In case you missed my last post, I have a third book on the horizon: In Search of Mr. Anonymous. It’s a steamy romance due out on 4/27, and in the days leading up to the launch I will be sharing a sneak peek here. Read on for the first chapter.
I drum my fingers on my desk, once again glancing at the clock. At four o’clock sharp, my phone rings. I take a deep breath and answer on the second ring.
“Lucy! Hi, it’s Mackenzie Shaw from Bride Today.”
“Hi, how are you?”
“The question is, how are you? Tell me, how does it feel to land the most coveted wedding in Chicago?”
“It feels surreal.”
“I’ll bet. Can you give me any details about the big day?”
“It will be a New Year’s Eve wedding. The venue is undetermined but you can bet it will be somewhere unique and that has meaning to the bride. She’s having her gown custom made by Monique Lhuillier. You can expect it to be ethereal, elegant, and timeless. Like the bride herself.”
“Speaking of, how has it been working with Veronica?”
“She’s an excellent client. She has a vision but is open to ideas. She makes decisions when they need to be made and sticks to them. But what I admire most about her is that she involves Rob in every step of the process. It’s not just about her day. It’s about making their day special.”
“Does Rob want to be involved in the process?”
I laugh. “He does. For the most part he agrees with her choices, but he does have an opinion. I like a man with an opinion.”
“Do you? So, does the most eligible wedding planner have a significant other?”
“Not at the moment. I’m focused on my career.”
“Do you think you’ll continue on the wedding track? My sources tell me you specialize in corporate events.”
“Yes, I do. But Dreams DLC manages both corporate and bridal. So it’s not unusual for our event planners to cross over.”
“And how did Charlotte take the news? I understand Veronica specifically asked to work with you.”
“It was a team effort. I stepped in only because Charlotte was going to be on maternity leave during the heavy planning stages. Veronica asked that I be involved from a continuity standpoint.” It’s a small white lie, but hopefully she’ll buy it. And how does she know so much about my company’s internal politics? I wouldn’t put it past Charlotte to be giving her inside information. But then again, it doesn’t paint her in the best light.
“You’ve been with Dreams for three years now. What made you decide to leave Stanton?”
Reading between the lines, she wants to know why I would leave one of the top event planning firms for a small mom and pop shop. “Don reached out and at first I told him I wasn’t interested. Dreams wasn’t even on my radar. But he was persistent and told me I’d have a bigger opportunity here. He was right.”
That’s partly true but I’m embarrassed to tell her the real reason. I thought it was fate because the moniker has the same initials as my family: Dennis, Lucy and Corrine. DLC actually stands for Don Campioni, the owner, and his wife Lucca. But I took it as a sign. I knew going to a smaller firm meant less support staff and a lower salary, but I liked that it was a family-owned business. Don has five daughters―too many initials to use in the logo, he joked when we first met—and they all hold various positions at the company. I’m an only child, and I always wished I had come from a big family. Don has his employees over for a homemade Italian feast once a month. He invited me to join them while I was debating his offer. I loved the way he and Lucca fussed over everyone as though they were family. And it didn’t hurt that Lucca’s meatballs were the best I’ve ever had. I often tease Don that’s what sealed the deal.
Mackenzie asks me to send her over some engagement photos of the happy couple. We chat for another ten minutes about Veronica and Rob’s choice of musicians, color scheme, and the who’s who of the guest list. Many of these details haven’t been decided yet, but I was well prepared for the interview and answer her questions just as I practiced.
“One last question. I’d love a quote sharing the wisdom you’ve gained after years of planning these sorts of events. What’s the secret to a happy and lasting union?”
OK. She threw me for a loop. That is one question I wasn’t anticipating. And based on my own personal track record, I’ll be damned if I know.
“Hmm. That’s a great question. Let me think for a minute.”
“Take your time.”
I haven’t planned that many weddings. Really just a handful that were in some way connected to me or my friends. There’s no way in hell Charlotte would have agreed otherwise. But I mentally flip through those couples and what seemed to stand out to me.
