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Brides and Bouquets At Cedarwood Lodge: The perfect romance to curl up with in 2018! Rebecca Raisin Snow is falling at Cedarwood Lodge in the second part of the feel-good romance serial from best selling author, Rebecca Raisin!Dreaming of a happily ever after at Cedarwood Lodge is Clio Winters’ current focus, especially with a winter wonderland wedding expo planned. But with brides coming from far and wide the heat is on for Clio to fulfil everyone’s dream of a Christmas wedding!It seems like Clio’s new business might be off to a rocky start and surrounded by love struck brides she can’t help but hope for a little Christmas romance of her own…Cedarwood Lodge is a delectable romance told in three parts – following Clio Winters journey back to her hometown of Evergreen. This is Part Two. Christmas has come to Cedarwood Lodge in the second part of the feel-good romance serial from best-selling author, Rebecca Raisin! Dreaming of a happily ever after at Cedarwood Lodge is Clio Winters’ current focus, especially with a winter wonderland wedding expo planned. But with brides coming from far and wide, the heat is on for Clio to fulfil everyone’s dream of a Christmas wedding! It seems like Clio’s new business might be off to a rocky start and surrounded by lovestruck brides she can’t help but hope for a little Christmas romance of her own… Cedarwood Lodge is a delectable romance told in three parts – following Clio Winters’ journey back to her hometown of Evergreen. This is Part Two. Praise for REBECCA RAISIN (#uace65ff9-ddb0-51bd-a8cf-992d465145db) ‘This novel is a love letter to Paris, and even more so a love letter to books; it is absolutely a must-read book for book lovers.’ – Rather Too Fond of Books, The Little Bookshop on the Seine ‘Drama and romance, but most of all it’s got a more general sweetness and love and happiness that is often hard to find these days.’ – Love Reading Romance, A Gingerbread Café Christmas ‘Easy to read and devoured quickly, I literally could not get enough and I was so sad to finish it. It was a truly captivating, spellbinding tale of taking chances and living life to the full that I am sure will ring true with many readers.’ – Compelling Reads, The Little Bookshop on the Seine ‘...the perfect read to get you in the mood for Christmas and my mouth was watering after reading about all of the delicious-sounding baking.’ – Bookbabblers, A Gingerbread Café Christmas ‘I love love love this author, and this book cements the fact that this series is a winner!’ – Fiona, The Little Bookshop on the Seine ‘Fun, quick, festive reads that’ll leave you glowing from within (or in my case a puffy mess).’ – Into the Bookcase, A Gingerbread Café Christmas ‘I loved every second of The Little Bookshop on the Seine, easy to read, with words oozing charm and good feeling, that just made me feel warm and cosy.’ – Rachel’s Random Reads ‘Simply divine, with stunning writing slipping between being utterly romantic, charming and fun-filled and a little emotional.’ – Reviewed the Book, A Gingerbread Café Christmas Also by Rebecca Raisin (#uace65ff9-ddb0-51bd-a8cf-992d465145db) Cedarwood Lodge Celebrations & Confetti at Cedarwood Lodge Brides & Bouquets at Cedarwood Lodge Midnight & Mistletoe at Cedarwood Lodge Once in a Lifetime series The Gingerbread Café trilogy Christmas at the Gingerbread Café Chocolate Dreams at the Gingerbread Café Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café The Bookshop on the Corner Secrets at Maple Syrup Farm The Little Paris Collection The Little Bookshop on the Seine The Little Antique Shop under the Eiffel Tower Coming soon: The Little Perfume Shop off the Champs-Élysées Brides & Bouquets at Cedarwood Lodge Rebecca Raisin REBECCA RAISIN is a true bibliophile. This love of books morphed into the desire to write them. She’s been widely published in various short-story anthologies, and in fiction magazines, and is now focusing on writing romance. The only downfall about writing about gorgeous men who have brains as well as brawn is falling in love with them – just as well they’re fictional. Rebecca aims to write characters you can see yourself being friends with. People with big hearts who care about relationships, and, most importantly, believe in true, once-in-a-lifetime love. Follow her on Twitter @jaxandwillsmum (https://twitter.com/jaxandwillsmum) Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaRaisinAuthor (https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaRaisinAuthor) Website rebeccaraisin.com (http://www.rebeccaraisin.com) I’m forever indebted to Helena Kendrick from Love Reading Romance. Her marketing and promotional help is priceless and I am so thankful I get to use her genius for my books. Thanks, Helena for putting up with me, and taking a million screen shots whenever I am technically challenged! I owe you lots of vin blanc… Find Helena here: http://tours.readingromance.com/p/book-tour.html (http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Ftours.readingromance.com%2Fp%2Fbook-tour.html&h=cAQHaNr9f) For Marie Webdale whose friendship spans the oceans that separate us Contents Cover (#u3e625f2f-ac56-5b65-b3d6-384da4013d19) Blurb (#u09faaabd-45ec-500f-89c8-0e66318bb8e1) Praise (#u1fff6d76-7084-5ad1-9be2-3b1af5e7acf7) Book List (#ubb5ba614-027f-55e2-9904-9bd235936eff) Title Page (#uc0d40a75-2f05-59be-823e-5f4b591e4314) Author Bio (#u512f9e0d-5800-5a03-ab52-b4f188aeb4cc) Acknowledgement (#ub5a99560-bfe5-5018-b696-352fdbe3a8de) Dedication (#u6dc4f7c5-a3ef-5c28-819c-64aff54df451) Chapter One (#ud4700f2c-178f-529e-979b-17a908985355) Chapter Two (#ud122ea6f-1524-55ea-87e2-d53d13bf736a) Chapter Three (#u783ae84e-7089-55f5-99af-c81961c10688) Chapter Four (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Five (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Endpages (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One (#uace65ff9-ddb0-51bd-a8cf-992d465145db) Blustery winds lashed at the windows, rattling the shutters, and a draught raced up the staircase in an eerie woo. December had well and truly arrived, bringing with it icy winds and sheeting rain and the urge to snuggle by the fire. But there was no time for that with only a few days until our bridal expo, and Christmas to plan too. “Tell me this place isn’t haunted, Clio,” a wide-eyed Amory said, clutching a loop of silver tinsel to her chest like a safety blanket. “With the ghosts of boyfriends past?” I teased, warming my hands by the