spookily strong.

  Tiny and toned, her wildly chopped boot-black hair liberally streaked with cotton-candy pink for spring, Tink attacked the mantel dressing like a whirlwind.

  They stripped, boxed, dragged, hefted, and hauled candles of mango orange and surf white, garlands of bougainvillaea, pots of ferns and palm trees.

  Tink snapped the gum she was never without and wrinkled her nose so the silver hoop in it glinted. "If you're going to want palm trees and shit, why don't you just go to the beach?"

  "If they did, we wouldn't get paid to create the beach. "

  "Good point. "

  When she got the signal, Emma deserted the hall for the portico. She twined and draped and swagged miles of white tulle, acres of white roses to create a regal entryway for the bride and her guests. Colorful pots of hibiscus and orchids made way for enormous white urns filled with a forest of lilacs.

  "Bride and Groom One and all guests checked out," Parker told her. She stood in her simple gray suit, her BlackBerry in one hand, her beeper hooked to her pocket, and her earbud dangling. "My God, Emma, this looks amazing. "

  "Yeah, it's coming along. She balked on the lilacs - too simple a flower, according to Monster Bride, but I found a picture that convinced her. " She stepped back, nodded. "Okay, yeah. Excellent. "

  "She's due in twenty. "

  "We'll make it. "

  Emma hustled inside to where Tink and Tiffany worked on the staircase. More tulle, more white roses, these twined with fairy lights, with long swags of roses dripping down every ten inches. Perfect.

  "Okay, Beach, entry and gift table arrangements. We can haul over the first of the Grand Hall pieces, too. "

  "I can get you Carter. " Parker tapped her beeper. "I drafted him to help in the Ballroom, but I can spare him. "

  "Handy to have Mac hooked with a strong, willing back. I'll take him. "

  With the gangly Carter and her fireplug Beach, Emma transported pots, vases, baskets, greenery, garland, swags, and candles.

  "MB's pulling in. " Parker's voice sounded through Emma's headset and made her snort. Monster Bride. She put the finishing touches on the mantel, lush with white and silver candles, white roses, and lavender lisianthus, before making the dash to wade into the outdoor arrangements. She set more lilacs in more urns, muscled enormous silver baskets filled with calla lilies in eggplant and snowy white, hung cones of flowers dripping with silver ribbon on the white-draped aisle chairs, and guzzled water like a dying woman.

  "Man, is this the best you can do?"

  Rubbing the aching small of her back, Emma turned to Jack.

  He stood, hands in the pockets of a gorgeous gray suit jacket, eyes shaded against the beaming sunlight by Oakleys.

  "Well, she wanted simple. "

  He laughed, shook his head. "It looks amazing, and somehow elaborately French. "

  "Yes. " She pointed a finger at him. "Exactly my plan. Wait!" Panic leaped in her chest like a terrier after a bone. "What are you doing here? What time is it? We can't be that far behind. Parker would - " She broke off as she checked her watch. "Oh, thank God. You're really early. "

  "Yeah. Parker mentioned to Del since I was coming, maybe I could make it early and pitch in. So I'm here to pitch. "

  "Come with me. Tink! I need to get the bouquets. Finish up - ten minutes - then start on the Ballroom. "

  "On it. "

  "You can help me load. I'm heading over to get them now," she said into her headset. "Oh, slip a Xanax in her champagne, Parker. I can't move any faster. Ten minutes. Have Mac stall her. "

  Moving at a jog now, she reached the van she used for transport, then jumped behind the wheel.

  "Do you do that often?" Jack asked her. "Drug the bride?"

  "We never do it, but we want to with some of them. And really, we'd be doing everyone a favor. This one wants her bouquet and she wants it now because if she doesn't love it, there's going to be hell to pay. Laurel breezed by earlier and told me Mac told her the MB made her hairdresser cry and had a fight with her MOH. Parker smoothed it out, of course. "

  "MB?"