“I would have to say the secret to a happy and lasting union is a couple who’s invested in their future. They realize that their wedding day is a celebration of their love. But it’s just that―a day. Their wedding is the foundation of the lifetime they are building from that day forward. A lifetime in which to build treasured moments and memories.”
“That’s great, thanks,” Mackenzie says. She pauses and I hear the click of her keys as she finishes capturing my quote.
After we hang up I begin to second-guess what I said. That quote does nothing to shed what I do in a positive light. In fact, it downright trivializes the importance of a wedding. Why would I say it’s only one day? Don’s going to kill me. I want to take it back, but I can’t very well call Mackenzie and tell her I changed my mind. I’d look indecisive and unprofessional. I try to push away the thought. The issue isn’t going to print for another few weeks.
Instead I focus on choosing the perfect engagement photos for the issue. I email Mackenzie the pics I select and cross it off my “to do” list. I skim the day’s tasks to make sure there is nothing left outstanding. Of course, there isn’t. I answer my remaining unopened emails and make a few calls to confirm last-minute arrangements for an event I’m running next week. Satisfied that everything is in order, I open my planner to a new page, move the ribbon to mark my spot, then turn off my laptop.
It’s a quarter to six―I spent longer than I intended at the office. I decide it will be faster to freshen up here before heading home to drop off my car. I pull out the cosmetics bag I keep in my top drawer and head to the bathroom. I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but I apply a fresh coat of mascara, add a light pink blush to give my ivory complexion some color, and run a brush through my dark, shoulder-length hair. When I return to my desk I kick off my ballet flats, which are a necessity for running around the office, and replace them with a pair of knee-length boots that are stashed under my desk. I tuck my butterfly pendant under my collar and add a silver statement necklace that’s more suitable for a night out. It’s dotted with blue beryl stones that make my eye color look more blue than green. I swear my eyes are always changing on me―it’s like they can’t decide what color they want to be. I keep an array of clothes, shoes, and jewelry in my office so I’m prepared for any occasion. My coworkers tease me about having a second wardrobe at the office, but guess who they go to when they’re in need of a last minute accessory.
I glance at my watch and it’s a few minutes to six. I do a quick calculation and figure I should be able to get home, drop off my car, and cab it to The Aviary, a cocktail lounge known for its innovative drinks, within the half hour. I grab my purse and text Trish I’ll meet her at six thirty. Not that I need to confirm; she knows I’m always punctual.
Trish is the florist I use for many of my company’s events and one of my closest friends. We’re meeting for a celebratory drink, just the two of us. The news about the Clayton-Ashford wedding victory hit last week. It’s been total mayhem ever since. Dreams threw a huge bash to celebrate and I’ve been running on adrenaline. I’d love nothing more than to spend the night in catching up on episodes of Top Chef. Not that I can cook, but I enjoy watching others do it and hope their talent will vicariously rub off on me. Trish wouldn’t hear of it. She insisted that I live up to my end of our bargain―tonight. Trish and I made a rather unorthodox bet. If we won the Clayton-Ashford account, I’d have to agree to a one-night stand with the man of her choosing. And if we lost she’d have to stay celibate for a month. Her idea, not mine. I agreed only because the win was a long-shot. We were the underdogs, competing against three other top-notch firms in the city. Dreams DLC is a small, boutique event planning company. But Veronica Clayton loved my ideas. To be fair she planted the seeds, and I ran with it. This is a huge win for the company―and for me.
I’m still reeling from the news and adjusting to the mayhem that’s followed. I even got a congratulatory call from my old boss at Stanton even though we didn’t part on the best of terms. Stanton was a great place to jumpstart my career because I learned from some of the best in the industry. But I never would’ve had the opportunity to plan the wedding of a lifetime. If I had stayed there it’s likely I’d still be an assistant. I’m so glad I went with my gut and took the risk. That wasn’t always the case, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts. Like the time I decided to move to Chicago after college graduation without a job offer. It was a big step for me to leave everything behind and face an uncertain future. I didn’t have any family in the area and the only person I knew was Melanie. But Virginia didn’t offer the same kind of job market, so I took a risk. Lucky for me it paid out in spades. Sometimes I do miss home, but I love the culture here. Dreams has become my extended family.