fire. It crackled and popped, a comforting soundtrack to frosty nights with us holed up in the lodge, working away in one room or another. While the main renovations had been done, there was always something else that needed some attention. From polishing paint-smudged finger-printed balustrades, to excavating the debris from a musty unused cupboard we’d missed the first time around. She grinned. “You wish.” “No I do not wish. Men complicate everything!” The creaks and moans of the lodge didn’t bother me any more. I was used to the grand old dame making her presence felt in the whispers of wind, and shivers of brocade curtains. And if the ghosts made their presence felt then who was I to judge? I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, but sometimes I awoke with a start, and had the feeling I wasn’t alone. Which was all sorts of crazy and I put it down to fatigue and erratic dream-filled sleep. “Speaking of men,” Amory said falling into a plush wingback chair that we’d rescued from the basement and rejuvenated. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was thinking back to a few weeks ago – the night I arrived actually – and I could be mistaken; did I interrupt you and Kai? I wasn’t paying attention at the time, but I’m sure you were in his arms like… lovers.” Her eyes twinkled mischievously and it was all I could do to keep my expression neutral. Damn it! I had tried very hard to forget all about Kai and the spontaneous kiss under the moonlight. He had left before I was up the next morning, and I hadn’t heard a peep from him since. He’d probably forgotten all about me and Cedarwood by now, and thus there’d been no point confiding in Amory about my brief clinch with the bronzed, blond, surfer, yogi, Australian project manager – just to describe him briefly – who’d helped shape the lodge back into the beauty of its halcyon days. Without him here, the work days lost some of their shine, for me anyway. “In his arms?” I said doubtfully, as if she was silly to suggest such a thing. “God, no. We had been discussing the… the cleanup. Probably why he hotfooted out so early the next day.” I lifted a shoulder as if it was nothing, but the mention of Kai and that kiss still had the ability to make me woozy. What could I say, it had been a long time since I’d been plagued with thoughts of a man in the romantic sense – it jolted me, those long dormant feelings. Not fooled, Amory narrowed her eyes and said breezily, “Oh, my mistake, this postcard must be for someone else then…” With a playful smile she waved the postcard in front of me. With a shriek I snatched it from her, and held it to my chest. “Did you read it?” She faux gasped, “I would never do that!” “You liar!” I laughed, and lobbed a cushion at her. Even if Amory had read the postcard, which I had no doubt she had, I wanted to read it alone and savor it. I peeked at the festive picture on the front of a snow covered park with a line saying: wish you were here. Of course, I instantly read too much into it… “Well, aren’t you going to read it?” “Later,” I said. “It’s probably just a polite reminder asking for his last invoice to be paid.” Which I really needed to do. Was I subconsciously holding out so he’d call me? No, no, no. I was just time poor, that’s all it was. She rolled her eyes dramatically. “As if, just read the damn thing. And then we can dissect every word for hidden meaning.” It was hard to hide anything from Amory, but I kept the farce up, not willing to give in so easily. “Can we get back to decorating?” I motioned to a box from which shiny baubles and sparkly tinsel spilled out, dusting the floorboards with glitter. “All we’ve done so far is make a mess.” “Fine,” she grinned. “Let’s throw some tinsel around while we talk.” She was incorrigible, and wouldn’t give up until I’d read the damn card and deliberated over every single syllable with her. Her innocent act didn’t fool me though – I wasn’t the only one keeping secrets. She’d been at Cedarwood for a couple of weeks now, and her lips remained firmly clamped about why she’d hastily left Manhattan. I hadn’t pushed for details, hoping Amory would share when she was ready. I had a feeling it was something to do with her boyfriend Cruz, and not a problem at the agency, from the amount of work calls she was fielding, telling them with good grace she was on a sabbatical. I waggled my eyebrows, sensing an opportunity. “Fine, I’ll tell if you will.” “Oh you cunning little minx.” She puckered her lips. “Learned from the best,” I winked. “Fine.” “Fine.” “You first.” I flipped the postcard over and read Kai’s loping scrawls: When the noise of the city gets too much, I think of Cedarwood. The silence, the stars, and being surrounded by the beauty of nature. What happened the night of the party? Kai Mortification colored me scarlet. What happened? A kiss happened, and not your run-of-the-mill kiss either, a knee trembler, a time stopper, a gasp inducer, the type I’d only ever read about before, but was I alone in that thought? He hadn’t called since had he? “Come on, the suspense is killing me!” I handed the card to Amory and she pretended to read it for the first time. “I knew it! God, you must’ve been so annoyed when I stumbled in at that exact moment!” I let out a nervous laugh. “The timing wasn’t ideal, but I was happy to see you. Besides, as you can clearly see, it didn’t mean anything to him. The poor guy got out of there as quick as he could so he wouldn’t have to face me again.” A scoff escaped her pinked lips. “Where does it say that?” She made a show of re-reading it, squinting at it up close. Giving her a long look I quoted from memory: “What happened? Not exactly a declaration of love, is it?” In my heart of hearts I hadn’t expected anything less. So far my love life had been underwhelming. It wasn’t that I didn’t want romance, it was more that I hadn’t found anyone who flipped my world upside down. And I was just too busy to waste time with Mr Right Now’s. Amory stared me down like I was an unruly child. “What’s that face supposed to mean?” I asked, folding my arms. With a huff she said, “You’re looking for a reason to cast him off, before it’s even started! If you read between the lines of what he wrote he’s saying he misses Cedarwood, which reallymeans he’s missing you, and he’s asking if the kiss meant something to you, because it clearly did to him! Men don’t send correspondence if they don’t care, for god’s sake.” It was my turn to scoff. “It doesn’t mean that at all! If he