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Celebrations and Confetti At Cedarwood Lodge: The cosy romantic comedy to fall in love with! Rebecca Raisin ’A truly fantastic book I loved curling up every night with this book. So heartwarming!’ – Jessica (Goodreads) Curl up in front of the fire with the first part in a feel-good romance serial from best selling author, Rebecca Raisin!Clio Winters is finally fulfilling her childhood dream of renovating the gorgeous old Cedarwood Lodge in Evergreen. Turning it into the perfect destination for big celebrations, weddings and parties has brought her back home, but Cedarwood Lodge is in need of a lot of tender loving care.Perhaps all the work will be the perfect distraction from the real reason she had to leave her glamorous New York life behind.Will coming home be the best decision of her life… or her biggest regret?Cedarwood Lodge is a delectable romance told in three parts – following Clio Winters journey back to her hometown of Evergreen. This is Part One.What reviewers are saying about Rebecca Raisin‘gorgeously enjoyable’ - Sam Still Reading‘I just wish I could read the next book right now and not have to wait for it! Really intriguing start to a so far very enjoyable series.’ – Claire (Netgalley)‘an impressive start to the Cedarwood Lodge series…this encompasses all the cosiness of a small village feel into the story, and I am already eager to see how everything progresses in parts 2 and 3.’ – Rachel Gilbey‘This was such a good book!!!!! I loved the entire story, it was a lighthearted, feel good story’ – D Messing (Goodreads)‘I was hooked from the start and devoured it in one sitting. Now I can't wait to read the next instalment. ‘ – Joanne (Netgalley) This autumn visit Cedarwood Lodge and fall in love as the leaves change… Clio Winters is finally fulfilling her childhood dream of renovating the gorgeous old Cedarwood Lodge in Evergreen. Turning it into the perfect destination for big celebrations, weddings and parties has brought her back home, but Cedarwood Lodge is in need of a lot of tender loving care. Perhaps all the work will be the perfect distraction from the real reason she had to leave her glamorous New York life behind. Will coming home be the best decision of her life… or her biggest regret? Cedarwood Lodge is a delectable romance told in three parts - following Clio Winters’ journey back to her hometown of Evergreen. Praise for REBECCA RAISIN (#uc48ee474-4aa8-5150-b9a8-52c8e8982280) ‘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 (#ulink_cb7d0841-b5ef-5ded-98bc-664bf14eaa04) 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 Celebrations & Confetti at Cedarwood Lodge Rebecca Raisin Copyright (#ulink_92f79e08-07af-5df8-bedd-e6cecabe3940) HQ An imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd. 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF First published in Great Britain by HQ in 2016 Copyright © Rebecca Raisin 2016 Rebecca Raisin asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins. E-book Edition © June 2016 ISBN: 9781474058414 Version date: 2018-06-08 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) Thank you to my bookish pals for your friendship. Writing would be a lonely job without you. For Rachel Despite the fact baby Bobbie’s head is still missing thirty years later, and even though you won’t read this, thanks for being the best (evil) twin sister a girl could ask for. Contents Cover (#u358e8f3d-1fd7-5f5a-95bd-7b7a2f597edf) Blurb (#u9963e258-d49b-5d3c-b0ce-c7bece8f52ac) Praise (#u32c9535e-e0bb-5b5f-86a9-fb9ae50a8bdb) Book List (#ulink_47ec51fd-631b-599e-9483-2fc02c5945d0) Title Page (#u64e606cc-50d8-5fe6-b083-b468985dc00b) Copyright (#ulink_759d123a-1b4b-52fb-98e5-6c0add66a5c3) Author Bio (#u4c7c9405-3516-5024-82a8-5cda5b2ab594) Acknowledgement (#uce3e2e81-0248-5b41-b84a-b314eaa8914f) Dedication (#u2e22558f-f88e-5c89-b8a9-cbae9ec5f9fe) Chapter One (#ulink_d929b15f-30bc-5e9d-9d2c-80cd54ad7d12) Chapter Two (#ulink_8c65cf52-0994-5f5f-bbf0-e41175d0cd00) Chapter Three (#ulink_f2334525-1f16-5bb5-bc3f-d9d2639fbe86) Chapter Four (#ulink_cf879209-b0c4-5d94-92c4-fd3a69d7f47b) 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) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fourteen (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Fifteen (#litres_trial_promo) Endpages (#litres_trial_promo) About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter One (#ulink_2d801ae4-32c8-5f5f-8df4-ef0bfc85b342) Staring up at the imposing structure with its weathered facade, I had a terrible premonition that I’d made a mistake. A huge one. But, I reasoned, clawing back rising panic, I had always wanted to buy the hundred-year-old abandoned lodge. It had been put up for sale recently, and I’d jumped at the chance. The old place had good sturdy bones; it was solid, despite the desertion of its caretakers aeons ago. Even though I’d always dreamed about owning Cedarwood Lodge I hadn’t expected for it to happen so soon. But it had, and I’d fallen madly in love with the place as it stood, shutters broken, doors in need of paint, ivy creeping through broken panes of glass, and cascading roses growing wild and free around the porch balustrades. Here was a place untouched for decades and I had a chance to bring it back to its former glory. The September sky shifted from foggy wisps of gray to country blue as dawn arrived in the small New Hampshire town of Evergreen. A sputtering car swung into the long, winding driveway and I turned to watch my oldest friend Micah leap from his battered hatchback. We’d been best friends since childhood, and though we’d drifted apart as adults he was the first person I called when I bought Cedarwood Lodge – I offered him the job of maintenance manager which he’d accepted with a ‘Hell yeah.’ “You look exactly the same, Micah,” I said, reaching up for a hug. ‘You haven’t aged a bit.” He’d filled out, no longer the lanky teenager I’d left behind, but aside from that he was the same old Micah with the same affable smile. “It’s the daily hikes up the bluff. That thin mountain air does wonders for my skin.” He waggled his eyebrows. “We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. I almost fell over when you called. Lucky for you I was between jobs…” “Lucky for me, all right.” I couldn’t believe it’d been so long – when was the last time we had properly caught up, five years ago, six? Time ticked by so fast while I’d been away. “You’re different,” he said, gesturing to my outfit and my usual flyaway curls restrained with a clip. “A little more polished.” I grinned. “Denim cut offs and messy hair didn’t quite cut it in Manhattan.” “What? Crazy city folk.” He clucked his tongue. “Right?” I joked. “How’s Veronica?” I expected him to gush about his long-term girlfriend. Instead, his lips turned down for the briefest second, before he masked it with a smile. “Veronica? There’s a blast from the past. I haven’t seen her for two and a bit years now. She was like you, Clio, left town and didn’t look back.” Surprise knocked me sideways that she’d left town, left Micah. “Sorry, Micah. I thought…” Way to go, Clio! He touched my shoulder, giving me time to wrench the metaphorical foot from my mouth. “It’s OK.” He let out a half laugh. “One day she just decided that this place was too small for her big dreams. This town, it isn’t for everyone.” An awkward silence hung between us. What kind of friend had I been to him? If I’d have known I would have come home for a visit to comfort him, make sure he was OK. Shame colored my cheeks, and in reality, I realized if he had called me I probably would have played the too busy card. I knew Micah inside out, and sensed he was downplaying the split. I could see by the set of his jaw that the conversation was closed. A part of me deflated – if they couldn’t make it, what hope did any of us have? They’d been the perfect couple. I tried desperately to think of a subject that would get us back on an even keel. “Look at that view, Micah. Tell me I’m not imagining it – this place is magical, right?” “Magic to its very core.” He flashed a grin, reminding me of the playful guy he was in high school. The one who transcended cliques and was friends with everyone. “And soon you’ll have the banging of hammers and the whine of drills to contend with, so soak up the serenity while you can.” Work was set to start today – with plumbers, electricians, glaziers and carpenters arriving. Once they’d completed their jobs, painters would come in to pretty the place up. A project manager called Kai would be here soon to oversee it all while I concentrated on the business and event side of things. Micah would float between us all and make sure things ran smoothly. “Who’d have thought I’d end up back here, the proud and slightly nervous owner of Cedarwood Lodge?” I scrunched up my nose, my earlier doubts creeping back in. What had I done? I planned parties, not renovations! I hired places for events, I didn’t buy them! Sometimes my audacity at buying Cedarwood Lodge scared me silly. It was such a huge gamble. With a smile Micah said softly, “Never in a million years would I have thought you’d come back from the bright lights of the big city. Seems once people get a taste for it, Evergreen pales into insignificance. But I’m so glad you did. Remember when we were kids and hung out here? Even back then you talked about the parties you’d host, colors you’d paint the place. Ten-years-old and you predicted Cedarwood would be yours, and you were right.” The memories brought out a rash of goosebumps. Cedarwood had been our own private playground. We’d run breathless through the overgrown grounds, peeked into dusty windows and imagined the scenes that might have taken place there before it was abandoned. The lodge had been closed ever since we could remember and while stories had been whispered around town about the previous owners, we’d been too young to understand. “It feels good to be home,” I said, meaning it. At that moment Manhattan seemed light years away. “I didn’t realize how much I missed you until I saw your goofy face.” “Oh, that hurt, that hurt a lot. Goofy? Don’t think that just because you’ve come back all New York-ified that I’ve forgotten the girl with the uneven pig tails and a mouth full of metal? The one who wore leg warmers as a fashion statement!” He raised a brow, challenging me. I stifled a laugh. He was right. I had been a fashion don’t when I was a teenager, but things quickly changed when I met Amory – my best friend in New York – who showed me how to dress to impress. Would I regress, being back home? Go back to sweats and trainers? In my tailored suits and perilously high heels, I felt as though I slipped on a different persona. In the so-called ‘city that never sleeps’ it had been crucial to be assertive, ambitious, and one step ahead of the game. It had taken me years to build up my client list and I worked so damn hard for it. Maybe the old adage was true: you can take the girl out of Evergreen but you can’t take Evergreen out of the girl, because here I was, home again. I shielded my eyes from the rising sun. In the distance the mountain range was a riot of autumnal color, reds, ochres, dusty orange, and saffron yellow – the leaves on the hardwood trees clinging on for one more day. “I hope I don’t mess things up, Micah. This is my last chance. So many things could go wrong,” I said seriously. I could lose everything. The place could remain silent, might never be filled with the tapping of high heel shoes, the popping of champagne corks and peals of laughter. I couldn’t go back to Manhattan, that door was firmly closed. “What if after all the work is done no one hires the place?” “Hey…” he said, gently rubbing my arm. “That’s not the Clio I know. Where’s the girl who left town screeching about setting the world ablaze?” He gave me a playful shove. “Where’s she gone?” Up until a few months ago I’d been brimming with confidence, sure of my place in the world. But then I’d messed up – being too honest with a bride, misunderstanding her nerves for something else entirely. It had shaken me up, and made me question myself and my ambitions. Maybe I’d just been lucky before, but that bride kicked my legs out from under me, and I hadn’t quite managed to get back up yet. “She’s. Right. Here.” I rallied, pasting on a smile. “Is that supposed to be a smile or a grimace?” I flashed a sillier grin, regressing back to my teenage self and finding it refreshing. “God, it’s good to see you, Micah.” He was the one person I could be myself with. There was no point pretending because he knew the real me. “Evergreen was never quite the same without you.” During our teenage years we’d spent weekends dreaming of a life outside of here. I guess we always thought the grass was greener elsewhere, and for a small town girl, it was. It was so damn green it glowed, and I wished things had turned out differently. At least I had Cedarwood as a consolation prize. Micah grinned. “Hey,” he checked his watch. “Where’s your mom? I thought she’d be here.” I shrugged. “I have no idea. When I rang again she made some flimsy excuse. I honestly thought she’d be bursting to see the