So back to the bet. It probably doesn’t sound like a big deal. But I don’t do one-night stands. I don’t do relationships, period. I’ve tried, but I’ve never found anyone that I’ve clicked with. I’m thirty-three and single, and most days I feel like I’m one of the few single girls left in this city. That may sound crazy, but I’m surrounded by people falling in love. I’ve never been one of the lucky ones. I’m so glad Mackenzie didn’t ask me for a quote about true love. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of what to say that didn’t sound like a cliché. As for sex, I haven’t slept with anyone in a long time. Trish gets on my case about letting loose and she seriously recites the health benefits of sex. I just don’t find it enjoyable being with a virtual stranger or someone I’m not interested in. And work doesn’t leave me with a lot of free time. I prefer it that way. Trish is the opposite, constantly looking for her next conquest. At least until she met Dax, her current boyfriend. And from what she tells me things are definitely not lacking in the bedroom. Hence, the stakes of our bet.
I don’t think I’m terribly picky. I may not have the most outgoing personality, but since graduating high school I’ve come out of my shell. I give Melanie a lot of the credit. She brings out the best in me. We kept in touch since that summer we went to camp together. On a whim, I decided to apply to Wash U because I knew it was her top choice. We both got in and were roommates since our freshman year. I moved to her hometown of Chicago once we graduated and rented a room from the condo her parents bought her up until a few months ago. I was getting a great deal on rent, but now that I’ve saved up it made more sense to live somewhere that had a ten minute commute instead of forty-five, thirty on a good day. My building is in the West Loop just blocks from Dreams. And while I love it, I do miss her company. Both Mel and I haven’t had the best luck with men. She often gets her heart broken, and I’ve just never been that interested in any of the men I’ve met. They’re nice enough, but I’ve never felt that spark. Well, except with one. Coffee Guy.
The first time I saw him I had an immediate physical reaction. My face grew hot, my pulse raced, and I felt a nervous sensation in the pit of my stomach. That had never happened to me before. I was standing in line at the local Starbucks to get my usual tall skim coffee, and there he was, about five people ahead of me. The first thing I noticed was his hair. It was dark and fell in luscious waves, with a slight curl at the nape of his neck. He was tall, probably about six two, and wore his clothes well. And by that I mean he had a sharp, tailored look about him, from his pressed pin-stripe button-down to his charcoal gray pants that were just the right length for his shoes. I have a thing about guys who wear pants that are too short. If your socks show, let it grow. That should be a motto for tailors. He turned around after he ordered and our eyes met. His were so dark they appeared almost black. He looked at me with an intensity I hadn’t experienced before. We stood there, staring at each other, for what was probably only a matter of seconds. But it felt like a couple of minutes. My eyes searched his face and landed on his mouth. I wondered what it would be like to kiss his perfectly-shaped lips. As if he’d read my mind, he gave me a knowing smile and I immediately turned away. I’m such an idiot! Leave it to me to drool over a guy as he looks on. As I’ve said, I don’t have a lot of experience with men and flirting is not my forte. I attempted to subtly check him out as I waited for my coffee. He had a casual elegance about him, with one hand in his pocket and the other checking his phone.
I looked forward to seeing him every morning. I always came in at the same time, and he was always a few people ahead of me. We often had weird exchanges like that―so much being communicated without saying a word. Unless it was all in my head. Once he even paid for my cup. “For Elsie,” I overheard him telling the cashier. For some reason the baristas think my name is Elsie. I don’t like when they yell out your name once the order is ready. I don’t know why, I just find it embarrassing. So I used my initials, “L.C.” I don’t think anyone does that, so the barista assumed my name was Elsie. From then on they wrote “Elsie” on my cup, so I went with it. I tried to find out his name, but he usually grabbed food from the case instead of ordering a drink. Anyway, I approached Coffee Guy to thank him, but just when I reached him he had to take a phone call. He was apologetic about it, but I felt kind of weird after. And while we flirted when we saw each other, if that’s what you want to call it, he never took things further.