was interested he wouldn’t have left before the sun rose the next day, would he? It was like he couldn’t get out of here fast enough. The postcard is a reminder, hey pay your bills, lady. Which I intend to do once we get all of this work done.” I sighed. There was never enough time, and my nerves became more frayed the closer the bridal expo crept. Love would complicate things, better instead if I focused on my friends, my brides, and my business. Just like usual, work, work, work. I bent to the box of decorations, and busied myself rummaging. In a softer tone Amory said, “Darling, he stayed on longer than he was contracted, that is saying in invisible letters – he’s keen.” Who knew what anything meant when it came to men? Kai was more sensitive and quiet than I was used to and I didn’t know how to read him, or his postcard. He was gone, and that was that. Micah wandered in, lugging another big box of Christmas decorations, and I was glad for the interruption. Having my easy-going best friend from Evergreen and my fashion-conscious best friend from Manhattan in one place might have proved tricky for some, but not for these two. They gelled from the get-go and delighted in ganging up and teasing me good naturedly, just as I would expect from both of them. Proof I had good taste in friends. “Three more boxes to go. Jesus, Clio, when you decorate you don’t go lightly do you?” he wiped a layer of sheen from his brow. I stared him down. “It’s Christmas, Micah. And you of all people should know what that means.” When I lived in Evergreen as a teenager, Christmas was left to me, and that meant Micah was roped in to help, no matter how much he complained. From decorating the fir trees in the front yard, to hanging fairy lights in the window, he was part of every step, willing or not. Secretly, he adored Christmas but thought it unmanly to admit it. I could read that guy like a book back then, and nothing had changed. “It means carols on a loop, eggnog for weeks, and lots of sparkly things, right?” “Right! And that’s just the beginning,” I added, grinning. Christmas was my favorite time of year. And that meant any Grinches had to suffer in silence or face my steely-eyed glare. I had plans for an intimate Christmas Eve party, with all the trimmings. It didn’t matter if I was hosting a party for four or four hundred, it had to be right. The lodge would shine so brightly you’d see it all the way from Australia if you squinted hard enough. So what if I liked Christmas? It was the one time of year when you could be sentimental and surround yourself with friends who were more like family. I loved every single part of it, including decorating like my life depended on it. Amory held up two baubles to her ears like earrings. “We should get some tacky Christmas jewelry. You know the type that flashes?” She swapped the baubles for a trio of star statues that she centered on the coffee table. “We definitely should.” “Are you going to reply? I notice he’s scrawled a return address on the card…” She took an ornate angel from the box and set it on the mantelpiece, casually bumping me out of the way with her hip. I bent to the box and grabbed a length of golden glittery beads out, intending to wind them around the stairwell bannisters in the lobby. “I don’t know. Anyway, what about you? Why’d you leave Manhattan?” I propped the postcard on the mantle, near the rosy red stockings hanging on an angle waiting to be stuffed by Santa (a girl could still believe). A gold Christmas candle threw light around the space, flickering festively. Amory nodded to Micah’s bent head, as if to say not in front of him. “Oh, don’t mind Micah. He’s used to doling out advice to women.” Better if there were no secrets between us, then less chance I would talk out of turn. Besides, Micah was a good sounding board. He wasn’t dismissive like some men could be. Still, Amory shrunk back as if she didn’t want to share with him just yet. Micah got the hint and said, “How about I make us some eggnog, my secret recipe?” He waggled his brows and I knew that meant he’d probably do his usual heavy-handed trick and add too much bourbon. He said it had to buzz on your tongue or it wasn’t Christmas. Yeah, right. Micah just really liked bourbon. “Bring back a plate of gingerbread men too! The ones with the little snowflake scarves!” Something to soak up the alcohol… “And grab some of those reindeer cookies Georges made!” Amory faced me, patting the soft swell of her belly. “Your chef will be my downfall, you know.” “Mine too. Let’s worry about that next year.” She nodded. “Yeah, no one watches their weight over Christmas. That’s just rude.” Micah shook his head ruefully as he wandered down the hallway, “Just yell out if I can do anything else, princesses.” The Christmas carols had finished so I pressed the go button again, smiling as Dean Martin warbled Let it Snow… Peeking outside, snowflakes seesawed down, blanketing the ground white; I couldn’t wait for the brides to see Cedarwood in all its wintry glory, flashing festively and dusted with soft white snow. It was Christmas card perfect. Warm, welcoming and ready for guests. “Anyway,” I dragged myself back to the decorations and took some reindeer bunting from the box. “What happened? Tell me everything…” Amory fiddled with big golden wreath for the front door, bending it back into shape and said, “It’s a long story.” “We’ve got time.” She’d try anything to avoid talking about it, and it was totally out of character for her. She sighed. “You’re going to think I’m slightly insane, really you will, so just pretend I’m not – OK? Keeping in mind I’ve been dating Cruz for just over a year, yeah? Not five years, not ten, not…” “I get it,” I interrupted solemnly, noting her downturned lips, the slight tremble in her hands. Amory would try and make the situation funny, or lighthearted, it was her way to downplay things, but I could see it had obviously affected her. “So Cruz invited me over for dinner. As you know our dates went inexplicably from twice a week to almost every day – it was all getting very serious quite rapidly. After a month of that he was dropping hints about how settling down really appealed to him, babbling about friends of his who’d just had a baby, who was cute-as-a-button, he actually said cute-as-a-button …” “Oh… a baby.” I bit my lip to stop from saying anything more. Amory had zero inclination to have children. Less than zero. She was openly opposed to it and had told Cruz early on it was a deal breaker for her. He’d