inside of the lodge after all these years. But I guess she’ll get here when she gets here.” My first day back in Evergreen I had driven straight to Mom’s place to surprise her with the news about buying Cedarwood Lodge. It had been almost impossible to keep it secret but I’d wanted to tell her face to face and had guilelessly expected shrieks of joy. Instead she paled to a ghostly white, as if I had told her something shocking. We’d never been super close, but still, I’d expected a smile, a word of encouragement, a hug welcome home. Up until last winter Mom had owned an inn in the center of Evergreen, so I’d also been hoping for a bit of guidance. In my heart of hearts I hoped buying the lodge to would bring us closer together, but I guessed hoping didn’t make it so. Micah smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. “She’s probably just tying things up so she can concentrate properly once she gets here.” He pulled me into one of his breath-stealing bear hugs to comfort me, because we both knew it was more than that. “Yeah,” I said, pulling away. Mom was retired now, so it wasn’t as if she had anything keeping her away per se. Maybe she just needed to get used to the idea that her taking-the-world-by-storm daughter was back home… without actually having exactly taken the world by storm. Was she disappointed in me? It was hard to tell. “First things first,” Micah said, dragging me back to reality. “Let’s check out your bedroom and see if I can make it a little more comfortable like you asked.” Stepping into the warmth of the lodge, I snuck a glance over my shoulder to watch Micah’s reaction, and sure enough he was wide-eyed just like I’d been at seeing the place for the first time. Faded sunlight caught the crystals in the chandeliers and cast prisms of color around the room. I breathed in the scent of long forgotten memories before leading Micah up the spiral stairs to the suite that was to become my home for the foreseeable future. I swung open the heavy oak door. The suite needed a little TLC, though the stone fireplace and view to the mountains made up for it. “Right,” he said, surveying the scene. “This shouldn’t take too long, just needs a few nips and tucks and a lick of paint here and there.” I smiled at Micah’s assurances that it wasn’t a big job, as I was eager to make the suite my own, and snuggle in bed with the mountains a stunning backdrop to my dreams. In the basement I’d found an antique bed with an elaborate bedhead which I repainted champagne white. Dragging it upstairs had been a feat, but one I managed with only a few scrapes and bruises. Once the room had a facelift with paint, some luxurious bedding, and new décor, it would feel more like me, more like home. He opened the creaky bathroom door, exposing the old claw foot tub and a marble vanity – the perfect room to relax in with a book and a rose scented bubble bath after a long day. “I can fix the broken tiles, and redo the grout.” I nodded eagerly. While the lodge was ancient, the bathrooms were still functional, and would only need some modern accoutrements to get them up to code. Some proper exhaust fans, and new lighting, maybe heat lights for winter… my list kept on growing. “Great!” I grabbed Micah’s arm, eager to show him the view from the landing at the top of the stairs and ask his advice on what to do with the space. The mountain range was visible from every window on the east side of the lodge and I wanted people to be able to soak it up in comfort. The reflection of the trees shimmied on the surface of the lake, and it was easy to lose an hour staring outside at such elemental beauty – it was spellbinding. Our tour was interrupted by the rumble of engines roaring along the main road. “Can you hear that?” I asked, dropping his arm, and dashing closer to the window to get a glimpse of them arriving. “That, my friend, is the sound of progress. Time to get your overalls on, Clio!” He gave my high heels a pointed look and was rewarded with an eye roll. “Let’s meet them out front!” We flew down the stairs and on to the porch to watch the procession arrive. Cars and trucks turned into the driveway in convoy. Some were loaded with supplies, others bare except for hard-hatted drivers with determined expressions. Anticipation sizzled through me. It was really happening! This beautiful timeworn lodge was about to be transformed back into its glorious self. My old life was behind me. Here – in the town I grew up, in the abandoned lodge I played by as a child – people would fall in love, they’d marry, they’d have families and then they’d return to Cedarwood and celebrate once more… Chapter Two (#ulink_cecd3a4c-eed3-5861-94c2-3ece9b3339ef) A few weeks later, ignoring a head throb from the ever present noise, I gave myself a silent pep talk. You can do this! All you have to do is paint them a charming picture of what will be. I buttoned up my navy blue blazer, straightened the seam of my crisp linen trousers and slipped on red heels, the ones Micah teased me relentlessly over. With the buzz of a drill nearby, I picked up my paperwork and iPad, which had a 3D presentation loaded and ready to play. Eventually I’d have an office in a suite off the lobby but right now it was still too frenetic with workers for me to concentrate, so in the interim I’d set up a temporary office in the front parlor, a room once used for pre-dinner aperitifs. The couple’s car churned up the gravel and my heart rate increased. They’d called the night before and enquired about hiring the ballroom for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. It had taken all of my might to keep my voice level and act like I’d hired out the ballroom a hundred times already. But it bode well, having interest in Cedarwood at this early stage. I peeked out of the newly replaced window and watched Edgar help his wife Imelda into a wheelchair. Damn it! There were no ramps in place. I made a mental note to check we had mobility aids on the list. Cedarwood had to be accessible to everyone. With a broad smile in place, I hurried outside to greet them. “Welcome to Cedarwood!” I said too brightly, my nerves jangling to the surface as I half jogged toward them, mentally assessing the area for a plank of wood, or something to use as a ramp… when the heel of my stiletto got caught in a hole in the deck. With a calm smile that belied the drumming of my heart, I attempted to wrench my heel out, trying to appear casual, but it wouldn’t budge. Damn it! With one last heave, the heel came free but momentum sent me flying forward with a screech. Oh, god! I flew precariously