Authors: Louisa George
© 2016 by Louisa George
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
. Something new…?
hen Chloe Cassidy
is jilted at the altar it’s all her nightmares rolled into one. Her mother is convinced she’s the victim of the family curse. Her sister believes she just hasn’t found The One yet. But Chloe’s not listening; she’s too busy taking her humiliation out on the infuriating best man, Vaughn Brooks.
hree months later
—her wedding planning business— is failing. In a last ditch attempt to save it, Chloe is forced to swallow her pride, and work with the enemy: too-hot for his own good, award-winning chef Vaughn. She soon realises the sparks flying between them are nothing to do with their dubious past, but from something else altogether…
perfect summer read
features one sizzling chef, one spicy heroine and a whole lot of tasty trouble.
Wedding day blues for Portobello Wedding Planner
t was meant
to be the best day of her life, but for local business owner, Chloe Cassidy of
wedding planners on Colville Terrace, her special day ended up being something very blue instead. For, after waiting fruitlessly at the church for her dashing groom to arrive, Miss Cassidy was given the news that the ‘something’ her fiancé had borrowed was her best friend and bridesmaid, Amy Fisher.
Neither Miss Fisher nor the groom, Jason Hawthorn, attended the church to face the music, but as all reliable wedding fables go, it was best man, Vaughn Brooks, who arrived to break the news to the now very blushing and very jilted bride.
Reports of a bridezilla-style meltdown and a fight between the wedding guests are as yet unsubstantiated, but three police cars and one ambulance were in attendance.
As we go to press the bride, the groom and the bridesmaid were all unavailable for comment, but mother of the bride, Bridget Cassidy, described the philandering fiancé and the arrests for disturbing the peace as having ‘ruined her daughter’s lifetime dreams’.
Pressing a bandage to his forehead as he left Paddington Green police station, a bruised and bloodied Mr Brooks was heard to have said that the outcome was all for the best, and that the intended couple had been a ‘bad match from the start’. The question now is, after her very public jilting at the altar, will Miss Cassidy’s reputation as Portobello’s foremost wedding planner remain intact?
Were you there? Did you witness the fighting, the arrests? Have photos?
If so, contact the news desk on
hree months later
e absolutely adore frogs
. We’re 100 per cent sure that a frog theme would be perfect for us. Maybe a cute froggy cake with two frogs holding hands on top? Everything in different shades of green, the bouquet, bridesmaid’s dresses…’ The caller exhaled an excited sigh and Chloe Cassidy tried, very hard indeed, to remain calm and positive. Difficult at times, especially when the urge to throttle a potential client almost overrode the need to fill the almost empty bank account. ‘We’re thinking early June next year to coincide with the frog lifecycle… D’you think we could get some real ones for the big day?’
‘I don’t know. It sounds…’
, Chloe corrected herself,
the customer is always right. The customer is always bloody right. Even when it feels so terribly wrong.
‘Er, delightful. I’ll check some details, do a bit of research on… frogs and get back to you as soon as possible. Fine? Thanks. Bye.’
Chloe threw her phone onto her desk and gave two very direct fingers to the newspaper cutting of her own failed wedding fluttering on the noticeboard as the April breeze breathed into her stuffy Portobello office—also known as her cramped, but cosy, living room.
‘I hate you, Jason bloody Hawthorn. I used to turn work down. And now… look what I’m reduced to: Amphibian nuptials.’
She glowered at the fading print and the close-up image of her hand as she’d tried to cover the intrusive camera lens. Her flawless, handmade, lace-over-organza gown, which had taken three years to design and make, was just a blur.
indeed. That journalist had a nerve. He wasn’t the one who had to face the guests, send the presents back and pay everyone for the wedding that never happened. Plus, live with the humiliation while working on damage-control as clients fled in droves. Who the hell wanted a wedding planner who couldn’t successfully organise her own wedding?
She refused to give any thought to the pain in her chest, but it was still there, a big solid blob of hurt. It was hard to work out what was worse: losing Jason, losing her best friend, losing the clients or reading about it all in the papers.
‘Bad time?’ Chloe’s sister, Jenna, popped her head around the stripped wooden door, her usual smiles-solve-everything grin adding a shimmer to the day and immediately making Chloe feel better. If only she could be like that, even just a little, but she’d been shimmerless for months.
‘Hey. No, come on in. You’ll never believe this—I’ve just had a client asking us to do a frog wedding. A frog wedding?’ She laughed, trying to shimmer and pretty much failing. ‘Really? What happened to weddings at the Ritz? Jimmy Choo shoes? Rubbing shoulders with celebrities? What’s next? A shark theme? Dinosaurs?’
‘At least it’s a client. I hope you didn’t put them off. We should be grateful… Hang on…’ Jenna smiled, then ducked out of the room.
‘You want a hand?’
‘No, you can’t fit two people plus a buggy in your tiny corridor. And, anyway, I need the exercise.’
Outside, floating softly over the hum of city traffic and happy chatter from the Saturday market just off Chloe’s doorstep, bells were ringing. Another wedding. Someone else’s bride and groom. Someone else’s fat cheque. A whole lifecycle of happiness that most definitely wasn’t hers.