  "Think about it," Emma suggested, and jumped out of the van to dash into her workshop. He did as he followed her inside. "Mean Bitch. Monster Bitch. No, Monster Bride. "

  "Ding, ding, ding. " She hauled open the door of her cooler. "Everything on the right goes. One rose cascade bouquet, twelve, count them twelve, attendant bouquets. " She tapped one of the boxes. "Do you know what this is?"

  "A bouquet. A purplish sort of thing. Pretty cool looking, actually. I've never seen anything like it. "

  "It's kale. "

  "Get out. "

  "Ornamental kale, variegated purple and green. Bride's colors are purple and silver. We've used a lot of silver accents and tones from pale orchid to deep eggplant, with lots of white and green in the arrangements. "

  "Son of a bitch. Cabbage bouquets. You didn't tell her what it is. "

  "Only after I made her fall in love with it. Okay, bouquets, corsages, boutonnieres, both the pomanders - she has two flower girls, two halos of white roses and lavender, and holding vases. Check, check, double check. Let's load them up. "

  "Do you ever get sick of flowers?" he asked her as they carried boxed bouquets.

  "Absolutely not. Do you smell that lavender? Those roses?"

  "Impossible not to, under the circumstances. So, a guy's taking you out. First date or some special deal, and he brings you flowers. You're not like: Oh, flowers. Great. "

  "I'd think he was very thoughtful. God, every muscle in my body is begging for a glass of wine and a hot bath. " She stretched her back when Jack closed the cargo doors. "Okay, let's go knock the MB's socks off. Oh wait. Your jacket. The one you lent me. It's inside. "

  "I'll get it later. So, did she get one more rose than her friend?"

  Emma blanked for a moment, then remembered telling him about the bouquets. "Ten more. She'll bow to me before I'm done with her. Yes, Parker, yes, I'm on my way. " Even as she spoke, her beeper sounded. "Now what? Can you read that? I can't get to it while I'm driving. It's hooked to my skirt, right under the jacket on your side. "

  He lifted the hem of the jacket, and his fingers brushed her skin just above her waist as he tilted the beeper. She thought, uh-oh, and kept her eyes straight ahead.

  "It says DTMB! Mac. "

  "DTMB?" His knuckles continued to rest there, just above her waist. Very distracting. "Ah . . . Death to Monster Bride. "

  "Any answer? Suggestions on the method maybe?"

  She managed a smile. "Not at this time. Thanks. "

  "Nice jacket," he said and smoothed it back into place.

  She stopped
in front of the house. "If you help me haul all this up, I won't tell Parker or give you grief when you sneak off to the Grand Hall for a beer before the wedding. "

  "That's a deal. "

  With her, he carried boxes into the foyer. He stopped a moment, took a survey. "You do good work. If she doesn't bow to you, she's a bigger idiot than I already think she is. "

  "Shh!" She stifled a laugh, rolled her eyes. "You don't know who's wandering around from the immediate family or wedding party at this stage. "

  "She knows I can't stand her. I told her. "

  "Oh, Jack. " She did laugh now as she hurried up the steps. "Don't do or say anything to set her off. Consider the Wrath of Parker before you speak. "

  Emma balanced the box she carried and opened the door to the Bride's Suite.

  "There you are. Finally! Emmaline, really, how am I supposed to take my formal portraits without my bouquet? And now my nerves are just shot ! You know I wanted to see it early enough so you could make changes if I wanted them. Do you know what time it is? Do you?"

  "I'm sorry, I didn't hear a word you said. I'm just dazzled. Whitney, you look absolutely spectacular. "

  That much, at least, was true. With miles of skirt, a universe of pearls and beads sparkling on the train, the bodice, and her expertly low-lighted blond hair swept up and crowned with a tiara, Monster Bride was magnificent.

  "Thank you, but I've been a wreck worrying about the bouquet. If it's not perfect - "

  "I think it's exactly what you hoped for. " Carefully, Emma lifted the massive cascade of white roses from the box. She did a mental C-jump when the bride's eyes popped wide, but kept her tone professional. "I tweaked the temperature so the roses would just be partially open. And just hints of green and the silver beads to set off the blooms. I know you talked about trails of silver ribbons, but I really think that would take away from the flowers, and the shape. But I can add it in no time if you still want it. "

  "The silver would add a sparkle, but . . . Maybe you're right. " Whitney reached out to take the bouquet.