into the air, taking great leaps to avoid a tray of paint and a scattering of drill bits. Please, I silently willed the universe, don’t let me upend the paint all over her! With a hop, skip, and a jump to avoid everything, I ended up on my knees by the woman’s lap, my pulse thrumming in my ears. Note to self: make sure walkways are cleared at all times. Sweat broke out on my forehead despite the chilly autumn day. Red-faced and righting myself, I held out a hand and said breezily, “I’m Clio. And as you can see, I’ve been falling over myself to meet you.” Kill me. Thank god I hadn’t taken her out. I could already imagine the story getting Chinese-whispered around town: Did you hear Clio Winters tried to murder her first client, and it was little old Imelda no less! Imelda chuckled and shook my hand. “Aren’t you as pretty as a picture? I hope you didn’t ruin those heels, do you think they come in my size? My life flashed before my eyes but all I could think was, I need a pair of those dancing shoes for the party…” her eyes twinkled mischievously. Admonishing myself silently for being a klutz, I dared a quick peek at my trousers; they had somehow remained intact – however, from the pain radiating upwards, my knees hadn’t fared as well. “I’m sure they’d have your size and I think the leopard print would suit you…” She cocked her head as if contemplating. “I might just have to find some for the party, what do you say, Edgar?” She craned her neck and smiled benignly at her husband. “They most certainly look like dancing shoes… Could be a new type of work boot, what would I know?” He glanced at the hole in the deck, and then my heels and raised his eyes to the heavens. I tried to hide a smile and remain professional, but a giggle escaped, it couldn’t be helped, I liked them both instantly. I stepped forward and shook Edgar’s hand. The speech I’d prepared had flown straight out of my head as I’d toppled into Imelda’s personal space, but I sensed my spiel would have been too formal, too stuffy for these people. Game face on, I cleared my throat and tried to regroup. Right. Explain yourself, and don’t fall over! “As you can see, Cedarwood is getting a bit of a makeover. It’s a work site at the moment, but soon…” “It’s just as gorgeous as ever,” Imelda said, her eyes shining. “Can we take a look through?” “It’s a little noisy what with the…” “Noise schmoise,” she said, waving me away. “We don’t mind that, do we Edgar?” I gulped. What if something fell on them, or Edgar tripped and broke a leg? I’d planned on showing them the ballroom from the adjoining outdoor deck and showing my presentation. Not opening myself up for a health and safety lawsuit on the first day. “We’re as tough as old boots even if we look a little fragile, don’t you worry about us.” Imelda said. If we walked slowly, and carefully, surely it would be OK for a few minutes? Though I’d managed to fall over already… “So sorry that we’re not fully equipped at the moment. Let me help you lift the chair,” I said, praying I didn’t get a finger caught in the wheel spokes and drop her, or something equally idiotic. “Help with the chair would be mighty kind,” Edgar said and moved to one side while I took the other. We hefted the surprisingly light Imelda up. With my back holding open the oak door, Edgar wheeled Imelda into the lobby, the scent of wet paint heavy in the air. Drop sheets were scattered across the floor to catch spills and the sounds of work echoed around the lodge. “It might look like a big mess at the moment, but trust me there’s a method to the madness. We have a strict schedule in place.” It was hard to envisage what the lodge would look like with groups of laborers in clusters, drilling, hammering, filing, and edging. Tools were scattered, buckets were littered here and there. Bags of rubbish sat awaiting removal. The couple followed my noisy tread, the wood underfoot making a weird kind of song depending on where we stepped. Squeak, ping, pop, ahh. Imelda shook her head as if she was mesmerized, “I’m sure you’ve got a handle on it all.” We continued through the expanse of the lobby with its thick American oak pillars, and dusty chandeliers swaying in the breeze, their crystals clinking gently like a song, prisms of colored light dancing on the walls. The stone fireplace needed a little love, its mantle was missing, but still a fire crackled in the grate, adding to the ambience. Firelight shimmered across the room. Even in its disorderly state the lodge radiated a type of warmth, a feeling of relaxation and expectation of what might be… “As you can see I’m trying to keep as much of it original as I can.” I wanted the lodge to keep its old world charm. “The overall look with remain as it was all those years ago.” “That’s music to my ears,” Imelda said, beaming. “We worried the lodge might’ve been purchased by a huge consortium and turned into some modern monolith. I’m so glad that’s not the case.” We continued to a small salon. I just managed to narrowly avoid kicking over a bucket full of cleaning equipment. The room was musty, with old brocade curtains clinging to their rusty rails. “Edgar, don’t you remember, we used to play charades in here.” Imelda said, reaching up to grasp her husband’s hand. “You’ve stayed here before?” I asked, a shiver of excitement running through me. They’d stayed at Cedarwood in its heyday? No one I’d known had actually been inside the lodge as it had been closed down for so long. Edgar turned Imelda’s chair to face me. “We got married here,” she said dreamily. I gasped. “You did? That’s incredible!” No wonder they’d been so eager to see the place as it was – warts and all – and could imagine what it would look like in the future. Her face broke into a smile and I could see the bright-eyed young girl she’d been. “Coming up to fifty years ago I was a blushing bride of twenty-five years old. Edgar was twenty-six. We found each other late in life, or what was deemed late back then. All our friends were already married and had a bunch of babies. We fell in love but there was only a few weeks before Edgar was shipped off to the war.” “I can’t believe this!” My pulse thrummed knowing their story ended in Happy Ever After, because here they stood. “What a story, and to have you return to the lodge…” I wanted to hug them, but held myself in check. “How long were you away, Edgar?” I shuddered, thinking of the young man – as he then was – being thrust into such a dangerous wartime situation. He gave Imelda a meaningful glance and said, “Two years, four months, and one day,” he blushed. “Or thereabouts. Thankfully, or