“You look tired,” Arnoldo said.
“It’s been one of those weeks.” I caught his look. “No, it’s not Eva.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Nothing to say, really. I should’ve been smarter. I let the world see how much she means to me.”
“Passionate kisses on the street, even more passionate fights in the park.” He smiled ruefully. “What is it they say? Wearing your heart on your sleeve?”
“I opened the door, now everyone wants to walk through it. She’s the most direct way to f**k with my head, and everyone knows it.”
“Including Brett Kline?”
“He’s not an issue any longer.”
Arnoldo studied me and must have seen whatever he needed to. He nodded. “I’m glad, my friend.”
“So am I.” I took another drink. “What’s new with you?”
He waved off the question with a careless sweep of his hand, his gaze sliding around us to take in the women nearby who were swaying to the music of Lana Del Rey. “The restaurant is doing well, as you know.”
“Yes, I’m very pleased. Exceeded profit projections in every way.”
“We just filmed some promotional teasers for the new season earlier this week. Once the Food Network starts airing them and the new episodes, we should see a nice boost in business.”
“I can always say I knew you when.”
He laughed and clinked his glass to mine when I held it up in a toast.
We were back on track, which settled some of the unrest I’d been feeling. I didn’t lean on Arnoldo the way Eva leaned on her friends or Cary leaned on her, but Arnoldo was important to me all the same. I didn’t have many people in my life who were close to me. Finding the rhythm he and I had lost was at least one major victory in a week that had seemed like a losing battle.
“OH MY GOD,” I moaned around a bite of chocolate toffee cupcake, “this is divine.”
Kristin, the wedding planner, beamed. “It’s one of my favorites, too. Hold on, though. The butter vanilla is even better.”
“Vanilla over chocolate?” My gaze slid over the yummies on the coffee table. “No way.”
“I would usually agree,” Kristin said, making a note, “but this bakery made me a convert. The lemon is also very good.”
The early-afternoon light poured in through the massive windows that made up one side of my mother’s private sitting room, illuminating her pale gold curls and porcelain skin. She’d redecorated recently, opting for soft gray-blue walls that lent a new energy to the space—and complemented her well.
It was one of her talents, showcasing herself in the best light. It was also one of her major flaws, in my opinion. She cared so damn much about appearances.
I didn’t understand how my mom could not get bored with decorating to the latest trends, even if it did seem to take over a year to cycle through every room and hallway in Stanton’s six-thousand-plus-square-foot penthouse.
My one meeting with Blaire Ash had been enough to tell me that the decorating gene had skipped my generation. I’d been interested in his ideas but couldn’t get worked up over the details.
While I popped another mini cupcake into my mouth with my fingers, my mother daintily speared one of the coin-sized cakes with a fork.
“What are your floral arrangement preferences?” Kristin asked, uncrossing and recrossing long, coffee-hued legs. Her Jimmy Choo heels were elegant but still sexy; her Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress was vintage and classic. She wore her shoulder-length dark hair in tight curls that framed and flattered her narrow face, and pale pink gloss highlighted full, wide lips.
She looked fierce and fabulous, and I’d liked her the moment we met.
“Red,” I said, wiping frosting from the corner of my mouth. “Anything red.”
“Red?” My mother gave an emphatic shake of her head. “How garish, Eva. It’s your first wedding. Go with white, cream, and gold.”
I stared at her. “How many weddings do you expect me to have?”
“That’s not what I meant. You’re a first-time bride.”
“I’m not talking about wearing a red dress,” I argued. “I’m just saying the primary accent color should be red.”
“I don’t see how that will work, honey. And I’ve put together enough weddings to know.”
I remembered my mother going through the wedding planning process before, each successive nuptial more elaborate and memorable than the last. Never overdone and always tasteful. Beautiful weddings for a youthful, beautiful bride. I hoped I aged with half as much grace, because Gideon was only going to get hotter as time went on. He was just that kind of man.
“Let me show you what red can look like, Monica,” Kristin said, pulling a leather portfolio out of her bag. “Red can be amazing, especially with evening weddings. The important thing is that the ceremony and reception represent both the bride and groom. To have a truly memorable day, it’s important that we visually convey their style, history, and hopes for the future.”
My mother accepted the extended portfolio and glanced at the collage of photos on the page. “Eva . . . you can’t be serious.”
I shot a look of appreciation at Kristin for having my back, especially when she’d come on board expecting my mother to be footing the bill. Of course, the fact that I was marrying Gideon Cross probably helped sway her to my side. Using him as a future reference would certainly help her draw new clientele.
“I’m sure there’s a compromise, Mom.” At least I hoped so. I hadn’t dropped the biggest bomb on her yet.
“Do we have an idea of the budget?” Kristin asked.
And there it was . . .
I saw my mom’s mouth open in slow motion and my heart lurched into a semipanicked beat. “Fifty thousand for the ceremony itself,” I blurted out. “Minus the cost of the dress.”
Both women turned wide eyes toward me.
My mom gave an incredulous laugh, her hand lifting to touch the Cartier trinity necklace that hung between her br**sts. “My God, Eva. What a time to make jokes!”