But not anymore. Things were going to change around here. Onwards and upwards.
‘Actually, I was very polite.’ Chloe nodded, determined to count her blessings. ‘And what’s the bet that the frog groom will actually turn up to the wedding?’
‘He might be a frog Prince Charming,’ Jenna called from the hallway as she grunted with the effort of hauling the buggy up the stone steps.
Chloe called back, ‘There’s no such thing as Prince Charming. They’re all cheating, scheming, evil—’
‘Whoa.’ Jenna came back in and threw Chloe a wide-eyed admonishment and a sharp shake of her head as she zigzagged behind her gorgeous three-year-old daughter, who stopped and zapped everything with a sparkly pink wand. Jenna smiled adoringly at her mini-me. ‘Evie, don’t listen to grumpy old Auntie Chloe. She just needs to smile; then everything will seem fine again. Boy, the market’s busy today. Must be spring fever. Oh, and I’ve picked up Pad Thai for dinner.’
Chloe’s tummy rumbled at the sight of the plastic carrier bulging with containers. ‘Hmm, it smells divine.’
‘Yes, well, I got you the full monty version with everything.’ Jenna sighed. ‘I told them they needed to do a slimmer’s version for me.’
‘Oh, don’t be silly; you’re perfect as you are.’ Chloe looked at her sister’s tired eyes and wished she could do more to help her. A few curves were the least of her problems. ‘You’ve had a really rough few years and have a beautiful baby to care for. Don’t be so hard on yourself.’
‘Oh, I know you love me heaps and would say anything to make me feel better, but I also know I need to lose some pounds. I’m not daft. And you need to put some on, Chlo. I can see your bones. You want some of my tyres? I have spares.’ Jenna grabbed some flesh from her waist and gave it a loopy stare. ‘Look at this mummy tummy. Evie could use it as a trampoline.’
‘Please, you look great to me.’ And even though her sister still wore her ditzy smile, Chloe knew she was covering up her real feelings. Again. Somehow, Jenna had it in her head that she had to cope and never complain, that she could not allow herself to crumble. After all the harrowing upset of her sister’s last few years—losing her husband to a freak accident and then facing solo parenting while heartbroken—at some point, Chloe feared, there would be fallout.
‘Hi there, cheeky-face. Come here.’ Chloe pushed her chair back and took hold of her niece’s hand, smothering her with kisses and a tickle in the ribs. She let the resulting giggle wash over her. There was something so fresh and new about her still, a wonder that had risen phoenix-like out of the mire of sadness.
Today, Evie was dressed in a Superman outfit. Yesterday it had been a pirate. The girl was learning badassery skills from her mother. Go figure. ‘Maybe you could use some of those superpowers to make me less of an old grump, Evie? Cast a happy spell with your wand? Tell me, Jenna, how do you do it?’
‘Do what?’ Her sister wandered over, having put the cartons on the coffee table in the centre of the room, which had filled with delicious aromas of garlic, tamarind and coriander.
‘That shiny, happy people thing? How do you keep so upbeat after everything that happened?’
‘One day I just woke up, looked at Evie all precious and innocent, and knew it was time to let all the sadness go. For her sake. Now I try not to think about anything negative. In fact, I’ve banished sadness from ever entering my life again.’
‘Just like that?’
‘Oh geez, come on. I’m a work in progress. It’s one step at a time. Fix one part of your life, then move on to the next. Leave the past behind.’ Jenna shook her head, the shimmer and glitter replaced momentarily by a sheen of pain. She may well have tried to banish it, but it was still there. ‘I have this one to keep me going. I don’t want to go back to that dark place. Ever. But loving Ollie, having Evie, those were my blessings. In lots of ways, I’m better off than Mum. She had two kids under five to deal with when Dad died. Look how she managed. Or rather, how she didn’t.’ She waved her hand as if none of what she’d been through was important. It was. So very much. ‘Now… about the frogs? Swamp-themed flowers? We could have succulents, earthy tones, little frog knickknacks and motifs on the invitations. It could be fun. You remember that, right?’
Chloe looked up and met her sister’s concerned gaze. ‘Remember what?’
‘When this job was fun. When you had fun.’
‘I have fun.’
‘When? When was the last time you had a good laugh, Chloe Cassidy?’
‘Er… well…’ Who was she trying to kid? The shocking truth of it was that Chloe hadn’t had any fun since… well, since before The Jilting. In fact, when Jason had finally found balls big enough to contact her, the message she’d received via text was that he’d left her because she was just no fun anymore. Er… a wedding doesn’t plan itself! Since then, too humiliated to meet up with mutual friends for drinks and parties, she’d barely left the house. ‘I’ve had a lot on my plate.’
Jenna wrapped her in a warm hug. ‘I know. It’s been a tough few months, but you’re allowing that to colour everything you do, sis.’
‘I was let down by the two people I trusted more than anything.’ Smiling certainly hadn’t helped any, but then, neither had accosting the bearer of bad news… or screaming.
It was mortifying even now. ‘And humiliated.’