not so thankfully depending how you see it, I was shot in the foot and sent home. Never ended up making it back to my platoon though…” A ray of sunlight landed on Imelda like a soft spotlight. “Yes, I was lucky and got to keep him safe at home with me.” They recollected the war, and how they missed each other fiercely for the two and a bit years he was away. The talked about the letters they wrote and all the promises they vowed to keep as soon as he returned home. “Did you keep those promises?” I asked. “We did,” he said. “You just don’t have an inkling when you’re young how fast those years flick by. Though I’m sure there’s been plenty of days Imelda has wanted to walk off into the sunset with someone else,” he laughed. Imelda considered it. “Once or twice I wanted to put your head in the oven, I can’t lie.” He nodded. “See? Luckily our oven is electric. And we made it through fifty years with lots of talking, lots of communicating as you young folks call it.” He chortled. “When we heard this place had itself a new owner, we knew it was a chance to throw one hell of a party. We like the idea of coming back to where we began.” They exchanged a glance, a private message in their rheumy eyes. Whatever happened in my life I vowed right then to wait for the perfect man, I wouldn’t compromise. I wanted the fairy tale that I saw before me. Even if I ran into my old gang of friends in Evergreen and I was the only one still single. Still utterly without The One at thirty-three. Now was not the time to dwell on it. It didn’t matter. Love couldn’t be rushed. Focus, Clio, this isn’t about you. “I promise if you have the party at Cedarwood there’ll be lots of celebrations, and confetti. It will be an ode to your life together, the love you share. I’ll make it as special as it so deserves to be.” Imelda gestured for me to lean close and gave me a tight hug. “What do you mean if…We came here to tell you to get the ball rolling… We aren’t spring chickens any more. The only problem I envisage is time. You see, we want to celebrate on our wedding day, makes sense of course, but that’s only six weeks away… you think you can do it?” She gazed around the lodge, like she was imagining the place as it once was. Could we get the ballroom and entrance done in six short weeks? There was the garden to consider, guest bathrooms, safety measures… But their faces… they looked so awed by the lodge, how could I say no? “Sure,” I said, voice brimming with confidence for the first time since I’d arrived. “We can do it.” She gave me a grateful smile. “I better find those high heels then. Maybe I’ll get the leopard print and the red, you just never know when a gal might need a pair of fancy shoes.” “It pays to be organized.” I winked. “And I’m truly honored you’re going to have the party here.” My mind spun with ideas, questions, solutions, and we hadn’t even started yet. “It’s like the circle of life, we started here, and it will end here…” Imelda was a romantic, I sensed a likeminded soul. I said, “Would you like to continue to the ballroom?” Edgar pushed the wheelchair slowly forward. “Sure, let’s see it.” Imelda smiled, and fussed with a rug on her lap. “If I close my eyes I can still recall the excitement in that young girl’s heart, feel the butterflies floating in her belly at the thought that handsome young man was going to be her husband. I really didn’t believe you’d show up, Edgar. Isn’t that the silliest thing?” Edgar went to reply but stopped as Imelda’s hand went to her throat, and her face paled. She let out a small groan, and scrunched her eyes closed. I dropped to my knees and gazed into her face, but her eyes stayed tightly shut, screwed up in pain. “Imelda? Are you OK?” Panic seized me, but Edgar appeared resigned but calm. Edgar rubbed her shoulder, “She’s OK. She’ll be right in a moment.” His voice was soft with acceptance at whatever it was causing her pain. He opened a bag hanging on the back of the wheelchair and rummaged around, taking out a pillbox and a bottle of water. “We could fight a war, financial troubles, and everything in between, but we can’t fight time,” he said, sadly. It was a full minute before Imelda returned to us, “Sorry,” she said, giving my hand a pat. “Another spell I take it?” Edgar stooped forward and handed her two pills and the bottle of water. She took them with trembling hands and drank, before saying, “The mind is willing, but the body just won’t listen sometimes. Don’t you worry, pet. It’s OK. Nothing is going to stop me from having a party at Cedarwood Lodge. Nothing.” She stuck her chin forward, resolute. Once Imelda’s color returned to normal they peeked into the ballroom with cries of delight. “I’m so glad you’re not fussing with it,” she said. “It’s like something out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.” “I know,” I said, her description apt. “Have you thought about themes, colors? Cuisines? I can show…” She cut me off. “You’re the expert,” Imelda said. “All I ask is that the room is bright and cheerful, think colorful bunting, and streamers cascading down. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I’d love for it to look just like we had it all those years ago.” An hour later, after firming up more details, we said our goodbyes and I told them to visit any time so they could see the lodge being shaped back into the beauty of its halcyon days. Hopefully it would return them to their wedding night and their hearts and souls would be young again, with their whole life ahead of them. I couldn’t wait to call Amory and tell her every little thing. And to see if my name was still making the gossip page… Chapter Three (#ulink_406c784c-17d7-5136-b431-3e042a0949f4) “Clio, they sound amazing! So they’ve booked the party?” Amory shrieked as I sat down with a laugh at my desk, ignoring piles of invoices that needed to be paid. “They did! And get this: they didn’t want to see color swatches and menus, or a song list. They said I was the expert and just make it bright and colorful. Only kicker is I have to get everything finished and organized in six weeks.” “You can do it, that’s what you’re good at. Deadlines.” She let out a laugh. “You lucky thing not having to consult with them every five minutes – why can’t they all be like that?” Our clients in New York were pernickety to say the least. Bridezillas were plentiful, and the women weren’t opposed to throwing tantrums a five-year-old would be proud of, but I always rolled with it. It came with the territory to receive phone calls at two a.m. from a blushing bride-to-be, sobbing about centerpieces or