Bed of roses, p.6

Bed of Roses, page 6

 part  #2 of  Bride Quartet Series


Bed of Roses

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  EMMA GOT THROUGH THE SUNDAY EVENT AND HER MONDAY consults and adjusted the arrangements for some upcoming events due to changes of bridal minds.

  She canceled two dates with two perfectly nice men she now had no desire to spend evenings with. She filled those evenings by doing inventory and ordering ribbons, pins, containers, forms. And wondering if she should call Jack and make some light, breezy comment about the kiss - or pretend it never happened.

  She alternated between the top options and a third, which involved going over to his house and jumping him. So she ended up doing nothing but tying herself into knots over it. Annoyed with herself, she arrived early for a scheduled afternoon staff meeting. She cut through Laurel's kitchen, where her friend was arranging a plate of cookies beside a small fruit and cheese platter.

  "I'm out of Diet Coke," Emma announced and opened the fridge to take one. "I'm out of almost everything because I keep forgetting my car battery is dead as disco. "

  "Did you call the garage?"

  "That, at least, I remembered to do about ten minutes ago. When I confessed - under expert interrogation by the guy - that I've owned the car for four years, have never taken it in for a tune-up, couldn't remember exactly the last time, if ever, I've had the oil changed or some computer chip check job thing and other car business I don't remember now, he said he'd have it picked up, taken in. "

  Pouting a little, she popped the top and drank straight from the can. "I sort of felt as if I'd been holding my car hostage and he's releasing it. He made me feel like even more of an idiot than Jack did. I want a cookie. "

  "Help yourself. "

  Emma picked one up.

  "Now I'm going to be without a car until he decides to give it back. If he does, and I'm not entirely sure he intends to. "

  "You've been without a car for over a week because your battery's dead. "

  "True, but I had the illusion of a car because it was sitting there. I guess I need to take the van and go to the grocery store, and the zillion other places I've put off going. I'm actually afraid to, as it occurred to me I've had the van for a year more than the car. It may rebel next. "

  Laurel tossed some pretty pastel mints on the cookie tray. "I know it's a crazy idea, but maybe once you get your car back, you can have the garage service the van. "

  Emma nibbled at the cookie. "The car guy tossed that idea in the hat. I need consolation. How about dinner and movie night?"

  "Don't you have a date?"

  "I canceled. I'm not in the mood. "

  Laurel blew hair out of her eyes, the better to stare in shock. "You're not in the mood for a date?"

  "I have to get an early start tomorrow. Six hand-tied bouquets, and the bride's makes seven. That's a good six, seven hours of work. I have Tink coming in for half a day, so it cuts it back, but there's all the rest to put together for the Friday night event. And I spent most of the morning processing the flowers. "

  "That's never stopped you before. Are you sure you're feeling all right? You've been just a shade off. "

  "No, I'm fine. I'm good. I'm just not . . . in the mood for men. "

  "That couldn't include me. " Delaney Brown walked in, lifted Emma off her feet to give her a resounding kiss. "Mmm. Sugar cookie. "

  Emma laughed. "Get your own. "

  He plucked one from the tray, grinned at Laurel. "Consider it part of my fee. "

  Going from experience, Laurel got out a Ziploc bag and began to fill it with cookies. "Are you in on the meeting?"

  "No. I just had some legal business to go over with Parks. "

  Since it was there and so was he, Del went to the coffeepot.

  He and Parker shared the dark brown hair, the dark blue eyes. What Laurel would have called their refined features were just a little more roughly carved on him. In the smoke gray pin-striped suit, Italian shoes, and Hermes tie, he looked every bit the successful Connecticut lawyer. The scion of the Connecticut Browns.

  With the food prep complete, Laurel untied her baker's apron and hung it on a peg.

  Del leaned on the counter. "I hear you kicked some ass with the Folk wedding last weekend. "

  "Do you know them?" Emma asked.

  "Her parents are clients. I haven't had the pleasure - though from what Jack says that may be overstating - of meeting the new Mrs. Harrigan. "

  "You will when they file for divorce," Laurel said.

