It’s launch day for my newest Annabelle Archer novel, REVIEW TO A KILL!! In honor of today, I’m offering up the first chapter of the book for you to preview. Enjoy!
Review to a Kill: An Annabelle Archer Wedding Planner Mystery
By Laura Durham
“This rain is going to ruin the view of the White House.” I threw open one of the french doors that led to the Hay-Adams Hotel’s narrow balcony overlooking both Lafayette Park and the most famous address in Washington, DC.
The gray clouds that hung over the city had been sending a steady mist of rain since the morning and, as it was now midafternoon, my hopes for a sunny wedding day, along with my hopes for a happy bride, were dwindling fast. I stepped onto the balcony and let the fine droplets settle on my skin. I breathed in the fresh scent of rain and felt glad it had washed away the pollen haze that had been hanging over the city for the past week, even if it did have to happen on the one day I needed clear skies. I ignored the clattering noise of the wedding band setting up behind me and took a moment to soak in the relative peacefulness of standing nearly ten stories above the city on a sleepy, rainy Saturday.
I reached into the pocket of my dress and felt for the packet of gummi bears my assistant, Kate, had given me earlier in the day. I popped a few into my mouth and savored the sugar rush. They were probably the only calories I’d get until much later that night so I didn’t feel guilty about them. I held up the Cellophane candy packet to Buster, one half of my floral designing duo, and jiggled it.
He shook his head, pulling at his brown goatee with his fingers. “I’m too stressed to eat right now.”
“Don’t worry. It might clear up,” I said, dropping the candy back into my pocket and patting Buster on his thick tattooed arm. I didn’t fully believe what I said but, as the owner of Wedding Belles, one of DC’s top wedding-planning companies, I’d learned that is was crucial to keep my creative team positive on the wedding day. Even if that meant lying to them.
Buster raised his eyebrows and the motorcycle goggles he wore on his forehead followed. “It’s hard to pull off a springtime in Paris theme when it looks like a hurricane’s brewing outside.”
“Don’t you think you’re exaggerating a bit?”
Buster was usually the more even-keeled half of the floral design duo from Lush. His partner, Mack, was equally tattooed and leather-clad with a dark red goatee instead of a brown one but, generally speaking, the more emotional of the pair. I hoped Buster’s nerves didn’t mean that Mack was in a full-scale meltdown.
I turned from the view to look for Mack and glanced over the ballroom that had been transformed into springtime in Paris. One of the biggest selling points for holding a wedding at the Top of The Hay, the name for the iconic hotel’s rooftop ballroom, was the two walls of glass french doors that wrapped around the L-shaped room and provided both natural light and a stunning view. It was the perfect pick for a bride wanting any type of garden theme, and it had been a natural fit for our bride who wanted to recreate Paris in the spring. Whitewashed Eiffel Towers were interspersed between the towering arrangements of pink tulips on a runner of grass that extended the length of the long, rectangular tables. A tiny easel sat at the top of each place setting with a guest’s name painted over a pastel impressionist background, and white ladder-backed chairs wore pale-pink tulle skirts.
“There you are,” I said as I spotted Mack walking toward us under the hanging flower garden that Buster had installed in the ceiling alcove over the dance floor.
Mack dodged a hanging tulip. “Well, I delivered the bride’s bouquet.”
“And?” I asked, not sure if I wanted to know the bride’s reaction.
Mack flopped down in a nearby chair. “Let’s just say that if I cursed, now would be the time I’d pick some choice words about our bride.”
I cringed. Mack and Buster were members of a Christian biker gang, and I’d never heard a swear word leave their lips.
Buster closed the french doors. “She didn’t like the collar of nerines around the tulips?”
“Who knows what she hated more?” Mack tugged at a loose thread on his black leather vest. “She said it gave her a headache.”
“The scent of it?” I asked. “I thought you specifically chose flowers with no scent.”
“I did,” Mack said. “She approved every flower in the whole wedding, remember?”
“How could I forget?” I recalled every painstaking moment of the planning ordeal with Tricia, from bringing blooms to her house for her to sniff test to sending her MP3 files of every song the band played so she could eliminate songs that were in a key she found irritating to having the chef forward her the ingredient list for every bite that would be served so she could identify offending foods.
“So she’s not going to carry it down the aisle?” Buster asked.
“She’s not going to walk down the aisle.” Kate stood in the open doorway across from us, her hands on her hips and the toe of one high heel thumping on the carpet.
I closed my eyes and dropped my head for a second. “Not this again.”
“Yep. She claims the stress has made her too sick to attend her own wedding.” Kate strode across the room, her blond bob bouncing with each step. She had long legs that she preferred to show to their full advantage with short skirts, even on a wedding day, so her fitted black dress stopped several inches north of her knees. When she reached Mack, she sat in the chair next to him, crossing her legs so that her dress rose even higher on her thighs.
“How can she be stressed?” I asked. “We’ve done everything for her.”
“Beats me.” Kate shrugged. “But I never understood all the syndromes she claims to have.”
Buster held up one finger. “There’s the hypersensitivity to light.”
“And migraines brought on by the scent of lilies,” Mack said. “And garden roses and peonies and lily of the valley.”
Kate snapped her fingers. “And don’t forget that anything louder than a speaking voice can make her swoon.”
“Why is she having a wedding in the first place?” Buster asked. “It’s filled with all the things she claims make her sick.”
Kate lowered her voice. “She’s an attention whore. Why else would you be such a hypochondriac?”
“She’s a rich hypochondriac,” I said. “And what better way to get more attention than a big wedding?”
“Not if you don’t show up for it,” Mack said.
I shook my head. “I’m sure she’s bluffing.”
“She probably needs some of the patented Annabelle Archer Zen,” Kate said. She loved to tease me about being able to calm down even the most nervous brides just by being around them. So far, though, Tricia Toker had pushed the limits of even my Zen energy.
I sighed and mentally steeled myself for the bride’s histrionics. “I’ll go check on her. Fern should be done with everyone’s hair by now.”
“Fern is not done because Fern can’t work under these conditions.” The hairstylist to Washington’s most elite, and all of our brides, stood in the doorway of the ballroom with a can of hairspray in one hand and a round brush in the other. Since Fern always tried to dress to the theme of the wedding, he wore a navy and white striped boatneck T-shirt with white pants and a navy beret. I noticed that his beret had slipped from its earlier jaunty tilt, and strands of dark hair had escaped from his low ponytail. He threw his brush on the floor. “Fern quits.”
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