tiaras. That’s what separated the good party planners from the bad. My job was to say yes, always. I could fix anything, especially under pressure. But then I had opened my big mouth. Shaking myself out of reverie I said, “I’m sure the next clients won’t be so easy.” In the background phones buzzed and drawers banged. Office life. I felt a pang for it. We lapsed into silence as I debated whether to ask. “Darling about…” she hesitated and I steeled myself. Amory always knew what I was thinking without me having to say a word. “Don’t tell me. They’re still talking about it? Still?” It had been months. Months since I’d packed up my desk and hidden in my shoebox sized apartment until the sale of Cedarwood had settled. Surely they’d moved on to newer scandals by now? I’d been avoiding the online gossip sites for months in case I saw my own name trapped in a headline once more. The previous headlines were still burned into my retinas Party planner to the A-listers tells reality star bride to run from celebrity groom! Amory let out a nervous laugh. “Well…” I groaned and cupped my face. “Tell me. I can handle it.” She took an audible intake of breath before she launched into the whole sorry story. “It seems it’s ramping up. She’s saying you had a thing for the groom, and that’s why you did what you did. Because you were after him and his… money.” I let out a squeal of protest. “She didn’t!” “She did.” “But that’s not true!” I wailed. Outside the sun sank low, coloring the sky saffron. Her voice came back a hissed whisper. “I know it’s not true. But you’ve really underestimated her. She’s set on ruining your reputation to save hers.” “But my reputation is already ruined! Why does she have to continue with it?” The whole sordid thing was so unfair, and I kicked myself for believing in the blushing bride-to-be when she’d poured her heart out to me minutes before she was supposed to walk down the aisle. I was appalled by her confession – how could she marry someone she didn’t love when her heart belonged to another? With the clock ticking I advised her to run, get out of that church before she made a huge mistake because I believed her tale of woe and didn’t want to see her waste her life with the wrong man! And it turned out to be the stupidest thing I’d ever done. Really, I should have known. It was Dealing with Brides 101. Never, ever advise them. Wedding day jitters and cold feet can make a person say the craziest things. It was my job to reassure them, not tell them to run! And these were not your average Manhattanites. He was a millionaire movie star, for God’s sake. “She’s vindictive.” “I can understand why she’d try and save face. What she told me was pretty damning, but to turn it around like that…” I was bewildered by it. I had only met the groom twice and one of those times was on the aborted wedding day when I had to tell him she’d taken flight. Because of my advice… stupid, stupid, stupid. Amory clucked her tongue. “It’s a simple case of: you know too much. She’s got to make you the villain, so nothing rubs off on her. It wouldn’t take a genius to unearth her real story … but it’s juicier with you cast as the crazed infatuated wedding planner.” It was so damn ridiculous I could only sigh. Something like this would only happen in New York. “She’s so bloody cunning. I wish I’d shared my side of the story earlier. But it’s too late, no one would believe me now.” “She’s called Flirty McFlirtison for a reason,” Amory said sadly. I couldn’t help but giggle. Amory had disliked the reality star bride Monica intensely and given her the nickname. It had been tricky to mask our true feelings around her because she’d been the client from hell, unless a man happened to walk by and then she’d bat her lashes, leaving us shaking our heads. I should have known never to trust her. The day after the wedding Flirty started doing some major damage control and piling the blame on me. Once the news broke no bride would go near me with a ten foot pole. “Jesus, Amory, I thought it would’ve all blown over now,” I said, slumping in my chair and gazing out at the beautiful explosion of color as the sun sank below the mountains. “Here’s an interesting twist… it’s come out that he had her sign a watertight pre-nup the night before the wedding, so that’s why she did a runner. You were just the perfect scapegoat. She’s denying that of course.” I groaned. “Celebrities. I will never understand them.” Still, even after all the A-list weddings I’d planned, I believed true love conquered all. Nothing would take away the pleasure I got out of organizing nuptials between two people who were truly smitten, even if they were on the never-heard-of-you list. Monica was driven by greed – she was just a reality TV starlet whose show was cancelled after one season, but she still craved the limelight and would do anything she could to get tabloid attention. I was unlucky to get caught up in her schemes. “Celebrities,” she agreed. “You don’t know how lucky you are, Clio. Granted it wasn’t an ideal exit from the agency but look where it’s taken you! I’m wildly envious. In time you’ll see it was the best decision you’ve ever made, and you’ll think of us scrabbling after every high profile party with pity.” This was Amory’s way, to silver line every cloud. “I hope you’re right. Otherwise I’ve bought a lodge on a whim because of what happened. In Evergreen. A town with a population of five hundred and three people!” “That’s the spirit!” she shouted and I could just see her swinging in her office chair, throwing her head back and laughing, as if I was sitting across from her. “Now turn off Bonnie Tyler, please, I can almost hear your sobs from here – leave Bonnie for the broken hearted. And get back to work. You’re the boss now, darling, so square those shoulders and own it.” She knew me so well, even what my choice of music meant. Once I hung up, I turned the volume up and listened to Bonnie’s gravelly voice, not sobbing… not quite. After all, what did I have to cry about? My reputation in New York was ruined. I’d invested every last dollar into a rundown lodge in a small town. There was nothing to worry about! When I did something, like mess up my life, I did it right. And that included listening to music and crying like it was an Olympic sport. Who cares if they said I loved some random celebrity and ruined his marriage? It would be yesterday’s news eventually, right? And being blacklisted by every New York event planning agency? Pffft. Big deal. I’d make my own success. In a town with five-oh-three people. Easy. Oh, god, what had I done? Chapter