Then I moved and the coffee shop was extremely out of my way. There was no reason to go there anymore. But I did. For another three weeks. It was so out of character Melanie literally got out a thermometer. I was waking up an hour early just to have a run-in with a guy whose name I didn’t even know. And to see Joe. Joe was a homeless man I befriended. I often bought him a cup of coffee as well. But then there were days when Coffee Guy stopped showing up. I saw him sporadically, and I wondered if he got a new job where he traveled. Then I learned of the Clayton-Ashford pitch, and Don wanted all hands on deck bright and early. There was no longer a point in schlepping an extra forty-five minutes for the same cup of coffee I could get in the lobby of my building.
I decided I was going to work up the nerve to talk to him on my last day there. As it turns out, he bought my coffee again that day. I took it as a sign. On my way out I approached him to say thank you, glad to have an excuse. My stomach was tied up in nervous knots, which only intensified with each step I took. Those dark eyes of his were watching me, waiting to see what I would do. Before I was a few feet in front of him, another girl walked over. I swear I’d seen her in there before. Maybe they were coworkers? But then he pulled her away by the restrooms, so I decided against that theory. I didn’t know what to do. With my heart pounding in my chest, I waited around for a few minutes, but they didn’t return. It made me wonder what they were doing back there. I lost my nerve. I quickly spun around and headed toward the door. I swear someone called out, “Wait!” But when I turned around he was still gone. And so was the end of my fantasy.
I think about him a lot, this random stranger that got into my head. But not tonight. I push aside any remaining thoughts of Coffee Guy and instead give myself a pep talk for the daunting task that lies ahead. I’m ready to check this one off my list. But first, I need alcohol, and lots of it.
I maneuver my Audi Cabriolet into my parking spot in the garage, if you want to call it that. It’s so tiny because I’m flanked by two poles and it used to take me three tries before I could fit. I’ve learned backing in is easiest, but while I’m doing so my water bottle spills all over my lap. I debate about letting my clothes air dry, but figure I still have time to dash upstairs and change. I let myself into my empty apartment, my boots echoing on the wood floors. It doesn’t bother me living alone―in fact, I like the quiet. I throw my keys in the dish on my nightstand next to a framed photo of Melanie and me. I must’ve tossed them harder than I intended because the frame topples to the floor and the corner shatters. It was a beautiful crystal frame that Charlotte gave me, and not because she was being nice. It was a gift from the bride of a wedding she planned and it wasn’t Charlotte’s taste. I quickly pick up the shards and am happy to see it broke into clean sections. Like a jigsaw puzzle, I attempt to put it back together. It looks like it will work, but I don’t have time to glue it. I place it on my nightstand as is, but it won’t stand properly now that the bottom section is missing. I decide to put the frame and broken pieces in my office until I have more time to fix it. Normally I’d take this as a bad omen, but the glass holding our picture didn’t crack, and generally speaking it seems reparable.
I put the pieces in a Ziploc bag and leave them and the frame in my top desk drawer. I throw on another black dress, run my fingers through my hair, and grab my keys. Before leaving I adjust the other photo on my nightstand so it’s more centered. It’s of my parents and me when they came in town to visit. Aside from my butterfly collection, the frames are the only personal items I have in my apartment. I just haven’t gotten around to hanging artwork.
I take the elevator down and wave to George, my favorite doorman, as I head through the lobby. He offers to turn on the cab light but I decline. I’ve been cooped up all day and could use the fresh air. When I step outside an icy breeze lashes across my skin, making my eyes and nose water. Perhaps I should’ve taken George up on his offer. I’m about to head back inside but at that moment a cab pulls up. I tap my foot as I wait for the patron to pay then slide in across the backseat. “The Aviary,” I tell the driver. The lights of the city blur by as he speeds to my destination, as if his life depended on it. “Slow down,” I tell him, echoing my thoughts about what lies ahead.
Of course, Trish knows me so well. She’s ready with a unique looking drink in hand when I walk in and spot her at one of the highboys. “Cheers!” she says as we clink glasses. “To an unforgettable night.”
I already wish it’s one I could forget.
Intrigued? (I hope so!) Reserve your copy now by clicking on the icons below and save! Pre-sale e-book price is $2.99. After the launch the price will go up to $3.99.
Did you miss my last post? You can read the Prologue at the link below.