accepted that, not having the desire himself. Did he want to try for a baby? “Right?” she toyed with a length of tinsel. “So I go there for this fancy home-cooked meal, he’s got this little table set for two, candles, flowers, soft music, the whole nine yards.” I turned the carols down slightly so I could concentrate. “OK, none of that screams weird to me, but keep going.” I’d always liked Cruz – for a Manhattanite, he was more grounded than most, and didn’t bother with the pretensions of big city living. He was himself, always, a smoldering-eyed, nice guy who showed his love for Amory in little romantic ways all the time. He didn’t get moody about girls’ nights out and gave Amory space when she needed it without question. He was a keeper in my books. “So I sat there sort of stiffly, feeling a little uncomfortable. The night reeked of change, and I wasn’t sure why. I could feel it in my bones. He popped the champagne cork and poured, I didn’t even wait to clink, I guzzled it down. And then another.” I laughed, imagining her pinched face, her wide-eyed worry as she quaffed expensive champagne like it was water. “Classy.” “It gets worse,” she groaned. “He pottered about assembling our entrée, a fancy ceviche dish that took an age to assemble…” I interrupted, “Is he a good cook though, that’s the big question.” Was I the only one who routinely set smoke alarms off by burning toast? I was easily distracted and the kitchen was a no-go zone for me if I could help it. The only times I tried out my culinary skills was with Mom and that’s only because she tended to avoid cooking altogether. “Darling, don’t you remember? Cruz was a chef before he moved to Manhattan. He worked under Jacques What’s-his-name for about a hundred years before he got dragged into finance by that boss of his with dollar signs for eyeballs, don’t get me started on that guy. Anyway, Cruz was adding these micro herbs to the dish and telling me all about his parents and how much they wanted to meet me, and what did I think about a trip to South America to visit them?” “Aw that’s so sweet, he wants to show you off! A trip to South America sounds totally amazing, Amory!” Cruz was a really nice guy in a sea of maybe-nots. Amory pretended it wasn’t serious but it was obvious to me how much he adored her, and she kept him at bay for reasons I couldn’t fathom. To protect her heart, I suspected. She rubbed a hand over her face. “Don’t you think it’s a bit… heavy… meeting them?” I frowned. “No, I don’t think it’s heavy! You’ve been dating Cruz for over a year now and that’s a long time, especially in Manhattan minutes. It’s the normal progression of things.” It was exasperating at times being so utterly different to Amory. How could she not see this was a sign of commitment from Cruz? Surely that was a good thing? Plumping a candy-cane festooned cushion she said, “Darling that might be the normal progression of things for people who are willing to settle down, but that’s not me! They’ll expect some perfect Stepford type, won’t they?” “What do you care? You don’t normally let anyone intimidate you.” I had the sneaking suspicion she cared more than usual about what they’d think of her because she really did love Cruz. She folded her arms. “I’m not willing to pretend I’m ready for marriage and babies, just because I’m at the age where it’s deemed I should be. Don’t you see? He’s expecting one thing to lead to the next, and I’m not interested in all of that. Next minute I’ll be pregnant with triplets, and living in a cottage without Wi-Fi.” She shuddered, she really didn’t like being without the internet and I had to laugh. “I’m sure it’s not as bad as all that. It sounds romantic, like Cruz was trying to show you he’s committed, and most men in New York would run a mile rather than do that. What happened next, surely that isn’t why you left town?” She took a deep breath. “Well then he circled the table, and bent down. On one knee!” I dropped the reindeer bunting about the same time my jaw fell open. “Oh my god, he PROPOSED?” Color rose up her cheeks and she averted her eyes. “Not exactly.” “What do you mean not exactly?” “Well,” she put the cushion in place on the chaise and then flopped beside it. “Obviously, I freaked out, didn’t I? He knows I don’t want the whole meet-the-parents, marriage and children thing. I haven’t kept it a secret!” I frowned. “But did he or did he not say the words: Will you marry me?” She let out a high-pitched squeal. “I don’t know! I blinked rapidly, and pretended I had something in my eye! An eyelash emergency … I told him I’d be back in a minute – I just had to rinse my face…” I cupped my mouth and said, “Oh, Amory! You didn’t!” “I did, and I went through the bedroom and plunged down the fire escape, and half-ran half-hobbled off into the night.” “The fire escape!” I let out a groan. “Amory! But you’re scared of heights!” “I’m scared of marriage proposals more! And my poor Manolos will never be the same.” She blinked back tears, I only hoped they weren’t for her expensive designer heels and more for her predicament with Cruz. “Forget about the Manolos, what did he do?” “He called out saying he just wanted to talk and why was I running, but by then I was breathing hard and quite wild-eyed with it all.” I flopped on the opposite chaise, truly stunned. Who’d run away from a guy like Cruz? It was mind-bending. But Amory was my best friend, so I was on her side, always. “Have you spoken since then?” She scrunched her eyes closed. “Only by text. I can’t face a phone call. Firstly, I’m terrified of the whole potential proposal thing, and secondly, what if he thinks I’m a basket case for running?” “You are a basket case. Maybe he was just going to… serenade you or something. And you with your steely heart threw yourself down a building to get away?” She covered her face and mumbled, “I know, I know. I wasn’t thinking rationally at the time. Once I got home that night I emailed the agency and told them I was taking a sabbatical and then made my way here, all before I could change my mind. And then I thought about telling you and wanted to dissolve into the floor. So now you know.” Her face paled at the recollections and I moved to hug her, silly girl that she was. All that fuss, just so she could avoid hearing someone declare their love. “Shouldn’t you at least talk to him? Put the poor guy out of his misery?” She shook her head, “I texted him that I was here and taking a break.” “And what was his reply?” “Take all the time I need, he’d wait for me.” “Wow, what a monster he is,” I said. She lobbed an inflatable Santa at me, which bounced off and hit Micah as he walked back through the door holding a tray of steaming hot eggnog and plates of Christmas cookies. “Whoa!” he said, just managing to right the mugs as they wobbled, eggnog splashing over the sides. “Sorry,” Amory said. “It was Santa’s fault.” We sat and each took a drink, cradling the mugs for warmth, and then my phone pinged. I sighed, expecting it to be an anxious text from one of the brides attending the expo. Instead it was from Timothy: ‘Great to catch up the other night, would love to have dinner with you sometime this week? Timothy x’. My stomach flipped. I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt about Timothy, there hadn’t been time to really ruminate about it all. So I texted back quickly, shielding my phone from Amory’s prying eyes: ‘Hey, Tim! The impromptu drinks were fab.’ I paused, weighing up what else to say. It wasn’t as though we’d planned to meet, so technically it wasn’t a date, more two old friends being at the same place at the same time. ‘Can I take a rain check for dinner for some time after New Year? Hope the kids are well!’ It wasn’t that I didn’t feel a frisson of something there, it was more he was a father and I had to tread carefully, realizing he was a package deal. And those kids weren’t exactly amenable to some stranger wandering into their lives. Five-year-old Scarlett had given me the slit-throat gesture, which I still hadn’t quite recovered from… Better to stick to other people’s love lives for now. After a deep drink of eggnog, I said, “So what now?” Amory took up a gingerbread man, biting his head off in one fell swoop. Between crunches she said, “Look, darling, there’s no question I adore the man, but I want to move along on my terms. This may sound ironic coming from a girl who plans weddings for a living, but I just don’t want to be told there’s stages and like clockwork I have to tick them off, just because everyone else does.” Without the bedlam of the big city there was time to talk seriously about these big, life changing things on a deeper level than we would have in Manhattan. Time moved at a slower pace at Cedarwood. We let ourselves relax, confessions were mulled over – rather than answered quickly and less thoughtfully between cocktails and pumping music. Micah sipped his eggnog, and hummed to the carols, contentment shining in his eyes, or more likely the bourbon was taking effect! I debated whether to push Amory for a deeper truth. I didn’t want her to think I wasn’t supportive, but I also thought she might need a shove to be honest, even with herself. “Is it really that though, Amory, or is that you don’t want to admit how you feel?” “Don’t Doctor Phil me, please, oh psychobabbler, I realize I’ve acted a little rashly, but imagine if he did propose? It would have been all sorts of awkward.” “Why, would you have said no?” “I wouldn’t have said yes.” Micah piped up. “Hang on, hang on, so explain what happened.” Amory nodded so I gave Micah a rundown of events. He murmured to himself before saying, “There’s got to be a way you can meet in the middle. And what if he wasn’t about to propose? He might have been about to tell you he’s sorry but he’s decided to become vegetarian.” Amory laughed. “But the ceviche, Micah. Ceviche is fish.” Micah steepled his fingers. “Maybe a pescetarian then?” he laughed. “But you see my point, right? It could have been a marriage proposal, but it also could have been, ‘hey girl, you want to fly first class and meet my parents? Then I’ll wine and dine you in Paris, how ‘bout it?’” I let out a peal of laughter at Micah’s attempted accent. It sounded more hillbilly than South American. “Maybe,” she said, giggling. “But on one knee? Don’t men reserve that position for the proposal? Like isn’t it hallowed?” Micah nodded. “Well, yeah, you’d hate to get a girl’s hopes up if it wasn’t the case. I think you should at least talk to Cruz, let him explain. He’s probably out of his mind worrying about you.” Thank you, Micah! She was more likely to listen to a third party than me, knowing I had a soft spot for Cruz. “Yeah, I guess. I will, eventually. Let’s get back to decorating. All this love talk gets too soppy after a while. Plus, we’ve got wreaths for the doors to hang, and stockings for the fireplaces in the suites upstairs. Fairy lights, and these things…” she lifted a row of jingly Christmas bells. “Micah, what about the trees? Did you tell Isla which ones we wanted?” Amory subject-changed like a pro. At the mention of Isla’s name Micah’s face changed, it softened, his eyes glazed. He had managed to get over his past and find love, and it brightened the room, radiated off him. Amory noticed it too and we exchanged a proud parent kind of smile. “Yep, Isla’s onto it. I’ll help her bring them in tomorrow. Speaking of which, what would you buy a girl like Isla for Christmas? She’s not into fashion, or jewelry… but I want to get her something special, that shows her how much I love her. Amazing and unique, like Isla.” Isla with her long red hair, athletic physique and penchant for fast motorbikes wasn’t your run-of-the-mill girl. She had a heart of gold and her own past to deal with after being burned badly in her parents’ house fire, and living a nomadic lifestyle as a landscape designer before settling at Cedarwood. She was fast becoming the sister I never had and deserved to be spoiled this Christmas. “What about a book of poetry?” I said. Love poems, was there anything sweeter? “No,” I said, changing my mind. “It’s not quite right, is it?” Amory wrinkled her nose in contemplation and then lifted her index finger. “Oh, I know the perfect gift! A star!” Micah cocked his head. “A star?” “You can buy a real life star, and even name it if you want to. That way when you’re canoodling under the moonlight you can point it out. Tell me that’s not the most romantic thing ever?” His face crinkled into a smile, and he said, almost to himself, “I’ll buy her a whole constellation.” He got that same dreamy faraway look in his eyes again and I knew we’d lost him. Amory sank back into the chaise, but I pulled her back up and I said, “We’ve got decorating to do, Miss Jones.” Chapter Two (#uace65ff9-ddb0-51bd-a8cf-992d465145db) With a few days to go until Cedarwood was going to be overrun with blushing brides-to-be I was overcome with the usual pre-event nerves. We had so many loose ends to tie up, including confirming all our