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Here is a short sample from the book:
My last appointment of the day had the promise of being odd. Dante was safely back at home with Dorothea, and Leroy was mourning the loss of his balls at home. Somehow, I’d managed to keep Lydia Savoy as a client, and after a week the smell of bunny urine was finally starting to go away. All the same, an odd appointment wasn’t something I was particularly enthused to deal with.
You see, ten times out of ten, women book appointments with wedding planners, lugging their husbands-to-be along with significant difficulty. You could almost taste the sweat on their brows from pushing so hard.
But this appointment was made by the husband’s secretary. Well, that wasn’t too weird, especially for the neighborhood his address came from. It was clear he came from money, which was thrilling for me. But when I asked who I should be expecting, it turned out that only the groom would be coming in for the meeting.
That wasn’t just unheard of; it had literally never happened.
But it was an appointment with a (hopefully) paying client. And despite having nearly back-to-back appointments on top of Ms. Savoy’s endlessly changing opinions on flower arrangements and menu options, I was going to do my best to look like I’d eaten my Wheaties that morning. I wore my smartest suit that day, desperately needing to impress someone with deep pockets.
If you looked at my calendar, you’d think the wedding business was booming. But of all those appointments, all those first-time consultations, only a small handful ever stepped foot in my office again.
It wasn’t because I couldn’t sell myself, or wasn’t good at what I did, or didn’t offer a competitive rate. It was because a quarter of them didn’t actually know what a wedding planner was, another quarter only made the appointment because it was free and they thought I might drop some of my trade secrets during the meeting, and another quarter barely had the money to spend on a wedding, never mind a wedding planner, but wanted to bask in the fantasy that they did.
Of that last quarter, some of them probably didn’t like me, some of them probably found someone else they liked better, and some of them broke up before the wedding plans even started forming. What was left over didn’t bring in enough money to let me shop at Trader Joe’s, never mind Whole Foods.
So deep pockets were a blessing I wouldn’t dare take for granted.
If only I knew how deep those pockets were. In fact, I nearly forgot all about his deep pockets when I saw his deep blue eyes. They were pale blue, but so intense that they felt somehow infinite. Like they were a direct line to divinity itself.
And then, of course there was the rest of him. Jawline like Adonis, body like Thor, in an Armani suit that looked like it had been painted on that morning. His muscles pressed at the seams of his jacket, threatening to rip the threads out whenever he moved his arms.
“Mr. Spencer,” I said, standing in the door to the waiting room, licking my lips before plastering a smile on my face. “A pleasure to meet you.”
It took no small effort on my part to get my legs to carry me across the carpet, hand out and not shaking, to greet him. He rose without even a nod, giving me a perfunctory handshake (which was still firm as a lion’s jaw on an antelope’s neck).
“Please, follow me,” I said, feeling a little uncertain about his silence. “My office is just this way…”
You could hear the echo of my heels, dull as they hit the carpet, while we walked. The silence was a third party between us. I felt a lot like I had the year before, when I’d been audited. But the auditor had at least smiled at me, tried to make some small talk before I led him to business. Mr. Spencer was not so affable. And that made his good looks a little less intimidating. He was a hot box of rocks; that’s what I told myself to keep from quaking under his intense stare.
The fact that he appraised my small but elegant office before sitting down didn’t escape my notice. So there was something going on behind those blue eyes. It was just something I didn’t like very much.
But my smile didn’t change as I sat before him, hands folded, notebook open and pen ready.
“You know, Mr. Spencer, I hope you don’t take any undue offense, but it’s quite unusual to see the husband-to-be here alone,” I said, smiling. “Usually, it’s the bride who’s chomping at the bit to plan things. We don’t get a whole lot of grooms in here without a bride, and half her family, pulling him.”
“Yeah, well, we’re an unusual couple,” he growled, not responding at all to my attempts at cheeriness. My cheeks hurt. I wished I could just match his dour attitude. But I needed this client something fierce. If he was rich, this one wedding might get me through the rest of the year without having to declare bankruptcy. And rich people have rich friends at their weddings. I had to hope against hope that the answer to all my problems was sitting right across from me, looking like he walked right out of American Psycho.