‘I know. But we’re the new generation of Cassidys. We can ride the hard times and come out smiling. And you can’t let it affect your work. We need the money.’
Chloe sat at her desk in the huge bay window that looked out towards Portobello market and the rush-rush of wrapped-up shoppers and grabbed some blank sheets of paper for Evie to draw on. ‘Can frogs be fun, though? Suitable for a wedding? Really? What do you think about frogs, Evie?’
‘Ribbit,’ Evie croaked, then giggled, very pleased with herself.
‘Clever girl. It gets her vote.’ Jenna beamed again at her daughter then turned to Chloe. ‘I think you’d better make sure that frogs are the funnest wedding theme ever, or that’ll be even less we make this year.’ Her sister paused, opening and closing her mouth. Opening it again, she brushed her palms over her grey woolly-tights. ‘Look, I’ve been thinking, Chlo, maybe I could get a job on one of the flower stalls in the market? Just to tide us over… during this… financial blip. I mean, three weddings booked for the whole season… three? It’s… well… maybe I could even open a shop? There’s an empty one coming up for lease, just next to the pub.’
And show the world just how badly Jason’s betrayal had affected Chloe? To the point where she couldn’t even look after her own sister, her family? Like hell. Shame shimmied through her. There was no room for maudlin and whingeing anymore. It was time for action. She could live on the smell of an oily rag, but she wasn’t going to let that happen to her sister and her gorgeous niece.
‘No. No… for goodness’ sake, it’s only a glitch,’ she answered brightly. ‘There’ll be more work coming in soon. I promise. I’ll make it happen. There’s the wedding fair coming up in a few weeks; that’ll drum up some business, you’ll see. And if it doesn’t, then I’ll jack the whole thing in and get a job back at the tax office. Pete Farrell said he’d have me back anytime.’
‘Because he fancies you. But you hated that job. You said it was mind-numbing and soul-sapping.’ Jenna grabbed Chloe’s hand. ‘Let me take the reins for a while. Until you get back on your feet.’
‘No. I don’t want you to take more on, not with a little one to look after. I am on my feet.’ Chloe prayed for some shimmer to convince her sister that she wasn’t washed up and failing. ‘I just need to do some damage control and find some more clients.’
‘It wasn’t your fault that coward didn’t turn up at the altar. Or that all those clients fled the minute they heard.’ With her free hand, Jenna tucked her auburn hair behind her ears. Jenna had got the trademark Cassidy red locks and fierce blue eyes from their father. Chloe, meanwhile, had been gifted, which was the only polite way of saying
, their mother’s mousy wishy-washy midbrown. Nothing that a packet of dark mahogany dye couldn’t fix.
Her own eyes, though, they were something she was proud of, dark chocolate and, she liked to think, mysterious. Jenna’s startling blue ones fixed on her, gently but assertively. ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, lovely sister of mine, I know you’re hurting, but maybe if you tried to be nicer to people when they called, they might decide that you are the planner for them.’
‘I do try to be nice. I am nice.’
‘Are you sure you’re as nice as you can be?’
Okay, not recently. Not at all. ‘Of course. I gush over everyone.’
It had taken gargantuan effort to even pick up the phone, never mind do it with a smile. Chloe’s throat burned as she dragged her hand away from her sister’s and started to busy herself by tidying up her immaculate desk with one hand, and stopping Evie from defacing her planner with biro swirls with the other. After shuffling paper for a minute or so, she asked the question that had been on her lips for three months. ‘Okay, well, be honest, Jen, was I really bridezilla?’
There was that sunny smile again, not solving anything, but at least it made Chloe’s heart thaw a little. ‘Yep. Totally. Truly. Nervous breakdown kind of stuff, especially when you tried to shove your bouquet up the best man’s…’ Jenna’s eyes flicked to her daughter, then back to Chloe as she mouthed out the letters b.u.m.
‘Oh, God.’ Heat flooded Chloe’s cheeks. Chasing him down the aisle. Screaming. Rugby tackling him to the floor… It ran through her head like a sordid tape. The only redeeming thing was that no one had uploaded the video to the Internet—although she had a feeling the videographer would have tried if she hadn’t ripped the camera from his hands and erased the whole catastrophe. Shame she couldn’t do that with her own brain rewind button.
Jenna beamed and didn’t even try to hide her laughter. ‘Look, your attention to detail is what makes you such a fabulous wedding planner. You had that wedding nailed, my girl. It would have been the most perfect wedding ever. It would. Your clients love you—once you get them and keep hold of them.’
But Chloe couldn’t get passed bridezilla. It was the ultimate nightmare for everyone in her profession. ‘I was that woman.’
‘Yes. You were, but you know what? I preferred seeing you like that instead of like this. At least there was emotion there, anger and passion. Now you’re a shell. Empty. There’s nothing there, Chloe. You’ve gone… somewhere. And I think that might show itself to your clients.’
Jenna was right. And it was scary to think that she’d lost her buzz. But she had—she didn’t know what to do or how to get it back. Once upon a time, she’d adored this job and had jumped out of bed in the mornings. Now it was a slow crawl fuelled by extra strong coffee and a lot of dredged up desperation.