vendors were on track and ready to wow our brides with their wares. Usually I thrived on the lead-up to any event, but because the bulk of my funds were invested in the expo it upped the ante, and made it all the more crucial that it go off without a hitch. Kai’s postcard stared at me from its perch on the mantelpiece, and I smiled, thinking it was a sign. I could hear him in my mind, Clio, take five deep breaths for me… and before long I’d tumbled into a Kai daydream. The what if always lurked in my subconscious, floating to the fore every now and then. When I tried to think of the chapel, and what needed to be done for the expo, all I could think of was Kai as he’d been in there – leaning against the damp wall, his blond hair mussed and windblown… Half dreamy I still had this niggling feeling that I was forgetting something to do with the chapel but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. “Earth to Clio, earth to Clio!” Amory waved a hand in front of me and laughed. “What?” I said. “The gift bags and…” She rolled her eyes. “You didn’t hear a word I said, did you?’ She searched her list and said, “We have to make up the suites with the new linen, and yes, you’re right, fill up the gift bags, choose napkin colors…” “Knock, knock,” Isla’s voice rang out, only slightly muffled by the branches of a fir tree she was carting. “Where do you want it? Please don’t say upstairs.” “Isla, god, why are you lugging that yourself! Micah said he’d help!” She was almost bent over backwards with the weight of the tree in her arms. “He’s lugging an even bigger one behind me somewhere. But it’d be good to put it down. Any time soon.” I rushed forward to take some of the weight, fir needles poking me in the eye. “Argh!” “Golly, and you call me a city girl!” Amory laughed. “Let’s put the smaller one in the lobby and Micah can take the other to the ballroom, yeah, Clio?” Blinking away the sting I said, “Yes, perfect!” Decorating the tree was the cherry on top when it came to Christmas, the scent of earth and pine was heavy in the air, the unmistakable perfume of the festive season! Waking up Christmas morning with the snow-covered mountains in the distance, and trudging downstairs to warm myself by an open fire, peeking in stockings, drinking a gingerbread coffee, was all to come and I could hardly wait. For a moment all the stress about the bridal expo vanished, and the thought of spending Christmas with my friends and family in the place I’d always dreamed of living thrilled me. I was exactly where I was meant to be. The only thing casting a pall over my new life was Mom. She had refused to come back to Cedarwood and wouldn’t explain why. I knew she was somehow connected to the old owners who abandoned the lodge but she wouldn’t say anything more, and her silence made it so much worse. As though she couldn’t trust her own daughter with a secret. Still, I was working hard on rebuilding our relationship. Seeing her once a week, having dinner, attempting to have that mother-daughter relationship I’d always dreamed of. I hoped to slip out the next day and visit her before we really knuckled down to the expo preparation. I also wanted to swing by the Evergreen library to see if I could find any old articles about what exactly had taken place here all those years ago. There must have been something in the papers or at least a photo or two of the place in its heyday. When I mentioned the mystery to any Evergreen local they were conspicuously vague. But I couldn’t let it go. Add to that the fact that there was a hidden maze on the Cedarwood grounds, I had to find out what happened. It was more than idle curiosity, it was a feeling the future wouldn’t be as bright until we’d dealt with the past. Isla shuffled along, hefting the tree into a corner, her breathing heavy. Amory tried her best to help but toppled on heels she refused to stop wearing. I’d given up weeks ago, I was back to wearing ballet flats for comfort as well as safety. I couldn’t keep tumbling into the arms of innocents and declaring it an accident. Once the tree was in place we stood hands on hips and admired it. The green pop of color brought the lodge alive – I knew it was these touches that would make the brides coming next week sit up and take notice. Cedarwood Lodge was definitely a gorgeous place to spend time, and more importantly, get married! “Let’s decorate it!” Isla, said, beaming, her freckled skin luminous with her efforts. Even Amory was getting into the Christmas spirit, though she did her best to act indifferent. “I’ll get the box of decorations.” Isla’s cheeks were ruddy from the cold, her eyes twinkled with happiness, just like the constellation of stars Micah would buy for her. She’d fallen head over heels for him and things were going well for the lovebirds. They tried to hide their affections but didn’t always succeed, I must have walked in on them kissing a hundred times since they started dating, and it always embarrassed them more than me. I loved love, and gave myself an imaginary pat on the back for playing Cupid with those two. Covertly scrutinizing Isla, I did what I did best, I began planning a wedding. I wondered what color bouquet would suit her best (red and ginger bird of paradise flowers that would pop against her white dress, and complement her glorious red mane of hair) what song they’d choose for their first dance (Come away with me, Nora Jones) But I shook the mental preparation away, lest she see my eyes had glazed over and I was lost to the nether world of wedding planning… Not to mention there’d been no actual proposal either. I was getting ahead of myself, it must’ve been the thought of all those brides about to descend, I had weddings on the brain and seeing romance blossom before me, it was impossible not to plan their perfect happily-ever-after. Micah trundled in with the second Christmas tree. Though it was twice the size of the other one he had it over his shoulder like it weighed next to nothing and I couldn’t help but laugh as Isla gave him the goggle eyes. “Where would you like this fine specimen?” “The ballroom, please.” I said pointing the way, almost giddy over so much wonderful Christmas preparation. When Amory came back with decorations we bent to the box, pulling out lengths of tinsel and ornaments. Holding a delicate handmade porcelain angel in her hands Amory said, “I’m only helping if I get to put the angel on top.” I clucked my tongue at I weaved the tinsel over the tree. “You are such a child.” “You’re only