“Hm,” I hummed, tapping my nails lightly on the desk. “An unusual couple deserves an unusual wedding, perhaps? Unusual in the best sense of the word, of course. Did you have anything specific in mind, for us to start with? You’ve set a date, I assume. Let me go through some of the work I’ll be doing for you, and we can…”
“Just…I just want to spend as much as I can,” he said, voice gravelly and rough, hands fisting. “Let’s get elephants to ride in on. Let’s get Dom Perrignon at every table – shit, no, every plate. I want surf and turf, dyed doves, the whole goddam thing. Get a corpse flower to bloom as we say our ‘I do’s’. Just…spend the money. The more, the better.”
Shit. Oh, shit. I was staring. My jaw was open. There was a good chance I was getting drool on my notebook. I couldn’t make my hand move, I couldn’t force my lips closed, and I sure as hell couldn’t think of anything to say.
Could I even pull this off? Where the hell was I going to get elephants? The catering companies I worked with sure as hell didn’t do surf and turf. What’s a corpse flower?
“Why?” I found myself saying, voice hoarse. “Why….uh, excuse me.”
I finally managed to pull my eyes from his baby blues and down to my notebook, where my fingers still held a pen that had no reason to move. What was I going to write down? Spend millions of dollars? What about run as fast as you fucking can, Jolene, this is bad news and you know it…
“I’d rather not discuss why,” he snapped.
“Of course,” I said. “I actually meant why you’ve come to me. Surely you…well, surely you know of more, ah, qualified event planners?”
Now, why did I ask that? I basically just admitted that I couldn’t give him what he wanted – I didn’t have the experience or the connections or…
But he was smirking. For the first time since stalking into my office, he was doing something other than scowling.
It wasn’t the most comforting of expressions, but it was a step up.
“You came highly recommended,” he said.
Highly recommended? Which of my clients could possibly be close enough to Mr. Spencer to recommend me?
“Can I ask who…”
“My landscaper,” he said, shifting his legs, crossing the opposite way now. He leaned his weight on one elbow, a finger lining his cheek; he looked like a model, sitting there in his Armani suit, posing for me.
Not posing for you, I corrected myself. Posing while you happen to be watching.
“Emmanuel Lima,” he went on. “You might remember…”
“Oh! Manny! Yes, he’s great. They’re lovely couple, they just had their first child, I believe,” I said, and for a moment I forgot where I was, who I was with. Manny and Evvy really were delightful. They were from my neighborhood. I saw them sometimes at the grocery story. When I helped plan their wedding for a quarter of my usual rate, making most of my money on commission, they thanked me with enough food that I didn’t run into them at the grocery store for a month – my fridge and freezer were that stocked.
“Yes, a good man, a good worker,” Mr. Spencer said. “And he said you’re good. So, what else do you need from me?”
“Oh,” I said, snapping back to the present moment. “Well, I’ll need your budget. I mean, you want to spend a lot, but I need to know exactly how much…”
“I’ll e-mail it.”
“Fantastic,” I said. “And generally, I like to know what food you prefer, if the bride has a certain color scheme she likes. Will you have a traditional wedding party, with bridesmaids and groomsmen? How about the venue – religious or not? And the reception…”
His face just kept getting tighter and tighter, until I thought it might actually implode on itself, his eyes and lips sucked into his nostrils.
“I know, it seems like a lot,” I said gently. “It can be quite helpful to have a partner to make these decisions. And that partner is typically the bride…”
“Listen,” he said, his tone a mix between a sigh and a grunt. He pressed his fingers to his temples. “There is no bride, alright?”
“Oh,” I said. I should have known. Handsome, good fashion sense, expendable income? “Well, your groom then…”
Now, he did smile. A real smile. I could almost feel my own tension easing as he flashed it in my direction. It was wild; I hadn’t noticed how high-strung he was making me until I got to bask in the glow of his easy, handsome, dimpled smile.
Bask in the glow? What the hell, girl…keep your panties on, be professional.
“No,” he said. “I don’t have a groom either. Though that would be a hell of a way to go about this whole ordeal. Actually, I’m going to take it into consideration…”
He pulled out his phone; I watched him type. He was actually leaving himself a note? What the hell was going on? No bride and no groom…as far as I knew, it was still illegal to marry your horse, dog, self, or car. Which left one big question mark in this equation.
“Okay, sir,” I said, laying my hands flat, not even pretending like I had notes to take anymore. “I have to ask. What is going on here? You can’t plan a wedding without…you know…an engagement.”
