“Stay to your left,” I screamed as a stone wall grazed the passenger side mirror, and I instinctively leaned toward Richard.
“I’m on the left, Annabelle,” he said, his knuckles white and his face glued to the road in front of us, what little of it there was. His dark hair–usually perfectly styled with plenty of product–looked disheveled, and his artificially tanned skin was a shade or two paler than usual.
Kate leaned her head between the two front seats, flicking a strand of blond hair out of her eyes. “Are you sure we’re not on a one-way street? This doesn’t look wide enough for two cars.”
“Positive,” I said, one hand holding up the road map of Ireland they’d given us at the rental car airport kiosk and the other clutching a to-go cup of lukewarm coffee. “Irish roads are known for being narrow.”
“I don’t think we’re actually on the road anymore,” Fern said as he raised his head from where he’d been resting it against the window, his travel pillow still hugging his neck. “Not on my side at least.”
I glanced out to see that the stone wall we’d come so close to grazing had been replaced by tall grass slapping the window. The broken yellow line was nowhere to be seen. We were, indeed, driving on the shoulder. Not that I blamed Richard. The only person I could blame for getting us into this situation was myself.
As the owner of Wedding Belles, Washington DC’s premiere wedding planning firm, I’d been only too eager to jump at the chance to work with a U.S. senator’s daughter on her upcoming wedding to a Silicon Valley tycoon. I’d been even more thrilled when she’d decided on a destination wedding, since I’d been hoping to expand the Wedding Belles reach overseas, and been delighted she’d settled on Ireland as her destination. An English-speaking country only a six-hour hop across the pond seemed the perfect place to get our feet wet with international weddings.
What I hadn’t thought about was the fact that most cars in the country were manual transmission, which I didn’t drive, and barely large enough to fit one suitcase in the tiny trunks, let alone four. My assistant, Kate, and I had been excited that our client wanted to send the entire design team over to Ireland to scout out potential venues, but now we were barreling down an Irish highway with a pile of suitcases strapped precariously to the roof and both Fern’s and Richard’s designer carry-on bags stacked between Kate and Fern in the back seat.
Kate peeked over the Louis Vuitton and Gucci wall. “I’d rather be on the grass side than the car side.”
“If you think you can do a better job, you’re more than welcome to come up and try,” Richard said.
“No,” Fern and I said in unison. Kate wasn’t a great driver to begin with, so I could only imagine how bad she’d be driving on the opposite side of the road and trying to shift with her left hand.
Kate mumbled something and flopped back in her seat. I took a sip of my watery coffee, grimaced, and made the decision to drink tea for the rest of the trip as I dropped the coffee into the console’s cup holder.
“Do I even need to say aloud how much you owe me for this, darling?” Richard asked, flicking his eyes to me then quickly back to the road as a box truck rumbled within inches of our car, and we both flinched. “If I start to perspire from stress, this silk cardigan is ruined.”
I glanced at his simple, yet no doubt pricey, gray sweater. “I’ll buy you a new one.”
“You can’t afford it,” he said.
That was probably true. Richard didn’t find it unusual to spend more on an item of clothing than I did on rent, and he made no secret that he thought my off-the-rack habits were a serious character flaw. It was one he was willing to overlook since I sent him so much business and since we’d been best friends since I’d moved to DC several years earlier.
I tried to ease my foot off the floor where I’d been ghost braking for the past hour. “I thought you were pleased I got you added to the Wedding Belles team as our culinary consultant. The client is paying you handsomely to work with the chef at whichever venue we select so the food is up to his standards.”
By “his” I meant the senator, our bride’s father, who was well known in Washington as a food and wine connoisseur. Since Richard was the owner of the renowned Richard Gerard Catering firm and had done parties for the senator and his wife, it hadn’t been a hard sell, but I didn’t want my best friend to know that. I’d learned long ago that it paid to keep Richard a little humble, if that was at all possible.
“When you mentioned a destination wedding in Ireland, I didn’t envision a clown car filled with vendors and myself at the wheel,” he muttered.
“It could be worse,” Kate said. “Buster and Mack could have flown over with us.”
Richard’s eyes widened. “Perish the thought. We would have had to strap them to the bumper.”
“Not when they’re bigger than the car we wouldn’t,” I reminded him as I turned the map and my elbow bumped his.
My go-to floral team consisted of two men who’d left husky in the rearview mirror, wore black leather with chains, and rode Harleys. Luckily, they’d had a big floral order to take care of in DC and would be flying over later to join us. I hadn’t worked out where we’d put them when they arrived, but I still had time.
“How much longer until we’re there?” Fern asked, yawning and tightening his dark man bun.
Richard glared at him in the rearview mirror. “Remind me again why we needed a hairstylist on a scouting trip.”
“He’s my plus one,” Kate said, her head appearing between us again.
“This isn’t a date function.” Richard mumbled something about millennials and their life expectations under his breath. “This is work. We need to do site visits of as many luxury castles and manors as we can in a short time frame, which means no dillydallying.”