“Dad’s paying for the wedding, Mom,” I told her, my voice strengthening now that the moment I’d dreaded had passed.
She blinked at me, her blue eyes revealing—just for an instant—a sweet softening. Then her jaw tightened. “Your dress alone will cost more than that. The flowers, the venue . . .”
“We’re getting married on the beach,” I said, the idea just coming to me. “North Carolina. The Outer Banks. At the house Gideon and I just bought. We’ll only need enough flowers for the members of the wedding party.”
“You don’t understand.” My mom glanced at Kristin for support. “There’s no way that would work. You’d have no control.”
Meaning she wouldn’t.
“Unpredictable weather,” she went on, “sand everywhere . . . Plus, asking everyone to travel that far out of the city will make it likely some won’t be able to attend. And where would everyone stay?”
“Who’s everyone? I told you, the ceremony is going to be small, for friends and family only. Gideon’s taking care of travel. I’m sure he’d be happy to take care of lodging arrangements, too.”
“I can help with that,” Kristin said.
“Don’t encourage her!” my mother snapped.
“Don’t be rude!” I shot back. “I think you’re forgetting that it’s my wedding. Not a publicity op.”
My mom took a deep, steadying breath. “Eva, I think it’s very sweet that you want to accommodate your father this way, but he doesn’t understand what a burden he’s placing on you by asking this. Even if I matched him dollar for dollar, it wouldn’t be enough—”
“It’s plenty.” My hands linked tightly together in my lap, pressing the rings on my fingers uncomfortably against the bone. “And it’s not a burden.”
“You’re going to offend people. You have to understand that a man in Gideon’s position needs to take every opportunity to solidify his network. He’s going to want—”
“—to elope,” I bit out, frustrated by the too-familiar clash of our viewpoints. “If he had his way, we’d run off somewhere and get married on a remote beach with a couple of witnesses and a great view.”
“He may say that—”
“No, Mother. Trust me. That’s exactly what he would do.”
“Um, if I may.” Kristin leaned forward. “We can make this work, Monica. Many celebrity weddings are private affairs. A limited budget will keep us focused on the details. And, if Gideon and Eva are open to it, we can arrange to have select photographs sold to the celebrity lifestyle magazines, with the profits going to charity.”
“Oh, I like that!” I said, even as I wondered how that could work with the forty-eight-hour exclusive deal Gideon had offered Deanna Johnson.
My mom looked distraught. “I’ve dreamed of your wedding since the day you were born,” she said quietly. “I always wanted you to have something fit for a princess.”
“Mom.” I reached over and took her hand in mine. “You can go wild with the reception, okay? Do whatever you want. Skip the red, invite the world, whatever. As for the wedding, isn’t it enough that I found my prince?”
Her hand tightened on mine and she looked at me with tears in her blue eyes. “I guess it’ll have to be.”
I’D just slid into the back of the Benz when my smartphone started ringing. Pulling it out of my purse, I looked at the screen and saw it was Trey. My stomach twisted a little.
I couldn’t get the shattered look on his face last night out of my mind. I’d stayed tucked away in the kitchen while Cary sat with Trey in the living room and told him about Tatiana and the baby. I had put a pot roast in the oven and sat at the breakfast bar with my tablet, reading a book while staying in Cary’s line of sight. Even in profile, I could see how hard Trey had taken the news.
Still, he’d stayed for dinner and then overnight, so I hoped things would work out in the end. At least he hadn’t just walked out.
“Hi, Trey,” I answered. “How are you?”
“Hey, Eva.” He sighed heavily. “I have no idea how I am. How are you doing?”
“Well, I’m just leaving my mother’s place after spending hours talking about the wedding. It didn’t go as badly as it could have, but it could’ve been smoother. But that’s pretty usual when dealing with my mom.”
“Ah . . . well, you’ve got a lot on your plate. I’m sorry to bother you.”
“Trey. It’s fine. I’m glad you called. If you want to talk, I’m here.”
“Could we get together, maybe? Whenever it’s convenient for you?”
“Really? I’m at a street fair on the west side. My sister dragged me out and I was miserable company. She ditched me a few minutes ago and now I’m wondering what the hell I’m doing here.”
“I can meet you.”
“I’m between Eighty-second and Eighty-third, close to Amsterdam. It’s packed here, just FYI.”
“Okay, hang tight. I’ll see you in a few.”
We hung up and I caught Raúl’s gaze in the rearview mirror. “Amsterdam and Eighty-second. Close as you can get.”
“Thanks.” I looked out the window as we turned a corner, taking in the city on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
The pace of Manhattan was slower on the weekends, the clothes more casual, and the street vendors more plentiful. Women in sandals and light summer dresses window-shopped leisurely, while men in shorts and T-shirts traveled in groups, taking in the women and discussing whatever it was men discussed. Dogs of all sizes pranced on the ends of leashes, while children in strollers kicked up their heels or napped. An elderly couple shuffled along hand in hand, still lost in the wonder of each other after years of familiarity.