Surrounded by color swatches, invitation samples and decorative charts, Emme Dalton shoved a pen behind her ear and threw her arms above her head, stretching. A glance at the clock told her it was well past 5 o’clock. Her paltry lunch of salad and bottled water long ago left her system, and her protesting stomach reminded her dinner should be around the corner. But this wedding was giving her fits, or more to the point, the bride was.
Lenny Winston called at least once a day, if not more. It was getting to the point where she looked at her caller ID on her cell and debated whether it was worth it to answer. Bridezilla changed her color combination three times and her location twice. She wanted roses, then she wanted sunflowers, and finally, settled on roses mixed with lilies and five other flowers. Emme even had to mediate when she got in a fight with her maid of honor.
Sometimes, she questioned her sanity for getting involved in this business. But then a wedding came together, glowing bride and smiling groom, a smashing reception and happy parents, and she remembered why she started to begin with. If she had to remind herself several times a day lately, well, it was part of the package. And eventually, this wedding would end and she could catch her breath for a moment or two.
What she needed, was a larger studio and more employees. That required money she didn’t yet have, but hopefully would once the Winston wedding finished. Word of mouth was the ticket in this business. It kept her holding her tongue, holding her breath and holding her temper when she received the fifth call in one day. She solved everything from wedding day pimples, to alteration disasters, to drunk wedding guests. And she dried more tears than a mother with cranky toddlers.
Leaning back in her chair, she arched her aching back and reached for her bottled water, wishing it contained vodka. Her cell phone vibrated, dancing across papers on her desk, before the ring tone blared “Barracuda”.
She lifted it, glaring at the screen. “Great. Just what I need.”
She considered not answering it, but the fall-out would be worse. A five minute voice mail, calls from her beleaguered brothers and finally, her father, begging she call her mother before he buried his wife in the back yard. It was tempting to tell him to just do it. They could have a nice funeral, and she wouldn’t have to listen to a lecture on why she couldn’t be married like her friends, with five kids, a mortgage and a mini-van.
“Hello mother. To what, do I owe this illustrious call?”
“Don’t be sarcastic, Emme. It’s not very becoming.”
It was tempting to tell her mother they didn’t live in the 1950s, but it would be a waste of breath.
“Anyway, you probably heard, but your oldest brother got engaged. His wife is very lovely. You’ll do the wedding, won’t you?”
She doodled on a spare piece of paper. “Mom, you know I don’t do family weddings. That’s just asking for trouble.”
“But you did your friends’ weddings.”
“That’s different. Besides, if you knew I knew, then why are you calling to tell me?”
Silence on the other end, then, “Well, I was just wondering, when are you going to get married?”
They had this conversation at least once a week. “Mom, you have to be engaged to get married. Better yet, you have to be dating. You know I’m not dating. I don’t have time for that right now.”
“It’s such a pity. You plan such beautiful weddings, yet...”
Emme rolled her eyes, though she knew her mother couldn’t see. “I’m 25 years old. I don’t think I’ll be an old maid anytime soon.”
“I need grandchildren, you know that. I’m getting very bored now that all you children are grown.”
“Bug Jeffery. He’s getting married, right? I’m sure he’ll be happy to give you snotty little children to spoil.”
Eliza Dalton sighed. “Children are not snotty, Emme. They’re wonderful.”
She crumpled up the paper with her spare hand, launching it toward the garbage can, rewarded when it dropped solidly in. “Mm hm. I’m sure they are. But you know, Mom, I have a career. I’m too busy for kids.”
“I still don’t understand why you couldn’t work for you father. They’re are plenty of young men looking for young ladies there, I’m sure. Then you could settle down, make a nice home and raise babies.”
“I’m sure Jeffery’s wife would be happy to do that. Look, Mom, I need to get some dinner and head home. This is a nice little chat, and all, but I’m not getting married and having children anytime soon.”
“It’s such a shame... All that inheritance going to waste, because you won’t get married.”
Emme had been waiting for that hammer to drop. Her grandmother left her a large sum of money, should she get married first. While it would help expand her business, she wasn’t about to go that route. Though two of her best friends married for convenience (and found love), she was looking for neither. She liked her space and making her own schedule. Building her business was the only thing she wanted to focus on, not a sham marriage and being forced to live with another person.
“Very funny, Mom. Good try. It won’t work.”
Another wealthy sigh. “I don’t know what to do with you, Emme. I know I should just give up, but...”
Yes, please, just give up already! Instead, she pulled the pencil from behind her ear and began chewing on it.
She tried appealing to Eliza’s motherly sensibilities, though she often wondered if her mother actually had any. “Mom, seriously, I need to go. I haven’t eaten for hours.”
“Okay, okay. I know when I’m not wanted. I love you. Call me more.”
So she could get lectured more often than once a week? Not likely.
“Right, right. Love you too.”
As she hung up, the door to the shop opened, bringing with it brisk, March air and her cousin. Nichele was two years younger than her. With her blonde hair, long legs and sassy personality, she was easily Emme’s favorite relative. Right now, considering the smell emanating from the bags she carried, Nici was also her favorite person.
“Nici! You saved me from certain death!”
Nici swung her hair from her face and set the bags on her desk, laughing. “I don’t know about death, but I figured you hadn’t eaten again.
“You figured correct. The Winston wedding is giving me fits.”
