WED OR ALIVE
“Get back here,” I said, reaching out and taking hold of Richard’s sleeve. “No one is going to be murdered.”
“The day is young, Annabelle,” Richard said, glancing at Sidney Allen primping his masked performers on the dance floor.
“First things first.” I twisted to face Kate. “You and the bride get along well, right?”
“She does follow me on Instagram and comments on almost all my posts. In social media terms, that means we’re practically best friends.”
“Perfect. Can you go have a chat with the bride while I check the reception setup?” I pulled my phone out of my pocket and held it up. “Text me if you need reinforcements.”
Kate gave me a thumbs up and headed inside.
I glanced at Fern who remained next to me. “Don’t you need to get back to the bridal party?”
“Those tramps are fine.” Fern waved a hand at me. “But when I say tramps, this time I mean it.”
“You call all your clients tramps,” I reminded him. It used to fluster me that Fern referred to all his high-society hair clients by raunchy names until I realized he used the same words on everyone and the clients seemed to find it funny.
“Or hussies,” Richard added. “Or trollops.”
Fern beamed at Richard. “Thanks for reminding me about that one. I haven’t called someone a trollop in ages. It’s such a classic word too.”
“I take it this isn’t your easiest bridal party?” I asked.
Fern gave me a look that told me this was an understatement. “These girls take catty to the next level. The college friends don’t like the high school friends and those girls don’t like the work friend. Then there’s a girl from the wrong side of who-knows-where.”
I’d seen this before. Mixing women from different phases of life didn’t always lead to harmony and lifelong bonds.
Richard swept an arm wide. “We’re in Potomac. There isn’t a railroad track to be on the wrong side of out here. Everyone’s absurdly wealthy.”
Fern arched a brow. “You’ll see. I promise you these are not your usual rich girls gone slightly wild.”
“What about the bride’s younger sister?” I asked, remembering the brunette from a few of our meetings. “She seems okay.”
“She’s fine, if not a little resentful. She doesn’t have the personality of her sister, though.”
Fern was right there. The bride was larger than life. Not what I’d call beautiful in a traditional sense, but Veronica was tall and voluptuous with an infectious laugh and the talent to draw people to her. She was also dramatic and prone to what could generously be called tantrums, which is why I wasn’t overly concerned about her latest stunt.
“Should I send up more champagne?” Richard asked. “Better yet, should I send up more food?”
Fern gave an abrupt shake of his head. “No more booze for these tramps, and don’t send one of your cute waiters again. The last one almost got mauled, poor thing. Don’t you have any middle-aged waiters with a dad bod?”
“Bite your tongue,” Richard said. “Haven’t we already established that I like my staff to be as visually appealing as my food.”?
I studied Fern. “You look remarkably sober today, come to think of it.”
“I have to keep my wits about me.” He gestured to a man in black pants and a black blazer pacing the perimeter of the open-sided dinner tent and then disappearing around the back of the draped cocktail hour tent behind it. “There are men with guns here. Lost of them.”
“That’s the dad’s private security,” I said. “Unless you try to attack him, you should be fine.”
We all looked over as Sidney Allen screeched something about his performers riding around in golf carts and took off waddling across the lawn. For the tenth time that day, I felt lucky not to work for him, and I didn’t blame his employees for trying to escape in a golf cart, although I’d have to remind the staff that the carts the family used to visit their stables were not to be used for joy-riding.
“There are worse things than being shot,” Richard said eyeing the hysterical entertainment diva as the man screeched orders into his headset.
“With that in mind, I’d better head back to the lion’s den.” Fern fluffed the red scarf tied at his neck and headed inside. “I hope Kate’s been able to coax Veronica out of the bathroom. It will be much harder to do her beachy waves through a door.”
Richard’s phone trilled from inside his jacket and he pulled it out, giving an impatient huff when he looked at the screen and answered. “Leatrice, darling. You know I’m grateful to you for watching Hermes, but you do remember I’m working a wedding, right?”
He rolled his eyes and shook his head, pointing to the phone as he listened. My slightly eccentric neighbor, Leatrice, loved only one thing more than meddling in my personal life, and that was taking care of Richard’s tiny Yorkie, Hermes. Although Richard had declared himself firmly in the ‘no pets and children’ camp for as long as I’d known him, the miniature pup had come part and parcel with his current significant other. Despite his protests, Richard had taken to the little dog and toted him around in his man bag, giving new meaning to the phrase “purse dog.” When he and his partner were both working, Leatrice reveled in her time with Hermes.
“What do you mean ‘does he get scared easily’?” Richard asked into the phone. “Of course it’s fine for him to watch an R-rated movie. He’s a dog.”
I put a hand to my mouth to keep from laughing.
“But no popcorn or candy. It’s bad for him and you know he only eats organic.” Richard tapped his foot on the paving stones. “Fine, but keep him on the leash. He gets overly excited when he sees the elephants.”
I waited for him to hang up. “It sounds like Leatrice and Hermes are having a better day than we are.”
Richard flicked a hand through his unmoving hair. “First they’re having a Hitchcock marathon and then they may go to the zoo.”
“That’s normal.” Of course it was all relative considering the fact that Hermes had a considerable wardrobe of designer outfits including a Burberry raincoat that matched Richard’s and both dog and owner were on the Paleo diet.