Four (#ulink_63a2113c-fc45-5a57-8a0f-0d8dae32684d) “Is that Kai?” Micah asked as we watched the new arrival jump down deftly as a dancer from the cab of his truck. Even in the shadows, Kai stood out – with his wavy sun-bleached hair and surfer’s body. I hadn’t expected… that. Builders were weathered, ruddy men who wore expressions of weariness from overwork, didn’t they? Kai looked more like a pro surfer than someone who did manual labor. Golly, if Amory was here she’d be elbowing me forward by now. “Yes, Kai, the project manager,” I stage whispered. “He had to finish up his last contract but he’s here for good now, well, at least until the lodge is done.” I adopted a disinterested expression and hoped Micah hadn’t caught my moment of surprise when I clapped eyes on Kai. Micah smiled, and waggled his brows insinuating something untoward. “And what does that eyebrow jiggle mean?” I asked, crossing my arms and staring him down. Even after all these years I could still interpret Micah’s body language, though it wasn’t hard when he was being so obvious about it. “It means you hired some surfer god and…” I poked him in the ribs to be quiet and hissed, “Oh jeez, Micah, I didn’t know he was…” What was he? “… he was… a surfer,” I finished lamely, watching Kai who was rummaging in his truck for something. He did resemble the perfect leading man in a romantic comedy, a polar opposite to the heroine… wait, what was I even thinking? Did I picture myself as the leading lady? Ridiculous! My heart was a no-go zone for the foreseeable future. My one true love at this point had to be Cedarwood Lodge. “We’ve only spoken on the phone. And for the record I wouldn’t date anyone who worked here out of principle.” There, that sounded believable. Micah went to retort but was called over by one of the painters. “Saved by the bell,” he joked before jogging off. “Morning,” I said to Kai, hoping I wasn’t blushing after Micah practically accused me of hiring someone for their looks! It was absurd. But those eyes… mesmerizing. “Hey,” he responded with a bright smile. His blond hair was mussed, windblown. I shaded my face as the fall sun climbed higher and warmth seeped into my bones. Kai’s arrival meant I could knuckle down and focus on building marketing campaigns and our social media pages, spreading the word about the lodge while he instructed the team. “You look familiar,” he said, narrowing his eyes. “I know we’ve had a hundred conversations on the phone, but…” he surveyed me, and I blushed under his scrutiny. Damn it to hell and back. Had he read about me in the paper or on one of those dodgy online gossip sites? I gritted my teeth so tight I almost gave myself lockjaw. Managing to prize my mouth open a notch I said, as casually as I could, “Where did you say your last job was?” Please, do not say New York or any of its boroughs! He cocked his head, scrutinizing me as if we were long lost cousins or something. “Georgia.” I almost collapsed in relief. “Georgia. Hear it’s pretty this time of year.” “It’s pretty,” he agreed. “But not as pretty as here.” He stretched, his shirt rode up, exposing toned, tanned skin. I tried so hard not to eye the ripple of his muscles, or imagine how they’d feel under hand. I wasn’t used to seeing men sans suits, and it gave me a jolt. Surely, as a boss I shouldn’t even be thinking such a way? But I was merely admiring the newcomer for his sporting prowess. Over the phone I’d got to know him – he was one of those keen athletic types. Surfing and hiking and all the exercise he did sculpted him, and we all knew a healthy body led to a healthy mind. I made a promise to myself to run some laps of the lodge later. It wouldn’t hurt to get in shape, would it? “So,” I said, business-like, casting my gaze away from his exposed skin and back to his face. “I’ll show you where you can stash your things.” “Perfect.” He bent to the cab and picked up a leather tool belt and satchel full of paperwork. The nuts and bolts of code and health and safety missives hurt my brain and I was glad I had someone professional to oversee it all. While Kai had been finishing up on another building site, he’d also been choreographing behind the scenes with the tradespeople at Cedarwood via phone and email and checking in with me at the end of each day. Having him here in the flesh would be even better. Micah wandered outside with one of the painters, pointing and gesticulating to the eaves above the lodge which had been painted the wrong color. I waved him over, and he excused himself and jogged the short distance and I made introductions. They shook hands the way men do, hard fast pumps. “We’ve got Isla arriving today,” I said. “And she’ll…” Before I could finish, a motorbike came careening around the corner and into the driveway. Isla? On the phone she sounded chirpy and enthusiastic. I’d hired her instantly because of her knowledge about garden design and her clear vision for Cedarwood, which matched my own. Her resume was impressive for her age, mid-twenties, and I liked the fact she had a flair for topiary. A cloud of dust rose up as Isla stepped off the bike and handled her helmet. Strawberry blonde hair fell around her shoulders in waves, and her light blue eyes shone with eagerness. Freckles spotted the bridge of her nose like constellations. Holding out a hand, she said, “You must be Clio.” “Yes. Nice bike,” I said, grinning. “Great timing, Isla. This is Micah and Kai. We’re going to go for a tour, join us?” Isla gave me a wide smile, shook hands with Kai, and Micah and turned in an arc to survey the grounds. There was an energy radiating off her that was impossible to miss, as though she couldn’t wait to grab her secateurs and start pruning. I went to ask Micah about the painters and their roof folly only to see him staring at Isla slack-jawed. Lifting a finger to his chin, I shut his mouth so it wasn’t as obvious to Isla as it was to me. He gazed at Isla, goggle-eyed, lost in a daydream before eventually coming back to reality. Isla swiveled back to us. “This is like something out of a Grimms’ fairytale,” she exclaimed, motioning to the overgrown gardens. “I can’t wait to get started!” Shading my eyes once more, I flashed her a smile. I had this sudden sense that the trio in front of me would shape Cedarwood into something great again. Between us, we’d give it the kiss of life, and resurrect it from its somnambulant state. Along the way, maybe a love affair would blossom… On this estate where vibrant mountains watched over us, where the lake glistened in the distance, maybe Cupid sat on a branch, hidden by a leafy