  "Always the optimist. "

  "She's a nightmare. She sent Parker a critique list this morning. E-mailed from Paris. From her honeymoon. "

  "You're kidding!" Stunned, Emma gaped at Laurel. "It was perfect. Everything was perfect. "

  "The champagne could've been colder, the wait service faster, the sky bluer, and the grass greener. "

  "Well, she's just a bitch. After I gave her ten more roses. Not one, but ten . " Emma shook her head. "It doesn't matter. Everyone who was there, and who was an actual human, knows it was perfect. She can't spoil it. "

  "That's my girl. " Del toasted her with his coffee.

  "Anyway, speaking of Jack, have you seen him? I mean, will you be seeing him?"

  "Tomorrow, actually. We're heading into the city to catch the Yankees. "

  "Maybe you could take him his jacket. He left his jacket. Or I forgot to give it back. Anyway, I have his jacket, and he probably wants it. I can go get it. It's in my office. I can just go get it. "

  "I'll go by and get it on my way out. "

  "Good. That'd be great. Since you're seeing him anyway. "

  "No problem. I'd better get going. " He picked up the bag, shook it lightly at Laurel. "Thanks for the cookies. "

  "A baker's dozen, including the one you ate, will be deducted from your fee. "

  He shot Laurel a grin, and sauntered out.

  Laurel waited a few beats then pointed at Emma. "Jack. "


  "Jack. "

  "No," Emma said slowly, laying her hand between her breasts. "Emma. Em-ma. "

  "Don't be funny, I can see right through you. You said 'any way' three times in under a minute. "

  "No, I didn't. " Maybe she had. "And so what?"

  "So, what's going on with you and Jack?"

  "Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Don't be ridiculous. " She felt the lie burning her tongue. "You can't say anything to anyone. "

  "If I can't say anything, it's not nothing. "

  "It is nothing. It's probably nothing. I'm overreacting. Damn it. " Emma popped the half a cookie she had left in her mouth all at once.

  "You're eating like a normal person. Something is wrong in the Emma-verse. Spill. "

  "Swear first. You won't say anything to Parker or Mac. "

  "You drive a hard bargain. " Laurel swiped a fingertip diagonally across her breasts, then pointed it to the ceiling. "Sworn. "

  "He kissed me. Or we kissed each other. But he started it, and I don't know what would've happened next because Parker beeped me. I had to go, then he left. So, that's it. "

  "Wait, I lost the sense of hearing right after you said Jack kissed you. "

  "Cut it out. This is serious. " She bit her lip. "Or it's not. Is it?"

  "This isn't like you, Em. You are the goddess of handling men and romantic or sexual situations. "

  "I know . It's just this is Jack. It's not supposed to be . . . " She waved her arms in the air. "Something to handle. I'm making too much of it. It was just a moment, just the circumstances. Just a thing. Now it's done, so it's not a thing. "

  "Emma, you tend to romanticize men, potential relationships, but you never get flustered over them. You're flustered. "

  "Because it's Jack! What if you were standing around, minding your own business, baking, and Jack came in and kissed you stupid. Or Del did. You'd be flustered. "

  "The only reason either of them come in here is to mooch baked goods. As Del just demonstrated. When did this happen? The night you broke down?"

; "No. It almost did. There was a second there . . . I think because there was a second there, it just led into it happening. During the reception Saturday. "

  "Right, right, you said Parker beeped you. Well, how was it? How did it rank on the patented Emmaline Grant spark-o-meter?"

  Emma let out a breath, pointed her thumb up, then swiped a hand through an imaginary line. "Slapped the top of the red zone before it broke the meter. "

  With her lips pursed, Laurel nodded. "I always suspected that about Jack. He has that red zone vibe about him. What are you going to do about it?"