  Nearby the mother of the bride pressed her palms together as if in prayer and lifted them to her lips. Always a good sign.

  Whitney turned, studied herself in the full-length mirror. And smiled. Emma stepped beside her to whisper in her ear. And the smile widened.

  "You can count them later," Emma suggested. "Now I'll turn you over to Mac. "

  "Let's try between the windows over here, Whitney. The light's wonderful. " Mac gave Emma a thumbs-up behind the bride's back.

  "Now, ladies," Emma said, "it's your turn. "

  She distributed bouquets, corsages, set out the holding vases, then put the MOG in charge of the pomanders and flower girls.

  She stepped out again, glanced at Jack. "Whew. "

  "The 'maybe you're right'? From her, that's a bow. "

  "Understood. I can take it from here. Go get that beer. Carter's around here somewhere. Corrupt him. "

  "I try, but he's a hard nut to crack. "

  "Boutonnieres," she said, already on the move again. "Then I need to check on the Ballroom. " She looked at her watch. "We're right on schedule, so thanks. I'd be running behind if you hadn't helped me load and haul. "

  "I can take up the boutonnieres. It'd give me a chance to see Justin, make bad jokes about balls and chains. "

  "Good idea. Do that. " With the few minutes of time that bought her, she opted to swing through the Grand Hall, out onto the terrace.

  Satisfied after a few tweaks, she climbed up to the Ballroom where her team was well underway. Emma pushed up her sleeves and dived in.

  While she worked, Parker gave periodic updates, and started the countdown in her ear. Guests still trickling in. Most are seated or on the terrace. Formal prewedding shots complete. Mac's on the move.

  Grandparents escorted in two minutes. I'm bringing the boys down. Laurel, get ready for the pass-off.

  "Roger that," Laurel said dryly. "Em, cake's assembled and ready for the table decor anytime. "

  Boys passed off to Laurel, Parker announced a moment later as Emma finished with a stand of hydrangeas. MOG escorted by BOG in one. MOB on deck. Escort is BOB. Queuing up attendants. Music change on my mark.

  Emma walked back to the entrance doors, shut her eyes for ten seconds, then opened them to take in the entire space. She drew a breath in, let a breath out.

  Paris Explodes, she thought, but it did so in lush style. Whites, silvers, purples, touches of green to set them off spilled, spread, speared, and shimmered under a perfect April sky. She watched the groom and his party take their places in front of a pergola simply smothered in flowers.

  "Guys, we rule. We kill . You're done. Hit the kitchen for food and drink. "

  Alone, she took one last circuit of the room as Parker signaled the attendants to go! one by one. Then Emma sighed, rubbed her back, the back of her neck, her hands. And went to change into her heels as Parker gave the MB her cue.

  J ACK DIDN'T KNOW HOW THEY PULLED IT OFF, EVERY TIME, ALL the time. He'd been drafted to lend a hand now and again at an event. Hauling and lifting, bartending, even bussing tables in a pinch. As payment invariably included great food, drinks, and music, he never minded. But he still didn't know how they managed to pull it all together. Parker consistently managed to be everywhere at once, and so subtly he suspected no one really noticed she might be prepping the best man on his toast one minute and passing out a pack of tissues to the mother of the bride the next while coordinating the service of the meal in the Grand Hall like a general coordinating troops during battle.

  Mac popped up all over the place, too, and was just as cagey about it as she shot candids of the wedding party or the guests, or maneuvered the bride and groom into a quick posed photo. Laurel streamed in and out, signaled, he supposed, through the headset they all wore, or by some sort of hand signal. Maybe mental telepathy. He wouldn't discount that one. And Emma, of course, on the spot when a guest spilled wine on the tablecloth, or when the bored ring bearer started to poke at one of the flower girls.

  He doubted anyone noticed or understood there were four women literally holding everything together, juggling all the balls and passing them to each other with the grace and skill of NFL quarterbacks. Just as he imagined no one knew the logistics and sheer timing involved in leading the guests from the Hall to the Ballroom. He lingered while Emma and her team along with Laurel swarmed on the head table to gather up the bouquets and holding vases.