saying that because you wanted to do it.” “True,” I laughed. “Lucky there’s two trees.” “Before you start bickering about who does what, can we discuss the plan for the expo?” Isla joked, managing to drag her gaze away from Micah. “I want to double-check I haven’t forgotten anything.” Amory hugged the angel tight, and said, “Yes, let’s. Team meeting time.” Isla had been in the throes of landscaping the tennis courts, but as winter blew in, she had shelved it for another time. There were also plans for volleyball by the lake – we were going to freight in some soft white beach sand but again, winter halted any of those ideas. Due to the arctic weather, and snowfall, Isla had taken on a more fluid role, and had agreed to be the recreation manager for our brides and any guests who booked in over winter. “Let’s make coffee and chat,” I agreed as I turned on the dazzling twinkling lights and smiled at our barely dressed tree. There would be time for adding baubles and trinkets, but for now it sparkled with light and tinsel. We ambled to the kitchen, calling out for Micah to join us. It was such a comforting space with its big old potbelly stove sitting in the corner like a long lost uncle. I set about making drinks while the trio sat at the table, chatting about the expo and the odd jobs that still needed to be done. We’d been more organized this time, as I’d wanted to avoid any of the big setbacks we’d experienced with the anniversary party we’d planned last month. It was such a relief to be only a week away with most of the bigger jobs accomplished. Everything we needed from Christmas decorations, to tubs of flour and sugar, right down to the Jingle Bells doormat, had been ordered ahead of schedule and delivered already. I joined them and once again we tucked into Georges’ festive treats. He was testing them out for the expo and I knew snowman cake pops would be a huge drawcard. Not only did they look utterly festive, they tasted delicious too. Any future Christmas wedding would be remiss not to include them! “Right,” said Isla as she took a notebook from her pocket. “So what activities are we focusing on for the expo, and any guests who book in, bearing in mind it’s freezing out.” “Sledding.” Amory piped up, cradling her coffee for warmth. “People love bundling up and heading outside and Walter from the hardware store gave the sleds we found in the storeroom the kiss of life.” Micah nodded. “They’re painted rocket red and will fly down the slope! I would have killed for one of those when I was a kid, hey, I’d love to go on one now!” I grinned, but remembered that these great ideas all came with added admin. “Good idea, but I better check we’re insured for that activity before we advertise it.” I gulped. The paperwork never seemed to end and now I had to add liability insurance on top of the other costs. Safety was our first priority, but I still wanted our guests to have fun. Isla read off her list. “What about a snowman competition –” “I think snow-people is the correct term,” Amory admonished with a sardonic smile. Isla grinned and said in a faux serious tone, “Snow object building, in no particular shape, size, color or sexual orientation. And we will award the loser first place, just to be fair.” We all laughed and I was struck by how happy I was here in the snug little kitchen, the snow falling outside, surrounded by friends – both old and new. I nodded for Isla to continue through her list of ideas, it was great she’d taken to the role of recreation manager of Cedarwood Lodge, she was full of initiative and we were lucky to have her. “In the evenings we can light the campfire, toast marshmallows and sing songs.” Isla held up a hand. “Before you call me lame, Clio expressly asked for old-school fun and frivolity and nothing screams that more than singing Kumbaya and having the melted charred marshmallow scald the inside of your mouth. Right?” There were murmurs of agreement. “The ice skates we found in the basement were no good but, again, Walter came to the party and found a supplier with some excess stock quite cheaply priced. We have to pick those up, and then we can offer skating on the lake. Plus we’ve got the indoor activities we’d planned, life drawing, charades, tango lessons… anything else?” “The bridal fashion show, that’s going to be spectacular, with bridal gowns, but also bridesmaids’ dresses, and mother-of-bride ensembles. Aunt Bessie has so many donut wedding cake ideas, I really think they’ll garner a lot of interest. There’s also the florist demonstrating different bouquet ideas, and centerpieces for the table. He mentioned some of the blooms were exotic, and quite dazzling in their color palettes.” “I can’t wait to see them.” Amory shot a finger up. “Oh, Georges is doing cooking classes. But why don’t we suggest a Christmas themed class? Besides, I think we’ve eaten most of the Christmas cookies and can vouch for how good they are. What do you think, Clio?” “Yes! Georges won’t object to being surrounded by a bunch of giggling girls. We’ve got the library, the dance studio, the art room, billiards in the games room. Virtual exercise classes, I think we’re covered. All we really need to do is wow them with what could be if they hire the lodge for their weddings. Show them that their guests would have a fantastic time – that they’d rave about attending the wedding of the year. Really paint our brides a picture of the uniqueness of the lodge and surroundings and what we can offer; anything is possible, remember. The key word is… yes. If they ask you something outrageous, yes, sure, we can do it! We can do anything for a price.” I gazed one by one into their fervent eyes and smiled. “Let’s hope we get some wedding bookings.” Isla beamed and scribbled some more notes onto her pad. The potbelly belched and we huddled closer, once again I was struck by how lucky I was to be surrounded by people who wanted Cedarwood to succeed as much as I did. As we chomped through Georges’ Christmas cake pops, we made final plans for the expo and allocated jobs. I just hoped this bridal expo would go off without a hitch! Chapter Three (#uace65ff9-ddb0-51bd-a8cf-992d465145db) “Wake up! Wake up!” I dashed into Amory’s suite and shook her awake. “Oh my god, you witch,” she groaned and pulled a pillow across her face. Amory was a fan of late nights and long sleep-ins, and generally needed two extra shot lattes before she could converse with any sort of sense, but I’d grown to love the early mornings at Cedarwood, and was