Fern patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t get your knickers in a twist, sweetie. I’m totally focused on venues. Not to mention I’ve been doing Hailey’s hair for years, so I’m familiar with her taste.”
Hailey was our bride, and Fern—short for Fernando because his mother had been an ABBA groupie—was the reason she’d learned about Wedding Belles in the first place, so I had no problem with him joining us. I knew deep down Richard didn’t either, but the driving was getting to him.
“It shouldn’t be long now,” I said, glancing at a sign and back down at our map. “We left the Shannon airport almost an hour ago, so we should be to Adare soon.”
The congestion of the airport area had given way to green stretches of land with the occasional rolling hill, but we had yet to see sheep or cliffs or charming cottages that defined Ireland in my head.
Fern stretched his arms over his head and they hit the ceiling. “I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a nap.”
“You didn’t get any sleep on the plane?” I asked, tucking a long strand of hair back behind my ear. Sleeping on planes didn’t come easily to me, but I’d managed to get a few hours despite Kate slumped against my shoulder.
I twisted my head to see that Fern still had the kelly-green cashmere scarf he’d used as an airplane blanket wrapped around his neck. He’d presented us each with one before takeoff, claiming it would improve our team unity and morale for the trip. I wasn’t sure about that, but mine had been a welcome layer on the chilly flight.
I eyed the scarf topping his black turtleneck. Since Fern usually went to great lengths to match his outfits according to the season, holiday, or color scheme, I was grateful he wasn’t decked out in full leprechaun gear. Of course I hadn’t gotten a peek inside his luggage, and the day was young.
“I went through my skin care travel regimen and even had my sheet mask on,” Fern said, “but then I started talking with the cute couple across the aisle.”
“Wearing a sheet mask, you spent six hours talking to people?” I asked.
He giggled. “Can you believe it? But my skin is as soft as a baby’s bottom.” He touched his fingertips to his cheeks. “Want to feel?”
I shook my head. “I’m good. So what was the deal with the couple?” I vaguely remembered a perky blonde and a nondescript guy.
“Honeymooners.” Fern clapped his hands. “Isn’t that sweet? They’re doing a tour of Ireland just like we are.”
“Ugh,” Kate said. “I’m glad I slept through that.”
I was with Kate, although I might not have said it out loud. After spending nearly every day of the year with brides and grooms, the last thing I wanted to encounter on a trip was a pair of newlyweds. They were inevitably coming off the high of their wedding and could talk of nothing else.
“Probably not just like us,” I said, “unless they plan to tour ballrooms and meet with chefs.”
“No,” Fern admitted, “but I did tell them all the places we were going since you’d done all the research to find the most romantic castles in the country.”
Kate swung her head around. “Are you telling me we might have honeymooners on our trail for the entire trip?”
Fern swatted at her over the pile of bags. “Of course not. You know how people are with advice. They never take it even if they ask for it. But I wouldn’t be unhappy to see them again.” He leaned forward and dropped his voice to a whisper. “P.S. Annabelle, I’ll need another itinerary.”
“The only reason you care about seeing them again is so you can get your hands on the woman’s hair, isn’t it?” Kate asked.
Fern sucked in a breath. “What an outrageous accusation.” He turned his head to the window and looked over his shoulder. “Maybe just to shape it. These girls grow it out for their weddings and then it just hangs there.” He wrinkled his nose. “You know I can’t see problems in this world without wanting to fix them.”
I tried not to roll my eyes. “You’re a one-man Gates Foundation all right. I might have an extra itinerary, but remember, we’re here to find Hailey’s dream wedding spot, and we have less than a week in which to do it.”
“I’m still surprised the bride didn’t want to do this,” Kate said.
“She can’t exactly study for the bar exam and go gallivanting around Ireland,” I said. “I promised to send her lots of photos along the way.”
“Don’t worry about me, Annabelle.” Fern patted my shoulder. “I’m completely focused on the wedding.” He gasped. “Sheep! Look at all the sheep!”
A verdant hill stretched up to our right with the fluffy creatures nibbling lazily on the green grass. A stone wall intersected the hill with the worn stones stacked tightly together.
“Can we stop and pet them?” Kate asked, pointing through the glass. “Look, there’s even a little one.”
“No sheep.” Richard waved a finger in the air. “This is exactly the distraction Annabelle was talking about.”
Both Fern and Kate grumbled in the back seat.
“This is it.” I pointed ahead as a pair of stone gateposts came into view with black lanterns attached to the front and decorative stone urns on top. I squinted at the brass nameplates on each pillar that read “Adare Manor” and felt my stomach flutter when I realized we’d arrived at the five-star resort and golf club.
We all leaned forward as Richard slowly turned the car into the drive, and an attendant in a gold-braided uniform and top hat checked our names off a list and waved us through. As we curved around the long driveway and the massive stone manor came into view, with turrets rising high and green ivy covering its walls, my jaw dropped. Manicured gardens stretched in front of us leading up to the manor house, and I noticed a thick forest surrounding the historic house.
Kate rolled down her window and poked her head out for a better view. “Blimey.”
To be continued . . .
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