My phone vibrated, and I looked at the name popping up on the screen. Detective Reese. My stomach fluttered, and I angled the phone so Richard couldn’t see.
“Did Kate have success already?” he asked, watching me fumble with my phone.
“No, it’s nothing important.” I dropped the phone in my pocket. “Nothing wedding-related, at least.”
Richard looked away. “You’d think a detective would be able to figure out it’s not a good idea to call a wedding planner in the middle of a wedding day.”
I didn’t respond as I made my way across the pool deck and into the dinner tent, stepping onto the wooden flooring we’d installed so women wouldn’t spend the entire night with their heels sinking into the grass. Round tables draped in shimmering silver cloths filled most of the tent with a shiny white dance floor in the center of the space. A glittering crystal chandelier hung over the dance floor and smaller versions hung throughout the rest of the tent. Silver candelabra on each table were surrounded by masses of white flowers and jeweled Venetian masks. At each place setting, an ornate mask lay across the silver base plate, the guest’s name on a tag tied on with iridescent ribbon.
“You know, Annabelle.” Richard followed me. “You don’t have to pretend he isn’t calling. It’s not like I’m oblivious to your relationship.”
“Are you kidding me?” I slipped off my black flats before stepping onto the dance floor. “You either ignore him or glare at him every time the two of you are in the same room.”
Richard inhaled sharply. “That’s absurd.”
“Agreed.” I stared at him. “So what are going to do about this?”
He pressed a palm to his chest. “Are you implying I’m the problem here?”
I adjusted the name tag on a mask that was adorned with silver feathers. “You’ve had an issue with Reese the second he showed interest in me. And since we’ve been dating, you’ve been almost hostile to him. What’s going to happen if we move in together?”
Richard staggered back a few steps. “Move in together? Are you serious?”
“I don’t know.” I really didn’t know if I was ready to move in with my boyfriend, and now I regretted mentioning it to Richard. “It’s a possibility.”
“Has this been discussed?” Richard’s voice dropped so low I could barely hear him over the sounds of the band setting up on the stage behind us.
“Kind of.” Reese had mentioned it once, but we hadn’t discussed it any further. My stammered response to him might have had something to do with that. “Nothing’s been settled, but it’s on the table.”
“And this is the first I’m hearing about this major life decision?” Richard sniffed. “Well, it looks like you don’t need my input anymore.”
“Come on,” I said, moving to another table and repositioning a gilded mask with a multicolored Harlequin pattern. “Why does this have to be a big deal?”
“Because moving in with someone is a big deal. It’s one step closer to you running off and getting married.” His voice cracked. “And that will change everything.”
I noticed a few stares from the band’s sound crew as they moved the speakers into place. “I have no plans to run off and get married.”
“You say that now, but fast forward a year and you’re walking down the aisle toward tall, dark, and testosterone. And where am I in all this?” He dabbed at his eyes. “I’ll tell you where. Nowhere. Pushed out. There can’t be two main men in your life, and I’ll be the one kicked to the curb.”
“That will never happen.”
Richard took a long breath. “We already spend less time together. When is the last time I came over to cook because you had nothing in the house and can barely boil water?”
I tried to remember the last night Richard and I had spent hanging out at my place together. I hated to admit I couldn’t.
He pulled away from me. “Face it, darling. It’s already happened.”
I opened and closed my mouth as he stalked off out of the tent, the band members making a point of looking away. I wanted to call him back but I didn’t know what to say. I also didn’t want to make any more of a scene in front of other wedding vendors than we already had.
Maybe he was right and I was moving too fast with Reese. I did know the thought of moving in with him—or anyone—made my stomach do flips, and I wasn’t sure if they were the good kind of flips. I’d been living on my own for so long that the idea of giving up any bit of independence made me nervous. I liked coming and going on my own schedule and not answering to anyone but my nosy neighbor. Would I be giving that up by moving in with Reese?
The thought of losing my friends was even worse. Richard had been my mentor and support system since I moved to DC seven years ago and started my own wedding planning business. He’d stuck with me when I’d sent him clients who insisted on putting garden gnomes on the buffet and when I’d inadvertently gotten him mixed up multiple murder investigations. Losing him would be like cutting off one of my arms.
I felt my phone buzz and gave an impatient groan. If Reese was going to call me all day, it was not going to help his case. I pulled out my phone and looked at the screen. It was a text from Kate but only a series of random letters. Either she butt-dialed me or was having a stroke. I typed back ‘What?’ and pressed send.
I didn’t get a response, so I slipped my phone back in my pocket. She must already have her phone on mute. I decided I’d better go upstairs and check on the bride myself. I gave a final, envious glance at the swimming penguins as I crossed back through the pool deck and opened the French doors leading into the house. The noise of splashing penguins and band sound checks were replaced with an Andrea Bocelli song, and I remembered the opera singer whom I’d told could practice in the library. I’d barely made it two steps into the kitchen when Fern rushed into the room.
“Thank heavens I found you.” He stopped to catch his breath when he reached me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, grabbing him by the shoulders.
“It’s . . . the bride.” His words came out in stops and starts. “She’s gone.”
To be continued . . .
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