canopy, his bow stretched taut, before shooting his arrow, straight into the heart of the next perfect couple. I grinned at Micah, who was fidgeting with his folder, his cheeks ablaze. Isla was watching him with a frown, trying to gauge at his inability to make eye contact with her. “Well,” I said, clapping my hands for their attention. “Let’s give you guys the tour, and then we can get to work!” Ringing Amory later that night with my daily update, I pulled a blanket over my knees and munched on buttery microwave popcorn. I’d have to shop properly and stop eating like a college student, but time had a habit of running away from me, and at night with the draught leeching in, all I wanted to do was rug up, eat junk food and drink cocoa. “Hello, sunshine!” Amory’s tinny voice echoed around my bedroom, making it feel more homely – as if she was here with me. I pushed the popcorn to one side. “So, today’s news… Kai the builder arrived and also the landscaper Isla, so it feels like we’re making real progress!” I stopped to wipe crumbs from the bed. “But no matter how much work we put in, I just can’t shake the feeling that it won’t be enough… what if no one comes?” “OK look, the lodge will happen because you’re a gun at what you do. I have absolute faith people will flock in droves to Cedarwood. You know that! No one can win against you when you wow them with your vision and paint the pictures you do just with words – I mean, that’s a gift that can’t be taught. What you need is romance to distract you.” I groaned. “Romance? That’s the last thing I want. And which bit of me moving to a town of five hundred and three people did you not remember? There’s no one suitable. Besides, I wouldn’t have time. I have this overwhelming fear that if I take my eyes off of the project it’ll tumble down like a house of cards. I don’t have a plan B any more, this is plan B. I can’t afford to get starry-eyed and lose focus. There’s the…” She interjected. “And that’s exactly why you need the distraction of a man! That worry will eat you up, just like it did here. You were on the path to burn out, and without me there to fishhook you out at night, what will you do? Worry, that’s what. Life is all about light and shade…Work and play. You just have to find the right balance. Think of snuggling up at night with some bronzed buff guy who will take your mind off your woes.” I choked on a popcorn kernel, thinking of Kai. “Bronzed buff guy in Evergreen?” I managed, “You’re dreaming. Men here don’t take weekends in Cabo to work on their tan, I’m sure of it.” “OK, maybe they don’t go to Cabo, but you can renegotiate with yourself about what exactly you want in a man. Surely there’s someone there who’ll do for now. What about old flames? A boy next door type? Someone who’ll happily sweep you off your feet.” Old flames… There was Timothy. I’d only thought about him in passing since I’d returned. “What?” Amory said, breaking my reverie. “I’m right, aren’t I? There’s some unfinished business with a guy there? Tell me I’m right!” Was there? I really didn’t think so. And what was I even having this conversation for? Amory was trying to distract me from the real issues in my life by wooing me with the idea of romance. “No, no there isn’t unfinished business. Nothing of the sort. I see what you’re doing, you know.” “But…?” she said, ignoring the fact I’d caught her out. There was no hiding from Amory once she clued onto something. She was FBI grade when it came to interrogating someone and sensed any weakness. “But nothing.” “Don’t tell me… He was your first love. Right? That guy who broke it off with you when you went to college?” “So? It’s not like I’ve been pining for him or anything. Timothy was a million years ago. I bet he’s married and has five kids and a house with a picket fence and a dog called Buster. A nice handicap at golf, and a wife with a blonde bob and bright blue eyes who bakes cookies. From scratch.” I could see him having that kind of perfect American life, with his perfectly white teeth and perfect children with their perfect manners. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Amory gave me one of her overly dramatic world weary sighs. “Not that you’re into stereotyping or anything! Darling, I’m not asking you to marry him, I’m only saying that I think you need some balance. If I don’t lecture you, you’ll spend every waking hour crunching numbers and making those ridiculous pie charts before ending the night pinning your dream wedding on Pinterest. And soon enough you’ll be a shriveled up old maid in some windy, creaky lodge with a menagerie of animals who share your bed.” I guffawed. “As if! And I don’t even use Pinterest any more! And I’m allergic to animal fur!” “Liar. You forgot to make your dream wedding board secret. I like the pearl wedding dress the best, the backless gown… stunning.” I wanted to dissolve into the floorboards. How could I forget to make it secret! I’d been planning my own wedding since I could talk, but what was wrong with that? I just really liked weddings. Was that a crime? “Your romantic side is what makes you shine so brightly. Promise me you’ll find Timothy and go for coffee. And if he’s married then don’t kiss him. Simple. But on the other hand, if he’s single… well, first love rekindled, god, I’d pay to see that.” She was incorrigible. And if I didn’t nip this in the bud she’d be carried away, and next minute pinning her own suggestions to my dream wedding board. “Amory, my life isn’t a romantic comedy. First loves rekindled? That only happens in movies. Fiction!” “And where do they get their inspiration from, huh? Real life, that’s where! Non-fiction!” Amory was a bulldozer when it came to pushing me out of my comfort zone. But she really didn’t understand the complexities of finding love in a small town. Again, I realized she’d jabbed me into a corner with all this nonsense about love. “I actually phoned you to talk about the new members of staff who arrived…” “Don’t try and change the subject. Your mission is to have coffee with the Matt Damon look-a-like, and report back.” “Oh my god, Amory. Wait. How do you know what he looks like?” Timothy did bear an uncanny resemblance to the actor Matt Damon, and I knew he still looked just the same because I stalked his Facebook profile once. OK maybe twice, but I’d had a few cocktails and didn’t everyone do that anyway? There wasn’t much to see because it was locked up tight, which left me with just his profile picture. Конец ознакомительного фрагмента. Текст предоставлен ООО «ЛитРес». 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