  "I don't know. I haven't decided. It's thrown me off. I need to get my balance back, then figure out what to do. Or not do. "

  "Then you have to tell me, and also let me know when the gag order is lifted. "

  "All right, but meanwhile, not a word. " Emma picked up the cheese tray. "Let's go be businesswomen. "

  Vows housed its conference room in what had been the library. The books remained, framing the room and giving way in spaces for photos and mementos. The room maintained its warmth, its elegance, even as it served for business.

  Parker sat at the big inlaid table, laptop and BlackBerry at the ready. As the morning client meetings and tours were complete for the day, she'd hung her suit jacket on the back of the chair. Mac sat across from her, long legs stretched out, wearing the jeans and sweater that served her for her workday. When Emma set the tray on the table, Mac levered herself up to snag a cluster of grapes. "You guys are late. "

  "Del stopped by the kitchen. Before we start business, who's up for dinner and a movie night?"

  "Me, me!" Mac shot up a hand. "Carter has a teacher thing, and that saves me from working until he gets back. I put in a full one today. "

  "As it happens, my calendar is clear. " Laurel laid the cookie plate beside the platter. Parker merely picked up the house phone, pressed a button. "Hey, Mrs. G, can you handle the four of us for dinner? That'd be great. Thanks. " She hung up. "We'll have chicken and like it. "

  "Works for me. " Mac bit into a grape.

  "All right then, the first order of business is Whitney Folk Harrigan, aka Monster Bride. As Laurel knows, I received an e-mail from her wherein she lists several bullet points addressing what she feels we could improve. "

  "Bitch. " Mac leaned up this time to spread some goat cheese on a rosemary cracker. "We kicked severe ass on that event. "

  "We should've kicked her severe ass," Laurel commented.

  "Whitney feels, in no particular order of importance, that . . . " Parker opened a file to read from the e-mail she'd printed out. "The champagne was inadequately chilled, the service during dinner was slow, the gardens lacked enough color and bloom, the photographer spent more time than she deems necessary on the wedding party when the bride deserved more attention, and the offerings on the dessert table weren't as varied or as well presented as she'd hoped. She adds that she felt rushed and/or neglected by the wedding planner during some parts of the event. She hopes we'll take these criticisms in the spirit with which they're offered. "

  "To which I respond . . . " Mac shot up a middle finger.

  "Succinct. " Parker nodded. "However, I responded with our thanks for her comments, and our hopes that she and Justin enjoy Paris. "

  "Panderer," Laurel muttered.

  "You bet. I could've responded with: Dear Whitney, you're full of shit. Which was my first thought. I restrained it. I have, however, upgraded her to Monster Bitch Bride. "

  "She must be a genuinely unhappy person. Seriously," Emma said when her friends just looked at her.

  "Anyone who could take a wedding day like we provided for her and pick it apart is just innately unhappy. I'd feel sorry for her if I wasn't so mad. I will feel sorry for her when I stop being mad. "

  "Well, mad, sorry, or fuck you, the upside is we've had four new tours booked through that event. And I expect more. "

  "Parks said fuck. " Mac grinned and ate another grape. "She's very mad. "

  "I'll get over it, especially if we book four more events as a result of the stupendous job we did on Saturday. For now, I'm putting Whitney in my newly designed Closet of Doom, where everything makes her look fat, all the patterns are polka dots, and the color choices are puce or dead-flesh beige. "

  "That's really mean," Laurel commented. "I like it. "

  "Moving on," Parker continued. "Del and I met about some of the legal and financial issues of the business. The partnership agreement is coming up for renewal, which includes the percentage funneled back into Vows from the individual arms for outside events. If anyone wants to discuss changes to the agreement, including the percentages, the floor's open. "

  "It's working, isn't it?" Emma glanced around at her partners. "I don't think any of us really imagined we'd build what we've built when we started Vows. Not just financially, which is certainly more than I'd have made by now if I'd been able to open my own shop. But, Monster Bitch Bride aside, the reputation we've earned, together and individually. The percentage is fair, and the fact is, the cut Del takes for his part of the estate is way below what he could've asked. We're all doing what we love with people we love. And we're making a good living at it. "

  "I think what Em's saying is: Sign me up. " Mac popped another grape. "I say ditto. "

  "I'm right there," Laurel added. "Is there any reason to change anything?" she asked Parker.