“Well, I did go to law school, and while I’m not a practicing attorney, I happen to know there’s no law against planning a wedding before the engagement takes place. Am I wrong?”
How the hell should I know? I didn’t go to law school. But he had to be right. It couldn’t be illegal. Just…illogical, irrational, irresponsible, and potentially a huge waste of my time. I pursed my lips and closed my notebook. I could set up a whole event, with all the stupid money-wasting additions he wanted, but the moment he canceled I’d lose more than half my commission. Cancellation fees aside, I got paid when the caterers and photographer and venue got paid.
“What?” he said, shifting towards the front of his seat. “I can see what you’re doing. You’re about to say no, you won’t do it.”
I arched an eyebrow. Bet your damn Armani-clad ass I am, I thought.
“Don’t,” he said. “I promise, I’ll pay you more than enough that you won’t be worried about commissions. And the wedding will happen.”
Now, it was my turn to be angsty. I threw my hands up with a sigh.
“What’s your angle!? Why are you trying to plan a wedding before you even know who you’ll be standing next to at the altar?”
“Because I have to,” he said, blue eyes looking cold even through their soft beauty. “If I’m not married before April 24th, I lose every cent of my fortune. Is that incentive enough to make sure I have a goddamn spectacle to show how much I truly love my bride? Most people would say yes.”
Well. There I had it…I guess. I took a moment to fully understand what I’d just been told. Then I spoke without thinking about it, anyway.
“How much are you offering?”
He quirked an eyebrow and his lips twitched upwards slightly.
“For the right woman? Quite a lot, I’d think. Why, would you like to throw your hat in the ring? Because you’d certainly be a contender.”
My cheeks went hot and I dropped my gaze. Somewhere inside me, a woman was basically leaping for joy over getting such a compliment from such a handsome – and, yes, wealthy – man.
“I meant, how much are you offering me to plan the wedding,” I said. “Flat fee?”
“Oh,” he said, and waved his hand. Did he seem a little disappointed? It had to be my imagination. “Whatever you think is fair. You can just include the amount in the contract. Somewhere upwards of fifteen?”
“Well, that is a pretty significant offer,” I said, hiding my disappointment. “It’s certainly on the high end. Fifteen hundred is…”
“Thousand,” he said, almost-smiling once more. “I was talking about fifteen thousand.”
Now, my jaw dropped straight off my face. Fifteen. Fifteen thousand. Fifteen thousand dollars. To plan a single wedding. Before commissions.
If he was paying that much to plan the wedding, I could only imagine what he’d pay for a woman to actually attend it!
A woman other than me, of course.
“Oh,” I said, trying to hide my shock. “Of course. Well, then, yes. I’d love to plan your wedding. And I hope you find a woman worth that kind of money.”
I think I did an admirable job of keeping my cool, all things considered. Mr. Spencer rose, keeping that barely-there grin on his face. He stuck his hand out and I rose to meet it, trying to give him my firmest shake – his was significantly firmer. His hands were warm, clean, soft. They’d feel good on a body.
Now, where did that thought come from?
“She doesn’t have to be worth anything,” he said. “She just has to agree to my terms. If you think of anyone who might be up to it…”
“Uh,” I croaked, not liking the road we were headed down. My resistance didn’t seem to register.
“…or if you change your mind about your role in all this, feel free to give me a call,” he said. “You have my number, of course. I can’t imagine someone like you would overlook the mutual benefits of an arrangement with someone like me.”
Uh. What? Someone like me? Did he mean one of us poor folk? Either way…
“Thanks,” I said sharply. “I’ll take it into consideration.”
I only said that because he was an asshole I couldn’t afford to lose. But all the intrigue he’d built up before disappeared right quick. “She doesn’t have to be worth anything”? “Someone like you”? Let’s say it together: asshole.
“Then I’ll be taking my leave. I’ll be in touch soon to talk shop.”
“Yes,” I repeated. “Of course.”
He stared at me for a moment and I realized we were still holding hands. I dropped his like a hot potato. Or an offer to be a bride-for-hire.
“Right,” he said, and then he was gone, the door shutting quietly behind him. I fairly collapsed into my office chair, its hinges protesting as I forced my full weight against it.
Well, I thought. Maybe I’ll make it through this year after all.
That depended, of course, on whether or not I could even make it through this job. Which was something I had my doubts about.
A mysterious man. A bride-for-hire. And fifteen grand on the line. When did I sign up for things to get this interesting?