“Don’t you mean the bride is giving you fits?” Nici corrected, handing her a carton of food.
She opened it, moaning her pleasure. And promptly wondered when the last time was a man made her sound that way. Plastic fork poised like a weapon, she dug into the lasagna and thought it far past time she planned a night out with Kate and her cousin, the only two single people in Seattle, it seemed.
“Guess how many times she called me today?” Emme asked, around a mouthful.
Laughing, struggling not to choke on her dinner, she shook her head. “Close. Five.”
“Did she change anything today?”
“No, thank goodness. But give it another day or two.”
Since Nici was between jobs, Emme often employed her to run errands she couldn’t get to. Her cousin proved a natural, and by the end of the Winston wedding, she hoped to hire her full-time. Like her, Nici had no interest in the family business. She was a free-spirit, working at whatever job caught her fancy. Most of the time, they were temporary and short-lived.
Hoisting herself up on one of the counters, Nici nodded. “You did lay down the law a little.”
“I had to. I was tired of reorganizing the color schemes. And the only reason she kept the venue, was because I sent out the invitations.”
“Oh, that reminds me. I’ll take her cake tasting tomorrow if you’re too busy.”
“You’re a life saver.” Drinking the remainder of her water, she added. “I hope I can hire you soon, Nici.”
Nici waved her fork. “I know, Em. It’s tight right now.”
Looking to the ceiling as if it held all the answers, she sighed. “It wouldn’t be if I get married.”
“That’s crazy talk, and you know it. You don’t have time for marriage.”
“That’s what I told Mom, but you know her.”
Nici sat up straight. “Emme, when are you going to get married? You know I’m not getting any younger. I need grandchildren.”
“You’re so good at that, it’s frightening.”
Nici laughed. “I get it from my mom too.”
The phone vibrated, a different ring tone blasting from its speaker. Frowning, she picked up the cell. “It’s Deacon. I wonder what he’s calling about.”
Nici slapped her hand over her heart. “You know way too many hunky men, Em.”
“Hunky, taken men,” she corrected, answering. “Hey, Deacon. What’s up?” She listened a moment. “You’re where? The hospital! Oh my Lord, is it time? It’s a few weeks early. You bet I will! I’m not missing this for anything!”
Slapping the phone down on her desk, she jumped from the chair, unable to help the squeal. “Ashlyn is in labor!”
“Go, go! I’ll close up.”
She ran for her purse, tripped over a bag and nearly fell. “Are you sure? You’re a gem!”
Nici laughed at her again. “You forgot your coat.”
“Oh, right. There better be a taxi, and quick. I can’t believe it’s time!” Doing a little dance out the door, she blew Nici a kiss. Her cousin waved.
The chill in the air left her shivering. She pulled her coat tighter around her, wishing it would hurry up and get Spring already. Preferably, Summer, but a girl couldn’t be too picky. Seasons came when seasons wanted to. Not for the first time, she considered she needed a car again. But parking was a nightmare and she hated the traffic.
“I need to get rich like Deacon and get a limo to take me everywhere.”
The laughable part was, her family had more money than any of them knew what to do with. When she chose a different career path, her parents made it clear they wouldn’t fund the venture. Three years ago, she started from nothing and built her business through hard work and contacts. The small loan from Deacon didn’t hurt, but she had long since paid that back. She didn’t like owing money to anyone, least of all her friends.
“Maybe it’s time to hit the bank up for that loan...” But she hated loans as much as she did borrowing money from people she knew.
After a few moments, she caught a taxi and directed them to the hospital. Though she told her mother otherwise, she loved babies. They were entertaining, cute and looked like wrinkled, little old men. She could hardly wait to see what Deacon and Ashlyn’s little girl looked like. For the baby’s sake, she hoped it looked like Ashlyn. Deacon was good-looking, but she couldn’t imagine a female version of her friend.
Traffic was the usual, messy affair. Knowing it wouldn’t do any good to ask the driver to go faster, she sat back and tried for patience. Deacon sounded so ecstatic on the phone, she thought it adorable. Between finding out he had a five year old son and finding out his new wife was pregnant, her friend had a busy year. He seemed so in love though, it was almost sickening.
But she gained a new friend in Ashlyn, and through Ashlyn, Kate. It seemed that her circle of friends was being picked off, one by one, for marriage. Before long, she wouldn’t have anyone to go out with.
“At least they’re happy,” she told the window, as she watched the slow passing of cars.
“Did you say something?”
She gave her attention to the cab driver. “Not a word.”
He muttered something she couldn’t hear. He probably thought she was crazy. Considering her life, Emme thought half the time she was crazy. Or at least, her brides were.
At the speed they were driving, the baby was going to be two before she made it to the hospital. Walking would probably be faster. But she wore heeled boots today, and as much as she loved fashion, she didn’t think they were made for miles of hoofing it.
“Lady, you talking to yourself back there?”
She made a face she hoped he could see in the rear view mirror. “Yes, yes I am. Got a problem with that?”
“Be quiet and drive. I have a baby to see.”
She thought about throwing something at his head, but the heaviest thing her purse carried besides her phone, was tampons. And despite the slow rate they were going, she didn’t want to walk in the cold. So, she swallowed her words, snuggled deeper in her coat and made a mental list of everything she needed to do tomorrow.