  "Not from my perspective, but as Del advised - in his legal function - each of you should read over the agreement again, and voice any reservations, make any suggestions before we renew. "

  "I suggest we have Del draw up the papers, sign them, then open a bottle of Dom. "

  Mac pointed at Emma in agreement. "Seconded. "

  "And the 'ayes' have it," Laurel announced.

  "I'll let him know. I've also had a discussion with our accountant. "

  "Better you than me," Laurel said.

  "Much better. " Parker smiled and sipped some water. "We've had a strong first quarter, and are on track to increase our net profit by about twelve percent over last year. I'm advised we should consider rolling a portion of the net back into the business. So, if any or all of you have a need, whim, or selfish desire for additional equipment, or ideas on what Vows could use as a whole, we can work out what we should spend our money on, and how much we should spend. "

  Emma shot her hand up before anyone could speak. "I've been thinking about this, especially after I looked at my books for the last quarter. We have our biggest event, to date, next spring with the Seaman wedding. The flowers alone are going to outstrip the capacity of my cooler, so we'll need to rent another for several days. I may be able to find a used one for a cost that could make it more practical, in the long term, than renting. "

  "That's good. " Parker made a note. "Get some prices. "

  "This may be the time," Emma continued, "considering that event, and the increase we're seeing in business, to buy some of the other equipment we usually rent. The additional outdoor seating, for instance. Then, when we do an outside event, we rent it to the client and pocket the fee. And - "

  "You really have been thinking," Mac commented.

  "I really have. Since Mac's already planning to add on to her place, increasing the upstairs living area to accommodate true love, why not add on to the work space, the studio space at the same time? She needs more storage space, a real dressing room instead of the little powder room. And while I'm rolling, the mudroom off Laurel's kitchen is really redundant, as we have one off the main kitchen. If that was converted, she could have an auxiliary kitchen in there, another oven, another cooler, more storage. "

  "We'll just let Emma do the talking," Laurel put in.

  "And Parker needs a computerized security system so she can monitor all the public areas of the house. "

  Parker waited a beat. "I think you've spent that net profit increase several times. "

  "Spending money's the fun part of earning it. Yo
u be Parker, and that'll keep us from going wild. But I really think we ought to do at least some of those things, and put the others on the list for as soon as possible down the road. "

  "Being Parker then, I'll say the cooler makes sense. See what you can find. Since we'd need to talk to Jack on how to work the cooler into your space, we can ask him to give us an idea how to add on to Mac's studio, and refit the mudroom. "

  She made more notes as she spoke. "I'd thought of the furniture buy already, and I've started researching the cost there. I'll get projections so we know where we stand on all of this, then we can decide which makes the most sense first. "

  Nodding, she flipped over to the next order of business.

  "Now, upcoming events that will help pay for our hopes and dreams. The commitment ceremony. They got their vows and the script for the ceremony to me today. Friday evening ceremony with, after a coin toss, Allison, now known as Bride One, arriving at three thirty, and Marlene, now Bride Two, at four. Bride One takes Bridal Suite, Bride Two Groom's Suite. As they share a MOH, she's going to float between the suites. Bride One's brother is BM, so we'll use the second floor family parlor for him, and the FOBs, as needed. BM will stand on B-One's side during the ceremony, MOH on B-Two's. "

  "Wait. " Mac held up a finger as she keyed the details into her laptop. "Okay. "

  "These ladies know exactly what they want and stick to a plan, so they've been extremely easy to deal with on my end. MOB-One and siblings of B-Two aren't particularly happy with the formalization of this relationship, but are cooperating. Mac, you may have to work to get the shots the clients hope for that include them. "

  "No problem. "

  "Good. Emma, flowers?"