forcibly making her wake up and see what she was missing out on. Seeing the sunrise so spectacularly above the mountain range, brightening the murky winter dawns, was something else – a glorious way to start the day, and as much as she complained Amory was slowly coming round to the routine too. Today my aunt was joining us for breakfast to discuss her part in the expo and was waiting downstairs. Everyone in the baking business seemed to thrive being up before the sun and my aunt was no different, arriving on our doorstep laden with boxes filled with tasty donut treats. The only problem was that Aunt Bessie wouldn’t let me open them without Amory. As I glanced around Amory’s room, it looked like she’d been burgled, the room ransacked. Clothes were draped over every surface, make-up was scattered over the desk and the top of the chest of drawers, and scattered high heels were death traps waiting for her to trip over. “This room is a disgrace!” I picked up clothes, making a pile on the end of the bed. She had no respect for her things, mostly designer labels, they were tossed on the floor like she thought nothing of them. “Yes, Mom.” She saluted with her eyes firmly closed. “I’ll change my wicked ways when I’m dead.” “I can’t actually be in here without tidying up. Maybe I’m more like my mom than I thought. Or maybe it’s just that you’re like a messy teenager and anyone would tidy lest they trip and fall out the window. Death by mess,” I joked. Again this is where we differed. I liked things neat and orderly, and Amory was more chaotic. I lined up her heels in the cupboard and folded her clothes away as I waited for her to wake up a little more before I accosted her again. “You’ll thank me when you don’t wear odd shoes out by mistake. Seriously, how can you find anything?” For someone so put together, she was a closet slob. “Listen, fun police, stop whining and tell me what time it is?” She rolled to her side, and finally opened her eyes. “Six-thirty. Time enough to trudge up the mountain and take in the sunrise…” I hid a smile, knowing there was no way I’d ever go back up that mountain without Kai forcing me. I missed him, and his Zen philosophy, even if it meant exercise was involved. And there was no way Amory would either unless she needed to get signal on her phone. “The only thing I climb is the corporate ladder, so get out, unless you have coffee!” I went to the door where I’d left a cup of steaming coffee, and brandished it to her majesty. She swiped it like I knew she would, and I laughed as she practically inhaled it in one gulp. “And… it’s your lucky day, Aunt Bessie is here, and with her are some truly delectable donuts, so if you hurry there may be a couple left. But only if you hurry.” “Please tell me she has cookies and cream donuts?” Amory said as she ripped the covers back. I had taken Amory to Puft the first morning she was in Evergreen and ever since she’d been obsessed with the party-in-your-mouth morsels. “I can’t say what flavor, you’ll have to drag your sorry self downstairs.” With my aunt visiting so early to chat about work it brought forward the pre-event buzz; I was a little hyper with excitement. I raced back downstairs to the warmth of the kitchen where she sat cradling a cup of coffee, and munching her way through an almond cronut, her latest venture, a croissant-donut hybrid that sold out as quickly as she could bake them. She flashed me a grin. “Did you convince her?” “I think you convinced her. When she heard the word ‘donut’ things suddenly changed, and the coffee definitely helped.” Aunt Bessie laughed, and yet her face didn’t wrinkle at all. Even at such an ungodly hour of the morning she was fully made-up, her bleached blonde hair set, and her body encased in her signature form-fitting ensemble. She was a breath of fresh air, and glamourous to boot. I plucked a cronut from the pile, and bit into the pillowy softness. Between mouthfuls I said, “You all set for the expo? Do you need a hand with anything?” “Nope, I’m all set. I’ve got my neighbor Miranda coming in to help me bake and a whole host of ideas for recreating those stuffy wedding cakes into delectable donut towers. Now, down to business. You know how glamorous dessert buffet tables can look? Well I’m thinking of doing one of those. It’s going to look spectacular. From Boston cremes, to French cullers, candy-cane flavored, and gingerbread custard, I’ll have every base covered. Donuts can be gourmet, you know, and this is my chance to prove it.” “I know,” I said, hiding a smile at her suddenly solemn tone. My aunt took her donuts very seriously indeed, and I knew the idea of a donut buffet instead of a formal dessert would be tempting for our brides-to-be. Everyone wanted something different and donuts were making a comeback; better, bigger and bolder than ever in the foodie world. Especially the creative samples my aunt baked. They were more like art on a plate, or in some cases on a milkshake – where she stacked donuts on top, layered with whipped cream and custard, and candy floss to finish. Using vibrant icing, it was a kaleidoscope of colors, flavors and textures. “Sounds like you have everything under control, Aunt Bessie.” The water pipes rattled upstairs, the usual accompaniment to Amory’s morning shower and a sign I had my aunt alone for a few more minutes, at least. I stood to refill our coffee cups and smiled, it was a comfort to have family around again. I’d missed it in New York. Mom hadn’t visited me there, and Aunt Bessie had only come once, claiming the crush of people made her nervous. The big city was a huge culture shock when you came from a town as small as Evergreen. Returning to my seat I reached out for her hand, “Thank you so much for helping out with the expo. I really appreciate all the time and effort you’ve had to put in. It means a lot to me.” Lifting a shoulder, Aunt Bessie squeezed my hand. “Well of course, what are family for?” Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». Прочитайте эту книгу целиком, купив полную легальную версию (https://www.litres.ru/rebecca-raisin/brides-and-bouquets-at-cedarwood-lodge-the-perfect-romance/?lfrom=334617187) на ЛитРес. Безопасно оплатить книгу можно банковской картой Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, со счета мобильного телефона, с платежного терминала, в салоне МТС или Связной, через PayPal, WebMoney, Яндекс.Деньги, QIWI Кошелек, бонусными картами или другим удобным Вам способом.
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