Sarah is a wedding planner who doesn’t believe in love. Or, not for herself anyway. And now with all her working hours spent planning the wedding of the year, she certainly doesn’t have time to even think about love.... Or does she?
From the Hardcover edition.
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Katie Fforde’s six previous novels include Life Skills and most recently, the bestselling Thyme Out.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Chapter One Sarah stood by the lych-gate and surveyed the perfection of the summer morning. It was June and the sun was shining with the promise of a perfect day. The church was an early English gem, surrounded by closely mown, dew-spangled grass, ancient lichen-covered gravestones and clipped yews. She’d already seen Sukie, the florist, who’d been there since dawn, and now some of her anxiety left her. Two years of work had come to fruition. It was all going to be all right.
Then she screamed as someone appeared from behind a tombstone. ‘Agh! Hugo! You brute! You gave me such a fright!’ As her beating heart caught up with her brain and she realised she wasn’t being attacked, by a stranger at least, she went on: ‘You had me thinking it was Halloween for a moment there.’
Hugo, tall, blond and rumpled, always gave Sarah the impression that he’d just got out of bed – and not his own.
‘Sarah, you’re so sweet, I should give you up for Lent,’ he drawled in reply.
Sarah smiled. Hugo was one of the best photographers she dealt with and they always exchanged sallies and insults, but she had deliberately never got to know him as a friend – she felt it was more sensible to keep the relationship strictly professional. ‘We both seem to have got our seasons mixed up.’
‘As long as we’ve got the day right. Perfect for it, huh?’
Sarah nodded. ‘And you’ll love the bride. She’s really beautiful.’
‘Darling. Two little sweeties – we won’t call them angels until we know how they behave – and one big one to keep them in order. Heavenly dresses.’
‘Second families to worry about? Bride and groom’s parents still married to each other and pitching up?’
‘Yup. Marriage does work for some people, apparently.’ She smiled again slightly, pretending she was joking.
Hugo rumbled his amusement. ‘Don’t you believe in “happy ever after” then?’
‘Not very often. Which is why I think it’s important that the wedding is as wonderful as it can possibly be.’ She gestured to the scene of perfection before them. ‘It might be the only happy memory.’
Hugo inspected the dew that had gathered on his perfect shiny shoe. ‘Honestly, Sarah, if the people who pay you to organise all this knew how you feel . . .’
‘They don’t need to know about my feelings, only about my ability to find the perfect venue and a personable photographer who makes everyone look fabulous.’
He chuckled again, taking the hint that she needed to get on, along with the compliment. ‘So, anything I need to know?’
Sarah considered. ‘I don’t think you should have any trouble. The bride’s mother has put an awful lot of energy into this and is very anxious that nothing happens to spoil that, but she’s got a great hat. I’m sure she’ll succumb to your ready charm.’
Sarah could never understand why she was the only one who realised Hugo’s ready charm was part of his stock-in-trade as a photographer, but she admitted that, for a wedding planner, she did have more than the usual amount of cynicism. And for good reason: she hadn’t been in the business more than a couple of years and already two of the perfect weddings she had organised had broken up, one barely eight months after the happy pair drove off in a cloud of dried delphinium petals. Five of the six girls from her school who had got married the moment they hit twenty-five had since separated. There was also her sister’s debacle of a marriage, not to mention (and Sarah never did) her own heartbreak, recovered from but not forgotten. No, in Sarah’s eyes, happy-ever-after was the rare exception that proved the rule.
‘Well, I’ll just prowl around a bit more,’ said Hugo, unaware of Sarah’s thoughts. ‘Find somewhere really picturesque to take the less formal shots.’
‘Try to avoid grass stains on the dresses, if you can. Please! I always get complaints.’
He tipped his head and closed his already heavy-lidded eyes, indicating that while he heard her request, he wasn’t necessarily going to concede to it.
‘It’s all right for you, no one ever moans to you!’
‘Because I’m the best,’ he said simply.
And because he was, and they both knew it, she just said, ‘I’d better get back to the hotel to make sure everyone’s there who should be, and not too many people who shouldn’t.’ She frowned. ‘I’m still not convinced it wouldn’t have been better to have the reception at the bride’s home – it’s fabulous, but they decided it was less upheaval to have it at a hotel. It is a very good hotel, of course. But the money!’ She raised her hands in a gesture of amazement. ‘Now, I must get on.’