  "They wanted unconventional, but feminine. Neither wanted to carry a bouquet, so we've gone with a headpiece for Allison and flower combs for Marlene. A halo for the MOH who'll carry four white roses. They'll exchange single white roses during the ceremony, right after the lighting of the unity candle. And each will give her mother a rose. White rose boutonnieres for the men. It should be very pretty. "

  Emma scrolled over to arrangements as she sipped her Diet Coke. "They wanted an airy, meadowy look for arrangements and centerpieces. I'm using a lot of baby's breath and painted daisies, Shastas and gerberas, branches of blooming cherry, wild strawberries, and so on. Minimal tulle, and garlands I'm doing like daisy chains. Bud vases for the roses during the reception.

  "A lot of fairy lights and candles, Grand Hall and Ballroom, with a continuation of the natural look for arrangements. It'll be simple and very sweet, I think. If one of you can help me transport, I can do the setup solo. "

  "I can do that," Laurel told her. "The cake's the vanilla sponge with raspberry mousse filling, topped with Italian meringue. They wanted simple flowers there, too, echoing Emma's. I don't need to add those to the cake until around five, so I'm clear for setup. Otherwise, they want assorted cookies and pastel mints. "

  "We have the standard Friday night itinerary," Parker added, "excluding bouquet and garter toss. Rehearsal Thursday afternoon, so if there are any glitches, we'll deal with them then. Saturday," she began.

  W HENEVER EMMA THOUGHT OF HER PARENTS, HOW THEY MET, fell in love, it ran through her mind like a fairy tale.

  Once upon a time there was a young woman from Guadala jara who traveled across the continent to the great city of New York to work in the business of her uncle, to tend the homes and children of people who needed or wanted their homes and children tended. But Lucia longed for other things, a pretty home instead of a noisy apartment, trees and flowers instead of pavement. She worked hard, and dreamed of one day having her own place, a little shop perhaps, where she would sell pretty things. One day her uncle told her of a man he knew who lived miles away in a place called Connecticut. The man had lost his wife, and so his young son had no mother. The man had left the city for a quieter life - and, perhaps, Lucia thought, because the memories were too painful in the home he'd shared with his wife. Because he wrote books, he needed a quiet place, and because he often traveled, he needed someone he could trust with his little boy. The woman who had done these things for the three years since the sad death of his wife wished to move back to New York. So Lucia took a great leap, and moved out of the city and into the grand house of Phillip Grant and his son, Aaron.

  The man was handsome as a prince, and she saw he loved his son. But there was a sorrow in his eyes that touched her heart. The child had had so many changes in his short four years, she understood his shyness with her. She cooked their meals and tended the house, and looked after Aaron while the man wrote his book.

  She fell in love with the boy, and he with her. He was not always good, but Lucia would have been sad if he had been. In the evenings, she and Phillip would often talk about Aaron, or books, or ordinary things. She would miss the talks - she would miss him - when he went away for business. There were times when she looked out the window to watch Phillip play with Aaron, and her heart yearned.

  She didn't know he often did the same. For he'd fallen in love with her, as she had with him. He was afraid to tell her, lest she leave them. And she feared to tell him in case he sent her away. But one day, in the spring, under the arching blooms of a cherry tree while the little boy they both loved played on the swing, Phillip took Lucia's hand in his. And kissed her. When the leaves of the trees turned vivid with autumn, they were married. And lived happily ever after. Was it any wonder, Emma thought as she pulled her van into the crowded double drive of her parents'

  home on Sunday evening, that she was a born romantic? How could anyone grow up with that story, with those people, and not want some of the same for herself?

  Her parents had loved each other for thirty-five years, had raised four children in the sprawling old Victorian. They'd built a good life there, a solid and enduring one. She had no intention of settling for less for herself.

  She got the arrangement she'd made out of the van, and hurried across the walk for the family dinner. She was late, she thought, but she'd warned them she would be. Cradling the vase in the crook of her arm, she pushed open the door and walked into a house saturated with the color her mother couldn't live without.

  And as she hurried back toward the dining room, she moved into the noise as colorful as the paints and fabrics.

  The big table held her parents, her two brothers, her sister, her sisters-in-law, her brother-in-law, her nieces and nephews - and enough food to feed the small army they made.