  "Need any help?" he asked her.

  "Hmm? No, thanks, we've got it. Tink, six on either side, baskets on the end. Everything else stays in place for two hours here before undressing and loading. Beach, Tiff, snuff the candles, leave the overheads on half. "

  "I can get that," Tink said when Emma took the bride's bouquet.

  "One bruised rose and she'll go on attack. Better she rips my throat out than yours. Let's go, first dance is starting. "

  While the flowers headed up the back stairs, Jack wandered to the main. He slipped into the Ballroom in the middle of the first official dance. The bride and groom chose what he considered the overused and overorchestrated "I Will Always Love You," while people stood in the flower-drenched Ballroom or sat at one of the tables strategically arranged around the dance floor. The terrace doors stood open, inviting guests to stroll outside. He thought he'd do just that once he got a glass of wine.

  When he saw Emma ducking out again, he adjusted his plan. Carrying two glasses of wine, he went down the back stairs.

  She sat on the second level, and popped up like a spring when she heard his footsteps. "Oh, it's only you. " She sank back down on the steps.

  "Only me is bearing wine. "

  She sighed, circled her head on her neck. "We at Vows frown on drinking on the job. But . . . I'll lecture myself tomorrow. Hand it over. "

  He sat down beside her, gave her the glass. "How's it going?"

  "I should ask you.
You're a guest. "

  "From the guest point of view, it's a smash. Everything looks great, tastes great, smells great. People are having fun and have no idea the whole business is clicking along on a timetable that would make a Swiss train conductor weep in admiration. "

  "Exactly what we're after. " She sipped the wine, shut her eyes. "Oh God, that's good. "

  "How's the MB behaving?"

  "She's actually not too bad. It's hard to be bitchy when everyone's telling you how beautiful you look, how happy they are for you. She actually did count the roses in her bouquet, so that made her happy. Parker's smoothed over a couple of potential crises, and Mac actually got a nod of approval over the B

  and G shots. If Laurel's cake and dessert table pass muster, I'd say we hit all the hot spots. "

  "Did she do those little creme brulees?"

  "Oh, yeah. "

  "You're gold. Lot of buzz on the flowers. "

  "Really?"

  "I actually heard gasps a few times - the good kind. "

  She rolled her shoulders. "Then it's all worth it. "

  "Here. "

  He boosted himself up a stair, straddled her from behind, and dug his fingers into her shoulders.

  "You don't have to . . . Never mind. " She leaned back into his hands. "Carry on. "

  "You've got some concrete in here, Em. "

  "I've got about a sixty-hour week in there. "

  "And three thousand roses. "

  "Oh, adding the other events, we could double that. Easily. "

  He worked his thumbs up the back of her neck, made her groan. And as his stomach knotted in response, realized he wasn't doing himself any favors. "So . . . how'd the fiftieth go?"

  "It was lovely, really lovely. Four generations. Mac got some wonderful pictures. When the anniversary couple had their first dance, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. It goes down as one of my all-time favorite events. "

  She sighed again. "You have to stop that. Between the wine and your magic hands I'm going to end up taking a nap right here on the steps. "

  "Aren't you done?"

  "Not even close. I have to get the tossing bouquet, help out with the cake service. Then there's the bubbles, which we hope to do outside. In an hour, we'll start breaking down the Grand Hall, boxing centerpieces and arrangements. "

  Her voice went a little thick, a little sleepy when he kneaded her neck. "Um . . . Loading up those, and the gifts. Loading up the outdoor arrangements. We have an afternoon event tomorrow, so we'll break down the Ballroom, too. "

  He tortured himself, running his hands down her biceps, back up to her shoulders. "Then you should relax while you can. "

  "And you should be upstairs enjoying the party. "

  "I like it here. "

  "So do I, which makes you a bad influence with your wine and staircase massages. I have to get back up, relieve Laurel on patrol. " She reached back, patted his hand before she rose. "Cake cutting in thirty. "

  He got to his feet as she started up. "What kind of cake?"