She turned away, aware of his sleepy gaze on her back. She hoped he wouldn’t get the bridesmaids to lean against lichen-covered gravestones and thus ruin their dresses for ever, but accepted that for him getting the right shot was vital and nothing much else came into consideration. She was good at managing people and she usually got what she wanted out of them, but she was never convinced that Hugo took any notice of her at all.
As she walked back to her car she wondered if Ashlyn was the sort of bride who would encourage people to open the champagne before the wedding and turn what should be a morning of solid preparation into an extension of the hen party. But her mother would probably put a stop to anything like that. A glass for everyone during the final hair and make-up session was fine, but only one!
She arrived at the hotel to a diorama of potential tragedy. Everyone was more or less static when they should have been calmly getting on with dressing the bride.
Instead, Ashlyn was sitting at the dressing table in a chemise, stockings and French knickers, with her mobile phone in her hand, tears of rage adding the wrong sort of sparkle to her eyes. Elsa, the dressmaker, waiting to help her into the dress now hanging on the back of the door, stood awkwardly inspecting her nails and picking bits of fluff off her black trousers.
Bron, in charge of hair and make-up, had also stepped back. Ashlyn’s long and slippery tresses were half up, half down, and her frantic texting had threatened her French manicure. The perfect make-up already needed reapplying.
‘What’s happened?’ demanded Sarah, instantly aware she was witnessing an unfolding calamity.
There was a moment’s tense silence and then the bride answered: ‘My fucking bridesmaid has decided not to come!’
Shock settled round the room like dust after an explosion. Sarah had never heard Ashlyn use language like that before. A moment’s reflection made her feel it was justified.
‘Oh no,’ said Sarah, her eyes shut, wondering how on earth two enchanting three-year-olds could possibly manage without an accompanying adult bridesmaid.
‘Oh yes.’ Ashlyn bit out the words between her newly whitened teeth. ‘She’s decided that a weekend away with her new boyfriend would be more fun than attending her best friend’s wedding!’
‘That’s so out of order,’ murmured Bron, wondering when she could carry on doing the bride’s hair.
‘And to think I paid for that bitch’s weekend at Barnstable Spa, which is not exactly cheap!’ Ashlyn went on. ‘And Mummy paid for her dress – another small fortune.’ Elsa, who’d also made the bridesmaid’s outfit, winced. ‘Well, at least I can change her disgusting wedding present for something decent!’
Sensing that the bride was beginning to move on from this disaster, Bron stepped forward with her comb and pins, preparing to carry on defying gravity with Ashlyn’s water-smooth hair. Elsa’s shoulders relaxed and Sarah said, ‘We can manage perfectly well without her. Poppy should be able to take your bouquet from you and we can ask your sister-in-law to take it from her. Don’t worry.’
Ashlyn gave a huge sigh. ‘I should have known not to trust her. She sat on my guinea pig when we were little and I’ve never forgiven her.’
There was a tiny pause, showing respect for the dead guinea pig, and then Bron said bravely, ‘OK, if I can just get back to doing your hair. We haven’t got all day.’
As Bron laughed, a little awkwardly, Sarah wondered if there was a bit of puffiness around her eyes this morning, or if she’d imagined it. She didn’t know Bron very well, perhaps she always looked like that.
Elsa stopped picking at her trousers and seemed calm, waiting for the moment when her dressmaking skills might be needed. Ashlyn’s mother had insisted that she attended, principally so she could make final adjustments to the chief bridesmaid’s dress, as she’d missed her final fitting. Most probably she would only be required to hook up Ashlyn’s dress at the back and break it to the bride that the dress would look better if it wasn’t worn over the French knickers she’d had such fun buying, but over nothing at all. She had a thong in her bag if Ashlyn preferred that option.
Then the door opened and the bride’s mother walked in. ‘Everything all right, darling?’
There was a moment’s silence. No one wanted to be the messenger that turned the bride’s mother’s big day into a disaster. Then Ashlyn bit the bullet. ‘Fulvia’s backed out. She’s going to Paris with her boyfriend instead.’
Mrs Lennox-Featherstone screamed, not loudly, but loud enough to alarm her husband who called anxiously through the door.
‘Is everything all righ...
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