  "Mama. " She went to Lucia first, kissed her cheek before setting the flowers on the buffet and rounding the table to kiss Phillip. "Papa. "

  "Now it's family dinner. " Lucia's voice still held the heat and music of Mexico. "Sit before all the little piggies eat all the food. "

  Emma's oldest nephew made oinking noises and grinned as she took her seat beside him. She took the platter Aaron passed her. "I'm starving. " She nodded, gestured a go-ahead as her brother Matthew lifted a bottle of wine. "Everybody talk so I can catch up. "

  "Big news first. " Across the table her sister, Celia, took her husband's hand. Before she could speak, Lucia let out a happy cry.

  "You're pregnant!"

  Celia laughed. "So much for surprises. Rob and I are expecting number three - and the absolute final addition - in November. "

  Congratulations erupted, and the youngest member of the family banged her spoon enthusiastically on her high chair as Lucia leaped up to embrace her daughter and her son-in-law. "Oh, there's no happier news than a baby. Phillip, we're having another baby. "

  "Careful. The last time you told me that, Emmaline came along nine months later. "

  With a laugh, Lucia went over to wrap her arms around his neck from behind, press her cheek to his.

  "Now the children do all the hard work, and we just get to play. "

  "Em hasn't done her part yet," Matthew pointed out and wiggled his eyebrows at her.

  "She's waiting for a m
an as handsome as her father, and not so annoying as her brother. " Lucia sent Matthew an arch look. "They don't grow on trees. "

  Emma smirked at her brother and cut her first sliver of roast pork. "And I'm still touring the orchards,"

  she said sweetly.

  She lingered after the others to take a walk around the gardens with her father. She'd learned about flowers and plants, had come to love them under his guidance.

  "How's the book going?" she asked him.

  "Crap. "

  She laughed. "So you always say. "

  "Because it's always true at this stage. " He wrapped an arm around her waist as they walked. "But family dinners and digging in the dirt help me put the crap aside awhile. Then it's never quite as bad as I thought when I get back to it. And how are you, pretty girl?"

  "Good. Really good. We stay busy. We had a meeting earlier in the week because profits are up, and all I could think was how lucky we are - I am - doing work we love, being able to do it with the best friends I've ever had. You and Mama always said to find what we loved, and we'd work well and happily. I did. "

  She turned as her mother crossed the lawn carrying a jacket. "It's chilly, Phillip. Do you want to catch cold so I have to listen to you complain?"

  "You uncovered my plan. " He let his wife bundle him into the jacket.

  "I saw Pam yesterday," she spoke of Carter's mother. "She's so excited about the wedding. It's lovely for me, too, having two of my favorite people fall in love. Pam was a good friend to me, always, and a champion when some were scandalized your father would marry the help. "

  "They didn't see how clever I was to get all the labor for free. "

  "The practical Yankee. " Lucia snuggled up against his side. "Such a slave driver. "

  Look at them, Emma thought. How perfectly they fit. "Jack told me the other day you were the most beautiful woman ever created, and he's waiting to run off with you. "

  "Remind me to beat him up the next time I see him," Phillip said.

  "He's the most charming flirt. Maybe I'll make you fight for me. " Lucia tipped her face up to Phillip's.

  "How about a foot rub instead?"

  "We have a deal. Emmaline, when you find a man who gives you a good foot rub, look closely. Many flaws are outweighed by that single skill. "

  "I'll keep it in mind. Meanwhile, I should go. " She opened her arms to embrace them both. "Love you. "

  Emma glanced back as she walked away, and watched her father take her mother's hand under the arching branches of the cherry tree with its blooms still tightly closed. And kiss her.

  No, she thought, it was no wonder she was a born romantic. No wonder she wanted that, some part of that, for her own.

  She got in the van and thought about the kiss on the back stairs. Maybe it was only flirtation or curiosity. Maybe it was just chemistry. But she'd be damned if she'd pretend it didn't happen. Or let him pretend.

  It was time to deal with it.

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