  She stopped, turned, and ended up on level with him. Her eyes, those deep velvet eyes, looked sleepy to match her voice. "She's calling it her Parisian Spring. It's this gorgeous pale lavender blue covered with white roses, sprigs of lilac, with this soft milk chocolate ribboning and - "

  "I was more about what's inside. "

  "Oh, it's her genoise with Italian meringue buttercream. You don't want to miss it. "

  "It may beat out the creme brulee. " She smelled like flowers. He couldn't say which ones. She was a mysterious and lush bouquet. Her eyes were dark and soft and deep, and her mouth . . . Wouldn't it taste every bit as rich as Laurel's cake?

  The hell with it.

  "Okay, this is probably out of line, so apologies in advance. "

  He took her shoulders again, eased her to him. Those dark, soft, deep eyes widened in surprise an instant before his lips took hers.

  She didn't jerk away, or laugh it off as a joke. Instead she made the same sort of sound she had when he'd rubbed her neck - just a little breathier.

  Her hands clamped on his hips, and those luscious lips of hers parted. Like her scent, her flavor was mysterious and essentially female. Dark and warm and sensual. When her hands moved up his back, he took more. Just a little more.

  Then he changed angles, took more still, and pleasure hummed in her throat. He thought of just snatching her up, carrying her off to whatever dark room he could find to finish what a moment of impulse had begun.

  The beeper at her waist sounded, and both of them jolted. She made a strangled sound, then managed,

  "Oh. Well. " In a jerky move she unclipped the beeper, stared at it. "Parker. Um. I have to go. I have to .

  . . go," she said, then turned and bolted up the stairs.

  Alone, he lowered to the stairs again and finished off his neglected wine in two long gulps. He decided he'd skip the rest of the reception, and take a long walk outside instead.

  E MMA COULD ONLY BE GRATEFUL WORK KEPT HER TOO BUSY TO actually think. She helped clean up an incident involving the ring bearer and chocolate eclairs, delivered the tossing bouquet, rearranged the decor on the cake table to ease the serving, then began the stripping down of the Grand Hall.

  She readied centerpieces and other arrangements for transport and supervised the loading of them for the proper recipients.

  When the bubbles were blown and the last dance finished, she began the same process on the patios and terraces.

  She didn't see a trace of Jack.

  "Everything okay?" Laurel asked her.

  "What? Yes. Sure. Everything went great. I'm just tired. "

  "Right there with you. At least tomorrow's event will be a breeze after today. Have you seen Jack?"

  "What?" She jumped like a thief at the shrill of an alarm. "Why?"

  "I lost track of him. I planned to bribe him with pastries to help with the breakdown. I guess he skipped. "

  "I guess. I wasn't paying attention. "

  Liar, liar. Why was she lying to her friend? It couldn't be a good sign.

  "Parker and Mac are seeing off the stragglers," Laurel commented. "They'll do the security check. Do you want me to help you cart these to your place?"

  "No, I've got it. " Emma loaded the last of the leftovers she'd put back in the cooler. She'd donate the bulk to the local hospital, take the rest apart and make smaller arrangements to put around her place, and her friends'.

  She closed the cargo doors. "See you in the morning. "

  She drove the van home, reversed the process and carried flowers and garlands into her cooler. No matter how firmly she ordered her mind to stay calm and blank, it just kept opening up to one single thought.

  Jack kissed her.

  What did it mean?

  Why should it mean anything?

  A kiss was just that. It had just been a product of the moment. Nothing more. She readied for bed, trying to convince herself it was nothing more. But when a kiss blew right off the spark-o-meter, blasted through the scale, it was hard to describe it as

  "nothing more. "

  Something else was what it was, she admitted. And she didn't know what to do about it. That was frustrating because she always knew what to do when it came to men and kisses and sparks. She just knew.

  She climbed into bed telling herself since she'd never be able to sleep, she'd just lie there in the dark until she came up with a solution.

  And she dropped away in seconds, pushed off the edge by sheer exhaustion.

 
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